The Nuance of Marketing the News:

Digital Marketing for Publishers

News publishers have a completely different experience when marketing content –

Long-time friend John Shehata stops by the Endless Coffee Cup Podcast to talk about his experience in Media and Publishing, with an emphasis on SEO.

Having held VP-level positions at both Disney/ABC and CondeNast, John brings a unique viewpoint to the digital marketing world, and shows that SEO is still a driving, dynamic force for anyone wanting to build sustainable growth.

For example, how can you do keyword research when the news changes daily? Where do you go for researching changing topics and audiences? Listen in as John shares his wisdom and innovations in the publishing, SEO, and Social Media world.

Show Notes:


[00:00:00] John: Most of the news hardcore or software publishers, it’s all about file and luck. Let’s write that story, file it, lock it, and move to the next one. So the changing the culture or the mentality about, no, it’s not over yet. There is the next story, there is a content refreshes and all that stuff, right? So challenges keep, moving with technology, right? And then social media comes, it’s like, how can I take this amazing story, transform it into something visual with a couple of lines that can attract users and why don’t I have to bring these users back to my site?

So I think challenges, are different by time, by platform, but the biggest part was always culture, right? How to change the mindset, how to view digital and all these social platforms and search engines and so on.

[00:01:00] Voice over Intro: Welcome to Endless Coffee Cup, a regular discussion of marketing, news, culture and media for our complex digital lifestyle. Join Matt Bailey as he engages in conversation to find insights beyond the latest headlines and deeper understanding for those involved in marketing. Grab a cup of coffee. Have a sit. And thanks for joining. Hello and welcome to another edition of the Endless Coffee Cup podcast, and I hope you have got a great big cup of coffee with you today because this is going to be a fascinating discussion. I’ve got an old friend and I feel like I always have a lot of old friends, but that’s what happens when you’re in an industry and John, what an industry this is.

[00:01:42] Matt: We met at the Search Engine Strategies, conferences years ago. How are you doing today, John?

[00:01:51] John: Hey Matt, thanks for having me. Yes, we met at SES the good old days.

[00:01:57] Matt: Yes, and so this is John Shahada. For those of you in the SEO industry you probably know John if not, John and I go back, way back. John, you were audience development at Disney and you brought me in to do a training there in analytics, that was a lot of fun.

And then you’ve, since you moved on to Conde Nast for a lot of years and oversaw the SEO and social there, I believe, and now you’re doing your own thing.

[00:02:28] John: It has been a long journey, I think, yes, the first time we met, can’t remember. It was like maybe 18 years ago or something you were presenting or more at the SES and your presentation stuck with me for many years, it was like an amazing presentation. I think it was what Star Trek back then,

[00:02:49] Matt: Yeah, that’s the one that sticks with people is the Star Trek Red shirts.

[00:02:52] John: Yes, blue shirts versus red shirts and how you presented analytics in a way that everyone can understand. And then back in Disney, we used to do this audience development summit, and I think I invited you to speak and everyone was amazed with that presentation.

So since then, after Disney for five years, I moved on to Conde Nast and I oversaw all audience development. So it was overseeing the SEO teams social media teams, decentralized ones, newsletters, strategy and operations, podcast, organic partnerships, how to work was different like Flipboard and News Break and so on.

And I had a small team for innovation where we acted like a small startup where we built new products to save time and help ad dev teams. So, yeah it was fun, but as you mentioned as of like couple of weeks ago, Now I’m doing my own thing, so finally I’m like back to the entrepreneur in me, developing tools, working on my conference and providing consultation services.

[00:03:55] Matt: Awesome. It sounds, John you’ve always been an entrepreneur. Even though you’ve worked for brands, you’ve always still been developing things behind the scenes. You’ve got that mentality about you that if the tool doesn’t exist, you’re gonna make it.

[00:04:11] John: Yes, absolutely. So it all started, I don’t know if we can go a little bit back in time, but all started back in college where I needed to pay for my college and I didn’t have much money back then, and I’m immigrant from Egypt, so back in the days to call home you have to go and buy a physical card.

You scratch the card, you call an 800 number, you enter your pen number, and then you can call home, right? and it was pain, especially in winter, to go and buy cards and stuff like this. So I said, why I don’t sell these phone cards online? But these were soft goods, not physical goods. So you’re not buying a physical product, you are buying a pen number.

And back in the days, that was like 20 years ago or so, that was a whole new concept. Maybe very few companies are doing it, and this is before like your cell phone can do all these international, like an international call in your cell phone was like very expensive. 10 minutes can cost you like a hundred dollars or so.

