The Blue Array Broadcast Episode Three – Matt Johnson, Senior Growth Marketing Manager at GoCardless
Posted by David Gale on June 23, 2021
Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of the Blue Array broadcast.
This week I had the opportunity to speak with Matt Johnson, senior growth marketing manager at GoCardless. During our conversation, we discussed GoCardless, his award winning content strategy, which has helped them to achieve incredible organic growth over the past 18 months. Matt goes into detail around the original goals with the strategy, how they determine success, and what their future plans are.
Away from SEO. Matt talks about his passion for growth marketing, what are his go to industry news sources to keep up to date, and where he sees the future direction of digital acquisition strategies?
A fascinating half an hour. I hope you enjoy it!
Check out Matt’s latest blog post on how GoCardless grew traffic 5x through content!
Full transcript of conversation:
David: Hello, Matt, welcome to the podcast. I really pleased to have you on this week.
Matt: David, thanks for having me. Excited to be here.
David: For the listeners that may not be fully aware. Could you tell us a little bit about GoCardless? And how you serve your target audience?
Matt: Yeah, sure. So GoCardless is a FinTech payments platform that makes it super easy for businesses to collect bank to bank payments. And our most common use cases are invoice payments, subscription, membership and instalment payments, we processed more than $20 billion in transactions per year. And we have around 60,000 business customers, from mom and pop businesses, to startups to household names like The Guardian and DocuSign. And we basically enable businesses to access direct debit rails really easily, and avail product features on top of those rails to improve that service for our customers. And now we’re starting to leverage open banking to improve our product and expand on a number of use cases and serve our customers better than other payment platforms.
When we talk to our customers, we usually find that the things they love about GoCardless, they have better visibility of their payments and payments coming in their cash flow visibility, they save a huge amount of money compared to other payment methods. And then voluntary is very low amongst a whole range of other kind of benefits that they see. But just in general, they save a huge amount of time and stress is a product related to payment collection.
I also wanted to say congratulations for the win! I understand you’re now award-winning, getting best multilingual content campaign of the year, the European content award, so congratulations for that!
David: Thank you very much! And I guess I should say congratulations to you, to Blue Array for contributing to that award. And in order and as well, it was fantastic to win the award and a great validation from from peers in the industry, we’ve had some amazing success working with the with you guys, and with the campaign. The internal metrics are amazing as well. So the award was like a cherry on top of an already very satisfying cake.
Matt: I know that Enrico and the wider team here, were very proud of that recognition. And yeah, it is great kind of validation for their efforts. I was wondering if you’d be happy to spend some time talking about the campaign. And going back a little while to when we started the process and understand what the original goals were for it.
Matt: I’ve been at GoCardless for almost two years now. And I joined as the first dedicated SEO hire, there are a number of people working on SEO, amongst other things, but not really a kind of formalised structured strategy around how we were going to change the trajectory of our traffic because at the time, we’d seen a couple years of stagnation in organic traffic. And there was a lot of belief in the business about how SEO could be established as a core lever for traffic and signups. So initially, we wanted to just prove that we could change the trajectory of that traffic. So we set some super stretch targets in terms of traffic, which were which felt very uncomfortable.
They were very, like, very stretchy. And they were meant to be a force, in fact, in terms of pushing us to the limits of what was achievable. So initially, the goals for the campaign were I think we set out to 5x traffic. In a year we did about mass, kind of realise I was a little bit too punchy and added on three months. So we decided we’re going to find x traffic in 15 months. And unbelievably we have, we did manage to do that in March 2021 from when we started the campaign.
David: But the end goal, that was the initial goal, but the end goal was always to establish SEO is a core driver of signups and really switched from a kind of paid acquisition model to an organic, more sustainable model. It’s proving that it is the channel that we can make scalable, predictable, repeatable, so yeah, those were the initial goals. Reflecting on the campaign, what would you say whether the real strategic enablers that have helped you realise your goals?
Matt: I think going back to basics and thinking about what has enabled the strategy in the channel as a core kind of lever of our growth strategy, we are thinking about how we should market our product, whereas the audience and what do they care about. And the core benefits that our customers experience using our product, which I mentioned at the start of the podcast, things like reducing churn visibility of payments, payment success rates, they’re not exactly things that people talk about down the pub. But they’re friends that a lot of people experience these problems, but they’re not actively thinking about how they’re going to fix them. Or sometimes they’re not even aware that they’re experiencing the problem. So they’re a very limited number of really effective channels that we can lead with a message and fix your problem that you’re not thinking about too often.
