Meet Bernard Huang from Clearscope

Bernard Huang from Clearscope

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We got a chance to interview Bernard Huang, Co-founder at Clearscope, a market leader in Content Optimization.

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Awesome. Hey, Bernard, thank you again for agreeing to chat with me.

I appreciate it. And I think the name of the game is exactly what you said.

You’ve got a really cool SaaS that I can’t claim expertise in. My background I will share briefly at one point. But for starters, as soon as you and I connected I started to hear about Clearscope, how you’re like saving content teams and the SEOs orchestrating things huge headaches.

Anybody working in content knows there’s room for miscommunication let’s say and like misalignment on strategy. So I’d love to dive into your SEO philosophy or maybe your cofounder kind of how Clearscope enables like-minded SEOs. But I guess first, if you’re willing, just kind of explain to us in your words where you’re at and what Clearscope is about.

Yeah. No, thanks for having me, Greg. So brief bit of background on myself.

I joined a YC back startup known as 42Floors. It was like seven, eight years ago at this point. For those of you that are likely unaware of 42Floors, it was like Zillow except for office space.

So as their director of growth, I was tasked with the ability – or tasked with the responsibility to bring in as much traffic as possible, and they gave me basically a blank credit card and said figure it out. And so I dabbled with a lot of different growth channels.

You had Quora at the time which is big in answering questions and Facebook ads, like thin ads, Twitter ads, Google ads, Google search. And it just made a lot of sense that we should double down, triple down on SEO at the time.

So that’s where I got really my hands and feet wet about what was happening.

Long story very short, this is 2013, 2014, I stumbled upon this concept of private blog networks and link building and buying links to point to your money sites.

One of my buddies that I got introduced to ran one of the biggest link-building networks at the time, and he was like let me tell you the secret about SEO.

Everyone just buys links, a lot of them through our network, and we just sell them to you wholesale straight because we sell them to a lot of agencies who then mark it up and sell it to their clients.

And I was like all right. This seems like it’s worth a shot, bought a bunch of links, saw our numbers skyrocket until they got caught because they were getting greedy, and then saw all of our numbers disappear through a manual link spam.

Since then I have gone white hat and really then turned into like a consulting agency. So we then did a lot of consulting for companies like Door Dash, T-Springs, Strava,, and that’s where I got a much more holistic understanding of what was happening search where –

Is that Mushi?

That was Mushi Labs. So that was our background. We got started as this SEO agency, and we focused on large website SEO.

Basically, you needed 50,000 or more URLs. You can imagine if you take data in the database and it’s like city multiplied by cuisine, and now you have Chinese food delivery in Los Angeles. Then you have pizza delivery in Austin.

It’s like okay millions of pages are built. And so that’s like what we focused on. And the consistent theme was that websites that had a lot of authority but thin content didn’t do well, and the Home Advisors of the world and the Yelp and the Trip Advisor, they would consistently do well because they had content flywheels that enabled their pages to be rich and actually compelling.

And so we then went down this like rabbit hole of well yeah at the end of the day the user or searcher is looking for content, and people would ask us well how do you know that the content that you produced or are producing is good?

And so we then were doing some work with AlchemyAPI, natural language processing to programmatically build pages, and then we were like wait we could do the same thing except flip it and offer guidance to people who are creating content and that shaped what Clearscope is which we launched in 2016.

And still a world back then when people were like content quality, no, no, no. Let me tell you about links and page load speeds and technical SEO and the like. Well that all just helps the user get to the content which then is what the user wants.

So that’s kind of the story.

Well, you made me want to laugh. I was holding it in because I didn’t want to interrupt, but we were what I always call a mid-tier content agency, right.

And what I mean is we lacked the strategy. We couldn’t orchestrate strategy. We could execute. We executed well for a lot of clients, but the agency ultimately failed for us personally.

Everyone else got paid except us I always say because we didn’t have that layer of strategy. And I think had we known about Clearscope in 2016 you could have saved our butts. But here we are today.

I can’t complain at this point. So I’m curious as someone who has like thought this through more than we were capable. You know, at the time it seemed like we were trying to strike a balance between – everybody talked back then about keyword stuffing, and I think to some extent still do at certain tiers of content production.

And then frankly some projects being completely uninformed by keywords at the time. We did a rather infamously to us a 4,000-page project for Groupon in which there were no keywords involved from the people we got directives from.

