Today, on the Early-Stage Founder Show, I’m talking with Alex Birkett, a Growth Marketing Manager at Hubspot, and formerly the Growth Marketing Manager at ConversionXL.
I first came across Alex when I stumbled upon a few of his articles on SaaS conversion optimization. These articles were great and you should check them out, but after digging into thing a bit more, what really stood out to me was the incredible results that Alex was getting from his content marketing efforts that made me find these articles to begin with.
In our chat today, we’re going to dive into how Alex doubled ConversionXL’s blog from 125,000 visits a month to 250,000 in his first year, his tips to scale beyond that, and even what startups shouldn’t consider content marketing for their primary growth channel.
Whether you’re already getting results from your content or just starting out, this is an episode you don’t want to miss.
Background leading up to today
What did the path to becoming a Growth Marketing Manager at HubSpot look like?
How to scale content marketing
Digging into how you doubled traffic to CXL’s blog
How did they continue these efforts once you took a more typical growth marketing role?
How would you approach a similar challenge today?
Beyond content marketing
How would you approach building a growth team at a early stage startup?
What should their priorities be?
Parting advice for founders
What advice do you wish somebody gave you when you first got serious about growth?
“Rapid Fire” Questions
What do you spend too much time on?
What do you not spend enough time on?
What are you hoping to accomplish in the next quarter?
What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that?
Where can listeners go to learn more?
- Tommy Walker
- Ryan Farley, Co-Founder of LawnStarter
- Drew Sancoki’s Ecommerce Growth Masterclass
- Brian Balfour: Building a Growth Framework Towards a $100 Million Product
- The Waking Up Podcast with Sam Harris
- Brown M&M’s reference
- Scarcity Examples
Where to learn more:
Andy Baldacci: Alex, thanks for coming on the show.
Alex Birkett: Thank you for inviting me. It’s great to be here.
Andy Baldacci: Of course. So, looking at your LinkedIn, looking at kind of some of your background, it seems that there’s a lot of directions we could go for this. So, I think the easiest way to get things started is just to ask you, currently, as of about a month ago, you are now the growth marketing manager at HubSpot. What did your marketing journey look like to kind of get you into this position?
Alex Birkett: Well, I started out, I think, with a strong writing skill at least tactically. People tend to fit into a bucket such as writing, design, or analytics and I fell on the writing side of things. So, I studied journalism and advertising in college. Came out of college and went to an early stage startup called LawnStarter [inaudible 00:00:46] precede funding. So, I had my hands in a bit of everything including some marketing and content but also operations and sales and just generally figuring out things on a daily basis that comes along with early stage startups.
After that, I wanted to get a little more specific and learn marketing, especially building up my quantitative skillset, so I joined ConversionXL as a content marketing manager. At that point we just had our agency and the conferences. So, my main role was to build out the content, I guess, machine, grow traffic and leads to the agency. Later on we launched CXL Institute and I became a bit more of a startup product marketer. So, it was again back to trying to tinker and figure things out and experiment with channels and on and on. I guess from there I joined HubSpot and I’m now a growth marketer and it’s on a new product. So, I’m again back to tinkering and explore channels. That whole ordeal.
Andy Baldacci: Yeah, and it’s always an interesting spot to be in when you’re in those early stages of whatever project you’re working on when you are tinkering and doing a lot of experimenting. Going back to when you started out at ConversionXl, as that content marketer, it looked like … I think I have the numbers right, but let me know if I’m wrong. But in the first year you had taken the blog from 125,000 visits a month to 250,000. Is that accurate?
Alex Birkett: Yep, something like that.
Andy Baldacci: So, just from day one, how did you go about first building out the strategy to do that and what did that strategy look like in practice?
Alex Birkett: It was incredibly messy. First off, I didn’t start from zero. So, there were a lot of assets in place. So, there was a lot of great content and CXL already had a brand name that was respected in the industry. So, my job really was continuing that, scaling it out and plugging the holes that existed in the system. So, it was very hard to do first off. I didn’t know anything about Conversion Optimization. So, half of my time was spent diving into the industry and learning the jargon and learning the terms and learning the people. The other half was trying to stay afloat with content production and creation.
