How Ahrefs Helped Grow my SEO by 959% and add $122K in Sales in 1 Year
This guide is meant to share the process we used to increase LeadQuizzes’ blog search traffic by 959% in 2017, basically starting from scratch, which in one year has led to a $122,748/year sales run rate from organic search.
The best part is this process breaks down into just three steps.
- How to hire a full-time, high quality writer for $500-$1,500/month
- How to quickly train your writer to create articles that will generate traffic
- How to manage that writer in less than 3 hours/week
The process used to achieve these results is simple but takes a lot of hard work, commitment to the process, and trust that it will work. We’ve seen a pretty consistent 25% monthly growth throughout the entire year. If you’re starting with small numbers, that growth may not seem exciting but as it compounds, it can have a huge impact on your traffic and sales.
There are other strategies that could probably get you these results and we will make some shifts and expand on what we’re doing as we continue to grow, but again this is the process that worked for me. I think it’s a great process to start with especially if you’re brand new to SEO.
Let’s jump in!
1. Hiring Your Writer
Creating a Job Description
Hiring a writer starts with creating a compelling job description.
You can Google different examples for a content marketing manager but I think Mindvalley gives a great example here. They have a more elaborate job description and required qualifications than are necessary but this gives you a good place to start.
The main thing you are looking for in hiring your writer is a high quantity and quality of written content. If you are hiring a full time writer, you should be able to expect five, 1,500 word articles a week. My results came from only publishing 2-3 articles a week and figuring out this process as we went but if you keep your writer laser focused on writing and not distracted with side projects, five articles a week is more than doable.
Creating Your Job Application
Once you setup an account I add these additional required questions to my job application:
- First Name
- Last Name
- Cover Letter
- Often reveals a lot about their knowledge of the job and why they would be qualified in addition to a quick grammar check
- Tells you if they are from the area you want to recruit from or another random country
- How many hours can you work
- Verify they can work as much as you need
- What is your desired monthly salary in USD
- This is critical because it will help you find out if they are in the ballpark of your budget and your target salary based on the region. We’ve found this question will also show a much lower figure than what that same applicant will often list on freelance sites like Upwork.
- Is there anything that makes you uniquely qualified for this job
Picking a Country To Hire From
Next you will need to pick a country that you want to hire from.
If you strategically pick the right country to hire from, you should be able to hire full-time writers that have excellent English and are very intelligent for $750 - $1,500/month.
Here are some average monthly salaries in different countries that could work:
- Malaysia - $380
- Philippines - $1,250
- Thailand - $683
- Colombia - $692
- Panama - $1,300
- Moldova - $348
I personally hire writers out of eastern Europe but largely because I have a physical office there. I don’t think it’s necessarily the best country in terms of time zone overlap or prevalence of English in the country.
You will have to determine which countries are best for your goals but some things to consider in addition to average salaries are:
- Is English prevalent in this country?
- Will it be very difficult for you to find excellent, grammar-free English writers?
- What is the time zone difference?
- Will there be enough overlap in working hours?
- Do they have a good work environment or will you need to provide support? I.e. electricity, internet, etc.
- For instance we previously had contractors in the Philippines and they would have frequent electrical blackouts.
I’ve found that many of your best applicants will have previous employment as writers, translators, or english teachers. Many of your best candidates will have a masters or Ph.D. degree in English. Additionally, many of the best applicants often have either grown up or went to school in an English speaking country like the US, UK, Australia, etc. but moved back home.
For example, this applicant who is a Ph.D., experienced writer asked for $700/month:
Besides the money you can save, one huge advantage I’ve found of hiring in different countries is that you should be able to hire a much higher level candidate. I’ve hired Ph.D. writers for less than what a part-time college intern cost me in America. Being their cost of living is so much less, they will usually be very grateful for the work and you will be able to pay very competitively and give raises when necessary.
One more point I want to make is that there will be a debate around should you hire a writer that has experience in your industry or not. My opinion here is that if you hire someone who has great writing abilities, who is great at research, and you are just starting to focus on your SEO, a writer without industry experience should be able to knock out lots of the low hanging traffic opportunities for you without having industry experience. You can also supplement this by giving them some education in your industry, whether that’s books, courses, etc.
