Brian Dean, if you don’t know him, is the founder of Backlinko. Started as an outlet for him to share what he’s learned, he’s built it into an SEO training company that allows him to travel the world and make a positive impact on the SEO world.
In this conversation, we talk about unfair advantages. Brian is a master of identifying unfair advantages and opportunities that allow him to go to the next level.
We talk about:
- How he tried a lot of different approaches (weekly posts, etc)
- How he constantly looks for how he can stand out
- Don’t skate to where the puck is going. Go to where everyone isn’t (Mark Cuban)
- The post that took him 20 hours to put together that helped him stand out in the SEO space
- Why Brian doesn’t think learning to publish constantly really helps you see success.
- How often he thinks you should publish.
- How Brian thinks about unfair advantages in business and life.
- Why publishing every day is not an unfair advantage.
- How Brian has applied the lessons he’s learned about creating high quality blog content to YouTube (he has over 100k subs with just 20 videos)
- Where he gets most of his traffic from on YouTube
- Where the sweet spot is for content – expertise + ability to do high quality content consistently
- How Brian finds new ideas for content
- Which strategy > tactics for Brian and how he focuses his company
John: All right, everyone, welcome back. Today, I have with me, Brian Dean. I’m super, super excited to have Brian on the show today. So, Brian, if you don’t know him, is the founder of Backlinko, backlinko.com. He’s a digital marketer, entrepreneur. Currently in Portugal, I believe, kind of living the digital nomad lifestyle. So, Brian and I have been connected for a while. We were actually talking, before we started recording, about how we actually met in person for the first time five years ago at a conference. It was his first ever SEO conference, and it’s just been unbelievable to watch Brian grow as a marketer, as an entrepreneur, grow his business, grow his profile. And I’m super excited to have him on. So, Brian, welcome to the show, if you would, just tell us a little bit about yourself, what I missed, and…yeah.
Brian: Thanks, John. Well, it’s good to be here. I don’t think you missed much. This pretty much sums it up. I run a site called backlinko.com and a YouTube channel that’s about SEO, and we’re an SEO training company that sells online courses that teach people how to rank in Google and YouTube.
John: Cool. So tell me real quick about your business and the size of your business. Do you do any consulting as well, or you’re just a courses and training company?
Brian: Just courses. I used to do consulting. I used to do services back in the day, too. I ran an SEO agency, but now, for the last three or four years, I just said no to all consulting. It’s 100% courses.
John: Cool. How’s that going?
Brian: It’s great, man. It’s the best. It’s like the greatest business model ever because it’s kind of like software. You know, you create one piece of software and thousands or millions of people can benefit from it. It’s the same with an online course. You create a course once and thousands or millions of people can learn from it. The only downside is it’s harder to create a real, like, zero to one product in the course base, if you read that book, “Zero to One,” by Peter Thiel. You know, in a software, you can create an Airbnb or an Uber, something totally different that revolutionizes how an industry works. A course can never do that. So it’s a lot harder to stand out. There’s a lot of…you need to create a blog and a YouTube channel and a profile and social media to get people interested in your course, but in terms of being a business model, it’s by far the best because you get to help a lot of people and it scales really well. That’s really the only downside. The upside is, unlike SaaS, you don’t have bugs and technical problems and blah, blah, blah, all that stuff. So every business has its pros and cons. I personally love online training. I think it’s fun and you get to help a lot of people. So it’s great.
John: Yeah. No, that’s awesome. Training and courses is one of those things that a lot of people are like, “Oh, I really wanna get into that,” especially people that are like wanting to start a side hustle, but it’s also very possible to build like, you know, to build a great business, you know, as a full-time entrepreneur maybe having a team, right, leveraging other people, whether they’re video editors or script writers or whatever, in smart ways just to make it that much better. You can do that, like, as an entrepreneur as well. So, what we said that we wanna talk about today, something that I think you have done really, really well is, in digital marketing, we always talk about everyone preaches quality over quantity, quality over quantity. I mean, there are people that are talking about cranking out just constant content. You know, I feel like we’re starting to get past the like, “Oh, you should create three blog posts a week, at least 500 words of SEO optimized content.”
Obviously, that’s tongue-in-cheek but I feel like we’re getting past that. But you’ve constantly been beating that drum of quality over quantity, and your work shows that. So, your blog has 30-some posts, you said, and ranks for crazy things and it’s driven you so much, you know, so much business. Your YouTube channel, I think you said you have like 20 videos and over 100,000 subscribers. So I’d love to hear your take on that topic specifically about the quality, like quality over quantity approach and really how you make that work, because it’s easy to kind of build an audience and have a bunch of things that drive some traffic, but it’s really hard to create really high quality things that each drive a ton of traffic. You have all winners, basically.
