Link In Bio Tools: A CreatorScape Deep Dive
CLUBHOUSE ALERT: We are pairing this deep dive with our first ever CreatorScape Clubhouse chat. Please join this coming Tuesday, March 9th at 6:00pm PST. We’ll have a number of folks building Link In Bio tool companies on stage and some investors in the category as well. We hope you can make it!
Linktree recently announced one of the largest creator economy financing rounds to date. The announcement included some eye-popping numbers: 10M total users, 1M new users per month, 500M monthly page views. Seemingly out of nowhere, this quiet company from Melbourne, Australia became one of the most recognized creator economy brands on the planet.
Meanwhile, new Link In Bio (LIB) products seem to be sprouting up daily. Here is a short list of some of the LIB tools we found in only a few minutes of research:
Linktree, Linkin.bio, Lnk.bio, Shorby, Koji, Tap.bio, Feedlink.io, Link in Profile, Milkshake, Campsite, bio.fm, url.bio, biolincs.me, Beacons, Snipfeed, direct.me, luma profiles, Smart.bio, singlelink.co, carrd, and linkfire.com.
Why did these tools become so popular, how will this category develop over time, and what does the future hold for these companies?
WHAT IS AN LIB TOOL, REALLY?
There are many different ways to answer that, but we feel there are three main use cases.
- Social business cards Business cards used to catalog all the ways you could get hold of someone (office phone, cell phone, fax!!, mail address). Social business cards are the digital equivalent. As our personalities become increasingly fragmented across the social platforms we use, it has become necessary to have a simple way to direct everyone to those places. In addition, the rise of Gen Z (the first broadly multi-hyphenate generation) needed a way to catalog not only their online presence but their current projects as well. Like a mobile-first About.me, with much better timing.
- Single page mobile-first websites One way to think about LIB tools is as an even simpler version of Squarespace or Wix. Those products were themselves heralded as even simpler versions of Wordpress and Drupal. By reducing the design interface down to one screen and being mobile-first, LIB tools opened themselves to a whole new class of users who needed basic customization without the complexities of a website builder.
- Simplified commerce experiences An emerging class of LIB is offering one click purchasing capability to creators and businesses that are trying to simplify the path from a social post and a purchase.
TYPES and ORIGINS
Linktree was the first LIB product, and still holds 88% of the market. (Check out this comparison of search volume for “link in bio” vs “linktree.”) To understand the various types of LIB tools, you have to understand the context. Harken back to 2015 when TikTok didn’t exist (*gasp*) and Instagram was all the rage. These tools solved a simple problem: Instagram notoriously refusing, as they do now, to hyperlink URLs that their members added to posts. This forced millenials to adopt the language “link in bio” in their Instagram captions to drive their audience back to their bio page, where there’s a space for a single hyperlinked URL. LIB tools popped up to enable users to link out to more than one thing from that URL. It turns out this use case is close to a lot of other incredible use cases too, for which LIB tools were quickly adopted as the solution.
The first LIB tools either focused on links to other places the creator lived (e.g. YouTube, Twitter, a blog, eBook, etc.) or replicated images from Instagram so the user could follow an image to its source (e.g., a storefront). Tools like Later’s Linkin.bio still focus on the latter use case. While not as pervasive as link-focused tools, they still achieved some massive scale, with Later claiming they have pushed over 650M views of their customers’ websites (Linktree sees 500M views per month).
Some LIB tools, like Milkshake, then took the single-page concept and expanded it to offer a mobile-first website alternative where they string together multiple web pages rather than presenting just one to the user.
With the dawning of the creator economy and the desire for creators to monetize their audience, we now see a third kind of LIB tool: the monetization tool. Just as LIB tools reduced the complexity of Squarespace to a mobile-first single screen interface, monetization focused LIB tools are reducing the complexity of Shopify to a mobile-first single-screen buying experience. In the process, monetization-focused LIB tools are bringing the purchase a few clicks closer to the buyer and achieving better conversion rates.
LIB tools propagated so quickly in part because potential users simply saw them in the bios of people that they follow—free marketing. Linktree, though, owes some of its early success to YouTube creators who made videos about the product. At one point there were 80K+ videos about how to set up and use Linktree in your bio (and, yes, many additional videos explaining why other tools were better). This more traditional mechanism—creators sharing products with their audiences—fueled a juggernaut of growth. Linktree is now growing at 30K sign ups per day, and it ranks in the top 400 websites in the world. Wow.
DISINTERMEDIATION, REPETITION, AND DISCOVERY EFFECTS
As specific links were being removed from bios and instead showcased as links in bio (e.g. Gumroad, Buy Me a Coffee, Patreon, etc.) three side effects have emerged.
First, creators’ audiences have been exposed to more facets of the creators’ online presences. This drives awareness of all the projects that a creator has under way and creates a discovery effect that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Even typing a creator’s name into Google won’t produce the same consolidated list of topics that are meaningful to the creator, especially since these topics can change quickly.
