Which Startup Unicorns Have the Best SEO Strategy (2022)?

Which Startup Unicorns Have the Best SEO Strategy (2022)?

SEO

There are a myriad of factors that contribute to a startup’s success. Once a company has achieved product-market fit, the ability to scale often comes down to marketing. While marketing can encompass many different channels, SEO can be one of the most important sources of brand awareness, pipeline, and revenue.

For startups, understanding which peer companies have risen to the top of the SERPs and what strategies they are implementing can provide a helpful perspective. We recently analyzed the marketing campaigns of 20 top startup unicorns to find out which ones are having success with SEO.

Why does this matter? We believe this data is particularly timely given the current economic environment. Many startups have recently raised millions of dollars of venture capital in what has been a very frothy market. At the time, investors valued growth over profitability. And as a result, much of the money was allocated to marketing channels such as paid advertising that are predictable. Putting $X in Google and Facebook ads and receiving $Y in return sounds like a safe bet when you need to maintain a certain growth rate.

But as the stock market declined in 2022, technology stocks and VC-backed startups have seen their valuations fall precipitously. The companies that will be in the strongest position to weather the downturn can acquire new customers efficiently, and SEO remains one of the strongest marketing channels to do so. We’re seeing this play out with well-funded startups such as Hopin, an all-in-one events management platform. Even though Hopin has acquired five startups, gathered over $1B in venture capital, and was valuated at $7.3B, it had to lay off 29% of its workforce in March 2022, around the same time they experienced a huge drop in traffic.

Organic Traffic

After failing to move to more sustainable customer acquisition practices, Hopin has already laid off a third of its workforce, and still, there’s no telling whether or not the layoff will keep coming.

In contrast, companies that benefited from the pandemic but invested heavily in SEO tell a different story today.

Methodology

To maintain consistency, we analyzed search data from Ahrefs. The average year-over-year growth is meant to ensure the rankings do not favor startups that have been around longer and therefore have had more time to gain traction with SEO.

Note: This data was pulled on May, 06 2022

Overall RankCompanyDomain RatingOrganic KeywordsOrganic TrafficTraffic ValueNon-branded Page 1 RankingsReferring DomainsDo-Follow LinksYoY Growth (Average)
1Canva924.9M98.4M$31.2M147.3K252K12.7M116%
2Grammarly891.1M19.7M$4.9K82K68K13.2M66%
3Instacart843.7M5.9M$6.7M434K30K17.4M66%
4Stripe93466K2.1M$4.5M7.4K491K17.8M36%
5Zapier911.6M1.7M$2.9M71.6K68K37.9M58%
6Fanatics79829K3.2M$1.4M169K22K8.1M16%
7Klarna92125K783K$238K3.9K8.9K880K332%
8Faire84650K695K$288K57.5K13.9K100K234%
9Xiaohongshu84295K291K$19K4.6K15.3K8.5M621%
10Revolut81169K2M$457K34518.6K1.5M48%
11SpaceX83101K718K$485K2.3K43K1.5M56%
12Databricks80218K393K$566K4.7K19.3K481K83%
13Chime75129K832K$1.3M3.9K11.6K172.7K13%
14JTexpress7028.4K1M$1.5K463928111K225%
15Checkout7626.5K37.9K$25K4874.9K676K15%
16FTX8018.6K131K$9.3K2792.3K6K448%
17ByteDance812.3K52.8K$3.8K105.6K4K16%
18Nubank7792429K$83K79031.7K201%
19Sensetime731.8K20.5K$36194K210K72%
20Global Switch681.1K2.6K$17K235822.9K10%
Raw Data Collected

Our methodology is this analysis was real simple. First, we collected all relevant data as shown above and then ranked them from 1 (being the lowest) to 20 (being the highest) for each KPI.

In summary, we ranked each company for every KPI compared to each other and then averaged its position across all KPIs to get the final ranking in the list. For example, Canva’s is ranked number one on the list because, across the board, it ranked the highest for almost all KPIs.

