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Case Study: A 2-step Strategy for Getting Sites Unstuck

Foreward by Matt Diggity:
In a moment, I’m going to pass the mic over to Tom De Spiegelaere.

You may have met him before when I interviewed him about his journey from client to affiliate SEO.  If you haven’t heard it, check it out.

Tom is a heavy hitter in affiliate SEO these days and member of The Affiliate Lab.

In this guest post, I’ve given him permission to discuss one of The Affiliate Lab’s techniques called the Site Size Explosion, which can be used to unstick stubborn rankings for your website.

This works for both affiliate and client/local sites.

Here we go…

Meet Tom

This is the story of how I leveraged supporting content and featured snippets to get a foothold in a competitive niche, which gave me early $$$ to invest in link building and boost my ranks in the top 5.

Without this strategy, getting in the top 5 would have required a massive upfront cost… which was now drastically reduced thanks to the monies the featured snippets are generating.

Side-note: While there are only 2 steps involved (supporting content and featured snippets), we’ll be digging quite deep, so there will be more steps… to the steps…

inception meme

The Problem

Once upon a time (around March 2018 I’d say), I had this issue with two money pages on an already quite powerful domain.

These pages were stuck in the serps.

No matter how much content I added to the pages, no matter how many links I bought… their primary keywords kept swinging from the top of page 2, to the bottom of page 1, and back again.

why meme

These pages are targeting the tech niche in the UK, the keywords themselves are quite competitive, but pretty darn lucrative, as it is with most competitive niches.

The Solution

While searching around for answers in the usual FB groups, one SEO mate suggested it could be a supporting content issue… something up until that point I hadn’t considered as I thought I had enough supporting content and never had this issue before.

Then I remembered that The Affiliate Lab course had a section in there about how to use supporting content to boost money pages (called the Site Size Explosion (SSE)).

Turns out my idea of what supporting content was, was absolutely useless.

I thought it was just about writing content and decent interlinking – maybe make sure it ranks for some super long tails, that’s about it.

The key to supporting content is a combination of backlinks, rankings, and decent traffic.

So I started creating supporting informational content, the way I was creating money pages.

Here’s the process…

Step 1) My new process for creating supporting content

This is the process I go through to create supporting content that actually moves the needle and helps boost its parent money page(s) in the serps.

1) KW research

Pretty straightforward, I use Ahrefs to pull all ranking keywords from my competitors (top 3), then filter the list in excel to find the low comp, decent volume gems.

This isn’t very hard if you focus on informational keywords rather than commercial ones.

Try their “content gap” feature.  It really speeds things up.

content gap

2) Content

Write the content or outsource it.

For supporting content, I usually don’t check competition on their content length, I just go with a minimum of 1000 words.

Build the content around the topic, letting the keywords integrate naturally.

As for on-site SEO for these pages, just make sure you’ve got a decent keyword rich meta-title, an intriguing meta-description so you can get a good CTR when you do hit that top 5, and use all the basics like H2/3s, don’t over-optimize, images, alt-tags, etc (check Diggity’s on-page SEO guide).

As for the URL, most of my supporting content pages are children of the money pages (root.com/moneypage/supportingcontent).

3) Interlinking

Obviously, link to your parent money page using whatever anchor you want (I’m fairly aggressive with internal anchors), and then interlink between other supporting pages, while staying in your topical island for whatever you’re trying to rank your money page.

4) Links

backlinks

Building links (I use guest posts) to these supporting content pages is, for me anyway, the secret sauce.

While it might seem very obvious, the difference between supporting content with no links, and content with even a single link, is like day and night.

I can’t stress this enough, w/o links, supporting content is almost useless imho.

Add a single link, and suddenly you’ll be seeing boosts in the ranks of the content itself, the money page it links to, and whatever other content the page links to… it’s insane the difference a single link makes.

As for anchors, the vast majority are branded/generic.

The Numbers: Content + Links Built

  • 16 supporting pages
  • 43 guest posts (majority from Authority Builders)
    • 80% to supporting pages
    • 20% to money pages.
  • 5 PBNs: 3 to one money page, 2 to the other.

Step 2: The Featured Snippets Takeover

During the above process, I started testing featured snippets across four other pages that were already ranking very well (in the same niche), incrementally making adjustments to get the max amount of snippets…

So that when those 2 money pages did hit the top 10 (and stayed for once), I could grab as many snippets as possible and start getting the money back I spent on all the content, guest posts and PBNs.

