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How to build high-quality backlinks with viral content

Interviewee: Nadya Khoja, Venngage
Interviewee: Nadya Khoja, Venngage

This week, we interviewed Nadya Khoja, the Chief Growth Officer at Venngage.

Nadya joined Venngage when they were a small team of four with (a relatively small) 20,000 organic visitors month. 5 years later they’re a team of 50 with 1.5m monthly visitors, driving 150,000 product signups every single month.


We deep dive how they achieved this success, looking at:

  • Tapping into trending topics to create content that goes viral
  • How to get high-quality backlinks that build your site's authority
  • Incorporating journalists into your campaign strategy
  • Ranking for content that converts vs branded keywords.


Hope you enjoy this episode!

Build backlinks with viral marketing

This is a playbook for creating viral content that drives brand awareness while generating traffic from search engines. The playbook is based on an interview with Nadya Khoja, the Chief Growth Officer at Venngage, who joined the company when it was a fledgling startup and led their growth to 1.5 million organic visitors per month. As an infographic maker, Venngage north star metric is digital sign-ups, and then conversions to the premium product. Currently, Venngage earns 150,000 new user registrations per month.


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Venngage aims to rank highly in Google for both high volume, low intent searches (like ‘infographic’) and lower volume, high intent searches (like ‘infographic maker’). Ranking highly for high volume search words brings significant brand awareness, whereas high intent searches drive product sign-ups.


Venngage’s worldwide metrics (Source, SemRush)

For example, Venngage is number two when I search for the word infographic. That’s an incredible result because it is searched in the US alone around 125,000 times per month.


Intent-based searches, where the reader is searching for a term that clearly indicates they have the intent to purchase or use the product, are even more valuable. Venngage does extraordinarily well here, too. Here’s proof of their number one ranking for the term ‘infographic maker’.


Nadya’s tip #1: High volumes of traffic is a double-edged sword. If it’s low-quality traffic, you can drive sign ups that ultimately lead to churn. However, more sign-ups means more data and therefore, better decision-making. A churn problem is a nice-to-have problem.


Venngage owes its success to what they term ‘viral content’. They would create original content that was naturally shared widely by top news sites and influencers, propagating across the internet and ultimately ensuring Venngage earned TONS of backlinks. This is not the best strategy for ranking highly on an intent-based keyword because you have less control over the keyword. Because you aren’t always working one on one with a journalist, you can’t ask them to put specific keywords as anchor text. For that reason, it’s best to start with branded keywords with viral content—we’ll get to how to do this.


On backlinks for those who don’t know, Google crawls websites across the internet to understand the connections between them. Google ranks every website based on relevance and utility to the reader, which is determined by a sort of popularity contest (an authority score). To keep it simple, the more websites that link to your website, the more Google thinks it must be good. In addition, if those websites also have a lot of links toward them, and especially if when they link to you their readers click that link, it’s extremely valuable. Your aim in SEO should be to get as many highly respected websites to link to your content, which will increase your domain authority and thus Google search ranking.



Creating viral content


Step 1: Decide on keywords and measure your starting point


You can’t start without your keywords. Decide what words you want to be found for when people search in Google. Venngage chose ‘infographic’ and ‘mindmap’ as brand recognition keywords. Consistency is important because it takes time to build backlinks and you want to build and build your website’s credibility. Using tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Moz you can take a look at your current Google ranking (site authority and for particular search terms), take note of where you start to measure your progress.


Step 2: Ideate


You need some ideas so get your team together and come up with some fun ones. Your aim should be:


  • Incorporate your product or service somehow. Venngage is an infographic maker, they want to rank for the keyword ‘infographic’ so they used their own infographic maker to make viral infographics. When they were shared widely, undoubtedly the journalist, blogger, or influencer mentioned the word infographic. You also show off what you do. Smart, right? 
  • Tap into trends. Highly relevant trends are what people like to talk about, share, comment on, and write about. Venngage mind mapped every betrayal of Game of Thrones back when it was a hot topic, this was part of their strategy to increase Google ranking for the word ‘mindmap’.
  • Think polarising. Venngage would create ‘controversial content’ that would get people talking. Polarising topics would create conversations online and backlinks would come in from good journalist websites, helping Venngage to build their website’s credibility.
  • Remember your audience. Resonating with your target market is still important. Venngage targeted marketers by creating an infographic titled ‘do hashtags really help?’. They conducted their own research and discovered it didn’t. This was both polarising and a hot topic within the marketing community, making an infographic that was highly sharable. It’s also important to note where your audience hangs out—this is for obvious reasons where you want to go viral.

Examples from Venngage:

  • A quiz that sorts tech companies into Hogwarts houses
  • A Game of Thrones mindmap of betrayal (this went viral and crashed their website)
  • A report studying whether hashtags work or not

Step 3: Pitch your idea to journalists


Create a list of 10-20 journalists. Look at what they are already writing about and see if there might be some interest. 


Then, before you put any of your ideated ideas together, reach out and ask if they’d be interested in seeing something like that, usually offering an exclusive. 


Nadya started by asking ‘are you interested in seeing this thing we did? If they did, then they had an ‘in’ and could gauge interest quickly.

If it’s a trending topic and good content, journalists will pick it up and promote it heavily. It’s important to note that this is not just a backlink placed, the whole thing is featuring your company and your content.

Nadya’s tip #2: Word your pitch to journalists carefully. Create urgency by offering them an exclusive, Nadya says she would let them know they’re going to send it to their large mailing list tomorrow but will ‘hold off’ if the journalist lets them know a date it’ll go live.

Step 4: Create & share

Simple from here. Create the original, unique, trend-tapping content that the journalist has indicated they want. Send it to them offering an exclusive, but make sure to note you are talking with other publications, too, so they act fast.

Thanks for reading. I create these all the time for my newsletter over at www.thefxck.com. They’re totally free!


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Extra SEO tips


Nadya’s tip #3: Nadya doesn’t think SEO has much to do with the quantity of links. It’s all about quality. Venngage aims for very specific, good quality links that are positioned properly in the page, that make sense. Every link from a quality website adds to your domain authority. Large news sites, especially industry-relevant ones, are great for this.


Viral content is one part of the puzzle. Venngage would also create all types of content to target specific keywords. White papers, reports, infographics, and Youtube videos. They don’t typically build links on long-tail keywords because they’re easier to rank for naturally. What they do instead is create pillar content covering all of the long-tail. For example, Venngage.com/templates —> click into the URL structure and it’s a one-page scroll but all of it is optimised for a large range of long-tail keywords.


What content drives the highest conversions for Venngage?

  1. Inspirational content
  • Roundups of templates ‘120 presentation design tips’ using their own templates
  1. Actionable content:
  • How to’s + self-promotion, for example, blog posts titled ‘how to create an infographic’
  • Audience focussed content, that is more useful for specific audiences, for example, blog posts titled ‘how to create a strategy mind map’.

Nadya’s tip #4: Make good quality content that people WANT to engage with. Predominantly heavy visual articles (broken up with an image every 150 words) were found to have higher engagement and time on-page.


 What makes a quality backlink?

  • A good website with high authority (check them in SemRush or Ahrefs)
  • Lots of traffic driven to that page
  • A contextual link. For example, a website like New York Times mentions your website as a tool they’re using. Then others read the article and click the link. That is contextual, it looks organic and people are actually clicking on it and coming from that site. Google values this very highly.