SitePoint Podcast #86: BlogWorld Interviews, Part 1

Episode 86 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week Stephan Segraves (@ssegraves), Patrick O’Keefe (@iFroggy), Brad Williams (@williamsba), and Kevin Yank (@sentience) share their first batch of interviews from BlogWorld Expo 2010 in Las Vegas. Listen in as they chat with Derek Featherstone (@feather), the team behind Lijit, and ProBlogger book co-author Chris Garrett (@chrisgarrett).

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Interview Transcript

Kevin: November 5, 2010: Building a business through blogging, the secret to simple site Search and the pillars of pro blogging. I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #86, BlogWorld Expo Interviews, Part 1.

Hello again, and welcome to another SitePoint Podcast. As usual, I’m coming to you from SitePoint Headquarters here in Melbourne, Australia, and on the show today we have the first group of interviews from our trip to BlogWorld Expo. You’ll remember from our live show a few weeks ago that we were at the BlogWorld Expo 2010 Conference in Las Vegas, and while we were there, besides recording our live show, we also ran all around the halls of the conference pinning down interesting people to record short interviews for the show. And we’ve got the first three interviews of those for you today. We’ll be hearing from Lijit, the team behind Lijit which is a free site search service; if you want to add a search engine to your website without doing a lot of coding or configuring plugins or whatever you might have to do to fit it into your system, Lijit has the solution for you; it’s a drop-in site search with an advertising component that can even make you some money, so we’ll be hearing from them. We’ll also be hearing from Chris Garrett who along with Darren Rowse is responsible for The Pillars of Pro Blogging courses that are coming up on SitePoint over the next few weeks. We’ll be hearing from him about his journey from web tech geek, just like me, into getting into the people behind web publishing and how he now considers himself an expert on professional blogging. But before all that we will be hearing my interview with Derek Featherstone whose name you may recognize from the accessibility world. Derek is a well recognized expert on accessibility, but he was at the conference not in his capacity as an accessibility expert but because he wanted to reengage with the fine art of blogging, and he’ll be telling us how blogging helped him get his business off the launch pad and how he’s kind of disconnected from blogging lately. I think a lot of people have. So, without further ado let’s hear from Derek Featherstone.

Kevin: Hi, this is Kevin Yank for the SitePoint Podcast at BlogWorld Expo 2010 and I’m sitting here with Derek Featherstone, hi Derek!

Derek: Hello, Kev, how are you?

Kevin: Good. Derek, you are known as an accessibility expert but this is a blogging conference, is there a crossover?

Derek: Well, I mean everything needs to be accessible, blogs, any website, any web app, any blog, everything needs to be accessible, but for me the crossover is sort of my interest in how I got started, not in accessibility but what sort of launched a lot of my speaking career and the work that we do, and a lot of that came from blogging. Writing the blog, my first blog, was really how people all over the world sort of got to know me from some little articles that I wrote that were familiar topics but with little twists, and that really caught the attention of some people and that resulted in a few invites to speak at conferences and really it was a big part of launching my speaking career and a lot of the other things have come from that. So, for me a part of being here is sort of a renewed interest, I mean we’ve been so busy we’ve kind of gotten away from blogging for a while, and part of coming back here is because I want to start that up again and get to the point where I’m actually producing content like I used to and not just spending all my time consulting, so that’s a big part of why I wanted to get back to this conference in particular.

Kevin: Right. So you’re not speaking at this conference, that must be weird for you.

Derek: It’s bizarre. This is the first conference in about six years that I’ve been to that I’m not actually speaking at.

Kevin: So you’re soaking up the atmosphere; are you just sort of letting the wind blow you where it goes or have you got some highlights you’re hoping to catch?

Derek: I’ve been, you know, I’m very free. I’m kind of going to try and catch a lot of different sessions; there are some things that I think I’m particularly interested in, I’m really looking forward to the next ProBlogger session. I’m not sure exactly who’s on it but I know it’s Darren Rowse and his crew and that one kind of interests me because it’s about, I hate the word, but, monetization; how can you actually take something that’s just your blog and turn it into an integral part of your business.

Kevin: I think half the people at this conference must be here looking for the answer to that question.

Derek: It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. And so I think it’s an important part, that’s definitely a session that I want to check out, and I’m also interested in looking at some of the other ones, the sessions that are more social media related, success stories, failure stories, because I know that it’s not a service that we specifically offer but a lot of our clients are looking for it, so we want to at least get a bit more starting points by seeing not just what — not just thinking about what we’re doing but what other people are out there doing and just some of that idea generation; going to one session that has one or two good ideas can actually turn into about ten or twenty good ideas for me or for anybody else to turn into something else for somebody else.