So you know, we pumped this content out. We hit our snags in the project, but we came in on deadline and everything looked good and we were proud of it. But in hindsight, it’s like dang they really should have invested in just giving us a couple of pairs of keywords at least for each of those pages.


So it was good, but I’m curious. You take it further, not to let me talk. You talked about content relevance and why you like pairing it with search intent.

And in my words it’s critical, and maybe you could finesse that. Or I’m kind of just looking for your take on what content relevance is.

Yeah. So there’s a lot of different ideas floating around, a lot of it I would say is from what used to work, right.

And so SEO is fundamentally a fascinating industry in the sense that what was working eight years ago, links and technical SEO, is way different than what is working currently.

And so a lot of people who have been very deep in the SEO industry start to see fundamental shifts happening, and I would say that the I guess advantage of being in the agency world is that you get to touch a lot of different web properties across a lot of different industries and you’re able to synthesize and learn from a lot of those different factors that happen faster.

So the idea of content relevance, I’m just going to share with you my screen right here, is probably best –

Yeah. Thank you, Bernard.

– boiled down by like just looking at a search or a couple of different searches, right. So one, there’s this idea of searcher intent which has been –

I have to interrupt.

Yeah. Go ahead.

Knowing what you know, being who you are, do you always search incognito?


Is Google your default platform?

Yes, yes.

Thanks. I had to ask.

Of course. I mean you got to not be personalized. And I found that even if you are – you toggle off the setting where in your personal Google you’re like don’t serve me personalized results, and they still come out personalized, so.

Or it’s very –


– it’s very much a – I don’t have the proper lingo for it, but it’s something I’m puzzling over knowing what I know, still being a consumer. I’m trying to understand is it worth exploring other search engines, things like that. I don’t know. So anyway, the internet –

Well yeah. No, no. I mean as that aside, I have tested some other search engines, and they all pretty much pale –


– very in comparison to Google. So Google has this monopoly on search. But all right. So let’s –

Thank you.

– talk about content relevance. I think content relevance can be broken out into three distinct ideas.

Number one is going to be searcher intent, number two is going to be content experience, and number three is going to be above the fold relevance. So let’s talk about each one of those.

Different searches are going to deserve different criteria depending on what the user is going to care about. So first, let’s address kind of this idea of searcher intent. If I were to search for say bone broth as an example, the classical way of approaching this as an idea would be, okay, let us design the ultimate guide to bone broth or what is bone broth, bone broth 101, all of that stuff because that would target this particular keyword.

Well you’ll notice of course that Google’s search engine results page is trying to be like the answer itself, and they’re going to say, oh look, you might want some recipes or perhaps you might want to know some recipes, how to make it or reasons why you should, benefits, how to make it, the ultimate guide, popular products, how to make it with an Instant Pot, another recipe specifically calling out slow cooker, the top benefits, maybe some more benefits, don’t relieve joint pain, how to make it, beef bone broth recipe, best ones that you can buy off the shelf.

Now a lot of people would take a look at that and – or maybe they wouldn’t take a look at this and that’s kind of fundamentally the biggest problem that we see.

So bone broth again is a topic and what you can see precisely here is that the user is specifically caring about subtopics within bone broth. So if I were to perform another search over here on the right, also in incognito so no personalization – whoa, no list.

Okay. So you’ll see here that this Medical News Today one is the same Medical News Today as what you saw right here. So bone broth benefits, bone broth benefits. We see this Healthline. This one is going to be exactly the same one as what you see over here, how to make it and reasons why you should, how to make it and the reasons why you should.

But we managed to skip the popular products and the people also ask. Oh, nope.

Yes. And the recipe, right. And so basically then what we’re seeing here is that – and you can see if I click on this Google when you perform searches will autocomplete suggested recommendations. We look at those as high probability subsequent searches that the user is likely to perform. And so –

And of course, there are plugins that will go ahead and give you traffic estimates and things like that.

Yes, yes. And so as you can imagine in SEO or content strategists, a content writer, if you’re being assigned to write about bone broth, then that’s a pretty wide, broad topic.

What specifically about bone broth is the user likely to care about?

You can see here Google is saying it’s probably that they want to know how to make it or reasons why you should. And what we’re seeing then happen is that Google is specifically taking out the winners of these different subtopics like this Nourished Kitchen and having it rank over here on the left like that, right.

So the winner of how to make bone broth or bone broth recipe becomes rank number two for the topic of bone broth. You can imagine though one level deeper if I’m going to do this and I’m like, okay, well let’s take a look at this. Well, you saw that, right.