I think there is a time and place for hiring a writer that will cost you $200+ per article with industry experience but for most businesses, that expense will be difficult to swallow because SEO is often a hit-or-miss type of game. Not all of your articles will rank on the first page and bring in lots of leads and sales.
I was able to grow our traffic without hiring industry experienced writers. And when we did write the occasional blog where we felt industry experience was important or our primary goal was to educate our leads and customers and not necessarily rank for keywords, I was able to guide and coach our writers on topics and articles or provide them interesting direct primary data so the content would turn out great.
Promoting Your Job Application
I recommend picking a specific country that you want to hire from so you can learn how to recruit there and understand how much you should pay. I would then create a job posting for specific large cities in those countries, even if you are going to hire them to work virtually. Candidates are more likely to apply for something in their city than something far away.
If you use a hiring platform like VivaHR or JazzHR, they will usually syndicate to free job boards for you without any extra cost. Do this.
Running Facebook Ads
After you’ve setup free syndication, I’ve found Facebook ads to be one of the most effective tools to generate applications. Another benefit of picking a country with a lower average salary, is that ads will be cheaper because it’s not a great country to sell products as an advertiser.
When we run these ads, we can get link clicks for about $0.40 for this content marketing position. Our last ad had over 2,500 clicks to our job posting resulting as many as 8 job applications a day. We hired about 1% of applicants that applied. The first writer we hired had perfect grammar, was very intelligent, and had a Ph.D. in English for $900/month, which included paying for their taxes.
Facebook Targeting Ideas
When setting up your Facebook ad, here are some ideas on targeting and how easy this can be:
- 25 miles from the city of your job posting
- Age range (we usually targeted 21+ so the person would have a couple years of job experience)
- Language English (UK or US)
- Interest Examples: conversion marketing, hubspot, email marketing, digital marketing, content marketing, content management, marketing strategy, copywriting, blogger (service), Aweber, MailChimp, Marketo, Digital marketer, Copyblogger, or Infusionsoft.
Facebook Ad Copy Ideas
Our original ad copy drove over 2,500 clicks to our job application. While it wasn’t extremely compelling and there was lots of room for improvement, it still worked! For the image, we just tested some different stock images.
The next thing I recommend is to start doing outreach through LinkedIn. LinkedIn recruiting is extremely powerful because you can get in front of excellent writing candidates that may already have a ton of experience writing and with digital marketing.
I’ve found it extremely effective to stack outbound recruiting with the inbound methods (Facebook ads and job board postings) described above because lots of your LinkedIn candidates will have already heard of your company and be more likely to respond.
Setup Your Account
I signed up for LinkedIn Recruiter Lite, which is $119.95/month. That comes with a 30 day free trial so if you’re only hiring a couple writers, you may be able to find the right person before you’re even billed.
Build a List of Candidates
Once you’ve signed up, you will need to start performing some different searches to find candidates.
I recommend starting out by searching keywords such as ‘writer’, ‘content’, ‘SEO’, ‘digital marketing’, ‘internet marketing’, etc. and filter based on the location you choose to hire in. Keep in mind, the less keyword combinations and filters you use, the broader your search result will be, so just play around with some different combinations and filters and see what comes up. Here’s an example based off an initial search in Panama that turned up 19 candidates.
Once you start finding candidates, you will need to add them to a list or as LinkedIn calls them, “Projects” so you can start doing outreach. Here’s an example of what one of our project titled Content Marketer looks like. Once you add candidates to your projects, you can keep track of who you’ve contacted and who’s replied.
As you start finding candidates, you may find a couple companies or schools that keep coming up if you search in one specific location. These are great filters to continue experimenting with to find more qualified writers.
Setup Initial Screening Calls
LinkedIn gives you 30 credits to message people on the plan I suggested. You can buy more credits but this limit actually helps you enforce only sending messages to the best candidates, which is a good thing.
