commit: 6b2ca8a - #414 (2014-03-05 12:54:44 -0500)
Hi everyone. I’m looking forward to your questions! Feel
free to ask me anything…here are some areas that I have a lot of experience in
and that I love to talk about:
Content promotion, influencer marketing and link
building…particularly through outreach.
Startups. I’ve been involved with a number of
early-stage startups (both bootstrapped and venture-funded). Some have succeeded
and some have failed miserably. I’ve learned a lot from both types. Happy to
talk about both the mistakes I’ve made and the things that have worked.
Product management for technology products.
If you have questions about on-page SEO or the algorithm, I’m
not going to be much help…not my area of expertise.
I’ll be available from now until noon CST and then back
again at 2 pm to 4 pm CST.
I liked to work with Buzzstream and it's definitely a good product, however, I found a little bit too complicated. Tim has been a great help for us.
My question to you: from your experience, how much time does take to get a result from the person you are outreaching, from the moment you find them to the moment you get what you wanted?
You're hardly the only one who feels this way and it's definitely an area of focus for us. We're doing a number of things to simplify the product. I'd love to talk to you more to understand where you're getting stuck. I'll email you.
Regarding your outreach question...it's really impossible to generalize. The success of outreach depends on a number of factors, including the quality of the content, how targeted your list is, how effective your email is, you much time you've spent on messaging, the vertical you're reaching out to, whether you're reaching out from the brand's email address or your own, etc.
Great questions keep coming in...I'll keep going for a while (say 5:30ish CST).
Why can' t I edit emails that I cue? I wanted to make some changes to spontaneous email that was going out the next day but there is no edit function. I had to copy & paste everything (email add, subject, body) then delete the email and start all over again.
Any devs for this?
Thanks for the suggestion. It's not currently planned, but I'll log this as a feature request and make sure that you're notified if/when it gets added.
Hi Paul! Thanks for the AMA!
Question: When you have more work than engineers, how do you decide when the engineering team should work on technical debt, non blocker bugs, or new features?
Great question....in twenty years of doing this, I've yet to be in an environment where there wasn't more work than engineers. :)
1) whenever we do our sprint planning we assume a velocity that gives the dev team the time they need to address infrastructure issues, tech debt, etc. Those cases typically don't even show up in the planning meeting. The dev team sets aside a certain amount of time each sprint to address technical issues.
2) as strange as this sounds, I view this as an HR question. If our dev team tells me that there's a technical issue that we need to address, I automatically trust that it needs to get done. The key is hiring developers that you trust to look at things from the customer's perspective. A good example of this was when we moved our app from a single server environment to a clustered environment. They told me that we were reaching the scaling limit and that we'd impact performance significantly by making the move. It was a big time commitment, but that assertion really ended the discussion.
Would you still budget for 'technical debt' in the very early startup stages where you're trying to produce a minimum viable product that might be canned anyway?
I can't speak for Paul, but personally, I look at MVPs as "spikes". The focus should be to prove a business case not the code. Focus on learning about the customers and what tech debt engineering will accumulate when you build out for real. My $0.02
Excellent re-assuring stuff guys :)
Hackety-hacks for an MVP, then clear your debt when creating the high-fidelity models and product.
Paul: Thanks!!! I've never thought of it as an HR question! What a great framework to think through.
Marketers unfamiliar with agile: (#1) "Velocity" is an actual metric that roughly measure of how much work an engineering team can do in a fixed time period.
What benefits do you think outreach tools & specifically CRMs bring to an outreach specialists arsenal?
Especially for a Luddite who still uses self made tools ;)
I'd boil the benefits down to these things:
- automates a lot of the manual activities involved with outreach, so that you can focus on strategy, messaging, relationships, etc...particularly the research phase
- single view of all your activity with the people/publishers that you're reaching out to (so that you save time and conduct smarter outreach)
- faster list building
- keep you and your team organized.
Hi Paul -- thanks for joining us!
I've a couple of questions for you :)
1. You receive an anonymous cheque made out to BuzzStream for $1 million, no questions asked. Assuming it isn't mafia blood money or anything like that, what would you spend it on and why?
2. What skill you've learnt do you value the most? And which skill do you wish you'd learnt already?
3. How do you do outreach for BuzzStream?
I'll answer each in a different reply...
