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Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. In this interview I want to find out how a site that was launched on WordPress is now doing over a million monthly visitors. Derek Flanzraich is the founder of Greatist, a health and media startup dedicated to inspiring and informing the world to make healthier choices. I invited him here to talk about how he built up his company. Hey, Derek.
Derek: Hey, Andrew. Good to be here.
Andrew: How many unique visitors are you now doing on a monthly basis? I think the number has gone up since my notes, right?
Derek: We’re at just under two million uniques per month now.
Andrew: Just under two million uniques, and they come over to the site and they get what?
Derek: We’d like to think how among the highest quality fitness, health and happiness content that includes tips, news, recipes, work-outs. Anything somebody 18 through 35 years old would need to know about preventative health.
Andrew: What about revenue? I see traffic, but what size revenue are you guys doing?
Derek: We’ve been basically ignoring it. The idea has been, ‘Build a meaningful brand and audience in a space that has traditionally been very easy to make money the easy way.’ We think we do it the hard way now so that in the long run we can build the trusted brand.
Andrew: The easy way is what in your space?
Derek: Health and wellness is an industry that’s famous, maybe infamous, for shady affiliate links and shitty eBooks. We take the extreme opposite angle of that, and we don’t do any of that and every fact decided by a pub med study, a scientific study, every article is approved by multiple experts. We’re obsessed. We have a chief research officer on our team. We’re obsessed with making it high quality, but it’s fun to read and super sharable.
Andrew: It really is. One of the things that I’ve learned from you is how to make stuff more sharable. Where did this idea come from?
Derek: It was just my own frustration. I’d been starting media related things my entire very short life, and all the things that I’ve started, middle school, high school and college have stuck around much bigger and better than I left them. I realized at the end of college that this was what I was stuck with and this was the hand I was dealt and this is what I was going to do for the rest of my life, and I joined a startup out in San Francisco called Clicker. They sold to CBS for triple figure millions, reportedly, and I started Greatist. Greatist came out of my own personal frustration sucking at health and wellness. I was into it, but I just [??] at it and didn’t understand why I was having so much trouble finding out what things I should be doing in a space in which so many people seemed to know what they were doing. And especially when so many people seemed to know what they’re doing, why was I struggling?
Andrew: Were you fat? Were you out of shape? What was the deal?
Derek: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, I definitely. I wouldn’t. I was never 350 pounds or anything. I was definitely a chubby kid growing up. But, I’d say it was more about listening to people and taking their advice when they shouldn’t have been the people I was listening to or reading something online that I read and believed that I shouldn’t have.
Andrew: Do you have any examples that you heard and believe and you don’t know is just stupid?
Derek: Yeah. So many things. In L. A. one summer, I asked a trainer. He was just there in the gym and really fit. What I could do to lose some weight and he recommended that I drink muscle milk. Muscle milk is sort of a, it’s like a ready made protein smoothie and it is not something you would drink to lose weight. It’s just like the opposite of what you would drink. And, maybe he was joking. I don’t know. But, I drank two or three a day for an entire summer. Like an idiot. And, you know, at the end of the summer, I was like well I didn’t really lose any weight. Maybe this thing with my 300 calories and all these sugar and carbs is what’s done it. So, you know, look, that was probably an honest mistake but it really kind of hit home this idea that it is hard to know what to trust and it got me really thinking about what it would mean to build something that people could trust. So, I became, I began talking about it a lot and my friends started turning to me for help. You know, I had a friend who just a high school friend of mine who was always very small and he started asking me for my workouts. I said, “Look. I don’t know what I’m doing, but here’s the workout that I do.” And he left for some kind of long break and the next time I saw him he was, you know, big and stronger. And I said, “What did you do?” And he said, “Oh, I just did what you told me lots of time.” And, so I saw the difference I could make in people’s lives and I was just surprised that they were turning to me for help.
Andrew: Let me ask this though.
Andrew: Creating good content is tough in this space because you’re right it’s full of charlatans who are trying to sell you some junk. But, getting traffic even if you have high-quality content is really difficult. It should scare off a lot of people from starting media companies because it’s, there’s so many people out there doing it, yelling at the same audience. Did you have any experience? I see here on your LinkedIn profile that I click here. You were an associate marketing manager. Is that where you figured out how to get traffic? Where’d you learn?
Derek: Yeah. You know, the true answer is probably my personal blog. I wrote in my personal blog in order to just get a job out of college and I had everything. I started middle school, I started a school newspaper and high school, I started this online political forum and political newsletter. In college, I started an online TV show and then an online TV network. So, all of it was media related and all of it was about finding an audience.
Andrew: Let’s go back to that bit about how to find an audience. Even as far back as, you went to Harvard and the video I think was kind of like an American Idol type of show?
Derek: Yeah, no. We did like a daily show for Harvard news.
Derek: I mean, you know, we managed to convince half the college to watch it every time it came out every two weeks. And, I don’t think that you could convince half a college to do anything.
Andrew: So, how, what was it that you learned back then? What did you do that you said, ‘Aha, I think I know one of the levers at least for getting traffic?
Derek: Yeah. Well, one of them was using humor and making it entertaining. So, obviously, we’re doing like a daily show. So, it was humorous. It was about a topic that was super relevant to the student body because they were the student body of the college we were talking about. I actually think that that humor and relevancy is super important even today we try to use these two skills. The other thing was finding where people were. So, that like major distribution platform we used back then were listservs. Just email lists for the house of the different residential houses because that’s where the students were. And, basically, we learned to spam it. Like, you know, not in a terrible way, but in a way every time, the episodes came out, really sort of hitting home that this was something that people should watch.
Andrew: How did you get on? How did you get those guys to allow you to email their audience?
Derek: Well, we had, we built out a team of like sixty students. So, students were in every single house and so we would sometimes, if we didn’t have a house that we had a representative at, we would try and go and recruit some. You know, writer over there.
