Episode 7: Monica Lent

Thu, 28 Jan 2021 22:44:02 +0100

Monica talks about how developers improve their blogging and SEO skills, her experience building an email course "Blogging for devs" and a paid community on the same topic. This episode is packed full of useful knowledge for developers, Indie makers, and entrepreneurs!

Episode 7: Monica Lent

Show Notes



  • The principles of SEO and writing for a particular audience transfer well across verticals
  • The tricky part about getting into SEO as an engineer is that most of the content out there is really oriented towards marketers, especially marketers using WordPress websites.
  • Distribution is so important whenever you want to build a product
  • Monica had struggled with the challenges of building a product first and then going out to find users. With blogging for devs, she deliberately tested interest in the topic via an email course (which required people to display interest by giving their email addresses, naturally)
  • This then led to many conversations with subscribers, which was crucial for understanding the audience.
  • Given the positive reception to Monica's course and community, it's clear that developers do care about blogging.
  • The first version of the blogging for devs email course was a 14 day informational course. However, following student feedback, Monica changed this to a 7 day course which takes the student from idea to publishing their first blog post within that time. She believes that having a clear goal and result a key reason why the course does well.
  • Successful students carefully reflect on each piece of content they create and consider what they can learn from it to improve the next article [super applicable for entrepreneurship also!]
  • Systematic thinking can really improve results, and is one of the reasons why developers are well-suited for excelling at blogging and things like SEO - because these activities lend themselves to a systematic approach.
  • Thinking about keywords when you write is super important. This is an area where there are a lot of misunderstandings because people get confused with the keyword metatag (which is indeed no longer important). The crux here is thinking about what people will search in Google.
  • A lot of people optimize around Twitter - the problem with this is that Twitter is fleeting. Even Twitter accounts with over 250k followers get their blog posts talked about so rarely that it won't generate the kind of meaningful traffic that you can with SEO.
  • SEO is about distribution for the long term, an investment that compounds.
  • Crux is: You need some backlinks, and you need to do your keyword research.
  • If you know what you're doing upfront, getting results doesn't necessarily take that long (Monica describes impressive results within 3 months).
  • Monica is able to do so much by ensuring that projects are related/contribute to each other, and by having "main" focus areas and other projects that are more "on the backburner"

SEO for Devs Email Course Structure:

  • Creating an "idea engine", i.e. how do you come up with ideas, where do you store them
  • SEO (keyword research, gauging demand for what you are writing)
  • Writing content for the internet
  • Distribution (i.e. getting eyeballs on your content, and getting backlinks)

Quotes from the Episode

When you know the audience, the principles of creating content that people care about [...] they are fundamentally similar across all kinds of different verticals

There's a lot of not-quite-technical terminology, you hear about things like pixels and then as a developers we're like 'oh this is a 3rd party tracking script' [...] so [technical people] have all this translation they need to do.

That's why I started the email course [...] it felt like an email course was the most minimum product that I could create.

I just thought to myself, 'I need to find out if developers even care about blogging'

The feedback [on early versions of the email course] was 'needs to get me to a goal'

A lot of times people put on their 'college cap' and start writing like a university essay [...] when it comes to keeping people entertained online the same tactics just don't work

The biggest thing is just figuring out how to communicate the important information in the fewest possible words.

In reality, whenever you create something, whether it's a podcast, video, or whether it's your blog [...] the first things you create - they should hopefully be dramatically worse than whatever you create months down the line. You should be able to look back at that and have clearly made progress.

You can really tell when someone says 'I am going to not only take this information, but I'm going to systematically apply it, ask for feedback, incorporate that feedback, and then show the results'

I think the hardest thing for people to grasp, internalize and maybe even accept is that you have to think about keywords when you write

What is someone going to search in Google where my article is the answer [...] that is the key thing you have to think about before you even start writing.

