Casey Means: Ultimately, if you’re an entrepreneur, that’s what you’re doing, you’re trying to change something about the system or create a product that’s going to better the world. You have to get people to care, you have to get people to understand what you’re doing and why it matters and get people excited. And so that is what content does, that’s how you cross that chasm. And I think that content, it’s how you connect with other people about your vision for the world. And when you do it well, it can create incredible lasting connection.
Ben Grynol: I’m Ben Grynol, part of the early startup team here at Levels. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health, and this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is a whole new level. So Mike Haney, head of content and the editorial director for Levels, he and Casey Means, chief medical officer and one of the co-founders at Levels. The two of them sat down to talk about the history of content at Levels, how it came to be. And really it started out as an initiative that Casey undertook and really got off the ground. And a lot of the inspiration and the insight for it actually came from Casey’s background. She’s a formerly trained doctor, she went through medical school. And during that time, she spent a lot of time writing, thinking through things like healthcare policy.
Ben Grynol: Even growing up, she was immersed in writing, she loved doing it. And so content came naturally when she decided to undertake the initiative with Levels. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but she focused a lot on the quality of the pieces that were getting put out, and really this angle to educate people about metabolic health, to create awareness that there’s an epidemic, that there’s a global crisis in metabolic health. And so as she evolved the content operation, more and more articles were put out through the level’s blog, became this source, the source of truth, the source of education for many people to get insight about their own health, about ways that they could change their behavior even if they weren’t using a CGM.
Ben Grynol: Well, eventually in the fall of 2020, Mike Haney came on board. Haney, as he’s referred to internally, we’ve got three Mikes on the team, so Haney from here on out. He really got the content off the ground from a publishing perspective. He spent almost 20 years in different editorial roles. He worked with Popular Science for 15 of those alone. So he and Casey when they sat down, he interviewed her and he got her take on how content started and where it’s going. Here’s Haney.
Mike Haney: So what we’re going to tackle today is sort of era one of content at Levels. And then in a future show, we’ll talk about era two, which is post me joining. So in a nice bit of meta pod casting here, I will interview you about the first part of content at Levels since you really got this operation up and running and handed me such a nicely shaped thing to get going with.
Casey Means: Yeah, that sounds great. I think this is going to be a fun overview of how we started things from the beginning, which was almost two years ago I was looking back at some of the documents that were from August 2019. And so this was really me coming on and trying things out and learning as I was going and starting this content operation. And so I think that hopefully this chat will be helpful for people who are maybe entrepreneurs and starting a content operation and having virtually no experience in that, which was where I was coming from. And just really learning and iterating and seeing so quickly the value that can be generated from investing in content. So hopefully this will provide a little bit of a framework and roadmap for people who are getting started.
Mike Haney: Yeah, I think it will, I think that’ll be great. Well, that leads really nicely into the first question, which is when you came on to the Levels team, and obviously you came on with a number of expertise, including being a doctor. So you came on as chief medical officer and bringing all that medical experience to the company. But you also came and I think from the beginning really took on the content role. So how much of a content background did you bring to this job? I know you edit a medical journal or you have in the past, I believe. Did you bring any other journalism or writing experience into this role?
Casey Means: Yeah. So I have really loved writing throughout my whole life, and it’s definitely been one of the creative outlets that I’m most passionate about. And it’s taken many different forms. I’ve written about or published around 10 peer-reviewed scientific articles. So based on biomedical research I’ve done throughout my life at different universities I was a part of, and at the NIH. I really love medical humanities, so I’ve published poetry in national medical journals about medical experiences I’ve had as a clinician. I’ve published short stories on clinical experiences. I also really love writing editorials and opinion pieces. These tend to focus on healthcare economics, nutrition, food policy, metabolic health. And so have published a bit in The Hill and some others. All of it centers around that healthcare policy and food but then also the medical humanities. And really what medical humanities is is the intersection of the practice of medicine with writing and philosophy and the arts and provides us creative expression outlet for professionals in the medical field and patients too.
Casey Means: So in medical school, that was actually my area of concentration was medical humanities. You could do cancer or other hard science things. And mine was really actually about medical humanities. So what that meant was we ran a writing symposium at Stanford, I was a teaching assistant for medical creative writing at the medical school. And I just hadn’t always been passionate about that because what medical humanities does is it really gets clinicians to step back and to reflect and to think. And in the midst mainstream medical culture, which is all about volume and production and guidelines, it can be super easy to stop doing the critical thinking and the independent thought in the whirlwind of the industrial medical complex. And so I actually really credit medical humanities and all of that writing and that support to do that to really honestly why I was led from my practice to Levels because it got me to step back and really think about things.
Casey Means: And some of the really weird stuff I was seeing in the way medicine was being practiced and that it wasn’t quite working, and that we as a country were getting sicker and getting more depressed, and this is not working. So there’s really an intersection between I think that history and ending up doing what I’m doing now. So I was a section editor for a medical humanities journal in medical school. And then after medical school and residency, I found out about this really cool journal called International Journal of Disease Reversal and Prevention, which is this awesome academic journal that documents essentially the science of nutrition and lifestyle to prevent, suspend, and reverse disease. And I pitched them and I said, they just were starting the journal, and I said, “Hey, it doesn’t look like you guys have a medical humanities section, are you open to having me join and create this and be an editor for it?”
Casey Means: And they let me essentially do a sample, like a trial for that with one of their editions. And it was just a really huge success, lots of doctors submitted. And so I’ve been editing that section now for a couple of years, and it’s been incredibly fulfilling to work with physicians and researchers and edit their stuff and go back and forth with them to really refine their pieces. So broadly some editorial experience for really more medical humanities and then lots of writing experience within scientific writing and creative writing and poetry.
Mike Haney: That is fascinating. I feel like I could steer this into an hour long conversation about medical humanities because as somebody who focused on humanities but not the medical part, I’m fascinated that that is a actual thing and a part of med school. BUt I’ll just indulge myself in maybe one or two quick questions about this before we get back to the Levels experience, and maybe it will be relevant. Is medical humanities something that’s known? Is anybody who’s gone through medical school aware of that, are most doctors aware of that or is it fairly niche within the medical profession?
Casey Means: I would say it’s not something every medical trainee or physician engages with, but I think many are aware that it exists. It’s becoming something that a lot of medical schools have departments in. It’s been shown to be very valuable for clinician burnout. Having a writing practice within the mindfulness type practices is very helpful to clinicians, and that’s actually been studied and published about. I think it’s the type of thing that really should be part of the standard curriculum because, like I mentioned, it’s this structured time to step back and reflect and think and really regain that awe what you’re doing. I think that when you’re in medical training on a day-to-day basis, you’re dealing with such serious things and such existential things like birth and death and trauma and suffering and dismemberment. And all of this, it can be traumatic to just be in that constantly. But stepping back and thinking about it and thinking about their picture and your role in that, that is what transforms those experiences into awe and into inspiration.
