Documentation as SEO, SEO as Documentation

We continue to chew on this quote from Alex Hillman: "When done well, marketing and teaching are nearly indistinguishable from one another."

Michele Hansen  0:00 
Welcome back to Software Social. I'm Michele Hansen.

Colleen Schnettler  0:03 
And I'm Colleen Schnettler.

Michele Hansen  0:06 
Hey, Colleen!

Colleen Schnettler  0:07 
Hey, Michele, how are you doing?

Michele Hansen  0:10 
I'm good. I'm good. I had a pretty productive day today. Little ADD in the morning, but it was good.

Colleen Schnettler  0:16 
What does that mean?

Michele Hansen  0:19 
Well, so I was diagnosed with ADD as a kid when I was 10. And so it's always been something that I have to work with, you know, working against it is not going to happen. And you know, recognizing the procrastination of it is really just me being a perfectionist in a lot of ways. Um, you know, it can also make for a fun morning, though, I made some good memes, I think.

Colleen Schnettler
Nice.

Michele Hansen
No, actually, I actually, I got a lot of stuff done. You know, a couple weeks ago, when you asked me what I was working on, I mentioned landing pages. And then, and then I was kind of like, Ah, that actually wasn't what I was planning to talk about. And, and I feel like you were kind of disappointed. But I actually did a ton of work on landing pages this week. So we can talk about that if you want.

Colleen Schnettler  1:11 
Oh, yay! Yes, I do.

Michele Hansen  1:13 
Yeah, so this is a huge thing for us. Because we don't do any paid marketing. We don't do any outbound sales. We just do SEO.

And a couple weeks ago, we were talking to Alex Hillman. And something that really stuck out to me from his book, Tiny MBA was, you know, when done well, marketing and teaching are almost indistinguishable. And I think that's so true. Because a lot of what we do when I'm writing a like landing page, is just explaining how our service works, and how to do something, or, or how to do something in general, that happens to relate to our product.

Colleen Schnettler  1:59 
Okay, so can we take several steps back here and talk about landing pages?

Michele Hansen
Sure!

Colleen Schnettler
Because people talk about landing pages, like they're these things, they just throw up real quick. And so I kind of want to talk about strategy. And like, practically speaking, do you have? Do you always use the same template? Do you try to, you know, like, when you're marketing towards a specific group, like how do you tailor your landing page for that group?

Michele Hansen  2:25 
There's a lot of different types of landing pages. So what I'm doing is generally very product focused. There's a whole huge segment of landing pages that is sales landing pages and writing conversion copy, which is --

Colleen Schnettler  2:46 
Conversion means I convert, I buy something from you?

Michele Hansen
Exactly.

Colleen Schnettler
Yes.

Michele Hansen  2:50 
The idea is, you know, basically, you run some ads for people who are looking at a specific search term, or you or you have, you know, SEO targeted to that search term. And then you bring them into a sales page. And there's tons and tons and tons and tons of copy. And there's a story and like all of these sorts of things. And there's there's like these calls to action that are building up to it, right, like, and then they want you to convert and buy immediately from that page.

That that is a whole school on its own. And not really something that we do, because we don't really need to do a lot of convincing for people since we have a free tier and people can just try it and figure it out if they need it or not, before they even buy it.

So when I'm talking about landing pages, it's generally very product focused copy that is sort of either describing features of the product, or is like a step by step how to do something with the product, or is somehow just better describing what we do. Very often that comes out of conversations that we have with customers in Intercom where, you know, if we get the same question more than two or three times, we usually take that as a sign that either we need some more copy on that or, you know, maybe we need to fix something in the product to make something more discoverable (that is, easier for people to find it). Or add affordances, which is the ability for them to do something. That's generally where we focus when it when I talk about landing pages.

Colleen Schnettler  4:34 
Okay, so do you have specific rules like in your head, like from a design like should it only should it fit on a visible window? Should they not have to scroll? Do you even think about these things? Are they not important at all?

Michele Hansen  4:47 
Yeah, I don't really think about that, actually.