$1 million, huh? Well, after I've bought my purple mink coat and my mouthful of grillz, that leaves me about $950K. ;)
Three things works really well for BuzzStream:
- content and PR
- product improvements
- customer service
Given this, here's what I'd spend on:
- Hire a full-time product manager to support my efforts...this person would be heavily focused on customer validation, user testing, etc. This would both improve our product and serve as a marketing channel (people you get feedback from tend to advocate on your behalf). It would free me up to focus on business development, product strategy and big content.
- Hire two more developers...very challenging to do in this hiring environment
- Hire a customer service/inside sales rep to qualify/respond to inbound leads
- Spend on big content pieces and conferences
I wouldn't spend all $1 million all at once. I'm a big believer that limitations make you better and smarter and I'm not sure that throwing the money out there at once would be smart.
Awesome seeing that you know what moves the needle in your funnel :D.
2) three skills I value most (sorry, can't limit it).
- focus - in a bootstrapped startup, you have to be willing to focus only on the most important things, even if that means you're doing other things very poorly...this is hard to accept, but it's critical to success.
- the ability to learn and adapt quickly.
- product management
I wish that I was better trained at UX. I've learned a ton over the last five years, but I'm not an expert yet.
How do you justify the "do other things very poorly" ?? I like going with 'good enough for now', but would you even spend time doing that?
I agree with what you said, but I'll say that sometimes you won't have enough resources for good enough. If you've targeted the right market and you've solved enough of the early customers' pains, you'll eventually drive enough revenue to be able to address some of those issues.
I've found myself in funny conversations though...at mozcon I was talking with a group of marketers who started asking how we did different things. There were about eight straight questions where I answered "no, we suck at that." :)
For example, on the marketing side, there are plenty of advertising opportunities that would have a good ROI and we focus almost no resources on it....but we spend a lot of time on content, social engagement, customer service and outreach. That drives the funnel in a big way.
3) Our approach to outreach is pretty simple. Find the people in our database that are interested in the topic the piece is focused on and that we have a relationship with and we conduct personalized outreach.
For us, the real work happens before we send the email...we're constantly trying to build/maintain relationships and "give before we ask."
What is one SEO or marketing tool that you just cannot live without at BuzzStream?
Liam's bookmarklets for scraping lists. http://www.onlinesales.co.uk/. Specifically the pageLinks bookmarklet that scrapes the inbound links on a page...great for "best <topic> blog pages and other list resource pages. I use this to pull the URLs, then I import into BuzzStream and then qualify based on the metrics, contact info and an in-context inspection of the site.
Hi Paul! Thanks for doing an AMA!
You say that some of your startups "failed miserably"... If you don't mind me asking, what did you learn from these experiences, and what advice would you pass on to budding entrepreneurs based on your experiences, both good and bad?
Great question. I've learned so much that it's hard to summarize in one answer. I'll try to give a few big ones:
- picking the right co-founders is absolutely critical. My first startup got sued out of existence because of a co-founder issue. Even if you pick the right co-founder, it's still hard. I started BuzzStream with Jeremy Bencken. There wouldn't be a business without Jeremy, I think Jeremy is one of the smartest people I know, and I'd work with him again in a heartbeat....but we still ended up separating (on very good terms).
- Do a TON of work on the front-end to validate your market
- Fund appropriately for the idea...if it's a big market and it's a big dev project, raise money. If you can avoid it, don't
- it's a giant rollercoaster and you will go through huge lows. You need to do everything and anything possible to stay mentally healthy. I can't state this strongly enough.
Fantastic answer, thanks Paul! :-)
I'd vote this up if I could - great question, great advice!
Didn't notice the little up arrows initially. brilliant stuff Paul (and no surprise).
Good to hear from you, Gab. It's been a while.
Hi Paul -
On a Friday night out having beers with a friend, you accidentally volunteer yourself to manage a link building campaign for his small business, a website that sells ant farms online.
Give me a quick rundown of your process of managing client expectations, prospecting in a niche you are unfamiliar with and the KPI metrics you'll judge the campaign with to show value to the client.
