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Valuable Lessons Amy Aitman Learned From Managing 150+ Niche Websites

amyai

Amy Aitman, the COO of Venture Fourth Media, joins us on the Niche Pursuits podcast to share her journey from a freelance writer to leading a prominent media company.

Venture 4th Media manages around 150 websites with a massive writing and editing team of subject matter experts.

And Amy is an open book regarding the operational insights and challenges that have come along with this experience.

For one, over the years, she has been involved with hiring 500+ writers and thus has seen it all.

To build a quality team, she emphasizes the importance of a thorough hiring process and how advantageous, particularly in the age of AI, it can be to have writers and editors with genuine expertise, opinions, and passion in their niche to ‘talk shop’.

As she mentions, it’s what can separate us from AI.

She highlights her operational approach of going slow to grow fast – making rational, data-driven decisions every step of the way.

So, she also gets into Venture 4th Media’s strategies for diversifying content and brand building, including adding email marketing, newsletters, podcasts, and Twitch campaigns to their sites.

And with so many sites under management, Amy has some valuable thoughts about the Helpful Content Update, including how the company is navigating the aftermath, how they’re evaluating content, and prioritizing growth opportunities.

Overall, Amy is a great source of optimism. Her tips and experience are invaluable. And her insights into the evolving landscape of content creation and audience engagement are sure to help site operators of all levels. Enjoy!

Watch The Interview

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Topics Amy Aitman Covers

  • Rogue COO
  • Rising to the occasion
  • Scale content, test playbooks
  • Scaling 150 websites
  • Hiring 500+ writers in the past 8 years
  • Publishing up to 1,200 articles per month
  • Subject matter expertise
  • Going slow to grow fast
  • Non-SEO targeted content
  • Community building
  • The evolution of content deliverability
  • Creating great content
  • Subject matter expert editors
  • And a whole lot more…

Links & Resources

Transcription

Jared: All right. Welcome back to the niche pursuits podcast. My name is Jared Bautman. And today we’re joined by Amy Aitman. With, uh, the COO and that is of Venture Fourth Media. Amy, welcome on board. 

Amy: Hey, thanks for having me. This is such a thrill. I’m a huge fan of what you guys do. I listen to a ton of episodes.

I’ve been listening to you guys for years, and I love how you have real deal operators on here. I learned so much, so I can’t believe I’m here. I’m such, such a thrill. , well, 

Jared: longtime caller, first time listener here. It’s great to have you. I know we’ve interacted here and there. You’re very active in the community online, whether it’s LinkedIn or, or Twitter and whatnot, so it’s gonna be really great to have you here.

And you were kind of reminding me that this is really like, um, a year and a half later, we interview you as COO of a large media company, and we’ll, we’ll kind of get into that, but. A year and a half ago, we had you and on, um, from the same company. And so, so we’ll link to that show in the show notes, but we’re talking about really very different things today.

I’m really excited to roll up our sleeves with you. I mean, COO, that means you’re very operational focused. So I think we have a lot of good things to talk about before we, um, kind of get into the meat of what we’re talking about today, uh, maybe give us some background. You certainly have an interesting story as to how you arrived at where you’re at right now.

Amy: Yeah, I mean, it depends how far you want to go back, but I mean, 

Jared: just 

Amy: kidding. We only have an hour, but my story really started in like 2008. I graduated from university. Um, and I had a professional writing degree and I had worked in corporate and I had done a lot of things up into that point. But as you know, 2008 was, So very much like what we’re involved in now and nobody would hire me.

I did all the regular things. I reached out to my mentors. They were all getting laid off or downsized and it was a really tough year. And actually it took me a few years to get on my feet and to find my footing. And my husband was actually the one that said. You know, no one’s going to hire you. You can’t get a job, just get someone to pay you to do a project.

I was still doing my writing. I was still wanting to be in this industry. Um, didn’t really know where my place was, but really I was, that’s where I was. When I had my son in 2011, I started. a mom blog, which I don’t have anymore. Kind of wish I’d kept it up. I mean, who knows what that could become, but I learned WordPress.

I kept writing and I decided to try to see who would pay me to do some writing. And I had, this is old school, the old, um, binders. When you used to take the job interviews with all your projects, writing samples, I literally created an old. site and uploaded my projects and uploaded some of my writing projects to that site and just like try to find someone to pay me for something.

And I think like some of my first jobs were like 30. I wrote an entire ebook. I, um, did some, uh, local mom blog posting, guest posting, and. Yeah, like really started off just saying, can you hire me? And I was a freelancer for quite a while. So it was really great because I had a young kid at home. I was able to be flexible.

I was able to take jobs. Um, and my journey into Venture Forth Media happened actually on oDesk at the time, which is Upwork now, right? Ewan hired me to write, um, a protein recipe guide for vegan protein recipes. And I was like, this is great. I’ll do this. I’ll have so much fun. I love being in the kitchen.

In another life, I’m a food writer. I’m a total foodie. I read a lot of food blogs and I had. Like really jumped into this project. I bought all the, uh, the vegan protein powders, mixed up a bunch of different protein shakes in my kitchen, took pictures, like tons of EAT stuff before we even talked about EAT, and presented this project, and I love working with you and, and I mean, that was it.

I was like, kept taking on new projects, learned about content strategy, and shadowed a few content strategists to learn what that was all about. I was like, I love writing, I love content, I’m from the, my backgrounds in like corporate communications, um, and really got into that. And then, yeah, reached out to Ewan a few months later, and was like, I’m doing some content strategy work, content marketing work.