So, early on I realized with my lack of knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to produce the level of content that could sustain traffic growth. So, one of my biggest early challenges was reaching out to guest writers and building a guest writer pipeline, one that could uphold the standards of CXL’s editorial guidelines, which is a challenging thing to do. If you’ve ever read CXL’s content it’s very nitty gritty, complex. It’s much more advanced than a lot of the content out there on marketing. So, it’s hard to find writers that also know their stuff.
So, building out the guest writing pipeline was one of the biggest challenges because you find if you get a bunch of top of the funnel kind of guest writes and you say yes to all of them and you start working with all of them that you end up wasting a lot more time than if you had just simply written the post yourself. So, you find one of the biggest prioritization mechanisms is to find which writers are going to be worthwhile to work with and which ones are just not gonna work out for that particular blog.
So, one of the early things I did was to … And I borrowed this from Tommy Walker who was previously the editor at CXL, but built out an in depth editorial guideline. It contained all of our style guidelines, but also our philosophies on content and what we’re trying to do. It also contained what I call brown M&M’s clause, which is something that I could see if they had read the guidelines based on. So, it was a subject line that they had to include in the email and if I got a guest post pitch that didn’t include that subject line, I would throw it out because I knew they hadn’t read the guidelines. They weren’t going to be detail oriented or thoughtful regarding the process. So, that alone eliminated almost all of my wasted time in terms of guest writing.
Andy Baldacci: Were most of these guest authors, were they inbound requests? Were you doing some outbound of reaching out to people and recruiting them or how did that all work?
Alex Birkett: I would say like 25% was inbound and 75% was outbound at first. Later on I didn’t really do much outbound requesting for guest writers. So, early on I tried to reach out to mainly previous contributors because I figured they already had a history. Couldn’t go too poorly. Then also people who’s content I respected online. So, I would look at growth hackers and inbound hacker news and see which people were constantly at the the top and which ones had topics or career skill sets that aligned with CXL’s blog topics and I would reach out to them because CXL already had a pretty established brand name, it wasn’t too hard to convince them. It was simply me trying to work on topic ideation and exploring my process as an editor at the time.
Andy Baldacci: I see. How are you … When you’re working with all of these guest authors, how are you balancing considerations like SEO. How are you working with them to pick a topic that they can write about that still fits into your overarching strategy?
Alex Birkett: When I first began, I was handed some old documents about key words and research that had been previously done. I didn’t take a lot of it into account. I think you can only focus on so much, especially when you’re swimming in the deep end. So, I focused on building out the process and focusing on the inputs regarding I guess frequency and quality as opposed to keyword research. Later on, I focused a lot more on SEO. I actually had a couple guest writers that would write based on what SEO terms we needed to rank for and it took a while to reach that level because it’s hard to assign a topic to somebody who does this and knows what they’re talking about. It feels a little strange, but early on I really just focused on getting quality content and getting a lot of it put out.
Andy Baldacci: When did you know that it was time to kind of shift focus a bit and that you had enough of a process down for just getting a content out there that you could start working on having a more direct SEO focus?
Alex Birkett: I would say after we plateaued in terms of traffic because early on I want to say there was a lot of low hanging fruit regarding frequency inputs and content promotion inputs because there wasn’t much of a content promotion process early on. So, that was one thing that I did was develop a checklist, a baseline kind of something to go through with each blog post before it was written and after it was published. Then the frequency obviously. So, once traffic started to plateau from there, that’s when we started to focus on SEO and how can we do a little bit more long term organic content strategy.
Andy Baldacci: Did you have much of a SEO background?
Alex Birkett: At LawnStarter, Ryan Farley, the founder is an SEO master, so I learned a lot from him. It was sort of a different ball game. The SEO there was sort of the end of the funnel and it’s a marketplace. So, it was a lot of ranking a particular local communities. So, I didn’t have too much of content SEO background. It was a lot of learning, especially on the technical side of things.
