Teardown: How Grammarly Became a $13 Billion Grammar App

December 8, 2021

Grammarly recently reached an ear-ringing valuation.

After raising $200m last week, Grammarly officially became a $13bn-digital behemoth. The company rose to become one of the top 10 U.S. startups, according to Yahoo Finance.

Grammarly helps 30 million students, digital professionals, and writers satisfy their 8th-grade English teacher’s expectations.

I’ve checked over 14 million words using Grammarly.

The company has invested a lot of money in its digital marketing over the years. So, let’s take a closer look at what makes Grammarly stand out from other grammar apps.

The author’s word count on Grammarly

How did Grammarly become the top grammar app?

Grammarly is a lifesaver and somewhat of an omnipresent writing assistant. Many professional editors urge their writers to install — at least — the free version.

Even if you’re a grammar buff, this writing Ai tool can make your life easier.

Creating one of the top U.S. startups usually takes a few twists and turns. However, Grammarly officially launched in 2009 and has enjoyed steady growth ever since.

The website, Grammarly.com, attracts over 17.4 million Google monthly visitors with 1,730 ranking pages. Some 5.6 million of these visitors come with navigational intent (Grammarly users that search Google for log-in page).

This leaves us with almost 12 million organic monthly visitors.

The company segmented the market into several ideal customers, ranging from students to bankers. But of course, each segment has different needs, and Grammarly has addressed each one of them.

The Content Marketing Strategy

Grammarly’s blog is responsible for almost half the traffic coming to the website.

You can also find videos and ads on Youtube. While YouTube is a strong traffic acquisition channel, Grammarly’s blog pulls millions of monthly visitors to their website. Hence, the website itself is a massive acquisition channel.

As we mentioned above, Grammarly’s blog is excellent at communicating value to several audiences simultaneously.

How does Grammarly address multiple audiences?

By focusing on pain points (problems/challenges).

Instead of targeting demographics, Grammarly knows that targeting psychographics brings more customers.

Both bankers and students want to write concise emails. But only students and writers might need clarification on the simple past tense. Grammarly knows this and builds content around these pain points.

Some of the top-performing blog articles — like the one on Adjectives or this one on Oxford comma — singlehandedly pull several million organic visits each year.

Grammarly does a stellar job of further segmenting the traffic within the app and delivering the value through its features. For example, the “Set goals” feature lets different audiences adjust their writing goals.

Grammarly’s strategy is pretty much content best practice. This is all great. However, the majority of high-intent traffic comes from something else.

And Grammarly has been the grand-master general of deploying it.

Engineering As Marketing

Grammarly’s Free Grammar Check Tool

Similar to trying a free piece of cheese while shopping for groceries, software companies create free tools to provide visitors with previews of their products.

Instead of just consuming content, visitors can try the tool out for themselves.

Marketers call it Engineering As Marketing. It’s a practice of giving away free tools, products, and services to deliver value for your target audience. Users usually don’t have to create an account, and the tool is complementary to your main product. Also, the barrier to entry is minimal.

In another example, Good Annotations is a digital annotation tool that also offers a free Chrome extension that lets users annotate screenshots. Postalytics lets you peek inside the editor and create a piece of direct mail before you sign up for an account. For both companies, these tools convert visitors into thousands of new accounts.

Grammarly took this type of engineering to a whole new level.

Grammarly’s Organic Traffic from these two pages

The Free Grammar Check page pulls over two million organic visitors a month.

This is singlehandedly the crown jewel of Grammarly’s client acquisition. The tool highlight some of Grammarly’s top features. And visitors don’t have to create an account to check their text.

Grammarly Plagiarism Checker is another excellent tool that brings around one million organic visitors each month to the website. Grammarly bets on users liking the free tool and creating an account to discover more features.

The company has done a stellar job at segmenting its overall product into tools that help users solve single problems. Instead of telling the whole story at once, Grammarly has developed complementary tools to attract more visitors. And it works.

We haven’t even looked under the hood. Grammarly does a stellar job at further segmenting the traffic within the app and delivering the value through its features. For example, the “Set goals” feature lets different audiences adjust their writing goals.

Competitors Analysis: ProWritingAid vs. Grammarly

Organic Traffic for Popular Grammar Apps

Some of Grammarly’s competitors offer decent service, but they’re operating exclusively in another realm. Here are the big ones:

  • ProWritingAid
  • WhiteSmoke
  • GingerSoftware
  • PaperRater
  • Hemingway App (not a competitor, but still a writing aid)

Ginger is probably the closest thing Grammarly has to competition. The company has been around for a year longer than Grammarly. But the website pulls only two million organic visitors each month, which is incomparable with Grammarly’s 17 million.

