So now that we’ve discussed the truth and lie of Content is King, there are situations where content can do most of the heavy lifting for you. In low competition niches, sometimes you can build a successful site with just content coupled with good on-page and technical SEO — but it is a slow process and only works when competition is very low.
This is the story of a site that won a small niche without authority building / marketing efforts.
Warcraft Hunters Union
In 2007 I started a blog about playing the hunter class in the online video game World of Warcraft. I started the site because I wanted a platform to experiment with various SEO things, and chose the topic because I loved the game.
I retired from blogging there years ago, but the site is still up at warcrafthuntersunion.com
I never did any authority building for the site. Never once did I ask anyone for a link, or reach out to anyone to promote my content.
Instead I built a strong SEO site structure and wrote well-optimized individual pages. I wrote a new post every weekday without fail, for years, and the average word count was over 500 words. I did keyword research to find out what kind of topics my audience was searching for, wrote in-depth articles explaining those topics, and made sure that my site was interlinking to those articles well.
I spent hours upon hours reverse-engineering the mathematical formulas that control the game, so I could understand and explain how to optimize them (we called it theorycrafting, and it’s really not a whole lot different from SEO testing & research).
I told my friends about the site, and for a while they were my only readers. I did not create a sitemap or submit the site to Google. Google discovered it on its own within a couple weeks.
Eventually Warcraft Hunters Union began to rank for some long tail searches. With that I began to get some traffic. Because I had great content that answered players’ questions combined with other entertaining content, some of those searchers started linking to my site from other sites and forums. In particular those guides that I wrote based on keyword research attracted links.
As the site started accumulating links, the ranking started increasing faster and faster. There wasn’t much competition in the space, and the competition I did have was largely ignorant of SEO and did a very poor job of optimizing their own sites, making it even easier to rank.
Over the next few years the site grew until it was widely considered the preeminent source for World of Warcraft hunter info. I was offered a paying gig writing a monthly column for the AOL site devoted to World of Warcraft news. I made guest appearances on podcasts, attended conventions where I signed autographs, was invited to consult with the game developers and I even had an item in World of Warcraft named after me. At its peak the site was attracting around 30,000 visits and 80,000 pageviews a day.
A song/video I made for the site — over 1 million views.
This is how great content is supposed to work, and this is what success looks like to the people who say Content is King. The idea is that you rank on the very long tail and get a wee trickle of traffic, but your stuff is so amazingly good compared to everything else out there that people start sharing it and linking to you on their own, and that is how you build authority to your site. Over the course of years.
Unfortunately, most sites can’t do this. The level of competition on the internet is so high now that for most niches you won’t even rank in the long tail without decent links pointing to your site. For sites that aren’t informational like Warcraft Hunters Union was, it’s even harder. After all, if your site sells iPhone covers, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to have something incredibly unique to say that a hundred other sites don’t also share.
There are two lessons to this story. The first is that even for sites where you can eventually rank on content alone, you still need links, just the idea is that the content is so great that people start linking to it because they want to point other people in your direction (and it takes years).
The second lesson is that with the vast majority of sites, content alone still isn’t an option. You have to have a way to get links to that content before it’s going to rank, which means you have to have a way of promoting the content, which is where authority-building tactics come into play.