Are you looking for it to hire anyone? And he was just at the part of the company where he’s really thinking about hiring people and starting to scale up what he, what he had done. And his only question to me was like, can you use WordPress? And I was like, yes, I can do, I can use WordPress. My mom blog is in WordPress.

And my first job at venture forth media was formatting and scheduling post going into our Dropbox. Um, Getting the edited versions of the post, putting them on learning. I didn’t even know what SEO was learning about like H2s and, and all the things you need to do to format a post. And it didn’t take long before I made that a bit of a process and recorded some videos and created an SOP.

And you know, it was like, okay, let’s hire someone to do that job. I’ve got something else for you. And that’s the relationship between me and you and over the years continued. And I kept. hiring people to do the job that I used to do and started doing every role in the company, from formatting, scheduling, some web dev stuff, whatever is needed.

I’ve done, um, editorial. All the editing for all the articles for many years. And even when we were at like 350 articles a month, I was the one that was editing, editing them. 

Jared: So now you are COO. How did that transition come about? I mean, it’s one thing to go from writing content as a freelancer to maybe advancing into an editing role, but to move all the way up to.

You know, the COO role, which is where you’re at now of a media company. Like that’s quite the, the jump. Was that always on your horizon? Was that always something that you kind of thought was, it was there for you or was it more of a happy accident that you landed there? 

Amy: No, I always knew I had leadership ability and I always really gravitated toward leadership roles.

But being out of work for a few years was soul crushing and really depressing. And I didn’t even know that this world existed, but I knew that I had skills. I knew that talent and I knew that I could do something. So while I was working for you and, and, and working on his sites, I had. agency and really built that up as well.

So I had another full, like another, almost two full time jobs going at one point. I’d also worked, um, as a co founder for another media company. So I was really like deep into the space in many different ways. I just wanted to really learn, but I didn’t really. I didn’t really know where that leadership role was going to be, whether it was going to be having my own business, being a consultant.

I just knew that, like, I really wanted to learn and do this. And I knew that I could be good at this, but to be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever told this story publicly when Ewan was like, we were going to do our first 10 site launch and we needed to have like more of an org chart and more of a team. And he’s like, I guess I’m going to.

Make you COO and I was like, great. Sounds great. I’m so excited. I’m like, you know, I didn’t even know what that meant I had to like secretly Google it quickly. Google. What is What does it mean and and like a doctor? For this company, I mean For me, it’s really the operations is really content because that’s our product.

And I would say, um, when I first had that role, I wasn’t really a COO. I was just like, give you the role and let’s see. And I think over the years I’ve grown into it as we’ve scaled as I’ve needed. To grow into my role, I still feel like I’m growing into this role. I feel like I’m kind of a rogue COO in some of the things that I do and some of the ways that I approach operations, but it was, you know, it was great and I really have enjoyed having that title over the years and it makes sense.

Jared: I hear so many similarities in your story and the story of Caitlin, who’s the COO at my agency tool and creative. We met in 2010. I believe it was the year. So very similar year to you. She was an intern at my old photography studio. And then. Through the years, moved into an hourly operations position, then moved over to the marketing side of things, then moved into director of marketing.

And then came and joined me when I started the agency as the COO and a, and a, and a business partner. So, so many interesting parallels there. 

Amy: That’s really cool. And that’s the great thing about this industry is that there are like, there’s not one path to success or one path and the fact that, you know, operations people are special people.

I think it’s a kind of a thing that we figure out. I kind of to a note, like, I annoy my husband about, you know, fixing things in the house and it’s almost like. You know, if we can make a process better, we make it better. And once you have, like, once you figure that out, but then having that content side as well, it just, this role just really suits me and I really love it.

And I really been excited about having a seat at the table because I really felt like for a long time, I couldn’t get a seat at the table. I didn’t know how to get in. I didn’t come from, you know, a land of like wealthy friends, um, put myself through university. Put, you know, worked waitress for years, so I knew that I had more in me, but I just needed to like, you know, be given the shot and work up.

So it sounds like you have that person too. And 

Jared: well, congrats on your success and congrats on the journey. You know, we love a good rags to riches story here on the podcast. So, uh, so it’s great to have that story, but I think let’s be honest, we want to learn from you here. And if, if we could like, let’s kind of transition into a lot of the insights you’re able to give us.

Because I think. For the majority of people listening, there are probably maybe building a website, a side hustle, a business, a brand, but it’s oftentimes on the side, or even when it’s their full time job, it’s the, your, your, your subject could be in the jack of all trades, perhaps master of none. And so at the very least, whether it’s a full time thing for everyone listening or a side hustle for everyone listening, getting to bend the ear of someone like you, who just literally lives in the operations world and focuses on.

Operational efficiencies and advancements. I just think there’s so much we’ll be able to learn from you today, perhaps. Maybe let’s transition and, uh, maybe catch us up on where Ventureforth Media is now. Talk about the scope of the projects you guys have so we get an understanding for the amount of content you’re working on, the amount of operational kind of flexibility you’ve had to develop.

Amy: Oh, wow. That’s like a big question because we’ve been through quite a shift in this past year. I, um, the end of 2022, like November, December, we were looking ahead at our year plan and we had already scaled a ton of content, scale, create a lot of sites, but we’re looking at the macro picture and what’s happening in media, what’s happening with Google, um, you know, all the chit chat around AI and how we were going to respond to that.

And operationally, that meant I had to really tighten up my team and look for. Anywhere that I could cut. So I cut some editorial, uh, we cut some VAs, um, and it was really tough. It was the first time in my eight years here that I had to actually like make some deep cuts, but one of our values is like, we’re scrappy.

