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How Stripe Grew $36B in 10 Years Using The Power of Content & Design Excellence

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“Excellence always sells.” 

When Earl Nightingale said this, he must have foreseen the modern-day unicorn startup called Stripe because—their stellar product solutions aside—they are the perfect example of what investing in content and community excellence can do for your brand.

  • 2.2M monthly visits
  • A whopping 47M backlinks
  • And a recent $36B valuation.

Over the last decade, Stripe has consistently launched products that are not only loved but also thrive.

It’s no wonder that Stripe is considered the “startup everyone loves.”

But what is behind Stripe’s incredible success story?

What makes it possible for them to gain a distinctive edge over the competition?

What exactly are they doing differently?

We’ll show you over the next few minutes!

In this breakdown, you’ll learn:

  • The role of understanding your audience
  • How Stripe uses moats to create long-lasting results
  • New strategies to make guest posting and influencer marketing work
  • And so much more

Let’s get right to it!

Understanding the Audience: Stripe’s Super-Effective Content Marketing Foundation

When most marketers think about content marketing, they think about three things: blog posts, landing pages, and lead magnets.

Not Stripe.

The team at Stripe understands that content strategy must go much farther than tactics to yield results, and that starts with a deep understanding of the target audience.

For Stripe, that’s recognizing that their audience—developers—tends to hang out in online communities and are likely to choose a solution recommended by a peer over one seen in an ad.

Instead of focusing on bringing in new customers, they work to keep the old ones happy since business snowballs through word of mouth in developer communities.

Take these responses to a “What payment processor do you use?” question on IndieHacker.

Several devs said they use Stripe!

“I’ve been in the payment and fintech space for 5+ years and Stripe is hands down the best at product marketing. They know their target customer so well and build their strategy around that core dev audience.” 

It’s no surprise Anand Patel—a dev—said this about them on Twitter.

That’s deep!

While most content marketing strategies look like this:

Stripe’s looks like this:

The key takeaway here is that they thoroughly understand their audience and the why behind their solutions.

Which is something not many startups can boast.

Marketing To All vs. Marketing To One Audience: Stripe’s Hidden Edge

Naturally, the more leads you can attract, the better. Right?

Not really.

It’s the era of the niche. If you are marketing to everyone, you are marketing to no one.

Stripe makes it no secret that their preferred audience is developers.

The website is plastered with developer lingo, from the homepage to every doc, post, and landing page. 

And it works perfectly well because

  • The developers can relate to the messaging.
  • Stripe doesn’t waste resources on low-quality leads.
  • It attracts only ready-to-convert qualified leads.
  • It establishes the Stripe brand as a “household” name.
  • It inspires brand loyalty and advocacy.
  • It drives focus.
  • It makes it easier to understand what the audience wants.
  • It makes it easier to improve their solutions, thereby gaining even more edge over the competition.

How to Find and Understand Your One Audience

So we’ve established the benefits of making your audience the foundation of your content marketing efforts like Stripe does. But how exactly do you find your audience? And how can you tell what they want?

Step 1: Understand Your Product and What It Does

Understanding your product is the key to finding and understanding your audience.

It’s the difference between merely listing your product’s features when asked and explaining your product’s benefits.

Ask questions like:

  • What is my product/brand?
  • What is the main problem my product/brand solves?
  • How does it solve this problem?
  • What steps does it take to reach the solution?
  • What tools/resources are needed to implement my product/brand?
  • What prior education/experience is needed to implement my product/brand?
  • Who is my product/brand best suited for?
  • Who is my product/brand not suited for? (list them all)

These are just some of the questions you need to be able to answer to get clear on your product and who it’s truly meant for.

That brings us to the next step.

Step 2: Identify Who Truly Needs/Can Afford/Can Implement Your Product

Apart from identifying who needs your product –which is pretty easy to do– you need to figure out who can actually afford to pay for it. And, also very important, you need to identify who calls the shots on the purchase.

Sometimes, the implementer and the purchaser will come from different groups or demographics, and that’s nothing to panic about.

Getting clear on this helps you identify the right messaging to sell to each persona. 

Step 3: Find Their Hangout and Identify Why They Think They Need Your Product

Why you think your potential customer needs your product and why they think they need it may be polar opposites. That’s a problem.

Now, this can be tricky because if you’ve conducted a survey or two, you may think you have the right answers.

But the potential problem with surveys is that you could be getting calculated/smart responses instead of genuine thoughts.