Casey Means: You do need the time to integrate that though, and writing is just such an incredible catalyst for that or visual arts or whatever it is. I think the people who are really interested in medical humanities are big proponents of making that really deeply embedded in medical training. And then there’s also great research that it’s excellent for patients who are in the clinical setting to also be doing writing as a therapeutic tool. I would say it’s a big thing, but it’s not necessarily a fully integrated part of the medical curriculum. You have to seek it out for yourself, but there’s lots of resources available. And we can link to them, I actually wrote a long article for a journal about medical humanities, so we can link to that in the show notes, which kind of gives the full overview.
Mike Haney: Oh, that’s fantastic. That would be great. Fast forwarding to when you join Levels and started thinking about the content operation, was content something that was in the air in the early days of Levels already or was it a notion that you brought in or that started being discussed once you started? What spurred this idea of having a robust editorial component to the company early on?
Casey Means: Some of it really evolved organically, and some of it was really driven by Sam and him having a really intelligent vision and foresight to understand that content could be a really powerful lever for many, many things in the company. From building trust with the community, whether that’s potential future members or investors or broader network. For also just getting traffic to our early site, for also just building the movement around metabolic health that we were doing at Levels. And I think when you’re doing something completely new like giving a medical device to healthy people to optimize their diet, and you’re introducing the first bio wearable for wellness purposes, you have to start by getting people to understand and why you’re doing what you’re doing, why it’s important. That’s critical, it’s table stakes.
Casey Means: And the best way to do that I think is content. I mean, you’ve got to create content to cross that chasm and cross that bridge. And so Sam I think was really thinking about this. And also just in terms of his general philosophy about business, which has fed into our asynchronous culture and our remote culture. It’s that writing things down is so efficient because that scales. When you write something down, that content, it scales and it compounds. And it’s evergreen, it lives on. And so for one unit of work towards content, you can get so much lasting units of output. And so that was definitely an ethos that when I came to the company originally as a medical adviser, that was there. But then I think that it also was really organic.
Casey Means: I joined the company, I met the team in about August of 2019, so almost two years ago. And I had my own private practice at that time. And when I joined the company as a medical advisor in about August 2020, one of the things that I was really passionate about sharing was how many symptoms and how many conditions that we’re facing in the US are related to metabolic dysfunction and poor blood sugar control. And I remember after one of my first in-person meetings with the co-founders down in San Francisco, I put together a spreadsheet that was basically just all of the conditions I knew of that were related to blood sugar in some way. So it was a really long list, it was like acne and psoriasis and decreased immunity and infertility and wound healing problems and stroke and arthritis and Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, and low testosterone and chronic pain. And I linked for each of these to multiple papers that basically showed there was a relationship between blood sugar and these conditions.
Casey Means: So the opportunity to teach people about blood sugar dysregulation as a link to all these different things and pain points, clinical pain points or just more subjective pain points in life. There was so much there. It’s funny, that spreadsheet that is from August 2019 or I think I said a little bit earlier I joined August 2020. It was August 2019. That spreadsheet looks like the table of contents of our blog essentially. It’s a lot of the pieces that we’ve actually ended up writing. And so starting with that science of what is just the relationship scientifically between blood glucose and all these other things, that was the seed to start our content operation because I realized, hey, let’s dig deeper into this and understand this landscape more. So when I came on, which was just for a few hours a week, my first deliverable really was to look into the research and build a research compilation about the relationship of glucose to all these different clinical conditions and symptoms.
Casey Means: And so I spent several months writing that, and I completed that in December of 2019. And it was essentially a really long research compilation compiling, like a literature review of how glucose relates to mental health issues, how glucose relates to skin, how glucose relates to weight. And from that research compilation, we started producing blog posts, some of which were just verbatim from the sections of that research compilation. So that was completed in December, and then January 5th of 2020 was when we published our first blog post. And so that was the organic conversations about metabolic health and how broad it is, and this really systems biology approach to metabolic health, like this is the root of so many things digging into that research and then creating externally facing content from that. And our first piece was this, actually Josh put up our first post, which was this very short piece called what is metabolic fitness?
Casey Means: And from there, we just started pulling from that research compilation and just posting them on this blog in January 2020. Just to give some concrete metrics. So in January, we had three articles, it was glucose and skin health, glucose and exercise, and glucose and weight loss plus this short what is metabolic fitness piece. And in January, these articles cumulatively got 588 page views. So 588 pages views. And then if you look a year later in traffic just during January of 2021, so just a few months ago, we had 92,000 page views. So it was from 588 to 92,000. And I think since the start of our blog, it’s been about 18 months, we’ve had around 790,000 page views. And so that’s how it initially started evolving. And then we started learning from that and realizing like, oh, we’ve got to really double down on this, this is generating some great fruit. But that was in the very, very beginning.
Mike Haney: It’s really interesting that the genesis of this I think in contrast maybe to the way that a lot of other companies might think about content. From the beginning, it sounds like, the motivation was education. The motivation was we need to move this company’s mission forward, we need to make sure people understand the context of what it is we’re trying to do and why this is useful and what kinds of problems we’re trying to solve as opposed to a marketing tool. Not to say that educational content isn’t a marketing tool, but it wasn’t aimed from beginning about why you need a CGM or why our particular product is great. Was that what you were thinking about at the time? Was there any discussion or debate internally about what is the purpose of this content or what do we think the success metrics will be? Or maybe another way of asking it is who did you think was the audience at the time? Who did you feel like you were writing for when those first couple dozen articles or first dozen articles were going up?
Casey Means: Yeah. To be perfectly honest, those first few articles, I don’t know if we really knew who the audience was at that point. I think we were in fitting with the Levels culture, we were really being iterative. We were saying, we’re going to put this out there and see what happens. It was so early, we didn’t even have a product at that point. And so it wasn’t really clear. But I do have to really credit Sam for getting the ball rolling on this. He really I think pushed. I was there as this doctor thinking, “Oh, I’m going to put together research and build this research foundation for the company.” But he really was instrumental in catalyzing like, “Let’s pull the trigger on pushing this content forward and really start experimenting and get it out there.”
Casey Means: And me, the doctor perfectionist who felt every word needed to be perfect. Coming from just nature of medicine I’m like, “No, no, no, no, let’s not, let’s not, we don’t need to put … And he really was like, “No, let’s put it up, let’s see what happens.” And he was the first one to really also get us in touch with some content marketing writers he had I think sourced from talking to his founder friends. Really had understood that content can really be such a huge tool. And so got some content marketing writers to put together some pieces about metabolic health that would really be focused on this externally facing blog stuff. I of course received those and we were reviewing them, and we were evaluating writers to potentially work with.