Here are some of our considerations when collecting the data:

  • Domain Rating (DR) is a metric that shows the relative strength of a website’s backlink profile.
  • Instead of taking into account the total number of backlinks, we analyzed the number of referring domains (as external links from a small number of domains are less valuable and more easily manipulated than links from a wide variety of websites) and do-follow links (which are the type of links search engines take into account).
  • Traffic value is the estimated monthly cost to purchase the equivalent of a website’s organic traffic via ads. Ranking for many valuable keywords means a company can reduce ad-spend and use the budget in other marketing channels.
  • Although the number of keyword rankings is a good indicator of SEO success, only non-branded keywords attract people who haven’t been exposed to the company or product before, increasing brand awareness and lead generation – crucial indicators of positive return on investment.
  • We calculated the year-over-year organic traffic growth to level the field between the newest and the oldest startups on the list.

7 Startups Winning BIG in Search Engines

Overall RankStartupSEO ScoreValuationTotal FundingYears in Business
1CanvaCanva100.0$40B$572.6M10 Years
2GrammarlyGrammarly90.3$13B$400M13 Years
3InstacartInstacart90.0$39B$2.9B10 Years
4StripeStripe87.1$95B$2.3B12 Years
5ZapierZapier86.1$5B$1.4M11 Years
6FanaticsFanatics70.9$27B$4.2B20 Years
7KlarnaKlarna59.7$45B$4.5B17 Years

Just getting your startup close to the SEO performance of any of these unicorns could push your venture to a whole new level.

However, there’s no gain if we don’t take a closer look at the strategies and efforts these companies are making.

Let’s explore seven startup unicorns getting the most out of their SEO investment.

1. Canva

ValuationOrganic TrafficTraffic Value
$40B4,900,000/mon$31,200,000

Canva is an online design and publishing tool launched in 2013 that allows designers to create visuals for social media, websites, and print. From our list, Canva is the one that brings in the most traffic, ranking for the highest number of keywords, and has the greatest traffic value of all at a whopping $31M. For context, the second-highest traffic value is from Instacart at $6M – which is 81% less than Canva.

Canva Organic Traffic

As a design tool, Canva creates landing pages for each of its product features and use cases. The company has built a learning hub with content covering product marketing for their software and graphic design in general.

Canva

Here are Canva’s top 5 pages in the US:

It’s worth noting two of the pages are “free” tools/resources. The templates page has 100 templates users can use or draw inspiration from, while the color wheel page is a free tool that allows users to create color pallets quickly. These two pages do more than bring in traffic, however. They also have earned approximately 10k backlinks.

Canva Color Wheel

The Canva team has also created over 50 language versions of their website, diversifying their overall global traffic.

2. Grammarly

ValuationOrganic TrafficTraffic Value
$13B19,700,000.00$4,900,000.00

Grammarly is a writing assistant that uses natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to help users avoid misspellings and improve written communication. Grammarly has the second-highest organic traffic at 19M searches per month and has the third-highest traffic value in the list.

Grammarly Organic Traffic

Grammarly’s blog brings around 8.5M monthly searches (half its overall traffic), providing educational content around writing. Some of its most successful pages are:

Although English-speakers use the tool, some of the most visited pages on Grammarly are aimed at individuals that speak English as their second language

Grammarly has also created pages to target long tail branded searches, demonstrating how SEO and brand marketing can complement one another.

Grammarly

Just like Canva, Grammarly offers a set of free-to-use tools on their website to attract relevant traffic and earn backlinks.

Grammar Check

This grammar checker brings around 1.7M monthly visits and has 2.16k referring domains.

3. Instacart

ValuationOrganic TrafficTraffic Value
$39B5,900,000/mon$6,700,000

Instacart offers retail enablement solutions for over 750 grocers across more than 70,000 locations, making it easier for consumers to access fresh and high-quality local food. From our research, Instacart has the highest number of non-branded page 1 keywords ranking at 434k.

Instacart Organic Traffic

Unlike Canva, Instacart doesn’t rely on educational content hubs, as the tool isn’t meant for creative work. Instead, it focuses on creating a simple process for grocers and retailers to use their products. They have landing pages for each location, store, product, and vertical they serve.

