We’re thrilled to bring to your attention the third episode of our cognitiveSEO Talks: On Search and Traffic, this time with a beloved digital expert, Sujan Patel. He’s a marvelous marketing expert, entrepreneur and growth hacker widely known for his multiple publications and articles in the industry, his successful management of various big companies, and his extensive knowledge in the world of digital.
We constantly feel the rush to know what that one or the other say about something of big interest to us. Needless to say about the desire to read people’s minds. And we think we found a solution to that – our podcasts are meant to present you influencer facets that few have ever seen before – they’re like an open book, and this is entirely their choice. But the thing is – you cannot stop listening to them. Their marketing insights are pure gold.
Sujan Patel is the co-founder of Web Profits and a Managing Partner at Ramp Ventures, the team behind Quuu.co, Mailshake.com, Narrow.io, Linktexting.com, and Pick.co. Sujan is a leading expert in digital marketing, he has his own blog, sujanpatel.com and he also does guest blog at least 6 times a week.
His experience of 13+ years in the growth and content marketing industry and his personal charm make his publications to be read and sold like hot bread. All his tips are based on his own experience in running his companies and helping others succeed and stand out on the market.
Sujan is a high-energy individual, fueled by his passion to help people and solve problems.
Patel’s the “take action instead of reading” type of person. Mostly known as a risk-taker, Sujan is abundant with actionable tips on digital marketing, entrepreneurship, and life as a whole. Just listen to him on our cognitiveSEO Talk, and you can draw your own conclusion.
Tackled Topics :
- Sujan’s experience with internet marketing and entrepreneurship
- Solutions for professionals that are leading multiple companies at once
- What are the best means of teaching marketing to people?
- On video and vlogging
- Is it different to rank, drive traffic, and grow a business nowadays than it was in the past?
- To read and study, or to take action – that is the question
- Top 3 things to focus more on as a marketing professional
- Who influenced Sujan Patel the most in his career and why
- How to get more productive as a marketer and/or businessman
- On creating educational content
- Sujan’s advice for marketing beginners
10 Marketing Nuggets:
- I do a really good job of is saying no to things that won’t move the needle. 1:52
- It is very important for a SaaS business to figure out when do people activate and what is that “aha” moment and define it. 13:44
- Word of mouth is good; we knew that if we enable our customers, make them happier and smarter, we get more of it. 17:51
- I found that the best subject lines are 3-5 words, and the best emails have no more than six sentences. 32:28
- If I get the same question asked 2-3 times I essentially create a video. I hate answering the same questions over and over again. 33:51
- It takes maybe 100 articles to deliver the same level of trust, as a video does. 38:37
- It’s not about the tactics. It’s about finding your weaknesses in your funnel, your weaknesses and strengths in your channel, either doubling down on restraints or fixing those weaknesses. 50:25
- The best way to measure all of our efforts in term of top-of-funnel is not how much traffic you get, but it’s to see how many people are talking about you, how many people are referencing your content. 51:06
- My Northstar metric is the number of mentions my brand or company gets per month. 52:56
- Stop reading. Please, stop reading more content and start figuring out how to take action on the content you read. 55:12
Thanks, Sujan, for accepting my invitation. As I told you before, you had a big impact on my professional career in the past few years and I couldn’t have wished for a better guest for the 1st edition of this podcast. So a thing that struck me when looking at your bio is the fact that you’re basically the Co-Founder for a growth-marketing agency, you’re a Managing Partner at Ramp Ventures that basically supports 5 tools like Quuu.co, Mailshake.com, Narrow.io, Linktexting.com, and Pick.co, you have your own blogs, sujanpatel.com for example, and you’re also guest blogging at least 6 times a week or something like that.
How do you structure your time, how does your day look like, how do you prioritize stuff? Do you have a system in place or something like that?
Sujan: I think the first thing I look at, in order for me to manage my time effectively, is to treat all of the Ramp Ventures properties as if they were clients. If you’re running marketing for a $5-10 million business, it’s not that complicated if you have 1-2 growth channels, you kind of focus on those channels and so, to put the answer simply, all Ramp Ventures properties have usually one or two different channels that we use to grow.
There are a lot of them in common: so we only acquire, work with, or build companies that can grow very heavily with word-of-mouth and referrals, meaning the product is doing a lot of the heavy-lifting for marketing. So product marketing is no. 1; word-of-mouth and referrals is the byproduct, the output of having a great product and having good marketing or good UAT (User Acceptance Testing) within the product.
The other thing is concept marketing, you know, building an email list or database, having an audience. But all of this is two things: it’s content marketing and it’s word-of-mouth.
Now, what I do a really good job of is saying no to things that won’t move the needle. So, a lot of times people are “oh, let’s try this channel, let’s try this growth hack, let’s try this and that”. I usually pretty much say no to like 99.9% of things that cannot move the needle for us. In terms of managing an agency, you know, we have a really, really good team. (This is my second agency) I’ve found that what I’m really good at is the strategy, is the team management, and again, I’m not writing ad copy for clients, I’m not writing a blog post, you know, we’re not even doing a lot, we’re creating long-form or high-value, high-quality, extremely high-quality like 10 X pieces ebooks, things like that, so we’re doing a lot with a little.
Now that little takes a long time to do as well, but again, we have a really good team, and then in regard to still writing content I actually, and I’ve said this many times before, I actually start by talking to content. So, the latest blog post on my site, sujanpatel.com, are all things I’ve just sat down and was talking to somebody; I talk to, usually, my editor and my editor would then transcribe things and say “ok, out of the 30 minutes you talked about this, here are the 6 or 7 takeaways. I usually have an outline of the things I wanna go through, and then essentially it’s going to be a transcription and an outline of that, and then I will go right, so that will help frame the story and the details and, you know, again, our mantra is like: it needs to be easy to understand – meaning using human language, not like jargon, and minimizing the use of, you know, fanciness that just goes over people’s heads – and no.2, it needs to be actionable. So, with that, we have a really really good framework of the story and in 15 to 30 minutes I can come up with 3000 to 5000-word post that would normally take me hours. Now, it does take maybe 90 minutes, 45 to 90 minutes to complete end-to-end because it takes time to add in an intro and outro and then find details, but what I don’t do is, you know, I don’t worry about the specifics. So, for example … not the specific, but I don’t worry about doing the research and things like that; that are things anybody can do. So I look at what are the things that I can do and that nobody else can do. And that’s the stuff I work on and once I do things, you know, a hundred times over, I’m doing things a lot, I pretty much either find somebody who is better at it than me, or either continue doing it or figure out a way to make it a productive use of my time.
