After enjoying the Pearl Street atmosphere in Boulder, CO we took in the word of the day then sat down to discuss all things BlogMutt and Scott Yates.
Brent: I’m Brent Weaver and you’re watching uGurus, the most watched web series to be a more profitable and in demand web professional. Today, I’m up in Boulder, Colorado hanging out at the offices of BlogMutt with their founder Scott Yates. Welcome to the program.
Scott: Great to be here.
Brent: So why did you found BlogMutt?
Scott: Well, BlogMutt is my third start-up. After my second start-up I had some time on my hands and I had friends that would call me up, friends that had businesses, and some of them didn’t even know about SEO. They didn’t even know what it was called. They would just say, “How can I get my site to be found by Google and discovered?” And so I started thinking about this problem of small businesses not being able to get good SEO, search engine optimization, and the more research I did, the more I found that all of the old tricks that used to work for SEO, they’re all dead. None of them really work anymore.
There’s really only one thing that works and that’s to write a good blog by a real human being and make sure it’s up posted about once a week at least, more if you’re in a competitive space. And so I got interested in that dynamic, that really the one thing small business needs is blogging and getting their writing done. And so I studied that some more and I have a background in journalism. Before I started in start-ups I worked at newspapers and magazines in New York and here in Colorado, and I knew enough about writers and about the writing process that I thought maybe we could do crowdsourcing. I was also interested in crowdsourcing.
And so my partner Wade and I spent a lot of time talking about the way a crowd might work and the way of the dynamics of writers, and what would actually work for small business, and what would make it easy for them because the process of hiring a writer can be really tricky, and so how can we simplify that as much as possible. And so we just kept working on that and working on that, and eventually we came up with BlogMutt, the one place you could go to get blog for just about any kind of business and it’s really taken off, done really well.
Brent: So you guys essentially have kind of crowdsourced blog writing for small businesses.
Scott: Yeah, that’s right. We have thousands of writers now in. It used to be me and a couple of buddies and I would be furiously writing blog posts. And now I haven’t written a post for I don’t know how long.
Brent: So when you first started BlogMutt you were actually one of the writers writing for small businesses?
Scott: Right and it’s all anonymous, so the small businesses didn’t know that it was me that was doing the post. And I didn’t do them a lot. When we had 25 customers, I could write three or four posts and it helped a lot. Now, we’re selling hundreds and hundreds of blog posts every week. And so if I’m writing a blog post it’s a bad sign. I need to be working on getting more writers or doing the business part. But at the start, yeah, I was definitely writing some posts kind of frantically.
Brent: So walk me through the process that the small business owner goes through to get a blog post thrown up on their website.
Scott: Yeah, we knew we wanted to make it really easy because it is hard and so we wanted to find some really easy ways to communicate to the writers what they wanted, but we knew if you’ve got thousands of writers you can’t have a real dialogue about it. And so what we did is when you go to the site you just sort of tell us what some of the themes are, what your business is and what your niche is. And then we have these sliders so that you can tell us, do you like your posts to be more corporate or do you like them to be more lighthearted. Do you like them to be newsy and topical or do you want them to be more evergreen and kind of salesy.
So it just takes a couple minutes. It’s not a hard process and yet those few thing- . . . We’ve kind of nur- . . . We’ve done enough posts now when we do hundreds and hundreds every week, we know what the kind of key questions are and what the key things are that will help get just the right information to the writer to help the writer create the posts that’ll be just right for the customer.
Brent: So once the post is written it goes back to the business owner, business owner takes a look at it. Is there a lot of back and forth there? When I imagine outsourcing my blog, I’m like . . .
Brent: I might have a hard time getting it to be just perfect.
Scott: Yeah, it’s right and we’re not for everybody. Right? If you’ve got a blog that really is about your personality, then you don’t want to hire a blog writing service because you just need to have your personality come out. But if you’re in business, if you’re a guy that builds decks and you just need to let people know that you’re a deck builder, and you need to let Google know that you’re a deck builder, the posts don’t have to be personal or emotional. They have to be about decks and they have to be interesting and they have to be well written. And so that’s what our writers do.
