Here at 97th Floor, elevating brands we believe in is part of our culture. In light of this, I thought it would be fun to analyze the digital marketing of a brand whose product I like and am very familiar with and really enjoy. That brand is YNAB.
What Is YNAB?
YNAB stands for You Need a Budget and when answering the question, "what is YNAB?", it's important to understand what YNAB does. It is a computer program used for budgeting and tracking expenses. The software takes a different approach from tools like Mint, which focus on pulling all of your bank accounts and credit/debit card transactions into one place where you can categorize and review transactions after they happen. This reactive approach works for many people and was actually my tool of choice before I discovered YNAB.
YNAB takes an opposite, more proactive approach to finances. By educating users on how to properly plan where each dollar will go, while also providing the technology to track spending, YNAB puts people in charge of their finances. A couple of years ago, a colleague mentioned it to me in a conversation and I’ve used it ever since. It is incredible for keeping track of spending and overall being on top of your finances.
But this isn’t an advertisement. If you want to know more about the program, YNAB has an excellent intro to the finer details here. For now, I’d like to take a step back from what YNAB can do, and instead focus on the digital marketing side of things.
Establishing YNAB’s Digital Landscape
For a while, I’ve wanted to dig into YNAB’s online marketing efforts to see what gems I could offer them as a “here’s to YNAB” type toast. As I dug deeper, I realized that YNAB has done an incredible job in building a devout YNAB community online. It is a difficult task to create a cult-like following (which I mean in the most positive sense) around your product. YNAB has created thousands of YNAB ambassadors by leveraging communities on Reddit, Facebook, and other social media sites, and through effective email campaigns.
But while YNAB is doing great things in the community building space, I want to shift the focus to what they could be doing with organic digital marketing to reach even more people and add another channel to fuel their community. For this post, the focus will largely be on SEO-related potential.
To begin, let's take a look at where YNAB is at organically. YNAB ranks for 6,069 keywords in the top 50 results as per Ahrefs. Again, one thing that is immediately apparent is how great of a brand YNAB has built (I’ll probably echo this many times throughout the post). Its brand search for the keyword “YNAB” generates around 130,000 monthly searches alone. Add the rest of its branded keywords and you have a very substantial amount of branded organic traffic.
YNAB also ranks for many non-branded keywords, albeit not nearly as well. There are many opportunities to push up these peripheral keywords so that they bring in significantly more search volume. We’ll get into this in greater detail further down in the analysis.
Part of YNAB’s building such a strong brand is due to leveraging the passionate following that surrounds the online financial niche. Some of the biggest communities on Reddit, like r/financialindependence, are related to finances, such as the following:
Reddit.com/r/personalfinance - 10,235,956 subscribers
Reddit.com/r/frugal - 628,703 subscribers
Reddit.com/r/financialindependence - 183,573 subscribers
The YNAB online community has done an excellent job siphoning traffic from these various subreddits into their own YNAB Reddit community (Reddit.com/r/ynab). The YNAB Reddit community, or subreddit, has over 30k subscribers. Many subreddits are created and die before they ever get enough users to sustain growth—the Reddit.com/r/budgetfirst/ subreddit, which was created by a group of YNAB Reddit users after YNAB switched to a subscription-based model, is one such example.
Despite the challenge of creating a sustainable reddit community, YNAB has managed to create a community that not only wants to be more involved in the YNAB ecosystem, but also help others in their pursuit to financial freedom. Gotta say, 30k hungry brand ambassadors is never a bad thing to have.
Where Does YNAB Get Links?
Ahrefs indicates that YNAB is increasing in referring domains quite healthily. The data below raises the question: where is YNAB getting their links from?
One thing I found right away, is that YNAB has some great links on what I like to call “feeder sites.” “Feeder sites” are sites that have content that is syndicated by many other large publications. Finding valuable feeder sites can be immensely powerful for SEO due to the amount and the quality of links that can be obtained.
Below is an example of what this feeder process looks like that YNAB has benefitted from.
An article was placed on the Reader’s Digest’s site, RD.com, entitled “34 Little Life Skills Everyone Needs to Be a Grown-Up.” RD.com is a feeder site to MSN.com as well as a handful of smaller sites. You can see that MSN.com syndicated the same article here. This means that for the effort of creating one very high-quality post, you can net a handful of links, sometimes from some large publications. This can be immensely powerful, and can lead to great jumps in increased rankings,
In the last few months, YNAB has received links like these:
And this is honestly only naming a few of the total links built recently.
YNAB is in a great position. It has the benefit of being able to target money-management communities with its methodology while at the same time targeting sites that focus on cell phone apps. This widens the targetable audience for the amount of websites YNAB can get links from. More links equal more authority, and when properly used, convert into better rankings and more traffic.
Where to Go From Here?
YNAB gets numerous mentions on both large and small publications. It is in the great position of garnering many mentions through its thousands of devoted fans. Typically, sites struggle with gaining more authority, therefore, they need a lot of high quality and well-targeted link building.