Brian: Well, they’re not all winners, but I have a higher percentage. My batting average is a lot higher because I only take a swing when I know I can hit it out of the park. But how I came up with this strategy was like just by trial and error. So I had done black hat SEO for many years, and I remember, one point I had 150 exact match domain websites. This was back in like the Adsense days. Yeah, I had 150 of them. This is 100% quantity over quality. There’s no quality. These sites were terrible. Obviously, that worked for a little while, but then Google caught up with it and started, you know, penalizing those sites, and then I tried a different thing. But ultimately, in the end, I realized that having all this quantity of sites didn’t really help me at all in the long run and that I should focus on quality. But didn’t really learn the lesson right away. Like most people, I have to learn the lesson like eight times to actually, like, learn the lesson. So I launched five websites this time. Each one was a little bit higher quality than the last. So I focused on that one…those five sites. They did a little bit better, but again, they weren’t really great. They used some black hat stuff, so they got penalized.
And then, I remember in the summer of 2012, after all those sites got wiped out from Google Penguin, I was like, “Forget it. This time, I’m gonna do real equality. I’m gonna do one site.” Now, for me, at the time, one website was like really limiting the quantity, never mind like 20 videos and stuff. I was way before that. But that website did really well. I focused on it. I made it a branded site. I published good stuff on it. And that taught me a lesson, like, “Okay, there’s something to this. Focus on one thing.” Then when I launched Backlinko, I was like, “Man, this blog is gonna be in this really competitive space, you know, an SEO.” I was brand new. Nobody knew who I was. I didn’t have any traction, no relationships, and I was launching in this competitive space. What do I do? Well, I figured all the bloggers said you need to publish all the time. So I started publishing a blog post every week. Every week, I would publish a blog post on the Backlinko blog. And, of course, traffic went up a little bit but not really where I was expecting it to go.
And a big part of the reason was my content wasn’t as good because I couldn’t focus on it. I was doing filler stuff. Like, I would do a post that was Q&A Friday. I deleted all these posts, by the way. But I had like Q&A Friday, and it was questions that people asked me and I would answer them in a blog post. This isn’t bad content, but it’s definitely not amazing and it wasn’t gonna help me stand out with all these huge blogs that already had billions of readers and here’s me with 100 unique visitors a month. If I do this for like five years, maybe I’ll break through. And I realized I needed to change things up and just scrap the whole weekly thing, forget it, go back to…just focus on publishing one thing that’s gonna help me stand out. So I focused on this one post called Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: A Complete List.
John: I remember that.
Brian: And I put all my energy… Yeah, I put all my energy into creating this post. It was so hard. It was the hardest thing I ever worked on because it took 20 hours to put together. And most of my blog posts were like 90 minutes or maybe two hours. But in the end, it helped my blog stand out, and then it taught me, “Okay, to stand out, it’s really, really, really about quality, and quantity doesn’t matter as much.” And since then, I’ve sort of ramped up the quality part because I have more resources to do that. And I’ve ramped down the quantity because I realized it doesn’t really make a big difference.
John: Yeah. So one question there is…obviously, you’ve been in SEO for a long time now. It sounds like probably the mid-2000s, back in the Adsense days. That’s actually before my time in SEO. I really got started in 2009-ish, 2008, 2009. So, you know, you had that experience of spinning up sites, so you have the technical experience there as well. And then when you started off, you know, blogging like on Backlinko…and I’ve done the weekly post, the, like, Dear John sort of stuff, and also scrapped it, you know, because it just didn’t really seem to be working. But I guess my question is, like, do you think actually being on that publishing schedule helped you out with getting the consistent…getting out content consistently and writing and all that? Do you think that helped you out with your current strategy, your strategy you’ve had for the last number of years of super high quality stuff? Because it seems like the first barrier to entry is just hitting publish.
