Last year, Google nearly drowned our agency. A few months later LinkedIn helped us gain back some vital momentum through one blog post. Here’s what happened.
Our best case study for the success of content marketing has always been ourselves. We’ve been the #1 ranked agency for the Google search phrase “content marketing agency” for several years. Our content has always created consistent, qualified leads each month. We’ve never had to buy online ads or lead lists. We practice what we preach, which is organic growth.
SPROUT Content was on a steady upward trajectory through last spring. Traffic was growing. Leads were increasing. Business was good. Then in May the train started slowing and by June the wheels were coming off. Traffic and leads plummeted.
The traffic and resulting inbound leads we relied on slowed like a game of underwater ping pong.
After some investigation, we found a big problem: 6,000 backlinks using one of our blog posts were directed to our site within a very short time. In Google’s eyes, it looked like we might be up to no good as backlinks are traditionally used to create authority to the site the link is pointed to. This unnatural scenario—so many backlinks created so quickly—can sometimes trigger a Google penalty for the site receiving the links. It’s also a black hat tactic that can be used against a competitor.
As we dug deeper, we found out there was another content marketing agency behind the 6,000 backlinks. Was it intentional? We never found out and were advised not to pursue it.
We did the next best thing and attempted to correct the problem that we didn’t create to begin with. We took the steps that Google’s best practices advised. But in the end, it was still like we berated the pizza delivery guy—only it wasn’t our car dealership in the video that went viral.
Low traffic and leads was the new normal.
One Door Closed and Another Opens
August and September were lean months. They are traditionally a little slower for us but were compounded by the plundering of our traffic. With our 3-month average sales cycles, the remainder of the year started to look bleak.
Partly out of the need for catharsis and partly as a cautionary tale, Dechay Watts, SPROUT’s co-owner, decided to write a blog post about the experience. Maybe another site owner would read it and decide to check their analytics more often, avoiding our fate or at least catching an anomaly sooner.
The post ended up getting some nice traffic including a number of SEO experts who wanted to help us solve the problem. Some weren’t convinced it was because of the backlinks. In fact, several gave us completely different explanations. It was great to receive all of those helping hands and perspectives.
The post was also shared quite a bit on social media, particularly LinkedIn. In fact, a number of leads started trickling in from LinkedIn because of the post.
- Nearly 90% of the referral traffic was from LinkedIn
- Over 50% of this post’s traffic came from social media
- Only 1% percent of the traffic resulted from organic search
LinkedIn had always been our strongest social channel, but we had never seen numbers like this before. Usually 70% of our traffic comes from organic search and just 3% from social media for any given post.
Of this LinkedIn traffic, one visitor came in at the end of September that would help right the ship.
October’s traffic and leads ticked up though they were still below normal levels. The leads we were getting, however, were better qualified. Best of all, that end-of-September visitor from LinkedIn eventually became a lead. After some phone calls and nurturing, they became a solid prospect, and by the beginning of November, they became a client. Suddenly, with this one client, the momentum seemed to shift, thanks in part to LinkedIn.
The right person. The right time. The right message. And the right social channel.
The year ended strongly and though our traffic and leads still remain low relative to where they have been for the last two years, the forward momentum has continued. We recently become a Hubspot Gold Partner, and we are celebrating our 5th anniversary this week.
Our new influencer marketing program includes clearly defined strategies for each social media channel that is relevant to your business, just like LinkedIn is for ours.