I love new businesses. I love technology that connects the world. I also hate seeing companies who change the world languish and not reach their full potential. FourSquare is one of those businesses for me.

I’ve thought for a while now about what I would do if I was Head of Online Marketing for Foursquare. No, I’m not looking for a new job, because I just started my new job at apartment site HotPads, but if I was I’d write this about Foursquare. If you’re the marketer at Foursquare, listen up. And if you know that person, you should forward this to them.

I have four three things you should do to see a bump in traffic.

Build A Web Presence

Note: I wrote this, and they rolled out their new site before I could publish. Well done guys.

Foursquare is one of the few startups that I can think of (Instagram and Snapchat come to mind) that has been able to build a mobile-first experience and company. Of course, Foursquare did this in competition with Dowalla. They ended up winning that fight and were the first movers in the check-in space, so they received good growth from the start.

While I agree and accept that the world is moving to mobile, and there are even countries skipping the desktop and moving to mobile, desktop and mobile search can still drive amazing traffic. Look at sites like Yelp and even OpenTable. These sites rank very well for restaurant names and have been able to monetize it. Even if you monetize with traffic, at least you’re monetizing. Foursquare is struggling to monetize, so this could be a nice stopgap while they figure out their mobile revenue streams.

So build a web presence. Offer something different than Yelp.

Oh wait, you have that. You have how popular a restaurant is. You have even how popular an airline at a specific airport is. You should harness that to not only show popularity, but also to make it a point of pride for restaurants and users. And you can use this data for awesome, because you know the types of places I go after other places (thanks to 4SQDAY):


But for the love of pete, allow me to embed them. Also, do more of this and this. Data = awesome. Tell us stories.

Email (or Text!) Me Recommendations

Foursquare, I’ve been a member of yours for over two years. I thought we were friends. I’ve given you a lot of time. I’ve played with you when I was bored. I’ve ignored other friends for you. I’ve given you free information. You even know where people go:


But never once have you recommended a restaurant to me. Or told me where I should take my girlfriend on a date because others have taken their girlfriends there and they had a great time.

You should get in touch more often. I give you permission to do so, and I bet a lot of other people will too.

Another bonus to this: you have nationwide and worldwide coverage. My friend tells me you are immensely popular in Turkey. This gives you a huge power, because now when I check in at another airport in another state while traveling, you can recommend me places to eat or see there. You know where I am. Leverage that. Don’t underestimate the power of the connections you have drawn for people too.

Be More Aggressive About Reviews/Tips

The most useful part of Yelp is their star ratings system. If I see a restaurant with less than 4 stars, I’m a bit reluctant to go there.

But you offer tips, and that is the center of your experience. You should take the different tips people leave and surface them as search filters. But you should also ask me more often to leave tips about the place. I know you’re trying to gather information about credit cards and pricing through the app right now, but do more than ask me yes/no questions. Also ask me what I would recommend people get or what I enjoyed the most.


Curate Awesome Content

Finally, you are in the position to be the place people go when they are trying to find out what’s happening at the Met or where they should stay on a business trip to Atlanta. You have data on everything.

I have always wanted a service that will recommend places for me to go on Saturday night based on other places I’ve been or bands I’ve seen. I’ve managed to cobble together a decent workflow for finding good new restaurants or when my favorite band is coming to town (Wednesday, by the way), but you should be doing that for. I shouldn’t have to use BandsInTown on Facebook and Thriliist for restaurants. You know what I like. Curate that for me and I’ll love you forever, especially as I move to San Francisco.


I love you, Foursquare. Build a decent web experience and send me communications, and I’ll love you even more.



Why I Write on Medium

John Doherty —  October 15, 2013

Hi my name is John and I write on Medium, and I like it.

Before I start this post I feel the need to make that confession. Medium, if you don’t know, is the current darling of writing online. It’s the brain child of Evan Williams, the man behind Blogger and Twitter. Medium is currently invite-only, though it’s easy to get access to write if you edit someone else’s post (#protip).

I’ve been surprised by the number of professional marketers I know who have been asking “Why write on Medium? Aren’t you just building someone else’s platform?” I expected this from certain groups online, but not from the professional marketers that I know. Hence, I think it necessary to respond here, as I did over on Inbound.org about why I personally write on Medium, what I’ve seen from it, and how I plan to leverage it in the future.

Why Write?

I think of writing on Medium as thought leadership content. If you’re a company owner or an expert in a field, would you jump at the chance to write on Forbes (well, the Forbes of old maybe) or Time.com? Would you pose the same question of “but why write on there?” if you had those chances? What about the chance to write on Mashable (even if you don’t like it) or TechCrunch (once again, whether you like their content or not)? Of course you would jump at that chance and of course you wouldn’t ask me that question.

