I've analyzed all 490 Indie Hackers interviews and identified 34 acquisition channels that work consistently for founders (see Zero to Users for more details). As I read the interviews, I noticed SEO was mentioned a lot… but there was a twist.
Most of the people who were successful with SEO used other acquisition channels first. They didn't start with SEO right from the get-go. This was a pretty interesting observation.
Take Snipcart ($100K/mo), for example. It's a software that allows people to add a shipping cart to a website. Snipcart had initial success getting users via integrations and winning a "site of the day" award on a pretty popular website awards site. Here's what happened later:
In time, we realized our shaky, well-intentioned blogging was driving more and more organic traffic and even a few direct conversions. Especially our platform-specific e-commerce tutorials. So we decided to really own that channel.
As I continued reading more interviews, I noticed more founders saying pretty much the same. Take Instapainting ($32K/mo), a photo-to-painting service. When asked what was the most crucial thing that helped them succeed, here's what Chris (the founder) said:
For me, SEO. I think it took about 5–6 months for me to realize that the business was primarily sustained from SEO traffic.
Today Instapainting is earning about $400,000 of revenue per year. This is up from the first year, which was only about $89-$90k in revenue. The main driver of the increase is improved SEO from content marketing.
Chris also mentioned getting on the front page of Reddit, HackerNews, and being featured on TechCrunch, which in no doubt, resulted in increased search traffic over time.
I've also encountered examples where founders were explicit about getting started/succeeding with SEO right away (I'll cover this next week, subscribe to the series to get notified). But they were way less (29) vs. founders who started & succeeded with something else, and then slowly moved to SEO (84).
I did further analysis to identify the other* acquisition channels used by the founders who were successful with SEO (at a later stage) and found some interesting insights:
Number #2 (with 19 mentions) was Google Ads (AdWords). This made sense, because in most cases, a) SEO takes time b) Even if you rank, how do you know if those keywords are going to convert? This is where AdWords comes in handy. You can run some small experiments; see if these keywords convert; if they do, make a plan for the long-term game of SEO.
Number #1 (with 21 mentions) was ProductHunt and number #4 (with 11 mentions) was press. These are acquisition channels that boost your SEO indirectly. I've seen examples where people got on the front page of Product Hunt & have been picked up by press publications. That has given them valuable backlinks, and Google uses backlinks as one of the main signals to rank websites.
To conclude: SEO is an acquisition channel that will probably take the most time to work. Plus, you're not going to know if it's going to work for you until you start getting traffic. There are 2 ways to mitigate this: a) Buy ads for those keywords & see if they convert (and plan for SEO if they do) b) Focus on acquisition channels that (besides bringing you new users), also indirectly boost your SEO (like press outreach, being on websites where you're likely to be picked up by the press, and so on.)
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