How Human-First Content Saves Dribbble 8M/yr In Ads
Dribbble is a website where creatives show their work, get hired, and learn from authorities.
Their blog attracts 1.3M visitors each month. Without their human-first posts and audience-first pages, Dribbble would have to pay 673.000 USD each month in Google Ads to receive that volume of users.
This case study analyzes the components that led to these and other achievements—ranking for 2.9 million keywords, receiving equity from 314k websites, and growing thanks to their audience's reputation.
It's short, entertaining, and actionable.
Turn strangers into supporters.
Few tools and brands forge a bond with their audience. If they went out of business, their customers wouldn't mind. Dribbble is different.
Their interest in serving materialized into a detailed, value-packed blog and podcast where creatives can improve their professional and personal lives. Their focus on community-building led to a job board where designers gain exposure to companies like Google and Apple. They host weekly calls where their audience can learn from industry experts. And they encourage meetups where designers can build relationships.
These turned strangers into supporters. These fans share their work on social media, buy the brand's merchandise, and interact with the brand. They also vouch for the brand through links.
More than 90% of the websites linking to Dribbble have a low authority—Google hardly trusts them. Alone, they are powerless. But together, they enhance the brand's ability to rank on Google for competitive terms such as Apple logo, illustrations, and designer website.
The community also supports the company through the reputation of their Dribbble profiles:
- AitThemes is a European WordPress theme studio with a live Dribbble profile. 1.193 websites send links to this page.
- Web designer Art Ramadani receives 183.717 backlinks.
- A digital agency called Tubik contributes to Dribbble's reputation with 250 referring domains.
It's a collaboration cycle. Dribbble provides a space that exposes designers. And then the reputation of those designers contributes to Dribbble's notoriety.
Dribbble sells prints, pennants, tees, tote bags, and notebooks.
However, their blog doesn't focus on selling these. Its goal is to improve the lives of its audience. Because of this intention and pleasant user experience, readers visit and share Dribbble's posts across the entire internet.
One example of an audience-first post is their article on recommended design courses. It sends 1513 creatives to its website each month. Advertisement for this volume of creatives would cost 19.6K USD per month.
Another example is their article on design prompt generators. Its alignment with designers and search engine best practices allows Dribbble to attract 413 designers each month—Saving 1.1K USD per month on Google Ads.
Human-first blog posts.
After reviewing the website, I noticed Dribbble's posts are entertaining to all creatives but relatable to those with experience:
- They don't discuss the definition of design. But how designers can improve their workflow and team efficiency.
- They don't write a guide on finding your first design client, but one on managing burnout after working with tens.
Dribbble writes valuable content to a specific segment regardless of search traffic. If they wrote articles for all creatives, their traffic would rise at the expense of unqualified readers.
Their articles on design thinking, creative confidence, and copyright for designers receive one visitor per month. To an outsider, these articles failed. But they are successful efforts towards building a community and reputation through generosity.
Charge outsiders, not your community.
Unlike other community models where you grow an audience and then charge them, Dribbble gives without expectation.
Their job board is a space where brands can pay to find talented creatives and for designers to access job openings for free. It's also a generator of positive trust signals to Google.
In search engines, your reputation grows as you receive links from trustworthy websites.
Dribbble's job board receives links from brands, such as GitHub, Shopify, Behance, Medium, Inc, and Entrepreneur. As a result, they have the leading job board in the industry, attracting more than 8.000 visitors per month. And that's without accounting for the other 1.2M+ visitors who can access the job board through the navigation bar.
What I'd do differently
Similar to Headspace, Dribbble invests in their blog post's design and structure. Classifying it as hard to copy would be diminishing the beauty of their articles.
In terms of images, you would need a professional designer working full-time to reach a similar level. When it comes to words, you would need a professional writer capable of communicating clearly and succinctly.
Unlike my other case studies, I had to be picky about what I'd change. On this occasion, I decided on Dribbble's URL structure.
Complex URLs are unappealing to users and for search engine crawlers. So while they publish exceptional articles, Google prefers the short and clear URLs for their competitors.
An enormous brand like Dribbble can rank even with these issues. Smalls brands don't have this privilege. To rank, care about search engines as much as you care about your users.
Commit to caring
There are many trails towards audience building. Choose one based on your limitations and stick to it:
- Interact with customers during events they like.
- Build case studies that people can apply.
- Share the work of your community through social media.
- Build partnerships with your community's favorite brands.
- Host weekly office hours.
Show others how your brand is committed to their growth, and they will supports yours.
Similar to Dribbble, my goal is to increase your reputation and revenue.
Because of this, I encourage you to follow me on Twitter. I tweet daily about building trust, a healthy habit of content creation, and a content strategy that attracts traffic, leads, and sales.