Ha! Remind me to avoid getting beers with you at the next mozcon, Anthony. :)
Not a quick answer...give me a bit of time to get back to it so that I can answer in a detailed way.
ok, Anthony, Matt and I brainstormed on this a bit...Mark Twain once wrote "apologies for the long letter...I didn't have time to write a short one." Definitely the case here. :) In real life with real budgets, I'd likely slim this down significantly.
I'd start by focusing on goals and timeframe. Where's the client starting (in terms of links, site assets, design, etc)? Some of the best wins we've seen come from companies taking content they already have in spreadsheets or presentations, making it search engine friendly and aesthetically pleasing, and promoting it. So I'd look for quick win opportunities.
I'd also focus on the makeup of the purchase funnel and selection process for an ant farm before developing a plan. Do people plug in 'ant farms' into a search engine and buy the first thing that comes up (as they might with insurance), or is it a more considered purchase process where education is a big issue?
So all of those questions will impact the strategy. If you're the bargain basement ant farm distributor in a non-considered purchase, I'm going to be looking at more straight-up link building, whereas products with a more considered purchase journey can really be helped by creating and publicizing educational content. (Not that you shouldn't do that anyways, but if a customer really needs the cheapest ant farm he or she can get tomorrow I'm not sure how much time they'll spend reading about it.)
I like the approach Garrett French outlines in his book, where he looks for linkable asset publicity opportunities. So I'd start there, and ask are there already any linkable assets on the site I could promote better? This can also be a great source of quick wins that can build that trust.
Next, I'll do some research to understand who ant farms appeal to. If I can find a segment that's both link rich and buys ant farms, I have a tremendous opportunity. (Ethan Lyon wrote a really great post about this on the BuzzStream blog - http://www.buzzstream.com/blog/stop-marketing-to-keywords-start-marketing-to-people-lessons-in-traditional-marketing.html)
Assuming those have been exhausted, it's time to get to work. Matt Gratt did a little bit of online research for different terms around ant farms, looking at how people were using them according to the reviews on Amazon, and it looks like parents who home school their children are interested in ant farms, buy ant farms, and have websites.
I might start by trying to find websites with home school lessons, or homeschool blogs in general and try to understand what this community values. Then I'd pick 10 to 20 or so, and ask them if they'd give me feedback on a set of lessons on ant farming for home schoolers we were developing for our site. Then I'd create the content, get their feedback, improve it, and promote it heavily, using the social proof from my initial feedback group as a persuasive trigger.
KPIs would be dependent on the results of the initial goal setting process....ideally I'd be able to tie them to standard ecommerce KPIs - traffic, conversion rate, completed orders, AOV, profit per order, etc., and segment them by orders from the activities I was doing in my campaign.
Wow. This is great. Great insights here Paul (and Mr. Gratt).
I really like the process you guys went about. Pretty amazing!
are there any new tools or options that you are planning to add in a future ?
The big features that we're working on now:
- API (now in beta)
- Reply notifications (i.e., if you're conducting outreach and someone does/doesn't reply, notify you of the people you need to follow up with)
- Reporting - funnel reporting, better link reporting, team reporting, etc.
We're also dedicating a lot of our time/resources to improving usability of the product.
How about building it into Gmail, browsers and operating systems? So you don't have to leave your workflow to interact with BuzzStream and your BuzzStream data?
On a similar vein, did you see HubSpot's new Signals product? http://www.getsignals.com/
We've taken the first step towards building it into the browser with the buzzbar. The next step is to turn it into an extension. This fits with our goal of building content promotion CRM directly into the web (and into the other places where the process occurs.
Haven't checked out Signals yet. Thanks for the heads up!
Seconded. That would be great.
Let's say you have a customer retention problem. People hear great things about your product, test it, sign up, and then proceed to churn after a month or two. How would you tackle this problem?
Great answers btw! Keep them coming!
First of all, getting the right metrics in place is key. The two reports that I look at most are:
1) retention cohort report - shows how churn is improving over time, and
2) trial engagement report - shows how many days people login to the product during the trial (and compares it to previous months).
We're constantly looking at these and checking to see how our activities are impacting performance over time. We slice them in a lot of ways to determine what's working, what's not, who it works for, etc.