People starting out don't realize how much collaboration can really [help to grow] a successful website


[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the course maker podcast. Today I'm really excited for our guest Monica Lent. onica, Monica has been writing code for over 20 years. She has worked in the past as a manager and technical lead. And today her main projects include Affilimate and blogging for devs, and she's also building 12 startups in 12 months. Monica. Welcome. Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me. So we've exchanged a few emails before and I've taken your, your course, um, your email course on blogging for dev. So I feel like, uh, we we've met before, but there's actually the first time we've spoken so great to have you on the show and have the chance to talk. There's, there's lots of stuff that you're working on for listeners. Um, can you give them a bit of a picture of what your background is and how you've developed your career over time? Yeah, for sure. So as you

[00:01:00] already said, I've been coding for over 20 years, which is completely wild to think about. Um, but yeah, I started coding as a kid and kind of stumbled into software development as a backup plan because I studied Latin in school. I didn't have a plan for when I would graduate. So kind of sticking around with my student developer job was a way for me to make money after graduation more or less. So there was never any grand plan there, but I started working in academia and then eventually switched to tech startups after I kind of wanted to build. Products that real people used, paid for and got value from. And yeah, after doing that for, I don't know, I don't know how long it was like eight years maybe. Um, I kind of transitioned into building my own stuff. I wanted to. I had this goal of not having a boss by the age of 30. And if you do a little math, you can imagine I started to run out

[00:02:00] of time. Uh, so that's kind of why I recently, uh, went, you know, into, into business for myself. And part of that was, um, building a profitable. Travel blog, which is where I learned about blogging and SEO, and then also building SAS product. And now, uh, this, this blogging email course. So those things are all kind of connected together. And the, the travel blog, uh, was that then your, your first experience with blogging or had you done bits of that in, in other areas beforehand? Well, I I'd done technical blogging, like a lot of people. Do you know, you write tutorials, you kind of fill the gaps in Google, this the kind of moved and the kind of posts that you don't see being answered, or your questions are not available. Um, but doing travel blogging was where I actually learned about creating a content plan, SEO growing organic traffic. And then I applied those learnings. From writing travel

[00:03:00] contents to writing technical contents and then eventually doing conference talks. So it actually lends itself very well because at the end of the day, when, you know, the audience, the principles of creating content that people care about, they are kind of fundamentally similar across all kinds of verticals. So yeah, those things were definitely connected for me. Makes a lot of sense. And obviously for a lot of engineers, um, the, the idea of really like immersing themselves in SEO and figuring out all the nuts and bolts there is, it feels maybe a little alien or like something that they're not sure how to get started with. Uh, how did you find it? What was your journey like? Yeah. The, the tricky part about kind of getting into SEO as an engineer is that most of the content out there is really oriented for marketers. And so you kind of have this additional layer where you're trying to take, what is the person talking about marketing? Saying, and then how can I convert that into technical terminology?

[00:04:00] That makes sense for me, because most of the time they talk about things like WordPress plugins or they're using kind of like not quite technical terminology, you know, you hear about things like pixels and then as developers were like, Oh, this is a third-party tracking script, you know? So you have like all of this kind of translation that you have to do to go from this marketing, speak into something that makes sense for me working in a technical environment and there, and there is that extra layer of I'm a technical person. So of course I can kind of reason about how these things work and sometimes the explanations that you get don't really make a ton of sense. Uh, when you come at it from a technical angle, so it wasn't necessarily so difficult because there are like logical ways to test and iterate over, uh, optimizing websites for SEO. But there is an extra layer you have to go through because so much of the content is really oriented towards professional marketers. Especially

[00:05:00] working on WordPress websites and that's just like, not the world that I was coming from. Yeah. Okay. So, I mean, I can totally relate to a lot of what you're saying there. I mean, I I've found myself doing similar sort of cause you describe it translations in my head as well. Um, and it's always a bit of a tricky business, so you've. Had taken this experience with first the travel blog and then onwards to technical blogging. And eventually you've, you've parlayed this into your email course. Right. Which is blogging for debts, which I I've taken it and really enjoyed by the way. Um, so w what was the process like there? How did, when did you decide to make this course and kind of headed in that direction? For sure. So the thing about blogging for devs was I had been building the SAS product of FilmAid for the last, you know, year or so at that point. And what I kind of learned was that distribution is so important whenever you want to build a product and. I kind of went about that, the wrong way for the SAS. You know, I bought product first and then kind of went

