The 2 most popular scaled growth channels for unicorn consumer companies - Part 1 (SEO)

About the author

Jeff Chang (@JeffChang30) is a growth technical leader at Pinterest and angel investor. If your startup is looking for an angel investor who can help with all things growth, please send over an email!

Intro

The highest valuation US consumer startups[wiki] currently are: Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, Pinterest, Coinbase, Instacart, Robinhood, Peloton, Doordash, Wish, and Houzz. How did they grow? While every company that gets to unicorn status usually has multiple significant acquisition channels, there are two that are the most common: Referrals and SEO. Here are a list of companies who use each of these channels significantly:

 
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As you can see, these two channels cover the entire list. For some companies, these channels are vital to the companies’ growth, driving most of the acquired users. So, exploring these channels and scaling them should be a top priority for any consumer company growth team. In this 2 post series, I’m going to talk about how each of the channels are tackled by these unicorns and how to determine if your company has product-channel fit with each of these channels.

I’d also like to note that paid is also a part of most of these companies’ acquisition strategy but usually is not a big portion at this scale, since it is hard (and expensive) to generate millions of users through paid. I don’t really consider paid a “scalable” channel due to this.

SEO

The reason why SEO is such an effective scaled growth channel is the sheer number of searches done per day with high intent. Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day, which can be thought of as 3.5 billion chances per day to show up for free to a user. In addition, it scales very well since the costs don’t scale with the amount of acquired users, so your effective “CAC” goes should decrease over time.

The main way unicorn companies tackle SEO is through scaled landing pages - highlighting quality content to users and Google at the scale of thousands of pages. Here are some sample pages from the unicorns I listed above:

 
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Product-channel fit for SEO (at scale)

The main requirement to be able to do SEO at scale (1M sessions/day) is to have a growing base of quality user generated text content. Let’s break this down into 4 parts: growing, quality, user-generated, and text content. 

The first key part is that content base grows. Internet search trends can change a lot over time, and it’s important to have fresh content to capture new search terms that may not have been that popular before. A lot of search term modifications that favor more recent content, like “new” or “in 2019”. In addition, a lot of mobile search results seem to favor recency especially for AMP pages.

Quality content is important in order to compete with the top pages already listed on Google. A good question to ask is, if somebody is searching on Google for <target search term>, is the content and information on our product’s page better than anything else currently listed? If your content isn’t what users are looking for, in general it won’t be able to compete in the rankings

Why user generated instead of generated in house? It’s hard to reach the massive scale of quality content needed to hit big numbers by doing content in house. Usually a large percentage of your pages won’t contribute significantly to your SEO so it’s important to be able to make up for that with scale. The number of pages needed to hit 1M SEO traffic/day is usually in the 10 or 100 thousands, if not more.

Quality text content is the most valuable type of content for SEO because it’s the kind of content Googlebot understands the best. It’s the one of the reason why wikipedia results rank so high, because they usually have the most quality text content about a given topic. While images are also helpful, usually this is only if the type of images you have are common queries on Image search. This is also why most scaled landing pages have a lot of items on them, in order to increase the text footprint of the page. It makes sense that having quality text content increases traffic because in order to rank for a specific query, that text must be in your web page somewhere. By having more text, you are “in the running” for a wider array of queries.

Conclusion

If your product produces a growing base of quality user generated text content, SEO has good product-channel fit for you and should be a top growth priority. Next week, I’m going to talk about the other popular scaled growth channels for unicorns: referrals. Make sure to subscribe to get new posts sent directly to your email!

Want to chat about building a SEO or referral growth channel? Email me at jeff@growthengblog.com

Popular blog posts on SEO:

Getting started with SEO engineering

9 best initiatives for growing million visitor SEO landing pages

SEO for early stage startups - Must-dos and FAQ

Jeff Chang