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This resource is for those who are new to building profitable websites — and for the veterans out there who are looking for ways to boost your site’s traffic and income through organic growth.
It’s a roadmap to take you from where you are now to a new level of success, whether that means building a $5k/month site from scratch, or doubling your current revenue.
This page is here to help you master keyword research and use it to drive more traffic to your site and more money to your pocket.
The System for Driving Organic Growth
This is the system that The Wirecutter used to drive traffic and build the success that ended in a $30 million acquisition by the New York Times. It’s the same system that successful entrepreneurs like Neil Patel, Brian Dean and Spencer Haws have used to rank thousands of articles and build 6 figure online incomes.
It’s how thousands of solopreneurs and small businesses have built flexible lifestyles earning $5k/month, $10/month, and more from niche or authority site income.
This works for small and enterprise level sites. It works for people who have never built a site before. It works for e-commerce sites, local businesses, and niche/authority sites.
It works because this system helps you connect people with what they want. When you can find out what people want and provide them with a way to get it, you can get traffic and make money.
This system has been created through the painful trial and error of thousands of marketers. By following it, you’ll be saving yourself hundreds of hours and gaining a huge advantage in the online arena.
Where to Start Your Organic Growth
If you’re reading this article, you’re in one of two groups:
- You already have a website, and you want to supercharge your growth.
- You don’t have a website, and you want help starting from scratch.
This section will tell you where to start so you can dive in as quickly as possible.
If you already have a website
To grow your site, your goal should be to find new opportunities in your niche. You want to know what information customers are looking for that you’re not providing yet. When you start addressing these questions, you’ll start to attract more people interested in your niche.
This will increase your organic traffic, which means you’ll get thousands of new potential customers for free. Careful keyword research, optimization, and monetization are going to be the keys to your growth. Skip ahead to step 2!
If you’re just starting out
There are a lot of options for online business — e-commerce, services, software, etc. This system works for all of them, but we recommend that you focus on building an authority site. The authority site model is the most straightforward and will get you the fastest ROI. (It’s the model our team follows for sites making over $50k/month.)
What is an authority site? It’s a website which provides information and product recommendations in a particular niche. You get traffic by finding things people want to learn/buy and writing articles to fill those needs. You earn money by taking a commission from product recommendations. (These used to be called niche sites, but now we aim to reach a broader audience by targeting multiple tiny niches on each authority site.)
Now that you know where to start…
Learn the Steps to Drive Organic Growth
That’s it! That’s the system that drives millions of dollars per month across thousands of websites. At this point, you might be thinking one of two things:
It can’t possibly be that simple.
That’s not simple! I don’t know how to do any of those steps.
Well, ok, you’re right — if you’re just starting, you’ll need to set up your site. If you’re more advanced, you’ll want to try additional strategies like link building and outsourcing to speed things up. And if you don’t know how to do these steps yet, you’ll want to follow our guides closely.
But the crucial steps that will drive your organic growth are the 5 steps you just read.
Pay close attention now, because we’re about to reveal the EXACT process we’ve used to build authority sites worth over $50k/month in niches including:
- Online marketing
- Finance and investing
Let’s dive in a bit deeper…
Step 1: Choose a Profitable Niche
If you’re just getting started building an income-generating website, the first big decision on your plate is choosing your niche.
This can be overwhelming at first, which is why we’ve broken down the process into two steps: brainstorming niche ideas, and validating the opportunity of those ideas.
How to Brainstorm Niche Ideas
This step is all about creativity — don’t worry about whether ideas are good or bad or interesting or not. Just aim for a big long list of fairly specific niches. You can filter the good ones out afterwards.
One great way to brainstorm niche ideas is to start listing off broad ideas that interest you and then gradually get more specific.
Here’s an example of some broad categories that can make a good start:
Those categories are a lot to tackle, and if you’re going after really general keywords, you’re going to be running up against some tough competition. That’s why we start to “niche down” and brainstorm ideas within those categories.
Here’s an example of some specific ideas within the “Hobbies” category:
This is a great way to come up with nearly endless ideas. I usually brainstorm until I run out of ideas, then continue for another 15 minutes to push my thinking outside the box.
Once you have a good long list of ideas, pick your favorites and then move on to the next step: validating your niche idea.
