Can you imagine publishing a 500-word article and receiving 5.5 million pageviews within a week?
That’s what happened to Kurt Schmidt in May 2022.
His team published an article about Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean at the height of the divorce trial, and the article took off.
But that wasn’t a freak occurrence. His site, Inside the Magic, covers all things Disney and averages 40 million pageviews per month.
This is possible thanks to Google platforms – particularly Google Discover.
Kurt joins Spencer on the podcast to bring us a masterclass on creating engaging content that Google rewards.
Kurt is brilliant. The site, the t-shirt he wears in the interview, and the helpful advice he’s generous enough to share are all evidence of this.
He’s a banker who bought a site that was declining in traffic and turned it into the behemoth it is today in only 5 years. He did so by thinking outside the box and using technology to help make better decisions.
They increase their CTR by analyzing what’s working on Facebook and YouTube to create more engaging headlines and featured images.
They use SEO best practices to then keep visitors on the page by creating meaty content that satisfies the readers’ interest.
Then they go a step further, combining their knowledge with the latest machine learning and AI tech to continuously test and improve results.
And how they do this at scale is where the magic happens.
It’s a valuable and motivating interview with tons of great insights. Enjoy!
Table of Contents
Topics Kurt Schmidt Covers
- How Kurt got into the online business world
- Acquiring a site
- The ups and downs of growing a business
- Getting out of hard times
- Using engagement metrics on Facebook to see what’s working
- Their team’s compensation structure and how it’s evolving
- The unique pay and bonus structure they use to incentivize authors
- Historical and current traffic breakdown
- The recipe for creating engaging, shareable content
- How to get traffic from Google Discover
- Best practices for optimizing titles and images
- Headline best practices
- Where they source images
- Tools they use to a/b test and improve their work
- Their content production process
- Their simple solution for managing their seemingly complex pay structure
- The pros and cons of clickbait titles
- Marrying human knowledge with AI tech
- Optimizing news content for SEO
- Revenue breakdown
- His view on whether this strategy is transferrable to other niches
- And a whole lot more…
Links & Resources
Watch the Interview
Read the Transcription
Spencer: Hey everyone, it’s Spencer Haws here, founder of the Niche Pursuits Podcast. So I recently read a Twitter thread asking about the most underrated strategy in seo. One of the most common answers given was internal link building. The reason, well, sometimes people put so much emphasis on external links, they forget that not only do internal links provide relevancy and SEO benefits, but that Google actually encourages you to build internal links.
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Spencer: Welcome to the Niche Pursuits podcast.
Kurt: Well, thank you for, uh, having me on. I’m, I’m really excited about being here. Yeah,
Spencer: no, I’m super excited to have you here. Um, we’ve connected over the past year or so, and, uh, what you’ve built with inside the Magic is tremendous. It’s an awesome story that I’m excited to have you share with the audience.
But before we jump into that and, and what’s happened to the site, maybe give, give us a little bit of your background professionally, you know, what were you up to?
Kurt: Yeah, well, thank you for inviting me and so yeah. Before I purchased Inside the Magic, I was a credit union CEO and had a career in credit unions.
So, came from the finance world and jumped into online media. Because doesn’t everyone do that, you know? Right. , so, so yeah, that, that was, that was the background. Yeah. So I
Spencer: love it. Fellow banker, you know, by background. So I’m glad that we’re both reformed bankers and, and jumped into the media world. So welcome.
Yeah, thank you. So why did you acquire Inside the Magic?
Kurt: So, I’ve been part of a CEO, business owner coaching organization that maybe you or some of your listeners have heard of, called Vista International. I was in part of that as a hired gun or a CEO who had been promoted to the role. And I saw business owners who had the benefit of not reporting to boards or directors.
And I’m like, you know, this is really nice. One of these days I wanna own my own business, run it without having a board of directors. And so that’s what led me down the path of acquiring a business. It was about acquiring a business. It just so happened to be an online business that just so happened to cover Disney.
Just so happened to do a lot of things that, you know, this business does now. Yeah. Yeah. So you
Spencer: weren’t necessarily looking at the online world. It could have been maybe any business. You were just looking at opportunities, it sounds like. So, so how did this opportunity come up? Like how did you settle? A website?
Was it through a brokerage
Kurt: or how’d that happen? Yeah, yeah. So it’s through quiet light brokerage. I had actually reached out to them and all the other online brokers when my chance of buying a commercial landscaping company fell through, and I didn’t want to move again to another city where another business may be based.
And so I only start looking at online businesses. Then I saw this listing, I threw caution to the wind and basically said, I need to own this because I, I am a Disney fan. And the rest, as they say, is history. All right.
Spencer: Cool. So let, let’s dive into a few of the details. Mm-hmm. , what can you share about the, the site when you acquired it?
Like, like when did you acquire it and like how much traffic was the site getting or, or how much was it making, I guess?
Kurt: Yeah, so I closed on this on February 27th, 2018. So we’re coming up, uh, you know, Four and a half, nearly five years that I’ve had the business. The revenue trailing 12 months was like 265,000.
Okay. If you’ve purchased a business before, you may be familiar with the seller’s discretionary earnings. Uh, that was at 150,000. That wasn’t the true, you know, bottom line income, but everything that goes in that calculation at about 150,000 total traffic in my first full month of ownership was give or take, right around 700, 750,000, uh, page views.
In that first month when I bought the site, there was a lot more YouTube traffic and revenue. YouTube was the bigger part of the business than the website itself. Interesting. Um, and we were getting, oh gosh, around that time was probably five to 10 million, uh, video views, but closer to 10 million video views per.
Spencer: so you went all in, you acquired this business, and we’ll talk a little bit more about kind of what the all in was in terms of, of job and, and some of the consequences there. But I wanna fast forward people just to give them a taste of, of what we’re gonna talk about. So you, you acquired the site, it’s making decent money, right?
But less than a million visitors a month, it sounds like, to the website itself. What are the traffic numbers today? Like, you know, number of visitors, um, some of those stats that you
Kurt: can share. Yeah, so you know, we’re recording this. It’s uh, October. The numbers through the end of the month, September, so the first nine months of this year for Inside the Magic.
