Investing In SEO and Content — How Masterclass.com Achieved Unicorn Status
Can you really multiply ROI in a content platform with articles by investing in SEO and optimised content? Find out how with my sample analysis. Read how, in less than a year, Masterclass.com tripled organic traffic and increased their value to a staggering $1.7 BILLION.
Masterclass.com is a platform with video courses in various fields – from business to acting – taught by experts in their field, often well-known figures.
In Masterclass you can learn cooking from Gordon Ramsay, photography from Annie Leibovitz or chess from Kasparov.
Masterclass was founded 8 years ago. From the beginning, it operated with the support of VC investors. In 2020, the company raised round E – $100 million, at a valuation of $800 million. Recently, news has emerged that another round is being prepared, and the expected valuation is said to be $2.5 billion.
Why such a growth in (expected) valuation?
- Undoubtedly, the following factors contributed: pandemic and restrictions on all “in person” courses; lockdowns around the world boosted the number of people willing to participate in online courses.
- Additionally, the valuation was influenced by a jump (3 times) increase in the reach of the website. This is a consequence of the adopted SEO strategy.
What was the SEO strategy pursued by Masterclass.com?
Similarweb data indicates that about 60% of the 10 million visits to the site are generated by organic traffic from search engines. It is therefore definitely a key user acquisition channel.
Organic traffic can be analyzed in detail using the Ahrefs tool.
Explanation: Similarweb estimates organic traffic at 6 million, while Ahrefs estimates 3.3 million per month. Both analytical tools estimate this data from “outside” – they do not have access to the exact values. In my experience, for a site like Masterclass.com, the data from Similarweb is closer to what you see in Google Analytics.
Organic traffic data www.masterclass.com (by Ahrefs)
The organic traffic graph shows that visits from SEO grew more than 3 times during the pandemic.
It is hypothesized that this 3x growth is the result of greater interest in online courses during the coronavirus time. Of course, it may have had some contribution to the traffic spike. However, it was not the key factor.
Visibility growth is mostly responsible for the increase in traffic. On the chart below you can see how the number of phrases for which masterclass.com ranked in TOP3 was changing.
Ahrefs data shows that the domain has multiplied 4 times the number of key phrases for which it appears among the first three organic results.
At Whites, a number of times we have helped our clients achieve spectacular visibility spikes. See case study:
What sections of the website generated an increased visibility?
If you dig a little deeper into the data, it turns out that as much as 87% of organic traffic leads to the article section (2.9m out of 3.3m according to ahrefs.com).
The article section on masterclass.com:
- is a content platform that has been in development for just under 3 years;
- contains tutorial articles on topics for which Masterclass has online course offerings;
- numbers about 6,000 articles, and most of them were published after the pandemic outbreak;
- the vast majority of these articles are optimized for popular keywords.
Here are examples of articles from the content platform
Featured article pages also dominate among the subpages with the most traffic from SEO on the website:
It is worth noting that since 2020 the number of linking external sites that lead to pages from the article section has increased significantly:
By the end of 2019, the number of linking domains settled around 670. 15 months later, there were more than 6 thousand linking domains.
What does Masterclass.com’s SEO strategy rely on?
Our analysis shows that the startup has focused in recent years on building a content platform. It is a strategy that combines content marketing and SEO. It is based on the assumption that the number of users searching for information on a given topic is much higher than the number of people ready to purchase a product or service at a given moment. By creating a section of relevant and search engine optimized articles, we can reach millions of people interested in a particular field.
Why did this strategy work?
The group of people actively searching for online courses in a search engine is smaller than the total target audience that could buy such courses. Therefore, even ranking first for all high intent purchase phrases does not exhaust the monetization potential of SEO traffic.
By drawing traffic to informational phrases such as “How to make Ramen soup?”, you are reaching people who want to gain knowledge in a particular area, i.e. your assumed target audience. People from this group will see a course proposal that is aligned with their interests.
Masterclass has heavily implemented native formats on article pages to promote course offerings. This is to shift users to the next stages of the sales funnel, e.g. to the stage of learning about the offer, and then to watching a video excerpt from the course – a specially prepared teaser about the content.
When you know what search engine topic in the article section attracted the viewer and how they behaved on the page, you can implement advanced segmentation, remarketing and trigger scenarios to encourage the user to make a purchase decision.
The Whites team regularly achieves outstanding results because:
- works closely with the client team;
- takes a holistic approach to projects, with experts in content, SEO, UX, analytics, web development, and a 100-person editorial staff;
- has its own Data Science department, whose analyses help build precise SEO recommendations.
Without access to financial data, I am unable to accurately determine ROI, and the calculations below are only simulations, to the best of my knowledge.
Input data (per year):
Organic traffic in the content section
60 million visits
Estimated, based on data from Similarweb and Ahrefs.
Conversion rate to purchase from a visit to the platform:
The coefficient calculated according to the first click attribution method. I believe this level is realistic assuming support with additional activities such as remarketing or marketing automation.
Number of transactions generated:
60 000 000 x 0,2% = 120 000
Customer Lifetime Value:
$200 x [1/0.65%] = $307
An annual subscription costs about $200. We assume a relatively high annual churn rate of 65%.
Annual value generated by the article section:
120,000 x $307 = $37,000,000
The payback period on the investment:
We assume that the investment in the content section will generate revenues for at least 5 years, with some maintenance costs taken into account.
Total revenue from the investment in the content section:
5 years x 37,000,000 = $185,000,000
Personally, I consider the content platform “on-top” of the existing Masterclass business. Additionally, I assume that the marginal cost of a sold course is zero. To calculate ROI, I have assumed cost assumptions for the project in its current form, as well as an estimate of the cost of maintaining the content section for the next 5 years.
Costs to create the platform as it stands today:
Cost to prepare and publish 1 article = $300
Total cost of articles: 6,000 x $300 = $1,800,000
Link building cost: $4,000,000
Cost of SEO and conversion optimization experts: $1,800,000
Project maintenance costs:
For the next 5 years (additional articles, SEO links): $900,000 per year, or $4,500,000.
Of course, this is only an example and other figures can be used for calculations. However, there is no doubt that the investment in the content platform proved to be highly profitable for Masterclass.
- The Masterclass example perfectly illustrates how you can use a content platform to build your business.
- Creating quality content that answers questions and solves problems empowers you to reach potential customers at an earlier stage in the buying process.
- Search engine-optimised content platforms often generate millions of visits per month. When they skillfully forge bonds with visitors, they can translate into thousands of transactions and significant return on investment.
Thinking about building a value-packed content section in your business? Would you like to talk about investing effectively in SEO and content? Want a consultation on the best digital strategies for you?
Maciej Woźniak, Whites Founder
Digital marketing strategist with 15 years of experience, founder of a 100+ employee marketing agency specializing in advanced SEO projects.