Name: Tax Center
Website: IRS.com (formerly Banks.com/taxes)
Summary: IRS.com is s a non-governmental, privately owned website. It was developed with the ordinary citizen in mind and a focus on the most common tax related issues they face.
Length of project: 5 months (ending on Tax Day 2011)
Just five months of working with Tax Center produced extremely positive results. The website is now better positioned in the search engines than it was before and it is receiving more traffic because of that positioning.
This project was different from most for a couple of reasons. First, it was shorter. Most content strategies are at least 12 months in length. Second, we began working with Tax Center at the beginning of their most important months of the year (as opposed to implementing our plan in the offseason for taxes).
This means that we needed to implement a strategy that did all of the following:
A) Got results without adversely affecting current search engine positioning. There wasn’t enough time to take a huge step backwards before taking a step forward.
B) Resulted in accelerated returns (meaning immediate), and
C) Laid the groundwork for long term performance beyond the scope of the project (future tax seasons).
We began the project by performing an in-depth audit of the site. The audit pointed to several key areas of improvement – basic SEO fundamentals, a more trusted user experience, and more high-value content. We based our strategy on those key areas.
The results were quick, and significant. First, the site was better positioned in the search engines:
- The number of pages on the site that come up in search results went UP 686%
- The number of pages on the site that are on the first page of Google search results went UP 175%
Second, more people visited the site in the 2011 tax season than in 2010:
- 49% more people visited the site
- Traffic coming from the search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) was more than 4 times higher
The content created yielded an immediate return. The ROI for the more than 250 pieces of content we created and posted was better than 127%. That means the client more than made their money back for the cost of the content in less than 5 months.
The positive results don’t necessarily end with the passing of the 2011 tax season. The groundwork laid for the client will continue to bear fruit in the offseason and in future tax seasons. All of these numbers may increase in the future as the new content gets more inbound links.
Tax Center’s Goal(s):
Tax Center asked Brand5 to create and implement a content strategy that accomplishes the following goals for the 2011 tax season. For the sake of this case study, keep in mind that tax season runs from January 15 – April 20.
- Increase the share of organically-based traffic – in recent tax seasons, a huge portion of the site’s traffic came from people directly typing in the URL into their browser. Tax Center wanted to drastically improve their footprint across all search engines to create more traffic opportunities. This includes the following sub-goals:
- Increase the amount of indexed pages. The site suffered from a very low indexed content to total content ratio.
- Increase the click-thru rate on organic impressions. Some existing content performed well in organic search, but received a poor click-thru rate. We theorized that potential customers were not responding to generic snippets.
- Lessen the businesses’ dependence on Adwords for traffic.
- Generate increased revenue through Adsense
- Optimize conversions so that more traffic is being delivered to the company’s revenue generators (advertising partners)
- Begin to build a sense of trust through the development of more valuable content. Better content will cause more people to remember IRS.com for all tax needs not only in this tax season but in future tax seasons.
We started the project by performing and in-depth audit of the website (at that time it was located at Banks.com/taxes). The date from the audit pointed to a few areas that needed immediate improvement in order to reach the client’s goals (especially with a very short time-frame of 5 months to execute).
- Overall look-and-feel of the site needed to be less overwhelming, more official, more trustworthy, better organized, and optimized to point traffic to valuable (and profitable) content.
- SEO fundamentals: existing content wasn’t being indexed, was indexed and ranked poorly, or was indexed with a high rank and had a low click-thru rate. All existing and future content needed to better comply with keyword rich SEO basics to drive better listings and click-thrus.
To that point, here’s an example of a snippet being used when we first began working with the client.
- Content strategy: the domain is obviously strong and would get stronger once the client switched to IRS.com. But the tax industry is incredibly broad and it was late 2010, so there wasn’t time to plan a 6-12 month content strategy. We had to find ripe targets to go after that will lead to increased, revenue-generating traffic.
These are the services we performed to help the client:
- Keyword Research – given the short time frame and the broad reach of the tax industry, we needed to investigate where the sweet spot would be for content. We wanted to find areas within taxes that would have the best chance of getting quality content indexed quickly.
- Competitive Analysis – part of choosing the best targets is thoroughly investigating the tax space and all of the niches within taxes.
- SEO Fundamentals – we worked hard to make sure that the basics were done right. For example, getting Google and the site talking to each other through a properly submitted site map. We also updated all of the meta data (titles, descriptions and URLs) to make sure al pages had the best chance to be properly indexed and that impressions would be more likely to turn into clicks.
