20Growth How AI Will Change the Game For Content Creation and SEO, The Secret to Mastering SEO, When and How To Invest in SEO Most Effectively & The Best and Worst SEO Strategies with Joost De Valk, Founder @ Yoast

Summary Notes


In the episode of "20 Growth" with Harry Stabbings, SEO expert Yoast de Valk discusses the transformative potential of SEO, likening its societal impact to the advent of electricity and the steam engine. As founder of Yoast, de Valk scaled a simple WordPress plugin into a multi-million dollar enterprise, emphasizing the importance of making technical SEO aspects user-friendly while providing actionable content feedback. He shares insights on the freemium business model, the challenges of open-source development, and the balance between offering free features and retaining premium value. De Valk also touches on the future of AI in content creation, suggesting that while it may improve efficiency, human creativity remains irreplaceable. He advises founders on SEO strategy, stressing the significance of branding and understanding customer language. Additionally, de Valk critiques the overemphasis on measurable growth metrics, encourages early investment in SEO, and predicts the increasing importance of authorship in content ranking.

Summary Notes

Impact of Technological Innovations on Society

  • The speaker believes the current subject of discussion has a more significant societal impact than crypto.
  • The impact is likened to that of historical innovations such as electricity and the steam engine.
  • The focus is on the transformative effect on productivity.

"I do think this is different from crypto. I think this has a bigger impact on society than crypto will because this has the type of impact that electricity and the steam engine had in terms of productivity changes."

This quote highlights the speaker's view that the current technological advancement being discussed is more influential than cryptocurrencies and is comparable to revolutionary historical inventions in its potential to enhance productivity.

Introduction to the Podcast Episode

  • Harry Stebbings introduces the podcast episode focusing on the "dark art of SEO".
  • Yoast Devulk, an SEO pioneer and founder of Yoast, is the featured guest.
  • Acknowledgment of contributions from Shaq, Alex Schultz, and Matt Mullenweg for the episode's quality.
  • A call for audience participation in suggesting future guests via the Miro board.

"This is 20 growth with me, Harry Stebbings, and I'm so excited for the show today because the one element of growth we have really not done a deep dive on is the dark art of SEO."

Harry Stebbings sets the stage for the episode, expressing excitement about exploring SEO, a topic that has not been deeply covered on the podcast before.

Miro as a Collaboration Tool

  • Miro is described as a game-changing visual collaboration platform.
  • The platform is used for various growth-related tasks, including strategy development and team organization.
  • Miro's sponsorship of the episode is mentioned, and listeners are encouraged to use it for guest suggestions.

"For those of you that have not used it before, it's this incredible tool that I think is truly game changing."

The quote emphasizes the transformative potential of Miro as a collaboration tool and its importance to the episode's production process.

Funnel as a Marketing Data Hub

  • Funnel is introduced as a solution to the challenges of marketing data analysis.
  • The tool automates data collection and allows for insights without coding.
  • Funnel's adoption by top brands and media agencies is highlighted.

"Funnel is the world's first and only marketing data hub that takes all the manual effort out of data collection and lets you blend data from different platforms to unlock new, deeper insights."

This quote explains the unique value proposition of Funnel, emphasizing its ability to simplify marketing data analysis and its status as a pioneering tool in the industry.

Jasper as an AI Writing Assistant

  • Jasper is presented as an AI tool designed to assist with writing tasks in business.
  • The platform includes SEO integration, a plagiarism checker, and a browser extension.
  • Jasper's business focus and utility in content creation are stressed.

"Jasper is an AI assistant for business that helps marketers, sales reps and other creators accelerate their writing process and repackage content into different formats, languages, and tones."

The quote describes Jasper's functionalities and its role in enhancing business productivity, particularly in content creation and marketing.

Yoast SEO Plugin's Origin and Growth

  • The guest recounts starting as an SEO consultant and creating the Yoast SEO plugin.
  • The plugin combined multiple smaller plugins to address both technical SEO and content feedback.
  • The plugin's simplicity and utility contributed to its significant growth.

"I just combined different plugins that I had into one thing and then realized there's basically two sides to SEO, right? You have the technical stuff and you have the content side of things."

