Hey entrepreneurs and digital gurus! Startup Radius interviewed INK – a web content optimization platform. This is the ultimate tool for writers and content marketers who want to be one step ahead of their competition. You know what’s the best part about INK? No, it’s not the artificial intelligence behind the platform, and even not the real-time optimization. INK is available completely for Free! How awesome is that?
Read below to learn more how INK is built, what technologies are used, why user experience is so important, how they got to Product of The Day on Product Hunt, how they measure all of their marketing channels, and much more. Enjoy!
Can you tell us about what you are working on? What is INK?
Ink is a first of its kind content performance optimization platform. Think of it as Grammarly for SEO. It’s a new concept because unlike other tools, INK researches the competition in real-time. It understands the model of what makes users engage with content that ranks highly in the search engines. As you write, INK then compares what you’re working on to similar, top-ranking content online. In this way, INK gives you targeted and poignant advice that is always tailored to the key phrase that you’re targeting.
Why are you building this? Was there a particular source of inspiration or money-making idea?
Over the last three years, we built a wildly successful enterprise SEO company, working with some of the biggest brands in the US. We consistently found that all the agencies as well as companies and their content teams are really good at writing in their brand language but less on how to optimize that same content so that it performs well in Google. Essentially, they were working extremely hard and turning out amazing content that their target audience wasn’t seeing. They were putting immense resources into marketing that wasn’t visible.
On the money-making aspect — in the short-term, we want to get INK in front of as many freelance and content writers as possible because they need it and because they deserve it. Their hours and hours of work deserve to be seen. We want to become the Photoshop of web content. We want INK to be available for everybody and we want it to be awesome. In the long run, we want those writers to take INK to their businesses like the agencies and content teams we worked with and integrate it into those enterprise content creation processes and strategies. Hence, we want to add features that make sense for businesses but also to continue to make our free product better.
Time for bragging! How big you are – traffic, users, anything else?
We had INK in private Beta for six months. During that time, we had several hundred hand-picked users: we shared only with the people who we knew were able to give us a lot of feedback. We worked with an entire spectrum of content writers, from mom bloggers to e-commerce writers and enterprise.
This product is a pent up demand — when our PR consultant, Sarah Evans, sent one vague tweet about it, she received about 400 DM’s from people wanting to get their hands on it. We had a hunch that writers and marketers were frustrated by how fragmented current offerings are, that they needed this, and this only confirmed it. There really wasn’t any one, single tool available that could do it all like INK can now.
We just launched on Product Hunt, where we held a steady #1 spot all day. The response has been nothing short of breathtaking and we’re signing on thousands of users in our first days in the open. The out-pour of positive feedback and thank you messages coming in has not stopped. We’re incredibly humbled.
Who are your main competitors, and how good/bad they are?
Our main competitors are Google Docs and Microsoft Word. People are used to going there to write and then copy-paste somewhere else. Writers are just used to having to rely on several different tools and sacrificing the time to do so just to take an article from start to finish. Eliminating that source of frustration and helping streamline that process was one of our main objectives in creating INK.
Other competitors are Yoast and Hemingway. These tools and others are rule-based so they will always give you the same rules to follow. We know that this no longer works because each Google search is wildly different and the information that people crave is as diverse as ever. These tools don’t analyze each piece of content in real-time as you write and compare your unique work and style to the competition. They work in a pre-prescribed box without considering the competition. INK works by comparing your work to the competition and then comes back with personalized suggestions on how to help your content knock the competition out. These other tools can provide general guidelines and are great for academic or creative writing. But it really doesn’t make sense to write your article anywhere else but INK if your goal is to perform on the web.
Who uses INK? What is your perfect buyer persona?
At this time, we don’t really think of ourselves as having a “buyer persona” per se because INK is free. Our hope is that if you write content for the web, you write in INK just like if you edit a picture, you edit in Photoshop. Or, just like you make a holiday card for your grandma, you make it in Microsoft Word. I hope INK will become synonymous with creating content for the web. We want to reach the web content writer. And more specifically, a web content writer who cares about getting their content found in Google. We noticed that this includes a spectrum of different types of sites from small blogs to company blogs to product websites all the way to enterprise websites.
