20: Why A Guy With 200,000 Monthly Readers Killed His Lead Forms, Too
Nat: When I wrote the post, I was living in Paris actually. And I went over to Miramar which is this big artist colony, and you get crepes and everything. And then there's tons of people selling shitty little trinkets on the street, right? So you literally can't walk anywhere without somebody running up to you and being like, hey, you want a selfie stick or hey by this little Eiffel tower thing. And as I was going through it, I was like, man, this is just like the internet.
Speaker 2: All right. So today on Seeking Wisdom, we thought we'd do a little bit of a different type of episode. We don't usually have guests on, but I have Nat Eliason on the podcast. Hey Nat, just say hi, and then we'll get back to you in a second.
Nat: Hey, this is Nat.
Speaker 2: Cool. So about a month ago, early May we we talked about how at Drifts we were killing all of our lead forms. We've talked about that a lot on this podcast about why we did it and some of the reactions to why we did it. And the number one thing that we've kind of noticed is that there's this movement kind of building around killing lead forms. And one day I was just browsing through inbound. org, catching up on some articles. I stumbled across an article and it was titled," Why I'm killing all of my lead forms." And I was like shit. Didn't we just write that? Who posted that? And sure enough, it was Nat. And whether it was inspired by our post or just something you'd been thinking about, you did the same thing and you had some really good reasons why. And so I wanted to have you come on the podcast today and kind of dive into that.
Nat: Yeah. Thanks so much.
Speaker 2: Yeah. So who are you?
Nat: Yeah. So like I said, my name is Nat. I'd say right now I'm mostly a writer. So I do a bunch of different things. My focus right now is really on improving my writing. I was deep in the internet marketing world for a couple of years, and now I'm taking a lot of that knowledge and applying it to focusing more on writing, but with some of that marketing to back it, which I think helps a lot in what's become a really fragmented attention economy, which I'm sure we're going to talk about a lot more.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Your site's pretty big, isn't it?
Nat: Yeah. I'm kind of fortunate in that I learned a good amount about SEO from the job I was working at before this and from some of my own experimentation. And so the site gets a good amount of traffic. It's up to a bit over 10, 000 people a day now, and it's a pretty wide range of topics. So that's covering literally anything from finance to work, to sex, to psychology, to philosophy, to marketing. It's really just whatever I feel like talking about at the time.
Speaker 2: So 10, 000 people a day, damn. That's really impressive for a personal site. Okay. I got to ask just because we like to talk about marketing stuff, drop some SEO just quickly. What do you think the biggest thing that people get wrong with SEO is?
Nat: Yeah. So the funny thing with SEO is I actually think that 99% of anything you read on it is probably bullshit.
Speaker 2: Like a lot of things in online marketing are today.
Nat: Yeah, no, it's really true because... I mean, my theory is that there are a lot of people who are SEO experts and they've studied this field a lot and they're really, really into it. And one, they need to make money so they need to convince you that it's difficult so that you'll pay them to do their SEO. And two, I think that the really niche SEO, not niche SEO, but the really technical SEO where, okay, you have to go get back links and you have to really format your page perfectly and do all of this stuff, I think that only applies in fields that are so incredibly competitive for search engine rankings, where you have to do that, right? And I think the only really fields where that applies are probably SEO content, right? Because if you're writing against other SEO people, that's going to be super competitive. Health, so people talking about weight loss and fitness, that field is crazy on their SEO and personal finance. Right? But if you're not talking about those three things, I actually don't think you have to do anything except write really good articles. So I've got the number one article on water fasting results. I've got the number two article on how to last longer in bed. I've got one on bulletproof tea. I've gotten a bunch of these that are really ranked highly. And honestly, I haven't done anything to get them up there besides write good articles.
Speaker 2: That's awesome. It's good to hear somebody who has a background in SEO talk about how good content wins. So that's where all your traffic is coming from today. Is it just organic, the search results of those highly ranking posts?
Nat: It's about 80% from search, yeah.
Speaker 2: Cool. All right. So you have this really popular site. You get a ton of traffic. Why would you make the decision to kill all your lead forms? Because I don't know, if I was a marketer, I'd be like damn, I bet we could get more traffic if we started capturing email addresses and getting people to fill out forms.