So I started developing this very initial software to sell these pen numbers, and I did a first order verification, Google Maps just came out, so we’ll call the customer and it’s like, hey can you tell us your cross streets from you? And because there was a lot of fraud coming from, many different places and Google Maps helped us a lot with that.

So this is how I developed my very first software. You can buy your phone cards online, get the pin number once you verified the first order, and then you can do all your orders after that was ease and I made good money, I paid for college, I put my very first bachelor apartment over, put the deposit for it right back then it all started then and then after that, every company I worked in and the agencies, I was always like interested in developing products for the teams.

I worked on products for the very early price comparison engines, right? We used to take like feeds from Sony and other, providers and normalize the feeds and push these feeds into like price comparison shopping engines. And then, Disney would develop like few products for, tracking like utilizing Google Search console data in a better way.

But in Conde Nest, I think it all came together where, I think maybe 15 or 20 different products for Conde Nast, and one of the ones that I’m very fond of, I created a product called Falcon, and Falcon the idea was very simple. Social media teams had a problem.

We didn’t have a lot of content produced, and we used to publish one to two posts a day, so think about 24 to 48 while your content production is not that much. So we used to look into our evergreen content that we published before and to find that, content and good content to recycle through the pages.

And this is like a common practice a lot of media publishers do. It was a hard job, right? You’ll save like these URLs and Excel sheets or try to find them and stuff like this. So I work with the data science team to create Falcon, and Falcon the concept was very easy. Can we find evergreen content that has a good velocity right and automatically recommend that content to social media teams. So we save them a ton of time to search. Also, we track all the analytics and see what’s working and what’s not, and by just doing that concept, we saved the teams about one day a week. So that was like a lot of hours a year.

And also we increased the traffic from these evergreen posts by maybe 50, 60%. So these concepts or products am fond of.

[00:07:58] Matt: Wow, that is amazing. it makes me want to go back hunt down everyone from the SES conferences and get their backstory. What was your first product? What was the first thing you did? Because it is so fascinating, John hearing the ideas that people had, how they monetized it, what they did with it, and then there’s I feel like everyone at that conference was an entrepreneur in some respect.

You figured something out and went on, but

[00:08:23] John: Absolutely.

[00:08:23] Matt: That, is so fascinating. But I’ve gotta ask, so you’ve been in media, for quite a while.

What is different about working in media than the experience that a lot of people have working with a brand or an agency? You had Disney, which was media, but then you had Conde Nast, which is more I would say a higher velocity of media going through, what are the different challenges that you deal with in media than in other business types?

[00:08:54] John: Absolutely, I think working for media company content is the product. Versus everywhere else. So if you are working in commerce or if you are working in parks and a resource or working in whatever, Content becomes a supplementary product, you’re creating a new developing content plans to support, your main products.

But here in Conde Nast or any publisher, the content is the main product really, that’s what you are selling and monetizing there are different challenges and the challenges changed by time. So if we go back in history 18 years ago when my first publisher job, right?

The challenge was like to convince media companies and writers that digital platforms are important for them, right? Because remember back then it was all about the news stand, where does my publication or newspaper or magazine isn’t the news stand? Fun fact, publishers used to pay news stands money to put their competitors all the way on the top, on the news stand so people cannot reach and put their stuff at the bottom, so it’s easy to access and grab.

So that was the biggest challenge and then things developed a little bit and I think the next big challenge was like, hey, we are more reliable than these bloggers, so bloggers came about 15 or 13 years ago and I was like, oh, who are these guys? They have no reliability whatsoever, We’re the authors, we have all the authority, so that was a challenge back then. And then I was like, oh, what is this Google? Why do we need to think of Google? And why should we care? And then the culture was a challenge in itself, Because most of the news hardcore or software publishers, it’s all about file and luck.

Let’s write that story, file it, lock it, and move to the next one. So the changing the culture or the mentality about, no, it’s not over yet. There is the next story, there is a content refreshes and all that stuff, right? So challenges keep, moving with technology, right? And then social media comes, it’s like, how can I take this amazing story, transform it into something visual with a couple of lines that can attract users and why don’t I have to bring these users back to my site?

So I think challenges, are different by time, by platform, but the biggest part was always culture, right? How to change the mindset, how to view digital and all these social platforms and search engines and so on.

