Neil Patel, Co-founder, CrazyEgg
How to Double Your Writing Speed Without Lowering Quality
How in the world do they do it? Day after day, they write monstrous posts that are extremely useful and easy to read.
You know the people I’m talking about—you might even consider me to be one of them.
Here’s what a typical week looks like for me in terms of blog content alone:
- 2 posts on Quick Sprout (1,000-5,000 words each), plus an infographic
- 2 posts on the NeilPatel.com blog (about 5,000 words each)
- 2 guest posts on other popular blogs (about 1,500 words each)
- 0.5-1 blog post for the Crazy Egg blog (about 2 per month at about 2,000 words each)
Total that up, and you get around 17,000 words per week or 3,400 words per weekday. And I’ve been able to sustain this type of volume for years.
I’m the first to admit that in technical terms, I’m not the best writer. I certainly didn’t go to college to get a degree in English or creative writing. Yet, I have thousands of awesome readers who really enjoy what I write.
There’s a reason I spent so much time learning first how to write quality blog posts and then how to write them fast.
Although time is my most valuable resource, I spend a significant chunk of it every week, writing. That’s because I know how effective content marketing can be for a business.
But I’m far from the only one.
Contently found that 41% of businesses struggle with creating enough content.
Wouldn’t it be easier to create more content if you could write faster?
If you already write high quality posts but it takes you a long time to do it, then this article is for you. I’m going to show you 11 key concepts that you can start using today to start writing faster.
Imagine being able to write posts in half the time you currently do now! That would free up a lot of time to either write more posts or work on other parts of your business.
An extra few posts a week can greatly speed up your business’ growth, possibly by years.
1. Get your typing up to speed
No matter how well you can remain focused for long period of times and how fast you can think of what to say, if you can’t type at a decent speed, you’ll never write quickly.
If you’re still pecking at letters, one finger at a time, it’s not going to cut it.
You don’t have to be a master typist, but you should be able to type at least 60 words per minute (WPM). If you could type at that speed for an hour straight, that would be 3,600 words per hour. Obviously that’s unrealistic, but you can achieve a decent fraction of that production rate.
I’d like you to take a minute to test your typing speed. Head to Key Hero, and do a quick typing test:
If you’d like to repeat it a few times to get a more accurate result, go ahead.
If your speed is less than 60 WPM, you’ll have to work on that before you can worry about any of the other concepts in this article. I know it’s not the most fun thing in the world, but you’ll be grateful you did it in the long run.
Step 1: Use the proper hand placement
To type properly, you should be resting the four fingers of each hand on the keys of the middle row, with your thumbs hovering over the space bar.
If you don’t already do this, it will take a bit of practice for it to feel natural.
Step 2: Don’t look at the keyboard
You should be able to type with your eyes closed—literally. If you can’t, it means you need to practice to get you to the point when typing no longer requires an active focus (the unconscious takes care of it).
Part of this can be your posture. If you’re hunched over while sitting, it’s possible that you’re looking at the keyboard just because that’s where your line of sight is. Do your best to sit up straight when writing.
Step 3: Practice, practice, practice
Kids these days practice typing from a young age, but you might not have been so lucky. The good news is that you can find online tools to help you practice and learn. One example is the Key Hero practice tools. If you need more instruction from the beginning, use a typing tutor tool:
Alternative: Try speech-to-text software
You have a number of speech-to-text tools you can use, e.g., TalkTyper (free), Ivona (paid), and Dragon Naturally Speaking (paid). These tools allow you to simply talk to your computer while it records your words and whatever punctuation you indicate.
While you can obviously talk faster than you can type, there are some downsides to this method. The free or cheap tools aren’t always accurate, and it can take a lot of time to fix the mistakes those programs make. Even the expensive ones aren’t perfect, and they also have a steep learning curve at first.
It’s not the first option I’d recommend, but if for some reason you aren’t able to type, or type quickly, it’s a decent backup.
2. Don’t forget your ideas: make a list
How much time do you waste trying to come up with a good idea for a blog post?
It’s hard enough if you’re just writing a couple of them a week, but if I had to come up with ideas for all the posts I write one at a time, I don’t know if I could do it.
The good news is, there’s a better way. It’s called an idea list.
Coming up with ideas on demand can be difficult, because it’s a creative task. Creativity comes and goes as we observe and experience different things in our lives. It’s why book writers often take years to write their novels.
You can’t just sit down and say to yourself, “Okay brain, start coming up with great ideas.”
Instead, you need to develop your idea muscle so that you can spontaneously come up with many ideas throughout the day.
The concept of an idea muscle was coined by James Altucher, who says that as you practice coming up with ideas, you get better at it:
Every situation you are in, you will have a ton of ideas. Any question you are asked, you will know the response.
Every meeting you are at, you will take the meeting so far out of the box you’ll be on another planet, if you are stuck on a desert highway – you will figure the way out, if you need to make money you’ll come up with 50 ideas to make money, and so on.
He advises to start by trying to come up with at least 10 ideas throughout the day. Here’s the second part: record them. Not all of these ideas will be good, but some will be, and others may lead you to good ideas.
You can use a simple notepad from the dollar store, or you can do what the team at Buffer does and record ideas in Trello:
An alternative: create a repeatable strategy
This is a strategy that you can use over and over again to get inspiration for post ideas.
