What It’s Like Building and Selling a Content Company with Chris Coyier

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“Creator” is a word that has really come into focus in an industry in the last few years. But content creation is nearly as old as the internet itself. And building businesses from your content…that’s not new either. Just ask Chris Coyier, the founder who recently sold his hugely popular blog, CSS Tricks, to Digital Ocean. We talk about his journey, how he made money, and answer the question: are we seeing an uptick in content acquisitions as more companies realize it’s a great way to establish trust.

Top Takeaways:

  • Kickstarting the CSS Tricks redesign generated a lot of revenue, but ended up resulting in a loss. Still, it did its job: it gave Chris capital to build the business.
  • CSS Tricks has always been about ads as a way to make money. It started off as handshake deals at conferences, but the process became more formalized.
  • The best thing you can do for advertisers and offer packages. Get them in front of all of the eyeballs you have access to. You can charge more and deliver better results.

Show Notes:


Joe Casabona: “Creator” is a word that has really come into focus in an industry in the last few years. But content creation is nearly as old as the internet itself. And building businesses from your content…that’s not new either. Just ask Chris Coyier, the founder who recently sold his usually popular blog, CSS-Tricks, to DigitalOcean.

We talk about his journey, how he made money, and answer the question: are we seeing an uptick in content acquisitions as more companies realize it’s a great way to establish trust. Look for top takeaways about how much money you actually make from Kickstarter. We’ll also talk about the best way CSS-Tricks made ads and how it was embedded right from the start, and then the best thing that you as a content creator can do for advertisers.

In Build Something More we talk about gear, one of my favorite things to talk about. Sounds like it’s one of Chris too. And if you want to hear that and get ad-free extended conversations of every episode of How I Built It, you can head over to  joincreatorcrew.com. It’s just 50 bucks a year. That’s less than five bucks a month. And you’ll get those ad-free extended episodes, you’ll get bonus episodes behind-the-scenes content, live stream archives, and access to my workshops, which are usually 40 bucks a seat. So you do the math there That’s over at joincreatorcrew.com.

For all of the show notes you can head over to howibuilt.it/273. Thanks to this week’s sponsors: TextExpander, Nexus, and LearnDash. You’ll hear about them later on in the show. But for now, let’s get to the intro and then the interview.

[00:01:47] <intro music>

Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast that helps small business owners create engaging content that drives sales. Each week I talk about how you can build good content faster to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.

[00:02:10] <podcast begin>

Joe Casabona: All right, I am here with Chris Coyier. He is the co-founder of CodePen, and one of the earliest guests on this podcast. I tell people that Chris gave me the confidence to reach out to other people because Chris had no reason to come on a podcast I hadn’t launched yet. And he did anyway. Chris Coyier, how are you today?

Chris Coyier: Oh, fantastic. That’s a cool story. Thanks for having me back. Second appearance.

Joe Casabona: Yes, absolutely. My pleasure. I got to go on Shop Talk Show all the way back in like 2014. And I borrowed some processes. You shared, I think, it was a GitHub document or just a page on your website maybe that had a lot of really good advice for podcasters about…or for guests. Like, wear headphones and, you know, try to do an Ethernet connection.

Chris Coyier: It was one of those things where you email it five times, and you’re like, “Yeah, that should probably be a URL, you know?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. So I borrowed a lot from that and then I got credit. There are people who are like, “Oh, this is a really good page.” And I’m like, “Yeah, Shop Talk Show. They’re really good at this.”

Chris Coyier: We still have that page. It’s stuff that you’d think would be obvious. And is to some people and just isn’t to other people because they’re on Zoom calls and just the quality is like fine. But you’re like, “If it’s a podcast, you’re gonna lose some audience if the audio is super bad.” And just throwing on some cans is gonna double the quality.

Joe Casabona: The only interview I ever canceled right before we recorded was a guy who ardently refused to put on headphones to the point where he’s like, “I don’t even have headphones.” And I’m like, “You have a phone, you have headphones. You have a smartphone and that comes with headphones.” He was like, “It’s never been a problem before.” And I was like, “I assure you it was and the other people were just too polite to tell you it was.”

Chris Coyier: Yeah, that seems like starting to be adversarial before the thing is even starting and maybe that won’t be a very good show, then maybe.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, you filled out the Calendly link. It even says like, “I’ll record in a quiet place and use headphones.” And I’m like, “Why are you being so combative?” “But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.” Since we’re talking about headphones, yours look pretty sweet. What are they?

Chris Coyier: I forget what they are, but they are sweet. I’m gonna look. AKG k712. And I liked him so much that I bought another pair for my desk because I’m sitting here in the booth. One negative part about them is they hold your ear so much that occasionally there’s a little bleed from the cans to the mic, which I don’t love. But I put up with it because they fit over my ear so well that I can wear them for like hours and hours at a time. Which if I buy the wrong ones, my ears get all sweaty and I get annoyed. It’s almost like wrestlers wear those things over their head because they get like cauliflower ear or whatever.

Joe Casabona: That’s awesome. And plus you got to share some views, which is very forgiving of low noises.

Chris Coyier: I know. But I’m weird. I’m always back and forth. I try different ones. I have this one that I was too nervous to use for this from Ear Trumpet Labs. It’s beautiful, but it’s a little more temperamental and I haven’t gotten to know her a little bit.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. I almost impulse bought a Neumann microphone. I shouldn’t even say almost. I did but it was back ordered. And then it came to my senses. Backorder is the killer of impulse buys, I guess. So I shelled out like 800 bucks for this microphone.

Chris Coyier: Whoa.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. It’s been on my list for a long time and I like talked myself into it.

Chris Coyier: Good for you. Is that what your… No, that’s an SM7B you got right there.

Joe Casabona: That’s the other thing. I was like, “The SM7B is really good resale value. So if I like this Neumann better I can always sell the SM7B and like recoup some of the costs.”

Chris Coyier: Oh, it hasn’t arrived yet. It’s like in the mail.

Joe Casabona: Well, then I got an email it was back ordered and I canceled the order because I was like, “I don’t need that.”

Chris Coyier: Oh, wow, buy [inaudible 00:05:49] before you even got it. That’s good.

Joe Casabona: I know. Before I even got it, yeah. I figured the money could be-

Chris Coyier: It could be so temperamental. You never know with these things. It’s not just gonna instantly jump up your audio quality. It’s just not that simple. Sometimes you need the equipment to go for it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Like this one is dialed in. I’ve got it on my Rodecaster Pro, and so the settings are perfect. I’m like, why would I mess with that? My editor is happy with this. My LinkedIn learning people are happy with this. Like, why don’t…?

