The magic of a product-led SEO strategy

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Within the technology industry, and especially in Silicon Valley, there is the idea of “product-led growth.” What this means is that, instead of relentlessly marketing the product, companies pour resources and effort into perfecting the product so that it speaks for itself.

About the author

Eli Schwartz is a Growth Advisor and SEO Strategic Consultant.

In this model, the satisfied customer becomes your biggest marketer. They love the product so much, they tell others; they leave reviews on the website; etc. They become your most important spokesperson.

This model upends the whole premise of marketing the product to promote adoption. Instead, the focus shifts to getting a great product into the hands of users who get excited enough to then become marketing agents on the product’s behalf.

Unfortunately, most of our modern-day SEO efforts ignore this incredibly innovative approach. Instead of focusing on the quality of the search experience for the user, we often focus on keywords and ignore the user’s preferences almost entirely.

I believe there’s a better way, and it’s called product-led SEO. Let’s take a look at what isn’t working with keyword-centric strategies and how you can improve your efforts by looking through the eyes of your customers.

Not just a keyword-driven approach 

Too often, SEO begins with just a group of keywords developed by the marketing team or founders based on their own knowledge of the product. The keywords then become the stems of keyword research. They are input into any keyword research tool, and related words are output. 

The new, longer list becomes the seed for content ideas that will be written and posted on the website. The problem? The keyword list becomes a checklist and content roadmap, which doesn’t change much over time. 

Whatever the actual performance or real-time metrics, content keeps getting cranked out using the words from the original keyword checklist. In this paradigm of SEO, there’s no room for a user’s feedback loop.

Keyword-based onpage SEO is limited and inadequate, and there is a better way.

Instead, focus on the user 

Instead of using SEO to market the product (when I refer to “product,” I am discussing the offering to the user, whether that is a service, subscription, content, or physical widget), the product should become the SEO driver. 

Many of the most successful websites on the internet have achieved organic dominance through this product-led approach. 

Like many concepts, product-led SEO is more easily understood through an example than it is by speaking in generalities. Let’s go through an example in depth to illustrate how Product-Led SEO can get better results in a competitive space than conventional SEO thinking.

A case study of product-led SEO: Drops 

I saw a great example of this when I worked with a company called Drops, the 2018 Google Play app of the year. The company wanted to build the easiest website in the world on which to learn a new language.

The app’s 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. Google commandeers nearly all the above-the-fold real estate with their “Google Translate” product, so getting clicks would always be difficult.

However, this is the exact scenario where Product-Led SEO shines. 

Rather than develop a straight dictionary product like any other online translation library that targets one-to-one word definitions (Google included) and then jam as many keywords as possible onto the page, the Drops page was built with the user experience first. 

Just like the app product, the web version would focus on making learning easy. Extra words just for the sake of SEO would confuse the user.

It took some patience, but the impression growth that Drops began generating on search results was stratospheric. At the time of this writing, just over a year after the SEO strategy was implemented, the website is generating nearly 30 million monthly impressions on Google, with a very healthy click-through rate on those impressions. 

Product-led strategy is for everyone 

Product-led SEO strategy not only helps you create strong relationships with loyal users, it also helps create a competitive moat. For example, 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 needed.

Had Drops employed a traditional SEO strategy, it would have poured all its efforts into popular keywords and would still be clawing its way ahead of competitors. Instead, its product-led SEO strategy allowed it to focus on all keywords—in all languages—in a programmatic and scaled process.

A product-led SEO effort isn’t something that only works with specific companies; rather, it is a process that every website working on SEO should employ. With the clarity of only creating what users seek, product-led SEO will always be the clear winner. Rather than building SEO assets aimed at search algorithms or keywords, SEO is built around what the user wants. 

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Eli Schwartz is a Growth Advisor and SEO Strategic Consultant.