Brian: I don’t think it helped me. I think after the first one, like, there’s an infinite difference between all the kind of things people do to get ready, procrastination, before they publish, and then that first post. Once you get that first post, you get it out there, you get feedback maybe from people, maybe you promote it a little bit, then you’re on your way. If that schedule helped me with the first post, I would say yes. But after the first one, where I did promote it and I did get positive feedback on it, I don’t think that publishing then. It was just a distraction because I was focusing on hitting this arbitrary publishing schedule once a week. Why? Like, who made that up? And as Derek Halpern said very wisely, you know, there’s no secret society that’s gonna send you traffic because you publish every week. Like, there’s no reward that magical thing happens after you publish every week for a while. There’s really no big benefit to it. So I wouldn’t say it helped me. Once you get that first one out, then you’re on your way. But just publishing more and more, I don’t think it actually refines or hones your skills that much.
John: Gotcha, gotcha. I mean, one thing I’ve been studying a lot recently is, like, successful entrepreneurs like yourself, and having conversations with people like Wade Foster of Zapier and people like that. And it seems like everyone that ends up succeeding and doing really really, really well finds that basically unfair advantage. I think there’s this idea in the entrepreneurship, in the business space, whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or you’re running a company of 500 people, that you just have to put in your time. And it sounds like you’re…I mean, you have put in your time, like you are legitimately an expert. You’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, and you do know what you’re doing, but you’ve also found that unfair advantage of you can write these really long, you know, super in-depth blog posts and then also know how to promote them. Is that fair to say?
Brian: It’s a great point. I’m with you 100%, John. I think that is an unfair advantage, and it speaks to why publishing quantity isn’t an unfair advantage because anyone can do it. So back in the day, in the early days of blogging, I also got involved with the whole online thing in like 2009. It’s funny. It was a competitive advantage to publish all the time. Like, it blew people’s minds. They published content every week, like it was…
John: They’re like, “Don’t you have a day job?”
Brian: It was like, “Wow, your website isn’t like a static homepage, you know, with the counter at the bottom.” It was really like a big shift in how the internet worked. But it’s so much quantity that it’s not a competitive advantage. Anyone with half a brain can publish every day or multiple times a day. So, like you said, you have to seek out that other unfair advantage that you have, and it’s usually not quantity because you can’t really compete on a quantity game with most other sites.
John: Right, right yeah. Yeah, you can’t compete, especially if it’s just yourself. You can’t compete on that quantity game if they have like a bunch of writers and they have guest bloggers and all of that. And as you know, that takes time to get guest bloggers and to edit the content, and I personally hate editing, so, you know, then I have to hire someone to do that. So you’re actually leaning into your specific advantage, which it seems like you’re doing now as well with YouTube because you’ve kind of taken what you’ve built on Backlinko and that, obviously, funneling a lot of people into your training, but also…and I wanna pick your brain offline about courses and training and how you’ve made that work. But now you’ve taken that focus on quality and written content and applied that to YouTube. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Brian: Yeah. So the same principle applies on most platforms. So I’m sure there are exceptions. I’m not an expert on Snapchat or Instagram and stuff, but most platforms, once it’s big, the quantity is there. Like, no one’s gonna follow you because you’re publishing every day. So imagine. Go back to the early days of Instagram. You’re like one of the first 10,000 users. You find an Instagram account that’s uploading pictures every couple hours. You’re gonna follow that account. You’re gonna love this account, “Oh, my God, every time I go to Instagram, I open on my phone, there’s another picture for me.” But as the platform blows up, there’s way more quantity than quality. So it doesn’t matter just the fact that someone’s doing it. So, this principle applies to most platforms online, YouTube being a great example because YouTube’s so huge. Instagram’s big, I guess, and other platforms are kind of big, but YouTube is just massive. It’s not only the second most popular website online, even more than Facebook, but there are 300 million hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. So, the quantity is just mind-blowing on YouTube. That’s from a couple years ago. I imagine it’s a lot more now.
John: Way more now, I’m sure, yeah.
Brian: It has to be, right? So the platform’s just crowded with content. So just publishing every week or whatever, every day, it doesn’t really matter. And I hate that advice that people give, especially on YouTube because it hurts a lot of new people to YouTube. Because unlike a blog, a lot of people on YouTube are new to the whole internet thing, like the whole being a publisher, being a creator. And then they go on and they read all this advice that says, you know, the key to growing a channel is to publish a new video all the time because then you get people to follow you, but it’s not true. No one follows a channel because they publish every day. You know, people follow channels because they publish awesome stuff. And unless you have a huge team that can produce video content that’s amazing on a regular basis, if you’re like me or you, a small team, you gotta focus on quality and put it out as often as you can. Maybe it’s once a month. Maybe it’s once every six weeks. Maybe it’s once every three months. But as long as it’s awesome, that video is gonna do a lot better than 10 videos that are mediocre. It’s gonna do way better than 10 videos. It’s like a 100 to 1 ratio. Those 10 videos are gonna be buried and invisible because you’re competing against all that content that’s already on YouTube.
