Intro: Hey everyone and welcome to Episode 93 of How I Built It. Closing out this miniseries on SEO is Lindsay Halsey. She’s the co-founder of Pathfinder SEO and in this episode we talk about how her product basically combines a lot of what we talks about over the past month – automated tools and stats, with a coaching component that can really help you up your SEO game for you or your clients. She has a really great analogy for it that I don’t want to spoil!
Before we get to the show, I also want to tell you about a new shop I launched, that has t-shirts and mugs with the show’s tagline, “Get Out There and Build Something.” I’m excited to finally bring these to market. You can see them at howibuilt.it/shop/.
And of-course, this show (and the whole season) is brought to you by Pantheon. You’ll hear about them later on. SO for now, on with the show.
Joe Casabona: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Lindsay Halsey, co-founder of Pathfinder. Lindsay, how are you?
Lindsay Halsey: I’m good. Thanks much for having me on the show.
Joe: Thanks for being on the show. I appreciate you taking the time. I’m very excited to talk to you about Pathfinder. The full official name is Pathfinder, or Pathfinder SEO?
Lindsay: Official name is Pathfinder SEO.
Joe: Cool. I’m very excited to talk to you about that because it looks like a very interesting service. Why don’t we just jump right into it and why don’t you tell us who you are, and what you do?
Lindsay: Awesome. My name’s Lindsay Halsey, and I focus on search engine optimization and specialize in helping businesses get found in Google, Yahoo and Bing. I have been a partner in a search engine marketing agency for 10 years here in Basalt, Colorado. In the past year we developed a new product, Pathfinder SEO, and are excited to share it.
Joe: Very nice. In a nutshell, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the product and maybe how you used your experience to come to the conclusion that this is a product that we need.
Lindsay: Perfect. Pathfinder delivers a process for people to go from lost to found in Google, Yahoo and Bing. It is for small business owners and web freelancers. We came up with the idea for this product based on our agency experience. At our agency [Web Shine] we do custom search engine marketing projects for businesses small to large, and along the way we found people coming to us echoing different challenges they had faced with SEO. Either it was too expensive, too time consuming, they had an SEO software that had too much data.
But overall, we were hearing people feeling very frustrated and lost in the space, and we could solve that quite easily for folks when they signed up for our services at our agency. We could collaborate and demystify SEO and deliver really great results, but we were leaving some folks behind. Those were primarily small business owners who may not be able to hire an agency, or web freelancers who were actually thinking they wanted to offer this as a service themselves but weren’t quite sure where to get started.
Joe: Gotcha. That’s really interesting. Because I’ve been a web developer for 16 years or so, and I kind of know the technical aspects of SEO like how to properly structure a page. But keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of SEO is one trouble I have, and then the other is just that’s not what I specialize or focus in. And I certainly don’t have the budget to hire a full-blown agency to do something like that. So it sounds like you’re serving a really good market here.
Lindsay: That’s our hope. We’re trying to share our 10 years of industry experience in the form of a process. We give people the map, which is one of the things we think is most missing from SEO softwares that give you a ton of great data. They don’t always lay it out in a process-oriented format and provide that step-by-step coaching that folks need to really take a do-it-yourself approach. So we share that process, which is your map.
We come alongside as your guide and we assign a dedicated SEO coach to each subscribers account, and you meet with that coach monthly. You can think of this as like going to your personal trainer. If a subscription to Pathfinder SEO is like a gym membership, then your monthly meeting with your SEO coach is like your monthly meeting with a trainer. We do integrate in the SEO tools you need, just like other SEO softwares would. Things like keyword research, monthly reporting and rank tracking.
Joe: Gotcha. That’s cool. For the monthly subscription I get access to your tools, I got some guides, and then I actually have a person I get to talk to. And unlike a gym membership, I probably will see real return on my investment.
Lindsay: That’s the goal, of course.
Joe: Not that getting healthy is not a return on your investment, but going to the gym probably won’t help me make any more money. Cool. So you’ve been doing this for the better part of, or maybe over, a decade you said. When you decided to make this product, what kind of research did you do in developing it?