Colleen Schnettler  4:50 
Okay, I don't know. Like, that's why I'm wondering like, I've never I'm telling you for me. Like I feel like I could write a whole back end system API to do whatever but you asked me to make like marketing page and oh, my gosh!

Michele Hansen 5:02
It's scary, right? Like I blank page is very intimidating.

Colleen Schnettler  5:07 
And it's like, the whole thing, where do I put the images? What do I say?

Michele Hansen  5:15 
Like, yeah, how far it's a lot, I have so many hang ups around this because I'm so afraid of coming off as spammy or, like too heavy handed of a sale that when I'm trying to write copy, it sounds so boring. Like, it's just so so dry.

And what really helped me was thinking about marketing as education.

Colleen Schnettler
Yeah.

Michele Hansen
And thinking about it, okay, maybe this is just, this can just be a step by step how to do something, you know, for example, how to add metropolitan statistical areas to a list of addresses, which is something that, for example, somebody who works in sales might do because they need to know which of their customers live in and around Boston, and in and around Chicago, because they're planning a trip during normal times when you go on trips... For example, and so it's just like a step by step list and and then there's, you know, the SEO tactics, bringing into that, like, you know, all of the, the list items need to be headers and saying, first, organize your spreadsheet of addresses that you want to add the Metropolitan Statistical Areas to, like, the next step, upload the list of addresses that you want the Metropolitan Statistical Areas for to Geocodio, it's like using the same words over and over and over again, so that, you know, Google or search engine will pick up on that using those terms in the URL is a really basic one. That is easy to overlook.

I actually I realized this morning, that we had someone reach out to us asking about features of our unlimited plan. And I realized, like, Oh, my gosh, I typed like the same reply multiple times a week. And we don't actually have a page on our site that is just devoted to this plan that I can send someone and the same way. We also don't have any page, specifically devoted to free geocoding or our pay as you go tier. And so now, almost seven years into doing this, we finally have a URL that is geocod.io/free-geocoding, which is the number one search term that brings people to us and it like never occurred to me until this morning, that we should have a page with the you know, h1 and URL of free geocoding. Like sometimes it's just so, so obvious.

Colleen Schnettler  7:57 
So you mentioned a little bit in there about, like your varsity level, right landing page builders, so you're --

Michele Hansen
Oh, no, okay.

Colleen Schnettler
Junior Varsity.

Michele Hansen  8:09 
I mean, you know, we we occasionally walk by the bench they sit on...no, marketing is my weaknesses.

Do you have, like you met you threw out a couple SEO things that I know a little bit about? Because I was reading about SEO for fun

Michele Hansen
As you do Colleen?

Colleen Schnettler
Like, right, I'm so weird, right?

Michele Hansen  8:31 
Do you have non-business related hobbies?

Colleen Schnettler  8:36 
They're called children. Those are my non business related topics.

So there's, so do you have a list? Because, you know, I was doing all this, like marketing research, I was reading about SEO. And it seemed like all over the internet, there were like little snippets of here's a couple things to do. But I didn't find like a good comprehensive list. Do you just have your own personal list that you have found worked for you guys? Or do you just keep all this stuff in your brain and try to remember it?

Michele Hansen  9:04 
It's a combination of things I absorb from other people. And things I you know, I might see online in various places, but actually, I was asking a friend about this a couple of weeks ago, who is an SEO expert themselves and like, it's their full time job. And I was like, is there you know, a book or an ebook or, like, something you can send me that is like a, you know, a sort of soup to nuts kind of guide for SEO, not only from the high level but also specific tactically. And they're like no.

Colleen Schnettler
Interesting.