[00:06:00] hunting for users. And so this time, what I wanted to do is I wanted to just test interest. I wanted to follow all of the advice that I had been hearing on, you know, every podcast or every blog post about. Building your own products that says test interest first and get email addresses. So I was like, okay, I'm going to do that. So that's why I started the email course. It wasn't necessarily, for any particular reason, other than it felt like email course was the most minimum product that I could create. So, you know, there's no SAS tool to learn. I don't have to really make lessons. It's just email. And going that minimal was really the main objective is why I started with email for no real other reason. And yeah, seeing the success of that actually is what helped me start all of the conversations with subscribers. And then finally learn, you know, what are the things that I could do to

[00:07:00] serve this audience. But before that, You know, there wasn't necessarily a grand plan. You know, I just thought to myself, I need to find out, do developers even care about blogging or not? Uh, and I would say that the success of the course so far has confirmed to me that in fact it is something they care about quite a bit. Yeah, definitely. And for those who haven't taken the course, can you, can you talk a little bit about what what's in there and, and the sort of advice you're giving people? Yeah, definitely. So what the email course does is it helps someone who signs up to go from idea to distribution of a single blog post in seven days. So every day you do a little bit of work to get you closer to that end goal. And originally I started the email course as like a 14 day thing. And every day was kind of like an informational post about blogging, but it didn't feel very actionable. And I had some beta testers and the feedback was, you know, needs to get me to a goal. So we start

[00:08:00] with things like coming up with an idea engine. So how do you come up with ideas? Where do you store them? Um, then we talk about SEL. So doing keyword research, where do your keywords belong in those blog posts? How can you tell whether there is demand for what you're writing then actually writing content for the internet. So a lot of times people tend to, you know, put on their kind of like college cap, right. And they start writing like a university essay. Right. Like if there's, so I want to explain, you know, like it's it's yeah, great. When you were trying to impress your CS professor, but when it comes to keeping people entertained online, the same tactics just at work. Uh, so we talk about writing that internet friendly content, you know, keeping it concise, writing killer headlines, you know, how can you really get people excited about what you're writing about so that they don't open another browser tab? Close the window or whatever it is. Um, and then at the end we talk about distribution.

[00:09:00] So how can you get more eyeballs on your content? And ultimately also, how can you get some links to your content? So at the end of the day, you should have written a well-formulated article. That's optimized for distribution on the internet. And hopefully people also have a bit of a system that they can come back to and repeat and refine, uh, as they keep up. That's really interesting to hear about how the course evolved, um, based on that early feedback. So the 14 days would have informational, uh, transformed into more of the seven day with a clear goal at the end. Uh, were there other bits of feedback or things that have changed over time in terms of how you've structured? The course. I would say the biggest thing is just figuring out how to communicate the important information in the fewest possible words. Right? Because when it comes to email, you know, our brains are kind of hardwired that when you get an email, you don't want to read it, right. You just want to see, do I have to do something with

[00:10:00] this? It's like the first thing that comes in your mind. So you really have to like hone in on that copy to get it to a point where people are. Engaged entertained and learning something from email. So as it comes with with blogging and also with writing, the weekly newsletter is really about how much can I take away? So that what's left is just so sharp and so crisp that people are going to read every word. So I would say that's probably the biggest change and yeah. It obviously also is reflected in the fact that it went from 14 days to seven days. So that's already like a 50% reduction in the content and then further slimming that down to get it super concise. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, it's interesting that there's kind of different schools of thought around courses where. Some people are, you know, suggesting that people want as much content as possible. So they feel like they they're getting a lot of value, but at the same time, people are so busy. That actually, I mean, for me personally, when I'm looking at

