Category Archives for Information Marketing

Topshop: ‘It’s not really how I dress’

Image caption Urban streetwear is all the rage now, say shoppers Catherine Thynne and Beth Armstrong

“I’m a lot less interested in Topshop nowadays, it’s just not really how I dress,” says 24-year-old advertising account executive Beth Armstrong.

Customers like Ms Armstrong are one of the reasons that UK High Street retail chain Arcadia, owner of popular brands such as Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins, is in trouble and seeking a rescue deal.

“What’s in style right now is streetwear, and Topshop hasn’t got much of that,” she tells the BBC.

Ms Armstrong is a typical consumer, someone who used to shop there often, but has since moved onto other brands.

Meanwhile, she says that people younger than her don’t see Topshop’s styles as being “on trend”.

Of course, the current retail environment is tough, but consumers still like to shop – they’re just pickier about where.

At the peak of its popularity, Topshop clothes could be found in the pages of Vogue alongside high-end couture, but now it’s a different story.

Have we just fallen out of love with Topshop?

Image copyright Getty Images

“[People] are shopping at places like & Other Stories, Weekday, Cos and Urban Outfitters,” says Ms Armstrong.

“I also buy a lot of stuff from Nike.”

Ms Armstrong’s friend and colleague Catherine Thynne, also 24, is more positive about Topshop, but buys less than half of her wardrobe from the retailer nowadays.

“I shop in Topshop loads, but the fashionability is a bit hit and miss,” she says.

Both Ms Thynne and Ms Armstrong also buy a lot of clothes online, from places such as Asos, Pretty Little Things and Misguided.

Young men the BBC spoke to had a similarly negative impression of Topman.

“It’s definitely less popular – they’re quite behind what men want to wear,” says university student Ben Reynolds, 19.

“It’s generic – you get your essentials from Topman like black t-shirts or jeans, but if you want more fashionable stuff you go to Urban Outfitters.”

Threat from sports brands

Their views don’t come as a surprise to Maureen Hinton, retail research director at GlobalData, because fashion retailers are now facing much stronger competition from newer brands.

“Topshop tends to be more expensive than its competitors but it doesn’t have the fashion kudos anymore – if you’re paying a premium, it isn’t exactly worth it now,” she tells the BBC.

“And Miss Selfridge is quite niche [in its appeal].”

Image copyright Nike
Image caption Nike has been releasing activewear collections in a wide range of colours and patterns that focus on “creative self-expression”

Ms Hinton cites former Topshop brand director Jane Shepherdson as a “visionary” leader who marketed the brand “strongly”. Without strong leadership, a strong brand identity and a lack of investment, she feels that the retailer is floundering.

And then there’s the threat from sportswear brands.

“Another factor in diluting the sales of these secondary fashion brands is how strong the sports brands have become with athleisure fashion,” she says.

Ms Hinton says sports brands such as Adidas and Nike are now competing directly with fashion brands: “The spending is being spread across more retailers. Topshop is not top of the list anymore.”

Mixed marketing messages

Natalie Berg, retail analyst at NBK Retail, feels that Topshop and Miss Selfridge have fallen behind in popularity because they haven’t been as aggressive in embracing technology as other retailers have.

“Topshop is an iconic brand but its main problem is that it hasn’t followed the customer. It’s still too reliant on concessions in department stores when it should really be focused on the 21st Century version – online marketplaces and social commerce,” she says.

“Partnering with Asos is a great move but they’re clutching at straws now, this is something they should have done years ago.”

And although Topshop’s flagship store in Oxford Street, London features experiences galore, this same strategy is not implemented across the rest of its outlets.

Image copyright House of Lady Muck
Image caption Topshop’s flagship store in Oxford Street includes a range of experiences, such as nail bar House of Lady Muck

Simon Penson, founder and managing director of UK-based digital content marketing agency, Zazzle Media, disagrees with Ms Berg about Topshop’s use of technology.

Topshop was one of the first retailers to launch an app. The real problem, he says, is that Topshop “doesn’t have a cohesive marketing approach”.

He feels the retailer has also missed a trick by not collaborating with influencers on collections.

“They should have clarified a digital approach and an in-store approach that would work together,” he says.

According to Zazzle Media, online brands Boohoo and Asos, as well as High Street retailer New Look, began using digital marketing features like catwalk videos and inspirational photo collections featuring outfit ideas in 2011 and 2012 respectively to promote products.

In comparison, Topshop’s website still doesn’t have catwalk videos, and its photo collection section – showing models in various outfits – is less sophisticated than other websites.

The Philip Green factor

But it’s not just about the clothes.

In recent years, Arcadia’s chief executive Sir Philip Green has been in the media a lot – with allegations, which he denies – of sexual harassment and anti-feminist views.

With the digital age, all of this information is readily accessible online, and some young people have told the BBC that they no longer feel comfortable supporting brands owned by Sir Philip.

Image caption Instagram influencer Jamie Windust carefully considers a brand’s message when choosing whether to work with companies

“Generation Z tends to stick with their morals more than any other generation when it comes to purchases, and they exercise brand loyalty more than anyone else,” says Mr Penson.

Jamie Windust, 22, a popular influencer on Instagram with over 27,000 followers, who has collaborated with Asos in the past on campaigns targeting the LGBTQ+ community, tells the BBC:

“I have noticed I’m cutting down – I try to shop where my ethics lie. I get sent a lot of stuff from High Street brands, but I tend to shop either vintage or charity shop.

“When working with brands, it really depends on the message behind the campaign.”

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Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Bell Curve

Bell Curve founder Julian Shapiro describes his team as talented growth marketers who have a long tail expertise of various channels and who aren’t afraid to play part-time therapists. As an agency, they’re comfortable grounding founder expectations by explaining “No, virality isn’t a dependable growth strategy,” but “Hey, we can come up with a better strategy together.”

Bell Curve, the agency, also runs Demand Curve, a remote growth marketing training program that teaches students (and marketing professionals) the ins and outs of performance marketing.