Michele Hansen
Yeah, it's very all over the place. And and I think, you know, something is difficult being a bootstrapper is that a lot of content is written for much bigger companies, or companies that are much more flesh than we are, which is difficult because they have very, they might have very different goals, like their goal might be to get, you know, people to sign up with their email address or to submit a particular form because their goals are feeding into somebody else's goals, because there's another department that's actually going to try to convert them into a paying user and all those sorts of things. So, and I run into this with UX stuff, too. A lot of that content is geared towards people who are, you know, on a team within a larger organization, and part of that for them is like managing the politics and the incentives of other people. So no, I haven't really found one good guide, like I wish there was an ebook or something I could send people to that that was a good all in one resource, both tactical and strategic level. Mostly, it's just, it's just things I've learned, you know, I will go in and poke into ahrefs. Every so often, probably not often enough, given how much we pay for it.

Colleen Schnettler  11:14 
Michelle, can you tell those of us new to marketing, what Ahrefs is?

Michele Hansen  11:19 
So Ahrefs is this tool that you can use to basically diagnose how good the SEO is on your site and on a particular page. And so it will tell you, the keywords that are leading people to a page and your referrers, which are other websites that are linking to you, which is a very important part of SEO and building reputation, like the age of a URL is really important. And so like, if you can get a really old website to link to you, that's really helpful for your SEO, because then the search engines basically think you're reputable. Um, it also talks about like general keywords, leading people to your site, and then how easy it is to rank for particular ones. I think you can also see what your competitors are ranking for as well. And so maybe finding opportunities there.

Quite frankly, there's so much going on in Ahrefs that I feel like I have only scratched the surface. And most of their instructional content is in videos, I really hate watching videos, I would much rather prefer like text because I can read really fast. So I always like oh, I'm gonna spend time watching Ahrefs today. And then I just, I just want to be busy, I want to do stuff, I don't want to watch a video. So I just pay a lot of money for something that I don't fully utilize. So that's, that's your business advice for today, don't do that.

Colleen Schnettler  12:55 
So it sounds like so in your head based on people you know, and your own experience, you kind of have some SEO tactics and ideas that you weave into your landing page. So when you're going to make, when you're going to make a new landing page, how do you even start you start with like, I know, you guys target specific sectors, like real estate agents, I assume and Census Bureau people? Do you start with your target audience in mind, and then like, word data mine or whatever you you know, look for the popular search terms and then build a page around that?

Michele Hansen  13:30 
Sometimes.

Colleen Schnettler
Okay.

Michele Hansen
So, for example, that page I was talking about with people adding specific types of Census data that just came about because I had a customer asked me how to do that. And I was like, Oh, we should just have a guide that tells people how to do this. So that the next time somebody asks this question, I can just send them a link rather than spending 15 or 20 minutes going back and forth them on Intercom. Um, sometimes I will be targeting a specific vertical--

Colleen Schnettler  14:01 
By vertical you mean? industry? industry?

Michele Hansen  14:05 
Yeah. So for example, you mentioned real estate websites are customers of ours.

But I usually don't work on those specific pages very often, more so it's how to do a specific thing. And, you know, it might be that people in sales need the Metropolitan Statistical Areas, for example, but people in all sorts of other occupations need those too. And so we don't generally target that kind of educational content to a specific type of person because the number of people who work with, you know, Census FIPS codes, for example, in their work is so incredibly vast that I would inevitably lead be leaving people out if I tried to only talk to one specific use case and also, I don't know, all of the different tools they use. Like every industry you know, every function has their own specific set of tools. And so we actually try to be as general as possible. And, and not talk too much about industry specific tools. Because you know, spreadsheet is a general word. And if they're downloading something from their CRM or whatnot, it's it's going to be a spreadsheet.

Colleen Schnettler  15:17 
So the way you're describing this is -- I think maybe my definition, my head is different than the way you're describing it, as I'm thinking of what you're describing more as content marketing. But they're really this for some reason, in my head, a landing page is like that, that, like, has a big "Buy Me Now!" on it, and you know, is like,

Michele Hansen
Yeah.

Colleen Schnettler
I think of it as is like that, but you're basically using that definition to encompass anything that they land on.

Michele Hansen  15:44 
Yeah, I guess so. I, you know, I, you know, again, I'm, you know, so I also I like I think of content marketing, like I feel like we don't really do content marketing.

