There’s no shortage of articles about how to build a growth team, why you need a growth team, and the differences between marketing and growth teams. But, there aren’t a lot of articles about how these teams should lean on each other and ways to work towards the same vision. Why?
This was puzzling to me when I arrived in San Francisco to join my first startup — Pinterest — in 2012. “Growth” seemed to be the buzzword around the Valley, but when I boiled it down, the tactics were familiar. As a marketer, my job was to sell, position, drive results….and grow. Right?
Soon enough, I learned the ins and outs of the growth hacking community, and why startups gravitate towards them. What I didn’t comprehend was the friction between growth and marketing teams, and why people believed they were mutually exclusive.
I was determined to understand this dichotomy and somehow change this mindset. At Pinterest, one of our core values is “knitting” (pun intended). Knitting means taking the time to learn about other disciplines to help you make better and informed decisions. It’s not just about getting along with people or being nice, or as many big companies say “cross-group collaboration.” It’s about complementing skills and remembering that we’re all here to support the same goal.
Over the years, we’ve gone through rapid change and different ways of working with our growth team, but overall my experience has been positive. Sure, there’s tension, but it’s a healthy tension. The kind of tension that helps us build a better product for Pinners.
We’ve learned a lot. Some things worked, and some things didn’t — that’s the beauty of a startup. Our growth lead Casey Winters and I thought it would be helpful to share some of our experiences. Hopefully our story can help other companies create a productive working environment, regardless ofwhat stage of a startup you’re in.
Building the best user experience
In the early days of Pinterest, we spent a lot of time thinking about what brings people to the door (signups) and what makes them stick around long-term (preventing churn / retention). Ultimately, we identified that content is what Pinners valued. If people didn’t find content they cared about, they left. It became apparent that content was our currency — leveraging content and figuring out how we distribute was one way to think about driving growth.
We approached content as an art as well as science. Questions like “is the content good?” and “does it represent our brand” were just as important as “what topics are trending?” and “what performs better?” On top of that, we had to think about how to scale.
It was clear that both marketing and growth teams were trying to build a better experience for Pinners using content, so we focused on that.
Curated vs. personalized content
Email was the easiest channel to tackle first. It’s not the sexiest growth channel, but the scale was large enough to make an impact, and it allowed us to balance discoverable (curated things you might like) and relevant (things personalized for you based on algorithms) types of content.
After auditing the content in our emails, the gap was clear. Personalized content was well-covered, while curated content wasn’t.
We started a new email series that curated content based on seasonal topics, called editorial. The marketing team used data to identify topics that communities wanted to hear about and targeted Pinners who were active in those topics, while the growth team worked on ways to distribute content without annoying users.
While these emails drove visits and activity on Pinterest, it arguably had a bigger impact in showing the possibilities of Pinterest, which is harder to measure. The challenge was that we didn’t have fantastic ways to control the delivery of email in general to Pinners. Some Pinners were receiving nothing, and others were receiving way more than they could anticipate. Editorial, in some cases, was piling on to a problem of engaged Pinners already receiving too much email.
Working together, we were able to standardize not only who should receive each editorial email, but prioritize it with other emails as well. Casey hacked together queries that limited email volume, and later, with a scalable system that limited emails for each Pinner based on their activity, their interests, and what they previously opened and clicked on.
Today, 20% of email engagement comes from editorial, driving an incremental volume of users who don’t churn and/or resurrect.
Boom. Knitting = winning.
Quality vs. quantity (traffic & signups)
Good growth teams care about driving acquisition. Great growth teams care about acquiring users who will stick around. To reconcile the number of signups with the right type of signups, we looked at our traffic sources and signup page to see where we could optimize.
For traffic, we began adding new landing pages that pulled together the best seasonally relevant content so users on search engines could find it. The first experiments went well, so the growth team built an internal tool to allow the marketing team to add new keywords on their own, based on our editorial calendar.
For signups, Pinterest had millions of people landing on its home page without a complete understanding of what it is. Our previous home page did little to explain what Pinterest was or how you could use. The growth team built a new version of the home page focusing on visually representing popular use cases of Pinterest, which increased signup conversion by 10%. To continue optimizing, the growth team built a self-serve tool for the marketing team to swap out content based on seasonal use cases, which led to an additional 1–2% increase in conversion rate.