Nat: Yeah. So this was something that I struggled with for a while, because like I said, I've been working in internet marketing for about two years and I've been telling everyone, hey, you got to be building an email list. You got to be super aggressive on email capture. You got to do all of this. And when I was digging in on the numbers of my site, the first thing that I noticed was that email did not drive very much traffic, right? So we can actually do the back of the napkin here and we can say, let's imagine that you have a site that's getting a thousand visitors a day and you installed somewhat aggressive email capture. And let's pretend you're getting 5% opt-in, right? And that's a lot, but let's just pretend. So you're getting 50 new signups a day. So in a hundred days, you'll have 5, 000 new signups. Okay. Now, if you email those 5, 000 people, you might get a 5% click through rate, right? So that 5% click-through rate is going to be what? 250 clicks. So you're getting an extra 250 visits to each article after a hundred days of building your email list. That's really small, right? It's a really small amount of traffic, especially considering that you're already getting a thousand a day. So unless you can get insane open rates or insane click through rates or both. It's actually not that amazing of a channel for getting more traffic to your blog if you're already getting a lot from other places. It is good, I think, for community building and making sales and all of that. But if you want to build a community or make sales to your list, then you want to be getting really targeted signups, which you're not going to do if you're just collecting every single person that you possibly can with super aggressive tactics.
Speaker 2: Yeah. One of the things that you mentioned... So I'm glad you broke it down like that because that's a good way to think about it. But one of the things that you mentioned in your posts, I'm going to link to it in the show notes so everybody can catch up on it that hasn't seen it. Didn't you say something like you looked at your email subscribers that have come from those kind of methods that we're all used to like content upgrades and popups and stuff. And didn't you notice that there was a really high rate that just weren't engaged? So they were basically useless emails anyway.
Nat: Yep. They were absolutely useless. I was going through because one, email hosting is expensive. Right? And my MailChimp bill was over$ 150 a month. And I said, okay, I'm going to start cleaning some of these people out. And so I went in and I was looking through and I said, okay, well, let's look at all the people who haven't opened any of the last 10, 15, 20 emails. And I created that segment and I'm looking through and every single one of them, not every single one, but let's say 90, 95% were ones that came through a content upgrade. Right?
Speaker 2: Right.
Nat: One of the more popular articles on my site is my experience going five days without eating, right? Doing a five day water fast. And in that article, I said, well, how do I get more email signups from this? I created a content upgrade where you can get my step- by- step checklist for doing your own five day water fast. And that was-
Speaker 2: That is textbook online marketing today. That playbook, right? That's smart. That's what everybody does.
Nat: Exactly. Yeah. That's what you're supposed to do if you want to get a lot of email signups from something. And I'd the caveat here that if I was going to start a business, teaching people how to do water fasts, then it would be different. Right? But that's not really the goal. The goal was take the emails from this and use them to send traffic to other articles. But it turns out that people who went to Google, searched for something about water fasting, and then signed up for this content upgrade, they don't care about maybe improving their productivity as much, things like that. When you have a lot of different stuff you talk about, then they're not as engaged. And it turned out that that was true for pretty much any content upgrade on the site even the ones that were more related to other content. If somebody signed up just so they could get access to something else, in a lot of cases, they would never open another email. And I also went through and looked at some of the abuse reports and things like that. So people who said, oh, this email is spam, I didn't sign up for this dah, dah, dah. Pretty much all of them were content upgrades.
Speaker 2: Yeah, I've done the same thing. I used to do a bunch of content upgrades here at Drift and one of them was an article from our CEO, David. He does this podcast with me and he wrote this post about hiring and then with it, we kind of did, here's the hiring checklist that we use at Drift. And we got a couple thousand email signups just from that one post. And then we've emailed everybody the following week, added them to our regular mailing and the unsubscribe rate was over 3% for the entire list. And then I got a bunch of replies directly to me that were like, I don't ever remember signing up for this. What is this? And so that to me just wasn't worth it. And it made the transition a little bit easier, but I want to hit on another thing that you mentioned in your post, which is you shared a great anecdote from one of your favorite authors, just about how they started publishing their content for free and just the way that we consume content as people, not as marketers today. I kind of want you to tell that story and just what you learned from that.
Nat: Yeah. So I started thinking as I was as I was kind of pondering this, because it; s been bothering me for awhile, it made me think more about what was the goal with the blog. And I realized that for me, it was more of this okay, I want it to be a really, really good reading experience. And so if I want to create this good reading experience people keep coming back to, what are the other people who are creating really good reading experiences that are enjoyable? What do their blogs look like? And pretty much across the board, none of them are doing this really aggressive stuff. They just have it out there. And it's really excellent. And you can sign up if you want to. Right? They have it somewhere usually, but it's not kind of getting in your face. They've just put it there. And it's a slower ramp up. I think that if you want to create a really good collection of content and a really good site, you can't expect that in one or two articles, suddenly everybody's going to go crazy and love it. It takes a while. And if you skip straight to being really aggressive, then you kind of lose the chance to build up that slow relationship. I don't remember where the stat comes from, but it's something like for advertising to be effective, you have to touch people four or five times. Right? If they see one ad, they won't necessarily go buy something. And I think it's the same with content where somebody needs to find three, four or five really good articles on your site before they're convinced that, yeah okay, this is a site that I want to read regularly. If you assume that somebody will show up on their first article ever, and 20 seconds later be signing up for your email list, it's kind of like, well, why should they?
