Interview with Steven van Vessum from ContentKing


published: (updated: December 2, 2019)
by
9 min well spent

ContentKing is an SEO change-tracking tool that tracks and notifies you when things break or change on your site.

I recently did an interview with Steven Van Vessum, VP of Community, for my newsletter Tech Bound.

Q: Besides other things, you’re doing a great job with https://www.contentkingapp.com/academy. How did you come up with the concept?

We thought The ContentKing Academy was a great way for us to grow our brand, get in touch with potential customers and to take pressure off of our support team at the same time. It’s a great resource to refer customers to when they want to read up on, say the dos and don’ts around robots.txt or how to diagnose ranking drops.

Q: As an SEO vendor “newcomer”, how did you set up your marketing strategy in the beginning?

Ah, great question! I guess we’re still the new kids on the block compared to some of the dinosaurs in the SEO tooling business that have been around since ‘98.

In order to understand our marketing strategy, there are two things to consider:

  1. Our product strategy
  2. The SEO tool space

Our product strategy
ContentKing is radically different than traditional crawlers because we’re auditing sites 24/7, keeping track of changes and sending proactive alerts. All of this gives us an edge, but it also comes at a cost: we had (and continue to have) a lot of missionary work to do. That’s where the ContentKing Academy comes in. It’s a great place for us to explain our vision of how SEO should be done.

The SEO tool space

The SEO tool space is very competitive and saturated. The barrier to entry and success is high. 

You’re competing with other SEOs that really know their stuff, so ranking for popular queries is very challenging.

And not only are you competing with really smart folks, you’re competing with established brands and high authority domains. You’re competing with brands that easily spend $100,000-$200,000 a month on marketing.

Moving on to our marketing strategy: with a relatively small team and a limited war chest we had to pick our battles, work harder and be on top of our game at all times.

Having said that, we knew content marketing was a good way to reach our audience so we did that. We started small and just kept adding new, in-depth content.

And then we had a variety of other marketing channels of which we weren’t convinced they would work well for us. But we had to give them a try and if they worked, we’d embed them in our marketing strategy. If not, we’d either ditch them or postpone them, if it wasn’t the right time for us. Some channels required a huge investment in both time and money, which we couldn’t justify at that point.

We’re in a fast-changing industry, so naturally, your marketing strategy is evolving as well. We’re constantly on the lookout for new opportunities that help us reach our audience in an effective and efficient manner.

Just doubling down on what others are doing – and I see this happen all the time – is a rookie mistake, because every business is different. You’re targeting different audiences, who have different issues, different budgets and so on.

Q: How did you go about product differentiation? Is it something you do with gut feeling or is there a method behind the madness ;-)?

How we got started: the initial spark
When we were still a digital marketing agency, we were constantly running into situations where changes were made to sites without us knowing, while we were responsible for the SEO performance. Clients and/or developers would, if we were lucky, inform us about changes after the fact but in most cases, they wouldn’t inform us of anything. We’d only catch it during the weekly or monthly crawl, but sometimes our clients would call us up before the monthly crawl was due and tell us that something had broken or was removed (those were the worst).

They couldn’t understand how we weren’t able to notice the smallest (yet important) changes on their site. And they had a point. If you’re responsible for the SEO performance of a site from start to finish, you need to control it. How can you otherwise assume responsibility?

There’s no happy end to the “how can you not have noticed these changes” discussion. Either your clients lose faith in you, or you have to force them into a bureaucratic process where they have to update you of every change they make (which is a flawed strategy, to begin with).

So, after a client had called us up again to mention something on their site was broken and why we hadn’t spotted that, I was blowing off some steam, chatting to my business partner and ContentKing’s CEO Vincent. He mentioned he had some ideas to remedy this. That very night, he hacked together an internal tool that would monitor our clients’ sites around the clock and notify us of important changes.