So why ask it about Medium?

I write on Medium for the following reasons:

  • To access a new (and tuned-in) audience
  • Try different types of writing that I don’t want to put here yet
  • Drive traffic to sites I care about (content strategy anyone)?

Access A New Audience

The Medium audience is an Internet savvy bunch. They’re writers, designers, marketers, brand people, product people, and even some quite influential characters like Gary V and Evan Williams (founder) hang out on there. In short, it’s the perfect target audience for startups and people involved in that industry, even tangentially.

Think back to marketing at its base. Marketing, especially in our day and age, involves meeting your target customers where they are. This is the ultimate goal because these are the people that are going to pay you, which then pays your rent and for your food. But to reach your customers by getting in front of them where they are, you have two choices (that are not mutually exclusive):

  • You write and get content placed that refers people back to your site/business
  • Others reference/recommend your business in content that they write.

Quick tangent: This is why I believe many companies are doing it wrong when they engage writers to create content to be placed on another website (like Medium). Often, the company will hire the writer to write the piece, then the company will do outreach to place it. Or, if they’re a little more savvy, they do outreach first in order to get the content idea secured and then they hire the content writer. But why stop there? If I was doing it (and I soon may), I’d hire a person who can do both the outreach and the writing. Of course, you need to qualify the places that the writers are putting content and make sure that they do it in a way that won’t get you into trouble (ie trying to “scale” the same content across many article directory websites), but I think the return would be there.

Different Types of Writing

I also write on Medium to try new content types. I have built a very marketing-focused site here. That makes sense – this is a marketing website. Building an audience focused around a topic lends itself to many challenges though, not the least being the fact that you can’t easily branch out into other types of writing. I’ve always been a writer and even still write fiction, but I don’t expose that here. I could do that on Medium, though.

If you look at the posts I’ve written on Medium, they’re about entrepreneurship, musings about life and fate, and lessons I’ve learned over the past couple of years. Not all of them have worked. Check out the stats.

As you can see, some did well and others not so much. That’s kind of the point though – I can experiment with other types of writing in a low-risk environment where I can see what resonates and what doesn’t (and build some strong links while I’m at it :-)

I was intrigued by a recent post over on Buffer where Belle, their main writer now, talked about how she and Leo decided that they would experiment with different content types *on the Buffer blog*. She even points out that one of the content types they tried – personal stories – did not do very well. I think there are a few reasons for this, namely:

  • It’s not the type of content the Buffer audience is used to
  • The audience was not primed for a different type of content
  • Maybe not the kind of audience the Buffer crowd wants

Do I think people should experiment? Absolutely. The issue here isn’t Belle’s writing though. She is a phenomenal writer, one of my favorites to read these days, but they missed the target audience. If I were her, I would have put that content on a different site with an audience (like Medium) to see how it’s received. Then, if it’s received well, start putting together a strategy for how you are going to incorporate that into your own site if you decide your site is the right place for that kind of content. You should be willing to recognize that your site might not be the best place for it at the end of the day.

It All Goes Back To Your Marketing Funnel

Remember your marketing funnel? In regards to content people talk about top, middle, and bottom of funnel (T/M/BOFU), but this doesn’t just apply to content. When we take a step back and look at it from a more meta level, these sections (and let’s not forget about the post-conversion funnel too) are:

  • Top of funnel – first few touches on the site with the goal of a micro-conversion such as an email list subscribe or social media following
  • Middle of funnel – the next touches where you increasingly take them from outside interest to becoming an advocate and getting closer to buying
  • Bottom of funnel – where the conversion happens.

Medium sits at the top of the funnel for me. I don’t cross-promote (often) my Medium content on my other sites. I’ll promote them via social media, for sure, and I always want the existing audience to be interested in what has been written. That doesn’t happen, though, which is fine. You learn and you change for the next time.

A Few Medium Strategies

Medium is an interesting platform in that it has two dynamics:

  • Logged-out users see the most popular content on the homepage
  • Logged-in users see content curated by them based on categories they follow

You see, Medium is organized into categories. Some of my favorites are Architecting A Life, What I Learned Building, and Today I Learned. I’ve followed these signed in, so when I go to Medium I see this:


But when I’m signed out (or incognito), this is what I would see:


There are two main strategies to get your content found directly on Medium (meaning, outside of social media and external promotion):

  • Get enough people to recommend it that it hits the homepage for logged out visitors (honestly, it only takes 4-5 to make this happen right now)
  • Put it in the most relevant popular categories (I believe you can do 3 yourself) and get others to include it in other categories as well

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you how to find the most popular categories, though. Here is a living chart of the most popular categories on Medium as of time of publishing. If someone wants to help me write a script that updates daily, I’d love your help and will gladly link to you!