Andrew: Gotcha. Now that there’ over there, they have the ability to message the whole group. And boom you now have access to more audience.
Derek: Yeah, you know, in a funny way, it’s no different than social media today, right? It’s no different than finding people in a certain Reddit community, sub-Reddit that are active and influential and asking them for help. Not knowing anything, we figured out how to do that and, to some extent, Clicker also. At some point that was my job to help the growth hacking thing.
Andrew: Let’s not pass by that. Clicker was founded by Jim Lanzone. He did an interview here about that company on how he built it up. Sold very quickly. I still use it. When I want to find a deal online, ‘Do I go to Amazon? Do I go to Netflix? I just want to watch this freaking thing.’ Clicker’s like the Internet’s TV Guide. What did you do there? What kind of growth hacking tactics did you have for them?
Derek: It was an interesting time when I joined the company. I joined the company less than six months before they sold to CBS. They were trying to decide whether they wanted to sell the company or had decided already. I showed up two months out of college after they had hired me to a very different startup than the one that had hired. I got the job because of my personal blog where I’d been writing about digital media. Same kind of stuff, but writing about digital media and using this online TV experience that I had and began [??] very popular blog posts hitting the top of Hacker News. That was my real taste of online success.
Andrew: For Clicker, you hit the top of Hacker News?
Derek: When I joined Clicker, the first thing I did, I got into a lot of trouble for this. I wrote this big post about, looking back on it, it was a douchy post, but I didn’t mean it to be douchy. I just didn’t know any better. I was writing this post about how I graduated from Harvard. I turned down this job at Google and went to join this exciting startup. It was how I’m entrepreneurial and telling that story. The idea was I wanted to promote Clicker. I wanted to show up and them just say, ‘You, already, day one brought so much attention and traffic.’ I was [??]. It got picked up by Business Insider which, nothing like that had ever happened to me. Then the San Francisco Chronicle reprinted it on their blog. A lot of people saw it. I didn’t get all my [??] facts straight and then Clicker said, ‘We hired you, so you have to pass this by us in the future.’ They were surprised by the attention. It probably didn’t hurt that it was, I didn’t mean it to be bombastic. I meant it to help people, but I also was right out of college and didn’t know what I was doing.
Andrew: Was it, this post. I didn’t read the post, but what you’re saying is that you feel like you acted like you knew it all in the post?
Derek: No. The reason why people took [??] because I was like, “Screw that college I went to and screw Google. I’m joining this hot, sexy startup.” People said, “You’re so blessed and lucky to do all those things. Don’t look down on the people who made those decisions.” They’re right, ultimately. That’s not how I meant it. I meant it to help give people the balls to do the startup things. It was very well intentioned, but it might not have come across perfectly. The point was that it was my first real taste of how writing good content, I think it was good. It was a little controversial, but it was good. It had a great title, which is still so super important, and it got that attention and got published by these big publishers, and then it got me all these emails from big people saying, “What are you doing? What’s happening? This is so exciting.” At some very small level it was my first [??], trying to hack the social media platforms and trying to make the most of it with content.
Andrew: You have this idea. Have a little bit of background getting traffic, but frankly, not that much. I really expected coming into this interview that you would [??], especially I think I might have seen too much in your LinkedIn profile. Looked at it and go, “Oh, maybe he did it for Clicker.” No. Very little, but you had a passion for this topic, and you had this belief that this needed to get done, and one of the first things you did was you emailed certain people. This is before you even launched?
Andrew: Can you tell the audience who you emailed and what happened?
Derek: Decided I wanted to do this thing. Obsessed with building this brand people could trust and [??]. Felt there was a super big void so I [??] few friends to write for me for free and we started working on it, but we didn’t launch anything, and the idea was creating great content at the total extreme of everything else, and start building that brand, but we didn’t release any of it. We had two months, or something like that, before we even launched. In the meantime, I decided that one way that we would launch and get the initial traction and attention would be to have influencers mention us. Because we have this sort of runway and lead time, I decided to go and ask them for help. So, I wrote down a list of 100 influencers in the space. I mean, I knew the space pretty well, but it took some research, and I emailed 100 influencers, every single person who sort of has an idea in fitness, health, and happiness. The email basically said I’m trying to start this brand, People’s Trust. It was personalized to each of them. I really like the way that you connect with your audience through using humor, but using such information that’s grounded in so much science. We’re trying to do something similar. Do you have any advice for me? And email will work, or you can even, if you have the time to make a call, that would be great. So we sent it to 100 of them. This probably took me a weekend. I really wrote personalized emails to all of them.
Andrew: Can you give me a few examples of these people?
Derek: Yeah. Basically, everybody in the space. I mean, Tara Parker-Pope, who’s a writer for the New York Times, Mary Nestle, who’s famous for her Food Politics blog and writes basically on all kind of political issues around food. You know, a bunch of fitness guys like John Romaniello and a bunch of other ones. Basically, anyone who had an audience, and I followed up a few times, and by the end of probably two to three follow ups, 70% of them had responded in some way.
Andrew: So, 70%, you’re saying, responded in some way? You’re asking them just for advice?
Derek: Yeah, just for help. Just what they thought, and you know, a specific thing that was relevant to what they were good at. Yeah. Even though the idea was turn these influencers into kind of stakeholders, and also maybe get some cool advice, you know, in the meantime.
Andrew: You’re feeling like, if they help you now they’re going to feel connected to the project? They’re going to want your site to succeed and your business to do well?
Derek: Yeah. I mean, I believed what we were doing was really good. I genuinely believed it, and I genuinely wanted their help, and I also genuinely wanted them to know what we were doing so that when we did come out, they felt some kind of ownership of it.
Andrew: Sorry. Can you give me an example of someone who responded especially well? Give me a sense of what’s possible if we do something like this.