Instacart

Here are Instacart’s top 5 pages:

By keeping search intent at the core of their strategy, Instacart has grown their site traffic by creating pages that satisfy specific needs of their target audience – which in this case includes buying goods from local stores. In fact, most pages bringing traffic to the site are store and location pillar pages.

Instacard

4. Stripe

ValuationOrganic TrafficTraffic Value
$95B2,100,000/mon$4,500,000

Stripe is a payment service provider that makes it easier to accept online payments. The company is known for providing the infrastructure that makes it easier for software developers to build complex solutions faster. It has the strongest Domain Rating at 93, the second-highest number of do-follow links, and the most number of referring domains at 491k.

Stripe Organic Traffic

Stripe’s search visibility boils down to site authority and a strong brand. Stripe has positioned itself as THE online payment processor. Of their total of 466k organic keyword rankings, only 7k are non-branded keywords, and their blog surprisingly only brings around 8k monthly visits.

Here are Stripe’s top 5 pages:

Most of their traffic comes from the different language versions of the homepage and pillar pages. In other words, Stripe’s search success comes from its strong brand positioning rather than from top-of-funnel content marketing.

5. Zapier

ValuationOrganic TrafficTraffic Value
$5B1,761,326/mon$2,968,200

Zapier is a no-code automation tool that connects different apps to automate complex processes without a single line of code. Although their traffic is significantly less than the top startups on the list, Zapier has the highest number of do-follow links at 37M and the third-highest number of referring domains at 68k.

Zapier Organic Traffic

Zapier has an advantage over other tools when it comes to SEO: their large library of integrations. Every app has its own landing page showing the different combinations users can work with, piggybacking from other companies’ brand authority, and catching existing search demand.

Zapier

However, Zapier’s biggest traffic source is their blog, which brings around 1.1M organic searches per month by targeting every topic around process automation, productivity tips, and remote work.

Their top 5 pages are:

As you can see, listicles and articles around productivity apps are at the top of their most searched pages. In fact, these five pages are followed by several “best-of” listicles bringing +10k visits/month each.

The key takeaway from Zapier’s approach is that you need a clear understanding of your audience and their pain points to create content that gets traffic to your site.

Note: Most of the companies partnering with Zapier have a page promoting their Zapier integration, so Zapier has no shortage of high-authority backlinks.

6. Fanatics

ValuationOrganic TrafficTraffic Value
$27B3,200,000/mon$1,400,000

Fanatics is a global digital sports platform that facilitates the purchase of licensed sports merchandise online, in stores, and at events. From our startup unicorn list, it has the second-highest number of non-branded rankings on page 1 and the fourth-highest organic traffic.

Fanatics Organic Traffic

Their website is structured primarily as an eCommerce platform, providing options based on sports, teams, players, and products.

Fanatics

However, these numbers for Fanatics are a little tricky because sport-related keywords are seasonal. In high-traffic periods, Fanatics might get more traffic and ROI than during other periods throughout the year

Fanatics’ top 5 pages are:

All of these pages are high-level category pages ranking for, some times, more than 500 keywords each.

Something that also stands out to us is their URL structure. Regarding SEO, a best practice is to make URLs short, easy to read for users and avoid special characters.

Good Bad URL

However, Fanatics URL structure is a clear reminder this is just one piece of the puzzle and that we can get away with breaking conventions as long as it’s functional, consistent, and don’t hurt the user experience.

7. Klarna

ValuationOrganic TrafficTraffic Value
$45B783,000/mon$238,000

Klarna is a payment and eCommerce solution that allows users to pay for any product from any website in 4 installments. Compared to other Startups on the list, Klarna has the second highest domain rating (at the same level as Canva) on the list and has been consistently growing its traffic over time.

Klarna Organic Traffic

Like Stripe, Klarna strength comes from strong branding and an elegant but niche solution. Most of the pages receiving 2k+ visits per month are Klarna-specific pages explaining a feature of the application.

