Two SEO Strategies to Grow Your Business Beyond $100M+ in ARR in 2021

December 10, 2021

SEO is one of the 3 main highways to build a sustainable growth machine that can get you to $100m+ in ARR, besides paid marketing and virality.

If I could write an article that would replace the Director of SEO, this would be it.

I will show you how successful companies like Upwork, Thumbtack, Strava, Ahrefs and others have built their businesses using SEO.

I will outline two major strategies that can morph into a powerful growth engine for your business.

I’m not going to discuss specific tactics here (there are plenty of those online).

Too many companies focus on tactics without an underlying purpose or reason why they do it, often limiting their success or outright failing.  


Like a business, a good post needs to have a target audience.

The people who will benefit the most are founders and senior marketing or product leaders tasked with building a sustainable growth engine for their organisations and have some SEO knowledge.

To benefit from this post you need to have:

  • Basic SEO knowledge – you understand why building links is important, what is link juice, what are keywords, search intent and SERPs (search engine results page). Read guides on SEO basics first if you need a refresh. Here are two good starting points from ahrefs and moz.
  • A revenue-generating business you’re optimising. This is not to optimise your personal blog, although you can use some of the learnings.
  • SEO as a revenue driver and you want to use this as one of your key growth engines.

Why would you want an SEO growth engine?

Advertising is an expense while SEO is an investment. But that doesn’t mean SEO is always better than advertising. You can make bad investments too. There are, however, cases where advertising is not an option because your margins are too thin or advertising is prohibited in your industry (CBD for example).

Another reason to build an SEO growth engine is to subsidise your paid marketing spend. You should (almost) never advertise at a loss but SEO can help accelerate your paid spend.

Since organic leads don’t have any marginal marketing cost their revenue can ‘finance’ your new paid marketing costs while you’re waiting for your initial paid cohort to pay back the investment.

In other words, your growth becomes much faster as a result of SEO investment.

As an added benefit, SEO can help you weather a storm if you incur unexpected expenses. You can switch off ads for the time being and rely on SEO until you can afford ads again.

A client I previously worked with had received a 7-figure fine because they accidentally onboarded an OFAC (sanctioned countries list) customer. The client almost went bankrupt and only survived by switching off ads and living off SEO revenue for some time.

Winning at SEO

SEO is a zero-sum game, there is only one number one position per search engine results page (SERP). But before we can ‘win’ a SERP, we need to get into one. I outline two strategies that you can use to consistently get your digital assets into SERPs.

  • Autogenerated long-tail strategy, where you get your long-tail product pages into SERP.
  • Publication strategy, where you use your blog as a driver of your demand.

These cover the majority of the SEO-first growth strategies that are scalable.

Strategy one. Autogenerated long-tail strategy

In SEO content is king. All other things being equal a page that has better content will rank higher.

The value of SEO is in long-tail high-intent keywords. The term ‘hire software developers in New York’ is more valuable than ‘software developers’, it is also easier to rank for.

SEO Tradeoff: Volume vs Value

We want to have pages that will target these high-intent long-tail keywords.

Our goal is, therefore, to build high-quality pages that target these high-intent long-tail keywords cheap and fast.

Let me repeat this, target niche keywords by building many high-quality pages. Once you have captured these keywords and built stronger domain authority, move into a different niche with more pages. Rinse and repeat.

That’s all there is to it. It’s simple but not necessarily easy.

To build a high-quality page we need to use our data as explained above and group it into relevant pages programmatically.

We are going to use a content management system (CMS) to build templates that are autogenerated based on your data.

To make this strategy work you will need data. You can use public data or internal data. There are two sources for your internal data:

Data Source: User Generated Data

You have data that is generated by your users that you can group into relevant pages. Companies that successfully rolled out this strategy:

This works really well if you have a marketplace and you can surface your supply/users (Upwork, Thumbtack, or users are actively using your platform and you can generate interesting insights based on that (Strava, Mixcloud).

Keywords (KW) Strategy.

We are interested in targeting the long-tail bottom of the funnel keywords. For example: hire plumbers in Houston or cycling routes in Barcelona. It’s a formula: KW + modifier(s).

  • Upwork – find/hire + {skill} + {profession}: hire PHP developers, find JavaScript developers
  • Thumbtack – find/hire {profession} in {location}: find plumbers in Houston, hire electricians in New Jersey
  • Strava – top/best {sport} routes in {location}: best cycling routes Barcelona, top running routes Los Angeles
  • – hotel in {location}: hotels in Madrid, hotels in Sydney
  • Mixcloud – top/best {genre} DJ Set: top house DJ sets, best disco DJ sets

We want to capture people who are at the end of their buyer journey; users with an intent to buy.