One note, however, is that many of the specific blog posts on YNAB’s site don’t get as much link love as the core YNAB pages (homepage, feature page, etc.). YNAB would benefit from additional links to their established blog posts, as well as to new posts as they are published. With the right content paired with YNAB’s community, this kind of link building should be cake.
Bumping Up Currently Ranking Pages
YNAB has opportunities to generate much more organic traffic through their currently ranking pages. In order to diagnose how many opportunities there are, I pulled all ranking keywords (positions 1–50) from Ahrefs. Second, we needed to segment the data in order to see rankings in specific ranking buckets. I segmented rankings by keywords in the top 3 positions, positions 4–5, positions 6–10, page 2, position 21–50, and page 3+ rankings. I did this for every URL on the site in order to gain an understanding of each page and its rankings. The results looked something like this:
From a glance at the spreadsheet above, you can see a particular URL and what keyword positions that it ranks for. This makes it easy to determine which URLs simply need a bump in optimization and authority in order to generate traffic increases. This also allows you to forecast how big the traffic increases will be.
Let’s go through an example of how this data can enable us to take traffic-increasing action.
We see in the above screenshot that the blog post “How to Pay off $26k of Debt in 18 Months on a $35k per Year Income” ranks for 4 keywords in the top 1–3 ranking positions and 9 keywords in positions 4–5. The keywords in positions 4–5 represent around 520 monthly searches. This is what we see on the keyword level.
Looking at the average difficulty of these keywords, as well as taking into account that this post ranks as it does with not many links, YNAB could bump these 9 keywords up into the top 3 with only a handful of inbound links. This would increase the traffic of this page to somewhere between 100–150% with minimal effort. Sure, this is merely a couple hundred visits extra, but considering the minimal effort it would take, it would be worth it. Furthermore, you can see how this strategy can scale across the entire site. YNAB could increase overall traffic to the site by a large margin simply by taking advantage of this strategy applied too many of their blog posts.
The Google Featured Snippets box can be incredibly powerful to leverage. I want to show you how YNAB could leverage it to rank in a position essentially above position #1 (sometimes referred to as position #0). For context, the Google Featured Snippets box was debuted in Sept 2014, and was created as a vehicle for putting relevant answers in user’s hands much more quickly. For example, if you search “how to budget and save money” in Google, you will see something like this (highlights in red are mine):
You can see in the above screenshot that bettermoneyhabits.bankofamerica.com occupies the #0 position in Google’s featured snippet. This gives bankofamerica.com a strong advantage over americasaves.org in positions #1 and #2. Not only does bankofamerica.com have an augmented snippet, it also rank above position #1. This position can generate much more traffic than position #1.
Another value in ranking in the Google Featured Snippets box is that you can circumvent the climb to the top and be picked for a top page ranking, even if your site technically occupies a different rank land somewhere else on page 1. A detailed post on the specifics of how to do this can be found here.
Featured Snippets to Steal
YNAB already ranks on the first page for a handful of keywords that have the Featured Snippets box, but someone else shows up for the Featured Snippet. Because YNAB already ranks on the first page, it could implement some on-page changes and increase its chances of stealing the coveted Featured Snippets position. This would drastically increase the traffic YNAB receives from currently ranking keywords. For example, YNAB ranks in the 10th position for “how to pay off debt." This keyword generates around 5,400 searches per month. At the 10th position, YNAB doesn’t pull in that many of the 5,400 searches. However, if YNAB ranked in position #0, it would pull in a large percentage of that traffic.
Here are some of the keywords that have Featured Snippets YNAB could steal:
The process of optimize live posts is fairly simple, although it takes diligence. Cole Rieben, one of our Campaign Managers here at 97th, has a great post on what changes can be made in order to boost a site into the Featured Snippet spot (found here).
High-Quality Content Marketing
Without a doubt, creating new, high-quality, keyword-targeted content is one of the most rewarding actions YNAB could take. Content should be created for the user first, but in order for it to be valuable, it must also be findable. SEO done well is the perfect marriage between solid content and the ability to have that content found when users are asking questions. Keyword research can further help you understand exactly what kind of content people are looking for. It is an insight into their needs. Think about it, these people are asking questions already, we just need to meet their question with the best answer.
YNAB has created a lot of content. Most of it is fairly short and doesn’t rank for a ton of keywords. In addition, there are so many budgeting-related questions being asked daily. If YNAB can answer these questions with their grade-A philosophy and budgeting tool, it would be a huge win-win. Users get the answers they need, and YNAB grows.
To analyze what the market looks like in terms of budget/finance related keywords, I pulled a lot of data—like, over 111,000 unique keywords worth of data.
After researching the keyword level data, we needed to organize it to make it useful. The goal in leveraging all of this data is to understand a few things.
The first is keyword groupings of well-ranking URLs in the finance space. These URLs are from many other finance related sites. The data allow us to understand what keyword groups Google ranks these pages for. Secondly, I want to understand what it took for these sites to rank well