Hope meme

The snippets in my niche are all based on lists, so no tables or simple bullet points. We’re talking full-on lists with each item having a title (H3) and a few paragraphs of content.

Things I learned from split-testing featured snippets over two months:

1) Testing snippets is super easy:

When you make any on-page changes, in the majority of cases, you can check if you got the snippet the moment Google re-indexes that page (I mainly used GSC’s fetch and render to do this).

This makes the process of refining the strategy super quick.

That being said, Google updates can undo this at any point, I’ve lost and gained a lot of snippets during the massive turbulence over the past few months, but I always maintain a healthy amount of them.

2) Stats and data points outweigh the number of list items:

It doesn’t matter how many list items you add.

Even if your competition has less than half the amount of list items, if they have the upper hand on quoting stats, figures, facts, per item… they will win the snippet.

I found this out the hard way after adding 4000 words of list content and not getting anywhere…

But then I started adding product specifications in a clear pattern for every list item, suddenly I got the snippet (even after I cut the number of items down again).

stats meme

3) Add subsections to your list items:

The list title itself is an H2, the list items have H3s as title, and for an extra step, you can add H4 subsections within those list items that expand on specific features or product specifications.

I’ve seen a definite positive movement from doing this.

4) Stick to a pattern:

This means that if you mention product specifications, or talk about specific features in your list items, make sure those are then in every list item, in the same order.

Make an obvious and easily digestible pattern.

5) Add imagery for every list item:

This isn’t something I tested, but I do this by default, you might consider doing the same… but again, I did not actually test this.

The Results

The supporting content strategy boosted every page in that topical island on the domain, and most importantly, boosted my 2 money pages into the top 10, with most primary kws having stable positions from #5 to #8. Using what I learned from testing the snippets, I managed to get the featured snippets for most high comp kws, even though sometimes I’m only like on position 8 for the keyword.

Once I started seeing more $$$ coming in from having those snippets, I re-invested it back into those money pages, which at the time of writing have multiple high-comp kws in the top 5, as well as having those snippets.

A brief note about the August update: I added the semi-final version of the featured snippets to these 2 pages around the end of July, and then the August update hit. This update actually boosted my ranks a lot across multiple projects, so that was a nice bonus!

Now for the numbers, stats, & monies

SerpRobot AVG position: A very nice increase over time, tracking 102 kws.

Ahrefs # of organic keywords: Also some decent growth thanks to the supporting content lifting the entire topical island on the domain.

$$$ generated from the 2 targeted money pages:

May: $1820
June: $1540
July: $1400 <- end of July is where I added the featured snippet structure.
Aug: $4480
Sep: $4640

So yeah, that’s about it.

It’s a fun way to try grab easy-ish ranks and $$$ if you’re stuck in a niche with a lot of featured snippets!

  1. Use the Site Size Explosion technique: to grow the amount of topical content and link to it.
  2. Once you’re in snippet stealing position, take them.

If anyone comes up with a cool name for this combo strategy, let me know in the comments below.

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44 Comments
  • Martin
    Posted at 10:24h, 12 November Reply

    Hey,

    how quickly did you build those Guest posts? Did you use any social signals?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 19:54h, 12 November Reply

      Because the guest posts were drip-fed to multiple pages at the same time, it’s a difficult question, a few a week per page I’d say. I do use social signals on every page I plan to build links to.

  • Umair
    Posted at 12:02h, 12 November Reply

    Wow absolutely amazing! Can i say by adding supporting content and then building links to it improved your Trust also? So google is more confident in showing snippet from the sites which are more trustworthy? What’s your opinion on that? Thanks for the post btw

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 19:53h, 12 November Reply

      Personally, I don’t think that’s the case (yet), at this point it’s more about the structure of the page rather than trust imho.

  • Jason Morris
    Posted at 12:51h, 12 November Reply

    Great Post Tom! Ahrefs content gap tool is awesome. I am of course bias but its interesting the effect good links can have!

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 19:52h, 12 November Reply

      Yeah, LOVE the gap tool!

  • Alex Dantas
    Posted at 15:41h, 12 November Reply

    Hey, Tom! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I’m following your story in Project Pyxis. Please, will you continue with that project? I have 6 months with my first affiliate site and have not yet made $ 100 but you are the guy that makes us believe that it is possible.