For a glimpse of how Bell Curve thinks about growth marketing, check out Julian’s guest posts about how startups can actually get content marketing to work and how founders can hire a great growth marketer.

What makes Bell Curve different:

“Bell Curve runs a growth bootcamp which we took in February. It radically improved our growth rate, gave us access to enough data to experiment with, and as a result we built an engine for growth that we could continue to tune.” Gil Akos, SF, CEO & Co-founder, Astra

“We run a program where we train companies to run ads on every channel. So, what makes Bell Curve unique is that we, by necessity, have a deep understanding of many more channels than the average agency. We have an archive of tactics and approaches that we’ve accumulated for how to do them just as well as the big ad channels.

In effect, companies come to us when they need expertise beyond Facebook, Google and Instagram, which we still bring to the table, but when they also need to figure out how to make Quora ads profitable, how to get Reddit working, how to get YouTube videos working, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. These are channels people don’t specialize in enough and so we also bring that long tail of expertise.”

On common misconceptions about growth:

“A common mistake people make coming into growth is thinking that growth hacks are a meaningful thing. The ultimate growth hack is having the self-discipline to pursue growth fundamentals properly and completely. So, things like properly A/B testing, identifying your most enticing value propositions and articulating them clearly and concisely, bringing in deep channel expertise for Facebook, Instagram, Google Search, and a couple of other channels. These are the tenants of making digital growth work. Not one-off hacks.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.

Interview with Bell Curve Founder Julian Shapiro

Yvonne Leow: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into this game of growth?

Julian Shapiro: I actually started by running growth for friends’ companies because they had a hard time finding experienced growth marketers. After a year and a half of doing this, I realized it’d be a more stable source of income if I formed an agency. It’d also allow me to pattern match so I could exchange learnings among clients and have a better net performance.

It all came together very quickly. Once Bell Curve hit about 10 clients, we had enough strategic and customer acquisition overlap that we were able to share tactics, double our volume of A/B testing, and get better results. It also gave us the ability to hire out a full-fledged team so we could start specializing, whereas, as a contractor, I was too much of a generalist. I wasn’t able to go deep on certain channels, like Snapchat or Pinterest ads.

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How to see another companys growth tactics and try them yourself

Every company’s online acquisition strategy is out in the open. If you know where to look.

This post shows you exactly where to look, and how to reverse engineer their growth tactics.

Why is this important? Competitive analysis de-risks your own growth experiments: You find the best growth ideas to adopt and the worst ones to avoid.

First, a warning: Your goal is not to repurpose another company’s hard work. That makes you a thief. Your goal is to identify other companies who face the same growth challenges as you, then to study their approaches for solutions to draw from.

As I walk through uncovering a competitor’s tactics, keep in mind which competitors are worth looking at: For instance, you should rarely over-analyze early-stage companies. They’re unlikely to be methodical at growth.

Meaning, if you blindly copy their site and their ads, it’s possible you’ll be copying tactics that are not actually responsible for their growth. Their success may instead be from network effects or other hidden factors.

Instead, it’s safest to get inspiration from companies who’ve sustained high growth rates for a long time, and who face the same growth challenges as you. They’re likely to have sophisticated growth operations worth studying deeply. Examples include:

  • Pinterest
  • Airbnb
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • Uber

If these aren’t your direct competitors, don’t worry. You don’t need to audit a direct competitor’s tactics to get incredibly valuable insights.

You can look past direct competitors.

You’ll gain useful insights from auditing the user acquisition funnel of any company who has a similar audience and business model.

Examples of audiences:

  • Wealthy consumers
  • Enterprise businesses
  • Middle-class adults who use Chrome
  • Dog owners
  • And so on

Audiences matter because their behaviors and needs differ wildly. Each requires its own growth strategy. You want to audit a company whose audiences is similar to yours.

You also want to ensure the company shares your business model. Examples include:

  • A high-touch sales process with multiple phone calls
  • A consumer ecommerce site with easy checkout
  • A self-serve SaaS signup with a freemium plan
  • A pay-to-play mobile game
  • And so on

Each model may necessitate different ads, landing pages, automated emails, and sales collateral.

The process

Never implement another company’s tactics blindly.

There’s an effective process for growth analysis, and it looks like this:

  1. Source potential growth ideas.
  2. Prioritize them.
  3. A/B test them.
  4. Measure if an A/B variant significantly outperformed its baseline and whether the cost of implementing the winner would be worthwhile.
  5. Only then should you implement it.

An example

Here’s a brief example before we dive into tactics.

Let’s pretend we’re a SaaS company offering consumer banking tools, and that we’re struggling to get users to onboard our app. Our hypothesis is that visitors are bouncing because they don’t trust us with their sensitive information.

Our first step is to define both our audience and our business model:

  • Audience: Tech-savvy, adult consumers.
    Business model: SaaS freemium funnel.

Our next step is to look for companies who share those two aspects. (We can find them on Crunchbase.)

Once we have a few in hand, we look for how they handle customers’ sensitive information throughout their funnel. Specifically, we audit their:

It’s time to learn how we audit all that. I’ll share how our marketer training program teaches marketers to do this on the job.

Tactic #1: How to see a company’s A/B tests

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Who helped your startup grow? Nominate a growth marketing agency.

Growth marketing is critical to a startup’s survival, but it’s not always clear how to successfully pull it off. How do you jump the chasm from one to 10 million customers? Should you recruit an in-house growth team or hire an agency? How do you actually get content marketing to work? How much money should you spend before writing off or doubling down on a marketing channel? What does it take to build an extraordinary team at every stage of your startup?

There isn’t a silver bullet when it comes to growth, but we are tapping some of the most brilliant minds in growth marketing to share their experiences and advice to entrepreneurs.

Last month, we launched an initiative to find the industry’s best growth marketing agencies, and since then entrepreneurs from all around the world have submitted their nominations.