These keywords normally have low search volume, but since they are already interested in our product every visitor is highly likely to convert. Since the search volume is low, we need to target many of these types of keywords.

If you have a high-margin B2B product, even 10 searches a month per keyword could be gold.

We are not thinking about the broader buyer journey here. We expand there with our second strategy, explained later in the article.

Data Source: User Generated Content / UGC

You need a community-driven site that will produce unique content for you publicly. In the previous example, we were relying on internal user data.

Here we’re looking at external data. Companies that successfully rolled out this strategy:

  • Quora (116 million indexed pages)
  • Reddit (306 million indexed pages)
  • Pinterest (698 million indexed pages)
  • StackOverflow (29 million indexed pages)

We are going for really long-tail keywords here. All of the above sites are simply a better version of a good old forum.

You need an active community to make this work and this content needs to be front and centre of your product.

Simply having a comments section at the bottom of your site is not going to cut it.

It is easy to outrank these pages, there are literally hundreds of thousands of such pages from the sites above. Reddit has 306 million search results, Quora has 116 million.

You can outrank any given of those pages but the strength here is in numbers and that’s why you need an active community to constantly generate new pages.

You can mix and match these as well, TripAdvisor has both: Things to do in {city} and an active community section – travel forum.

Keyword strategy

We don’t control what keywords/pages will surface, we simply rely on our community.

What should you focus on

Your website is your biggest asset. That means you’ll need a top-notch front-end, back-end and content management system (CMS) to pull this off.

You gain a competitive advantage by finding a better way to target long-tail keywords (better/more templates) and better on-page SEO.

To win, you’ll need a strong domain and smart internal linking structure (site architecture).

Your individual pages will be weak for two reasons:

  1. You spread your domain authority across many pages
  2. You are unlikely to mount a substantial link-building strategy for each long-tail page.

To combat that we will need to be the most SEO-optimised page in that SERP, have the strongest domain and smartly distribute PageRank.

On-page SEO / Technical SEO Optimisation

You are in the territory of elite sports. Inches and split seconds here will make all the difference. You need to want it more than the other guy/gal.

I would give you a pep talk but Al Pacino has already done it.

Our competitors likely have access to similar data. They can produce similar pages. You need to squeeze every gain you can to win (although some industries can be much less competitive initially).

You’ll need:

  • Fast-loading pages
  • On-page SEO best practices
  • Solid site architecture that will route your PageRank to your most important pages
  • Page & content that closely matches user intent (if users want to hire PHP developers they need to see a list of PHP developers; if users want the best routes for cycling in Barcelona you need to show routes ranked from top to bottom that are in Barcelona)

Here are guides on technical SEO and on-page optimisation.

Quick Primer on Links and SEO

Links are votes of trust. The more links you have from highly respectable sites (votes of trust) the more Google perceives your content as high-quality.

These votes accumulate on both page-level (page authority) and domain-level (domain authority).

Option 1: You can get a link to your desired page directly. For example, BBC links to This is the best-case scenario. It increases both our domain authority and page authority of our desired page.

Option 2: You can get links to another page and direct this value to other internal pages by having an internal linking to it on this page. For example, BBC links to my homepage ( and my homepage links internally via the navigation bar to This way we increase our domain authority and pass along a portion of page authority from our homepage to our desired page. Option one is better but is way harder to accomplish.

This practice of internal linking is called site architecture, link sculpting or PageRank distribution.

Link-building for Autogenerated SEO Strategy

You’ll not get (many) links to your long-tail high-intent pages (option 1).

The way around this will be to build strong domain authority and pass along the link juice to your high-intent pages (option 2). Building content silos might help too.

You can build domain authority in two ways:

  • Linkable assets
  • Content (strategy two, discussed later in the article)

In a way, a linkable asset is also ‘content’ but there is a distinction.

The goal of our linkable assets will be to generate links that we can then use to prop up our high-intent pages in the SERPs.

The purpose of content strategy is to use content to acquire high-intent traffic and push it through the buyer’s journey.

Therefore, linkable assets are not as tightly focused as the rest of our content. They still need to be relevant.

Here are some great examples:

  • Strava:
  • Strava is more subtle and simply benefiting from an increase in Domain Authority thus benefit all the pages on site.

Ahrefs has many more ideas for building linkable assets.

Team & KPIs

You will need a technical team: developers, SEO specialists, data analysts.

You’ll need to be comfortable analysing data at scale. Running experiments to optimise your conversion and on-page SEO.

Remember, your templates are your bread and butter and they need to be the best they can be.

You will need to constantly monitor your SERP positions, analyse competition, identify new pockets of demand to expand into.

