When we started working on OpenPhone 3 years ago, I looked at the keyword search data for business phone solutions with excitement. If only we could rank for some of these highly-searched terms, we’d get thousands of customers. Sounds simple, eh?
Frankly, I had no idea where to start. How do you go from a single landing page to driving consistent traffic (that converts) to your site?
In the last 6 months, we’ve been able to grow our blog’s search traffic from 500 to 30k monthly visits. This doesn’t count any direct traffic, by the way. And it was meaningful traffic too. In fact, 18% of our sign-ups in the month of August came from our blog, making content our 2nd highest growth channel.
While we’re still very early on this journey, I thought I’d share my learnings so far and how we got here. If you’re a founder getting started with SEO and content marketing, this post is for you. I wish I read it last year.
Why are we investing in content marketing?
We identified SEO and content marketing as a key growth channel for us for several reasons:
- High keyword search volume for terms related to business phone systems, VoIP, business phone solutions, etc. Thousands of people looking for what we’re building, how can we get in front of them?
- High intent. Folks already looking for a solution like ours have higher intent than those who we serve a FB / IG ad. We can convert many of them into customers.
- Fresh perspective. A lot of existing content on topics related to business telephony is very dated. We have a chance to become the go-to source for modern companies and folks who don’t want to be stuck in the past. For example, do you really need extensions in 2020? 🙂
- Compound impact. SEO is one of the few channels that compounds as you grow.
- Create once, distribute everywhere. This has been inspired by Jeff Chang‘s tweet below and holds true to how we think about content. A lot of articles we publish serve the double-duty of creating more value for existing customers and bringing on new customers. For example, we share our 25 business text message templates with all new users as a part of OpenPhone onboarding. It’s also bringing new customers to us via Google Search.
How we grew our blog to 30k monthly visits
Step 1: Started writing on Medium and forums
In late 2017 I set up a Medium account for OpenPhone. I had experience writing on my personal Medium before so it was the easiest way to get started. We hadn’t launched at that time so the handful of posts I wrote on Medium were pre-product and very much experimental.
I got ideas for what to write about from the questions I saw folks ask in different forums for startups and small businesses (our target audience).
Ultimately, I didn’t get many views on my Medium posts and put them on hold while we were in YC. It was only once I published about our experience at YC (meta, I know) that I saw the potential of content for OpenPhone. Surprisingly, a good number of folks discovered and signed up for OpenPhone through that post.
At the same time, I contributed to business telephony questions on Quora and Reddit.
While initially posting on Medium and online forums helped refine my writing skills, I wish we would have started with our own dedicated blog from day 1. This way, any content we published would live on our own domain and improve our site ranking. Instead, I contributed to Medium’s SEO.
Step 2: Set up our dedicated blog
In December 2019, we set up our dedicated blog (where you’re reading this post). It’s a simple WordPress blog hosted on WP Engine and with the Contentberg theme.
As you already know by now, I wish we set it up on day 1. Do me a favor and don’t make my mistake. Start writing on your own blog, not on Medium.
Step 3: First content on the blog
As soon as we had our blog ready to go, we had to make sure it doesn’t sit around empty. Besides importing some of the content from Medium, we had to start from scratch.
The first two articles we published were answers to the frequently asked questions from potential customers.
80+% of entrepreneurs use their personal phone numbers for business, which means that most folks get their first business phone number on OpenPhone. I’ve heard a lot of stories from customers who regretted using their personal cell # initially and thought that it would be useful to have them outlined in an article for any prospects we were already talking to. I didn’t want to copy and paste my answers all the time.
This article was inspired by an email I received from an OpenPhone customer. Turns out having your personal cell number easily available online is a very bad idea.
This prompted me to research data removal. I also learned that I had to scrape my own number from the Internet, too.
It turned out that this topic is relevant to other founders so when I posted my post on different forums, I got great feedback. I recently realized our post is ranked #2 on Google for this topic and has brought almost 5k visits in the last 6 months.
Step 4: Basic SEO research
In January 2020 I started trialing SEMrush. It was fun to couple my content instincts (from talking to customers) with insights into what people actually search for.
We started out with a simple principle. What search terms are bringing our competitors the most traffic? Of course, not all traffic is created equal. Some queries have high intent to purchase a solution while others have little to no intent. At this stage, I wanted to understand what others in our space were doing and where we can fit in.
If you’re using SEMrush, you can find this quickly from the Domain Overview section. Just type the URL of any competitor. Here are our current top organic keywords, as an example.
The topic of “voicemail greetings” quickly emerged as a good topic to cover. Several of our competitors like MightyCall, Telzio, and Talkroute had this topic bringing them a lot of traffic. That being said, a lot of the examples in their posts were outdated. We thought we could do better and created our collection of 21 voicemail greetings with text + audio examples for people to download.
Also, since setting up a custom voicemail greeting is a part of the onboarding flow for OpenPhone users, we included the link to this post in our onboarding. 1 piece of content —> multiple use cases.