Why I Write On Medium

I write on Medium because I get to experiment with new content, build links back to my sites, drive targeted traffic to side projects like HireGun, and increase my portfolio of writing. I’m widening the top of the HireGun, and this site’s, conversion funnel and playing the long game.

Medium is a platform. Others have talked about why you shouldn’t put all of your content onto someone else’s platform, which I agree with. Don’t do it with Google+, don’t do it with Myspace or Facebook, and don’t do it with Medium. We can, however, learn how to use these platforms to connect with our potential audience and build our businesses that way.

I’d love your thoughts. Or if you want to start the conversation on Twitter, tweet me at @dohertyjf.

Many of you don’t know this, but I’ve burnt myself out a few times. I hustle really hard for a long amount of time, then I hit a point where I cannot go any further. I’ve recently come across some awesome quotes that I want to share to encourage you to take time and space as you need it, and your work will be better for it. Personally, I plan to do this more in San Francisco by riding my bike, going skiing in Tahoe and climbing in Yosemite, and being outside as much as possible and off the Internet on weekends. Continue Reading…

A month and a half ago I took a new job as the Online Marketing Manager for Hotpads.com, the nationwide apartment and condo rentals subsidiary website of leading real estate website Zillow. I gave my notice at Distilled and finished out three and a half weeks there. I start my new job Monday.

In between though, I’ve had two weeks off. Originally, I took those two weeks off to potentially travel. I was hoping to go to Ireland to visit an old friend from my 2006 Switzerland days, but flights were prohibitively expensive. Instead, I decided to stay around New York (though I’m writing this on a plane to Colorado before heading to Seattle and San Francisco) in order to see the city some more. To be honest, I didn’t do much of that though I did take an afternoon to go to the American Museum of Natural History (true fact: Theodore Roosevelt’s family opened it).

Instead, I worked on my side project HireGun. Here’s what I learned.

Entrepreneurship is a mindset

I was an entrepreneur full time for these two weeks. You might be thinking “Dude, you still have no idea about entrepreneurship then.” And you might be right. I have no idea about the legalities of entrepreneurship, I’m just learning about book-keeping and invoicing (I do recommend Freshbooks though), and I haven’t built a full product yet. I have a website and a business model that I’m in the process of testing.

However, this isn’t all entrepreneurship is. Entrepreneurship is a mindset. Entrepreneurship is a dedication to identifying problems or opportunities, trying to fix them, and changing the world for the better. If you’ve made one person’s life better, you’ve been successful. If you’ve made some money great. But that’s not all entrepreneurship is. Entrepreneurship is identifying challenges and dedicating yourself to shipping things to try to make them work.

I didn’t realize that until this week. And honestly, I think the entrepreneurship mindset is closer to a creative mindset than a business mindset. You can learn business strategies, processes, and models. You can’t really learn creativity. And this is why I claim “Entrepreneur” in my Twitter profile.

Entrepreneurship is hard and scary

If I didn’t have a new job that I was heading into, and one that I am very excited about and where I see a lot of opportunity, I might have been a nervous mess these past two weeks. Having to think about budgets, prioritizing features and tasks based on what you think will bring in ROI, and then making deals – this is hard and heady stuff.

If I had a family, I would’ve been even more nervous. I have an apartment to pay for, food to buy, and a girlfriend to treat to things, but that’s very very different from your venture being your sole source of income.

I don’t know how a lot of you do it. I plan to do it someday still, but I’ve definitely had a reality check. At the end of the two weeks though, I was Ramen profitable. I consider that a win.

Test your business models

Business models are tricky. It’s tough to realize that the model you’ve been working off of has flaws and you need to put in more work to figure out if it’s a completely viable option or if you need to tweak or even completely change your model. Early on is the time to test your business model, because without a solid revenue model in a bootstrapped business you will quickly run out of runway and will not be able to scale.

The past two weeks I’ve been testing my model. I’m not convinced I have it figured out, and if the one that I think will really work is to succeed it’s going to involve a lot of time and effort. We’ll see what that turns into.

Lesson – even if you’re making money, you don’t necessarily have your business model figured out. Test other ways and do the math to figure out what will be long term profitable and sustainable.

Talk to your customers and ask for help

Your customers are your greatest asset. In HireGun’s case, the greatest asset is the strong lineup of consultants on board that I refer business to. When I realized one of the roadblocks to my business model, I could have gone one of two routes. I could have immediately started executing on what I *thought* would be part of the answer, or I could ask consultants if that would be valuable to them.

