Organic SaaS Growth: #16 How Webflow Quietly Grew Without VC Money

By Ankur Tiwari on 08-06-2020

In the world of website builders, Webflow is in the league of its own.

A torchbearer of the 'no-code' movement, Webflow enables creators to build and publish websites without coding.

After a shaky start, Webflow's growth picked up, and they have raced far ahead of their competitors.

How Webflow Quietly Grew Without VC Money

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Today, Webflow:

  1. Has more than 45,000+ paying customers.
  2. Attracts over 4 Million visitors each month.
  3. Generates $20+ million in annual recurring revenue.
Webflow's traffic overview
Webflow's Traffic Overview

More importantly, they have fueled this growth by generating revenue and not by burning VC money.

In 2013, Webflow raised a seed round of $2.9 million.

In 2019, Webflow raised a second round of $72 million, resulting in an estimated valuation of $350+ million.

During the six years between these two rounds, team Webflow built a profitable, self-sustaining, and cash-flow positive business.

Webflow's Revenue Growth YOY
Webflow's Revenue Growth YOY [Source]

To understand Webflow's growth strategies, a good place to start with is their website's traffic analysis.

Webflow's traffic sources
Webflow's Traffic Sources

Direct traffic means users know about Webflow and are directly typing the URL in the browser.

Since Webflow is a development platform, we can safely assume that registered users logging in to build their apps are a large part of the direct traffic.

Search, referral, and social traffic make up the large part of the rest of the traffic.

Today I am going to reveal Webflow's growth strategies to generate traffic, engage visitors, convert them to paying users, improve the product, and grow their business.

If you want to build a profitable SaaS business that can fuel its own growth, you should get a lot of value from today's research.

Let's dive in.



Product

Webflow is a 'no-code' website builder. Its users can visually customize each element of the design just like software engineers.

Webflow is not a template-based drag-and-drop website builder.

Webflow is a radically original product vision to remove the constraints to website design from ground up. It is not just an incrementally better product.

In 2013, Webflow founder, Vlad Magdalin said:

"The idea is to make it much, much easier for people to build more complex websites and web applications."

After six years, in 2019, Vlad expressed pretty much the same thoughts in different words:

"If we can invent an easier way for people to create for the internet, we can truly democratize access to the world's most powerful medium, and in turn, unlock an unprecedented wave of innovation and entrepreneurship that will have a huge positive impact on the world."

But what does the product vision has to do with the growth?

In the SaaS world, you can find many products solving the same problem, each offering a different experience to its users. Products that solve users' problems to the extent of changing the way they live their lives are the ones that win in the long run.

I was once recommended a famous template-based website builder on a Facebook group. It was easy to get started — select a template and customize it. But the final website left me wishing for more, in terms of its design and performance. I didn't stay with the platform for long. Since then, I've come across their ads, blogs, and social recommendations many times. But no amount of marketing could make me go back to them.

I came across Webflow last year on Twitter. The grandeur of their product positioning caught my attention.

Future of design
Future Of Design

I have recently made a small project using Webflow's CMS. Even though I have built fairly large websites on Python Flask, I found Webflow intuitive, versatile, and a pleasure to work with. I don't intend to shift to Webflow from Flask completely, but I am interested in using it for a few projects.

I am going to stay with them. I'm a retained user.

Key Takeaways

  1. A product built upon deep audience insights and a grand vision retains its proud users by delighting them.
  2. Since high retention is the most important metrics for SaaS growth, such a product is a powerful growth lever in itself.

Customer Personas

Discovering an ideal customer persona is one of those things that everyone reads and talks about but only a handful of people actually do it.

In an interview, Webflow's cofounder Bryant Chou talked about Webflow's ideal customer:

"That customer persona, for us, is a freelance web designer. And that freelance web designer is the lowest common denominator. That person needs everything. That person needs hosting, that person needs design flexibility; that person needs symbols, interactions, multiple pages. They need a CMS."

Thus Webflow spent early years building for freelance web designers.