With that said, we are going to create an enterprise version and our perfect buyer person is going to be the content marketing manager or VP of marketing who will actually insist that their team users our software because their entire job is to justify the spend on content marketing within their organization. Our goal for INK Enterprise will be to create the tools that these leaders can use to show the ROI and the performance of their content and also really show how they can make the best possible content for their site.
Were there any early ‘growth hacks’ or tactics that have contributed to your current success?
We’re a company that is full of innovation, that thrives on innovation. We deeply understand the web and intimately understand how it works. We deeply and intimately understand user psychology and we really care about targeting users in a way in which we can add serious value. That we have the right type of messaging that resonates with users.
We have had fantastic social media networking success, specifically on Product Hunt, and our press agent Sarah Evans has been phenomenal. We have spent months refining our product in beta, more than half a year, and in that same time, we consistently networked. So, when our Product Hunt launch came around, our users have been our greatest advocates.
So, if there’s one thing that I can share, it’s that our users love INK and if you create a product that truly solves a problem and you give people an experience that they truly love, they will share. They will spread the word for you and spread the news and help you in any way they can because you were able to provide genuine value. This is also the same difference between paid and organic search: dangling a shiny object will work once, but only once if it doesn’t provide that value. Organic may take longer, but it will continue to deliver immense returns in the long-run, and we’re living proof of that not just for search success but also for our user support.
What were some of the biggest challenges while building INK early on and how did you solve them?
Biggest challenges? There were a few. The way we solved these challenges was to contemplate the ideal, listen to our users, and iterate until we achieved that ideal. The first one was to understand how the heck Google ranks content. We had to relentlessly experiment and isolate all the variables and we were able to run dozens and dozens of content experiments to conceptually even begin to have an idea of the things that matter. Second, was turning that insight and those lessons-learned into a proven process that we could apply for our clients and also measuring what worked better. Then, be able to pivot and adjust.
Then, the next challenge was turning that proven process into a technology. And, when designing such technology, you are dealing with true semantic artificial intelligence and the meaning of words and text. You have to design this at search engine scale. In other words, a search engine cannot afford to spend 5 minutes analyzing your site to make up its mind about what you mean. This has to all be done in nanoseconds or milliseconds. It has to be near-instant. Imagine trillions of websites being scanned by Google and Google needs to come up with a definite opinion on all of them. So, we couldn’t come to the table with an AI solution that takes 5 minutes or more to process one page. That just wouldn’t work. We had to come to the table with a design that could be very fast and very effective but very clever. That’s definitely a big challenge. Related to this is the fact that “off-the-shelf” AIs just didn’t make the cut. You can’t build a product like INK using off-the-shelf AI products. We had to design this from the ground up. Very early on we had a discussion asking ourselves if we would create an enterprise version and charge for it or would we make this free? And very early on, we decided that we wanted to make INK free. To think of a way to approach that goal in a way that is not going to bankrupt you and how to make it so efficient that it would be possible to offer it for free AND scale, that was probably the biggest challenge.
We also had design challenges around INK. We have always, always obsessed about User Experience, and it’s definitely been something we’ve taken an incredible amount of time to refine. The way that we solved this challenge is quite interesting. We used Plato’s Concept of Beauty and his meditations on forms. The way that works is whenever you have to code something or design something, you pause and contemplate “beauty”. “Beauty” here is ephemeral and subjective, you can’t capture it or contain it fully. It represents an ideal that we can only really imagine or contemplate (like the universe). In this way, we asked our developers, our marketing team, the designers, everyone to imagine the ideal, the most beautiful, elegant, and efficient way to design or code this. What is the ideal possible solution? We sat back and thought about this, drew conclusions and designed things that matched that ideal concept of beauty for INK. There were many times where we would review our designs and code and respond to one with this picture of Platonic Forms and what it means in the context of our work. We would say “I don’t think this is beautiful enough” meaning “ideal” for our users. Interestingly, the final stage in this platonic concept is that if you create beautiful things, other people will imitate them, like that old adage “imitation is the highest form of flattery”. And that is the greatest proof that you’re doing something right.
If you could give marketing advice to other companies, what could it be based on your experience?
The first thing would be to create a beautiful (and useful) product that truly solves a customer need. You need to know who those people are. If you do that, then your audience won’t be able to resist sharing with others.