I chose to do the second. I sent an email with the subject line “Do you have 15 minutes to chat?” I explained that I had an idea that I needed to run by them and asked for just a few minutes of their time. This is the email that I sent – simple and straight forward with a call to action at the end:


I set up the calls through Clarity.fm (see my interview with Dan Martell, the founder, here). They handled all the logistics and I was able to do all the calls for free through their offering. And as you’ll see in the next section, I gave specific parameters for when I would do the call so that I could have blocks of time to do other things (like exercise).

Lesson: read The Lean Startup. You’ll learn how to test ideas.

Vary your day and batch your work

I get bored easily. If I keep at one task for too long, especially while sitting (which I’m convinced is slowly killing us), I get bored and antsy. So, I tried to schedule out my day so that I could reach peak efficiency – sleep in a bit, do some writing in the morning while I’m fresh and drinking coffee and eating a healthy breakfast, check for new leads and contact them while still drinking coffee, eat some lunch, go on a bike ride for at least an hour around Prospect Park, come back and answer more emails, do some outreach or publish content, check for new leads with a beer, then unplug for the evening.

On days where I was doing calls, whether with consultants or paid gigs through Clarity (my profile here), I set parameters for myself for when I would be available. Then, I stuck to those. I marked off the afternoons on Wednesday and Thursday of the first week for consultant calls, then I scheduled paid consulting calls on the next Wednesday. In between, and other times those days, I had time to either have to myself (to read or write) or choose to not work at all if I wanted/needed to refresh myself.

This approach to work is often called “batch working” or “time boxing”. Basically it’s a way to guarantee that certain tasks won’t take over your life and not allow you sufficient time to do focus and do anything well. It’s a strategy I employed as a consultant (no calls before 10am, etc) and one that I plan to employ at Hotpads too in order to allow for maximum productivity.

Get some exercise

It’s counter-intuitive, but scientific, that exercising gives you more energy rather than less. Sure, you’re spent afterwards but your adrenaline is flowing, and I’ve found that it’s often these times after exercising that I am the most creative. I used to ride my bike into work, from Park Slope in Brooklyn to Union Square in Manhattan, and it was these days that I was most awake (needed less coffee) and also the most productive.

I recognize that not everyone has the luxury of exercising in the middle of the day. I have friends in finance who are barely able to leave their seats in order to go use the bathroom because they may get a call to make a trade where every second matters.

If you are not in the habit of exercising, start slowly. One reason that so many people do not succeed in their New Years Resolutions is because they set them too high and go too strong. Commit to going for a walk two times a week. Soon you can take that to three, then four, and soon you’ll crave going for a walk to clear your head.

Final Thoughts

This was a great two weeks. In fact, it’s two of the most enjoyable I’ve had in a while (definitely since my trip to Alaska back in June). I’ll take these lessons into Hotpads and beyond. If any of you have experimented like this and written about it, I’d love to read your stories too.

The past week in search marketing has given everyone a lot to talk about. 100% (not provided) for keywords. Hummingbird, the rewrite of the algorithm. It seems like it’s cool to talk about Hummingbird, Google’s latest name for their algorithm.

Here’s the unfortunate truth about Hummingbird and (not provided): none of us really know what is in Hummingbird, or what the motivations behind 100% secure search are. It could be to fight spam. It could be the NSA snooping on $GOOG’s data. It could be a seemingly evil (but smart) way to get people to buy more ads, which will probably work.

As Joel said in his post on the iAcquire blog this week, you can complain or you can get to work.

Allow me to input my perspective.

Hummingbird isn’t the end of SEO. Neither is secure search. Both of these change the game, but they don’t change what search marketers should be doing anyway – focusing on the channels that bring the most revenue to the business at the best cost.

Let’s not jump and scream about how Hummingbird will kill SEO. From my perspective, the effect is relatively small.

Hummingbird Affects Answer Sites

To start, let’s calm down for a minute and think about how people use the internet. They use it in many different ways –

  • To find basic information
  • To find real time information
  • To learn
  • To go indepth into a topic
  • To buy stuff

Hummingbird affects the first two. It means that sites like Yahoo Answers (already not a great resource), Wikihow and eHow (whatever traffic they have left), crappy sites like the cellphone number sites, and even Quora (which I once heard referenced as Yahoo Answers plus 50 IQ points) are going to see traffic drops.

When you think about it, though, this is an extremely small number of sites on the Internet. These sites, and a few others like ESPN (for real time scores) and weather.com (for weather) will have to come up with new ways to generate traffic and make their sites stickier and more useful to keep users coming back. This is a natural progression of business, and not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. The Internet gets more useful and google users are happier because they find their information faster.