Once you’ve created an initial list of candidates, you will need to create an email template and start to message and get them on your screening calls. I recommend pulling the things that will make your company sound attractive out of your job description and put them into your template. Below is an example message that I’ve sent. Don’t copy what I’ve written but rather match your template to your company and what you’ve put into your job posting.
Once you get responses back, set up a phone call with your candidates where you can explain more about your company, the job role, and explain those things that make your company an attractive place to work. Next, find out what they are looking for with their career goals and if there is a match.
Some candidates you talk to will be eliminated in this step but that’s not a bad thing. For example, one candidate I talked with on Skype turned out to be overqualified for our position but I was able to build some quick rapport with him. A couple hours later he sent me this message with a referral:
This referral turned out to be a great writing candidate and just one of several referrals I received because I was willing to do outreach and build relationships in one specific location.
Push Candidates Through Your Interview Process
After your initial screening call, if they seem like a great candidate, have them fill out your application and follow the hiring process described further below.
Reviewing Your Job Applications
Now that you job applicants are rolling in, it’s time to start vetting the good from the bad. Take your time with this process because it’s worth it. Hiring a really good writer that doesn’t require constant feedback and reviews will save you enormous amounts of time down the road.
Based on the job applications that come in, you should be able to immediately eliminate writers based on bad grammar in their application, a salary request outside of your budget, or other red flags that may be important to you i.e. short job history at every job, lack of experience, etc.
*When you are reviewing candidates lots of writers may say they have SEO experience but usually the extent of their knowledge ends at on site SEO. The basics of on site SEO can be trained to anyone in under an hour, so don’t be easily impressed :) We will cover on site SEO later in this guide.
Once a candidate passes the first application process I look at their writing ability. I’m also monitoring their follow through and ability to meet their own deadlines. If they are late or have some ‘emergency’ that comes up, just eliminate them. I’ve heard a million emergencies or hospital visits from flakey contractors :)
Here’s the first email template I send out:
Once they respond, you can eliminate them based on any grammar mistakes.
If they pass this first test, you can move on to a writing test and send this template:
In this template, I’m forcing them to set a deadline on themselves so I can test their follow through. I also give clear instructions about them sending me a headline and outline first to save time but also see how good they are at following directions. Once they send the outline if it looks good, have them set a deadline for when they will get the draft to you.
After this test, you can choose to work with them on improving their draft or if you’re comfortable continue the interview process. Writers have different styles and may be able to adapt to what you want with some feedback. However, I will eliminate based on any grammar problems or poor writing ability. You don’t want to train those two things.
If they pass their writing test, you can move them to a phone interview. My process follows suggestions laid out by the interview book, WHO.
The goal here is to eliminate people who are inappropriate for the job position and get into their job history to see if they have patterns that support signs they would be successful in this content role.
- What do you know about (your company)
- Find out if they really want to work for you or would just take any job
- What are your career goals?
- Find out if their goals align with what you need
- Who were your last five bosses, and how will they each rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them?
- Collect the name of each boss and their rating
- We are looking for lots of 8's, 9's and 10's in the rating. Consider 7's neutral; 6's and below are actually bad. if you hear too many 6's screen them out
- Really listen to what is being said not just the rating. Follow up by pressing for details.
- What were you hired to do?
- This first question is a clear window into candidate's goals and targets for a specific job. This is to discover what their scorecard might have been.
- Build a mental image of what their scorecard should have been.
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- Be wary when a candidate's accomplishments seem to lack any correlation to the expectations of the job.
- What were some low points during that job?
- Do not let them give you generic answers. Reframe the question over and over until the candidate gets the message.
- What went really wrong?
- What was your biggest mistake?
- What would you have done differently?
- Tips: Don't let the candidates off the hook.
- Who were the people you worked with? Specifically?
- What was your boss's name, and how do you spell that?
- What was it like working with him/her?
- What will he/she tell me were your biggest strength and areas for improvement?
- What changes did you make?
- You want the truth from candidates, so use the threat of reference checks. Ask them to spell out their bosses names, no matter how common it might seem: you are sending a powerful message. you are going to call, so they should tell the truth.
