Niche SEO Case Study: The Not-Skyscraper Method Ian Kerins Used to Drive 1.8 Million Unique Visitors to His Blog

Find out how Ian Kerins from Thalman Health generated 1.8 million unique users to his blog by trying the famous Skyscraper technique and then doing the opposite. See how you can improve your online presence with niche SEO by using Ian's upgraded "Helicopter Technique".

Niche SEO case study - The Non-Skyscraper method

Early in 2016, Ian Kerins read a summary of Brian Dean’s skyscraper technique. He thought he got the gist of it and started using it for Thalman Health’s first blog, Ayda.

In 2017, he basked in the glory of 180,000 monthly visits to the health blog. He thought skyscraper was working its magic.

He was wrong.

Despite his best intentions, he hadn’t implemented Dean’s famous skyscraper technique.

Instead, he’d misread Dean’s original article, taking from it only some of what has now become such standard practice in the marketing world.

In the process, he discovered something even more effective.

Instead of looking for link-proven keywords—as the Skyscraper technique advises—Ian did the opposite.

As you’ll read in this article, a better term for it might be “the helicopter technique.”

Ian went long-tail, looking for high-volume keywords where the search results looked horrendous.

“It’s like flying in a helicopter along the coast,” he told us when we interviewed him recently. “You look to see if you can find beaches with lots of people—but nothing but a shack sitting there.”

“If you find places like that, land your helicopter. Then, build a hotel.”

Below, we give Ian’s in-depth, tactical method for…

  • Finding keywords to target
  • Creating content to rank for those keywords
  • Cutting the SEO queue by optimizing for Google’s answer box
  • Building sustainably high traffic to your site over time

Note: If you want an easy way to capture more leads or emails from your current website, try Fieldboom.

The Helicopter Technique: Ian’s Step-by-Step Long-Tail Keyword Research Process

Keywords are a pain. It’s easy to do a couple hours of research—maybe a couple days if you really care—and then call it good enough. 

But that wasn’t good enough for Ian.

Thalman Health was preparing to launch a new product—a first-of-its-kind wearable device that could continually monitor and report core body temperature. It wasn’t ready yet, but the company wanted an existing audience in place to improve sales when the product was ready to launch.

Hence, why Ian was tasked with creating the Ayda blog.

Ayda was designed to attract traffic from women interested in fertility. Why? Because temperature information is extremely helpful in areas of women’s health like thyroid disorders, infertility treatment, and pregnancy.

Attract that audience and get them to sign up for an email list—or so they thought—and you’d have a built-in audience ready to go when Thalman Health’s wearable device was released for sale.

Ironically, the Ayda blog was too successful.

Thalman Health was still developing the product and couldn’t handle the flood of requests for something that wasn’t yet on the market (and wouldn’t be for some time). 

Eventually, Ian had to remove lead forms and CTA’s from the site just to stop the inquiries.

Product release dates notwithstanding, the traffic numbers were a huge success.

The main reason? Ian’s extensive keyword research.

Here’s how Ian did it.

Step One: Target ONE Niche in Your Market

The first mistake you can make, Ian says, is looking for individual keywords first.

“If you start looking at individual keywords,” Ian explained, “it’s overwhelming. There are too many rabbit holes. You end up going around in circles.”

Instead, Ian went after one market niche at a time. For the Ayda blog, Ian wanted to reach women interested in fertility, so—naturally—he chose everything related to fertility.

From that topic, he created a list of 30-50 short to medium-tail keywords.

He used Moz, Ahrefs, and Semrush to find every possible variant of those keywords.

The results was a giant list of ten to twenty thousand derivatives of those original keywords.

Obviously, that many keywords just isn’t useful…yet. So, Ian downloaded the Moz results as a CSV—then imported them into Excel.

Niche SEO case study: Thalman Keyword Groups

Step Two: Look For High Search Volume + Low Competition

Once Ian had thousands of keywords to look through, he started cleaning up: getting rid of duplicates and keywords that weren’t relevant to what he wanted for the Ayda blog.

Next, he started filtering. “We looked for results that had a high search volume, but mostly low quality offerings for that topic.”

In other words, he wanted a keyword that was popular, but hadn’t gotten the attention of respectable blogs.

His initial criteria was to keep anything that recieved over 10,000 searches per month. He then grouped these into related topics.

From there, he filtered the results using SEMrush and Ahrefs estimates of keyword difficulty.

“I only looked at keywords above 1,000 hits per month and below a certain keyword difficulty,” Ian told us. “That will condense it down to 50-100 potential targets. From there, you can manually qualify them.”

The result was around 50 keyword groups.

Niche SEO case study: Keyword Groups

Some questions he asked himself while qualifying the keyword groups were…

  • Is the existing content good?
  • Is the existing content mobile optimized?
  • Are the results a lot of PDFs, not web articles?
  • Have the ‘top 5’ search results fluctuating over the past year? Or have they been steady?

While he admits his final decisions were based on a “gut feeling,” this process allowed him to identify underserved populations in his niche.

For example, seeing fluctuation in the “top 5” search results in Ahrefs was a sign to him that Google hadn’t decided which articles were the best results for that keyword. The playing field was left open.

The Ayda blog would have a chance to claim a top spot.

The end result of his labor-intensive strategy was a list of 50 high-traffic, low-competition keywords he could target with the blog.

The Trick Ian Used to ‘Jump the Queue’ using Google’s Answer Box

When Ian wrote the blog entries for Ayda, he discovered a hack for showing up in Google’s answer box at the top of Google search results.

First, include a section of the post that’s specifically set up as a question and answer.

Then, add an H1 tag to the title of the section to alert Google to its importance. If you need to change the style of the header, do that with in-line formatting.

Niche SEO case study: Ayda Blog - Pink Discharge: What Does It Mean?

In this post from his Ayda blog, Ian boxed an answer to a commonly asked question: “What causes pink discharge or spotting?”

This setup gives you a much better chance at showing up in the answer box in Google if someone types the right question:

Niche SEO case study - Google Search: What Causes Pink Discharge or Spotting?  On the Ayda Blog

Ian used a similar setup with many of the Ayda articles.

As a result, many of Ayda’s blog posts were featured in Google’s answer box.

Since the answer box appears above even the first result in any google search, his blog was the “real” first result that people could see and click.

Slow & Steady Growth Patterns

Once Ian launched the blog, his articles slowly gained traction.

It started with a humble 20-40 site visits per day in March of 2016. After a few weeks, it climbed to 100-200 visits per day.

Niche SEO case study: Pageviews Increasing

The blog jumped back to 200 or so visits per day in June. After that, for business reasons and a change of focus internally, Ian stopped working on it.

Months went by.

During that time, the blog naturally gained traffic until it peaked in March of 2017, gathering over 180,000 sessions in one month.

Niche SEO case study: Pageviews Increasing 

And remember: at that time, no one was doing outreach for the blog.

It wasn’t even being updated.

Ian’s deep keyword research paid off in a big way: his blog gathered steady traffic and and leads—with minimal investment after launch.

Final thoughts

Thalman Health has since pivoted away from the fertility space to the general health space, and the Ayda traffic numbers are slowly decreasing (down to under 80,000 sessions per month— still not a shabby number).

Ian chuckled as he noted that other companies are now using the skyscraper technique to build on niches where Ayda previously dominated the search results.

But that doesn’t phase him.

He’s busy doing research using his helicopter technique for the next Thalman Health blog, which will be launched soon.

Note: If you want an easy way to capture more leads or emails from your current website, try Fieldboom.

Olivia is a freelance copywriter who loves science, cats, and swing dancing. If she can tell a story with her writing, it's a good day.