[00:11:36] Matt: Wow. That is so true, I know, from a consultant standpoint, when you come into a different organization you’ve got to change that culture, especially when in terms of optimization, how do we go about things? But media has always been different because you’ve gotta turn writers, into SEOs and they have to see the advantage of it. What were some of the ways that you would deal with that?

[00:12:01] John: I try to avoid the whole concept of SEO, when I speak to writers. I’m really focused on the ultimate goal. It’s viewership. When they wrote in a newspaper or magazine and sold the paper copy, at the end of the day, I was like, how many people are reading your content? And it’s the same thing.

All these different strategies or tactics, it’s to increase the number of audience reading your content, and here are the different ways of doing it. the intent was never to write for the machines. there was at At a certain point of time, SEO took this like turn of and I think it was driven by Google understanding of content as, oh, we have to be very ugly headlines and very descriptive and so on.

And this didn’t go well with writers, I think we’re in a much better place right now, but it’s all about the ultimate goal. You write this amazing content that deserve to be seen by the qualified readers, you’re targeting. Let me help you to do that, and each platform has its own different limitations.

If you’re writing in a newspaper, you have a limitation. This is how many words, we have a picture. This is how it gonna be styled in the newspaper, right? It gonna be first page, second page, you’re gonna be in this column format or whatever. So there is limitations, and when you move from one medium to another medium, each medium has its own limitations.

If you’re gonna go audio, this is your limitations, if you’re gonna go digital, these are your limitations, and so on. So it’s all about the readership, I think. That’s what brought people to terms was like, okay, this is another medium. So I always tell them, it doesn’t matter what’s the medium.

Yesterday it was newspapers, today is digital, tomorrow it could be hologram, who knows? I don’t know. So it’s all about the content.

[00:13:59] Matt: It sounds like every two years you had a different platform coming on board or something different that you had to deal with. It was just talk about a dynamic industry?

[00:14:08] John: Yes, there’s so many of them and it develops the same way that technology develop, right? As technology accelerates, right? It used to take us 10 years to go from A to B, in now it takes us like couple of years to go from B to C. I think this acceleration also impacting all kinds of like content creation.

[00:14:26] Matt: Absolutely, that is just so fascinating.

I know one of the things when I worked with a publisher, it was hard to get buy-in sometimes for people to, I know you said you, you don’t wanna turn ’em to SEOs, and I always felt like, but I do want you to use keywords.

I do want you to do this, and not to make it ugly. And I think, yeah, there was a time where people were writing for the machine, like you said, but it was, I worked with people just to use the keyword, just natural way to do it, but the way we did it ultimately was showing them.

If you do this, and it was the final numbers, this is how many times the page got viewed, and those of you that are on board and look at your number, and also six months from publication, we’ve done everything from the optimization, we’ve done the social promotion, now look at your number six months after you, that first week.

And so putting in some timeframes that not just a one and done that dynamically, the audience keeps growing and you can still bring in readership, as you said, you can make things evergreen and you can manipulate the content then to creative and more forms. To me when you see people get excited content producers, writers, when they get excited about, oh, I understand this now it would transform the way they approach it.

it would not just make them a better writer, but when they started to see the results and their imagination would not so much get on board, but they actually become better creators, if I could say it that way. I think I’m looking for a concept here. But once you get a writer, producer on board, it’s like, watch out. they’ve now got ideas about how to make something happen.

[00:16:12] John: I believe writers are very competitive in nature, even sometimes they don’t admit it. And it’s funny because there was this mindset with a lot of publishers is we’re not gonna share the numbers with our writers. So that was a whole culture challenge in its own right. It’s like, okay writers were not allowed to see how many views or visits or sessions or users reading their content.

And I think we were over that already, right? And then now every writer are through like the different symbol tools out there, they know exactly how many people read their content, where they came from and so on. And this is like, with the competitive natures, like they look at these numbers every day.

So I think it’s not like a key word, but it’s like, understand what your customers or your readers call your content or your product. And this has been always the main thesis of SEO, as business owners or content creators, the two sides of the business.

We call our products or content in certain terms, but to our surprise, and this is where SEO comes, is like our customer or readers call it something else, we as SEOs just bridge the gap, it’s like, hey, and I remember this 18, 19 years ago, I was working with one of the most popular tax online solutions providers, the most popular.

And then they just came with this solution for online where people can like do their taxes on online. It’s a software, you buy the CD and stuff like this, and we came in and then, and we said, okay. We gonna call it a software a personal tax software or a tax software, and I remember the executive teams back then.