So, I typically write in the mornings and evenings, and either on Saturday or Sunday I usually wake up early, a couple of hours before my wife wakes up, and I pretty much knock out a bunch of work and creative content, and then on a day-to-day basis, we have clients at Web Profits and Ramp Ventures and also other clients, so we treat them accordingly and this works well because all of these businesses are, you know, in terms of size, fairly small, right? We don’t need a CEO, we don’t need a General Manager just yet, but as these things grow we will probably hire, you know, smarter people to do a better job than we are now. But until then, we can manage.
cognitiveSEO: So you’re a productivity master, let’s say. That’s what I get from your reply. So you specified the fact that you like to focus on only some channels, but how do you find the channels you should focus on without testing them first?
How do you find the channels you should focus on without testing them first?
Sujan: I do the math. I do projections and, you know, from experience, I can tell you that there are only really 5 or 6 different channels of growth. And again, maybe there’s more but this is only my opinion, right?
There’s SEO, or let’s just call in that ‘marketing SEO and content marketing’, and everything that is in that, there’s PPC or paid social, so AdWords, Facebook ads, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, whatever.
There’s always new channels emerging, I’m sorry, new kinds of networks emerging within that channel, so like Quora ads, right? That’s a new one – do I wanna test it? Probably. Also, media buys a kind of one-off advertisements are there as well. But I look at everything. As one channel, are we doing a lot of paid? That determines on our economics.
Are you an economics for a business, or a conversion rates to simplify things for each business or our clients. So for example, what’s the CPC (Cost Per Click), how much search volume or volume is there in that space, and what is an estimated conversion rate we can get you to a trial or to a paid customer?
Often times I find that if you apply, let’s just say, a general conversion rate, I typically say “ok, (let’s just use Mailshake as an example) our conversion rate is 1.5% from visitor to paid customer – this is a blended conversion rate from all of our traffic, so this is literally the number I pulled from GA (Google Analytics) including all traffic, so it’s not just new visitors, but everybody”. It’s probably higher for just new visitors but let’s just say it’s 1.5%. We know our LTV (Lifetime value), I won’t share that, but we know our LTV. So we know what we afford to pay at the top at. And we’re 9 months old so our company LTV is going up. So it really means it’s undetermined, but in a usually upwardly directory because the longer a business has been around, the higher the lifetime value you’ve been having. But anyways, long story short, I look at the CPC, I time it to the conversion that we have now, it gives me the potential tack, and I look at how much volume there is, meaning how much traffic can I get, and that tells me how big this channel’s gonna be. So, now, when I do the CPC, I’m looking at who else is out there, and how competitive it is and whatnot, but ultimately, if that number, that map there tells me it’s gonna get me anything under a hundred customers, a hundred customers a month, I don’t do it. If the cost proposition is too high, I don’t do it. So in this case Mailshake doesn’t do paid because the cost per acquisition is too high, and based off of what we can spend we were knocking any more than a hundred new customers a month. And that, you know, to be honest, my time is better spent on making our channels that do work better because we can squeeze more value out of it.
So that’s how I look at things. Now, if I apply that math, that simple formula, again, that’s what every marketer does, right?, I find a lot of people don’t do this when they try to discover what channels they should focus on. What they’re trying to do, a lot of people… again, I’m putting words in other people’s actions, but I see this every day from my blog, people emailing me, potential clients, saying “I wanna do this, that, and the other”, you know, and we have clients, who say “ok, we have $1million annual budget for marketing”.
The question is how do you best play that million dollars? It’s not trying everything, it’s trying the right things that you know they can yield really really good results, and can be growth channels. So as in the early days it’s figuring out what your growth channels are and, doing those, you should always be testing, poking, prodding, but for me right now Mailshake were a better use of my time than it was spending time on conversion rate, improving the word-of-mouth, engaging and building with that audience instead of going after a whole new channel because I still have to do all of the other things, but if I don’t have them now, I don’t know how to figure it out, then the new channel, let’s say, paid, is not gonna work for me. So it tells me I don’t need to worry about it yet. And that means I can sleep better, and that means I can say ok, differ to 6 months from now.
Talk us about the marketing plan or the marketing actions you did in the first 90 days after launching, or before launching LinkTexting. Go in depth and on specifics?
Sujan: So, when we acquired LinkTexting in Q3 (third quarter) of 2016, so about almost a little under a year ago now, the first, you know, I brought things up through fixing, and improving the things that were just broken or needed to be improved and then proactive marketing, growth, right? So we bought this company and when I looked at the company I was like “What are all the holes, – I pretty much when I do an audit, I look at what are the holes in it – so conversion rate sucked, traffic was low. So one of the biggest things is traffic is low; the other thing is the brand was dead, meaning no one talked about it. We had customers, but no one really talked about it. The industry, mobile marketing or mobile apps – so LinkTexting is a tool that’s a simple widget you just put on your website, specifically a desktop website, to a little phone number form there so that when somebody fills up that form, you’ll text them a link to your app instead of like download it on iOS or AppStore. Because on a desktop, when you click on the iOS download, it opens iTunes, and you’re not looking at downloading a computer app, you want a mobile app. So, what that means is nobody really does this. I also talk to our customers, our most active customers, and ask them what do they love about LinkTexting, what do they like, what do they use it for, what do they hate? So that told me the things that I need to improve on the product.
When we looked at it the product was very much an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), which is a good thing and a bad thing. The reason it’s great is that it means a lot of upside opportunities for us. So we went through the first 90 days, my partner and I went on, he leads kind of all development and project management for everything that needs to be done to the product, like the website, while I lead all the marketing and growth, and then we converge in the middle, that is on the product marketing side.
