E-Commerce secrets to scale

032 - A Better Process For Creating Content For Your Business With Nikhil Aitharaju

032 – A Better Process For Creating Content For Your Business With Nikhil Aitharaju

E-Commerce Secrets To Scale is a marketing and entrepreneurship podcast that revolves around hearing the stories and strategies of successful entrepreneurs and e-commerce professionals to uncover scaling secrets that will impact your online store.

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This week on the show, Nikhil Aitharaju, co-founder of Topic, joins me to talk about how businesses can scale with great content as well as a better process for creating content. This episode is full of some awesome advice, so stick around.

Welcome to the show, Nikhil. I’m super excited to have you. Go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience.

Nikhil:

Hey Tyler, thanks for having me on the show. I’m Nikhil Aitharaju, I’m the co-founder of Topic. So Topic is an SEO content platform that helps you write high quality, comprehensive articles, so search audience, and we do that by making your entire content research process easier which can help you create an outline quickly. And then once you have your draft written by a writer you can quickly grid that content within a platform just to make sure that you’ve covered everything comprehensively.

Tanner:

That’s really amazing. So I let’s go back to the very beginning. How did you get started?

Nikhil:

Yeah, so we had the different businesses before 2018. So I met my co-founder in 2012. You know, we worked on this company called Tint, which is a social media aggregation company where we aggregate social media posts and help brands display them on the websites to have more engagement. So we grew that company purely through SEO and content. And once we exited the company, we were consulting with other companies to help them with SEO and content. And then we realized that 80% or 90% of the content library is just not getting any traffic only to like 10% or 20% of them get some traffic. And this is a common pattern that we’ve seen with multiple companies and we analyzed the content and figured out a couple of things that they’re not doing right, which kind of helped shaped our product and that led us to Topic.

Tanner:

Awesome. So I’m sure it was not an easy route though, right?

There’s always a low period where nothing happens and maybe your idea isn’t the right idea, but you have to kind of be patient and stick to it and keep learning from your experiences.

Nikhil:

Obstacles that you face. Well, growing Topic. Yeah. So with Topic, one of the things for every entrepreneur, everyone can probably relate to it. We launched a different product before Topic called Apparatus, which was an SEO AB testing platform. We ran that for six months to a year. We’ve gone to clients, potential customers pick the product only to come back disappointed a lot of DIYers. So, you know, we went sure, if you want to still pursue the idea or if you want to continue, you know, pivot to a new idea, and this is a common pattern that I’ve seen with my previous company in the first six to twelve months, there’s always a low period where nothing happens and maybe your idea isn’t the right idea, but you have to kind of be patient and stick to it and keep learning from your experiences and, you know, talk to people and keep learning. So that is really challenging because if you have grown that company, you’ve seen the highest and coming out of a high and then going through this period again, it’s challenging to kind of adjust to.

Tanner:

So what would you attribute your success to? And this would really apply to any company that you’ve been part of. Is it starting?

Nikhil:

Yeah. And I always believe that luck plays some part in some people’s success. So at, at the top, at Tint in 2012, I had no intention to start a company, but the opportunity just came by and I jumped on it. So sometimes, you know, these opportunities keep coming up and you have to watch out for these signals and kind of jump on that with conviction. And then I think the other thing is having a good co-founding team. So I have great co-founders at my previous company and my current co-founder is amazing. So he’s definitely played a big part in growing both the companies previously and now. So I think it’s good team. And then being very agile. Don’t wait to fail, like give it some time, give it a fair shot, but be agile, be open to new ideas. Don’t be married to one idea.

Tanner:

Yeah. I think that’s some really solid advice. So you said that you grew Tint with SEO and content marketing. Do you guys take the same approach to marketing and sales with Topic?

Nikhil:

Partly yes and no. So me and my co-founder were engineers, are still engineers and product engineers, and product sales is a whole new skill that we haven’t picked up in our POS company, because luckily our CEO was the business guy who was doing a lot of sales calls, but when we were doing this company, just us two at this time, we had to kind of step up and get uncomfortable with jumping on sales calls. So I still remember days where I was extremely nervous being on a sales call and it still happens even now and then, but I think practicing that skill helps you get better. So sales is a new skill that we picked up. SEO marketing is something that we have picked up in a previous company, which we’re leveraging and doubling down right now with Topic.