Like we can do more with less. And really it taught me that, you know, there’s. You can do a lot with a small team if it’s the right team. And so the people that I ended up cutting, um, a few of them, I found their way back and still work with us, which is great. And I figured if they don’t come find their way back, they weren’t meant to be.

And I’m really happy with the team that we have now. Um, but up until that point, we were producing a ton of content and then it slowly. Um, tapered down as we have been, like, this year has been just an insane year. I think we’ve had 10 Google updates this year, 10 shifts, um, AI, chatter. There’s been so much.

So responding to that operationally means, you know, finding those little pockets where we can really scale content and test some new playbooks, but also scale back when. When it’s needed and really think about the quality of our writing teams, who’s doing editorial, all that kind of stuff. So that’s where we are now 

Jared: at its peak.

If you’re comfortable sharing, like how many sites, how much content were you producing? You know, just give people a perspective on the scope that you guys were handling. 

Amy: Um, we’ve built over 160 websites and we’ve met, we manage a few sites for other people as well and have some partnerships in that area.

Right now on our master list, we have about 150 websites, but they’re in all phases. Like we have some sites with just the URL and some basic branding and not even content. Like we have some new sites. We have sites that are older. We have some skunk work sites, which is, you know, put a few, put 20 articles on a site and see what happens.

Um, and then we have our portfolio site. So we did three, well, four actual like big long, like three, two big launches and two kind of mini launches. We did a 10 site launch back in, I want to say 20. 18, 20, 19, I’ll have to get my numbers out. And then we did a 26 site, um, launch. 

Jared: And I think that’s when we talked with you and about the 

Amy: podcast.

And, um, which was all different niches. It was, it was like a few gaming sites, some, uh, some beauty sites. Um, it was all different types of niches. So operationally it means 26 writing, different writing teams defined. From that experience, we learned a lot, obviously, I mean, 26 sites, writing teams, branding, all the things that are needed to start a website, um, editorial and Like, just, just the, um, different types of sites that we had.

Some were easy to get started and 120 articles per site. So there were months that we were, I’d say about 1, 200 articles per month. Yeah. Yeah, so it was, I mean, this is something that we led up to when we did the 10 launch site. It was really the test. It was a test. Can we do 10 sites at once? Can we find 10 different writing teams?

Can we scale up? And we had created our first iteration of our own C, um, CMS system, like our content management system, which I was involved in creating because I was like, I know the workflows. I know what we want. We have a three step editorial. I want, you know, three quality checks before we publish content.

And we’d built it and it was like really kind of bare bones y, um, but before we did the 26 site launch, we’d started building the version 2, but it wasn’t ready completely for the start of version 2. So we did a lot of, those days are quite a blur for me. I mean, I had a lot of late nights, weekends on my computer, fixing things, um, reaching out to writers, uh, had to really figure out a recruiting strategy because To hire 26 different niches, 26 different writers, you can’t go all in.

So, I mean, these are the things we learned. Then we launched 32 websites, but we did a theme site. So we did a site in the gaming and nerd culture. And the difference for me on the operations side was that I found that managing editor type person that knew this industry inside and out. That could help me not only find the right writers, but could help guide editorial, could help you and decide which sites to choose.

Um, demonstrate the pitfalls and really had people already that could start helping us out and it made all the difference to have us to have 32 similar type of sites. Um, even though we did more sites, it was a lot easier to launch. So 

Jared: I’m hearing a couple of things in kind of the chronology there of what you’re talking about.

One of them is kind of the importance of an editor that knows the space really well, especially maybe if you’re not a subject matter expert yourself. And then also, I’m just very curious to hear what you’ve learned through the hiring process. Um, is the edit, how important is the editor and how important is the process to hiring an editor?

Writers, what did you learn from hiring writers from all over different niches? 

Amy: I’ve learned a lot and back starting back in the day where we just had generalist writers if they could pull together a great article, they worked for us. And if you had any interest in any niche, you could write somewhere else on another website.

So it was great. We had a small group of writers that could write for 3, 4, 5, 6 sites. We quickly, as the goal post for content has moved, we quickly realized that having some sort of expertise or enthusiasm or really like deep passion for the niche really helped the work and we wouldn’t have to invest as much in fact checking or, you know, people that are in the space.

Like, can, can talk about it much better. Yeah. Um, so finding those writers became a bit of a tougher challenge. And I think I’ve, like, I’ve made every mistake we’ve hired. Over 500 writers in the past 8 years. Um, right now, our writing team is, it’s about a, I think about 170 people. We’ve done some downsizing, but I’ve been, but I’ve gone through thousands and thousands of applications, done a ton of interviews.

Back in the day, we didn’t even meet writers. For an interview, we were like, here’s if you have the, if you have a great portfolio and you sound like, you know, we’re talking about, well, come on. So some of these mistakes, I still see my friends making, and I’m like, no, if you care about your authorship, you care about building this collection of experts on your site, which I do think you should care about, you need to treat.

Hiring writers as you would treat any hiring in your company, even if it’s for a freelance role. Um, so meet with them on, you know, on zoom, have them go on camera, get them involved in your editorial because you do not know outside of your processes and how you do things, how much handholding they might have had.

We’ve hired writers from huge publications that are, that have lots of digital authority and come into our processes and don’t know how to really express their own opinion, have a point of view on an article. They have a learning curve too, and you know, a lot of companies have really smart, talented people writing really, really detailed writer briefs.

And the writer just has to kind of fill in the blanks and our writers, we expect them to structure their own ideas to come up with their own, um, points of view. So it’s a very different editorial. So don’t skip on the writing side of things. Um, we’ve had writers that have faked their own identity in a really good way.