So there’s a lot of holes in the product. People were asking for or complaining about “hey, you have no metrics”, so we built metrics. The whole UX (User Experience), looking at the whole website and the UX did not clearly tell us the value proposition of what the heck the business was. In fact, it took us about 5 minutes, or 3-5 minutes to explain to new people what the heck we do. And that’s a complicated thing.
So imagine if I had a 3-5 minutes conversation to explain what the heck it does, imagine how crystal clear the website has to be in order for it to explain what we do in 10 seconds. Right? So it wasn’t clear what we do. So we redesigned to homepage, we added more pages, we created a mobile app playbook because we found was that a lot of people come to LinkTexting when they’re right about to embed or right about to launch their website or their marketing efforts. So they don’t know a lot about marketing, so we teach them about marketing.
To create content about each market was one of the things we first started doing. The other things, again, fixing the whole UX from like visitor to paid customer. We created email onboarding sequence – I’m not a big fan of Intercom that drift tight messages in-app just yet, because one, we don’t have a big team to support them; we have 2 customer support people. We just recently hired somebody; before that it was me, and so I was like “whoa, how much customer support can I do? The intentional people want live feedback and we don’t have the potential, so we stopped, we cut that completely. But anyway, so we focused on email onboarding, the UX and flow to go from visitor, so we redesigned the homepage, and the frontend website and the whole backend flow to build out a widget. We figured out what the activation point is.
Another thing, that’s very very important in a SaaS business is to figure out when do people activate and what is that “aha” moment, right? People say “aha” but let’s define it. It’s when they freakin’ use your company tool or whatever you do, right? So when do they get success using your tool? So Mailshake is when they first send a campaign, so activation point is: they upload a list, they write the email template, and they send it off. LinkTexting is when they create a widget and they embed it on the website. If you don’t do that, it doesn’t matter, you will never activate. So we fixed that flow and then we found out a lot of people didn’t sign up for the paid program because frankly, we didn’t tell them to purchase. So like the whole, when you’re in the product when you’re logged in, never ever has a website told you “upgrade!”. So who made that more prominent? And, you know, what we had before was this little tiny button link that says like “upgrade your account”, and then below that says “get 50% off if you refer a friend” and it was set up using ambassador, or reward stream, or something of that nature, and nobody used that. But like if you look at the value proposition nobody’s gonna sign up if you’re automatically discounting a 50% and nobody’s gonna refer your business before they even sign up or activate. So we killed that.
We asked people for referrals and to spread the word when they’re 6 months in, 90 days in when they’ve actually successfully used this.
I also went to town doing customer interviews – I main support the first 90 days so I understand the pay points of what it takes to, what people are thinking when they actually go in there with a product, that helps me understand how I can do marketing and it helps me build a customer persona and so what I do is that I build a customer persona around our audience – who are they.
There are 2 people:
- Is there a product manager – if they’re a larger business and there are many customers you want, then they’re product managers, they’re in charge of product organization,
- They’re founders, CEOs, CTOs, they have their own mobile app, a very small organization, but those guys they just wanna set up and go.
They don’t need much help besides how to set it up. So for those guys we hired a support developer to essentially enable people (this is now going in from like I would say 91 days to the first 120, so the first 6 months, the second three months, the second 90 days of the first 6 months we hired a support developer to help customers implement, because we’ve found out that customer demographic per persona they’re busy, you know, they don’t need to learn something new, in fact, they don’t wanna learn something new when our tools preventing them from learning something new it solves that problem (that’s our main value proposition because you can build out this whole LinkTexting system yourself entirely or whatever, but that takes like a month or whatever and nobody wants to do that for something so simple, or nobody should do that for a small little whim). So anyway, long story short, we help customers activate because we know that’s a big problem by simply just helping them do it for them.
And so then we started creating content for the blog initially created a lot of content targeting mobile app developers and CEOs, CTOs, again, of small companies and we found out our money-making companies – we have Expedia, we have HubSpot, we have Adobe, we have lots of big Fortune 500 public companies that are our customers and these guys are our best customers, they’re product managers, that’s what the person is purchasing. We shifted the gears recently to focus all of our content marketing efforts on our prior demographic, product managers, what do they wanna know, who cares what we do, we wanted to be just a viable solution, we want to be a valuable and educational resource for our target demographic, because when we educate the industry, we make people aware.
Another big thing that we did is we understood what channels we can use to grow. Again, word of mouth is good – we knew that if we enable our customers, make them happier and smarter, we get more of it. We determined SEO’s not huge because if we look at the search volume for a lot of this stuff it was really small. If we rank no.1 for all our product keywords we will gain extra 5 retained customers a month. That doesn’t move the needle for anybody! So we focused on content marketing, push marketing essentially, right? So, people aren’t searching for a solution. So we have to create enough value of content that can educate the market and then they will be “aa, that’s what you guys do. I’ll sign up”.
So instead of trying to make people sign up immediately, we focused on valuable educational content, and if they like what they hear, they’ll sign up and we can optimize from there on.
So that’s it!
cognitiveSEO: Yeah. I love the value delivery part because I’m also a big promoter of that and I love the fact that you’re a very pragmatic marketer, let’s say; you don’t go multi-channels and spend money left and right to what sticks and what doesn’t, things like that. So you’re a very pragmatic … you have a very pragmatic approach but in smart way.
Sujan: Yeah, thank you. Just one note here is that I like to use my logic to drive decisions, and I think that a lot of people just forget it because they’re like “oh, there’s this awesome growth hack I just read about this”.
Well, put it into perspective of what that’s gonna do for you. If you’re just starting off and you have zero channels, you’re not gonna get your first channel if you go and try ten. You’re gonna get your first channel if you execute properly. Where as, for example, Mailshake, you know, we’re growing like wildfire; everything I’m doing right now for Milkshake, because we have our word-of-mouth through for all channel is huge. Our product has all the marketing for us. So I have two things I need to do: I need to make that work better, the channel that works, I need to optimize it.