Because we insisted on having all of the above from the outset of building INK, our marketing has been so fluid and almost effortless. We just have to find users with that problem and convey that we understand that problem and have the solution. We’re finding that users are happy even to just hear the problem clearly stated. It means that we can identify and we understand. The interactions were something like: Think of this: Grammarly for SEO! Think if that existed! Oh, wow! It does exist! I’ve got to check that out! In this way, it is the easiest marketing pitch you can imagine.
Which marketing channels you prefer and why?
It is still early on, but I can tell you about some of what we’ve built. We’ve built a backend with a marketing funnel automation. Our goal is to measure the efficiency of every channel, campaign, and messaging across all of our marketing channels. So we have that dashboard, analytics, and custom solution that we built on the backend to help us understand and evaluate how we are performing. The marketing channels that work best are the ones where the users that have the problem we want to solve tend to hang out. The second best platforms are the ones where most people are in general and you rely on tools to target potentially interested users directly (engines like Facebook, etc). But those are really secondary.
The best channels are the most relevant. If you have a product for writers, you need to be where the writers are. That said, Product Hunt has been amazing for us to get the word out. Honestly, when people find out about INK, they want INK. So, our marketing strategy, at this stage, is to let as many people know as possible that INK exists. Any growth hacking strategies are geared toward that purpose. For example, if you use Yoast or Hemingway or Grammarly right now, you deserve to know that INK exists because we know it will benefit you. If you are using these tools, you probably care about writing, and if you care about writing, you probably care that your content performs well and is visible to your audience.
Is INK monetized? Why did you choose the current monetization method?
No, Ink is not monetized right now. We chose this strategy because we believe that content writers have some difficulty and frustration around monetizing their work or proving the efficient ROI of their work in terms of organic performance.
In our experience, this anecdote is very true: go to any company and you’ll notice that their paid media budgets are 10 times higher or more than their organic budgets. The question is why? There is a reason for this, this is a free market. Is it because organic traffic is worth 10 times less than paid media? No. Is it because paid media, dollar for dollar, brings in more visitors? Not that, either. It’s actually the other way around! So, if a company would cancel all of their paid media and focus those resources exclusively on organic, they would likely get better long-term results. But, there are two main reasons why organizations and individuals often opt for paid media. The first is that it is instant results. Patience is underrated in today’s world. The second reason is proven ROI. Paid media gives you exactly what you put into it. It’s input-output, and there is data all around this method. Ask any SEO agency how they show true ROI to their clients, and it’s a very difficult thing to do.
We want to change that. We want to make it straight forward for businesses to understand how well their content departments are doing and how much their investment in content is bringing in over time. If we achieve this mission and help show how INK is helping achieve more ROI, we believe that, combined with their writers who already use and love INK, we are going to have a lot of fun talking to enterprise with our upcoming enterprise version of INK.
What are the top products/services you use in your company and why do you like them?
- Amazon Web Services & Lambda – It allows us to have almost no server costs when usage is low and scale very affordably when usage is high without having to maintain as many servers consistently. I cannot imagine how much time, money, and effort that these technologies have saved us.
- Electron – It does have its downsides, but the upsides have been phenomenal. Specifically, we can deploy on a single code base across multiple platforms and develop with the very best web technologies that allow us to create fantastic User Experiences.
- Google Suite – It has been phenomenal for collaboration for us.
- Lucidchart – To create wireframes, user flows, logic flows, and just to help visualize what we’re thinking.
- Intercom – We were able to create a pretty sophisticated chatbot in half a day for our site and 8% of our visitors are talking to us. This allows to have fantastic conversations with our visitors and really get to know them.
- BuzzSumo – Allows us to stay on top of what’s happening and also is a great way to see when someone writes about us. We love to send them a thank you message which then creates a warm relationship likely to lead to future opportunities. At times, we’re able to repay the favor and include them in our mentions and shoutouts. We always appreciate the coverage.
You may wonder why I haven’t mentioned CRM or anything like that. This is because we have our user data from our application and we prefer to keep that data inhouse to be better able to protect our users’ privacy and security. It also allows us to more deeply integrate the User Experience and provide better custom and personalized experiences.