Slack is a vastly popular app that needs no introduction.
But even an Oscar winner gets a blurb before their acceptance speech!
Slack is a B2B messaging app. It empowers companies to organize and centralize their internal and external communication.
Slack allows users to create topic channels, send direct private and group messages, make audio and video calls, set availability statuses, and more.
The company was founded by Stewart Butterfield (who also founded Flickr) after his multiplayer game project, Glitch, was shelved.
Despite the setback, Butterfield decided to repurpose the game’s messaging feature to solve a ubiquitous problem in the business world at the time — Scattered communication.
Their product managers polished Slack up and started inviting users in 2013.
Now, let’s jump forward in time to 2023.
Slack now boasts:
- Over 42 million daily active users
- More than three million paid users
- 100 million+ monthly website visitors
How on earth did they attain results like this? 🧐
Slack employs a unique and diverse marketing strategy, of which search engine optimization (SEO) is just one piece.
Organic traffic represents a small fraction of Slack’s total traffic. But with numbers like theirs, even that tiny percentage translates to hundreds of thousands (even millions) of visitors!
Slack’s marketing team needed to play to their strengths (direct traffic) while still capitalizing on every ounce of traffic from search and other sources.
We’ll take you through the challenges that necessitated Slack’s pioneering marketing approach. You’ll also learn about their SEO strategy and how it fits into the big picture of their digital marketing.
You’ll Learn About:
Let’s dive right in!
Slack’s SEO Challenges
Slack entered the B2B software scene with a rock-solid product addressing a clear gap in the market.
However, it faced two main challenges that would define its SEO approach:
- Its broad ideal customer profile (ICP): Slack is aimed at businesses in general. Any company of any size or industry can use it.
That’s great for their potential user base. But it created a challenge for their content marketing team — figuring out how to target and attract every buyer persona and business type with such a wide net.
Would Slack get super granular, creating SEO content for every niche? Would marketing to the business sector as a whole be too vague?
- The success of its word-of-mouth marketing: Slack started its journey with a highly effective word-of-mouth push.
Again, this was enormously advantageous, but it created an environment where a traditional approach to SEO would be redundant.
They already had brand awareness. A potential customer didn’t need to see 10 articles about “improving workplace communication” or “best B2B messaging apps” to decide on Slack.
Slack’s team needed to create their own SEO roadmap rather than unnecessarily outputting everything from the SEO 101 playbook.
So, let’s assess their approach.
How the Slack SEO Strategy Contributes Across 9 Traffic Sources
These are nine ways that Slack made its traffic machine tick:
1. Freemium Model and Product-Led Growth
From the start, Slack let its product do the talking by allowing users to access a version of it for free — And it continues to do so.
The freemium product is brilliantly set up because the free version is highly usable. Not every Slack customer needs a paid plan.
Slack uses usage restrictions to incentivize users to upgrade. The paid tiers afford you benefits like:
- More storage space
- More integration slots
- Improved search features
- An extended message archive
This means users can try the product for free, discover the benefits, and hopefully become reliant on it. They can decide to upgrade whenever the incentives are worth the cost. Meanwhile, the user base keeps expanding, making the Slack app even more desirable.
The freemium and PLG approach sets the stage for Slack’s whole marketing approach. In terms of SEO, it means everything should be geared to getting potential customers to try the free product.
Slack does this, in part, by consistently incorporating its features into its blog content.
For instance, Slack created an article about employee onboarding and provided five features to help businesses do so.
In one tip, they suggest setting up a greeting bot Slack channel to welcome new hires into the Slack workspace. Insights like this can help readers understand what the app is all about and how it can make work more efficient.
2. Direct Traffic from Word-of-Mouth
Slack’s first order of business with their MVP (minimum viable product) was getting the team to implore their friends, family, and business contacts to try Slack. They also gathered testimonials from these first pseudo-beta testers.
Press releases came next, with a rousing hook that Slack wanted to “kill email”.
From there, the direct word-of-mouth transformed into a crescendo of social media chatter.
In 2013, the public was able to request a Slack invite.
Incredibly, 8,000 people signed up on the first day!
In another thoughtful move, Slack encouraged its early users to invite others to the app. And they persisted with social media marketing and some creative podcasting.
Aside from a golden start for Slack’s user base, this media strategy also meant that Slack’s name was out there – easy to remember and quick to type in.
Take a look at Slack’s traffic sources today:
About 95% of its website traffic is direct traffic from people typing in the URL, using bookmarks, or clicking on direct links.
So, does this mean Slack can ignore all its other traffic sources?
Remember, 3.02% of 100 million (Slack’s approximate monthly traffic) is still over three million visits from organic search!
3. Slack’s Blog Strategy
Slack has a blog called Several People Are Typing.
The blog was once hosted on Medium, which enabled users to follow Slack’s blog and become regular readers and community members.
However, Slack moved its blog onto its own domain in 2021. This was likely to gain full ownership and control of its archives and prevent a third party from profiting off its readership.
Now, Slack’s blog includes content on the following topics:
- News: News, case studies, and research related to Slack
- Transformation: Stories about how Slack is transforming business and work
- Productivity: Stories and how-tos relating to Slack’s workplace productivity benefits
- Collaboration: Articles about making the most of Slack for improving collaboration
- Developers: Posts targeted explicitly at developers building app integrations or using Slack to manage their work
Overall, the blog seems less optimized to target keywords for SEO and more optimized for shareability, backlinks, newsletter content, and regular readership.
One ingredient in Slack’s recipe for blogging success is original content. Every article is packed with tasty images, animations, and research Slack makes in-house.
For example, this recent article about generative AI in Slack contains four original images and animations, a relevant quote from Slack’s CEO, and statistics from their 2023 State of Work report.