Or worse, you could be asking all the wrong questions, or presenting them in the wrong way, at the wrong time. There are just too many factors that come into play:

  • People may unconsciously swap answers that present them in an unfavorable manner for ones that make them seem favorable.
  • By the time they get your survey form, people may have trouble recalling the incident last week that showed them why they need your product.

There are a lot of potential problems with surveys, which is why we favor Stripe’s community spying move instead.

A simple Google search should turn up some good places to get you started.

Next, you can perform site searches for some of the most promising forums/communities to see what people say about your primary keyword.

You should keep your eyes out for comments that mention pricing, implementation time, customer support, and other major points.

Get more ideas on finding your target audience here, and grab our journey map as a free bonus while you’re at it.

Building a Moat for Sustainable and Long-Lasting Growth 

At Foundation, we rave about the benefits of building an SEO moat.

Stripe has built a moat in the payment processing industry through content and commitment to excellence, though few people recognize this.

Stripe creates great content which attracts and converts their target audience into customers.

As customers use the product, Stripe gains access to data that helps guide product improvement, and so the flywheel continues to spin.

But that’s not all that’s happening here. Let’s take a closer look.

  1. Stripe uses the power of excellent content to drive brand recognition and loyalty, establishing a powerful brand moat.
  2. Each time Stripe gains a new customer, the entire customer base benefits from the new data. That means better fraud detection for the customer and a network economy moat for Stripe.
  3. Stripe’s market is developers, so in the process of selling their payment solution to them, they also sell working at a dream company (hint: Stripe). That way, Stripe gets its pick of the best talent in tech and builds itself a cornered resource.
  4. Let’s say a new company signs up for Stripe’s payment gateway this month. Next month, Stripe gets them on board to try Stripe Capital, another product, and another product.

Next thing you know, the entire financials run on Stripe. Then how easy would it be to change brands? That’s the power of Stripe’s high switching costs moat.

They brilliantly built a moat around economies of scale and process power, and the core product itself emerged as a counter-positioning moat.

But they couldn’t have done it so quickly without help.

Guest Posting and Influencer Marketing (the Big Break) 

Moats are great for solidifying success, but when there’s a need for speed, nothing beats leveraging another brand’s audience.

In 2010, Garry Tan, already respected in the tech industry, helped Stripe tap into the YC network by writing about how Stripe was working on a modern payment processing solution.

That ignited some much-needed initial traction with developers.

Lesson: Embrace guest posts and influencer marketing.

Why?

We get it.

You’re already working hard to launch your product, grow your blog, grow your social media, and attend to a gazillion other essential tasks. Why work hard to create some of your best content and then give it away for free? Sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. 

Guest blogging offers so many benefits, especially for new businesses. 

By publishing on an established blog, you:

  1. Position Yourself to Get Instant, High-Quality Traffic

While this shouldn’t be very high on your list of goals, guest posting on the right blog can send a huge traffic spike your way.

We’ve seen it happen so often, like with Bamidele Onibalusi of Writers in Charge and Brian Harris of Videofruit when he wrote for OKdork.

Harris’s site went from 285 daily visitors to 1,086 on the day his OKdork post went live and hit 686 the next day.

  1. Increase Exposure, Brand Awareness, and Credibility.

Another great thing about guest posting is that you get to build your brand and increase your exposure simultaneously.

Let’s say you wrote for a blog with 300,000 monthly visits, and on the day your post went live, it got 5,000 visits. Imagine that 1% of site visitors shared your posts to their followers on the same day, all tagging you. That’s 50 accounts tweeting your brand on the same day. 

Let’s say you have four guest posts go live the same month with the same effect. Soon, people start seeing your brand name on their timelines and subconsciously build recognition and association.

The result? More social media followers, brand trust, authority, and credibility.

  1. Get More Subscribers

Traffic that comes from a guest post can be considered warm traffic, easy to convert. Even better, let’s say you added a CTA to a free download in your guest post; that’s even more effective.

Brian’s OKdork guest post yielded 215 subscribers in two days at an overall conversion rate of 12%.

There are so many other benefits. You can get feedback to improve your product offering before you even launch without waiting months to build your own audience.

And, you can shorten the sales cycle for your product if you already launched because of the trust and brand recognition you already built.

But does guest posting still work?

Yes! And no.