How to Validate Your Niche
After you’ve brainstormed ideas, it’s time to actually pick the best one and validate that you can get traffic and make money in the niche. That means choosing the niches that interest you enough to spend a lot of time on, then finding the one with the best opportunity for success.
There are a two important questions to consider before you dive into a new niche. If you can’t answer “yes” to both of these, you should probably explore more options.
- Can you get traffic to the site?
- Are people willing to spend money?
Can you get traffic to the site?
This is the single most important consideration before starting your site. If you can’t get organic traffic, you can’t drive organic growth, which means you’re wasting your time.
To validate that you can drive organic growth for your site, you need to make sure that there’s plenty of opportunity, and not too much competition.
The best way to check this is to sit down and do some of the initial keyword research for that niche. First find 20-30 low competition keywords. You can use these keywords to identify topics that you can write about on your website. You’ll want to make each keyword unique enough that you can write a 750 to 1000 word article on the topic. (To learn more about this process, join our free Long Tail Bootcamp, which will guide you through each step) Find at least 20-30 low competition keywords that you can turn into your website’s initial content.
If you can do that easily, it shouldn’t be hard to find a lot more keywords in your niche as your traffic grows and you build momentum with your site.
If it’s hard to do that, I recommend you consider a different niche or at least try to find 20-30 more low competition keywords before going forward.
We’ll talk more about keyword research in the next section, and you can also go deeper with this guide to SEO keyword research.
Are people willing to spend money?
This question is less crucial than the first, but only slightly. At least some of the people in your niche need to be willing to spend money, or your site won’t be profitable.
There are a couple ways to get an idea for whether or not your niche will be profitable before you start.
Suggested Bid Method
The first method is to look in Google’s Keyword Planner or Long Tail Pro for the Suggested Bid value of some keywords in the niche you’re considering. This is a rough indicator of whether the niche will be profitable. Since you’ve already done keyword research to validate traffic potential, just check the low competition keywords that you’ve already found. If people are spending more than about $0.75 on ads for your keyword, there’s probably money to be made.
Amazon Research Method
The second method is to look for product-related keywords in your proposed niche. Check Amazon to see how popular these products are and how much they sell for. If you can find several popular products in your niche selling for $50-$200, you’ll be able to monetize through product recommendations when the time comes. (Note: This doesn’t mean you’ll need to use Amazon Affiliates to monetize when the time comes. It’s just a good indicator of opportunity.)
Now that you understand the basics of niche selection, here’s more information on keyword research to help you get on the right track.
Step 2: Find Low Competition Keywords with Potential to Make Money
The goal of this step is to find out what information people in your market want that isn’t being provided very well yet. The important thing here is that you will drive organic growth by finding real needs that you can fill. Keyword research is the most effective way to do this, because it tells you exactly what real people are searching for in your market.
Good keyword research means that when you spend your time or money to create content, you know that it will be highly targeted and profitable, and that it will bring traffic to your site.
There are three main questions you should be asking yourself when choosing keywords to target with your website’s content.
- What products or knowledge do people need in this market?
- Does Google see my site as the right type of resource to rank for these keywords?
- Can I outrank the competition for these keywords?
What products or knowledge do people need in this market?
The first question can be answered by looking at what people are searching for, and then looking at the search volume. You can find keywords people are searching for by using a tool like Google’s Keyword Planner, Long Tail Pro, or Ubersuggest.
These tools allow you to enter a general term like “running shoes” within your niche and get hundreds of suggestions for similar terms that people are searching for. Here’s an example using Long Tail Pro:
You can then look at the monthly search volume to find out how many people are actually looking for this term every month. This will give you an idea of how much traffic you’ll get if you are able to successfully rank for this keyword, and whether it’s worth going after.
Does Google see my site as the right type of resource to rank for these keywords?
When you’re looking at potential keywords, you have to know that Google will consider your site for this type of keyword, which means looking at search intent.
When people search something in Google, they can be at many stages of the buyer journey:
Stage 1 is Awareness, where you learn about a product.
Stage 2 is Interest, where you’re potentially interested in the product but you don’t have much information about it.
Stage 3 is Consideration, where you’re considering “What do I wanna buy, Brand X or Brand Y?” You are choosing between say, Nike and Reebok.
Stage 4 is Purchase, where you’re ready to buy and you’re looking for the best deal.