I was in the office and said, no, it’s not a software, I said, what is it? Then they said, it’s a solution. It’s much bigger than a software. And I remember back then for whatever primitive tools that we had 18 years ago, and we showed them, it’s, okay, there is two people searching for this tax solution versus 1 million people searching for a tax software.

And they were surprised when they sold the numbers, and numbers speak louder than anything else. There is a gut feeling, okay, this is what we think our product is, but this is what people call it. Now, this sometimes with content, sometimes you may go against the numbers, right? I’m gonna give you an interesting example.

Accuracy is more important than numbers, so when Michael Jackson died, right? Everyone call it like a heart attack or something like that. That was like the main search, that was the biggest search volume, but it was not a heart attack, or when I remember this, when the Hudson plane, do you remember the Hudson plane when it landed on the Hudson River?

And everyone called it the Hudson Plane Crash.

The, I remember the editorial team said it never actually crashed, we cannot call it a crash. So there are certain cases where you can say to the editorial team, absolutely. Accuracy is more than numbers. And now I think Google smart enough to understand that the user is looking for this specific incident.

Regardless if you are using the word crash or landing or whatever.

[00:19:40] Matt: That’s interesting that, we look at what Google can do now and what it did 10 years ago, and that was always a contention of mine is we have to adapt what we do to the deficiency of Google. Google was not able to, they’re showing us numbers of crash, but that’s not accurate and that is an interesting place to be where you want to be accurate, but the technology, wouldn’t allow that.

And that happened in a lot of cases a number of cases, and that, it’s an interesting aspect of media that I think people don’t realize and especially, in the business world, you gave that great example of the tax I wrote down, John, you’ll love this because I’m sure you’ve run into it.

Enterprise application solutions. I ran into that phrase so many times with so many different companies and I think it must have been fashionable at one point because no one wanted to call it software, but it’s an enterprise application solution. I’m like, that does not mean anything.

So we have the deficiencies of Google to process the language, but also you have the branding speak, the fashion of the day of what we’re going to call this. And yeah, you can make things really hard to find by doing that, but understanding, I like standing by.

No, it wasn’t a crash, it wasn’t a hard attack, we’ve got to say these words, what a unique world in the media side.

So also what’s interesting is you’ve not only been in media, but these are global companies. What’s that aspect of dealing with global media in terms of managing, you were an audience development social. What aspect does that bring to the responsibility?

[00:21:28] John: I think when you go to global or you manage big teams, I think at a certain point I had 75 people I managed. You grow in a really, great way as a leader yourself, there is huge amount of growth. Yes, you can manage one or two and you learn a lot and you start developing your managerial skills, but then when you go for a bigger teams or global teams, suddenly it’s, oh my God, I need to learn a lot.

We’re talking about cultures, certain cultures, they will never, come direct to you, Americans were very direct. This is working, this is not working. Other culture, they don’t take that approach, I’m telling you exactly what they think or what they feel. So you have to go a long distance to get actually what they’re thinking about.

The way you address people, the way you communicate with people, hand gestures there’s so much. So you learn to understand different cultures and they learn to understand you, it’s a two-way stream. Also, it’s like the whole concept of business hours become nonexistent.

And to maintain life work balance, you have to start thinking smart about this. Ah, okay, my Wednesdays are going to be for the APAC market where I’m gonna wake up early and end my day early as well because, I always tell my teams work-life balance is very important so you can continue to be innovative and continue to like your job.

So you accommodate a lot, and then when you have bigger teams and global teams you become more and more into the people management aspects, which unfortunately sometimes it takes you away things that you love the most, the innovation, the algorithms, all of that stuff.

But this is as important, right? To maintain healthy team, motivated team, different culture aspects and so on. I think one of the things that I did is we created something called, it was during Covid when we went global and I created something called coffee breaks where, so we had 75 people and we said and we did this random thing and we said, okay, two people will meet, like, what it’s called the cooler breaks or cooler toks, where you hang by the cooler to get some cold water and you have this like mini chats. So we created coffee breaks where you meet with someone in the team that you never spoke with and it has to be that you didn’t work with and you meet for 30 minutes.

And we did this for all of our teams, and it rotates every week, and you meet with that person and you talk about everything except work. Get to know the person, get to know what they like and so on, when we did this after a couple of months, we noticed a huge difference on how people are interacting with each other.

They felt, they know the people and they were open to discuss their ideas and so on, so simple things can make a huge difference.

[00:24:27] Matt: That’s amazing, changing your entire schedule to deal with a worldwide schedule and breaking up your time, but also, it’s interesting. So you didn’t go into anything really technical there, it was all about understanding people. It was about understanding people, cultures, and how to operate that. That is absolutely amazing, I love that. But I am gonna ask you what are the technical aspects of going global as a media company? What are some of the challenges there?