Casey Means: Something that I realized really early on is that you can pull together, a writer can pull together research findings and might write an article about soda and glucose or keto diet or something like that. But we really needed to do something beyond that, we needed to be more merging what the research shows with also a very strong perspective. That is where I think we really needed to do something a little bit differently. And like we talked about, we’re moving the ball forward, we’re changing the mental model through which people are approaching health and wellness here with a new tool. And so our content had to really be unique and source the best research and science and with a really forward thinking perspective that adds value and gets people thinking and gets people trusting us and what we have to say.
Casey Means: Early on, it became clear to me we have to be trustworthy and add value and have a perspective for this to work and to really do something otherwise, there’s a lot of health blogs out there, it could just fall into many other things that look very similar. We really need to paint a totally new picture of the full landscape of metabolic health. I think with content marketing, and that term means a lot of things to a lot of different people. I quickly moved away from what I consider a strictly content marketing effort to more of an editorial effort. And the way I see those two things as different is that I think content marketing sometimes has this connotation of you’re using this content to drive people to your site for conversions.
Casey Means: And you are often leveraging the word you’re using in the article, tap into the SEO, Search Engine Optimization algorithms with Google, trying to just get ranked highly and get people to your site. And it doesn’t really matter what’s in the article as long as it gets people to you as a company. And that’s just not where I thought for a medical device that people are implanting into their arm and it’s very new, I didn’t think that was going to be the win for us, I thought really building that trust was going to be the win for us. Early on, we focused on quality and really focused on producing the content in-house. And what we saw was that this had a really immediate ROI. People were giving us incredible feedback on the content. Even with these high investment quality over quantity approach, we were still getting immense increases in our numbers.
Casey Means: In the first six months of the blog, we went from that first month of 588 page views to by just June had 18,000 page views. And that was without any marketing, that was just because of the engine and people sending, like the SEO engine and Google recognizing that this was quality. And that’s 18,000 eyeballs caring about metabolic health and learning about Levels without spending a single marketing dollar. So we just decided to really run with that and double down on quality. There were a lot of things that helped me frame my thoughts about this, a lot of books that I read. One of the best books I read early on was this book called They Ask You Answer, which was about the difference between traditional content marketing and editorial operations. And what they really emphasize is that content needs to be building trust and increasing awareness, and that normal marketing is really a thing of the past.
Casey Means: These days people don’t want to see interruptive ads, they don’t want to see fluff pieces, they don’t want to talk to salespeople. How do people find out about products? They Google a question that’s usually a pain point in their life like, why do I have belly fat or does a keto diet work? And they’re doing this every day 50 times a day. And basically the idea in this book was that any question that even remotely is related to your company or your company’s domain needs to be answered by your site in the best possible way. And what that’s going to do is you’re going to start ranking for those terms, and people are also going to then start coming to you for answers. So they ask, that’s the title of book, They Ask You Answer.
Casey Means: And so it really became focused on, okay, we’re going to produce the best answers for people about topics that is any way related to metabolic health. And I think people underestimate customers or members’ willingness to consume content, but you can actually quantify this stuff. And in this book, they basically showed that customers who had read … The guy who wrote the book, he owns a pool building company, a fiberglass pool company. So these are really high-cost purchases like $50,000 or more. And what they could quantify is that people read I think over 150 pages of content. Before coming to a sales meeting, they basically could almost guarantee that they were going to convert to a sale or something like that.
Casey Means: And so it was like if you read, you were more likely to convert. But not because they told you anything about why you should buy a pool, but because you were so embedded and knew so much about. All the questions that you’d had about pools were answered, and you just had all this trust. So it’s not specifically focused on conversions or selling the product, it’s just focused on answering people’s questions, they become comfortable and interested. So that was really something that helped me frame my early thoughts on really focusing on an editorial content operation rather than just an SEO machine, hundreds of pieces that were all just focused on getting people to the site as quickly as possible.
Mike Haney: That’s a really interesting and useful distinction because even within that quality approach that you were taking, you’re still mindful of search as a tool and search as a discovery channel for people to find the blog but prioritizing first the answers have to be really good, they have to be related to what we’re doing. They have to be, in our case, deeply researched and sourced. And then that will provide the good answer as opposed to sometimes I think what can be a shortcut when you go, what do people want to know? What’s the cheapest and easiest and fastest way I can just answer that question to try to rise up? And we’ve all seen those answers when we go to Google things. And it is heartening that that effort paid off, that we saw good rankings from it and continue to, and that Google is recognizing when the answers to those questions are good.
Mike Haney: And then the point that’s made in the book that I think is so interesting and so useful for us moving forward that people whose questions you’ve answered are more likely to become customers and stick with you. Certainly tracks one of the things an old editor of mine said early on was people like to be made to feel smart, they don’t like to be made to feel dumb. And if you make people feel smart, they will stick with you. And I think about that all the time when I’m writing of, is somebody going to read this phrase or the answer to this question? And if they don’t understand it, they won’t actually blame me, they’ll think they’re just not smart enough to get it. And you will suddenly make them feel dumb and they won’t like you very much, and they won’t come back to your site because they’ll go, “No, I don’t know, that’s just not for me.”
Mike Haney: But if you bring people along and you explain things and you address their concerns, they’ll keep coming back to you because you’ve made them feel smart and people like to feel smart. And I feel like that probably contributes in some way to the idea of, boy, I wanted to learn about pools, these people told me everything I needed to know before I ever talked to a salesperson. Now, I’m an expert in pools, I want to deal with these people to actually get my pool right. As opposed to somebody who might talk down to them or just try to feed them the answers that would lead to a sale as opposed to what felt like an honest answer.
Casey Means: Totally. Another just concrete metric that we saw that was really heartening was not just about numbers, which were going up and up month after month, but this 200X increase over the course of one year, but also engagement was high. So we were looking at metrics like average time on page. And we saw that our average time on page is almost four minutes, people are spending time with the articles. If you go to a crappy article, you’re not going to spend more than 30 seconds on it. But if you really get into it and start reading it, you’re going to spend some time on there. That was something also that we focused on just as important as a metric as just page views. And some of our articles, like our top performing articles of all time like what are optimal glucose levels? Some of these articles I think have an average time on page of six or seven minutes, it’s really interesting. So that was also something that we focused on as well.
Mike Haney: Yeah. And that continues to remain high, which leaves to say is heartening that even as there’s more content to choose from and greater competition in some of these areas from other people writing them that we continue to see those high engagement times is great. I’m curious if there’s anything else that you, any other ideas that you brought into this effort that either quickly panned out? I mean, you talked about this sort of focusing on education and answering the questions. Or was there anything that you thought and then quickly learned you were wrong about? Were there any foibles or mis-directions or experiments that you tried that you got some learning from?