Actually, before the pandemic, I was super jazzed about starting a whole content marketing initiative, kind of like, do you know, the site Priceonomics? So they are this, I think they're a Y Combinator company. They're like a data studio. And they will write all these really interesting, quirky articles on things that they find in their customers data when they're analyzing it. And my idea was kind of to do something similar with all of the address data that we find.

So like, for example, in South Carolina, there are towns named Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway, all right next to each other. So like, just kind of like writing articles about things like that, like I even came up with some cutesy names for it. Like, I really wanted to name it CurioCities, like, cities. Ah, but somebody had already taken that night, then I came up with some other name and forgot it. So that was very productive. Um, yeah, I wanted to do stuff like that. And then, you know, the pandemic hit and, and just everything fell apart, in terms of voluntary initiatives nevermind, you know, barely staying on top of the stuff that you have to get done.

Colleen Schnettler
Yeah.

Michele Hansen
I would love to do something like that and do more, like creative writing, I think that's also something I struggle with, with doing. SEO writing is it's just not. It's not very fun. You know, it brings people to us. And so it's necessary, but I enjoy creative writing. And so I would like to do that. But it's also, it's harder to justify from a business perspective, like it's fun, but like, is that really going to bring in customers, but then again, we're bootstrapped. We don't have to focus just on the bottom line. And if I want to do something fun, that's basically a side project within our main product, then, you know, I'm my own boss, I can do that.

Colleen Schnettler  17:58 
Awesome.

Michele Hansen
Anyway, what's going on with you?

Colleen Schnettler
Well, for those who are just joining us, I am in the process of launching my first product. So last week, I had a couple customer potential customer interviews, yeah, which was really fun. I've really enjoyed it. One of the people I spoke with is actually using it now. So I know, that's pretty exciting.

And it's interesting, because the way I've written it, it doesn't work with React, which is a modern front end framework. And one of the guys like, just kind of hacked the JavaScript to make it work with his stuff. And he's like, cool, I'm gonna try it out. So that was really exciting. And so now there's two people using it, me and this other guy. And it's funny, because as soon as, you know, he was like, "Oh, I'm gonna use this!" I was like, great. And then of course, I thought of all these things, I was like, Oh, I gotta do this, I got to do this, I got to do this. And--

Michele Hansen  19:00 
Were those new features or like, things that you...?

Colleen Schnettler  19:02 
know, so it's stuff on my end.

Michele Hansen
Okay.

Colleen Schnettler
So I had, I have focused so much on getting it working, which is great. It works great. As far as I can tell, no problems yet. But as you know, as you know, I kind of didn't pay too much attention about tracking everything, not tracking everything. That's not the right word, too much attention about how I'm going to charge the customer eventually, and things like that. And so, for example, I keep track of all of the storage each customer uses, but I don't get I don't email myself every day, like how I don't have any automatic stop gaps if they go over their limit, you know, I don't have anything like that. And it's, you know, so just kind of like things like that. I was like, Oh, I should probably I should probably figure that out before I actually get too many people using this.

So yeah, so just like back and stuff like that, like should I email myself every day so I can keep track of what everyone's doing? Should I just check my dashboard? Should I put an automatic stop gap if you know, someone uses too much storage, things like that. So nothing like super crazy important right now. But as I do ramp up, I need to kind of have that sorted out. Because you know, it's storage. Like it's not, it's not free.

Michele Hansen  20:24 
So, yeah, I think it's basically like, you know, buying yourself insurance to protect from that downside risk of somebody running away with it. And that doesn't really matter if nobody is using it. So it makes sense for you to not build that before the launch.