So we identified SEO as a kind of unique opportunity to reach our audience cost effectively. And it’s a unique channel, because our audience is very active on Google are they particularly so I’m focused more on the small business side of the business. So we split our business between our small business customers and our mid market enterprise.
And the small business side of our merchant base is very active on on Google, they have a wide breadth of problems, and therefore have a wide breadth of search queries that they’re entering into Google every day, which means we have a wide breadth of content opportunities that we can use as touch points with our audience. So we’re not necessarily focused too much on direct debit related keywords, although we are but the volume is really, in those top of funnel content topics, where we can reach the audience a much larger scale, create a touch point, and expand our reach.
So the strategic enabler was the first one was making sure that we were reaching our audience in the channel that they’re most active. And then from there, we wanted to what we needed to set up operationally to create this breadth of content, I don’t think it would have been anywhere near as expected as a success, if we went for depth over breadth, and then a few other kind of maybe lesser strategic enablers, but super important enablers for ensuring success with the project, we were very aware early on that we needed to create feedback loops on what we’re doing. So when we were spreading ourselves across this breadth of content opportunity, we knew not everything was going to work exceptionally well. And we knew a lot of things wouldn’t work. And but it was vitally important to understand where those things were, where things are going where things go wrong, as early as possible, and adapting our strategy, doubling down stopping a particular topic or a particular format, and using that feedback loop to improve and iterate on on the campaign. And then amongst other things, I think it’s really important to have freedom to do that test, and then to have the buy in from the business that, yeah, not everything, not every pound we spend in the early days is going to result in a predictable return.
David: In order to get to the place where we can start to be way more predictable way more kind of repeatable. We need to take some risks, we need to test a bunch of stuff and learn from talking to the SEO team, I understand that there was a moment where you notice some early successes during the first or second quarter, which kind of gave you the impetus to dial in and scale up the process. Would you be able to talk us through how you went about doing that?
Matt: Yes, sure, in the great mighty GoCardless, we have a way of looking at projects and investments. And we have two tracks discovery in performance. And the way we think about it is if you want to try something new, if you want to kick off a new project, we won’t just pop it out and money into it. Because it’s what other teams other businesses have done that works really well. Every every channel, every kind of tactic is going to be effective on different levels for different businesses. So we need to really prove that it’s going to deliver the value we expect. And until we can prove that we won’t be we won’t have the money. And as I say, when we do find that we’re more than willing to double down invest. And when we started the project, we always said we’ll double down on the green shoots and stop the poor performance as soon as we possibly as soon as we possibly can. And that’s definitely different for a lot of businesses based on your appetite for risk. But we within three months of kicking off the project, we saw 42% growth in traffic within six months, we saw 74% improvement from the start of the project. And even within nine months, we saw 110% improvement but when we see the trajectory after three to four months being 40-60%, we know that it’s time to it’s a safe bet to double down at that point. And obviously as I say like a lot of things are gonna go really right and a lot of things gonna go quite poorly.
So even if you just stopped doing all of the poor performing content, production and power that money into the green shoots, you’re going to see that that feedback loop that I mentioned work quite effectively. And also, we started the project with quite a clear idea of what how big we think the opportunity was, we were new to this top of funnel content topic content strategy. So we wanted to quantify how big it can be, and how quickly we can get there. And we knew we were the early days of that journey, and we wanted to move as fast as possible. So we built up a lot of belief in the numbers that we were looking at a lot of belief in internally in the business behind the process. And we continue to track unit economics all the way down the funnel. And we observed in the first six months, no impact on our unit economics. So the risk was was relatively low. Obviously, those things are always fluid, we’re always monitoring and we’ll adapt our investment strategy based on that. But at the time, it felt like a no brainer, no way, even though it was a big bet.
David: Did you have any insights, you’d be happy to share around how a particular type of content may have fared better than another?