If you haven’t already, take two minutes to nominate a growth marketing agency that has helped your company scale and reach its target customers.

We’re zeroing in on a short list of top firms, and we’ll begin publishing their profiles in the next few weeks, but founder recommendations, like yours, help determine who we feature.

Similar to our work with startup lawyers and brand designers, our goal is to make it easier and faster for entrepreneurs to find the right service provider, but without real and relevant founder recommendations, we can’t accomplish our mission. Growth is the latest iteration of Verified Experts (with more to come).

Help us support early-stage startups by nominating a growth marketing agency you’ve worked with.

Have any questions? Email

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Fiverr files to go public, reports revenue of $75.5M and a net loss of $36.1M for 2018

Freelance marketplace Fiverr has filed to go public on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company, which is headquartered in Tel Aviv, is losing money — its net losses grew from $19.3 million in 2017 to $36.1 million in 2018. At the same time, revenue grew by nearly 45%, from $52.1 million to $75.5 million.

“Our mission is to change how the world works together,” Fiverr says in the filing. “We started with the simple idea that people should be able to buy and sell digital services in the same fashion as physical goods on an e-commerce platform. On that basis, we set out to design a digital marketplace that is built with a comprehensive SKU-like services catalog and an efficient search, find and order process that mirrors a typical e-commerce transaction.”

Fiverr was founded in 2010 and, thanks in part to controversial marketing, is seen as a key player in the gig economy. It says it has facilitated more than 50 million transactions between 5.5 million buyers and 830,000 freelancers (who sell services like logo design, video creation and editing, website development and blog writing).

The company says its advantages include the breadth of the marketplace and a network effect where the number and success of buyers and freelancers on the site draws more buyers and freelancers. It also says its marketplace can be easily scaled up as it adds more freelancers from around the world.

As for risk factors, the filing points to the need to continue growing the community, the possibility that the overall freelance market may not grow as quickly as the company expects and he aforementioned history of losses.

Fiverr previously raised $111 million in venture funding, according to Crunchbase, from Bessemer Venture Partners, Accel, Square Peg Capital, Qumra Capital and others. It’s also made some acquisitions in recent years, including content marketing marketplace ClearVoice and And Co, which made software for freelancers.

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How do you hire a great growth marketer?

Editors Note: This article is part of a series that explores the world of growth marketing for founders. If you’ve worked with an amazing growth marketing agency, nominate them to be featured in our shortlist of top growth marketing agencies in tech.

Startups often set themselves back a year by hiring the wrong growth marketer.

This post shares a framework my marketing agency uses to source and vet high-potential growth candidates.

With it, early-stage startups can identify and attract a great first growth hire.

It’ll also help you avoid unintentionally hiring candidates who lack broad competency. Some marketers master 1-2 channels, but aren’t experts at much else. When hiring your first growth marketer, you should aim for a generalist.

This post covers two key areas:

  1. How I find growth candidates.
  2. How I identify which candidates are legitimately talented.

Great marketers are often founders

One interesting way to find great marketers is to look for great potential founders.

Let me explain. Privately, most great marketers admit that their motive for getting hired was to gain a couple years’ experience they could use to start their own company.

Don’t let that scare you. Leverage it: You can sidestep the competitive landscape for marketing talent by recruiting past founders whose startups have recently failed.

Why do this? Because great founders and great growth marketers are often one and the same. They’re multi-disciplinary executors, they take ownership and they’re passionate about product.

You see, a marketing role with sufficient autonomy mimics the role of a founder: In both, you hustle to acquire users and optimize your product to retain them. You’re working across growth, brand, product and data.

As a result, struggling founders wanting a break from the startup roller coaster often find transitioning to a growth marketing role to be a natural segue.

How do we find these high-potential candidates?

Finding founders

To find past founders, you could theoretically monitor the alumni lists of incubators like Y Combinator and Techstars to see which companies never succeeded. Then you can reach out to their first-time founders.

You can also identify future founders: Browse Product Hunt and Indie Hackers for old projects that showed great marketing skill but didn’t succeed.

There are thousands of promising founders who’ve left a mark on the web. Their failure is not necessarily indicative of incompetence. My agency’s co-founders and directors, including myself, all failed at founding past companies.

How do I attract candidates?

To get potential founders interested in the day-to-day of your marketing role, offer them both breadth and autonomy:

  • Let them be involved in many things.
  • Let them be fully in charge of a few things.

Remember, recreate the experience of being a founder.

Further, vet their enthusiasm for your product, market and its product-channel fit:

  • Product and market: Do their interests line up with how your product impacts its users? For example, do they care more about connecting people through social networks, or about solving productivity problems through SaaS? And which does your product line up with?
  • Product-channel fit: Are they excited to run the acquisition channels that typically succeed in your market?

The latter is a little-understood but critically important requirement: Hire marketers who are interested in the channels your company actually needs.

Let’s illustrate this with a comparison between two hypothetical companies:

  1. A B2B enterprise SaaS app.
  2. An e-commerce company that sells mattresses.

Broadly speaking, the enterprise app will most likely succeed through the following customer acquisition channels: sales, offline networking, Facebook desktop ads and Google Search.

In contrast, the e-commerce company will most likely succeed through Instagram ads, Facebook mobile ads, Pinterest ads and Google Shopping ads.

We can narrow it even further: In practice, most companies only get one or two of their potential channels to work profitably and at scale.

Meaning, most companies have to develop deep expertise in just a couple of channels.

There are enterprise marketers who can run cold outreach campaigns on autopilot. But, many have neither the expertise nor the interest to run, say, Pinterest ads. So if you’ve determined Pinterest is a high-leverage ad channel for your business, you’d be mistaken to assume that an enterprise marketer’s cold outreach skills seamlessly translate to Pinterest ads.

Some channels take a year or longer to master. And mastering one channel doesn’t necessarily make you any better at the next. Pinterest, for example, relies on creative design. Cold email outreach relies on copywriting and account-based marketing.

