Interview with Ryo Chiba Co Founder at Topic
Steve Wetmore – Good afternoon Ryo Chiba Co Founder at Topic. Ryo would you please talk a little bit about who you are, what you do and give us some insight into your credentials
Ryo Chiba – Yeah, so my name is Rio. I’m the co founder of Topic. Previously, I founded a marketing technology company called Tint grew that to about 5 million in annual recurring revenue with about 40 employees. Last year, we sold the company and yeah, Topic is my new project, the previous company Tint, actually 90% of our business was through SEO. And throughout the six years that I was there, I was the co founder who was in charge of all of the SEO, marketing, and really organizing and executing on the strategy they put together that really drove the business forward. So, yeah, that’s, how I got involved with SEO. Because that company was the company that they started out of college and it grew – Thanks to search.
Steve Wetmore – There’s one thing to offer SEO services as an agency, it’s another to execute and create a startup and then sell it. That’s quite a success story. So with that, if you could talk a little bit about how you grew Tint through SEO, and what you think are some of the emerging trends going into 2020 and beyond?
Ryo Chiba – We grew Tint through SEO in the beginning, I was inexperienced with the subject, I didn’t really know a whole lot about SEO like SEO people do. And really, we were fortunate because our product was an embeddable product. So websites would embed our social media widget into their site. And so as being one of the developers who actually put together the product, in addition to marketing it, I built it in a way where our product would actually generate backlinks for us and the backlinks would be strategically targeted to landing pages that I put together around important keywords that we wanted to rank for, “Instagram widget” or “Twitter widget”. So we were actually number two right underneath the official widgets for those keywords for quite a long time, which, you know, drove the majority of our business so that was the main tactic to get our initial Domain Authority. And once we did that, Google recognized us as an authority in social media and social media marketing. And that allowed us to then expand from there in terms of our content marketing efforts and put together some pretty compelling content when it came to social media marketing. So that was that was sort of the the path that we grew.
Steve Wetmore – Can you give us a timeline; you started with a strategy, you wanted to drive backlinks to landing pages and, and you had an objective, obviously, you went to high authority websites to create those backlinks for you. Can you describe a little bit more in detail and how you did that?
Ryo Chiba – To give a little bit of background, our product at Tint was a social media widget that enabled websites to display their social media on their website in a nice format, so that they could keep their websites up to date without having to continuously produce new content. Our widget had a “powered by Tint” message at the bottom of the display that allowed us to create a link. So for some of the links “get your free Instagram widget from Tint”. And that link would go to Instagram widget landing page which was designed to rank high and convert for that keyword. So people who are looking for an Instagram widget would first click on the official link. Users would find out that because Instagram or Twitter really doesn’t care about having people embed their content on websites, they didn’t make their widgets very customizable. It was just a side project for them. Users would go to the second link, which would be ours. And we would offer this very customizable widget, which would add a lot of value for people who wanted to keep content on the website fresh. And so in terms of timeline that took us, over the course of a month, I put together those landing pages and updated our product to point back to those landing pages. And within about three months, we started to see actual meaningful results in terms of growth and organic traffic, and a positive flywheel effect. More and more people would get our better widget which would increase the ranking of our site that resulted in a strong SEO engine.
Steve Wetmore – So as Essentially, your your backlinks were created by users embedding the widget on their websites. Is that correct?
Ryo Chiba – Exactly.
Steve Wetmore – So obviously, you had to do some promotion to get people to find it and and embed it. So how did you approach that?
Ryo Chiba – The initial promotion involved some manual labor. We had to reach out to webmasters. Actually it’s funny, at the time we were working out of Los Angeles. So we would cold call or cold email, entertainment agencies who are interested in embedding content for celebrities, for example, or we would create widgets for famous people and say, Hey, do you want to keep your website Fresh? Embed this content. A lot of it was, you know, people within our own business network. And and showing them, hey, we’ve built this widget for you, all you need to do is include it on your site, and then you’ll get more engagement. And so the initial, the initial amount of embedding was organic, but I think it didn’t take it because there was a gap in the market. There weren’t a lot of people competing for those keywords. It didn’t take us very long to start getting on the, you know, third or fourth page, which is all we really need to get that flywheel going.
Steve Wetmore – You make it sound really easy.
Ryo Chiba – Well, I think the timing was good, because a lot of people at the time were looking for a way to include social on their websites. And there’s a gap there and we just happened to be there at the right time.
Steve Wetmore – And I believe you are being modest. Can you say who you sold Tint to?
Ryo Chiba – Yeah, we sold it to a company called Filestack.com. They’re based in San Antonio. And they make popular file picking software that enables developers to let their users upload files.
Steve Wetmore – So, you sold that widget and you’ve learned a lot about real grassroots in the trenches, SEO how to get how to get backlinks. are you applying what you’ve learned? Or have you been able to apply what you’ve learned to your new venture, Topic?
Ryo Chiba – Actually, that’s a great question. And the answer is no, because with Topic, we’re taking a totally different approach in terms of both the problem that we’re solving, and the way that we’re marketing it. Because Topic isn’t an embeddable product, we’re not focusing on generating backlinks to our product approach. Instead we’re doing more of a consultative approach where we’ll go and help companies who are consulting and then promote the product that way. Okay, that’s a little bit with the trends, too, but I can go more into that later.
