College Raptor proved that it’s possible to scale a startup from 0 visitors to 100,000 in a year with their Trifecta Content Marketing Strategy.
The agency tasked with driving the growth, Yes Optimist, didn’t just focus on a single type of marketing.
Instead, they identified three key strategies that could be used to create a steady stream of content and drive traffic to the newly launched website, and the results were nothing short of impressive.
A little backstory:
Tyler Hakes, Yes Optimist’s founder and CEO was contacted by his college friend, William E. Staib, the CEO of College Raptor.
They had just raised a Series A funding round for their college matching platform and had trouble figuring out how to get it off the ground and make it scale.
The consumer platform was geared towards helping high schoolers figure out which college would be best for them based on their interests and goals. But with a market already saturated with similar sites, College Raptor didn’t know how to scale traffic and drive new users to the platform.
So, they turned to the only person they knew could help them: Tyler.
Tyler had just launched his new content marketing agency, Yes Optimist, and admittedly, he had never handled a project of this scale before.
But he was confident they could pull it off. So, the team got to work.
Having worked with Startup and established brands before, Tyler was armed with the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. He knew the key to success was a three-pronged approach, hence his Trifecta Content Marketing Strategy.
And yes, everything turned out better than expected.
In just a year, they generated over 1 million visitors to the site, bringing over 100,000 organic sessions per month.
So, what was the secret to this success? Let’s dive in and find out.
Developing a Startup Content Marketing Strategy: The Assumptions and the Key Objectives
First, Tyler had to work with a few assumptions.
He assumed that:
- Most of their target audience used search engines to find information related to college admission, search, and financial aid.
- To generate search traffic, they had to work on content and the site’s domain authority
- Their target audience was also using social media to find information related to college admission and the search process.
So, with these assumptions in place, Tyler knew their strategies had to focus on optimizing their website for search engines and engaging potential customers via social media.
He proceeded to state their key objectives:
- They were going to create content that drives organic search traffic to the site
- They were also going to generate links strategically to help increase the site’s domain authority
- They were going to gain traction and authority on social media to win more customers
Tyler would also come to one crucial realization, which became the basis for their strategy moving forward.
Here’s the realization: Each content piece didn’t necessarily have to meet all the three objectives.
As simple as this realization was, it was a game changer.
Instead of creating content that did everything, they could focus on creating different pieces that would serve each objective separately.
And this is exactly what Tyler and his team did for College Raptor.
They developed a three-pronged strategy that focused on creating high-quality content for organic search traffic, link-building campaigns to grow the site’s authority and engaging potential customers through social media.
It turns out most startup struggle with the same problem. They don’t know how to create content that will drive organic traffic, build authority and increase engagement simultaneously.
But Tyler had a plan: his Trifecta Content Marketing Strategy.
Imagine a situation where you have to write one content piece that has the potential to go viral on social media, generate thousands of backlinks, and, at the same time, help your website rank on top of Google’s search engine result pages.
Enters Tyler’s Trifecta Content Marketing Strategy
Sometimes you write content that nails all three objectives. Once in a while, you’ll write a content piece that’s so perfect — it fires on all cylinders and brings tons of organic traffic, backlinks, and social media engagement.
But such content pieces are rare.
So, what do you do?
So, what can you do?
Tyler knew that the only way to succeed was to break their content strategy into a three-pronged approach and focus on each objective separately.
These three parts of the content marketing strategy would be known as Tyler’s “Trifecta Content Marketing Strategy.”
His strategy involved creating three types of content pieces:
- Evergreen Content
- Link-Earning Content
- Social/Viral Content
We’ll break down each content piece and show you how to use the Trifecta Content Marketing Strategy for your business.
1. Evergreen Content
Evergreen content is content that’s relevant and timeless. It can bring organic traffic to your website for months, if not years, after it’s published.
We’ve written a great deal about it here at MediaOne.
Tyler and his team would begin by building topical and keyword-focused content for search engines.
They started by researching popular keywords and topics related to college admission. They created a list of relevant topics and keywords, which they used to create a content calendar.
They knew people were searching for college admission-related topics, and they wanted to provide them with answers.
They created content pieces that answered common questions about college admission, such as “What’s the average SAT score for Harvard?”, “How to write a great college essay,” “What’s a Good ACT Score for College?” etc.
If you’ve ever written evergreen content pieces, you know they aren’t the most exciting pieces to write.
But, if done right, it can generate a steady flow of organic traffic and bring your website up in the search engine result pages.
2. Social-viral Content
The next step in Tyler’s strategy was to create content pieces that would go viral on social media.
That meant creating content that resonated with their target audience and had the potential to be shared across different networks.
Tyler and his team knew that using humour, breaking down complex topics into simple infographics, or giving their readers unique insights, were great ways to make their content go viral.
They weren’t going to be super informative. Nor obsess over optimizing keywords or metrics.
They just wanted to create fun, engaging, and shareable content.
