App-only challenger banks have risen to try and push incumbents off their financial perch, and in this battle, content marketing has been a valuable tool in their repertoires. Have you ever wondered how they do it?

If you’ve never heard of Monzo, it’s a UK-based challenger bank that has grown to 4 million customers over 5 years with a growth rate that hit 55,000 new customers a week in 2019. 

Interestingly, the company appears to have increased their organic traffic by 144 % within the last 12 months; a growth spurt that gives us the perfect opportunity to uncover what’s cooking in their content kitchen. 

Hopefully, the insight uncovered can help you improve your content marketing, and give you ideas on what to look for when digging through your own marketing data.

Monzo launched as Mondo in 2015 but had to rebrand in 2016. The name came from suggestions by their user community. This focus on community is the foundation that appears to  have governed their approach to content over the last 5 years; keep it in mind throughout this post.

Organic Traffic

Monzo more than doubled their organic traffic from 106,723 in May 2019 to 260,631 in April 2020. With the company’s high customer acquisition rate, this traffic represents an important step of their customers’ journey; that’s what we’re going to dig into.

The three main signals that could tell us how Monzo grew their traffic within the last 12 months are their keywords, backlinks and social media activity.

Monzo’s Keyword Game

The number of Monzo’s keywords that rank at position 1-3 increased by 370 % between May 2019 and April 2020, while those ranking at position 4-10 quadrupled.

The number of Monzo's keywords ranking highly on Google increased within the last 12 months.

At first glance, it’s easy to assume that this was probably—with Monzo selling a financial product—a result of putting out more content aimed at solving broad financial pain points.

This is not the case with Monzo. When you go through their blog you’ll find a few exceptions but performance-wise, Monzo’s top 5 keywords by traffic are brand keywords. 

Since I’m using third-party tools for this research, I decided to confirm with a second data source (always approach third party data tools with a ‘give or take a few hundreds’  attitude).

On this alternative data source, the keywords bringing traffic to Monzo are still brand terms. The keywords “get paid earlier” appear to be an exception but on closer inspection, the destination is a page about one of Monzo’s products. 

If the challenger bank was truly focusing on SEO,their top content would be on general financial topics that rank for keywords like, “ financial management for spendthrifts”,  “saving when broke”.

So, either Monzo is totally ignorant of current blogging trends and prefers content that focuses on them (doubtful), or they’re intentionally charting a different path.. 

Monzo’s Marketing Philosophy

To solve this conundrum, we have to step away from content snooping and look at their overall marketing ideology.

From the onset, the challenger bank has focused on building a community of loyal fans instead of the traditional way of incentivising users to switch banks through offers and heavy advertising.

When I say loyal fans, I mean LOYAL (if any particular popular song comes to mind that was not my intention). Take a look at the screenshot below, it is a response to a TechCrunch announcement of Monzo and TransferWise’s partnership

Does this look like anything one of your customers might say or does it remind you of something your brother (put appropriate person) might tell you when they learn via social media, that you got married to the girl next door without telling them?

This is what a loyal and engaged community looks like. It is also my best guess for why a company’s most trafficked keywords are those that mention them.

This is in line with an interview by Mediatel where Tristan Thomas, Monzo’s VP of marketing, says that the company’s marketing approach is to intimately engage its community. With this approach, 80 % of Monzo’s customers came from word of mouth by 2018, however, this might change as they appear to be intensifying other forms of marketing.

When we translate this insight into Monzo’s keywords rankings, we can conclude that many people who land on their blog from Google are those that have heard of them elsewhere and are trying to find more information.

How is this relevant to you? Well, if you don’t happen to have a big and loyal user community hidden somewhere, don’t copy their approach to blog topics.

Traffic Analysis

58.2% of Monzo’s traffic comes from Google search (higher than the 43.2 % average of its competitors: Monese, Revolut, N26 and Starling bank), while 35.7% is direct traffic.

Direct traffic can appear to come out of thin air but is often a result of brand building efforts through ads (online and offline), content (users engage with your content but visit the site on a different day/device ) and conversations going on in communities.