Like beef bone broth recipe, slow cooker and Instant Pot, and those look really familiar because Instant Pot, slow cooker, and then you can see here beef like that.

This is why you do what you do, Bernard. I did not take it to the second level either.

Right. So the third level or second level or whatever beef bone broth recipe, guess what. You have number one right here is Epicurious.

We see that Epicurious is number three over here. You’ll see it right over here as number nine like that. And then you’ll see here similarly if I did slow cooker, you’re going to see that Platings and Pairings number one.

You’re going to see it number three or four over here. And then you’re going to see it right over here like this. So this is then the end path in my framing now of how SEO works, right.

You can imagine somebody – people were performing searches for bone broth except when Google gave that set of search results back then it didn’t talk about slow cooker or it didn’t talk about how to make. So you could imagine then that what did the user have to do?

They had to go back to Google and re-perform the search. They then got this, right. And then they clicked on this and the large majority of people were finding what they needed. So you then saw that result graduate and it’s the head topic. However –

And this is like early days users would pride themselves on knowing how to construct proper search strings, right. Like I myself –


– would be like you got to use pluses. Come on now, like educating fellow search uses. Like you had to manipulate the search engine a little bit as a –

You needed to know how to search to get more accurate results. Absolutely.

Arguably today you still need to know-how. It’s just for other reasons.

Yes, yes. And then, yeah, one step further, right, was that okay well a nontrivial amount of people who did this search for how to make or recipe weren’t getting the for slow cooker, and therefore now you’re seeing that third level or second level be swept into the subtopic, be swept into the head topic.

So this would be point number one, like searcher intent.

When somebody types in a string it’s a topic that they’re searching for and what specifically is the question that is most popular that they’re likely to care about and then understanding that and serving them or creating content to address that particular question is why people are trying to answer these “people also ask” because people are also querying Google for those, and therefore should you be able to serve that answer then people aren’t having to go back and re-query Google less frequently which means that your content result must be better than another result that Google sent the user to where they had to go back to Google and click on another result or perform an additional search.

Bernard, a lot of this seems very complex. To me, it actually seems empowering for the smaller outfit because you were earlier talking about I forget the number you said, 5,000, 50,000 URLs.


When you get this niche it then my next question for you is going to be – and I think I already know the answer – how does this playout for the single-person affiliate business owner let’s say or the smaller company with the smaller content and SEO team? And that feels almost like there’s more –

It’s good.

– wiggle room for you. You can find those niches where you can outperform even a large corporation because –


– they look at your website and you rightfully are proud of all the enterprise-level companies that use your software and I think could be reassuring to know. At least that’s my take away from it is –

That’s exactly it. You can see here where to eat the best lunch in Austin, The Infatuation, a Taste of Koko, Thrillist –


– and Trip Advisor.

And Trip Advisor.

Eater, Eater. And where’s Yelp, right? Yelp is all the way down here. So what –

Number eight or seven. Yeah, wow.

Yeah. What we’re seeing is like the onset of quality content outperforming your big enterprise outfits because quality – like I’m not going to say – the smaller people oftentimes have a lot more domain expertise –


– and subject matter expertise, and they put in a lot more effort –


– into their pieces, right. These –

I mean, look, that might have been her that first –


– like the –

Yeah. She’s actually one of our customers.

I didn’t know –

A Taste – that’s Koko.

– that she was ranking. Koko does have taste. Look at her backdrop and everything.

Yes. Of course, of course, yes. So yeah. We’re seeing it happen where organizations that are dropping the ball on content are simply getting punished because their content you can imagine is less engaging, is doing a less great job at serving the needs of the user, so guess what happens, right.

People in the past likely clicked on a bunch of Yelp stuff and then they’re like this is just the same regurgitated four-star, four-and-a-half star thing that I’m seeing everywhere. I want some unique insights.

And then they would go and perhaps this in the past was say all the way down here, and they go and they click on that.

And then they read it, they spend a lot of time on it, bounce less frequently, right. That’s why you see or hear those metrics being thrown around.

And then they close out of Google, right. They’re like, okay, good. I found what I needed. Then what we’re seeing is like Google says oh that’s interesting.

Well, what if I tried that as position two or three and then pushed Yelp down? What percentage of people are concluding their search journey of like finding what they needed? So that’s essentially what we’re seeing happen.

That might have been the best time to ask you. Where do you see content strategy in terms of is it against or complementary to PPC, organic social, paid social? And there’s all different kinds of co-marketing.