It’s still not a good idea to come up with post ideas as you need them—it’s inefficient. Instead, schedule a block of time, maybe an hour, every week or month (depending on your post volume). Use this time to come up with as many ideas as you can.
Instead of coming up with a single idea in 10 minutes every time you need one, you can come up with five times the number of ideas in the same time frame once you get some momentum going.
Either way, you’ll be able to cut down on time coming up with ideas and focus more time and energy on the actual writing.
3. Get rid of distractions
Distractions are everywhere, especially on the computer.
The urge to check email, visit social media sites, or just click a bookmark to go to your favorite site and kill time is strong. Maybe you’d rather check your search engine rankings again or website traffic instead of writing a post, which seems way less fun.
If you give into these urges, your productivity is going to go way down. But even if you don’t, those urges in the back of your head are going to distract you and prevent you from being as productive as possible.
In real life, there are even more distractions, especially if you work from home. Kids running around, people talking on the phone or watching TV, and the temptation to take a break and grab a snack.
You’ll never get rid of them all, but you can get rid of many, which will greatly boost your writing speed.
Distraction elimination #1: Work in an office or quiet space
Noise kills writing productivity. You need to be able to hear your thoughts uninterrupted. If you work from home, designate a room as your office, and make sure that no one disturbs you while the door is closed.
If you’re working at an office or co-working space, keep your door closed while writing. Tell any friends or coworkers to not disturb you while the door is closed unless there is an emergency.
If neither of those are realistic, head to a library. Libraries are quiet, and some even have dedicated rooms for silent work.
Distraction elimination #2: Turn off the tunes
Who doesn’t like music? Wouldn’t it be more fun to write while listening to Taylor Swift?
Well, sure, it will be more fun, but it will slow you down.
Studies have shown that music is a distraction that slows down complex thought processes. So while music might help you with simple, straightforward tasks such as lifting more in the gym, it’s going to slow down your writing.
But that’s not the full story. Those studies looked at typical lyrical music. A 2012 study showed that low-to-moderate levels of ambient noise can actually lead to slightly higher creative output.
Similarly, another study showed that baroque classical music can increase mood and productivity. Note that classical music rarely has any lyrics. It is soft and consistent.
So you have two options: work with no music or work with low-to-medium volume ambient noise or classical music.
To have some ambient sound in the background, you can use tools such as A Soft Murmur or Simply Noise.
Distraction elimination #3: Lock-down distracting websites
If you have trouble staying on task, you can block certain trouble websites for a designated time period. There are many plugins that can do this, e.g., Strict Workflow for Chrome.
You simply tell the plugin which sites you’d like blocked and for how long, and you won’t be able to access them until the time period is up.
In addition, you can hide your bookmarks bar if you’re working inside a web text application such as Google Docs. Just right-click any empty space in the bookmarks bar and uncheck “show bookmarks bar.”
Distraction elimination #4: Write offline
If blocking distracting sites doesn’t work, you can take it to the next level and disconnect your Internet altogether.
Writing offline will eliminate all online distractions.
Distraction elimination #5: Finish all important tasks before writing
Sometimes it’s hard to focus because there’s something else important that you need to do during the day. If you’re thinking about this in the back of your head, your writing speed will go down.
Instead, think about doing any distracting tasks upfront, and then come back to writing later.
4. Outline your post beforehand
Before I write any post, I always outline it.
When you outline a post, you get a really clear idea of how you will be making the point you’re trying to make as well as any research or resources you’ll need to make the article as strong as possible.
You’ll notice that all of my posts have an introduction section and also a conclusion section. The headlines of the other sections will depend on the type of post I’m writing.
The outlines don’t need to take very long to put together. Their main point is to make sure you’re not missing any important pieces of the puzzle.
I write out all the subheadlines (H2s) in the article as well as a few main bullet points below each to remind me what I should cover.
When I get to each section while writing, I don’t have to remember what I had in mind for this section before—it’s already there.
5. Research comes first
What do you think is easier to write about for me: how to ride a horse or how to write a good blog post?
Of course, how to write a good blog post is a simpler topic for me, because it’s a topic that I have a lot of experience and expertise in.
The first step is to become an expert on the topic you’re writing about. It’s easy to talk/write about something you know well but difficult if you’re trying to put the pieces together as you go.
Take a nutrition blog case study I recently did. I’m not a nutrition expert, and I didn’t have the time to invest in becoming well versed in the subject so that I could write about it credibly. That’s why I had someone else take over content creation.
This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert from day one, but you need at the very least to learn about the specific topic you’re writing about before starting.
Otherwise, task switching is going to kill your writing speed.
What’s task switching? It’s a concept that refers to having to switch between different activities. For example, having to switch from writing mode to research mode, because you don’t understand a concept you need for a particular article.
While some may multitask better than others, we all are more productive when we focus on a single task.
Dr. David Meyer and colleagues conducted a study in 2001 to quantify the effects of task switching. He had subjects try to switch between different tasks such as solving math problems and naming geometric objects.
When both problems were simple, subjects didn’t lose much time going back and forth. But as the tasks became complex, the subjects lost more and more time with each switch.
It’s hard to pin down the exact cost of switching, but Meyer estimated that it could cost someone up to 40% of their productivity for complex tasks. Make no mistake—writing and researching are complex tasks.