For Webflow, freelancers and agencies are like channel partners, bringing more customers with each new project. A single freelancer who has invested time in learning Webflow platform is going to bring in hundreds of her clients as Webflow users.

Ycombinator selected Webflow in 2013. Being a YC company gave them access to other YC companies, and many of those companies started using Webflow for their marketing sites.

Today, Webflow focuses on four customer profiles:

  1. Freelancers and agencies: Use Webflow to build websites for their clients.
  2. Marketing teams within companies: Use Webflow to launch landing pages and CMS without engaging developers. This way, freeing up engineering resources for core product development. This saves costs and reduces time to launch marketing campaigns.
  3. Business owners who want to DIY: Use Webflow to create their business websites by themselves.
  4. Designers: Use Webflow to build prototypes.
Customer Personas
Customer Personas

Webflow uses these clearly defined customer personas to build relevant product features, positioning, messages, and growth strategies. They target each of these customer types. I will discuss their growth strategies in relation to customer personas later in this post.

Key Takeaways

  1. Discover and design your ideal customer personas. Develop positioning and growth strategies to target these personas.
  2. Begin with a customer segment that stands to benefit most from your product, as well as can help you grow fast.

Marketing Website

The home page of a SaaS business is the marketing site that showcases the product and value positioning.

The marketing site's main job is to convert the traffic.

Webflow's cofounder Bryant Chou shared his approach to building their marketing site:

"I really tried to understand the customer; I really tried to understand the technical bits of what's available so that we can build this product, build this marketing site, and then we really tried to measure and test it."

The key attributes of Webflow's positioning are:

  1. Design, Build, Launch.
  2. No Code, earlier it was drag and drop.
  3. Responsive Web Design.
  4. HTML element level customization.

To their credit, these positioning attributes have been part of Webflow's home page since the very beginning.

Let's look at Webflow's home page over the years.

Webflow's home page in 2013

Webflow Marketing Site In 2013
Webflow Marketing Site In 2013

In this marketing site copy, their focus is on responsive design, drag & drop, design-export-launch, and the power of CSS.

Webflow's home page in 2016

Webflow marketing site in 2016
Webflow marketing site in 2016

This copy of Webflow's marketing site focuses on design, prototype, the launch of the responsive websites. They had added a few use cases from agencies, freelancers, and NGOs.

By 2016, the word had gone out about Webflow, and Twitter was talking about them. For social proof, they have added a few tweets in this copy.

Webflow's home page in 2020

Webflow marketing site in 2020
Webflow marketing site in 2020

It is the present-day home page of Webflow with the same positioning.

The focus has always been on — design, build, and launch.

Key Takeaways

Approach building the marketing site, i.e., the homepage as a project in itself. Focus on customer personas and product positioning.

At the same time, make it super simple for visitors to understand what your product does. Even though not many people talk about it, non-intuitive products and confusing home pages are widespread among SaaS businesses.


Content Machine

Webflow gets over a million website visits each month via organic search traffic. They have created compelling content to attract such massive traffic.

Their top keywords are branded, indicating high brand awareness.

Webflow's search traffic
Webflow Search Traffic

They also generate traffic for non-branded keywords like 'free templates' and 'vh' [CSS units].

top non branded keywords
Webflow top non branded keywords

And even rank on Google SERP for industry keyword 'no code' alongside the likes of mighty Wikipedia.

Google serp for no code
google SERP for no-code query

However, Webflow does not rely just on their blog to generate organic traffic.

They create a variety of content like blog posts, video tutorials, ebooks, and much more to engage their audience.

different types of content
different types of content

Each of these content types together forms the content growth machine of Webflow.

Blog

Webflow publishes around 10–12 blog posts a month on topics like web design, freelancing, inspiration, entrepreneurship, and tutorials.

All of these are the Winning Themes that Webflow has identified to go well with their customer personas.

category wise blog posts
category wise blog posts

Some of the blog posts are among the top traffic pages of Webflow.

top traffic pages
top traffic pages

If you spend some time on Webflow's blog, you will notice two very important things.

First, they create long-form content. The average word count per post is around 3000 words.

Second, there are blog posts for each funnel stage.