(How do you identify which ad channels are most likely to work for your company? Read my Extra Crunch article for a breakdown.)

To summarize: To attract the right marketers, identify those who are interested in not only your product but also how your product is sold.

Other approaches

The founder-first approach I’ve shared is just one of many ways my agency recruits great marketers. The point is to remind you that great candidates are sometimes a small career pivot away from being your perfect hire. You don’t have to look in the typical places when your budget is tight and you want to hire someone with high, senior potential.

This is especially relevant for early-stage, bootstrapping startups.

If you have the foresight to recognize these high-potential candidates, you can hopefully hire both better and cheaper. Plus, you empower someone to level up their career.

Speaking of which, here are other ways to hire talent whose potential hasn’t been fully realized:

  • Find deep specialists (e.g. Facebook Ads experts) and offer them an opportunity to learn complementary skills with a more open-ended, strategic role. (You can help train them with my growth guide.)
  • Poach experienced junior marketers from a company in your space by offering senior roles.
  • Hire candidates from top growth marketing schools.

Vetting growth marketers

If you don’t yet have a growth candidate to vet, you can stop reading here. Bookmark this and return when you do!

Now that you have a candidate, how do you assess whether they’re legitimately talented?

At Bell Curve, we ask our most promising leads to incrementally complete three projects:

  • Create Facebook and Instagram ads to send traffic to our site. This showcases their low-level, tactical skills.
  • Walk us through a methodology for optimizing our site’s conversion rate. This showcases their process-driven approach to generating growth ideas. Process is everything.
  • Ideate and prioritize customer acquisition strategies for our company. This showcases their ability to prioritize high-leverage projects and see the big picture.

We allow a week to complete these projects. And we pay them market wage.

Here’s what we’re looking for when we assess their work.

Level 1: Basics

First — putting their work aside — we assess the dynamics of working with them. Are they:

  • Competent: Can they follow instructions and understand nuance?
  • Reliable: Will they hit deadlines without excuses?
  • Communicative: Will they proactively clarify unclear things?
  • Kind: Do they have social skills?

If they follow our instructions and do a decent job, they’re competent. If they hit our deadline, they’re probably reliable. If they ask good questions, they’re communicative.

And if we like talking to them, they’re kind.

Level 2: Capabilities

A level higher, we use these projects to assess their ability to contribute to the company:

  • Do they have a process for generating and prioritizing good ideas? 
    • Did their process result in multiple worthwhile ad and landing page ideas? We’re assessing their process more so than their output. A great process leads to generating quality ideas forever.
    • Resources are always limited. One of the most important jobs of a growth marketer is to ensure growth resources are focused on the right opportunities. I’m looking for a candidate that has a process for identifying, evaluating and prioritizing growth opportunities.
  • Can they execute on those ideas? 
    • Did they create ads and propose A/B tests thoughtfully? Did they identify the most compelling value propositions, write copy enticingly and target audiences that make sense?
    • Have they achieved mastery of 1-2 acquisition channels (ideally, the channels your company is dependent on to scale)? I don’t expect anyone to be an expert in all channels, but deep knowledge of at least a couple of channels is key for an early-stage startup making their first growth hire.

If you don’t have the in-house expertise to assess their growth skills, you can pay an experienced marketer to assess their work. It’ll cost you a couple hundred bucks, and give you peace of mind. Look on Upwork for someone, or ask a marketer at a friend’s company.


  • If you’re an early-stage company with a tight budget, there are creative ways to source high-potential growth talent.
  • Assess that talent on their product fit and market fit for your company. Do they actually want to work on the channels needed for your business to succeed?
  • Give them a week-long sample project. Assess their ability to generate ideas and prioritize them.

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How do startups actually get their content marketing to work?

[Editor’s note: this is a free example of a series of articles we’re publishing by top experts who have cutting-edge startup advice to offer, over on Extra Crunch. Get in touch at if you have ideas to share

Even the best growth marketers fail to get content marketing to work. Many are unwittingly using tactics from 4 years ago that no longer work today.

This post cuts through the noise by sharing real-world data behind some of the biggest SEO successes this year.

It studies the content marketing performance of clients with Growth Machine and Bell Curve (my company) — two marketing agencies who have helped grow Perfect Keto, Tovala, Framer, Crowd Cow, Imperfect Produce, and over a hundred others.

What content do their clients write about, how do they optimize that content to rank well (SEO), and how do they convert their readers into customers?

You’re about to see how most startups manage their blogs the wrong way.

Reference as we go along. Their tactics for hitting 150,000 monthly visitors will be explored.

Write fewer, more in-depth articles

In the past, Google wasn’t skilled at identifying and promoting high quality articles. Their algorithms were tricked by low-value, “content farm” posts.

That is no longer the case.

Today, Google is getting close to delivering on its original mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In other words, they now reliably identify high quality articles. How? By monitoring engagement signals: Google can detect when a visitor hits the Back button in their browser. This signals that the reader quickly bounced from the article after they clicked to read it.

If this occurs frequently for an article, Google ranks that article lower. It deems it low quality.

For example, below is a screenshot of the (old) Google Webmaster Tools interface. It visualizes this quality assessment process: It shows a blog post with the potential to rank for the keyword “design packaging ideas.” Google initially ranked it at position 25.

However, since readers weren’t engaging with the content as time went on, Google incrementally ranked the article lower — until it completely fell off the results page:

The lesson? Your objective is to write high quality articles that keep readers engaged. Almost everything else is noise.

In studying our clients, we’ve identified four rules for writing engaging posts.

1. Write articles for queries that actually prioritize articles.

Not all search queries are best served by articles.

Below, examine the results for “personalized skincare:”

Notice that Google is prioritizing quizzes. Not articles.

So if you don’t perform a check like this before writing an article on “personalized skincare,” there’s a good chance you’re wasting your time. Because, for some queries, Google has begun prioritizing local recommendations, videos, quizzes, or other types of results that aren’t articles.

Sanity check this before you sit down to write.