With this in mind, you can use direct traffic as an indicator of your company’s  brand-building activities.

However, for Monzo, since their top keywords are brand terms, a significant chunk of their search traffic may also be brand-driven. This is a big differentiator from companies whose top-ranking keywords have no connection to their brands.

Despite having a loyal community, Monzo still puts effort into storytelling through their blog.

Below is some of Monzo’s top content based on engagement on Reddit and Twitter

Blog

Let’s dive deeper into Monzo’s blog posts going back 5 years. 

Firstly, by comparing Monzo’s blog posts in their first year of operation to Bó-another challenger launched by Natwest Bank- we get to see the shift in how new companies’ viewed blogging 5 years ago versus now. 

Monzo had 35 articles in their first year while Bó published 56 blogs within 8 months of existence (Bó was closed down in May 2020). 

Considering how eager new market entrants often are, to let everyone know of their existence, this is a glimpse into the rising popularity of blogging in the marketing arsenals of fintech companies.

Also, compare the blog topics of the two challenger banks in their first year.Do you see the different content strategies?

Monzo’s Content Volume, Consistency and the Lessons 

What can you learn from the table below?

DatesTotal Number of BlogsBlog Averages
May 2019-April 20202776 per week
May 2018 -April 20192535 per week
May 2017-April 20181112 per week
May 2016-April 2017842 per week
May 2015- April 2016353 per month

The obvious insight is that Monzo started ramping up their blogging 2 years ago. However, when you connect that to their 144% increase in organic traffic between May 2019 & April 2020, you’ll see that search engine marketing is a compounding long term game.

For context, a study by SEO tools company, Ahrefs, found that only 5.7% of websites ranking in the top 10 Google search results were less than a year old. Out of this group, only 0.3% of those that competed for high volume keywords (in competitive industries) ranked in the top 10.

Finance is an extremely competitive niche, so ideally, a majority of the traffic boom Monzo experienced in the last year would not be from the 277 articles published in that period but from the preceding timelines.

On the other hand, since Monzo’s blog acts as a tool to engage with their loyal community, they’re not necessarily competing with the rest of the industry for a majority of the keywords,hence—in theory—they should be able to rank faster. 

Should they change tact and put out more content that competes with the rest of the financial industry, then a different strategy will be needed.

According to the Ahrefs study mentioned above, websites competing for high-volume keywords take an average of 2+ years to appear in the top 10 search results of Google. If you want to rank higher quicker, you’d have to put in more work.

That includes conducting keyword research before writing, running paid campaigns for strategic pieces of content and engaging in link building campaigns (more on that ahead).

There was concern last year about how the CMO role was under threat because it lacked financial accountability. One reason for this is because inbound marketing results can be slow and hard to measure. Chances are, that the SEO efforts of those fired last year are only now starting to bear fruits for the Chief Commercial Officers (ironically-also initialised as  CMO) that replaced them.

Link Building

In tandem with their organic traffic growth, the number of websites referring traffic to Monzo also increased, and studying them reveals interesting insights.

The image belows shows how Monzo’s referring domains increased from 4.7k  to 6.9k within 12 months—an increase of 47 %..

It’s not clear whether Monzo’s marketing team actively reached out to build these links or if they happened organically. 

Analysis of Monzo’s  top 5 Links

The first link here was a complaint (outside Monzo’s official Reddit community) by a cryptocurrency owner, who’d been informed to stop using their Monzo account for cryptocurrency trading.

Conversations about your brand⁠—even if they’re customer complaints—on social media and forums, could provide valuable links that drive you referral traffic and influence your website’s ranking. Better still, if you can track these unofficial conversations and engage.

There’s been a lot of buzz around Europe’s challenger banks, and one of the links here is from the New York Times with an interview of Monzo’s founder.

If authoritative sites like the New York Times are not itching to write about you (don’t worry, many of us are in that boat), then connecting with the journalists covering your industry could be a door in. 

For instance, if you read a piece about insurance that you feel is missing a unique perspective, which you can provide from your experience in the trenches; find the writer and offer your insights—even if it’s already published.