Klarna’s top five pages are:

Most of these pages rank for 700 to 2k keywords, but most of them are branded keywords.

Regarding content, Klarna uses its blog to share educational content and news about its solution. This type of content is more about building trust and helping existing customers succeed with their accounts, not attracting new website traffic.

Klarna’s search success comes from its strong brand positioning and its vast collection of category pages.

Klarna

Because part of their offering is a platform where users can find a product and compare its pricing across multiple vendors, Klarna can use these pages to bring a fantastic user experience while capitalizing on vendors’ branding like Apple.

Klarna

This page brings around 9k visits a month according to Ahrefs estimations and ranks for branded keyword variations containing apple products like “klarna air pods”, “iphone klarna”, “klarna ipad”, etc.

Wrapping Up: Organic Growth is More Important Than Ever

For far too long, startups have focused on growth over profitability, relying on quick-to-scale but expensive channels like paid advertising and aggressive hiring to ensure their goals are met. This led to high cash burn rates that seemed sustainable during a bull market.

However, as we’ve seen in the last months, this model can’t survive during a market downturn, resulting in large layoffs across tech startups this year.

Just like Hopin, Fabric, a retail technology company focused on “unlocking insights to place local inventory in the right place, at the right time”, laid off 40% of its workforce, despite being a $1.5B valuation startup.

In early 2022, Fabric saw a heavy drop in traffic, going from 60K to 3K monthly visits today, meaning a 94% dropped in traffic.

And Daily Harvest, a frozen vegan food delivery service valuated at $1.1B, announced a 15% employee layoff on August 8th. Similarly, they’ve been experiencing a drop in traffic since January 2022.

Although every company has a different story, and there are many factors that make startups go from 100 to layoffs, there’s also an important lesson to learn: organic growth is more important than ever!

Companies that use marketing channels like SEO to scale their customer acquisition process are in a way better position to cut corners on other expenses instead of having to let go of personnel.

Many startups grew aggressively during COVID, as everyone in lockdown looked for solutions to make their lives easier. However, once the demand started to normalize as cities started to open, startups without a strong organic strategy couldn’t keep the traffic flow coming and lost their leverage.

Because we know organic growth is crucial for your startup’s success, here are three SEO tips to help your startup weather an economic storm or even take advantage of growth opportunities during a recession:

  • Find new search trends and capitalize on them. As a recession hits, customers will behave differently depending on their financial situation. This means you’ll need to rethink your total addressable market (TAM) and understand how you can serve them during these times. Depending on how the market behaves, you can find new solutions to offer (within your service area) that align with their new needs.

    For example, a great area to consider is pricing. If your TAM is currently concerned about the pricing, your messaging and value proposition should change to reflect that you’re still the best solution. In SEO, that translates to a change in content strategy to go after those budget-related queries and changing the messaging in important pillar and category pages.
  • Optimize your top-of-funnel content to create a reliable, nurturing campaign. Instead of trying to convert visitors right away, create an email list you can use to get to know your potential customers and nurture them into paying customers.

    During a recession, it’s harder to convert, and you don’t want to lose new visitors forever by trying aggressive conversion tactics. In addition, an email list will provide even more value after the recession is over.

    Top-of-funnel content also helps your business stay visible during the downturn and will put you in an even better position post-recession.
  • Create competitor targeting content. During a recession, customers are more willing to consider new options, making it a great opportunity to attract unsatisfied customers from your competition.

    A great way to start a campaign like this would be to research what your competitors’ customers are complaining about online and create pages highlighting how your solution accommodates better to their needs.

    For example, ScraperAPI built a ScraperAPI vs. ScrapingBee page designed to show how much users would save by switching to a ScraperAPI account, highlighting not only price but the number of extra features they would enjoy for the same price point.

2022 has been a rocky year so far for startups. Declining valuations and more cautious VC firms have led to staff layoffs, with a potential recession on the horizon. Startups that can acquire new customers efficiently through organic marketing channels such as SEO are the ones that are most likely to have a path to profitability and an ability to navigate a down market. How has your company fared so far in 2022? Do you plan to invest more or less in SEO?