When done right, guest posting still has the power to help you crush marketing goals. A lot has changed about guest posting, but the principles of why and how to guest post remain the same.

Why doesn’t it “work” anymore?

Guest posting doesn’t work anymore because most marketers have forgotten the how and why. Instead, they’ve focused on guest posting as a mere tactic to land as many backlinks as possible. 

Another reminder that content strategies should go deeper than mere tactics.

How to do it right

  1. Find the right platform for your goals

We could give you tips and tricks to find the sites accepting guest posts in your niche, but the truth is, the best exposure will come from sites that don’t publicly accept guest posts.

And if you are active in your niche, those sites will be the sites you see every day and already respect.

Another strategy would be to google the names of experts in your field using something like “guest post by Name of Expert” or a variation of that.

  1. Find the right “in”

The problem with targeting sites of this calibre is that you won’t be the only one. And the person in charge would most likely have an enormous wall built up for anyone who so much as mentions “guest…”.

That’s where pre-selling yourself comes in handy.

  • Be worthy—Clean up your website and internet presence to show off your expertise and commitment to your niche.
  • Be human—Start with value; you’ll be surprised how many people don’t. Don’t ask before you’ve given, and given, and given some more.
  1. Find the right topic

Once you’ve gotten “in,” it’s crucial to pitch the right topic.

The right topic should

  • Be in the direct field you want your brand to be known for.
  • Not have been written about from your angle.
  • Preferably have high search or audience engagement potential.

One of the best ways to quickly find good topics the editor will love is to use a keyword research tool to analyze content gaps between the site and its competitors.

  1. Leverage Influencer Marketing

Your job isn’t done when your guest post is published.

Reach out to influencers and use other distribution methods to get it out there.

It’s a win-win for everyone, especially you.

  • You get an “in” with which to approach other prominent experts.
  • You reach more people with your post, and your brand gets noticed more.
  • You gain the respect of your host and maybe even become friends.

And this is where the magic begins to happen. After all, in the end, true power rests not in the algorithms but in the hands of the people behind the keyboards.

Community Building for Rapid Growth

We already talked about the power of influencers and how Garry Tan helped Stripe takeoff initially. But there’s another set of people in which Stripe invests.

The community. 

What did they do to promote community?

Push Them to Have Fun and Grow

… then reward them for it!

In February 2012, just two short years after Stripe launched, they launched a competition called “Capture The Flag” to strengthen and grow their community. 

It was a development wargame that helped the community practice identifying and exploiting common security problems. If you captured the flag, you got a t-shirt. Brilliant!

Did it work?

You bet.

Six months later, in August, more than 16,000 developers worldwide participated in Capture the Flag 2.0.

Six hours into launch, Stripe had already signed up 4,500 developers eager to discover and try to exploit vulnerabilities in mock web apps. And after the competition, Stripe released the source code so people could analyze or run it themselves.

The game was a way to get developers into something fun but also educational. They could learn how to make their web apps more secure just by participating and having fun.

This is a perfect example of brand advocacy and community excellence. 

Marketing Tip: Have fun with your customers.

Investing in Community To Build Trust 

Stripe remains true to its commitment to the developer community today.  You can see this in their acquisition of the IndieHackers community, a knowledge-sharing platform (aka forum) for entrepreneurs.

It was a brilliant move to grow their brand.

The IndieHackers community

  • Has over 159,000 backlinks.
  • Has a very niche audience.
  • Has 15k+ visitors a month.
  • Ranks for 61k keywords.

And the products section includes a subtle yet genius way to build awareness for Stripe as a payment processing solution.

Stripe takes its role in inspiring their community so seriously that they even launched “Stripe Press,” a publishing house for great ideas and books that inspire makers.

Doing Content Right: the Right Kind, the Right Style

If you want long-lasting results, it’s not just about creating content. It’s about creating the right kind of content for your brand.

Here’s how Stripe does it.

Focusing on Technical Documentation vs. Blog Posts

For most marketers, it’s the default to just focus on publishing blog posts. Stripe doesn’t do the expected; they invest in serving their audience.

As a result, Stripe focuses on creating the technical docs that developers need to implement their solutions easily.

And they don’t just create plain old boring docs. They make documentation designed to please and rank.

Just take a look at the beautiful and easy to navigate UX.

It’s very unlike most tech documentation, and this difference is a key driver of its close to 300k monthly visits.

UX For Better Content Results

In case you didn’t know it, the term user experience (UX) refers to the feelings or thoughts someone has as they interact with your website.