We’ve done about 414 million page views. A year and a half ago. I bought five other websites. They’ve done about 35 million page views collectively. So on a month by month basis, that’s 45 million page views a month for Inside the Magic. Another 4 million a month on average for the Fab Five or my other websites.
But our best month was back in May when we did 60 million page views for Inside the Magic Alone. The other sites added another couple, two, 3 million, so that was a crazy month when we were averaging nearly 2 million page views per. Oh,
Spencer: that’s, yeah. A amazing, and I remember, um, talking to you closer to that time and mm-hmm.
just hearing how you were having like four or 5 million visitors in a day, like some of your biggest days. That’s, that’s insane. And so maybe just taking a step back and going from, you know, three, four years ago you bought the site and it’s less than a million visitors a month. So like 40 to 45 million visitors per month for just inside the magic.net.
I mean, does it feel real?
Kurt: It doesn’t feel real. And then oddly enough, it wasn’t until about a year ago that I actually was even of the mindset that this might actually be a sustainable, successful business. As I know we’ll get into, you know, there were some struggles in the early days and, you know, I really thought I had made a mistake with this business and I was, I was kinda, you know, piling one improvement, on another improvement just to try to keep things, you know, afloat.
And it was about a year ago, I realized, oh, I think I actually have a real website now. You know, maybe, maybe this is gonna work out. So, yeah. Um, yeah, I wanna, it doesn’t feel real at all.
Spencer: And so I wanna jump into some of that. You know, when, when people hear the numbers, they hear, okay, here’s where he bought it, here’s where it is now.
It must have just been this rocket ship from day one. You know, Kurt sprinkled his , his Disney magic on it, and, and it all worked. But as you alluded to, there was certainly some struggles. So, so tell us about some of those early struggles right after acquiring the site.
Kurt: Yeah, so, so definitely one of the, one of the initial struggles right after acquiring their site is the ad network that, uh, the prior owner was using to find media.
We didn’t know it at the time, but they eventually were gonna go bankrupt or, I don’t know what actually happened with, with the business, but the prior owner didn’t collect his final few months of ad revenue, and I didn’t collect my first two and a half, three months of ad revenue. And so one of my first things I was doing as a new business owner was, Figuring out how to get on Google Ads and then later as though can AD thrive and you know, all the different, you know, ad monetization methods I put in my offer for this business in November.
We had finished up due diligence by the beginning of January, but I didn’t close till late February. And that had to do with my SBA loan, uh, some delays and everything. Well, I took my eye off the ball. This was a site I wanted to own and I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that there was major algorithm changes that were happening with Facebook, uh, late, uh, 2017, early 2018.
So we were definitely on a downward decline in terms of the traffic. Kind of knew this a little bit more, but I hadn’t really synced in what had happened with, uh, Google updates that had hit the site, you know, late, uh, 2017. So there was a lot of things from a trend standpoint. I had purchased a site that was seeing less and less traffic.
Then you have issues with monetization. I knew going in that there were some things, you know, from a staffing perspective that I wanted to, to address and, and everything. But yeah, a lot just kind of hit all at once. And by September of 2018, traffic was down to about 500 some odd thousand a month page views, which, you know, coming from, you know, mid 700 range, that’s a, that’s a healthy drop, um, no matter how you cut it.
So yeah, it was, it got rough there at the beginning.
Spencer: Yeah. And, um, just, just to clarify, had, had you quit your job, like as soon as you acquired this or
Kurt: so did you I had actually, no, I had actually quit my job a year prior to acquiring it, so I had pretty much from May of 2017 onwards, my full-time. Was finding the business that I was going to acquire.
Wow. Uh, did a move in that, uh, timeframe. But yeah, I was, I, this was my one and only thing I was, I was doing, I did actually use, uh, 401K funds as an investor in the business, and so I had access to that money that I could kind of pay myself a paycheck. But, you know, even then you need to have a business that is, is, you know, having some kind of, you know, ongoing operation.
So yeah, it was, this was my full blown job. It was my wife’s one and only job. So the entire family, uh, was working in this business, uh, 40 hours a week plus Wow. Uh, with no other source of income. And by, by, I think it was August of 2018. We stopped collecting paychecks. You know, we’re paying our staff, but not ourselves.
And I didn’t return to collect a paycheck again from the company until June of 2019. So it was a good, you know, nine months or so. Yeah, that there was almost a year. No, no paycheck coming in, you know? But you know, we were still operating the business, paying employees.
Spencer: So talk about difficult times. I mean, I, I think that’s important for people to hear and maybe even to understand like how vested you were in this business.
And I think maybe a lot of people, including myself is we have like side hustles and like, well, that’s not really working out. Maybe I’ll turn my attention somewhere else. That really wasn’t an option for you. You had already, I mean, essentially borrowed funds against your 401k right? And no other paycheck coming in.
It was like, we gotta make this work. And so how mu, can you give us a breakdown of kind of the, the traffic sources. In the early days, you mentioned YouTube was a big part of it. Facebook it sounded like was, was a big part of it. And then maybe a little bit of Google SEO traffic. Is that kind of maybe the three sources or,
Kurt: yeah, so, so at least generating income, uh, YouTube was a big, big part of things that didn’t necessarily give us traffic to the website.
Makes sense. Yeah. But it did, it did generate a lot of, of income, uh, for us. Then on the u with the YouTube channel, then the Facebook itself, the split was something like 80, 85% was coming from Facebook, even as we were seeing traffic losses with the algorithm changes at that point in time. Wow. Uh, we had very little, uh, traffic from any Google sources.
There wasn’t an email newsletter or any other way of generating traffic at that point in time. So basically the site was all in on Facebook traffic, and so as Facebook went, so did you know the rest of the site?
Spencer: Yeah, when, when 80 to 85% of your traffic is, is one source, and that was a tough time for Facebook changing all their algorithms.
So, you know, what, what did you do that worked? Like what did, what got you guys out of this hole and, and finally, you know, sort of the hockey stick growth that happened after, you know, call it 2019?