This quote summarizes the guest's approach to creating the Yoast SEO plugin, which catered to the dual aspects of SEO: technical and content.

Transition from Hobby to Business

  • The catalyst for focusing on the plugin was its popularity and the need for monetization.
  • The guest's wife's ultimatum to either make money from the plugin or stop supporting it is mentioned.
  • The plugin's success, with significant earnings in the first month of monetization, is shared.

"What happened is that the plugin became really big, so it had like a million users... and I was spending way too much time supporting it."

The quote explains the turning point where the hobby project demanded more time than was sustainable without financial return, leading to the decision to monetize the plugin.

Decision Against External Funding

  • The guest explains that external funding was unnecessary due to sufficient cash generation from the business.
  • The company's growth was organic and aligned with WordPress's expansion.
  • The cost structure of the business, primarily people, did not necessitate external capital.

"Why would we? First of all, don't think that any of this was a plan up front... But in the beginning, it was very much about turning that hobby into a bit of a lifestyle business."

This quote illustrates the guest's rationale for not seeking external funding, as the business was initially not intended to become as large as it did, and later on, it generated enough cash flow to sustain growth.

Reflections on Company Growth and Potential Changes

  • Looking back, the guest considers that they may have hired too many people at times.
  • The guest acknowledges that many actions were taken for fun rather than maximum profit.
  • The company's size relative to its user base is considered small.

"Had I known in the beginning that we'd be selling the company at some point, I might have hired a bit less people."

This quote reveals a retrospective consideration of the company's hiring practices, suggesting more restraint might have been beneficial in light of the eventual company sale.

Open Source and Freemium Business Models

  • The guest discusses the challenges of balancing free and premium offerings in open source and freemium models.
  • Trust building with customers and the potential for forking are highlighted.
  • The influence of WordPress and the underestimation of open source by VCs are mentioned.

"What you get quite quickly with these models is that you have web skill problems and small company income."

The quote encapsulates the dichotomy of open source and freemium models, where companies can face large-scale challenges with limited revenue.

Advice on Freemium Offerings

  • The guest advises caution when deciding what features to include in free versus premium offerings.
  • Once something is made free in open source, it cannot easily be retracted without risking a fork.
  • The permanence of open source decisions is contrasted with the flexibility in SaaS.

"I will say that putting too much in free early on is dangerous because you can't really take it back."

This quote provides practical advice for open source entrepreneurs, warning against over-generosity in the free tier that could limit future monetization options.

Success Factors in Open Source and Freemium

  • The importance of branding in open source success is emphasized.
  • The guest discusses the challenge of avoiding over-optimization for power users.
  • The need for a balanced approach that appeals to a broader user base is underscored.

"The biggest, underestimated thing in all of open source is branding and thinking about, hey, how do we want people to look at us?"

This quote highlights branding as a critical, yet often overlooked, element in the success of open source and freemium business models.

Developer-Led Brands

  • The conversation shifts to the difficulty of creating strong developer-led brands.
  • The guest suggests that a great developer-led brand involves more than just the developer's perspective.
  • The focus should be on the broader audience rather than just power users.

"If I'd been the only one building yoseo, then we would have only optimized for seos and for developers who want very specific niche features all the time to do very specific things and honestly nobody cares."

The quote reflects on the necessity of considering the needs and perspectives of a wider audience when building a developer-led brand, rather than focusing solely on niche, technical features.

Importance of Non-Power Users in Product Development

  • Emphasizing the need for products to cater to normal users, not just power users.
  • Power users often churn and are not the most reliable customer base.
  • Importance of balancing advanced features for power users with simplicity for the average user.

"leading a company like that, then it's really very important that you get someone on board who's not a power user who can help you. Like, hey, I'm a normal user of this product."

The quote stresses the significance of involving individuals who are representative of the regular user base in the product development process, as opposed to focusing solely on power users.

Balancing Power Users and Super Lovers

  • The dilemma of optimizing for power users versus super lovers of the product.
  • The role of super lovers in promoting the product within their communities.
  • The challenge of keeping the interface simple while satisfying technical users.