Kevin: Yep. So you mentioned you fell out of blogging a little and you’re looking forward to getting back into it or finding a way to get back into it. I know that’s true of myself too, it’s probably true of a lot of people that there’s an initial excitement about blogging, it was novel and everyone got into it and then fell off a bit. So, why are you looking to get back into it; what made you drop off initially?

Derek: I think a lot of things sort of, you know, the blog was helpful in growing, in drawing attention to the business, and then therefore business got better and better and better so that started taking up more time. It meant that I also started traveling a lot; I mean the last two years I’ve spoken at probably 15 or 16 conferences each of the last two years and that was very taxing. So, you know, lots of fun, I absolutely love doing it, and I love getting to conferences and talking with people, but it’s a significant drain on you physically and mentally, so if I had spare time at home it was going into other things instead of thinking about an issue and blogging about it. And that’s been a big part of it, I mean I’ve got a young family; we have three kids that are 11, 9, and 6, and need to spend lots of time with my wonderful wife as well. So, when you have the choice of spending time with the family or writing a blog post the blog posts ended up becoming sort of lower on the priority list. So I kind of got out of it and it’s something that you kind of develop these patterns where you get up in the morning and it’s work, work, work, work, work, and you don’t do anything else until you go to bed, and that’s not really a good pattern. So part of this for me right now is kind of getting back to what started everything off, finding a bit better balance; we’ve got a great staff now at the company so that kind of means that I don’t have to do absolutely everything and that’s incredibly liberating to have really good people working with you.

Kevin: So, is there something inspiring about blogging for its own sake that makes you want to get back to it or is it really you’re looking forward to using it as a business development tool again.

Derek: I think it’s a bit of both. I mean definitely the business development side of things, but in a lot of ways I mean when I used to teach high school and when I did I was very active in journaling and writing, you know, writing my own thoughts down, and sort of the process of writing for me really helped me make sense of my own thoughts all the time, and I actually started to solve problems just through the simple act of writing about something that I was experiencing in a class. It sounds kind of corny but it is in many ways helpful in terms of just getting your thoughts straight on something and in many ways it’s almost therapeutic; you take the time to think about and consider an issue and then write about it and if forces you, it’s kind of like teaching, you’re forced to know a subject really well when you have to teach it, when you have to write about it you encounter all these roadblocks or things in your mind that you’re like, oh, I don’t know enough about that, I need to figure that out or how does this work or how does that work. And that process I think is very good for self-development in terms of your knowledge but also in terms of just you as a person.

Kevin: I completely agree, it’s great to write about something as you’re learning it because it helps your learning process and it also generates a really engaging reading experience because it’s someone who’s actually learning it not someone who’s trying to put themselves in the position of someone who’s learning it.

Derek: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a great point, I guess part of that journey. And I think about the things that we’re doing now, and as we’re sitting here talking about it I’m actually thinking of things that I want to write about some of the processes that we’re going through with the company right now like how are we improving in such and such an area and I should really be writing about that because I’m right in the middle of it. There’s nothing more authentic than being right in the middle of something and writing about it and using that to connect with people.

Kevin: Well thank you, Derek. Your personal blog is boxofchocolates.ca.

Derek: boxofchocolates.ca.

Kevin: And you’re @feather on Twitter; is there any place else people should be looking for you?

Derek: We just relaunched a site, simplyaccessible.com, which we started after Web Directions in ’05, four blog posts in 2005 (laughter), and we just put up three more last –

Kevin: That’s nearly a doubling of content.

Derek: Doubling, it sat fallow for five years, but we’ve kind of relaunched that and we’re going to start putting a lot of our accessibility work up there, so trying to get part of making a commitment to blogging and getting back into it.

Kevin: Alright, look forward to hearing more and reading more. Thanks again!

Derek: Thank you.

Patrick: Hi, this is Patrick O’Keefe for the SitePoint Podcast here at BlogWorld Expo 2010 with Brad Williams, Kevin Yank and Stephan Segraves and our guests Team Lijit. Can you introduce yourselves please?

Perry: Sure, hi, it’s Perry Quinn, Vice President of Publisher Development.

Grace: Grace Boyle, Publisher’s Services Manager.

Sonya: And Sonya Caprio, Director of Marketing.

Patrick: Excellent, thanks for joining us today. So, in ten seconds of less, for those of you who don’t know what Lijit is, ten, twenty seconds, what is it?

Perry: It’s going to take more than that.

