Interview with Brian Jackson from Kinsta

We had the chance to interview Brian Jackson from Kinsta. Kinta is one of the most advanced WordPress hosting services. And Brian is the chief marketing officer there. He’s also a person who’s really active on social media.

From this interview, you can learn more about Kinsta, why people choose Kinsta over other services and get great tips on how to improve your content marketing.

Hi, Brian! Could you tell us more about yourself?

Sure. You pretty much got it right. I do kind of live on Twitter. Twitter just really works great in the WordPress community. I feel I chatted with a lot of people and they feel like Twitter it kind of dead but I feel like a lot of WordPress people use Twitter. So it works really well for us.

And, yeah, anything about me. In my spare time, which is not very often, I try to blog. I run my own little blog too. I also sell a couple of premium WordPress plugins but most of my time is spent marketing Kinsta wherever you see it.

Could you tell us more about Kinsta too? How did it all start?

The original team actually started back in Budapest, Hungary. So there was like five or six of them that were actually doing website development work. And they kind of got tired of the client type of work where you have to find new clients every month. It’s not a consistent type of revenue basically. And as they were doing that, they were also noticing that the hosting options out there just weren’t great. This was in 2013 mind you because now you have a lot of competitors I think in this space. But in 2013 for managed WordPress hosting there were only a select few.

They were working with their clients, seeing that there’s nothing really we can do for them that’s great. So let’s start our own basically. So they decided to launch their own. Really the focus was on speed, security and high-quality support. Our CEO is like a sysadmin I always say the term. I don’t like to use the term nerd, but he is like a nerd. And that’s why I love working for Kinsta. He always made sure that we’re using the latest versions of PHP. Stuff that maybe some of our competitors, the CEOs of those companies might not put as much weight on. But for us, that has always been important from day one. Just like using the latest technology, just like if you’re a developer you would want to use basically.

I joined the team in early 2016. A funny story, I was actually one of Kinstas clients before I joined them. So I actually had already fallen in love with it and I’d use a couple of hosts before that. Bouncing around, you know how people do, they bounce around hosts like every year trying to find the right one.

So, yeah, just kind of a perfect match. I was already doing marketing for KeyCDN which is a Content Delivery Network. And so we connected on Skype and it went from there. It was a perfect fit. When I joined there was probably I think eight people. And now we have like 50 to 60 people. I don’t even know the number anymore. Because we’re just constantly hiring people. It was a little under three years, now we’ve grown really, really fast. It’s hard to keep up sometimes.

Apart from Kinsta, there are obviously more hosting companies out there. What makes Kinsta the best choice for customers? What made you choose Kinsta?

That’s a good question. Why did I choose Kinsta? I won’t mention any competitors names because I don’t like to bash anyone. But I mean for me, I’m really obsessed with performance. I’ve always been, just because I wouldn’t call myself a developer. I can do a little bit with code but I’m really obsessed with web performance. For some reason, I really just like how it impacts even SEO because obviously, I do a lot of writing and the majority of my job is writing. And I really just like how it impacts SEO, how it impacts bounce rate and users who come into your site. Speed effects so many different things about your WordPress site.

I just fell in love with Kinsta because I could tell speed was really important to them. And in 2016 when I joined the team there were a few more competitors in the space at the time. And the few that were there were kind of already growing to the point where they kind of I think lost focus on performance. They were more like just the biggest in the industry and so “we’ll just keep growing”. And so speeds start to dip, you start seeing more downtime, the support gets worse and worse because they haven’t scaled it correctly from the beginning.

And to be honest part of that’s I don’t think their fault. Some of the first WordPress hosts I think didn’t know what they were doing. They were the first in the industries to really pioneer managed WordPress hosting. So it’s hard to know how do you scale a support team for an industry that’s never happened before. But I think from day one Kinsta focused on doing support a little different.

When I was a customer of theirs I could definitely tell the difference. I’m actually chatting to someone that is a developer. I can actually talk about code and they’ll know what I’m talking about. Or I’ve used this plugin and they go into talking about this plugin. They actually can have a conversation about it not just like “we’ll see if we can fix your problem” and you’re waiting five minutes to see what happens. So that was something why I kind of fell in love with them.