Matt: So it’s interesting, because we’ve covered so much ground, we really did go broad with our content topics. There are obviously individual articles within topics that worked disproportionately better than others. But I think the main learning wasn’t really around like a type of content, it was around the approach and content clustering is something that’s talked about a lot in the SEO circles. And I think, when we focused on clustering our content topics and building out longtail articles around a particular content topic, we saw much better performance internal linking, once we stopped, stepped up our internal linking game, we started to see a transformational shift in the time it took for an article to rank the ranking position that’s a particular content cluster, compared to maybe an article that was a standalone topic, and didn’t have much relevance to the other content we’re publishing that month. But no, I think identifying those low competition areas highly relevant to our audience and building out the clusters from there, but something that fared much better than if we tried to dabble, for example, we as I said, we’ve become a really broad set of topics from accounting advice, financial ratios, to be aware of advice on marketing techniques for small businesses, advice on employee retention, and amongst a whole range of other topics. And some of these didn’t resonate, some of them really did. And when you look at the the number of articles you’re publishing on each of those kind of topics, we’d cluster it out, we succeeded, where we didn’t cluster out where we didn’t see the opportunity to cluster out, we saw poor performance, but that’s something that we now make sure we’re looking for.
David: We’re looking for those clusters when we start to target particular topic, reflecting on on that first iteration of the campaign, what would you say were your biggest learnings?
Matt: I think, initially, data is better than instinct, when you’re doing something new, your instincts are going to be probably slightly off or wildly off if you haven’t done something before. So relying on data is super important. And trying to quantify the size of the opportunity enables you to predict how you’ll fare. So we relied on many reports in the first few months and probably look to those reports, not too often than the necessary. But it really does open your eyes to things you wouldn’t expect to go out and things that you do expect to go out not going well. So I think that was a super interesting kind of learning that don’t always rely on your instinct when you’re producing content. As I mentioned earlier, freedom to fail is important because link to that previous point, if you only did the things you thought were going to go Well, you’d miss out on some of those things, the hidden gems. So I think you’ve got to almost allow for the fact that not everything is going to go also, not everyone can contain this approach. But we went very broad. And that really enabled us to look for volume number one, but also a repeatable strategy. If we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have been able to double down on those areas that went well, really early and stopped the things that didn’t, we would have been stuck with a really narrow focus. And again, we wouldn’t have been able to cluster out of the content. And I think another learning we had from the initial stages of the campaign, we we were very decisive and thought through our decisions quite meticulously so that when things didn’t always go right, we were able to stay the course and ride wave. So if a chart fluctuates, you’ve got this belief in your approach you you know what the size of the prize is and what you need to believe to to make the most of that opportunity if you do if you’re not decisive if he can react overreact to certain results, and you’re not going to have the effect that you’re really going for.
David: It sounds like you’ve achieved a great amount of success in a relatively short amount of time. And I’d be fascinated to know, for GoCardless. And yourself, what are the next steps on this content journey?
Matt: Yeah, it’s been really has been a wild kind of 12 to 16 months working on the campaign. But I think we’re still very early on this journey. And we’re going to be looking to take more learnings and insights from the things that have worked well, we’re still Yeah, as I say, in the early days and see a lot more opportunity ahead of us, we tried to quantify opportunity as much as possible. And we’re nowhere near kind of saturating the search market and the topics that we were targeting. But outside of that, we’re looking to launch and launch the campaign in the in new geographies, as you mentioned, it’s not a quarter multilingual campaign. And we’re a global brand. So there’s a lot more opportunity to target and serve businesses worldwide, create new content formats, and serve our audiences better through those content formats are very excited about funnel optimization. And now that we’re driving these significant volumes of new users to our website each month, we’re now in a place where we can really start to focus on how we leverage this sizable audience to improve the key business metrics. As I said, we wanted to establish SEO as a core driver of signups for the business. And that’s something that has really improved with this campaign, or is improving. And it’s still again, got a huge amount of opportunity there. We haven’t done a huge amount of CRM, and we haven’t done a huge amount of building the content funnels, and the onward journeys on our site testing landing pages, and seeing how our new kind of top of funnel audience reacts to that. So there’s a lot of learning opportunity, and the SEO team is growing. We have a new joiner coming joining us next week. And we’ve got big plans for the future.
David: I know that a lot of market is listened to the podcast, and it’d be it’d be wonderful if you could share some advice for your peers listening who might be at the infancy of their own SEO or content strategy?