Casey Means: I think one thing that was validated very early on other than this quality and quantity but really focused in quality, that was a big one. But also just the extent to which content scales has a life of its own and how it’s just one of I think the best in time investments you can make early on in a company. And specifically early on in a company, when the market is early, when people aren’t talking about it that much, you want to be there in that. It might be seem strange when you’re starting a company focusing on a product to be like, “Oh, should I spend all this time on writing and investing in this?” One of our first 15 hires was you, an editorial director. That might seem odd to a lot of companies, and yet I think that I just cannot reiterate enough how important that is. Because when you put something out there, the engine starts going. First, obviously the Google SEO engine starts seeing it. And as people click on it, it rises up.
Casey Means: But then people start sharing it to social, and we could send it to prospective hires, we could send it to investors, we could send the content … We could start building a newsletter around it, we could pull from it for our product education and send it to members, early members who had questions. Someone says, my glucose is erratic, what do I do? We didn’t necessarily have a product at that point that could feed them information because it was so early, but we could send them an article that said, “Here’s 12 glucose lowering strategies.” It guided what we said in our first podcast tour. We could create this derivative content for our social media feeds. It lends this credibility externally, and also got people to take us seriously if we wanted to do guest posts.
Casey Means: We early on were offering to do guest posts for a lot of other outlets to get more visibility about Levels. And to say like, “Here’s our arsenal of stuff we’ve already written, does any of this interest you?” So that just scalability and all the utility of content, it’s amazing. And I think it’s probably a lot of people would say it’s so strange that you’re a physician and trained as a surgeon and you’re focused on content for a health tech startup. This is actually such an important role for someone like me. There’s nothing really strange about it because if you’re a physician working at a health tech or a healthcare company and you’re trying to bring a perspective into the world about healthcare that you think is going to positively impact human health.
Casey Means: And ultimately, if you’re an entrepreneur, that’s what you’re doing, you’re trying to change something about the system or create a product that’s going to better the world. You have to get people to care, you have to get people to understand what you’re doing and why it matters and get people excited. And so that is what content does. And that’s how you cross that chasm. It’s like marketing is a beautiful thing. And I say marketing, I really mean more content. It’s how you connect with other people about your vision for the world, and that’s really exciting. And when you do it well, it can create incredible lasting connection, which is ultimately I think what we’re trying to do as a business is create connection and create a movement. So that’s one thing.
Casey Means: I think the other I think early learning was just that how much your network and people in your network can help you on this journey. I was coming to this really just happy to iterate and learn at every step of the way. This was really my domain in the beginning of the company and all of the five co-founders were all doing different things. And this was really what I was a big part of, what I was focusing my time on. I just would encourage anyone to just keep a beginner’s mindset and keep learning. And just don’t feel stupid, just keep asking questions. You may not be a content expert, but it’s just absolutely something you can learn. And it’s so fun to learn about. The first six months, I was just constantly talking to people who knew about content, about running this kind of operation. I would record the Zoom calls and take notes and synthesize the thoughts and then figure out what I needed to dive deeper into.
Casey Means: So I was Googling articles about top 10 tips to boost SEO status of your article. And I’d try some of them out and see what happens. And I got a subscription to different programs like Ahrefs, which is where I could understand backlinks and featured snippets. I got accounts for Google search console and Google analytics and had people who knew how to use those programs walk me through them. And again, recorded the videos and then studied them. And huge shout outs to David Flinner from our team and Alex Moskov who just literally took my hand and walked me through how to use these programs and how to track things like average search ranking and content drill down and how to see page views and average time on page and how to track these things over time.
Casey Means: There’s just so many e-courses out there. I did a great e-course from Nick Sharma, huge shout out to Nick Sharma who talked about the differences between earned media and owned media and paid media. And people told me to follow Gary V., and I just like followed everything that he, he’s a marketing expert, everything he put out there about multi-channel content distribution. And then read thread a bunch of books, which were so helpful. They Ask You Answer is my number one favorite. But also Rework by the Basecamp team and Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday both talk about the power of content for entrepreneurs. So it’s just so fun, you just figure it out. I remember our SEO trends dipped one month, and I was just googling, why do SEO trends dip?
Casey Means: And it was like, okay, well it could be website changes, maybe you switched platforms, maybe it’s page migration, backlinks being dropped, the load time is longer, maybe the meta descriptions there’s a problem or there’s decreased engagement on the page. So then just systematically digging into each one of those and realizing that we were switching between Webflow and WordPress, we had a recent website change. And so that is exactly when we dipped. And also there was an issue with our load time on the pages increasing, which people helped us figure out. It’s like, okay, so there’s a reason why this happened. And another thing I did early was really starting to report on these metrics, these basic SEO metrics to our team to keep us accountable.
Casey Means: I think it was very exciting for the team to see how much growth there was month after month. And it was almost magical like you’re putting something out into the world and you’re getting all this return of people just caring and seeing without even trying or doing paid advertising for it. So that was just a really fun initial spark before we had a lot of customers or members to be like, people are listening, people are looking at this, this is awesome. So that’s a big takeaway I had just from the beginning is it really doesn’t matter if you don’t have that much experience in this, you just have to talk to people, talk to your network, learn from people who are smarter than you, keep talking to people, take notes and then google all the things you don’t know. And you can cobble something together.
Casey Means: One of my favorite professional processes I’ve ever been through is learning this type of stuff. And then of course, when you came on, just seeing how a professional does all this has been one of the most inspiring experiences in my life because I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, the systematizing of this stuff that we cobbled together, it’s just incredible.” That would just be my recommendations for entrepreneurs that experience getting started and how to start validating and dipping your toes in.
Mike Haney: I think there’s a really good lesson in that when you talked about that learning curve and things that come up like, oh my God, one month the traffic kind of dips, and you’re not sure why. I think it also speaks to why it’s useful to start this early on and to start bringing this expertise into your company, whether it’s through somebody on the team who may not have this as a background and is going through learning curve or bringing on somebody who has more of a background. Even if somebody who has a background of some kind comes in, there’s always going to be a learning curve because every company in operation is a little bit different. But to do it at a time when the stakes are still relatively low, you have room to learn, you have room to experiment.
Mike Haney: When the traffic dipped that first month, it wasn’t mission critical to the company. It wasn’t like, “Oh my God, the orders are going to go down 50% this month, and what are we going to do?” A lot of folks may think, “Well, content is a very big investment, it’s a whole space. We’re going to have to figure it out, we’re going to have to hire people. Let’s wait until we’re really up and running and we really need it, and then we can get it going and activate it as a marketing or a traffic channel. But then you’re really building the plane as you’re trying to fly it. It seems like in retrospect this was really useful that you got to acquire all that knowledge in those early days.