[00:24:55] John: I don’t know, Latin versus non-Latin language, let’s start there.

[00:25:00] Matt: Yeah, I once had a company say, we want this to be in Spanish. And I’m like, which kind of Spanish and you get the glassy-eyed response, there’s more than one . Yeah, it’s interesting how many companies just don’t realize that, so I’m so fascinated to hear how you would, deal with some of this?

[00:25:21] John: One of the biggest mistakes is you can take something that works well in US and do a cookie cutter, and I was like okay, let’s do the same approach in Italy and Spain and Mexico and Taiwan and Japan and so on, and Middle East and so on. This is the wrong approach and usually, It’ll now work.

So language, there is a barrier for sure that you need to utilize your local resources, I think it’s a mix between. , what is working for you and you tested and what is the local resources are familiar with? And bring these two together, you get the best of the two. And it’s not, hey, I’m gonna take what’s working in US and apply it everywhere else.

There are some aspects that are good and you need to apply there. but each location has its own technical specs that you have to think about. One of the things we were thinking about is, the saturation of dotcom in every market. And you’ll say, okay let’s have dotcom for every domain and call it a day.

But you’ll go to certain engines, and you’ll see that engine, it’s all about the the country, CCTLDs and dotcom is not that popular, it’s only maybe 10% of all the results, and we tested this on 10,000 results, and it was like, okay, it’s not a good idea, it’s a good idea for these countries and these engines.

Google, Brazil or whatever, and it’s not good for here, Italy and so on. So simple things that you have to study, the language. In some countries these search for entities using English, but they want to read the content in their own native language, so they will write Taylor Swift in English, but they’re expecting, the article to come in Japanese, for example.

So how you can accommodate English and Japanese in the same kind of format and the tag pages. Simple stuff, that you need to understand, some markets, they are notorious for changing the URL every day. It’s the same url, and they’re just like, that was the whole country.

Every publisher in this country, that’s all what they do. It’s like every time they update something, they just update the URL day after day. And you cannot say, oh, don’t do that, because the whole country is doing that, and it seems like Google is okay with that because it’s a common practice.

So, you learn a lot Matt, and I think you have to come to globalization or to any kind of new business was the mindset is, let me understand, let me discover first before I start to making any like major changes to the way things are done.

[00:27:57] Matt: Wow, I love listening to you how you dealt with some of these things and also how you managed your team, it’s what I know about you, John. You’re a very empathetic person and like you do seek to understand and I think that has been a key to your success is that you have always, rather than, saying, this is the way we’re going to do it, you’ve taken that other approach. Let me learn what’s working, why it’s working, and adapt to that, I think that’s always been one of your main strengths.

[00:28:25] John: Thank you, I appreciate that.

[00:28:27] Promo Break: Hey everyone, this is Matt. And thanks for listening. Just a quick break in the middle of the podcast here to let you know there’s a couple ways that you can connect with us. The first is That’s the learning site where you can see courses on analytics, courses on digital marketing across paid search seo, multiple disciplines. And then also you can connect with us on Slack. Go to Slack if you’re there and look for us at endless coffee Connect with us. I’d love to hear from you, hear what ails you in the realm of digital marketing. Are there courses you need information that you’d like to hear, or maybe some past guests that you’d like to hear more from? Thanks again for being a listener of the Endless Coffee Cup, and I look forward to hearing from you.

[00:29:28] Matt: Let me ask, what do you love about working in media and what would you change? What don’t you love so much?

[00:29:36] John: Media is awesome. if we speak from the big picture, media changes how the world view things or understand things, they change the cultures, they change how we approach things, they educate us and so on. So there is, this really amazing message for media and publishers.

They are considered to be like the truth defenders, they are the ones that they go and uncover scandals and truth and keep the public educated. So there is a huge message there and I love that because I’m part of this culture catalyst of change. At the same time, I remember when I worked in BBC News, After a year or so, it was very tough because most of the news were like on the negative side, this is the nature of news, if it bleeds, it leads.

And so that takes a toll on you. There is another crash here, there is another school shooting here, there is another tornado or hurricane there, there is another building collapse there, there’s another crisis, there’s another refugee crisis here and so on.

So you are as a human, yes, you work and optimize and so on, but it takes a toll at to you. And I remember it’s like, okay, I don’t wanna work in hardcore news anywhere anymore. And I was like, Conde Nast was good. It was a good mix between, lifestyle and news.

