Last year I had the privilege of partnering with Drops, the 2018 Google Play app of the year, in their efforts to build the easiest website in the world to learn a new language. The Drops app helps users to learn 37 languages with a purely visual experience and is focused on vocabulary rather than grammar.
The apps explosive growth (over a million users) had been purely organic and the team was looking to replicate this success online via SEO. From the outside, using search to build awareness to a dictionary product might have seemed like a fool’s errand given that Google commandeers nearly all the above-the-fold real estate with their dictionary product.
However, this is the exact scenario where Product Led SEO shines. In developing the plan for how we were going to build out the world’s best website for learning a new language, we did very little keyword research.
The goal was never to win on any specific keyword (ie. Bread in German) but to win on many keywords whatever they might be. The keywords where the site was visible had to have perfectly matching pages which provided a great user experience through the product. This was the only way that the site was going to achieve its ultimate objective of gaining new language users.
To this end, the SEO effort was only allocated towards developing product specs, taxonomy, cross linking guidelines and page design.
User focused design
Rather than develop a straight dictionary product like any other online translation library which targets one to one-word definitions (Google included) and then jam in as many keywords as possible on to the page, the Drops page was built with the user experience first. Just like the app product was developed to make learning easy, the focus on the web version was the same. Extra words just for SEO would confuse the user so all that made it on the to page was the information that the user would need to learn.
There are other elements on the page that are useful for SEO such as cross links to other languages, other words and example sentences but these only made the cut because they were good for users.
Backlinks not a factor
Keyword research wasn’t the only SEO effort that was ignored in this process; at no time during the SEO build process was there ever a discussion on building backlinks to the new product. There are certainly backlinks to the site, but these are simply the byproducts of building a great product.
With these facts as the background, the outcome was astounding and underscores just how effective a Product Led SEO strategy can be.
The website languagedrops.com had been on the internet for a few years, but up until the launch of the dictionary product in June of 2019 it received between 100-200 branded clicks per day from search. The largest spike had been on the day the day that Google had awarded Drops app of the year at the end of 2018. Post launch the number of branded organic clicks remained roughly the same.
The real magic has been on the non-branded search which in my opinion is where all SEO efforts should always be focused. Branded search will only grow as fast as a brand grows (a function of PR and user growth) while non-brand can have infinite potential. Prior to the product launch, the site only received a few dozen organic clicks per day. Even after the launch, it only ticked up slightly. In raw percentages, traffic had doubled but going from 25-50 organic clicks is not very exciting.
Many founders or executives who have just invested a significant sum of money into SEO panic if they were expecting thousands of visits on day one, but SEO requires patience. By August – two months after launch, the daily clicks were up to 200 per day. Still not exciting, amount but 10x what the base had been just two months earlier.
Then, the magic of compounding SEO traffic began to kick in a huge way. SEO compounds as more pages are discovered by Google and additional queries earn visibility in Google’s search results. Just like compounding in an investment account, the visits get added to the base and the growth happens on top of the principle.
Looking at the graph below you can see the daily numbers continue to climb and there’s no foreseeable reason why this should stop.
Even more exciting, the impression growth that Drops is generating on search results is stratospheric and if efforts are made to improve CTR (right now fairly low), the clicks will accelerate even faster.
In terms of the queries driving traffic, there technically should not be any search volume for the top keywords. Some of the top queries driving clicks and impressions today, supposedly do not have any search volume according to the popular keyword tools. If keyword research had been used to drive the strategy, more than likely the focus would have been to build pages that had the most hypothetical interest.
From an indexed page standpoint, languagedrops.com is a relatively small website. There are many sites that target a product led SEO approach with pages in the tens of millions. (Think Shutterstock.com, Zillow.com, Airbnb.com….) yet Drops is driving these results with just 168k indexed pages.
One final advantage to the Product Led SEO strategy that Drops employed is that with the focus on the user and the product they have built a competitive moat. Whereas competitors might have to pivot if Google makes a monumental change in how they index sites, a product led strategy would only need to change if user intent changes. While other dictionary sites are chasing the Google algorithm, Drops is chasing the user. Even if Google ceases to exist those users will still seek out the brand that gave them exactly what they need.