John: Totally, totally. No, that 100% makes sense. And actually, as I think about it, some people might…like, I even follow specific channels simply because they post all the time, or I’ll unfollow people on Instagram because they’re just dominating my feed. Even with their algorithmic feed just pushing freshness, I’ll see four posts from the same person. You know, I’m like, “Put that in a story. Don’t put that as like actual posts.” I guess one question I have for you is, do you think that there’s a sweet spot there where it’s like high quality stuff put out consistently? I think that like Dan Martell, who I’m sure you know, you know, founder of Flowtown, and Clarity and a couple other businesses, well known
Canadian entrepreneur. He publishes a video about SaaS. So he’s focused on a specific niche, so he knows who his audience is. Publishes a really good five to seven-minute video every single Monday. Like, 10 a.m. Mountain Time on Monday, basically, is when I see it. And I always watch it, and it’s really high quality stuff. So do you think there is an argument there for like high quality, you know, plus consistency can build it over time, or do you really just think it’s 100% about the quality?
Brian: I think it’s not about a time frame. Consistency is important actually. But the time frame doesn’t matter, whether consistently is once a month or whatever. For example, you start a YouTube channel, and you only publish, let’s say, whenever you feel like it. You publish two videos in a month and then you take four months off, and then you do two videos again. That’s inconsistent. That’s not good. So consistency is important. I always upload a video pretty much every four to six weeks on YouTube. I do a blog post the same frequency and it’s very consistent. The frequency is much less than most people recommend, but it works for me. But I’m consistent. So Dan’s a great example. Dan’s also a special case because he has so much experience and so much knowledge. He can just sit in front of a camera, just speak about his various experiences.
You know, most people don’t have that knowledge up here that they can just translate. He’s also a great speaker and all that stuff. So I think Dan is a great example. If you can do that and publish a quality of Dan’s level every week, of course, you should do it, you’re gonna grow faster than if you arbitrarily wait a month. That doesn’t make sense either. So it’s all about what you can produce. Have a benchmark, and however many times you can hit it in a month or a week, go for it. For me, I can’t publish videos that often. I put a ton of work into every video, I spend a lot of money on every video, so it’s impossible for me to do, you know, a video a week that’s gonna be at this bar. So I do it once a month. If I could do once a week, I would do once a week. But it’s not possible, so I do once a month.
John: Gotcha, gotcha. I think it’s an important point, whether you’re, you know, just getting started, whether you’ve been doing it for a while. It’s not about that there’s a…I often tell people this about an SEO agency. People are like, “Well, who’s the best SEO agency?” I’m like, “For who? For what budget? You know, for what kind of business?” Like, you know, all these different questions that go deeper. So it’s the same thing here where it’s, you know, people ask how often should I publish? You’re like, “Well, how often can you publish? How often can you do something really high quality, and who’s gonna be watching it? And how often do they want you to publish?” There’s so much deeper that you have to go into there then the, like, you know, two-paragraph Quora answer of like, “The average person posts blah, blah, blah.” Like, if you’re average, you’re gonna get average results. If you go above that, then you’re gonna get much greater results.
I think that’s super, super wise about creation and kind of how you do it. I guess I have two questions falling on from that. One is, how do you identify what you’re gonna be posting about, you know, the next video you’re gonna create or the next blog post you’re gonna write? I’m sure some of that is classic SEO keyword research stuff. But then also, we all know that if you build it, people aren’t necessarily gonna come. How do you, how does Brian Dean go about getting eyeballs on his blog post and on his videos, given the fact as well that we should know that you also have a huge following and so you post a video and you’re gonna be able to get a couple thousand views just by, you know, tweeting it out and sending an e-mail? But how do you go beyond that?