Colleen Schnettler  20:43 
Yeah, cool. I agree. That's why I didn't. And again, it's just, it's, it's not, it's certainly manageable now where I can, you know, just look, every day, I have about five people who have like, signed up, remember, I told you, since I'm first releasing it in the Heroku, add on marketplace, I need 10 people to sign up. But I have not, I can easily get the other five. So I am not worried about that. I'm not worried about getting that number to that number 10. But all I need to do to get it to beta. And beta is when like, I can accept everyone and I'm show up in the what they call the Elements Marketplace, which is the Heroku Marketplace. So I have to get all my documentation done to so I did a couple customer interviews, I got a couple people signed up. And now I want to like fix a few things. Nothing that impacts a customer, but like stuff on my side, like I said, like I you know, like basic stuff, like how am I going to track this. And then it's just the documentation. And they have really extensive requirements for documentation.

Oh!  I remember what I want to tell you! This was really cool. So remember, when I told you I was like, you know, my documentation is really terrible. Like this is this is not going to work. But it was, it was really nice, because the couple people I spoke with on the phone, our developers, and they figured it out in like two seconds. Like, I don't have to explain anything, it was so great. Just because I'm so used to as a as like a consultant, I have technical customers, but I also have a lot of non-technical customers so I'm used to like having to explain things in intricate detail to, you know, help my non-technical customers kind of understand. So it was kind of cool, because I was like really prepared to go into intricate detail. And the people I spoke with, like they had it sorted out in like a second, they were like, "Hey, I just add this thing and this thing, and I'm good." And I thought, you know, it's like, oh, this is gonna be hard to explain, because there's like five steps, it was fine. So that was good.

Michele Hansen  22:43 
And you're like talking about SEO, our documentation is consistently one of our top ranked pages. Because when people are searching for how to do something, that is the page that is describes how to do something, and absolutely, the way to do that thing, once you find the product should be as intuitive as possible. And that's such a great sign that like it was so intuitive for them to figure it out. But the documentation is, is almost more marketing than it is user onboarding.

Colleen Schnettler  23:16 
That's interesting. I never thought about that. But that makes total sense. I think that's one of the good things about starting because like my app is set up, that I can just like change a few things. And it can be out in the wild. Like I don't have to go through the Heroku add on our marketplace. But I like it because for like a first step, because it's really constraining me in these ways. And I know, if I wasn't doing it, I'd be like, "Oh, it's good enough. And I just feel like it's free into the world." And I think it's going to take a while to write all the documentation they require. So I think the discipline of that is gonna to your point, like down the road, I'll have it right then I'll always have it once I write it.

Michele Hansen  23:55 
That's a great thing that like you, you can start out on the Heroku Marketplace, but you're not necessarily tethered to it.

Colleen Schnettler  24:04 
Yeah. Oh, not at all like I which is which is exciting, which is good for long term.

Michele Hansen  24:10 
I mean, too often, you know, see products that are really dependent on a particular platform. And it'd be so great to use a platform or a marketplace to get a product off the ground. But whenever I come across the those products or have people ask me for advice on those products, I always come back to the saying of "Don't build your house on someone else's lawn." Like if you can't decouple your product from that marketplace or that platform, or they would make you know, any any change and you would be cut off or significantly impacted. That's a really dangerous place to be and so it's, it's so good that you're starting out on the platform, but you can see future off of that platform and you were not going to be dependent on the Heroku Marketplace, even though it will be a good place for you to launch and get customers and whatnot, you can survive without it.

Colleen Schnettler  25:12 
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I just feel like I've just been like heads down working, working working, right. I have a lot going on, which is exciting and fun. And there's a lot, you know, more I got to do. But I don't know, two weeks, maybe, maybe that's my goal to be in review by the Heroku team to be in beta, which would be really exciting. So that's, that is my goal. I'm speaking it aloud.

It's funny, because I always feel like we have our podcast recording, and I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I have a whole week, I'm gonna get all these things done. And then the following week, it's like two days before we're going to record and I'm like, oh, shoot, where did my time go? Like, did I get enough done? So I don't know. Time flies, I guess is my point. But, uh, yeah, so I think two weeks is kind of a realistic goal for like, applying for beta. Yeah, so it's exciting. Like, I'm pumped.

Michele Hansen  26:08 
I'm excited for you.

Colleen Schnettler
Thanks.