- What will ____ say were your biggest strengths and areas for improvement.
- Why did you leave the job?
- Were the candidates for your position promoted, recruited or fired from each job along their career progression.
- Were they taking the next step in their career or running from something
- A Players are highly valued by their bosses. B and C players often are not.
- Don't accept vague answers like "My boss and I didn't connect" That's a non-answer
- This interview takes on average 90 minutes for entry-level position
- Collect contact information and have them set up calls for you with their previous 5 bosses.
After your interview, review:
- "Does this person's strength match my job description and metrics?
- Are the weaknesses manageable
- Am I thrilled about bringing this person in based on the data I have
- If you find yourself thinking you want to bring candidates in just to test them a little more, then screen them out. Only invite in those whose profile appears to be a strong match for your scorecard
If they pass the phone interview, move to a culture interview. This culture interview should be based on finding out if the candidate matches your core values. Additionally you need to find out if they would get along with the people they are going to work and hang out with.
Once you have your core values in place, you should develop questions to ask around them. Here’s an example of some of our core values (curiosity, solutions focused, ownership attitude) and situational questions to determine if the candidate is a good fit:
- What are some of the books you’ve read recently? What did you learn and how did you apply that?
- What are your hobbies or interests outside of work?
- Give me an example of a time when you tried to accomplish something and failed. What did you learn?
- Tell me about a time that you ran into a problem at work and used an unrelated experience to solve that problem.
- Tell me about a situation in which you worked with your direct reports/team members to develop new and creative ideas to solve a business problem. What problem were you trying to solve? How did it work out?
- When have you been a part of a team that drove an important business change? What was your role?
- Tell me about a situation when you had to 'stand up' for a decision you made even though it made you unpopular.
- Give me an example of any specific time in which you found it necessary to give long hours to the job. For example, tell me about the period when it was necessary to take work home, work on weekends, or maintain unusually long hours. Be specific.
- Tell me about a time when you were able to provide your own motivation to produce even though you were working alone. What were the circumstances of the situation and how did you manage to motivate yourself?
- We both recognize that being successful takes more than luck. Hard work is necessary in order to achieve. Tell me about a time when you had to work very hard to reach your goals and be specific about what you achieved.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
- Tell me about times when you seized the opportunities, grabbed something and ran with it yourself.
- Give some examples of when you have shown initiative over the last six months in school or at your last job.
If they pass the culture interview, the next step is to give them a personality test. I suggest using the Kolbe test. What this will help you with is weed out people where their natural tendencies will be a bad fit for this position and working with their direct manager.
For example, if I build out the content process where I don’t want to have to give a lot of feedback or manage the process to get content created, I want someone that has high follow through. If I’m constantly having to check to see if things are done or follow up on why there were mistakes in the process, that’s going to drive me crazy. The Kolbe test can help eliminate people that won’t be a great fit for your job position.
We look for someone close to a 7752 with their Kolbe score. What this means is that someone with this score will have high follow through, they will be really good at research, and are comfortable when there are not extremely clear directions in place all the time. To me, these are all important natural tendencies for this job position.
You can move this up in your interview process but they are $50 each.
The last step is to check references.
- Do four reference interviews
- Interview three past bosses, two peers or customers, and two subordinates
- Reference Interview Guide
- In what context did you work with the person?
- What was the person's biggest strength?
- What were the person's biggest areas for improvement back then?
- How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1- 10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
- The person mentioned that he/she struggled with ____ in that job. Can you tell me more about that?
Again, obviously there are a lot of steps here to hire the right person but one of the most important jobs you have is finding and recruiting the right people into your organization. Finding the right person will be exponentially better than finding an average hire so it’s worth the time to do the work.
If they made it this far and pass your reference checks, hire them!
If you’re looking for some more help on the hiring process, Ahrefs has a great article on their process. I don’t claim to have the perfect hiring process but it works for me. Pick one, try it out and make adjustments. Don’t focus on getting everything perfect and then never actually move forward with hiring a writer :)
2. Content Writing Process
Provide Writing Guidelines
I highly recommend you create writing guidelines for your writer/guest bloggers so it’s easy for them to understand what type of writing you will accept. I created this sheet for guest bloggers but it applies to our internal content writers as well.
