Driving $1.6M ARR for a Subscription-based Ecommerce

A UK-based subscription e-commerce company reached out to us to help supercharge their growth in August 2021.

Here’s a brief summary of the project:

  • 360 pages of high-quality content published
  • 0 to +119,000 monthly organic visits after 16 months
  • +1,100,000 total traffic generated
  • Tens of thousands of signups
  • Thousands of paid subscriptions
  • Grew subscriptions to $135,000+ MRR

In this case study, I will give you a complete breakdown of the project and all our systems & operations that went into it:

  1. A complete data breakdown: traffic, conversions, and revenue
  2. How we publish 40+ pages of content per month
  3. How we create a simple but effective site structure
  4. Real templates we use to scale

You’ll also see what happened when the client abandoned the project due to a 2022 economic downturn, despite huge success. Let’s jump into it.

🔎 Background

If you’re reading a Content Distribution article for the first time, here’s what you gotta know.

We’ve taken several projects from 0 to +100,000 monthly organic visits in a very short frame (in under a year or two):

On most of these projects our strategy is the same:

  • Create the most valuable page of content Google could show for the topics we want to rank for
  • Integrate product into the content as a natural next step for the reader
  • Align content & SEO strategy with business goals (revenue)

We almost completely skip technical BS, building backlinks, hacks and shortcuts.

Since then, we’ve worked on even more ambitious projects with clients like DoNotPay, ClickUp, Privacy, Austin Bank, achieved similar successes and figured out the exact type of client we can create the most value for.

I’m talking about +10x ROI, greatly reduced CAC and a tenfold increase in their internet brand footprint.

The Opportunity

This ecommerce business had been on the market for roughly a year before they reached out to us. In that initial stage, they’ve proved their model through paid acquisition (Google Ads).

They were competing with some of the biggest brands in the industry, which were doing between £4.6M and £16.9M in yearly revenue.

The client didn’t really understand the opportunity space, but they knew it existed, and knew that they didn’t love being blackmailed by Google for 30% of their revenue on every sale.

So, they reached out to us after following our content for the last year and asked us how we could help.

Our analysis indicated the bottom-of-the-funnel opportunity was pretty small — if we wanted to create a measurable impact on their growth, we had to go up the funnel to opportunities with higher volume and more surface area — but less intent.

We then had to drive the traffic from the middle and top of the funnel to their BOFU landing pages, containing a multi-step quiz segmenting customers into specific product lines based on their answers.

This was also our first Shopify project, but after having worked on WordPress, HubSpot, and a half-dozen platforms, we’ve learned that it’s all basically the same thing.

Let’s now dive into our SEO philosophy and specific frameworks that allowed us to scale this brand’s presence from 0 to 119,000 monthly organic visits and generate $1,600,000 in ARR just from SEO.

🤓 How Google Actually Works

The reason our strategy based on high-quality content works is the fact that Google uses UX metrics to influence rankings. Think about it. Google owns the entire internet stack:

  1. Android
  2. Chrome
  3. Google Analytics

They have the data. And all of their peers ( LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube) use user engagements to influence reach. Why wouldn’t they?

This was our theory four years ago, and we’ve proven it again and again and again by creating wildly successful case studies that only focused on producing great content at scale, spending no time building backlinks, very little technical SEO effort and skipping all other shortcuts.

Once we agree on the fact that great content is the only thing that truly matters, the next step is to define what high-quality content is.

We define content quality by asking these three questions:

  1. Did we meet the search intent better than what’s currently ranking?
  2. Did we provide more value than the other P1 results?
  3. Is the content driving conversions?

The answer to all three must be Yes.

In the rest of this section, we’ll discuss #1 and #2, and at the end of the article I’ll cover #3 (driving conversions).

To create high-quality content at scale, you need these 6 essential ingredients:

  1. A team of people who care (this is a team sport)
  2. Knowledge transfer to create content like you have a direct connection to your stakeholder’s brain
  3. Documentation to hold everyone accountable for discussing the subject, like your stakeholders.
  4. Execute knowledge transfer
  5. Define monthly publishing budget and plan
  6. Decide on prioritizing search intent

Let’s now break down each one of these and show you exactly how we did it on this project.