"Optimize for the power user and for the super lover because they're your champion."

This quote highlights the strategy of catering to both power users and super lovers, recognizing that super lovers play a key role in product advocacy.

Importance of Defaults and Settings in Product Design

  • The significance of defaults as most users will not change settings.
  • The principle of "decisions, not options" to avoid overwhelming users with choices.
  • The challenge of creating defaults that are "incredibly good" due to users' reliance on them.

"I think the default is what 90% of your users will end up using, so it better be damn good."

The quote underscores the critical importance of having excellent default settings, as the vast majority of users will rely on them.

Learning from Product Mistakes

  • The error of assuming feature usage without data to support it.
  • The realization that many built features were unused.
  • The shift towards focusing on interface elements that users actually engage with.

"The biggest product mistake is thinking that people were using our features when we didn't know for sure."

This quote reflects on a significant product development mistake—assuming feature engagement without concrete usage data.

Freemium Model and Purchasing Power

  • Concerns about the freemium model in changing economic climates.
  • The effect of the freemium model on purchasing decisions, moving from users to CFOs.
  • The potential for SEO investment to increase in a down market due to advertising costs.

"Are you concerned in the same way as I am about that removal of purchasing power?"

The quote expresses concern about the shift in purchasing power from individual users to financial decision-makers within companies, which could impact the freemium model.

Cost Structure and Sustainability of Freemium Startups

  • The mismatch between the cost structure of enterprise startups and the revenue from freemium models.
  • The inflated costs without evidence of efficient upselling or large average contract values (ACVs).
  • The risk of being easily replaced by larger platforms offering similar features.

"You have the cost structure of enterprise startups. You have sdrs, you have AES, you have CS teams, you have this very bloated kind of structure and then you have the price points of freemium."

The quote points out the unsustainable cost structure of some startups that have enterprise-level expenses but rely on freemium pricing models.

VC Understanding of Open Source and Community Models

  • The unique nature of building and selling within open-source communities.
  • The importance of brand over the software itself in open-source models.
  • The skepticism about venture capitalists' (VCs) understanding of these models.

"This is very uncommon to, I think most vcs is that it is much more out in the open."

The quote discusses the transparency and community-driven aspect of building in the open-source ecosystem, which may not be well understood by traditional VCs.

Investing in SEO and Understanding Its Value

  • The foundational importance of SEO for founders in describing their products.
  • The need for a technically sound platform and quality content for effective SEO.
  • The timing of SEO investment and the use of customer support interactions to generate SEO content.

"I think that every founder should understand the basics of SEO because it's going to help them in a whole lot of different things."

This quote emphasizes the importance of SEO knowledge for founders, not just for search engine ranking but for overall communication and product development.

Common SEO Mistakes by Founders

  • The pitfalls of creating an unrecognizable brand or inventing new terms for existing problems.
  • The importance of using common language that aligns with what users are searching for.
  • The limitation of SEO in demand creation and the need for a holistic approach to growth, including branding.

"One, come up with a brand that is not recognizable even in search."

This quote points out a fundamental SEO mistake founders make when they create brands or terms that are not easily searchable or memorable for potential customers.

Importance of SEO Specialists in Growth Teams

  • SEO specialists are crucial for larger growth teams due to the complexity of SEO.
  • Managing SEO becomes more challenging as a company grows.
  • SEO mistakes can occur frequently with rapid website changes, requiring oversight.

"I think you should have SEO specialists on your team if you're building a larger growth team because it's a pretty specific problem area to keep track of."

This quote emphasizes the necessity of having dedicated SEO specialists in a team, particularly for larger companies where SEO is a complex and time-consuming task.

SEO Integration with Other Teams

  • SEO specialists should work closely with both product and development teams.
  • SEO also intersects with public relations and communications.
  • SEO's complexity lies in its relevance to multiple aspects of a business.

"Both these actually, I think that they should probably be in that triangle the whole time."

The quote suggests that SEO specialists need to be actively involved with multiple teams, notably product and development, to effectively integrate SEO into the business.

