0 to 25 Million Organics/Month with Abhishek Shukla @ Toppr
Toppr is one of the biggest educational platforms in the world, with over 22,000,000 students!
The platform’s incredible success can largely be attributed to Abhishek Shukla and his incredible content team.
In this AMA, Abhishek reveals his philosophy around content and SEO, talks about building a team of 30+ exceptional writers, and shares invaluable insights to help other content marketers replicate his success.
SEO as an Evolving Process
Q: What changes once you cross 1m/month, 10m/month, and 25m/month organic visitors?
A: I love this question. I have experienced all stages of SEO.
At the initial stage, there are not a lot of technical issues. You are mostly focused on Content Management, Research, and building content strategy. As you grow, you will spend more time with Engineers and Product Managers to make sure your website is Technically healthy and you are providing an awesome User Experience.
Reporting changed from simple Google sheets to automated tools like – DataStudio, PowerBI, etc.
Every team – Backend, Frontend, QAs, PMs, Content, Business/Data Analysts started collaborating with SEO and started understanding the importance of it. We keep an SEO session once in a while to explain to everyone the basic fundamentals of SEO and how it works.
Approvals – Just got more complex. Example – I used to make all the changes by myself initially. I was a happy man. And now I have to wait for 15 days to update a Meta title. Yes, 15 days.
Q: Do you know what your conversion rates for visitors to signups or to paid customers would look like? Has it improved over time or stayed consistent?
A: SEO traffic does convert if you target the right audience. We have a conversion rate of 20 to 25 percent (Visitors to signups). 3 to 4 percent out of them gets converted to a paid customers. It has improved with time. As we got to know more about our user’s needs, we started targeting better, and that increased the conversion rates.
User experience is something that plays a big role in conversion. We have 5 SEO products, 2 of them do not convert well because of poor UX.
Q: What place does video play in your SEO strategy and what are the differences in how you execute on video as opposed to written content?
A: For us, videos are super important. We have a lot of keywords where video results get featured. So we started creating videos and putting them on every content page (above the fold). It also makes sure to hook the user and improves our time-on-page. We never created a video especially for SEO, it was meant for internal paid users. But once we realized it can help us in SEO, we made them public and used video schemas.
Q: When did you see traction/ranking since you started the project? 6 months? 12 months?
A: 1.5 years. It took 1.5 years to see a good acceptable result, which we can celebrate.
Q: How important are FAQs for ranking and UX?
A: It completely depends. Mostly on the search behavior of your user. Do they ask a lot of questions or do they search for specific topics? For example – Stackoverflow vs Wikipedia.
FAQs on product and service can always be helpful if it answers the questions of your users. We try to put 3 FAQs on all the product and content pages.
Q: How do you optimise your blog content to have visitors go to product pages or drop in their email? Any pointers on improving user experience on blogs?
A: We use multiple conversion points like – Popups, sticky bars, banners, reach limits to convert users.
Yes. Speed and your website structure are two important things to focus on for UX. Apart from these, you can provide different features depending on the users’ needs.
Q: How did you achieve organic growth?
A: A mixture of a lot of things.
Content, Technical SEO, Engineering, Product Management.
We invest our most bandwidth in producing quality content, and improving user experience.
Hiring, Testing, and Managing 30+ Writers
Q: What’s your process for hiring and testing writers? What does your writing test look like?
A: We hire Subject Matter Experts and train them to be better writers.
Since Toppr is an Edtech company, most writers are from the background of Teaching.
We do share basic content guidelines with them and ask them to create written and video content on a given topic.
The SEO team is not much involved in the hiring of the content team, but what we look for is how much in-depth field knowledge the candidate has.
We apply a mass filter by checking their background and expertise. I do not have the actual number, but I think 1 in every 10-15 people gets hired.
Q: How similar are writers to AWS servers? Can you just ‘spin them up’?
A: We have set up a framework and content production process to move things faster, but for managing the projects, quality assurance, performing content research we do have a separate team for each process.
Q: How much onboarding and documentation goes into managing such a large team of writers?
A: We have 2 different guidelines – one for Content and one for SEO. Each of 10 – 12 pages.
We guide and train all the writers on how to write content for SEO.
Our motto is to – spread the knowledge of SEO to all the teams in the company. SEO should be in the DNA of the company. If you do that, you are basically automating A LOT of processes. Because now everyone knows what is the goal
Q: What does your team structure look like? How big is the SEO team? Is that a separate function, or is your content team cross trained on SEO?
A: We have merged Product and SEO. Initially, we used to look at SEO from a marketing perspective. But we were quick to realize, for us, SEO should align more with Product.
We have 2 Product Managers, 2 SEOs working toward increasing the traffic. I lead SEO and yes it is a separate function. The content team is trained for writing SEO-friendly content.
SEOs spend most of their time performing research and Technical SEO. We mostly try to come up with large-scale SEO strategies.
Q: What was your timeline for growing the content team and how did that growth translate to monthly content production, marketing budget, and website visitors?
A: We started producing content 7 years back, but for SEO we started doing it 4 years ago. What we observed is – the first 2 years are a bit of a struggle, but once you gain enough Topical authority and Domain authority, it becomes super easy for you thereafter. Return of SEO investment is like compound interest.
Initially, our content production was very high. We used to produce 300 to 400 content pieces every month. And 1000 to 2000 for the paid users. The budget has been constant around 1.5 to 4L INR per month. It took us around 5 years to go from 0 to 100M.
Q: What is the structure of your content team, both in terms of positions and number of people in those roles?
A: We have 3 teams focused on Traffic.