This makes articles more relevant and engaging for readers, and search engines eat it up. 🍽️
No, really. Check out Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines. Original content is a fool-proof way to show your authority and trustworthiness to a search engine.
4. Referral Traffic from Integration Partners
Slack has a library of over 2,600 apps and integrations you can incorporate into your Slack workspace — ranging from bots to developer tools to social and fun add-ons.
1.65% of Slack’s traffic – about 1.65 million visits – comes from referral traffic. A large chunk of this results from visitors clicking through to the site from Slack integration partners’ sites.
See below, where the Zapier integration page for Slack links to their website with the “Learn more” button:
Of course, Slack also completes the link exchange by linking to their partners from their app directory.
Note: Some of Slack’s app partners don’t have a page linking to Slack’s website. As part of their link building strategy, Slack then links to an app integration page on their website, like the Microsoft Teams page shown below.
5. Organic Traffic from Integration Partners
In addition to the referral traffic, the Slack app directory pages are optimized to rank in the organic search results for its integration partners’ branded keywords.
For example, looking at Ahrefs (an SEO tool) data), Slack ranks on page two for the keywords “monday.com login” and “google drive”.
It also ranks on page one for dual keywords like “slack outlook integration” and “slack jira integration”.
6. Focus on Branded Keywords
The importance of Slack’s brand name in its SEO strategy can’t be overstated.
Just look at their top keywords in terms of traffic:
Nearly all the keywords contain the word “Slack”.
Compare this to Clickup’s top-ranking keywords:
Clickup’s branded keywords are much less prominent in this list. You can also see that their blog posts bring in much of their traffic.
Unlike many other companies investing in content marketing, Slack’s SEO traffic isn’t coming mostly from blog posts.
Instead, they have created and optimized pages on their website to target keywords related to their brand name. Some of these are Slack integration pages, feature pages, or download pages.
Want to know what kind of keywords will work for your business?
Learn more in our comprehensive keyword research guide.
Here’s the crazy part:
The keywords you might expect Slack to target for organic search, they’re actually handling with Google ads! 🤯
7. Streamlined Paid Search Ads
Earlier, we saw that 0.14% of Slack’s traffic (over 140,000 visits) comes from sponsored search results.
Take a look at some of the keywords they’re targeting:
This is surprising for two reasons.
First, these keywords look like the sort most companies would target in their organic SEO content strategy. Yet, they’re nowhere to be seen in the organic list.
But, second, look at those URLs. They’re all the same (bar one). Slack bids on a long list of vastly different keywords with one landing page — This one:
This means that, for searchers who aren’t yet solution-aware, Slack wants to reach and convert them in one fell swoop. They’re skipping all the ToFU, MoFu, BoFu stuff and sending searchers straight to the finish line. 🏁
8. Referral Traffic from Review Sites
Another noteworthy traffic source for Slack is from third-party review sites like Capterra, G2 Crowd, and PCMag.
Once they were listed on various review sites, Slack encouraged users to leave reviews. This resulted in Slack getting over 23,000 reviews on Capterra and over 30,000 on G2 Crowd.
How does this help?
Look at the Capterra page below that’s ranking for the keyword “team communication software”. Slack is displayed as the first non-sponsored listing due to its high number of reviews.
9. Slack’s Site Design
On-page and technical SEO are two vital elements that affect user experience and how search engines view your website.
Slacks website is beautifully optimized and streamlined, making it easy for visitors and search engines to navigate.
Here are just a few things it has going for it:
- A pleasant and cohesive design that makes it readable, professional, and engaging
- Clear messaging regarding the app’s features and benefits
- Prominent CTAs (calls to action) with descriptive copy
- Plenty of social proof, including the “trusted by companies” section and the stats section shown below
- Helpful navigation that covers the app’s features, use cases, support, and pricing
- A user-friendly site-search feature
- The mobile site looks just as good and works seamlessly
Key Takeaways from Slack’s SEO Strategy
Slack’s SEO strategy fits it like a glove. But that doesn’t mean it’ll work for your company.
Still, there are a few lessons we can learn from Slack that any marketer in the SEO community can apply to their content marketing efforts:
1. Using SEO as a Feature of a Well-rounded Marketing Strategy
SEO might be a big hitter in your website traffic, or it could be a small (yet not inconsequential) part like it was for Slack.
Either way, SEO shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. You can still drive results through marketing tactics like word-of-mouth, social media, podcasting, email outreach, Google ads, etc. And you can do so without breaking the bank.
An SEO specialist must tailor a content strategy that performs well in the context of your company’s digital marketing multiverse.
2. Creating and Capitalizing on Brand Awareness
Slack did an incredible job at getting its name out there, which helped skyrocket it into early success. 🚀
There are many ways to nurture brand awareness. SEO is one of them — And we’ve seen it work!
The right SEO strategy can make your business a household name in your industry in a matter of months.
What you do with that brand awareness matters, too. Slack capitalized on it by making branded keywords a major focus of their keyword research and SEO efforts. Additionally, they created content their brand’s fans would love to read. The ultimate goal was to foster brand loyalty and encourage conversions.
3. Making the Most of Your Partnerships
Slack created a back-and-forth with its integration partners. For each one, they can give and receive a backlink, organic traffic, and referral traffic.
Note: Google won’t consider This reciprocal connection a nefarious link exchange because the companies have a genuine, long-standing relationship.
This strategy works exceptionally well for software and SaaS SEO — Zapier is another perfect example.
You can read more about them in our roundup of 10 inspiring SaaS SEO case studies.
However, it can also work in other industries wherever you have partnerships. For example, if you owned an automotive company, you could leverage connections with any brands you sell or groups you have a membership with.
Unsure how to make SEO work for you (instead of the other way around)?
We can help.
Let Startup Voyager Cut You Some Slack
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