Number 2 is I need to find more channels, so with Mailshake we have a lot more budget and more opportunity to throw shit at the wall, right? We can’t be that illogical marketer that says “Let’s go try these things!”, because one, we try the traffic, two, we have the customers, – because we already have 10 000 customers that we can test out with a pretty decent size email list because we did marketing and we’re getting into that in a bit, but we did marketing while the the product was live, to build up education in that audience. And lastly, we have the luxury of time, meaning my new marketing channels – concept marketing, PPC, building an email database, webinars, ads, sponsorships, those are all the things that we are working on there, have 6-9 months before they need to net a positive URI (Uniform Resource Identifier). So I have time.
cognitiveSEO: Yeah, yeah, and I think that the most important thing is the fact that having a pragmatic way to look at things gives you the opportunity to see what things are working and what not, if there’s a demand on the market, because you can have the greatest product in the world with the best UX, but if there’s no demand and word-of-mouth marketing shows you whether there’s a demand or not, we cannot focus on PPC (Pay Per Click) or sponsorship if there’s no demand for your product. Like in your case, LinkTexting is still a small company, it’s used by big players but Mailshake proved itself that it has a big audience, has a big demand, and you can go further and find new challenges. I think that’s what I get from our discussion.
Sujan: One thing to add. To put it down even simpler, when you go from 0 to 100 customers, it’s a lot of hustle. And when you hustle, it’s like anything you can do to grow this thing and keep it to make it survive, right? … That’s like forget everything that I’ve just said. It’s like do whatever it takes to make it work. Go 1to1 and go sell door to door, right? That can work.
When you go from 100 to 1000, that’s what LinkTexting is at, it’s about that pragmatic approach and spending your dollars and time very very effectively and doing it right, I find that it’s one or two channels that get you from 100 to 1000 customers.
From 1000 to 10 000, it’s very much like “ok, let’s go find 2 or 3 channels”, from 10 000 to 100 000, or 100 000 to 1 million customers and that number will change kind of depending on your LTV or your MRR, but ultimately that’s what you have to get institutions in place, like for example, when Mailshake has a hundred thousand customers, we’re trying to get to a million, or you might find out a hundred thousand is our RP but either way we need a team, we need multiple channels. It’s very much deploying the right resources and the right channels, where the 10 000 to 100 000 customers and that means it’s how do we best use our time, capital, and resources.
cognitiveSEO: One trend I noticed when talking about LinkTexting and Mailshake is the fact that you’ve created this huge 10X pieces -the mobile app playbook and the email outreach playbook-, and one thing I noticed in the past few month when talking about email outreach with somebody is that they’re always talking about that resource, your resource. So how did you come up with the idea of having this kind of resource because it takes both time and money to do them because they’re huge, and what was the main strategy behind them before launching them? And how did you promote them, how did it go when building links to them and so on?
How did you come up with the idea of having this kind of resource, what was the main strategy behind them, and how did you promote them?
Sujan: So it’s funny enough … so let’s talk about mobile, the email outreach because that was the first one we did. And I would say that was a failure because the idea behind it was to create something educational, but it was a failure in a couple parts, but its success at the end of the day it worked. So, in the beginning, our goal, our KPI (Key Performance Indicators), our objective one to hit was that we wanted to rank on Google for cold email outreach, cold email related keywords. Well, it does rank but it doesn’t drive much traffic, so I failed initially because we did this before, when I had a lot more proven formula to validate that there is the man, meaning if I were to rank no.1 how much traffic would I get turns out that traffic from search is really really small. I said “Oh, crap! That’s not good”, right?
The second objective was we had a user base of customers because Mailshake came from content marketing, I also migrated the few thousands customers over for my connected product, so we had people who were like “how do I use this freakin’ tool?”. They were beta testing before it was even out for sale, so the goal was let’s educate our market, let’s educate. I had a hypothesis that a lot of word-of-mouth … we engineered the product to be very very cheap and very very simple, which are two big pinpoints the industry has right now because our competitors for the most part are more expensive and/or a little more complicated to use. So that was our core advantage. So anyways, we knew this going in, so we’re gonna enter going really low and kind of grow out on market.
But going back to the playbook, all my goal was to educate our customers and I was hoping that if by educating our customers we would create value, they would talk about us more, they would be smart and share it. Because we didn’t have anything to market because the product called all of the 2016 … My co-founder and the developer of Mailshake was building Mailshake, which was pretty much a version 2.0 of Connector, now we’re version 2.0 of Mailshake but anyways my point being is that from nine months I was seeing my hands like “Can I do a marketing ad? Can I do a marketing ad? Can I do a marketing ad” and I’m like “ I need to build a brand.
Nobody knows what the heck Mailshake is” and so I was like “What can I do?”. We have beta users using this beta product that we can’t even talk about it, and even if they talk about it, nobody can sign up. So where can I put all this energy from people, myself? What can I do to help build this company before the company is there, right? So that’s why I decided to build an educational 10X pieces content and the goal and how we came about it was that we found a gap, right? We looked at all the cold email related keywords, all the content and a lot of them are outdated, yes, and I call people out, yes, where it has content that’s just mediocre, and they’ve been doing for like since 0809 so they have a lot of outdated content. Other marketers have content that it was really robust and it was very situational like “how I did this using X Y Z”. Not at all repeatable.
Where I also saw another gap and my friend Chris Winfield told me about this when he was giving me early product feedback, is like “Hey, Sujan, you know one of the things I see the most viable of your product?”, and I’m like “Yeah, just tell me, tell me!”. And he’s like “it’s not your product, it’s the fact that you have email templates. You have email templates and nobody else has really email templates”. We had email templates since 2015 and, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t think anybody else had it, and that was intentional but anyways, he’s like “you should make these email templates public”. And so, in our ebook, in the Cold Email Outreach playbook, well, let’s go make our best email templates public. And not the ones that are situational and that I see everywhere else, but the ones that are very applicable to many different situations.