Patrick: Well, cut it down. (laugh)

Perry: So basically it’s a neat business model, we provide a free site search for publishers; the neat thing about that site search is it combines all social media content, site content and network if you guys have multiple networks, so you’ve got friends or you have multiple sites. And the beauty about the business model is because we provide this free search if you’re interested in display advertising we also provide display advertising, so the neat thing is we provide you this free search and we bring you money at the same time. And we also provide a bunch of stats; the data we gather from the site search perspective we provide back to the publisher, so there’s a ton of editorial direction that we can provide. People get to find out what readers are searching for, basically where they’re coming from and a bunch of different data that’s really good for providing editorial direction.

Patrick: So, I look at something like Google Custom Search, which probably a lot of people use, I mean what is the upsell over that; how do you say we’re better than this? There’s analytics, I got that argument, and what else?

Perry: Sure, sure, usually what I do instead of trying to speak to it I’ll show like Vela News or failblog.org, if you look at Fail Blog we’ve increased the size of their thumbnail pictures if you want to get straight into it; your readers tend to click on non-text based stuff a lot more often than they do, so we provide pictures, people tend to click on pictures more, and what this does is provides a much higher content, content to search I guess, ratio. But effectively what that does is pushes people further into your content, more page views, more ad impressions if you guys are focused on the advertising.

Grace: I would also say that you can pick up the phone and call us or email us or IM us; Google I don’t know anyone who can, you know, just pick it up and ring us, so that might be a little bit different in the personal aspect that a lot of bloggers enjoy.

Perry: Yeah, you know, a lot of times people ask us well how are you different than Google, and I’ll say well how many times did you talk to “Mr. Google,” and they’ll go, oh, good one, huh. So, for that, like Grace said, we’re very approachable, we’re human and we’re around.

Patrick: So can you talk a little bit about how you make publishers revenue, I mean what are the options with Lijit for doing that?

Perry: I think the best way to explain that is how we’ve got a direct sales force selling display ads across the country. The way they pitch is basically to take what we call an audience analysis, again, where we sit on the publisher’s page is to own that search box, so we power and maintain that, we also gather a bunch of really interesting data that we take and compile so we’re crawling the site, we’re indexing it, we know the context and the content, we take that and combine that with some of the reader inputted data so the keywords that people are putting in, and then we take that and we package it in to an audience analysis, and then say we would go to Oakley Sunglasses, and Oakley may say we want this woman that thinks about these keywords in this demographic area in this geography, and because again where we sit on the page we can provide more targeted advertising. So it’s a compelling proposition to the advertiser, and then we can bring higher display CPMs back to the publisher.

Patrick: So to be clear, we’re not just talking about search ads but also display ads on their actual website.

Perry: Absolutely. The only people that really make money on the CPC ads that would be on the search results page, Google’s the only player that does that. So we focus on display advertising because that’s where the publishers can make money.

Brad: So is Lijit something that would be like an individual blogger would use? I have a blog, I don’t get a lot of traffic, maybe a couple hundred hits a day if I’m lucky; is it something that would benefit my site to install Lijit?

Perry: Absolutely. Well, yes, that’s why I was asking, I was trying to understand what you write about. Some people have really good searches that they put a ton of time and customization into, and so I would try to understand what you’re doing from a search perspective, but usually 99 times out of 100 we can provide a better search experience for your reader, we do all the heavy lifting from the customization perspective, and we’re just — I think we’re generally human, people like to work with us.

Brad: Yeah, I mean it’s definitely no secret that the WordPress default search is pretty bad, so anything’s probably got to be a pretty good step up from that.

Perry: Yeah, we have a WordPress plugin, it’s a super simple install.

Brad: Is it a hosted service or is it actually the results would live on my site?

Perry: Well, it’s all on your site. I mean we will serve up the search results, and we have two different search result page options; one is an overlay lightbox that pops up or if you provide us a landing page we can just basically drop it right into your page and add it to the result page.

Patrick: Just as a final question, Lijit is often tied to blogs but looking at the website I get the idea that you would work with not just the traditional blog but content sites in general. What about communities or forums, are you doing anything with that content, indexing it?

Perry: Yeah, we’re actually really good with Ning, in fact, sometimes we’re so good that a lot of people don’t — I shouldn’t say a lot of people, some people have said you’re so good you’re going to expose too much to my readers in my community and I really want to control the readership. But we work really well with a lot of those community based— Gorums, not as much, even forum searches suck—sorry—in general they’re not very good, but that’s another thing, we work with the publishers to try to tweak and customize whatever we can do.

Patrick: Excellent. Team Lijit thank you for joining us.