Steve Wetmore – Why don’t we take a step back? Can you talk a little bit about Topic and what the business model is all about and, and what you’re doing to promote it?
Ryo Chiba – So with topic story behind that is that, you know, over six years, I’m doing SEO, building content now that we have a good authority. And one of the biggest problems that I saw at Tint while we were creating content, was that it was really hard to get to produce high quality content. As an editor, you’re working with writers who might not be subject matter experts. But in order to rank, you need to be producing expert level, high level content or high quality content that is adding significant value to users. And you know, it’s hard to get subject expert freelancers or even finding somebody in house. So after we sold Tint, I decided to focus my energy on creating a product that solved that problem. And so what Topic does is it uses AI to basically help the writer get up to speed on a topic and quickly create an outline that satisfies as many search intents as possible, and also uses the language that is relevant for that topic so that they can create an expert level piece without having to do expert level research. The tool helps them do that.
Steve Wetmore – Based on everything I’ve learned over the last couple of months the entire marketplace needs a tool like that.
Ryo Chiba – It’s surprising the level of sophistication that’s required to get to the top of the rankings. And also the lack of depth of the existing tools that are the standard for content marketers. For example, many early tools are great for what they do. But it’s also very simple in terms of how they evaluate content. So we’re trying to take those simple tools and help content marketers upgrade their tool set to take them to the next level.
Steve Wetmore – And there’s similar tools and they may not be similar at all, but in terms of what you’re doing is sort of a highly advanced page optimization. Because you start at the very beginning, instead of taking something that’s already been written, you create an outline. and does it actually populate with content? Or do you have to fill in those paragraphs with content? Can you describe a little bit about how the content is created?
Ryo Chiba – The writer is responsible for writing the content itself. But we allow the writer to plug in a draft. But before they write the draft, the writer types in a focus keyword, which is the most important keyword that they want to rank for. And then what we do is we pull in the top 30 results in Google, run that through machine learning, analyze it, and then give the writer a Content brief. And this brief gives the writer a really good idea of some of the different ways other articles are breaking down that topic and the sub topics, and then extract the key important phrases to make sure to talk about. And so in this way, the writer can figure out what to talk about and how to talk about it. And then after they have their draft, they plug it in, and then create it against the content brief so that it creates a benchmark that they need to hit in order to feel more confident that the article is going to rank.
Steve Wetmore – So okay, let’s say that they finished the article will your app, then grade it or compare it against the competition like for example, Page Optimizer Pro is a tool that will compare your page to your competitors pages. Does your tool do that?
Ryo Chiba – Our grading system uses competitor content to grade again. So when we give it say an “A”, it means that it’s good as what’s already out there. And the idea is that it will help you get up to speed faster with your competitors. So you can take it even further and add your own unique take on the topic, for example.
Steve Wetmore – Is this available to the public now?
Ryo Chiba – Yes it is and you can find it here UseTopic.com
Ryo Chiba – We have trial accounts available for anybody who wants to test it out and see how it was.
Steve Wetmore – In the marketplace, when you look at this tool it sort of turns the page optimization approach on its ear, because you’re got a system in place or an app in place that suggests you start from scratch. Is that paraphrasing correctly?
Ryo Chiba – I guess the thing that’s turning on its ear that I think is changing in terms of trends, and the SEO landscape is more along the lines of less of a focus on technical SEO. Google is getting better Reading pages and understanding them, actually making sure that you have a meta description which is still important. But a lot of times Google is generating that description on the fly to match the user’s intent. For example, you know, even in the people also asked box that you see in Google, the snippets that pulls out there, those aren’t being written by editors. Those are actually being extracted using machine learning by Google. And so technical optimization is a feature that’s integrated and a focus of so many tools in the SEO landscape right now. But in the future, I see a greater emphasis on content quality, and just satisfying the users intent. Tools like Topic and other content focused tools are going to take more of a forefront for SEO experts and content marketers.
Steve Wetmore – I have talked to some SEOs that agree 100% with you, that there should be less focus on technical SEO and more effort focused on having the most complete answer to any question. And I think that’s the direction you’re going in. But, I just want to step back and talk about one of the comments you made the people also asked box that comes up in the SERPs. You said that they are mostly answers that are not structured by a writer. So are you suggesting that structured data is not something to emphasize?
Ryo Chiba – Yeah, that’s an interesting question, I think that it is a little bit unclear. The structured data is definitely a step in the right direction for something you do that needs structured data, just because AI and the state of computing things are still pretty far off from Google, for example, being able to extract a standardized rating for products. You know, that’s just something that you can’t do without structured data. But yeah, in a lot of situations, you know, structured data is becoming less important. for things that Google can extract automatically.
Steve Wetmore – Can your tool be used as a content optimizer for existing content?