Matt: So I think if you’re in your infancy or just starting out, you really want to establish that you have that it’s the right product channel fit. And Brian Balfour has a blog article on this concept of product channel fit really closely follows his advice. But I like the idea that some products are built to fit channels and not the other way around. I think for a while I have been taught to think about marketing as a set of defined functions within a business that have to do their bit to market the product or brand for the overall marketing strategy to succeed. Most really, most businesses, there’s only like, maybe one or two or three channels that can really move the needle. And we as marketers should be trying to identify where our prospective customers are and communicating to them via those channels. It may be that your audience is actually super active on social media or YouTube. And your main marketing channel or acquisition strategy should be to create a Twitter account or a channel on YouTube, or potentially blu ray is trying to do fruit free podcast where I guess a lot of your prospects are actively listening to podcasts, I guess you’ve probably done some research on that, in this vein, but if you’re if your audience is on active is if a large kind of portion of your audience is active on Google, then it would make sense that SEO and content marketing is a great channel, market fit or product shelf. And then from there, you want to understand the most common search use cases.
So an example of that would be can be figured Carla’s a really common search use case is templates or invoice templates. So we can build some some content around invoicing templates, because we know each month, there’s going to be a wave of users who require that or participate in that use case. And then from there, once you have those kind of set out and quantified, you need to understand the competitive landscape and the likelihood that you can succeed in that contact companies in their infancy, that this kind of thing can really identify the low competition areas and build from there, I tried and tested this in some of the most competitive industries with sites with low authority. And it really worked. So don’t worry about search volume, just find really low competition areas, build out your content and clusters, and then expand from there into the more medium size topics. And then from there into the largest size, and you build up that authority over time. I think a lot of people I talked to who aren’t from an SEO background but want to rank website.
Try and boil the ocean too early and try and compete on topics that they have no right to compete in yet, but they can get their start small and start in the low competition areas. And then again, I probably reinforced that point I believe in the process, make decisions and stick with
Then there will be fluctuations. But as long as your logic is solid, then yeah, stay the course and continue to produce great content. And then one final point I would add is to work with great people. So we’re very lucky to have great people internally and externally a blue array working on this project. And you can’t underestimate the importance of having great support and belief around the business. And in your partner agencies that you this strategy makes sense that you’re going to invest in this area for the long term. Yeah, building that initial understanding. And then solid logic is parallel. There’s some really great advice there. And it’s great to hear the fact that you reference partner agencies, and it’s very much a collaboration. And when that’s the setup, great results are achieved. So there’s some really good stuff.
David: I wanted to go a little broader that we’ve got your time and talk around growth and acquisition a little more holistically as a senior growth manager. What is your personal process for evaluating the acquisition channels at your disposal that will deliver the most ROI?
Matt: So I think the kind of three areas that I look for, I think I’ve referenced in this podcast, are scale predictability, and repeatability. And across those three areas, taking a quantitative approach, when you’re trying to evaluate what the right next move is, what the right next channel acquisition tactic should be for your business. looking at data in across those three areas, it’s super important. If something’s not taking the box across scale, scalability, predictability, repeatability, then look for something that is if you can’t, then try and find the best option across those three areas. So if, in the case of scale, I put scale at the top of the kind of criteria. And if you rank against each of those, I would wait heavily towards the scale scalability of those strands.
If everything you do goes very well, and the scale is not there, then is it really a kind of transformation opportunity. And transformational is a word that we use, we use a lot of GoCardless, especially when we’re evaluating new kind of growth opportunities. Most growth teams are fairly lean needs to be focused on priority areas. So if something’s not going to be scalable, then is it the right thing to focus on? And once you validate all of the kind of channels or tactics or strategies, that across those three areas, if you compare the unit economics, and you also want to validate those channels, that the unit economics within those channels makes sense. And there are a lot of options that that seem a good idea. And you see really good examples of businesses adopting these channels. But does it make sense economically for your business? The answer is going to be different for every business. So figuring out your key economic, your key economic factors, and modelling out is super important. But once you have that we have this process as well like a callus where we list out all of the things you need to believe for things to succeed. And really qualitatively, this is the kind of qualitative stage of evaluating an acquisition channel and the ROI.
Because there are a number of things that we won’t account for in a spreadsheet: One of the things was that one of the things we needed to believe with the SEO content campaign was again, number one, our audience is using Google to search for financial topics.
