How Neil Patel Figured Out Marketing’s Best Practices Through Embracing Experimentation

17th Feb 2020
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For a modern digital marketer or entrepreneur, one comes across Neil Patel early in their career. If you don’t know him by name, by some chance, you’re more than likely to have still come across his work—whether that’s his content or one of the several marketing tools he has helped bring to life.


In case you’re unfamiliar, Neil Patel is one of the world’s top digital marketers whose entrepreneurship has been recognized by President Barack Obama, the United Nations, and the United States House of Representatives. Not many marketers can say one of those accolades, let alone all three.


But what makes his efforts so successful? How has he honed his skills in marketing and entrepreneurship?


In this post, we attempt to find a common theme by reviewing his career and his mindset around it. First, let’s briefly recap his background before he became the expert marketer he is today.


Who is Neil Patel?

Neil Patel is most widely known for his digital marketing and social media skills, but broader work ethic and entrepreneurialism has been part of him since a young age. As he recollects in a Quora answer, he grew up surrounded by entrepreneurs in his family, eventually taking inspiration from a cousin and starting his first venture as a freshman in high school.


But an entrepreneur’s first venture is rarely the most successful one, so Patel still took other jobs where he began honing his marketing skills as a door-to-door vacuum salesman. He returned to entrepreneurship after that, where he originally attempted to outsource the online marketing to an agency.


After not getting the desired results from them, he decided to start studying and learning online marketing himself, which led to consulting for world-class organizations, speaking, and developing software in the marketing industry.


That’s where he’s been focusing his career for the past several years, working on tools such as Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, Kissmetrics, and more.


The Common Thread: Unafraid to Experiment

So how has Neil Patel been able to learn so quickly, iterate so often, and grow his brand so exponentially? It comes from the right combination of skill, hustle, and experimentation.


The first two ingredients in that combination can’t quite be taught. Luckily, the third item can be learned and honed with practice.


Neil Patel has had so many successes because he’s unafraid to try different tactics and strategies. No entrepreneur will win at everything they try, but it becomes somewhat of a numbers game. Out of a hundred tests, they might find ten things that work. But in addition to being able to double down on those ten things, there’s also a wealth of experience accumulated and lessons learned from the failures.


For example, Patel has even tested controversial strategies and ideas, for the sake of testing and learning from them. Because whether or not the experiment becomes a permanent part of his business, he knows the value in trying.


It’s a quality that more marketers and entrepreneurs need to embrace in order to grow fast. And the good news is that you don’t need to try all the controversial tactics that he has. You simply need to be willing to test.

If you’re looking for some experiments to try or tactics to evaluate, take inspiration from some of Patel’s most interesting experiments. Review them below and see how you can mix a bit of the same spirit into your own marketing strategy more.


Experiment #1: Instagram Ads & Influencer Marketing

Instagram spending

(Image source: https://www.quicksprout.com/what-spending-57000-on-instagram-taught-me/)


Experiment Recap

In 2014, Neil Patel set out to learn more about Instagram marketing. Specifically, he wanted to test a hypothesis he had about entrepreneurs using aspirational, luxury lifestyle marketing. He also had a theory about acquiring Instagram accounts as a growth strategy.


To test both theories at the same time, Patel’s plan was the following:


● Acquire an Instagram handle with over 100,000 existing followers

● Change the handle and rebrand it to promote his own business and personal brand

● Use luxury item giveaways to grow the account’s following and engagement

● Buy sponsored posts from influencers his target audience of entrepreneurs follows


Over the course of the experiment, Patel noticed some interesting results. For example, when he initially rebranded the Instagram account, there was a dropoff in followers, but it began to slow as the account’s followers became more aware and accepting of the change. He also learned the giveaways weren’t appealing to the right audience, but that sponsored posts proved effective for his goals.


Instagram post

(Image source: https://www.quicksprout.com/what-spending-57000-on-instagram-taught-me/)


Finally, he received a lot of word-of-mouth buzz and interest because of the sponsored posts. He had other entrepreneurs in his network start new conversations with him after seeing a post from the experiment, along with seeing a 71% increase in searches for his name.


Evaluation: What Modern Marketers Can Learn From It

Let’s review what any marketer can take from Neil Patel’s experiment, even without the same focus on luxury, entrepreneurs, or even Instagram.


First of all, one of the most noticeable and perhaps surprising results from Neil Patel’s test of sponsored posts and influencer marketing was the impact it had on branded searches for his name. While he bought the posts primarily to grow his Instagram following, the impact they had on his SEO was likely longer lasting and therefore more beneficial to the bigger picture of his business. It just goes to show how a little bit of buzz can be the beginning of a snowball effect that lasts much longer than a specific campaign.


