Episodes

Emerson Spartz 2

Emerson Spartz 2

Emerson Spartz is the CEO of Spartz Inc, a collective of media websites. In this episode, Emerson teaches us the same viral strategies that grew his sites traffic to 45 million visitors a month, in just under a year.

TOPIC EMERSON COVERS

  • His viral strategies grew his sites traffic to 45 million visitors a month
  • He is the CEO of Spartz Inc
  • His insights about what he think are better to have quality or quantity
  • What are OMG facts about
  • The three content pillars are also the three most viral to create content
  • How many headlines matter on his sites
  • What is his general thought on a headline like
  • Are headlines just that much more important than the rest of the content
  • And a whole lot more

LINKS & RESOURCES

WATCH THE INTERVIEW

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READ THE TRANSCRIPTION

Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Emerson Sparks with us. Emerson, thanks for coming on the program again.

Emerson: It’s good to be back.

Bronson: Absolutely. You’re you’re a friend of the show. I’m glad I’m actually in Chicago right now where you are. So we bumped into each other a few times here. And I always enjoy talking to you because you’ve created some viral content machines in your life. I know a couple of the big sites that you run right now is dotcom. I know you run O-M-G facts dot com. Two of the viral content you know big players. And so let’s talk about content creation. Sound good to you?

Emerson: Sounds good.

Bronson: All right. Let’s do it. So, you know, one of the things that I’ve seen in the last couple of years is just the rise of kind of inbound marketing, the rise of content. Right. You know, a couple of years ago, some people were doing it. It seems like now everyone’s kind of realize that content really matters. It’s just a way to get people to your site and get them involved in your world without necessarily having to do pay traffic or something like that. So I just want to kind of pick your brain around content a little bit. So here’s one of my first questions, and it’s something I’m wrestling through right now as I create my own content. What do you think is better to have quality or quantity? Right. Because I can imagine an argument for both. And I want to see how you see it. Is it better to pay a lot for really good content or pay a little for a lot of content? Or how do you see that?

Emerson: Yeah. So it obviously depends on what your goal is with the content. So sometimes it’s better to give quality, sometimes better go for quantity. The third option that I would add there is curation, which is sort of a hybrid solution. A curation is from most for most people that are doing things with content is like the 8020 of the impact that you’re going to get from making it yourself. So the vast majority of content gets created is basically people like marketers and business owners. They’re saying the same things that other people already said a million times, and they’re just putting in their own words. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it saves you a lot of time if you don’t try to put it your own words and you just share things other people have already created with your users. So, for example, you’ve got a Twitter account, you’ve got a Facebook page. You don’t have to write every article you went to. You can link to existing articles other people have written that are going to be useful and valuable to your audience. And then all the people who follow you will be grateful that you’re sharing with them this relevant information. And you didn’t have to spend 5 hours writing an elegant blog post. So that’s what I’d say for the average person who’s watching this. They should. Instead of just thinking about quantity or quality, you should think a lot more about how you can just more effectively curate content for your audience.

Bronson: No, it makes a lot of sense. And, you know, Twitter is kind of I can see how that works and see how you can create content there because it’s kind of built in to share other people’s stuff there. Is there a way to curate content on your own site? I mean, is that what you guys do with those and OMG facts? Are you curating there or are you actually creating that content?

Emerson: So we’re creating, but this is also our business. This is like a site thing that we’re using to generate business for our real products. The widgets we sell at the core of what we do is we create content that helps people learn, laugh and feel inspired. Those are the three content pillars are also the three most viral, three of the most viral emotions.

Bronson: And then you go back and take them down for us. All right. Say them all the time. Learn, laugh and feel inspired.

Emerson: Yes. And those are the options.

Bronson: Those are the three.

Emerson: Those are three of the most. Yeah, those are three of the most powerfully viral emotions. So that’s the kind of content that we create, because our business models are predicated on our ability to consistently create content that goes viral. Yeah. And dose of facts attract about 50 million monthly unique visitors. So for us, it makes sense for us to make the content, but it’s still not you know, we’re not creating all this content completely from scratch. We’re, you know, we have algorithms that help us identify content that has high viral potential from across the Web. And we use that in our writers, use that as leads for what kinds of content they should produce, that we have the highest probability of going viral. And then there’s more steps in the process. But that’s how we think.