So the writers write the posts. They go to the customer. The customer looks at it. If there’s an edit request, they can go in and ask for an edit, and check the little box to send it back to the writer to make the request. But there isn’t a lot of spin cycles on that. It’s usually once, sometimes twice. If a post just isn’t working for whatever the business objectives the business has, they can just reject the post and tell us why they rejected. But in most cases they accept it. So about 90% of our posts that get written by the BlogMutt writers eventually get used on customer’s pages.
Brent: Got you, that’s a pretty good percentage on that.
Scott: Yeah, part of it is that we filter a lot, the writers. So not just anybody can come and write. You have to be in the United States and also the customers have, I think, pretty fair expectations about what the posts are going to be like. And in some cases, they know they’re not going to be perfect, but we have a pretty good price point. And so they feel like, hey, if the number that’s come up several times, it’s interesting. They say,”These posts get me 85% of the way there . . .”, like several different people have used that same number with me. So they get some 85% the way there, then they can take the posts and edit it to where it’s really fitting with what their business needs are.
Brent: So now once that post is written, are you guys tying into the major content management platforms to make it easy to publish or are they just kind of copying and pasting it and throwing it into their system?
Scott: Right now just WordPress. So if you’ve got a WordPress blog, we can auto publish to your blog as a draft. But if you don’t have WordPress then we just email it to you and you have to copy and paste. Oh, actually that’s not true. We have one other method that we can . . . Most content management systems have a way that you can post by email to a particular email address. And so we have it set up that you can put that particular email address in. As long as you can accept auto post as draft by email, then we can work with those systems too.
Brent: Who is a typical customer? Is it the small business owner or is it like the web pro that’s building their website or the marketer that’s building the website?
Scott: It’s both. I would say probably about 80% of our customers are direct customers that they know they need to do content marketing, they know they need posts, they just don’t have time to write their own posts. And then probably about 20% are agencies that hire us. They have a client that maybe sells industrial scales or something that is just kind of hard for their staff at the agency to write about week after week. So they hire us because we’ve got thousands of writers and we can always come up with a fresh angle. So we get them the post and then that takes them that 85% of the way. They take it the rest of the 15% of the way. And then they charge for that. Right? And so they charge a lot more than we charge for the content, but they’re doing the client management of those clients. And so that’s fine with us. We’re happy either way.
Brent: And what’s the make-up of BlogMutt right now in terms of actual staff members and actual writers that you guys have right now?
Scott: We have four here in the office. We’ve got a couple other not full-time people yet. We have one open full-time position that we’re working on. We have another actually open developer position that we’re working on filling. And then we have a couple other freelancers that help us with different aspects of business and lawyers, and accounts, that kind of thing. And then we have all these thousands of writers. Right? If we had FTE equivalents of all of our writers, we’d need the whole floor of the building. But luckily, they’re all virtual. A lot of writers like working at home and they like the process of doing that writing, but they don’t want a full-time job of writing.
Brent: What’s the process like for the writers? So you said thousands of writers. I assume they apply to be a writer, they get approved.
Brent: What’s the typical return for them? Are they going to get work by getting into the BlogMutt system if they’re a good writer?
Scott: Yeah, absolutely and then we can manage the system as a whole. So if we have a writer who has a lot of posts that’s getting rejected, we can yank that writer out. But that doesn’t happen too often actually. Most of the people that once they get into our system, they understand how it works, and they understand how to write posts that are really going to work for the business. And if they can’t do those, they just kind of fade away. But the ones that are good and can write successful posts do it and we encourage them.
We have a very active forum. I think we’ve had, I don’t, maybe 25,000 posts already on our forum that’s just for writers. And some of it’s about writing topics, the Oxford comma, that kind of thing. Some of it is about, really people sharing recipes and stuff, but most of it is really, I have to say, very encouraging stuff. People are encouraging of other writers and we’ve really tried to foster that environment of . . . There’s a lot of negativity among writers in forums on the internet and we’ve tried to really be the one safe haven place where a writer can feel at home.
Brent: Who’d you say are some of your top competitors in this space?
