John: Well hello everybody and welcome to another podcast from Ezoic. I’m here with Dave Taylor from AskDaveTaylor.com. Hi Dave.
Dave: Hello John.
John: How’s it going today?
Dave: It’s going very well and if we’re lucky we’ll be able to do this entire podcast without my cats attacking me or my computer. We’ll see how that plays out.
John: That’s good. I’m glad we just did a kind of little sound check now and I’m going to try not to bump the microphone. I think we’re all good, we’re all set. I’d love to hear about and I think the listeners would like to hear a little bit about your background. I know that you’ve been an AdSense testimonial client. There’s a whole bunch of background there. Just tell the listeners a bit more about yourself and your site.
Dave: Well, I have been online probably longer than many of the people who are listening to this actual podcast. I first connected to the Arpanet back in I want to say 81, maybe 80. Way back and actually have been around for a lot of the interesting evolutionary steps. I actually received the very first spam email, which was a green card application solicitation from an attorney in Arizona and I attended the Commercial Internet Exchange meetings where we debated whether the arpanet should allow commercial usage or not and of course the answer was yes and that’s how we got to where we are today. I was there. It’s been quite a journey.
John: Have you met Tim Berners- Lee?
Dave: I have met Tim, I have met a lot of the people who have helped create what we have today. It’s really been a cast of thousands. I know there’s two, three, four people who seem to get a lot of the credit, but there is a big, big evolution of all the technologies and all of the underlying infrastructure and it’s incrementally grown. Just as now we’re starting to see fiber to the office and fiber to the home, I have a friend who was showing me that he gets 100gb download speed at his house because he just paid for like the top tier of service. That’s unimaginable. Businesses couldn’t get that 20 years ago. Now here he is at home on his couch just absolutely trying to figure out what to do with all that bandwidth.
John: That’s a lot of movie watching, binge TV or whatever you’re going to do with that. Having fiber is something I’m looking forward to in moving office. Looking back at the very beginning, I’m trying to remember when I first went online, it was about sort of mid-90s when email started and by then it was already sort of beginning to take off. Isn’t the background of the internet to do with academic institutions connecting and wasn’t that from military connections?
Dave: The arpanet ARPA, is actually DARPA and DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and what they were really looking at back in, this is really almost the tail end of the Cold War sort of thing, but they were trying to figure out could you create widely distributed computer network such that any given piece of that network could be destroyed and the rest of the network would remain up because prior to that, what would happen is my computer would connect to Mike’s computer, Mike’s computer would connect to Sue’s computer, Sue’s computer would connect to Mary’s computer and so the only way Mary and I could communicate is if those two machines were online. One of the primary impetus for creating the ARPA net was to create this highly resilient computer network and they really accomplished an amazing task there because the internet keeps chugging along even if entire countries go out.
John: That’s amazing isn’t it? These days I suppose it’s come from the Cold War, which is interesting because I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie about them cracking the enigma code with Benedict Cumberbatch. I forget the name of it and how really computing came from mechanical computers, which then obviously came through silicon chips and they got rid of valves and so on, but it’s a bit of a shame all of these amazing things have come out of war, but also a fantastic thing because what was it? Twenty, thirty years ago nobody could have imagined where we are now with the connectivity that we have. So Dave, tell me. I interrupted you before, but tell me when you sort of were just getting started. When did you get into publishing and how did that happen?
Dave: So I have actually been writing way too long. I actually started publishing while I was still an under grad where I did some work. I had a degree in computer science and I did some work on compiler design, which is when you take your source code and you turn it into something the computer could actually execute and my professors thought that the design I had created was worthy of publication and I had no idea what that meant so I said “sure” and I wrote up an article and got it published in a professional journal and then I graduated and I still remember getting a call. I was in Colorado working for Hewlett Packard or as you might say Hewlett Packard.
John: I can’t help that.
Dave: I took it. I got a call from Computer Language Magazine and they had found that article and they asked me if I would be interested in rewriting it for them and I was like “maybe, I don’t know” and they said “we’ll pay you” and suddenly the light bulb went on over my head and I said “oh” and my very first published article in a real magazine was actually their cover story and it actually spanned two issues. That was a very nice way to start and I’ve been writing ever since. I have 22 books on Amazon and I’ve written weekly and monthly columns for a variety of different publications and now I’m a monthly columnist for the local newspaper here in Colorado and a monthly columnist for Linux Journal where I pretend to actually do programming.
John: So that is quite a journey. I mean are you still playing the guitar? I did notice that was a feature in the AdSense video.