Lindsay: We did a few internal exercises within our team, to talk about what would happen if we tried to turn the SEO industry upside down. We made lists of the attributes of hiring an agency, of what happens in search engine optimization. And we circled all of the attributes that we really loved and all of the things that we think make the industry great. And then we thought about, “What would be the opposite of this? How could we change the way something that already exists and does well and works, but actually improve upon it?”
That was part of how we came up with some of the foundational components of what Pathfinder SEO entails, and then we took a quick and dirty business plan approach. We talked to some experts in the field and then from there it was just heads down work for about four months. We launched our new product and ran off to a WordCamp in Dallas, Fort Worth last year. It was great to have a strong deadline to make sure that we brought our product to market as quickly as we could. It was a great experience that was four or five hard months of solid work and we enjoyed it along the way.
Joe: Cool. So, first of all, I love that. Because when I come up with an idea I sit on it and I’m like, “I don’t know if I should do it,” and I code a little bit. But when I’m doing a coding project and I’m thinking about going public it takes me a very long time to do it. It sounds like you just came up with your requirements, you built a prototype, maybe an MVP. And then you took it to Dallas, Fort Worth. Were you a sponsor there? Did you demo it, or–?
Lindsay: We did a little bit of everything. I did a workshop, and my business partner Lori Calcott did a talk, and we had a booth. We really just tried to dive in head first and get as much feedback and talk to the community as much as possible. We went on to a handful more WordCamps really quickly back-to-back, because for us after having her head down in the office working really hard on it for a couple months we knew we were missing some components. A lot of the feedback that we got from others was hugely helpful in our evolution to where we are today.
Joe: That’s phenomenal. First of all, there’s a very good takeaway here in the sense that getting a return on your investment from a WordCamp when you sponsor a WordCamp can be pretty difficult. But it sounds like you took a really good approach. You didn’t just give out stickers or cards or a discount, you actually sat down with attendees and said, “We’re building this thing that we think can help you. Would you mind taking it for a spin?” Is that about right?
Lindsay: We did a little bit of both. Sometimes we demoed it for folks and got direct feedback, that would happen if someone stopped by our booth. But even more valuable were the lunchtime conversations that we had, where we could just say, “What’s your experience with SEO? What’s been frustrating, what’s going well for you?” And just get more general feedback from people about what their experience with SEO was.
Because even though we had talked to hundreds if not thousands of people in our SEO agency, trying to really understand the problem that people were facing so that we built our solution accordingly, when we come to WordCamps we get to have 10, 20, 100 conversations that can help inform. Instead of just going in with, “How many sales do we need to make to get a return on investment?” We were really looking at our attendance at WordCamps as, “How many people can we talk to, to get to know what their experience and what their pain points are with SEO?” And make sure that what we’ve built solves for those.
Joe: That’s great. You probably end up saving money if it’s just the price of the WordCamp, rather than paying for user feedback through a service or something like that. That’s really great because I think about that a lot, but this is not a podcast on getting your return on an investment at WordCamp. That’s a whole other show. We’re talking about research and this really cool tool called Pathfinder SEO. So, you talked to a bunch of people. You took your experience and then you decided to build it. The first question I have is, is this a service that’s built on top of WordPress? Or is this a standalone SaaS, or is it a little bit of both?
Lindsay: It’s built on top of WordPress. One of the challenges we faced right out of the gate actually came from branding. Our original brand name that we went to market with was WP SEO Hub, which is a lot of letters. And we found that it was tricky for folks. Within the WordPress community people instantly thought that we were a plugin, and maybe a competitor of Yoast. Whereas we were thinking of ourselves as a Yoast ecosystem product, something that works alongside Yoast.
So we had some issues with our name when we first went to market, and we also had some bugs within the software because we moved so quickly through the development process. What we’ve spent the last six months doing is rebranding and rebuilding as Pathfinder SEO. It sort of felt like we built a house, and we went quickly and we learned a lot along the way, and then it was even more fun to rebuild the house from square one. And it is built upon WordPress.
Joe: Very nice. I will ask you the title question then. How did you build it?
Lindsay: That’s a good question. And I pause because there are a lot of elements that went into play. One of the things that we did right at the beginning is identify our team’s strengths and weaknesses, and partner with others. We haven’t built this alone, we worked with Zeek Interactive out of Huntington Beach. That was really helpful in bringing in the piece of the puzzle that our team couldn’t go at it alone. So internally we were able to do all of the design work and user experience, and we did a lot on content.