Chris Coyier: I tell you what. Dude don’t even mess with it. You sound great.

Joe Casabona: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. So this is a really good preamble because I do want to talk about content in general. And you recently made public that you sold your… I don’t know if it’s the most popular, I don’t know if it’s your oldest site, but it’s definitely a very well-known site, CSS-Tricks, to DigitalOcean. So congratulations on that.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, thank you. I guess it’s almost two months, which is really squirted by and it still feels extremely fresh to me. Like, “Was that last week?”

Joe Casabona: It’s wild because we’re both kind of active in the WordPress space. And I feel like since the pandemic there’s been just acquisition, acquisition of like WordPress specific products.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, yeah. This doesn’t feel connected to that in a way, because it’s kind of like they don’t care that it’s WordPress. And as a matter of fact, I don’t think I got any bonus points for it being. I think, if anything, it was like negative points.

Joe Casabona: This is WordPress.

Chris Coyier: Well, yeah. I mean, big deal, right? It’s just a CMS. But the thing is, DigitalOcean has this tremendous community site, they call it, which is kind of like their blog. But I always hesitated a little bit to call CSS-Tricks a blog because there was screencasts and long time there was forums and there was a store, and there’s an almanac—that’s a different kind of context.

So to just call it a blog was a little underserving. It’s the same thing with their community site. They have all kinds of stuff on there. And it’s really well regarded. I’m learning that more and more as time goes on just how useful the content they already have on there is, particularly for back end stuff. How to install a Docker on Ubuntu with Go in it or whatever.

That type of stuff, chances are you’re gonna land on DigitalOceans community site. Whether or not you use that knowledge to go on DigitalOcean servers is irrelevant. It’s just helpful in that way. And they’re so helpful that they sell hosting off the heels of that. They’re kind of a top-down hosting company thing, but had less front end content on that. So it kind of makes sense that, you know, they wanted to pick up some front end content. And one of the ways you can do that is buy it.

Joe Casabona: And CSS-Tricks is a prolific front end resource.

Chris Coyier: I guess where I was going with that, too, is that I don’t think their community site runs WordPress, you know?

Joe Casabona: Oh, gotcha. Gotcha. So it’s not necessarily like a WordPress community thing or it’s not like a WordPress-specific resource, which-

Chris Coyier: No.

Joe Casabona: …which CSS-Tricks isn’t. I think I have a few articles on there that are like styling… I think it’ how to style a price table with Gutenberg blocks or whatever.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, beautiful.

Joe Casabona: Actually, I get messages from time to time with my friends who were like, “Dude, I Googled how to do this and your article on CSS-Tricks came up.” I’m like, “Sweet.”

Chris Coyier: We had pretty good SEO and traffic. And I never shied away from WordPress stuff for two reasons. One, I like WordPress. I think it’s a pretty good software, and it served me long time well, and it was like the perfect piece of tech, I think, for CSS-Tricks. And that it’s so big that it’s like, even if I didn’t like WordPress, why would you not publish content around easily the world’s biggest CMS?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. And it’s interesting because you can imagine a future now where we’re at like an inflection point in the WordPress space where theme development is changing considerably. And I’m wondering what DigitalOcean will do with CSS-Tricks to kind of help or ignore that part of it?

Chris Coyier: I have no idea. I just can’t speak for their new tech team, you know.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure.

Chris Coyier: But I barely understand it myself. I might get into that world. I might give it a shot. I mean, I think you’re thinking about those… What’s the word for it? Where you don’t even have templates anymore? Like full site editing.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, full site editing. Yeah, yeah.

Chris Coyier: I’m like little weirded out by it. I think I like it, but I have so multiple decades of muscle memory behind like, If you need a template, you code it in PHP and make that template available for yourself, and then you use it. And that’s so straightforward to me that I’m like, “Where does that PHP go then? Is this depends on the-

Joe Casabona: “Where is my functions file?”

Chris Coyier: Yeah. Which is fine. As long as there’s some way to do the same stuff. That’s disconnect in my brain. I know there’s some kind of like query block that’s coming. A lot of my custom stuff was ultimately queries. So if they have some way to visually create queries, that’s just as powerful… maybe.

Joe Casabona: That’s the promise that I like, and it’s definitely not there yet. Because every time I try to use the Query block, I’m like, “I can’t lay things out exactly the way I want.” And I would be able to with whatever template, like single dash sponsor dot php.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, exactly. Oh, even the naming convention was nice, right? You didn’t even have to… If you just name it right, it just becomes available where you are.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. I used to have the template hierarchy poster on my wall when I was doing WordPress development every day. And I’m like, “What is that? Right? Singular?”

Chris Coyier: I could see developing a distaste for it because it was so complicated, the waterfall of it all, but it was effective.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Totally. I mean, once you grok it, you’re good, right? So first of all, you gave a really good personal history over on WP Tavern WP Jukebox podcast. So I’ll link that in the show notes, which you’ll be able to find over at howibuilt.it/272. Hope I got that right. 273. Sorry. Maddy Osman’s episode is 272. So howibuilt.it/273 for all the show notes including that episode.

But one thing that I don’t think Nathan, the host of that podcast, touched on was kind of the way I heard about you was you basically launched a Kickstarter to redesign or design CSS-Tricks in the open. This was way back when like Kickstarter was relatively new.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, I don’t remember how new it felt is relatively I guess. But it didn’t feel like I was breaking new ground by doing this or something.

Joe Casabona: So correct me if I’m wrong. That feels like it was like 2011-ish?

Chris Coyier: It was late 2012 actually.

Joe Casabona: Okay.

Chris Coyier: I just happen to know because I googled the Kickstarter because every project is forever cast in amber on the Kickstarter site. And it’s fun to look at. I actually have a note to myself to write the story of this sometime because I don’t have like a URL to share with people that’s like, what is the story of that? Which is weird for me because I freaking blog everything. So when I think that I’m like, “I should write it, especially now with a decade of separation from it.”

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Feels like a good 10-year anniversary post.

Chris Coyier: The kind of the quick story was that I had quit my job by then. Oh, that feels crazy to say. I have not been employed by a company company since then. So I guess I’m past my 10-year anniversary there. But CSS-Tricks in the early days, I had other jobs too. Like it wasn’t sustaining for some of its life there. It was just beer money kind of thing.

And then when I quit the job, I was like, Well, CSS-Tricks is starting to make advertising money. Maybe I’ll just quit my job and then super doubled down on that.” I feel like if I had all day to focus on that, that I could up the revenue of CSS-Tricks. And I had like enough money tucked away, not to mention the classics, single, no children, no dog even at the moment. Like, “I can be risky here. And like big deal, I was young.