Dave: Yes I still occasionally pick up the guitar and I do still occasionally wear shoes, which you didn’t get from that video. That was something where they’re like “do something really colorful and folk-sy” and I’m like “well I can play guitar as long as you don’t actually let people actually hear me play” so that’s the AdSense video that Google sent a team out and video taped. That was actually quite a fun day. We just drove all the heck over the place. They must have filmed six hours’ worth of video to get like 75 seconds worth of ad. That was something. So let me go back to my story. Doing all this writing and then I actually wrote an article for Sun Microsystems for their magazine on software internationalization and then I got a call from Springer Verlag publishing saying “loved the article. Want to turn it into a book” and not knowing any better, I said “sure, that sounds easy”. That was my first book called “Global Software” and since then, I’ve just done a whole variety of different books, mostly technical, but there’s some business stuff and there’s some books coming out in the next probably 12 months or so that I’m involved in, but what happened is I wrote all these technical books on things like HTML and CSS and Unix and Linux and got a lot of email from readers and I love that, but I kep getting the same questions. I figured I needed to come up with some sort of solution and that was really how Ask Dave Taylor was born and if you were to go back to the very original post, you would see that they were “I bought your book. I’m reading on page 47. I don’t understand this example” and then it just started to roll and somewhat, perhaps somewhat famously is my buddy actually told me #”you should put ads on your website” and I was just really resistant to that and he really insisted and he insisted that I do it as a test and the first month I had Google AdSense writing and this was the very beginning of this whole system and I made like $25 and I wasn’t very impressed, but then the second month I actually made more than the amount I was paying for hosting. At that moment, I had this truly ephanous realization that all of a sudden my online presence doesn’t have to be a cost center, it can actually be a profit center. That really just changed my approach to doing my business and I really started to put a lot more effort into it and at this point Ask Dave Taylor as you know, because you can see my stats, we have about I think just over 4,000 articles and somewhere in the order of about 75,000 comments and we see 10,000-25,000 people a day coming to the site.
John: The traffic is fantastic. From your point of view, why do you think the idea of layout testing and art testing is a good idea? Why did you want to give it a try I guess is the question I’m trying to ask.
Dave: Well the thing is, it is hard to AB test designs and you end up where you work with your designer or you are your own designer, which actually tends not to work very well and you’re sort of stuck with however you have things laid out and then you say “let’s put an ad on here” or “let’s do a banner” or let’s do some text ads” or something like that and you know, the amount of writing that you have, the number of options that you have are really small so it’s like testing different ways to row your boat without ever asking am I in the right river. So you know, I have to admit and you know this, I was very rediscent about trying Ezoic and it’s funny because there’s still a tension inside of me, the aesthetic part of me, the version of Dave that goes to museums, that hangs out with artists, I kind of dislike the whole system because there’s a lot of versions that are not very aesthetically pleasing, but the business side of me and the scientist side of me absolutely loves this just huge testing platform that you’ve created and I can utilize because it really is giving me a chance to pick what variables I want to optimize and to have your system somewhat magically create these weird different layouts and designs to test and constantly be testing dozens or hundreds of them and successfully refine it down to a design that might not be anything I would have ever dreamed of, but in fact is delivering better time on site, better stickiness, better number of page views per visit and greater revenue on a permanent basis.
John: It is interesting because we’ve been doing this business for quite a long time now and when we first started sort of testing our theories, I don’t know if when we first spoke I told you any of this, but we noticed that ad targeting can only get so far, sort of that thing of showing the right person the right ad at the right time and that has been chased by all it seems like most ad tech businesses that have been out there for a very long time and when we’re trying different ads in different locations, we were somewhat surprised that you can try ads in these front and center positions and not have the bounce rate go down and that if you were to ask people to do surveys, everyone says “I don’t like ads”, but everyone wants free content and it’s sort of this balancing act. I’m trying to do the balancing act by eye as trying to make yourself a new user is actually very, very difficult to do because there’s that emotional attachment like you just said. It’s sort of a string pulling you saying “I don’t personally like this” and I guess science does have the answer here and we are working on that. There is some new stuff that’s going to come out and is going to make you feel a whole lot better about it. That’s definitely been one of the main kind of annoyances of publishers that use the platform. They love the results, but they don’t personally like some of the tests so we’re kind of trying to iron that out. So when you, I mean I guess I should ask this. Are you overall happy with using the system and you know kind of reconciling that push and pull feeling that you get from science versus art I guess?