See, two heads are better than one.
Marketing is great at identifying perception challenges and telling stories that can get others to understand the value of Pinterest. Growth is great at identifying the top opportunities in where to tell those stories. While growth can A/B test messaging until the cows come home, marketing makes sure we test the right messages that make long-term sense for Pinterest.
Conversely, marketing may be able to tell the best stories, but not succeed at driving the distribution of those stories. That is where the growth team can do the math and really understand if this will have the impact it needs to be worth the time investment.
I hear a lot of horror stories about growth teams hacking new ideas to achieve “hockey stick” growth, but lose brand equity in the process. At Pinterest, we value both our growth rate (how quickly we’re growing) and our brand reputation (how people perceive and feel about us). These goals tend to be at odds with each other, and over time, we’ve learned how to pick and choose our battles wisely.
Our Send a Pin email is one example where we didn’t see eye to eye. We debated whether we should show the message in the email or make Pinners click through to see the message on Pinterest. Obviously, the latter option would lead to higher click rates, but what we didn’t consider was how much we’d annoy Pinners by adding an additional click to see content they’re interested in. So, we did some digging and looked at all the tradeoffs.
What we saw was that Pinners were only 1–2% more engaged by that one additional visit from email than Pinners who saw the message directly in their inbox. If we only looked at email clicks rates, it was an obvious choice: make people come to Pinterest and see the message. However, considering the small percentage, we decided it was not worth the tradeoff. We opted for our long-term gain (building trust with Pinners) vs. short-term gain (more clicks to Pinterest from this specific email), because we could always find ways to drive more clicks from other growth hacks, but it would be difficult to scalably build trust once it’s gone.
That’s how we manage through differences. We prioritize the Pinner experience first, instead of our own personal goals.
Teams naturally become siloed because of how people are incentivized. Organizations tend to reward people for results and impact. Results can easily be translated into things people can take credit for, versus how teams should work together to drive the impact everyone wants to achieve.
Our recommendation isn’t to drastically change the way you recruit or structure your teams. Whether you’re a CEO or a leader of growth and marketing teams, our recommendation is to create an environment where the two teams are incentivized to work as one. Here are some tactical ways to bring this to life — they’re no brainers, but they’re easier said than done.
Establish brutally honest role clarity: Identify strengths (ask questions! exchange your MBTI!) and build teams with domain expertise that complement each other. This will alleviate headaches down the road and avoid people fighting for the same projects.
Map goals together: Whether you’re creating weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly goals, make sure both teams are aligned on prioritieswell in advance. Goals should also reflect things that will help each other’s goals, including fluid resources if it makes sense. “Keeping headcount” is a slippery slope, but it happens way more often than it should.
Have frequent 1:1’s: In the beginning, frequent meetings can help keep everyone on the same page, especially in startups that are moving quickly. Get recurring syncs on the calendar, but don’t wait for meetings to connect either. Email, IM, text — whatever communication is preferred,use it and use it often.
Tag team meetings: This is a hard one, because it’s easy to have too many cooks in the kitchen. There’s a tradeoff, however, to not attending the same meetings. Information doesn’t flow as quickly, inaccurate assumptions are made, and you end up spending more meetings (ugh) to untangle misalignments. As the need for technical skills are increasing, the reality is that marketing is an unbundling discipline and growth is one of them. You can either make effort to collaborate early on or force yourself to clean up the mess later on.
Defer decision making: Assuming #1 is established, decision making should be easy, but making decisions tend to make people feel empowered and people can easily get caught in the “receiving credit” trap. Teams will build trust when they’re given opportunities to make a call about their domain expertise. Check egos at the door and know when to defer decisions to the right team.
Over the years, we’ve been working together on crafting a growth strategy that doesn’t tarnish our brand. It’s certainly not perfect, and still a work in progress, but we’ve learned a lot along the way. Whether you need to hire a marketer or a growth hacker first is a question that should be uniquely answered for each company. What’s more important, is how well they complement each other and their willingness to truly collaborate towards the same vision.