Andy Baldacci: Do you remember where you went to learn about that?
Alex Birkett: Backlinko was definitely the most helpful. I read all of Brian Dean’s posts. Subscribed to Moz. Moz has a lot of great content as well, especially, their weekly top 10 email. Other than that, just seeing what floated to the top on Growth Hackers and periodically reading through those. But, yeah. I think Backlinko was easily the simplest and actionable that I could actually try out tactics right away.
Andy Baldacci: Awesome. I actually have an interview scheduled with Brian Dean in I think next month. So, I’m excited to really dig into that with him because SEO is something where it’s like everyone talks about it. They make it seem super complex, but it seems like the people who are consistently out there and consistently considered to be like the reputable thought leaders are they make it simple enough to understand and they’re not talking about the kind of quick hacks to rise to the top only to get shutdown when the next Google update comes up. They’re talking about fundamentals and it seems like when you can really understand that that you are able to get some great results. How much of the growth was attributed to those SEO efforts that you made? Obviously, you’re not gonna be able to pinpoint everything like that, but was that one of the big drivers of growth?
Alex Birkett: The main variable in the content strategy at CXL was definitely organic. There was a certain ceiling that we would hit on promotion and social and referral, but SEO was the key lever in terms of growth, long term and short term. Also, even if we didn’t focus on SEO, it would often be picked up. So, for instance I wrote an article early on based on customer or a lead feedback on one-tail versus two-tail A/B testing, which is a pretty complicated technical article, but that’s still one of the best performing pieces organically on CXL’s blog.
Also, another topic that we hit on was … I think the article was Five Digital Analytics Questions You Should Ask of Your Data or something. I had no SEO focus whatsoever with that, but I believe and I could be wrong, but I believe that’s now ranking five or six for digital analytics, which is a powerful keyword. There was no focus on SEO. It was just something that I passionately wrote about and I think I wrote a 10X piece of content. So, oftentimes we would just be focused on the inputs in terms of quality, frequency, and sometimes we would just get lucky on the keywords. Later on we focused a lot more strategically and learned how to mix the quality 10X post with something that was already established in terms of keyword traffic volume. Short answer, SEO matters a lot for CXL.
Andy Baldacci: Do you have an example of when you mixed that 10X with some of the more SEO heavy stuff?
Alex Birkett: I think Scarcity Examples was a good one. It was actually really hard for me. I’m a little bit stubborn in terms of my content creation. So, it was usually better when I would get a guest writer to write these SEO pieces. Generally, the terms would be somewhat dry like UX examples, scarcity examples. How much can you do with that that’s different than everybody else? You’re writing a [inaudible 00:11:25] it’s set up for that. Some of the pieces ended up being pretty fun to write anyway and for some reason Scarcity Examples is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, but yeah. I don’t know. I can’t really think of any others.
Andy Baldacci: One of the things that we had talked about before the call was I think you called it the three pillars of content marketing. Can you explain for listeners what you see those as being?
Alex Birkett: That’s something that I borrowed from Chanel [Mullen 00:11:51] who was another content marketer at CXL who borrowed it from Drew [inaudible 00:11:55] who taught a course at CXL Institute. So, I gotta give credit where credit’s due. He had a framework for eCommerce optimization that included three levers. We sort of transposed that onto content marketing. The three levers whatever percentage they contribute are content creation, content promotion, and content optimization. The first two are generally the ones that are emphasized in blog posts and talks and frameworks. There’s often simplified advice about 80 20 principles or whatever. All of that nuance disregarded, doesn’t take into account content optimization which is going back, analyzing your content, strategically looking at what works and what doesn’t and optimizing based on your feedback.