For us, the process piece was pretty straightforward, because the map is exactly what we’ve created out of Web Shine. So we already had that, we just had to put pen to paper and expand upon in a “What, why and how?” fashion, so that people could really understand that process. And building it was really just that heads-down work, coming into the office on a Saturday morning for a couple hours and working a bit around the clock so that we could maintain our service space business while still building a product.
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Joe: Gotcha. First of all, I love Zeek Interactive. Steve Zengut is just one of the coolest people.
Lindsay: We do too.
Joe: But that was another question I had, because another thing a lot of freelancers or self-employed folks deal with or struggle with, I should say, is “I have client work that I’m doing. Client work very clearly and very immediately pays the bills. But I also have this product that I want to build, where that’s more of a long term investment.” Did you have a hard time balancing that?
Lindsay: We did, and we still do, to be quite honest. We are trying to do a better job of time-blocking, saying “This is when I’m working for a Web Shine and this is when I’m working for Pathfinder SEO. Really laying out what the goals are for the week, and making sure we don’t stop until we accomplish those tasks or projects. That’s helping a lot.
Joe: Very nice. So, you’re the co-founder. I don’t think I asked this earlier on, but do you have a team? How many people are on your team?
Lindsay: Our team is a group of four. I’ve got a business partner, Lori Calcott, who you also see at WordCamps and things along the way. And then we have two team members, and we all work out of one office space in Basalt, Colorado. We do have a handful of contractors who also help us on a project basis, mostly on our service side of our business. But mostly we’re a small little team of four here.
Joe: Gotcha. I know that one thing that we tried to do at Crowd Favorite a little bit was kind of what you did. Blocks, where this will be for internal projects. Or I’ve got 10 of my 40 hours a week dedicated to internal projects. I know some agencies will do it a different way, where they have maybe two dedicated team members for a product, and then the rest for the client services. But it sounds like everybody on your team is working on both, a little bit.
Lindsay: That’s true. We all wear two hats.
Joe: That’s really cool. And then you hired Zeek to do the heavy-lifting, kind of developer-y stuff, right?
Lindsay: Exactly. Our team internally has the ability to build a WordPress site, but we really look at ourselves as site builders. We for the most part don’t write any of our own code, and certainly don’t have the capacity or ability to write the code that would have been required to build the software side of things for us. So we knew right out of the gate that we needed a strong development partner there.
It was a bit daunting to go into the SaaS space as a co-founder without being able to write code, because it felt like such a critical component, obviously, of what we were going to need to accomplish. But we went back to that soul-searching that we did when we first got into this industry space, where we said, “We really are going to specialize in one thing, and that is search engine marketing and SEO.” And so in keeping that core competency, we’ve been very purposeful along those lines. Thus we haven’t hired any in-house development support to date.
Joe: Gotcha. That’s a really important distinction to make. Maybe it’s just because I see it more in the WordPress space, or because I have a degree in computer science, but a lot of us are like, “We can build this thing, so we’re just going to build it and not pay for someone else to build it, or a tool that maybe is already built.”
It’s a mature business decision to say, “No. We know what we’re very good at, and we’re going to hire out to do the rest.” Justin Ferriman from LearnDash did the same thing. He’s not a coder, but he had this idea for an LMS built on top of WordPress. So he hired developers and he drove the project because he understands the LMS world and he found good developers to help build out the product that he envisioned. So that’s a really good point.
Lindsay: Thanks, it’s really worked well for us here at Pathfinder.
Joe: Absolutely. And again, that’s just a great decision. You guys get to focus on the things that you know best. Very cool. So the next question I generally like to ask is, has the product gone through any transformations? But it sounds like it went through quite a few in its short lifespan. Is that accurate?
Lindsay: That’s very accurate. The biggest transformation that we’ve gone through is a rebranding. The main reason was because we spent a lot of time when we were developing the product just on that product development, and at the very last minute we slapped a brand on top of the software. We didn’t do a lot of the deep dive soul searching about what our mission was, or why we existed. We really didn’t know what to call our solution when we referred to it.