[00:11:00] courses, I'm thinking what's the shortest one I can take so that I can pick this up as quickly as possible. Yeah, totally. Uh, I'm I'm in the same camp with you. I think especially the, the people who are in bogging for devs our community and, uh, the subscribers to the newsletter. You know, they're not spending all week blogging. Right. Like, it would be maybe one thing if this was like some kind of business course, and they're starting a new business and they're looking for the most comprehensive thing ever, but they have, they're already doing this as like a passion side project that maybe they want to go full time. Um, and if they're already struggling to commit the time to writing, you know, an article per week, every two weeks or even every month, you know, what is the likelihood that they are going to actually complete and then implement something? That is more than what's absolutely necessary. I. I think it's pretty unlikely. And I guess that's why a lot of people just, they start things and then don't finish them because the time commitment can be massive.

[00:12:00] Yeah. Very true. And what about, do you think that the students who go on to create successful blogs and kind of achieve some of their goals, what do you see those sorts of students doing that maybe others who don't get the same sort of results? Uh don't do I think the biggest thing is really just. Learning from every article and making sure you reflect on it. So what have you tried? What didn't bring results and what can you do differently? Because in reality, whenever you create something, you know, whether it's a podcast, whether it's a video series or whether it's your blog, you know, those first. Those first episodes are the first things that you create. They should hopefully be dramatically worse than like whatever you create, you know, months down the line. Right. And you should be able to look back at that and, you know, have clearly made progress. But if you're not looking back on it and seeing that, okay, wow. Today is so much better than, you know, you're not really applying. Those learnings

[00:13:00] or you're not actively, let's say reflecting on what you could have done better and what you've tested. So I think that's probably the most important thing. It applies to everything in life, but, um, but, um, you can really tell, I think when somebody is like, okay, I'm going to not only take this information, but I'm going to systematically try to apply it. Ask for feedback, incorporate that feedback and then, you know, show the results and that iterative process is all about, you know, reaching that system that works for you. Um, so I think that is one of like this, like systematic thinking is one of the key differentiators that not only makes people successful, but it also is a great reason why developers, in my opinion, are so suited for excelling at things like blogging and things like SEO. Because it can be approached that systematically. Yeah. Interesting. Hadn't thought about it that way. Um, but yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And what about the flip side? I mean, are there mistakes that you

[00:14:00] see, especially developers making with SEO that make you grow and, and think not again, um, you know, mistakes that you wish you could, uh, help people out with, but I guess in some cases it's unavoidable. I think the hardest thing for people to kind of grasp internalize and maybe even accept is that you have to think about keywords when you write. So what happens is sometimes people write in the back and they're like, but I thought that keywords were dead or a Google says you don't need keywords anymore. Or they're thinking about the keyword meta-tags. So there are a lot of misunderstandings about how keywords work in SEO. And on the one hand, yes. Keyword meta-tags they are defunct. So that's like, not what I'm talking about when I talk about keywords, but actually, if you don't think about the keywords, like what is someone going to search in Google, where your article is going to be, what they want to find? Then, you know, you have no,

[00:15:00] no like organic distribution plan. And what's interesting as well is that, you know, a lot of people do optimize around Twitter. You know, they think, okay, if I just get enough Twitter followers on anytime I post something, my, you know, my blog posts, my blog will get traffic, you know, happy days. Uh, and that's all I want, but the problem is that. Twitter is momentary and something that I have come to realize a lot as I'm, I'm building a tool in one of my 12 startups, um, to monitor this is that even, you know, Twitter accounts with over a quarter million followers, they still get their blog post talked about. So rarely on Twitter, that it cannot possibly generate the kind of meaningful traffic that you can with SEO. So it's just this whole mindset of. Distribution and thinking in the longterm. So how can I actually build up something that grows over time, where I invest in it and it compounds, and this is something that