Every time you have to switch, it not only takes a bit of time to get into the right mindset, but it also fatigues you.
Just thinking about having to switch back and forth several times an hour makes me tired.
Here’s the takeaway: Learn everything you need to know about the topic you are writing about before you write a single word. This means that you should note any relevant statistics, resources, or findings from studies beforehand.
6. Write first, edit later
Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is garbage.”
Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature and a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction before he died, and is still considered one of the greatest American writers of all time.
If Hemingway thought his first drafts were garbage, imagine what he’d think of yours or mine.
So, you basically have two options if you want to write a post that doesn’t suck.
First, you can continually edit each sentence and paragraph as you go. Or you can write your first draft, like most prolific writers do, and then edit later.
Both can produce a good article, but I’ll tell you why the second option is by far the best choice.
If you continually switch between writing and editing, you have the same problem that we looked at before: task switching. You’re asking your brain to switch from trying to write to trying to edit. This kills any writing momentum you have and makes you start from scratch every sentence or paragraph.
When you write—just write—you can focus on writing only. This allows your mind to focus on what you should write now and what should come next. Similarly, when you’re editing, all your focus can be on how to make the copy better instead of also trying to think of what needs to be said next.
In my experience, Meyer’s guess of about a 40% decrease in productivity from task switching is probably about right.
Write first, edit second.
7. Take (smart) breaks
Unless you’re a robot, you need breaks. All people get tired.
Sure, you can get stronger over time, but you’ll still need breaks.
Everyone’s different in this respect. Some need frequent breaks, while others only need breaks after a few hours. It depends on how much you enjoy writing, your writing ability, and a few personal factors.
If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend the Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian, so essentially it’s a tomato technique. It’s named after the timer that the creator used:
It was designed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, but it hasn’t been until the last decade or so that it really became popular as a productivity technique.
Here’s how it works:
- You set a timer for 25 minutes
- You work until the timer finishes
- You take a 5-minute break
- All of that is one pomodoro
Now you repeat that process four times. After the fourth, 30-minute period, you take a 15-20 minute break.
You can either buy a pomodoro timer or just use this online tomato timer.
This procedure is meant to keep you focused and fresh while working.
For accountability purposes, you start the day by making a to-do list of what you’d like to accomplish.
You put an “X” beside each item to indicate how many pomodoro periods (25 minutes of work) it took to finish.
Within a day or two, you’ll probably start to notice a difference in how you work, but it usually takes one to three weeks of use to master the technique.
The final piece of the system is dealing with interruptions. There are two types of interruptions: internal and external.
Internal interruptions are thoughts that are distracting you from working. With this system, if they are important tasks, you are supposed to write them down on your to-do sheet so that you can be sure they will get done later.
External interruptions are from other people and things (phones, emails, etc.). The pomodoro system suggests dealing with such interruptions as quickly as possible. Tell people who want your attention now to come back later or promise them you’ll call them back as soon as you can (on a break). In the meantime, get back to work.
8. Give yourself a deadline
Parkinson’s law states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
This means if you give yourself too much time to finish something, or that you don’t think it matters when you finish it, it will take longer to do. Either you’ll procrastinate because you know you can do it quickly, or it’ll become increasingly complex, which will result in accomplishing something other than what you set out to do.
Think about how many people study for a test. They put it off as long as possible and then cram everything in at the last possible minute.
While it’s not optimal from a learning point of view, it illustrates that people are capable of working extremely quickly when there’s a firm deadline that must be met.
The problem many professional writers have is that they give themselves a day to write a post, even if they may not need it. They say that if they finish early, they’ll start working on something else—but they never finish early because the work expands to fill the available time.
When you start writing a post, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to include in the post, nothing more.
Then, give yourself a deadline for writing the post, which is equal to the minimum amount of time you think you might need.
Remember that this is just for writing the post, which you want to do as quickly as possible. The quality really comes from the editing. You should still have a deadline, but don’t make it strict since you will need your creativity and careful thought.
Don’t limit deadlines to your writing only. You can also set a deadline for checking emails in the morning. Most people spend more than 2 hours on email a day, when they could probably reduce it to two, 10-minute periods, in the morning and at night, if they set a hard deadline.
9. Write during your most productive time
You’ve heard that some people work better in the morning and some at night, right?
Morning people are called “early birds,” while people who prefer the night are called “night owls.”
It turns out that there’s a significant amount of science backing up this phenomenon. German scientists found that night owls had a different brain compositions than early risers.
This affects your circadian rhythm, which is responsible for controlling your sleep schedule and alertness throughout your day. Dr. Katherine Sharkey says that night owls have longer circadian rhythms than early risers.
We don’t need to know exactly how it works to see how it affects how we write.
If you find that you’re much more productive in the morning, write in the morning.
If you find that you’re much more productive in the evening, write in the evening.
You will accomplish more in one really productive hour of writing than you would with more time, but while struggling to focus.
10. Use simple words
Do you ever pause while writing in order to think of the perfect word? If so, you’re wasting time.
When it comes to blog posts, or any type of web content, your writing should be simple.
People have very limited attention spans and like to skim. Jakob Nielson collected data that shows an average visitor reads just 20-28% of the words in a post. If they can’t skim it, they usually skip it. That means your perfect word won’t even be read by most.