Kurt: Yeah, so there were, there were really, what I would look back, looking back on it, kind of two major things. So one, it was September of, of, uh, 2018 when things were kind of at their, at their lowest.
I attended VIS Summit, which is actually a, a conference for, uh, YouTube. Uh, and you know, that was where a lot of the money was coming in. I thought it made sense, but I actually, from VI Summit, I heard a speaker talking about Facebook and engagement and it taught this, you know, former banker who didn’t really know anything about online media.
You know, what are some of these key triggers I should be looking at? And one of the key things I remember walking away with was looking at the content from an engagement rate on Facebook and looking at post reach and having some metrics on, you know, what we’re really successful sites doing. So I started looking at our most successful content on Facebook in terms of engagement.
Said, okay, that’s what I need to replicate. You know, that’s our main traffic source. What are the similarities and everything? October 1st, 2018 was actually when I hired my first, uh, person on the team that was, uh, new to under my ownership, you know, not counting the people that I inherited with the company.
I’d actually already let go of a few people prior to that because it was the only way I could afford to hire someone. There was a ton of variable compensation and I basically, you know, I hired someone who was a big fan of Disney and Disney content, and she wanted to be a part of what we were doing, but the, the understanding was, you know, if this goes well, you’re gonna get rewarded more if this doesn’t go as well.
I just can’t afford to pay very much. But that was the beginning of our comp structure that worked really well. You fast forward about a year later, once we get into 2019, you know, third quarter of 2019, we’re putting things in place as far as how we’re looking at SEO traffic that we’re more formalized working with Market Muse.
And uh, that was really the, you know, when we start working with Market Muse, you know, subsequent to that than we’ve invest in AI when it comes to, uh, looking at our header images and how we post the social media. But it’s been kind of one process after another, but just kind of building. But those initial, initial things and everything, you know, were really around understanding engagement and um, for Facebook and understanding, you know, how it’s gonna end up hiring my team going forward.
Spencer: Yeah. So I wanna dive into all of that. So for listeners, we are gonna touch on, I think a lot of, of what you just talked about, but maybe you can kind of, again, fast forward to today and give us a breakdown of where’s the traffic coming from? Is it, is it still Facebook? How much is Google Discover seo?
Kurt: Yeah, so overall it’s about a 70 30 split, some form of Google and then everything else within that, some form of Google. Actually, just overall looking at the traffic, about 50% of our entire traffic mix comes from Google Discover. Then we get about 20% today from Facebook. Percentage is way down. The overall numbers are way up.
Uh, then there’s some Google traffic that I really, when I compare between Google Search Console and Google Analytics, I can’t really identify. It might be top Story Carousel. It might just be, you know, just traffic. Again, I don’t have, you know, a way to put my finger on it. Then we get some non Google referral traffic, smart News, uh, news Break app.
Uh, you keep going down, you know, we start getting into actual traditional search traffic, Google News, the email newsletter. And then even though we have, you know, over a hundred thousand people following us on Twitter, Twitter, and all the other social media accounts, um, everything else is, you know, that I haven’t mentioned.
Email traffic and above is less than 1% of our, our traffic mix today. So it’s a lot more diversified yet with a heavy reliance on Google Discovery. Yeah.
Spencer: So, so 50% approximately of your overall traffic from Google Discovery? I mean, we’re talking 20. You know, plus million visitors a month just from Google Discover.
And then if I heard you right, still about 20% is from Facebook. Mm-hmm. , which, you know, if we do that math, it’s still like 8 million visitors a month just from Facebook, which is obviously way more than, you know, the site was getting when you bought it, right? Yes. In total. Yeah. Um, so you’ve grown Facebook tremendously, but the percentage, like you said, is, is more diversified.
Mm-hmm. , I, I feel like, and correct me if I’m wrong, we can talk about both Facebook and Google Discover kind of in a similar conversation in that it’s all about creating engaging content, right? That’s shareable. Yes. And from what I understand, Google Discover is, is very similar, right? And that you want to create those grabbing headlines, those images, right?
That people wanna click through and read, and. Even though I’m asking, I’m gonna ask some questions about Google Discover, feel free to, you know, bring up Facebook and how that maybe is a little different for Facebook, um, as well. So, so yeah, again, the big gorilla is Google Discover traffic. So, what’s the secret?
How do people get more Google Discover traffic? What, what have you guys done?
Kurt: Yeah, so I would say the secret to some extent, you know, for your listeners is what do you know today? So I, um, knowing that we’re gonna be talking and thinking about this question, um, you know, I was really thinking about, for me, the secret was coming from this Facebook traffic background, seeing what I saw on YouTube, understanding how that more engaging headlines, uh, so having.
High click through rates because you have an article that someone has fear of missing out of when they read the headline, has a good header image, or if this were YouTube, it’d be that thumbnail that is really, you know, pulling people in. But for your listeners who come from a more traditional SEO background, then for them it’s a little bit, it’s gonna be kind of what I’m about to say, but the opposite.
But, but keeping down my path of, you know, that Facebook, um, YouTube background. Then you need to start learning how to become the more traditional seo. Make sure you have thorough content. There’s some meat in the bones. Google hates to send. I at least, I think, I hate to send people to traffic or, or to a site where someone quickly backs out and they say, you know, this didn’t really fulfill what I wanted.
So they’re looking for those, what I consider social media kind of aspects to the traffic. But then, They want it to have some heft or some, some quality to it. If you’re coming more from that traditional SEO background, then like study what the YouTubers are doing in terms of, you know, thumbnails and, and headlines or whatever.
Because YouTube is really a, a vehicle and a platform that if you don’t, um, get additional traffic from, you know, kind of reeling someone in as they’re watching a video and they see, you know, the thumbnail and the, the headline for your video and say, Hey, I’m gonna click on that cause it looks really interesting.
Then you lose out on a lot of opportunities. So either side of the coin you’re coming from, try to bring in more of what that other side does. But ultimately what I have seen, you know, through experience is Google’s gonna really promote content as long. When they put it out there in the Google Discover platform, if you’re getting a high click through rate and that stays high, they’re gonna keep promoting it.
