Finding the right groove.
How classic piano training and digital marketing know-how combined for a successful site.
PianoGroove, a subscription website that educates burgeoning piano students on the ins and outs of playing jazz, has amassed 2.2 million hits, 35 thousand YouTube subscribers, and students from nearly 50 different countries. For PianoGroove founder, Hayden Hill, the success of the tutorial site came from two oddly paired abilities: a lifetime of playing the piano combined with a deep understanding of online marketing. “I’ve played piano since I was five years old. I was classically trained growing up. I was interested in jazz in my late teenage years and around the same time I was getting into online marketing. I was doing an internship in Amsterdam at the time, and trying to find information online to further my education. I found it hard to find any material that was accessible to begin with, and also high quality. I saw the opportunity to create PianoGroove.” But an idea can only go so far; Hill implemented multiple strategies to create his now successful site, including optimizing the website to reduce churn, focusing on quality content, and researching his competition.
Lesson one: start with quality content.
“I was also an SEO consultant for an agency in Manchester for around three years. Working there gave me the skills and experience to launch a website, and to manage it moving forward.” From that digital marketing experience, Hill knew the first step of building a site that would be sustainable, was focusing on content first. “I’ve always been a big fan of content, so I know how important a content strategy is to a business. From the very ground up, I built PianoGroove with content in mind. The product is content; every page is geared towards content, so obviously that impacts the shareability. It was understanding the value of that from the start which allowed me to find a business model that not only provided value to customers but also satisfied search engines and made the website useful.”
"I’ve always been a big fan of content, so I know how important a content strategy is to a business. From the very ground up, I built PianoGroove with content in mind.”
Another successful strategy Hill implemented was providing content for free at first. “The idea was always to start with lots of free content. I had about 20 videos on YouTube, and that was back in early 2015, and I spent a year just seeding the company on YouTube with free content. I think that was important, but that’s basically the niche I’m in, video tuition. So it make sense to leverage platforms like YouTube, that had a global audience.” Although it took a year of Hill’s time and working diligently after he came home from his nine-to-five, it not only introduced new students to his site, but also helped build a genuine connection with them. “I was working on creating these lessons that were ultimately going to be free for everybody, and I think people appreciated that. It made them more likely to engage with the brand and more likely to share my content. I actually get a bunch of students from a lot of different countries who are willing to help out with translations and explain how the tuition market is in their own countries. I think my main advice would be to not block everything off and to make sure that you do provide some free, honest information. I think you will be rewarded with that.”
Lesson two: design with churn in mind
According to Hayden, churn, or the percentage rate of turnover of customers using a service is the “biggest bane of a subscription business.” However, he implemented two strategies to deal with it: updating PianoGroove’s website design to boost engagement and building a community. “At one point churn was a big problem, people joining and leaving. So, I redesigned the whole website and made it more engaging. I think that helped people from being overwhelmed. If you log into a site and there’s an abundance of material, with no guidance or roadmap to work through, it can be off-putting for some students, so that was one of the challenges.” Hill implemented a tracking feature, to alleviate the issues of feeling overwhelmed, and to keep students interested in their progress. “Originally it was just a mishmash of lessons everywhere, and there wasn’t much structure to the website. Now, students can track their progress; they can sign up for a course, tick the boxes as they work through the course, and keep track of their learning journey.”
"Another thing that tied into churn is the community aspect. That is one thing that really differentiates PianoGroove from any of the other sites in the market."
Hill also found that building a community where members can communicate with other students on a similar path kept them coming back. “Another thing that tied into churn is the community aspect. That is one thing that really differentiates PianoGroove from any of the other sites in the market. The Discourse integration, an open source platform with community areas, provides more value above and beyond the original services. It helps students have a centralized place where they can find information or where they can ask for answers to questions, and allows them to share their musical taste. Perhaps a new student can come and find information on some of the greatest Jazz musicians, some of the best records, or some of the best artists. That also helps with churn and member retention.”
Lesson three: sizing up the competition
Although there are a lot of important lessons to learn in terms of creating a successful tutorial membership site, one of the most important in Hill’s experience has been understanding the market and your competition. “In terms of the one tip I’d give to people, it would be to sign up for all of your competition. Sign up for their mailing list, call them up, actually pay for their products. Become a customer and see what they’re offering; and you can do this for websites in other niches as well. For example, for PianoGroove, I can look at online drum sites, guitar sites and subscribe to their services. I can make notes of what’s good, what’s bad, and what I’d like to incorporate with PianoGroove. That way, I’m getting inspiration from a whole host of other businesses that are already successful in the online membership niche. There can be features that you can analyze, just by paying for their services.”
“In terms of the one tip I’d give to people, it would be to sign up for all of your competition. Sign up for their mailing list, call them up, actually pay for their products. Become a customer and see what they’re offering."
Not only does Hill suggest sizing up the competition, but understanding that the existence of competition is a good sign.“If you’re planning to launch an educational site, I think it’s very good to have competition. There will always be somebody else thinking of your idea, so if there’s nobody else doing it, I’d personally be a little bit apprehensive about the possibility of the idea. I think, find something that’s working, find something that other people are doing, sign up for their products and services, sign up to their mailing list, and then find a way to make it better.”