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Hackernoon logoWhat Startups Can Learn From Quora by@manumittal

What Startups Can Learn From Quora

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@manumittalManu Mittal

Being an early Facebook executive must have been quite a job. Working for a fast growing company, changing the world, tackling interesting challenges, making big product decisions, and all the while working with Mark Zuckerberg every day.

Not too bad. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to leave the company. But that’s exactly what Adam D’Angelo did.

As the first Facebook CTO, D’Angelo left the company in 2009 to start Quora. D’Angelo, along with former Facebook employee Charlie Cheever, launched their company and it quickly appealed to the tech audience. It’s struggled to go mainstream, but nevertheless, given its recent $400 million valuation and impressive traffic numbers, this is a company that’s bound for even more success.

There is something much to learn from this innovative Q&A platform. In this blog post we’ll be covering how Quora masters these important business elements:

  • Engagement
  • Social media integration and user invites
  • Relevancy
  • Email
  • Onboarding


Time on site is an important metric for determining engagement. For most businesses, increasing it is a goldmine. Currently, Facebook holds the crown with users spending an average of hours.

If a business can improve their time on site, it generally signals high interest in the product, more page views, and increased ad revenue (if applicable).

There was a popular post going viral on the internet recently. Just a simple post of a simple man adding a single line of code that made it so that there was always the project that would just not run right. Random chance, like some game of online poker. You may or may not have seen it depending on which communities you keep up with on the internet.

It can mean that users are having a difficult time navigating the site or not able to find what they are looking for. If your time on site is long, you may want to install a tool like KISSinsights to see if users are finding what they’re looking for.

What Quora does to improve time on site:

There are over 600,000 questions on Quora. Part of Quora’s job is to help users discover new questions.

By seeing more questions, users will:

  • Follow more questions
  • Follow more topics
  • Follow more people

All of this leads to more time on site and more content for the Quora user.

In order to help facilitate the discovery of more questions, Quora made a “Related Questions” section on every question page.

Users then see more questions that they are likely to be interested in and more topics and people to follow.

We’ll get into a few more things Quora does to boost time on site in the Relevancy section.

What you can take away:

You already know what your website objective is. If you’re like Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, you want users spending a lot of time with your product. However, if you’re in an area where you want users to find information quickly, a high time on site is a sign that your website may need work. This is where a tool like KISSinsights can help.

If the objective is to increase the amount of time a user spends on your website, take a look at these three tips:

1. Related Articles

Many companies surround users with related content on every page. This keeps the website sticky and increases time on site. See if you can take any inspiration from these examples:

Here’s an example from ABC News, title article ‘Temps Across US Cool slightly, but It’s Still Hot’

eHow has related articles on the side of each article. This page is called ‘How to Change the Oil in Your Car’:

YouTube has ‘Related Videos’:

Slate has a ‘Most Popular’ widget on their homepage:

Many blogs will have a ‘Recent Posts’ section. Here’s one from the Buffer blog:

Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout blog has a widget showing a few categories to quickly access popular blog posts:

Flickr shows related categories next to a picture:

If you have a forum, vBulletin has a ‘Show Similar Threads‘ feature.

The list could go on and on. The lesson here is that websites do this because it works. For any of the above websites, the more pageviews, the better. Showing related content gets users to stay on your website. I’m going to expand on this in the relevancy section; but for now let’s look into how eCommerce companies implement a ‘related’ feature.

Many Ecommerce sites have a ‘Related Products’ section to help the user find the product that fits their needs. See some of these examples:

Amazon has their “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” bar on every product page:

Threadless has their own related products section directly underneath the featured product:

Dodocase has a suggestive selling section on their product pages:

These functions help the visitor see and compare all the merchant’s offer. Without it, they may not find the exact match and go to a competitor who has the related products function and be able to find what they’re looking for. The result could mean a lost sale.

Let’s check out another way to increase time on site

2. Instructional Videos

Most people don’t like to read while they’re on the internet. People want quick answers without having to hunt through paragraphs of text.

You may think adding videos will cause a decrease in time on site, but it can actually increase it while improving the user experience.

