My DIY SEO success story - MySalaryCalculator

UPDATE 2013: This is actually more like a success, failure, then success story - teaching us all to NEVER rely solely on SE traffic. Read the updated version here.

Having just realised the last time I updated this blog was eight months ago, I feel the need to make a post; and what better way to do it than explaining my absence from it. Well folks, this is my story about - where quite a bit of my spare time has been spent for the past while.

A bit of background

I can’t exactly quite remember why I did it, but for whatever reason, I saw an opportunity and I ran with it. I also had a vague idea about how it could be monetised, so I didn’t waste too much time about getting stuck right in. I think the premise was that when I was looking for a salary calculator (to check if I was being taxed the right amount on my salary etc), I was disappointed with the results that Google returned.

I knew I could create something better. I found a couple of great domain names that were available, did my keyword research, and didn’t look back.

Bit by bit, I learned the basics of the UK tax system and released a prototype in December 2011 that was akin to a Minimum Viable Product. I hosted it in the US (hey, I’m on a budget here), and started stamping by brand authority through SalaryCalc.

The journey

Well the development side was great, I had a working salary calculator. OK, it was quite strict with what you could input, but it worked. The problem was, I had very little traffic to actually use the damn thing.

That’s when I knew I had to turn my focus from development to Search Engine Marketing. I had to build links.

I’d already ploughed money into development, hosting and the domain names without any return. So I needed links on a shoe string budget. I started out by posting comments on relevant forum/articles - but it was never going to have a worthwhile impact.

I found a new appreciation for link building. I was naive, thinking that the links would just fly in. From then on, I changed my mindset - I was focused on creating stuff that was link worthy; stuff that on my day off, may be even I’d consider sharing.

I started off by creating a salary calculator widget. A widget that webmasters could use for free on their own websites, which then also contained a backlink (also some adverts, what do they expect for free?!). I initially spread the word on a few forums, and within a fortnight, a couple of websites had implemented it. It was better than nothing, but still, not really giving me the returns I had hoped.

Later on, I revisited this topic, and distributed the news this time with a free press release. Again, a couple more links, only this time to my surprise I received an enquiry about a premium salary calculator widget for a large recruitment agency. This sort of response was a breath of fresh air at a time I was having doubts about whether it was worth it.

If you know me, you know that I love mobile technology. I had experience developing iPhone apps previously, but found the process to be generally slower than developing for the web. I wanted SalaryCalc to have a presence on mobile, as the apps that already existed, again could be improved. From there, I prototyped an app for both iPhone and Android, deploying it with Phonegap to save development time. The backlinks from the App Stores and app review sites can never be a bad thing.

I then turned my eye to the news in the hope that I could piggyback off of the headlines. A lot of financial-related stuff was happening in the news, so I tried creating some articles that were near fresh off the press and had some spin related to my website. Again, a small handful of backlinks/activity but nothing that would change my fortunes over night.

Months had passed, and I still hadn’t made much headway from where I had originally begun. Still rotting away on below page one results for my primary key phrase. Well, I did manage to get to the top of page two, but what good is that? It wasn’t bringing in the sort of traffic necessary for ad-based revenue to succeed.

Patience and perseverance in SEO

What was I doing wrong? Surely after all of this effort, I should be on page one at the very least. I went back to the drawing board. Perhaps my efforts at link building weren’t enough. I started to look at other SEO fundamentals, getting them down to a tee.

In frustration, I decided to scrap all of my hard work link building for SalaryCalc and have a rebrand. Same product, just a longer name; MySalaryCalculator. I was lucky enough to have the foresight to register the domain when it was available at the time. The theory behind it being it should be easier to rank - full primary phrase in both the domain name and the product name. I should mention that I updated any links where I possibly could to point to the new domain, and also I had 301s from the old domain to the new one.

As I didn’t see instant results, I continued to thoroughly examine what I was doing wrong. I even plunged more money into the project so I could have UK based hosting. By that point, I virtually had no revenue from the product, with all the many months it had been online - so this could be seen as simply throwing yet more money away. I courageously continued in vain to source links any way I could (still using white hat methods). Weeks passed, and not much really happened.

I soon got disheartened by the project, and its lack of success in the search engines. This was it’s primary source of revenue after all.

Then it happened.

SEO Jackpot

MySalaryCalculator finally reached the top 5 spot in Google for my primary key phrase. Almost as if Google felt sorry for me, it boosted my rankings over night, throwing the usual page one suspects into complete disarray. You’ll probably be able to work out at which point that happened from my Analytics visitor overview:

This is what a successful SEO campaign looks like

I was receiving automated alerts from Google that traffic had increased >500% - and it felt great. More visitors of course means more ad revenue. Finally, the project was making money, and is continuing to do so to this day.

Ad revenue - The epitome of patience

Is that it..? That was your master plan?

No. I’m still gunning for the number one spot, and I have a whole batch of ideas that will help me get there. I’m also looking at alternative ways of creating revenue in order to maximise the potential that this venture has. I’m quite excited about what the future holds for this project, but I know for certain that creative link building will play a massive part in it.

Valuable learning experiences

The project has had it’s ups and downs, but it has been brilliant as a learning experience overall. Throughout I’ve been learning new techniques, skills and values which I can now apply going forward and to other projects. The most valuable things I’ve learnt however aren’t necessarily technical:

  • Do your research - Sufficient research for your idea will determine early if it’s even worth going ahead with. This is not something you want to do after six months of hard graft.
  • Creativity is king - They used to say content is king, I think we can extend that to creativity. Being able to think outside of the box will not only serve asĀ  the best way to get you backlinks, but also as a way to progress your idea beyond what your competitors currently do.
  • Patience - A common pitfall with SEO/SEM clients. Many want results yesterday failing to understand that search engines don’t quite work like that (well, not for sustainable results anyway). A scheduled algorithm change/data refresh by the search engine may be the last piece of the puzzle.
  • Motivation - It’s very hard to keep motivated when you’re looking at an SEO campaign after six months and no substantial progress has been made. Ensure the little wins drive you on to achieve your ultimate goal; don’t get disheartened when you fail to achieve your overall objective instantly. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Thanks for reading

Hopefully you’ve been able to take something away from reading this article. A special thanks also goes out to Michael Smith (who runs a great link building blog) who knows this story inside out from our daily car share.