(Not provided) Focuses Us On Pages

Let’s talk about secure search now. The marketing community has been all abuzz about this for the last week since someone noticed that Google is redirecting all search traffic through HTTPS, which means that organic search marketers now do not get any of the keywords driving traffic to their site through Google. Truth is, (not provided) has been spiking for weeks, since the Friday before Labor Day weekend. We’ve steadily been losing organic traffic and at a higher rate than usual in the past few weeks. Did people seriously not notice? I sure did.

Rand Fishkin, who I love and respect, did a wonderful emergency Whiteboard Tuesday on Moz with some awesome strategies for dealing with (not provided). I’ve embedded it below so you can watch for yourself:

I take issue with the view that has been espoused recently by the industry, though, that this is an existential crisis for SEO/marketing and that this will ultimately hurt SEO budgets.

I was an SEO consultant for almost three years, until last week actually. From my experience, the simplified version of how execs/CMOs/lead marketers think about SEO is flawed.

Most execs don’t care which keywords are driving traffic and converting best. They’re too busy to care about that. I know exactly one CEO of a company with > $10m in annual revenue who looks at individual keywords.

Most execs care about overall revenue coming from the organic, or any other, channel. They also care about their pet keywords, for better or for worse. Many of you reading this are probably very familiar with the frequent “Why are we not #1 for [keyword] yet?” question, even though that keyword may not drive great traffic or conversions.

We’ve lost keyword data. So how do we move forward? I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’m going back inhouse. Here is my current thinking about how I would report if I was still consulting, which is similar to how i would ideally report inhouse:

  • Pages driving conversions and the channel driving them, as opposed to individual keywords;
  • Buckets of pages driving traffic (ie category or product page) and that trended over time;
  • Efforts made and the direct effects of those actions (traffic and conversions, maybe even movements in specific rankings if that is needed for more buy in from above);
  • Biggest areas of potential to focus on next;
  • Plans for the future.

Not much has changed there. Marketers can still get data (which is the same data we’ve always had, albeit a source that we don’t really trust aka Google) we’ve always had upfront. Measuring it will be a bit harder, but now we can focus on the pages that traffic and come up with new ways to direct traffic there.

The Future is Bright

Hummingbird and secure search are here. There’s nothing to do about that. Google may give us organic keyword data back through GA premium, but I’m not holding my breath.

Hummingbird has bigger consequences than we know, that’s for sure. It incorporates the Knowledge Graph more than ever before and is starting to move search towards “things not strings” as many have said. Secure search hides important data, but we’re able to now report on other things that may even be better tied to business objectives than before.

During the fall of 2011 and the first half of 2012, I did a lot of freelance consulting. I did it because I was saving for trips abroad and knew that by doing consulting on the side of my day job at Distilled NYC I could save for it faster. So I took on some clients, some that I did penalty drop analysis for, and others where I built links and produced content for their sites. It was fun, but it was tiring as I worked an extra 10-15 hours per week in addition to 50-60 hours at Distilled plus blogging on this site twice weekly as well as Distilled and SEOmoz’s blogs almost once a month each.

It was a lot. So late last year, I stopped accepting new freelance clients and slowly phased out my old ones. While I had less money in my pocket, I also had a lot more free time to explore other projects that I was interested in.

Challenges of Freelance

Freelance consulting was a challenge for me because of the time factor. When I spent 50-60 hours a week at my day job, I then needed to relax on the weekends. I tried to only do freelance work every other weekend, but then that inevitably meant that I had to spend the two freelance weekends just doing work, or at least the afternoons and evenings of Saturday and Sunday. That was no fun and I missed out on a lot of opportunities in New York City. I also found that it took up a lot of my brain space on the weekends I was not working.

Freelancing can be very challenging for indisciplined folks. In order to succeed as a freelancer, I realized that you need to have the following in line:

  • Driven by money, or driven to make money for a certain larger goal
  • High enough of an hourly rate to make it worth your time
  • A non-demanding day job

I quite simply wasn’t driven by money enough to spend my extra time that I had outside of work doing more work. I needed some free time to stay active and sane after getting off work.

What Instead?

I’m a bad programmer (which is why I don’t do it for a living), but I can get around PHP, CSS, and JavaScript. But my talents come in identifying business models that work and then applying them to new problems.

A few months ago, I launched a service called HireGun. It’s a simple site now, but would you believe that it’s doing some decent revenue with about 10 hours worth of work per month? It’s a simple idea that I’ve launched and am working every day to improve the process and increase deal flow. I bet a number of you who read this, if you work in the inbound marketing industry in SEO, content marketing, or social media marketing, and especially if you run an agency, will be hearing from me soon enough.