But I did feel the burden right away. And I was like, “Well, what I should do is redesign the site with revenue in mind. Like put advertising zones on there and stuff.” And then I was like, “Okay, I’m just gonna do it because I’ll just wake up in the morning and start working on a revenue focused, but everything.” I want it to be more beautiful. Every way I can make the site better, I’m going to make the site better.

But then as I did it, I’m like, “What am I thinking? As I sit down to do this work, this is exactly the kind of work that I have already some experience in screencasting and writing about. So why don’t I dog food the crap out of it, record myself doing it, then I get a website and I get a big series of screencasts.”

At the time that clicked okay with people. I don’t know that you could pull it off today because it was too much content. It was too long. There was too many… It was like 100 videos. Who’s gonna sit down and watch 100 videos now? They just would never do it. You’re like, People’s YouTube bouncy aroundy the nature would be like, “This better be four minutes or less or I’m out of here.”

Joe Casabona: “And it better answer the exact question in my exact situation that I need.”

Chris Coyier: We’re just lucky because you’ll probably find it.

Joe Casabona: Right.

Chris Coyier: So all I do is promise you have access to these videos as I’m doing them and I’ll figure out—I didn’t even know how to do it at the time—some kind of way to like lock them down to the site, which I could easily do now. But at the time was like, “Ooh, how am I going to do that?” Not to mention host them and stuff.

I mean, to this day, YouTube doesn’t have a locking mechanism for content really. You gotta find a way to do it. I’ve seen Vimeo used a lot for that because they do have like a URL lockdown method. And I think I dabbled in it for a minute. But I also tried hosting them on s3, and that was relatively successful too.

Anyway, I went through this whole journey of it and I only gave access to the people that backed on Kickstarter. And I think people looked at the number. I’m looking at it right now. 2,187 backers pledged $89,697, which was a lot of money, even more 10 years ago, thanks to inflation and stuff. So it really did feel like a big pile of money.

What was funny about it, though, was that I spent so much of it. First of all, you get that money and then you chop off a huge chunk of it just for taxes. People forget about that. But a lot of that just disappears depending on your income bracket and stuff. Then you say, “Oh, everybody gets a t-shirt.” Wow, that’s expensive. For 2,187 t-shirts with a custom design that you pay the artist to do, that’s most of the money too.

And then I hired people. Like I hired a content strategist, I hired an illustrators, because each section had interesting illustration on it and stuff. I was in a hole by the time this thing was over.

Joe Casabona: Oh, man.

Chris Coyier: People see the money and they think, “Oh, good for you moneybags.” But really it’s not like there was a true Kickstarter in that this was to kickstart a more revenue-focused business, not to make me instantly have money. And I think that is the spirit of Kickstarter, actually. It’s not to just be a business, it’s to kickstart a business later.

Joe Casabona: It always rubs me the wrong way when established businesses are like, “We’re gonna do a Kickstarter.” And I’m like, “That’s kind of weird because you have the capital and the audience.” So you’re just kind of like giving Kickstarter a bunch of money for to get money in advance, maybe? I don’t know.

Chris Coyier: It’s almost just like a rewards thing, which I agree, it doesn’t quite feel in the spirit of Kickstarter. But maybe that’s brand placement, and it would bother me less if it was on a different… Maybe a Patreon thing. But it depends on how perceived successful your business already is.

Joe Casabona: Right. And I’ve got like five pens from this company around me called Studio Neat. They make the Mark One and just recently the Mark Two. And the kickstart a lot of their stuff. You know, they’ve been around for 10 years and I don’t know if it’s just like they kickstart new things, because they’re not quite sure how much it’s gonna cost or the cash on hand isn’t… But you can talk to some of these maker businesses, and I’m sure they’ll make a case for being on Kickstarter. But it’s just-

Chris Coyier: Yeah. I mean, they’re not gonna be like, “Oh, it’s because we’re greedy.” They’re not. So they have some reason.

Joe Casabona: “We just want a bunch of money up front.” So that’s really interesting. I mean, it feels like it probably generated a lot of buzz for you. Because in 2012 even, that’s very successful Kickstarter, I think, right?

Chris Coyier: Yeah. I mean, I think so. Despite the fact that I literally lost money on it with all this stuff, but then the site was built. Then I have the site that’s theoretically more revenue-focused. And it kind of was. I was on an upward trajectory of always things to measure: traffic and revenue and all that. But it was always advertising all the way up until the end. Not that it’s the end then for me, that’s where all the money came from was ads and sponsor, you know?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Which is another interesting thing, right? Because you imagine that… Again, I’m not asking you to speculate on what DigitalOcean is gonna do. But if DigitalOcean is doing this as traffic driver to their site, I mean, they’re probably not going to advertise other hosting companies, which I think CSS-Tricks has to wait for.

Chris Coyier: No way. No. There’s still some ads on the site as we speak. But yeah, I don’t actually have… I’m not privy to what their long-term advertising plan is. I fought during the whole plan that it was to do less than there already is. Like a lot less. And that actually makes me happy a little bit.

I’m actually very pro-advertising. As a person, I think there are companies in the world that need to be heads-down focused on their product, or their service. And all have their time and energy goes into their product and their service, and they don’t have time to do content marketing or get the word out because what they plan on is that “We’re just going to use money to do that. We’re going to be really focused on what we’re doing and then spend money to get the word out.”

And then there’s other companies in the world that focus on getting eyeballs. They are content-producing people and they spend all their time and energy giving away their content in order to get the most amount of eyeballs and attention they have because what they sell is advertising and sponsorship. And that feels very happy ying yang to me. Like that’s an economy at work. And I like that.

But at the same time, I’ve designed CSS-Tricks so many times around advertising that did bring me some pleasure to think of what would a CSS-Tricks redesign with no ads on? Like just focus on content. That complete and total freedom for content did seem like a pretty cool potential future for it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s awesome. How many times have you redesigned it? Was it like a dozen or something like that?

Chris Coyier: Yeah, a little more than that. I mean, it’s so arbitrary anyway, because… I think it was 17 or 18, or 19 or-

Joe Casabona: Oh, wow

Chris Coyier: …something when I sold it. Because it would be usually once a year-ish maybe a little more. And then I put out a new version of it. But then that version would evolve over the year. I mean, I pushed code most days to CSS-Tricks in some way. And so by the end of that year, that version was pretty different than it was at the beginning of the year. And I would only cut a new version when I was gonna do something a little beefier and change, change the spirit more overnighty. Or you needed a new template, you know. You couldn’t incrementally push out. It was like, do it or don’t.