😃 Hiring Writers

Every single word of content is a liability to mess something up:

  1. Spelling
  2. Grammar
  3. Messaging
  4. Positioning
  5. Internal links
  6. External links
  7. Media
  8. CTAs

And when literally every word is a potential landmine, to make content publishing velocity work, you need a team of people who are great at what they do AND care about their work.

They need to be able to scrutinize every punctuation mark, word, paragraph, and page.
Day in and day out. For years.

To identify and hire these people, we use Workello. Think of it as a CRM for hiring writers.

You can sign up for a free account in 30 seconds, use a pre-written template from Workello’s template library and put 300+ potential writers into your Workello account in less than 10 minutes.

Each template was created by an expert content marketer and contains a compelling job description, a well-thought-out skills test, interview questions, and candidate email notifications.

We’ve also created detailed hiring guides, designed for your specific use case:

  1. Niche writers
  2. Generalist writers
  3. VAs
  4. Marketers

Now it’s time to sit back and relax while candidates find your job ad, fill out your application, and stream into your Workello hiring dashboard.

From here, everything is just 1-click:

  • 1-click reject to send a polite rejection email
  • 1-click test to invite the candidate to take your pre-made writing test

With Workello, you’ll be able to screen & test hundreds of writers and hire the top 1% in hours, while doing this manually would take literally months. Believe me, we’ve done it and decided to build Workello because of how much of a pain this was for us.

It sounds simple, but the secret to finding great writers and editors who care is also simple.

The more writing candidates you screen… The bigger your chances to identify and hire the best of the best.

Here are some of our historical stats. We’ve screened over 3,000 writers to hire 22. That’s less than a 1% application → hired rate.

There is no magical hiring channel where all of the writers are qualified. Getting writing candidates is the easy part.

You can get 200+ candidates in the next 72 hours with 10 minutes of work. Filtering through those 200+ candidates to identify and hire the top 1% is where it becomes a nightmare.

Writing is the lowest barrier WFH job, and everyone with a crummy job is applying to work for you.

You can’t trust portfolio content, either. Portfolio content is live content, and a 3rd party editor has edited live content.

The portfolio content you receive will almost never reflect what your applicant will deliver to you. Solution? You need to test everyone.

To identify and hire the best of the best… You need to automate the testing process in a way that allows you to filter through hundreds and hundreds of candidates fast, easy, and automated. Use Workello and make your life easier.

🤯 Documentation

The next thing you need to make content velocity work is documentation to hold your team accountable. This all starts with knowledge transfer.

Knowledge transfer sounds complex, right? So let’s simplify it.

Our team takes the initial information from discovery and pre-sales calls and starts writing all the questions we can think of while researching the industry and top competitors.

Our questionnaire includes both brand and industry-related questions, as well as some technical questions.

Here are some examples from this project:

We also capture information related to tone/voice/positioning, along with the technical BS that is important for success but is relatively little work compared to the content ops.

From a high level, here is how ContentDistribution.com’s process works:

  1. Write down all the questions we can think of
  2. Send to all project stakeholders
  3. Scheduled knowledge transfer
  4. Record the meeting
  5. Create written documentation that covers *everything* discussed
  6. Sent back to stakeholders for feedback
  7. Implement changes
  8. Write our first article and send it to stakeholders
  9. Get feedback on voice, messaging, and positioning
  10. Implement changes
  11. Repeat this process until stakeholders are happy
  12. Update documentation
  13. Repeat for the next ten articles
  14. Keep updating documentation as feedback rolls in
  15. By article 11, stakeholders say: ‘looks good, nice work’

There are three key pieces of documentation:

  1. About the Project
  2. Language Guidelines
  3. Content Series Template

As the project moved into the second quarter, we created documentation about site structure, landing pages, and an internal linking strategy.

📅 Content Calendar

Decisions made at the start of the campaign impact growth rate and ROI. These decisions are data-driven and dictated by the campaign budget and desired outcomes.

Here is the breakdown in numbers:

In the first six months of the campaign, we published 60,000 words at approximately 2,400 words per article.

Starting with month seven and ending with month 13, we published between 28 and 40 pages per month at 1,600 words per article.