Scott: Well, they run kind of a gamut. There are service providers that are really high-end that we love. There’s one Contently out of New York. Fantastic company, but very high-end. You’re talking about it can be thousands of dollars per blog post or even many hundreds of dollars per blog posts. And some of the writers are former Boston Globe Reporters. They’re like very high-end and they have clients that reflect that. Right? They have Fortune 500 clients and they do fantastic work. And there’s some others that play in that space and they’re terrific. And sometimes we recommend customers up to that, like if they really want a much more involved editorial process, we refer people up to them because they do such fantastic work.
And then there are a couple other competitors that play kind of in the space, but it quickly goes down to competitors that are using writers that are offshore. They’re using writers from India and there are a lot of people who are very good with the language that are from India, but writing as somebody who’s in the United States is very hard to replicate. And so that’s the one requirement we have that’s tough is that you have to be in the United States. It’s hard for us because sometimes you have great writers from Canada and we have to say no to them, but we’ve just decided that as our policy you have to be in the United States.
Brent: And you guys got written up on Tech Crunch.
Brent: You do a very interesting kind of incentive program for some of your writers. Tell us a little bit about that.
Scott: The genesis of it is this. A few things kind of came together. One is that when Huffington Post sold to AOL, big sale, lots of news and it was a big deal. There were some writers, a lot of writers who complained noisily about the fact that this company got sold and they had been working away for HuffPo, and the company got sold, and they didn’t get anything. They didn’t get a Christmas card from Arianna. They got nothing. And I thought they weren’t owed anything, but they have a point. Right? They were the ones that built the value of the company and for them to not get anything just doesn’t seem fair.
And so Wade and I talked about it a lot and figured out a way that we could actually . . . What we created, what we call writer shares, so within BlogMutt we have a whole point system and a whole system of levels. So if you write a post, you get a couple of points. If you sell a post, you get a bunch more points, and then you start out at level one and you build up. And then we have little perks for the different levels that go on.
When you get to level five, we have a special LinkedIn group where you get a badge so you can put on your LinkedIn profile. Level six you get a BlogMutt shirt just like this and so our writers are very happy about getting their BlogMutt shirts. And then level eight is very hard to get to. It’s a lot of posts. It’s a lot of work. It can’t be done quickly. But when you get to level eight, we call it the co-owner level and you get writer’s shares. So I don’t know if I can use a prop.
Scott: But we just had somebody that just got to their writer level today. So this is the writer stock certificate. So this is the writer’s shares and we print this nice certificate. Wade and I still need to sign this. And we’ll send them this in a nice envelope, suitable for framing and we’ll send them a little note that says, “Congratulations! Thanks very much for being a big part of BlogMutt.” And then if we ever get acquired by who ever at whatever point down the road, they’ll get a little check that will represent the fact that they were part of building the value of the company. And we’ve told them, look, it’s not going to be enough to retire on, you’re not going to put your kid through college, but we hope that it’s meaningful and significant for you because you were so significant to us.
Brent: Seems like you guys really care about the crowd that you’ve sourced your work from.
Scott: It’s really, in a lot of ways, our most valuable asset.
Brent: So let’s switch to some conversation around start-ups, right.
Brent: So you mentioned your third start-up. Right? So you have a little bit of experience in this. What has made you attracted to starting new businesses down this kind of product framework? That almost seems like BlogMutt’s kind of product service mix.
Brent: Because you’re providing a service but it’s definitely in a product framework.
Scott: Right. It’s like, you know, they have software as a service. I like to think of us as crowdsourcing as a service. Right? It is a service, it works like a software service, but there’s real human beings that create the posts.
Yeah, it’s an interesting space to be in and it’s tricky, and it’s a unique thing. It’s not something that’s easily . . . You can’t replicate that kind of thing easily, but we have a lot of fun doing it. The writers are great. They’ve created this great community and it’s an honor to be a part of it in a lot of ways.
Brent: Very nice. What kind of practices have you maintained during all of your start-ups that has kind of made this start-up maybe grow like it has?