Andy Baldacci: That’s interesting. It’s funny, I actually had Drew on this podcast early last year and he comes from the eCommerce world. He’s been doing some work in the SAS world through his agency but also in his role as CMO at Teamwork and his brain, just the way it works, he really can break down the fundamentals of what matters and what doesn’t. I love picking his brain about that. So, it’s funny to hear you mention as being one of the kind of the inspirations for your take on this. One thing I wanted to ask about those, going deeper into this optimization side of it. In practice, what does that actually look like. How do you begin pulling that optimization lever when you have a really deep content backlog?
Alex Birkett: We started looking at this form a conversion optimization standpoint, which always starts with insights and analysis research. So, we look back and see our history of how our blog posts are performing, our content is performing and let’s say we have a couple of pieces that are performing very well in terms of traffic, but let’s say our top performing piece is almost nonexistent when it comes to converting people into leads or subscribers or customers down the line. So, you have to ask why is that? Are these just vanity metrics? Can we make this blog post perform better? Can we align the offer better with the piece of content or is the piece of content just totally irrelevant for our audience and we simply have to adjust our focus going forward with our content creation? So, that’s just one example.
Other than that, I think, content optimization is looked at usually from an SEO standpoint. So, if you have a blog post ranking at number seven or eight and you can easily find this stuff out with Ahrefs and other software. Then you have sort of an opportunity that I think is usually higher leverage than creating a new piece of content to simply go from number eight to number two or one. That alone is just gonna bring in so much more traffic than trying to complete for completely new keywords because you’ve already got a stake on the page. So, then you go in and you do on page SEO practices or you try to do some back link outreach, but essentially, you’re going back and you’re trying to improve a given piece of content.
Andy Baldacci: That one’s thing where coming into Groove, we have the benefit of hundreds of high quality blog posts. Obviously, when you have that kind of catalog of content, you’re going to see power laws in play where a small handful of those pieces of content vastly outperform the rest in terms of traffic. But like you were saying when you dig into that, you’ll see that even though some might be getting thousands of hits every single month, they don’t necessarily convert much.
So, what we’re working on is going into figure out how can we optimize that. You kind of gave what I think is a pretty good way of thinking about it. You do have to ask yourself why. It seems pretty obvious, but you have to figure out all right, why aren’t people converting. Is it because we just straight up don’t have a relevant offer on the page or is it because the people who come for this aren’t looking for what we have to offer. What we’re going to start doing is experimenting with that, but also looking into improving the ranks of those pages that are kind of middle of the first page, but could do a lot better if they were higher up.
So, you touched on it a little bit, but say you found that piece of content that was at seven or eight for a term that you really want to rank higher for. What are you doing there? You mentioned on page SEO. You mentioned some link building. Can you get just a little bit more tactical on what that would actually look like in practice?
Alex Birkett: Yeah, definitely. So, a couple of different test we perform. We’re changing the URL structure of our blog posts, adding categories, experimenting with title tags, experimenting with adding more content and also later on towards when I was leaving, we experimented with these pillar pages, which is, I guess, sort of a new … It’s coming into the mainstream in terms of SEO, but it sort of abandons the traditional keyword research approach and implements sort of the hub and spoke model when it comes to content strategy. So, you have like a big keyword like bounce rate or something that has a ton of traffic and it’s very competitive. Then you make that like your center pillar page and add all the spokes that would be the long tail traffic. So, we began migrating our content towards that pillar page strategy. Can I make a quick point on the power law thing?
Andy Baldacci: Yeah.
Alex Birkett: So, I think we have to be careful with power laws, especially when it comes to content and content management because you see studies all the time that say like 90% of the results come from 10% of the blog posts or whatever. I think HubSpot even has a study on that. But I think they’re mostly looking at traffic. I don’t know how many of these are looking at leads in business value, which is the only purpose of content marketing really. We’re not publishers. We’re businesses.