2. Write titles that accurately depict what readers get from the content.

Are incoming readers looking to buy a product? Then be sure to show them product links.

Or, were they looking for a recipe? Provide that.

Make your content deliver on what your titles imply a reader will see. Otherwise, readers bounce. Google will then notice the accumulating bounces, and you’ll be penalized.

3. Write articles that conclude the searcher’s experience.

Your objective is to be the last site a visitor visits in their search journey.

Meaning, if they read your post then don’t look at other Google result, Google infers that your post gave the searcher what they were looking for. And that’s Google’s prime directive: get searchers to their destination through the shortest path possible.

The two-part trick for concluding the searcher’s journey is to:

Go sufficiently in-depth to cover all the subtopics they could be looking for.

Link to related posts that may cover the tangential topics they seek.

This is what we use Clearscope for — it ensures we don’t miss critical subtopics that help our posts rank:

4. Write in-depth yet concise content.

In 2019, what do most of the top-ranked blogs have in common?

They skip filler introductions, keep their paragraphs short, and get to the point.

And, to make navigation seamless, they employ a “table of contents” experience:

Be like them, and get out of the reader’s way. All our best-performing blogs do this.

Check out more articles by Julian Shapiro over on Extra Crunch, including “What’s the cost of buying users from Facebook and 13 other ad networks?” and “Which types of startups are most often profitable?”

Prioritize engagement over backlinks

In going through our data, the second major learning was about “backlinks”, which is marketing jargon for a link to your site from someone else’s.

Four years ago, the SEO community was focused on backlinks and Domain Ranking (DR) — an indication of how many quality sites link to yours (scored from 0 to 100). At the time, they were right to be concerned about backlinks.

Today, our data reveals that backlinks don’t matter as much as they used to. They certainly help, but you need great content behind them.

Most content marketers haven’t caught up to this.

Here’s a screenshot showing how small publishers can beat out large behemoths today — with very little Domain Ranking:

The implication is that, even without backlinks, Google is still happy to rank you highly. Consider this: They don’t need your site to be linked from TechCrunch for their algorithm to determine whether visitors are engaged on your site.

Remember: Google has Google Analytics, Google Search, Google Ads, and Google Chrome data to monitor how searchers engage with your site. Believe me, if they want to find out whether your content is engaging, they can find a way. They don’t need backlinks to tell them.

This is not to say that backlinks are useless.

Our data shows they still provide value, just much less. Notably, they get your pages “considered” by Google sooner: If you have backlinks from authoritative and relevant sites, Google will have the confidence to send test traffic to your pages in perhaps a few weeks instead of in a few months.

Here’s what I mean by “test traffic:” In the weeks after publishing your post, Google notices them then experimentally surfaces them at the top of related search terms. They then monitor whether searchers engage with the content (i.e. don’t quickly hit their Back button). If the engagement is engaging, they’ll increasingly surface your articles. And increase your rankings over time.

Having good backlinks can cut this process down from months to a few weeks.

Prioritize conversion over volume

Engagement isn’t your end goal. It’s the precursor to what ultimately matters: getting a signup, subscribe, or purchase. (Marketers call this your “conversion event.”) Visitors can take a few paths to your conversion event:

Short: They read the initial post then immediately convert.

Medium: They read the initial post plus a few more before eventually converting.

Long (most common): They subscribe to your newsletter and/or return later.

To increase the ratio at which readers take the short and medium paths, optimize your blog posts’ copy, design, and calls to action. We’ve identified two rules for doing this.

1. Naturally segue to your pitch

Our data shows you should not pitch your product until the back half of your post.

Why? Pitching yourself in the intro can taint the authenticity of your article.

Also, the further a reader gets into a good article, the more familiarity and trust they’ll accrue for your brand, which means they’re less likely to ignore your pitch once they encounter it.

2. Don’t make your pitch look like an ad

Most blogs make their product pitches look like big, show-stopping banner ads.

Our data shows this visual fanfare is reflexively ignored by readers.

Instead, plug your product using a normal text link — styled no differently than any other link in your post. Woodpath, a health blog with Amazon products to pitch, does this well.

Think in funnels, not in pageviews

Finally, our best-performing clients focus less on their Google Analytics data and more on their readers’ full journeys: They encourage readers to provide their email so they can follow up with a series of “drip” emails. Ideally, these build trust in the brand and get visitors to eventually convert.

They “retarget” readers with ads. This entails pitching them with ads for the products that are most relevant to the topics they read on the blog. (Facebook and Instagram provide the granular control necessary to segment traffic like this.) You can read my growth marketing handbook to learn more about running retargeting ads well.

Here’s why retargeting is high-leverage: In running Facebook and Instagram ads for over a hundred startups, we’ve found that the cost of a retargeting purchase is one third the cost of a purchase from ads shown to people who haven’t yet been to our site.

Our data shows that clients who earn nothing from their blog traffic can sometimes earn thousands by simply retargeting ads to their readers.


It’s possible for a blog with 50,000 monthly visitors to earn nothing.

So, prioritize visitor engagement over volume: Make your hero metrics your revenue per visitor and your total revenue. That’ll keep your eye on the intermediary goals that matter: Attracting visitors with an intent to convert

Keeping those visitors engaged on the site

Then compelling them to convert

In short, your goal is to help Google do its job: Get readers where they need to go with the least amount of friction in their way.

Be sure to check out more articles from Julian Shapiro over on Extra Crunch, and get in touch with the Extra Crunch editors if you have cutting-edge startup advice to share with our subscribers, at

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Meet the European startups that pitched at EFs 11th Demo Day in London

Entrepreneur First (EF), the company builder and “talent first” investor, held its eleventh Demo Day in London this afternoon. The event included newly formed startups from EF’s London, Berlin and Paris cohorts, and represented a showcase of the investor’s now pan-European reach.

Once again, the pitches took place in front of a near-overcapacity crowd at King’s Place in London’s King Cross area, and this time saw 29 startups pitch their wares to investors, press and other actors in the European tech scene.