Top of the funnel posts like "20 Web Design Trends for 2019" and "Web Page Layout" are shareable and bring in a lot of traffic.

Middle and bottom of the funnel posts like "From Figma to Webflow: turning your static designs into interactive websites" and "SEO and Webflow: the essential guide" are good to move already engaged users towards conversion.

blog posts analysis
blog posts analysis [Source]

If you notice, you will realize that having clearly defined customer personas helps Webflow build persona specific content at each stage of the funnel.

For example, Webflow has created a blog post to help freelancers convince their clients to use Webflow over Wordpress. This is actually an issue with freelancers as many of their clients start by asking for Wordpress website.

freelancers get asked about webflow vs wordpress
freelancers get asked about webflow vs wordpress

Content Clusters

Webflow does not just publish blog posts. They create content clusters around their winning themes and call them reading lists.

They prominently display reading lists on their blog page.

reading lists as content clusters
reading lists as content clusters

At present, Webflow has a total of thirteen reading lists. Within each reading list, there are multiple articles related to the theme.

reading list wise number of blog posts
reading list wise number of blog posts [Source]

For example, the Freelance reading list contains six posts on:

  1. Finding Work
  2. Pricing Freelance Services
  3. Tools for Freelancers
  4. Use of Webflow for Freelancing
  5. Client Management
  6. Time Management

A freelance website designer will find all of these topics interesting.

If you look at the dates on these posts, you will find that most of these posts are from 2016 and 2017. Grouping old posts together under a reading list is a great way to use them afresh.

Content Funnels

Webflow's blog posts are well-integrated with their content funnels.

Here are some of the Webflow's content funnels that helps them engage and acquire new users.

Content Funnel 1

Blog Title: 9 inspiring portfolios and insights from the designers behind them

This is a top of the funnel blog post that can easily interest designers if they come across the headline on social media or in the search results.

Midway in this post, Webflow offers an ebook on "freelance designer's life" with a clear call-to-action.

callout for ebook
Callout for ebook

This ebook is a gated content. Readers have to enter their email to access this ebook.

gated content to collect emails
Gated conent to collect emails

Funnel: Inspiring portfolio blog post > eBook > Signup

Content Funnel 2

Here is another blog post that targets Freelancers and sits in the middle of the funnel.

Blog Title: How to power your freelance web design business with Webflow — for free

This blog post targets freelance website designers who are already aware of the Webflow.

Midway in this post, Webflow asks readers "Ready to take the fear out of your freelancing?" and offers a free course "The Freelancer's Journey" to help readers grow their freelancing business.

Callout for freelancer course
Callout for freelancer course

This is a middle of the funnel content and offers value to a specific customer persona.

Webflow prompts the visitors to signup for a drip sequence.

drip sequence pop up
Drip sequence pop-up

Drip sequences work very well in converting prospects to users.

Funnel: Power your business with Webflow > Online course > Signup

Content Funnel 3

Blog Title: From Figma to Webflow: turning your static designs into interactive websites

This is a detailed post to help Figma users adopt to Webflow for their designs.

What would such a reader think about once her website is ready?

Hosting.

Hence Webflow has placed a callout "What to look for in a web hosting service?" that takes the reader to another blog post about hosting.

content funnel for figma designers
content funnel for figma designers

From the blog post about hosting, Webflow moves readers to free signup.

Funnel: Figma + Webflow blog post > Hosting blog post > Free Signup

Content Funnel 4

Blog Title: 19 amazing sources of web design inspiration

This is a content targeted at designers.

content funnel for designers
content funnel for designers

Since the funnel is targeted at designers, words like creativity and inspiration go well with it.

Funnel: 19 Amazing sources > Why your design team should use Webflow > Unleash your creativity > Free Signup

Content Funnel 5

Blog Title: SEO and Webflow: the essential guide

callout for signup at bottom of the funnel post
Callout for signup at bottom of the funnel post

Since this is the bottom of the funnel blog post, the callout straight away asks the reader to signup for a free Webflow account.