So yeah, that’s kind of what came out of it. Now, as far as people liking it, sharing it, where that came from is 1. I was “OK, we’ll gonna launch this. How we’re gonna promote this thing? We’re gonna do email outreach, let people know, anyone including the article, let them know. We’re gonna be launching a prototype because that’s a big resource, we will ungate the content so that it will rank well for SEO” and, let’s face it, nobody ever in the history of mankind reads a 20 000 word article on the web, a downloaded pdf, right? And so I was like “Let’s make this ungated, and let’s them at some point ask them for an email address”. Well that turned into a great lead; we know lead generation for us, we get about 35-40% of people opting in their email address for that, so now we have a way to collect email addresses that’s not “Hey, sign up for announcements for our product launches”; it’s actually valuable stuff. So we had email addresses, so that way all the stuff was “Ok, we’ll launch, our email database is gonna be even bigger. So that’s it”.
I was hoping to get more traffic from search, but what ended up happening is that people liked the content, which was, again, is engineered or created for people to find value and to be a resource that’s not out there, so, naturally, people shared it. People share a lot on their private Facebook groups, and all I continued to do after the product launch was to take those people that are in the email database of customers and the email database with non-customers and email them weekly or biweekly with more valuable content. So now just making them smarter. And I’ll tell you, our content is not much better than Yesware.
All my competitors that I made fun of early on, all it is is valuable to our customers. I would give myself a C- in our blog and content marketing in August 2017, but now we’re down for it to make sure we have absolute unique content because the first thing we needed to do is content educating our customers, and when I talk to our customers again by maining support the first, you know, 6 months of the company, I found that our customers aren’t raised awesome marketers like you or they’re like “I want the cutting-edge stuff”, they’re like “ I want the basic stuff: how do I send an email, how do I write an email template”. These are really basic stuff.
I also found that the advanced guys, the advanced marketers are like over complicating all this crazy stuff like “I’m gonna push and analyze this sentence, that sentence, or whatever” then writing this long-form email copy and I’m like “wait, hold on, how do you even know somebody read the first sentence?”. And the reality is they probably didn’t even open your email or read the whole thing, and they’ve just opened it, marked it as spam or deleted it. So I was “Let’s go figure out what makes email the best. And again, all of this was stuff that was very very dead simple.
I gave a talk 2-4 months ago this past summer in Poland in front of a bunch of sales professionals, and my talk was about maybe 13 different things you should be doing in your cold email, as in how you should be going and people were “aah, uu”. And the one they liked the best was the one that’s right in everyone’s face for the last decade. Value first, keep your email short and scannable. It’s never gonna change! But anyways, that’s kind of … the obvious stuff was so far gone because people are focusing on advanced stuff but I was “Let’s just bring back down to very very basic stuff”.
cognitiveSEO: Yeah, I had the chance to experience that recently in the past week. I have a colleague that works in the Sales Department and does a lot of cold calling and cold emailing, and he was sending me his templates on cold email… those long emails and I told him: “Dude, first connect to the guy; so, try to connect with him on social media, chat with him, I don’t know, comment on one of his shared delivered value somehow, create a connection, then send him a short email”. And it worked way better. So he came back “Dude, that worked!”. Of course it works. It’s all about the relationship. Sales already has a bad reputation – why make it worse?
Sujan: Exactly, exactly. I found that… so we’ve sent about 12 million emails from Mailshake so far; I found that the best subject lines are 3-5 words, and the best emails have no more than six sentences. Forget the character count, but it was like five or six different sentences. But yeah, I mean, you’re spot on! It doesn’t matter what the heck you do, how much time you can save them. If you don’t get them to listen to you, nothing matters after that, so focus on that, yeah.
cognitiveSEO: Let’s change the topic a bit. I’ve noticed that recently you put much more effort into video, so your YouTube channel is ramping up with more videos, the cadence is increasing, and also the quality of them. What is the reasoning behind that? It’s like you’re betting on video. But why is that?
Recently you put much more effort into video. You’re betting on video. But why is that?
Sujan: Yeah, so I started doubling down on video in 2015, about two years ago, and it kind of took me a little too long to evolve to where I’m at now, because I was busy with conferences, running businesses etc. I create videos in bulk; I usually create 4-5 videos. My videos are half-repurposed for my content, half questions that I get asked all the time. So somebody asked me … if I get the same question asked 2-3 times I’m gonna essentially create a video on it. Because I hate answering the same questions over and over again. So that means people need it, right? And I literally just say “Hey, give me a week; I’m gonna answer this in a video” and then I give a response.
It’s problems I see in this space. I created a video recently, it’s not out yet on like “How to apply for a job and how to stand out”. There’s a better title than that but the essence of this was like I was interviewing for a customer support person or interviewing a customer support role at Ramp Ventures and I hated every applicant. And I’m like “How the heck … it’s 2017! How the heck is this so bad?”.
Somebody sent me a picture of their resume, they took a picture on their phone of their resume, and I’m “How is this acceptable?”. I don’t care where, how, what position you’re applying for at a company, this is not acceptable. Whether you’re applying for a job at McDonald’s, Starbucks, or a Fortune 500 or startup, it doesn’t matter, you never send a picture of your resume, right? I just got so bad resumes that I got frustrated and I was like “Let me just create a video on how to do this”. Because it turns out that is a big weakness or pain point, and there’s too much stuff that’s like clutter. But anyway, why I’m doubling down on videos is, the short version is, videos can convey emotions, passion, like you can see me using my hands, if I get closer it generally means I’m excited or I’m yelling at you, but you can see that emotion, right? In content, we can’t.
The other reason is every dummy in the world can create content. I can read an article and I can summarize it, right? But that doesn’t necessarily make me good, because a lot of freakin’ people out there which really piss me off sometimes, particularly this morning, that are just kind of writing stuff and I’m like “Have you even done this before? Like, have you done this? And if so, when was the last time?”. So it separates the experienced marketers , in my opinion, it separates me from the guys that are just creating content, who have that one whim. Because I can go and talk about how to build $100 million company from all these articles I’ve read, but I’ve never done it. If I talk about that on video, I’m gonna have to say at some point “You have to figure out I haven’t done it before, so how the hell am I going to talk about that?”. And so, it’s just to kind of add more flavor and kind of separate people from the wannabes.
The last thing is that I found that people, and this not “I found”, it’s just that generally people absorb things differently. Some people read books, some people read articles, some people listen to podcasts, some people like ebooks, some people like videos, some people like courses, some people attend conferences – those are all ways to learn. So why not incorporate video into the mix?