- Product and SEO – Product VP (2) > SEO & Product Managers (4) > SEO Executives (2)
- Content – Content VP (1) > Content Managers (6) > Content Creators, QAs (30 to 40)
- Engineering – Engineering VP (1) > Front and Backend TLs (2) > Engineers, DevOps, QA (8 to 10)
Q: Do you have a separate team of writers with different skills for bottom of the funnel traffic? And if so, what is your screening process?
A: For bottom of the funnel, no.
Maintaining Content Quality With High Publishing Velocity
Q: How do you maintain the quality of your content? How do you hire writers? Where are they from?
A: We have a team of QA for auditing the content and we also train our writers. We make sure they are from the right background. For example, if we need content around Maths, then we hire Maths teachers. They are mostly from India.
Q: With 450,000 pages, how do you do QA?
A: f you are talking about technical QA, then we use OnCrawl or any Cloud-based crawler works.
Usually, we take a set of pages from each group and run it through screaming frog once after every release.
Q: How’s your content velocity?
A: We try to push around 300 to 400 content pieces per month. But it has been down to around 100 to 150 lately.
Q: How do you define performing content vs underperforming content?
A: There are 2 ways we define them
- We have a feature where users can submit ratings/votes. The one which is getting the best ratings is performing well.
- One which is not ranking well
We read users’ feedback and fix if there are any issues found. And we also re-optimize the content to improve its ranking.
Around 30 percent of pages get us the most traffic. So, yeah 30:70.
We have more than a million pages, so it gets difficult to calculate such metrics.
Attribution is something we are still working on. SEOs actively do no track sales. We are majorly focused on traffic.
Q: What are the tools your writers use to ensure quality?
A: We check the quality manually. We have guidelines. And everyone is trained by these guidelines. You cannot train a tool, yet. (Unless and until you are an ML engineer).
Product VP > SEOs/Product Managers > SEO Executives > Freelance Writers
Content VP > Content Managers > Content Writers
We write for users first, and then for rankings.
The Role of Link Building
Q: What’s the % of owned links (contacted for) and earned links?
A: A major chunk is earned links since we are a brand. Usually, we build links via PR, Outreach, and Guest posts.
We did build a lot of backlinks in the initial days. And our strategy was to – create content that will attract links. We hired an agency to outreach writers from our industry and doing guest posts. But it was a long time back.
I do not have an actual number, but a wild guess would – 20:80 (Owned:Earned)
Q: How do you track internal linking?
A: We do not “track” internal linking. It is not possible for us to do. But I will tell you how we build it.
On a few products, we have automated it by using internal linking algorithms. We build clusters of similar content and auto-link them.
On other products, we have a strategy. Once we are done with publishing all of the content from one project, then we start building internal links.
There are 3 ways we do it:
- Go through the content, and figure out what are the terms that most users will not understand easily. Search for that topic in our DB, and link it.
- Link all the related topics under that category in the middle or bottom of the content.
- And finally, we create one pillar page which will give users access to everything. And we link that to all the content pieces. That link gets a lot of clicks.
Tools That Facilitate Successful SEO Campaigns
Q: How do you analyze metrics and performance with 450,000+ pages and 25m organics/month?
A: We have 1M+ Pages. We have our custom analytics tool and we also use Google Analytics/Search console. We try to automate reports using APIs and tools like DataStudio, PowerBi, Tableau.
Q: What is the Toppr tech stack?
A: WordPress for some products and NodeJS for some.
Q: What are the tools you use the most?
A: Ahrefs, Screaming Frog, Deep Crawl, Alexa, SERP robot.
Q: What project management tool do you use for managing writers and designers?
A: Google sheets and Jira.
Interesting Facts about Toppr & Abhishek
Q: What was your biggest project before this?
A: Toppr is my first big project.
Before Toppr I worked on a lot of personal projects and that’s how I learned SEO.
We have multiple products at Toppr at all levels. From small blogs to Enterprise websites.
Q: What was the biggest hurdle you faced in growing a website in the education niche?
A: Initially, it was a big challenge to outperform big brands. So we come up with a strategy of thinking out of the box. We went after the categories with low difficulty and high volume. And then once we built enough authority we outperformed the big brands.
Q: What is your revenue or monetization strategy? Are you a funded startup?
A: We have an internal product with a lot of premium features. We sell those to users. Yes, we are funded.
Q: What are your top 5 traffic sources?
A: We mostly get our traffic from organic (96%). Apart from these, we do paid, affiliate, email, and social media marketing.
Q: What are the conversion rates from content to MQL on your top 5 best converting pages?
A: Overall our conversion rate is around 20 to 25 percent. We have millions of pages, so the top 5 pages keep changing. We do not really track the top 5 pages.
Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of your job?
A: The easiest part is Analytics, I feel like I am naturally good at it. Every decision we take is completely data-driven.
The hardest part is reasoning. Giving the stakeholders, engineers the reason why are we doing this thing. Building a relationship with engineers is a challenge. The solution is to – show them the result of their actions. Once they started seeing results, they start believing you.
Q: What are the biggest learnings so far in this journey and what do you wish you had done differently from day one (if you could)?
A: The biggest learning in this journey is to – Make sure you are providing a good user experience and care about your users. Talk to them. Users retention is VERY VERY IMPORTANT.
Q: Do you maybe have a number of how many people are cheating in tests because of Toppr?
A: Haha! Yeah we get this a lot. Some students, teachers have started calling us a “Cheating app.” That was not our intention though.
Q: What would entice you to leave your job and work for a startup?
A: The learning curve. In a good startup, you will learn something new everyday. And you get the opportunity to explore all the areas. That helps you identify your strengths.
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