So, you know, you talked about, you know, back in May when that, you know, is having that great month, we had an article that did five and a half million page views by itself, and it stayed pretty hot with Google Discover for five days or more. And it was one of those, this article could continually be presented to new people and they were clicking on it at a, at a high rate and they were engaging and they were really consuming this in, in a real way.
Eventually you get to the point where, Google kind of runs out of people who really, that happened to be an article about Johnny Depp. You finally ran out of people who gave a rip about Johnny Depp. They’re not consuming that content as much anymore either they’re clicking at a much lower rate, the click through rate’s lower, or they click and then they’re quickly bouncing and backing out.
Google says, Hey, this is a bad experience. It’s time to stop promoting this. So, I mean, you have to have more of that experience driven, uh, content, which is something that, in my estimation, Facebook doesn’t care as much about. Facebook’s happy for you to be on the Facebook platform, you know, making comments, you know, things of that nature.
But Google’s actually looking at those reader behaviors.
Spencer: So, uh, can somebody go check out that article? Do you remember what the Johnny Depp title was or,
Kurt: oh gosh. You know, I, I should have, it was, and so, you know, I, I’ll, I’ll let your audience decide if it was click Baie or not, but I mean, we were basically in that article talking about Margot Roby going to have the lead role, uh, for the next Pirates of the, uh, Caribbean movie based on something Jerry Brocker said.
So I think it was something about, um, Johnny Depp being out. You know, the lead or whatever, and Pirates of the Caribbean six or something like that. Yeah, it was, it was something, but you know, we’re mostly talking about Margot Robbie on, on that, that particular article. Yeah,
Spencer: yeah. No, just so people, if they wanna find an example, you know, they can kind of see, oh man, this is the type of stuff that’s done really well, uh, for Kurt and his, his site.
So it’s, it’s, it’s all about en engagement, like you said. Mm-hmm. . So finding the right titles, finding the right images. And so how, have you maybe go into even, even more details in terms of like, how, how do you find the right title? How, you know, is there a particular size or type of image, um, that you need to use?
Is there a certain content structure?
Kurt: Yeah. Yeah. So let me start first with the images. So, um, all the, all the research I’ve seen says it’s 1200 pixels. Or, or greater. Um, and so immediately, you know, just don’t, don’t scrape on, you know, having a, a low pixel, you know, size image, make sure it’s a, it’s a bigger image.
Google Discover really wants to see that in terms of the headlines, you know, part of this comes into every, it’s been my experience. Everyone has a little bit different view on how they define and how they look at click bait. If it’s click bait that gets someone in, they feel like they’ve been deceived and they immediately bounce back.
That’s not a title that’s gonna be rewarded with Google Discover. And, you know, I see in our own content sometimes when we’ve gone that route, That content, it just doesn’t go that far. Now it has to be content though, that gets that click coming in. So if you’re teasing some things, you know, kind of like we did with this, with this headline is we started, you know, talking about what was happening with Johnny Depp.
This was actually during the Johnny Depp Amber, her trial when this article came out. So you had an entire, you know, felt like universe of people who had engaged on Johnny Deb content To some level, Google saw these behaviors and said, well, we have a piece of Johnny Deb content that’s getting a lot more clicks than usual.
Let’s see if this next reader wants to see this. And since most people were very passionate around, uh, pro Johnny Depp, in their view of what was going on with that trial, we, you know, we allowed through the headline. This, you know, feeling like, you know, Disney had done something wrong to Johnny Depp. You know, he wasn’t gonna be a part of the next Pirates of the Caribbean, uh, movie, which was honestly already known.
But this was taking a quote from the, you know, Jerry Brock Heimer to, you know, put some meat behind it and everything. Yep. At the end of the day, because it had that meat, because it had that reason to dig in more and it wasn’t just, you know, some, you know, speculation about, you know, Johnny Depth that didn’t have support.
That’s really what kept people in. So I’d say with your headline, like you can tease, you can, you can do those things to bring people in, but you need the meat in there so people actually spend some time actively reading the article. And if you can find that mixed with your headline, it’s a great headline.
If you’ve given away the story in the headline, you’re not gonna get a high enough clickthrough rate to do well in Google Discovery. It’s just not, not possible in my experience. We use some testing tools to help us with headlines, but part of it is, you know, really just kind of, Getting into the head of, of your, uh, reader, you know, what would they be curious to find, um, you know, and make them stop scrolling and say, I’m gonna click on, on this particular
Yeah. So what tools do you use, um, to test headlines?
Kurt: Yeah, so we use Chart Beat, uh, which is at its core kind of a Google Analytics substitute. So what happens once you get over 10 million hits on Google Analytics, even though they give you the product still for free, you’re not technically, you know, in what should be part of the free product.
And so I wanted to have a backup should Google Analytics ever go down for me. And it does go down quite often. And so within that they have a headline testing tool that I can test multiple headlines. And the system just, you know, decides what headlines gain the best clickthrough rate. What’s the quality of that engagement Once they, you know, click onto the, on, into the article and once it defines the best headline, it just automatically changes that headline on our website so that every future reader sees the, the new headline.
Spencer: Now do your writers write the headlines or do you jump in or,
Kurt: uh, 99.9% of the time the writer is writing their own headline. We don’t, I mean, I may have an idea and I’ll throw it into the tool, but that’s very rare. Um, we don’t do much of anything in terms of really deciding, you know, what that content calendar looks like for our writer.
So, you know, we’re looking at more news driven content, and if someone finds there’s some news out there, They’ll claim the article, they’ll decide what headline they’re, they’re writing to go with the story, you know, so on and so forth. They post it to social media. All of that is done, um, by the writer itself.
It’s a very hands off approach.
Spencer: Okay. That’s very interesting. I’m, I, I wanna dive into more how you, um, incentivize writers. Mm-hmm. . Um, but while we’re talking about, you know, titles and, and images, um, do you like ab test images or do you create your own images, or where are you getting the images that you use?