But two, it looks from behind. It looks posthac at this data. So, yes. A small percentage of the blog posts we publish give the most results, but can you predict which those, what those blog posts are gonna be ahead of time? I don’t think that’s the case. Like I said earlier, a lot of the stuff that we publish, we didn’t have a clear strategy in minds in terms of SEO or distribution, but they ended up being such high performers and we could look in hindsight and say, “Oh yeah, like those pieces of content. That’s like you know the 80 20 rule there.” But I think that’s hard to predict in advance. So, you still have to trust the system and still have to perform with frequency and quality and some of those are just gonna take off and they’re gonna be the black swans and the others maybe just fall into the long tail. It’s hard to look back and say, “Oh, we should just publish less content.” I don’t think that’s the answer.
Andy Baldacci: In hindsight, the power laws make sense, but how much they can actually influence the future content creation is another question, but I do think with optimization it’s a good place to at least start on saying, “All right. These are the posts that are getting the traffic, which we need to actually, if we want to convert.” To start there. Does that seem like a good way of summing it up or are we on different pages here?
Alex Birkett: We’re on the same page. You should still do the posthac analysis and see the power laws and see which articles are doing the best and you should still use that as insight for your future strategy, but I just wouldn’t pull any super simplified findings from it such as, “Okay. We were publishing ten times a week before and most of it’s a waste. So, let’s publish twice a week now.” That doesn’t seem like the answer, but also with the content optimization, you’re looking at those top performing pieces and finding out how you can perform even better in terms of conversions and maybe looking at the middle there and seeing what went wrong with these and maybe how could we make them top performers in terms of traffic. Are they ranking seven or eight? Can we change that and then the bottom, the super end of the long tail, maybe we should find a pattern in this content like what went wrong here. Maybe we should totally discard that or sort of … You reflect on why. So, it is still a good insight. It’s just I don’t think it you know.
Andy Baldacci: If you see that only two pieces out of the 10 on average perform, if you publish two because of that it’s just gonna take you five times as long to get that ten and find two that perform again. The math doesn’t work out that way.
Alex Birkett: Presumably, it’s sort of like experiments now. I think there’s like a one out of seven success rate in the industry. There’s different stats thrown around. I think sometimes it’s even lower than that, but it just shows that you need to step up to the plate and swing a lot.
Andy Baldacci: Mm-hmm (affirmative). For sure. One thing I want to ask you about is you mentioned running these A/B tests for SEO work on different URL structures and other things. How are you actually testing that? How are you carrying out those test when SEO has a lot of lag in seeing results. It’s hard to pinpoint what causes what. So, how are you structuring those SEO tests?
Alex Birkett: Really, really unscientifically. So, I don’t think we’re doing the optimal or we were performing them at the same rigor as we would an A/B test on a landing page. We were essentially let’s say we wanted to test title tag changes. We would do a similar hypotheses on like five to 10 pieces of content that were ranked seven, eight around that kind of like lower first page ranking and I would say qualitatively just look and see if they’re moving up. It was … We’re not running any Pinterest style quantitative tests. We didn’t have that capacity. It was a lot more sequential. We look at what was before and what was after and see if we can see a trend. So.
Andy Baldacci: Right. A lot of times people write off that kind of testing, but sometimes that’s really the only option that you have and in my opinion, as long as you’re approaching it with a reasonable hypothesis and as long as you’re measuring what you can. Sometimes you do need to have some of that qualitative stuff if you really want to improve what you were doing.
Alex Birkett: Yeah, we weren’t testing things with a low degree of certainty either. We were testing things that had been backed by research or were pretty well established by blogs like Moz and Backlinko and SEO Consultants. So, it wasn’t like we were just trying new creative stuff in which case we may have wanted a bit more quantitative evidence.
Andy Baldacci: Right. For sure. It goes back to the talk I had with Lars [inaudible 00:22:23] a few episodes back on the show where while a serious SRO campaign, team, effort, whatever you want to call it requires a lot of resources, a lot of traffic, a lot of conversions. It requires a lot to do it right, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have more qualitative tests based on … I don’t like saying best practices, but based on what has been shown to work consistently in other similar spaces.