When you read complex words, it takes longer to understand them. It’s partly because they are complex words, but it’s also because we don’t see them often.
So not only do complicated words and sentences confuse and deter your readers but they also slow down your writing. Instead of just stopping and thinking about which word to use, write the simplest alternative that comes to mind.
Instead of “convoluted,” write “complex.”
Instead of “disastrous,” write “poor.”
Instead of “proficiency,” write “skill.”
Get what I’m saying? Here are 24 more examples.
If you want to see how you’re doing, put one of your blog posts into this readability score calculator.
Here are the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scores of a few popular writers. I write at about a 4th-grade level. If you use complex words often, your score will be much higher.
11. The one factor behind all great writers
I’ve given you 10 concepts so far that can help you write faster without rushing and sacrificing quality.
Even if you apply all of these overnight, you still won’t write as quickly as I do by tomorrow.
Writing quickly takes practice, a lot of practice.
Malcolm Gladwell famously estimated that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. If you write five hours a day, five days a week, that’s about eight years. I’m probably getting pretty close to that number.
But even if you’re not close, you will get better every step of the way there. So don’t get discouraged if you can only write 300 words per hour right now. Over time, if you’re truly working on writing faster, it will creep up to 310, then 320, then 350, and so on…
In just a year or two, you might be writing 1,000 words per hour, sooner if you’re a quick learner.
Imagine that for a second: you could effectively double or triple the value of your time. That’s huge.
If you apply just one concept in this article, you can probably increase your writing speed by more than 10% within a few days.
If you currently write for 20 hours a week at a rate of 500 words per hour, a 10% improvement alone will give you an extra 1,000 words per week. This is about an article a week for most blogs or 52 extra articles per year, without spending any extra time.
If you really take the concepts I’ve laid out here to heart and apply more than one, you could see an even bigger improvement.
- Simple marketing hacks that anyone can use right now
- Why building a personal brand can hold you back as much as it can provide opportunities for success
- A behind-the-scenes look at what Patel is working on right now and his past businesses
- The astoundingly simple way to create content that drive you traffic, qualify leads, and boost your SEO
- What most people get wrong about content marketing according to Patel
Full Transcript of Podcast with Neil Patel
Nathan: Hello, and welcome to another episode of “The Foundr Podcast.” My name is Nathan Chan. I am the CEO and host of “The Foundr Podcast” and also “Foundr” magazine, which has now officially gone from foundrmag.com to now foundr.com, which has been a big move for us because we have eventuated into becoming much more than a magazine, much more than a podcast, and much more than a blog. So, yeah, I’m really excited about this new change, it was an interesting journey. Actually, acquiring that domain, and we actually acquired it from someone else that we interviewed on this podcast, which was an interesting story, to say the least. But hope you’re all having a fantastic day wherever you are around the world. As always, we interview some of the biggest rock stars, founders, people that are changing and shaping the world as we know it, and the industry leaders, these disruptors, and the founders of amazing companies. And they’re sharing you how their stories with you.
So who is today’s guest? Today’s guest is Neil Patel, and he doesn’t really need an introduction. He’s an incredible marketer, very, very savvy guy. And we go back for back every now and then. He’s super smart, and I’m always learning from him. And, yeah, I invited him back on the show for a second time. Funnily enough, it was actually…I featured him on…this is a good story. So I featured Neil on issue number five of the magazine, so that would’ve been four years ago now, geez. We’re getting old. So I was 25 back then. So four years ago, featured Neil on the magazine. The magazine wasn’t called “Foundr.” And because of the cover with Neil on the front, that’s where we got done for trademark infringement by one of the biggest business magazines in the States. Can’t tell you anything more, but, yeah, that’s why, yeah, I don’t know if you know this, but in the early days, we were sued for trademark infringement and I, you know, first four months. And the magazine, and changed the name to “Foundr.” And it was a blessing in disguise. But it actually started with Neil Patel.
So, yeah, we featured Neil on the magazine, issue number five, long, long time ago. And he was in one of the early episodes of the podcast. I invited him for a second time around because he’s just such a smart marketer. We get really technical. We talk about acquisition. We talk about content marketing. We talk about how to really just grow your business using content and all these other marketing strategies. I’m sure you’re gonna enjoy this one. It is quite technical. And, yeah, guys, if you are enjoying these episodes, please do take the time to leave us a review. It would help us more than you can imagine. And I know you guys, entrepreneurs, founders, aspiring entrepreneurs or founders. And I know you must have friends that are into this kind of stuff, and you love to just really vibe and, you know, to jam. So please do share this with a friend and help us spread the word. We are on a mission to building a household name, entrepreneurial brand that impacts the lives of tens of millions of people on a weekly basis. Currently, our content impacts millions of people, I believe tens of millions of people on a weekly basis, really makes us, oh, just one of a kind, and just that ripple effect would be amazing. So please do share this with our friends. That’s enough rambling from me. Now, let’s jump to the show.
The first question I ask for everyone that comes on, and for you, it’s a second time around, Neil, is how did you get your job?
Neil: What do you mean how I got my job?
Nathan: Like how did you end up doing the work you’re doing today, like your job right now?