I’m not sure if you have insight into your own user base or maybe we just dive into you personally like what your feelings on them are. And I haven’t analyzed what you all do for your own brand.

Yeah. No, it’s a good question. So I like to bring this up as the example, like the keyed example here. Google app accelerated mobile pages, people hate it, right. And okay. Yeah. It’s fallen a little bit.

I don’t hate it. I just have put my head in the sand. That’s all.

Yes. I know, right.

But this fluctuates between being ranked number one in sometimes and like outranking AMP itself on Google and that’s to say that this I believe is a very strong representation of SEO moving forward which is to say that thought leadership, subject matter expertise I think is the future of SEO because people don’t want to know eight things you Want to know About Google AMP or what it is.

They want to know a unique perspective that you are qualified to talk about as –

Maybe experience data, maybe experience match –

Yes, exactly.

– or whatever that –

And they want to know okay well I’m evaluating whether or not I should use it. This one seems very interesting, right.

Why is it talking about this and what does it have to say, right? And so they’re coming here and they’re reading it and they’re getting a perspective that they wanted to get, and you could only know that if you really dug your – put your head in the sand trying to implement AMP and know that it’s a complete crap shoot of an experience and it sucks and the benefits that you get from it are marginal at best unless you’re a publisher in which case okay kind of makes some amount of sense.

But if you’re doing it because you’re a local business, don’t do it, right. And that’s like what essentially this piece of content was talking about, lots of comments, that kind of stuff.

So that’s to say that I see the future of – to answer your question – is more in alignment with a lot of the kinds of content that we want to produce naturally as brands, as people or influencers, right.

I want to talk about how classical keyword research is dying as a concept except for very broad, high-level like informational queries that people are going to make like what is search engine optimization.

It’s like, okay, here is that piece of content on what is SEO. But if somebody’s searching search engine optimization, I could imagine a world in the future where it’s that as a concept.

People are going to be saying okay what about voice search engine optimization or search engine optimization is dying.

Here is what to do instead. And they’re offering the person, the user who’s performing the search different perspectives that they could care about within this particular topic, which as you saw with bone broth is how you should think about it. It’s bone broth is a topic.

The search engine optimization is the topic and topics change over time based on society’s view of that topic. So SEO might be dead, it might be sexy or bone broth might be trendy in which case you’ll see this piece of content which I’ve seen when it was trendy was like bone broth is all the rage.

Does it really help, right? And that was because at the time it was all the rage and that made sense that people would want to click on that. So I would say that social content, SEO content, thought leadership content the way that I see it as actually all blending together.

Well great. I’m glad we can create some content together today. It’s exactly what we have in mind with this at Jolly selfishly, right.


Right. And Sorcery, our upcoming SaaS tool, right. Like people think the thought leadership space is overplayed. I beg to differ.

I think that if we can create some – look at you screen-sharing and like create some valuable insights and interesting tidbits, maybe we capture some of those different user intents so to speak on –

Exactly. And there’s like the potential emerging ones that nobody is currently talking about.

And maybe one day as you would with the website of old, you go through your old interviews and you snip out the parts that are no longer receiving interest, right, and you just keep to the core bits that were really interesting and –

Totally, totally. So I mean in the same way that you’re doing these interviews and whatever, that is the strategy that we are going to be employing at Clearscope.


And I view that as how to deal SEO moving forward rather than how to approach classical SEO moving backwards, which okay in certain industries we call that affiliate marketers like Investopedia where it’s literally tried to just answer all of these different concepts surrounding personal finance. You have to do classical SEO in the traditional sense, but I think with B2B specifically that it’s different, right.

We could talk about keyword research is dying. We could talk about like technical SEOs, like implications of technical SEO or our philosophy on link building and have those rank for those like concepts in a year or two years, three years down the road.

I just completely agree. I’m curious. You talked about going forward. I want to hit AI only very selfishly because I don’t study GPT-3 or any tools like that. And arguably I would say Clearscope falls under a similar umbrella. Maybe you would disagree, and maybe you’d be like not arguably, definitely.

I don’t know. So where do you see AI’s role in content? And if I could throw in a bonus, is there AI being rolled out anywhere outside of the writing of the content that maybe I’m unaware of?

Yes. These are all good questions. I would say GPT-3 has been all the rage because it’s been very sophisticated, and if you watch videos or Twitter videos of people posting about it, it looks pretty good and it’s pretty snazzy if you will. But after doing quite a bit of testing on GPT-3, what we’ve personally found is that the data is not that great. And after –

And you’re only as good as in this case the data.