But it does take a toll at you. Also, when you work in media companies, these are like legacy companies, and I’m not saying legacy in a negative way. Conde Nast is a hundred plus years of tradition, and amazing content, and a lot of people think that they can join these like amazing big companies and it was like, oh, all of this is wrong.

We have to do it this way, you can’t, right? So you have to appreciate the craft of these amazing individuals that you’re working with, so they can give you back the respect, if you give respect, you get respect. If you appreciate the craft, they appreciate your craft, it’s not like, they don’t know, or like the same thing.

We have always like issues with development and engineering teams. There could be like, great friends or like the worst enemies, allies or foes, it all starts with respecting and understanding. This is not like, oh, it’s an easy, just change this syntax from here to there.

So you have to appreciate and respect the craft, especially when you join like these amazing institutions that have a history of a hundred plus years.

[00:32:13] Matt: That is such great advice, that is amazing. So, I want to shift gears a little bit because, as we said from the start, you’ve always been that entrepreneurial mentality. A couple of things that you’ve done in the couple of years here, even before,

you went out on your own just a few weeks ago when we record this one of the first things is you started your own summit. You started the news and editorial SEO summit during Covid and you ran a virtual conference. What was that like? That’s amazing. I love it.

[00:32:46] John: I think you said it. If no one wants to do it, I will step in and try to do it. And that has been the why I developed the two tools. I have News Dash and GD Dash, but the summit was the same thing. I think for 10 years, I have been trying to create a dedicated SEO conference for publishers, and I reach all the major event organizers around SEO and the answer was, It’s not too big, we don’t think this is something that will succeed, and so on and so forth. And I said, okay, I believe it was big, and I believe that it’s important. News SEO was something that’s becoming, a true branch of SEO and there are hundreds, if not thousands of people practicing this every day.

So I said, okay, during Covid, and the second biggest challenge I saw was traditional conferences is tickets were like $2,000. So with publishers I remember we used to send, one person, they go half a day and then they get out, they pass tag or the pass to another person to go another day.

And this was a common practice, okay? Forgive us event organizers, okay? Because $2,000 and for one person only to get all this knowledge, we wanted more of our teams to get exposed to the whole conference, and so on. So I said $2,000 to additional conferences will not. So I wanted to do something virtual and affordable that a lot of people can come and get all this knowledge and very specific for news publishers.

So I started Nest and I went to Barry Adams, my friend, and I said, I’m starting this, would you like to be a part of it? And he said, oh, yes, I love this. I always wanted to do this. So he co-founded the conference was me, and to our surprise, we said, okay, if we get a hundred people in, the first one was 20 October, 2021, we did awesome.

So to our surprise, we got 700 people from 55 countries attending this conference and we chose like $150, and we saw publishers sending like 30 people from their organization. So it was a great success, we did two half days and then we said, and we asked people, do you want more?

And 97% of all the people who attended the conference said, yes, please, we want more of this. So we went to the second year, 2022, and we did, I think the first conference we had only four speakers or five speakers, the next year 2022, we had 15 speakers, two full days, and we got another 700 people, 55 countries or 56 countries, and it was a great success, so I’m very thankful for the community to be honest with you.

[00:35:29] Matt: That is amazing, what were the challenges of putting on a virtual conference?

[00:35:34] John: That we never put a conference before. Everything was new to us, so we knew down the one thing kept saying, we wanna put a conference that we want to attend. So that was always the North Star. We will not just bring names, we will not just put topics and make an agenda.

We want something that me and Barry, if we see this conference, we was like, yes, we definitely wanna be there. So that was the North Star, and based on that, we tried to find the top talent across the globe. So we had people from US, from Europe from Asia, like all different, and we work with them.

What type of topics? And we kept changing these topics. We also hired an amazing organizer in UK because we knew that we need someone who really take care of all the small details. We spent maybe a month trying to find the best platform that can generate engagement between users and so on.

The platform was a great success too, plus the whole topics and so on. So there were many different elements, but yes.

[00:36:43] Matt: Amazing, and so I’m sure you’re gonna be working on the 2023 agenda here soon?

[00:36:48] John: Yes, absolutely. We’re starting on it I think in February to put it together.

[00:36:53] Matt: That’s amazing. The other thing I wanted to ask you about was News Dash. You gave me a demo of this a couple months ago and I was blown away by it. I think anyone in publishing needs to know this. give me a quick rundown of why you created News Dash, what was missing in the market and what you made?

