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How MasterClass Is Dominating Google SERPs

Getting 5.9M users/month by targeting high search volume keywords.

Hey — It’s Nico.

Welcome to another installment of Behind Tactics 🧠, where I explore the various strategies employed by startups to establish market dominance.

This week’s edition is brought to you by The Branx, the #1 branding agency for startups.

Today, I’ll delve into MasterClass, the learning platform in which Gordon Ramsay teaches you how to cook, and Steve Martin shares the secrets of humor.

I'm particularly examining how MasterClass leverages its blog to attract over 6 million visitors to its website each month, and how writing seemingly unrelated articles, like “How to Cry on Command,” has become one of its primary strategies to acquire new customers.

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The Strategy

A Master Class in SEO

MasterClass stands out in the crowded landscape of online learning platforms like Coursera or Udemy by offering a distinctive twist: all courses are taught by renowned experts. For example, you can learn acting from Samuel L. Jackson, gain business insights from Mark Cuban, or even master skateboarding with tips from Tony Hawk.

This unique selling point has transformed MasterClass into one of the few unicorns in EdTech, propelling its valuation to $2.75 billion.

As mentioned earlier, one of their primary growth drivers is SEO. MasterClass has generated thousands of articles that rank for millions of keywords, attracting millions of users each month.

What's particularly intriguing to me is that many of these articles aren't directly tied to any specific MasterClass course. Instead, a significant portion of them appears to be entirely random and unrelated.

Consider, for instance, the article titled “Can You Freeze Corn Tortillas?” or the one called “How to Hang Curtains Without Drilling.” It is hard to see how writing these articles can be helpful for a learning platform like MasterClass. 

But as you dive deeper, you understand this is a clever channel that allows them to reach millions of people, who then convert to their subscription at a higher rate than expected.

How They Rank

The keywords MasterClass ranks for are super competitive. Lots of websites, including the most well-known ones, like Wikipedia, aim to rank for many of these.

How is it, then, that MasterClass is consistently able to outrank the competition and position itself in the first positions of the SERPs?

It’s simple: they’ve mastered the art of satisfying user search intent.

What does this mean? Google’s Algorithm has become increasingly smart over the years. Ten years ago, you could rank on Google simply by putting a keyword many times on your site. Nowadays, it’s all about satisfying a specific user search intent with your page.

If a user searches for something and you’re able to satisfy that thing the user is searching for, Google will realize and rank you higher. If users enter your page and go back to the SERPs page because they didn’t find what they were looking for, your page will quickly disappear from the SERPs.

MasterClass’ content and page design are done in a way that users can easily get what they are looking for when doing a Google search.

Here are the 3 keys they use to satisfy user search intent:

  1. The Structure: Whether it is a listicle, a how-to guide, a Q&A post, etc. How do you know which structure your page should have? Simply look at the SERPs and see what’s ranking. MasterClass always has the article structure that Google thinks is the best to satisfy a user’s search.

  2. The Content: MasterClass’s articles are generally long-form and cover all of the aspects of the topic. They even answer questions that the reader doesn’t know they have yet. This doesn’t mean adding useless content — it’s all about saying the right words. Additionally, they generally make these articles super actionable, with things like step-by-step instructions.

  3. The UX: Reading an article is no longer simply reading words. The page’s design and images are equally important. A few things Masterclass does well in this sense:

    1. A table of contents lets the user quickly scroll to the section they’re interested in reading.

    2. Articles are formatted with short paragraphs, headings, bullet points, bolds, and spaces, making the reading experience more pleasant.

    3. And a really nice page design, both on desktop and mobile.

One additional factor that significantly contributes to MasterClass's high ranking on Google is its extensive backlink profile. They have 635,808 backlinks, and more than half of them are directed towards their blog pages. 

Why so many backlinks? Because of their celebrity instructors. People are most likely to link to articles written by or featuring someone who’s known in some field.

Take, for instance, this article featuring Hans Zimmer. It has gotten plenty of backlinks from high-authority websites like Wikipedia.