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 19:51h, 12 November Reply

      Yeah, Pyxis is really one of those projects I should have let go… they can’t all work out, definitely if you start fresh sites you’re likely to fail a few times before hitting it big. But even if a project doesn’t make you $$$, doesn’t mean it can’t be a great pbn for your next project 🙂 <- failing forward!

  • Kevin
    Posted at 17:53h, 12 November Reply

    Awesome post here Tom. I always believed in the power of supporting content for my local SEO clients as well.

    If you’ve read the “black sheep” post by Matt Diggity, then you’d be familiar with the idea of not having too many backlinks on one particular page, as it looks shady. Building them onto supporting content pages which link to the money page is a solid way to go!

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 19:49h, 12 November Reply

      Yup, as per usual, Diggity was right 🙂

  • Igor Buyseech
    Posted at 19:18h, 12 November Reply

    Hey Tom, thx for sharing this. I basically never went after the snippets (not doing much aff), but getting into it and this will for sure help out a lot.

    Have a gret cloud-free day 😀

    Igor B.

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 19:48h, 12 November Reply

      Unfortunately, there are some clouds around today…. whyyyy? 😉

  • Tyler Read
    Posted at 19:44h, 12 November Reply

    In terms of the rich snippets. When you add all the stats and numbers and such to the paragraphs of your list, do those stats show up in the snippet? Or you are just saying that adding the stats helped your list (h2s) show up in the rich snippet, but not the stats themselves.

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 19:47h, 12 November Reply

      They usually don’t show up, but rather helped me in getting the snippet.

  • Alan Jackman
    Posted at 21:21h, 12 November Reply

    What I learned from this article

    – get 3 supporting pages (around 1k words) per 1 money page (length depends)
    – send 80% of guest posts to supporting pages
    – find article ideas for supporting content from competitor
    – optimize supporting content for long tail informational keywords
    – make sure each supporting page has at least 1 backlink to it
    – use more guest posts than pbns
    – you optimize for feature snippets
    – assuming you use authority builder links that cost $90+, you have spent around .$4.5k on just links (holy fuk). not to mention the cost for content.
    – but now the site makes the money back with $4k+/m

    That was worth reading, thank you.

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 23:05h, 12 November Reply

      Happy you liked it! That being said, I’d build a few more supporting pages than 3 per money page, the rest sounds good :). Also, my avg cost per gp would be around $150 to $200, but because of interlinking, not only those 2 money pages got a bump, but others as well.

  • William
    Posted at 22:24h, 12 November Reply

    Great story Tom! I love it.
    Just a quick question, do you use a tool to check what featured snippets are available for what keywords in your niche (or around the keyword you are targeting)?

  • JR
    Posted at 00:09h, 13 November Reply

    Thanks Tom on this great read. I just want to make sure if I am understanding correctly on step 2 for stats and data points. Do you add that information in the H3 title? Example: 1. Fast car 250mph 2. Fast car 500mph 3. Fast car 1000mph. Thanks!

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 00:56h, 13 November Reply

      Nope, in the content of the list item, not the title 🙂

  • Shawn
    Posted at 08:37h, 13 November Reply

    Hi Tom. You mentioned parent/child urls for the supporting pages. I’ve used blog posts (instead of pages) in wordpress so creating children in the url is tricky. It would take a lot of work but would you suggest that I change my posts to pages so I can create child urls? Is it that much of a factor?

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 00:08h, 14 November Reply

      I wouldn’t change the url’s, the upsides wouldn’t outweigh the possible risks.

  • Areesha Gul
    Posted at 06:31h, 14 November Reply

    Nice experiment, May i know what was the minimum search volume for supporting pages keywords and were these keyword long tail?

    Regards

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 08:53h, 14 November Reply

      Hey, mostly long-tail, don’t need much traffic, anything over 150 sv/mo will work nicely.

  • John Yap
    Posted at 16:04h, 14 November Reply

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for sharing your ranking experience.

    Could you elaborate more the content gap function from ahref?

    How do we use it to our advantage?

    Thanks

  • Keith Goodwin
    Posted at 10:06h, 15 November Reply

    Great post Tom, thanks for sharing. Busy making notes and a MindMap to add this strategy into our plan. 🙂

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 23:19h, 15 November Reply

      No worries, glad you liked it!