And even if you check their pictures for AI, they could be a real picture, just not of them, um, fake their credentials. We had one. Writer to take on more topics, created a sister of hers. So, um, when we were going through and doing our, uh, updates on our author profiles, my, um, editor, my managing operator said, I think that these two sisters are not, are the same person.

That was like, we were adding socials to the, and I was like, yeah, because back in the day we didn’t really meet with them and ask them all the questions like we do now. So that’s my tips for hiring writers. Like, you know, it’s. It’s really, it’s as important as finding, um, a date or a spouse. It’s really that important.

You have to get to know them. You have to, um, and get to know their life. Like, we’ve had writers try to fake EAT signals. Like, you know, copy somebody else’s, um, experiences. And, and our editors are like, I don’t think they own a Jeep. Why would they be talking about packing it up and taking the family out on a You know, that’s how much we That’s how much we get to know our writers now, and over and over again.

Well, you’ve 

Jared: set the bar, you’ve set the bar very high, Amy. Yeah, you’ve basically told us that in order to find a good writer, we need to find someone. Uh, as we need to put them through the same process we would a spouse. Yeah, it’s true. Yeah, now that’s, that’s a super 

Amy: good point. Although I think it was much easier finding my spouse than it was some of the writers for some of these niches.

I mean, really. I have been, I’ve, I have joined so many different types of Facebook groups, and Reddit, and forums, and We’ve gone to the wide parts of the internet to find the nichiest, nerdiest writers that we can, so. 

Jared: I’ve heard you say several times you’ve distinguished between writers and subject matter experts.

I would like to ask the same question to you, but now maybe about a subject matter expert. How do you, because I think a lot of people are interested in, Moving towards subject matter experts, certainly as we’ve seen some of the effects of the helpful content update and authorship being at the core of a lot of what that, what that speaks to, a lot of people are interested in hiring a subject matter expert, whether it’s to contribute to an article or to write the article.

What tips do you have, as it sounds like you have, you guys have started to find? Focus on that. Or maybe you have been for a while. What tips do you have for hiring subject matter experts specifically? 

Amy: Well, for most of our niches, I mean, for all the gaming and the nerd culture, the subject matter experts are the writers, which is tougher to find because not everybody that loves playing video games and has 1200 trophies this year on PS5 can write, so we do a lot of training for people that.

We hire a lot of people that like went to college, they’re in the niche, they love the niche, I will train them in how to structure an article, how to write, they know how to write, but how to write for online, you find that, um, in some of the niches, it’s really tough. We’ve, we’ve had to, if you want to hire like a doctor or a nurse, um, finding those subject matter, they might not want to write, or the cost might just be prohibitive.

Like, it might just be really expensive to be like, you know, and I’ve tested a lot of different. I’ve done a lot of experiments where I had some safety testers, like real safety experts, and I gave them some topics to write about and they just couldn’t, they couldn’t write, but they could talk about these topics and they could do video for those topics.

So finding people like that, I mean, put them on video, um, you know, use that video for your articles, but you have to have subject matter expertise for a lot of our sites. It’s, it’s an easy. Find that person that loves it and teach them how to write or help them write and really like hone in on those skills.

But yeah, it depends and then pulling in the experience and what I’m focusing on now is I mean after looking at the I don’t mean I don’t know how much I’m gonna put weight into it But looking at all the reddit in the SERPs, I think that and I’ve been thinking about this for a while I think that Google loves And I think audiences love to have a collection of opinions and have a collection of writers.

So some of your writers are going to have You know, expertise in one area or really be passionate about one video game, and that’s great. And some of your other writers are going to be passionate about something else. And I’m really trying to find ways for our writers to kind of connect their experiences together.

Um, and, and then again, like. A subject matter expert for me is someone that has the experiences. So we have a subscription box site. For example, we order, we buy, we test, we make all the recipes. Even our kitchen. One of our writers was like, I’m moving to a new house. I have one pot and one pan. I’m like, great.

That’s going to be a perfect article and perfect videos. Cause that’s really a real experience that we can share. Like, can you actually make these home? Um, Home delivery meal kits with one pot, one pan and, you know, your kitchen in boxes. Let’s try. So doing so. For me, experiences is really important part of that subject matter.

Jared: There’s so many different ways that people go about trying to aggregate and collect different facets of an article. Right. And again, I’ve heard you talk about them. So I wanted to kind of get your insight on why you guys landed where you did. You could break it all the way down to a very finite process where you have.

Someone doing an article brief preparing the article brief handing it to a writer Having someone who’s a skilled writer write it having someone who’s a subject matter expert provide input You know going back to you kind of said it best like I always give the plumber example Like it’s really hard to find a plumber who also knows how to write Like it is, you know Like plumbers are really good at what they do Which somewhat precludes them from being really good at writing about what they do not always but you could go the route of just having the plumber weigh in on the article that A writer wrote you guys have chosen to make subject matter experts the writer and kind of own the process own the article brief process Like why did you guys land that way?

I’d love to hear more from you on why that process made the most sense for you 

Amy: And I would say like there are like the plumber example is a great example because like their day job is in plumbing And so but we always seem to find somebody that can kind of that is in that world still But I think our entire process is Um, we hire freelancers, we hire part time people, we don’t like our deadlines for a lot of our evergreen stuff is two weeks or even a month if they need a month to go out and experience something and test something and do something that’s fine with us.

We’re not in a rush. So I feel like having those editorial processes really helps those part timers. Um, we had like a dentist site. We had a dentist writer. She. Like had her own practice. She did this during the day and she came and she just loved writing. So if you find those like white whales, like use them, they know a lot.