Things that have worked well for us:
- better in product on-boarding (we still do a fairly shitty job of this...something we're heavily focused on)
- BuzzStream University
- Transactional emails to build a relationship and to let people know about resources that are available
- In product notifications
You've worked with a lot of SEO agencies and in house teams, both big and small. What are some of the problems that you see that are pervasive in the industry, regardless of company's size or budget? From an outsider's perspective, what is plaguing the industry?
That's a great question, John-Henry. I'd boil it down to what I'd describe as "transactional thinking." This leads to bad messaging, low retainers, misaligned KPIs, ineffective organization structure, etc.
As google has gotten smarter, it's pushing things in favor of people who are thinking in terms of real customers and real marketing. One example...people still think about link building as a one-off transaction. This still works in many cases, but it's not a long-term position and it under-values the agency's work.
I think that a huge percentage of the things that SEOs are great. There's a chunk though that I think they should just forget (the transactional thinking).
Hey Paul -
What are the specific metrics you evaluate when quantifying the value of a potential link?
Obviously these have been built into the DNA of Buzzstream, so a follow-up question (and the one I'm most interested in) would be, how do you evaluate link value if these metrics either a) do not exist, or b) simply aren't available.
I think Ross Hudgens and Adria Saracino have the best posts about link valuation:
One thing I'd add to these posts...as google is getting better and better about site and link valuations, the use of metrics as the sole method for valuing a site is becoming less and less useful. If you look at both Ross' and Adria's processes, they're both looking at each site to see if it passes the eyeball test. In my opinion, this is going to become more and more important as google gets smarter.
Can you suggest me some tips to promote my site. I have a site(www.guestpostsolutions.com), it deals with guest blog posting service. i am trying to promote it through online. Can you help me with some tips that might work instantly?
The "might work instantly" is a problem for me, particularly given that you're trying to promote your own site in a vertical that's filled with marketers. I understand your sense of urgency, but I don't think it's very realistic and it's not going to help you in the long-term. Yes, there are plenty of gamey things you can do that will give you a short-term win, but that's not really what I focus on.
Since you're selling to marketers, it's more important than ever for you to think like a marketer. I'd make sure you have a really well thought out positioning statement. This should summarize very succinctly the sets of feelings that you want to engender among your target customer. Having this will not only position you in the customer's mind, it will help you focus your efforts.
Here's the template that I use for a positioning statement:
- For (target segment)
- Who wants (problem to solve)
- the (solution name) provides (solution to the problem)
- Unlike (primary competitor)
The (solution name) (primary differentiator).
The key is making this very short...that focuses you and makes it really clear why you're the right solution.
Developing this first will help drive your content strategy and promotion strategy.
Thank you paul, this sounds good...
What member of the Wu-Tang Clan (including the Wu-Tang Killa Bees) would be the best at outreach and content promotion and why?
Interesting question, Matt. If you're reaching out to the children, I'd obviously go with ODB. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS181X4F3bw
Holy Crap Matt, that might be the best AMA question of all time.
I set the comment box in flames, bomb like fighter planes, AMAs are shot down long range with sniper aim
I wanted to know your suggestion this, We recently faced a situation where we replaced the Facebook like button with Share button from our blog(internet marketing site blog). Still I personally feel ‘Like’ was getting more engagement than share button, what will you advice for me. Implementing both Like & Share button is a good idea? I believe since our site only deals with particular industry i.e. Internet Marketing, less people will be sharing the blogs. We feel Facebook share is much valuable than Like, but we are confused here.
Should be an easy one to test. Have you tried this?
I am in such a situation where I can't test both, according to you what you believe the best at the moment.
I don't have enough information about your situation to answer intelligently. On our blog, we have a tweet button, a fb share button, a +1 button and a linkedin share button. This works well for us.
For us, this fits into my answer to Chris Le's question above. Getting it perfectly right isn't one of the most critical things we need to figure out for our marketing efforts, so we don't overthink it. Instead, we've tried to make sure that we're not providing so many options that we overwhelm the reader, but enough for them to promote it in the outposts we care most about...that's good enough for us.
I'm a comp sci major and had an opportunity to transfer to the University of Texas, but was afraid that the Austin startup / tech scene wouldn't be able to give me the same opportunities that the bay area does. What would you say if you were trying to sell someone on living in Austin?
