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The Digital Ocean Quest Towards New Lands – Digital Ocean SEO Analysis
How Digital Ocean got millions of monthly readers by understanding developers
Digital Ocean(DO) is one of the world’s leading cloud infrastructure providers. Founded in 2011, DO has been growing ever since.
Since Growtika entered the developer marketing world, I have been fascinated by how companies like DO mark themselves as industry leaders and attract a large developer audience by providing great docs and technical content.
In this analysis, we will map Digital Ocean’s growth to understand better where its organic traffic comes from, how it grew so fast, and the strategic marketing decisions made along the way.
Let’s dive in:
Overview: Mapping Digital Ocean Traffic
According to Similarweb, Digital Ocean has 15.4 million visitors per month.
Using Ahrefs, we found that DO’s organic traffic stands at 4.49M visitors per month (as of 30 November 2022).
From 1 Nov. 2021 to 1 Nov. 2022, Digital Ocean’s traffic increased from 1.59M to 4.67M visitors per month—an astounding increase of 192.7%.
Seeing these remarkable stats, my interest in finding a Digital Ocean growth hack shifted from fun research to my primary mission—if I could learn what DO is doing and how they do it, I could use these techniques for Growtika’s clients so besides writing it to enrich our audience’s knowledge, I have some incentives!
When Things Changed
Mapping Digital Ocean’s organic traffic was my first step toward seeing the bigger picture and figuring out when and why things changed. I mapped DO’s organic traffic below:
The community section alone brings in 89% of its total traffic!
If the community section is their growth engine, what is fueling this traffic machine?
In the last two years, Digital Ocean acquired three mid-size dev-focused publications: Alligator.io, Scotch.io, and JournalDev.
This was a strategic move. Since these websites weren’t among the most prominent publications in their niche, the acquisition didn’t create much buzz—it wasn’t covered in many tech news sites, and I couldn’t find a mention of it on CrunchBase.
The impact of this strategic move is one of the main reasons behind Digital Ocean’s growth over the last year and a half.
Before we dive into the impact of these acquisitions, it’s important to mention that domain migration is a process that can take several months. So, when Digital Ocean acquires a domain, the articles won’t instantly rank as high on their new domain as before.
The Internet Archived helped us pin down the migration dates.
JournalDev migrated in August 2022.
Alligator’s, migration took place in May 2022.
And Scotch migrated in January 2022.
Examining each site’s pre-migration organic traffic and Digital Ocean’s post-migration traffic is illuminating:
Before the migration, JournalDev had 891K organic traffic per month.
Alligator.io had 65K organic traffic per month before migrating.
And, Scotch.io had 12.5K organic traffic per month pre-migration.
Together, Scotch, Alligator, and JournalDev had around 968,000 organic traffic per month that now “belonged” to Digital Ocean.
Though we analyzed the time before the migration, we believe there was a period of a few weeks/months before the acquisition when the previous owners stopped site activities to prepare for the migration, which had an impact on the monthly traffic.
When looking at the traffic to the https://www.digitalocean.com/community
section, we can see a significant jump beginning in Aug 2022.
The community section went from 1.4M organic visitors per month to over 4M—a 185% rise.
Buying an established domain is one thing, but leveraging the acquisition is an entirely different process. After purchasing these established domains, Digital Ocean needed to:
- Add internal links to strategic pages. Important pages needed more internal links, which search engines would see as a positive ranking signal.
- Merge similar articles to create stronger content.
- Redirect the old URLs to new ones using redirects 301 to keep the link status of the older articles.
- The article is optimized for the focus keyword “js async functions.”
- Expand their writer pool. Scotch and Alligator had hundreds of different authors. Those authors could now write for Digital Ocean and earn hundreds of dollars per article with their Write for Donations program. Digital Ocean needed to take all of these steps to maximize the impact of its Acquisition (SEO-wise). But its quest toward new lands didn’t stop there. Their next step was their biggest one so far.
On 15 Mar 2022, Digital Ocean acquired CSS-Tricks.
Over the years, site founder Chris Coyier turned CSS-Tricks into one of the leading sources for front-end developers and designers around the web.
CSS-Tricks, organic traffic crosses 1 million visitors per month.
Since a large portion of Digital Ocean’s target audience are developers, this move gave them insane exposure.
As of now, DO is not planning to move CSS-Tricks into their community section.
Their acquisition announcement said, “CSS-Tricks will remain as a standalone site, and all content will continue to be free and open to anyone.”
The fact that CSS-Tricks is on a separate domain is not keeping Digital Ocean from leveraging this insane domain, however.
On the surface, the CSS-Tricks acquisition might look like it was made for this purpose:
While this may look like two separate domains, with one serving ads to the other, the relationship is more complex.
In certain activities, they act like one domain, with Digital Ocean seeing the benefits in most cases.