Because there’s a great amount of people who learned through videos. I actually started … I hate reading, I actually add things to pocket, and I have it read to me, I love audiobooks, and the reason I like audiobooks and listening to stuff is because I can walk around the house, I can drive, I can just be out and about. I hate most podcasts because they’re 45 minutes and inside that 45 minutes, somewhere in there, 10-15 minutes of really good value, and I just don’t have the patience to get there. So my podcast is essentially 15 minutes of just value and no other bs; my videos are like 5 minutes of stuff. And so videos are a way for me to go after long tail as well because I go out for a very very specific thing and talk about it. So that’s it.
I mean, in my videos, to be honest, I get – I’m gonna call myself out here but – I get anywhere in between 200 views and 1000 views on average for most videos but if, again, I get 200 views those 200 views, the engagements on that thing, the number of emails and people with whom I have real life conversations with is higher on 200 views that it is on 10 000 views on a blog. Because they’ve actually heard my voice, right? And it’s the closest you can get … webinars and videos, is the closest you can get to in-person real relationship, from conferences or shaking hands with people online.
cognitiveSEO: I always say that marketing is all about gaining attention and building trust, and I think video is one of the best way to be authentic and gain that trust from the end-user. I think it takes, I don’t know, maybe 100 articles to deliver the same level of trust, as a video does. So I think that’s the trait of the video.
And another reason, I think, is the fact that we should be everywhere like we’re trying to do. We have, like you said, people that don’t read articles, but listen to podcasts – you should be there if you want to have reach. Or other people might be searching Youtube tutorials and marketing stuff and they’re always like … I once talked to one of my colleagues, one member from my present team, and he told me about his plan on learning more (he’s a beginner in SEO) most stuff on Youtube, about SEO; that’s his favorite channel.
Sujan: ‘Cause you can find a problem and go solve it, right? Brian Dean has a bunch of good videos, and I’m late to the video game, but if you look at Facebook, LinkedIn, they’re doubling down on video, right? These platforms have been doubling down, so I get more views on my Facebook videos, if I upload them natively, than I do on my YouTube videos, because there’s an audience, there’s people, the discovery is some kind of solved, and that’s why ultimately Facebook has kind of kicked Snapchat’s butt even though it’s not targeting different people – it’s targeting millennials or whatever -, but anyways, yeah, video is such a powerful thing and the engagement is much much higher.
cognitiveSEO: One thing that I know about you is that you have a big background in SEO, at least in the past. So how do you see the evolvement of SEO in the past few years, moving from, I don’t know, back in the US, 15 year ago, people were focused only on page optimization and buying links, and right now we’re not talking about SEO; in fact, we’re talking about things like content marketing as an SEO strategy. What do you think? I know that you have lots of experience on this exact line.
What do you think about SEO’s evolution?
Sujan: SEO has kind of evolved and it’s always gonna keep evolving. Frankly SEO has gotten so hard that you need to do all things for marketing to rank. I remember I got started when my first business was in high school. I put white text on a white background and I just stuffed keywords in there, stuffed keywords in my meta description, and it worked! I ranked well on Google, it was awesome!
Then, I think it was Florida that just wiped me out – I got wiped out a couple times, then the first couple big updates that Google got smart – so, my agency went Penguin and Panda came out and we were good. In fact, we had more business because people were “Ok, I got penalized. Can you help us?”. “Yes, we can”. Because SEO is the long game, right? The bohemia of Google is never gonna go away. Yeah, people might go to Facebook, whatever, but that’s gonna be evolving. So, I think first and foremost, SEO has gotten complicated to where you need to do more than just optimize page status, page structure. That stuff, and any technical SEO, you need to do that. That is one part to play, that’s the base you need to do to play, but what that used to be was the bigger part of what helped you rank; now it’s like one part that you definitely need to do to show up.
The other thing is, 15 years have gone by, so people for 15 years have dominated SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). And they’ve done it, so how do you beat somebody that’s done it for longer? You have to be better. And how to be better to catch up to somebody that has done it for 15 years? When I look at my competitor at Mailshake, Yesware, it might not even be technically with the same functionality features but they’re competitive, they’ve been out there almost 7-8 years longer than us – how do we beat them?
On SEO, content marketing. Why I love content marketing is that it does the things that help you rank. So let’s just assume you have all the technical SEO stuff done, you need to build links. Well, Google’s already freakin’ penalized everybody for building all the different types of easy or low-hanging fruit ways, so now you can build the links the harder way, you have to earn the links, you have to build relationships.
You could still do old-school like broken link building – still works, I do that every once in awhile, or I’ll do that as a first thing -, you can look at your competitors, where they’re being mentioned, go build relationship with those guys, but what do I say to build a relationship or with somebody who is linked to my competitors “Hey, look, link to me, I’m better!” – that doesn’t work anymore. They’ve already been seeing that pitch a million times and they’re like “Screw you, SEO spammer!”. So, you have to add, I like to add content and value educational information to go out and about building links.
So, what I love about content marketing is that if you do it right, you get links, you earn links, no.2 is it gives you an excuse to reach out to people for “link building purposes” to get more links, no.3 is yes, it will help you rank long term because you go after long tail, you go after all these keywords, but it also helps you drive traffic immediately.
Look at my Email Outreach playbook; we get a lot of social traffic, we get a lot of people who’d say “Hey, we love this article, we love this guide, whatever”. That article, through content marketing, has achieved much more traffic in RRI (Response Resource Inventory) than anything we’d get from search. So the expanse to push marketing. So the company like LinkTexting, where they’re like “It’s boring, it’s been done, it’s old industry” (where “old” being like 3-4 years), content marketing can bring it traffic to the door. Because you can appeal, just like on Facebook ads, while there also was. If you know the target demographic, you can create content to target that target demographic regardless of the search term. So, I think it’s become more than that, but where I see a big weakness in content marketing is that most people fail to turn page views into emails, or page views into conversions. And no.2 is most people fail to get traffic to their content. Or promote their content effectively.
cognitiveSEO: And I think Google got way better at reverse engineering the human mind, the searcher mind. So, basically they’re looking at engagements, factors, they’re looking at people that are coming back from the result they clicked on and coming back from the search engine. The oldest factors are taken into consideration and they create a score or something like that which shows if that article delivers or connects with the reader or not. So it’s not about only putting the keyword in the title, and the H2s in the first paragraph of the text, I think that’s not relevant so much anymore. I think they’re still working, they’re part of the average, but those are not the most important things for sure when talking about SEO. So I think Google tries to deliver value to the SERP results.