Derek: Sure. I mean, 70% responded. Many of them we still kept in touch with very closely. After probably like a year, a year and a half since we launched, one of them was an investor in our seed round. Probably somewhere between 10 and 20 are experts in our expert network, and we regularly talk to them, and nearly all of them shared our stuff when we launched, and lots of them continue to share our stuff. So, we’re no longer this random competitor to them, which we never intended to be for them. We’re no longer this random blog that no one has ever heard of. Instead, we’re this thing that’s started by Derek, this guy that they interacted with way back, and they have some kind of a piece of that history. One of the main tactics we used to build our audience is we think of friends and those relationships as just another tool, like email and like social, because they have a following that often times we can’t reach. That following are the people we want following our blog. They’ve already expressed an interest in these topics. So, they help us reach them.
Andrew: Did these experts who you reached out to, did they give you testimonials or anything that could help you with your credibility as a new entrepreneur of a new site?
Derek: Yeah. So, the idea was we wanted from day one to look like we’ve been around for five years and we’re the most trusted resource on the web. So, no testimonials for us. We had built up, stockaded, like two months of content, very purposefully. So, we did have a lot of responses when people came to our site that said “How have I missed this? How long have you guys been around?” So, we were trying. Even though the influencers might have known that we were a new site, the people who they were broadcasting it to may not have. We weren’t trying to [??] them, in this space it’s very hard to build trust and one of the ways to lose it is to be the new kid on the block. We wanted to not look like the new kid on the block, at the very least.
Andrew: For the record, by the way, I’ve done interviews with people who’ve sold the scammy stuff because I wanted to find out how they built their businesses. I love doing those stories. I understand not wanting to be associated with them and being disgusted that they’re in your space because when you go to a party and you tell people that you’re in health and fitness they say, ‘I don’t want to buy those eBooks with acai berries.’ Those guys do well. It’s tempting, I imagine, to try to do something like that.
Derek: I have to admit that I also watch them. I find it super interesting. A lot of the tactics they use are tactics, there are not that many ways to make money on the Internet. There are not that many ways to make money, period. At some level we will do similar style things. We will sell some kind of products. We will connect people in some way to other people. There aren’t that many ways to do it. The ways that they do it are interesting. The tactics, we might do similar things, but the product has to be super high quality. For us, we’re building Greatist because we think people deserve better and because I was frustrated that there was no place I could turn to on a reliable basis and trust. Everyone on my team, everybody is here because we think that that needs to exist and that we’ve got the opportunity to build that brand. The defining health and wellness brand that people can rely on.
Andrew: On a scammy level, who do you especially, not admire, but who’s especially impressive?
Derek: You know who’s really good? Dr. Mercola.
Andrew: Who is he and what’s so good about him?
Derek: You can make a lot of money from supplements. He is a doctor and he sells supplements and his emails are the only kind of scammy style emails that I can’t help but open because his subject headlines are so good. I wonder when he sends these supplements and these products, I wonder. He’s a doctor. He’s a real guy. I don’t know how trusted Dr. Mercola is so I don’t mean to call him a scam artist because I’m not sure he is. I don’t really know.
Andrew: That’s the problem. You can’t tell who’s what. [??] his marketing is especially impressive. You want to keep reading it.
Derek: Especially because he’s a doctor. We, from day one, one of the things that really frustrates me about health and wellness is that at the end of, if they cite some expert and they involve some expert in most articles in every publication across the web in health and wellness, they’ll, just at the end, mention some trainer or some doctor who agrees. This [??] bothered me because you can find a doctor or a trainer who agrees with basically anything. We, for example, in our articles, it’s at least two experts approving every single one, and we also have our own expert network in which it’s super highly curated. Only people we turn to. That was our angle to be very [??] against that, but these small indicators and signals of trust are really big and especially tough if you’re a startup. I’m not a doctor. I don’t pretend to be an expert. I’m like everyone else, struggling to make ease [??], make these healthier choices one at a time. Nobody on our direct full time staff is a doctor or a trainer or a dietician. Many have degrees in related fields, but we rely on our experts for that. We’re just the translators. We do the research. All of our writers are research nerds. We do the research. We summarize it in a way that makes sense, and that’s fun and, most importantly, useful and actionable. Then we turn to our experts to make sure that we were absolutely 100 percent verified. We don’t publish an article unless it gets two thumbs up from both experts.
Andrew: I want to get to how you [??] to the traffic because that’s the impressive part that I wanted to do the interview about. We’re talking about a site that’s about a year old that’s kicking my butt as far as traffic, frankly. You don’t have a writing background. How did you find the writers who are going to create this content?
Derek: Originally I just asked my friends who I thought were really good at writing.
Andrew: Did you [??]?
Derek: I did not. The only amount of money we spent in the first two months of Greatist was $500 on design, design of the website.
Derek: We weren’t making any money. I wasn’t sure that this would ever become something with just content that could make enough money [??]. I always knew that that was always step one of what we’re doing. I didn’t want to [??] lots of money. The other thing was that throughout my life I had convinced people to work for free. In many ways my experience at college starting one student organization from zero to 60 students, another from zero to, seemed like, 350 students, all my TV network for the college, convinced me that getting volunteers is so much better than paying people.
Derek: Because they care about what you’re doing, and there’s this real, for what we’re doing, it’s very hard. All startups are hard. That we write content. Think very much of ourselves as a startup, and convincing people to work for very little money, or no money, is very hard, and if you convince them, it means they’re in it for something else. I love that. I love the idea that we were creating an online TV show at my university because people genuinely thought it was important that we do it. The students were learning how to run a camera, something they’d never done before, purely because they thought it was important that we poke and satirize the university. Here it’s no different, except the difference is it’s bigger and more meaningful. We want to help people think of health and wellness in a healthier way. When we interview people for new jobs, if they don’t believe extraordinarily, passionately in this vision of the future and want to have a hand in shaping it regardless of their experience, we don’t hire them.