Alex Birkett: Well, you have to look at the resources and reward. So, in a large team like Pinterest, there is huge reward because they have so many pages and the resources are also high. So, the cost to reach that level of certainty is much lower, but in a small team where we’re also focusing on tinkering with CXL Institute as a product as a go to market as like … There’s so many different variables that we’re focusing on to construct a massive quantitative scaled out SEO study would just be too much cost for the reward frankly. So, you have to look at it in a cost benefits ratio as well.
Andy Baldacci: For sure. And one thing to go back a bit, we had talked about focusing on SEO when you started plateauing, when you saw like, “All right. What we’re doing right now, we figured it out, but we’re not eking out anymore growth from that so let’s add in SEO and really try to get that to the next level.” Once things start plateauing there, what would have come after that because I know your position changed at the company after putting a lot of this into place, but what would the next step have been?
Alex Birkett: I don’t know. A lot of this stuff that we put into place was around the time I was leaving, so I haven’t seen the stats since. Hopefully, they are performing well, but if the let’s say pillar strategy was working for the SEO, the hub and spoke model I was talking about, we’d probably scale that out. CXL has a ton of content, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to rope that around and strategically reframe that in terms of hub and spoke model pillar pages.
Andy Baldacci: Right. People really underestimate how far you can scale content and everyone always says double down on what works and a lot of times they take that the wrong way, which means they see it as just write more content when it’s not that simple. But you can really do so much and grow a huge profitable presence online by constant experimentation, by seeing how much you can get out of it with things like SEO, with better promotion distribution and all of that. But truly, I think SEO is going to be one of the biggest levers because like you were saying before promotion helps, good distribution helps, but being able to know that consistently you’re going to be getting a growing number of traffic every month from people who are actively looking for these things is in my opinion, just gonna be the biggest impact on those traffic and conversion numbers.
Alex Birkett: Yeah, definitely. I want to put another spin on that too and say that it’s not often thought about in terms of ROI and like a cost benefits, content marketing isn’t. So, that needs to be reframed in terms of like how much cost it is to produce a program that actually produces results. So, it’s not cheap to find good writers and it’s not easy to find good writers. It’s also not cheap or easy to find a good editor or manager. So, you have to factor all that in and it ends up being that content is usually a pretty expensive channel. So, you need to outweigh that in terms of exponential rewards in terms of customer lifetime value and a lot of businesses simply can’t. Like, it doesn’t work with the product they’re selling or how their pricing is. So, that needs to be taken into account as well when you think about content strategy.
I think there’s a lot of people out there like Moz, it’s a great blog, but their lifetime value probably allows them to create that 10X content. When a company that sells lawn mowing services may not … That shouldn’t be their focus, right? The value of a customer is not worth hiring and spending that much time creating these big pillar pages. So, there’s no real once size fits all advice especially when it comes to content marketing although there often seems to be online. Sometimes content doesn’t work as a channel for all businesses.
Andy Baldacci: So, how would you go about evaluating if you are an early stage founder who has been focused almost exclusively on product up until this point and are trying to find a channel to really invest in? How would you make that decision? Is it a simple math equation or what kind of … You touched on the factors loosely, but like put yourself in the shoes of a founder, what process would you go through to make it the determination of whether or not this is the investment for you?
Alex Birkett: I don’t know if there’s a 100% black and white answer. I wish I could give one. I think Brian [Belfore 00:27:11] wrote the best … It was like a four or five part series on this with like Channel Market Fit and Market Product fit and everything and how you have to have all four of these fits to really create a wonderful product. Essentially, he used the example of Sidekick, which was HubSpot Sales before it became HubSpot sales. It started out as a freemium or super cheap, I think it was a $10 upgrade and initially they used virality and paid acquisition as their channels. They couldn’t do content marketing or sales because it was too expensive … You’ll have to reread the piece. It was all about they shifted their marketing channels based on their product and once they created the HubSpot Sales suite it became like a higher tier and they could experiment more with channels like content marketing that were more expensive because they had a larger lifetime value.