Tanner:

Yeah, I mean, I think that it really comes down to practicing, like you said. Personally, when I started my business, I didn’t think that I really had a sales bone in my entire body. And to this day, like you mentioned, I still get nervous for a sales call or if it’s a presentation or something, but, you know, if you take a look back at where you started versus where you are now, I mean, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come and that’s just proof in the pudding, right. That practice makes perfect. Right?

Nikhil:

For sure. I think initially when we got started in sales we always thought sales you know, like people need to wear suits, they need to take their clients out for dinner and then close deals or the dinner, like I think that’s a misconception that a lot of entrepreneurs have. You don’t have to go through that process in these days. You can jump on a quick zoom call, be authentic. Don’t be nervous. Like even if you’re nervous, it’s okay. Everyone understands and yeah, you need them and you’re gonna get better as your practice.

Tanner:

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. So something that I really love about the Internet is literally anyone can put up a website and start an Internet business, but I think it seems easier than it really is. Right? But what advice would you have to someone starting at the very bottom and how would they get their first group of users?

Nikhil:

That’s a good question. First thing is pick an industry, a vertical or a problem that you’re personally passionate about. And once you pick that, I think what we’ve done, and this is something that I’ve taken from Jason Cohen of WP Engine is when he started with WP Engine, he emailed a bunch of users, initial potential customers saying, hey, I’m looking to build this product. I want to learn a little bit more about your pain points. Okay. Would you be open to hop on a call? I’m happy to compensate you for your time. And this is something that we have done as well with Topic, we’ve in a previous product, Apparatus, before Topic, but email a bunch of early users or potential users added you know, asking them for feedback and highly personalized emails and asking them for feedback. And you get really good conversion rates with those as long as you’re being authentic and not being too salesy.

Tanner:

Yeah. And I think that’s really important when it comes to sales in general, right? Being authentic. No one likes being sold to, and it really is about solving a problem and you hit the nail right on the head. You really need to understand your target customer and what they care about, what their needs actually are. So I think that’s very good advice.

Nikhil:

Yeah. The other one that I’ve also found works with other companies that have been advising us you know, going to these Slack communities where a lot of people hang out, really good communities and then just being authentic and saying, hey, I’m building this product. Would anyone be interested in helping me understand your pain points a little better? And I think those also get those can also help you get those initial set of customers.

Tanner:

Yeah. And yeah, networking is a big role. And I think when it comes to networking, it’s all about giving more than you take. Right? And if you can offer others value and you try to help them, then they’re going to be, of course, inclined to help you too. And I think that’s what a lot of people get wrong when it comes to networking and building community in general. I mean, they’re just trying to take the entire time and everyone sees right through it every single time.

As long as you’re authentic, you would find people who would want to help you.

Nikhil:

Exactly. We’ve gone to events. We’re not salespeople. We are introverts. So it’s very hard to put ourselves out there. What does work is being authentic. It’s okay if you’re shy, it’s okay. If you’re an unknown, as long as you’re authentic, you would find people who would want to help you.

Tanner:

Yeah, exactly. Just be yourself. So what tactics do you think are the most effective and promoting content that will ultimately generate traffic for a website? And another thing I’m curious about is what do you recommend for running paid ads to generate that traffic?

Nikhil:

A great question. Yeah. Content promotion is where the magic happens. Content writing is good, as long as you’re writing high quality-content. That’s great. But then Nina said set up a system within a company, keep the promotion going on. So a quick technique to see if your content is getting any traction or conversion is to put them up using paid ads or Facebook ads. So if you’re writing a guide on how to write best SEO content you can just click create a paid ad and then target personas that are on LinkedIn or Facebook who would be interested in reading it. Same thing for Google ads. Google ads has these high, low, high brand awareness keywords, which get a ton of search volume. So you could also put up your guide on those keywords and see if you’re getting any conversions.

And that would give you like a feel of obviously paid ads. It wouldn’t give you the full picture because people know that you’re paying for, it’s not authentic, but that would still at least give you some sense of data on what might work, what might, what might not work that you could kind of carry forward when you’re building a content strategy, in terms of non-paid ads promotion, you should also try reaching out to guest bloggers or guests, publications, or other influencers in the industry who’ve written about similar tools like yours or, you know, articles like what you’re trying to talk about and ask them, you know, if they would want to try it out read your article and give feedback and hopefully they can feature you in their articles in the future, which will help you build your authority for search. So these are two strategies.

Tanner:

Yeah. And you know, I think it comes down to finding the strategy that’s going to be the best fit for your business. Right? And the best fit for your budget and all the resources that you have.