Kurt: Yeah, yeah. So, um, a variety of sources. So, uh, the website, you know, we have a hundred thousand images, I think plus on the site. So a lot of times we can, um, create our own image. Um, there’s gonna be, you know, images that we may use that, um, you know, originally came from Disney that, um, you know, were using.
One of the problems with an image from Disney is, let’s say, you know, I’m, I’m on this, you know, movie theme with Pirates of the Caribbean or something, but you have something that has the movie logo or whatever, and there’s a bunch of other content out there online that has that same image. So we’ll go into Cam and we’ll just maybe, you know, take two pictures, put ’em side by side, something that looks different.
My mindset is really about what stops the scroll and things that will stop the scroll when you’re on your phone is seeing something a little bit different. So I’m more concerned about, is it slightly different than anything else when it comes, when it comes to images. But yeah, Disney’s a great source of images for us.
Our own image library. You know, we take some of our own images, uh, things of that nature. And then one of the tools that I think this was. Late 2019, early 2020, we worked with a company Cortex that basically you give ’em a bunch of images or Facebook posts to analyze, and they allow AI to tell you a bunch about images.
So we know things, for example, that if we have an image of a Disney cruise ship that’s gonna underperform on average, but if it’s a Disney bus, it’s gonna overperform on average. So, little things that we know, you know, through applying technology that is specific to our, um, our publication helps us be much more informed about the images that we think we can use or shouldn’t use.
Um, but I, I see image choice almost as much as headline. Like, that’s a skill that you want your content creators to understand. Or, uh, one of these days what I, you know, very well may want to do is just hire someone full-time. Just to update and improve images, because images are such a big part of, you know, what decides whether someone’s gonna click onto an article or not.
Spencer: And that’s what I wanted to ask is if you had somebody specific, like an editor that was adding the images, or if it really was the author, it sounds like the author researches the, the topic, they write the headline, they write the article, and they’re sourcing the images. Yeah, so,
Kurt: so our model is not traditional editor writer model.
So I think of it more of like a coach and an apprentice. Or a master on an apprentice. But because we’re at Disney site, we have to do a little bit better than that. We have Jedi and we have Padawans. So Padawan is a, is a writer and a Jedi is is one of the. You know, um, editors on the team, but our Jedi just like, you know, how far can I take this analogy?
But if you’re watching Star Wars, you know, they’re still fighting the battles with the light sas. You know, they’re still, you know, for us, you know, the Jedi are still writing articles and the Padawans are doing the same thing, but just at a more junior level. Um, but they’re creating content side by side, and our Jedi are compensated to help their padawans be more successful.
So it’s really more of a coaching, Hey, I have a suggestion, but if a, if a writer, if a Padawan says, I’m gonna go with this, you know, image, whatever it may be, good, bad, and different. That’s really their call to make. And, uh, we don’t put a lot of roadblocks. I like to allow, uh, people on the team to both be rewarded for their success and find their own failures, basically.
I find that that allows us to grow faster because it’s not just what me and maybe a handful of other people with all the knowledge thank works, right? But we’re basically running tests all the time because people are learning for themselves. What can I make? Whatever this thing is work. And so that leads to, you know, different decisions on images, headlines, content, the whole 90 yard.
Spencer: Right. And so that’s a very different mindset, I think than Mo, than most bloggers out there. Um, you know, speaking from experience, the typical model again is we hire writers and editors. Um, and those writers and editors may never know how those articles perform. They write, they get paid. And me as the site owner, I see all the analytics, but the writers and editors, they’re moving on for the next paycheck, right?
Mm-hmm. , um, writing another article, so you have it structured very differently. So let’s talk about that structure. How are you incentivizing writers? Because you’ve alluded to, Hey, these writers care about how these articles perform, so how have you created that structure?
Kurt: Yeah. So let me start with how we’re, we’re incentivizing now.
Uh, there’s some problems with what we do and, and we have another plan I’m working on. Okay. But we have a base pay per writer, and that can be anywhere from $20 to currently $35 per article. One thing just for your listeners to know in this niche, My next largest competitor starts people out at $15 an hour.
I have a competitor who, at least it’s my understanding, will pay you $5 for a 500 or a thousand word article. I have a lot of competitors who get content for free, so there’s a lot of people because they’re covering Disney topics, they write for very little. We pay, I think, the best in the niche and we’re paying 20 to 35 per article regardless of success.
And you, can
Spencer: you clarify, how long are these articles typically just where readers know or listeners know? Min
Kurt: minimum. They’re 300 word articles on average, the four to 500 word articles, we believe that over a two week pay period, uh, someone doing this full time will probably write about 50 articles of pay period.
So take 50 times you. Whether it’s 20 to 35, but I’ve had people in a single pay period write 110 articles, 115, I think even. And then we require anyone who writes for us, they have to write at least four articles a week because we want someone writing enough that they start to understand how our system works to be successful, right?
So that’s the overall, like base pay they get. Then we pay them on page views if their total page views is higher than what we’ve been averaging over the last, um, six months. So for inside the magic, our last six months, the average article is getting 55,000 page view per article. If you’re one of our more experienced writers, you start getting bonused above 55,000 page views per article.
But let’s fast forward six months, three months into the future. Maybe that’s down to 40,000, maybe it’s up to 60,000. We’ll reset what that level is for a payout, um, once a quarter based on what we’ve been averaging here of late. So the idea is if you’re doing above average, you should get that bonus. Um, we actually, for the writers who are on the lower end of the pay scale, because they’re newer writers, we also recognize they’re not gonna write above average.
And so there we’re actually bonusing them once they get to 60% of our average. So in our current case, that’s, you know, once they get to 33,000 page views on average with articles, we bonus ’em. The net effect of this is, um, for a writer who does 50 articles a pay period, if they’re doing the exact average this year, they, that writer would be making $89,000 this year as a writer for us.
So, wow. You know, but we have writers who do distinctly. And we have writers who do, who do definitely more. Um, so it just really depends on the writer’s ability to be successful.
Spencer: And, and, and you pay them ongoing. So they, they’ve written, you know, a hundred articles last month. Uh, they, they get paid on that in perpetuity, is that correct?