For a keyword in the “awareness” stage, Google wants to serve up purely informational sites, so a keyword like “what is coffee” is going to get results like Wikipedia. You don’t want to compete with that.
On the flip side, at the “purchase” stage, Google wants to give people a place to buy the product, so they’ll serve up e-commerce stores or physical stores. Unless you’re working on an e-commerce site, you don’t want to target these keywords either.
You’re looking for keywords indicating the interest or consideration stage — people want to learn more or know they want to buy something, but they’re not sure what. Your articles will help inform readers and connect them with their ideal product, and you’ll make a commission on sales.
As you get more used to the idea of search intent, you’ll recognize these keywords more naturally over time, but to start out with, an easy trick is to look for keywords with what we call “informational footprints” or “buying footprints.” Here are some examples:
Informational Footprints: “Healthy…”, “how to…”, “easy…”, “…training”, etc.
Buying Footprints: “best…”, “… for women”, “top…”, “where to buy…”, “…brands”, etc.
So before moving on to the next stage, filter out everything that seems like it’s in the awareness or purchase stage.
Can I outrank the competition for these keywords?
Before you decide on a keyword, you want to be sure that you have a chance of making it to the front page. Otherwise, it’s not worth your time or money.
Think about this: would you rather be competing for a spot on Google’s front page with TheWirecutter.com (a site with 445k backlinks, ranking for >16k keywords), or a one-year-old niche site with only 17 backlinks?
If you’ve been around for a while and your site has some strength, you can be more flexible, but if you’re just starting out, it’s really important to target only low competition keywords.
The easiest and fastest way to accurately assess your keywords is to use Long Tail Pro’s Keyword Competitiveness metric (a recent study shows that it’s one of the best on the market for ranking in Google). This can also be done manually, but it could take you 5-10 minutes per keyword to do it properly, so using a tool that can help you sort through hundreds of keywords in the same time is invaluable.
Now that you understand what we’re looking for and why, I’ll share the checklist we follow to verify that keywords will drive organic traffic.
Here are our exact criteria for a winning keyword
This keyword needs to be highly relevant to your audience. It should answer a question or solve a problem for them.
Appropriate Search Volume
Typically higher is better, as long as the keywords are still low-competition; however, it can also be profitable to go for low-volume keywords. The sweet spot will usually be from 100-10,000 local monthly searches (LMS).
CPC isn’t important for all types of keywords, such as informational ones. That said, typically you want keywords with a CPC of at least $0.75. It’s a good way to know money is being spent in the niche. (This is the same check we did for niche research in Step 1.)
Putting LMS and CPC Together
If you have a higher CPC, generally it is ok to go with a lower LMS. Some niches will have high CPC’s and therefore will not require a large amount of search volume monthly (LMS) to achieve website monetary goals.
There is no specific formula for these situations, but the higher the CPC, the lower you can go with your LMS.
Low Competition in Google
If you’re creating a brand new site, shoot for Keyword Competitiveness of 35 or lower (in Long Tail Pro).
If you already have a site, you’ll have some authority built up, so you might be able to aim higher and target more competitive keywords. Long Tail Pro can recommend the best Keyword Competitiveness target for your site. Follow this Target KC to make sure you’re finding all of your available opportunities.
Look at other stuff too including:
- Types of sites ranking
- Trust Flow and Citation Flow < 25
- Age of Sites (younger is better)
- Number of backlinks (fewer is better)
- Length of the ranking content
Similar Sites Ranking
Ideally, you’ll see sites just like yours in the top spots. This lets you know Google is happy to rank your type of site.
What does a good keyword look like?
Using the suggestions from our “running shoes” example above, we found the keyword “minimalist running shoes” which passed all of our criteria.
Here’s what the top 10 ranking sites for “minimalist running shoes” look like, along with their relevant metrics (Trust Flow, Citation Flow, backlinks, site age, etc):
That’s a quick introduction to the basics, but this post will take you deeper into how to do effective keyword research or you can join our free Long Tail Bootcamp for step by step video tutorials.
Step 3: Post an Optimized Article Targeting Your Keywords
By the time you get to this stage, you should have a good long list of low competition keywords in your niche. Now you’re ready to post an article targeting the keywords you’ve found.
We’ll tackle this in two stages:
- How to turn keyword research into articles
- How to publish and optimize your SEO
How do you turn keyword research into articles?