  • Core web vitals
  • SERP positions over time
  • Domain authority
  • Page authority
  • Conversion rates
  • Number of keywords you’re ranking for
  • SEO health score

Things to note

To pursue this strategy we will need to make a tradeoff in UX and CRO in favour of SEO. Remember, we are weak in SEO and need maximum leverage there.

CRO is your number two priority but only after you’re ranking well.

You are better of having more traffic with lower conversion than no traffic with high conversion.

For example, it might be a better user experience to have a search bar rather than a long list of links (see screenshot below) but linking to your top pages from your homepage signals their importance to Google. We need this list to improve the crawling of our pages and spread PageRank through these pages.

Example of Upwork sacrificing UX for SEO:

Doorway Pages

Building pages solely to drive users to your site is frowned upon by Google. They even suggest penalties for so-called ‘Doorway Pages’. However, I have never seen a company penalised for this if they did it correctly.

The purpose of our page is to improve user experience by providing the most relevant content for their search query. For example, someone looking for bike routes in Barcelona doesn’t want to see bike routes in Madrid.

We are making our pages hyper-relevant, hence improving the search experience. Therefore, Google is unlikely to penalise you for this.

If, on the other hand, you start creating duplicate pages with no real differentiation and value, this could constitute a doorway page.

The way Google defines it: “They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination”.

Your pages need to be logical and relevant to the user. You need to add value not spam the internet.

Google Ads

If you have a data-driven strategy going for you, I would recommend exploring AdWords if your budgets allow for this.

You can leverage your existing infrastructure of template creation and keyword research to bid for high-intent keywords. You will capture a much larger portion of the search volume this way.

Strategy Two. Building a Publication

We can also win in SEO by creating a publication. This is often referred to as a content strategy.

Our goal is to capture users anywhere along their buyer journey and use our content to walk them through to the purchasing decision.

This gives us a broader market to go after as we can now move up the funnel.

To win here we’ll need a scalable process to produce top quality content on a regular basis.

Companies with great content strategy

Almost every company can utilise this strategy (if there is search volume) but only some truly crack this. Here are some companies I think are great at content:

  • Buffer
  • Empire Flippers
  • Ahrefs

For example, it would take Buffer $1.5m to buy the same traffic each month.

Keyword Strategy

The internet is full of advice on how to write content.

What most of those guides don’t talk about is how to connect this to your revenue and think about this as a business strategy, not just a marketing goal.

There two things you’ll need to learn: how to do keyword research and how to understand which keywords you care about.

Here’s a great guide by Tim Soulo from Ahrefs on how to approach keyword research.

Now the fun part is building a strategy around it.

We have more freedom in terms of our keywords as we are looking at the whole funnel, not just high-intent keywords.

Our goal, still, is to acquire paying users with our content.

To build content that will drive revenue, we need to understand the customer’s buyer journey. The best way to do this is to interview them and understand the questions they have before arriving at your solution.

Normally, this journey is divided into 3 sections:

  • Awareness (top of the funnel) – you’re trying to define your problem
  • Consideration (middle of the funnel) – you’re trying to understand what solutions are out there
  • Decision (bottom of the funnel) – you’re trying to pick/compare the best solution


  • Awareness: I have leaky pipes, what should I do?
  • Consideration: who can help me fix leaky pipes?
  • Decision: where can I find plumbers?

Another way, Ahrefs CMO Tim Soulo puts it is how likely are you to pitch your product in this article:

Source: ahrefs

Once you have your buyer’s journey locked in, you need to understand what intent users have at each step. In other words, what problems are they facing?

This way you guide them to a solution that, hopefully, is your product.

Cornerstone articles

Based on our keyword research we will group our content into categories. We will want to have a number of cornerstone articles (long-detailed articles) and a series of supporting ones.

These cornerstone articles will be positioned to address high-value keywords, normally middle or bottom of the funnel (consideration or decision phase). We will want to syphon our links here.

The cornerstone article will be linking to our product/service pages.

This will be one of the main journeys for our customers:

  • They land on one of the supporting ones and follow to our cornerstone one which in turn converts them to our product.
  • They land on our cornerstone article and convert to our product

For example, keyword research article by Ahrefs is one of their cornerstone articles and has a series of supporting ones like:

  • 6 Keyword Research Tips to Find Untapped Opportunities
  • How to Do Local Keyword Research in 2021
  • 10 Free Keyword Research Tools (That Aren’t Google Keyword Planner)

More on cornerstone articles.

How to build this content at scale

Once you have done your keyword research and have your list of articles, you need to create a process to produce this content. A good process to follow would be:

  • Create an outline
  • Find a writer
  • Edit the content
  • Spellcheck
  • Publish

Having a content calendar often helps to systemise the process and ensure the cadence of your posts.