But essentially there is a math sort of model equation as well that you have to factor in. Also, I think a bit of it may be intuitive in terms of if you’ve been in marketing before maybe you have an expertise at a certain channel. If you have a specific inclination as a founder or as a marketer, I think it can’t hurt to go where you have a competitive edge. That’s a large factor as well as to find areas that you can compete in and you can win at. So, if every other company in your industry or all of your competitors are excelling at a certain channel, let’s say content and you don’t think you have the resources or power or quality to compete, then it might not even be worth trying. It might be worth trying to find that blue ocean strategy where you can actually excel and own that channel.
Andy Baldacci: That’s a really good point to make. I think a lot of early stage founders, especially those that are bootstrapped, default to content because they don’t necessarily see it as free but a lot of times they’ll just view it as pure sweat equity because they can do the writing, because they see it as something they can control whereas a lot of other channels have hard costs upfront whereas content typically doesn’t unless you’re actually building out a team of freelancers or of employees around that. So, I think that’s an easy way to kind of get sucked in, but you’re right. You do have to make the decision of whether or not that’s the best fit for you.
It was funny at HubStaff when I was working with them. We launched the Agency Advantage Podcast because for similar reasons of why you started the guest blogging program at CXL is because we didn’t have a lot of the domain expertise that we needed to actually do a good job with content and because there’s too much, in my opinion, just shitty content out there written by people who have no idea about the field. So, my kind of hypothesis was, “All right. Why don’t we just interview the people with the experience and we’ll share that.” The reason why we’re comfortable going after that was because while there was a good amount of content in the space, it wasn’t good content. We knew that if we did this well, we really would be able to own that. We have the resources to do that, but in a lot of other cases, that’s just not the case, I guess you could say. So, I think your advice is very important for founders to heed in that make sure this is a channel that you really can own without distracting you from everything else that has to be done.
Alex Birkett: Yeah, definitely. There’s certainly no easy answers when it comes to traction for startups.
Andy Baldacci: Right. It’s the question of all right which channel do I choose because the big thing I go back to Lars’s talk a lot was figure out what channel works for you and just keep pushing on that until there’s nothing left and then go to the next thing. So many founders try dozens of tactics or strategies at once because they don’t know what will work for them. So, it’s that double edged sword of you want to make sure what you pick is right for you but it’s also hard to do that upfront. So, I wish I had some nice sound byte I could give to founders to make this a bit easier, but unfortunately I don’t know if that actually exists.
Alex Birkett: Yeah. Well, I think just look at it from a business perspective in the same way that you probably looked at when you were starting your company from the stance of total addressable market and how much you can capture. Maybe look at channels the same way. So, maybe you can get some early wins with the channels and maybe that’s worth it to get some traction, but you need to look at the ceiling of that channel and how far you could actually take it. So, content for … I don’t know. I have no example product. Maybe has a ceiling of 50,000 visitors a month. You need to know that going in and say like, “Okay, am I willing to take that risk given the cost and benefits?” Sometimes that’s a yes. Sometimes that’s a no, but just knowing where your limits are in terms of channels and how you can max them out is important.
Andy Baldacci: I think another way of thinking about it too is just like if you could literally, it might be a long list, but if you could list out every single potential customer for your business. If you’re in a super niche, that makes it easier to write relative content. But when you can … Very early days, when you can identify key prospects who have a clear need for your service, it might be better if you just go directly to them and try more traditional sales rather than content. So, there’s a lot of considerations to make and I think what we’re both talking about is it’s important to at least make those considerations before jumping into any channel whatever it may be.
Alex Birkett: Yeah, you need to go to where the fish are swimming already. It’s the easiest way to catch fish.
Andy Baldacci: So, what I want to do is just to wrap things up a little bit, what advice do you wish someone gave you when you first got serious about content marketing back at CXL? What would have a made your journey a lot easier?