[00:21:12] <music>

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[00:22:09] <music>

Joe Casabona: So you mentioned kind of talking about content. And there’s two things. I have two competing thoughts that I want to cover here. I guess first, let’s stick with advertising for a minute. You said it was always about ads. How did you get your blog content sponsored at first? It was still kind of when it was still your side gig people approached you or did you reach out to people at first?

Chris Coyier: I mean, the very, very, very, very first… Wow, I’m trying to think of a good timeline. Definitely there was an attempt at AdSense, Google AdSense, and seeing if that would be magical. Theoretically, it’s so algorithmic that it senses who’s coming and what the content is on the page and tries to serve relevant ads. Certainly a blockbuster product for Google to this day. But I don’t see it that much in tech. I feel like it doesn’t click that well. It tends to be more generic stuff that AdSense serves. And I could never quite get it going for me in a truly profitable way.

Joe Casabona: I wonder if that’s because tech-savvy people already have an ad-blocker installed on their browser

Chris Coyier: These days surely.

Joe Casabona: I mean, absolutely these days.

Chris Coyier: Back in the day, maybe not. To me, it was more like the randomness of… Maybe the advertisers weren’t flocking to it. So you’d get an ad for like a Jeep Cherokee or a blender and you’d be so blind to that as a developer that it didn’t click. And literally then they wouldn’t click, and then at the end of the month, you get $100 or something, you’re like, “It’s making my website too gross and affecting of the performance are too much for $100 or whatever.”

One of the very earliest ones was just a company that reached out to me and said, “Can you put this ad? Here it is. It’s a little rectangle or something.” Or like, “How much do you want for that or something?” And I was like, “How about $100?” Because that’s not gross and I’ll put it there for a month. And then I’ll mark my calendar and take it down at the end of the month. Or probably, if I’m putting my business hat on, email you four days before and say, “Your ad is about to expire. How did it do for you? Would you like to continue? We have special rates for the blue, you know, or something.” So that was getting me excited about that.

The early companies were what was called PSD to HTML, which was a big thing at the time, which is just give us your design. Surely there’s lots of people out there that are designers that don’t know how to code yet, because it was like early days of the big print to web transition, I’d say. And I think that the target audience for CSS-Tricks in my head I thought it was not a good fit because I was like, “I’m trying to teach you to not need this company. So why is this company advertising on my site?” But maybe it’s people that try it and gave up or whatever.

It seemed to work well enough because for years and years they paid me money. I would ratchet up the price on them, I would try to give them different placements and stuff like that. You know, it held on for a long time.

Then for a long time, Treehouse was a sponsor. And that was the kind of thing that I would just shake hands at conferences and have some beers or whatever, and be like, “Hey, maybe we should do a thing together.” I was very organic. Never me actually understanding how digital media works and putting together plans based on my deep knowledge of… It would never was that.

Almost until the end, it kept growing and I kept having more experience in knowing how to talk to people and knowing how to sell people on plans. And then I would say now I think I actually do kind of understand digital media, but only my narrow niche of it. Like if somebody hired me to run Vox, I don’t know that my skills would transfer perfectly. I’d probably do okay. Just based on my ability to write a cohesive email and shake somebody’s hand, maybe I would do okay. But I definitely don’t have any formal training in how that works. But it just went up and up and up, you know.

The game is make a lot of content, SEO gets better, your analytics slowly rise, you pay attention to what you’re doing, you do right by the people reading your site, and you charge money accordingly for sponsors. It all worked out fine. I mean, I’d still be doing it to this day if DigitalOcean didn’t make a decent offer, and have me being so busy with other things in life that I was happy to set it down.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I find my experience very similar in that I’m not an advertising or media person. I’m like the opposite of a marketer. But I go to conferences, I meet people, I shake hands, and my network is the thing that has really allowed me to have a viable podcast business.

I’ve got like a full deck of sponsors for several months now and I think it’s all thanks to my network. I mean, some people are reaching out and they want to sponsor but the people who are doing like a full year are like the people I know personally who are like trusting what I’m doing. Hopefully, it’s working for them. It seems like it’s working for them.

Chris Coyier: That’s amazing. And you’ll learn that way. Like maybe you’ll learn that those year packages are just platinum for you and that that’s what you want to do. And maybe you’ll learn that you regret selling a year because then it doesn’t give you the chance to wiggle it up a little bit or emotionally you feel like beholden to produce podcasts even though it’s August and you need a break or something. I don’t know. That’s stuff that you’ll learn about you and how you roll. I’m sure you’ve learned plenty already.

Joe Casabona: Right. Yeah. But like for those starting out, that’s absolutely the case. Even like my WordPress podcast, I got a sponsored for a year and I don’t always have something to talk about every week. But I’m like, “Well, I have a sponsor, so I need to either do two next week, or do one a week or have some in the tank.” And yeah, it’s like the creator’s dilemma a little bit.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, a little bit. I learned that about Kickstarter is that I did not feel good and I would never do it again. Because people give you the money first and then you’re beholden to them, and then you better come through. I much prefer the exact opposite to that. If I work hard and do a good job, then I want to be paid for it. But I don’t like being paid before I do the work. It just doesn’t sit right for me. Like literally emotionally.

Joe Casabona: It’s a lot of pressure. And I’m happy to sell year sponsorships for this one. It’s like a well-oiled machine. But some of my newer projects, I might slow the roll a little bit and be like, “Let’s do three months and just like see how it goes.” Or like 12 episodes just whenever the episodes come out, right? Maybe that’s the better model for a new show while you figure out the cadence. But that’s again-

Chris Coyier: I would think a responsible buyer would just be like, “Yeah, fine, or “whatever.” Like it’s unlikely to meet and see advertisers that I think they’re buying new year because you’re giving them too good of deals. That’s what I think.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Well, I definitely-

Chris Coyier: They’re like, “Look at that price. I’m gonna buy it before he realizes what he’s doing.”

Joe Casabona: That’s so funny. I usually tell people when someone accepts my proposal, no questions asked, I’m like, “Well, I should have charged a lot more, I guess.”

Chris Coyier: Yeah, you should have. There’s no doubt about it. Do never question that. You’re right. Yes, you should have charged more.

Joe Casabona: You’re absolutely right. You’re very unlikely to hit their exact budget on the head. You have come under their budget and they’re happy to pay.

Chris Coyier: If you ever have this thought like, “I’m not sure my show is worth that much or whatever,” be like, “It’s worth whatever they say yes to.” That is what worth is.