Neil: Oh, I don’t know, like, how I got a job. I’m, like, I don’t have a job. I’m an entrepreneur. Technically, I do work for every one of my customers, right? So, yeah, no, the way I end up seeing it is I got started right now because I was looking for a job when I was 16 or 15 and a half. I couldn’t find a job because they all required college degrees. I was too young. I was going online, browsing on. They all required college degrees, as I mentioned, and because I didn’t have one, I decided to just copy that job board because it was monster.com, and back then, they were making hundreds of millions of dollars. So I was like, “Yeah if I make 1%, I’ll do well.” And as I created the job website, I paid people, went through a few rounds of developers before I found someone who was somewhat decent, still wasn’t that great though. And then when the site came about, I was just like, “Wait, where’re all the people?” I was naive, right? I didn’t know that you had to market a website. Like, just thinking about it, at 15 and a half, I didn’t realize that you pop up a business and people don’t come, and I’m like, “What the heck?” So I had to learn how to market and I got good at it, and from there I just got addicted to marketing.
Nathan: Yeah. So, man, you’re quite prolific online. Most people know who you are. How long have you been doing online marketing and stuff like that?
Neil: I’ve been doing online marketing for 16 years at this point.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. Okay, so you are also quite known for your two SAS companies, Kissmetrics and Crazy Egg. Would you like to share your way out with both of those? One of them you exited, right?
Neil: No, so we didn’t sell it depending what you mean by exiting. I did end up leaving the company maybe three year plus years ago for Kissmetrics. Crazy Egg, I’m still there. And with Kiss I don’t own a tender percentage, we went through a messy lawsuit and a FTC investigation. I blogged about that a long time ago. That derailed the company, it sent everyone who was interested in buying the company away, right? No one wanted to buy a company that was in a lawsuit because publicly traded companies don’t wanna deal with lawsuits, or at least take on that liability. From there I saw it through the lawsuit, dealt with it for over a year. And then after it was done, you know, I pretty much gracefully bowed out, I would say, roughly six months after.
Nathan: Yeah, I’ve got you. And then is Hiten still working on Kissmetrics? So do you still work on SAS procs with Hiten?
Neil: We worked together, but Hiten and I both left Kissmetrics at the same time.
Nathan: Yeah, got you. So who runs it now?
Neil: The investors and the CEO, whoever they put in place.
Nathan: Yeah. Okay, wow. You know, that’s crazy. And what do you do now? Like what’s your biggest focus?
Neil: My biggest focus is traffic acquisition, believe it or not. I look at it and I’m like, “The more traffic I can acquire, someone on my team will figure out how to monetize it, and that’s what I’m really good at.” I suck at a lot of stuff, but the traffic acquisition stuff I’m great at.
Nathan: What about conversion. You strong with conversion?
Neil: Yeah, I do a lot of conversion stuff too, anything traffic and conversion related.
Nathan: Okay. Interesting. So you’re working on a new SAS product, would you like to talk about that?
Nathan: To tell us, so you still work at Crazy Egg. What do you do at Crazy Egg before we jump in to…
Neil: I just drive the traffic and I do CRO tests, so I do like AB test on the homepage, the funnels, the blows, and then I work on driving more traffic.
Nathan: Yeah, geez, so why don’t you have a CRO guy do that, and you just, kind of, do advisory out of curiosity, or mentoring, or, kind of, just oversee it?
Neil: I do. So we have a CRO guy named Michael who helps plan everything, and then I just check up with him once a week.
Nathan: Yeah, I got you, that makes sense. Okay, and then…so fairly not that involved with Crazy Egg?
Neil: Decently involved. So I still use a product on a daily basis, I’m they’re driving traffic, but it’s more so doing calls with the team which I’m doing on a daily basis, and making sure everyone, you know, is doing what they need to do. If they have any questions I’m there to answer. If they need any help I’m there to help them. But yeah, I’m still involved, because the moment you don’t get involved, that’s when shit can go wrong. It’s not that the team’s bad, it’s that as a founder, if you’re passionate about your company, you can’t just not be involved, right? It doesn’t run the same way.
Nathan: So you’re not the CEO there, right? Right, no.
Neil: No, my co-founder Hiten’s the CEO.
Nathan: Yep, got you. And how does work as…I’m curious, as the founder, so do you just dial in remotely? Where’s the office?
Neil: Virtual company.
Nathan: Oh, virtual. Okay, so you’re 100% remote?
Neil: Yeah. And we do divide and conquer. Hiten deals with product and then engineering. I deal with sales and marketing.
Nathan: Got you. And how big is that team?
Neil: I don’t know, that’s a good question. Ton of contractors, good amount of full-time employees. But it’s in the dozens and dozens, we don’t have like 100 or anything, it’s less than 50, it’s way more than 10 or 20, I don’t know the real number.
Nathan: Yeah gotcha. So you’re involved into the…pretty much the daily day operations of Crazy Egg, and you’re working on new SAS product, then you’ve got your personal brand because you do a lot for your personal brand, man. So let’s talk about the new SAS company first, and then let’s talk about your personal brand. So you’re working on that probably with Hiten as well?