Bronson: And so I think when you break it out, it’s like, that is your business. Like content is your business. So you have the writers in-house, but you’re saying that if someone if content is not their main business and they’re selling a SAS product for their eCommerce store or whatever it might be that they might be thinking about curation and less content really is core to what they do.

Emerson: Yeah. So think about that. So you’ve got a bunch of followers, you’ve got followers on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and your goal is to make sure that you have a couple of things you can do with your camera. You want to be a thought leader. You want them to trust you. You want to provide engaging content. You want to ultimately, you know, you have specials or discounts and coupons. You want them to be aware of it, but you can’t put too much of that stuff up or, you know, you just seem like you’re just a sales newsletter, so you want to be content and it’s just a whole hell of a lot easier to find a good article about the kinds of stuff you wanna be a thought leader about and link to it than it is to actually write that entire article yourself. Now doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create any content, but it does mean that, you know, if you want to post on Twitter, you know, a tweet goes, I mean, people follow hundreds of people on average. So that tweet only gets read for like a half hour, an hour. So you got to have a lot of content coming out and it takes a lot of time to produce them as content. So curation, you know, just identifying content is already good. The audience will appreciate it and then making sure they’re aware that this content exists, right? Yeah. To a good article or a funny or a good video or picture, whatever it is that’s relevant to your audience.

Bronson: You know, it’s funny because like, that’s sort of easier. Curation is easier than creation. And so, you know, sometimes we make life harder on ourselves and we have to we think that, oh, if I put in more time and sweat more, that I’ll always have a higher ROI. It’s not really the case sometimes about being smarter, not sweating more.

Emerson: Right? I mean, the vast. Yeah, I go back to like most time people spend creating content is wasted because they’re just saying the same things that like every time I see an article about how to get more Twitter followers or something, it’s like the same five pieces of advice over and over and over again. Everyone puts in an article like Make Content this engaging for your users and things like that. It’s like, why don’t you just link to another article somebody wrote that says the same thing instead of writing your own version just as the exact same thing over and over and over again?

Bronson: No. Yeah, because I mean, you think about like content creation, it seems like low level, like, well, you’re just taking other people said even content creation is just taken by other people said it’s they’re both curation in their own way. One is just a really time intensive curation and one is a simple curation and they probably have similar arise. Yeah no that’s it’s good to hear. Okay. Let me ask you about headlines. Right. So, you know, I don’t know how much headlines matter on your sites because I know you have different kinds of content. It’s not just, you know, written copy kind of things, but what’s your general thought on headline like? You know, I know that was Upworthy. They took existing stuff and just made them have great headlines and they, you know, went off like a rocket ship because of that. Are headlines just that much more important than the rest of the content? Are people even reading the rest of the content? What’s your take on all that?

Emerson: So think of headlines like your sales pitch for the article. If your article isn’t, it doesn’t matter how good the article is. If nobody clicks it and nobody reads it and nobody reads it, you wasted your time, right? So you’re producing content, presumably because you want people to see it. It’s in the same way that you could give the best speech in the world to an empty room. And again, you would have wasted your time because you didn’t get anyone to hear your speech and get your the ideas that one day communicated. So think about for us, you know, our viral loop has two parts. The first part is we have to first get them to click. That’s the that’s the sales pitch, right? And then once they click, we have to deliver with a great article that inspires so much emotion that they’re that they’re inspired to go share it with their friends and family and coworkers. And you should think of headlines the same way. The headline isn’t more important than the article, but it’s at least as important because if they don’t click it again, they don’t consume it. And in general, headlines are by far, by far the easiest thing that most content marketers could do to move the needle on their content marketing efforts. Because most people write really, really bad headlines. And it’s you can if you think like this, most people spend they might spend 5 hours, pretty 2 hours producing a blog post, 5 hours perusing a blog post and then like 5 minutes on the headline. And again, like only maybe less than 1% of you put your headline. But if you spent 20 minutes on headlines and 5 minutes on and versus maybe that your click through rate goes up from 1%, maybe that means literally three times as many people read your article. So think of the ROI on that compared to the ROI and spending an extra like 15 minutes like polishing the article even more totally.