How They Convert

So, MasterClass is getting a lot of traffic by ranking articles in really competitive keywords.

It’s true that it’s super top-of-the-funnel content, but MasterClass is converting these users at a higher rate than what one would expect.

How are they doing it? They put multiple Call-to-Actions throughout each article.

Look at this article on how to eat crawfish. It has 6 different CTAs, like this model at the top:

This table at the right sidebar:

And this section at the bottom of the page:

Additionally, they occasionally include in-content CTAs promoting related lessons from their courses. For instance, in an article titled “What are Shallots”, there's a link to a lesson where Gordon Ramsay teaches how to cut shallots—a lesson accessible only through subscription.

Moreover, if a user doesn’t make a purchase during that particular session, it's not a major concern because a cookie is stored on their browser. 

This means that after reading a MasterClass article, you’ll probably start seeing hundreds of ads on social media promoting a course related to the content you viewed. MasterClass spends a huge amount on ADs. It’s undisclosed, but it’s in the 7 figures per month.

Finally, MasterClass' strong branding likely plays a significant role in boosting their conversion rates. Everyone is familiar with what MasterClass offers, making it far more probable for consumers to make a purchase from a company they already know.

Should I?

Why This Works

Targeting bottom-of-the-funnel keywords is a good strategy and one that I’d recommend to all businesses wanting to start doing SEO.

These keywords are usually less competitive, which will increase the chances of your new site with a low domain rating ranking well on the SERPs.

And while these keywords have a small monthly search volume, the conversion rate will be high so it can drive you a lot of customers.

But for bigger businesses like MasterClass, bottom-of-the-funnel keywords are not enough. They are probably already leveraging these, which means they need to search for other opportunities, like more top-of-the-funnel keywords.

Why do top-of-the-funnel keywords work: 

  • They have a huge search volume, which means that even if the conversion rate is much lower, it can still get them a lot of customers.

  • If a top-of-the-funnel keyword has 100K monthly searches and a 0.01% conversion rate, and a bottom-of-the-funnel has 100 monthly searches and a 1% conversion rate, the first keyword will drive 10 times more customers than the second one, with a 100 time lower conversion rate.

How to Apply It

There are a few things we can learn from MasterClass SEO strategy that you can apply to your business:

  • When writing an article, decide the structure by looking at the SERPs. If all the results are listicle articles, then do a listicle article. If they’re all how-to guides, then to a how-to guide. Don’t innovate here — Google has already figured out what page structure satisfies the user search intent the most and that’s what it ranks in the first position.

  • When creating content targeting these high search volume keywords, cover the topic entirely and make the content actionable. Look into the competitor’s articles and make sure to cover all of the topics they’ve included in their posts.

  • Optimize your website design and content formatting for easy readability. Add a table of contents allowing the user to scroll to the part they’re most interested in, have clear headlines, add bullet points, make your paragraphs short, include bolds, etc.

  • Boost backlinks by bringing industry authorities into your Blog, either by featuring them or getting them to be guest authors.

Yes, But

Haters will say:

  • “It’s better to focus on bottom-of-the-funnel” — For most businesses new to SEO, it’s better to do so. They’re less competitive, so your website will struggle less to rank in the highest positions. Plus, it can drive results faster. But for bigger businesses to keep growing they eventually will need to go after top-of-the-funnel keywords.

  • “You need a high authority website” — You need so, but that’s something that you build over time. MasterClass started this strategy way before they had such a high domain authority. If you publish several articles per week and these start to get backlinks organically, which they probably will, your domain authority will grow quickly.

  • “Content writers are expensive” — Try using AI or Programmatic SEO when you can to lower your content creation costs.

Keep Learning

Others Playing It

Zapier is also employing this strategy. 

Their blog boasts 4,075 articles aimed at various top-of-the-funnel keywords such as “How to Use ChatGPT” and “Best URL Shorteners.” These articles drive 8.3 million organic users to their site each month.

Zapier adopted this approach after exhausting all bottom-of-the-funnel keywords with their Integrations pages, which targetted terms like “Integrate Google Sheets with Gmail.”

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