Neil: No. So I’m just building it for fun. It’s not planned on being a business. It’s called Subscribers. And the reason I ended up creating it is there’s no easy way for bloggers to get return visitors back to their website. There’s some push notification softwares, there’s some chatbots, but no one just makes it really dead simple. And there’s a few solutions out there that I was testing out, but they’re gonna cost me $3,000 to $5,000 a month with my traffic volume, so I’m like, “Screw this crap. I can just go build it for like $30 grand.” Now, I’m in it for $241,000, but, yeah, live and learn.
Nathan: Yeah, you like doing those tests, all right? Like, software is expensive to build.
Neil: It is expensive, not as expensive as it used to. I used to spend millions of dollars to build these companies, $241 grand isn’t that bad.
Nathan: So how are you building it? Like you have someone full-time in America, or using offshore, or…
Neil: I’m using a company called Table XI, I think they’re based out of Chicago, $180 per developer.
Nathan: Oh, okay, that’s awesome.
Neil: Not really, $180 an hour is a rip-off.
Nathan: Really? I think that’s not too bad for developers.
Neil: Well, let’s do the basic math. If someone works 40 hours a week, and they work for four weeks at $180 an hour, that’s $28,800 a month per developer.
Nathan: Yeah, okay.
Neil: For the year, that’s $345,000. You can get developers way more affordable. But I’m busy and they deal with everything for me. And they’re doing a really amazing job. I like them. It is a rip-off, but they’re fast, and it’s a great solution for where I’m at, right? So I would use them again. I’m actually really happy with the results. They’re thorough, too, and they deal with all the bullshit, and they meet deadlines.
Nathan: Oh, that’s awesome, yeah. We’re full transparency. Everything that we do at Foundr, it’s all, kinda, off the shelf. I’ve never ever worked with a developer, to be honest. So, yeah, when you said…yeah, when you said that, I was like, “Oh, okay, you know, that $180 doesn’t seem too bad, but then, yeah, okay.” All right, awesome. So you’re working on subscribers.com. Great domain. If you wanna find out more about that, where can they go to find out more? You know, you don’t even have a landing page…you’ve got a landing page for it, right?
Neil: No, I got nothing. They can go to subscribers.com and see nothing.
Nathan: Okay. Well, talk to me about your personal brand, and let’s move to like some evergreen strategies because I’m sure people would really wanna know that. So right now, you have quite a heavy personal brand, you’ve got quicksprout.com, you’ve got neilpatel.com, you drive a lot of traffic, a lot of awareness for your brand, and then you have, you know, quite a large following and audience, and you command…you know, you have a lot of assets in many different places, whether it’s own media, rented media, or paid media. So what’s the strategy behind having a large personal brand while running a SaaS company or multiple SaaS companies? Why would you do that, and not focus and spend your time on growing those SaaS companies?
Neil: You know what’s crazy? So if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t build a personal brand.
Nathan: Really? Why?
Neil: It was a big mistake in my career. So I built a personal brand by accident. When I first started a consulting company back in the day, I didn’t know how to get customers. I couldn’t afford Google AdWords so I started blogging. And that’s how I got started. Then I started speaking at conferences. And it was all driving consulting revenue, right? And then over the years, it grew, because you have to think about it, I’ve been building a personal brand, probably not for 16 years, but a good like 13 out of those 16 years, right, which is a long time. That’s actually a shitload of time thinking about it, right? Thirteen years is such a long time.
Nathan: Yeah, 100%.
Neil: So when I did it, it was for consulting revenue. And then I got into software because I hated consulting. It’s like one of the shitiest businesses. Great cash flow, but shitty business.
Nathan: You still do it though?
Neil: Yeah, because there’s so many people with a lot of money and problems. So if they throw enough money, I don’t care, I’ll do it.
Nathan: Yeah, gotcha.
Neil: I’m a capitalist. So the personal brand I thought, you know, I’m like, “All right, might as well just keep building it up and I can use it to drive tons of customers to my software company.” Doesn’t really help that much, but you look at Slack, what kind of personal brand does a founder have? Sure, he’s a well-known successful entrepreneur, but I bet you more people know me than him, right? Because I’m more out there, but yet his company is worth billions and billions of dollars. Mine isn’t. The point I’m trying to make is you don’t need a big personal brand to build a large company.
Nathan: Yeah, I agree. And do you think sometimes you cannot make your company, I guess, as easy to sell because there is the personal brand attached to it? Did you ever run into those troubles?
Neil: If it drives you a lot of revenue, okay, if it drives you a lot of revenue, then, by all means, build a personal brand. But what I found out is people wanna pay me for consulting. My personal brand doesn’t transfer as well to drive customers to SaaS products within my niche.
Nathan: Gotcha. Because, yeah, it was interesting how Casey Neistat had Beme acquired, and that was pretty heavily tied to his personal brand. I’m surprised around that acquisition. Did you know about that one?
Neil: No, I didn’t.
Nathan: Yeah, I think it was acquired by CNN, but I always find it interesting, personal brand versus company brand, you know, is the asset too tied to you to the founder. You know, I see Elon Musk, I see Richard Branson. You know, they’re great leaders and they, you know, they’ve built amazing assets and done some amazing things in the world. And that’s never really affected anything, but yeah, I think, you know, you have to be careful, right?