[00:16:00] is so great about SEO and the way that you do that is by accepting that you have to think about keywords. Sometimes when you are writing that content and thinking about what is someone going to search in Google, where my article is the answer. Uh, and a lot of times you ask people, so what's your plan? How are you people going to find this article? How are you going to stand out against, you know, the sea of other articles on this exact same topic? How are you going to get ahead of them? And oftentimes, you know, they haven't thought about that part, but that is the key thing you have to think about before you even start writing in some kind of fitting way. It's the same for building businesses, right? Because you're thinking distribution before building the product, every blog post is kind of like that little product where you had to think. You know, how am I going to grow this and get this to people and not to fall into the cliche, but I'm going to ask you the obligatory SEO question, which is a hand, how long do you usually think it takes to see results? That's a great

[00:17:00] question. So. In fact, uh, in the blogging for dance community, I am running a case study right now. So I'm starting a website from scratch. I started it back in July and I kind of wanted to answer this question to myself because it's not so common. Um, or I hadn't started necessarily a new website where I had known, I knew SEO and my entire goal was to grow it. Or purely through organic traffic and starting in July, uh, you know, it starts slowly, but in the last, let's say three months, the previous three month window has gone from about 180 organic clicks to 1,800 organic clicks. So it grew 10 X in that time. And the key difference. Is simply that you need some backlinks and you need to do your keyword research and write your content in a keyword oriented and strongly interlinked way. But it doesn't necessarily take that long if you know what you're

[00:18:00] doing upfront. But none of us know what we're doing up front. Right? Like nobody starts their very first website knowing perfectly how to create a content plan. You know, how to build that content into, uh, you know, topically relevant clusters that Google will like and so forth. So there is no like short answer, but. I have already seen that this blog has some content that is ranking on the first page of Google, including the, including the first position. And it's less than six months old and it has something like four referring domains and seven articles. So it's really not huge. But when you take that systematic approach, it's possible to do it pretty quickly. Great stuff. And, uh, for those wondering about building backlinks, or I'll be sure to link in the show notes to your excellent post on how to build, um, backlinks, which I think is one of the best I've come across on that topic. Thanks also

[00:19:00] is, I mean, you mentioned there that the community, right? So you you've, you've gone from the email course now to starting up this community. What made you decide to go in that direction then? And what can people expect to find in the community? Yeah. So the thing about the community is it was really a response to what people were asking for. So in a way, the newsletter and the fact that I had a pretty strong response rate, uh, to the emails I was sending, it showed that there were a lot of people that were really interested. They were doing kind of a lot of stuff on their own. What I realized is, you know, I'm spending a lot of time, uh, providing individual advice and answers. And while I'm super happy to do that is also quite a shame when those like detailed information are not available to anybody else. You know, it's completely in a private email. And at the same time, you know, there's a lot of bloggers out there that. Become bigger and more successful through

[00:20:00] collaboration. And you only really know it once, you know what to look for. But the reality is is that people starting out don't realize how much collaboration can really grow into building a successful website. So that's why I wanted to create the community. It's a paid community. And I first, I was a little bit concerned that people would be like, but community has to be free. You know, like that's, that's the only way to do it, but. In reality, it has worked really well in terms of getting and people who are very serious. It's very active. And so far I've gotten great feedback about the discussions. So at the end of the day, for me, even though I would love to maybe eventually create some kind of a structured course. And I think people could really benefit from something that is more structured. At the same time, doing something like that as an enormous, uh, time commitment, um, and especially doing it at a level of quality. So I'm kind of taking an iterative approach to building up that knowledge

[00:21:00] base. So we have things like screencasts we have this case study video series. I maintain a digital garden of some of the best resources and conversations and through some of the events. And workshops, I'm hoping to build up a library of video content that people will be able to kind of pick and choose what topics are most relevant to their goals at any given moment. So that's kind of how I'm approaching it. Great stuff. Um, I think for sure, we'll be, we'll be linking to the community in the show notes and everything, so people can check that out. Um, I've been having look through and yeah. Uh, there's quite a few events in there that I'm really looking forward to and signed up for. So, uh, yeah, I think it's, it's a really nice approach. You've taken with this building, the newsletter, getting the feedback, opening it up to the community. And I I'm sure in the long run though, there'll be a course in there somewhere and it'll be. Probably have an even higher quality, cause you'll have so much experience with, uh, the questions from the community. So I think a lot of, if any course authors