Brian: Yeah, it’s great. The first thing, for topics, like you said, it’s all about keyword research. I’m old-school like that. It gives you the best ROI in the long run. I could just come up with topics and write about them and they would…you get that spike, you know, that temporary spike. But because people aren’t searching for that topic online, there may not be a lot of interest in it. Like, I like it, you like… Like, we were talking about LinkedIn before we recorded. You know, I’m super interested, but maybe people…maybe it’s not that big in terms of people wanting to get more views on their LinkedIn post. So I go publish a post about it, it will be great, and I get a spike because it’s new, but then it would fade over time. And for me, every piece of content, I want it to work hard for me for years. That’s why I love YouTube, because unlike LinkedIn or Instagram, it’s so ephemeral. You publish something, 10 minutes later, it’s gone. You know, Facebook is like hours. The timeline in YouTube and blogging is years in Google SEO. It’s years. So I love that about it. So you could really put a lot of effort into it. And then to get the most out of it, I look at keyword research. I just look at what, you know, keywords get searched for, if they’re trending up, trending down, how the competition is in the first page. Same stuff I was doing in 2008, actually, but now at least when I look at it, I’m like, “I can beat these guys.” Back then, I had no chance, at least in the long run.
John: Right, right, totally. So where would you say that the bulk of your traffic is coming from to your…I mean to your YouTube videos? You know, is it from people finding it organically? Is it referral? You know, is it embeds? Like, how are you doing that?
Brian: It’s like 90% from within YouTube’s platform.
John: Really crazy.
Brian: It depends on the month, but about 85% to 90%
John: No way. So, is that through recommendations or people coming directly to it through like Google search and such?
Brian: It’s mostly through suggested video and browse features. Those are the two big ones. So, suggested video is the sidebar in YouTube when you’re watching another video. For most channels, that’s actually bigger than YouTube search. So YouTube search is pretty important. It’s the second largest search engine and all that stuff, but suggested video is actually bigger and more important. Also, browse features is like when you go to the home page. YouTube’s technical term is called browse features. It’s a horrible name. Basically, when you go to the home page and it suggests videos for you, that’s browse features. These are usually videos from channels you’ve seen or related channels to what you’ve recently watched. That’s also a big part of it. And then search and browse features are tied. So, within YouTube is the biggest. Then you have random stuff like people start going to the channel directly and blah, blah, blah. But most 85% to 90% are from within YouTube. I have embedded videos from some of my blog posts that get views. And then when I publish a new video, I share it from externally to get people to it and that drives up the amount of people that are from external. But on an average month where I haven’t published a video, is just kind of doing its own thing, it’s all from within YouTube and some Google as well.
John: Gotcha. So you go and you do that initial keyword research, what are people searching for, what have you not covered, what are people searching for, what can you actually really provide value on, go and produce the best piece of content you can, whether it’s a blog post or a video. If it’s a video, then you’re driving people there from your existing audience, from your site, you know, from social media, from all these different places, e-mail lists, I’m sure. And that kind of gives you that bump. But you’re really then…it seems like you’re tracking the success based on like how does it do for you on into the future as well.
Brian: Exactly. For me, it’s all about…
John: You’re just trying to get the highest leverage out of these.
Brian: Exactly. That initial bump push helps on YouTube, and Google helps everywhere. But ultimately, it has to be up to snuff to sustain itself. You know, I can send, with my e-mail list, thousands of people to anything, good, bad or in between. But if it’s gonna actually work long and it’ll get a bump or get views on a YouTube video and all that stuff. But for it to actually work, it has to be great. So the foundation is that part. And I think the promotional side we can talk about, which is important, but I think most people underestimate how good your stuff has to be to stand out, especially on Google, especially on YouTube. Those platforms are really competitive. And if you promote something that’s mediocre, it doesn’t matter what, like ninja e-mail script you use is not gonna work.
John: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s actually a really good point. Something I wanted to bring up is, you know, it’s not about the growth hacks. Like, you have to start with something that’s just like phenomenal, yeah. And people often, I think, get into the weeds of like, “Well, should I use emojis in my subject line or not?” It’s like “Well, you’re actually producing something that people are gonna wanna click on regardless of whether you use an emoji or not.” Yeah, you might be able to…you know, if you’re getting a 30% open rate, which is good for e-mails, then by using an emoji, you bump it up to 31% depending on the size of your list, it might help. And I like those little tweaks, but those little tweaks come after you’ve established that bigger strategy and have actually been building something.
Brian: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up about subject lines because I have been…I was obsessed with open rates and subject lines, trying different things and studying the masters of subject lines. About a year ago, I started testing just the most simple subject lines, two words, so like YouTube SEO, YouTube marketing, blog posts, like the most boring subject lines ever that shouldn’t get opened at all. And my open rates have been like 15% to 25% higher than when I was doing the fancy emojis, exclamation point, stuff in parenthesis, using numbers, all that nonsense.