Here’s what went into deciding the word count and the number of pages:

  1. We had a fixed monthly deliverable of 60,000 words
  2. Our initial focus was on pillar pages with a huge search volume
  3. Our long-form content not only answered the search intent, but we packed it with strong opinions and brand positioning to indoctrinate readers.
  4. As we progressed through the campaign, we targeted smaller opportunities requiring fewer words to reach our rankings targets

Now let’s dive into topics and prioritization framework.

🔎 Search Intent and Topics

When starting a new campaign, our team will survey the entire horizon of topical opportunities. We call this an Opportunity Analysis.

Simply put, scope all topics you’d like to rank for as if you had zero budget constraints.

This may sound complicated, but if you automate keyword research – it is really easy and very fast.

🚀 You can find our entire keyword intake and automation research process, with an example here: Automating Keyword Research – GET 100s of TOPICS in 1 DAY.

Let’s talk about the specifics:

While I can’t reveal exact categories, I can share that we operated in the broader verticals of:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Lifestyle and health

Going back to the knowledge transfer and competitive analysis we did in step #1, we had everything we needed to identify how consumers are searching for information related to our client’s products.

Here are some of the base terms that went into all keywords:

  1. Food
  2. Eating
  3. Raw versus processed
  4. Protein versus fat
  5. Allergies

This helped us identify over 100,000 keywords, which would have been too many — unless we used ClusterAi.

ClusterAi takes huge lists of keywords and turns it into topics, containing groups of keywords that can all rank together.

Thousands and thousands of topics containing:

  1. The main keyword
  2. Variations of the primary keyword we’ll include in the on-page content
  3. Total search volume the topic represents (by adding all keyword volumes together)

Then we narrowed down this list of thousands of topics to the top 200 to develop our six-month content calendar.

We didn’t look at keyword difficulty at all. If the topic is valuable, we’re creating content about it. Because it turns out….

🚀 We outrank stronger domains for really competitive keywords, literally all the time. Learn how.

Remember: better content = better user engagement metrics = better rankings.

Next, we prioritized these 200 topics into a monthly content calendar by analyzing search intent based on where the topic falls in the funnel:

  1. ToFu
  2. MoFu
  3. BoFu

Let’s use an example in a similar niche to clarify.

Let’s say you sell almond milk and are targeting problem-aware consumers such as vegans.

We ensured that 30% of our first 3-month content calendar were BoFu topics. For example, “almond milk for small children” or “best almond milk.”

It doesn’t matter that we can’t immediately rank for the main keyword because each of these pages can rank for hundreds and hundreds of variations of the main keywords — and they all move independently based on:

  1. How you structure your content
  2. Your site structure
  3. How your competitors structure their content

When you do content velocity right, traffic will grow week over week 8 out of 10 weeks, and month over month, every single month.

This growth rate isn’t based on just this project. We see this same growth rate across all of our projects.

Here is a B2B SaaS project we also worked on:

You can see that almost without fail, traffic is hitting new all-time-highs each and every week.

Now, back to the original project. By month 10 of this campaign, we were in the top 3 results for the main BoFu keywords.

And by targeting these “competitive keywords” early on in the campaign, we got there as soon as possible while still driving conversions early on for users arriving on these pages by searching for variations of the main keyword.

For 50% of the first 3-month content calendar, we focused on MoFu opportunities.

Again — we’re not sharing the niche, but here is a type of query that drove a lot of signups:

How much [product] should you eat during pregnancy?

This seems like top-of-the-funnel informational intent. We labeled it as MoFu due to the great offer / audience fit — a lot of searches were ready to convert.

While we had “competition” that was currently ranking, the top spots weren’t held by competitors with a similar offering. In other words, our offer was unique to this audience.

A better offer/audience fit means, all things being equal, our client would get more internal link clicks, more pages viewed, and more time on-site.

Which means better user engagement metrics. Which means better rankings. Eventually, more subscription revenue.

This was our formula:

  1. Create more value for the reader than any other page Google could show
  2. Insert authority and thought leadership on why we’re credible
  3. Sprinkle in CTAs for our subscription product in non-intrusive ways

Another example of MoFu intent that saw a lot of conversions was contrarian positioning, for example — “why is cashew milk bad for small children” — enabling us to position our products as the #1 solution.