Was it a software, was it a platform? Was it DIY? So we didn’t dig deep enough when we did that marketing and that branding around WP SEO Hub. And so we very quickly, when we started going to market and bringing our product to market, going and talking to people, we very quickly knew we made a significant misstep there. But we were still getting really great feedback that people liked the concept behind the product once they could understand what the product actually did.
So the biggest transformation was to stop and slow down and ask ourselves those much more challenging identity questions, and out of that came a new brand and that brand resonates a bit more with us. Because we do feel like we provide the map. We also live in the mountains, and so for us it’s very fun and comfortable to be in this little bit more of an outdoorsy space in terms of brand identity. So it’s been much easier to tell our story behind this new brand, and that’s been our biggest transformation to date.
Joe: That’s great. And I want to ask, because I’ve had similar troubles in the past. I guess it’s a twofold question. How important do you think good branding, like a good name for your product is?
Lindsay: It’s pretty essential. From having made the misstep in the beginning, we were just finding that we were turning people off for confusing people from our brand identity, before the conversation even got started. And what we’re finding now, Pathfinder SEO as the new brand has been live for about a month. We’re finding that in demos and in conversations or pretty much everywhere we go, the leap from the concept of our brand to what we’re describing the solution as, which is guided SEO as opposed to DIY or hiring an agency. We provide a guided approach and we’re finding that’s something that people can wrap their heads around. Even though it’s a third solution that’s out there, that’s somewhat new, and changes things up from the more traditional models of how to approach SEO.
Joe: Gotcha. The follow up question there is, do you find that the brand drives the content? Or do you think it’s the other way around? I know that people will say, “Write an outline and then write your thesis, the one sentence and then write everything,” or, “Write your whole paper or your whole presentation, and then do the introduction last.” Which do you think is more akin to the branding?
Lindsay: I can’t say I’m an expert in that space, but we have been doing a lot more writing the content and then bringing in the brand, and just finding that to be a little more natural. Most of the content that we produce is on our blog and blog content tends to be pretty industry-specific, very how-to oriented. Trying to share some of our opinions about SEO as well, because it is an art and a science. So it’s an opinionated space. I can’t say that’s the right way to do it, but we tend to write first and bring in the brand second.
Joe: Nice. I’m not a content expert, per say, either. But I would agree. I would spend too much time trying to force the brand into the content if I started with, “I have this, so I need to put this in the content.” As opposed to just writing what I think is best and then adding it later.
Lindsay: Yeah. One of the things is that we knew that building a new product was going to take a lot of time, and one figure of time I would not really want to know the statistic on would be how long it actually takes to build a really good home page for a brand. Whether it’s a product, a service, a local business. Building a good home page was actually probably the most challenging thing that we’ve done today, and that we’re still iterating on and trying to improve. I don’t know if you’ve had a similar experience.
Joe: Yeah. I have said things like, “I’ll just build this landing page real quick.” And it is never real quick.
Lindsay: Nope. I can write about 10 blog posts for every 1 landing page I’ve built.
Joe: Absolutely. And on that same token, home pages and landing pages, they’re probably slightly different to what you’re trying to do. But when you’re talking about a product you want to present the product. There’s a great podcast called Landing Page School, that has been super helpful for me building landing pages because I’m very developer-y. I’m just like, “I’ll just tell them what it does, and then people will want to buy it.” But that’s not really true. You’ve got to tell the story, and tell people the problem that you’re solving for them, and stuff like that. That’s been a very helpful podcast for me, at least.
Lindsay: I’ll have to check it out.
Joe: I will list it in the show notes for this episode as well.
Joe: Cool. So early on you went through a big transformation with the rebrand, and I know Pathfinder as the name is relatively new, but do you have any plans for the future? Or maybe a roadmap for the next few months that you can share with us?
Lindsay: Of course. We are an open book. Our roadmap right now is we’re mostly focused on expanding our subscription to better serve the web freelancer audience. Right now our subscription is for one website, designed for the local business owner who wants to get involved. We’re actively developing and getting really close to launching new tiers of service where a freelancer can come in and sign up and manage 10, 20, 50 of their customers SEO accounts.