Joe Casabona: Alexis Grant from They Got Acquired, she gave some really good advice. Like start high. You can always come down, right? If someone says, “Oh, well, that’s a little bit too high for me,” and you don’t have any sponsors and you’re just trying things, you know can always come down 50 bucks or whatever. It’s a lot harder to move up. “It’s 50 bucks. Now, I changed my mind. It’s 150 bucks.”

Chris Coyier: Well, sounds like you’re talking about acquisitions, Joe, a little bit because that’s absolutely the case there too as you negotiate the sale of things.

Joe Casabona: So let’s get into that a little bit, right? Chris is a professional podcaster too. So that was like a great transition that I’m pointing out, making it a worse transition. When you sold CSS-Tricks, DigitalOcean approached you, I think you said?

Chris Coyier: Yeah, they totally did. I think it’s probably a year and a half or two years ago now for like a first round of meet and greet stuff. And it kind of fizzled out. And then they had a kind of a new round of enthusiasm for it during the second round. And that’s pretty common, too. But it’s not just a one-and-done thing.

You know, it’s not like I have tons of experience, but I’ve been around enough acquisitions that have a little experience now. And I’m finding that to be very true. Not to mention talk to a million people about it because this is the first thing I’ve sold, especially one, that’s just me, and it was just me and my wife essentially is decision making that went into it. So I called anybody that would take my call, essentially, “What do you think?” And learned a lot about their acquisitions through that. So I have experienced just second handedly through that. Yeah, they did reach out to me, and we kind of took it from there.

Joe Casabona: So when they reach out, if they reach out with interest, I would have a really hard time being like, “Yes, this is a done deal.” And then they disappear for a little while. What did that feel like? Were you just like, “Well, that’s business, I guess and maybe they’ll come back around?” Or were you like, “Dang, I was really hoping they would buy like today?”

Chris Coyier: But I think that first round it was never… even the word acquisition probably wasn’t even said. Usually, there’s a little dance while you’re on calls before that’s even talked about. Because especially with App like products, it’s kind of like, we want to talk to you about who knows what. Maybe it ends up just it’s a sponsor conversation, or maybe it’s an integration thing, or whatever.

Usually, it’s like, Let’s feel each other out at what the possibilities would be. Even if they know they’re kind of interested in integration and buying the thing, they usually just won’t say it immediately. But they were actually pretty straightforward the second time around. Maybe they were wanting to go a little faster or something.

And then to their credit, what I liked about the process is, you know, the concept of a ballpark where they’re like, “Can we get those conversations out of the way first so that we know we’re wasting each other’s time?” Because if your idea is x and minus y, then we’re done. Like literally buy, you know.

Joe Casabona: There’s no like way to come closer.

Chris Coyier: Right. I was probably more willing. This feels weird to say on the podcast. But you know, I’m willing to admit my mistakes a little bit. It’s interesting to talk. I was so naive in a way that I was… Or maybe it’s just my personality, because I’m not sure I would do it differently. But I would cough up anything.

Joe, if you wanted to look at the analytics of CSS-Tricks, I just invite you to the analytics. Like I’ve never cared about stuff like that. In fact, I published yearly on CSS-Tricks with analytics data and stuff. But it’d be more than that. I’m like, “Oh, you want to look at this and this and this and this?” Like I said, I don’t know that I regret it, but I was pretty open in, “Take, here, open the kimono. Look at what’s happening with the business,” because I wanted their ballpark to be informed.

Joe Casabona: You didn’t want to get like a giant number and then they look at the analytics, and they’re like, “well, we got to scale this back.” Right? Because once you get that number… I don’t know, maybe it’s just me once I get the number in my head, I’m like pretty anchored to that number.

Chris Coyier: Exactly. Exactly. Everybody is. And that can be a problem, you know, and it could be great. You know, if they could ballpark you a number that’s super high, and then you’re like, “Yeah, you know, I don’t know. Maybe,” when you’re like, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” This was way more amicable. I can’t and don’t have any desire to talk about numbers because I don’t think much good comes from it unless it’s a big fancy public thing. But there was dancing, it felt appropriate on both sides.

Joe Casabona: So was it like $44 billion?

Chris Coyier: Oh, I wish.

Joe Casabona: I just like dated this podcast now. Sorry, everybody.

Chris Coyier: I’m back to work if that means anything.

[00:33:51] <music>

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[00:34:49] <music>

Joe Casabona: So you mentioned due diligence. I mean, you talked kind of initial ballpark at first and that seemed to be agreeable. The due diligence process also kind of seems like a nightmare to me. And I don’t know. The predominant advice I get from people is if you have multiple projects, keep different books for all of those projects. And I don’t do that. All of my income streams funnel into one QuickBooks account. So if I had to separate those for due diligence purposes, it would be a lot of work on my part. I can like figure it out but I think it’d be a lot of work to get it in a presentable way for an acquisition. Like I know how much this podcast makes versus how much it costs me.

Chris Coyier: Probably close. It wouldn’t be that bad, especially if you’re motivated to do it, it wouldn’t be the biggest thing in the world. Think how many hours you work in a day. If you just focus them all on this one task, it just would get it done, you know. But yeah, it’s not ideal. It’s better to separate stuff out when you can. I’m not that great at it either but it worked out pretty cleanly this time.

But think of how easy we got it. Things get really complicated when there’s employees involved. That’s very complicated. It’s complicated when you have leases. And it’s complicated when you own a bunch of physical equipment. Like think if you’re selling like a yoga studio or like a gym where you had bunch of employees, you had leases all over town, you had buildings full of equipment. That’s when stuff gets hairy. In tech, you’re like, “Here’s my GitHub credentials, or whatever.” It’s like easy comparatively.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Awesome. So the process was kind of… You said it took like, a year or so? A couple of years?

Chris Coyier: To do the deal, that was like two weeks. It was so fast.

Joe Casabona: Sorry, I mean, the whole process. But like, yeah, I guess once the due diligence was done, yeah.

Chris Coyier: Right. The big blow in the middle there is kind of irrelevant. By the time they contacted me for real, and we’re talking about they’re a public company, they have stock that’s traded on the market, and a huge market cap. Like they have to report these things and such. So their activities are also public. Like they took a huge round of funding. They had bucks.

And when tech companies have bucks, there’s only so many ways to spend them, you know. You can hire up and stuff, you can do marketing plays, and you can buy things. And in their case, buying things makes sense at the scale that they’re at. So they had an appetite to close this deal. And it worked out great in that way.