Ryo Chiba – Yes, it can. So previously, I mentioned, instead of taking a more backlink focused approach. What we’re doing for our SEO consulting customers is we usually lead with is, for a reasonable rate, we will rework your content library and optimize it, and use our tool to optimize it to actually very clearly demonstrate its business value. So that purchasing it for long term use for your new content becomes a no brainer. And so that’s totally a valid use case.
Steve Wetmore – You will do that for a particular prospective customer. You do that to one piece of content or how many pieces?
Ryo Chiba – We will usually do it to three or four pieces of content just so that they know that it’s not just a one off thing, and we’re not just cherry picking. But yeah, usually that’s enough that we have one very clear result.
Steve Wetmore – Can you tell us how many subscribers you have so far?
Ryo Chiba – Currently we have five pilots going on. We actually just launched the product three weeks ago. So with the holidays, my co founder and I have been traveling a bit. But we’ve had an existing SEO consultancy that we were using as a testbed for ideas. We’ve been using those clients as our pilot customers.
Steve Wetmore – Can people go to use topic calm now and sign up?
Ryo Chiba – Yes, they can.
Steve Wetmore – I may just do that! What are your subscription rates in terms of pricing?
Ryo Chiba – We start at $200 a month. And that gives you 50 content briefs, which are basically tied to the focus keyword, which is usually plenty for any organization that’s doing two or three pieces a week.
Steve Wetmore – That price does put you in a different snack bracket than other tools.
Ryo Chiba – It’s definitely not. And that’s why we try to make sure that our customers or prospective customers see the business value.
Steve Wetmore – Do you have you been able to establish or create any case studies that show ranking improvements from, say, page four to page one or anything like that?
Ryo Chiba – Yes we’ve put together a case study, and here is the link to the File Stack Case Study. But yeah, we’ve seen some pretty solid results with our consulting client. And that’s why we’ve decided to put all of our effort behind this product and productize it and take it to market.
Steve Wetmore – I’m just trying to pull some, some more detail from you real if, if you could, could you elaborate a little bit more on on a particular case study?
Ryo Chiba – So One of the case study clients is a quality. They make a popular, and that allows people to put forms to collect user experience data on their website. And we recently optimized a marketing guide for them. They had a guide that targeted the keyword marketing surveys, and a bunch of other keywords related to marketing surveys. And so what we did was we use topics optimize a number of chapters of their guide, and, over time, measured the results. And what we saw was that after three or four months, we saw that the increase in traffic was equivalent to about $1,500 and monthly AdWords spend so they would have to spend $1,500 a month To achieve the level of boosts that we did, and that was just for one optimization that we did, you know, so even if not every optimization results in something like that even having, you know, a 10 to 1510 to 20% success rate totally justifies the cost of our product, makes it a no brainer to integrate it into the content workflow. And so, you know, that that’s one example.
Steve Wetmore – That’s a great example. So given that your starter price is, probably enterprise level or agency level pricing to start you’re looking for agencies and or businesses that have their own in house SEO. Do you have a criteria for your ideal model customer, for them to immediately see the value?
Ryo Chiba – One of the most important things for our ideal customer is that they currently have a content engine going, you know whether that means that they have freelancers that they regularly work with to produce content or an in house team, they need to be currently investing in it. You know, we’ve been talking to a lot of companies that are just starting their content engine. And the difficult thing about that is that one, we’re not able to prove our business value because they don’t have any content to optimize, and to content marketing takes time to get started. And, you know, it’s challenging to work with a client that you know, doesn’t have the resources to be able to invest in the long term. And so the new be investing in content currently producing it least a piece a week for us to be able to add significant value. And ideally, they have an existing content library that we can go into and optimize to add value, as well. So those are main things that we’re looking for.
Steve Wetmore – Let’s say it’s an existing business that has published content is there a yearly revenue? That would be an ideal fit or traffic or is are there other metrics that you’re looking for?
Ryo Chiba – For that, we’re, we’re mainly looking at the month they’re investing in content. There are a lot of big companies out there who are making a ton of revenue but a very small percentage of that is reinvested into their content marketing and, and vice versa. small companies that rely entirely on SEO and content marketing. So, you know, for our tool to make sense. You need to be investing at least $2,000 a month into content so that our tool doesn’t make up more than 10% of your spend. You know, if it does, then it starts looking like oh, to starting a little too expensive compared to the amount that I’m investing in producing.
Steve Wetmore – Do you have anything else? Any other, you know, snippets of juicy data that you’d like to leave us with?
Ryo Chiba – I don’t have any juicy data. But I will say one thing that I think is really interesting that I don’t think is taken advantage of enough is the people also asked box I think that that is a real window into how Google thinks about a topic and what people want to learn about something. There are there are a couple tools out there that are there are a couple of blog posts out there that detail like how to extract the questions out of the people also have spots in us that but I feel like that’s really underutilized data source somewhere. So that actually put together a free tool that allows people to put in a query and get a ton of questions out of that box. If you go to use topic calm, and then click on free tool, you’ll be able to see it, but I think that can be a unique, a free tool that would be useful to marketers that we recently released last week.
Steve Wetmore – Ryo thank you so much for sharing the development of the Tint app relative to SEO and you new content optimization tool, Topic. We wish you great success in the future.