We’re excited about this because we think it’s a great opportunity for freelancers to create recurring revenue. And beyond the economics of it, it’s also a great opportunity for them to stay in touch with their clients and be long-term trusted partners by working with them on not just designing and developing websites but also the ongoing maintenance and the ongoing SEO. We really see a strong relationship-building opportunity there.
Joe: Wow, that’s really cool. Right now a subscription gets you the educational material, the coach, and the tools on the dashboard. If I were a freelancer and I’m like, “I have five clients I want to sign up for this.” Would I get five hours with the coach, or would my clients be able to sit down with the coach? Or, what would that look like?
Lindsay: Good question. We have two solutions. One is you can introduce Pathfinder to your client and have one subscription, it’s $99 dollars a month. So the client might want to be involved in those coaching sessions, and you may even break down within our SEO checklist, which really is our map, which of the steps the client would be responsible for. Then maybe, which of the steps as the freelancer or developer, you’re going to take care of for them.
We’re always trying to encourage people to put the best resources to the best tasks. If maybe some of the slightly more technical SEO type projects better land on the freelancer’s plate, and maybe the more content-oriented ones end up on the client’s plate. So there we’re really working as a team of three, where Pathfinder SEO is coming alongside your efforts and your client’s efforts to get found on Google.
The other way were seeing freelancers use the product right now is behind the scenes. We’re kind of like the back office, they can have the white label reporting and do SEO for their clients, and we’re the SEO software provider that goes one step further. Instead of just giving you good keyword research tools, and good rankings data, and sending you a monthly report. We’re also sharing with you the process that we use at our agency so that you can use it at your own agency.
And along those lines, you can go in and do SEO on behalf of your client and then communicate with them results on an ongoing basis. That’s really the piece of the puzzle that we’re working on now, is making that a little easier. Instead of having to have one subscription for every one of your clients, which is a little bit cumbersome and unnecessarily more expensive. Having one home where you have multiple campaigns under that one log in so that you can take on 5, 10, how many ever client projects you’d like to within Pathfinder.
Joe: Wow. That sounds insanely valuable to a freelancer who’s offering these services.
Lindsay: We’re hoping so. We’re talking to a lot of freelancers to make sure we don’t miss anything in our MVP roll-out here of that version of a Pathfinder. And we’re getting pretty close to launch.
Joe: That’s great. It sounds like you’re taking the right steps. I’ve been hearing more lately about how important in-person conversations are, and I’m a very extroverted person so I like having those in-person conversations. But I’ve never had a conversation with your students about what they thought. I’ve never thought about that, because everybody keeps talking about, “Scale, scale, scale.” One on one conversations don’t scale very well, but they’re immensely valuable to your business so they can help you scale in a different way.
Lindsay: We’ve found we’re similar, pretty extroverted. Enjoy taking a break from doing that hardcore computer work, taking a break and talking to people. But also my personal experience when I sign up for subscription as a service products, is that I tend to say, “OK. Great. This tool works great. You have a really good onboarding process that both provides me with some education, and walks me through the steps I need to take to get this set up and working for my business.
But I still would love it if I had 30 minutes of someone’s time to run through the use cases and the different scenarios that I’m thinking about. That can give me some high expert-level advice that is specific to my business, and that would really help me use that product much more effectively and probably be a longer term client.” We really wanted to build that in so that people don’t say, “OK. This is great. It gets me almost there, but if I could just talk to somebody and ask questions that are pertinent just to my business, I would get a lot of value out of that.”
Joe: Wow, that’s great advice for anybody building products and anybody using products. Again, I go through the onboarding process and I’m like, “I guess their documentation is what they have. I’ll just figure it out on my own.” But maybe a 30 minute call on how to use Zapier, which is something I’m trying to get really good at right now, would be fantastic for me. Because then that 30 minutes helps me automate countless hours.
Lindsay: Exactly. And I think it’d be great for them, too. Because they’d get to see their product in action. So it’s really a reciprocal relationship that we’re finding out of those coaching sessions. Rather than looking at it as being a scalability challenge, where we’re going to have to staff coaches as our product grows, we’re looking at it much more along the lines of, “We get this great opportunity to talk to our customers once a month and share with them our unique perspectives and hear from them what’s going well and what isn’t in their world of SEO and trying to get found in Google.”