Yes. It’s only as good as the seed inputs, and it’s unclear how frequently that they’re updating their database. So as an example here is this is like the beta GPT-3 thing. I can say like this, right.

Like what’s the price of Bitcoin like that? And you’ll see then kind of when the last time they essentially test – it goes up to this.

So I’ve been looking at the charts of Bitcoin lately, and I’m trying to figure out what it is. Okay. And it goes up to 2016.

Do you think that applies across the board? 2016? That would be a real shame for anybody trying to create like as we’re the theme of this (inaudible – 00:28:12) is relevant content.

Right? Right? This is like the epitome then of why AI currently is like flawed to a certain degree of content creation. Okay. So I think that AI can be helpful for idea generation if you will, and that’s kind of how we do it with Clearscope, right. So we have this outline builder. It’s GPT-3 powered. You pop in –

And a keyword.

Yes. You pop in like a keyword like bone broth. You hit generate outline. And then Clearscope is going to feed it Google stuff. Like here’s people also ask, here’s some related searches, and –

What I love is your right-hand column the terms generator right there and not just the terms but the frequency.

Yes, yes. So that’s what we –

Or actually volume. I don’t know if it literally suggests where within you might want to space it out or things like that.

Yeah. So we’ll give you ideas about how important it is which is based on how many of the top results have used that particular term.

So collagen shows up a lot and that makes sense because bones have a lot of collagen, so it’s pretty important. You can see like the contextual usage on how people are talking about collagen helps guide you then on your writing for this particular topic.

And then we’ve added this beta which you can see here. So here’s some questions, right. Should the slow cooker be on high? Can you use a crockpot? What to do with an Instant Pot, how to make it, on the stove or the slow cooker, slow cooker.

You can see here there’s a lot of the same ideas that you’ve seen show up in the search results because we take a look at that.

What’s your typical user like? Do you have data on that? Are these like advanced SEOs generating outlines for dozens of writers? Are these like advanced SEOs who have their own couple of portfolio sites? Or are these like small business owners just trying to figure out what SEO is and how to get stuff produced?

So I guess I’ll answer that question in saying that we serve everybody.


We serve the freelance writer who gets assigned a Clearscope report who comes back and says wow that was so actually useful that I want my own license.


It’s a little costly for them so we don’t get as much of –

But what an upsell –

– freelancers it seems like. Yes.

– for a freelance writer.

Right, absolutely.

Okay. I come with Clearscope. I come armed with my own brief more or less.

Right, right. And to your – like your local business like your Taste of Koko. She’s an Austin food blogger, and she uses Clearscope on her pieces of content that are just local specific to large enterprises like Nvidia, HubSpot, Adobe, Shopify, that kind of stuff.


So I think the answer then is that this idea of optimizing your content with entities what Clearscope is recommending – those terms that you saw on the right are actually natural language understanding entities that get extracted from top-ranking content – has become like best practice in modern-day SEO.

So a lot of people will show up at our door and be like, hey, I’m here, right. I’ve heard this is what you’re supposed to do.

Well, that’s why I was blown away. Like we were fortunate to connect in Traffic Think Tank.


And the next week someone I’ve known for about five years I initially followed as like this is the kind of content marketer I hope to be, coach, was literally a coach on the Jolly team, just helped do basically a done-for-you Facebook group for us. We have a Facebook group now.

Oh, nice.

And that week he was like, oh man, thanks for connecting me to this other guy. I think we’re going to launch just an absolutely massive program together with dozens of clients using Clearscope because it’s going to be awesome. I was like oh that’s interesting timing. Interesting timing.


You penetrated the market, Bernard.


Brand awareness is real for you.

Brand awareness is real and that’s where we want to focus on. But that said, everybody who does content is showing up at our doorstep, but I want to preface that with some ideas about when it’s not actually going to be impactful to use a content optimization tool like Clearscope on your content itself.

So I’ll preface this with back to what I was talking about a long time ago was that there’s three pieces in terms of content relevance. You have searcher intent, you have content experience, and you have kind of above the fold experience.

And above the fold experience, I hope you don’t mind the basic question. Are we talking about on a SERP itself or are we talking like the snippet there or are we talking about literally like above a read more kind of button that –

Yeah. It’s –

– people can click through?

