SEO Case Study: Bringing a Unicorn Back to Life

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seo case study, bringing a unicorn back to life

Unicorn companies are the ones that take off overnight and could be anything from a dog toy to a subscription box, face masks, kitchen utensils, as seen on tv products that go viral, fixtures in a bathroom, or even a service provider with a few core functions.  They grow big, get “branding”, and then fade as people move on to the next trend.

Some of these brands sell customer data to recoup losses, others fold completely, but smart owners can grow again and build sustainable business.

During the unicorn phase for these companies there is a massive branded search volume, but this eventually fades.  You also have to compete against resellers and marketplaces if they’re not a full DTC company.  And unicorns that don’t build for the future fade into storybooks and mythology.  Luckily this company has smart founders, but they needed a strategy that can work for long term success.

The difference between this company and many of the other unicorns I talk to is that the founders here are good business leaders. Instead of just saying they’re right and bringing up past success, they listen to how we can move forward.  This is rare with people that owned unicorns.

Like many unicorns, this is a Shopify site.  Although Shopify has a lot of issues like other ecommerce platforms, Shopify offers more flexibility to fix them, even if they are incredibly frustrating and expensive to do.  And unicorn companies share many of the same obstacles that traditional ecommerce stores, publishers, and service companies do not have to deal with.

The steps we took to begin recovery:

  1. Find out what the product or service provides solutions for
  2. Fix low hanging fruit with Tech SEO
  3. Build a content plan
  4. Share the strategy with remarketing, email, and PPC
  5. Celebrate as it begins to work

But first, here’s what the situation looked like and the current status.  As long as the company stays with us I’ll be updating like I do other case studies.

16 Month Timeline (They had already had declines from the peak unicorn stage before the 16 month timeline view, this is the “tail” end because search console doesn’t go back for the “horn.” Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

16 month overview seo case study

6 Month View

6 month progress report

3 Month View (Traffic has doubled, and none of the new traffic is branded search, but it is conversion relevant.  Because it is for the audience, the click through rate is still strong. We wrote the titles and descriptions to meet the needs of the searcher vs using clickbait and the content is meant to provide solutions specific to the user group.)

seo recovery project 3 month climb

The Solutions the Product Provides

The very first thing I needed to find out was what solutions, other than the main purpose, this product solves for.  By knowing why people buy or use the product or service, vs. what branding and “unicorn phase” marketing wanted it to be used for, we can create an actionable marketing plan.

We discovered multiple use cases for this product that had not been explored because the brand carried the product.

  1. It is an perfect alternative for some high search volume queries.
    1. These same queries are year round and have a warm-funnel intent (there is a reason to purchase at some point.)
    2. The demand is much higher than the original usage of the product opening up larger revenue opportunities.
    3. People tire of a specific complementary product or service and want an alternative, or that provides a more efficient solution.
  2. People going through a specific issue can use the product when their “comfort zone” products are not safe or become ineffective.
  3. There are specific groups and communities that are more likely to become loyal consumers than we thought of before.
  4. Previous marketing teams missed multiple sales points that we could use to convert more traffic, and compete against competitors and knock-offs.

Now that we know who will use and may buy the product, and what the product or service solves besides the obvious, we are ready to go to work!

Fix Low Hanging Tech Issues

Unicorn companies are infamous for building landing pages, and then having 404 errors because they don’t get cleaned up.  Because unicorn brands are household names while they’re big, people don’t mind slower load times and will click through to the purchase page.

But when the honeymoon phase with the brand wears off, consumers become less patient.  The good news is these 404 pages and landing pages still have quality backlinks from major media, topically relevant niche sites, and bloggers that can be used to grow the business.

  1. We cleaned up all landing and 404 pages we could find as this is very easy to fix on Shopify.
    • Ones with backlinks that were good we redirected to the most relevant page since the offer was over.
    • Ones with backlinks that cater to an audience we can still convert were restored.
    • Ones that had backlinks but didn’t serve a purpose, didn’t have value, or were “fluff” we deleted.
  2. Next we looked at core web vitals.  I personally don’t believe they impact SEO in a meaningful way, but they do impact the customer journey and experience.
    • And we got our Shopify stats to be really solid.  They have a pretty kick-ass dev in house.  Screen shots below.
  3. Because the site focuses around a specific set of offerings or products, we were very limited on what we could do site structure wise, so we added content via a blog, newsroom, and other features.
  4. Schema on Shopify’s own system is ok, but it is not perfect.  I sent some updates and upgrades to the IT person and we deployed it properly.
  5. I checked for other common issue items like rendering, text displaying and being crawled properly (including tabs), etc… and we fixed most of the low hanging fruit issues, as well as a couple of big ones.
    • There is always room for improvement, it is a matter of prioritizing what can be done, not creating more technical debt, and not overwhelming the developer.