Neil: Yeah, you have to end up being careful. But, you know, it’s, like…I don’t know. Like, some people have done amazingly well with it. Like, look at Gary Vaynerchuk, right? So, and he’s built a good business off his personal brand. The problem I end up running into is my personal brand doesn’t tie in 100%. It’s in the same field as my company but doesn’t tie in 100%. And, yes, you make a good point where it does make it harder to sell depending on the business type. If it’s consulting, it does. If it’s SaaS and it’s all, you know, driven by your personal brand, which is very rare, then it would make it, but in most cases, SaaS is not driven by personal brands. And that’s the field I’m in, and that’s why I say, like, if I just spent my time building a big sales team, I would have been better off than building a personal brand.
Nathan: Yeah, that makes sense. So let’s switch gears and talk about, I guess, content marketing or evergreen strategies, that if someone was listening to this right now, they could listen to it, you know, four years from now, and these strategies would pay their way in, I guess, lifetime value, because that’s something that I think is really, really powerful, is creating content that’s extremely evergreen. So I want to hear from you, like, what are some solid marketing strategies that you believe will still be relevant for, you know, 5 to 10 years from now. Maybe around content marketing that people can start using, that you’ve seen, you know, that is…these strategies, or one, or two, or three, or whatever, have paid their weight in gold for you over the long term, and you anticipate to continue to see a return.
Neil: Sure, so let’s go over some simple ones because sometimes, it’s the simplest stuff that no one’s doing. All right, would you agree that Twitter is still gonna be around? Forget, you know, if it’s gonna be owned by Twitter or is gonna be a publicly traded company. But would you agree that at least Twitter’s still gonna be around because people use it, even if it’s not publicly traded or if it sells or whatever?
Nathan: Hundred percent. Although it could turn into a MySpace, you don’t know.
Neil: Well, although their stock has been tanking, their popularity hasn’t really tanked, right? So people still use it. Their growth has slowed down, but its usage is high for news. So why not go find all the articles that rank for keywords that you wanna rank for, because you just take your blog post that you have written, go Google similar titles and keywords to that blog post. You’ll find all the other ones that rank on Google, go take those URLs and put them into Twitter search box, and it’ll show you all the people that tweeted them out, hit them up one by one, and just be like, “Hey, Bob, I noticed you tweeted out X, Y, and Z article by author A, B, and C. I have a similar one and, you know, called whatever, one, two, three. And mine covers this, that, and the other that the original didn’t. Feel free to check it out. If you like it, feel free and share. Cheers, Neil.” It’s that simple, sending that email, if you send it to enough people who tweeted out other competing articles, you’ll get a shitload of social shares. It’s a low-ass. It’s easy to do.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. And you believe that that, in the long run, would be a strong strategy?
Neil: Yeah, I have a full-time person who just does that for me.
Nathan: Wow. And why?
Neil: It drives good traffic. Let me look at my Twitter traffic. I’m pulling up my Google Analytics right now. It is a bit more than 31,000 visitors over the last 30 days.
Nathan: Yeah, nice. And does it convert?
Neil: Yeah, it’s getting good traffic. So it’s just driving email sign-ups, It’s driving customers. When we talk to people, I’m like, “Hey, how did you find us?” A lot of people are saying, like, “Oh, we found you on Twitter.” I’m like, “All right, that sounds good.”
Nathan: Interesting. So what else do you think people should be thinking about like five years from now, or starting now but will pay returns still five years from now?
Neil: Yeah. So the other thing that I would do if I were people is, write more thorough content. And this is really simple. Content has always been king, right? Bill Gates coined that back in the day. And if you just go out there, you go to your Google Search Console, it’ll show you all the pages that are driving you traffic. So if you take those pages, and it’ll show you using the little drop down, like, down arrow, it’ll show you all the keywords that you’re getting from that page. Now that you have all the keywords, go take those keywords and make sure they’re in your article. Don’t just shove them in there, but incorporate those themes and those keywords. So you may have to increase your length of your article by double or triple to incorporate it all. But we’ve been doing that to all of our most popular articles, and our search traffic is up over 20% just from that one tactic, which is a lot because we get hundreds and thousands of visitors from search.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. And when it comes to…that’s a good one. So, when it comes to content, like, it’s still quality over quantity, right?
Neil: Yeah, it’s still…I don’t know which one you said, but it technically is quantity over quality. And the people who do quantity with decent amount of quality, so have mediocre quality, but large quantity, they tend to win.
Nathan: And what would you consider quality, like, just speaking about, like, what would be a quality article?
Neil: Detailed guide, thorough posts, beautiful design, images, super thorough, where someone reads this, like, “I know what to do, and I don’t need to go to any other article out there.”
Nathan: Yep. And how many words roughly?
Neil: Can range from a few thousand to 10,000.
Nathan: Yeah, okay, interesting. And one thing I noticed you do on your sites, is you have these like in-depth guides that are broken down into separate pages, and they have chapters. It’s pretty much like turning an eBook but making the eBook online. Why do you do that?
Neil: So that way people don’t have to download them.
Nathan: No, I know you must do it. You don’t…
Neil: It drives traffic. The pages, I would put them on one page, but the problem with doing that is, it’s, like, I don’t wanna put 30,000 words on one page, so I just break it up to like 5 or 10.
Nathan: Yeah. Like it’s almost like a workbook. I’ve known as quite a few companies do that. So, like, is there merit for these workbooks, like you choose a topic. Like, I noticed that you went quite high for online marketing, right?