So, I’m focusing on more scalable ventures that allow me to put what I know more into practice, make some money, and ultimately stop chasing the elusive algorithm and Google dance, and instead build something that I am proud of and that will provide me certain freedoms I desire.

I Have Availability from Sept 28-Oct 10

While I’m at it, I’m also offering people the opportunity to do pay-by-the-minute phone call consulting with me. The issue with a lot of agencies is that they work on retainer models (great for revenue, not so great for those in need of a bit of consulting) and therefore those who need an hour or two are left begging a few hours from someone in exchange for coffee or food. And if you’re dealing with people who have read posts like this, this will be hard to do.

So, I’ve become an expert on Dan Martell’s Clarity.fm. Through that service, you can request a phone call with me. As you can tell through my writings on this site, I hold nothing back and will seek to give as much valuable as possible in the time that you are paying for. It’ll be fun, so why not give me a call and we can chat some marketing?

Newsflash: a blog is not a content strategy.

Brands in 2013 and beyond are increasingly moving away from blogs to content on other parts of their website that will better drive conversions and traffic. In a phenomenal read over on Hubspot, the author talks about how marketers these days are increasingly buying into the age of context and realizing that content needs to be outside of just one section of the website (aka the blog) to drive longtail traffic and convert users. While B2B blogs are getting better at producing whitepapers, case studies, and more in-depth reports by mining their own data for inspiration, ideas, and support for these ideas, marketers such as myself (who started in SEO) are still stuck on simply putting content on the website alone to drive initial visitors. Once that’s accomplished, though, what do we do next? And, shouldn’t we look at other channels as potentially driving new traffic as well?

In this post, we’ll examine types of content to produce to not only drive new traffic, but also to generate awareness of your brand and to keep customers coming back to visit and buy again and again and again.

Email as Content

Email is the channel that interests me most these days. It’s a powerful channel because you’re putting content directly into the inboxes of people who have said that they want it (unless you bought an email list, in which case you’re going to face high unsubscribe rates and spam reports). While email is a powerful medium, a recent study by Mailchimp shows that open rates for email marketing messages have decreased from over 13% (except around big holidays when the noise-to-signal ratio is very high) to 12-12.5% on weekdays and as low as about 9.5% on weekends:


As with any channel of marketing, you have vanity metrics and actionable metrics. Email open rates are the former – they tell you nothing about whether or not people are actually buying from you. At best, they are an indicator that you’ve written a headline that gets people to click, but you have to go beyond this metric to see if people are actually buying anything from you.

The goal of email marketing, of course, is to get people to come back to your site. Opens matter a ton, though, because people will never click through to your site without opening it. With the new tabbed inbox in Gmail (and mobile, where half of opens occur), the goal is to make your emails so interesting to your user base that they feel compelled to open them.

Here are a few ideas for content to produce to make this happen:


One of the best ways to provide value to your users, and the flesh to many drip-marketing campaigns, is content curation. If you’re a large platform site like Pinterest, Houzz, or Zillow Digs, you can send your own content to people by curating it into interesting workflows and collections of good imagery or useful tips. For example, a Houzz email:


Grovo is also doing a phenomenal job of this with their lifecycle emails and subsequent dedicated landing pages of learning tracks (full disclosure: I’m an advisor):


Special content

Another type of content that can lead to people opening your emails even within the Promotions tab is special content that you deliver straight to their inbox from you personally. I rarely open an Orbitz email, because they send me the same thing every day, but I always open emails from Andrew Chen and Patrick McKenzie:


From Patrick:


You see, Patrick and Andrew send emails that they know will add value to their readers. They’re not just an RSS feed of content, but rather it’s curated special content that they’ve produced because they know who their audience is. They both target marketers. I’m a marketer. Therefore, I open their content, digest it all, and often share it with others.

Opt-In Information

Another way to guarantee that your emails will be opened is to ask permission to email people with updates to information they’re seeking. This works the following:

  • Have a product that people need to visit multiple times before they make a decision;
  • If their selection is not yet available, let them ask to be notified when it is;
  • Email them only when there are updates.

This can work especially well for sites like apartment rentals or outdoor clothing.

On BackCountry, for example, if I want the Stoic Stash Shell jacket but I’m not an extra large (I’m a medium usually), I should have the option to select my size from the dropdown or selection menu and input my email address to find out when my size is available. BackCountry doesn’t have this currently (sad face):


A product like HotPads (where I will be doing marketing starting mid-October) should give you options to be alerted via email when new options become available. Right now you can be alerted hourly, daily, monthly, or never. I’d add an option called “When it happens” to be alerted straight away. Time is money in renting an apartment in a competitive market:


Special Offers

A final great piece of content to email to your subscribers is free stuff. Everyone loves free stuff, and this is a way to build brand advocates and prove to them the value of what you do. Eventually, if you’re emailing your own stuff to them for free, they’ll probably move towards purchasing something you offer.