Think about a user in a time crunch that came from a Google SERP and is looking for information.

One site has 5 paragraphs of text explaining the answer:

The other site has 5 paragraphs of text explaining the answer and has a short 45 second video:

For the first site, the user will likely hit the back button after searching on the site for a few seconds. If they go to the second site, they likely will play the video, opting to give 45 seconds of their time to get the answer. This increases time on site, but more importantly, improves the quality of your site because you were the one who had the answer.

When the quality of your site is improved, people will come back to your site to use it as a reference.

Many websites are catching on and using videos to enhance the user experience. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

eHow uses videos to give users another form to take in their content with such type of Motion Graphics:

Amazon lets people watch reviews:

Gumroad explains their product with a video:

Hellofax uses video to explain almost every aspect of their product:

Videos enrich the experience for the user. They deliver answers more quickly, can help sell your product, or can get your site bookmarked for future reference.

What goes well with videos and helps users spend time browsing your site? Pictures.

3. More Pictures

As a supplement to video, many companies will include pictures to demonstrate their product. Others will keep it simple and rely solely on pictures. Let’s take a look at a couple examples.

Curebit highlights a video on their product page and gives pictures to supplement: uses a video on their homepage and shows pictures demonstrating the product:

Applebees features a video on their homepage:

By combining a video to go along with pictures, websites are enriching the user experience by giving the visitor multiple formats to view their product. Not everyone wants to read or view pictures, some like video. Others prefer reading and looking at pictures. It’s important to cater to your visitors in the format they like.

Third Party Integration and User Invites

In lieu of a formal signup, many websites let users connect with their Facebook or Twitter accounts. This saves the user time, which increases the likelihood of a signup.

There are also websites who make it easy for users to invite others. This increases the viral coefficient and spreads the product.

How Quora Integrates Social Media and Makes User Invites Easy:

When answering a question, a Quora user has the option to share their answer on social media:

Similar to a Like or Tweet button, Quora users have the option to share a question on social media or via email:

Quora also lets users post their activity to the Facebook Timeline. It’s off by default, but users can turn it on:

If they turn it on, their Facebook friends are notified when they perform an action on Quora. For example, if I follow a question:

It automatically goes into my Facebook news feed:

Users of Quora can search for their contacts via email:

When a Facebook friend adds follows me on Quora. I have the ability to suggest topics to the new follow:

This function is only available if it’s a new Quora user who is not following many topics.

These simple signups, combined with social media integration into the product, makes it easy for a product to spread. If you think people don’t share Quora questions on Twitter, check out the Quora Twitter search.

What you can take away:

Lars Lofgren has a great write up on social media product integrations.

If you’re not technical but interested in using an invite system, you can use a tool like Friendbuy.


Relevancy is important, no matter what business you are in. Relevancy saves the user time (the best search engines save people time), helps a customer make better decisions (good business supply relevant products that help customers get what they need), and makes businesses successful (if you don’t offer relevant solutions to problems you’re sunk).

How Quora achieves relevancy:

Quora lets users Follow Questions. When a question is followed, the user receives a notification with each new answer to that question.

Users can also follow other users and follow topics. These two functions help deliver relevant content to the user, which displays on the personalized homepage.

When the user enters Quora, they see a page full of content from their followed people and followed topics. Take a look at some key elements of the homepage and how it fosters relevant content:

Further, the homepage is never ending. When a user reaches the bottom of the page, they see this:

It only takes a few seconds for more content appear. This functionality increases time on site, improves chances that you’ll follow more topics and people, and exposes the user to more relevant content.

Similar to how Facebook has ‘Find Friends’ and Twitter has ‘Who to Follow’, Quora has a section on their homepage for suggested people to follow:

Relevant content is crucial if you want users to keep coming back to your site. As you can see, Quora gives users the tools to find and discover content academy relevant to them. What are you doing to help make sure you keep your content interesting and relevant?

What you can take away:

You need relevancy no matter what business you’re in. Relevant products, content, tweets, Facebook updates, and pins all play an important role. Let’s go through how relevancy can impact your business.