That would see them taking the Buzzfeed approach, leveraging elements of surprise, fun, and creativity to create appealing and shareable content.
That isn’t the type of content that someone might search for on Google. But it’s the kind of content that goes gangbusters on social media.
It resonates with the social media audience, helping build an emotional connection.
It’s the type of content that people like to share with their friends, building brand awareness and creating a “buzz” around the brand.
And that’s exactly what Tyler and his team did. They created content pieces that were shareable, fun, and could help build an emotional connection with their readers.
Here’s one example of such a post:
“25 Incredible College Facts That Will Blow Your Mind”
You can only imagine what such a post can do.
It resonates with the social media audience, has a lot of ‘wow’ factors, and can generate a lot of shares.
The idea is to give people something to talk about and remember.
By creating content that resonates with the social media audience, Tyler and his team quickly got a lot of shares and attention on social media.
And that helped build brand awareness, driving more visitors to their website.
3. Link Building Content
The final piece of the puzzle was to create valuable and link-worthy content.
Tyler and his team needed this content to prod up their evergreen content and make it work harder.
Without a strong domain authority, there isn’t much they could have achieved with their evergreen content pieces.
Most of the content they have would have been lost in the sea of search engine results, probably appearing somewhere on page 20.
So, they had to create content that other websites would want to link back to.
This content had to be truly unique and offer insights or data points that no one else could provide.
It meant they had to forget about their target audience and search engines for a minute and think about how they could appeal to other sites, writers, and bloggers.
Their goal was to get other websites to link back to their content, building domain authority and improving their SERP rankings.
Tyler and his team created a lot of data-driven pieces like “The Most Popular College Majors Across the U.S.”
Creating such content pieces requires a lot of research, effort, and analysis.
And you don’t just write them and forget about it.
You need to promote them, reach out to bloggers and websites, and see if they would be willing to link to your content.
Tyler and his team did just that, reaching out to other websites and bloggers, asking if they could feature their content in their articles or link to it.
It wasn’t easy, but eventually, they got many links pointing back to their website.
The good thing with link-building content is that you don’t need 1000 articles to get 1000 backlinks. You just need one great link-building resource with a great promotion strategy, and you’re good to go.
So, why is the Trifecta Strategy this Effective?
The Trifecta strategy is a mix of different content types, each designed to achieve a specific marketing goal.
The three content types that make up the trifecta are Evergreen Content, Buzzfeed-style Engaging Content, and Link-Building Content.
The strategy is about making every content piece you produce work as hard as possible. In Tyler’s case, they ended up creating so much content because they were targeting a vast market.
They had many different topics to cover and had to ensure that each piece served a specific purpose.
By creating content that resonates with the audience, is shareable on social media, and is link-worthy, Tyler and his team achieved their goal of driving 100,000 visitors per month to the website.
The Trifecta Strategy Isn’t About Making Each Piece Have a Different Purpose. It’s About Making It Have a Purpose
That’s the beauty of it.
The Trifecta strategy isn’t about making every piece have a different purpose; it’s about ensuring each piece has a purpose.
By carefully crafting each content item with an intended outcome in mind, Tyler and his team were able to generate huge amounts of traffic to their website in a relatively short amount of time.
It’s important to note that the Trifecta strategy isn’t something you can just do and get results quickly. It takes planning, research, effort, and promotion.
But when done right, it can be a powerful tool in your content marketing toolbox.
Tyler Also Notes:
If this were a B2B company, their strategy would have looked a bit different.
They would have added a fourth content asset to generate leads, such as a whitepaper, e-book, or webinar.
Guess that would have made it a Quadfecta.
Leveraging Public Data to Score Big Results
One of the most effective strategies Tyler and his team implemented was leveraging public data sources to create valuable content for their target audience.
They didn’t have to look far; this content was already out there. They just had to find and repurpose it in ways that resonated with their audience.
They had to curate the studies, maps, and analyses already out there and package them in an engaging, accessible way.
They gathered their readers loved eye-pleasing data visualization and graphics—the unexpected facts and figures made for sexy headlines sure to draw in the readers.
So, they set out to capture and repurpose these data sources in an informative, fun, and digestible way.
And it worked like a charm.
Tyler and his team spent days developing ideas. They found the data, then repurposed it into a nice infographic.
They would then work on an outreach plan, targeting media outlets and bloggers they knew would be interested in their content.
It was a win-win situation as the outlets got cool visuals and interesting facts, while College Raptor’s website gained traction and links back to them.
With every new content piece they published, they sent some basic outreach emails, sharing the content with the writer they had identified.
They would then sit at the edge of their seats and wait to see who would pick up the story, post it on their website, or even share it via social media.
After a few minutes of sending their first email, they received their first response. It was from Aaron Blake from the Washington Post.
Their article had been picked by the Washington Post and was shared as far as China and the United Kingdom.
This started a chain reaction, where other media outlets such as USA Today, NBC News, and Forbes picked up the story too. As a result of their efforts, College Raptor was able to experience unprecedented growth within just one year.