EF stands out from the many other demo days that the U.K. capital city hosts because of the way the investor backs individuals “pre-team, pre-idea” — meaning that the companies pitching only came into existence during the three programmes and perhaps may never have seen the light of day without the founders bashing heads at EF.

The latest demo days also comes shortly after EF announced it has raised a $115 million new fund led by a number of leading (mostly unnamed) institutional investors across the U.S., Europe and Asia, including new anchor LP Trusted Insight. A number of well-known European entrepreneurs also invested, including Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of TransferWise), Alex Chesterman (co-founder of Zoopla) and EF alumnus Rob Bishop (who co-founded Magic Pony Technology, which was bought by Twitter for a reported $150 million in 2016).

See also: EF raises $115M new fund, aiming to create another 300-plus startups in the next three years

This new fund — which EF said is one of the largest pre-seed funds ever raised — will enable the talent investor to back more than 2,200 individuals who join its various programs over the next three years. EF currently operates in Bangalore, Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Singapore and Paris.

Meanwhile, the themes for EF’s eleventh London Demo Day continued to reflect the company builder’s focus on recruiting the best technical and domain expert talent — both recent graduates and also people already working at tech companies. They spanned practically every gamut of the tech sector you could think of.

After enduring 29 rounds of “pitchlash” (up from 24 last time), TechCrunch’s picks, chosen by Editor-at-Large Mike Butcher, who attended, are as follows:

Fast Biotechnologies
Vine Health

Here’s the full list of presenting teams (in their own words) with some informal notes Mike made live at the event:

FabricNano – LONDON

FabricNano designs artificial cells that produce chemicals 100x faster.

TechCrunch comment: Fermentation of things like beer has been around for thousands of years. It’s now powering the global chemicals market. But we still rely on living cells to do the hard work. Improving the living cell by 1% would save the chemical plant millions of dollars a day. This startup makes an artificial living cell which is highly efficient. The cost has come down to do this. The founders have a history in mechanical engineering and DNA. They have chemical companies testing with them, and have filed some patents. They are raising £1.5m to accelerate this whole idea. Strong pitch!

Fast Biotechnologies – BERLIN

Fast Biotechnologies revolutionizes healthcare by enabling accurate diagnosis of life-threatening infections in minutes instead of days.

TechCrunch comment: Scepsis is killing people almost as much as cancer, globally. But detecting it is slow, and people die waiting for results. This startup uses a bacterium to detect it faster, and it’s the direct result of the founder’s PhD work. It’s already being tested in the lab. The founder didn’t say how much they are raising…

Leakmited – PARIS

Leakmited detects water leaks from space.

TechCrunch comment: Sounds cool huh?! Only 6% of water is good for human consumption and we waste a lot of it in leaks. 50 billion euros worth. Fixing leaks is easy, but finding them is tough and the tech hasn’t changed in years. The idea is that leaks change the properties of the ground, which can then be detected from space using pattern recognition, up to an accuracy of 20 meters which is a 1000% improvement. They will pilot this tech in France. Strong team, strong pitch. I’m wondering if this would be relatively easily replicable by a satellite company?

Candu – LONDON

Candu is a learning platform within your app, empowering you to upskill and retain your customers.

TechCrunch comment: Ex-Stanford founder pitches a learning platform that upskills users as they use the product. On the job training for this century. This decreases churn and improves the results. Well-trained customers are more likely to use and renew a Saas product. One of the co-founders helped build Coursera, so they have history in this space.

Blazar – PARIS

Blazar uses machine learning to predict cancer response to immunotherapy.

TechCrunch comment: Treating blood cancer better with ML-based prediction. They have a team which has built previous ML products and the co-founder who presented has been a cancer researcher for the last 14 years. This is sort of weaponizing the immune system against cancer. No mention of the money they want to raise.

Alcemy – BERLIN

Alcemy’s quality prediction AI enables cement and concrete producers to cut costs and carbon emissions.

TechCrunch comment: We make a lot of concrete on this planet. It can be a complex thing. But it’s often made stronger than it needs to be. Until recently it took a month to test the strength of the concrete. So they tend to make it too strong, and this also creates MORE carbon emissions. Instead, this solution test concrete quality in 40 minutes. Not bad, huh. The prototype has been tested with partners. They think they could save all the UK’s carbon emission. Strong pitch and thank god someone is thinking about the environment for a change…

Presscast – LONDON

Presscast is a new kind of advertising that is organic and scalable.

TechCrunch comment: Programmatic ads have ruined online content (don’t we know it)… Media doesn’t scale like tech. Content marketing plus programmatic. They call it “Natural language advertising”. This looks at articles online, and inserts your lines of text into the article. (I hate this already…). Finextra did this. They launched a week ago and have 500 publishers now. I’d love to know this list! Strangely they did not include whether or not the advert is flagged as such, which is worrying. They are raising a seed round.

Arthronica – LONDON

Arthronica is an AI monitoring and rehabilitation platform.

TechCrunch comment: Addressing a costly and chronic condition: Arthritis. Costs healthcare a lot of cash globally. Capturing data for treatment is expensive and has to happen face to face. Their AI architecture uses a smart phone camera to read the person’s muscle movements and then assess the level of treatment needed. I think this is a great idea and a natural use of ML in cameras / smartphones.

Semblr Technologies – LONDON

Semblr automates building construction using small, swarming robots.

TechCrunch comment: Robots! Using a big robot to build a house is inefficient. Use small ones! The first robot automates bricklaying. There is high demand for houses, but the workforce is not there. Previous bricklaying robots, they are WAY too big. A swarm of robots the size of a cat can build it faster. BaaS – Bricklaying as a service. LULZ. Cofounders are an ex-architect and ML expert. They are testing on real sites. Sounds convincing.

Packetai – PARIS

PacketAI uses AI to automate IT Operations.

