Zapier is an “automation platform.” If you look at this single phrase that defines its category, there is not much search demand: 200 monthly searches in the U.S. and around 1.1K globally. It doesn’t seem quite like a $144M ARR business opportunity. And judging by search demand, it’s not something you’ll promote with SEO.
Yet, Zapier’s blog alone brings 1.6M organic visits every month. That’s traffic worth about $3.7M and 67.5% of its overall organic traffic.
So let’s see why Zapier didn’t turn away from SEO and how it managed to make SEO work like a charm.
What I call a self-building content hub (aka topic cluster) is a situation where you organize your existing content into a content hub structure and link new related content (subpages) as you create it.
Using this strategy, you can commit to creating more content only if the subpages make sense themselves. In other words, you don’t need to take big risks investing in creating or expanding a content hub.
Let’s look at the big picture to give this more context.
Some content marketers build topic clusters in a set-and-forget approach. You see an opportunity, design a topic cluster, build it, and that’s it. You never or hardly ever come back to it.
Nothing wrong with that.
But here’s the thing. If you continue to create more content on the same topic, that means that the initial cluster has been expanding all along. And a bigger topic cluster is usually a better topic cluster because it’s more comprehensive. All you need to do is to make the connection like Zapier does.
To illustrate, we’ve got this guide (a topic cluster, technically speaking) on remote work. In 2017, it was a set of 14 links. It contained only content developed specially for that hub.
But Zapier hasn’t stopped publishing more stuff about remote work. It’s been busy with creating more guides, listicles, videos, case studies, and reports.
So it’s included links to all of that new content in the hub. And right now, some five years later, that list of 14 links has grown to over 50 links and some embedded videos. All of them organized into seven categories, plus the initial guide from 2017.
But why create a content hub in the first place?
So let’s imagine it hadn’t created that cluster at all. Then it wouldn’t have amassed 4.4K backlinks from 1.1K domains to date. Nor would it have reached the point of 1.1K organic traffic every month to that single page. And that’s on top of the results that each of the linked subpages gets.
And like I said, Zapier doesn’t need to create more content for the hub. As it creates content, it can simply link subpages that make sense to the hub.
What if it hadn’t added all of those additional links to the cluster? That’s a tougher question to answer. But I guess that is part of the reason why referring domains to the pillar page keep growing steadily over the years. After all, adding more helpful content should make the hub more attractive, hence link-worthy.
Let’s not forget those links are, in fact, internal links that distribute link equity from the pillar page to the linked pages.
All in all, the whole structure of this topic cluster reinforces itself. More content makes the topic cluster more helpful and link-worthy. And when the pillar page gets backlinks, it “gives back” to the linked content by distributing link equity.
Simply put, consider creating a content hub utilizing your existing content. You can then expand it with new subpages only if they make sense themselves.
Have a content hub already? See if there is any additional content you can link to on the pillar page.
Of course, creating a content hub from scratch is still a good idea. That’s what Zapier initially did and then expanded. As we can see from its results, it creates a new “entity” able to generate backlinks and traffic on its own.
Original research makes great link bait.
But what makes original research good enough to make people link?
This Zapier research shows that it’s not necessarily about the length of the study.
Excuse me while I use a completely made-up metric. But just to show how “efficient” that link bait is, there are 1.5 domains linking to that page per every word used to describe it. That’s including the title and the methodology note.
But are the linking domains any good?
Here are some of the +90 DR domains linking to this 637-word research, along with their traffic:
I think this bite-sized research is so powerful because:
- It answers a really well-posed question: How many Americans had a side hustle?
- Side hustles are a sign of the times.
- The research gets right to the point. It starts with the most important thing (the answer).
- There are graphics that tell the story, just waiting to be shared by linkers.
- After all of that goodness, I don’t think anybody has any problems with the study content including a soft PR pitch of Zapier and a few relevant links to its content. Naturally, those links help to distribute link equity.
Original research can get you hundreds or even thousands of links. But doing that is no small feat.
However, Zapier shows that this kind of content doesn’t have to be long to get a ton of links. You don’t even need to do it yourself (Zapier outsourced its own).
Just make your research timely, important to your target audience and/or the audience you want to pitch to, and get right to the point.
Some “auto promotion” here and there likely won’t be frowned upon. But first, give people what they came for.
Oh, and don’t worry if your report won’t take off on social media.
Remember that one of the reasons people use social media is entertainment. Even LinkedIn.
What struck me about Zapier’s SEO is how everything is densely interlinked.
- Links inside the blog posts to other content and product features.
- Links inside content hubs.
- Links from original reports.
- Links as breadcrumbs in the app directory.
- Links to selected content on the homepage.
And it matters because internal links help pages rank higher. Google utilizes internal links to:
- Discover new pages.
- Pass link equity between pages.
- Understand what a page is about.
Use pages with a lot of backlinks to boost other pages. You can boost your “boring” money pages with link equity from pages with a lot of backlinks. This is called the middleman method.
But keep in mind these two caveats to using internal links:
- Theoretically, the more links you have on the page, the more they will compete with each other for clicks and “dilute” the authority transferred to other pages. So just watch out for “spamming” your pages with internal links.
- Too many internal links, especially inside the content of an article, can lead to poorer UX.
If Zapier is so good at SEO, why does it create content that gets little-to-no search traffic? Sometimes, those articles don’t even have any kind of search demand.
And why are they so… unrelated? Examples:
- Don’t work more when you work from home.
- How to be a good co-worker to your pets.
- Why I replaced my morning coffee with a cup of warm water.
- What a giant pile of laundry taught me about productivity.
- How a mid-day walk changed my energy levels—at work and at home.
Clearly, these articles haven’t been created for SEO reasons…
By no means is this an attempt to troll Zapier. I get it. All of the above titles are certainly an interesting read for people concerned about productivity and well-being.
My point is that while Zapier is great in SEO, it doesn’t make its content marketing only about ranking for keywords with traffic potential.
When you tie only SEO goals to your content marketing, you risk creating an operations-centric approach instead of a customer-centric approach.
A customer-centric approach is when you know certain topics interest your audience, so you pursue them. Even if they have 0 search volume and you won’t rank in a million years. But hey, your audience will still appreciate your effort.
One condition, though: You need to have a way to communicate with your audience directly, such as a newsletter.
When you’re great at SEO content, there is a temptation to focus only on SEO content that “converts.” It’s good to know where to draw the line.
If you’re trying to nurture an audience, develop a relationship with them, make them read every newsletter you send them, and make them trust and recommend your blog, then maybe it’s a good idea to take a step back and think outside of keyword research.
So if you have an opportunity to publish an interesting article that won’t necessarily bring you organic traffic, it still may be worth it if you can promote it via your direct marketing channels.
I’ve heard a couple of times from different marketers that they don’t pursue SEO because they are in “a new niche with no search demand yet.” I think Zapier’s case shows that if you dig a little deeper, you may hit a motherload of SEO opportunities. But you may need to enter through the “back door.”
After all, theoretically, there must be some kind of market demand that you’re building your product on. And if there’s market demand, you will likely find search demand.
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