- Content Strategy and Creation – based on our findings in keyword research and competitive anlaysis we picked areas to write content. Those areas were tax refunds, tax forms, tax extensions, state refunds, paying taxes by credit card, and getting copies of past tax returns. We then scheduled content for publishing over a 4-month timeframe.
- Optimized Web Design – we designed a new skin for the site. The goal was to not only show more value on the home page, but to make the inside pages look more like trustworthy, valuable pieces of content that users would feel like answered their problems and questions.
With regards to the goals, here are the results based on only 5 months of work (contract ended April 18, 2011).
All signs are definitely headed in the right direction in terms of SEO Fundamentals. Take a look at these numbers:
- The number of indexed pages: UP 686%
- Ratio of total pages compared to indexed pages is now 1:1 compared to 1:3 beforehand
- 55% improvement in crawl errors
Here’s what happened as a result of our Content Strategy and Creation – 4 months of steady content addition (after 1 month of planning) to the site based on the keyword research:
- Search results ranking in Google’s top 20 results went UP 284%
- Search results ranking in Google’s top 10 results (Page 1) went UP 175% – this means there were almost 3 times as many pages from the site listed on Page 1 of SERPs
- Search results ranking in Google’s top 5 results went UP 150%
This graph from SEMRush shows a trend we like. More keywords are ranking and ranking well. That means more opportunity for traffic (more on traffic later).
What did all of this mean for one of the client’s main goals, traffic and revenue?
At a high level, let’s compare the most relevant time of year for the client: tax season (January through Tax Day). Here’s what the numbers say for 2011 versus 2010:
- Organic traffic’s share of the site’s overall traffic increased from 3% to just over 8%: UP 174%
- Organic search traffic: UP 319%
Take a deeper dive into the numbers and it’s clear that the switch from “banks.com/taxes” to “irs.com” not surprisingly helped the site rank better for irs-related keywords. If we take out all irs-keyword data from the organic traffic, the numbers are still significantly better:
- Organic traffic’s share of the site’s overall traffic increased from 2.59% to almost 4%: UP 51%
- Organic search traffic: UP 130%
- Number of keywords that turned into traffic: UP 57%
Tax season as a whole is very important, but the peak period of April (the last three days of the tax season) is an important subset of data to look at. Like many companies in the tax industry, those last three days of the season generates a significant amount of the total annual revenue. Therefore, search performance is crucial.
- Organic search traffic: UP 794%
- Organic search traffic excluding irs-based keywords: UP 485%
- Adsense revenue for organic search traffic excluding irs-based keywords: UP 220%
- Adsense revenue from organic search traffic: UP 1,367%
One last micro level of detail: tax day (in 2011 it was April 18). That single day is the most important day of the year. If a site in the tax industry doesn’t perform on that day then there is revenue lost that can’t be reclaimed until the following year.
- Organic search traffic: UP 1,447%
- Organic search traffic just from Google: UP 1,682%
- Adsense revenue from organic search traffic: UP 1,719%
One last set of data to look at is the return on the content we created. In total, we posted just over 250 new articles or pages to the website. Compare the revenue generated through Adsense against the cost the client paid for the content to be created and the ROI was 127%. In other words, the client more than doubled the money they invested in new content in less than 5 months!
In terms of the goal to optimize the website’s design to begin to build trust and drive more conversions, here’s the comparison between the old home page and the new home page.
Here’s what a typical inside page looks like now compared to the older version.
Similar to our SEO strategy, we didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel with the new design. We relied on basic fundamentals of user experience and goal optimization. The client wanted more traffic funneling into their largest revenue generators. Here are the highlights of the new design:
- Less options. The old design was overwhelming. There were so many choices that users told us in testing that they were confused. We focused on making the most relevant content front-and-center so that users wouldn’t have to work hard to find what they wanted.
- More efficient. Now a user has one main navigation instead of multiple top navigations. And, most importantly, a user can get to underlying content from the home page. Before, a user was limited to exploring only the content presented on the home page. Now users can find content by category.
- Trust. Users told us that the frequency of add placements made them feel like the site was trying to generate revenue more than offer value. The new layout (especially on inside pages like this one) changes the focus to be less about adds and more about delivering the content the user came to the site for in the first place. The more value that gets delivered, the more the user will trust the site. And the more likely that user will be to come back again in the future.