By: Josh Moody

How YNAB Could 10x Their Google Organic Reach

March 9, 2017

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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. 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.

Organic Ranking

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.

Reddit Community

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 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

YNAB has done an excellent job siphoning traffic from these various subreddits into their own Reddit community (Reddit.com/r/ynab). The YNAB 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 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?

 

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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:

 

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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.

 

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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 to many of their blog posts.

Featured Snippets

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):

 

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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:

 

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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).

Additional Reading

Here are some of my favorite resources to further assist implementation of optimizing for position #0 and utilizing Featured Snippets for massive gain.

 

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 for the given keyword set (largely based on external ranking factors). To accomplish this, I used Ahrefs to pull in all of the domain and page-level Ahrefs metrics. We are looking at data like domain/URL level backlink counts, domain/URL level referring domain counts, and more.

Lastly, we need to see each URL’s number of ranking keywords. We’ve segmented this into several buckets—keywords ranking in the top 3, top 10, and positions 11–100.

The data we compiled looked like this:

 

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Now all of these URLs (about 20k in total) won’t be perfectly relevant for YNAB content ideas, but that is to be assumed. What we are looking for are URLs with high-value keyword groups that we could outrank for minimal investment. We are looking for easy-to-rank-for keyword groupings that have a good amount of traffic. For example, when we see a URL that ranks for a group of keywords that represent ~10k monthly searches but only has 5 links from 3 referring domains, it could be indicative of easy traffic pickins. We then just need to create better content than the currently ranking content, optimize it for the given keyword set, and then build a handful of links.

Building a content calendar off of data like this allows us to forecast potential traffic opportunities as well as construct a content plan that will garner traffic in the short, medium, and long terms.

Another huge benefit of content ideation based off of competitor’s existing content is that you can see which content is working. This validation allows us to proceed with confidence that our post will resonate well as long as the content is created with greater quality than that of the competition.

Let’s briefly explore some of the content ideas generated from the dataset we pulled.

I broke the sample content ideas into short, medium, and long term content ideas. For the sake of this post, let’s say ‘short term’ are post ideas we could have ranking well in 3 months or less. ‘Medium term’ would be around 6–9 months, and ‘long term’ would be 9 months or more.

Short-Term Content Ideas

  • What Is Gross Income?
  • How to Negotiate Rent
  • How to Create a Budget Template (Free Template Included)
  • How to Save $1,000 in 30 Days

Medium-Term Content Ideas

  • How to Create a Household Budget that Will Work
  • 7 Steps to Make Budgeting Easier (with Free Template)
  • 5 Critical Steps to Take with Your 401k when Switching Jobs
  • 3 Free Budget Templates for College Students

Long Term Content Ideas

  • YNAB’s Budget Template to Track Your Budget from Month to Month
  • How to Perform a Cost of Living Check to Ensure You are Within Budget

Larger Campaign Idea: Budget Templates

One trend we quickly saw pulling this data is that there are many searches regarding budgeting templates. Because there are so many, YNAB could create a campaign that gives away free excel budgeting templates that suit specific needs. For example YNAB could create a “College Student Budget Template” for one post and a “Planning for a New Dog Budget Template” for another. The point would be to give away free budgeting templates that would help with a specific area of life. Think of these as micro budgets. There is a lot of search volume surrounding these types of budget templates online. Mint.com has done a phenomenal job creating a lot of posts to capture these template-related keywords.

The purpose of these posts would be to use them to rank for specific keywords in Google. Once ranking, the content would pull users to YNAB’s site. From here the user would get information about what YNAB is and how it is valuable. Even if a user merely downloads the budget template and leave the site, they’ll still be reminded of YNAB every time they use the template. This will increase the overall brand exposure and heighten the chances for future conversion.

Furthermore, this could be used to build the YNAB email newsletter base, thus exposing the user to even more YNAB touchpoints.

With creating new pieces of content comes the opportunity to rank well for Google Featured Snippets. Through keyword research, we have found over 18,000 quick-answer positions that YNAB could fill with new YNAB content. To discover these, we combined keyword research and competitor research in the finance/budgeting space. Let me show you how to pull this type of data at scale.

Brightedge Data Cube/Featured Snippets Tutorial

This is where I want to give a shout out to Brightedge’s Data Cube. 97th Floor has been a Brightedge partner for quite some time, and as such, I’ve had the opportunity to familiarize myself with the tools and features associated with their platform—with the Data Cube, specifically. Data Cube has a feature that allows you to look up a competitor’s ranking keywords and then filter it down all the way to the Featured Snippet level (sometimes referred to as Quick Answers). Let me show you how:

1. Enter a competitor into the Data Cube and hit “search.”

 

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For this example let’s use “http://www.thepennyhoarder.com.” This gives us a perspective into the many opportunities YNAB can take advantage of.

2. On this next screen you will see a lot of data. Data Cube gives you data about total organic keywords, keywords on page 1, 2, and 3, as well as the recent movement of said keywords. From here we need to click on the “Content Strategies” tab.

 

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3. The next step is to click on the “Quick Answers” button to see all of the keywords that are ranking specifically in Google Featured Snippets.

 

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From this example we found 439 keywords that have the quick answer box on their SERP. This is solid gold. We can easily export this data from Brightedge and add some additional metrics to narrow down which of these keywords we want to create content for.

I did the above analysis on a much larger scale in order to research keyword opportunities for YNAB. For this research I pulled data just like I showed above, but for many competitors. I then combined it all together for analysis.

After pulling this keyword-level data from Brightedge, l wanted to get a sense of what keyword groups would be the best bang for the buck to target. Within this keyword data we exported from Brightedge, there are some content ideas that rank for 10 keywords with Featured Snippets, and some that rank for 100 keywords with Featured Snippets. Granted the keyword difficulty isn’t too much harder, it would make the most sense to choose the 100 keyword idea over the 10 keyword idea. Simply put, if you were going to create one piece of content, you would want it to rank for as many high-value keywords as possible.

One quick way to find out how many keywords each URL ranks for is by grouping the data by unique URLs and filtering it using some excel formulas. For the sake of not getting too confusing, I’m not going to dive too deeply into how to do this, but feel free to contact me directly for more details if you are interested how I scrub the data.

I also added some external ranking factors like I did above. These were things like link counts, referring domain counts, etc. This data was pulled from Ahrefs.

Now that the data is cleaned up, we can start to evaluate. In this scenario I looked for content ideas that were relevant to content found on YNAB’s blog, as well as selected content that ranged from easy ranking difficulty all the way to keywords that will take a bit more work to rank for.

Let’s look at a highlight from the dataset.

 

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To help illustrate how valuable this data is, let’s go over one of these ideas. The top idea is about legitimate ways to make money online. The example post is found on thesimpledollar.com and ranks for 3 keywords. These 3 keywords represent 21,900 monthly searches in Google. Furthermore, this URL only has 3 backlinks from 2 referring domains.

YNAB could easily create a great piece of content regarding legitimate ways to make money online. They would need to construct the post from keywords found in the data we pulled, as well as optimize the post for taking the Featured Snippet spot. More documentation on how to do this can be found here and here. Once the post is live, they would need to hit it with a handful of high-quality links and they’ll be on their way to claiming these Featured Snippet positions and pulling in a large portion of those 21,900 monthly searches.

Exploring a Brand I Believe In

I had a lot of fun diving into this analysis of YNAB and exploring various places they could grow their exposure. While this analysis does not touch every aspect of marketing that YNAB is involved with, these improvements would result in an undeniably large increase in targeted traffic, as well as increased interest in YNAB communities across the web.

Through this analysis I pulled data containing thousands of keywords in the finance/budgeting space. It contains tens of thousands of content ideas in this space as well. If you are interested in downloading the data and taking a look yourself, or would benefit in any way from the thousands of finance related keywords, I’ve set up an autoresponder to email you the data. Just enter your email below and the excel file will be immediately emailed to you. Have fun digging through the data and best wishes that you find content ideas that will push your business forward!

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Written by Josh Moody on March 9, 2017

Josh Moody is the Director of R&D at 97th Floor.

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