Andrew: Why spend the money on design? If you’re going to spend it on anything, why is design so important to you?
Derek: It all comes back to trust. Of [??] the indicators that we could control, no certifications. We don’t have years and years of time to build it. What could we control? The answer was the quality of the content, which was something I could do, and we as writers, my writing team could figure out, but the design we couldn’t do ourselves. The design using every example from Minute.com where you would be entering your credit card information and never blink, wondering whether it was really secure, to every website we see now on the Internet that focuses on design is such an important signal of trust and that, to us, was the key thing that we were willing to spend some money on.
Andrew: I mentioned at the top of the interview that you guys launched on WordPress. Most people who consider WordPress, or who I even recommend WordPress to, will say, ‘I’m not a blogger. That’s too simple. I have a much bigger vision, Andrew.’ They act like I insult their idea by even suggesting WordPress. Why didn’t you feel insulted when you considered WordPress and instead you actually launched on it?
Derek: We didn’t want to spend any money. That was step one. I had worked with WordPress on my personal blog. I knew that it was, to my knowledge, the most flexible, popular platform. We also didn’t have a Dev team. I was doing, and up until relatively recently was doing, a shocking percentage of the Dev work. I don’t have any experience doing that, I just would figure it out. I was familiar with it, and I knew there were enough forums on the web that if we ran into problems I could fix it. They’re some pretty embarrassing episodes very early in our history when suddenly we got all this traffic, and I had no idea what to do when the site went down. I had no idea what tactic to take if we had some kind of spam or some kind of attack or something. It all got worked out, but it was just a platform that I was comfortable with. We’re still on WordPress. We’re switching to Drupal at the end of this year. We’re doing a big site redesign and adding a community, which is another [??].
Andrew: Why’d you decide that instead of, what was the community feature that WordPress has? I forget.
Derek: We just want to do something a little different. We want to be a little more customized. We want a little more flexibility in the future. It took us a year and a half to get to that point. The other thing is that the Dev team that we’ve built now like Drupal. So, you know, it’s what are they comfortable with. Again, similar to me. Similar to my experience. Give people the tools that they are most comfortable with.
Andrew: Why stock so much content? In retrospect, do you think it would have been better if you would have written it as you were publishing it so you could get feedback from the audience and write to that feedback instead of anticipating what they would want?
Derek: Yeah, so I would say typically the answer to that would be yes, that would be the better idea. I think in our case absolutely not. I think that the health and wellness space is just too full of shitty content and if, look, and honestly looking back at our stuff we were trying so hard not to make our content bad. We were trying to make it be absolutely extreme opposite but we didn’t know what we were doing. We’d never done this before and it took us around two months to get to a point where we thought we were good enough. And then, we went back and systematically updated it and by the way, we even continued to update all our content. We’re probably, I think, the only site that I know of in at least health and wellness that just goes back and updates with new studies, you know, new jokes. Whatever it is. We go back and redo these articles.
Andrew: Update the old articles?
Derek: Yeah. Absolutely.
Andrew: All right. So you’re launched. You have a philosophy. You have content. You have nice design. You have a platform that you can easily adjust and build on. It’s time to get traffic. Do you remember your first effort to get traffic? What happened?
Derek: Yeah, so, you know, the first was reaching out to all those influencers and then I think we probably through it up on Hacker News.
Andrew: Influencers? Before we continue. What kind of impact did they have on traffic?
Derek: It was, that was the probably the major source of our traffic for our first few months was sort of followers we gained through that. We struggled. Kind of floundered around. We did great. Out of the gate, people really enjoyed our content and started coming back and people started finding us and enjoying what we were doing. Probably mostly due to those influences.
Andrew: So, influencers would say, ‘Hey, I gave this guy, Derek, some advice. He asked me some feedback. I like him. He’s a good guy. He launched. Of course, I’ve got to Tweet. So, I’m going to Tweet. Maybe I’m going to put it on Facebook too. What’s the most kind of promotion that you got from this?
Derek: I mean, you know. Facebook. Twitter. And you know, maybe a blog post.
Derek: Where they mentioned us in some way. And, you know, and then we just continued those relationships. We would share relevant articles and stuff like that so it was probably. We launched in April. In June, I moved to. I was living in San Francisco, moved to New York and hired people. I felt like there was enough attention that we had to get a little serious about this. We hired three people, moved into my apartment. And actually, three of us. Three of the four of us lived in that apartment. Classic sort of start up story. And, we started to write more content. The idea was if we write more content at the same quality, more people will come. It didn’t really happen and we started getting very worried. And, November of last year, so exactly a year ago, was our worst month yet. Worse than our first month. To put it in perspective, yesterday, we had 35,000 unique visitors more than we did the entire month of November last year. So, it’s not very much and we started getting very scared. And, began wondering what was wrong and talk about it how we could become more relevant to our audience, going back to sort of, I didn’t really realize this but it makes so much sense. Back at school, we were asking the same question. We were saying, you know in college, how do we be more relevant to the student body? And, we were thinking the same. How do we become more relevant to our audience and narrow our audience. So, we made a pretty ballsy kind of decision to focus only on 18 to 35 year olds. The idea, being up until then, that we wanted to be the health and wellness resource for everyone which in retrospect that was silly. But at the time that was, you know, genuinely what we wanted to be. But, we wrote about it in the fresh young voice and we just hadn’t committed. So, we decided to commit and a part of that conversation was where are these 18 to 35 year olds? Again, much like what I had done previously whether they’re at Clicker or whether at colleges, you know, where is this audience we’re trying to reach and so the answer was social media. And so we started getting very aggressive as a team and proactive on social media and began playing with this thing called Pinterest, which was just growing at the time, people had started talking about it, trying to find where are the people who are sharing health and fitness stuff? Where are they sharing food and drink? It turns out that on Pinterest the third and fourth most popular categories were those two topics. So we went all in and we started amping up our visuals. We found tons of contributing photographers. We started writing about content that we thought would be relevant to that crowd. Pinterest was a huge, huge, sort of sparker plug for us. We kind of grew with them.