Bronson: When you think about the headlines, do you run them through that filter of Learn, Laugh, Inspire? Do you try to create a headline that lets them know you’re going to learn something or you’re going to laugh or you’re going to be inspired? Or is that just for the content itself?

Emerson: Know that I mean, learn, laugh and feel inspired or contemplation because those are some of the most viral filters, I think, in our business model is viral content. But for most people, the headline should just be whatever. Actually get somebody to want to click it to read the article.

Bronson: So it’s kind of a thing there.

Emerson: Yeah, exactly. So, you know, there’s different types of headline templates that work with my Reinvent the Wheel. There are so many headline taps, especially for most people that I imagine are watching this. Like you have like there are so many proven headline structures that work really well for you that I would go in right now and type in like headline templates and just look at you, see a bunch of lists that people wrote, really good blog posts, a bunch of headline templates, and if I were you, I would just go and start with those and like just try a bunch of headlines, you know, insert in your whatever is different, write your headline, but use those templates because they work. They’ve been tested and iterated on for literally hundreds of years and people may do magazines back in the day. I mean, that’s the starting and it.

Bronson: Goes back to smarter, not harder, just, you know, how to work really efficiently, use the structure that work and then put your words in the headline. Do you AB test headlines cause you’re saying it’s so important. You know, if you get more of a click through rate, it doubles, triples the amount of people actually seeing it. Is that a case for AB testing headlines?

Emerson: So yes, so testing headlines is huge and we’ve actually built an entire testing platform to be able to do it at scale called net out tests, large numbers of combinations of headlines and thumbnails to figure out which combinations will maximize. Click there is in advance and uses things like Bayesian probability, mass methods and so on. But you don’t actually need to have anything that complex for what you’re probably trying to do in your business, for you could be as simple as just like when you write something, go write 20 headlines, try to come at it for as many different angles as possible because you don’t know which is the angle that’s going to really resonate with users the most, to try to come at it for as many angles as possible, write 20 headlines, then pare down to like maybe ten of them that don’t like obviously going to ten that are like way worse than the others and that’s fine. Pare down to like ten that are, you know, have a chance of winning and then just send it to like five or ten of your friends and say, hey, pick 3 to 5 of these that you’d be the most likely to click. And then just look at which ones have the most votes and then pick one of those ones that has the most votes.

Bronson: Like a.

Emerson: Test. Yeah, exactly. It’s I really create a task like this. A lot of them move the needle significantly before I had a testing platform. I just just like I would teach people to be like, yeah, which these would you be most like? They click and see what they do and then, you know, that alone would go a long, long way. And once again, there’s literally nothing you can do that will move the needle more for content marketing efforts than doing have testing. If you’re not doing any of that testing right now, and.

Bronson: What was the name of the platform they use internally?

Emerson: It’s called Mendel.

Bronson: Mendel. Is that something the public can buy.

Emerson: Or, you know, it’s.

Bronson: Your secret sauce.

Emerson: Now, we’re I mean, we’re technically a media company, but, you know, two thirds of our team is engineers. So we built that one internally. But there are some tools that exist. For example, Outbrain and Taboola both have tools that lets you do that by testing. There’s also one called Fedora, which I don’t think about it, but they’ve been called, e-mailing me, telling me I should check it out and I know that there is blind testing involved in it. Somehow video are a and then it’s one of the one I can’t run what it’s called. But another way to do it besides those is just using Facebook ads. Like you can just create great Facebook ads and then create, you know, five different versions of your ad, each with different headlines and give it like a small $5 budget. And then Facebook algorithm will solve or whichever one is converting the best. And you can see which one Facebook actually spends more money on. And then that’s the one that is the best.