Importance of links

Links are critical for this strategy. We rely on our individual (limited) number of posts to attract a large number of users.

Therefore, we’ll try to go after competitive keywords that have high search volume, rather than long-tail keywords as in strategy one, where we may have 1,000 pages targeting keywords with 10-100 in search volume each.

We care about both domain authority and page authority here.

Domain authority helps us rank our future posts easier with smart internal linking (quickly passing PageRank to them with internal links).

Page authority enables us to rank higher in our chosen SERPs and drive more users to our site. The higher you’re in the SERP, the more of the search volume you can capture.

We need to focus on the quality of our content and links which are closely connected.

Great content attracts links.

Terrible content is extremely hard to get links to despite your best link-building efforts.

Our ranking factor weight will distribute like this:

In other words, we care about the strength of individual pages and the domain more than SEO optimisation.

As for the link-building approach itself, once you have great content, you’ll need to employ outreach strategies to generate these links.

How to build your site

Site architecture is important, but not as important as in our strategy one.

The goal of your internal links (site architecture) is two-fold:

  1. Guide users through the buyer’s journey serving them relevant content, eventually resulting in a sale.
  2. Help you rank your most important content or the content that needs the most help. This can be newer posts that haven’t got received many links yet

Your goal is to use your traffic coming to your blog posts and sending them to more granular posts as they learn, eventually ending in a purchase.

If you’re using strategy one, you can use ‘link juice’ generated from link-building to your content pages and pass it on to your product pages using internal links.

Here’s an example:

Upwork’s “10 Good Interview Questions to Ask Any Potential Remote Hire” article (consideration phase) is linking to its marketplace (decision) page.

This enables users to naturally continue on their buyer journey and also passing on link juice to your most important (decision) pages.


Your team will need to resemble one at a real publication (BuzzFeed, The Information, WSJ). Your focus is on building high-quality content.

You will need the following roles:

  • Editors
  • Content Producers
  • Writers, designers, videographers
  • Researchers
  • SEO analysts, subject matter experts

Here’s a typical flow for a content team:

  • Researchers identify opportunities for new content
  • Editor and or subject matter expert prepares an outline
  • Content writers to prepare the articles
  • Editor ensures they are up to scratch (after a number of iterations)
  • Editor or project managers publishes the article

This can scale infinitely as you can hire freelancers to execute.

Metrics you’ll need to worry about:

  • Conversion rates (in any form: email sign-up, purchase or other)
  • SERP position of individual articles
  • Time on page
  • Bounce/exit rates
  • Page Authority/backlinks

Notice I haven’t mentioned traffic, as by itself traffic is a vanity metric.

You care about buyers that you bring to your site and, ultimately, the revenue they generate. There is no point worrying about traffic as an end metric unless you’re in an ads business.

Things to note

User intent

You will need to build content that addresses user intent fully.

If a user is in the awareness stage and is looking for the latest SEO trends, we need to provide a specific list of those trends (awareness stage) rather than trying to pitch our SEO tool (decision stage).

Bottom of the funnel keywords (and intent) are the most valuable to us but usually have the least volume.

It’s a balancing act. Ideally, we want to build content for every step of the buyer journey so that we can drive users through the whole process.

But we should always favour the bottom of the funnel content first if we have the option.


Our content needs to be of very high quality. If you do an average post, it won’t rank high and won’t drive users your way.

There might be other reasons for writing content that doesn’t rank, for example, to help convert users that have arrived via a different route (PPC, Direct, email) but that’s outside the scope of this article.

When I refer to content, it doesn’t have to be a written article. I can be tools, videos, infographics or other types of content.

For example, Ahrefs has a fantastic Youtube channel.

However, written content is one of the most cost-effective ways to build a sustainable growth machine.

Building apps or shooting videos is more expensive, meaning you’ll produce less of it and rank for fewer keywords.

However, it may be a useful strategy if you’re trying to rank for a specific high competition keyword and need to stand out.

Also, video (Youtube) has a lower reach than Google.

Overall, in the majority of cases, written content has a better return on investment.

Nurturing / Email

A good portion of our content (awareness and consideration phase) we will not be focusing on people with a burning need like we did in strategy one.

Our goal will be to find a lower commitment action that we can optimise for.

Acquiring their basic information such as email address is usually a good goal here.

Once we have their email address we can further nurture them with our content and push through the buyer journey.

We can also retarget them on many advertising platforms.


The goal of this post was to show you how to think about SEO as a revenue-generating lever.

SEO efforts can be grouped into two broad categories:

  • Data-driven page creation using templates
  • Producing high-quality content

Are these strategies mutually exclusive?

No, but not everyone has the data to pull off strategy one. However, anyone who has some search volume around their topics can use publication driven growth (strategy two).

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