ProWritingAid is another competitor that has been around since 2012. This website attracts 388K organic visits with its content — traffic that’s 51x lower than Grammarly’s.

Meanwhile, Grammarly has halved its paid traffic budget by some $2.8 million this year, according to Ahrefs data, while adding some 24 million organic visits. This is the power of a well-executed SEO strategy.

Grammarly halved paid traffic while increasing the organic reach.

While both competing tools offer roughly the same features, the marketing strategy is different.

ProWritingAid is doing content best practices but missing one thing — engineering as marketing.

For example, If you want to try ProWritingAid, you have to subscribe for a free account. The barrier to entry is higher. Whereas Grammarly lets visitors try the most popular features without ever signing up for an account, delivering the app much faster.

Ginger offers a free grammar checker for up to 300 characters which is roughly a few lines of text.

Grammarly, on the other hand, lets visitors check whole books without a visible character cap. If there is one, the cap sits around 70,000 words (the number of words used in our test) for an unlimited number of tries.

Grammarly’s SEO Practice

Crucial ranking factors, according to MadX

Grammarly’s content and engineering tell the big chunk of the story, but these efforts wouldn’t go far without some of SEO best practices.

Cutting to the chase, Google (and users) love websites that have:

  • Long time on page
  • Easy-to-use UX/UI
  • Reputable backlinks

SEO is much more than the above three metrics, but these would stand out as priority metrics for ranking your website.

Grammarly’s time on site is extrapolated with good engineering and content practices. Checking text in the browser takes time which Google favors in the ranking metrics.

Letting users check the tools helps with the onboarding process. Once users are familiar with some of the logic behind the app, it gets easier to adopt other features and navigate the UX/UI.

Finally, Grammarly is leaping ahead backlinking game.

This article creates one backlink, which helps Google determine the overall authority of Grammarly’s website.

Reputable backlinks are the essential ranking factor for any website.

Grammarly’s blog creates a magnet for organically generating highly reputable backlinks. The website attracts .edu and .gov backlinks for free.

If backlinks were steaks, .edu and .gov domains would be the top Wagyu filet mignon imported straight from Japan.

Grammarly’s Backlink Profile (Ahrefs)

Where could Grammarly improve its SEO?

Let’s look at one important metric that’s not a direct Google’ ranking factor — Page Speed.

Good loading speed is essential for a good page experience. Most visitors click away if the page doesn’t load in less than 3 seconds, according to KissMetrics.

Improved page speed would affect most other ranking metrics, like time on page and bounce rates.

Grammarly’s loading speed.

Now, Grammarly and all of its competitors have a questionable loading speed.

This is the weak link in Grammarly’s SEO strategy. Its competition could catch up if they invest more in improving the user experience on their website, starting with the page loading speed.

Is Grammarly Premium worth it?

Grammarly offers three basic tiers:

  1. Free
  2. Grammarly Premium
  3. Grammarly Business

The free version lets you check your spelling and adds a few suggestions. Most people stick with the free version because it’s good enough. Now, if you’re a digital professional, it pays to invest in the premium or business subscription.

The asking price of $12 seems reasonable for professional writing aid — however, the price changes depending on your contract.

Grammarly Premium has three pricing models:

  1. Monthly: $30
  2. Quarterly: $60
  3. Annually: $134

The asking price of $30 a month is a nightmare for many individuals and freelancers. Grammarly knows that. The company would make a profit even if they charge less. So, Grammarly created a catch 21 in its pricing strategy to increase customer retention.

If you pay the quarterly or monthly premium and then try to cancel your subscription, you will receive a ~50% discount to stay on board for another year. So instead of paying $134 for a year-long subscription, the asking price drops to $70/year.

The monthly subscription is now only ~$5. 83/mo.

Besides, Grammarly frequently gives out student, holiday, and other discounts. Just get on their email list, and you’re guaranteed to receive a promotion soon enough.

Besides a good product, this pricing game makes Grammarly premium worth it for writers, students, and digital professionals from all walks of the game.

Grammarly’s special offer

Another round of funding for the leading Grammar app?

Baillie Gifford and BlackRock investors injected $200m into Grammarly last November. This money is aimed at research, development, and innovation.

“We believe this funding round is a great validation of our business strength,” Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, Grammarly’s global head of product, told TechCrunch in an interview. “We’ve been cash-flow positive from the very early days. The round also validates the strength of our mission to improve lives through improving communication. This funding round comes in the context of product innovation and product scaling.”

This is excellent news for all of us grammar clunks.

Grammarly does more than highlight the mistakes. The tool also teaches you how to write compelling text, avoid common mistakes and pack more information in your words.

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