You can imagine if I search for like bone broth benefits as an example and I click on this. It’s what does this –

Okay. You’re talking about the actual above the fold like top initial load screen.

Yep, yep.

Very good.

Okay. So we’ll give you a page-type analysis. It’s pretty basic, but we’re just saying, okay, for bone broth 84 percent looked like article and 16 percent looked like other. So what I want to get at here is that different search queries deserve different associations and stuff based on the search itself, right?

Yes, yes. Sometimes you want to be that 16 percent other. Sometimes you want to be in that 84 percent.


And that 84 percent can look like different things and so can the 16 percent.

Exactly. You got it, right. So Coronavirus as an extreme example would say that Coronavirus would be a search query that deserves media or medical authority –

Sometimes I want my interactive dynamic chart. Sometimes I want just the latest update –


– on the shot.

Yes. And then it’s recency, right. So we would say, okay, Coronavirus as a search is – and these are make or break. If you’re not a media medical authority nor did you publish content in the last 24 hours, you’re not going to rank –

You’re also not exclusive, right? Like these are just –


– Bernard spit-balling for our sake here about –


– topic of the day as of –

Yes, topic of the day, topic of the day. But then you can imagine something like how to surf which is not so extreme if you will.


Okay. Well you see a featured video, right. So clearly this as a search is going to revolve around multimedia and then Google is doing this crazy thing key moments.

Oh, this is new to me to be honest. March the 23rd.

Okay. You haven’t seen this. Yeah. They’re just doing this like automatically now this is a video –

It’s like a YouTube – it’s actually a note I made on our little meeting notes here. I want to of course timestamp for our YouTube. So Google is now timestamping the top results –

Like moments, key moments, yeah.

– multiple results. Interesting.

Yeah. They just do it automatically for YouTube.

More savvy SEOs already know this, YouTube SEOs. But it’s new to me.

Yeah. So how to surf you could imagine multimedia, video carousel. And if we were to look at some of the top-ranking results, you’ll notice that imagery, and then you’ll have the little like video embeds inside, right. So multimedia would be like just image embeds, video embeds, that kind of stuff, right.



What a great intro you have for us. It’s like the green arrow and all.


This is a really good –

It’s a very good instruction on how to surf. Now okay. What I’m trying to get to this is that even then search query is going to deserve some level of brand and you can imagine domain authority.

You could group these kind of together, right. And then it’s also going to deserve what we call content quality or content relevance like this. So okay. For this particular search, we’re going to say that, okay, media, medical authority, recency 50 percent, like that. And Google isn’t really going to care about content quality, right.

They might care about content credibility in the sense that if you’re saying something is happening in China with Coronavirus they want to know can you back that up, right.

So content quality is a marginal or perhaps no impact on this particular search. And what our content optimization tools like Clearscope are designed to help you with? Guess what. It’s content quality, right.

So what I’m saying here is that should you be in a search query where content quality is of marginal or not that important of impact, then optimizing your content with a tool like Clearscope is not going to get you that much mileage.

And so what would be examples – if you can pull out of you know where like of a search query that deserved and let’s say they allocated a higher than 5 percent importance to content quality?

Yeah, yeah. So I think that’s going to be stuff like wine health benefits for example. We had a customer – I did not have this in my thoughts so let’s take a look – called Wide Open Eats. Okay. So they’re here. But you can see here like Mayo Clinic, Healthline, Life Hack, Wide Open Eats,, Portugal, Web MD –

I don’t know that one.

Medical News today. All right. So right, this is going to be something where quality content is going to matter, and so that’s typically going to be like how to file a patent, things that tend to be, guess what, more article-based, right.

You can imagine things that are going to be less deserving of content quality is going to be stuff like this, backpacks.

People aren’t going to care about oh did you talk about all of the different brands of backpacks? It’s like well if you’re Walmart, people buy backpacks from Walmart, right.

Same thing with like branded stuff, right. It’s like, oh look, well somebody is looking for Amazon. They don’t care that you’ve talked about everything that Amazon tends to talk about, right.

So that’s going to be then more of a brand or domain authority consideration like this. So a lot of people will ask me specifically well how do I rank for a high-level topic like backpacks, and what I say is that you basically need to create enough brand awareness such that people are dissatisfied when your result doesn’t show up.

You can imagine, all right, I have like Bernard’s Backpacks as an eCommerce that I’m launching, and I go to you, Greg, and I’m like, dude, you got to help me rank for backpacks.