Andrew: How do you use Pinterest to get traffic back to your site, to Greatist.com.
Derek: Yeah. A bunch of ways. One is just doing visuals. Part of that is our contributing photographers and illustrators. Some of our in-house team does it. Creating relevant content, paying very close attention to what people share and repin.
If people repin a lot of stuff, we don’t just share our stuff. If we share somebody else’s and that gets very popular, we say, “What is it about this topic that is relevant to this crowd?” The idea was billed be definitive resources on these things, right?
Derek: If we want to be the guide for people to go to to help them make these healthier choices, we need to create very micro, small resources for them to come to.
The other way that we played with was putting the names of the titles in the photos, themselves. For recipes on Pinterest, it’s obvious people will click. Basically, Pinterest is, if you don’t know, it’s sort of a like pin board. There’s all these visuals and people create these pin boards and then add the photos they want. They don’t necessarily click on them, they’re actually just kind of collecting them. The recipes, people will click because they want the recipe, and they assume behind this image of this food that looks delicious there is a recipe.
Andrew: On that topic, I’m checking out your traffic stats, and I’m checking out your Pinterest. So, yes, even if I go to Alexa and do a quick search, I can see that your number one source of traffic is Pinterest.com, and it’s for category equals health fitness. I went into that.
I see here, for example, Hope, a woman, who I guess is a fan of yours, just repinned something that Megan posted. It’s a collection of these beautiful, healthy foods called healthy detox foods. So, what happens is Hope’s friends and Megan’s friends see that, and everyone else who’s looking for health and fitness will see it and come to your site and get to a post called “19 Ways to Detox Your Diet.”
That’s the process. The reason that all this happened is because at the very top you have this beautiful photo of foods. The title is “Detox Foods.” Do I have this right?
Derek: Yeah. There are lots of different ways to do it. We’ve tried all kinds. One is a general image with the headline, the topic of the article. Yeah. We would probably write something like, “The 19 Ways,” like, “The Only. . . ” All of our lists are comprehensive and exhaustive, so the idea is like, “The Only Ways to Detox Your Diet,” or something like that. Right?
As an example to use, we have this. Probably one of our most popular articles is “The 88 Healthy Recipe Substitutions,” so, all of them. Literally, I challenge people to come up with new ones. We’re going to update it in the next few weeks, it’s been about a year since we put it out, with these new ones. It will be like 92, or something like that.
The way we would share it on Pinterest is, one, put the title inside of a photo. Right? It would literally say, “88 Healthy Recipe Substitutions.”
Andrew: Ah, I see. Or “22 Kettlebell Exercises.”
Derek: Exactly. Yeah, so that’s one way. That’s a really obvious way and it works wonders. I’d like to think that we made that up. I’m not sure if that’s true. Maybe some other people were doing it on Pinterest, but basically, I was sitting around saying, “Look, no one’s clicking on these things. How do we get them to click? Oh, we should just tell them there’s stuff behind it.”
The other way to do it is to share different photos from within the article and then say, “Peanut butter and 87 Other Healthy Recipe Substitutions.” So, you see that beautiful photo, you share it, and then you notice that there is, in the language itself, there’s more if you want more where that came from.
Andrew: By the way, this one, “19 Ways to Detox Your Diet,” was pinned 821 times.
Andrew: That’s insane. In comparison, Google+, of course, only three. Twitter, 35. Twitter, that we think of as massive, 35 shares there, Pinterest, 821. Here’s the other thing I’ve learned by going over to Alexa. You get a lot of traffic from “high protein snacks”, as a phrase, Kettlebell Workouts. In fact if I put those search terms into Twitter, into Google, “high protein snacks”, for example, you guys are the first result.
Derek: Yeah, we come up very high. Yeah.
Andrew: You’ve been (?) SEO? Who does your SEO?
Derek: Me. We, yeah, I mean, I did a little SEO when I was at Clicker, but I’m not going to lie. My whole belief about SEO comes down to a very simple metaphor, which is that if you are opening gifts under your Christmas tree, before you know it’s, how good the gift is, you’re going to open the one that has the best wrapping. And so, my belief about SEO is you just wrap it as well as everyone else is, and then if your gift is the best, Google will pop it up to the top. So, Google search makes up ten to fifteen, maybe, percent of our total traffic right now, and social is 60, 60%, roughly 60%.
Andrew: And of all of social, what’s number one?
Andrew: And what percentage of your overall traffic would you say comes from Pinterest?
Derek: It’s probably roughly 20, 25, maybe. (?) The truth is that StumbleUpon and Facebook and Reddit, but StumbleUpon and Facebook come pretty close to Pinterest now. Pinterest is still our number one, but yeah, those are probably our biggest ones. but yeah, I mean, with Google search, we just think we’re providing the best, best quality content, and people link to it because it is. And so it’s taken us a little while, but we rank for some pretty amazing, awesome phrases, and (crosstalk).
Andrew: “Fitness business”, you seem to run for.
Andrew: Health blogs, I guess. Alright, so I, you’re still figuring this stuff out in the early days.
Andrew: You’re still trying to get a handle on it. What else in the early days worked for you?
Derek: What else?
Andrew: Here’s something that you told me. Sorry, I just interrupted, you were about to some…
Derek: No, no, no. Please, go.
Andrew: Here’s what you told me before. You said on Reddit it helped to create a specific infographic, just for Reddit, so that that would get voted up.