Joe: Built-in monthly customer feedback. That really sounds like you nailed a good business model here.
Lindsay: We’ll see.
Joe: I sound like I’m gushing, but there’s just a lot of really great information here. So even though you’ve given us so much great information, I still have to ask. Do you have any trade secrets for us?
Lindsay: Yeah. Instead of talking product I’ll share a trade secret in the world of SEO. Everybody thinks with trade secrets and in terms of SEO that there’s this little snippet of knowledge in my back pocket that I’m not willing to give because it’s my one way of getting somebody found in the search engines, and I keep it really close to heart. But that’s not the trade secret of the day. Instead, the trade secret of the day is a piece of advice to change how you distribute the hours you apply to SEO.
Let’s say you’re a small business owner and you have two hours a month to apply to SEO and trying to get found in Google. So you have a two hour window of time, within that two hours I’d encourage people to spend over 50%, maybe 50-60% actually doing the things that are going to have an impact on their website. Those things are like writing content, and getting links, or getting reviews in Google My Business.
Think of it as, going back to that gym analogy, you want to be 50-60% of your time in the gym actually working out. Because that’s what’s going to move the needle in the search results. Then take that other 40% of your time and break that out to the original research and strategy that goes into getting found. Things like keyword research and looking at your competitors’ websites, and then following up on reporting.
Following your results and transitioning your strategy. What we tend to see is people spend 90% of their time in SEO softwares looking at data, lost in Google Analytics, freaking out about the meta description that’s deep in their website that has the red flag in the SEO software. And not doing the things that really matter, like writing a blog post once a week, or going out to a favorite customer and asking them to put pen to paper with a Google Review.
Joe: That’s great. It goes back to the time blocking that we talked about earlier. Take the time that you have and block it into most of the time actually writing content and getting reviews, and stuff like that. That’s great. So I am going ask a follow up here, because this is now for my own edification. This is probably because content reviews, they probably could act on a more personal level. The other 40%, you’re appeasing the robots. But for the 60% you’re doing things to help the actual person. Is that an accurate summary?
Lindsay: That’s a great summary. One of the things I like best about the evolution of SEO over the past few years, is that it’s real marketing. So instead of saying I’m writing this blog post for the search engines, really what you’re doing is much bigger than that. And you’re writing good content, you’re sharing your expertise online whether it’s via your blog or elsewhere, for your customers, for your prospective customers, for your existing customers.
It’s just a benefit that you get more traffic from Google, but everything is about being user-friendly, customer-friendly and really part of an online community of sharing. To us that makes SEO much more natural and less cryptic, whereas ten years ago so much was done behind the scenes. Now it’s all very forward-facing, very collaborative, and I personally like that quite a bit more.
Joe: Yeah, that suits me better too. I definitely like that a lot better. Awesome. Lindsay, thanks so much for joining me. Where can people find you?
Lindsay: You can find me online at PathfinderSEO.com, and then also on Twitter.
Joe: PathfinderSEO.com, I will link that and your Twitter handle in the show notes. Do you want to maybe say that out loud, so people listening can just tweet you right now?
Lindsay: Sure. It’s @Linds_Halsey.
Joe: @Linds_Halsey. Perfect. Again, both of those things and everything we’ve talked about will be linked in the show notes. Lindsay, thanks so much for joining me today.
Lindsay: Thanks so much, Joe.
Outro: Thanks so much to Lindsay for joining me today. I love the concept of a trainer at the gym who teaches you how to exercise and then lets you go off and do it. You get to improve your SEO, and learn why and how it’s improving.
And Thanks again to our sponsor Pantheon. Their support this season is making the show possible.
The question of the week for you is how do you apply SEO to your website or business (if at all)? Let me know on Twitter at @jcasabona or email me, email@example.com.
Don’t forget to check out the new t-shirts and mugs at howibuilt.it/shop/
For all of the show notes, head over to howibuilt.it/93/. If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! You can also join the Facebook community over at howibuilt.it/facebook/. I want to build a strong community for this podcast, and Facebook is the place to do it. And until next time, get out there and build something!