Kurt: Correct. Yeah. So, uh, you know, they, they’ve gotten their initial pay for the article once, but then those page views, you know, could be from the article they wrote the first day working with us, if it’s still generating page views, are still gonna get those, those, you know, that payment. And then we also even have a few other bonuses if they use a market view brief to create this article that’s gonna tend to be a longer article.
They’re getting three x a page view credit, cuz I want to encourage people to do that more SEO focus, you know, longer article. So all of that gets, you know, a three x if they sell affiliate products, then we convert each penny of affiliate income into, uh, multiple page view. Right now it’s three page views per penny.
So you’re able to get a dollar of affiliate income that’s worth the extra 300 page views in our calculation. So we have different ways to incentivize behaviors we want and then we leave it to the writer. How do you wanna build your portfolio? Do you wanna build a portfolio of articles that are very merchandise heavy, SEO heavy, current news heavy?
You know, you choose, but you understand the pay plan and you can go ahead and, and direct your efforts wherever it makes sense for you.
Spencer: So it’s really fascinating. I mean, it’s a very unique structure, it sounds like. It would be really difficult to manage, just thinking about how many writers you have, how many articles.
They’re, they’re cranking out multiple articles a day, you know, per writer sometimes. And how, how do you track all that? Yeah. How do you make that work?
Kurt: Yeah. So one thing, so, you know, your, your listeners can go to our website and pull up any article at random, and you’re gonna, if you look at the url, you’re gonna see a code at the end of the url.
So, um, it may be, it’s normally two letters and then the number one, and if they did a Market M brief to create that article, it’s, um, so let’s take a code of AB one. Um, that would be for one particular writer I have, and if it was a market use brief, it’d be AB one mmb. And so then we use Google a. Just to do a search by the code that we have for that particular writer.
So if I wanna, you know, start, you know, incentivizing things in different ways, you know, we can even kind of change up our codes when it comes to the affiliate. We use skim links and when we put in that link, we can actually have them put in their code there so I can pull reports. But each writer has a code that targets their pay, uh, so that we can track it, you know, whenever we need to, you know, so as long as, as long as the writer is still writing for us, they get paid on on that content.
Spencer: Yeah, that’s smart. And I can see that I’m, I’m on the site now looking at the sort of appended code there, and so they’re incentivized to, you know, add that tracking code. Otherwise, you know, if they forget, that’s their fault. Right? Yeah. Um, so they’re very, very much incentivized to do that. So what, uh, what sort of, we’ve heard about a lot of the good things this leads to, right?
That they’re finding great content, they wanna make sure the content performs well. But what’s maybe the downside of this, right? And, and we’ve alluded to click bait, you know, does this make them just crank out stuff that’s not true or click bait, or what problems have you run into there? Yeah, I mean,
Kurt: I, I think the natural, you know, challenge to this model, it almost always comes around click bait.
Um, and it, and actually interestingly enough, like comments we hear from our readers, you know, have a lot to do around click bait. So there is a change to the model that we’re making. I actually don’t think it’s gonna change. Accusations or whatever around clickbait that much. But in so much as clickbait can be harmful for us as a site, I think it will change that.
So when I see clickbait being harmful, it’s really that case of someone clicks on an article, they bounce after a few seconds. I don’t care what people think out there, at least it’s not my experience as a site owner. You don’t make money from someone being on the site or on a page for just a second or two.
You make money for, they actually are reading your article and they’re staying engaged on your article. Um, but you know, if I can share, um, I had just yesterday actually got an email about someone talking about, you know, click bait and everything on, you know, they got one of our email newsletters and they said, click bait statements on articles are demeaning.
If it continues, I will most likely, unlike inside the magic, here’s the point and why I wanted to read this. It’s bad enough. Regular media uses them constantly and they are even more demeaning to the public talking about regular media. If that is what you need to get someone’s attention, then it’s not worth the time to begin with.
And the reason why I bring that up is I think for those of us small business owners, like our audience is our lifeblood. If we don’t have an audience, we’re not gonna have a business. It’s like, oh my gosh, my audience is saying this is click bait. This is terrible. But like this comment even recognizes.
The, the large media companies, they do this with teases and different things of that nature. I think you can do click bait that maybe some readers may not necessarily love, but then another reader actually does appreciate it. It actually exposed them to an article they wanted to read. So I pay a lot of attention to Engage Time.
That’s another thing. Chart Beat does really well for us is it tracks engagement time better than Google Analytics. And so knowing that I’m basically tracking our degree of click bait based on how much people are engaging. And, and what I mean by that is I know someone on average, an article’s getting say 10 seconds of scroll time, that’s, that’s really low.
I may have another article. They’re getting a full minute of engaged scroll time and active reading that’s extremely high. I don’t care so much what commenters are gonna say about that article. Hey, I think this is click bait. If people are reading it, actively reading for a full minute, that is a sign of success.
So as I’ve been thinking about our comp plan, okay, this is how I justify, or I know whether we’ve been producing click bait, we’re not producing click bait. How about we change our comp model to, you know, be in in conjunction with this? So going forward, and I’ve announced this to a few people on my team, but this hasn’t even been publicly known amongst my own, my own team, we’re gonna still pay them for that page view bonus.
But we’re gonna say basically one page view is like 30 seconds of average engagement time. If you get a full minute of engagement time, we’re gonna count that as two page views. You get 45 seconds, it’s gonna be like a page view and a half, and we’re gonna take the higher of those two metrics, either get people to the article, Or get people reading the article for a longer time.
People acting in their own writers, acting in their own self-interest. I suspect over time they’re gonna aim to get people reading that article longer and longer. If that happens, Google Discovers gonna promote the article more often. They’re gonna get more page views, like everything’s gonna work to the positive.
So to me, that’s how you address it. But you don’t necessarily address it by saying, well, someone thinks this is click bait, we better stop, you know, doing this or that. Um, you know, I know the, the headline on that newsletter that got that comment, I read Massive Theme Park announces all new expansion debuting soon.