[00:37:12] John: So there is a lot of amazing SEO tools, and really, like me personally, I use a lot of these tools, but the problem is they were not the right fit for publishers. Publishers live in the now, so if you think even of keyword research, the Oscars incident, and if you go to any of these famous tools or popular tools, and search for Will Smith, for example, you’ll get oh, Will Smith networth Will Smith kids and so on, but that’s not what the people are searching for.

People were searching for Will Smith slap, Will Smith, whatever. There is all the publishers live into the historic part of research right here is the keyword and this is how people search for it in the last 12 months, even with rankings,

we checked this keyword five days ago, and so on, so I said, okay, publishers need something to be as near real time as possible. And I started developing this tool about seven years ago or eight now, and I used it for myself for four years, and then I start putting it out like three years ago. So we collect all the trends that are happening every 15 minutes, within a country.

And right now we’re in 30 different countries and like for top trends across the country or like a specific section trends, and we give publishers content recommendations. This is what people are searching for and this is what Google cares about, which is more to the query list of Google, like Google News and Google Discover and so on.

And then we take all these trends and we track ’em in Google search, in top stories and top results every 15 minutes. And then we tell publishers, you are ranking here, you’re not ranking here. Your competitors are ranking for these terms that are the right fit for you, and then we give them what we call instant SEO recommendations.

This is what you need to do to optimize for that specific keyword that is trending right now. So it, in very simple term, we try to provide publishers near real time data to better increase their visibility and top stories and other Google news surfaces.

[00:39:23] Matt: And that’s amazing because I think any other company you’re running on more of an annual basis, you know it’s trending annually, but you know, what you said before, news is daily. If I’m not found for the story that’s today, I’m missing out on readers, I’m missing out on eyeballs, I’m missing out on any of that.

But I see my competitors, that is a revolutionary way of looking at things, the immediate, because certain industries like publishing, this is the lifeblood of it and so, yeah, and amazing. What’s been the reception of that? When someone has started to use that how has that changed how they view things when they see it and then start utilizing it in their workflow?

[00:40:07] John: So far the reception of the tool has been amazing and the churn is very low, but like any other tool, There is a learning curve, I remember the first time I got into Google analytics, I was like, oh my God, all these reports, amazing data. Then you have to understand or to figure out your workflow, and we work with publishers.

It’s like, okay, what are the things that I’m gonna use in my day-to-day workflow? And what are the things that are gonna be more on a weekly or monthly, research, oh, okay, this is our overall performance, this is where we are strong, this is where we’re weak. And the other thing also is, regardless if it’s News Dash or some other tool publishers in order to succeed with publishers, you need to be part of their workflow.

So what is Publisher’s workflow? It’s the CMS that you use, it’s Google Docs, or Microsoft Docs. And it’s Slack or alternative like teams or whatever, so these are the three most used tools for publishers and their email for sure. So one of the things that we put in News Dash is one of our objectives, how we can integrate into their workflow.

So right now we send Slack alerts, we send email alerts, we finalizing our API so you can take all the data and put it in your CMS.. When you do that, you have more participant using your data, because you’re not asking them to get out of their workflow or day-to-day to get in the whole different tool.

And this is the biggest problem with publishers, oh, can you go to this tool, log in, do keyword research, come back to the CMS and start using that. So this is one thing that we are trying. So yeah the reception has been really amazing and we keep focusing on how we can integrate in their workflows.

[00:41:59] Matt: Amazing. You just continually added new products, created new things. What are you doing now that you’ve gone out on your own, you’re taking that step, what is it that you’re doing, what’s the ideal type of client you’re looking for?

[00:42:15] John: Absolutely, so right now I’m focusing on consultation services. So I have the two tools, and I have the conference, and now I think I, I bring this unique background of looking at the bigger picture, it’s like how can we make different organic channels work together? And the biggest problem we have is, The portfolio of publishers is Google plus, facebook is 75% of their traffic.

[00:42:43] Matt: Yeah,

[00:42:44] John: Your 401k, it is not two stocks, I have these two stocks, my retirement is good, and I’m like all gold, it’s very risky portfolio, and it’s the same thing with publishers, it’s a very risky portfolio. 75% of their traffic comes from two sources, we know one source has a ton of algorithm updates every day and every week.

And the other one is reducing the traffic to publishers day after day, what I bring to the table is like how we can convert these one and done users into engaged users, into emails, into whatever other systems, what are the other ways that we can diversify our traffic, secure our portfolio. So this is what I bring to the table.