From the very beginning and this is partially thanks to our CEO, he wanted to do it differently from the very beginning. We don’t have different level tiers of support. At most companies, we have tier 1, tier 2 or 3 and if the tier 1 can’t fix it, they’ll put you on hold and they’ll pass it off to tier 2. We don’t actually have that at Kinsta.

We try to hire only the best of the best and have to invest a lot more in our support team because of this. Because we’re not just hiring different tiers. So our support team is I would say one of the best in the industry. And we do offer 24/7 support via a live chat. Which some others do too. But our average response time in 2018 was under 2 minutes. And a lot of times it’ll be like 20 seconds. But the average is under two minutes.

I feel for how fast we’re growing and how many clients we actually have that we figured out how to scale up properly I think. To achieve the quality of support that I as a customer would want if I have a problem. I just want to open up a chat window, talk with a developer who actually uses the plugin I’m having a problem with or sees what the issue is and can help me right away instead of just bouncing around back and forth.

We don’t actually offer phone support. This is another thing some people might think as a negative. But we found that even working with enterprise clients. We host tons of big companies. And we found the first thing that they do when they call you on support is, they need to send you a screenshot. Or they need to send you a link. And so right from the get go you’re already bouncing around between different things and it’s actually a waste of time not only for our team but also for the customer. So we decided that we don’t offer phone support and we probably will never offer phone support no matter how big we get.

It’s not a matter of manpower for us, it’s a matter of how can we be best productive for everyone. And so we found that it’s (live chat) probably the best way you can share links, share screenshots, chat and live in real time. So we found that to be the best route for us.

Another unique thing about Kinsta is branding through your illustrations. How did you come up with that idea? I’m guessing there’s a full-time designer working just on that?

I don’t mind sharing her name because we get asked that actually a lot recently. It’s not actually a member of the Kinsta team but someone we work really close with actually in Budapest. I would consider her a member of the team at this point because we work with her so much. Her name is Maya. She has a cool Behance profile and stuff on Dribbble and all sorts of stuff people can check out.

When we first started out I was actually doing all the illustrations myself for our blog and the writing, and the SEO. And finally, we decided I can’t do all of this. Let’s hire a designer that’s really good at this. We kind of took inspiration from, even though there are slightly a competitor of ours, DigitalOcean. (DigitalOcean) I think has always done a really great job. I don’t know if you’ve seen their blog but they always have these really awesome illustrations. So there’s a couple of people in the industry we kind of like said: “Hey let’s do what these guys are doing” because we really like it. And I think it makes a big difference for your blog posts if you have nice illustrations.

But, yeah, we kind of worked with her. We have a whole workflow in Trello. I also live in Trello like tons of the boards. And just a good, little workflow. I’ll write a blog post, get it in draft and then I’ll ping the designer to give an illustration. And she’s really good at knowing our workflow now so I don’t even have to tell her “this is what the blog post is about”. She’ll just whip up something amazing. And I’ll throw it on the blog post. For any business I think it’s really important to find someone like that. I know it’s hard because it was hard for us. But finding a good designer whether it’s hiring someone full time or outsourcing, kind of like we do, really can help a lot.

I know that you are working with content marketing a lot. Where did you learn all the things needed to excel in this exact field?

I guess I would say I’m self-taught really. I went to college for web design and I really don’t use my degree. I don’t do web design at all. You could say if I’m working on WordPress sites it is kind of web design. My background is actually IT. I did IT for probably a good eight or nine years.

I was always blogging and doing writing and stuff in the evenings. As it’s kind of a hobby, I’ve always enjoyed it from day one. I think it was back in high school when I figured out you can make money on the Internet just sitting at your computer and you can make money from the Internet. It always fascinated me. So learning that there are ways to make money by writing was really cool because I’ve always just enjoyed blogging.

I guess you could say I just learned over the last 10 to 15 years kind of how to write. I focus a lot on in-depth content. So rather than pushing out lots of quantity, I focus more on the quality. I found that that just works really well for social shares, for Google rankings, everything. At Kinsta I don’t think we would ever publish anything under twenty-five hundred words. That’s a bare minimum for us. And like we typically go into the five to six thousand word range. Which I will say is exhausting at times because it’s a lot of content to write. We do three blog posts a week so it’s a lot of words.