Brian: The simple works better. Now, to be fair, like you said, that’s after years of building up trust with my subscribers, sending them good stuff. If I was just starting out, maybe it wouldn’t work. But I think sometimes people overthink this stuff. And if you just have like a brief succinct description of what’s in there, people will open that, especially if they know, like, and trust you.
John: Yeah. Well, when you stood out, you’re standing out, right?
Brian: Yeah, exactly.
John: Because everyone else is doing the emojis and the caps and the parenthesis, you know, and all of that. You’re like, you’re standing out and it’s like they see your name, it’s like, “Oh, Backlinko,” “Oh, Brian Dean. Yeah, I’ve been following him for a while.” Kind of doesn’t make that much of a difference but you also are standing out, might even be like escaping the promotions tab because of it. So all those can have an effect there. And once again, it’s that unfair advantage of like what is everyone else doing? I like that focus. I think that’s gonna be the title of this interview when I publish it. It’s gonna be like, “What are other people not doing?” Like, what’s your unfair advantage? If everyone else is being told to do X, you need to go and do Y. Jig when other people zag, or zig when other people zag, or however that saying goes.
Brian: Exactly. I mean, zig when people zag is the oldest business advice out there, right? Or Mark Cuban says go where they ain’t. It’s the same idea.
John: Not skate where the puck is going.
Brian: Yeah, exactly. It’s the same idea. If everyone’s doing one thing, it’s probably the worst time to do that. Of course, there’s a place and time for that, following trends, going where people are, blah, blah, blah. But if you just like copy and paste someone else’s strategy, it’s probably too late. It would have worked before they published a strategy for everybody, and it can still work because you’d be surprised. I might contradict myself a little bit because as someone that publishes a lot of SEO strategies, I’m amazed at how few people actually use them. And when they do, they get results.
John: Yeah. Tell me about that.
Brian: Well, I mean, millions of people have seen the back…read the Backlinko blog, and only like a fraction of a fraction of a fraction percent have actually put the stuff into practice. So, there’s also an element of just laziness that if you see something, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too late. There are… And also people add their own twist to it. They, you know, make it work for their industry and their situation and whatnot. I’m always blown away but like how many people leave comments on posts, like, “This is great,” blah, blah, blah, and then never actually do anything. Trust me, I’m guilty of this.
I do that too. I read posts all the time. This is the greatest thing I ever read, bookmark it, never read it again.
John: Right, right, yeah.
Brian: It’s more human nature than like… I’m not saying I’m better than anyone because I do it probably more than most people because I read a lot of stuff, but it’s just human nature.
John: Yeah, yeah. No, I think that’s an interesting point. I mean, there’s kind of that like just in time, and this circles back to your approach to content. There’s that like…you know, there are people that just read anything and everything’s like, “Oh, that looks interesting. I’ll throw it into my pocket cue.” Like, I do that. But then there’s also this idea of just-in-time learning, right, where like Joel Gascoigne from Buffer is a big proponent of this. It’s like don’t flood your head with all this noise and all this stuff. Yeah, you might be able to pull some pieces, you know, in the future, but it’s like, “Okay, now we need to…” But if you stop doing that and basically put you on your heels, if you’re just reading everything, versus if you’re like, “Okay, this is where I’m going,” like you have a set strategy. And this is kind of where I wanna segue into and probably leave with, is about setting that strategy and then saying, “Okay, I want to get to X, and then how do I get there?” It’s like, “Okay, I can drive a lot of traffic through SEO. I can drive it through an e-mail list. And so, I’m gonna learn SEO. I’m gonna learn how to build an e-mail list. I don’t need to learn yet how to, you know, craft a subject line or what signature works best for blah, blah, blah.” Who cares? It’s not gonna matter if you don’t have a list. Same with SEO. You don’t need advanced tactics if you don’t have any, you know, title tags, Canonicals or H1s and H2s on your page and actually writing stuff that people can understand and connect with.
So I guess my question there is like, how do you think about…you know, how do you think about the strategy for your business and kind of like what you learn and what you prioritize? Because you’ve gone from, you know, black hat to really high quality, well-read blog – I refer to your stuff all the time – to really high quality YouTube channel now. So two questions are like, how have you kind of determined that those are…and we talked about some of it, but how have you determined those are the things that are gonna move your business forward? And then how do you think about the next thing? And you’ve mentioned LinkedIn, which I think is something that both of us have been doing some stuff on and seeing some really cool results from. But like, how does Brian Dean think about strategy when it comes to your business and moving it forward?