Casey Means: Absolutely. Like you said, the stakes were lower, you could experiment a lot and without a lot of people watching necessarily and iterate, just keep changing things around. If we did a total blog redo right now, I think a lot of people would notice. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a lot more to carry over into just infrastructure. And early on, you can really experiment a little bit with what works and hypothesis test.
Mike Haney: So moving ahead, you have these learnings, you’re getting going, the traffic is building. At some point, it sounds like you realized that this was going to have to probably scale beyond you. And I’m curious how early that happened. Because I can see one potential response to listening to this is that’s great, but it sounds like a ton of work. And clearly, you were putting a lot of hours into this effort in addition to other things you were doing like most founding teams, most people involved are wearing multiple hats. So what did you learn as you started to think about how to scale this beyond you being the sole person doing the reporting and writing? What did you learn as you looked for other contributors, other folks to help you?
Casey Means: I was looking back at this to remember the dates a little bit. And I think that when we first realized we needed to hire Mike Haney or bring someone in, a professional to help with this was about August of 2020. So really a year after we started, about eight months after really starting the blog. So what I realized very early on, much early on in that year was that I needed help with writing. There was so much that needed to be written. And just that editorial idea calendar was so long, and I couldn’t do it all. I was taking on other roles at the company, I ended up coming on full-time in March of 2020 after consulting for the first six months or so. And I was taking on other roles at the company like managing our press and PR and building out our advisory board and starting the podcast tour, which is quite consuming.
Casey Means: And so I needed some people to really just take outlines and the topics and flesh out the articles. So we had about 40 articles in the pipeline. What I did was I created this long document where I listed each article and what I wanted written and included sections about what would the abstract be? What was the hook? What was the main thesis and the conceptual framework, and then what were some key references? Then had to find writers essentially. The thing that was overwhelming to me was just how many types of writers there are and how many options there are of who to work with and not really knowing what was right. And so I basically tried them all. I worked with writers from content marketing agencies, I worked with writers who were contracted through our PR company. I worked with PhD science writers, I worked with medical doctors who liked to write. I worked with our medical advisors to produce content.
Casey Means: So I just tried all of these things. Oh, and also just guest, people who wrote us to basically do a guest piece. There was for instance a pharmacist who likes metabolic health and was like, “Can I write an article for your blog?” So I would do one-off things like that. So I tried all of these things, and there was tons of value and learning with each of them. And we produced some of our content that way for sure from each of those sources. But one of the biggest takeaways I found was that there was a lot of overhead still on my part managing writers. I moved from spending a lot of time writing and researching to spending a lot of time managing all the writers and the process and the coordination.
Casey Means: So it was creating the outline, what we were trying to say, reviewing what they wrote, editing it. And then of course all the logistical stuff like getting it on the site, getting the images, really every step, uploading it and doing all the hyperlinks within the article. So it was very hands-on. And so it just became pretty clear to me after maybe four or five months of that that I needed to bring someone on in-house. So that was about August 2020 when we started working on that. And that actually stemmed from an exercise I did in that summer with Sam’s guidance where I inventoried my time in a very detailed way and saw that just such a huge percentage of my time was going into content. And it was actually a lot of stuff that I didn’t really like doing or it wasn’t really leveraging my expertise or my gifts really. Someone else could do it I think in a lot more structured and efficient way.
Casey Means: We sort of went down that road then of what is this going to look like? It came into we need to hire essentially some editor-in-chief or a head of content or an editorial director to take us to the next level. We knew we wanted content to be a really big part of our long-term goal, so who’s going to take to Levels as really a dominant media organization within the health and wellness field? So I really felt this was a critical hire, so we spent a ton of time prepping for this hire. I knew it was someone who I really wanted to be mind melded with me in terms of we had to really get what we were trying to say and the perspective and see eye to eye, share the vision and scale Levels into a media organization and the voice of metabolic health.
Casey Means: It’s not just about creating content to sell people Levels, it’s about changing the healthcare industry, the food industry. It was big. What we did, we did what we normally do at Levels, we turned to our network. ANd we asked for help, which I think we do really well. One of my first calls was Sonal Chokshi, the editor-in-chief from Andreessen Horowitz who is genuinely one of the smartest and most charismatic people I’ve ever met in my whole life. And she spent 90 minutes on the phone with me and Sam talking through really what the right type of hire would be. And I had been really focused on wanting to hire someone who was very medical or research focused because I felt like the only way to get the level of rigor that I wanted for the content and to really get the medical nuance was to work with someone who had a medical or a research background.
Casey Means: And what I realized through talking to Sonal was that that wasn’t actually necessarily the right approach. What we really needed was a editor, someone with a senior professional editorial background with science journalism experience, that that might be a better strategy. And she also really helped me understand the difference between hiring essentially a science writer, like a PhD science writer versus an editor and how those things differ. Because what we really wanted was for someone to synthesize and curate and be a tastemaker within metabolic health. Come up with really interesting ideas, see a bunch of papers about some topic and metabolic health and figure out the through line. Something interesting through all of them, what does it mean? Not just take research and summarize it and write it up. And she helped me understand that an editor really sees ideas and angles them and shapes them. People with a science background are super savvy with PubMed and with reading papers. And that’s part of the skillset, and this is an editor.
Casey Means: And so realized that we wanted an editor and not an MD science writer or a PhD science writer. And then she helped us figure out where to find those people and also how to evaluate them. And the actual test part of the interview process, creating editorial tests, sees how someone works. We then wrote a very detailed job description, which she edited. So throughout that whole process, she was so, so, so helpful. I spent a month or so also just talking to a number of other great people in the network who had built editorial operations who helped me flush out this idea. Shout out to Derek Flanzraich, founder of Greatist. I talked to Sandra Daniels who’s the CEO of Thumbtack, Ben Worthen who’s the former Sequoia editor-in-chief, Sarah [inaudible 00:46:03] who’s an incredible journalist and content strategist, many other people and just wrote down everything they said. And essentially came up with this vision, which ended up we founding you, and thank God.
Casey Means: And it was amazing, it was just such an interesting process to have a lot of my preconceived notions be shifted and changed and then realized that everyone was obviously completely right. So I think it might be interesting, we can maybe post the job description with this podcast. But one of the things I loved that we did was we had the job description, which was very detailed as a Google Doc. And each of the candidates annotated in edit mode in a Google Doc the job description, essentially writing all their thoughts on each bullet point within the description and their experience and what they could bring to it and their thoughts on it. And that was very illustrative as opposed to someone just saying, “Yeah, I’ve done all this stuff.” It was multiple paragraphs about what they thought about that particular bullet point and their experience with it.