Speaker 2: Right. It's funny, it's one of the things... I think about this a lot, because content is a big part of our strategy of growing Drift. And we have a website, obviously. Drift. com where you'd go sign up for our product. But then we have this blog and the blog is growing faster than the website and it has a bigger audience and some days I'm torn. I'm like, man, I wish we could tap more into that blog audience and get them to buy Drift, right? But on the other hand, I'm like, no, the blog should be this separate entity that people should find really helpful and really useful. And oh, by the way, it just happens to be written by this company that makes marketing software.
Nat: Yeah. And I think that's a really nice, refreshing way to look at it. Right? Because most blogs, pretty much any blog you read online these days, is not to help people. It's to sell something or to promote something else. Right? So if you go read any marketing blog, any health blog, any sex blog, anything, they are selling something. Right? And I think we've kind of just become conditioned to that and we've almost accepted it, which is a shame because in a lot of ways it's cheapened online writing in general, right? Where it's almost weird that somebody would just write something online without any ulterior motive.
Speaker 2: It's funny, when you think about... One of the things I'm trying to do personally this year is just read a lot more books and I would always spend my commute home riding on the train reading blog posts that I saved to pocket or something.
Speaker 2: But then we'd been talking about reading a lot on this podcast and David said something to me, he's like, if you think about the value of a book, somebody had to fucking put in time to write a book. Real time, hours and months writing a book whereas you can just go bang out a blog post that day. And so that was really like, oh shit. Yeah, this is a good way to think about it. Especially if you're thinking of learning something, the amount of effort that somebody has put into this book compared to a blog post.
Nat: Yeah. Oh yeah. I think it's so true. I was thinking about this a lot actually right after I published that post because when I wrote the post I was living in Paris actually. And I went over to Miramar, which is this big artist colony and you get crepes and everything. And then there's tons of people selling shitty little trinkets on the street. Right? So you literally can't walk anywhere without somebody running up to you and being like, hey, you want a selfie stick or hey buy this little Eiffel tower thing. And as I was going through it, I was like, man, this is just like the internet.
Speaker 2: That is so true. Yeah.
Nat: Where you've got all of these guys selling the exact same shit and they think the solution to selling more of it is to just get more aggressive on their promotion of it and it's like, no. The solution is to sell something better. Right? Or to talk about some better, you've got all of these blogs and they're all saying the exact same thing. Right? We could kill off 99% of the marketing or health or whatever blogs online and we wouldn't lose any information because it's all the same repurposed junk. And because of that, they're so hyper competitive with each other that they have to get more aggressive with their marketing and everything. And that's to the huge detriment of the consumer. Right?
Speaker 2: Yeah. That is such a good way of putting it. But the thing that I think about all the time is we all hate this. As people, we all know this and we hate this and I don't want to fill out your forms. I don't want to talk to your sales reps. I want to figure everything out on my own. And I'll let you know if I have a question and I think everybody in my office, everybody that I've ever worked with feels the same way. But then we go to our jobs in sales and marketing and we just do exactly the opposite because that's how everybody else does it.
Nat: Yeah. And I think it's so easy to ignore... The term for this is like the dog that didn't bark. Right?
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Nat: So I don't know if you're familiar with this, it's from a Sherlock Holmes story, but he solves the case of the murder by recognizing that the dog didn't bark when it happened. And so that meant that the dog must have known whoever killed this guy, something like that. And so the point is that it's really easy to look at something and say, oh, we're getting a 5% conversion rate. That's amazing. But you're ignoring the 95% of people who didn't convert. Right? And what did they think?
Speaker 2: Right.
Nat: Because you're not hearing anything from them. They're just kind of the statistic you forget about. And it's like, okay, well, is it worth it to get 5% of people signing up if 95% of people are pissed off or at least annoyed?
Speaker 2: Yeah. And this is the hard thing about marketing, right? And I think that over the last five, 10 years, marketing has come a long way because technology has been amazing. And now as a marketer, your job isn't this fluffy job, you can measure everything that you're doing. And so that was great for a while. But I think now we've gone so far in the other direction where marketers feel like they need to be able to attribute every single action to something else or every single penny when, to your point is the reason people don't want to hear that is because they can't quantify what the other 95% of people are doing. You can only quantify the 5% of people who subscribed or filled out your form. And so we have a hard time saying, I don't know if other people are out there spreading the word. And I don't know if this person loves my stuff because I don't have their email address or they have never opted in.