Brian: Well, for me, my mom said it best. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
John: I love it.
Brian: And for me, I’m a big plan. That expression is also probably older than if moms use that. This is the old man conversation hour now.
John: Sorry, my back hurts. So we can have an old man conversation.
Brian: Exactly. But, you know, there’s a reason these expressions stick around. They’re true. So for me, I used to be the guy that my strategy was the last blog post I read, or the last post someone posted on the Warrior Forum. Like, I didn’t have a strategy. It was whatever I just read that seemed cool. After years of struggling, trust me, it took me four years of being an entrepreneur before I succeeded. And a big part of that reason is because I didn’t have a strategy. I didn’t know what I was gonna do next, and I was like just in case instead of just in time, which is what you shouldn’t be. And actually, I’ve still had that problem recently reading books that maybe someday I’ll apply this and then realizing I never did and it makes no sense.
John: What’s something you’ve read recently that you’re like, “Wait, that was interesting, but I’m not gonna go and do it right now,” like it was kind of a waste of time?
Brian: Yeah, I read some stuff on like PR, online PR, like getting in the major media outlets. It’s like the online PR playbook or something like that. And it was cool, but then I’m not ready. I have all this other stuff. I’m not ready to actually do it. Like, of course, everyone wants to be in “The New York Times,” blah, blah, blah. I’m not ready. I have YouTube. I have my blog. I have all this stuff, the e-mail list. So, for me…
John: That gets you that coverage, ironically.
Brian: Yeah, a lot of it happens anyway. But, I mean, if you wanna like get it a lot, like be on TV and all that stuff, I mean, you really do have to put in the work. And I haven’t been. I haven’t had the chance. So reading a book like that, it seems cool, it feels productive, but you’re actually just not doing anything productive. And I realized I was wasting my time. So, for me, I always have a super detailed plan. I know exactly where I wanna go. How to get there, you always figure that out along the way. You know, anyone who tells you like, “This is the exact plan to do blah, blah, blah,” they’re probably lying. There’s always, you know, forks in the road and roadblocks and whatnot. But I always know where I’m gonna go. Like this last year, the focus of the business was product. I usually have like one word that I use to describe the priority of the year for everybody, myself and everyone on the team.
Brian: So we created two new products, an update to my SEO course and a new course on YouTube SEO. This year, it’s all about the audience. Audience is the thing. Because last year, we did a lot of product stuff, neglected publishing anything, doing a lot of e-mail list stuff. So we’re back to focusing on building the audience. And then next year will be sales. But anyway, product is this year and then…I mean audience is this year, and then you just figure out, how am I gonna do that? Is it gonna be LinkedIn? Is it gonna be YouTube? Is it gonna be a blog? What percentage of all three, and then going from there. So I always have a super detailed thing of what I wanna get to and try my best to have that little road map. Of course, it’s written in pencil and you’ll always change it, but that’s something that’s always worked for me.
John: And how often do you go back? That’s awesome. I love that. How often do you go back and look? So this year you’re focusing on audience. How often are you gonna go back and say, like, “Is what we’re doing working?”?
Brian: Yeah, usually every 90 days. So I do this thing called the 90-day year.
John: Like Todd Herman, right?
Brian: Yeah, Todd Herman, exactly. He’s great. So it’s basically you just set your goals for the 90 days that would be similar to yearly goals. There’s a lot more to it than that. He has a course that’s excellent. But basically the idea is that you’re evaluating all the time, not just at the end of 90 days but also during. And usually, you have a good idea of whether something’s working or not pretty quickly.
John: If you’ve been doing it long enough, you kind of have a feeling like, “Is this working or not?” Yeah.
Brian: Yeah, especially if you already have some sort of audience and you start something new, you have a huge advantage. Like, sometimes you have to grind out a little bit to start to see results, but usually even then within like a couple weeks or months, you have an idea. Like this is either not working or not. There are those stories of the guy who just like blogged for three years and no one read it and now he’s huge. But that is totally the exception and not the rule.