Casey Means: Then we had them do the edit test, which is this awesome tool that I didn’t even know about before talking to these people in the network, which is basically we created a set of tasks for them to, a homework assignment to learn about their writing style and how they think. And this basically had people evaluate, took essentially a research article from a leading medical website for lay people and critique it, go back and look at the original papers and see if you agree with how they summarize the article. And I picked one where I thought they summarized it really poorly and then wanted to see if people could pick up on that. We had everyone do a pitch for an article basically on a semi obscure metabolic topic to see how they would approach pitching it, finding a through line and then had everyone summarize that pitch into both an Instagram caption and a tweet to see if they could capture the accurate assessment of that topic in a short form.
Casey Means: And then there was an original essay, which we actually paid people to do. And that was basically taking … I loved this. And Sonal gave us this idea, which was to give a bunch of references about a specific topic. And ours was hot flashes and glucose was one of the topics that we gave as an option. Here’s five research references, and they all say something a little bit different in terms of the conclusion. Some say that high blood sugar seems to be protective against hot flashes and others say that metabolic dysfunction promotes hot flashes. And so how does the person take different conclusions and create something that is accurate and balanced and nuanced and still provide service to the reader but keeps total intellectual rigor when the research is somewhat mixed? And so that was super telling. And then the last part of the process was an hour long teach me something session where basically people just taught us something about their content and experience, and you did an amazing talk on rubrics that I just was totally mind blown.
Casey Means: So that was the process. So even throughout that process, I was learning so much about just what these roles are and what they can do. And my vision for what this person could bring to Levels after this whole process just expanded even more. And I’m just so grateful that we ended up connecting with you because it’s like I was reading through the job description again in preparation for this podcast. And I was like, oh my gosh, he needs doing every single one of these things better than I could have possibly imagined. The expectation just exceeded a hundred fold, and I just feel so, so, so, so lucky. But that was the process of scaling from me to finding you. In between that, working with a bunch of more freelance not in-house writers, but yeah.
Mike Haney: So many really important lessons there. I just want to reiterate a couple because there’s so much in there, but I think there’s a few really key points at least from my perspective. One is when you talked early on about having a vision and understanding what you wanted from the blog or the content operation. And I think it’s completely normal for people to go into this process, particularly if it’s going to be run by somebody who doesn’t come from a content background and the company’s very early on to not know that in the beginning and to have that be part of what you learn in those early months as you’re generating pieces and maybe you’re working with writers and you’re looking at those qualitative and feedback mechanisms to start to find your voice and your perspective and what it is that your content operation is trying to do beyond some of those basic tactical things like, yes, you should answer questions people have. But what is the vision and the mission of the content operation?
Mike Haney: I think that really served you in looking to scale it. Once you looked to bring somebody on, something that was very apparent to me early on looking at the site and all the content that had been written, looking at the job description, the edit test, that process that you went through that there was a pretty clear mission here. And I remember one of the things I did a lot during the phone interviews as part of the interview process was I really pushed everybody on it. I brought my journalistic skepticism to it and was like, “Okay, it seems you guys are doing this, but are you seriously doing that? Is that really what you mean? Is this really about education or this intellectual rigor to it, following the science where it goes, even if it might disagree with some of the company objectives?” If we have data that says, hey, the findings in this particular area are unclear, which we still deal with in articles all the time where there isn’t a clear takeaway, are we okay saying that?
Mike Haney: And it was clear even at that point that you had done enough work in this space and brought enough perspective to know what that mission was. And I think that really serves because it could have gone a different way. If you didn’t know what it was you wanted to do, you could have hired somebody who was super talented and really smart and great and maybe even a good culture fit but just had a different vision. And it would take six months of you wrestling back and forth to figure out, oh boy, this person’s taking this whole thing in a direction we’re not really comfortable with. And you could undo an awful lot. This happens a lot in editorial operations when a new editor-in-chief comes in and you think everybody’s aligned. And you realize down the road like, “Oh, we’re really not.”
Mike Haney: And so I think that point of when you start to think about scaling it, whether it’s through contractors or bringing somebody on to make sure that you are constantly checking back in on do we have a vision, a mission and understanding of what the point of this content operation is, what we’re trying to do? Be clear about that so that you can share it with the people who are coming on. You used the phrase one time us talking about some article, and it’s a really nice distillation of this, and I use it all the time even with writers, which is what are we adding to the internet? Because so much of the content, as you said there’s a million health blogs out there. There’s fantastic ones Greatist or Healthline who are covering this stuff and bringing research and reporting to it. And if we’re not doing something unique, it’s not to say there’s no value, but there’s certainly greater value in having a vision that always points us back to that question of what are we adding to the internet with our take on this particular topic?
Mike Haney: The other thing that I think flows downstream from that and I think is a really nice underlining of your point about reaching out to your network and being a constant student in this process is the edit test and the job description. I love the fact that the job description was iterated on a lot as you learned. I think that’s a really useful lesson for people to remember that your first job description might not be the right one and you should always be open. If you start interviewing people and you’re not finding the right fit, I feel it’s always useful to look back and say maybe the problem is not the candidates, maybe it’s that we don’t quite know what we’re looking for, we’re not articulating it well yet. And I know that you did a lot of work in arriving at that job description.
Mike Haney: And then the last thing I’ll just mention is to really underline in this content world the value of the edit test to somebody who’s taken a lot and written a lot and done it well and done it poorly, it’s a really, really useful tool. And I know with a lot of our positions we hire, we do a technical challenge of some kind to assess people’s ability. But it’s really useful not only for you to see what that person can do and to tick off those boxes of do they have the rigor and reporting? Can they dig through a journal? Can they synthesize these ideas? I’ll say it’s also incredibly useful for the candidate. One of the things Sam has said that I think is really useful is don’t forget that a bad hire is worse for the person who is hired than for the company.
Mike Haney: The person who was hired who ends up in the wrong job has just made a really big life change and probably lost several months of their professional life and caused some amount of stress by ending up in the wrong position. I think it’s really useful when we hire to keep that in mind, to have that empathy for the person on the other side not just what the cost might be to the company. And I found this edit test a really good sample of what it was going to be like to do this job. And gave me a really good chance to sit back and think, okay, is this what … I spent probably a week full-time on that edit test because it was really thorough and pretty involved. But it was really useful because I got to spend a week doing the job. And that gave me a really good taste of is this a job that I want to do over and over? Is this how I want to spend my weeks?
Mike Haney: And it was great, I loved it. For me, it really cemented that this was what I wanted to do, and it was the most fun I’d had in content in a long time. I think those are really good lessons, and I think it’s really impressive that you’ve landed on those things through this notion of being a constant student and your openness to iteration.