Pay particular attention to the last link in the image above. It’s a case study by Amazon Web Services about how Monzo is powering an online bank using their products. 

Amazon is a high authority site and appearing here exposes Monzo’s brand to potential customers.There’s also another case study published by Google Cloud (Google BigQuery) that does the same.

From my experience, I’ve found that case studies and testimonials work better if you make the reader trust the company you’re featuring. The images below show Amazon and Google building trust in Monzo by introducing them with bold statements and quoting big numbers.   

Imagine the brand impact of industry leaders heaping praise on your company like this and then linking to you.

The elephant in the room however, is that for many of us, Google wouldn’t put us in a case study even if we owned the garage that Sergey Brin and Larry Page built the search engine company from. 

So what can you do?

Part of the reason why this is possible for Monzo is because of its strong brand, thus the bigger companies also benefit from the association. 

Weaker brands or smaller businesses need to find an angle/story that makes them valuable or relevant to a bigger brand.

For example, one of Monzo’s ads shows that they’re promoting a new business account feature. For small businesses who’ve already signed up—and can tell a compelling story—isn’t this an opportunity to appear in a case study?

Looking at ad data is a great way to find out what products are a high priority for companies (and where they might be looking to build trust and awareness with case studies), Facebook’s Ad Library is a valuable resource.

Insights from Monzo’s Links

One of Monzo’s referring domains is a UX podcast that links to an article by one of the bank’s designers— it’s among Monzo’s top 50 most organically visited pages.

Designing a product with mental health issues in mind.

Lesson?

Insights from your skilled employees could be popular among their community. If you hire the best, don’t you think their peers would want to learn from them?

 If intentionally and consistently done, this could be a great way to establish authority as well as humanise the company.

Lastly, there’s a link from Nuzzel⁠—a news & newsletter discovery platform with a domain score of 82/100 (the higher this number is, the higher the authority and the harder it is to get them to link to you).

I traced the link’s path to an article of Monzo’s that had appeared in someone’s newsletter  curated on Nuzzel. If people are not finding and putting your content in newsletters on their own, be intentional about it?

Try searching for popular newsletters in your niche on Nuzzel or any other newsletter aggregator, and send them a link whenever you put out authoritative content. Zero in on ‘authoritative’, Monzo’s ‘What an HMRC scam looks like’  article ended up in the newsletter because it was valuable.

Social Media

With 117.2k Twitter and 54.1k Instagram (IG) followers, social media is an important part of Monzo’s content machine. Generally, Monzo is putting more effort into Twitter. For instance, between 8th April and 7th May 2020, they published 1,816 more posts on Twitter than IG.

The image below shows that they had more engagement on Instagram than on Twitter. However, take this with a grain of salt due to the small number of IG posts. Should Monzo ramp up IG posts into their thousands as is on Twitter, engagement is likely not to be as high.

Monzo’s choice to focus on Twitter, put a little effort into IG and even less into Facebook organic posts, aligns with today’s marketers’ struggle: of either stretching themselves across many channels or sticking to a single/few channels that work well.

Which social media strategy do you lean towards, single or multi-channel?

Monzo repurposes content to fit both their IG and Twitter audiences, this is a useful technique that you can also adopt when testing how different social channels fit your company.

This post had higher engagement (likes, retweets and comments)  than both profiles’s average engagement per post. It’s effective because it taps into Monzo’s understanding of their users, is relevant to the current Covid-19 times and incorporates humour.

A quick glance at the comments section and you’ll see how well it resonates.

A Tip from Monzo’s Ad 

Monzo introduced a business account offering in March 2020; this was featured in a Wired article in the same month. 

Since Monzo is going after customers who might not be part of its existing demographic, it piggybacked (image below) on Wired’s 27-year credibility among businesses, and ran an ad against the article. The same principle can be used to boost content that is popular among your existing audience or when influencers comment/like your content.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ve seen what Monzo is doing well and what can be improved. Ideally, all marketers should be analysing their own data to refine their content marketing strategy, do you?

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