A Conversation with Hotjar: How They Scaled Organic Traffic Into Millions
User empathy is at the heart of everything we do at Hotjar, and that extends into our content strategy.
It is how we grew non-branded organic search traffic by 734% in just 3 years (2022 versus 2019). More importantly, it is also how we were able to turn this traffic into 1,398% growth in new paying customers during the same time period.
Our annual non-branded new visitor numbers are now in the multi-millions, and the heights we’ve hit in the last two years in particular are a testament to the user-centric approach we’ve applied.
So how did we do it?
We’ve been able to achieve the growth we have by painstakingly balancing the needs of existing and potential Hotjar users with the demands of search engines.
We’re relentless in our commitment to satisfying our readers, but we’re not naive to playing the search engine game. To succeed at a high level there is a great deal of nuance that goes into getting this right. For us, that breaks down across a number of areas but there are a handful of core fundamentals that stand out:
- Embracing product-led content
- Clustering content around the user journey
- Powering keyword research with customer insights
- Leveraging qualitative and quantitative data
- Nurturing your historical library
Before we go deeper though, I would be remiss not to cover the very fabric that holds all this together: without deep synergy between our Strategic and Editorial experts, the growth we’ve achieved just simply wouldn’t have happened.
The creation of a candid, respectful, and ongoing dialogue between these two areas is the rocket fuel that lit the touchpaper to the growth we’ve seen. Recognizing the equal importance between these two disciplines and fostering collaboration between the two areas will be vital to how successful you ultimately are.
With that in mind, let’s dive into those fundamentals:
Embracing Product-led Content
Product-led content can supercharge your ability to convert organic visitors into paying customers, and it’s been key to Hotjar’s organic content success to date.
Start with the common pain points for your target audience and their common jobs-to-be-done. Then, use these insights to power your keyword and topic selection. Finally, structure your content to solve those pain points, and explain why your product is key to doing that.
To get this right, you have to have a deep understanding of your product. You should also be obsessed with your customers. Without these two things, you’re unlikely to succeed.
A product-led approach is central to our guides content, where we always provide several examples of how Hotjar can help with problems related to a broader topic our target audience is interested in, like behavior analytics or website tracking.
Clustering Content Around the User Journey
The age-old principle of content clustering is a method that’s driven SEO success for many years. But you can take the traditional approach to another level by inspiring readers towards a multi-touch, connected journey across the clusters you create.
This point is particularly relevant at a time where the risk of zero-click search is greater than ever. You have to do everything you can to keep people on your website and compel them to dig further into your content, particularly if they’re only at the demand gen phase when they enter your website.
At Hotjar, our content clusters are our guides, and we have a lot of these. They remain one of our core drivers of growth from SEO. As a result of this, we have a strong understanding of what works vs what doesn’t. With this in mind, there are two important things you can do to improve content cluster performance beyond the basics linked to ranking the pages:
- Build an understanding of the different points of intent a potential customer might have across one of your target topical areas
- Work with UX/UI to help funnel readers through your clusters from their initial entry point down to the point of conversion
This boils down to a simple summary. Develop a clear understanding of what the education, consideration, and purchase phases look like for your readers. Then, use UX/UI to make it as simple as possible for readers to navigate through those phases.
Powering Keyword Research with Customer Insights
It’s daunting to come up against the biggest competitors in your industry for SEO, but all of these websites started out somewhere. That was the case for Hotjar, too.
Our monthly content output might now be up to 10x higher than it was 3 years ago, but back then we were still able to dominate our most important organic verticals, despite producing just a handful of content pieces each month. We did that with a modest budget, too.
Success for us then was reliant on the same things it is today: identifying a niche set of customer-driven verticals at the intersection between projected business value, satisfying search engines, and solving common audience problems.
Our approach here has enabled us to establish authority with Google, but it’s also ensured that we’ve built deeper trust with our audience. This ultimately translates to more conversions. More conversions means more potential to spend, and with that additional investment you can strengthen your position.
Getting the balance right here still requires constant collaboration between our content, SEO, product, and product marketing teams. Without this, we wouldn’t be able to create content deeply relatable to our ICP.
It sounds obvious, but too few companies still fail to start with that. Customer needs must always come first. Without a deep understanding of what your audience needs, you’ll never build a content library that satisfies them or Google.
Be Obsessed with Data — and Balance Qualitative and Quantitative Data Usage
True SEO success is reliant on data analysis and manipulation. For a lot of companies, that ends up being primarily quantitative. This is clearly an important part of the analytics picture, but quantitative data only tells you what’s happening. It doesn’t tell you why. That’s why you need to take care of the qualitative part too.
I won’t deny that I spend more time with quantitative data. But I am forever surprised how qualitative analysis can help to reduce bias and assumptions that are based on numbers alone. It’s something we discuss and act on a lot at Hotjar.
We believe in the importance of user feedback and our content and SEO staff regularly use our own product. Recordings, heatmaps, surveys, and on-site feedback help inform our team with everything from topic to format selection. We also actually speak to customers. This is so often neglected but it’s so important.
On the numeric data, we use 40/20/40 attribution to try and build a fairer reflection of the increasingly multi-channel/multi-touch conversion journey. Of course no attribution is perfect, but this at least helps to spread credit more realistically.
Our SEO team spends hours every day with this data. We’ve built filtering around demand gen vs demand cap, target themes, user personas, and much more. This all helps us to refine how we select content topics that can power our growth.
Nurture Your Historical Library
The need to drive growth is constant, and it can be hard to hit the pause button on the creation of new content. Often, though, your greatest organic opportunities are hidden in the content you’ve already created. So don’t be afraid to slow production occasionally to allow time to improve the content you already have.
At Hotjar, we now have a library of more than 1,000 content pieces. Nurturing that content effectively is becoming increasingly time-consuming, but it’s also where we find some of our biggest wins.
There are so many reasons to spend time auditing and updating your content. It boils down to ensuring that what is right for Google remains right for your readers. Here’s how we think about it:
- The needs of our readers are constantly changing. What was helpful to them several years ago may no longer be
- Just because Google still ranks a piece in position 1, doesn’t mean the content is still doing its job. In fact, if the piece includes outdated information, you actually risk damaging your brand perception
- Our product is constantly evolving. Old features may reach the end of the line and new features may enhance former capabilities. When you have hundreds of pieces talking (or not talking) about those features, it becomes a problem if you don’t update your content accordingly
- Search algorithms are transient, particularly when it comes to how the SERP displays. For example, failure to appreciate a new snippet type could mean you still hold position 1, but you’re losing traffic due to someone else holding the snippet
Ultimately, we spend considerable time and effort crafting each piece we work on. We care deeply about what we deliver to our users, and how the search engines perceive that. So nurturing the content we already have is just as important to us as building new content streams.
Place Customer Needs at The Heart of Your Approach
Whilst the fundamentals laid out in this piece are not all-encompassing, they are the foundations that continue to support Hotjar’s success with organic search. Woven throughout all of them is a commitment to placing customer needs at the heart of our approach. Not only does this help us to build trust and transparency with our audience, it also means we do a better job of driving business growth.