If you know your audience and have the right tools you can put together ads like this one that send chills down your spine and makes your hair stand up on your arms.
The Chaos Theory concept was created by award-winning creative agency Mistress and was directed by Dan DiFelice. Read more at http://business.transworld.net/news/the-world-surfing-league-unveils-their-global-brand-campaign-you-cant-script-this/#ZUMwy2SG6Ws4cRfh.99
At AddThis, we’re constantly analyzing data from the 1.9B unique users we see per month across our network of over 15MM websites to learn how people are engaging with content. Last December, we published thebest times to post on social media during the winter holidays. That post, as well as a similar one we did earlier that year, proved so popular that we’re doing it again.
Knowing when your users are active on social networks is useful, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. We analyzed data in both the United States (US) and in the United Kingdom (UK) to search for peak social engagement times – when users were most likely to click and share content – on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. These findings are meant to help website owners get an idea of the best times to publish new content to maximize engagement on social media.
Social Media Engagement in the United States
In the US, most social networks see a spike in shares during the morning hours. Shares in this case don’t refer to shares on Facebook or retweets on Twitter – instead, these shares refer to content being shared to a specific social network from its original digital source through sharing tools (e.g. share to Facebook, share to Twitter). This trend is especially true for Twitter and LinkedIn, which are sites that tend to attract early birds. Shares to Facebook get started a bit later in the day, and shares to Pinterest happen mostly at night.
With shares occurring earlier in the day, clicks tend to happen a little later across all social networks, mostly in the late afternoon and into the evening. Twitter and LinkedIn get the most clicks in the afternoon, while Facebook and Pinterest drive traffic after 8:00pm.
Peak Times of Day for Shares and Clicks by Social Network Use this information to get more of your content shared across social media and help drive clicks back to your website:
*All times listed above are in Eastern Standard Time (EST)
Peak Times of Week to Post for Maximum Social Engagement While each social network has peak times of day for shares and clicks, they also have certain days of the week during which engagement spikes. When you put all that data together, you get specific timeframes for which you should aim to post content for maximum shares and clicks.
*All times listed above are in Eastern Standard Time (EST)
Users rest on the weekend, and so can you. Since demand for content isn’t as high on Saturdays and Sundays, save your best content to be published during the 9-5 workday between Monday and Thursday. Sharing and clicking activity tends to die down on Saturday and Sunday across all platforms…except on Pinterest. In fact, some of the highest click activity on content shared to Pinterest occurs on Sunday night from 9:00-10:00! Note that users aren’t as willing to share content on Sundays, but there is definitely a demand to see new pins.
Peak Times of Day for Shares and Clicks by Social Network The UK data is similar to the US when it comes to Twitter and LinkedIn (shares to these networks occur in the morning), as well as Pinterest (shares happen at night). The wild card here is Facebook. While users in the US tend to share to Facebook in the late morning and early afternoon, in the UK, that activity happens at night, from 8:00-10:00pm.
*All times listed above are in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Peak Times of Week to Post for Maximum Social Engagement Like social media users in the US, those in the UK are spending less time engaging with social media during the weekends. However, the exception is Sunday nights for Pinterest users, when sharing content tends to spike on this platform.
*All times listed above are in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Use this data as a starting point to get to know your audience’s habits. You may find that – based on their gender, life stage or interests – they’re on a different schedule. With AddThis Social Sharing Tools, you can make it easy for visitors to share your content, as well as get in-depth analytics about how and when they’re engaging with your brand across different social networks. Get started!
Google's message is clear: If you want to sell directly through the Google platform, then you'll need to pay for it.
Let's go back to my last example, "plumbers in San Francisco." Look at what's happening above the fold with that query:
That's right, baby! Paid local listings.
If this test sticks, it's going to have massive implications on local search. If I were a betting man (and I am), I'm all in that this is the future of local search.
But is SEO dead?
SEO is absolutely not dead. As long as people use Google search, SEO will be alive.