  • Marsha Kelly
    Posted at 23:28h, 15 November Reply

    Thanks, Tom for sharing your findings and explaining it so clearly. How about this name for the technique – TOPICAL ISLANDS. I envision an island (the money page) with surrounding little atolls, reefs, and sandbars (the supporting content) which tourists (backlinks) visit all the islands, reefs and sandbars which makes it the newest hot vacation spot!

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 01:43h, 16 November Reply

      It’s a good name (I like the explanation), but I’m pretty sure it’s already in use in quite a few SEO circles, referring to strategically interlinked content that cover a specific parent topic… creating topical islands (w/o the backlinks) 🙂

  • Simon Nowak
    Posted at 09:24h, 16 November Reply

    What about “Bloody Topical Island”?

    BL for backlinks 🙂

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 22:05h, 16 November Reply

      Lol :), still need to work in the snippets in there somewhere… something like the “Bloody Topical Snippet Technique (the BTS technique for short)”.

  • Mattijs
    Posted at 05:36h, 19 November Reply

    Great post Tom! I’ve gave my write the task to add more stats in my reviews this week. I

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 05:49h, 19 November Reply

      No worries, happy to help!

  • Ami
    Posted at 12:59h, 19 November Reply

    What’s the average price you pay per article and where do you find good writers?

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 22:54h, 19 November Reply

      Answered this in PM, but as it could be helpful to others, I’m copy-pasting my answer below:
      Hey, usually depends on the project. And I like to try out new providers a lot. Atm, my go-to is https://www.contentellect.com. They’re not well-known and quite new, they use mainly South African writers, I love them! For other projects with a more repeatable content strategy I hire VA’s from onlinejobs.ph and write SOPs for them. The average cost on Onlinejobs.ph would be $20/1000 words and includes finding, compressing and adding images to the content, as well as other additional content tasks that the usual content services don’t provide.

  • Jack
    Posted at 18:46h, 24 November Reply

    Hi Tom,
    A big thank you to both you and Matt for this highly actionable article!

    I have 2 questions..
    1.Even if your competition has less than half the amount of list items, >> in this case should I cut down my list by half to match the competitor? (in the article you did say you cut down the list of items several times, would you cut 50% off to match the competitor?)

    2.if they have the upper hand on quoting stats, figures, facts, per item… they will win the snippet.

    I have more facts and figures than the competition, presented in a very readable format e.g. https://screencast.com/t/XziTBttWr

    but still the competitor who only has 3 items gets the snippet, is there anything I can do in this situation? maybe add the facts and figures in to the paragraph to make it easier for the Google algorithm to process?

    TIA

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 04:25h, 25 November Reply

      Hi,

      1. no need to cut down items, I’m just saying it doesn’t really matter.
      2. G has def updated whatever part of the algorithm that deals with the snippets since I wrote the case study, I lost a few and gained half back by doing some weird stuff. It’s near impossible to answer your question w/o actually seeing the pages. You really need to check how your comp does their reviews, from word-count to order of elements (could be title, then image, then review, then stats…. or a different order).

      A recent test that resulted in getting back some lost snippets, was to remove all headings (except the page title) before the H2 list title, so the first heading after the H1 page title, is the H2 list title.

      I would def discuss the specs both in list form AND in the paragraphs as well.

      Hope this helped somewhat.
      Tom

      • Jack
        Posted at 16:59h, 26 November Reply

        Thank you SO MUCH Tom 🙂 This is very helpful Will test 🙂
        Jack

        • Tom De Spiegelaere
          Posted at 22:20h, 26 November Reply

          No worries 🙂

  • Kostas
    Posted at 15:41h, 30 November Reply

    Great strategy Tom, however, how long did it take you to see actual results in rankings/traffic from the moment you did all the guest posts?

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 03:31h, 01 December Reply

      Because the guest posts were dripfed over time and I didn’t track individual kws related to supporting content, I can’t really answer this conclusively. That being said, I always play on the safe side and assume a 3-month delay between a guest post going live, and it making an impact on rankings. It might seem like a long time, but it allows me to plan way ahead in time (and usually the impact is noticeable earlier, so it’s always a nice surprise).

  • James
    Posted at 04:01h, 10 December Reply

    This is interesting but I have a question.
    What if, for example, you are trying to rank for a term and the top site is a big ecommerce site which ranks for 100s of terms you would not be targeting?

    • Tom De Spiegelaere
      Posted at 21:29h, 10 December Reply

      Very difficult question to answer, my decision wouldn’t be based on that alone. Need to look the page that is ranking, its authority, structure, etc.

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