With your new writer, you should only have to review and give feedback on their first five articles. After that, if you’ve hired the right person, you should be able to step back and allow them to publish without reviewing articles.
Before writing an article, you will need your writer to do keyword research to determine the best content to write for.
Here is a great training that goes through different strategies to find keywords that have high search volume and low keyword difficulty. I use Ahrefs to do my keyword and backlink research as I think it is the best tool on the market.
How to Prioritize the Best Keywords
Once you’ve created a lengthy list of keyword ideas, our writers use our Keyword Selection tool to mathematically pick the best keywords to write for instead of guessing or going by their gut. With the Keyword Selection tool, the closer a keyword is to a score of 30, the better.
You can watch this video explanation of how to use this spreadsheet or read below:
Keyword difficulty in Ahrefs is a score that estimates out of 100 how hard it is to rank for that keyword phrase. The lower that number, the easier it is to rank for. In our selection sheet, we cross reference KD with a range that can be adjusted.
Clicks found in Ahrefs shows you the potential number of clicks you could receive from a keyword. Higher search volume does not always mean higher clicks. In our selection sheet, we cross reference Clicks with a range that can be adjusted.
When picking keywords to write about, it’s also very important to understand which keywords will be most likely to drive sales for your business.
I suggest leaving three ranges your writer can choose from with examples so it’s easy for them to select a score. For example, let’s assume I’m a dog store looking to sell “Purina Dog Food”. These could be my ranges:
7-10 > high likelihood of someone having search intent to sign up for our service (i.e. purina dog food, high protein dog food, vet recommended dog food)
5-6 > medium likelihood of someone having search intent to sign up for our service. They could be searching for your service but they might not be (i.e. When to switch from puppy food, how much should I feed my dog, Blue buffalo dog food - competitor)
1-4 > low likelihood of someone having search intent to sign up for our service but should be in our target market (dog breeds, beagles, dogs and fireworks, when do puppies need shots)
*While, Google encrypts keyword data making it difficult for you to find what specific keywords drove your actual website traffic and sales, if you are able to track your leads and sales based on source (organic search) and first page seen (blog post), you can create a pivot table with this data to dial in your ‘Importance’ rankings used in the Keyword Selection sheet. With this data you’ll be able to see which types of blogs pull the most leads and sales and identify which types of keywords to target based on those blogs. This can be an ongoing process you use to dial in your examples for your importance score.
Using Trello to Manage Weekly Content Production
I use a Trello board like this for the writers to manage their work in progress.
Once you’ve prioritized the best keywords to focus on, I require my writer to select five keywords the Friday before the week in which they will write those keywords.
I then have them set a due date for each day of the following week and add themselves as a member to the card. This ensures that they are prepared for the next week and there is accountability to complete their required number of articles. You will be able to see if due dates are changed on individual cards.
Use Google Docs
I’ve found Google Docs is the easiest way to collaborate and leave feedback to your writers. Platforms like HubSpot also allow you to import your writing directly from a Google Doc.
I recommend you set up a shared Google Doc folder for all of your articles and then require your writers to create each Google Doc from that specific folder so you never have to worry about requesting access to the docs they are writing (this is especially helpful to avoid delays if your writer is on a different time zone).
Turning Keywords Into Articles
The first step of turning a keyword into an article is creating a headline.
If you can’t get someone to click your article based on a great headline, then all your work is wasted. This is an extremely important step. Here’s a guide on how to write great headlines. I would emphasize that you make it a practice for your writer to create 20 headline ideas for each article before choosing a headline.
While you may take a step back in managing the writing process once your writer is trained, I recommend getting them in the habit of creating an outline based off their headline with supporting information. I give an example in this document of what I mean. I’ve found this process can save a substantial amount of writing time.
Once your writer gets comfortable writing articles on their own, another article type to consider is an interview based article.