Instagram statistics

(Image source: https://www.quicksprout.com/what-spending-57000-on-instagram-taught-me/)


Another good lesson to take away from this is that the further up you extend your sales funnel at the top of the funnel, the more your lead quality can change, often times for the worse. While the audience growth from acquiring over 100,000 followers was drastic, they weren’t relevant leads for his brand. As a result, many either didn’t stick around or engage.


Inspiration for Your Own Marketing

So, what actionable tactics can you take away from this experiment, even if you don’t have a $50,000 Instagram budget of your own?


First, even if you don’t have five figures to set aside, it’s important to set aside a budget for testing and experimenting with new marketing and business tactics. Whether the right experiment for your own strategy is new PPC tactics, public relations, or a different social media channel, dedicating resources to experimentation is crucial.


Second, make sure to consider indirect impact campaigns can have on your overall marketing results. If Patel were only looking at Instagram follower numbers, his experiment might not have seemed as immediately successful. But because the test also included SEO analysis, he was able to see that the campaign impacted that (which is more important to his personal brand long-term).


Finally, always consider and reconsider how you can tap into additional audiences, especially those parallel or adjacent to your target audience, during a marketing campaign. Every industry has influencers, and channels those influencers can leverage for you. Whether that’s an affiliate or referral program for your customers, influencer marketing, or co-marketing partnerships with other brands, it’s easier to reach new audiences than we often think.


Experiment #2: The $100,000 Blog Challenge

Experiment Recap

In 2015, Patel was aware that his existing success, brand reputation, and audience size gave him an advantage over his audience when trying new marketing tactics. For example, part of his Instagram experiment’s success could be credited to the budget he had for influencer sponsored posts.


So to prove that the same tactics could still work for a brand new business, he started one. He began a feature on his blog called The $100,000 Challenge, where he built a new blog and brand from $0 to $100,000 in monthly revenue in one year.


How to make money

(Image source: https://www.quicksprout.com/how-to-make-100000-a-month-within-1-year/)


Over the course of a year, Patel and a small team built a new business, from starting the blog and content marketing program to testing out different product ideas. Each month, he published a monthly review and progress update, including both traffic and sales statistics along with a debrief of the strategies and tactics implemented.


Conversions

(Image source: https://www.quicksprout.com/2015/12/11/the-100000-challenge-november-update/)


At the start of the experiment, he focused on producing content for the website and growing his traffic, email list, and social media following. Once content was created, he focused on getting backlinks to it to help with SEO and compound the growth of everything else.


analytics audience overview

(Image source: https://www.quicksprout.com/2015/09/04/the-100000-challenge-august-update/)


By six months into the experiment, the business was generating over 60,000 sessions per month and was finalizing its first product to sell. In month seven, they launched their initial products on Amazon and were focusing on ecommerce store optimization.


That included things like writing product descriptions, encouraging product reviews, and once again working with influencers both to review the product themselves and promote them to their audiences.


After the initial launch, the work became a balance of creating new content to fill their sales funnel and auditing and optimizing the existing content and products.


Evaluation: What Modern Marketers Can Learn

The concept behind this experiment is a great one. While bigger picture business and marketing strategy might be similar for both beginner and veteran businesses, the way those pictures are painted will change.


Patel wanted to disprove a commonly stated belief: that the content marketing legends have advantages that those taking their advice don’t have. And what better way to do so than implementing his own advice from scratch with a new business? It not only proved that his own advice was applicable for other businesses, but also showed how he would contextualize and apply the strategies to a business with a different audience and revenue model than his own personal brand.


It shows that while the basic approach to content and digital marketing might be the same to a small and large business, the details will differ.


Additionally, this experiment showed the importance of a strategic pivot. Going into the project, Patel had certain ideas for revenue streams that didn’t pan out as he began building the site’s audience and testing the potential of different options. And the one that scaled best for his business wasn’t the one he first thought.


Inspiration for Your Own Marketing

The most important themes to take from this experiment are open-mindedness, testing, and pivoting.


Patel tested out different revenue sources for this business on a small scale before going all-in on the one that became the business’s main product. This was a way to test his assumptions before finalizing any strategies, and is something that you can apply to all of your work.


On top of that, know that when a strategy isn’t working as you’d believed, your only options aren’t just to quit or keep going with it. You can make small strategic pivots and adjustments to the parts of your business that are working.


Experiment #3: Ubersuggest Acquisition

Experiment Recap

By 2017, Neil Patel had been intensely using content marketing and publishing blog posts and guest posts for his personal brand and business for years already. While he could continue to publish content about the same keywords he was already ranking for, he instead decided to experiment with a different approach.


Ubersuggest tool

(Image source: https://neilpatel.com/blog/new-seo-strategy/)


Since his content marketing mostly targeted SEO keywords focused on informational intent, he acquired a free tool with good search rankings and backlinks, Ubersuggest, to help his brand reach keywords with a more action-oriented search intent. This would let his brand reach multiple types of searchers and bring new audiences into his customer journey at multiple different stages.