So when we were talking about they’re like, “Here’s very clearly the reasons why we’re interested,” which I appreciate. There’s nothing veiled. They were very upfront and honest about everything. It was a pleasure to talk to them the whole process because they could just talk so frankly about everything. The team they had in place was good to work with.

They had some acquisitions under their belt as a team already. Because you know, you think of companies as being full of these genius people that do this all day. Not necessarily. Sometimes the acquiring company is somebody who’s doing an acquisition for the first time in their lives on the other side.

Joe Casabona: That’s really interesting. That’s really interesting to think about. To get into the content creator stuff, I assume it was kind of a big weight off. Was it a big weight off your shoulder? Were you like happy that it was done? Was it like a little bit-

Chris Coyier: Bittersweet is usually the term.

Joe Casabona: Bittersweet is the exact word I was looking for.

Chris Coyier: Kinda. I’m still processing, to be honest, with the emotions of it all. I’m just starting to feel some of the relief of it. And I’m still contractor for DigitalOcean now for a while longer, which requires some work and stuff, you know. So that hasn’t totally fallen away yet, which, of course, because there’s a bunch of technology, there’s stuff to move and explain and help with. And I very much want to be. I want the site in good hands and I want them to know everything. Even when I’m not a contractor, I’m still here to ask anything you want. I want CSS-Tricks to thrive. Of course I do. That’s good for everybody involved if it continues to do great.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. That’s fantastic. So moving into the content creation stuff. First of all, you put out a ton of content between what was your CSS-Tricks, and then you blog for CodePen and you blog on your site, and you have at least one podcast, and you write books and stuff? Books? Multiple books?

Chris Coyier: Yeah, kind of. I mean, I wrote a WordPress book a million years ago. That doesn’t require any… Jeff Starr has totally taken over that operation as of long time ago. I wrote one for A Book Apart, which is like a real book because it was really printed and distributed and such. And then I kind of wrote a book in quotes for CSS-Tricks that was just an attempt at selling some kind of pay walled content, essentially. And I never even hit paper, but I just called it a book because you could kind of sort of read it. Then I made like a PDF of it that you could read like an ebook.

But the biggest time suck was all the sponsor stuff. I’m sure there’s a lot of writing and wrangling other writers, but it was more work to deal with sponsors. I had Automattic as a sponsor for a long time. That was great. They were my biggest one. Usually, they’re my biggest sponsor in any given month. And the package that I sold them… This was great. It’s a hot tip for you, Joe, is to have as many products as you can sell as possible. Be like, “We’ll put you on the blog, we’ll put you in the newsletter, we’ll put you on two different podcasts. We’ll do a social media shout over here.”

I found that people chewed that up. They liked the package. The package is what people wanted. And Automattic like that, too. They’re like, “Well, hit people multiple times, and multiple places, and whatever. We will do video over here, we’ll do audio over here.” Great. That was a lot of work to put together. It wasn’t just we’ll run whatever you give us, it was creating the content too.

And then sometimes I have three, four sponsors similarly in a month. And it wasn’t writing a blog post for CSS-Tricks. I found that cathartic and easy. It was, how can I help sell jet pack this month? Which I like. As a product I think is great. I still have it on all my WordPress. I think it’s good piece of software that helps WordPress site owners. But like, how many times can you say that freshly was a mental challenge?

Joe Casabona: Right. I find the same thing with podcast sponsors. Like I probably let my… because my spots are pre-recorded, especially the year-long ones go a little too long before refreshing them and kind of rewarding them and highlighting a different feature. But that’s important. And it can be hard. You know, I’ve had people reach out…

Okay, first of all, the package thing, super important. Something I kind of discovered recently. Like I put together like a one sheet of all of my properties and the pricing, and that has been working like gangbusters. People are like join our affiliate program. And I’m like, here’s how you can pay me directly for goods and services. And they’re like, “Yeah, let’s do like a sponsored video.” And I’m like, great. I just like made some money for a content idea.

Chris Coyier: If it works to show them the sheet and they pick stuff, that’s awesome. But what I find was more successful was you tell them what the package is? How about, “You know, let me put together a gold and a silver for you.” You can just make it up on the fly because, you know, who cares? It’s just an email anyway.

Joe Casabona: Right. It’s not like everybody’s like, shit. There’s not like a Chris Coyier file where everyone’s like, “Hey, what did he offer you. Wait a minute.”

Chris Coyier: No. You don’t even want that. You don’t even want them to be public really. You just say, “This month, we’ll do these eight things for you. And here’s this number I kind of pulled out of my butt too.” I stopped the butt pulling because it helps accounting to be a little more consistent about the numbers. But you can adjust those numbers. I just felt it was helpful to internally write down what we sold to who and for what so that it was clear when the money came in how to allocate it and stuff.

Joe Casabona: Right. But again, trying to figure out like, I sell like these honest video reviews. And I’ve gotten like some crappy products that paid me and I’m like, “Well, now I gotta figure out… It’s got to be honest and I want to try to say something nice about it. And it doesn’t always shake out. But I say right up front. I’m like, “This is honest. And if I don’t like it, I’ll let you know.”

Chris Coyier: And then you just don’t publish the ones you don’t like, or do you publish a negative review, a paid negative review?

Joe Casabona: I’ve never published a paid negative review.

Chris Coyier: That’s weird territory.

Joe Casabona: I mean, maybe I’ll have an offering called Roast My Product. “That’s not what we paid for.” So I guess when it comes to content creation, how do you figure out where to write where? I guess that’s a weird way to put it. But especially when you’re writing for CSS-Tricks, and you were also writing for CodePen. I’m not imagining that.

Chris Coyier: But I just didn’t write for CodePen in the same way really. We have a CodePen blog, but that was just like feature releases, we had a podcast over there, maybe occasional little technical doodads, but not what industry… I wasn’t writing any how-to there. That might change because I think that stuff is valuable and I have some enthusiasm for that. That kind of all of a sudden went away.

I’m sure I could continue writing for CSS-Tricks and perhaps I will a little bit. But that’s not quite how the deal was structured. They’re taking over that product. And that’s fine. And I can’t and don’t want to immediately start another CSS-Tricks. Like that’s not appealing to me. Like I’ve changed my life on purpose. But there’s still some value in it.

For CodePen, I have recently started just adding a little bit of tech commentary to… We have a newsletter called the CodePen Spark. I put my little face on the bottom of and call it Chris’ Corner where I can add a little bit of tech talk for the week because I do enjoy that. And I have a personal blog at Chriscoyier.net too, but I don’t plan on publishing tech how-to there. I just want to blog in a really kind of classic sense over there.