We realized that most agencies were dealing with the same issues and that there was no tooling available like this. Not long after that we sold our agency and went all-in on ContentKing.

A methodical approach: ignoring your competitors

From there on out, it became methodical. But that’s not what led us to a different product, in a market where SEO tools basically all do the same thing. There are tens of SEO auditors out there, all doing the same thing using the same traditional approach. We don’t believe in that approach. Search engines aren’t crawling on a weekly or monthly basis. They’re crawling your site around the clock, so your SEO tooling should do the same. And that’s exactly what ContentKing does.

Early on we realized that we shouldn’t let traditional SEO tools bias our approach to solving issues, because in our opinion they weren’t doing a very good job. Most SEO tools just copy-cat what others are already doing.

We set out to take a radically different approach based on our vision on how you should be doing SEO, and how SEO tools should work.

Q: What do you think is an underrated online marketing strategy/tactic and why?

This one is going to be a bit of an open door, but I’d say: investing in evergreen content.

Content marketing is the only kind of marketing that really compounds. And we can justify investing a lot of time in content marketing because it’s such an essential part of our product. For example: for all the issues we report on, reference material is within direct reach thanks to the seamless integration of our academy within the app.

Thanks to this, we can also justify continuously investing in improving and updating existing content.

Screenshot of ContentKing app showing the “Learn why” link

Screenshot of ContentKing app showing expanded “Learn why” information.

The readers may be asking yourself now: “But is more content what we really need right now?”

Not necessarily more, but more accurate and well-researched content. Why? 

Because 99% of the content out there is trash. That goes for SEO-related content too. Even in this day and age, people are publishing low-quality content that doesn’t add anything new to the SEO community.

Each content idea we come up with is scored, based on its originality and whether we can make it the best and most complete piece available.

And that’s not the end of it. 

Even if you pull that off, you’re only half-way there. Hell, maybe only one third. Even if you have the best content, that doesn’t mean you can sit back and see your rankings go up.

Content promotion – making sure it’s seen by your target audience – plays a massive role in the success of your content. Most content is published and then people forget about it. They move on to writing the next boring piece of content that they’re not going to promote.

Ahrefs did a study on this and the outcome was no surprise to me that: most of the content out there doesn’t receive any meaningful organic traffic. Content popularity is still extremely important in 2019.

Q: You’re absolutely right, 99% of the content out there is trash. Can you say a bit about your content promotion strategy?

Our content promotion strategy has these two key ingredients:

  1. Quality content: We don’t publish mediocre content. As mentioned earlier, everything we publish is well-researched and thought through.

    Collaborating with SEO experts as part of our content production process is one of the strategies that work particularly well for us. Kevin, as someone that’s occasionally featured in our articles you obviously know about this strategy :). Because the content is well-researched, we have no trouble finding experts to collaborate with (and we take pride in the fact that people reach out to us whether we’d consider them for future content pieces).

    Another benefit of quality content is that it’s much more likely to be shared. We only feature expert best practices that are contextually relevant to the article. We handpick these experts, based on their field of expertise and experience. This makes their contributions highly relevant and sets our content apart from your typical “X opinions on topic Y” expert roundups.

  2. Process and flexibility: We set goals for each content piece we write and promote. After promotion is done, we evaluate and iterate. Our content promotion strategy is constantly evolving. It’s the result of all of our past promotions. We’ve documented what worked well for us, and what didn’t. The reason we document what didn’t work for us is because it’s part of creating a scalable process. Every time we promote a piece of content, we improve the content promotion process.

Q: I love how you integrate website content with the app. That’s something we did at Atlassian and it allowed us to drive retention metrics with SEO/Content, which is unheard of. How do you measure the interaction between app and website content?

We’re using various tools for this including Google Analytics, Mouseflow, Pendo, and Intercom.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what tools you’re using. What matters is how you use it, and the fact that you use it at all. There’s no point in gathering data that’s not going to be used in a meaningful way.