Dave: You know I’m glad you asked because actually I’m quitting today. I’m kidding.
John: Don’t do that to me on a podcast. I’ve been saving it up.
Dave: This is going to be a great podcast. People will be like “what”?
John: You need to have a big argument.
Dave: I’m very pleased. Revenue is up substantially. Visits are up and in fact even in the past two to three weeks it seems there’s been an additional boost in traffic and you know my assumption is that is because the goals we have set for the optimization through Ezoic are very congruent with Google’s latest rev of its algorithm because the fact is we’re all operating in the dark and I know that you guys are a partner with Google and everything, but I know the way that company works. They’re not giving you their internal documentation.
John: I wish.
Dave: We had a meeting and we decided these three things are most important to us so we wanted to make sure that you knew about that.
John: I actually don’t think there is a person at Google who knows all that. I just don’t think so.
Dave: It might have been, Matt Cutts might have been that guy, but he’s seen the writing on the wall and he’s moving on too, which is interesting.
John: Isn’t he taking a sabbatical at the moment, isn’t he?
Dave: Yeah, but he sort of posts sabbatical, but he’s saying that he’s really not planning on going back. I can see him going to a different group at Google, but you know being the chief anti-spam search evangelist was probably utterly exhausting because I remember going to places like Pub Con which is a conference for SEO people and you would have thought he was the next coming of Michael Jackson or something because he would just be mobbed nonstop by hundreds of people wanting to like get in his ear and sight.
John: I guess as well when some of the more famous algo (algorithm) updates came out, I bet he had a lot of angry people after him as well.
Dave: Yeah, which again sort of suggests that he’s in charge and that is not the case. The fact is that before we started we were joking about the Cold War and I think that this is kind of a mutually assured destruction really because you have companies like Google trying to figure out how to give the best possible results for every search, which is their bread and butter. If they can’t deliver that, everything else falls apart. Meanwhile you have all these SEO people and I’ll use the word ‘expert’ with air quotes and they’re trying to reverse engineering so they can game the system so they and their clients can actually bump up higher than they should so that they then end up creating bad search results so that the search company then has to change its algorithm so that they then have to reverse engineering again.
John: Yeah, like you said it’s like a Cold War.
Dave: There’s sort of some inherent level of idiocy about all this, but a lot of the people that are really respected in this space, they’ve really tried to stick with what I’ve stuck with, which is just keep producing good content and over the long run, that’s where they’re trying to get to so as long as you’re not doing anything stupid, then you should slowly but surely end up with more and more traffic.
John: Yeah and it’s having to discipline isn’t it and the patience because you know to post information for sometimes years without getting any reward is I guess why the sites that have been around for a long time they’re kind of authority sites. I don’t mean that in the SEO sense of the word, I mean it in the true sense of the word that they quite rightly are getting the kind of juice that they should get and I guess that’s why doing this type of platform is all about trying to level that playing field for people who don’t have the time to do all that stuff. I spend quite a bit of my time talking to bigger publishers, that sort of 10 million plus a month and they have exactly the same decisions to make. They just have more traffic and I’ve got to say that the same problems come up again and again. How do you genuinely improve user experience? It’s not a binary thing. Trying different things seems to be the only way to do it. How do you do that scale? Doing it in an automated way seems to be the only way to be able to do it. Manual testing takes an awful long time and those kinds of things. So asking you again if you had to describe Ezoic, how would you describe it? One thing we’re not fantastic at is marketing and I would love to get your take on how you explain it if you were describing it to other people.
Dave: Okay, so I think the important preface here is that I’m a film critic so I spend a lot of time watching movies. So Dr. Frankenstein. I see Ezoic as taking it into the laboratory and let the mad scientist work on and constantly be tinkering and monkeying with it so that at any given moment, you look in the window and you might not . The goal of that mad scientist is to successfully refine, to constantly create a version of your girlfriend, your monster, your sweat site, that optimizes certain characteristics. Now I’m going to go back and actually take the word ‘girlfriend’ out of that because girlfriend and optimize certain characteristics is sure to get us into hot water here John.
John: Yes. Although I’m not sure that my wife is actually probably going to listen to this. I kind of like to think that she will, but I think we’re safe on my side.
Dave: Well she might say “oh well then John can you go into that laboratory because I’d like to optimize certain characteristics of yours”.
John: Quite right.
Dave: But you know, it is a little hard to explain and once in a blue moon I’ll get an email from someone with a screen shot and they’ll say “your site is really laying out weird” and I just say I’m going through a layout testing system and that there’s constant fluidity in my design as we try to optimize for different characteristics and if they’re finding a really weird design, they should clear their cookies and then come again and they’ll get a different design.
