Back in August, my friend Ashley told me about “Small Changes September,” a daily livestream challenge she was doing. I joked, “Maybe I should do S-E-October!” And as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized it wasn’t a joke, it was a fabulous idea. “Oh shit,” I thought, “Now I’ve gotta do SEOctober…”

(Please note: I’ve run 3 and 5 day challenges before & know that my audience loves them. I’m about to share how I built a month-long challenge, but I encourage you to start with a shorter duration for your first attempts!)

With Ashley’s daily livestream as the basic concept, my idea came together quickly: I’d release one SEO video every day for the month of October. The timing was good — I wanted to open the doors to my Attract & Activate course in the fall, so this gave me a really long runway to let people get to know me.

In my years of teaching SEO, I’ve found that the biggest issue for most of my clients isn’t technical, it’s mental. SEO feels like a ginormous nerdy undertaking, and there’s a feeling like it’s so difficult to understand & conquer that it isn’t worth it to try … so often my biggest obstacle is in showing people that tiny improvements — things like improving your blog post headline or adding a title tag to your homepage — can add up into huge results.

So I sat down with a calendar, counted up all the weekdays in October (23 total, plus I wanted to start on a Monday so I added one more video), and started mapping out what I wanted my challengers to accomplish in a month and how I could break those concepts down into 3-5 minute lessons. 

At first I was going to have every lesson “disappear” after 24 hours, because I thought that would give the challenge the urgency I wanted, and then sell the full challenge if people missed a lesson. But then I realized that (a) removing lessons was going to be a pain in my ass, and (b) adding obstacles wasn’t in alignment with my brand — I wanted to make SEO simpler and more accessible, not gatekeep the information for profit. 

So instead of my original “SEO ghost story” plan of expiring videos, I released one lesson/day for free. If people wanted all of them at once, they could receive instant access to all 24 videos for $24.

But I knew free videos weren’t enough — YouTube has hundreds of thousands of free SEO videos, and anybody could access them and teach themselves. What could I do to encourage people to participate? Duh … BONUSES, getting increasingly more valuable throughout the challenge.

The tools I use (and LOVE) for this free challenge

Then I had to figure out the tech. Thankfully I already had all the tools I needed to make this work:

  • My website — I didn’t use any fancy landing page software, just this WordPress website. I created a page that explained the challenge, and two more pages — one to offer the $24 upgrade, one to confirm the purchase. 
  • ConvertKit — I included a ConvertKit opt-in form on the SEOctober landing page, so that users could add their name & email address to join the challenge. ConvertKit automatically sent a confirmation email to subscribers, and once they were registered, ConvertKit sent a signal to my website to redirect them to the upsell page.
  • ThriveCart — I effing LOVE Thrivecart as a payment processing tool. It’s incredibly versatile & powerful, and seamlessly took care of all my affiliate tracking needs and also the challenge upgrade and course sales.
    On the upsell page, I explained that people could get instant lifetime access to the videos for $24, and gave two options: “Yes, upgrade me to VIP” or “No, I prefer daily lessons.”
  • I asked about a dozen people to join my affiliate program, which was also tracked through ThriveCart … so if somebody used an affiliate link and paid for the $24 upgrade, the affiliate would automatically get a 50% payout of $12 as a thank-you for sending that person to the challenge. 
  • MemberVault — this is the software upon which the entire challenge was built, and I don’t think I could have pulled off such an ambitious process on any other platform.
    If you don’t know MemberVault … it’s more than just a course platform. It’s a marketplace where you can host alllllll your free content, paid courses, and service offerings in one place. The idea is that users can enter your marketplace through the free content but also see the ways that they can upgrade to a course or service without going through an email funnel.
    MemberVault also tracks everything that users do when logged in, and they can earn “engagement points (EP)” for every action taken, like watching a lesson or finishing a module. These EP can easily be set up to “unlock” bonuses while they’re learning.
  • Acuity Scheduling — The final bonus that could be earned by challenge finishers was a 20-minute call with me to discuss anything on their minds. I loaded 3 days into my Acuity availability and embedded the scheduling form right into MemberVault to make it easy for booking.

(Note: These are all affiliate links, because I freaking love all these tools and don’t know how I would run my business without them.)

How people actually joined the challenge

  • When people heard about the challenge, they went to the landing page to sign up.
  • They’d get an automated confirmation email from ConvertKit, and be given the option to upgrade through ThriveCart.
  • People who upgraded got instant access to the unlocked version of the course, and could go through at their own page.
  • People who didn’t upgrade received their first ConvertKit email on September 30 with lesson #1, and a daily digest email every weekday (they could choose to opt-out from the daily reminder, but 96% of people didn’t remove themselves from them).
  • One new lesson was automatically unlocked every weekday at 12am ET. (A few west coasters realized they could do the next day’s lesson at 9pm, love that resourcefulness!)
  • After a user completed 5 lessons, MemberVault automatically unlocked a bonus. Another 5 lessons complete? MemberVault unlocked another bonus for them.Sometimes the bonus was a % off my SEO content course Attract & Activate; sometimes it was a PDF download; sometimes it was a call with me. The value of the bonuses increased as the course progressed.

SEOctober, by the numbers:

This challenge exceeded my wildest expectations of interest and participation.Between 9/30-11/1 (the full length of the challenge), here were the outputs:

  • 1,188 total registrations
  • 753 of those were people who were new to my email list
  • 63 upgrades to instant/lifetime access, 18 from affiliate links
  • 35 completed the entire program & claimed all the bonuses

This entire challenge was a long runway into my signature course, so I spent the final week selling into that program — but that process isn’t intimately tied to the SEOctober Challenge, so I’ll talk about that in a different post.

Here’s what I learned from running SEOctober: 

  • Challenges. are. AMAZING. 3-day and 5-day challenges have been a part of my business for a few years so I already knew how valuable they were … but seeing a longer challenge really pay off showed me just how versatile they can be. SEOctober put my business in the spotlight, helped me make more sales for my signature course, created buzz about an incredibly boring topic, and helped bring together a community that actually WANTS to do SEO. 
  • Gamification WORKS. People looooove unlocking bonuses! I gave away around 200 PDF workbooks as a bonus, I didn’t have to worry about deliver (it automatically unlocked for people through MemberVault), and challengers felt really accomplished about their progress.
  • Urgency is essential. I logged in on the final day of the challenge and could see that people were actively studying SEO on a Friday night at 9:30pm … because the bonuses expired at midnight, and they want them. 
  • It’s human nature to wait until the last minute. Typically, challenges have pretty high attrition rates — participants are really excited at first, but their progress slows down over time. However, the bonuses & the deadline actually encouraged people to finish strong! See the screenshot below — I actually more activity in the final week than in the first week!
  • People will pay for convenience. This was advertised as a free challenge with a new 3-5 minute video released every day, with any optional $24 upgrade, where they get them all at once instead of dripped out. I didn’t change the content at all — just when they would have access to the videos — and about 5% of people bought the upgrade. (AND some of the people who upgraded STILL went through it daily, because they liked the daily prompts.)
  • Short lessons are awesome. One of the most common things I heard is how much people LOVED 3-5 minute videos. Like they could understand this one little bite-sized lesson, and have some time to apply it before being asked to do something else. It made an overwhelming topic much more manageable. 
  • People like to be emailed (if you have something valuable to share). I sent an email at 8:25am every weekday reminding people to do their daily challenge. I expected a high opt-out rate and low open rates, because I thought they’d get annoyed by daily emails. 
    NOPE. 4% opt-out, and usually about a 40% open rate.

Want to see SEOctober in action? The free version is closed until September 2020, but you can still get the upgraded version for $24.