[00:22:00] are watching this, they can learn a lot from your approach. I mean, that's something that has helped also a lot. I'm working on a SEO workshop right now and I ended up shifting the focus of it based on the kind of questions that I've been getting in the community. So I, I knew, or I had the intuition that if I started with my original scope, which was. Relatively laser focused. I might disappoint some people because they may have expected something that they're more interested in. So I'm deciding instead to kind of approach to topics and not go as deep, but making sure that they're extremely actionable. And then if people are super interested in those topics, then of course I can provide more resources. You know, I want to make sure that all of those questions. Yeah, I will eventually be able to refer to this video and say, Hey, this is exactly talked about right here. You know, here's a super in-depth place that you can get that information to that super common question that pops up all the time. So shifting topics a little

[00:23:00] bit, um, are you. Did you have like extreme productivity systems going on because you're, you're doing so much, um, you know, you have the community, the newsletter, the email course, uh you're you've got a SAS product and you're also building 12 startups in 12 months. Um, Have, have you managed to clone yourself? What's going on there? Yeah, it sounds, I don't know what adjective I would use when you put it that way. It sounds, uh, yeah, like a lack of focus, but I wouldn't say part of it is that. We have approached the 12 and 12 months is a bit, every single startup has to make money on its own, but that some of them can become distribution channels for other products. So actually when I launched blogging for devs back in may, this was in some unexpected way, a way to do kind of side project marketing for my SAS and ended up connecting me with some really interesting people in kind of the

[00:24:00] world that my SAS lives in. And I'm kind of taking that same approach with the 12 startups in 12 months. So I realized that you can't build a startup that's profitable with, you know, a totally different focus every single month. But to get back to your original question, part of it is being strategic about, you know, how can I kind of funnel all of these efforts. Towards a few like smaller number of places that I'm looking to grow as opposed to build a new product for a new market every single month, which is no sense, and it's not sustainable. But on the other hand, the reality is, is I have main focuses and I have things that are on the back burner. So right now my SaaS is a little bit on the back burner. I'm still maintaining it, still doing support and so on, but I'm not building new features for it right now. Something that I want to. Build some side projects that will grow it. Um, and I'm hoping some of the experience I'm getting from what I'm doing now surrounding virtual events will help. I'd love to grow it through some,

[00:25:00] maybe some webinars or even some free courses that are aimed at the kind of users that I want to put tracked. But yeah, I don't have, I don't have any crazy productivity systems, but I am, you know, working full-time on my own stuff. So that helps a lot. Sometimes people are like, wow, how do you do that? But if you. You know, put in eight hours a day and you are kind of focused it's possible. But I also, you know, I work on the weekends. I don't take that many days off, but when I do, you know, it's like a nice chunk of time. So I'm, I kind of do like two weeks on and then a few days off and that's kind of how I have been doing it. So I don't know this weekend. I might play some video games and try to like stop typing for awhile. Because it's getting to be like, okay, I can sense it's it's time for a break, but yeah, it's not for everybody, I guess. Well, I mean, I think, uh, it's very impressive. All the stuff that you're doing and, um, yeah, I'm going to make

[00:26:00] sure that listeners can check out all your different projects in the show notes. Uh, Monica, where can people go to, to find out more about you and your projects kind of aggregate all of them on my personal website, which is monicalent.com or on Twitter. Twitter.com/monicalent. I am consistent. It is the same everywhere. Um, and both of those places, I have linked to all of the different things that I'm working on. And I also have like a blog post that I'm updating every month for the focus of the month and what I'm creating. So yeah, that would probably be the most efficient place to learn about all of these activities. Great stuff. Thanks ever so much for coming on the show. Thanks for having me, Chris. It was fun to talk to you.

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