5 Actionable Tips for Writing Compelling SEO Case Studies

I’m sure you know this already:

You can’t win a new client unless you win their trust first.

As Jeffrey Gitomer, one of my favorite sales writers said:

“Only if they like you, and they believe you, and they have confidence in you, and they trust you – then they may buy from you. “

And I bet you also know that the best way to win that trust is with your current clients’ words. Presenting new prospects with a compelling case study telling how your agency has helped someone with a similar problem beats anything else you could say.

But I also guess that you struggle to write a case study that moves prospects and makes them compelled to hire you, right?

You can’t decide what data to include, what structure to follow, and how to make your story believable.

Luckily, that’s what I’m going to help you with today.

I’ll show you how to write a killer testament of your agency’s abilities.

Ready? Let’s do it then.

#1. Discover the Client’s Context

Here’s a mistake I see company owners making over and over again:

They slap a bunch of data from Google Analytics, ranking reports, and other sources together, and call it a case study.

They fill pages with percentages, breakdowns, tables, GA screenshots…you name it.

And in the process, fail to provide the most relevant information to the prospect:

A context.

Now, don’t get me wrong:

Data and statistics are necessary. They show the outcome of your work. Heck, they may even help present some impressive achievements.

But without a proper context, it all means nothing to a prospect.

You see:

To have an impact on a potential client, a case study must be relevant to their situation.

It needs to tell them that another company had a similar problem, enlisted your agency to help overcome it, and reveal how well it worked out for them.

So, before you write a word of the case study, discover your client’s context for engaging your company. Ask them questions that can help you define their goals at a time, fine-tune the problem they contacted you with, and reveal the decision process that led them to hiring you.

In my company, we use the following 7 question case study interview script. You may have to customize it to suit your agency, but nonetheless, it should give you a good starting point for discovering your clients’ context.

  1. What goals did you hope [Product or Service] would help you achieve?
  2. What was the direct problem you were trying to solve before contacting [The Company]?
  3. Have you considered other solutions before partnering with [The Company]?
  4. What outcomes have you seen as a result of using [Service or Product]? (Note: these could be both tangibles [i.e. increase in traffic / signups] and intangibles [i.e. greater brand awareness, increase in brand recognition])
  5. Could you share some statistics that prove?
  6. What you like and what you dislike about [Your Agency’s] process?
  7. Based on your experience could you list 3-5 things a [Target Audience] should know before hiring a [professional]?

#2. Offer a Broad Perspective on the Problem

You know:

To hook a reader and evoke an emotional response, you may need to present your client’s problem along with the market situation at the time.

Here, let me show you what I mean:

Imagine that you’ve worked with a hotel, that suffered from poor rankings and had to rely on 3rd party sites like hotels.com for their bookings. This meant losing anything from 17% - 20%, perhaps even more, of the revenue on commissions.

You could outline that challenge in the case study this way:

“John Doe, the CEO of [Hotel], needed more direct bookings to offset the 3rd party commission cost."

And I’m sure you’ll agree; this copy does the trick. It explains the problem and leaves nothing to interpretation.

It’s just… it’s bland, isn’t it?

I mean, any hotel owner would know that direct bookings mean the best sales. Therefore, stating the obvious wouldn’t make any emotional impact on them.

So, let’s put the problem in a broader perspective:

“Last year, John Doe, the CEO of [Hotel] faced a grim future for his company. Recent search algorithm changes, such as propagating 3rd party websites like hotels.com to the top listings, forced his hotel to rely almost exclusively on affiliate bookings, resulting in huge commission costs, and challenges with building customer loyalty.”

Now every hotel owner would nod in agreement. They have the same problem. They fear the same consequences. And they’ll want to know how you’ve helped the other company to avoid them.

By adding a broader context to the challenge, you can make it more relevant to the reader, hook them up, and evoke a strong emotional response.

As Gretchen Dukowitz, an expert case study copywriter, wrote:

“The first sentence of your case study should always speak to a broad business issue and provide context for the reader. This provides a better chance that readers will identify with the broader challenge even if they are not in the study’s specific vertical or business.”

Here’s an example how MarketingSherpa presents the broader business issue in the opening of one of their case studies.

#3. Use the Story Sequence

I’m sure you know this already:

A Case study is nothing else but a story one client tells someone interested in hiring you.

But how do you construct a case study to read like one?

Simple, use a story sequence.

Steve Slaunwhite, a fantastic B2B copywriter, mentor, my personal writing hero, and the author of hundreds of case studies suggests to use the following sequence:

  1. The customer. Introduce the main protagonist.
  2. The challenge. Reveal the context we talked about already.
  3. The journey. Show all the steps customer have taken to solve the problem. This would include other services and solutions they tried before hiring you.
  4. The discovery. Let the customer tell how they’ve come across your agency and what made them hire you.
  5. The solution. Reveal the ideas you had to help the customer.
  6. The implementation. Share how you’ve implemented your ideas.
  7. The results. And finally, detail how your ideas have helped them overcome the problem.

#4. Target Different Kinds of Readers

In her eBook, “The 10 Biggest Mistakes Case Study Writers Make”, Casey Hibbard, a fantastic copywriter specializing in case study writing, points:

“Some buyers will read every word of your story, while some will look to headlines, subheads, pull quotes, and sidebar summaries for the main ideas and skip the details. Always try to write customer stories for both audiences. Build in ways for skimmers to glean the main points of the story without reading it word-for-word.”

But how do you do it, given the amount of information you need to include in the case study?

Hibbard suggests including the following key elements in your document:

  • The headline – focusing on the no.1 idea you want the reader to know.
  • Subheads – revealing all the key points of the story.
  • Quotes –designed to stand out on a page, reinforcing the main benefits.
  • Sidebar Summary – Include bulleted lists summarizing the key points on a page in the sidebar.

#5. Cut Out All the Fluff

Hey, as a professional writer, I can attest:

Fluff happens.

You type and type and type. There’s just so much information you want to include, data you must share and proof you simply can’t skip.

And before you know it, your case study ends up a long document even you don’t want to read in full.

But before you ask, no, there is no ideal length for a case study.

Debbie Weil from voxiemedia suggests that your case study shouldn’t exceed 500 words (source).

Michael Zipursky from Consulting Success advises to make the case study:

“[…]as long as it takes you to include all the relevant information. If you can get all of it in to 1 page, that’s fine. If it takes you 3-4 pages, that’s okay as well.”

Having said that one thing you should remember, your case study shouldn’t contain any fluff:

  • Irrelevant sentences,
  • Meaningless phrases,
  • Pointless information that adds nothing to the story,
  • Long passages describing your solution,
  • Self-praise.

If you notice any of the above, cut them out right away. Not only it will shorten your content but make it more engaging to read.

Portent strips their case studies to bare essentials, and yet, create stories worth reading. Here’s one example.