Scott: Well, listening to the customer, paying attention to what works and what doesn’t work, we try. It’s hard with marketing and things to test what works and what doesn’t work because sometimes something works, but it doesn’t work in 12 months later, and that kind of thing. But we try to really test and we try to really be careful. And we’re careful with our cash and really try to think every step of the way about what’s going to be sustainable and what’s not going to be sustainable, what we can grow with, and what will work at large scale, and what won’t work. And so it’s just a matter of being thoughtful about that each step of the way.
Brent: So managing thousands of writers, how do you guys do that without indulging the secret sauce? How do you heard that many cats with just a little bit of software?
Scott: It’s tricky. It’s very tricky. We studied crowdsourcing pretty carefully before we started and one of the things we heard about was the three P’s of crowdsourcing, that there are three things that motivate people to work in a crowdsource kind of environment. So it’s pay, professional development, and personal growth. So for some of the writers it’s just pay. Right? We have a lot of writers who live in sort of economically disadvantaged areas. Right? They live in the rust belt or they live in a rural area in the south and so the pay isn’t fantastic, but in the small rural areas it goes a long way. And so pay is certainly one of the considerations.
Professional growth and personal development, we have a lot of for instance, stay at home moms who only have an hour a day to do something that keeps their professional chops alive, but they never know when that hour is going to be and they can’t really schedule it, and they need to be able to walk away whenever they walk away.
Brent: So these are moms that maybe want to stay in the game of doing work.
Brent: But for something that maybe comes up later on in their career it’s actually going to keep their tools sharp, so to speak.
Scott: Right, yeah, and a lot of them are accomplished, they have graduate degrees and they’ve been very accomplished in the work space, but they want to stay at home with their kids for that period of time. But they know that period of time is not forever, they’re going to go back into the work place and so they want to stay a little bit professionally sharp. So for them, BlogMutt is great because they can log in, they can look at a customer, they can write a post, and they can finish in the amount of time that they have allotted in that time, but they don’t have to schedule it ahead of time. Right? That time can flex based on what their schedule is.
So we really try to just make it so they don’t have to do anything other than the work that they need to do of the writing. So there’s some other writing places where you have to do a lot of stuff with . . . Well, just little stuff like choosing pictures, dealing with like keywords and tags, and all that stuff. We’ve stripped all of that away. So when they log into BlogMutt, they see keywords, they see the business, they study the business, and the only thing they have to focus on is writing one word after another until they have a post that they feel good about and feel like represents the business and they can submit that.
So that’s part of how we manage and then we’ve kind of come up with a fourth P which is points. This point system we have where they level up and there’s some sort of some game theory behind what happens, but it really works. It’s really, they like it, we like it, so it works as part of the process to make sure that the writers stay engaged and stay happy with the system.
Brent: So on the personal growth side, maybe I kind of missed this.
Brent: So this is just them getting better at their own craft. Right? Gotcha, okay.
Scott: Yeah, writing is really hard and writing professionally is really hard especially for people starting out. There’s no short cut to writing 500 blog posts. It’s like your abilities as a writer. So one of the numbers I’ve heard are from a few different writers is about 200. When they get to about 200 blog posts, it’s not a struggle. It’s still hard to write, but it’s not a struggle. The first 200 are a struggle, right, because it’s just hard to come up with the . . . Writing is like the hardest thing.
We have a quote on our page about . . . Actually a turn of the century Denver writer, he said, “Writing is easy. You just sit staring at the blank page in your typewriter until drops of blood appear on your forehead.” Writing is very, very hard. It’s a struggle. But writing is hard enough, but then there’s just the stuff of coming up with a concept and being able. And so we’ve had several say at about 200 posts they can kind of see the post, they see the customer, and they see a story in some trade journal, and they can just kind of see how it’s going to come together. And then the writing part is still hard and there’s just no short cut for that.
If you want to be a great writer, you have to just spend the time. There is another writer that said, “Writing equals ass in chair.” There’s no short cut for just sitting down and writing the post.
Brent: You definitely have to make the time for it. As a blogger myself, I feel like . . . And I’m just trying to count in my head have I blogged 2- . . . I’ve definitely done 200 posts. I’m pretty sure about that.