If you had the chance to tell every person one thing before doing marketing, what would that thing be and why?
Sujan: I think the biggest thing is learn everything that you can learn, like go read Neil Patel blog, go read Rand’s blog, like these guys, are kind of in the same industry opposing a lot of thoughts a lot of times, go read the content. Everything is available. I get a lot of emails – you know, I built a decent size audience – I get a lot of emails with questions and I am like “Can’t you just google that question? Why the hell are you asking me?”. And not that I’m saying my time is better used than someone else’s is, but ask yourself what you wanna learn, who’s the expert, and then google it and see if your expert has written articles about it.
So I think there’s a lot of information out there, so it’s more competitive than ever to rank and drive traffic and grow business, however the education has levelled up and has levelled the playground because now the knowledge is at everyone’s fingertips. 10 years ago, if you had to go build a marketing campaign, you might have to guess a little bit.
Now, literally there’s 1500 case studies, you can do a B2B, a SaS company, B2C e-commerce, crowd-sourced company, how they grew by X% doing what, you can learn a lot of things, and I think what you wanna do is I recommend everybody to read. I see a lot of people still doing that, but read and then make an outline of what your playbook is gonna be.
And when you ask influencers and people for questions, what you should ask them is for feedback on your outline. And why that’s important is because if you email me – anybody emails me a says “Hey Sujan, I wanna know what you think … Can you give me feedback on my B2B/SaS content marketing plan … and here’s what I’ve done”. You know, everything’s in the Google.com. If you can give me 5 minutes, I will give you feedback. I can, I have enough information to give you feedback. That would be something I would charge my agency tens of thousands of dollars for free, right? If you can assess people really really easily.
And so I’ve come out open and said “Hey, if you ask questions more than twice, I’m gonna do a video on it”, right? So I literally kind of … people can drive my behavior in a sense, but I think a lot of other influencers and experienced marketers that have a business are open to giving you feedback so ask questions, but don’t ask stupid questions. And stupid questions – my definition is “things you can google”. Ask “What do you think of this plan?”. Don’t say “Where do I start?”, because you should google that.
cognitiveSEO: Yeah, and I think another challenge on the reading part is, people that are asking me at the beginning of their career is the fact that they don’t know where to start. So they have a huge problem with the noise; lots of noise in the marketers’ industry.
Sujan: There’s a lot of information. I actually have a video on how to start your career in digital marketing on YouTube, that’s my most successful, most visited or viewed video. So if you just go to my channel, there’s two videos on it, but yeah… they’re very very … It’s about learning and building relationships at the beginning.
What’s that something that you used to believe in but now you disagree with?
Sujan: Mm, I don’t know… So, I don’t know, I think like, you know, as I get smarter, as the industry evolves, things change. The industry is a moving target, right?
I think there is no guaranteed win, there is no final belief. Your belief should evolve with space as it moves. And so I’ve always believed in building an audience, adding value to people’s lives, educating as a way to market and build a brand. That’s not gone away whether it’s technical SEO …
I don’t believe that a growth hack tactic can work – that won’t get you very far, and so I think a lot, you know, when I was growth hacking in the early hay days when Sean Ellis came up with it in 2011, and other guys like him doing it, I believed that tactics would help and as I started seeing the tactics, I saw the results of how much they helped and quickly realised that it’s not about tactics. It’s about finding your weaknesses in your funnel, your weaknesses, and strengths in your channel, either doubling down on restraints or fixing those weaknesses. And I can tell you that the thing that’s never changed is when the weaknesses in someone’s funnel it’s twofold:
- They don’t get enough traffic – just go get more traffic. Yes, it’s easy to say, but there’s 5 channels; go figure it out.
- People fail to convert traffic. Go AB testing, go figure out what the value proposition is that you can have, and if you can’t solve those funnels, either early stage companies or ideas is shit or you’re completely going after the wrong audience.
What are the 3 things a marketer should focus on more and 3 things to focus less on?
Sujan: The 3 things to focus more on:
1. Do the math on your ideas; do the math on whatever you read, whatever you come across – somebody tells you something … I had a conversation with two other agency guys and they’re like “Oh, this one channel, I’ll just call it out!”. They’re HubSpot partners, and they’re saying “HubSpot does a crazy amount of business for us!”. And I’m like “Awesome!”; at first I thought “That’s cool, man, I should get on that!”. And then I was like “Hey, wait, (later in the conversation) what do you define as crazy amount of opportunities?”. And they’re like “Yeah, we get 5-10 new leads/month!” and I’m like “Oh! I don’t care about that! I don’t about 5 or 10 new leads, I thought you were talking about 100 new leads!”. So, do the math. Define what you think it’s amazing. For Mailshake we’re growing back 500 new customers/month. To me, that’s amazing! Is that amazing to you, is that amazing if Canon grows back 500 new customers/month? Probably not; they’re way further than us. If they go back to 500 new customers/month they’re probably losing revenue, or like they’re bleeding dry. And so think about the math. Think about the person’s situation, and decide for yourself, it that’s the thing that’s right for you.
2. Stop reading. Please, stop reading more content and start figuring out how to take action on the content you read. So this is not… it’s like the same thing with content marketing quality versus quantity; go from quantity of reading – and I see this all the time, you know, we’re in a Slack group, and I see it all the time -, we’re all producing so much awesome content but if you were to take any blog post you read in the last six months and you said “Ok, I’m gonna take action on one of the things”, you can probably go to just one blog post and take one action. That combination is much much better than just reading more because you’re not taking action. So take action on your content even if that means you have to read less – and I actually have a blog post on this exact approach and how I do it, not that that’s what everyone should do but I’m sure you can link to it on your shownotes.