Casey Means: Thank you. It’s so cool to hear your perspective, and I’m so excited for part two of this podcast hearing more from when you started to now, the second half of all this. Your perspective having been in this for a couple decades or more, it’s amazing. I’d never heard of an edit test before someone mentioned it. Just realizing how powerful of a tool that is. I can imagine people might be starting a company and hire someone to help with content really early on without maybe going through some of that rigor. I would say in hindsight, it’s really worth it to really take some time and think about these things, go through the technical challenges and whatnot. It’s good for both parties, like you said, and it’s worth it. I think if people doesn’t really know how to go about that, reach out to your network and just start asking questions.
Mike Haney: I have a couple more questions to wrap up. So one just looking forward, what are you excited about as you look out? You’re two years into the company, and therefore really about two years into the content operation. What are you excited about looking forward?
Casey Means: Oh my gosh, I’m excited about so much. I think one of the things that gets me most excited all the time at the company is what’s happening with our content and our work together. And I think big picture just philosophically, I think one to two years out I think I’m excited about the Levels content operation having really deeply inspired millions of people. And I think that’s very possible because I think we’ve had almost a million page views so far. And so I think that’s very possible that there’s going to be that many people looking at our content, and has really helped them think about their bodies differently in a way that is very different and much more empowering than the way we’re taught to think about our bodies through the healthcare system and through the reductionist, very siloed view, the body and medicine and organs. And that we have had a role in shifting the mental model of the way in which people think about the interaction between the body and the outside world, whether that’s food or lifestyle choices or whatever. That to me just gets me up in the morning.
Casey Means: We have a platform, people care. And it is so exciting I think to understand your body in this deeper level of core pathways and how you can affect them to make your life better and longer and happier and more vibrant. That’s just big picture. And I think in each of our articles in subtle or overt ways, we ask people to think deeper, think critically, be independent thinkers not just go with the normal standard framework of how to look at illness or disease or health. We’re talking about food, we’re talking about the molecules, and we’re talking about cell biology. And if we’re talking about fiber or we’re talking about the deep microbiome, and if we’re talking about meditation, we get into HRV and Heart Rate Variability and autonomic nervous system. It’s so exciting that people I think like the way we’re talking about it, but that over time, this may in a subtle way get people to just really feel empowered about their bodies and their ability to have agency in their lives and their choices.
Casey Means: So I’m really excited about how our content will hopefully subtly nudge the food industry and the healthcare industry to do better, hold a mirror up to practices that are normal but that are detrimental to people. And that we’ll start to see bigger and bigger shifts in how our content is really standing up against some really big industries by subtly empowering people. On a more practical level, what I’m super excited about is really our multi-channel content distribution strategy that you have outlined so beautifully and that we’re really working on systematizing. Something Sam has led so beautifully at the company is this idea of really just being efficient and scaling content. And I think multi-channel content distribution really epitomizes that investing in really high quality pillar content and then using that to seed 20, 30 different other pieces of content through many, many different channels in a machine way that allows this investment and really high quality, interesting material to just basically be shot out like a firework into the ecosystem in whatever ways people consume their content. Whether it’s social media or audio or on LinkedIn or Twitter or whatever.
Casey Means: I love the idea of leveraging our investments in this massive way, and huge shout out to the Mark Hyman team and Dhru Purohit and Kaya Purohit for really giving us a lot of coaching on that. And obviously to you Mike for creating this vision and getting us started on enacting it. I looked back at a Friday forum we did in March of 2020, the first month that I came on board. And I had this slide that was just a circle in the middle of the slide that says Levels is a metabolic thought leader. And then around that was the spokes of the wheel. And it was just all these ideas of how we could make ourselves a metabolic thought leader. I think it was Instagram content, interviews, testimonials, long-form thought leadership posts, learn module and app education, publishing research, guest posts on other respectable outlets, being on podcasts.
Casey Means: That was over a year ago, and didn’t even know the term multi-channel content distribution, and all of those were going to be one-off things that each took a lot of investment. And now knowing that there’s actually really a way to systematize this and be really efficient in the way you do this from pillar content to trickling down to all these other types of content. It’s so cool to see how far we’ve come from just brainstormed ideas to really a system. So that’s exciting to me. I’m just also very excited to just continue working with you and continue hopefully just inspiring people about metabolic health.
Mike Haney: I think that point about the multi-channel content distribution, which we’ll probably talk more about in part two of where we take content from here from when you passed the reigns of the day-to-day and the strategy over to me. But I think it does actually circle back to a point you made early on about content scaling. I know one of the questions I hear a lot and I want to end on some advice, we’ve given plenty already, but any other key points that you give other people who ask how to do this. But I know one of the things I hear when I get that question is about how much it costs, and is it worth the investment? I just talked to somebody this morning who was expressing really deep admiration for the kind of content that we do. And it’s recorded, and it’s so deep and reader focused. But saying, well, I could never pay my writers that much. And certainly everybody has their own budget they have to work within.
Mike Haney: But I think the point about scaling is a really important one to remember when you think about the longterm ROI of this investment. If you make good content that answers questions really well, that people are going to continue to have. And if you think about it becoming that what we talk about, I think you gave me this term, pillar content versus micro content or maybe we got that from Gary V.. But if you think about that piece of content not just as one thing you’ve created once and it cost this much money, but as being a pillar that is holding up the whole information ecosystem you’re creating that then has all these offshoots that just continue on over time, that cost looks a lot more reasonable.
Mike Haney: And I know we’ve seen that I think even in the eight months or so that I’ve been here. The more we create, the more there is to build upon. So now when we go to do a guest post or we go to create some new Instagram slides, we’ve got stuff to pull from. It’s not creating it from scratch every time because we’ve carefully and methodically invested in this base of content. I think it’s a nice bit of evidence that there is value in making this investment early on and thinking about it in more of a longterm lens.
Casey Means: Totally. And I love that concept about cost because it’s not just about producing a piece of content, it’s potentially that that one investment is seating 20 or 30 things not to mention it lives on for years. There’s two other things I just realized I was also really, really excited about with content that I’m just going to throw in really quickly. One is that when we launch and actually people can come to the website and buy the product, I am going to be very excited to do that exercise that I mentioned in They Ask You Answer where it’s like you can predict how many blog posts people need to read and which blog posts people read and how they flow through the site that ultimately ends up with them becoming a customer.
Casey Means: And not because our blog is set up for conversions, but because I think it’s going to be really fascinating to see the behavior of people essentially walking through the content, and then what eventually makes people flip into I want to track my own metabolic health. So I think that’s going to be fascinating. It’s not something we’ve really been able to do super robustly I think yet because we don’t actually have a way for people to convert to a customer. But I think that could just be a very interesting exercise. And it will also maybe provide some telling data of what is most compelling to people about metabolic health that gets them most driven to be like, “This is me, I want to track in my own life.” Again, not really for necessarily just the sales and conversion side of things, but because it’s really good information about what matters to people and how we can provide more value doubling down on that with content and education.