The acquisition of CSS-Tricks provides several beneficial factors for Digital Ocean, including:
- Brand Awareness: Digital Ocean is now mentioned in thousands of high-quality articles. CSS-Tricks is known for having great content, and by being there, at the point where their target audience is learning a new trick or solving a problem, Digital Ocean’s authority increases.
- Leads: Digital Ocean places its banner into every article in CSS-Tricks.
- Backlinks: Each of the 91,000 pages on CSS-Tricks is linked to Digital Ocean, as you can see on the bottom Menu. In addition, DO’s SEO team can improve and strengthen certain pages on their site by adding additional links from the CSS-Tricks domain.
There are also strategic links from many CSS-Tricks articles to articles on Digital Ocean, like at the bottom of this guide.
- Traffic: With almost 16,000 keywords ranked on Google’s first page, including the top 10 places, CSS-Tricks is getting massive traffic. Even if only a tiny percentage clicks on one of the many links in each article, that’s a lot of traffic.
- Attracting great writers: CSS-Tricks has always paid technical writers well. Great editing work, high content standards, and a sense of community made the content published by CSS-Tricks stand out in its niche. I think that Chris’s tweet sums CSS-Trick’s approach pretty well.
- Getting technical people to write for your brand is challenging. Good incentives, such as paying a high amount per article and getting great exposure, can make more people want to write for your brand.
Until a few months ago, a writer on CSS-Tricks would be paid around $250.
- After the acquisition, the price rose to $300 for standard articles and $400 for complex ones.
- New CSS-Tricks writers can now write for Digital Ocean as well.
CSS-Tricks is feeding Digital Ocean’s writers pool, making the entire process of attracting new talented writers much easier. Combining Digital Ocean’s existing technical writing program with the writers that came with the acquisition of Alligator and Scotch, you can see why Digital Ocean has so many top-tier technical writers.
- Digital Ocean has seen a decline in organic branded traffic, from 22% to 8.6%. You might think, “People search less for Digital Ocean; that’s bad!” In most cases, I’d agree, but not in this one. We can see a direct correlation between the acquisitions and the branded search drop.
Digital Ocean ranks for more search terms that don’t contain the phrase “digital ocean,” becoming less vulnerable to competition. Their traffic is much more diverse, which can attract new people who weren’t aware of Digital Ocean and could potentially become customers.
Excluding Digital Ocean’s community section, the monthly traffic rose from 355,000 in December 2021 to 423,000 on December 2022—a 19% Growth.
- Since January 2021, the number of organic pages has gone down by 53%, while the average organic traffic has risen by 88%. This can be achieved by merging similar content and deleting unnecessary pages to optimize the crawl budget.
Is There Anything That Digital Ocean Could Do Better?:
Digital Ocean scaled fast thanks to its high content standards and intelligent acquisitions. With thousands of new pages migrating to a domain, technical SEO issues are common.
In this section, I’ll review things I believe Digital Ocean could have done better.
If you ever plan to shift a domain, these points will be valuable for you as well:
- Broken Backlinks/URL structure: When Digital Ocean acquired a domain, they needed to redirect articles to their website. When they moved thousands of articles to their domain, some weren’t suitable to Digital Ocean editorial guidelines, some were merged into similar articles to make them stronger, and others were redirected to the main/community section.
In many cases, the redirect wasn’t setup properly, like this URL: https://alligator.io/js/intro-progressive-web-apps/, that have several strong backlinks:
The link redirects to this URL, which currently shows a 404 error:
Making a small tweak to the URL, however, fixes the problem:
This issue happens to many of the redirects from Alligator.io.
Fixing it shouldn’t take long, and the impact on the entire Digital Ocean domain will be positive since many high-quality backlinks are currently pointing to 404 pages.
- Avoid 404 Pages by redirecting to the closest topic: Since there are thousands of different tutorials and questions on the Digital Ocean domain, it’s possible to find a related topic to most of the content from JournalDev, Alligator, and Scotch. In my analysis, I saw many articles that didn’t pass the migration (possibly due to low content quality).
Redirecting these articles to the ones with the closest topic would keep the link benefits of hundreds of different articles and boost many pages on the Digital Ocean website.
For example, this old article on Scotch has a backlink from Wix. Based on the URL, we can assume the article was about local storage vs. session storage vs. cookie.
The article leads to the main community page. A short google search shows there’s an article Digital Ocean could redirect to: https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/js-introduction-localstorage-sessionstorage.
This redirect will make more sense since the content of the article is similar to what the person who clicks on the link expects to get—a lot more than the general community page of Digital Ocean.
Digital Ocean’s growth over the last few years was not a matter of luck; it resulted from hard work, thinking out of the box, finding the right opportunity, and learning while moving to leverage the acquisitions. In Digital Ocean’s case, they did it bravely, and the results were impressive.
If you enjoyed this in-depth analysis, please share it with your network. I believe that bringing value to other people is the best marketing there is, and I hope that by sharing this analysis, you will check from time to time the new articles we release each month.