Finally, 20% of our content calendar (around 8 pages) were broad ToFu pillar pages — think examples like “vegetarian diet” or “food [type] essentials.”

This type of content was helpful for several reasons:

  1. Drive internal link clicks to increase average pages per session
  2. Pack full of thought leadership and strong opinions only our stakeholders had
  3. Send dozens of internal links to the revenue-generating pages

While we’re here — internal links tell Google how important a page is to your brand. Think of it like a “vote.”

If you have 500 pages, and 499 of them link to a single page — Google deems that page highly important to your brand and will rank it more easily.

The flip side is also true. If you have 500 pages and none of them link to a page, that page will be impossible to rank. It’s not important to your brand if you don’t link to it all.

Now back to the content calendar.

We continued publishing the rest of these topics for another 3 months in a similar ratio, reaching about 180 pages in the first 6 months of the campaign.

It was time to go wider now.

After nutrition, we started writing about care, health, and lifestyle. These topics covered a lot of how-tos and info topics on improving health and lifestyle — ALL contextual linking to those core nutrition topics.

This content supported our main category but still drove significant signups and conversions on its own.

Finally, during months 9-12 (for a total of 40 pages per month), we focused on types of our ICP’s habits and needs.

To give an example, think of having a series of 10 pages on every variety of world cuisine — Italian, Japanese, Mediterranean, etc.

📚 Templates

About the Project Doc

The About the Project document is the single most important document that our team will create during the knowledge transfer process.

This is a living, breathing document.

It’s updated every time we receive feedback, which enables us never to make the same mistakes twice.

Regardless of how thorough we are, once pen meets the paper and we start writing publishable content — stakeholders realize they forgot things, or now that they can see it in publishable form, want to change things.

This document is updated dozens of times throughout the campaign.

Let’s break down the About doc, remembering we are discussing a physical product here.

The first section of the About the Project document talks about the brand. We explain the company and the product to our writers and editors and include the company’s mission, vision, and values.

The second section describes the product manufacturing philosophy. We explain the actual food created, the approach to doing it, specific advantages over competitors, etc. In this case, that meant science-backed documentation of the product’s superiority over the competition.

Then, we explain how the subscription service works. This section is important because we really needed to communicate why this product is unlike anything else on the market.

This is also a part of the About the Project document that was revised multiple times in the first and second months of the campaign because we don’t expect our writing and editing team to understand the intricacies of chemical compounds or food nutrients right away.

We don’t expect the content and marketing teams to have the knowledge that the founders have.

The How It Works section here provides details on the service step-by-step so we know how to explain the subscription services advantages to potential buyers.

Moving on to Content Guidelines.

There should be an overarching understanding of what the goal of this content is, and it’s really a breakdown of how you can drive a reader to take action and sign up. The goal here was a subscription for a trial or leaving an email to receive a helpful newsletter.

The approach refers to types of language that we can use, i.e., how our client wants to talk to their customers. Many resources come from their conversations with their customers that they relay to us. “Hey, this is what our customers really liked. We’re using this positioning successfully in our other acquisition channels,” etc.

The images section contains assets that we can use. We got access to libraries and social media profiles to borrow images from.

Additional resources. We got access to all of the assets the client has previously created, from images to testimonials to everything else. The most notable additional resource would be, let’s say, a bundle of 20 to 30 tweets or Facebook posts that were user-generated reviews of the product.

Seems like a lot of work, but it’s not really. This is where the magic happens.

You can’t hold a team of writers, editors, and PMs who are accountable to executing in a specific way unless you have documentation to hold them accountable to.

Almost a dozen people were involved from the client’s side and our side, and throughout the project, we had dozens and dozens of meetings.

If you want to make content velocity work, you need documentation to hold people accountable to, because the alternative is a lot more work.

And a worse outcome. Lots more fires and stress.

The Content Series Template

A Content Series Template is like a content brief on steroids.

A Content Series Template is not written for one article but a series of articles in a specific sub-topic, and it’s a million times better.

When you scale content velocity, you must remove SEOs from the content production process.

And if your SEO is creating individual content briefs, well, you need a lot more SEOs. We publish hundreds of pages a month with three SEOs.

“Mo SEOs, mo problems” – Our CEO.