Step 5: Create a content strategy
By February, we saw glimpses of success. We finished the month at around ~500 visits to our blog. Unlike paid acquisition, content takes time to rank and result in direct ROI. So while I was patient, I knew it was time to get help.
Thanks to Omri Mor (Co-Founder at Routable), I got connected to Taran Soodan who has been working with us on our content ever since.
Taran suggested the following content plan:
- Optimize existing posts ranking on the 2nd page of Google for high-volume keywords to quickly improve our search rankings and traffic
- Create content comparing OpenPhone with our competitors
- Create new content focused on topics relevant to OpenPhone + questions we get from our customers
Below I’ll share with you our exact steps.
1 – Optimize existing content
By March, we already had a handful of posts ranking on the second and third pages of Google for target terms.
We started with a handful of posts, but let’s look at how we optimized our 21 Professional Voicemail Greeting Examples post.
The post provides 21 valuable examples of good voicemail greetings. It’s a great post with lots of actionable examples. Seems like a slam dunk for SEO, right? At its best, it would only rank in the middle of the 2nd page on Google.
So why didn’t it rank even though it provides value? It was missing relevant keywords and didn’t have an intro.
As a part of our efforts to improve our ranking for “professional voicemail,” we ran a search in SEMrush using their Keyword Magic Tool to see which keywords we needed to include in our post. We could see from the below screenshot that we needed to include a few variations of the keyword.
Now that we knew which keywords to use, we updated the post. The original post didn’t have much of an intro section, so we added an intro and incorporated keywords from the research we did with SEMrush. Once we republished the post, we hit the first page of Google within 2 weeks. Within 2 months, we hit the #1 ranking for “business voicemail greeting.” And it’s still at #1.
Does it sound like what we did was really simple? That’s because it was. Content optimization is a good path to pursue because making just a few changes to existing posts that are already ranking can result in faster results than posting new articles.
2 – Create content comparing OpenPhone with competitors
At OpenPhone, we’re building a calling and messaging solution for startups and small businesses. From conversations with our customers, we knew they compared us with services like Google Voice, Dialpad, and RingCentral when making a choice.
We knew we needed to show the advantages of using OpenPhone and how we’re different.
The great thing about comparison pages is that folks searching for alternatives or looking to compare tools generally have high intent.
We know Google Voice is a popular VoIP service given it’s free. But that means it has a lot of limitations when used for business. So we used our blog post to highlight the limitations of Google Voice for folks looking for a better option.
That post ranks #1 for Google Voice alternative and it’s one of our best-converting blog posts right now. We’ve used the same principles to create content for other competitors.
3 – Create new content focused on topics relevant to OpenPhone
Tools like Google Trends, Ahrefs, and SEMrush can make it easy and fun to perform keyword research and see what topics people care about. I like combining that data with the things I learn when talking to customers as prospects. That way, the content we publish is relevant and useful to our target audience.
Here’s the process we use for keyword research when determining new topics for OpenPhone:
- We check our current search rankings using SEMrush’s Domain Analytics tool. We just typed in the OpenPhone domain to see what keywords we rank for
- We export the results to Google Sheets so we can create pivot tables and charts to better understand search volumes and keyword difficulties
- Create a list of keywords we wanted to rank for and group them if they’re related
- Use the Keyword Magic Tool to find search volumes for keywords
- Once we find search volumes, add them to SEMrush’s Keyword Manager Tool. Create a list for each specific group of keywords to prevent overlaps
- Once we have the keyword lists, we use an SEO writing tool like Topic or Clearscope to generate an outline for a blog post
- Once the outline is ready, you can begin writing. With tools like Topic and Clearscope, it’s very easy to track keyword usage in real-time (aim for an A++ score!)
Step 6: Go beyond SEO to deliver value to your community
While the focus of this post has been on SEO and getting more customers to discover you via Google, you have to keep in mind why you’re creating content in the first place.
For us, it’s all about helping fellow startups and small businesses grow.
Creating high-quality and shareworthy content is above all else for us. Only truly useful content can earn backlinks and shares, increasing your SEO juice, and generating more visitors for your blog as a result. So please do let me know if you found this post useful. 🙂
To sum it up, here are our results from February to September 2020. We’ve published 33 articles within this time. That’s 4.7 per month, on average. Our search traffic to the blog went from 500 to 30,000 visits per month. This doesn’t count any direct traffic to blog posts. We didn’t do any paid content promotion. And we didn’t ask for (or pay for) backlinks either.
18% of all our sign-ups for the month of August came directly from our blog. Let’s see what we have in store for September!
When done right, content and SEO can be a huge source of growth for early-stage startups. If you think this channel has a lot of potential for you, start right away. You have to start somewhere so don’t worry about making your first posts “perfect”. They never are. Consistency is far more important. If you can answer a question for your customer or a potential customer, you’ve got a useful piece of content that others might find valuable as well.
Hope you found this post useful. If you start a blog or write a post inspired by this, send it over to me. I’d love to see it! And if you’re passionate about helping founders through content, send me a note. We’re always looking for help!
If you’re hearing about OpenPhone for the first time and are curious about what we do, check it out and get an OpenPhone number for you or your team.
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