Michele Hansen
You've been working towards this for for so long, just not just this particular product, but working towards having a launch and having a user of something that you made. And I just sort of have to ask you like, how does that feel to finally have something that somebody else that someone else is using?

Colleen Schnettler  26:31 
It feels amazing. Like, honestly, I know, I know, the advice from from everyone and yourself included is to talk to a bunch of people before you build something. And I know why people give that advice. Like, that is great advice, you should absolutely find a market before you build something. But I think it's easy for aspiring entrepreneurs to get stuck in this cycle of never making kind of any progress. And sometimes this is more of like a small win. So like, it's funny, because when I tell my friends, this is my like, product, my non-technical friends, they are like, so underwhelmed. They're like, so you can put images on the internet, like, doesn't everyone already do that? You know, they expect me to be making something big and amazing. And I'm like, I get it, I get it's not sexy, but it's, for me, it's a stepping stone, like it's a small thing I was able to build in my extra, I don't want to say spare time, but you know, kind of in my extra time, put it in a marketplace. So it takes care of a lot of the overhead details and someone's using it and hopefully more people will be using it. And that is such a huge win. Like it just feels feel so good.

Michele Hansen  27:44 
I feel like can hear the relief of I don't it's like relief or just like excitement. Like it's like relief that you're finally feeling that feeling.

Colleen Schnettler  27:55 
Yeah. I mean, and everyone is like, you know, you've read people are sending me this videos about the SaaS slow on ramp of death or whatever that video is everyone loves. And that's, that's interesting, like, and I get it, but like not my problem right now. And these are like all good things to learn when you actually have people using your stuff. Right? So I mean, ask me again, in five years, maybe I'll be like, oh, that image thing was a waste of my time. But I don't think so. Because I think for some of us, it's just important to get going and you got to get out of your own head. You got to put something out there. And if it's a flop, it's a flop and you learn from it. And so like it does, it kind of does feel like relief. Right? Like, okay, this is a little thing I can do. You know, it's out there, almost out there. Like, that's really cool. That's so cool. I'm excited. I still have a lot of work to do, like I said, to get it out of this, like invite only phase. But it feels manageable. Right? Like, like when you're thinking of a new idea, and it feels like this big, huge thing. And it's just you and you have all these other responsibilities, like you know, work, kids family, I think you can start and then you stop because you get overwhelmed because it's just not like a manageable thing. Right? It's too much. So like, this widget is like a manageable thing. And, you know, it's I don't know, it just feels great to have something out there.

Michele Hansen  29:21 
You know, in the same way that like Alex Hillman and Amy Hoy talk about Stacking the Bricks in terms of a product and businesses right and slowly leveling up, I think the same applies emotionally and to one's own energy right? And like you're taking the energy and enthusiasm and motivation that you are getting from this very small product, this one brick, and using it to either improve that one product or maybe send you off in another direction that adds to that but taking that little tiny bit of motivation and allowing that to propel you and knowing that, you know, maybe this isn't going to be a huge company, you none of us are, you know, even trying to build a huge company in the first place, right, but that little bit of motivation and that feeling of accomplishment, and just building those on top of one another is so, so powerful.

Colleen Schnettler  30:23 
Yeah, I totally agree. Like, that's what it feels like. It feels like a little brick. But it's a big brick for me. And I need that to keep me motivated.

Michele Hansen  30:33 
It's your first brick! Well, actually, no, it's not your first brick because you're consulting. So that's you have some,

Colleen Schnettler  30:37 
I guess consulting was the first brick right.

Michele Hansen  30:39 
I don't know if they're bricks. Maybe those are two by fours. I'm not quite --- I'm, I'm getting lost in this metaphor here. But I'm excited, I'm excited for you two weeks from now, looking at my calendar, looking at my calendar, writing it down. Ask Colleen about the stuff she said two weeks ago. Till halfway through your goal.

Colleen Schnettler
And halfway through my goal.

Colleen Schnettler  31:07 
We'd love to hear what you think of the episode. You can tweet at us at softwaresocpod and we will chat with you next week.


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