Second, when you go to LIBs over and over again, you start seeing the same destinations (again, Gumroad, Buy Me a Coffee, Patreon). To some extent LIB tools are the showcase for the creator economy ecosystem. Much like Pinterest became a gateway for eCommerce, LIB tools are becoming the gateway (and gatekeepers) for the creator economy. If we had Linktree’s link and click data, we could tell you who the winners and losers in the creator economy would be well before anyone else.
Lastly, as links are being taken off bio pages and put into LIB tools, there is a powerful disintermediation effect happening. If you think of bio links as digital billboards for the destination companies as much as for the creators (a link to patreon.com/nielr1, for example, promotes the creator’s Patreon but also Patreon itself), hiding them behind the LIB links has removed all the billboards from the highway. The quiet promise of building a creator economy company is that you’ll get free marketing from your customers, but the disintermediation effect reduces the effectiveness of this by a couple orders of magnitude or more. This is going to have a systemic impact on the creator economy, where user acquisition will become the most important (and expensive) variable in companies’ success.
As LIB tools grow more popular, there are an incredible amount of unexpected uses for them that are emerging.
Social awareness During the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, LIB tools helped disseminate valuable materials related to the movement. A LIB company called carrd.co surged in popularity as it built a definitive page of BLM resources. This sparked an unexpected use case: Using other people’s LIB pages and not your own as a quick means of directing your own followers to information.
Donations An offshoot from the BLM pages was using LIB tools to collect donations. Harnessing your audience for donations is becoming a more common way for influences and creators to channel their scale into something worthwhile.
Affiliate revenue Traditionally link-based affiliate revenue has lived outside of the social domain. There are a few reasons for this. First, you could not put links on individual posts. Relying on users to go to your bio, find the link and click through to it massively reduces your clickthrough. Second, the ephemerality of social posts means they don’t receive long-lived traffic. This makes it very hard to make money from affiliate revenue. Affiliate links work great on blogs because blog pages can stick around forever. Once you are indexed by Google, you tend to get a steady stream of highly-targeted traffic. Write a well-indexed blog post on which Le Creuset pot makes the best roast and you’ll be ringing the affiliate registers for a while. But if you post a pic of your favorite Le Creuset on Insta and you’ll get a spike in traffic and then a precipitous drop off. LIB tools mixed with TikTok’s spike-y traffic nature single-handedly rebirthed affiliate for social. LIB tools give creators a way to keep affiliate links around awhile. One of the best examples of this is a company called The Plug, which made a perfect mobile monetization stack of big creators (preferably on TikTok), affiliate deals for app installations like Calm or Headspace, and LIB tools. You see a TikTok on your phone about Calm, the LIB is right there at the top of the creator page, and the link goes straight to an appstore install. We’ve heard some creators are making six figures per video from this kind of a stack. We think that affiliate revenue will re-enter the influencer and creator consciousness in a big way in 2021 as awareness of this becomes more widely spread. In addition, creators can put affiliate links in the LIB and it doesn’t take up notable real estate on their socials. This means they can push products in a much more passive way to their audience.
Businesses While the use case for creators is obvious, it turns out that LIB tools are massively useful for businesses, and there has been incredible growth in them using LIB tools.. There has always been a progression towards marketer-friendly tools. Websites are still complex, brittle and require engineers to update. Products like HelloBar, Pendo, Intercom, etc. made huge leaps in allowing marketing teams to change live websites and products without engineers. LIB are once again making this even simpler. Rather than pushing everyone to your website and hoping they find what they need, marketing can now route users to the most important sections. Trying to hire a sales rep quickly? Click right through to the job description, which might be on LinkedIn. Want to see what’s on sale? Click the top button. Want to sign up for the company’s newsletter? Fill out your email address right on the LIB page. We believe a quarter to a half of new LIB users are actually businesses.
HORIZONTAL OR VERTICAL INTEGRATION
One of the biggest questions in the LIB space: Whether or not to vertically integrate the services your users are pushing traffic to. Companies like Snipfeed and Koji are clearly offering vertical integration as their core value proposition, while Linktree seems to be taking a hub-of-the-world model, trying to play Switzerland.
To us, this seems like a growth versus ARPU conversation right now. Offering a simple and broad product like Linktree does have massive viral effects, which you can see from their explosive growth. But the simpler functionality is being commoditized by the plethora of additional players. Vertically integrators have less of a market (the number of creators actively trying to monetize their audience is much smaller than anyone with a social presence on more than one network) but arguably a higher rate of monetization. Take Patreon as an example of the power of creator monetization. With only 150K creators on their platform, they are generating $1B in creator revenue a year and thus about $50-$100M in gross ARR to themselves. Compare this to Linktree’s 10M users who likely produce perhaps $6M-$8M in ARR. Could vertical integrated LIB tools end up in the middle?