Bronson: Well, that’s the original Tim Ferriss hack. How he named his book in a four hour workweek was buying Google ads, seeing which ones people clicked on. And then he named his work based on that. And, you know, got to use the wisdom of the crowds and Google’s algorithms. And that’s a New York Times bestseller. So, I mean, the hack definitely works. I think about content distribution, right? Because I feel like that’s where a lot of people are just woefully lacking. They spend all this time creating content. They, Abbi, test their headlines. You know, let’s say they even are that advanced. But then when it comes to actually distributing the content, it’s almost like they assume, oh, if I if I put it out there, people are just going to find it. Do you have any thoughts or opinions around, you know, best methods for distributing the content you create?

Emerson: Yes. So that is a common problem. Like, what do I do once I make the content? How do I get people to see it? So there is no silver bullet solution in this one like there is for happiness. Like there is a silver bullet for headlines. It’s just fine and test them and that will work. Your needle will move. But their distribution. You got to figure out who the right audience is for your content. So if you’re producing technical content, like producing content for certain types of data scientists, then go to the you know, go to the subreddits, you know, go to our data scientists, data science, go people who are interested in data science content, hang out and post the comments on this post. Go see what you guys blog. But it always starts with like figure out who’s the right audience and highlight where they hang out. And then how do I make sure that wherever they’re hanging out, I’m presence, right? So maybe it’s Hacker News. If they’re not data scientist, they’re happening just limited it to Hacker News. But then don’t just submit it to Japanese and hope it works. Go in like a bug as many of your friends as you can to get you to upload it and see, you know, to give it more likely a chance to succeed because a bit of traction, momentum, this is one of the things we’re like you just got to you just got to hustle and start posting it, like spamming it everywhere on the Internet. I don’t understand literally. I mean it in the sense that like you just have to really roll up your sleeves and get out there and start posting it everywhere because you don’t know where it’s going to. Like sometimes you post it to like a million places and then it only gets picked up on one. But that one place it gets picked up on is where I take. Most of the time it’s like 80, 20. It’ll be one look, some that you posted somewhere that gets picked up and then bam, all of a sudden, you know, your thing goes micro viral and a small community or whatever it is you’re trying to get impressions from.

Bronson: No, it’s comforting to hear you say that it’s still just hard work is how you distribute content, because I know you have a system and a method and a plan and algorithm for everything. So if you’re still saying it’s just hard work, that means it’s just hard work.

Emerson: Well, it’s hard work at first, but then once you figure out what like whenever I’m solving any kind of user acquisition challenge, I always assume that there’s like an 8020 to it. Like there’s one or two channels that are just way better than all your channels. And once I figure what those one or two are, then it’s easy street. Then it’s like, I already know where to post and I’m going to post it to this place every single time and I’ll get plenty traffic from that. But when you first get started off, it’s it’s hard. I would definitely also before I even figure out what the one or two channels are, I assume that somebody else has already figured out what those are. And I just like interview the shit out of people asking them like how they got traffic to their articles. And I just do a bunch of research. I’m like, how do you get traffic to for certain types of content or how did you acquire customers assuming that like my competitors or other people already figured it out and then I don’t have to reinvent the wheel and go figure it out from scratch because odds are that if you’re thinking like there’s like 20 places that I can try, odds are again, one or two of them are the best and somebody already figured out what those are to figure out what those are, they’re not to talk about 20 that you can just try those and know that they’ll work.

Bronson: Yeah. Again, back to shortcuts, you know, smarter, not harder. All right. Recently I heard you go on a rant about commas and periods, just kind of in copy as a general rule. Tell us about that. What are your thoughts there?

Emerson: Yeah. So your improv teacher meant well when she taught you how to use commas, but he doesn’t she wasn’t a marketer and she doesn’t she didn’t understand how to write so that people will actually want to read it. And commas are bad for getting people to want to read your stuff because it means your senses are long and because your sentences are long or sentences are hard to read, your senses are hard to read. It means people do want to read it. And when you look at a big block of text like a big, you know, big huge honking bike, a taxi to to do it. Yeah, you look at you’re like, screw that. Right. And it’s the same thing with a long sentence. And so if you just change your comments to periods, then your writing will be more readable. People want to read it more and so they will read more in your control have more of an impact.

Bronson: Yeah. So if you find yourself hitting commas, hit a period instead and start a new big thought.