Funnel: SEO & Webflow blog post > Free Signup

An SEO Tip: For some of the blog posts, you will see that dates of readers' comments are older than the dates of the posts displayed at the top. It means the blog posts are actually older than the dates shown at the top.

These dates are not publication dates, but rather 'last edited' dates. In schema markup 'dateModified' is an entry where you can provide 'last edited' date value.

But what are the benefits of using last edited dates rather than publication dates?

Two benefits:

  1. Google considers the lastModified date into account for the ranking. A recent lastModified date suggests that the article is up-to-date. This increases the chances of your post ranking high on the search engines.
  2. You can update and repurpose old content without much investment of resources. Readers too usually prefer new content over the old ones, this is especially true for top-of-the-funnel content.

Ebooks

Webflow has created ebooks on no-code, design process, freelance business, and website design.

These ebooks are part of their content funnels.

You can relate these ebooks to their various customer personas.

ebooks by webflow
ebooks by webflow

These ebooks are free but gated. This means you will have to give Webflow your email to get these ebooks. A way for them to grow an email list.

But it's not just your email. Webflow gets to know something more about you.

If you are downloading 'The Freelance Web Designer's Guide' then there are high chances that you are a freelancer website designer.

This way, Webflow is also capturing the intent of their audience.

They can then send you a drip sequence about freelance web design business and can convert you to a paid user.

ebooks access
ebooks access

You can read ebooks directly on their website. This helps them in increasing the dwell time and thus improving their SEO. In this case also, as you go from the first page to next, you will be prompted to give your email to read further.

However, if you have already registered and logged-in, they will take you to the ebook download. Their website is intelligent enough not to ask for emails from signed-in users.

Video Content: Webflow University

This is a complete tech hub to learn everything about building websites on Webflow. You will find all the courses and technical videos you need to learn to use Webflow.

webflow university
Webflow University

For a technical product like Webflow, there is usually a learning curve involved. Some users may take a day while others may take a month to learn to use the product.

Webflow university has short videos with professional production quality to teach various functionality to its users. In the absence of these videos, newly signed up users might not be able to design websites and leave the platform.

Webflow university may not be a lead generator, but it sure is helpful in product adaptation and user activation.

Key Takeaways

  1. No amount of content can help in growth if it is not well integrated with the signup process. In addition to giving value, your content should also move readers towards signup while keeping the progression look natural.
  2. Design the content around customer personas.
  3. If you want to build content that your users will love, you should build a community of your audience and encourage your users to share their problems, desires, and ambitions.
  4. Package the old content into new clusters.
  5. Create content for all stages of the funnel.

Free Templates & User-Generated Content

The third most visited page on Webflow.com is the free website templates page.

Free website templates
free website templates

Webflow also ranks on Google SERP for query 'free templates'.

Free website templates serp
free templates SERP

Free website templates are much in demand, and the keyword 'free templates' receives over 25k impressions in a month.

free templates keyword impressions
free templates keyword impressions

Templates help Webflow users to quickly start with their projects as well as draw inspiration.

So building free templates benefits Webflow to:

  1. Get more and high intent traffic.
  2. Help registered users quickly build their websites.

Interestingly, users help Webflow to get these benefits at low costs.

How?

Webflow has built a marketplace to buy and sell templates.

Designers create templates, post them on Webflow's marketplace, and earn money on every sale.

To build their portfolio, many of these designers also create free templates that Webflow's users can readily use.

So, both Webflow and its users create free templates.

For a website design SaaS, templates are a form of user-generated content that its audience consumes.

Webflow allows search engines to index their website templates.

templates are indexed in search engines
templates are indexed in search engines

Thus these templates even provide SEO juice to Webflow.

Key Takeaways

User-generated content is very scalable. If UGC is possible for your product, you should explore the ways to build it.


Freemium

You can design and host a website on Webflow for free.

Webflow publishes free websites to Webflow.io with a subdomain i.e., yourwebsite.weblfow.io and 'Made in Webflow' branding.

Free website on webflow.io with their branding
Free website on webflow.io with their branding

This way, you do not need to pay Webflow anything during the time you are designing your website. Once you are ready to host the website with your domain name, you can opt for the paid plan.