Distilled (my current company) does a phenomenal job of this. Distilled runs conferences, and every month the marketing team sends a free video to everyone on the email list. It gets Distilled exposure, helps to sell conference tickets, and provides a ton of value to the community.




This is the first in a series of blog posts about non-SEO content marketing. Stay tuned for Social Media and PR to come.

Becoming A Better Marketer

John Doherty —  September 9, 2013

I’ve been in search for a few years now. I just realized recently that I graduated high school and started university a decade ago. While this seems like forever in some ways, in the perspective of life it’s not. After all, I don’t think people really figure out who they are and what they want out of life until they are in their mid to late 20s.

This has a parallel to professional life as well. When you start in an industry, you’re trying to prove yourself. You’re hustling. In the Internet marketing industry this might mean:

  • Building a personal brand
  • Blogging all the time
  • Guest blogging
  • Tweeting everything
  • Going to as many conferences as possible
  • Learning how to set up sites and optimize for traffic
  • (Insert hustle here)


My first job in SEO and online marketing full time was building links for an online education website owned by a marketing agency in Philadelphia. During this time, I was bottom of the heap, the new guy, doing what I was told. I was very fortunate to have a manager, who is still a trusted industry peer, who saw things similarly to myself and our other coworker.

I was very fortunate to have experience as a blogger and writer, and I could send a mean email and connect with bloggers in order to get links back to our site, which ended up working very well. Eventually, though, I realized that what I was being told to do and what was actually possible, and what didn’t violate my morals, was in constant tension and I needed to get out.

I was lucky enough to go to Distilled’s Linklove conference in London, which changed the course of my career. Within four weeks of returning from London, I had moved our main keyword, a 33k exact searches a month term, from 16 to 4. I had also accepted a job with Distilled in NYC and was preparing to move.

Embrace Changes in Yourself

Let me tell you – the first few years in an industry are FUN. I’ve had a blast with what I have been able to do in the past few years, including sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in our industry (Danny Sullivan, Michael Gray, Mike King, Rand Fishkin, Will Critchlow, and more).

I have to be honest with myself though – I’m the kind of person who has to constantly be moving forward. If I’m not deriving value from what I’m doing, I’m not happy. This is why I launched HireGun (besides the fact that I saw an opportunity) and why I constantly tinker with sites. It’s why I read everything I can and share it, so that I remember it.

This is also why I’m tired of the same old SEO games and industry drama. The figures debating it change from time to time, but the topics never change. Marketers asking me to prove that content is worthwhile? Asking me why you should stop buying links? I’d show you graphs of sites that have been rocked because of this, but that wouldn’t do any good. I get frustrated by people who just want a quick win and a silver bullet, and quite honestly I don’t want to fight those battles anymore.

The funny thing is that I used to enjoy all this. I used to enjoy the debates and the drama. I spent way too much time on it, expending my mental energy on it when I had bigger issues to tackle.

That’s brought me to where I am now.

Priorities change

I was recently chatting, at separate times, with Tom Critchlow and Ross Hudgens. Our paths have been very similar:

  • Hustle hustle
  • Write write
  • Burn out
  • Recover
  • Launch products instead of blog posts

Much like many things in life, the law of diminishing returns happens in professional lives. I used to get a lot out of publishing blog posts and driving traffic to this site. It was fun (and still is) to write a post that caused a stir and hit the front page of Hacker News. I enjoyed the rush, and the period served a purpose and I made a lot of awesome friends through it.

It also has taken me to where I am now. A few years of down-in-the-trenches hustling on my own site and for clients taught me a ton about marketing. I used to consider going back to school to get an MBA, but honestly the Internet has been my MBA. I have learned way more by working with actual businesses than I could ever learn in a business theory class, and I’ve made a lot of friends in the process.

Point blank – I’ve become bored and stagnated a bit. Some of you may have noticed this.

I could fill up my time again with freelance clients, but for what? An extra bit of money in my pocket each month that the government will take 1/3 of anyway? Nah. There are better ways to spend time.

But I cannot forget what I’ve learned up to this point:

  • How to drive traffic to a site
  • How to identify who wants which content
  • How to convert increasing numbers of the visitors you have
  • How to write good content
  • What types of marketing work when
  • Where risk is acceptable and where it is not

Where Things Go Now

Once you reach the point of saying “I’m bored with blogging” or “I’m bored with SEO” then comes the question “what next?” It’s a great question and one I’ve been thinking through a lot.