Timeframe for SEO Results

  • New companies will see slower SEO results due to lack of brand recognition.
  • Established brands can experience quicker SEO benefits by optimizing content.
  • The time to see SEO gains varies based on the company's stage and brand presence.

"This depends a bit on where you are in your journey, but if you're starting as a new company, then it's going to take quite a bit of time."

This quote indicates that SEO success is not immediate and can take considerable time, especially for new companies without brand recognition.

Allocating Budget for SEO

  • For Series B companies, reallocating 10% of CPC budget to SEO is a starting point.
  • SEO budget allocation should be assessed over time based on results.

"If you're already doing CPC, I take 10% of your CPC budget and allocate it to SEO and then start from there and see what happens."

The speaker advises on how to initially allocate budget for SEO by suggesting a reallocation from existing CPC budgets, implying this as a strategic starting point.

Measuring SEO Effectiveness

  • Measuring SEO success is challenging due to Google's privacy measures.
  • Last click attribution often skews the perceived effectiveness of SEO.
  • SEO impacts may be difficult to quantify but are still valuable.

"Measuring the success of SEO is hard because Google has very successfully made it impossible for people to track the effect of anything but CPC."

This quote highlights the difficulty in measuring SEO success due to limitations imposed by Google, suggesting that the value of SEO goes beyond what can be easily measured.

Characteristics of Successful SEO Teams

  • The best SEO teams focus on brand story and address major technical issues.
  • Successful teams create content that meets user needs and tells a compelling story.
  • Poor SEO teams get bogged down with minor technical fixes without strategic focus.

"The best go in and look at, okay, so what is our brand story?"

The quote implies that the most effective SEO teams prioritize understanding and conveying the brand's story, which is a key component of successful SEO strategy.

Brand Story and SEO

  • A brand story should make SEO accessible and resonate with search terms.
  • SEO for everyone is an example of a brand story that aligns with user search behavior.
  • Companies should optimize content for specific use cases and customer stories.

"Yes, I do think that SEO for everyone is the thing that yours does."

The speaker affirms that a clear and inclusive brand story, like "SEO for everyone," is effective for aligning with what users are searching for, which is crucial for SEO.

AI's Impact on Content and SEO

  • AI can assist in content creation but may produce inaccurate information.
  • AI tools can help create outlines and summaries for content.
  • Author credibility will become more important in SEO due to AI-generated content.

"I think AI for content generation is still problematic because it hallucinates too much."

This quote expresses concern over AI's current limitations in generating reliable content, which can affect the accuracy and trustworthiness required for effective SEO.

Economics of Content Creation with AI

  • AI will lead to an increase in content creation, potentially lowering content value.
  • High-quality, unique content will remain important for search engine ranking.
  • The challenge is to maintain creativity and uniqueness in content amidst AI use.

"Yes, there will be loads more content being created at probably very, very low prices."

The speaker predicts a surge in content production due to AI, which may drive down the cost but emphasizes that not all of this content will be of high quality or valuable for SEO.

Concerns About AI in Large Language Models

  • Transparency in AI training data is crucial for informed use of AI models.
  • There is a need for regulation regarding the disclosure of AI training data.
  • The ownership and licensing of content used in AI models present ethical challenges.

"I think the biggest problem, and this is where it shows that I'm very european, is that we don't know what's in those large language models."

The speaker expresses a concern about the lack of transparency in AI model training, which has implications for the ethical use and understanding of AI-generated content.

Evolution of Content Teams with AI

  • AI can expedite content creation and potentially reduce the size of content teams.
  • Effective use of AI in content planning can lead to more efficient workflows.

"I hope it speeds them up. If they use it well, it speeds them up."

The speaker hopes that AI will enhance the efficiency of content teams, indicating that proper use of AI can positively impact content production processes.

Impact of AI on Productivity and Wealth Inequality

  • AI is expected to create many billion-dollar companies with minimal employees, mostly engineers.
  • There is concern that AI could worsen wealth inequality, creating an unsustainable economic situation.
  • The potential for AI to change society is comparable to the advent of electricity or the steam engine.
  • There is a need for better systems to address wealth inequality and for politicians to understand and regulate AI effectively.

