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What are healthy SEO growth rates?
We all want organic traffic growth, but what is a healthy rate? At what point are you growing fast enough?
It’s difficult to judge. You could look at direct competitors, but what if they could grow faster?
🧪To get an answer, I analyzed the annual growth of 3 companies at different stages and in different verticals that get at least 50% of business from SEO. Then, I compared them to average revenue growth for their business models.
What I found is that growth rates depend on the vertical and business model. SaaS companies grow differently than online retailers. Young companies grow faster than old ones.
Strong SEO growth = 1-4x annually
I analyzed the growth of sleepfoundation.org, doordash.com and tinybird.co over the last years to get a feeling for good annual growth rates.
Before we jump in, a few caveats:
The pandemic years heavily skewed the numbers - some years (2021, 2022) were strong, while others (2020, 2023) were soft.
2023 isn’t over; so I used January - September.
3 companies is a very small sample size,, and we need more data for better insights. This is merely an appetizer.
Growth rates vary by target topics (and their keyword difficulty), competitiveness, funding and country.
Company 1: Tinybird, SaaS, start-up stage
Tinybird, a small startup in a very technical space, grows SEO traffic at +100% Y/Y. Growth is accelerating and will be for a while since Tinybird doesn’t yet rank in top positions for the most important keywords.
According to Bessemer Ventures, SaaS company growth is good at 75%, better at 100% and best at 125% Y/Y., which means Tinybird’s SEO growth is in line with strong revenue growth. (source)
Company 2: Sleep Foundation, publisher/affiliate, growth stage
Sleepfoundation, an affiliate for sleep products like mattresses, saw very strong growth in the first year (+4x), which subsequently leveled off to 27% over the last 5 years.
The affiliate industry expands by about 10% Y/Y on average, meaning Sleepfoundation grows much faster than the industry.
Sleepfoundation executes very well and has room for growth by ranking in better positions for terms like insomnia, sleep apnea or melatonin.
Company 3: Doordash, marketplace, scale-up stage
Doordash grew very fast in the first two years (+5x), then leveled off to ~+50% Y/Y average growth.
Based on research from Equidam, marketplaces grow at 600% in year 1, 120% in year 2, and 110% in year 3. (source)
Since consumer behavior during the pandemic heavily fluctuated, food delivery startups swung from record to down years. This is not uncommon for marketplaces in rapidly changing environments, but overall, Doordash grows very fast.
Lessons from Tinybird, Sleep Foundation and Doordash
📚What can we learn from these 3 examples?
First, companies go through 3 SEO growth stages:
Traction: traffic is growing, but the site is not yet ranking for top keywords. The growth rate falls between 1-4x Y/Y and accelerates over 1-4 years.
Growth: site is ranking for some top keywords with room for growth. The annual growth rate is steady between 50 and 100% over 4 years and more.
Maturity: site ranks for almost all top keywords in top 3 with an average annual growth rate of 50%. This stage goes on indefinitely, with the biggest challenge being to grow at all, especially when the company has executed well for decades.
Second, companies grow at different speeds based on business model, vertical and funding. Tinybird and Sleep Foundation drive most traffic through blog content and landing pages. They fall in the category of integrators: companies that have to create content themselves.
Marketplaces grow much faster when they take off due to network effects like economies of scale. As Aggregators, they can test, optimize and scale page types much more effectively than integrators. But they can also have a flat or negative growth year due to market conditions.
Third, even at the Maturity stage, the work doesn’t end. The larger you get, the harder it is to keep your traffic since you have to expand to more topics, which grows the list of competitors. But you can still grow +20% Y/Y in most cases. There are always more verticals (topics) or markets (countries) to expand to.
🎤Over to you: are your growth rates in line with the industry and other players? Are you hitting the benchmarks in this post? If not, how could you catch up?