I’ve just learned little tricks here and there. I did a lot of client work back in the day for SEO stuff in the evenings so I’ve kind of learned with clients what works here and there too. But after doing IT for eight or nine years I was like “I’m not doing this for the rest of my life”. That’s why I have huge respect for our support engineers because I just hate support. I don’t want to wake up and see stuff broken and my whole day is fixing things. I finally got tired of that. And so I love marketing.

I love just figuring out new problems. And that’s the one thing with SEO and content marketing. It’s always changing, Google’s changing, users are wanting different things. So you’re always having to strategize new things.

There are many people who want to start or improve their content marketing. Where do they start? What are some common mistakes people make or maybe some good practices they should follow?

I would say if you don’t have time to write, find some good people to outsource to. We actually have a couple of partners on our partners’ page on our website that we actually do use for some of outsourcing for our content. I don’t write everything anymore just because I don’t have time as I used to. So some of the stuff on our site is actually outsourced. I think finding a good partner for that is really crucial and that can be one of the most difficult tasks, I think. Finding a writer even more than a designer. Finding a good writer is really, really hard.

My advice would be to try different writers, invest a little bit in just trying different writers. Once you find one that works – don’t let them go basically. And give them as much work as you possibly can to keep them happy. If you do that, then finding a good workflow I think is also important. I’m always adding my own personal stuff. Even when we get stuff from our writer I’m always having my own stuff to it and tweaking it. Just because I know how the readers of our site like to see things and how I like to portray our company. There’s still a lot of editing time for me even when they write it.

We use Trello a lot. We have our writers in Trello, like different Trello boards. We’ll give them topics in one column here and they’ll move it to an “in progress” column and then move it to a “done”. Then I actually move it to our own marketing board, like a copy of it. Then it goes into my own personal “in progress” board – then into another draft mode – then to a design mode and then finally a publish. I know that sounds like a lot, but when you’re doing this consistently, you have to have good workflows. Otherwise, it just results in chaos. So yeah, Trello has worked really well for us.

Finding the workflow is important. I think I mentioned already, I would focus on writing long-form content. Just skip the short stuff. I don’t think it’s going to do anything nowadays. And you have people writing even longer stuff now like an example like Brian Dean at Backlinko is a great example. He publishes just massive 15 000 word, 20 000 word blog post. And so when you have people writing more, you kind of have to write more too. So it’s almost a scary thought because at some point where does it stop.

With a book probably?

Yeah. Ironically we just published a book at Kinsta. It’s a little over twenty-five thousand words. I wrote it, actually. This is what I was really proud of. It’s a book on how to speed up WordPress. That actually was really cool because we printed it out and we’re hanging out at WordCamps and kind of taking a little different spin on a typical blog post kind of thing. But, yeah, workflow, long-form content, finding a good writing partner and finding a good design partner. And then once you find those people and get good workflow, things will eventually start to happen. If you really obsess about things.

If you go this deep into it, I still try keyword rankings. A lot of people agree or disagree that keywords are dead. I don’t think they’re dead at all. I write a post focused on a keyword and I still write for the user obviously. But you can still write around a keyword and still focus on a topic. You can do both. So I always like to say “Write smarter not harder. Why not do both at the same time. “I never go back and add keywords. I just write with the keyword in mind.

When you hire a writer just tell them, this is my strategy. Trello has cool little power-ups you can add and one is a custom field thing. So all our Trello cards have custom fields and they each have keywords I add to them. So the writer knows this is the keyword we want you to right around.

If you do that, you can track keywords with a tool like SemRush or something like that. But I think it’s really important because you’ll notice after a while that, say you hit the first page of Google for a keyword which is awesome. But after a while, it might dip to the second or third page. Obviously, that’s not good. And I’ve noticed if you go back and maybe add more content to that same post and then maybe even change the date sometimes, it shows back at the top of your blog. Back in your RSS feeds again and then re-share it all over social media all over again with the newly updated content. I’ve noticed that will then suddenly spike rankings all over again. So it’s something that you just have to keep going back and forth to.

If you track rankings like that you’ll see tons of little tricks like that that work with Google. It’s not like gaming the system is just finding out what Google’s looking at. And obviously updating content is not just great for Google it’s great for the user as well too. And that’s why people are happy to re-share stuff to others. I guess a few tips.

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