They can make your sites better. Um, some of the niches that are a little tougher, like automotive, surprising. There’s a lot of car writers, but are there a lot of actual mechanics? And then when I speak to the mechanics, they’re like, well, I need my mechanic stuff to actually talk about this stuff in a real way.

So those are some of the challenges. But we’ve really, I mean, I think we go into the niches where we can find those people that have those experiences now. And if not, yes, we can pull, we can pull in the experts and, and, you know, do the traditional way. But I feel like we’ve done away with the generalist, right?

The writers, because even if a writer is not a full fledged expert and is going to have to pull in some expertise, they need to speak that language. They need to talk like they need to talk shop. You need to understand. 

Jared: So going back to the Reddit stuff, that’s a lot of what Reddit pulls out is people talking shop.

You know, they, they have that. Whereas maybe a writer writing about something doesn’t. So that’s a good point. 

Amy: The land of opinions. And I think that point of view, those opinions are really needed. And I think it separates you from AI. I think it separates you from other publications. Um, and I think so even so generalist writers just.

Don’t fly anymore. 

Jared: Hmm. Okay. Um, Hey, so operationally, I want to ask you one more specific question, just like, what are the, like, help all of us who are not managing 160 sites, see what, like that org chart looks like, like, what are the important positions under operationally speaking, like maybe it’s, uh, the people that report to you, obviously we got a base of, of, of subject matter experts that are writing content.

We’ve got VAs you’ve talked about, we’ve got people to edit, we’ve got people to publish. But what other roles are there that you’ve found instrumental in scaling out these kinds of operations? 

Amy: So editorial is a really important role, and I think it’s becoming more important. And as we’re even looking at using AI for some, for certain parts of the content ops.

Um, editorial becomes even more important because there’s a lot of hallucinations in AI. It takes a expert in content to know what’s good, what’s not. So even if you are using that, and I think that there’s a lot of great use cases for using it, but, um, editorial was something that I struggled with over the years to be fair.

I, I’ve hired line editors. I’ve hired proofreaders. I’ve hired editorial from media. I’ve hired, I’ve hired, Um, people that just got out of school and I decided that, like, we needed developmental editing, but we needed people that could dig in more and understand what, like, What those EAT signals look like and willing to like push back and now my new favorite type of editor is one that has subject matter expertise as well because I think that that you can really can smell the fakeness and the inauthenticity and a mile away.

It’s really tough for me to edit. articles on, like, we have a RuneScape site. I don’t know much about RuneScape, so it’s, it’s a lot tougher. Yes, we have the SEO tools. I can put it through market views and see if it’s, if a writer has covered the topic, and we’ve always done that, but to have somebody that’s in that world, in that space, doing the edit, it’s just the, The golden goose.

So that’s really, and I’ve, I’ve gone through so much, so many different, like I said, types of editors. I ended up having to create an editorial training based on what we were looking for developmental edits, what we. So that’s, that rule is really important underneath me at Ventureforth Media. Our org chart is shifted a lot of the times.

We like to say choose your own adventure here. So I have an operations manager who’s really like my right hand, um, who manages the VAs. Who, um, does a lot of the day to day implementation. I brain dump on her and she’s like, takes and implements it. Like things that I used to do back in the day, she does for me.

So it’s really, really, it’s really fun. And she’s really bright and really, um, great at what she does. Um, the editorial, we are doing video. So we have a video editor and. Our video talent is our writers. We pull them out from behind their desks, whether they like it or not. And I mean, some of the nerdiest, most introverted people do really, really well on video.

It’s surprising. If they’re passionate about a subject and we give them a topic, they can ramble on. So. That’s 

Jared: cool. That’s fun. Boy, not only is it, uh, equivalent to finding a spouse, uh, at your company to start writing there, but you’re also thrown behind a camera. I mean, man, the gifts just keep on coming.

Amy: You put your hand up to do video. I’m going to put you on video. That’s great. 

Jared: Um, So 160 sites in are there anything is there anything you can share like any high level insights like on which sites the the needle moved and why on any trends on certain certain things that kind of tended to lead to success.

I’m just so curious with with that kind of repository of data even from just a high level overview like what have you learned? 

Amy: I mean, I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, um, in scaling content is like, really go slow to grow fast. So don’t be afraid to take that time to, I mean, when you’re building from zero to one, you do have that Google sandbox, like you’re building into the void.

And so you don’t really know what’s working until you actually. Get it out there and it’s really, really tempting to keep publishing and keep doing something, but there are times to just let a site kind of sit and that’s really nerve wracking, but I, like, I feel like that’s an operational. Theme of what we do overall, like when we’re testing new playbooks or figuring out new diversification strategy, sometimes it’s better to really go slow than to like jump in and try everything and be like, you know, excited little kids.

And for a long time, we had that energy in the company where it’s like, we’re scaling so fast, we’re hiring so much, we’re growing so, and. You know, we weren’t quite the startup breaking things, um, speed of things, but there was this like intense energy in the company. And now we’re at a place where it’s like, okay, let’s have a calm company.

Let’s make really rational, calm database decisions if we can. And That’s what I really learned. So even if you have your own site, I mean, I feel like that’s a really good approach. It feels if you were on SEO Twitter or you’re in this, or you listen to niche projects, you can feel like there’s so many people go like doing so many things.

And, and with AI, like they’re publishing thousands and thousands of pieces of content overnight, but really the ones that are here to stay are in it for the long game. And it’s, it’s a slow process sometimes. Yeah. It’s not, you know, an overnight success thing. 

Jared: I heard you mention video. What other things are you guys doing when it comes to building out websites that you’re adding to it?