Almost like a Twitter alternative in a way. I know it’s not the same. But you know, big news this week with Elon Musk buying it and stuff. I don’t have any useful commentary to add about that. But he has said so clearly that it’s like free speech, free speech, free speech is the reason why he’s getting it, which to me feels like all these prominent people who have been banned from Twitter will almost certainly be reinstated. That bothers me actually.

And I think I’ve already spent less time on that site, removed it from my phone, blah, blah, blah. I don’t mean to make this a whole thing about social media, but… Because I still basically enjoy Twitter. But it seems to me there’s a good chance that the place gets worse before it gets better. And I want to go old school and say what I want to say on my frickin WordPress website with an RSS feed. That’s how I’m gonna roll, you know? And my 1,000 true fans will be there with me.

Joe Casabona: They will be right there. RSS feeds, I feel like… I don’t know. I feel like they’re making a comeback. Maybe they’re just making the comeback in my heart because I’m like trying a bunch of RSS apps out. But I’m really happy to have a feed reader, like a proper feed reader.

Chris Coyier: It’s fun. Let’s get on to the cross-blogging thing. It’ll be like, “Joe blogged about this the other day.” And you can reply, but it’s not like an instantaneous reply. It’s like a thoughtful reply.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Did Jeremy Keith pioneer that? Was that his thing?

Chris Coyier: I don’t know. I think very highly of Jeremy. Maybe it was. I think he just blogs what’s on his mind, you know? And syndicate-

Joe Casabona: But I mean the cross blog thing. Was that his answer to comments? He doesn’t have comments on his blog. If you want to respond to his blog, you have to write on your blog, which I like better, because-

Chris Coyier: Right. There’s some actual tech that ties it together. It’s like he notices and then puts a link there. I forget what it’s called. It’s some indie web concept of microblogging or something. I forget the… No, I like that. Even the classic Daring Fireball thing, where it’s mostly the posts are somebody else’s posts, but with a little commentary. That’s the majority format of the blog. And I think that’s cool. It’s like maybe we should slow down our human interactions a little bit.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. We don’t need a million hot takes.

Chris Coyier: No. And maybe we scoped down… Because real-time is fun, too. And I found that a lot of my real-time social activity has moved into more scoped-down discords essentially. I’d say Slack but Slack isn’t very community-focused these days. And I think a lot of community stuff has moved to Discord. I like prefer it almost, you know. The whole world isn’t watching you on Discord. It’s just like your buds or at least people that you share a pretty tight community with.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Like people who have at least bought in on some concept that you also buy in.

Chris Coyier: Yeah. You all use the same tack or they you all listen to the same podcast or whatever.

Joe Casabona: I think we’re around the same age. I feel like I’m getting old because I go into Discord and I’m like, “Everything’s too flashy or whatever. I don’t understand where anything is.” But I still use it. So I guess it’s not that bad.

As we kind of wrap things up here, I want to ask you a kind of heavy question. Which is, I feel like over the last couple of years, especially we’ve seen an increase activity for like content, property acquisitions, right? Obviously, we know Spotify has bought up a bunch of podcasters and podcast studios, and Amazon is doing the same thing, and CSS-Tricks has made this sale. I just feel like acquisitions have been high since the pandemic. And I feel like we’re seeing a lot of content-specific properties also get bought up at this point. And I’m wondering if you have noticed the same thing or kind of your thoughts around that topic.

Chris Coyier: I wish I knew more about it. I got some of the almost the opposite sentiment from some people that’s like, How do you manage to sell a blog? Because I can’t point to a lot of blog acquisitions, you know, straight up writing. The podcast one is obvious-ish with the huge Joe Rogan deals and crazy crap like that. And who was the other? Gimlet? But those are pretty high profile. I’m sure there’s plenty of other ones that were smaller in scope that still happened. I don’t know.

That one seems like people trying to wrangle up the fat tail or the fat head of podcasting, and get people in. I hate it actually, to be frank, the Spotify model, because then we’re just talking about RSS. You’ve just destroyed the foundation of what a podcast is, which is a freakin XML file that anybody can subscribe to and listen to the podcast. That’s what I liked about podcasting. It’s just an RSS feed with an mp3 attached to it. It’s great. Not on Spotify, it’s locked behind this way. I don’t even know how you do it. You gotta log in and upload it to their proprietary interface? That’s not a podcast.

Joe Casabona: That’s the wild thing is you can still submit your podcast to them through an RSS feed, and then they just like gobble-

Chris Coyier: They do, but not the proprietary ones.

Joe Casabona: I don’t know how their people are doing it, I guess.

Chris Coyier: So they’re saying like, “We hate open technology. We’re going to force you to log in and listen to our stuff this way,” which is just an aggressive… not like anybody’s perfect. Apple is extremely aggressive in some regards. But at the moment there are podcasts… You could argue the same way that they dip their toes into paid podcast too. I think it’s gone like really poorly. I don’t know a single person who subscribes to a paid podcast.

I looked into it and I was like, “Well, I guess I can charge people five bucks for the same thing and they just only get the podcasts and not like the membership stuff or whatever.” But like, it seems like a giant pain and wasn’t worth it to me.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, it just doesn’t seem like a program that’s long for this world. But it has a similar problem. And as soon as you’re charging for it, that that’s not an open feed anymore. You gotta like log in and upload a special copy to their proprietary system. Anyway, I forgot why I was ranting about that. But that-

Joe Casabona: Content acquisitions.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, yeah. Do you think it’s just top-of-funnel stuff? Is it just like, if we buy this, then we can sell what we want to sell on, it’s not necessarily to acquire the advertising model? It’s to do something else with said content?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, I do. I think that people will… I feel, and maybe this is just because I’ve moved more into the content creation space over the last couple of years. But I feel like a lot of brands are realizing good long form content is maybe just as good or better than throwing a bunch of dollars at paid ads. Which I mean, don’t get me wrong, this whole joint is supported by paid ads. But like having that good, helpful content, especially because like, you know, Google, like basically answers questions in line for people now.

A really good example is Kinsta. And whenever I google anything about how to do something in WordPress, Kinsta’s blog comes up like without fail. Top security things, top performance things. Full disclosure, I created a course in conjunction with Kinsta. I don’t know if it’s out yet. So I don’t know if I need to disclose this. We exchanged money for goods and services at some point. And at some point, it’s coming out. But whenever I’m googling something about WordPress, Kinsta shows up towards the top of the results. So I feel like if people are putting out good content like that helps establish trust, and is really good for your SEO.