3. Be transparent, be vulnerable, be a human being, and share the information you’ve learned. The reason why, I’ll tell you, the selfish reason you should be teaching people and being transparent, it’s because it gets your head out of your ass. When you teach somebody how to do something or when you share it you realise you have to decipher it from like what you did to what you did, how it worked, and how others can repeat that process – you get smarter. You take the thing you’ve done and you’ve now made it three steps or ten steps, or whatever. That means it’s more repeatable for you, right? So the selfish reason is you get better at things by teaching people. That’s why we … I have a philosophy of all of our staff, everyone we hire, we have a daisy chain method of trainings so the person who learned something last, they’re teaching the next person in the door, because they, that teaching process – obviously they may be supervised or may have help -, but that teaching process helps them master it. Now, the second reason, the non-selfish reason is you essentially are making the world a better place. You’re teaching people how to do things, and again, if you don’t do it, someone else will, and so being transparent, being open about that stuff, you don’t, like there’s no black box of magic tricks of how to grow a company; that stuff is already discovered, so to teach people.
The things I’d like to see people do less of:
1. Round their mouths on a tactic that has won and applied it, like “this is a company X by doing Y”. Reality is you grew your company X by doing Y because of Z. And the Z is your situation, it’s where you’re at. So knowledge, if there’s that Z factor, and share it, don’t go so much after pageviews and whatnot.
2. Don’t stop focusing on like, even though we’ve been saying this, the top marketers have been saying this for about at last five years, people still do this, is to stop creating quantity of content. I had a client coming in here and said “Hey, I’ve read a Hubspot article; we have to create 18 articles a month”, and I’m like “How are we gonna update the quality of 18 articles/month”. I mean “How the hell are you going to create 18 articles/month? That’s a lot of money!”. You’ll gonna have to spend on and create 18 articles – that’s a lot of time. What are those 18 articles gonna do? Sure, when the HubSpot article was written, in 2013, 18 articles was awesome! That was probably the thing to do, although I’d argue that part wasn’t the case. So focus on quality of content and then get your cadence, right? Again, don’t just go out there do things, and create consistent cadence around things because that’s what you think is right. Do it once, figure out how to do it again and then come up with the cadence you can do. When we first started – like, there’s a reason why there’s only one Mailshake playbook; it’s because we haven’t figured out the other one to do, right? We don’t know what is is-. So instead of going and trying out five different things I’m like every ounce of energy that I have in content marketing is “What is that one big thing I can create again?”, not “What are five more I should be doing?”. So cadence is not as important as success, so you wanna build successful cadence.
3. Don’t ever stop evolving, right? I remember end of 2013, I’d been doing at that time marketing for almost 10 years and I was running a large agency. I was so hard to move from the day-to-day and the strategy and the tactics we used, I kind of had my head in my ass, like what’s working and what’s not? And that’s because I didn’t keep my thumb on the pulse of the industry and I got left behind. It took me a year and a half to really catch up and get ahead. And so you know what industry pass you by, like AI, Thoughts, Messenger, Snapchat, Quora ads, all these things are new and they came up like in six months so if you were in the day-to-day in the last six months, you may have been misused. It doesn’t mean you should go out there, but you should still be aware of the opportunities.
Who’s the person that had the biggest influence on you?
Sujan: I think the person who has had the biggest influence on me is probably Neil Patel.
I don’t wanna look up to people who have the same view as me, I don’t really learn anything, it just helps to to kind of validate what I’m doing which it doesn’t make me grow.
So I think there’s two big reasons why is Neil has helped me a lot in my career. 1. He’s the one who actually got me started. Back in 2002, Neil was doing SEO and he was like “Hey, Sujan, I gotta tell you about this hot new thing I’m doing. It’s called Search Engine Optimization”, and I was like “What is this?”, and he was “Look, it’s easy. You just do this, that, and the other, and then it works”.
The other thing he did early on in my career was to make it hard for me to learn. So he didn’t just say “Oh, hey, Sujan, here’s the thing I’m doing, here’s exactly the steps, here’s the article to read”, he’s like “No, hey, you should look into this SEO thing. It’s really easy, it’s working for me, and it’s really really easy”, and I’m like “How do I do this?”, and he’s like “Google it”. That’s the first thing he said to me. I actually think the said “Just search for it”, because Google wasn’t a thing at that point. But anyways, he made it really hard. I just had to figure it out by myself.
And he never really gave me the short answer. I think that probably was just kind of his style when he was busy or whatever, but that making me do the work made me such a better marketer, now fast forward kind of 15 years I don’t agree with what he’s doing, I don’t know everything he’s doing, he’s kind of turning into this mad scientist, but I can tell you the guy has been producing content for 15 years of which 6 or 7 of years I have seen, I’ve paid attention, I’ve seen – again, my main metric is brand mentions – I’ve seen his brand go to the roof, and it’s all about that consistency.
There are very few people out there that have done it as consistently, providing a lot of education and value… I think on the Internet he has a pretty bad wrap of like being a douche or like over monetizing or optimizing or whatever, but the other thing is the guy is pretty humble in person, hasn’t let money go to him which is also awesome, so I would, you know, I’d love to say it’s Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, these big guys, but they’re so far away from what I’m doing that a guy like Neil has just like “Fine, he’s 5-6 years ahead of me and he’s kind of done a lot of things consistently and has never stopped creating value”. He’s probably now over-optimizing his site, I don’t really care, he’s continued to provide value which is pretty impressive for 15 years running, right? I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that many people doing that … probably Gary Vaynerchuk, Rand Fishkin, but what I like about Neil is that he’s a little bit more in my way of like … he has multiple businesses and Know-how.
cognitiveSEO: thank you for joining the first edition of this new podcast and hopefully the listeners will get real insight and draw real value from your input on things. And one last thing: where can people find you online and connect with you?
Sujan: Yeah, the best place to find me is on website sujanpatel.com, or add me on LinkedIn, hot new network so check up the status of things there, but yeah, come find me there, ping me; I’m an open book, just ask questions. Just don’t ask Google stuff, search the simple stuff before you ask.