Um, I mean, you know, I, I see in our notes we had, we had on the conversation to talk about email marketing, about community building. I mean, what other things are you guys doing beyond just producing a whole heck of a lot of content? You know, subject matter expert content when it comes to growing these, uh, these websites.

Amy: Well, really interested in email marketing and newsletters and email marketing, because I mean, when you have like, we have like 40 websites in the gaming sphere, you can, you know, share a list and share, and there’s a synergy that can happen between all of the different lists. You can go really niche on for one list, and there’s just so many possibilities.

So this year, A lot of time I have spent strategizing our email collection or email, setting up the systems. I’m literally the one signing up for MailerLite and ConvertKits and, um, as you can imagine, signing up for anything across 150 sites. Take is, is a process and really thinking through like, what 

Jared: does this say?

Who’s the affiliate link? Did you use to sign up for that? Boy, someone made out. If 

Amy: you like, if you’re, I mean, for the sites that we have no list building, I use mailer light. It’s free up to 1000. They have forms. It’s good enough, you know, to like, start gathering up those and then it becomes, okay, how are we going to like build these communities on some of our sites on one of our, um, Our indie game website.

We have, that’s our managing editor’s favorite site. He loves indie video games. He’s, you know, real expert. We have a podcast there. I let the team just, you know, create a fun podcast. Some of the podcasts are, you know, really long and really nerdy, but they, but you love it, but it’s building community. We have a Twitch.

Uh, we did, um, a campaign this year for our own indie game awards, where we collected some data and, and have people vote on. I think it was like 14 different categories and then they went on Twitch, um, the three of them and talked about all the winners and losers. And it’s really fun. I think we’ll do that campaign again next year.

And so when we have the talent, we will try all these things. You know, I think we want to, um, set up like a Patreon and have, you know, no ads and a membership for the, for those real diehard indie fans. That would be really fun to do. Um, some of the larger sites that we’ve grown, we’ve had when we hire a managing editor, this is the other person, the org chart that we’ve really discovered.

So someone that’s a real dedicated nerd and expert in their space, but can do something like a newsletter or some marketing campaigns or some social media campaigns or something to like grow the brand more. We’ve seen some great success with that. And that’s a really fun phase for me in the, when we get to that phase of the site, but even before that, when we start sites now, I feel like.

Unlike the old days, I feel like we have, we create a really clear content mission statement from the get go. We have the basic level of branding and we kind of know where we want to go. So when we get to that stage where we have a managing editor, it becomes clear, like who this person could be and who they should be to take that brand to the next level.

So, 

Jared: man, uh, podcast, Twitch, uh, email like that. That’s, that is really, I mean, that’s community building. Is it having. Tangible effects on these websites and their success, their traffic, their engagement, or is it more just doing the right thing long term and trying to make sure you’re investing long term in the project?

Like, I’m just curious what kind of effects it’s having, because it certainly has a lot of, um, it has, you know, you’re having to put a lot of time and energy into that, right? So what kind of effects is it having both tangibly and maybe just more on a long term 

Amy: basis? I think it has, we’ve seen the effects.

Like we grew one of our sites just because we started to have that energy from that one person that was not only creating great content and not SEO type content, like really expert driven content with a site that outside of like SEO keywords and a newsletter and a course and. So when we grew that site, it was, I feel like that energy that we had from that one person helped grow that site from like, I think it was like 200, 000 page views to, I think we were at 1.

500, 600, 000 page views per month in a really competitive niche, to be fair. Um, and so we’ve seen it have real significance. And real growth in the sites. For the newer sites, um, I think we do it because it’s the right thing to do. Because this is what, like, it’s better content overall. And we want to build those communities.

We want to build that audience. I would say before the helpful content update. These things were really working for us and I would be like, I would be much more confident to say, yes, this is exactly what you need to do for all your sites after helpful content update. Um, I feel like if it’s good for the audience, it’s good for readers.

It’s still worth doing. But of course, we can’t do these things for every website that we have. We have to pick and choose. 

Jared: Well, let’s wade into the helpful content update. I was waiting for you to mention it. I didn’t want to be the one to bring it up. But, um, you know, 

Amy: I feel that I mean, and when, like, when, um, it happened this year, I mean, you guys reached out to me.

Pretty soon after helpful content update and I wasn’t, I wasn’t a really good position in some ways because it was, we started to see the numbers go down an entire portfolio, except for maybe a few sites. And some sites went down 80%, some 30, some 40. Overall, it was a huge hit to our site. So if you’re out there in niche land, know that you’re not alone.

There’s a lot of us that have been doing this for years. That have waded through many, many Google updates before that. This is a different type of update for us in this field, in this world, in this industry. Um, but I had like to take, I had to take a beat, a personal beat. Cause I was like, what does this mean for everything?

Like everything that I hold true and dear and all of our processes, it makes you like, it just. The rug got pulled out from under us. I was like, do I even know what good content is? Um, and I had a few moments like that, but the interesting thing was about, I don’t know, I think it was like a week into the updates.

It was the rhodium event in Vegas where I’m getting to meet with all my, you know, nerdy SEO friends and you and me and you and have only been together in real life, two times we’ve worked together for eight years. So it was really exciting to see him. Part of me was like, does, is, what’s he going to say after this helpful content update in person?

Like, he’s like, we’re going to have so much fun and blah, blah, blah. But, you know, being able to talk shop with him and have some perspective and be like, you know, take our alums together and figure it out was really helped for my mindset because, you know, he’s been in the industry a little longer than me, um, seen a lot and, you know, he, he sees.

all the data in a different way. So when he could handle it and say, we’ve got this, we’re ready for this. It made me feel a lot better. Then I got started getting the messages from my team. So one of our, our largest portfolio, the 32, um, gaming websites, gaming as a vertical was hit really hard. I don’t know if you’ve been in the search lately, but they are a mess.