Nikhil:

Exactly. You know, we all have time constraints, so picking the right strategy, but you should definitely focus in on promoting the articles.

Tanner:

Yeah. And, you know, content promotion is where most people drop the ball. Right? Many people have this. If we build it, they will come mentality, and then reality. And you touched on this earlier, 90% of content on the internet gets zero traffic from Google. And that’s just insane to me. So what does that mean for content strategy? Why is it so difficult to rank well on Google?

Nikhil:

Yeah. So to give you an example, let’s say we start a big destroyer where they had like nine of the pizza stores in the street and you’re the 10th pizza store and there’s only one way access to all the pizza stores. So obviously most of the traffic is going to go to the first, second, third store. You’re not going to get any traffic. So because it’s the direction of the screen, same thing for Google. Most of the traffic is going to go for one, two, three. The rest of them are not going to get any traffic. So, it’s highly competitive content, it’s not a green field as it used to be before for the most popular industries. So it’s highly competitive. So that’s one of the reasons why 90% of the content doesn’t get any traffic. The second reason is you’re not writing high quality content. No, you’re not. If you’re using like a quick freelancer to just spin up like articles, just for the sake of spinning up, then you’re not adding any new value. And Google knows that Google has so much data that they’re analyzing every day at Google knows the quality of your article. And you need to fix that first before you jump into, you know, any sort of promotion is to focus in on getting the quality.

Tanner:

Yeah. And content is king, right. Everyone should know that. It’s good content, good content is king. You mean, you can have the best SEO strategy in the world, but if your content sucks, you’re never going to get any traffic from it. I mean, if you do, it’ll be temporary for sure. Right? So when it comes to creating content, how does Topic make that easier?

Nikhil:

Yeah. So Topic, as I mentioned in my intro, we basically focus on the research part of content creation because research is the most crucial stage, evaluating your competition to see how can you be different? What should be your angle? So we help you with all that data that’s required to make that informed decision for you. So by using a research component of a product, which is partly driven by AI, you can craft your outline, figure your angle. And we are cutting down the time that you’re spending, doing research manually to like a couple minutes so that now you have this extra time where you can figure out how do you stand out? How do you truly be different? And then once you do the research and come up with the outline you can right hand it off to your writer.

And then once the writer comes back, we give you a quality score. We grade your content. We make sure that you’re covering all the topics within a given topic. So for example, if you’re talking about finding an agent, you need to talk about getting a pre-approval. If you don’t talk about the sub-concepts, Google is definitely not going to trust your content and is definitely not going to give you high quality score. So, we do all that analysis. We give you a quality score, which would give you the confidence to go and publish. So that’s how we make the process easier and efficient for content teams.

Tanner:

Yeah. And I agree with you, research is definitely the most important part of creating content. Let’s take a little bit of a deeper dive into that. Does Topic actually help with keyword research and uncovering what people are actually searching for?

Nikhil:

So Topic, we come in after you do your keyword research using a tress or SEMrush where you don’t have the keyword data, but we do have keyword, lightweight content ideation tools where you can find the questions people are looking for or popular keywords. But it’s not as exhaustive as SEMrush. So people usually come to Topic once they have the keywords or ideas, and then they create outlines and get them graded using topic.

Tanner:

Cool. Well, it sounds like an amazing platform. Nikhil, what would you say are your secrets to scale?

Analyze all the industries, all the verticals, see where there’s a lot of tailwind and see the incumbent in the space.

Nikhil:

That’s a good question. So I think finding a good co-founder is really important. Someone that you trust, someone efficient. So that’s definitely one of the things that you should look out for. Second is pick an industry that has a lot of tailwinds. Silicon Valley subscribes to the philosophy of Z being zero to one being disruptors, but that’s not the only path. There’s a middle path where you could also analyze all the industries, all the verticals, see where there’s a lot of tailwind and see the incumbent in the space. And it’s okay to be number two, number three, because you can learn from their mistakes and do it better. So I think that’s one of the strategies that I’ve seen. We haven’t intentionally done that for the last two companies, but I think that’s something that we would do or implement if you are starting at a new company.

Tanner:

No, that’s some awesome advice. Well, I want to thank you for your time, Nikhil. What’s a great way for anyone listening to get in contact with you?

Nikhil:

I’m on LinkedIn. You can use my name, Nikhil. So you can connect with me in LinkedIn. If you need any ad hoc startup advice, always happy to help other entrepreneurs.

Tanner:

Sounds great, man. We’ll definitely link that up in the show notes. And thank you again.

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