Here’s one of the infographics they created that had such incredible success:
The best part, they created the infographic solely from Wikipedia data. And that didn’t stop it from being cited by the U.S. Supreme court.
Tyler gives a few suggestions on where to find this data:
- Public/government databases
- Manual research (just Googling and fact-checking)
- Google trends or keyword data (trends over a period, regional interests, etc.)
- Maps, charts, and graphs
- Rankings and ratings
- Layered research from multiple sources
Once you’ve curated the data, your next step is to create visualizations that stand out from the rest.
The beauty of data visualization is that you don’t need to be a designer or have graphic design skills.
You can use online tools such as Wordle, Piktochart, and ChartsBin to create visually appealing infographics that will wow your readers.
Their First Viral Success
Tyler and his team had a few successes here and there. The infographic above attracted a decent amount of attention.
But their biggest success came at the end of May.
The team wanted to publish something new. But they had no idea in mind.
Someone suggested that they do something about college rankings. But they knew they couldn’t compete head-to-head on the “Best Colleges” list as it was already crowded with established players such as U.S. News and World Report.
They didn’t have the authority to rank for the best colleges.
Then they got an idea: what if they ranked the “Hidden Gems” — that’s, colleges that were just as good as the big-name colleges but were off the radar of most people?
In other words, they wanted to create a different list of colleges that weren’t typically ranked in the traditional lists.
These were good schools that didn’t make it to the top 100. After working on this content piece for days and putting together some nice graphics, they published it and immediately started working on the outreach.
They invested heavily in promoting it, putting it in front of the people who mattered. They send hundreds of emails to newspapers, colleges, counsellors, and anyone else they deem relevant.
Results started coming in shortly after.
The traffic started to pour in — from 10 people to 20 and then hundreds. The content piece spread like wildfire. Soon, the post was garnering thousands of views a day.
It was shared by dozens of newspapers and hundreds of colleges, and the post kept generating links for months to come.
So, What Triggered the Spike?
It started with the colleges on the list sharing the content piece. Their students would then share it on their social media accounts, creating a ripple effect.
The alums of the colleges also hopped into the campaign, retweeting and sharing the content piece on their social media accounts.
The snowball effect was triggered. And the rest is history.
They received 250K visitors in one week — an unbelievable feat for a website that had hardly any visitors before the content piece.
What Lessons Can We Draw from this Case Study?
The College Raptor case study offers a few powerful lessons:
Lesson 1: Always Plan for Your SEO
SEO isn’t a strategy in itself. It’s a part of a more extensive content strategy. It helps to plan for SEO, but never let it dictate your content strategy.
Before creating content, develop a plan that covers topics, keywords, and distribution channels.
Everything should tie back to your overall goals and key objectives.
Lesson 2: Set a Benchmark — the 7% Week Over Week Growth
The general rule is to aim for a 7% weekly web traffic growth.
You can set the same benchmark for any other metric you want to track.
That should give you something to chase after every week.
Note: There are some weeks when you won’t hit this benchmark, and that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure you’re pushing for that 7% growth overall.
Lesson 3: Stay Strategic and Creative
The College Raptor team succeeded because they didn’t lose sight of their strategy.
They knew what their objectives were, and they kept pushing for that.
Instead of obsessing over results, they focused on creating creative content that helped their audience.
They weren’t afraid to take a different angle and think outside the box.
There’s a huge difference between blogging for the sake of blogging and actually creating content that your audience finds useful.
Every content piece should have a purpose and be strategically thought through.
What Tyler Wishes He Could Have Done Differently
We don’t just learn from our failures. We also learn from our successes. You might have succeeded in one area, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement.
In hindsight, Tyler wishes he could have done a few things differently:
1. Worked Smarter, Not Harder
The College Raptor team worked hard, but they could have worked smarter.
They didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, not when there were already resources and templates that could have helped them.
They could have simply looked for what has been done and modified it to fit their needs.
This would have saved them a ton of time and energy.
2. Worked on Repurposing into their Content Strategy
The team could have worked repurposing into their content strategy.
They could have created one piece of content and used it in multiple ways across different channels.
This would have saved them time and energy while also helping them reach a larger audience.
For example, they could have taken the long infographic that worked for them and broken them down into smaller content pieces that could have been re-used on social media.
3. Curate Content Where It’s Working
If there’s something out there that works, then you don’t necessarily have to beat yourself up trying to come up with something better, sexier, or more interesting.
You can simply curate the content and use it to your advantage.
The team could have looked at what was working in their industry and curated it for their own website.
This would have been a great way to get more traction without having to spend tons of time and energy creating new content.
The Final Word
Tyler didn’t go into the nuanced details of how the College Raptor team succeeded, but the overall message is clear: you can succeed if you have a good strategy and execute it well.
He didn’t talk about how they used Ahrefs to identify link opportunities, which they did, but the big idea here is that you can do more with less, provided you have a good content strategy.