Perry: Thank you.

Brad: Thanks.

Kevin: This is Kevin Yank coming to you live from BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas, and I’m with Stephan Segraves, hi Stephan.

Stephan: Howdy.

Kevin: And we are joined by Chris Garrett.

Chris: Hello.

Kevin: Hello Chris. And you’re doing some very exciting work with us here at SitePoint at the moment; you’re putting together The Pillars of Pro Blogging Course with Darren Rowse.

Chris: Yeah, how awesome is that working with Darren Rowse again? It’s exciting stuff. And it’s good to work with you guys obviously as well, but Darren’s my hero, I’m his biggest fan.

Kevin: (Laughs) Well, a great place to be as his biggest fan then. Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into this whole racket?

Chris: Well, it kind of got to be familiar with a lot of SitePoint readers because I started off as a techie, I started off as an IT geek, turned into a programming and web development geek with Visual Basic—I know that’s a horrible thing for a lot of people but I loved Visual Basic—C#, ASP.net and all those things, and I worked my way up into being an all around web geek. I started sharing content so I didn’t have to keep repeating myself in communities, and that content got me book deals and speaking gigs and everything, and it just progressed from there and people started offering to pay me for stuff. I turned it into a full time job but I moved into marketing and new media in general, but yeah, at heart I’m a geek and I get paid to be a geek.

Kevin: So this blogging stuff, your heart is in the tech side of it?

Chris: No, my heart is in what it can do for you, not so much the tools, it’s what it delivers at the other end. And I’d say I’m most passionate about—even though I’m shy an inch of it—I’m most passionate about the people side actually. I was talking to Mike Stelzner who’s huge in social media now because the Social Media Examiner and Social Media Success Summit, but we both have a big interest in copywriting and we worked out that it was because of the human psychology behind it. So it comes back to people and I think that’s a key thing a lot of people can miss because of the tools and the technologies; tools and technologies are cool, I love gadgets, but it’s what it can do for you and how you can help people, I think that’s the bottom line for me.

Kevin: So is this sort of a journey of self discovery, as strange as that sounds, but it sounds like you started as a techie but what you realized is the reason you’re passionate about the tech is the people stuff and now that’s what you’re working on.

Chris: Yeah, I’d say pretty much it was. As I say, I was an introvert and now I’ve been up talking in front of big crowds here and doing interviews with you guys. Outside of an interview you don’t frighten me, but I’m scared to death right now.

Kevin: (Laughs)

Chris: So it has been a kind of a personal growth thing, and I think that that helps connect with people; we don’t come fully formed as awesome. I was looking at Brian Clark and everybody’s wanting to like touch his hem, you know, he didn’t start out that way and I could actually remember copying and pasting his articles because we were republishing his stuff on our site on a site that ended up getting bought, but we were republishing it for him to give him traffic—can you imagine that? The Copy Blogger dude needed traffic from us, well, he didn’t need it obviously.

Kevin: Every little bit helps.

Chris: Yeah. And nobody starts full formed as awesome, and all of us are pretty much working towards that. And there’s a personal journey and a business journey and a professional journey and you turn it into your story and you share it.

Kevin: So, speaking of sharing your story that’s kind of what you’re doing with this Pillars of Pro Blogging Course, give us the quick spiel on what that is.

Chris: So, the four pillars are content, community, traffic, and monetization, and if you’ve got all four then you’re going to achieve success, you turn the dial all the way up to 11, if you’ve only got one then you’re going to struggle. And we actually started out with Getting Started, so it’s like the first of the five it is really, Getting Started, and getting that first blog where you cut your teeth and you might throw it away afterwards or it might turn into something super cool, but everybody has to learn and start somewhere. I started by programming my own blogs, we can’t expect people to do— Learn PHP, step one! And Darren started on Blogspot, so we’re going to show people how to get that first blog going, but then the four pillars really have to kick in, you have to have content, you have to get people to look at your content, you have to build a community so you’re not constantly trying to get first-time visitors, and then you have to make some money off it so that you can sustain yourself.

Kevin: You paint it as kind of four pillars, and ideally you have all four holding up the ceiling there, but I don’t know, it sounds like they’re in order of difficulty to me.

