IMPORTANT NOTE: I loved working with Frayed Passport so much that I bought it in 2015. All of the information below follows work I completed for the site’s original founder! ~Sarah V.
In this search engine optimization case study, we examine Frayed Passport, a travel website that relies entirely on organic growth to reach its audience. Frayed Passport publishes travel advice, stories, and news—topics range from destination guides, to travel writing advice, to packing tips and beyond, with content published in-house and sourced from partners and fellow travelers. As a bootstrapping startup, Frayed Passport relies entirely on organic growth rather than advertising. So, it was very important for us to post the best content we could to drive visits from search engines in particular.
In June 2014, we began to improve the search engine optimization (SEO) of Frayed Passport’s 200 individual blog posts, starting from the oldest and working our way to the most recent.
We picked keywords for every post—for example, in the post “How to Avoid the Crowds in Machu Picchu,” we chose “avoid the crowds in Machu Picchu” as our keyword. We wanted anyone Googling for that term to see Frayed Passport at the top of the results. Line by line, we worked through that blog post to include variations of the keyword in the title, URL, header text, body text, one external link, image descriptions, and meta information.
Please note: the articles we added the most keywords to also were the longest, and the ones that wouldn’t sound terrible if a certain phrase was repeated twice. This won’t work for smaller, 500-word articles because, well, it wouldn’t sound like a human wrote it! Fortunately for Frayed Passport, most of their articles are 750 words or longer, so we were able to comfortably optimize for keywords without sounding forced.
Images are the most underutilized SEO tools—but if you optimize for them, they can do wonders for your traffic! For any posts lacking in photos, we found beautiful royalty-free photos from popular travel spots worldwide to make the article visually appealing and to rank in Google Image search. For every photo on Frayed Passport, we added titles, descriptions, alt text, and captions so we could catch traffic from people searching for photos of gorgeous travel spots.
Layout and Meta
We changed the layout of certain blog posts to include an introductory video, more descriptive headers, smaller paragraph sizes, and embedded links to travel resources.
We also updated all page excerpts from the default first paragraph—which often is too long to view in a search engine—to give readers a more useful overview of what they’re going to see when they click. For the Machu Picchu post, here’s what we came up with: Avoiding the crowds in Machu Picchu seems impossible. But with Amy Lineburg’s expert advice, we’re ready to start planning our own trip of a lifetime!
After updating a few articles, we waited. We wanted to see what would happen just with search engine referrals, so we avoided posting those links on social networks or to Frayed Passport’s weekly newsletter.
Here’s What Happened
Within just one month, we saw an INCREDIBLE transformation. The Machu Picchu article saw a 771% spike in pageviews over 30 days—from 28 views to 244 views. And some of our other articles we didn’t expect to see much traffic from surprised us with just how popular they became—check out the New Zealand article at the bottom of this chart!
One year later, we’re still seeing tons of traffic for these posts: as of June 2015, we’re receiving more than 600 visits per month to the Machu Picchu article from Google alone.
Here’s What You See in Google
We were very pleasantly surprised when we checked our keywords in Google a month later. As you can see, our Machu Picchu post ranked right at the top (yes, even after clearing our cookies and cache, and even calling very patient friends and family members to double check on their devices) for the keywords we wanted: