How did Plausible go from 0 to $500k in ARR with content distribution?

Learn the process behind Plausible's growth to $500k ARR. They reached this amazing milestone by writing valuable content and distributing it in the places where their audience hangs out.

How did Plausible go from 0 to $500k in ARR with content distribution?

In this post for My first 1000 users, we will cover the story of Plausible and how it reached $500k in ARR.

The content of this case study is taken from the podcast episode I recorded with Marko Saric a few months ago.

Marko is cofounder of Plausible, a privacy-first Google Analytics alternative.

Let's dive deep.

First 1000 users

Plausible has around 4900 customers.

But the whole process of getting from zero to 1000 users took around two years.

The first customer came in the middle of 2019 when the first beta version was released.

In the first nine months, the developer and founder of Plausible tried to do marketing through Indie Hackers, Twitter, and different communities.

The process was too slow, so he reached out to Marko (our interviewee) at around $300 MRR and 100 customers.

Marko joined Plausible as cofounder in March 2020. He started taking care of everything from the marketing and communication side. They started a lot of work on their landing pages to position Plausible better.

The product did not change, but the positioning did, along with the landing page.

Till the moment Marko joined, Plausible was just an "lightweight, open-source" alternative to Google Analytics:

Note #1 - Let's take a moment here. Do you see the "business value" here?

What do you get by using a "simple" or "open-source" tool?

Still not clear? Well, it's not clear to me either.

Try avoiding vague and jargon words inside your positioning. Instead, tell and show people who are you and what "value" you bring to them.

Anyway, let's get back to Pausible's story.

After that, they repositioned the product into a "simple and privacy-friendly" alternative to Google Analytics:

Learning #1 - Positioning is everything. Especially in overcrowded marketplaces dominated by category leaders.

Try narrowing down your positioning straight from the beginning.

Instead of being X for everyone, be X for Y.

Or go even further, be X for Y with Z.
Learning #2 - I see 98% of SaaS companies out there have complicated and fuzzy headlines on their home pages.

The best landing pages are the ones that:
- are specific - whom exactly are you talking to?
- have problem-solution - what's the problem your dream customer is experiencing? How are you solving that problem?

When you communicate those two things, there's one more thing left:

Paint your solution.

Don't just tell. Show.

That's why I don't like illustrations. Use the hero section of your landing page to show your product in action.

Use gifs, screenshots, and videos.

Besides repositioning, the other significant thing Marko focussed on was educating their audience on:

  • πŸ”₯ What is Plausible?
  • ✨ Β What it's not?
  • ⚠️ How it is different from Google Analytics

He immediately saw a difference in traffic on the homepage, increased clicks, and the number of people signing up for trials.

Marko also created 15 different content pages teaching people about

  • πŸ‘€ Privacy Analytics
  • πŸ§‘β€πŸ”§ Open Source Analytics etc.

These allowed people to learn about Plausible and its use case. This also helped it rank in the search for relevant keywords.

Learning #3 - When building a "ground-breaking" solution, or a more "unorthodox" alternative like in Plausible's case, you need to educate your market on the importance of your value propositions.

As an ordinary user who's using Google Analytics for years, why would I suddenly care about the importance of the "privacy-first" GA alternative?

I wouldn't. That's why Marko needed to educate his market.

That's why you need to do as well if you're in similar shoes.

So, how does Plausible create interest among the target audience?

The team of Plausible tries to publish content that may help and intrigue its target audience.

The first post published by the Plausible team was about why one should remove Google Analytics from their website.

This article included 10 factual reasons to support the statement, and Plausible was mentioned as one of the alternatives in the article's concluding paragraph.

The blog drove around 50,000 visitors to the Plausible homepage within the first couple of days after being shared on Hacker News.

Ever since that first article, Β more people have started learning that there are alternatives to Google Analytics.

And plausible was positioned as the first choice inside their minds.

For the first year, the team from Plausible published one blog post per week. They were all about the topics related to Google Analytics that people search about.

All of these posts could be broken down into two main categories -

  • πŸ“š Educational posts
  • πŸŽ’ Answers to questions asked by the community

The blog posts were unbiased and written with the sole purpose of helping out the community, and Plausible was always mentioned at the end of these posts.

The company has been very consistent with this strategy and has published content regularly on its website.

Even more, they continued doing what's proven to work.

Trendy and "mind-blowing" articles were shared on HackerNews again, getting big traction:

They had dozens of articles that went viral.

Learning #4 - Be consistent at what you do. It takes time for to results to come.

Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.

If you choose to write one blog post per week, stick to it.

For the first couple of weeks, it will be hard to constantly watch your analytics and see zero to small traffic.

But after some time, if you do things correctly, that traffic will start going up.
Learning #5 - Sometimes trendy, non-SEO content beats search-based content.

It's okay to write content that's not optimized for SEO.

Usually, the best content is the one that's trendy right now.

It brings results quickly, gets you a lot of eyeballs on your product, and positions you as the leader in your field.

Focus on trends. Focus on the actual problems your potential customers have and solve them inside your content.
Learning #6 - Writing is just half of the work. Distribution is the other half.

It's equally important. So go out, and distribute your content on the places where your target audience hangs out.

But be carefull.

In order to see success, you need to distribute your content by the rules of the people on that platform.

You can't distribute content on LinkedIn and HackerNews the same way. 

How did shifting in positioning impact conversions, reach, and relationships with customers?

After the change in positioning, it became easy for people to understand what Plausible is.

When people came to the new homepage, they could understand within seconds what Plausible does.

The feedback from Plausible's users was also positive as they found the writing very easy and user-friendly.

Marko believes that the language used earlier by Plausible was not clear and impactful, so even if they did manage to draw a lot of traffic without a change in positioning, they might not have seen the impact they see now.

He believes value comes first, and as long as a blog post is excellent and interesting, somebody will share it.

They made their blogs and demo videos attention-grabbing and easy to understand.

As more people learned about them through their content, more people tried their product and became their customers.

Word of mouth also became an excellent contributor to bringing in more traffic and users. The users of Plausible have started recommending it to their friends, networks, colleagues, and so on.

Are the articles written by the Plausible team optimized for virality or SEO?

It's a balance between virality, value, and SEO.

All of their posts come from the perspective of

  • ⭐️ something useful
  • 🌟 something interesting
  • ✨ something that helps people out

So they don't focus much on SEO tools or the number of words. Instead, they focus on creating something useful and choosing a topic or trend the community is curious about.

How does Plausible handle the distribution of content?

The team started publishing their blogs on their website and sharing it with their small community on Twitter and other social media platforms.

Now they are sharing their content on IndieHackers since it is one of the communities with a large audience of website owners, business owners, and startup owners.

The community tends to enjoy such posts, and since many posts have links to Plausible's website, these posts tend to drive significant traffic and new signups for the company. Β 

The company also reaches out to people who like their posts on different social media platforms and niche communities. They also tried running paid ads, but it wasn't as effective as creating unique valuable content.

Growth from 1000 to 5000 users - what are the main priorities and growth levers?

The plausible strategy hasn't changed much after the initial change in positioning and approach.

They continue to publish blog posts that drive traffic to their easy-to-understand and helpful landing pages, which convert interested readers into users.

It is a self-funded company with no investors and no third parties involved. So they're funded by the customers, which means their goal is to think about their users and create an excellent product.

They focus more on taking it one day at a time. According to Marko, it's not about growing as much as they can, but rather about doing the things they love and enjoying the process.

What are some possible risk factors for Plausible, and how do they prepare for that?

The worst disaster for Plausible, according to Marko, could be that they change their product and make it worse. And then people start disliking it and stop sharing it anymore.

But that's entirely in their control, and as long as they keep improving the product according to the feedback that comes from the people, they are likely not to face any losses.

And if they don't make any drastic changes in the way the product works, there's nothing externally that can shut down.

They're not reliant on an SEO algorithm change as they believe strongly in word of mouth, and most of their traffic now comes from branded keywords.

Learning #7 - As long as you build the product by your users' feedback, you're good to go.

Build the product people love, and you'll never have to worry again. They'll stay with you. They'll refer you.

If you're just starting out, create a loyal list of 50-100 dream customers who will give you feedback all the time.

Squeeze as much information as you can from them, and build the product they would enjoy using. 

What is the one piece of advice that Marko would give to B2B SaaS founders out there?

If someone is at less than $1000 MRR, they are still in the early stage of their SaaS journey, and they need to find answers to the following questions :

  • 🌿 Do people enjoy their products?
  • πŸŒ™ Are people able to find their product or website?

If the product is the problem, the founder needs to learn from their users' feedback and fix the product.

If the people are not discovering and landing on the website, the founder needs to think of ways to generate traction and traffic.

Marko has no advice for founders doing $30k or more in MRR as they are certainly doing very well.

  • πŸ”Έ There's no reason to change anything.
  • πŸ”Ή There's no reason to change the principles.
  • πŸ”Έ There is no reason to start again.
Learning #8 - If you're doing less than $5k/mo - test with different ways of getting traffic. Test and iterate.

If you're doing over $3ok/mo, stop chasing shiny things and silver bullets.

Double down on what worked so far.

The Bottom Line

Focus on consistency and creating value for your community, and growth will follow.

Don't focus on numbers. Rather enjoy the process and build meaningful relationships with your users.

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