(CASE STUDY) Ranking top 5 for a +17k traffic keyword in a month with 0 backlinks

Search Progress report on Google. This keyword gets more than 17,000 global searches per month.

Can you see the ScrumGenius article? A month after publishing the article, it got into Position #0 and the top 5 rankings. It receives thousands of traffic per month from progress report and its long-tail variations.


Here’s a mini-case study on how we got to Position #0 and the top 5.

On Google, when you type in a question or a particular keyword, you can see above all the rest of the search results an informational box that previews a direct answer to your query.

That, my friend, is the mythical Position #0, or the featured snippet that every SEO content marketer wants to capture by creating great content.

Most of the time, Google alternates placing results from the top 5 in Position #0. On rare occasions, it gets content from the second page to see how it performs. This happened to us. More on this later.

Position #0 ranking factors

Let’s get the most important thing out of the way: Your content should answer the main keyword query!

For this article, the main keyword we were targeting was Progress report. From this, we derived key questions that will help us get to Position #0 and put ourselves to the top 5 searches.

In particular, this is the article section that helped us rank:

As a best practice, turn this section’s H2 heading into a relevant question that might help you rank in Position #0.

Other important factors include:

  • Producing great content that gets high engagement from Google searchers
  • Content depth (the easiest way to measure this is through word count)
  • Your domain rating (the higher it is, the faster you’ll rank… normally).
  • The keyword difficulty of your target keyword (the lower, the better)
  • How long you’ve been blogging
  • Your content positioning and content format

How did we get to rank in position 0?

#1 Content that answers the keyword query

We’ve answered this in the previous section. If you’re targeting a keyword and want to get in Position #0, make sure that some of your sections clearly answer questions people ask on Google around that keyword. Turn those H2 headings into questions as a best practice!

#2 Make sure Google searchers LOVE your content

Here’s the average reading time for our article from people coming from Google Search.

6 minutes and 32 seconds! The industry average stands at 90 seconds.

Google sometimes “trials” content to see how searchers react to it for a day or two. I have a hunch this happened to us. If your content doesn’t get clicks or has lousy engagement, it will “derank” it again.

Google liked our content enough to put it in the top 5 search results after a month and leave it there.

I’m not going to get too granular with this. But as simple as addressing the readers’ potential pain-points at the start of the article and hinting at possible solutions in the introduction is an excellent way to catch their attention and encourage them to read the rest of the blog post. Don’t be generic! Focus on tactics over empty promises.

#3 Increase your word count

This article was over 2000 words long. While word count does not ensure depth, you can pack in more information in 2000 words than 200 words.

If your writing is clear, concise, and rich in value, the longer your content, the easier time you’ll have to rank for a keyword.

#4 Prioritize looking for keywords with below 15 KD

At Embarque, we specialize in startup SEO. Many of our startup clients are just starting on their SEO journey. Therefore, they might have lower domain ratings than those of other more established companies that use SEO as a growth channel.

For this, we have adopted a keyword research strategy that prioritizes:

  • Searching for keywords that have under 15 keyword difficulty
  • Identifying keywords that mainly include pain paints the domain directly solves.

ScrumGenius already has a relatively high domain rating, but startup-first keyword research works for all types of companies, including those with a more established SEO presence.

ScrumGenius is a platform that offers automated report templates that can be integrated into Slack, Microsoft Teams, or WebEx Teams.

It’s also been publishing articles on the subject for almost 2 years now, so you can see how it’s well-primed to rank for search terms like progress report, which has a keyword difficulty under 10 and 17,000 monthly global searches.

Therefore, any article that hits in the top 5 for that keyword automatically gets a stream of traffic and huge returns from creating that article.

#5 The ABS optimization framework

Traffic is one thing, but conversion is another story. One thing that we’ve realized at Embarque is that excellent SEO content needs to undergo a series of optimizations to convert.

Optimizing for SEO is not enough. Your content needs to deliver significant value to its readers, and you need to show the brand’s usefulness in tackling their pain points.

This is for another blog post, but we have a company optimization framework called ABS. Here are what each letter means and some critical questions to ask:

  • Audience

    • Who is reading this article?
    • Is the information in-depth enough for this reader?
    • Is the content easy to digest?
    • Are we offering diverse perspectives to this content?
    • What tactics, frameworks, models, and theories can we employ to prevent this article from being generic?
    • What are the readers’ most relevant pain points?
  • Brand

    • Are we positioning the brand as the solution to the readers’ pain points?
    • How can we center the topic around the brand we’re marketing?
    • Which parts of the blog can we strategically mention the brand?
    • How can we effectively show the reader the value of this brand?
    • Have we effectively told this brand’s story concerning the topic?
  • Search

    • Is the content format right for this keyword?
    • Does the content abide to EAT?
    • Do we have academic and reputable sources/external links?
    • Do we have sections that target the featured snippet?
    • Do we have answers to the People Also Ask questions?
    • Do we have a unique angle compared to the top 5 ranking for this keyword?
    • Have we completed the SEO checklist? (Internal document to ensure every blog post is SEO)
    • Have we run the content through a topic optimization tool like Frase?
    • Are the images SEO?

The ABS framework allows us to quickly align our SEO content initiatives to conversion and business objectives.

It’s also easy enough for each writer to internalize. You don’t have to remember all of the questions. The abbreviation should be enough for you to remember to optimize for these three segments.

#6 Study the content format and look for content gaps

Whenever you’re targeting a keyword, look at the existing content ranking in the top 10! In SEO, there’s a thing called search intent, which describes why this person searched for this keyword. Here are the main search intent types, and some keyword phrases meant to target them:

  • Informational - Searcher is looking for helpful information

    • How do you…
    • What is…
    • Who is…
  • Transactional - They want to use a tool or a product

    • Add text to video
    • Drag and drop design-builder
    • Buy latest MacBook
  • Commercial - They are comparing things to purchase

    • Best laptop for students
    • Top apps for productivity
    • Best CRM for founders
  • Navigational - They want to go to a website

    • Go on Facebook
    • Ahrefs free tool
    • Coronavirus graph

Here are the types of content optimized for each search intent:

  • Informational

    • Blog posts
  • Transactional

    • Landing pages
    • Marketplace pages
  • Commercial

    • Marketplace pages
    • Comparison tables
    • Review posts
    • Listicles

Here are the top pages ranking for the progress report keyword:

As you can see here, the search results are filled with guides with the odd landing page template.

#7 Keep on publishing great content

Remember when I said that domain rating isn’t enough? SrumGenius indeed has a high domain rating of 53, but it’s also been blogging consistently for almost two years now.

The longer you’re blogging, the faster you’ll rank. Point blank.

Create SEO content that converts with Embarque

As a final note, these tips won’t ensure that you’ll rank in Position #0, but they can increase your chances of doing so. There are so many ranking factors that interact in complex ways, so it’s impossible to create a framework to ensure that your content ranks first.

The main takeaway here is this: create great in-depth content that works for your brand. The difference in returns between creating excellent SEO content, as opposed to generic ones, can be absolutely night and day. This can be a question of ranking on the first page instead of staying stuck on page 2 or beyond.

Invest in producing great SEO content early on. There are no shortcuts to this. Embarque can help you in that regard :).

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at julian@embarque.io.

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