SEO Case Study – GoCardless
GoCardless is a fintech company providing account-to-account payments, making it easy to collect both recurring and one-off amounts.
Thanks to a global network, intelligent features for retrying failed payments, and leading the charge with Open Banking, they process more direct payments than anyone else in their space. Their 60,000+ customers range from freelancers and small businesses to household names.
While receiving impressive accolades, such as the first place fintech at the 2016 Deloitte Fast 50 – a prestigious award recognising the fastest-growing tech companies in Europe – GoCardless was looking for ways to achieve dramatic, exponential growth.
They identified online performance as a key opportunity. The website was clean, clear, and easy to use, but it wasn’t contributing proportionately to business growth. In fact, by mid-2019, organic online performance had been static for about two years.
That all soon changed with the introduction of dedicated SEO resource.
In June 2019, GoCardless brought on its first dedicated SEO manager. Previously, SEO had been done as a bolt-on by people with a number of other responsibilities. Those contributors were savvy, and they knew what they were doing, but it was clear that three-digit percentage growth was only going to be possible via a dedicated SEO strategy.
The first key task was to command confidence that SEO could change the trajectory of traffic and serve as a growth lever. Providing ‘proof-of-concept’ was essential to secure further investment in the channel.
To grow traffic, GoCardless began by enlisting SEO agency Blue Array, and analysing their target audience. They soon found that GoCardless benefited from a product-channel fit that not all site owners or SEOs have. As their potential customers needed to solve specific queries, such as about improving payment success rates, reducing customer churn, or defining financial terminology, they had a clear online audience to reach.
So while technical SEO and link-building were not to be ignored, it was decided early on that the route to organic search success was through scaling of editorial content.
Step 1: Test and learn rapidly to kick-start traffic growth
With support from Blue Array, a series of ‘keyword universe and information architecture’ resources were produced. So often a foundation of SEO success amongst Blue Array clients, these resources sought to identify, group, and plot relationships between all query topics GoCardless could realistically hope to rank for.
With this corpus of data, it was possible to give shape to a content strategy.
Early on, the decision was made to go for a breadth of content, rather than focus on a small cluster of topics in depth. The reasons for this choice were that:
Not every piece of content or topic would work – they would need to try many angles and observe where they succeeded.
The focus was to demonstrate traffic growth – only top-of-funnel, broad keyword topics could provide the potential search volumes.
Through a lean production process, approximately 40 articles were generated per month. This number allowed the team to trial many different topic categories, article styles, and intended audiences.
By committing to a ‘test and learn’ approach, they benefited from agility and were able to hone in on successful topics and article styles increasingly each month. They found they were able to ‘fail fast, learn fast’.
Step 2: Maintain strong foundations
Along with increasing the production of articles in their most successful categories, an enabler that seemed to transform the early wins was topic-led internal linking.
As content was built out around a single topic, new items that were better internally linked seemed to reach peak performance faster than older articles that were more standalone. This sparked greater thoroughness with internal linking opportunities – both for ‘vertical’ (parent-child) linking relationships as well as ‘horizontal’ ones.
In addition, technical changes were made to the site to build strong foundations, including a CMS migration, an overhauled blog subfolder, and the launch of localised sites.
Step 3: Categorise in detail to measure and succeed
By now, GoCardless was successfully driving the necessary traffic growth. Having proved the viability of organic search as a channel to expand reach and create awareness, the task shifted to prove that SEO could also convert.
Over time, the growing SEO team at GoCardless significantly advanced their ability to map article themes to a conversion funnel. This categorisation enabled production to be balanced across the funnel, in order to hit dual targets of traffic and conversion growth. Routine evaluation of both the content pipeline and output against the funnel allowed continuous, data-based adjustments to the production process that kept everyone focussed on goal completions.
Step 4: Scale internationally
With ‘hockey-stick’ graphs attesting to the capabilities of organic growth, the justification was there to scale editorial production both in quantity and internationally.
By using the UK market as a pilot, GoCardless and Blue Array succeeded in expanding the campaign across five additional important geographies: the United States, France, Australia, Germany, and Spain.
Between November 2020 and November 2021, GoCardless has so far seen over 5x traffic growth in the US, while growth more than tripled in Australia and more than doubled in both Germany and France. [Source: GoCardless internal Google Analytics data].
The process had, over months, achieved a growth marketer’s growth trifecta of scalability, predictability, and repeatability – features that are more commonly and easily associated with paid search.
The initiative also achieved “Multilingual Content Campaign of the Year” at the European Content Awards.
Globally, GoCardless now occupy a top-10 ranking position for ~13,500 generic keywords in the UK. [Source: Ahrefs] In the months immediately before committing to their content-first SEO strategy, that number was ~200. At the time of the prestigious “Deloitte Fast 50” award win, that number was just over 500. [Source: Semrush]
In the 2.5 years since first implementing a structured SEO strategy and investing in the channel, GoCardless has increased its organic traffic by over 425% globally, with estimated organic traffic standing at 948,937 as of December 2021.* [Source: Ahrefs organic traffic. 2nd June 2019 vs 17th Dec 2021]
Conversions are up by 179% in this same period and are forecasted to increase further.
- SEO is unlikely to experience transformational growth while it’s a bolt-on responsibility. Here, a step change was only possible with dedicated resources and a dedicated strategy.
- When considering a content-first SEO strategy, scrutinise whether you have a “product-channel fit” that can’t be replicated in other ways.
- Fail fast and learn fast – expect better accuracy after a few cycles.
- Take care to optimise internal linking when producing larger volumes of content.
- With the right people and the right strategy, it’s possible to achieve scalability, predictability, and repeatability in content-first SEO.