The benefit of interviewing other people for your content creation is that if you can get interview content quickly, it speeds up your content process. All your writer has to do is collect responses, format things, and add an intro and conclusion. Additionally once you publish this article, you can ask your interviewees to share your article, driving more traffic, social shares, and potential backlinks to your website.
You can get these interview answers from places like HARO (register as a publisher), Facebook Groups, your email list, etc. to collect interview answers.
Uploading Your Article with On Site SEO
Once your writer finishes writing their article, there are basic on site SEO best-practices they need to follow when uploading their article.
I recommend using a tool so your writer can follow a checklist and doesn’t have to think to get things optimized. SEO Yoast for WordPress or HubSpot are both great tools for this.
- If you’re uploading to HubSpot, you can import your Google Doc directly and follow these instructions to optimize for on site SEO.
- If you’re uploading to WordPress, you can follow these directions to optimize using Yoast SEO.
I recommend your writer reads this article so they understand the importance of what they are doing but those tools will make sure you are covered.
Getting high domain authority websites to link to your website is one of the most important ways to help individual blogs and your entire website rank higher for traffic.
If you are just starting out, I don’t recommend spending a lot of time on this as you will have the least amount of control over your success compared to creating really good content for your own blog.
If you do want to focus on this, one of the best ways to get backlinks and control your success is through guest blogging or getting on podcasts of high domain authority websites that allow ‘do-follow’ backlinks.
Webmaster Crawl Errors
Often times, links will change on your website that will appear broken to Google or other websites pointing to those old links. This is an easy but important fix to ensure you don’t miss out on traffic and the link value you get from other websites.
Have your writer schedule a recurring time every two weeks in their calendar to check Google Search console for any crawl errors that need to be fixed.
3. Ongoing Management of Your Content Writer
Metrics to Track
At the end of the day, you need a way to manage your writers and know that their work is impacting your revenue goals. This is the sheet I use to manage my writers with less than three hours of feedback a week. I’ve explained it below:
I use Google Analytics to pull the amount of traffic by source. I also use HubSpot to pull contacts created within a month by source (organic search). Then I reference those contacts with their actual revenue. If you have recurring revenue, it’s nice to track cumulative revenue from contacts created in those months so that long term you know how much your traffic and leads are worth i.e. “I earn $1.50 from every visitor after 3 months”
Domain authority will not change very quickly but it is a good measurement to track your overall website SEO health.
In my experience, it can often take two months or longer to see some of your articles rank and start to bring in traffic. Tracking these leading indicators from Ahrefs can help show you and your writers if they are doing the right things. This is also important for you and them to stay motivated as SEO is a long term initiative.
As your brand can improve from people seeing your content, listening to your podcast, word-of-mouth, etc. I additionally track my branded search (company or personal name) here to see how well our brand is improving over time.
Tracking weekly production is the area your writer will have the most impact on. In my experience, five 1,500 word articles a week is a great metric to require for a full time writer. If you are not sure what metrics to set, try writing a couple articles yourself and then set your metrics based on your experience.
The first couple weeks, give your writer some slack as they learn your processes and get up to speed. Week three, they should be comfortable and ramped up to writing their full writing quota.
*Writers should only track completed articles on this sheet if they have been scheduled or published. It’s very easy for a writer to try and fake their production and mark an article as complete before it is scheduled or published when it still requires additional hours of work - don’t allow this!
Weekly 30 Minute Check in Meeting
I have a recurring 30 minute meeting to check in with a trained writer to review their progress for the previous week and review what will be worked on the following week. I keep a running shared document with them to keep track of what they’ve committed to and how they’ve been doing.
I highly recommend you have your writer read a minimum of ten books or courses on SEO and backlinks.
In my experience, consuming ten books or courses from experts will significantly increase your knowledge around what to do and what not to do with your SEO strategy (or any subject for that matter). It will give you a wide breadth of experience to draw on and will allow you to create your own opinions because you’ve explored so many different points of view.
Here’s a list of resources to get you started:
- Ahrefs SEO resource list of blog posts, courses, podcasts, etc.
- Link Building Book
- SEO Training Course by Moz
- Google or search Amazon for additional SEO books and courses :)