Scott: Right, right.
Brent: But you have to make the time for it, you have to plan for it, you have to carve it out.
Brent: You can’t just do it when you have time.
Brent: You have to do it, like you have to make time for that.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely and it’s kind of why BlogMutt’s in business because a lot of small businesses, they’re actually fine writers. There’s nothing wrong with their writing skills. It’s just when you’re a small business operator, to carve out two or three hours so that you can just focus and just do nothing but blog, that’s just impossible. And so that’s why BlogMutt exists.
Brent: So one of the things I think about when I think about Ghost Writers is just that whole like context and relevancy. Are the writers going out and doing the research or are they working up expertise within a specific niche for one of the customers or is it just kind of like your deck example, right, just get the content out there.
Brent: Get the keywords in there and stuff like that.
Scott: Yeah, it’s all of the above. For the kind of posts that if you really want super high-end stuff with lots of research and really lots of thoughtfulness behind it, then really BlogMutt may not be the place for you. We’re like go to Contently, spend the money or just go and find a writer. There’s lots of under employed writers in every metro area. If you really want a writer that you can have that dialogue with, go find one and go get one, and manage that process.
But understand, it is a process. Right? Writing yourself is hard. Managing a writer is hard because there’s no way that a person can be 100% inside your head and produce the thing that you want them to produce because every human being is different. Every human being sees different things, different ways. We just actually did a guest post just recently. We’ve been having this discussion in the office about Amy Adams. I love Amy Adams. I love everything she’s in. I think she’s a fabulous actress. Half the office thinks she’s a terrible actress, thinks that she’s sort of the Keanu Reeves of actresses. Right? She just… They just dislike her.
And so blogging is kind of like that. You can have your opinion about Amy Adams and that’s fine, but for your business blog it’s not about what you like, it’s about what works for your customers. And so if you’re writing a blog for business purposes, what you really almost need to do is put blogs up that you do not like because you don’t want customers who only think exactly like you. You want as many customers as you can get. And if you’re only putting blogs up that are just like what you think, you’re missing out on a huge part of the market.
So you need to put up . . . If you don’t like Amy Adams blogs, you got to get a blog up that is how fabulous Amy Adams is because that’s the only way you’re going to get those customers. And so that’s kind of . . . You can’t let ego get too tied up in what’s going on with your business blog. If it’s a personal blog, yes, it should be about you, it should be your thoughts. But if it’s your business blog and so that’s part of the reason . . . My wife actually came up with the name BlogMutt, but it’s a perfect name for us and part of the reason is if you have too much ego tied in your business blog, you’re not going to hire a company called BlogMutt. Right? And that’s fine with us because we’re not your company.
But if you kind of let go of the ego and you realize the blog is a business tool, then you just need to hire people who are good writers to write your business blog, then we’re the perfect solution for you. And the same with writers. If you have writers that can’t get past the idea that their name isn’t on it, that it’s not a reflection of what a great writer they are, then they’re not going to want to write for BlogMutt. And that’s fine. We don’t want those writers. We want the writers who are good, clean writers who can understand another business and then write a blog post for that business, and get it out there, get it published.
Brent: I love hearing that stuff and we’re a very blog heavy, content marketing heavy business, so I think I just learned something.
Scott: One other quick story about this I have to tell you, it’s a hard lesson to learn and I’m the prime example of that. When we first started out, this is a true story, when Wade and I were in one little office, I was writing all of our blogs for our blog and we would go a week, two weeks, and the blog would be empty, and Wade would say, “Why don’t you just have our blog writers write the blog posts for us?” And I would say, “No, I’m a great writer. I’m [inaudible 00:24:18].” And it was months before . . . We have customers still. We have a lot of customers still that are older customers in our system than BlogMutt because it took me a while to get the thing turned on to have the BlogMutt writers write the BlogMutt blog. And once we turned it on I was like all of our customers. I was like, oh, thank God our blog is here. It looks great. My name’s spelled right. It looks fantastic. Done! But it really did take me a while to get convinced that it was a good idea.