First, let me say that I’ll never completely stop blogging. I have cut back, like many before me have and many in the future will, but I will never fully quit. Writing is simply too fun for me. However, people like myself, Ross, and Tom have all cut back because of something else – a desire to do something bigger. I think of the shift this way.


Tactics are what you learn first. Tactics are how a strategy gets implemented. Without tactics, and tacticians, strategies fail. The best laid strategies fail without tacticians, and every great strategist or visionary starts with being a tactician first. Steve Jobs co-built the first Apple computer. Rand Fishkin used to hands-on build links for clients. Danny Sullivan built Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land off his own writing. Jack Dorsey coded Twitter.

Keeping with the metaphor, this is the blogger writing posts to get noticed and to teach (that’s incredibly important).

Sometimes, a tactician moves beyond tactics and begins to build strategies. They realize that they can leverage different areas of marketing, or whatever their skills of choice are, to get to something further such as money. This is the stage where you are able to see when different parts come into play and how to string them together, and measure the results, to achieve what you want to accomplish.

Finally, you grow into wanting to own something end to end. One marketing campaign after another is fun, sure. You learn with each campaign and keep moving. But for some of us, it’s not enough and you begin to stagnate. This is where I’ve come to, at least with clients where I cannot really control implementation and prioritisation. Now, I want to build something.

For more of my thoughts on managers, strategists, and contributers, read this post over on Medium.

Full Stack Marketing?

I’m both fond and not fond of the term “full stack marketer” but I don’t have a better way to explain it. It’s probably just a trendy word for a generalist, which is what I am. A full stack marketer understands:

  • Organic search
  • Paid search
  • Social
  • Content
  • Email marketing
  • Blogging
  • PR

Of course, you’re not a master of all of these but you’re able to talk about them intelligently, identify when someone doesn’t really know what they are talking about, and are able to incorporate each into a much larger strategy.

That’s the basis. Once you move into ownership, you start to understand product, positioning, branding, customer feedback loops, the psychology behind why people do what they do, revenue streams, and more.

Who knows where all this will end up. I’m working on HireGun pretty seriously and trying to learn product and market positioning. I’m learning more about lead generation and optimization and how to weigh priorities and ship features that I think will have the highest impact.


I’ve also written on Medium about Why I’m Not Coding Yet , yet I am also realizing the importance of UI and UX, removing roadblocks for both the service users and for myself. In the future some of this will be smart automation for trusted people while the rest will stay manual for a bit. I’m realizing, though, that scale necessitates automation, so automation it shall be.

Once again, these are the lessons I’m learning, and it feels good to learn once again.

Up and to the right.

Added after this post was finished: I’ve decided that joining HotPads is a way for me to keep moving forward. I’m stoked to contribute over there.

In 2011, I created a playlist called “Brooklyn” in Spotify. This was because I had just moved to Brooklyn to join Distilled and songs like “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”, “Brooklyn Bound” by The Black Keys, and “Brooklyn Go Hard” by Jay Z felt like they defined my life. On my first day of work at Distilled, I listened to “Empire State of Mind” as I walked into the building. And yesterday, September 3rd, I created a playlist called “SF”.

You see, I didn’t think I’d be writing this post for quite a while. Since I moved to New York two years ago and joined Distilled, I’ve been very vocal about my love for Distilled, for New York, and for the life that I’ve been able to have here. It’s been an amazing adventure, but at some point all great things come to an end and we realize that it’s time to let some things go in order to embrace the future. Therefore, I have to announce that:

I’m leaving Distilled in New York City at the end of September and have accepted the position of Online Marketing Manager for HotPads, the fully owned rentals subsidiary of Zillow based in San Francisco, California.

This is a big announcement, and let me tell you that no one is more surprised than myself. Let me explain why I’ve made this decision. Continue Reading…

Marketers produce content. We produce a metric ton of content every day, actually. We’re told to create great content and to keep producing great content.

*cue the parody “Great content is killing me”*

Not only do we produce content on our own sites, we also produce content and put it on other sites (which some deem pretty insane). Let me get this straight – We’re creating high-quality content, that takes up our own creative energy and time, so that someone else can put it on their site. And we’re doing it for a freaking link??

If you’re just doing content for the sake of a link, let me say that you’re doing it wrong. Yes, I’ve worked in SEO for a while now. Yes, I know the value of a link. Yes, I can put the monetary value on a link, and I have. Yes, I still think about links first when I scan a piece of content.

BUT. What if I told you that you can still get all of this and more? Continue Reading…