And since even search engines rely on visitor behaviors like time on page, return visits, bounce rate, and such, it’s needless to say that better UX is no longer an option but a must today.

But UX is not just about having a pretty web design. UX should guide, direct, and make it easier to take action.

UX includes the words on the page, the buttons users need to click, the site structure, and the website’s overall look and feel.

Here’s a guide to help you understand and implement better UX on your site.

Site URL Structure and Impact on SEO

Most marketers wouldn’t give too much thought to the structure of their website’s URL, but the fact remains that it matters a lot as far as SEO and even UX are concerned, especially if you are building a large site.

Let’s see an example:

Say your brand sells shoes, and we use a URL structure with categories in the path. We could have a shoe A in the category “work-shoes” and also in “flat-shoes.” 

So the possible paths for shoe A end up looking like this:

  • domain.com/work-shoes/shoeA
  • domain.com/flat-shoes/shoeA

And then we have duplicate content!

Stripe nails this by using subfolders instead.

But Stripe goes beyond simply avoiding duplicate content. The URL structure is so good that you can tell just by looking at it exactly what the page is about.

For example:

stripe.com /docs /payments /accept-a-payment

You can look at this URL and understand that it will link to documentation (docs) explaining how to accept a payment using their payments API.

Here’s what the hierarchy looks like:

Building Authority with In-depth Guides

Stripe also serves its community by providing in-depth guides on topics related to payments, technology companies, and entrepreneurship. 

Some of them are meaty 3,500+ word guides and cover everything you’d be looking for on the topic.

Regarding content creation, Stripe CEO Patrick said, “Our main principle is just to try to produce things that we ourselves would genuinely be excited to read.”

Given how excellent the best internet materials are, that’s a high bar. Internally, we spend most of the time kinda annoyed with ourselves. ‘It’s *fine* but not *great*.’”

Those are the kind of assets you should aim to create for your brand.

1. Make It Actionable

It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling your readers what to do without showing them how to do it.

By incorporating action steps, just like Stripe does, you get people to act on your content and get results based on your teachings. The results will, in turn, cement your authority in the minds of your audience.

2. Incorporate Visuals

An image is worth a thousand words, after all. 

Stripe’s lengthy guides are broken up with images in the right places. 

They engage readers, help with SEO, and overall make for a better user experience, which increases the chances that people actually read to the end.

3. Write For Skimmers

Think short paragraphs, headings, and lots of white space. Your guide should be scannable.

4. Make It Thorough

Anyone can write a 500 or 1000 word blog post and briefly touch on a topic, but few people are willing to go the extra mile. Covering all the things that no one else has said is what makes you an authority.

This is the place to bring out your originality. Pepper your guide with data and statistics, examples, and proof.

Answer even the most mundane questions. You can easily find questions using answerthepublic.com. Your post should answer questions your audience didn’t realize they had before they stumbled upon it.

It also helps if you are intentional about what to post and when.

For example, when COVID-19 hit, Stripe developed guides that would help businesses in multiple countries.

The Impact of Design Excellence

Another area in which Stripe truly excels is design.

Their design is so good that Nick Marsh said, “I visit the Stripe website regularly just to look at it … so very much can attest to this!”

Stripe consistently puts out content supported by quality design across documentation, landing pages, and even tweets.

Stripe embraces design excellence.

Just take a look at this landing page targeting SaaS companies. 

They showcase Notion with a beautiful animation as social proof on a landing page. This builds trust.

Opportunity for Improvement: 

Stripe has excelled in creating great content and delivering a pleasant user experience, but there’s still room for improvement, especially for on-page SEO.

Some of their guides currently get very little organic traffic despite being some of the best assets on the topic.

Take this post, for example.

There are multiple H1 tags, while H1s should be reserved for the title alone.

With a few on-site changes and backlinks, they’d likely see a substantial increase in organic traffic.

Wrapping Up!

If you feel like content marketing is overhyped because your tactics are failing, Stripe’s results are a hopeful reminder that content marketing still works.

The best news? It’s not that complicated.

With a little effort, anyone can create a brand with an excellent reputation.

All you need to do is:

  • Understand your product
  • Find the right audience
  • Get to know and understand them
  • Build trust by serving them
  • Solidify your moat

Then go make bank!

Over to you—do you know a quick way to showcase brand excellence and win some prospects today? Let us know in the comments!

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