"What worries me is actually, like, everyone agrees that it's going to create many billion dollar companies with ten or 20 employees, largely engineers. What that does to wealth inequality is terrible, even worse than what we have today."

This quote expresses the concern that AI could significantly increase wealth inequality by enabling the creation of highly valuable companies with few employees, concentrating wealth even further.

"I think this has a bigger impact on society than crypto will because this has the type of impact that electricity and the steam engine had in terms of productivity changes."

The quote suggests the speaker believes AI will have a transformative effect on society, similar to historical technological revolutions like electricity and the steam engine.

AI's Role in Software Development and Business Logic

  • AI is allowing developers to focus more on business logic rather than writing individual functions.
  • AI-generated code is becoming more prevalent, with predictions that a large percentage of code could be AI-generated in the future.
  • AI can handle basic tasks quickly, which can save a significant amount of development time.

"The hardest part right now of building software is thinking about the UX and then fixing the business logic. But the business logic is almost always like only 10% of the time you spend on this whole thing."

This quote highlights that the most time-consuming parts of software development are not the core business logic but rather the user experience (UX) and other aspects that AI can potentially expedite.

"Using machine learning to do so much of the work that people are doing on a day to day basis could be very powerful."

The speaker sees machine learning as a powerful tool that can take over many day-to-day tasks, improving efficiency and productivity.

Angel Investing Strategy and Involvement

  • The speaker prefers to write larger checks to help companies become self-sustaining quickly.
  • There is a preference for investing during the pre-seed and seed stages where the speaker feels they can add the most value.
  • The speaker is very involved with their investments, maintaining regular communication with the founders.

"I tend to write slightly bigger checks. The thing is, I want a company to be able to be self sustaining as fast as possible."

This quote indicates the speaker's investment strategy focuses on enabling companies to become independent quickly, which influences the size of the checks they write.

"Very. So we have a shared slack channel with each and every one of them and I talk to almost every one of them on, not always daily, but most of them on a weekly basis."

The speaker is highly engaged with the companies they invest in, maintaining frequent communication to provide support and guidance.

Perspectives on Growth, Work-Life Balance, and Marketing

  • The speaker believes that growth was easier to achieve in the past and that their partnership with Marika has been underestimated.
  • Work-life balance is achievable, especially outside of big cities, and its definition varies by individual.
  • It is possible for startups to be built on free traffic in 2023.
  • Branding and understanding customer language should be integral to SEO strategies from the beginning.
  • The speaker would like people to recognize that not everything in growth can be measured.

"That you no longer believe that it was easy. Also a bit of an underestimation of what Marika and I could do together."

Reflecting on past beliefs about growth, the speaker acknowledges a change in perspective regarding the ease of achieving growth and the impact of their partnership.

"I would want people to stop thinking they can measure everything."

This quote conveys the speaker's desire for a shift in mindset within the growth industry, emphasizing that not all aspects of human behavior and growth can be quantified.

Evaluation of Tech Platforms and Growth Strategies

  • The speaker has a preference for companies that market well to developers and provide excellent documentation and examples.
  • Microsoft's current growth strategy with Bing is praised for its boldness and impact on competitors.
  • Webflow, Squarespace, and Wix are evaluated based on direct competition with WordPress and growth tactics.

"I think that what Microsoft's doing with Bing right now is absolutely brilliant."

The speaker admires Microsoft's growth strategy with Bing, highlighting its innovative approach and the competitive pressure it puts on Google.

"It competes directly with WordPress, so I'm always going to say not good."

The speaker's opinion of Webflow is influenced by its competition with WordPress, suggesting a bias due to direct market competition.

Conclusion and Acknowledgement of Interview

  • The speaker expresses enjoyment in angel investing and working with founders.
  • The interview concludes with appreciation for the discussion and anticipation for future collaborations.

"I really, really love working with founders and seeing their energy and being able to help them grow."

The speaker's passion for angel investing and supporting founders is evident in this quote, highlighting their commitment to nurturing entrepreneurial growth.

"It's been an absolute pleasure."

The speaker concludes the interview on a positive note, expressing their enjoyment of the conversation.

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