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Content-Driven Growth

Advice from HubSpot, Ahrefs, Intercom, Slidebean, and Webflow

👋 Hey, I’m Lenny and welcome to a 🔒 subscriber-only edition 🔒 of my weekly newsletter. Each week I tackle reader questions about building product, driving growth, and accelerating your career.
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Q: Which startups are best at content-driven growth, and what can I learn from them?

This question got me thinking — what are all the ways that content can drive growth? There’s obviously SEO. There are also viral blog posts, user-generated-content (UGC), editorially produced blog posts, data-generated pages, and so on. What other strategies are there, and how do they all fit together?

Here’s my best attempt at mapping out the landscape of content-driven growth:

Where you sit on this 2x2 is based on what you’re optimizing for (SEO vs. virality), and who’s generating the content (users vs. employees).

I posit that there are five unique content-driven growth strategies:

Let’s break this down:

  1. User-Generated SEO-Optimized (UGSO): Your users generate public content which Google finds and surfaces in organic search. This primarily drives the growth of companies like Quora, Glassdoor, and Reddit.
  2. Editorially-Generated SEO-Optimized (EGSO): Employees (or contractors) of the company create content with the goal of ranking higher for certain keywords. This primarily drives the growth of companies like Ahrefs, Slidebean, and HubSpot.
  3. Data-Generated SEO-Optimized (DGSO): This strategy is the combination of UGC and Editorial – your company auto-magically generates thousands of individual pages off on your UGC and proprietary data. This primarily drives the growth of companies like Thumbtack, Zapier, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Grubhub.
  4. User-Generated Virality-Optimized (UGVO): UGC content leads to users sharing that content with their friends, which then pulls those friends into the product. TikTok is the ultimate example of this (users sharing watermarked videos with each other), as is the Reface app. The edges of this zone include Airbnb listings (that users share with each other) and Zillow’s Zestimate (which home-owners pass around).
  5. Editorially-Generated Virality-Optimized (EGVO): Employees/founders make one-off viral content — also known as thought leadership or brand building. Content that the founder/company creates with the goal of having that content spread through WOM. This includes Spotify Unwrapped, along with virality-oriented creators like Mr. Beast, Stir’s one-off drops, and Superhuman’s early blog posts.

In previous posts, we’ve explored the top-left quadrant (data and user-generated SEO), and the bottom half (viral growth strategies), so in this post, I’d like to zero in on the less explored top-right quadrant: Editorially-Generated SEO-Optimized (EGSO):

I asked Twitter which companies do this type of content-driven growth best, and four companies came up over and over: Slidebean, Ahrefs, Intercom, and HubSpot.

(also, Webflow, but we’ll get to that later)

I reached out to the founders and/or heads-of-content at each of these companies and asked them if they’d be willing to share their learnings. They all very generously agreed 🙌

Below you’ll find their answers to the following questions:

  1. What convinced them to put resources behind creating content?
  2. What kind of resources did they put into content initially?
  3. What do the content team and resources look like now?
  4. How do they operationalize the content creation?
  5. What advice would they give companies pursuing content-driven growth now?

A HUGE huge thank you to Caya (Slidebean), Tim Soulo (Ahrefs), Kieran Flanagan (HubSpot), John Collins (Intercom), and Mischa Vaughn for sharing these insights with the world.

Note: Intercom and Webflow don’t fit squarely into this EGSO category (they aren’t primarily SEO-driven), but I decided to include them in this post anyway because their perspectives are instructive.

High-level takeaways:

  1. Start small: Start scrappy and play around with platform, topic, and style until you find something that works.
  2. Align on a clear goal: Is your goal to bring SEO traffic, to drive virality, to build your brand, or to enable sales? Make sure you’re clear on this.
  3. Hunt for opportunity: Research topics where searchers are underserved, and create content that delivers compelling, valuable, and differentiated value to those searchers.
  4. Give the reigns to someone who cares: The best content will be produced by people go truly care about the product/business/topic. Normally, the founders or a passionate full-time employee.
  5. Think long-term: Make sure there’s a clear path to this investment making a significant dent in your growth. Is the upside even worth it?
  6. Build a dedicated team: Eventually, you’ll need 5+ dedicated to this effort. Even more, if you’re doing video.
  7. Be patient: It took years for each company chronicled below to see significant payoff.

Any other takeaways as you read this post? I’d love to hear them 👇

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