Webflow is a bottoms-up product. Product adaptation is fueled by individual designers discovering the product, signing up, and then suggesting it to their teams. By offering a free plan without asking for credit card details, Webflow makes it super easy for a prospect to try it. Free templates and video tutorials further make the product adaptation easy.

The 'Made in Webflow' branding is essentially a link to their main website, Webflow.com. It is the biggest referrer to Webflow.com.

referring domains
referring domains

Key Takeaways

  1. Webflow is a sticky product. Once a user has set up a website of her liking on Webflow, hosting and migration to a paid plan is a natural progression.
  2. Even though the freemium is a tricky model that does not work for all kinds of products, you can still experiment with it. Use audience insights to create plans that will make freemium users convert to a paid plan.
  3. But remember, there are companies that see a huge churn from free users. There are companies that struggle to convert free users and also find it difficult to sustain the costs of free users.

Designers: Growth & Branding Channel

An interesting page under the top 10 pages by traffic of Webflow is the designers' page. Interestingly, this page is the third most shared page on Facebook, right after Webflow's home and signup pages.

designers page
designers page

Around 73,200 designers (~6100 pages x 12 per page) are registered on Webflow. This is the hub where customers can discover designers for their website projects.

webflow designer
Webflow designers

By helping designers build profiles and get hired, Webflow is paving the path for its own growth. With every new project, designers bring in new users to Webflow.


Take The Bull By The Horns

Wordpress is the biggest name on the internet to build websites.

No discussion on building a website can go through without considering the viability of a Wordpress website.

Clients of agencies and freelancers using Webflow often ask them the big questions — Wordpress vs. Webflow?

user message
User message on facebook

Webflow has created a dedicated page about Webflow vs. Wordpress.

This page is the definitive resource on Webflow vs. Wordpress and covers an end-to-end comparison.

webflow vs wordpress
Webflow vs wordpress

It is a very confident strategy and helps fence-sitters to take action. They have linked to this page in the footer.

footer links
footer links

They have also created a similar page for Webflow vs. Squarespace.

Key Takeaways

Create a resource to answer the most asked questions confidently and share it with your audience.


Social

A little more than 5% of Webflow's total traffic comes through social channels. This represents organic traffic due to social content and paid traffic due to ads.

YouTube is the largest traffic source for Webflow, with Facebook being a distant second.

social traffic
social traffic

YouTube Content [62.3K subscribers, 23,774,594 views]

  1. Short and exciting promotional videos to establish positioning — no code, no barriers, better websites, fast execution.
  2. Courses to teach Webflow
  3. Growing freelance business, project management

Webflow videos are entertaining, informative, fast-paced, and tell stories.

The result?

Millions of views.

top youtube videos
Top YouTube videos

All the videos contain multiple links in the description. They drive traffic different landing pages. The description of a video on CMS includes the first link to Webflow's CMS page.

Though they prioritize 'Webflow University' links and intend to drive traffic from YouTube to university.

Webflow works with many social influencers like Charlie Prangley and Pablo Stanley in the field of website design.

influencers
Influencers

Charlie has over 165K subscribers to her YouTube channel while Pablo has over 85K. These are big channels in their niche with engaged followers.

For all other social platforms, Webflow uses the common content rather than building the content for each platform.

For example, they posted this question on Facebook:

facebook post
Facebook post

And posted same on Twitter:

twitter post
twitter post

As well as on Instagram:

instagram post
instagram post

Key Takeaways

  1. Build an audience on at least one social network. Depending on the nature of your business, discover which social network is best for you.
  2. You do not have to invest resources in building exclusive content for each social network. Repurpose the same content.

Paid Ads

Facebook Ads

Like many other bottoms-up B2B SaaS businesses, Webflow uses and benefits from Facebook ads.

Webflow is using Facebook video ads to drive traffic to specific landing pages by addressing pain points in the developer-designer-manager world.

Themes of these ads go back to Webflow's customer personas and addresses their pains.