Using ClusterAi to group keywords transforms the post-editing optimization process from “gut feelings from an experienced SEO” to a well-defined and structured process, enabling our editing team — without any SEO knowledge — to generate optimized content across:

  1. URLs
  2. Meta titles & descriptions
  3. H1s
  4. H2s

This means they can focus on creating the absolute best page of content Google could show for the keywords we want to rank for and sprinkle on a little SEO at the end to align the content with SEO best practices.

So the next thing you’re going to ask me is…

“But Bojan, how do I create a Content Series Template?”

 

Here ya go. You want to document everything else that is subject to variability between writers:

  1. Internal links
  2. External links
  3. Images
  4. Videos
  5. Tables
  6. Lists
  7. Bullets
  8. CTAs
  9. Quotes
  10. Thought leadership

We also know there will be eight or more H2s. How do we know that?

Well, remember our ClusterAi opportunity analysis? We identified reoccurring keyword variation trends in each topic and ensured each article covered them.

ClusterAi allows our editor to write a CST with a predefined heading structure. This structure is a guideline for the writer to modify during the creative writing process.

We also provide mandatory internal links from the series.

Finally, in the example provided below, we gave suggestions for the structure of the articles, such as using the keyword in the series and mentioning nutritional values in every piece. We also suggested including comparisons between different types of food and tips for selecting high-quality keyword types of food.

📋 Site structure

Shopify is still missing many of the things we love about WordPress. But it turns out, it doesn’t matter.

Shopify, WooCommerce, HubSpot, WebFlow, Ghost, Custom CMS. You can still have a fantastic outcome regardless of your CMS.

Some are just more flexible and easier to manipulate than others (*ahem* WordPress).

Here’s a quick summary:

  1. Hub pages and navigation
  2. Homepage and footer links
  3. Suggested posts
  4. Page speed optimization

​​Hub pages and navigation. We created category hub pages without pagination to reduce the number of clicks it takes for Google’s crawlers to reach any of our pages.Homepage links. It’s super simple. We create a section on the homepage that contains links to the most recent eight articles to drive faster indexing of new content.

Footer links. We added the main blog hub page, content categories, and pages with the most potential value. In the later stages, we swapped these with articles that have the most value.

Suggested posts. We will have six related posts at the end of every article, usually the most recent posts in the article’s sub-category. This speeds up how quickly Google finds and indexes the content. Note, however, this isn’t enough. You still need in-content links to relevant content.

Page speed optimization. In the beginning, technical SEO, like page speed, has a low impact because your footprint in the SERPs is relatively small. But as you scale the number of pages, investing in page speed adds incrementally more value with each page published because the work is spread across a bigger footprint.

Important: If you’re on Shopify, don’t deploy WordPress to a subdomain unless you can set up a reverse proxy to host it on the root domain. HubSpot has a subdomain and crushes it, but you’re not Hubspot.

📈Results

In September 2022, right around the time our annual contract was coming to an end, the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates for the first time in decades, the VC industry stopped making investments, and started mandating spending cuts in their portfolio companies.

The client decided to stop investing in SEO to increase runway during a tight funding market.

But the beautiful thing about SEO is that it keeps working even after we stop working.

In the first 12 months of the campaign, we tracked:

  1. 232,663 visitors generated
  2. 4,904 signups
  3. 315 subscriptions purchased on 1st visit

This doesn’t include untracked data:

  1. Newsletter signups (Add another 16,000+ emails)
  2. Revenue generated from re-targeting SEO traffic via email and Facebook Ads

But the results are compelling even without the untracked data.

In the next 9 months, without any additional work, the campaign generated an additional:

  1. 908,474 new visitors
  2. 13,605 new signups
  3. 712 new subscriptions on the 1st visit
  4. Thousands more new signups and paid subscriptions via re-targeting SEO traffic with Facebook Ads & email

In fact, in the last 9 months the campaign has generated 3.9x more traffic, 2.77x more signups, and 2.2x more subscriptions on the 1st visit than in the first 12 months.

This amounts to a total of $135,162 in MRR in the last month of the campaign with a projected $1,600,000 total ARR in 2023.

This is an estimate in the case they don’t receive a single new subscription purchase, so a very conservative estimate.

$1,600,000 ARR with no new subscriptions. Most likely much more than that.

That’s the power of search, when done right.