By now, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that there’s a system for this. (We love systems.) For each post, you want to target multiple keywords, so start by making content groups from the keywords you’ve found.
For each article that you write, you should target:
- 1 primary keyword
- 3-7 secondary keywords
Let’s talk about how to pick your primary and secondary keywords, then we’ll discuss how to include them in your post. We talked about our criteria for winning keywords in the keyword research step, but here are a few specific criteria for primary and secondary keywords.
What makes a good primary keyword?
The primary keyword is the main topic of your article. Here’s what to look for:
Appropriate Search Volume: The sweet spot for primary keywords is 2,000-10,000 local monthly search volume (LMS).
Low Competition in Google: Shoot for keyword competitiveness of 35 or lower (in Long Tail Pro) for primary keywords.
What makes a good secondary keyword?
When choosing a good secondary keyword, you want to choose keywords that are similar to your main keyword.
What other search terms would your audience type into Google to find information about the same topic as your primary keyword?
Ex of Good Secondary Keywords
Primary Keyword: how to stop dog biting
Secondary Keywords (Good):
- how to stop your dog from biting
- stop dog biting tips
- tips to stop my dog from biting
- how to prevent my dog from biting
In this example, the secondary keywords talk about the same topic as the primary keyword. Someone who is searching for any of the secondary keywords would find relevant information about their topic in an article about: “how to stop dog biting”
Ex of “Not So Good” Secondary Keywords
Primary Keyword: how to stop dog biting
Secondary Keywords (Not So Good):
- how to stop your dog from barking
- best dog grooming tips
- dog training tips
In this example, there are topics covered that are not related to the main keyword. The secondary keywords could be used to create new topics or articles on the website, but visitors who are looking for “best dog grooming tips” or “dog training tips” aren’t necessarily looking for “how to stop dog biting”. This may be a topic that interests them, but when they type in a keyword, they want to be able to be able to land on an article that addresses their main concern.
Here are other specific criteria your secondary keywords should meet:
Appropriate Search Volume: The sweet spot for secondary or supporting keywords is 100-800 LMS.
Low Competition in Google: Secondary keyword should be under 30 if possible, and lower is better.
How to include primary and secondary keywords in your article
- Include your primary keyword at the beginning as your title
- Use secondary keywords as the sub headings of your article sections
- Sprinkle your keywords throughout the article text, but keep the keyword density for each keyword to 1% or less (That means the # of times a keyword appears divided by the total number of words in your article should be 1% or less)
- Emphasize some of your keywords
- Bold important keywords and related keywords
- Put 1-2 important keywords in italics
How long should your article be?
The short answer is that it should be at least 700 words, but longer is better. Your big articles for higher search volume keywords should be at least 1500+ words.
The longer and more advanced answer is that the length should depend on your competition and on the content already available online. Before writing your article, take a look at the top ranking content in Google and find out how long they are. Make your article as long as or longer than the best articles available and you’ll be in good shape to start climbing the rankings.
Also make sure you’re including most, if not all, of the information included in the best articles. It’s a bonus if you can add something no one else has talked about yet!
Here are a few notes on the biggest considerations when you’re ready to publish your content:
How to find images for your article
If you’ve never tackled this before, it’s easy to get stuck or end up spending a lot on paid stock photos. However, there are actually some great free stock photo options. Two of our favorite places for free photos are Pixabay and Unsplash.
Include Keywords: When you add these images to the post, use your keywords in the alt text (but make sure that the alt text is relevant to the image).
Add outbound links
Link to a few high quality trusted sites related to your topic that aren’t competitors. This adds value for your readers by showing them where to get more good information. It also gives search engines a clue about your article’s topic and your site’s niche, which will help your SEO. Just make sure not to overdo it so you don’t impact your reader’s experience.
Interlink to related articles
Your content will contribute more to your brand when you’re able to offer a lot of highly related content. Multiple highly related articles should be interlinked and reference each other. This will help you keep readers longer, and it will even help your SEO. If people read more articles, your page views go up and your bounce rate goes down. As an added bonus, when Google sees lots of highly related content, it will recognize that you are building authority on that particular subject.
There are related post plugins you can use, but make sure to include a few “in-context links” so that your readers know the related post is highly relevant to what they’re reading. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, there’s an example of an in-context link just above this to our WordPress SEO Settings article.)