However, let's recap. Money/buyer (i.e., purchase-intent) keywords are:
Dominated by huge brands that 99% of the world can't outrank (without spamming)
Returning less product pages and more articles and other forms of content
Triggering the knowledge graph, review aggregators, and more user-focused results
What this means is it's time to seriously reevaluate the landscape. The days of ranking a products or services page first for these purchase-intent keywords are limited.
If we want to capture that traffic moving forward, there are three things we can do:
#1: Pay for it
This is very straight forward. I like to use paid search as a remarketing tactic. We capture traffic from all corners of the web, and then when those people are ready to buy (using those money keywords), we use highly targeted paid ads to snag their business.
#2: Create valuable content
If we go back to my first example, best headphones, the results are dominated by content that compares ratings and pricing for various headphones.
No one shares, engages, or links to products and services pages. The fact is, no one except for us cares.
Instead of trying to jam those pages with links, create a piece of content that delivers what Google (and users) want. By creating value with your content, you open it up to earning social media shares and powerful links from relevant sites.
If you want to compete against the big dogs for organic search real estate, content is your best option.
#3: Optimize your website for the web
It's SEO (Search Engine Optimization), not GO (Google Optimization).
Yelp is a search engine. Facebook is a search engine. Twitter is a search engine. Amazon is a search engine. Quora is a search engine. Pinterest is a search engine. YouTube is a search engine. See where I'm going?
Each of these platforms offers unique benefits to the user. In a lot of cases, people looking for things on these platforms are likely to bypass Google altogether.
For example, l just moved into a loft in downtown Miami. I loathe shopping of any sort, so I allowed my girlfriend to manage the process for me. She ended up purchasing all of the furniture from Etsy (an e-commerce platform I knew very little about).
I asked her how she arrived there. This is what she told me:
Pinterest - She used Pinterest search to find inspiration on how to decorate. Using keywords like "loft decorations," she narrowed it down to the specific pieces of furniture she liked.
Amazon - She then went to Amazon and searched with keywords that were based on the furniture she liked on Pinterest. She was looking for rustic furniture. Amazon didn't have a great selection of that type.
Ebay - So she moved to Ebay, knowing that she could find cheap, secondhand (i.e., rustic) furniture there. She found that most things were a little "too used," so she moved on.
Etsy - Finally, she landed on Etsy, knowing they specialize in unique handmade items. She purchased all the furniture from there (and simultaneously broke my bank account).
Now, I realize she could've used Google to search for all these things. She chose not to, though, because she felt it was an extra step she didn't have to take.
She chose to use those specific websites/platforms/search engines because each one was built to handle exactly what she was looking for.
Applying this to your website
The long-winded point I'm trying to make is this:
It's no longer just about optimizing your website for Google. It's about optimizing your presence across the web.
By understanding who our target audience is and where they spend their time, we can attack those platforms and build an organic presence.
If you're an attorney, you need to be on sites like Avvo, Lawyer.com and Find Law because they dominate the SERPS
If you're a local business, Yelp and Thumbtack are crushing it right now
If you have an e-commerce store, get your product on as many platforms where your customers are as possible (including Pinterest)
If you sell large-ticket B2B services, SlideShare and LinkedIn are gold mines for connecting with C-suite executives looking for information
The list goes on and on...
Bringing it all home
This is why I stopped selling SEO. I'm begging you to follow suit.
We need to educate non-marketers that times have changed. We can't just "rank and bank" for whatever we want anymore.
We don't want to wait around until it's too late. This isn't a phase. This is the way it's going to be going forward, and we all need to get on board with it.
As Google gets more intelligent, we need to get more intelligent about how we approach marketing. That doesn't mean looking for ways to beat the search engine algorithms. Instead, we must learn to use them to our advantage.
About ryanwashere — I've been working in digital marketing for almost a decade, specializing in web analytics, SEO and inbound marketing strategy. I currently own and operate Webris, a Miami based search and web analytics agency. Connect with me on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn or Instagram.
11) 70% (of the 200 small business websites evaluated) don’t display clear calls-to-action for anything on their home pages, such as specials, e-mail newsletters, how-to guides, demos, and interactive tools