Number two, we are able to rank for those topics in the top ranks of Google. Number three, the cost per article does not is not larger than the LTV based on like conversion rate, activation rates, things like that. And then you can go out and start testing the riskiest assumptions within that. So we score those risky assumptions on the likelihood that you’re right. I think there’s a really good blog article on risky assumption testing on media. And as we can link to that in the show notes as well. Once you get an idea, those risky assumptions, you can start then testing them on a smaller scale. And then over time, you’ll change the score of each of those assumptions, and make the overall project much more predictable. So that’s a kind of long winded to how we evaluate acquisition channels, but there are so many different ways that we look at it. There’s not a kind of set model, I don’t think there should be because everything can be viewed in a different view from a different perspective within your industry and your your area of expertise. What excites you the most about growth, marketing as a medium, I think so. I see growth marketing as being essentially data led marketing and marketing that focus on driving key performance metrics at once, and every business slash marketing team has a different story of how they grow. And I think growth marketing is data led marketing, and no business has the same set of data and set of historical performance.
So, growth, marketers need to use data in different ways for each business. And it’s quite exciting when you talk to great marketers from different businesses who have completely different experiences and different stories, and different ways of working. So the thing that excites me about growth marketing the most is the different approaches and different kinds of implementations that you can eat that you hear about across different businesses and industries. And also, channels are constantly changing new ones constantly emerging. technology continues to improve effectiveness of product marketing. So it’s a it’s an area that doesn’t stand still.
David: From this conversation, it’s very clear that you’re very passionate about marketing. And in fact, you’ve referenced a lot of resources as well. I was wondering if you could share any of your kind of go-to’s for keeping abreast and on top of any emerging trends in digital marketing?
Matt: Yeah, there’s so much content out there, so many kind of blogs, and a few podcasts, probably not least this one, they keep me on the policy, but it’s actually quite mind blowing how much content is being published simply to help other peers in the industry. So big thank you to you and the other creators who helped push the overall the industry and the practice forward, I think when I first started, the only real reliable source was Mazdas whiteboard Fridays. So it’s great to have the option to take in a lot more different perspectives and different experiences. But with that, you also have to really prioritise where you get your information, because there is so much. And I think it’s important to develop your own understanding and beliefs on especially within SEO, because there’s quite a lot of different viewpoints and sometimes over reactions or under reactions to what Google puts out. But my go twos, Aleyda Solice’s, YouTube channel, and emails, newsletters, she’s got to be the busiest person in SEO, I think, I think he could probably just sign up for her newsletter and nothing else will keep progressive.
One of the main events in SEO, I also read a few growth blogs, particularly big fan of Casey Winter’s blog, and Kevin index newsletter, which is brilliant. They’re both proven SEOs who are working their cross section of growth from product. So I think it’s important to get viewpoints from those two areas as well. Where do you see things moving in terms of digital acquisition for the rest of this year, and indeed, beyond. So I definitely think SEO will continue to be a core digital acquisition channel for most businesses. And then, as I mentioned, if you’re focused on where your audience is most active, you’re hard, it’s hard to find a business that couldn’t benefit from SEO. And with searches on the rise. That means there’s going to be more appetite for content more than mouth content and more opportunities for brands to leverage that demand plus paid advertising is becoming more competitive and less, less viable for a number of businesses where the costs just outstrip the profit. The other kind of exciting area merging is the product lead growth area where the focus is more on the end user. And optimising the experience. And using the product growth. And this is becoming a key focus for some of the flat water is a key focus with some of the fastest growing companies and is quickly becoming a key focus for a lot of other businesses.
David: I think the third area is brand, which is the classic, I think building a brand really compounds the results of everything you do in marketing, and it will improve conversion rates and improve your ability to rank, obviously improve your ability to get pressed, which will never not be effective, but some really fascinating insights there. And it is great to get an understanding of the campaign executed with between ourselves and GoCardless. I just really want to thank you for your time this afternoon. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you. And I just like to say good luck with your continued success and the federal organic growth of GoCardless.
Matt: Thanks so much, David thanks to you with the podcast. And I’m blown away with the growth of the agency. I’m a huge advocate of what you’re doing not just with this podcast, but as an agency and looking forward to to continue working with you guys.
David: Thanks very much. I hope you enjoyed that. Thank you very much for listening and I look forward to seeing you again on the next edition of the Blue Array broadcast.