It was never meant to be a replacement for his content marketing efforts, and he continued to publish content of various formats while working on Ubersuggest. But given his existing content marketing success, he suspected he was reaching his point of diminishing returns with it. Given that prediction, it made more sense to find new outlets for his growing marketing budget than to continue investing it all in content.


Analytics

(Image source: https://neilpatel.com/blog/new-seo-strategy/)


Evaluation: What Modern Marketers Can Learn

This experiment is interesting to observe with the lens of looking at how Neil Patel adapted his SEO strategy as his business evolved. Like the previous experiment, the biggest takeaway is the strategy behind the pivot.


As mentioned above, Patel suspected he was reaching a point of diminishing returns with content marketing for new SEO traffic. On his blog, he stated, “If I want to grow my traffic to the level of Hubspot’s blog and get over 6 million visitors a month I would have to write content on things like ‘how to edit videos.’ There are two problems with content like that. First, I wouldn’t be able to monetize it. Second, and most importantly, I am not an expert when it comes to video editing so I shouldn’t blog about it.”


While content was easy for his business, it had essentially solved the problem Patel needed it to solve, and he was ready to take on others without abandoning the content he’d already created.


There are also multiple SEO lessons in this experiment. First, that free content isn’t the only way to attract SEO traffic. There are other options, such as free tools. In fact, they can be an even better magnet in terms of attracting traffic that will become qualified leads. And finally, when using SEO for lead generation, it’s crucial to match what you’re delivering to the searcher’s intent.


Inspiration for Your Own Marketing

The most interesting piece of this experiment to inspect and consider is that of Neil Patel’s last mover advantage, something he mentioned in the blog post announcing the strategy. When he brought Ubersuggest into his business, SEO research tools were a crowded and competitive market. There were already a vast amount of options that Patel could learn from to evaluate the most and least important aspects of a keyword research tool, to then implement in Ubersuggest.


Instead of letting a crowded space deter him from a new idea, he used the crowd to his advantage for competitive research and to identify gaps in the market his tool could fill.


A second takeaway to think about is how you can better match search intent for the keywords you want to rank for. Creating content is the go-to way to rank for a keyword these days, but depending on the intent, something more actionable than information might be needed. Think about whether you might need additional forms of marketing in your SEO, or if there’s a free tool you can create for your own target customer.


Experiment #4: Content Translation

Experiment Recap

In 2015, Neil Patel focused on taking his US-based SEO success global by translating the content he had already created into 82 other languages.


Content translation data

(Image Source: https://neilpatel.com/blog/translate-content-different-languages/)


The realization dawned on him one day after clicking on a search result, seeing it was in a language he didn’t understand, and pressing the “back” button. It got him reflecting on how much potential traffic he was giving up by only serving content in English.


After optimizing the translated content, Patel saw a 47% increase in overall traffic with a 60% increase in new users.


Acquisition analytics

(Image Source: https://neilpatel.com/blog/translate-content-different-languages/)


Evaluation: What Modern Marketers Can Learn

This is another great example of looking for innovative yet low hanging fruit in your SEO strategy that marketers can learn a lot from.


First of all, you need to be thinking about global audiences if your business is fully online. For all the talk in the business community of global possibilities, fewer businesses truly optimize the experience for audiences outside their own country. Don’t rely on the assumption that audiences have translation tools built into their hardware, or that they’ll go to the effort of using it. Do the effort for them.


Second of all, don’t overlook translation as a form of repurposing your blog content, especially if you have a global audience. While Patel could have focused on repurposing blog posts into videos or podcast episodes or social media posts, he already had content serving audiences on those channels, whereas other languages were a gap in his strategy.


Inspiration for Your Own Marketing

As previously mentioned, don’t underestimate the low hanging fruit. It’s easy to assume that because an idea is simple or affordable, it won’t be that effective. While sometimes that’s true, new opportunities need to be evaluated on an individual basis.


In addition to that, don’t forget to think about the logistics of “going global,” along with the idea of it. It’s exciting to think about all the new opportunities and audiences that come with growing an international business, but to thrive in a certain region, you need to cater the user experience to it. That involves logistics marketers frequently overlook.


And finally, think through how you can truly cater to the audiences trying to connect with you. For example, Patel could have tried to increase global audiences relying on existing auto-translate instead of launching this dedicated effort. But that would have been a business-centric way of going about the translation project rather than a customer-centric way to do it.


Revisit Your Business With Fresh Eyes

You may not have the time, experience, or finances to experiment at the scale that Neil Patel does. Few marketers do. But luckily, you do not need to have the same budget or schedule as Neil Patel to start marketing more like him.


His business grew as big and as quickly as it did by constantly testing assumptions, experimenting with new things, and finding what worked for his brand. The answer to that varied from problem to problem, and the right solution wasn’t always the first one he tried.


But by embracing the mindset of experimentation, the right solution came eventually for him, and it can for you too.

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