John: Totally, totally. Yeah, I mean, it’s the whole, like, three years overnight success or seven years overnight success. You know, it’s survivorship bias, is all it is. And so, what we’re talking about here is not, you know, survivorship bias and just looking at the ones that, you know, succeeded necessarily but like really how do you give yourself a better chance of that success. And really, it’s with being stepping back and instead of going like, “Oh, I read all these things. So I’m just gonna go and implement all these different things.” I’ve seen this in my own business as well where it used to be like, “Oh, that’s a cool SEO tactic to try. Like, I’ll try that.” And then now, being years in and also knowing the direction of my business, now it’s much easier to say like, “No, actually, that is good to concentrate on at some point. I’ll put it in the backlog column of my Trello board.” But I don’t even look at that except for every three months and see, is there something there that I need to be doing now and drag over? You know, all the other stuff that’s in today and upcoming is super focused on the next couple months and are our focus for that while.
Brian: Yeah, it takes a long time to get there. Once you’re at…like, a couple years ago was the first time I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. And once you’re there…
John: Wow, and you’ve been in it for so long.
Brian: Yeah, but I didn’t really like know. I was still shiny object syndrome, still going from here to there, trying this and that, you know, the latest and greatest pop-up or whatever. But once you have a plan, once you have a plan, you’re like, “Okay, I actually know what to do.” I may not know how to do it, but I know what to do. Once you’re there, you can scale super fast. Like, the last couple years I grew super fast. And a big part of the reason is because I knew what to do. I didn’t know how to do it. I’ve learned. I’m still learning every day, but at least I know what to do. And that’s huge advantage because when you’re first starting out, you’re throwing cooked spaghetti against the wall, hoping something sticks. That’s actually what you should do when you’re first starting out.
Brian: That’s what I did. You know, I tried the weekly blog post. I tried the Dear John stuff. I tried different formats of blog posts. I tried different types of outreach. I tried Twitter. I tried Facebook. I tried different networks. I tried YouTube even before back in the day, but I wasn’t ready. And eventually, you find that one thing that works. And the best piece of business advice that I ever heard besides the old man stuff we already talked about, is Noah Kagan, double down on what works.
John: Yeah, totally.
Brian: I mean, that advice is so good.
John: Malcolm Gladwell calls that finding the white spots. White is the hottest thing. If it’s like orange, it’s kind of hot. If the fire is blue, it’s getting hotter. If it’s white, it’s like really freaking hot and it’s really working.
Brian: Exactly. Just go for that, like just forget…once you found that thing, you’ve struck gold and just forget everything else. It’s so hard. It is easier saying in theory but hard to do in practice. I’m getting better at it. I’m not there yet, for sure. But that piece of advice has always helped me because the biggest problem in business is like what to do, like what do you actually do. And when you have that framework of like double down on what works, it’s like, “Okay, I’ll just do that.” And it just makes things a whole lot easier than trying the new thing.
John: Right, totally. No, I think that’s an awesome way to wrap up because it’s…yeah, as you said, it’s super hard to get there. You have to try a lot of things. You have to be willing to fail. You know, we both tried a lot of things that haven’t worked. I feel like I’m still searching for what that thing is with Credo to really make it go to the next level. I have a bit clearer of an idea now, but still, like, looking for it. But if you look at all the companies that have blown up, in a good way, you know, like for you, it’s investing down and really just incredible content. And it’s also really good to hear that you have specific things. You’re like, “Now we need to focus on this. We need to make this better. We need to make that better next.” You have that strategy.
But you look at like Convertkit. And theirs is all through affiliates, like affiliates and really high-touch onboarding, and then like concierge migrations, I think is what they called them. That worked for them. I forget who it was. Someone recently also was talking about webinars and they did…it may have been Convertkit, but they did 150 partner webinars with affiliates in one year. One year. That’s like one every two days. That’s unbelievable. So I love that. I think that’s actually a really good spot to end on, is like…I mean, what we’ve covered is, what’s your unfair advantage and how do you do that while, you know, focusing on quality over quantity, and really focusing on what other people are not doing, and then finally having that more set strategy for where you want your company to go and then being able to say no.
Brian: Exactly. Well said.
John: Yeah, cool.
Brian: Awesome, John. Dude, this was great.
John: Yeah, yeah, this was really, really good. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it. Where can people find you online if they wanna learn more about Brian Dean, the man, about Backlinko, the company, about your training courses? Give me some links and I’ll link them in the show notes.
Brian: Yup. The best place is just go to backlinko.com and sign up for the newsletter, and also the Backlinko YouTube channel and subscribe there.
John: Awesome. It sounds good, man. I like that, very focused. Read the blog. Watch the videos.
Brian: That’s right.
John: Awesome, Brian. I appreciate it, man. We’ll speak to you soon.
Brian: Sounds good. See you later, John.