So these are the clients I’m looking at plus my core SEO. 24 years or 25 years in SEO, I think I have seen a lot of cases. I think in one time we did 60 migrations in nine month. These are the two different kinds that we are focused on.

[00:43:48] Matt: Wow. Amazing. Okay, I’ve got two kind of industry questions I want to ask you before we wrap up here. Number one, you ran teams. What did you look for when you hired people?

[00:44:01] John: I think the biggest thing I looked for is number one is their willingness to learn. You don’t look for the one that has all the knowledge, it depends on the position for sure. But you don’t look for someone who has all the knowledge, but someone who has like brains and thinking and willing to learn.

I think this is very important feature or attitude, the second thing is like people who understand why. A lot of people will come, they will read couple of articles and so on, and the, you ask ’em a question, they say oh, we will block it in robots, the text file, or we’ll block it, no index or whatever.

And I would say, why would you do this route versus the other route? And it’s such fundamental question, foundation kind of a thing but 75% of the people don’t know the answer why I would go this route or that route. And the third thing is, do you really want this position or not? One of the things we ask, we give the users is like this, four questions to answers.

And some of them are open-ended not a question that you will find online. And it’s funny because some people’s like, oh, this is gonna take me two hours of work, I’m not gonna do this. If you don’t wanna spend two hours of work to apply for a position that you really want, then that’s not a position that you really want.

Because I remember my very first position, I spent 10 hours putting a presentation for my interview, I really wanted that job. So, these are small things that we look for, plus a good team fit, good spirit, good people, all the good things, but definitely is like, the ability or the willingness to learn that you really want this position and knowing why.

[00:45:45] Matt: you answered my second question, which is what, advice would you give to someone just starting out in digital media, would you add anything to that?

[00:45:53] John: Yeah, I think hands on. So the old generations, and I’m not stereotyping by any means but the older generations like us, we used to, build and break things, I’m not talking about our client sites, but we would always have a WordPress site and we figure out how to set it up and how to do like the server configuration and break things and change URLs and old stuff.

So we understand, we understand what’s a DNS, we understand all these different things, we learn through like actually trying and building. More and more recently I ask people, do you have something on the site that you are writing or building or stuff like this? And the majority of people is like, no, we read what’s written and the most popular SEO sites, and that’s usually the advice we follow or Google what they’re telling us. And without testing, you really cannot tell if this advice coming from that expert me or anyone else, or people who call themselves gurus is a good advice or not.

[00:47:01] Matt: Yep.

[00:47:02] John: You have to test and you have to build things for your own and you have to break them and you have to push to the limits and see what gets you banned or not. I’m not talking about your client sider, but you have to test. I would say this is the biggest thing, being hands-on.

[00:47:18] Matt: Love it, John. Especially coming from, you’ve been pushing, you’ve been trying new things, creating new things, and what a great story. John, if people want to get ahold of you, I’m gonna put your LinkedIn any other links in the show notes, but if people want to get ahold of you, what’s the best way to do that?

[00:47:38] John: I’m extremely active on LinkedIn and Twitter. These are the two definitely you can contact me there and if you have any like consultation request or something you can differently send me a LinkedIn message and I’m more than happy to answer, or if you have questions about SEO or life in general, absolutely, linkedIn or Twitter.

[00:47:58] Matt: John, wonderful. And like I said, I’ll have those links in the show notes on the page here. John, this has been an amazing conversation, I’ve learned a lot just listening to you, but overall, just how you have managed others, how you’ve managed life, how you’ve managed your own career has just been so fascinating, and thank you so much for sharing that with us.

[00:48:20] John: Matt, thank you so much for having me on the show. We go way back and I’m glad that we have this what do you call it, an interview session. it was amazing, thank you for having me.

[00:48:30] Matt: you’re very welcome and dear listener, please go visit the show page, follow the links, add John to your LinkedIn the things he’s posting, definitely, if you’re at all interested in the media industry or just SEO or like you said, life itself, John’s posting some great content and I highly recommend that you follow him.

And I hope you had a chance to refill your coffee to get through this episode, there’s been gym packed with great stuff, and dear listener, I look forward to seeing you the next, on the Endless Coffee Cup podcast.

You’ve been listening to the Endless Coffee Cup. If you enjoyed this episode, share it with somebody else. And of course, please take just a moment and rate or review us at your favorite podcast service. If you need more information, contact me at Site Logic Marketing dot. Thanks again for being such a great listener.

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John Shehata

John Shehata

John Shehata, CEO NewsDash

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