If you read that article, it wasn’t talking about a Disney theme park. It was talking about another theme park and. Oh, gosh, now I’m forgetting Ohio. I think it’s in Ohio. I need to read the article again. . But it was another, it was another theme park. Yeah. And you know, that’s in our wheelhouse to cover. And someone’s like, well, I thought I was gonna read an article about Disney.
Honestly, from my perspective, I don’t see that as a problem as long as people were actually reading it. Now, if they got to that article and bounced quickly, That’s legitimately a problem,
Spencer: right? Yeah. I think that’s a good perspective, right? Taking the more analytical approach, um, to that. And, and that’s something that you always gotta be thinking through, like what truly is click bait?
Mm-hmm. and, and what is not like what, you know, are we being dishonest in our headlines? Are we not fulfilling that with the, the quality of content and, and looking at that through the numbers? And so, yeah, it sounds like a, a smart change. And, you know, people that are listening can think through that, how that applies, uh, for their business now.
Um, how, how big is your team overall now in terms of writers and
Kurt: staff? Um, I think as far as total number of people, we just hit 39 counting. My wife and I, uh, this is pretty much all independent contractors. I also have a few family members that would take us over 40, but. You know, what they’re doing in terms of work on, you know, regular team is, is a little bit different.
But yeah, we’re at, we’re at 39 and hopefully we’ll be at, you know, above 40 and even 50 here in the, I think we’ll be above 40 before the end of the month and we’ll be above 50, um, you know, kind of first quarter of next year or something.
Spencer: Awesome. So clearly a growing business. It’s doing well. Um, are there any strategies that, uh, we haven’t talked about that you feel like have made a big impact, um, on the success of the site?
Kurt: Yeah, I, I’d say one of the things it, like, generally speaking, it’s this way that I look at technology, so I, I kind of mentioned a little bit that image ai tool that, well basically as a report, but the. Vendor used this tool to, you know, find out what images, you know, perform the best, uh, today, or not today, but here recently we’ve changed how we’re posting to social media and we’re using a product from True Anthem that’s using AI to determine the best time to post articles to Facebook.
And even deciding, in some cases, articles that were written that weren’t good enough to make it into the Facebook, uh, newsfeed, because they’re just not gonna have enough, enough reach. So always kind of looking at these areas where, where is that? Where does human knowledge get improved by, you know, some, some computer knowledge or some ai, and how can we kind of marry these two in, in the most effective way?
Um, I mean, heck, even this is, you know, nothing, all that unique or special. But a lot of what we ask for people to do on the editing process on their articles comes down to, what did Grammarly say? You know, I pay for the business or pro package on Grammarly for all the writers. Um, we’re using marketing me, I referenced that earlier.
They’re, they’re using machine learning to help you optimize content. So I try to be an early adopter on some of these machine learning tools. Not all of them work great, but you know, for the most part I think it’s paid
Spencer: off. Yeah. And, uh, even tools like, uh, market use for seo, I mean, that sounds like something you, you’ve been implementing since 2019.
Yeah. And, uh, so maybe talk just a little bit more about seo, even though it only accounts for, um, not a huge portion of your, your traffic. It sounds like you’re, you’re trying to implement more long term SEO strategies and Market M being one of those.
Kurt: Yeah, so Market Muse is really one of our partnerships that I hold.
Um, Most important in terms of what helps us be successful. And the reason for that, even though we don’t have a lot of search traffic, is for one, when you’re trying to manage things at scale. And for those of you who’ve used marketing news before, you can put some, you can put your article in through Optimize and it’s gonna give you a content scoring, give you some topics and some other things you can cover.
So in a way it kind of gamifies things a little bit. I think that that can help. I can pull reports on, you know, what’s been optimized, but it also, we’re doing so much content, we need something quick. We don’t have the time for a lot of the traditional keyword research and a lot of the other things, cause we’re doing news articles and things that, you know, it’s gonna move fast.
But if you can, you know, even take your overall quality up five or 10%, maybe you’re not gonna get a ton of search traffic. But you’re gonna send good signals, uh, to Google in terms of the overall writing and the overall content on the site. So that’s where that becomes really important. And I think it’s helped us a lot with Google Discover.
Uh, one of my internal policies is every article has to be run through. Um, marketing uses optimized tool within 24 hours after publication. Sometimes things are moving so fast you have to publish first and then optimize later at a slower moment. But I do require that people, um, you know, optimize every single article that we have.
I require every writer does an article with a market needs brief. This is gonna be an article that may have a thousand, you know, words plus, uh, to it. But one market use brief article per pay period. So that’s every two weeks. So, you know, there’s these different ways that we’ve incorporated market use by saying in our, you know, environment, this is just a given.
You need to do this. We don’t do as much in terms of, um, Hiring for a person who has, you know, a lot of expertise in seo, we allow Mark use to kind of be their, you know, their guide in terms of the SEO process.
Spencer: Right. You’re doing a lot of content. Like you mentioned, sometimes the, the author writes the article very quickly, like newsy type content, gets it out the door within, you know, 20 minutes or something, right?
And then they come back later and reedit with market views and update, um, so that you can be the first, right? Mm-hmm. so that sometimes it hits Google News. A lot of times it just hits Google Discover first. Right? Do you feel like other people, and just about any niche can, can replicate this process, right?
Like, uh, or is it only very specific industries or, or types of sites that are able to really hit big on Google Discover, right? Like I, I know we’ve talked privately, like for niche pursuits, can I hit it big on Google Discover, or can somebody with a pet blog, right? Uh, yeah, hit it big. What do you think?
Yeah. So I
Kurt: honestly think you can, I mean, maybe your numbers aren’t gonna be quite the same as the numbers I have. You know, admittedly, five plus million page views on an article takes a, you know, topic like a Johnny Depp Yeah. During the Johnny Depp trials. But let’s take something SEO related. I know from myself personally, I’m looking at, uh, different ways to get ahead in terms of, or, or understand and, and improve my knowledge when it comes to seo.