Well, what you are likely then to suggest is that okay if I did a search for backpacks we see Amazon. We see Zumiez. We see some best backpacks. We see how to choose a backpack, and we don’t see Bernard’s Backpacks. So the way to get Bernard’s Backpacks to rank for backpacks is to have enough people search for backpacks and say, what, I wanted Bernard’s Backpacks.

And guess what, they have to go back to Google and perform a navigational search. This is not my brand by the way. But then –

You don’t have a boutique –

I do not have a boutique backpack shop.


But maybe when I retire.

That was actually going to be a question after this. We’re two questions away from what’s next, so.

So you can imagine, right. And then you then close out. So Google is going to look at that. I was in incognito, so they may not look at that as seriously.

Don’t worry, David.

That’s not a legitimate user or maybe it is. But anyways, they’re going to look at that and say, wow, okay.

That person just did not find what they were looking for, had to perform a search, and then found what they were looking for. So the next time – if enough people do that for backpacks and there’s a lot of people who search for backpacks every month, so you have to influence a nontrivial percentage of those monthly searches to do that set of actions to get what they wanted, then Bernard’s Backpacks should rank for backpacks, right.

So that’s actually how you would influence a search for a high-level category is that your brand basically has to be associated with that thing.

Or you can look at the different subtopics that we see showing up and be like, oh look, guess what, people want laptop backpacks. So we could then rank best laptop backpacks like this and that would work too because that’s what users are subsequently searching for is why you see that.

Or you see this one how to choose a backpack. So we could create a piece of content on how to choose a backpack like this and, guess what, that’s going to work too like this, right.

Well this has been really educational for me, Bernard, so I appreciate the walkthrough. I really recommend that people at least check out your site.

I don’t think you need the shout-out at this point as we talked about during this call, but just suffice it to say I mean all that knowledge packed into a SaaS where it’s accessible to even all the way down to your freelance writer on the team you two clearly hit upon something. Is that right, you’re two founders?

Two founders.

Two founders.

Completely bootstrapped. Our team is five people large.

Way to go. Look at you. That’s awesome, man. We’re bootstrapped in both of our endeavors, Morgan and I, and we’re not five people anymore because we’re a freelance contractor kind of model.


But I very much admire a compact team making the impacts that you all are. I’m very curious. These are two selfish questions at the end.


I really appreciate that knowledge. Thank you for sharing that because it was helpful for me, and I hope helpful for whoever is watching. I want to know – we are literally tomorrow opening the beta on our SaaS. By the time this gets played, it will have been a while. Your technical cofounders. We’re nontechnical if you can’t tell. We don’t know anything about technical stuff actually.

So what’s that like? Like what’s it like to have a – I think I can make one guess from my brief interaction with a technical founder. I think you have more stress when it comes to bugs, the app performance.

Initially, I felt very, very stressed out that I couldn’t control anything, and now I’m realizing that’s going to be a silver lining at some point. It’s going to be stressful but for brief periods because I’m going to say please help, I can’t do anything to someone else.


What’s the rest of life like as a technical cofounder? I feel like it’s awesome abilities I lack.

Yeah. So I feel like the – I’m blessed to be partners with the technical cofounder that I have. He is completely brilliant and then some.

So you count yourself as a nontechnical.

I do count myself –

Well at least compared to your partner.

– yes, as a nontechnical although –

Well, it’s true Morgan – what’s your partner’s name? I’ll just –

He’s Kevin, Kevin Su.

Oh, okay. You’re not keeping that under lock and key?

Nope, nope. We’re going to take Clearscope to the moon, so I’m not worried –

I believe it.

– whatsoever. Yeah. No. I can write some amount of code and whatnot, but I think there’s something different to be said about technical founder and product founder. So my cofounder happens to be this unicorn breed of product, full-stack engineer, and business-like savvy like all wrapped up.

I was thinking mutually exclusive but there’s nothing that says they can’t be business savvy.

It’s nothing to say. So that’s to say that technical skill is honestly not the bottleneck. The bottleneck is actually thinking through what the product is supposed to do and how it’s going to do it, right.

And the majority of software that you end up using you take this for granted, right.

You look at an Ahrefs, you look at a Mailchimp, and you look at great software like Google or Facebook and you’re like wow, okay.

Yeah, everything works and this is so easy and most of the things make sense, right. Some things might not make that much sense. You’re like wow that was weird.