Alex Birkett: I think just to relax a little bit and not try to stay caught up on every latest trend and every article and what’s going on in the industry. There’s a constant pressure to do that. Generally, the fundamentals stay the same. You can think from first principles. Focus on what you do well. Exploit the channels where you have a competitive advantage and just keep on going. There’s too many distractions in the world today and it’s stressful and counterintuitive and counterproductive.
Andy Baldacci: Yeah, there’s always some new guru out there preaching something new and exciting and you feel like you’re missing out by not paying attention to that. You feel like, “Well, what if that really does work,” but at the end of the day, the companies that I’ve seen that really get ahead that really are able to take a channel to it’s limit, take their growth to the limit are the ones that go super deep into it and don’t let the distractions distract them.
Alex Birkett: Exactly. And with those gurus, you never know who knows what they’re talking about and who doesn’t.
Andy Baldacci: That is a topic for another show, I’m sure. But before we wrap up, I like to ask all my guests just a few rapid fire questions and so, I’ll go through them quickly. Your answers don’t need to be short. There is no right or wrong answer. But the first one is just currently what are you spending too much time doing?
Alex Birkett: I get pretty obsessed when I dive into something and lately, I guess for the past six, seven months it’s been learning Spanish. I used to do that in college and I’m getting back into that some. Reading books, watching movies, doing lessons, spending a ton of time on Spanish.
Andy Baldacci: So, usually I don’t ask followups. My fiance is trying to learn Spanish right now. So, I’ll get some brownie points if I do here, how are you going about that? Are you taking classes? Are you using apps? What’s your process like for this.
Alex Birkett: Yes. It’s all about building that habit in because I know the motivation may eventually fade. So, I put some money down for Skype lessons. There’s a website called italki, that’s really good for that. You can choose. It’s like a marketplace among any instructors anywhere in the world. Very cool. Pretty cheap as well. Even though I think Duolingo has surpassed … So, once you get to a certain level, it’s not as helpful. I still like the habit of it and it’s got like sort of the habit building app design built into it. So, it makes you want to do it everyday. So, I do that everyday.
Then just kind of cultural immersions. So, reading books and movies. But that’s like the interesting part where I actually really enjoy doing it. The others feel more academic and like I’m really trying to build those into daily habits.
Andy Baldacci: Awesome. On the other side of the coin, what do you think you’re not spending enough time doing?
Alex Birkett: Probably planning for the future or meditating. I should probably spend more time in silence.
Andy Baldacci: Have you done meditation before?
Alex Birkett: Yeah, I try to do 10 minutes a day, but I feel sometimes that’s just getting to the surface. I’d like to spend a little bit more time. It’s tough to find that quiet time though.
Andy Baldacci: Right. Do you use an app for that or is it just pure on yourself meditation?
Alex Birkett: I sometimes use an app. Most of the time I use an app. Sometimes I use like Sam Harris. His podcast has some 10 or 20 minute sound bytes where he does a guided mediation and sometimes I just go on my own for 10 minutes.
Andy Baldacci: So, the last thing is just what are you hoping to achieve in the last quarter of this year? I know you’re not a big one for New Year’s Resolutions or anything like that, but this new role you have, I’m sure you’ve thought a bit about goals. What are you hoping to achieve?
Alex Birkett: Personally, I’m filling some gaps in my data analysis skillset. So, I’ll be taking a course on SQL and database querying. Then for professional stuff, we’re focused on more top of the funnel acquisition, since the product isn’t launching until 2018. So, we’re building up an anticipated audience for when it does.
Andy Baldacci: Awesome. Well, Alex it has been a lot of fun chatting with you today and if listeners want to hear more from you or just kind of see what you’re up to, what are the best places for them to go?
Alex Birkett: I have a website that I plan on writing more on in the future. Alexbirkett.com. And probably Twitter. Iamalexbirkett is my twitter handle.
Andy Baldacci: Awesome. I’ll get all of that linked up in the show notes and Alex, I just want to say thank you so much for your time today.
Alex Birkett: Thank you. It’s been super fun.