Here are some of the key Facebook ad funnels of Webflow:

Fb Ad 1

A video ad highlighting untimely and unclear design demands from a manager and the ease of addressing them using Webflow.

instagram post
instagram post

The 'Learn More' CTA redirects to the home page.

Funnel: Facebook Ad > Home page

Fb Ad 2

This video ad highlights the logistics issues with a developer-led setup against the ease of improving the website using a Webflow designer.

instagram post
instagram post

Funnel: Facebook Ad > Home Page

Fb Ad 3

This video ad highlights the Webflow's content management system and links to their CMS page.

instagram post
instagram post

Funnel: Facebook ad > Webflow's CMS landing page.

Fb Ad 4

This is an influencer marketing ad. Pablo Stanley featured in this video ad is a YouTuber with a large following.

instagram post
instagram post

Funnel: Facebook Ad > Webflow's eCommerce Landing Page.

Fb Ad 5

A video ad showing that Webflow is built for designers and developers both.

instagram post
instagram post

Funnel: Facebook Ad > Home Page

Here are Webflow's different Facebook Ads and their angles.

all facebook ads
All facebook ads [Source]

For this research, I visited Webflow's website many times. But did not see any of their ads on my Facebook. This means that they probably do not run retargeting ads. I use a Facebook feed killer but have disabled it for three days for this research.

Another possibility is that they might have determined that I've already signed up for their free plan by using custom conversions . In this case, they might not be running retargeting ads for freemium users.

Google Ads

The keyword that is bringing most traffic is 'Webflow,' bringing in around 6.4% of total paid search traffic.

paid search traffic
Search Keywords

They are mostly targeting these branded keywords on Google ads.

Keyword: Webflow

keyword webflow
Keyword 'Webflow'

Keyword: Web flow

keyword web flow
Keyword web flow

Key Takeaways

  1. Facebook ads are beneficial for bottoms-up B2B SaaS businesses. If you have discovered product-market-message fit, you should experiment with Facebook ads.
  2. Create different ads for different customer personas.
  3. While linking your landing page to Facebook ads, always use UTM links.

Community

Webflow has built a large community of over 60,000 members and connect with them over emails, local meetups, Slack channel, Facebook group, and events.

Community members are usually highly engaged and loyal users. They help in referral growth as well as product improvement.

There are local meetups organized at various locations by Webflow and independent parties.

webflow community
Webflow community

A recently organized Webflow Banglore Meetup saw 80+ attendees. These high-touch, offline local events provide organizers enough time to explain the proudct, its use cases and business possibilities. Thus help in new user acquisition and higher product engagement.


No Code Conference

Webflow launched the No Code Conf in 2019. It was a two-day event in San Francisco. Speakers from various walks of life participated in the conference and talked on topics like design, building 'no-code' apps, growth, collaboration, and learning about 'no-code' tools.

Organizing such a conference is like assuming a market leadership position. It is also a great place to collaborate with influencers and industry analysts.

no code conference
No code conference

In years to come, this conference will grow in size and help Webflow to generate more leads, get more media coverage, and build a more loyal customer base.

A case in point is Zoom's annual conference Zoomtopia.


Moving Ahead With Imperfections

Webflow is a well-designed and well-marketed product.

From early on, they have worked with their users and built useful features.

But their users still wish for many features, Webflow is still far from being a perfect product.

Some wish for minor feature upgrades:

user post on facebook
User post

And some wish for more prominent changes:

user post on facebook
No code conference

Webflow has not let product shortcomings come in way of their growth.

To streamline all feature requests of their users, Webflow has built a Wishlist page with a voting system, rather than building features out of their own imagination.

no code conference
No code conference

How creating such a Wishlist helps with growth?

When you have all feature requests in one place, you can invest your resources in building the most important features and be sure that your users will benefit from them. This is a very focussed product improvement strategy.

Let your users guide your product development. Build only that which is in demand.

Even if you are a small team, you can still set up such a wishlist using third-party tools.


You can signup for Webflow here


That’s all I wanted to discuss today on Webflow's growth strategies. A lot of research has gone into this post, you can access the research data here. I welcome your suggestions, questions and feedback.

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