TechCrunch comment: Resolving IT incidents using ML! Save lots of money! Crucial stuff but hard to make interesting in a pitch…

Nostos Genomics – BERLIN

Nostos Genomics uses CRISPR to unlock genomics-based medicine.

TechCrunch comment: Genetic diseases are more common than you think. But to get a treatment you need assessment and 70 percent of genetic tests fail. Their solution claims to be way more efficient at assessing genetic diagnoses.

Deltablock – PARIS

DeltaBlock adapts traditional capital liquidity services for Digital Assets.

TechCrunch comment: Sounds like a blockchain pitch which doesn’t want to mention the word blockchain… Surprise! Ok they mentioned it once. This is a market-maker for digital assets, like in traditional markets. Aiming at 100 billion Euro market. Starting in Switzerland, of course. They are raising in fiat money… Hard to assess this one.

Reallm – LONDON

Business intelligence for the supply-side of marketplaces.

TechCrunch comment: We understand the demand side of this world but the suppliers often get forgotten. So take Uber or something and they spot where user demand is being missed by lack of supply of drivers. This is a way for drivers or similar to work out where they can work more efficiently.

Panakeia Technologies – LONDON

Panakeia makes cancer diagnosis simpler, faster and cheaper by eliminating the need for multiple tests.

TechCrunch comment: Cancer diagnosis can take a month and is expensive. They do this by running ML over images of biopsies. Already have several test partners. Seems like a strong team.

Speak Ai – LONDON

The world’s most expressive and realistic artificial voices.

TechCrunch comment: This was the spookiest pitch of the day! The idea being that you could use this artificial voice inside video games. Saving enormous amounts of money. 5 paid pilots already. Voice in the video games industry is huge. Makes it as easy to edit voice as videos. “A photoshop for voice.” Impressive stuff.

Vine Health Digital – LONDON

Vine Health’s platform uses behavioral science and AI to increase the survival of cancer patients.

TechCrunch comment: If you make things hard or easier you have big consequences (fake flies in urinals etc). If you nudge a patient into better behavior they have better outcomes. They have trials with partners already. Co-founders are rather well qualified! Great advisory board. 95% of patients on-board. Excellent results from patients. This is a startup to watch.

CirPlus – BERLIN

CirPlus is the global marketplace for recycled materials.

TechCrunch comment: Make it EASY to buy recycled plastics rather than hard. Have had EU funding. Passionate founder.

Nanovery – LONDON

Nanovery is developing nanorobots to diagnose the world’s deadliest diseases.

TechCrunch comment: Detect cancer using a simple blood test? Have we heard this before? No – they are building a search function using nano-robots. Their nano-robots are cheaper, they say. Very hard to assess this, but it sounds good.


Seyo enables machines to cooperate autonomously in extreme environments without the internet.

TechCrunch comment: Machines don’t have a global clock and one microsecond out can throw a system. So Seyo creates a logical sequence which is not time-based. It means the machines can work off the grid. They can be used in heavy industries like mining, where there are many fatalities.

Rosecut Technologies – LONDON

Rosecut is a digital private bank that offers bespoke, regulated advice in real-time.

TechCrunch comment: Wealth management! Always of interest to VCs… Rosecut wants to help the middle market, just under private equity. Traditional private banks require a lot of money. Rosecut is aiming at these guys. Already have $4.3m worth of assets ready to on-board. Likely to be regulated by the FCA in the next few months. Founder Qiaojia was a former ace asset adviser.

SquareMind – PARIS

SquareMind allows robots to make skin cancer detection more accurate and accessible.

TechCrunch comment: 3D construction software for full body mapping, able to track the growth of moles on the body using off the shelf robots. Prototypes and patents.

Intropic – LONDON

Intropic provides data refineries for investment management firms.

TechCrunch comment: Asset managers are generally shit, lazy and inefficient. Hedge funds are already using Intropic. Because the world needs more efficient hedge funds…

Flowlity – PARIS

Flowlity’s mission is to bring Amazon supply chain efficiency to the rest of the world.

TechCrunch comment: Many industrial players lack the time to do this well, and don’t scale at the level of Amazon. This startup claims to address this. No more overstocks, shortages and lost sales. The team was in this space before.

Omini – PARIS

Omini brings lab testing closer to the patient.

TechCrunch comment: Faster blood testing. (Yes, another one). Biosensing devices for immediate blood tests. Their first product measures infections and inflammations. THANKFULLY they mentioned the huge disaster in this industry and made sure people knew they were different.

Sense Street – LONDON

Sense Street innovates capital market communications.

TechCrunch comment: Freeing the information that’s in chat rooms about capital markets with ML. They can pull sentiment out of the chat rooms and give clients better insight. So that’s nice.

QantEv – PARIS

QantEv optimizes provider networks for health insurers.

TechCrunch comment: Probably sounds great if you’re a health insurer… rather indecipherable to the rest of us.

Morta – LONDON

Morta digitizes and automatically enforces construction rules.

TechCrunch comment: Building documents are in PDF and paper. This is a very old-fashioned industry. Mistakes creep in. Codifying the designs and rules reduces mistakes. Building industry wins!

CogniScent – BERLIN

CogniScent provides AI-guided early detection of neurodegenerative diseases.

TechCrunch comment: The lack of a sense of smell is a key indicator of neurodegenerative diseases. So you take a smell test, fill out a test and the result claims to be a 90% accurate prediction of a neurodegenerative disease.

Neoplants – PARIS

Neoplants use synthetic biology to design plants for the future.

TechCrunch comment: Problem: You spend a lot of time indoors and indoor air pollution is much worse than outdoors, because of VOCs. Air purifiers are bullshit. And green plants have ZERO impact on air quality. So their indoor plant is biologically engineered to capture VCOs and process them. Patents galore. You could also use these to capture carbon outdoors. Where do I buy one?!

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Nativo acquires content analytics company SimpleReach

Nativo has acquired SimpleReach, a move that Nativo CEO Justin Choi said will pair his company’s distribution system for native ads with SimpleReach’s measurement tools.