Casey Means: The second thing is we’re doing all this really amazing research with our research partners at Yale and University of south Florida, at Thomas Jefferson University, and Brigham Young. I think that when we start potentially publishing findings, I’m really excited, and even when the research projects really just get underway, really excited to be sharing more about that through our content on our blog and sharing about our incredible research partners and how we’re trying to really advance the state of metabolic health research. And I’m also just pumped for more potential content that has to do with population data that we’re seeing as our member grow. What types of trends in this anonymized aggregated data we’re seeing about metabolic health in this population and what we learn about food and glucose levels and all these things that we can share more broadly.
Casey Means: I think that type of content is going to potentially have a direct impact on inspiring researchers and labs to dig deeper. Our member-aggregated data that might show really interesting trends in glucose or responses to food might really inspire and generate hypotheses for researchers to take that research even further within their labs and potentially inspire interesting projects. There’s just so much, just so excited for the future.
Mike Haney: I will plus one to both of those things that you added, the research side is just great fodder. And I think you made an important point there about the role of content post launch when it is part of the conversion funnel even though it’s not being generated specifically to drive conversions. We started tracking when we were looking at the metrics a few months ago how many people go from a blog post to the waitlist sign up. And nobody asked for that, nobody came to me and said, “Hey, Haney, I want you to hit this many waitlist sign-ups.” But it’s because from a behavior standpoint I am curious, exactly as you said, does this content drive some portion of people to want to take the next further step in education? Which is really what our product is ultimately about is education, learning more about your body.
Mike Haney: And so are we spurring that curiosity or giving people enough of a knowledge base that they want to learn more? And I’d imagine that applies to just about any industry. There’s a certain point at which you become knowledgeable enough about swimming pools that you go, “Yeah, I think I’m ready to go ahead and make the purchase.” And that content even that’s made with an editorial and educational point of view can still have a marketing role, it’s just that you’re not limited only to that and that’s not the only win. I always say when I think about the value of our content if somebody walks into a store or a restaurant and makes a decision that will ultimately make them feel better, then we win, that’s the win for the content. If they end up making the Levels product or some similar product part of that journey that helps them feel better, great, that’s awesome. We would love them to do that, but it doesn’t have to get that far down the road for us to have won.
Casey Means: Our mission I think really sums it up. Our mission is to reverse the metabolic epidemic, metabolic crisis. And it’s not to reverse the metabolic health crisis by selling Levels, it’s really just to reverse the metabolic health crisis. And content is a big part of that, totally. When you just said that thing about walking into the restaurant and feeling better, it honestly gave me chills because I’m like, “That’s exactly right.” Isn’t that just so amazing that we’re sitting here doing our work and that could potentially impact someone to have a better day, have a better life? Essentially, this is part of the whole product. It’s what we’re giving and bringing into the world. Yeah, I think the more of that we can do, the better energy we’re putting into the world. Plus one, two, all of that.
Mike Haney: The last thing we’ll end on, and again, I think we’ve probably given an awful lot of useful advice in the show. I hope we have anyway in this episode. But I know you get this question all the time, I’ve started to get it as well because what we’re doing is relatively unique, what you started was relatively unique within the startup world. I get folks coming to say, “How did you do it? Should we do it? How can we get started?” What are a couple of things you say to people when they come and want to have that conversation? Are there any key lessons or things to think about that you give them?
Casey Means: Yeah. Kind of summing it up, I think the first is you’ve got to start with your perspective. Again, entrepreneurship, building a company, it’s about trying to create something in the world that doesn’t exist. So you’ve got to sell that, you’ve got to cross that bridge to get people to care. And that means you have to connect and educate. And content is the best way to do that I think. There’s got to be a stance. There’s a difference between just facts on a page and a perspective and something that’s really unique and probing. I think any company will do better if they have that. I mean, I think about some of my favorite brands WHOOP and Eight Sleep, they all have such a perspective. There’s something wrong with the way we’re doing things, and it should be done differently. So I would say be bold about that and know what you’re trying to say.
Casey Means: The second thing is tap into some of the resources I think we’ve mentioned and sprinkled throughout this call like start following Gary V, start reading some books like They Ask You Answer, Rework, Perennial Seller. Start Googling and learning about SEO. Watch Nick Sharma’s stuff, talk to people who are doing what you want to do better than you and learn from them. Those would be some of just the 20 hours worth of stuff I would start with to just get your head wrapped around the landscape. I would say from my perspective focus on quality over playing SEO games. At the end of the day, there’s only one thing to focus on, and that is adding value to people in content.
Casey Means: If you do that, I do not think you can fail. And there’s a lot of stuff out there that is not going to necessarily tell you to do that, it’s going to be like produce million short articles with these words in them, and it’ll drive all this traffic. If it’s not adding value, don’t do it. And I mean adding value to people and bettering their lives. So focus on that and don’t get lured into just using content as an SEO chess piece. I think the next thing I would say is be iterative. Don’t do the initial Casey thing of it’s got to be perfect, it’s got to be the exact right thing, let’s not post it until we have 15 blog posts that we can post all at one time. That’s how I would’ve done it. And of course Sam, that’s not his philosophy at all. This is why I’m so grateful to my co-founder pushing me just to evolve and to realize put it up on the web, it will turn into something you will learn from it. You can change it, it’s okay. And do it early because the stakes are lower.
Casey Means: If you write something that’s totally, doesn’t resonate with people, you can take it down, it’s okay. 400 people in total have seen it, so iterate. Start, track, reiterate. Just keep going, don’t wait until everything’s perfect. And then I think the tracking, really get familiar with don’t be intimidated by the tools like Google analytics and Google search console and others. There’s so many videos online that teach you how to use them, but just start tracking something. Whether it’s weekly checking what the page views are, what the average time on page is or what your average search ranking is or just something that because it’ll be helpful to have a grasp of how things are going. But those would be some of the things I would really focus on starting with.
Mike Haney: I think that is all fantastic advice. Again, it speaks to I think the theme of this episode, which is you don’t have to have come from an editorial or a content background to bring real value to this. If you’re willing to learn and willing to iterate and willing to follow that advice, I mean the fact that you’re giving fantastic advice because you’ve been through and learned this not because it was necessarily what you brought into it I think is just the best takeaway here that anybody can really do this if you follow some of these basic principles. I think this has been hugely interesting to me to learn more about the background. These are all many things that I didn’t know coming into this. So it provides really, really interesting to hear the backstory, I appreciate you sharing all this.
Casey Means: Yeah. Thank you for asking awesome questions. And this was really, really fun, and I cannot wait for part two with you in the hot seat. I know I’m going to learn so much as well, so can’t wait for that.