Um, it’s like Google said, 5 to 10 websites will not be hit and the rest of them will be. And the content, I would say, a lot of times in the top of the search isn’t as good, but it’s not just about content as we know. Um, we see a lot of Reddit, we see a lot of forums. And our managing editor there had seen so much growth.

I mean, he had for months and months, there was like double and double and double and double, and they were doing really well. And we were like, we’re figuring something out. And he’s a true expert in the space. This is the first time we’ve ever seen any drops in the sites. And so when I started getting messages from my team, they were like, what, what are we going to do?

It was like, okay, I’ve got to be there for them because they haven’t been through this. Like they haven’t been through this. They don’t know. Um, What’s going to happen. And so, yeah, and I was like, time to talk to my team about grit and what we’re going to do and what we’re going to focus on and what we have control over.

And it turns out we have a lot, we have a lot more control than what it felt like for those, that hot minute. 

Jared: Well, I mean, everyone has had different impacts from the helpful content update, but like you said, it certainly is one of the first updates in a while where. It really did affect probably the vast majority of people in some way, shape or form, and everyone’s navigating next steps, you know, in their own way.

And, you know, we, we’ve talked a lot about, you know, different aspects of the helpful content update here on the podcast. I’m curious again for a media company that owns a whole bunch of different sites. Like you said, like some hit really hard, some hardly hit at all, like navigationally talk. I think you mentioned steering the ships.

That’s a great analogy. I want to say like. Navigationally, what broad level changes or adaptations did you make from an helpful content update? And again, I’m asking because a lot of people are coming at their response based on what happened to their one site, right? So they’re going to have a response based on that specifically.

Um, and not that that’s bad, but I, I’m interested to learn where some, you and you and, and other people are strategically looking at this saying, okay, we got about 160 sites here. How do we? How do we decide where or what adjustments to make based on the data across all of those, you know, I’m curious. 

Amy: Well, the first thing we decide to do is wait, because until the updates are done, as we know, things can change and.

So we never panic and start like the leading post and optimizing things or changing a bunch of things. It’s like status quo publishing and doing all the things we do. Don’t change anything. Keep an eye on the data. Once we realized that HDU was like, this is it. These are the SERPs that we’re dealing with now.

This is the data that we’re looking for. We did the digging. It’s like looked at all the, like, which sites didn’t get hit, which sites. Um, did are there any silos of content that might have survived because it’s really was an anchor on the entire site. So to our, like, our usual evaluations of content, and if this content is good, or if this, if this, you know, cluster is good.

Kind of shifts a little bit because it’s an anchor weight, but really like some sites got pulled way down. Some sites got pulled like just a little bit. So that’s part of the prioritization. It’s like, okay, we see some growth. So we kept publishing new content. And it was for a while, it was like, if it’s getting indexed right away and it’s getting ranked in any meaningful way, we can double down on that because we still, there’s still like, there’s still growth that’s happening there.

And a lot of times with these new, with new topics, like a new video game or. Something fresh that hasn’t had time to settle in the SERPs yet. We see some growth in the, in the beginning. We have some posts that I’ve done in the last, you know, even the last month, like, you know, three, 4, 000 page views a month on a new, completely new topic and a new cluster.

And we build into clusters a lot because that I feel like that’s. It’s much more stable and we know we keep doing what we’re doing. So overall, as far as content, that’s how we’re kind of prioritizing. And it’s kind of a month to month right now where I have the master list. We go through, um, and we do the bullets, then cannonballs.

Approach that we’ve always done. So we’re like, oh, I’m starting to see some life on this birding site. So I think, you know, it’s coming back a little bit. I don’t know what’s happening, but can we do a few articles there? And can we see some daylight there? So that’s how we’re kind of allocating the overall, um, but there’s lots of data to go through.

And I’d say for the 1st. A week or two, I was just like in the SERPs and in the this and, and then I was like, no, I have a job to do. I have, I have things that actually need to get done. We’re still growing our email list. We’re still growing our communities. We still have campaigns to fulfill. Ewan is in the data every day.

He can make some of those decisions. Portfolio wide. I don’t need to sit here and dwell, dwell every single day on little ups and downs and, and then it’s like, gee, for some of the data is like not coming in right. And we’ve just been through so much this year where it’s like the indexing issues and. And stuff is like, I don’t have time to be in it and to dwell in it all that time.

Like when you really, there’s no HCE recoveries right now. There were sites that didn’t get the anchor, so we can look at those for clues. But even that, like I’ve listened to your analysis, really smart, really clever, follow all my favorite SEOs. Um, we’re just guessing right now. We really are. And I feel like.

Google’s not done yet. I feel like there are things happening. I feel like they underestimated the niche community’s role in the, in the SERPs and in content. I feel like there, there could be a shift. So, and it takes time to get out of the penalty box, even if we’re doing all the right things. So 

Jared: wise approaches, certainly, you know, like you said, I think you said it best.

Like there really is no. Clear cut path for recovery yet from the HCU and and so, you know, waiting from a large scale level while not just sitting your hands has a lot of logic to it. So, um, I guess that dovetails nicely into, you know, as we start to come to a close here, a question, which is what is next?

For you guys in terms of the roadmap, whether HCU affected that roadmap drastically or not, like what is the plan? You know, a hundred, I don’t even know how many sites you have right now. Like, have you sold any, are you going to sell some, are you growing them to a target sell, et cetera? 