Well, I've lived in both and loved both of them, but I strongly prefer Austin at this point in my life. There are pros/cons to both though. There are great opportunities in both locations, but there's no question that there are many more in the Valley. When it comes to tech, it's the center of the universe, so you're going to see a lot more of the big, game-changing businesses. For me, I've always been drawn to businesses that solve very well-defined, tangible problems for specific market segments, so finding the next big, sexy thing isn't that interesting to me. Austin has a history of building those types of businesses.
Quality of life is what really differentiates the two for me. While I loved the beauty of the bay area and the opportunity to do so many great outdoor activities, the lack of a sense of community in the bay area was something that bothered me. The cost of living and the poor transportation was also a big problem.
All that said, if you're just starting your career, the bay area is a phenomenal place to be. I wouldn't trade my time there for anything. You might not choose to stay there forever, but you'll learn a ton while you're there.
Hi Paul, What's the eta on spell check in the tool? (the team nominated me to ask this one--don't murder the messenger!). :D
Hey Rhea - I don't have one, but that's because I thought the issue was addressed when you have spell check turned on in chrome. My mistake...sorry about that. I'll add it to our next planning meeting to get an estimate on it...I'll let you know as soon as I have more info.
Thanks Paul, appreciate that! Team says it looks like the subject line gets autocorrected, but not the text editor itself. We will shower you in SEO hugs and booze at Pubcon if you guys can tackle. Sorry to infiltrate AMA with a support question. Love the product though and a lot of the posts you guys are putting out lately! :)
No need to apologize, Rhea...I'm a bit embarrassed that I let this fall through the cracks. We've had a ton of people request it, so I'll make sure it's prioritized appropriately.
That said, I'll still accept the offer of hugs and booze. ;)
Done and done. If you're randomly hugged at Pubcon, that's my team. :D
Hey Rhea. It's done...we're hoping to push it live tonight, but it might not make it out until Monday.
Regarding your startups, do you have any suggestions to get the initial traffic/customers to your startup site outside of the usual adwords, guest blogging, forum posts, conferences, etc ? Thanks for any ideas...
I talked about this on quora - http://qr.ae/1j6dy
If I had it to do over again, I'd focus almost all of my early efforts on social engagement and incorporating early customers into the development of the product...provide amazing customer service. Not only does it turn customers into advocates, it drives you to build better products and it invigorates you. You're odds of loving what you're doing go way up if you happen to love the people you're building your products for. Sounds a bit trite, but it's absolutely true.
Once you get some traction, you can build a marketing flywheel based on three things:
- amazing content
- influencer relationships (developed during the early stages of the company)
- outreach campaigns
Hey Paul, thanks for doing this!I am working on a 2 person startup that lets people turn text into images and share their creations to their social networks. We have been seeing a lot of interest/usage from social media instructors, business coaches, and motivational speakers during our beta. So that has been our primary target focus. A majority of my time is spent doing customer acquisition. Given the vast amount of channels/ways to acquire users, if you were in my shoes how would you spend your days/weeks and energy? Would you spend a week on different platforms trying them out, then devoting all of your energy to the most effective one? Time is the biggest limiting factor so any advice you have on how to handle this and stay organized would be great!
I should mention that a huge use case has been inspirational quotes/thoughts
I have some thoughts, but let me start by saying that nobody is going to be able to answer this question as well as you are...you probably at least have a hypothesis about what will work best. Trust yourself, test it and then adjust accordingly. One of the biggest challenges for me when I first got started was getting over the self-doubt that comes with never having done it before. While there's value in the knowledge provided by people who have done it before, each situation is unique and nobody knows your unique situation like you do. There are always certain people who will come at you with strong opinions about how you should be doing your job, all based on very little information. Avoid these opinions like the plague. Almost every time I went with someone else's snap judgment over what my own analysis/instincts told me, it hurt the company.
With that said, here's EXACTLY what you should do. ;) Just kidding...take a look at my answer to Matt's question above (my quora thread about this). That's what's worked well for me.
One last thing...I've found I get the best feedback on these things when I present my planned approach (rather than an open-ended question). That gives people the opportunity to really dig into your strategy and provide feedback.
If you want to jump on a call to discuss, just dm me on twitter and I'll send you my info. I just followed you.