Nathan: Yeah and, you know, one of those pieces of the puzzle to get there is that workbook, right?
Neil: That’s correct.
Nathan: Yeah. So do you believe people should be doing stuff like that or…
Neil: Yeah, it’s so worth it. But you’ve to keep in mind, that workbook’s thorough. What people forget is thorough content tends to do the best. Wikipedia ranks so well, not because it’s user-generated, not because they have a lot of backings. Like, all those factors help, but it’s because users continually add and update their content, so it’s super thorough. So it’s very relevant and up-to-date. That’s why they do so well. And people who write thorough content, and detailed content, will tend to do the best and rank the highest in the long run.
Nathan: Yeah. So do you get a lot of…you must get, like, a lot of earned links to that particular workbook because I know you have like 10 or 15 of them. You get a lot of earned links, right?
Neil: I think so. I stopped tracking it years ago. I’m pretty sure I get a ton still because I wouldn’t rank high up if I didn’t.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. Yeah, so, yeah, if you go to Neil’s site, you know, at quicksprout.com on his blog, you see on the right-hand side there is some workbooks, which I think is really, really smart. We wanna do that for like key terms that relate to Foundr, or key things that people come to us for, you know, like, all sorts of things around you. Startups, marketing, hiring, you name it. So what else do you think, besides writing great content, you think would pay a really, really long-term benefit in return five, ten years from now, if you’re trying to grow your startup and, you know, producing, you know, some sort of asset?
Neil: Sure. Building a brand. And what I mean by that is, whether responding to comments, creating webinars, interacting on the social web, you pick it, right? But, like, building a brand, it could be personal or corporate. A corporate example of that could be, like, if people are tweeting about your competitor and how they hate their product, instead of just saying like, “Hey, buy our product,” trying to help them solve their problem, whether it’s with a competing product, or your product, or any product, because it builds loyalty. And what we found is Google tends to rank brands higher than non-brands. Because they know people can build links, optimize their sites, but what’s hard to fake is branding. And the way they’re tracking this is how many people are searching for your brand and clicking on your site, right? And you can see that by just putting in your brand into Google Trends and you can see if it’s going up or down. It’s a great way for Google to know, be like, “Oh, users really love this brand.” Because if you’re searching for a car, how do they know which car company to rank higher? They all have good SEO, they all have millions of backlinks, so which one should rank the best? Well, if one has a brand that’s 20 times stronger, the chances are more people are into that car brand than the other, so it should rank first.
Nathan: Yeah, no, that’s great. I like that one. So what are your key principles or starting point, say, if you wanna build a brand that people care about or take notice?
Neil: My starting point is just, first, put your people, your users, within your industry, and then just help them out. So I like doing blogging because it’s a great way to help people out over time. I like responding to comments. It makes them feel that they’re getting to know you and your company. I like going on the social web and helping people out within your space. Builds more loyalty, right? Doing videos, I think that’s amazing. If you have a company, put multiple people in the videos, right? Rotate it up. You can do podcasting. The possibilities are endless. You have to more so figure out what really jives with you, your company, your guys’ culture, or your brand, and then start with those elements first because what’s easiest for you probably gonna work the best. For example, Gary Vaynerchuk is amazing on video. He hasn’t really done much content marketing from a tech space standpoint, and you know what? I probably can kick his butt at that just because I’ve been doing it for so long and I’m really good at that. Gary can kick my butt with video. He’s better on video. He focuses on video, and you know what? He kicks butt on it, and I don’t know too many people who are better than him. I’m amazing at content marketing, and I’ll probably beat out most people with it, right? Focus on what you’re good at because that’s where you’re gonna see the success.
Nathan: Yeah. That’s interesting. Because when I spoke to Gary, he said, like…I was like, “Yeah, we’re quite strong on social. Do we need to conquer all the channels?” You know, like, and when I say channels, I’m talking, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, and he’s like, “Yeah, Nathan,” he’s like, “You gotta conquer them all.” What’s your thoughts on that, like, because you’re saying double down what you’re good at?
Neil: Yes, but social, I look at that as one channel, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. I look at content marketing as a different channel. I look at SEO as another channel, Google, anything. So VaynerMedia is a social media or a marketing agency. They don’t rank for any of those terms. I don’t see them doing Google AdWords. I don’t see them doing Facebook ads for their core business. You don’t have to do every marketing channel out there. But Gary’s a big believer in social, which is an amazing channel, so he tackles all of the social channels out there.
Nathan: Yeah, no, that makes sense. Okay. Awesome. Well, look, we work towards wrapping up, man. Can you give us one more evergreen strategy that would pay benefits 5 to 10 years from now?
Neil: One simple strategy that you can end up using, because the web is getting all too mobile, and everyone knows that, is, and this is super simple, make your site AMP compatible. That’s A-M-P. It’s a framework that Google ended up releasing. Eventually, I bet, because so many big companies are taking this, it just makes the mobile experience that much better and faster. Google will end up ranking AMP sites higher up in the SERPs in the long run, especially after they start creating, you know, the mobile-first index.
Nathan: Okay, gotcha. Awesome. I’m gonna get on that one. All right, so where’s the best place people could find out more about you and your work?
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look thank you so much for your time, Neil. And, yeah, always a pleasure speaking with you, man.
Neil: Thanks for having me.