And so my own search, you know, activity has a lot of SEO related, um, searches, my own personal, uh, Google Discovery feed. It pretty much comes out to its Disney content because that’s what I do professionally. It’s Denver Bronco’s content because that’s the sports team that I follow the most, and it’s SEO related content.
So if you want to get into my Google Discover feed, Create SEO related content. If it happens to be related to, or getting a high click through rate on, you know, a type of thing that I’ve been searching for. I’m inevitably going to be fed this SEO related content. You know, my, my wife would be more likely to be, you know, doing research on, you know, thanks for our dog, or, you know, someone else may be looking at CAT videos.
Like, Google knows everything about everyone. Yeah. And if you’re into CAT videos, I have to imagine you’re gonna see in Google Discover articles about cats. The, the thing I think that, you know, kind of comes into play is, Again, are you, are you creating content that within that niche, you know, has that interest and that click through, you know, rate?
And sometimes that requires a mix of news ish, you know, kind of more like content that’s gonna create a fear of missing out. Right. Um, you know, and, you know, listicals can do that. Uh, so don’t lose sight of, you know, more traditional ways of approaching content. But, you know, I also think it’s, you know, You know what you need to know about the latest Google algorithm update.
Right. News and
Spencer: free update. Yeah. Yeah. Type, type content. Yeah. And, and people can apply that, uh, to the, to their own niche. Um, so if people go to inside the magic.net, I mean, clearly we can see that there’s display ads, that’s how you’re monetizing mm-hmm. , um, at least a lot. Um, can you give us a percentage roughly of like how much comes from display ads, how much comes from affiliate, uh, or any other sources?
Kurt: Yeah. So we do about 95% plus from display ads, uh, using, using Cafe Media and Ad Thrive. It’s worked out well for me because it’s, you know, very low activity. Yeah, we are doing some affiliate. Um, but again, it’s less than less than 5%. We have the YouTube. You know, ad sense money coming in from YouTube, that’s also part of that 5% bucket.
So, you know, between YouTube and affiliate and everything else, direct ad sales, anything else that we do, all of that combines for about 5%. So. Wow. Yeah, we are pretty much all in that, um, programmatic display advertising monetization
Spencer: model. Yeah. And I make, I’m sure that makes it fairly hands off, right?
Easy, easy to manage. I mean, you’re, you’re focused on the content, the views and the display ads really take care of themselves. You don’t have to be adding tons of affiliate links, um, and, and that sort of thing. So it makes, it makes
Kurt: it easy. Yeah. We really concentrate on, you know, how do we attract people to the site to read our content.
Uh, so we’re a very content focused organization.
Spencer: Yeah. Uh, man, Kurt, I wish we had another hour to talk about stuff, and I’m sure the listeners are like, you need to ask this one more question about Google Discover or Google News or whatever. But the nice thing is, is that you have revealed the site people can go to inside the magic.net.
They can go check it out. Um, they can, you know, maybe understand what’s working on your site, that they can apply right to their own site in a different niche, a different space, of course. Um, so we will have a lot of time to spend on this. I guess second to last question, but I know, um, that you recently did get an offer to, to buy your site.
Um, why, why did you turn that offer down? What was that process like? Yeah,
Kurt: so that process started with going down. I shared at the outset that my 401K was used to, to start or buy the business. I needed to buy out the shares that the 401k owned. The m and a broker I was working with said, Hey, let’s roll this straight into looking at offers.
I got an offer that was more money than I would’ve ever thought was humanly possible, but our growth rate, actually growth rate and lack of processes. So I’m good at growing things. Processes is, you know, a little bit further down on my list of, of skills and so they wanted, they gave me a, uh, seven x multiple, but it was based off of, um, Well, seven x multiple of trailing 12 months, but it was gonna have a two year earn out with 50% of the purchase price built in the earn out.
The growth required to get that wasn’t that hard, but really what I found out kind of spooked the, you know, buyers, the buyer pool, we were going so fast, they didn’t quite understand the growth rate. They wanted to make sure I was around for that and I hadn’t built out enough of a team that they couldn’t really afford for me to be gone.
So, you know, really my mindset now is, you know, in the future get another, hopefully great offer, but to build out some processes, you know, have things you know, a little bit more, um, be able to package it in, you know, such a way that, um, you know, someone say, Hey, this is a business that, you know, doesn’t matter if Kurt’s here or, you know, the person that I’m, you know, getting through the management team that he has in place this company is, is set to go forward in the future without, you know, Kurt’s involvement.
Spencer: Right. So are you kind of looking for a number one to replace yourself as kind of CEO or COO or something like that?
Kurt: You know, that’s gonna happen eventually. We have, um, you know, you’d asked before with, you know, our staff and we have about 40 people now. And honestly, we should be at about 50 to 60 people just to be staffed appropriately for our current growth.
So there’s a lot of management levels we need, but yeah, eventually it’s gonna also, you know, be that chief operations officer or someone who can, um, you know, continue the operation of the business, you know, should we sell. So I, I see this really at this point, you know, we’re a couple, a couple years minimum out from an exit, but then the other part of it is owning a Disney website is, is kind of, kind of enjoyable.
So maybe I’ll, I’ll decide not to exit, you know. We’ll, we’ll just have to see. You can bring me back on the podcast, you know, once, once we figure that out.
Spencer: We’d, we’d love to have you back. Absolutely. So, yeah, that was kind of my final thought is just what’s next. But it sounds like, hey, you’re gonna just keep growing.
You’re hiring some staff and, and maybe in a couple years you’ll look at an exit, but, but who knows? So any, any parting words or thoughts for, uh, listeners here for,
Kurt: for you? You know, I would just say whatever you think is possible, there’s probably even more that’s out there that’s possible. You know, I think the people who are, are gonna, you know, crush it the most in this industry are the ones, you know, hungry for knowledge and, you know, finding different ways, you know, to improve their businesses.
So I, I hope you got some nugget you can use out of this. And again, thank you Spencer, for inviting me. This has been a, been a lot of fun.
Spencer: Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. Kurt, thank you so much for sharing everything and uh, just thanks again for coming
Kurt: on the show. Yeah, thank you.