If you’re in eCommerce:

  • If you have an eCommerce Website, write about industry related topics. Don’t stray or you’ll lose the audience.
  • Similar products lined up against one another help the user find what’s right for them.

If you’re in content:

  • If you want relevancy, you’ll need to serve a niche. Content farms can be tricky as a few companies dominate the space and others often end up taking a hit. Serving a niche generally results in a loyal audience that visits your site often and spends more time on your site than if you wrote articles for every topic imaginable. Stick to what you know.
  • If you serve a niche, you’ll have users with similar interests. Like Quora, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, Github, Etsy and many others, you can have your users follow one another. If you have a significant number of users, check out a product like Ning that allows users to connect with one another. This will create user generated content and drive more traffic. If you are interested in something like this, make sure you have the time it takes to run an online community.


Emails are a great way to have customers or prospective customers keep in touch with your brand. They can help drive sales, improve engagement, and keep customers up to date on your latest offerings.

How Quora uses email:

Outside of notifications, when someone follows or messages you, Quora has a “Weekly Posts Digest” and a “Daily Board Digest” email. Let’s take a look at them and how they keep the user in contact with Quora.

Weekly Posts Digest:

Every week, Quora sends out emails based on your interests. Here are a few examples from my email:

This email shows in my inbox because I follow Ken Norton, who voted up this answer:

It also appears as the subject because it was a popular question.

Let’s check out another one:

Just like the one before, this one is in my email because someone I followed voted up an answer to the question.

Let’s check out one that doesn’t feature someone I follow:

This question is a popular one. If I check it out I may perform some action, whether it’s following the question, topic, or anyone who answered.

Because my Twitter is connected to my Quora, I also receive emails showing names of people I follow on Twitter but do not follow on Quora. Here’s an example:

You’ll notice that the subject line is different from the two previous. The subject lines contain names of people. While they may be random to most, they are not to me. I quickly recognized them because I follow these people on Twitter, but not on Quora. Quora is notifying me of people that I may want to follow.

In general, most subject lines end up being the headline in the email. It’s the opposite with this. Instead of headlining with names, Quora opts to show me questions and content. I have to scroll to the bottom, going through the entire email, to see the names:

Daily Boards Digest:

Quora’s board feature lets users post links to outside sources that are related to the board topic. For example, I follow the Growth Hacks board, which is different from the Growth Hacking topic. Boards let me follow a subject and collaborate with other Quora users on that subject. The links posted do not have to be from the Quora website.

Each time a new link is posted, Quora sends me an email titled “Your Daily Board Posts Digest”. Here is how it appears in my email:

As you can see, the email contains the link to the board I follow. I can click on the link to check out the article. I can also up vote, down vote, or comment on the article, all of which takes me back to the Quora website.

What you can take away:

We’ve written about email newsletters before. Check them out if you want a complete guide.

Amazon is a company that uses in email in a unique way. You’ve probably noticed that they send customers emails regarding what they’ve recently viewed on the Amazon website.

A couple days after viewing dehumidifier’s on the Amazon website, I got this email from them:

The email contains dozens of dehumidifiers that I can browse from.

Granted, your brand isn’t Amazon and probably cannot pull off something like this. What you can do, however, is send them product offerings that are relevant to the subject in your email newsletters. For example, if you’re a software merchant and one of your newsletters is about anti-virus software, you can display some of your security software at the bottom of the email message. People have clicked on the email, so they have an interest in the topic, so why not remind them what you sell?

If you’re in the content space, you can have email signup so users know as soon as something new is posted. You can also leave the option open for users to select certain topics within your niche so that the emails will be even more relevant.

The Onboarding Process

No matter how simple your product is, you’ll still need to teach new users how to use and navigate it. If you don’t teach users, your abandonment rates post-signup will be high.

Quora’s Onboarding Process:

Quora’s onboarding process helps new users find friends, people to follow and topics they’re interested in.

What you can take away:

There are dozens of ways you can introduce new users to your product. You can give them a video tour, use arrows to show what does what, use a percentage system (i.e. “+10% for adding a profile picture”), step by step introduction, and many other ways. The importance is to find what works best. This is why it’s important to test.

What else do you think we can learn about Quora? What has made them successful?


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