Bhanu Ahluwalia, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of my burning questions. Your history in the space is an exciting read, and I urge readers to check out some of the experiences I ask about below. What I hope to dive into is your marketing strategy, product Qs, and your blogger advice. First, if you would, could you please intro yourself in a few short sentences?
My name is Bhanu Ahluwalia, I’m one of the founders and partners of MyThemeShop and Rank Math SEO.
Back in 2015, we found that none of the SEO plugins available on the market were truly complete solutions that had everything that we as well as other WordPress users needed, so we started building our own SEO plugin for internal use.
Over three and a half years later, the demand for us to release the plugin was quickly growing, so we eventually decided to do so in late 2018. We’re incredibly grateful for how well-received it has been by the community, having grown to 900,000 active installations & counting to this day.
Blogging Big Picture: Your Advice
Back when you did social media work with Digg, you also focused on your own blogging projects. What’s your advice for the side hustler blogger, or even those with a small portfolio?
Focus on truly helping people and just start. Your blog, business, and side hustle are likely going to change so much from day 1 that obsessing over making it perfect before launching is just going to be a huge setback in the long run.
Google AdSense: Premium Publishers
How has being a premium publisher changed over the past decade? Does it still provide benefits today that merit the challenge of becoming a premium publisher?
We actually no longer actively maintain our AdSense account, but with the premium access – we had an account manager assigned to us from Google who we were able to contact if we needed anything customized.
Back in the day, you could style ads in a way not available to everyone else. Now, the standard for premium publishers hasn’t been made public, so the only real path there is basically to run an incredibly successful website that uses AdSense normally – and see if the AdSense team reaches out to you.
What's Your Marketing Strategy
Since you’re successful as the CMO of an SEO plugin, grew your own successful blog, and worked social media for a website that was at the core of Web 2.0, I have to ask: How would you sum up your brand strategy today? Elaborated a bit: when promoting a company or product, what’s your current focus or allocation of resources? Are you “all in” on SEO? Do you mix in social media?
As many of your readers will know, SEO is far from what it once was, but so is running a business. It would be remiss to say we’re just going to bet on SEO and allocate all of our efforts into making that channel work. SEO and the work that goes into it (i.e. content marketing) benefits any company in a whole range of ways all in addition to ranking in search results. Brand equity, building authority in the industry, helping people that are in your demographic, demonstrating how to use your product or how to do certain things – the list goes on. 😄
Rank Math’s growth has been primarily product-led. And since our product development is really mostly led by listening to customer feedback/what they want to use (since many are SEO professionals and agencies themselves) – our growth has really been led by helping our users.
Beyond that, we also have the pleasure of working with incredibly talented people on our team who also work in SEO – often WordPress – so, as a result, have the ability to communicate exactly what would improve their process and help them deliver better results. A great example of such a feature is the import/export options for SEO meta which has proven incredibly useful for those running larger sites.
Website Design: That "Demo" Option...
Speaking of design… I love the simplicity of MyThemeShop’s Plugins page. The “Demo” option on each plugin is a feature I both appreciate as a consumer, as well as envy as a website owner — if only we offered a demo of our product in such an accessible manner! Is that something MyThemeShop has offered for a long time, or a recent development? How did that come about?
Yes, highly recommend having publicly available demos! This is something we’ve been doing for a while for both MyThemeShop as well as Rank Math and it really helps because – even for a free product – people want to know that it’s going to be worth setting up on their site before taking the time to do so. And with a product like the Rank Math WordPress SEO plugin, since it really speaks for itself, once people use it all of their questions and potential concerns are addressed, and they can get right to installing it on their own sites.
For paid plugins, this really fulfills the need potential customers have to ask whether or not they can have a free plugin copy for a limited time to test out, or a free trial for a certain amount of time (all of which there are a whole number of reasons not to offer with WordPress plugins)…
What is at the Core of Rank Math's Success?
At 900,000+ installations, I think it’s a safe guess that the Rank Math SEO Plugin is MyThemeShop’s most used plugin? I’m sure your experience starting blogs and eventually successfully scaling one informed this product. What would you say is at the core of Rank Math’s rapid and growing adoption?
For sure, Rank Math is by far our most widely-used product. I think the fact that we originally built Rank Math to serve us internally (as opposed to thinking about launching a product that could make money), we approached it from the standpoint of building something incredibly helpful to us. When we ended up releasing the free version of our plugin to the public, it was really well-received by a lot of people given how little movement there had been in the space for quite a while.
To this day, the biggest part of what leads the way we market the plugin is the development of the product itself, which is led primarily by our customers. Helping as many people as possible solve problems, improve their process and in turn, build better & more successful websites with our software. This is truly going to be a moving target for everyone in the industry, while our commitment to being there to serve the needs of our customers is constant…
Next G Algo Update Prediction
One last “for fun” big picture question before you can go. What’s the next (as of June 2021) Google search engine algorithm update you predict will be unveiled?
It’s hard to predict how Google is going to change the way they currently evaluate websites, but as we’re already seeing with the Core Web Vitals update, I think a reasonable prediction to make is that Google is going to continue to find ways of quantifying traditionally qualitative signals like site experience in the way they did with metrics like Cumulative Layout Shift, etc. through other forms of translating what searchers are looking for into other metrics that carry weight once they’re certain the method of doing so ends up yielding better search results…