How to do Organic Discovery like Airbnb: Part 1

A guide to creating organic discovery: Part one of three

If you’ve been following our blog, hopefully, you didn’t miss our prediction for the big marketing trend of 2021: Airbnb style Organic Discovery.

This was inspired by the momentous news that Airbnb released in the run-up to its successful IPO in December 2020, which raised US$3.5bn and valued it at US$86bn (almost equal to the combined valuations of Marriott, Hilton and Expedia). But if you didn’t hear, Airbnb announced that it got fully 91% of all of its web traffic without paying a single penny to Google, Amazon, Facebook or Apple (‘GAFA’).

How it achieved this was through what it termed as Organic Discovery, in other words by using organic channels, such as word-of-mouth and strong brand recognition, to be less reliant on performance marketing like paid search, paid social or affiliate marketing. 

Our challenge to our readers was: if Airbnb can do this, why can’t you? 

Now, when faced with this challenge, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is just another buzzword or fad that will pass. That somehow it doesn’t apply to you and that there was something so specific or unusual about Airbnb that you couldn’t possibly apply it to your business. Or maybe you think that this would be nice, but the devil is in the detail and it would be impossibly hard to do. Or maybe you feel it’s too late and that you’ve missed that boat, and if only you had started out on this journey five years ago, and so on.

But instead of accepting these excuses, we have decided to dispel these doubts and write a guide on how you can develop and implement an Organic Discovery model for your business.  

The basic elements of Organic Discovery

As part of the Organic Discovery implementation plan, we will consider each of:

  • Search Engine Optimization
  • User-Generated Content
  • Ratings and Reviews
  • Social Media Outreach
  • Influencer Marketing
  • Referral Marketing
  • Enlisting employees, partners and other influencers
  • How to put it all together

Now, at first, you might think that there is little new with some or all of these elements. But that would be to miss the point of how Airbnb got Organic Discovery to work so well for them and lead to hundreds of thousands of more listings and bookings on their platform. It was not just by carefully implementing each of these elements, but by getting them to work together and reinforce each other that they achieved this.  We will explain how you can do this at the end of Part Three.

Before we start

This may seem obvious, but the first part of Organic Discovery is down to you and your team to do what Airbnb did, and deliver a world-class and unique customer experience that’s worth sharing. One that merits five-star reviews, provides great photo and video opportunities, and that your brand advocates will happily recommend and refer. Because if your product or service isn’t great, if your deliveries are late, your terms and conditions unfair, and your customer service unhelpful, then Organic Discovery won’t help you, but will more likely hinder your business. Instead, people will give one-star reviews, post comments, pictures and videos of how bad their experience was, bad mouth you on social media and refuse to recommend or refer you to friends and family. 

So the first stop on your Organic Discovery strategy is to audit every element of your customer user journey. You should talk to customers, from the first touchpoint, through renewals and even churn. Use point of sale and mobile surveys, in-store interviews, NPS surveys, focus groups, secret shopper journeys, monitor social media comments and any other technique to get feedback. And then relentlessly seek to improve your offering and measure how your customers perceive that change by getting more feedback.

Only once you’ve delivered on your customer promise will Organic Discovery work to deliver a large volume of high-value free web traffic to your website or app. 

Understand what you want to achieve

So assuming you’ve now verified that your customers do believe you have a great product or service, now you need to determine what your goal is before you start putting the pieces together. 

In Airbnb’s case, they wanted more listings from homeowners and more bookings from guests, which meant that they combined host and guest profiles with two-way reviews and background checks, invested in professional quality imagery for listings, and set up a referral program for both hosts and guests, paying cash to hosts and travel credits to guests for successful referrals. All of these elements reinforced each other and improved the overall experience for both hosts and guests. 

So in the context of your own business, and whether you want to drive sales, signups, listings or subscriptions, you need to think about how each element of your Organic Discovery strategy will lead towards your desired outcomes. How do they help people find you, understand the value you offer, trust you, have a great experience and not only want to come back again but want to add value to the ecosystem by adding content, leaving reviews and referring you to friends and colleagues?

And finally, you’ll want to measure this to see where your most valuable traffic came from and how each of these elements helped achieve your goals.

So let’s get started.

How to use SEO to boost your organic discovery

Search engine optimization (SEO)

In some ways, SEO might not seem anything new to you, but it’s a crucial part of your Organic Discovery strategy. Because, quite simply, you can have a great product or service with great reviews, lots of user-generated content and testimonials, but if no-one can find it or link it back to your business, then you are unlikely to benefit from it. So ensuring that you have optimized your website for search engines and mobile search underlies all the other parts of an Organic Discovery strategy. 

Remember that 68% of all online experiences begin with a search engine and a whopping 81% of consumers search the internet before making a large purchase. So you will want to make sure that when potential customers search, they find your content or content about you, both on and off your site. That means, making sure your site and content are indexed by all relevant search engines, and not just Google and Bing but local search engines like Yandex, Baidu and Naver (if relevant) and relevant vertical search engines, as well as image and video search engines. 

The basics include submitting sitemaps to search engines and creating listings, and ensuring that your content is properly described and intelligible to search engines with optimized page titles and headings, alt-tags and metadata. You also need to ensure that your content loads quickly, is optimized for mobile, and it’s not blocked by robots.txt files or hidden behind password-protected areas. 

Once you ensure your website is indexed and there are no barriers to it being listed and shared, you then need to create great content that answers the web searchers’ questions and anticipates and overcomes their objections and doubts about doing business with you. To do this well, you will need to really understand your customers’ needs, your customer personas and their user journeys, something that your research into ensuring that your product or service experience is truly great will have equipped you for.  Then think about how you make that content available across different media such as website text, images, videos, and so forth. 

You also need to use carefully targeted keywords associated with that content that reflects the way your customers think about these questions and how they would type their queries into a search engine. Ideally, you would create an asset for each unique search query. But while you will want to target niche keyphrases and localized versions (like ‘apartment near Broadway, Manhattan’) as well as the most searched phrases, you need to consider that search engines like Google are very good at stemming or understanding that words like ‘buys’, ‘buying’ and ‘bought’ are variations of the word ‘buy’. So you don’t need to create lots of similar versions of that content with minor text differences and you should be aware of the fact that duplicate content can actually harm your performance in search engine results pages (SERPS).

Crucial to an Organic Discovery strategy is to ensure that the content that is created about you is found on your website or links to your website. Ideally, the SEO benefit of reviews on your website will accrue to your website and not the review consolidator. Also any images related to your business on Instagram or Pinterest or videos on Youtube or DailyMotion should refer to your brand and, if possible, link back to your website or social pages. In particular, where you have implemented a referral program, that should be easy to find in a web search for ‘[brand] refer’ and easy to find on your website, ideally prominently positioned in your website navigation. 

SEO is a wide and constantly evolving field, and you may be well advised to hire a specialist or an agency. But if you do, make sure that SEO is considered all throughout your Organic Discovery Strategy.

So now that we have discussed the preparation for an Organic Discovery strategy. Next, in Part Two of this guide, we will consider User-Generated Content, Ratings and Reviews and Social Media.

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