“If you can’t measure the impact of something, it’s difficult to scale spend in that area,” Choi told me. “When we say measurement we’re actually talking about connecting content to outcomes.”

To be clear, Nativo already offers measurement tools of its own, but apparently they’re limited to content that the brand or marketer is publishing on their own sites. SimpleReach, on the other hand, can measure sponsored content programs published elsewhere on the web, so Choi said it provides a “complementary measurement technology.”

Both Nativo and SimpleReach are long-standing players (and partners) in the native advertising and content marketing industry. Choi said Nativo has succeeded by “focusing on content,” and on the “mid-funnel” of the customer purchase journey.

“Almost all our relationships involve … the actual brands themselves, because we do solve a unique problem for them,” Choi said. “That middle part of: How you get someone to consider something? How do you create intent?”

The companies aren’t disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition. SimpleReach has raised a total of $24 million from investors, including MK Capital, Atlas Ventures, Village Ventures, High Peak Venture Partners and Spring Mountain Capital.

Choi said the company will continue to support SimpleReach as a separate product while also working to integrate its data into Nativo. Apparently “all the core team members” are joining Nativo, as is an off-site engineering team.

He added that the remaining team members have already been hired elsewhere (Update: It’s WeWork-owned Conductor), so “everyone that wanted a home ended up with a home.”

Updated to remove a reference to the number of SimpleReach employees joining Nativo, which a company spokesperson said was not accurate.

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This YC-backed startup preps Chinese students for US data jobs

In recent years, data analysts have gone from optional to a career that holds great promise, but demand for quantitative skills applied in business decisions has raced ahead of supply as college curriculum often lags behind the fast-changing workplace.

CareerTu, a New York-based startup launched by a former marketing manager at Amazon, aims to close that talent gap. Think of it as Codecademy for digital marketing, data analytics, product design and a whole lot of other jobs that ask one to spot patterns from a sea of data that can potentially boost business efficiency. The six-year-old profitable business runs a flourishing community of 160,000 users and 500 recruiting patners including Amazon, Google and Alibaba, an achievement that has secured the startup a spot at Y Combinator’s latest batch plus a $150,000 check from the Mountain View-based accelerator.

In a way, CareerTu is helping fledgling tech startups on a tight budget train ready-to-use data experts. “American companies have a huge demand for digital marketing and data talents these days … but not all of them want to or can spend money on training, and that’s where we can come in,” said Xu, who made her way into Amazon after burying herself in online tutorials about digital marketing.

The gig was well paid, and Xu felt the urge to share her experience with people like her — Chinese workers and students seeking data jobs in the U.S. She took up blogging, and eventually grew it into an online school. CareerTu offers many of its classes for free while sets aside a handful of premium content for a fee. 6,000 of its users are actively paying, which translates to some $500,000 in revenue last year. The virtual academy continues to blossom as many students return to become mentors, helping their Chinese peers to chase the American dream.

Y Combinator founder Paul Graham (second left) with CareerTu founder Zhang Ruiwan (second right) and her team members / Photo: CareerTu

Securing a job in the U.S. could be a daunting task for international students, who must convince employers to invest the time and money in getting them a work visa. But when it comes to courting scare data talents, the visa trap becomes less relevant.

“Companies could have hired locals to do data work, but it’s very difficult to find the right candidate,” suggested Xu. LinkedIn estimated that in 2018 the U.S. had a shortage of more than 150,000 people with “data science skills,” which find application not just in tech but also traditional sectors like finance and logistics.

“Nationalities don’t matter in this case,” Xu continued. “Employers will happily apply a work visa or even a green card for the right candidate who can help them save money on marketing campaigns. And many Chinese people happen to have a really strong background in data and mathematics.”

A Chinese business in the US

Though most of CareerTu’s users live in the U.S., the business is largely built upon WeChat, Tencent’s messaging app ubiquitous among Chinese users. That CareerTu sticks to WeChat for content marketing, user acquisition and tutoring is telling of the super app’s user stickiness and how overseas Chinese are helping to extend its global footprint.

And it makes increasing sense to keep CareerTu within the WeChat ecosystem after Xu noticed a surge in inquiries coming from her homeland. In 2018, only 5 percent of CareerTu’s users were living in China, many of whom were export sellers on Amazon. By early 2019, the ratio has shot up to 12 percent.

Xu believes there are two forces at work. For one, Chinese exporters are leaving Amazon to set up independent ecommerce sites, efforts that are in part enabled by Shopify’s entry into China in 2018. The alternative path provides merchants more control over branding, margins and access to customer insights. Breaking up with the ecommerce titan, on the other hand, requires Chinese sellers to get savvier at reaching foreign shoppers, expertise that CareerTu prides itself on.

CareerTu offers online courses via WeChat / Photo: CareerTu

Next door, large Chinese tech firms are increasingly turning abroad to fuel growth. Bytedance is possibly the most aggressive adventurer among its peers in recent years, buying up media startups around the world including, which would later merge with TikTok. Indeed, some of CareerTu’s recent grads have gone on to work at the popular video app. Rising interest from China eventually paved Zhang’s way home as she recently set up her first Chinese office in her hometown Chengdu, the laid-back city known for its panda parks and witnessing a tech boom.

Just as foreign companies need crash courses on WeChat before entering China, Chinese firms going global must familiarize themselves with the marketing mechanisms of Facebook and Google despite China’s ban on the social network and search engine.

When American companies growth hack, they make long-term plans that involve “model building, A/B testing, and making discoveries from big data,” observed Xu. By comparison, Chinese companies fighting in a more competitive landscape are more agile and opportunist as they don’t have the time to ponder or test out the different variants in a campaign.

“Going abroad is a great thing for Chinese companies because it sets them against their American counterparts,” said Xu. “We are teaching Chinese the western way, but we are also learning the Chinese way of marketing from players like Bytedance. I’m excited to see in a few years whether any of these Chinese companies abroad will become a local favorite.”

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