Brent: So now do you have writers that are in specific niches that have at least some expertise within the space.
Brent: I’ll just be myself as a potential customer.
Scott: Sure, yeah.
Brent: We blog about web and web design.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely.
Brent: And development, and web businesses, right, so other people in there that are already keyed into that kind of stuff.
Scott: Right, especially the stay at home help. They worked at an ad agency, they were very successful in that, and they know a lot of the ins and outs of what’s going on with web marketing and so now they’re at home with their kids, but they have one hour. And so they like it for two reasons. One is they like to keep their professional jobs up, but also they’re learning about all the new stuff that’s going on. Right? And the best way to learn about something is to write about it for others and so they’re learning about the stuff and writing about it. So they’re writing really all the new modern stuff. That’s their way of keeping their professional development up.
Brent: So one thing I’m very interested in and your opinion on is around trends in terms of blogs and SEO, and blogs effectiveness for businesses. I assume you guys are kind of all into this direction as long as blogs are helping with search engine optimization, you guys are doing well.
Brent: What’s the trend there? How is Google looking at these types of services towards their algorithms?
Scott: All I know is what’s happened over the last couple years with Penguin and with Panda. Every time that Google changes its algorithm, blogs seem to get more important. With that being said, Google is also getting better and better about figuring out the inauthentic blogs. They clearly know when something’s duplicate content and they also know when something . . . It just doesn’t appear natural. I don’t know how they do it, but they really know when something is computer generated gibberish. And so it really does take a human being looking at the business, understanding the business and putting it together.
And the blog is, you know, social is clearly very important but the blog is always going to be the cornerstone of social. Right? It’s great to have a great Facebook strategy, but if Facebook changes the rules, which like this happened just last year where the Facebook said, “Okay, that’s great you have a million followers. Guess what? Now you have to pay to reach your own followers.”
Brent: Oh, yeah!
Scott: Right? That’s rough. That was a rough day for a lot of people who had really gone all in with Facebook. The great part about your own blog is nobody’s ever going to come and tell you what you can do with your own blog and what you have done with all of our past content. It’s your content. It’s what makes up your internet presence, is all of the words on your blog. And so, yeah, I don’t see blogging going away. Clearly you need to be thinking about mobile depending on what business you’re in and you need to be thinking about all of that stuff, but for any kind of business . . . Our customers run kind of a spectrum where some it’s all search, and for some it’s all about just having a site that looks current because it is current. Right?
They do big deals. They are consultants or they’re lawyers for instance. They are real estate agents. We have a bunch of those. They know they’re in a competitive space and they know that their customers are looking at three lawyers and they go and look at three lawyer’s sites. And two of them have a blog, but it hasn’t been updated for three months. It’s like the guy get hit by a bus, like it just doesn’t help with the engagement. So even though there’s not a lot of likes or comments or whatever, when a person, when a real human being is looking at that page they want to see that something’s really current and that there’s some thoughtfulness behind the blogs.
So there are people that are at that end and there are people at the SEO end, but most of them are somewhere in the middle. Most of them, they know the blog is important for search, they know that blog is important for customer engagement and they just need those combination and search is never going to go away, and customer engagement isn’t going to go away. And so I just think the future is huge for blogging.
Brent: Very cool. Well, I wish you guys all the best at BlogMutt.
Brent: Hopefully we’ll be able to circle back if you got some time in the future, check in, see how BlogMutt’s growing.
Brent: And maybe promote you guys to a lot of our web pros. That’s the biggest thing I always hear from clients, or from Web Professionals about their clients is content, content, content.
Scott: Right, yeah.
Brent: They’re always complaining about their clients not being able to get the blog content going.
Brent: Not being able to get their website content. So this would be a great service for them to pick up.
Scott: Yeah. We hear it all the time too and it’s natural. Writing is really hard. There are all these great pieces of marketing automation out there, but there’s no software to have a human being write a post for you and so we fit into a lot of that growth of marketing automation. But yeah, it’s definitely a pain point and one we’re happy to fix.
Brent: Awesome, great to hear. Well, thank you Scott and stay tuned for more great content from uGurus.com.