Chris: They kind of are, and you have to really, you have to have somewhere to put your content, but the real meat that you deliver, sorry to the vegetarians listening, but the real meat of what you deliver is your content; without the content you have no product, you have no reason to exist. But then after that you need to start engaging people because content without community means that you’re constantly trying to stop that revolving door. But then to build that community you need to grow traffic, so the community and the traffic, the promotional aspect, they have to come together really, but you need content to deliver. But it’s only once you’ve got an audience and a community that you can start monetizing it, and the way I do it is a little bit easier than the way Darren does it. He has to have a gagillion visitors to sell advertisers; I can have a smaller community and still make money because I only need one out of a thousand to buy something from me because I sell consulting and services and things like that, so I can have that “one thousand true fans” famous thing. But you do need all of them and it does go up in difficulty, everybody can do content of some sort, doing really standout content that’s a real trick that a lot of people don’t get.

Kevin: Yeah. So, talk to us about BlogWorld, this isn’t your first year here is it?

Chris: This isn’t my first year, but actually Darren and I wrote ProBlogger, the book, together, and then met for the first time at BlogWorld, and that was strange.

Kevin: And how many years ago was that?

Chris: That was actually last year.

Kevin: Last year! Man, time goes fast.

Chris: It’s amazing. And the crazy thing is BlogWorld is like the Mecca for bloggers, but it’s so difficult for people overseas, you know this, you’re from Australia, it’s so difficult for people overseas to get to but it’s so worth it. It’s tiring but worth it.

Kevin: Yeah. I think I heard an announcement this morning they said 3,500, something like that, attendees here, I definitely feel that. I’ve been in this Expo hall most of the time and it’s just been crowded, just constant streams of people going past. I suppose it’s been a very different BlogWorld for you this year than last year; you’ve had a lot of stage time.

Chris: Yeah, I think I need to learn how to say no. (Laughter) But it’s awesome as well, and it’s like we were talking about community and relationships, these are the physical real world community relationships that you can build here, and it’s amazing that just random chance things that happen and how things can roll out of that. You need to be open to spontaneity and that means you have to put yourself out there.

Kevin: Yeah. I think if you hadn’t been to BlogWorld before you might think, oh, you know, it’s a bunch of bloggers getting together talking about blogging, how can I justify that trip? That’s going to be a lot of fun but what is that really going to generate as far as improving, you know, what’s the revenue on that spend? But we were saying just last night we spent x-thousands of dollars to be here and we can’t think of any other way we could have spent that money that would’ve generated the leads, the relationships, the ideas that we have generated here. It’s not just bloggers wandering around here, it’s people who work with bloggers, people who want to be bloggers, people who want to hire bloggers; there’s the whole ecosystem here, it’s amazing.

Stephan: And relationships is a big thing, right, it’s great to just meet people and really get to know them. This is the first time I met Kevin in person, so it’s great to finally — I know what your face looks like but to actually meet you.

Chris: And now you’re bitterly disappointed (Laughter).

Stephan: Well, we said yesterday he’s much taller than we thought.

Kevin: I’m outta here!

Stephan: Apparently I’m bigger online (Laughter).

Kevin: Well, thank you, Chris, I know you’re a man in demand; we should probably let you get back to the Expo.

Chris: Yeah, I need to caffeinate I think now.

Kevin: Well, I hear the world’s largest coffee, they’re making an iced coffee in that vat today.

Chris: You think they’ll let me drink it?

Kevin: I think they’ll let you swim in it.

Stephan: Get you a straw.

Chris: Yeah, somebody was saying next time they need foot rubs and they need an IV dip of caffeine.

Kevin: So, people who want to get more of Chris Garrett where do you want to send them?

Chris: Chrisg.com, but I’m a self publicist, I’ll probably find them. (laughs) So not.

Kevin: Great, thank you, Chris.

Chris: Good to meet you.

Kevin: And thanks for listening to the SitePoint Podcast. If you have any thoughts or questions about today’s interview, please do get in touch. You can find SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom, that’s sitepoint-d-o-t-c-o-m, and you can find me on Twitter @sentience. Visit sitepoint.com/podcast to leave a comment on this show and to subscribe to get every show automatically.

We’ll be back next week with another news and commentary show with our usual panel of experts.

This episode of the SitePoint Podcast was produced by Karn Broad and I’m Kevin Yank. Bye for now!

Theme music by Mike Mella.

Thanks for listening! Feel free to let us know how we’re doing, or to continue the discussion, using the comments field below.

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  • terrydunn

    Excellent podcast with really interesting interviews.

    Terry

  • http://wydajnykomputer.pl ChrisPL

    Good show, not boring questions. It seemed like I was standing right next to you and listening while the conference was upon us, so well done on that. Also, the sound quality rocks.

  • BlogKing

    Well done. Very polished. Good to learn about Chris Garrett. I have Darren’s book but didn’t know much about Chris. Interesting how tech guys end up being people persons; I followed a similar path. [long live Hypercard]