On the flip side, horizontal players have a trickier needle to thread but arguably a much bigger prize if they build products to monetize correctly. Where can they add functionality that keeps their users paying without overcomplicating the product? We see one opportunity around back-end functionality. It’s one thing to not integrate digital goods natively and keep Shopify on-side as a partner; it’s another thing to cannibalize the back-end players. Right now, LIB tools collect emails and phone numbers and have integrations with mail providers like Mailchimp, CRM providers like Hubspot, and general routers like Zapier. Horizontal LIB tools could venture into the mail provider and CRM spaces, bundling those parts of the product into their PRO pricing. This feels in line with the general trend for LIB tools to consume other tool’s value props by just being a simpler version of them. Other creator companies like Kajabi have done just this—bundled a fragmented set of business management tools for their creators—and staved off commoditization.
THE FUTURE LIB LANDSCAPE
With the incredible success of LIB tools, it’s no wonder that new entrants are flooding into the market. There are standalone companies (like beacons.ai) as well as companies adding LIB tools into their product offerings as extensions (Luma, FamePick). Big players like Squarespace (through its unfold app acquisition) have also announced products, and Canva just announced templates for LIB tools (this could be more of an integration opportunity for LIB players than a threat).
It is possible that this battle really comes down to branding. While six dollars a month is meaningful to some users, race-to-the bottom pricing likely offers less of a long-term competitive advantage in a market of commodity products than strong branding. While not one of the strongest network effects, per NFX, branding can still be a powerful tool, and in the creator economy users are looking for emergent brands. Linktree is by far the most recognized player in the space and has focused heavily on design and simplicity in their product. Linktree should be able to charge Apple-like premiums for the PRO product because of their brand awareness.
THE FUTURE OF ONLINE IDENTITY
Going all the way back to the top, what’s fascinating is that simple LIB tools like Linktree are emerging as a new form of identity online. This doubles down on the digital business card use-case in a really powerful way. Consider a very common interaction online where we have to pick our identity—signing up for new products:
Many of us have unwritten personal rules about which social platforms we pick and in what contexts. If it’s a casual product we’ll use Facebook; something social, perhaps use Twitter; and for work related items, LinkedIn or Google. But even with Google, we all have multiple email addresses, so which one do we use when signing up for something?
Linktree could fold all of that into one identity that we would actually want to use when signing up for products. Not only is it a broader view of who we are, but also it provides the tools we are signing up for with a bunch of information that almost everyone wants to collect now. Filling out the profile page of any new product now feels like going to a new doctor and having to fill out yet another four-page personal information survey. We mindlessly enter all our socials into the new site, upload the same profile picture, bio, etc. We’d rather just OAuth Linktree, which is by definition my public facing information, and have the site absorb that into its profile.
We are seeing early versions of this in the wild already, and expect (and hope) this will become a real option next year. Here is an example of Mirror.xyz signup which asks, leadingly, for a single link that represents you. Sounds like an LIB request to us!
For fun, here are some simple predictions about the LIB industry for the next 24 months. We’d love to hear your feedback and any of your own predictions.
A business-focused LIB tool will emerge To date, vertical players have focused on creator user types (influencers, creators, musicians, etc.). No one has launched a LIB tool designed for businesses. Businesses arguably have a broader set of uses for a LIB tool (product promos, helping with hiring, brand ambassador programs, etc.) that someone could design for. They traditionally have more money to spend, so a vendor could introduce a $25 PRO product instead of a $4-$10 PRO product, where the market stands today.
LIB as identity As mentioned above, we predict that one of the bigger horizontal players will launch an Oauth service and start signing up partners at light speed.
Twenty more LIB tools will be launched It’s relatively easy to build basic LIB functionality (or copy what the leaders have built), and the built-in virality of the product is alluring. Amplify that by the skyrocketing valuations of a few LIB tool companies and we’ll see tons of new entrants into the space. There will be more before there are dramatically less :)
LIB tools integrate donations We would expect that some LIB tools will add donation capability natively, just like monetization tools added integrated purchasing. This will essentially put GoFundMe on the list of companies that LIB tools are simplifying for creators.
More overt deals will emerge to take advantage of the repetition effect As companies figure out that getting placement in LIB tools at scale has value, we’ll see a number of smart deals get crafted around doing exactly that. You’re seeing native embed integrations happening now, but we predict someone goes custom with Linktree for this. For example, Clubhouse could strike a deal with Linktree to offer a custom widget for members to put on their Linktree pages. Just marketing this widget to the Linktree user base would have incredible value.
A white label/OEM tool will emerge There are a lot of similar categories to LIB tools, like sites for dating and job listings. At some point, if the uptake of LIB tools from vendors who are offering them as extensions of their core product (e.g. Luma.com) is successful, many companies will want to offer LIB functionality to their users, but won’t want to build all the fiddly bits.
Shopfiy will buy a vertically integrated LIB tool Shopify, with scads of cash and equity to spend, will realize their product is actually too complicated for a whole class of people selling things online (creators) and buy the leading vertical integrator to keep growing their customer base. They will also offer it to their business customers. Keep in mind that Squarespace bought Unfold, which is launching a LIB tool for exactly this reason.
Niel Robertson and Ryan Angilly, co-founders of influence.co, write about the creator economy on a weekly basis at creatorscape.substack.com. Their newsletter is free.