Derek: Yeah. So, I mentioned, I kind of, like, hinted at this earlier, but one of the ways that we wanted to get out into the community was to produce the highest quality content for them, right? So, you know, the definitive (?), infographic (?). And Reddit is notorious for having these really, really active sub-Reddits. And I am, like, a lurker, and now I kind of participate a little, but through the most part, these sub-Reddits have hundreds of thousands of people, or at least tens of thousands, that are super passionate about a phrase, but you can’t just pop in, as a brand, and say, “Hey, check out this great article we wrote for you.” And so, because that’s not cool. And we knew that, right? We live and breathe, everyone on our team lives and breathes this stuff, and is on Reddit, all the time, and on Twitter, and you know, that’s our edge, right, is that we know and understand these communities. And so, to kind of break into fitness, which is one of the major health and wellness sub-Reddits on Reddit, we decided to create a, literally an infographic on that sub-Reddit, right, so their recommendations for how to start getting, get into fitness.
Andrew: Their? The people on Reddit’s recommendations?
Andrew: I see it right here, this is “Reddit’s Guide to Fitness”, right?
Andrew: At the very top, I see the Reddit alien, and with the disclaimer about where it comes from, and then all these, all these exercises that they recommend, you just put a photo or image next to them.
Derek: Yeah. So, what we did was, we worked with a bunch of the moderators, so we immediately reached out to people who moderate this community. We said we want to build this great infographic. We were working with another start-up called Photocracy that came, in some ways, out of that sub-Reddit, so they’re friends of ours, and that gave us a little legitimacy. And we said, “Hey, we’re, we want to build this beautiful thing. Will you help us?” And so we got the two, you know, one or two, I think two of the moderators of this, this sub-Reddit to help us build this and craft it, and once, and so, then we built it. You’ll notice that in the infographic, we actually literally quote from many of the popular members of the community. The idea was we really want to create an awesome, the awesome infographic for this, for this entire community. And when we released it, it was shared by one of the moderators, and I have to say that we, the response was probably the least negative response that I’ve ever seen on Reddit. Everyone was really thrilled. They were like, “This is awesome!” in a visual, you know, rendition of this thing that we spent lots, you know, a long time creating. And since then, we pop up all the time there, again, and someone said “Oh my god, I didn’t realize someone created this infographic.”
Andrew: What did this cost you?
Derek: Oh, you know, I, you know, I mean, we, we outsourced the design of the infographic to a company called Voltier Digital. Yeah, a company called Voltier Digital, I think, and they changed their name to Voltier Creative, and they were named, you know, hired by Blue Glass, but at the time they were, like, this small Tampa, Florida firm that I had convinced we could, you know, help move them places. And by the way, they later wrote a case study on this exact incident for the Blue Glass blog. And I think they actually (?) time. But basically, we convinced them to sell us infographics for a really cheap rate because we were so focused on quality and because we had been delivering so much traffic to these things. (crosstalk) Apparently, this was also put up on Mashable and other sites took the infographic.
Andrew: But you know what? What I didn’t realize about this, and what I especially admire is, you went to the moderators.
Andrew: And so even if this didn’t get much traffic, the fact that you built a relationship with the moderators, who are helping you put this together, and you created this and designed this with the moderators, gives you an in. You’re no longer a stranger in that community, who’s trying to worm his way into getting traffic. You are now a guy who’s worked with them before and part of the conversation.
Derek: Exactly. And look, it’s exactly the same thing we did before we launched, right, when I sent out all those emails to those influencers, (?), right? It’s the same thing, just on a smaller level. I mean, I think that there, there are lots of really skeezy ways to do it, and I think the way we always do it, you know, we say “Do it the greatest way,” right, because it works, and it’s a pun with our name. But the idea is that when we do outreach, or we do link-building, we, we’re just trying to make friends, and we mean it, right. Are the people on the team who send these emails, whether it’s me or it’s anyone else, it’s a really genuine, “Hey, I like your stuff.” We don’t send it to people if we don’t like their stuff. “I like your stuff. Here’s why. Can we work together? Here’s this value we want to kind of provide for you,” and, you know, people appreciate it. You know, we said, “Look, we want to create this beautiful visual guide. We’re obsessed with the quality of our content. You know, let us do this for you, you know, fit it, and the moderator said, “Heck yeah.”
Andrew: What’s another example of, of something like that that you guys have done?
Derek: Another example…
Andrew: Of partnering up with another site.
Derek: Yes, so we do, we do a lot of cross-promotion, social media cross- promotion. So social media, you know, like I said, drives the majority of our traffic. We have very engaged followings on, you know, all the sort of major social networks. And from very early on, we said, “What is our value?” Our value is, you know, the high quality content, and so we reached out to a bunch of very big brands and said, “Hey, let us cross-promote your stuff, if you’ll cross-promote ours.” And we now get shared by, our content is probably shared by every major sports brand in the space, from ESPN Women to, you know, Equinox, to Shape and Self magazines, all of them, and they all share it, Men’s Fitness, they share our stuff.
Andrew: When you say they share it and you share theirs, what do you mean? You reblog it?
Andrew: Or are you putting it up on Twitter?
Derek: I mean, only Twitter and Facebook, right, so (?) and some Pinterest, but mostly Twitter and Facebook. We don’t post anything on our site that is not originally, exclusively written for us. So, we reached out to them. We said, “Hey, we’ve read all this great content. I know you’re looking for stuff to post. How about you start posting ours, and we’ll also, you know, cross-promote you.” And people seem to take this really great. And so, we just said, “Look, we can provide this value for them. All these social media managers are struggling to find great stuff to share, and so, what we see is that all of these major brands just share our stuff all the time, because they know that they can come to the site, find something that’s relevant to their audience, and trust that it is high quality, which is, you know, exactly what we’re trying to do.
Andrew: By the way, I’m still spying on you, as we talk. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this, I (?) the internet in this office is so powerful I can actually look at the websites that we’re talking about as we’re talking about them, but I’m wondering if it’s going to be distracting. Anyway, so one thing I noticed is, Etsy took one of your images and put it up on its site, and linked back to the article where they took it, but they, but I guess they’re linking to a broken URL on your site. I’ll put it in Skype chat, you might want to check that out and see how they’re doing it but it looks like that’s a popular page there.