Amy: We did sell a couple, like, I think three, a couple of larger sites, which when you went first told me that we were going to sell these sites.

It was, you know, my ego is kind of like, Oh, cause there’s so many more things we could do with these sites. And as somebody who loves this and loves thinking of new ways to grow sites and hiring people and building teams, it was like, Oh, there’s so many things we didn’t get a chance to do, but obviously what made them attractive.

For, to us as made them attractive to buyers. So, I mean, and you really do get attached to these sites. Like over the years, one of them was, um, like a baby and baby site. And we’d started it when you and started having kids and I had a little one and my little guy’s pictures were on that site. And I was like, this is like, becomes really personal.

And our writers are like sharing their, when they have babies and they’re sharing. They’re setting up cribs and, you know, testing crib sheets. And I get to see all their babies and all their children growing up. And these are, they’re like, this is what, this is what it’s like to be part of it. So selling the sites was, you know, a little tough, but actually really smart for what we do.

Because, I mean. As far as like you in and allocating our funds and setting us up for a year where we still don’t know what’s happening with S. G. We were thinking that’s going to be a 40 percent drop. It turned out that H2U was like that. So we were really prepared as a company where I don’t have to lay anybody else off.

We can still keep status quo. We can still keep growing and, and really doing the things I’m going to do. So the future of Enterforth Media. Looks really good. I feel like my perspective is that we just, you know, we kind of lost a few months of growth and we’re kind of like, it’s no, we’re not dead. Um.

Because we have a portfolio, even the sites that got really demolished, there’s some that didn’t get as demolished and that are still growing. We’re starting to see some shifts as we, you know, publish more content and do our thing. Um, and we’re seeing our list growth, so that’s really exciting. We’re actually, you know, even on, even with some of the smaller traffic sites, we’re still growing lists.

So we’re doing all the right things. I think there was like, you know, a lot of. Um, opportunity for us in, you know, in this industry still, I still am really like a passionate fan. I still love it. I still think there’s lots of room to grow the deliverability of how, and how we, where we put content out might shift, might change.

Um, but I’ve been around, like, I mean. I used to read magazines back in the day and subscribe to all the music, like British pop music magazines. And I had tons of them. I never missed them. And then all of a sudden it’s digital. And then all of a sudden it’s this and it’s YouTube and video. And I have a 12 year old and the way he consumes content is so different than when I was 12.

So things will shift in this world and, and blogging might look different in three years. It’s already shifting. And so can we keep creating good content? Can we build audiences? Can we find those like, you know, super fans and geeks and nerds like us? Yeah, I think we still can. I think there’s still room.

Jared: Healthy perspective. There’s a lot going on. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head where you have to have that perspective of change is what is it? There’s a quote. The only thing, uh, that, you know, I can promise is change, right? Somebody said that one time, you know, that certainly seems to be the right mindset to whether.

The storms of, uh, 2023 and onward into 2024. Um, man, Amy, there’s a lot more we could talk about, but, um, I think probably a good pausing point and, um, really insightful to have just your perspectives on a lot of us are, um, many people listening are focused on one or two or three projects and not 160 of them.

So it’s super, um, intellectual. Super, uh, interesting also, but super interesting to get your thoughts on everything from hiring to, uh, processes to, to, to scale. And then obviously a lot of the updates and changes we’ve seen this year. Thank you for coming on the podcast. 

Amy: Thank you for having me. This has been so much fun and I can ramble on about this stuff all day.

It’s, it’s really fun. And this, like this job and this industry did not. Exist when I was in university and when I was in high school and I was growing up, I could never imagine that this is where I would land and this is where I’d be. And I get to work with like the best team, a bunch of like creative misfits.

It’s really, really a privilege. And I, I remind myself that on the tough days. You know, when things happen and the shifts happen in 10 Google updates this year already. So, yeah, 

Jared: we’ve, uh, you know, Spencer and I started doing a weekly news podcast with the news in this industry. And I think this year has been the best year.

To start it because of how much news there is every 

Amy: week. You guys start off, we have some big news, big news. 

Jared: We’re like, we’re really not trying to just say that.

Um, Hey, you’re pretty active, uh, on, you know, uh, in the community and whatnot. Uh, tell us where we can follow along. Does venture forth have a website? Like where can we, uh, where can people 

Amy: say you can follow us on venture worth media and like learn our values and get our job board. We post like active jobs only on there.

Uh, I have a, a content marketing newsletter that I, it’s kind of a passion project and it’s, it’s been really fun for me. It’s kept me on top of, you know, the trends and SEO, what’s happening. It’s, um, I publish it weekly, weekly ish, I’d say, like, I, you know, missed a week or two, but it’s pretty consistent. Um, it’s called Content Forward.

You can find the link on my LinkedIn, on Content Forward, um, the Content Forward website. And Then if you need help hiring, um, a content team, we do have a service, content teams, where we do the recruiting for you. We give some great candidates. We do the interview. We do all the things that we do. And even for editorial, we’ll train the editorial staff before we present them to you.

So I think it’s a really great way if you want to, and then we hand them off and you get to manage them and use them and do whatever you want with the writers or the content. Um, it’s really fun for us because as we’re still, you know, we’re still, we still are hiring writers and editors just to find those great, that talent it’s, you know, it takes time and we love doing it.

So, well, great. 

Jared: Well, thank you, Amy, for coming on. Really appreciate you being here and best of luck in 2024 and beyond with everything you have on your plate. Thank 

Amy: you. I’m really, I am really excited. And, um, thanks for having me on here. This has been such a thrill and, um, a big milestone in my life. 

Jared: Well, we’ll catch up with you again soon.

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