John: Yeah, and that’s the way to sort of explain it and some people are more emotional about that and you know, I think the reason you stuck around is you got that strong scientific bank where you’re looking at it and saying “okay rationally I can see. Let the bounce rates lower and the time on site is higher on this one. Even though I don’t like it, let’s see if it’s going to win longer term”. If you think about it, the fragmentation is so great now compared to what it was even five years ago. Operating systems, browsers, etc. It’s actually quite difficult to be operating in all of those environments at the same time. So tell me, between a little bit about Ezoic, tell me about Ask Dave Taylor. Have you got some plans? Are you going to be doing some podcasts for Ask Dave Taylor?
Dave: I do videos. I do a lot of video work and I actually do a lot of commercial video work for companies and I really enjoy that. There’s a lot of creativity, but I produce content on Ask Dave Taylor six days a week and have been for I don’t know, 13 years or something like that. It’s still paying the mortgage so I’m still motivated, but you know the thing is I feel like it’s again maybe this is why we have so much congruency between us, but it’s sort of my laboratory. It’s the reason that I can go talk to all these companies and I can try out different video techniques just by doing a review for my website or something and then if that comes out really well then I can go market it to some clients and actually make a few dollars doing it. In terms of big plans for Ask Dave Taylor, really nothing major on the horizon. I feel it’s just chugging along offering up really good information to my reader base and continually growing pool of content and that seems like a good trajectory to be on.
John: It’s growing user base as well. Certainly since we’ve been working together the site is doing very well. It’s great to see. So I guess we should probably wrap things up in a minute. Have you got any advice for people sort of wanting to put their website in the laboratory and get the mad scientist to work on it for them?
Dave: Yes you want to keep going. Don’t give up.
John: Have you got any advice?
Dave: I just gave you the advice. What’s up dude? Okay so seriously, so the first thing is keep your goals in mind. I think it’s really easy, particularly for us ADD entrepreneurs to get incredibly distracted and things like “does your picture on your home page look beautiful” really is kind of irrelevant unless there’s a business reason for that and you have data and I think that the real win with working with Ezoic is that it forces you to be data driven rather than emotion driven and that’s really, really hard for some business people and that’s why they have very small businesses because they’re all about love, which is great. God bless them, but for people who want to have their business grow, you really need to be dispassionate and you need to look at the data and in that spirit, letting the design be more fluid to try to attain specific goals is smart and just keep plugging away. This is something I say all the time to people is that there are no quick gigs. There are no short cuts. If you want to have a successful website, you just need to plug away at it. It might be months before you see any traction at all so if your plan is just to do this for two weeks and then you’ll be making your millions, then you might as well save yourself the wasted time and just go get a job at the local McDonalds because this is a long game. Everything to do with working online involves time and planning and effort and persistence and I think that that’s where people are hoping this is another get rich quick scheme and I just don’t see anything on the internet like that.
John: I guess that advice is exactly the same advice that I try to tell people, but of course when I’m saying it, people are saying “you’re going to be making money”, but honestly the most patient people are the ones that are the successful ones who can stick it out and that they just let the system do its job and they just keep doing content and the rest of it kind of all happens over time. I foresee a time when the actual process of designing is all going to happen like this. It’s all going to happen from the user reaction to things rather than all of this sort of “I’m going to go and buy a template and I’m going to try that”, which I guess has taken over from people sitting and paying people to create their website. They ask for them ten years ago or whenever it was.
Dave: Well if you remember MySpace, that’s the great example of what happens when you give people that have no clue about design and layout the power to create design and layout.
John: Yeah that’s a very good point. It was an ugly place, but the butterflies were very pretty to that person so that’s okay. Cool. Well Dave we should wrap things up here. I just want to say thanks again for your time. I really appreciate it and thanks for your patience as well and thanks for coming on the podcast and if there’s anything that you want to kind of sign off with the people that have been listening, I guess now is you final chance.
Dave: Alright, well I’ll just invite everyone to visit my website at AskDaveTaylor.com and then reload or look in a different browser and see what you get because that’s Ezoic behind the scenes giving you strange, unusual, sometimes psychedelic and other times quite aesthetically pleasing layouts, but the content is all mine. As they say, any mistakes I have to own unfortunately. Anyway, it’s been great John. It’s been really a pleasure talking to you.
John: Thanks very much Dave.