Nat: Yeah. It's so true. As we've gotten more data- driven in our marketing, we have stopped appreciating how effective things that we don't have data on are. Right? So I think Buffer is actually a really good example of this, where I sent them a nice tweet about part of their beta. And they responded to the tweet and they said, hey, glad you like it so much. And they sent me a little card with a care package and it's got some nice stickers and a really nice handwritten note. And that made me feel so good. Right? And here I am talking about Buffer with you and this podcast will be heard by thousands of people. And some of them are going to go check out Buffer, but Buffer has no data on that thing that they did. Right? It was just the right thing to do.
Speaker 2: Right. Nobody's going to get the UTM parameter from this podcast from you.
Nat: Exactly. Maybe they'll do it from your site and they'll find it, but still. There's all of this untrackable stuff that's so effective. And then when we get really in the weeds on data and numbers and I'll be totally honest, I love data and numbers. Right? And so this is hard for me too.
Speaker 2: Of course.
Nat: But it's easy to forget about, but it's so effective.
Speaker 2: Yeah. And the Buffer story is a great example. We talk about it all the time, the things that don't scale. A lot of people will tell you, oh, that doesn't scale. Buffer, why are they doing that? They have 10 million in recurring revenue. How much longer can they possibly do that? And we think of it as like, shit, that's completely worth it. I would always try to find time to do stuff like that because of exactly what you just said. And so I don't know, figure out how to scale it, have somebody do that full- time.
Nat: Yeah. And the stuff like that I think is... Any way you can provide something refreshing and a little bit surprising to... There's going to be readers or customers, they're just going to be so happy that they are getting a break from everything else.
Speaker 2: So we still capture people's email addresses for our content because emails a good channel for us. We do a good job with email, we think people look forward to getting our emails, we don't abuse them, we send once a week tops. The number one converting CTA for capturing email addresses is, PS, is it okay if I send you a quick email?
Nat: I think that's great. It's so honest, right?
Speaker 2: Right. And that's what it is. And that's how we want to come across. And I don't know, somebody is probably going to listen to this and be like, well, have you tested that? We're just doing it and it's working.
Nat: Yeah. And it's not worth it to get an extra 20% improvement if you can't sleep at night.
Speaker 2: Right. Right. Right. Cool, man. Well, I'm really happy to have you come on. Any kind of final closing thoughts? Are you and I going to be the only guys talking about this, or do you think we're going to start to see more of a movement around this type of stuff?
Nat: Man, that's so hard. I would love to say it's going to get better and improve, but I don't know. I mean, it's interesting. This is a theme that's kind of repeated itself throughout history, where in the early days of easy access to newsprint, there was the whole yellow journalism where there was just tons and tons of newspapers spewing absolute nonsense and it was to the major detriment of good news sources. And then that slowed down a little bit and now we're kind of seeing it again with blogs and we could spend a ton of time talking about this too, because people are so bad at paying attention now. Right?
Speaker 2: Right.
Nat: And I'm sure you've probably noticed this too if you said that you're getting back into reading, but if you've been reading online, reading a book is hard, right? It's actually really hard to sit down for half an hour and just focus on a book, especially if it's rich literature and to not check your phone, to have all your notifications off, we've kind of lost some of that ability.
Speaker 2: It's hard. The hardest thing for me is if something comes up, like if I'm reading about something in history or whatever, and I don't remember it fully, I'll put down the book, grab my phone and Google it. And that's so shitty.
Nat: Yeah. Exactly. But that's kind of how all of our brains work now and with really an entire generation that can't focus anymore, the pop- ups and the listicles and all that stuff are going to keep winning. And it's kind of scary to think about what that's going to mean in terms of knowledge and our ability to process content and everything. I think it has to come down to the individual where just more individual people have to say, okay, I'm going to start reading better stuff. And that doesn't necessarily mean our stuff. It just means having a higher bar for the information you actually consume. And I think with that will come people having to focus on making something better instead of just barraging people with click bait. Right? Because if people stop responding to it and stop rewarding it, then hopefully the trends will move away from that because it's like you said, the stuff that's going to last, like the books, it's stuff that people put a lot of effort into. And the little Buzzfeed articles are gone the next day.
Speaker 2: Totally agree. Well, Nat, thanks so much for coming on the show. We appreciate it. Let people know where they can find you.
Nat: Oh yeah. Thanks for having me. If people want to read other stuff, it's Nateliason. com and then it's @ nateliason pretty much everywhere. So Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. But yeah, no, thanks for having me on. This was fun. It's good to talk about this and it'd be great if more sites kind of move this direction, especially ones that want to have really good reading experiences. If the goal is to have a really good reading experience, then you shouldn't be interrupting people in the middle and I'd love to see more of that happening.
Speaker 2: Awesome. That's a good place to leave it. All right, man. Thanks for doing it.
Nat: Yeah. Thanks for having me.