Emerson: Yeah. And also in every you have more than like a couple of sentences in a row without adding a line. Break it up in a new paragraph that’s back. You just add more paragraphs.

Bronson: Absolutely. I think about like text on a screen as art and it needs enough white space as if I’m in Photoshop, even if I’m in a text editor. White space allows stuff to matter.

Emerson: Yep, that’s exactly right.

Bronson: All right. So here’s a couple of questions. This is a fun one I’ve been asking guessed just because it kind of gets us inside your world a little bit. So right after this interview is over, the second you turn the camera off, what are you doing next? And it could be like super boring or like super awesome, but like what is literally on her to do list when you turn the camera off?

Emerson: So I have two things. One is that I need to connect with one of my product managers and just catch up with him on things he’s been working on. And then I’ve got the delightful task of spending the rest of my day getting caught up on email, emails, something I put at the very end of the day. I check the email throughout the day, but I only respond to really urgent things and everything else. I wait until the end of the day because my brain is fried, my willpower sacked, and so I need to do my throat activity like email at the end of the day and I make sure they get all my really important stuff down to the early part of the day before my willpower is gone.

Bronson: You know, I was actually thinking about that idea this morning is that it’s not about how many hours you’re at work. It’s about how you optimize the hours you’re working. There’s something about maintaining your energy levels throughout the day to be maximally productive. That’s more important than being at the office X number of hours. Do you agree with that?

Emerson: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think most people really only get like 1 to 3 hours of good work in each day. And the rest of it is just kind of like generally wasted, not completely wasted, you know, maybe like they’re like reading tech blogs or if you’re like having conversations with coworkers that’s sort of related to work or you’re just like, you had a meeting that was important for like 20 minutes, and then you kind of ramble about stuff for the next 40 to fill time. There’s only one or 3 hours a day that actually really moves the needle. And so you have to make sure that you really see that you get at least that one, two, three in. And so the way that I schedule my days, I make sure that I get that stuff done first thing because I know that I won’t find the motivation to do it at the end of the day. I kind of get it done first.

Bronson: So I feel like the first 3 hours I’m awake is like this magic time machine, and I can get, like, ten years of work done in 10 minutes. Yeah, I know. Like, if I put something in the first 3 hours of the day and I go and actually I drink coffee and I don’t eat that much early, so, like, I’m not metabolizing, I’m not tired, I’m just caffeinated, I’m well-rested. And whatever I tackle at first is just like I can really move the needle on something.

Emerson: Yeah, because willpower is like a muscle and just like a muscle, you know, you have a certain amount of, you know, if you lift weights in the morning, you’re not going to lift weights again in the evening because you’re going to use up your you’re kind of fixed, you know, willpower for the day. But your willpower also like a muscle, like you work out every day. You know, you’ll get stronger over time. You have more willpower. But that doesn’t mean that, like if you use up your willpower throughout the day by doing a bunch of things that drain you and then it by by 4:00, 5:00, you’re exhausted and whatever that important thing was that you really wanted to get done that day, if you doing it on the morning, like, you’re not going to suddenly be motivated at 5:00 to get it done.

Bronson: And if you do make yourself do it, the quality is not going to be there.

Emerson: Yeah, because you’re trained.

Bronson: You’re trained. You don’t have it to give even though you want to.

Emerson: Right. I just like I game if I gamify the hell out of everything that I do.

Bronson: Gamify like.

Emerson: Automation hacking, like willpower hacking, because I know that I have to because that’s how I maintain, that’s how I get more than one or two good hours of working each day.

Bronson: Well, you mentioned 8020 rule. Well, that’s true. But hours of the day, only 20% of hours are actually good. So make sure you know when they are and take advantage of them and do the important stuff during those 20% of the hours because you don’t have, you know, 80% of good working hours in a day.