Derek: Great. I will look into that. Yeah.
Andrew: You mention do it the greatest way. Greatest. The word is not spelled the way your domain is. Right?
Derek: Yeah. So, here’s the idea. Right? The idea, the pitch and the vision, the big vision is that we just want to help people know they don’t have to be the greatest all of the time. But a greatest. Right? So, it’s just about building health and wellness into your life one choice at a time. So a greatist with an ‘ist’ is just someone who makes these healthier choices however they can. And the idea and you know, like I said, the goal is to just help people think of a healthier way. My whole approach to health and wellness and our whole perspective on the blog is very relatable and down to earth. It says, ‘Look. Swap out some of those French fries with vegetables maybe with your burger.’ And enjoy your burger, right? And so, I think that, you know, personally, that is the message that’s important to bring to people is to empower them. To let them know they’re in charge and in control of their.
Andrew: And what about the idea, as far as traffic. Unless I said this, I’m wondering if most people who heard us talk about greatist would go to greatest.com and end up on something called cyber finder which is basically referral click traffic.
Derek: Right. Yeah. I’m sure that that happens. One we never try to reach out and buy est.com because I imagine it would be very expensive. I know who owns it.
Andrew: You do?
Derek: I do. And, one day, I will reach out to them, but I actually like the ist. I think that we want to build a brand. So, one it’s got that idea behind it. Second, it’s got this differentiated brand. I think one of the things that a lot of people struggle with, probably Clicker included, is that by picking a sort of generic brand name with no uniqueness, no differentiation, it’s very hard to build something bigger. So, when you think about Nike or LuLu Lemon, these can be aspirational lifestyle brands because no one really uses that term in that way. So, we want people to think of themselves as greatests and remember that it is a little different than just the word. I would think. I think Good Magazine really struggles with this. Any of these big things that have, and even Look. Men’s Health. Women’s Health. You know, these are about as good as you get in terms of brands that people recognize in this space but they can never be more than what they are and we have. I like to think that our potential is endless in terms of what we can do to make a difference in this space. You know, it’s no accident that greatest gym sounds good or greatest grub. Some of those in the office joke that we’re going to start a theme park and call it Greatist Gardens. But, you know, the idea is that it can travel further.
Andrew: The other thing I wanted to ask is about confirming traffic. I haven’t been able to confirm traffic numbers. You guys use QuanCast. Will you give me access to QuanCast so I can confirm your numbers?
Derek: Yeah. I’ll send you a Google Analytics.
Andrew: You’ll send me Google analytics?
Derek: Yeah. Absolutely. We, I don’t know. All of these. It’s so funny. We’re on QuanCast and on Compete and what’s the other one?
Andrew: Compete is junk. I compare my Compete numbers to my Google analytics numbers and they’re nothing near each other.
Derek: Yeah. Compete and QuanScore and QuanCast, we’re on all of them and they all show completely different things and Google Analytics, completely other thing. So, we tend to rely to Google Analytics a lot and sort of cross our fingers and hope that when people come across our site that it says the same relative thing. I don’t think any of this has been figured out. And, you know, we choose not to embellish our numbers because I think that a lot of people believe that you should fake it until you make it in this space. But, I just can’t do that. It doesn’t. Everything about our brand stands for something different. So, you know, if I say we near a million uniques. It’s true and I’ll give you Google Analytics to prove it.
Andrew: All right. And let’s see what else I want to know. Oh, I want to know about two things. One thing that I’m probably not supposed to ask about but I bet it’s on the audience’s mind. So, I got to ask about it and the second thing is about an experiment that you did with your own body. But first, let me say this. Guys, the reason why Derek and I met was he and I were getting ready to record a course on how he gets traffic and he actually outlined, broke down his whole process, including the e-mail that he sent out to influencers about how he comes up with link bait and spike bait, about how he finds his contents of voice. If you’re talking about content marketing and using it to grow traffic, this guy’s done it and I’m going to confirm by looking at his Google analytics, and then I will record a course with him where he teaches how he does it. I’ve got all these visuals, every email, apparently, that he sent out. It feels to me like, as I’m looking at my notes here, is here, he’s extremely generous with his process and will teach that. We went through the process last week of setting up and looking at the notes, and this week, tomorrow actually, we’re going to record it.
Derek, was I being, be honest with me, now that we’ve talked for endlessly, you and I, was I being too much of a jerk upfront when I said…when I was pushing for more and more visuals and more data? Because basically you’re doing me a favor. You’re working for me for free like your friends, you know? Where you’re coming in and you’re teaching an audience, you’re helping me grow my part of the business that generates revenue, and here I am being skeptical and pushing. Honestly?
Derek: Andrew, you do a good service for people. I’ve watched so many of your videos and they have helped me. I honestly don’t feel like I’m doing you a favor. I hope that I’m helping the people who end up listening to this. That’s why I teach my classes, not to make money through skill share and general assembly. I do it because I genuinely think there isn’t enough high quality products and contents on the web, and anything I can do to help that happen, you know, the better. And look, you know, I was helped very much along in my path. I wish I would’ve been helped more. I’ve got such a long way to go and I find that helping people, and putting myself out there, and sharing the little that I’ve learned comes back to me. Maybe just like helps me sleep at night, makes me feel better, but, you know, I find that that’s how you can create relationships. That by giving and putting in to stuff I end up, I don’t know. At the very least, people will begin to take some kind of respect for me and by getting my face in front of them, they see that I genuinely care about this space so profoundly.