Pro-tip: If you’re working on Shopify, check your canonicals.  It’s one of the biggest issues with the platform, other than site structure and the blog CMS.

core web vitals are fixed great core web vitals on shopify

Creating a Content Plan

Content is how you can keep consumers coming back, bring new customers in, grow your brand, and provide more solutions.  It is one of the most vital parts of growing a unicorn company and winning back previous users.

The benefit for a unicorn is they have a customer base that knows who they are, and the unicorn is familiar with the customers’ needs.  Once there is enough value-adding solutions to create a proper flow, unicorns can use this for win-back campaigns.  Non-unicorn companies have to remind consumers who they are, true unicorns have brand recognition and some form of trust with previous customers.

Our content strategy includes:

  • Problem and solution posts
  • When and how to update PDP pages
  • Seasonal trends where the product makes sense
    • And providing content the social team can boost
  • How to guides, informative posts, etc… which are evergreen
  • Content that builds authority and can help get the founders and users media interviews
    • The added benefit here is it could lead to natural backlinks
    • Our goal is to build them further as industry experts and gain press coverage

Share the Strategy With Other Teams

If a company is on a downward trend, spending money on tests to find new audiences is risky but necessary.  With that said, you can save money by spending wisely.

Let’s pretend this client sells running t-shirts.  The claim to fame is that they don’t droop when soaked with sweat.  I’m making this up.  I don’t mention the niche or industry this company is in anywhere in the post to make sure they remain anonymous.

Bidding on “running shirts” is going to be really expensive.  The query is less relevant and the price point may be high which would create a scary ROAS.  This is why we build content that is complementary that can be used for SEO, social media, email, and other channels.

  • Best running shirts for XYZ
  • Alternative cotton shirts for athletes
  • Why runner’s heels get cracks and how to stop them
  • Shirt materials that are good for runners
  • Ways to prevent calloses on heels and toes
  • Why fabrics matter when you’re losing weight
  • Which running socks and materials are best by weather
  • Why some shirts wick sweat better than others
  • Athletic clothing that doesn’t chafe for distance runners
  • Fabrics that don’t weigh you down when training
  • 8 ways to tell when running shoes need changed
  • Which is better training for runners, ellipticals or stair climbers?

I’m making up the topics above because this is an example.  And I’ll likely regret the list later when I read.  They just popped out of my head, and likely aren’t factual.

Let’s also pretend each of these topics has 100,000 monthly searches.  Each person that reads these posts would likely benefit from a shirt that doesn’t droop, wicks sweat, and lets you keep running without being distracted.  Because there are 100,000 searches, chances are it will resonate on social media as the topic is interesting, and also with previous customers.

It is too expensive to bid on the main keyword phrases, but it is very cost effective to remarket to them.  And it is likely inexpensive to bring them in via social media ads based off interests and demographics.  This is why we build the SEO content that matches the needs of the user base and demographics of the customers.

Our goal is to tag people with remarketing pixels and show relevant ads based off the keyword we actually want.  If we rank for that keyword in SEO, even better.  We don’t have to pay for the click, but we can remarket and convert the person once they’re ready, and for pennies on the dollar.

If the person read the running shirts for XYZ purpose post, we’ll show the product back to them with a running theme and solution.  If they came for alternatives to cotton, we’ll use that as the theme.  And more important, we’re also going to try and get a newsletter subscriber.  This way we can send a promotional email to try and convert a new customer using informative content.  Helpful and authoritative content builds their trust and loyalty with the user for the brand.  And if it turns out people are enjoying the topics, we can send them to past customers in hopes they’ll reengage with us.

Traffic options are limited with this niche, so we’re going after the uses that have large search volumes and that is where we’re getting traffic from now.  I passed the information and ideas to the social media and affiliate teams, and they’re going to be pushing to try and convert the new audience of potential customers too.

Celebrate as it Begins to Work

We’re starting to see numbers climb, people returning to the site, and life coming back to the brand.  Everyone is aware traffic can come and go, but it is important to celebrate these initial wins.  They build energy and momentum, and that is when you can get more people to have a good outlook and prevent a unicorn from going extinct.

I’m excited to continue building the SEO growth strategy now that the site is recovering, and work with the other team members to get all channels functioning as one.  Thank you for reading this case study and I hope it helps you or your clients if you’re facing this situation.

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