Hi Paul, thanks for connecting with me! Sometimes I feel like I need to watch what marketers do in their day to day, I feel very new to all of this even though I have some ideas. I saw Matt's question right after I posted so I have been reading through that post and your blog since then. Thanks again it has been helpful already :)
Hey Paul,I have two questions related to where you live...1) What is your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, dish and why? 2) What is it to be a local during SXSW?
The first question is fairly easy for me (and I suspect everyone at BuzzStream will agree)...Taco Deli, all day every day. Mmmm...so fresh, so delicious. Matt will almost always go with the cowboy taco, Nik and Tobias are all over the Lomo taco, and I'm all about the Frontera Fundido. You're making me hungry. :)
Being a local during the sxsw music festival is still pretty awesome. So much great music packed into small venues. It's a great time to be here.
I was reading your answer to Anthony's question earlier on here about the ant farm scenario. I was wondering if you can go into more detail about the thought process behind straight-link building versus creating content and marketing those pieces. Is one method always more effective than the other? Should you pursue both paths? Traditional link building seems like a task that's becoming harder and harder and a lot of sites would want you to pay for a link and sometimes it doesn't seem as authentic in several of the cases I've had to face.
p.s many thanks for doing the ama!
I'm going to see if Matt can pinch hit on this one...I'm running out of processing power.
I'll jump in here and pinch hit on this one. (I work at BuzzStream, btw.)
I actually just wrote a post on that this week - http://www.buzzstream.com/blog/the-imaginary-separation-between-link-building-and-content-marketing.html - (I'm sure I broke some sort of self promotion rule on inbound with that one, so please forgive me.)
While they work separately, we see tremendous increases in response rates when people use traditional link building techniques (broken link building, guest blogs, etc) in conjunction with traditional content marketing (utlimate guides, infographics, research and thought leadership, etc), along with superior content marketing ROI when people spend some time promoting content and thinking about how to get search and social visibility from it.
However, often when you're doing work for a client, you need to show results quickly, so traditional link building can be worthwhile to get those quick wins and build buy-in for larger pieces. And if a site has little to no authority to start, you'll want to begin with some straight up link building to get that first level of visibility and trust.
In some spaces, there's basically no appetite for content, so content marketing doesn't do all that much, and traditional link building wins out. By contrast, some spaces have been hit so hard by SEOs for years just about everyone asks for payment, etc., so content-based approaches are more effective.
Personally I've done a lot of work in b2b spaces where you have to convert people after they find your website, so I like content-based approaches. Additionally, often that content can be used again in lead gen flows, for retention, by the sales team, etc., so you can get lots of value out of it.
Hope that helps. As always in marketing, it depends on your vertical, purchase process, etc., and your mileage may vary.
How many workers do you have?
Right now, eight...we'll hopefully be up significantly by the end of the year (hiring engineers is hard in Austin right now).
Hey Paul. I'd like to say that buzzstream is an A-W-E-S-O-M-E product! I mean seriously… the way it eases the entire link building process is off the hook!
My question Paul is, what would you say is the best way to promote content? If you could share your top 3 methods, that'd be great!
Thanks! We've been at this for a long time, so it's always very gratifying to hear this.
I spoke about this at SearchLove - http://www.slideshare.net/buzzstream/searchlove-9-52013. There are always certain tactics that work well for specific verticals, but to really get the most out of your efforts you need an effective process and system. Too often, people spend a ton of time thinking through their content strategy and then just haphazardly throw together an outreach list and start emailing. This is a wasted opportunity and pretty much guarantees that you won't get as much out of your work as you could have. You'll get a lot more out of your efforts if your system is rooted in five principals (there's an example in the slide deck...:starts on slide 20)
- Spend at least as much time on planning as you do on the actual promotion
- Broaden the list of people you reach out to by segmenting your "content market"
- Leverage easier to acquire links to help get the more difficult ones
- Engage in your community prior to outreach
- Automate low value tasks (finding contact info, collecting metrics, etc)
Hello Paul, the idea of your product is great and i love the interface but there are a lot of little technical issues on the platform. Here's a couple of unresolved issues that we've ran into and decided to open a ticket for them: http://help.buzzstream.com/requests/393, http://help.buzzstream.com/requests/394. There are other issues but those ones are show stoppers for us. We are thinking of cancelling our subscription.