Andrew: I really am grateful to you for doing it and guys, if you’re Mixergy Premium members, this will be part of your membership, and if you’re not, please sign up. Go to mixergypremium.com. The more we talk, the more excited I got. You can actually watch a recording of it and see me get enthused, enthused. I sensed at first you were like “Dude, I was introduced to a friend, everything’s good, it’s all like lined up, and now what are you pushing?” And then at the end, I felt like you were saying “Dude, calm down, it’s just business. It works, but this isn’t…” I don’t know. “It’s not manna from heaven. Just relax, it’ll work. It’ll be good for your audience. Dude, you don’t have to be that enthused.” Anyway, so if you’re not a Mixergy premium member go to mixergypremium.com right now and sign up, and if you are, of course, you’ll get it. I guarantee you’ll love it. I don’t guarantee you’ll be as enthused as I am because I think I was way too enthused during it, but I do know that you’ll find…
Derek: No, that’s pretty exciting. That’s not underplayed.
Andrew: I do think this will be exciting, and here’s what I will say. They will find at least one idea, at least one, probably seven. I’m looking at the notes myself, but at least one idea that they can use and implement in their business and get traffic, and that’s basically what this stuff is about. Find just that one thing, go use it, come back after you get some results. Mixergypremium.com. Alright, here’s a thing that I’m not supposed to ask about, but I’ve got to. I’m looking over your shoulder the whole time wondering what is that? What is that over your shoulder?
Derek: Oh, it’s a half of a table.
Andrew: Oh, it’s the leg of a table?
Derek: I think it’s the platform on which the tabletop sits. It’s some Ikea product.
Andrew: I see, all right.
Derek: We can’t fit in our office, so we’re moving tables around.
Andrew: I see. I thought it was some kind of printer that did something. Alright.
Derek: Actually, that’s how we get traffic. All of it comes from that.
Andrew: What do you mean? People want to see that is?
Derek: I’m just kidding.
Andrew: I know that at least anyone who’s been listening in the background is going to come back and take a look at this, but we’ve all been wondering. We always look over people’s shoulders. That’s why Guy Kawasaki keeps telling me “Put stuff behind you because people are looking over your shoulder Andrew, give them something to see.” So, I’m going to work on it.
Derek: I guess I should have put something better than a yoga mat and a broken table. Next time. I’m learning.
Andrew: So, here’s the last part. Your abs. I’ve heard so much about your abs. What is this thing that you do, and how was it? I’ve seen your abs, that video of you transitioned. You can talk about it. I’ve seen your abs now on video for…
Derek: Yeah, I know. So, people love the abs thing and I’ve seen a million times in a million different ways, you know, headlines and advertisements on TV, and the cover of every magazine is here get six-pack abs in six weeks. That’s always frustrated me because I didn’t think it was possible. I decided, look, our mission is to help people think of [??] in a healthier way and to take this really scientific, but friendly approach to things. We decided to put it to the test, so I tried to get six-pack abs in six weeks. I wrote, every week, a blog post. I catalogued everything I ate, every workout that I did, every single thing and I got, I did, I got them. I got the six-pack abs, and I promptly lost them, but I did get them, and I did take some pretty ridiculous pictures that one day I’ll show to my grandkids.
Andrew: [??] It’s not online now?
Derek: Oh, no, they’re online. They’re all on, fortunately.
Andrew: Oh, OK.
Derek: For better or for worse, they’re all online.
Andrew: Did you shave your chest in that last photo?
Derek: Oh, yeah. Yeah, everything. Everything had to be done. There was water manipulation. The basic idea was what would it take to get there and is it worth it? I went into it with a bias that you don’t need six-pack abs to be happy, which I confirm, you don’t need them to be happy. Then, most importantly, having them definitely doesn’t make you happy. I was pretty miserable.
Now, to be fair, that doesn’t mean that getting six-pack abs at all is a bad thing. It’s obviously a superficial goal, but that’s OK. If you do it in a healthy way and can maintain that, awesome, but, definitely doing something in such a short period of time. . . I basically ate everything I looked at for a month and a half afterwards, so I’m absolutely back to the weight that I started at.
I was really cranky and miserable for those six weeks and it really hurt some of my relationships. It was really tough. I would sit there at dinner parties and not eat a thing, couldn’t drink. It was really pretty crazy.
Andrew: If you do it. . . If you’re willing to put yourself through that torture, you can do it in six weeks?
Derek: You can do it. I mean I can do it. I did it.
Andrew: You did it.
Derek: I mean, I started at a level that I think anyone who would actually seriously think about getting six-pack abs has to be. I don’t consider myself the healthiest person, but I was in shape, relatively in shape. But it is possible. I didn’t do anything dangerous at all. Right? It was just calorie restriction. I ate just vegetables and lean protein, basically, for six weeks.
Andrew: Do you know how much money you can make on ClickBank just by writing an eBook about how you did it?
Derek: Yes, I do, unfortunately. The reason why I did it was so that people could see the other side of it. Within weeks we had people responding, saying, “You know, I was thinking of doing something similar, and after reading your account, it just doesn’t sound like something I want to go through.” That made it worth it. I mean, truly, right? Look, my body is more or less recovered. It definitely hated me for a little while there, and I had this weird, bizarre experience. I saw what I looked like with six- pack abs, and I looked good. It was definitely interesting.
Andrew: That’s a good [??].
Derek: Who knows what psychological scarring I endured because of it, but the story that I told about how lonely it was and how tough it was in social situations and how it really puts you outside of society for a while, it just wasn’t worth it to me. I love ice cream, you know? Even though I eat more or less healthy, I wanted to eat ice cream.
Andrew: It’s a good series. It’s all up on Greatist, but if you just Google it, you’ll find it. If you go to Greatist.com you can see the site we’ve all been talking about. If people want to just thank you directly, Derek, the way I’m about to, what’s a good way for them to connect with you and say, “I saw your abs. Thanks for telling me I don’t have to do it, and also, thanks for showing me how you got all that traffic.”
Derek: I love emails, firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can connect with me on Twitter. I’m @thederek on Twitter.
Andrew: All right. Derek at Greatist.com. Cool. Thank you for doing this interview, and thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, guys.