Emerson: Exactly. And I would say the lowest hanging fruit thing that most people can do to make sure that you get the most out of those precious few early hours of motivation is to cut off distractions like put on white noise. For example, you’re reading like one of the easiest scenes you can do to increase your reading speech is to put in white noise when you’re reading, and you’ll easily increase your reading speed by like probably about 50%, maybe double just because you eliminate all these micro interruptions where you’re not like, Oh, a truck just went by like, Oh, where did I leave off on the page? And it takes a while to get back to where you left off. And this happens over and over and over and over and over again. And so you’ll just, like, fly through whatever you’re reading if you put in white noise and same thing is true for other kinds of creative work that you’re doing, you’ve got to put those headphones on and turn the world off because those micro interruptions, they might have seemed like a big deal because like, I only notice that struck for a second, but it’s not the second. The matter is the 40 seconds that takes you to get caught up to where you left off in your chart. The context switching is killer.

Bronson: I totally agree. Like my favorite way to work is to go into a dark room, have some kind of music on Spotify on but with no lyrics. So it’s just music. And like, my back is to the world. So, you know, it’s like walks by the door or something. I can’t see it, I don’t know about it. And I can get into like a state of flow where, like, I just there’s nothing else like it. I mean, I almost, like, crave it. I enjoy it so much.

Emerson: Yeah, I used to do an insane thing and I would like face. I’d have no clocks turn off the phone. Like, I was like a zealot about eliminating every possible, even, like, not even looking out the window. There’s nothing. Nothing to look at. I just went like this. This window. There’s nothing there. It’s just the building. Yeah, but even then, like, I’m noticing something, you know, and, like, every little interruption is, like, is a is a toxic killer. And even things like I would like as I’m reading, I was like, blackout of pages, not pages on. You got to lose track of time. Once you get in a state of flow, you need to preserve it and protect it at all costs. Because the hardest, it’s not hard to stay in flow. It’s hard to get in flow in the first place. And when you’re in flow, like it’s so much easier. It’s so easy to go from like 15 minutes of flow to 45 minutes of flow, but the first 15 minutes is so hard to get. And then once you got to go.

Bronson: Now.

Emerson: Again.

Bronson: You know, there’s a whole like there should be a book written like entrepreneurial flow and like the idea of flow for entrepreneurs and how to really maximize their life. There’s something there that I believe and I would love to read more about. So I got one last question for you. So I want to always end with what is the best advice you have for any startup that’s trying to grow? It can be anything you want.

Emerson: So there’s a lot of like well-trodden advice that I’ll try to avoid that you’ve probably heard from a lot of people. The advice that I would give, the thing I wish I would have known at the time is that there are so many tools and services and products that exist to make your life easier that you don’t know exist. And because you don’t know they exist, you are going to waste hundreds to thousands of hours and comparable amounts of money on things that you don’t need to be doing at all. So I recommend going to a site called Startup Stash dot com, which is just a good curated directory of tools like Product X Resources available to help, you know, for startups, marketing tools, tools, legal tools, things like that. And spend at least one hour going through it just skimming through to see what tools and products exist. There’s basically no way you won’t find at least one thing that will save you hundreds of hours of time or money equivalent. Because even I and I’ve been I go through this all the time, like I always find something I didn’t know existed and like, oh, wow, you know, maybe I can’t use this now, but six months later, a year later, all of a sudden I’m going, remember that it exists. It’s going to be like super, super valuable. So there’s nothing one that’s really good to growth tools that I know, which is just for, you know, for growth tools specifically because.

Bronson: It’s even better.

Emerson: Yes. And I mean, there’s plenty of things that are good to see. Blank has a super exhaustive list of startup tools, but. The key thing is like Italy, Spain, when I was going through it, you will find something and it will make your life so much easier. And you’ve got to be because you have so few resources, you have to make sure that you’re really, really, really efficient with the resources you do have and using tools and not reinventing the wheel. Right. Most startup founders have the same problems. And so they you know, a lot of them like, oh, I have this problem, I just built this thing and I put it out there and now it helps other founders solve the same problems. And there’s so many tools out there. No, you have to be able.

Bronson: To end on leverage the resources and tools that others have built. Emerson Great episode. Again, you’re in you’re in the club now, one of the few people with two episodes under your belt. I think there are only a couple other people in that category. So we’ll see if you get on for a third sometime in the future here. But thanks for coming on, man.

Emerson: All right. Thanks, man.

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