But you use that. And then sometimes you use crappier software, right. Not to name any names, but you’re like God damn it, right. Why did that do that? That was not supposed to do that, right? And I was expecting it to do this, but wait, why is that over there? And then you’re like kind of confused. And so that’s actually where we struggled the hardest is that people are going to come in when your SaaS launches – and I hope it goes very smoothly – but they’ll be like, you know, Greg, I want it to do this. I want it to do that.

And it’s your job to synthesize like okay but what does that actually mean from a product perspective, right?

Like in Clearscope we have classically been serving a lot of SEOs and SEOs have been coming in being like, Bernard, why doesn’t the competitor tab have domain authority or the overview, right?

I want to know how difficult this keyword is. And we made a judgment call from the early days of Clearscope where we said we’re not going to do that, and then SEOs are like okay, fine. And now the dividends of that are that writers come to Clearscope, and they’re like wow this is a tool that I get.

It doesn’t have any of that mumbo jumbo that I don’t get, right. And so these are the decisions. It’s not like, okay, write this code to do that. It’s what does the product stand for and how does the user interface work?

Well, that resonates well.

That’s where we get stuck. I think a lot of people just Frankenstein them all in, and at the end you have this Franken product that kind of doesn’t really make sense.

And three years down the road you’re scratching your head being like why is my – why is it not working, and then you point out marketing or sales and you’re not doing a good enough job.

And it’s like well the product just doesn’t make sense, but it’s hard because you’re so in the weeds after three years of working on something that you’re like it can’t be the product. Like I know where to find everything, and it all makes sense to me. But really it’s the product that like just doesn’t make sense.

There’s got to be a product consultant service out there. I just spoke with a really well-put-together CRO experience. I think they’re called Conversion Crimes. It’s Quinn Zeda also from Traffic Think Tank.

Oh, nice.

Yeah. What you’re saying makes so much sense. I honestly foresee within three to six months of launch we do a slight rebrand and a pivot and actually redact the SEO metrics that we decided to put in so because of exactly what you highlighted.

At a certain point, we’re going to get users coming in to our little SaaS and they’re going to be like why do we have all these numbers? Like I don’t need all these numbers in my face. Like I just wanted to see the stuff I wanted to see, so.

Yeah, yeah. And so I would say that I guess just randomly that comes to my mind is that intangibles, it’s all about the intangibles.

You probably read books on line lean customer development and blah blah blah, and they’re like oh go ask your users.

They’ll tell you what they think, but they won’t. They really won’t, right. Like people are going to have conversations behind the – like in closed rooms that you’re never a part of and that you will never be a part of and that you’ll never get any glimpse into.

And so that’s like what we’re always thinking about is how do we influence the conversation that we’re never a part of. And this idea I think Rand Fishkin came up with the coining of it of like MVP is very like real that that’s kind of like you don’t want to just put something out anymore for the sake of putting something out to get feedback because that – like there’s so much choice and so much software –

There’s so much feedback to be received.

Yes. And you want like an exceptional viable product where somebody you put it in front of is like wow that was truly something, and then they’re going to go and they’re going to tell their friends.

And the way that we think B2B marketing is going to be moving forward is what we call back channel marketing, and you know it because you’re in Traffic Think Tanks, right, or Traffic Think Tank.

We hang out in there because we choose to hang out in there, and we will click on the things that people share in there and listen to what our friends have to say in back channels. That’s also why you are in this Facebook done-for-you-like community because it’s a back channel, right. So how do you influence the conversations that you’re not a part of is –

It’s why the plugins, the Ahrefs, the whomevers have their own Facebook groups, their own.

Right, because these are –

You can as you said a –

– the back channels. These are communities and like influencers and people subscribe to these like things. And so that’s why we see for ourselves SEO moving forward is creating thoughtful content and commentary about what is happening understanding that in the future that kind of content will rank, but more importantly that that kind of content will be shared in the back channels that –

And perhaps the –

– we cannot be a part of.

– causal link there.

Yeah, exactly. So we’re not creating content like how to do keyword research. We’re creating content that keyword research is dying. Here’s how to think about it instead.

Yeah, yeah. Avant-garde. I believe it.


I really do. I really appreciate this conversation. I had a really enjoyable time speaking with you, and if there’s anything I should have asked but didn’t, would you let us know now? And otherwise, we’ll let people go and point them to Clearscope.

No, no. Nothing.


Always a pleasure chatting.

Okay. Okay. Well thank you so much, Bernard, and I look forward to everyone checking this out soon.

Yeah. Awesome.

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