Include Keywords: Use your keywords as anchor text for links to other posts on your website.
How to do your on-page SEO
At this point, you’ve already done keyword research and picked low competition keywords, so you’re halfway there. Luckily there’s a pretty clear set of rules you can follow to make sure your on page SEO is set up correctly.
First, we recommend installing the Yoast plugin for wordpress. Follow all of their recommendations (except keyword density, which should be about 1% as we mentioned above).
Second, make sure your SEO is optimized across your wordpress site.
Step 4: Monetize your article
There are lots of ways to monetize your website, and this stage is actually a great place to exercise your creativity. You should always be thinking of new things your customers want that you can offer to them.
Some articles can be monetized more easily than others, of course. The key is to focus on how each article builds towards the overall monetization strategy of your brand.
If you can earn money right now through direct monetization strategies, do it! If you can’t, then use “indirect monetization” strategies — get people to sign up for your email list or follow you on social media so you can pitch them something later.
Sometimes your article is going to be reviewing and referencing products, such as when you’re targeting keywords in the “consideration stage” of the buying journey.
In this case, monetization is pretty straightforward:
- Research affiliate networks in your niche to find ones with good commission rates and quality products you’re happy to recommend.
- Sign up for the affiliate network(s)
- In your review article, link to the products using your affiliate code.
However it’s important to note that this step won’t always involve direct monetization where someone actively purchases from your site. With some articles, you want to think of this step in terms of how the article can help the overall monetization strategy of your site.
For example, an informational post targeting the keyword “how to play darts better” seems hard to monetize directly. Of course you can use ads, but you’re not going to be pitching any products, and ads usually won’t make you a lot of money, especially with younger sites.
If your article doesn’t directly reference products, you need to get a bit more creative:
One of the best ways to monetize an article “indirectly” is to use it to grow your audience so you can market something else to them later. Informational posts are golden opportunities to build your audience and email list with lead magnets.
The idea here is simple: offer a valuable bonus related to your post in exchange for the reader’s email. Over time, your email list will become a huge asset which will allow you to monetize your site in a million and one ways.
Step 5: Repeat Steps 2-4 Weekly for 3-6 Months
The key to success is consistency. The Organic Growth System really works, but only if you stick to it and see it through.
When you first launch your site, Google won’t start ranking it for several months, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately see your articles ranking. Give it 6 months of dedicated effort, and you’ll start climb the rankings and see results.
If you’ve already got a site, then it won’t take as long for these steps to pay off for you, but it still takes some time, so we recommend posting regularly for at least 3 months in order to see results.
To us, the best proof that our system works is the repeated success of our customers. They’ve shown that you can rank in Google and make money from your site from anywhere in the world.
Here are a few examples of organic growth from people in the Long Tail Pro community who applied this system:
Tom’s website went from 0 to 30,000 unique visitors in 6 months.
Yannick earned $1473 in affiliate income 6 months after launching his site.
Michael drove 780k visitors to his client’s site over 18 months.
If you want to see more details of how Michael achieved such successful organic growth, check out the exact 6-step process Michael followed.
Ready to kickstart your organic growth?
Congratulations on getting to the end of this post (I just realized it’s over 4000 words already!) If you’re still here, then you’ve probably got the dedication to apply this system and see enormous success.
The single biggest thing you can do for the organic growth of your business is to start implementing this system right now.
You probably didn’t absorb all this information in one go (unless you’re some sort of amazing superhuman), so here’s the fastest way to get started:
- Bookmark this page now so you can come back to it and use it as a reference throughout your organic growth journey.
- Join our free Long Tail Bootcamp. It’s designed to get you up and running as quickly as possible.
Long Tail Bootcamp is 7 days of tutorials packed with in-depth teaching that will guide you through our organic growth system.
- Day 1: Finding Seed Keywords
- Day 2: Understanding Intention and Finding Better Seed Keywords
- Day 3: Seed Keywords and Basic Keyword Research
- Day 4: Competitor Analysis
- Day 5: Using Rank Value to Determine Keyword Profitability
- Day 6: Combining Keywords and Serp Crossover
- Day 7: On-Page SEO
We’ll take you through the nitty gritty details, and in just 1 week you’ll be ready to post your first set of optimized content to start driving organic traffic to your website.
If you’re serious about taking your site to the next level, sign up for Long Tail Bootcamp today.