Chris Coyier: And what do they really sell? They really sell hosting, right?

Joe Casabona: Right, yeah. So what they’ll do in these blog posts is like, Oh, how do you speed up your site? Well, you know, there’s cache and there’s different types of cache. And oh, by the way, like, all of our accounts include Redis cache, Redis object cache automatically, right? So it’s not really like guerilla marketing or anything like that. It’s not even like Blackhat. It’s just like, “Here’s some things you should know. By the way we do this.” Some properties do this better than other. I’m not going to name a specific brand, but they did a form plugin versus form plugin versus form plugin. And the one that they owned won. Like, what a shock!

Chris Coyier: Even Automattic does it. If you subscribe to the Jetpack blog, half the things are, What are the best backup plugins for WordPress? And the top one is Jetpack.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. It’s obviously Jetpack. I mean, Jetpack is probably good. I think backup should come with your hosting. But yeah, I think that content is playing a bigger role. Maybe not a bigger role. I just feel like people are looking for trustworthy sources. And good content is a good way to establish trust, if that makes sense.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, it’s almost under-utilized. You’re like, If Kinsta is crushing it… I’m trying to think of this. It was like one of those apps that you install to catch errors in your apps. And then it has like a dashboard for it. Like Scentsy, but it was-

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Right.

Chris Coyier: It’s like purple or whatever. Anyway, they have like a front end focus blog, and they have tons of content. There’s just nothing to do with catching JavaScript errors, essentially. They publish like three, four posts a day. It’s just like a massive content pipeline. And it’s just a wide scale SEO grab. We have to have no ad anywhere on this entire page, except for us. And you know that if that’s the case, you’re going to convert point 0.01% or something to free trials at least. And then you convert free trials from there or whatever.

And the math works out such that, like, yeah, we can pay $300 an article to keep that train rollin because it converts into the lifetime value of customers so well. They didn’t even care what… Maybe they’ll pivot to, you know, posting celebrity news or something. They probably won’t do that, because at least this is some degree of targeting with tech in general.

Joe Casabona: But what apps is Pete Davidson using?

Chris Coyier: Yeah. But content generally works if you’re a top of funnel type of company. That’s not every company. If Kinsta pivoted into enterprise because each client is worth a minimum of $60,000 a year or something, you’re not going to get anybody based on your blog. You’re gonna get customers based on phone calls and schmoozing and however enterprise works. But if you’re a top of funnel type of company, and all you want to do is spread that funnel as wide as it can get, content is the play.

[00:54:50] <music>

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[00:55:56] <music>

Joe Casabona: I’d love to wrap up here. Well, I haven’t asked you what’s next. But I think CodePen is probably as you stated on your website and in previous podcasts.

Chris Coyier: That’s definitely the answer. Yes.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. And definitely check out CodePen. It’s really good. When I was teaching in the classroom, I would heavily utilize CodePen because it’s just great for live demos.

Chris Coyier: Thank you. It’s gonna get a lot better.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. I’m excited. So if there’s some content creators who are looking to get started today, what advice do you have for them?

Chris Coyier: Oh, that’s a good question. You know, one thing that occurs to me that it’s not a mistake necessarily that people make. But if you think there’s some… If you want to get in on this content acquisition concept that you shouldn’t probably blog at Joecasabona.com, because you can’t sell that. That’s your name. So maybe don’t do that. Maybe don’t even attach your name to it too much at all because the point of it is the strength of the brand, not the strength of the owner necessarily. So try to make it stand on content.

I also think that really truly good content never just exists unseen. You know, like if you’ve started to write and you’re not getting traction, it’s because the content isn’t good enough. If you write truly outstanding thing, you’ll know when it clicks. It’s not like you’re like I just can’t get any readers to my blog. You just gotta get better.

Joe Casabona: I think that’s a point worth repeating. Because I’m for a while I was putting out four or five pieces of content a week, and I’m like, “I’m not getting any email newsletter signups.” And then someone was like, “Don’t write about everything write about the thing that your newsletters about?” And sure enough that content is this content that gets people to sign up for my newsletter. Be a little focused and spend a little extra time creating good content, right?

Chris Coyier: I never learned that lesson. I’m saying it now but I have a feeling that if I spent… It’s almost as dramatic as if I spent it one month per article, then it would do better than one article every day for that month, which doesn’t seem to add up. It’s usually not how people roll. But I think that in tech if you have like a super well researched, super well written thick ass article that’s just full of great referential information and you took the time to like lay it out properly and have it be easily digestible and jump aroundable and is like super SEO ready, really spent a lot of time on it, clearly a month of effort, then that thing is going to kick ass for you in the long term.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly. We had a recent guest, Farzad Rashidi from Respona. He basically said the same thing. Spend a ton of time making a few really good pieces of content and then tell people about it, get backlinks to it, and people will find it if you do your keyword research right. So I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve been trying to focus more on that. I’m making like these Freelancer toolkits, you know, like, “Oh, what should a freelancer using WordPress in 2022?” That contents doing really well.

Chris Coyier: That’s a super legit question that somebody might want to know.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly. I also learned the concept recently of brand swapping. So like the example this dude gave was like how to fix a Kawasaki motorcycle. And then you can like swap out Kawasaki for like Harley or Vesper or whatever. And like most of the time, like 80% of the article will be the same. But then you get like these specific keywords. I mean, I don’t know anything about motorcycles. Maybe that’s a bad example. But like freelance toolkit for WordPress sites, freelance toolkit for podcast sites, freelance toolkit for online learning sites, whatever. A lot of it is going to be, “Use this theme, use WordPress, use these plugins.” And then you have like this specific niche.

Chris Coyier: The point of that is that it helps you do it faster, right?

Joe Casabona: Right. But then it’s like answering specific questions as well. Anyway, the ultimate point is, spend time on good content.

Chris Coyier: Certainly.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, Chris, this has been a blast. We’ve been talking for a long while now. I want to be respectful of your time. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Chris Coyier: Well, let’s just do my personal website, which is usually what I do anyway. But it’s my name Chriscoyier.net.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. I will link to that and everything we talked about in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/273. Chris and I will chat for a little bit longer after this ends ad-free extended episode for members of the Creator Crew. You can sign up over at howibuilt.it/273 as well. It’s 50 bucks a year. That’s less than five bucks a month. I paid $6 for an iced coffee recently. So lots of value there. Chris, thanks so much for spending time with us today. I really appreciate it.

Chris Coyier: My pleasure job. Take care.

Joe Casabona: All right. And thank you. Thanks to our sponsors. Thank you to everybody listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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