On focus, and how we’re slowly changing our business model

Warning: this isn’t the usual SEO / WordPress related post, but more of a “personal” post about how I’ve gone about building and changing my / our business.

When I started Yoast, then called Altha, it was just me, doing web development for a few clients here and there. It was a side job to my consulting jobs at online marketing agencies. My WordPress plugins were just a hobby and not something I thought I could ever make a living from. In 2010 I decided I was going to go solo, leaving my agency and doing consultancy for less clients, but more intensively.

Doing this freed up time to do more development and do product development. I found myself doing more and more one-off reviews of websites, people just needing a good critique of what they were doing and a list of things they should improve. This evolved into what is now our website review service and a very large chunk of our business. The good thing about that is that it doesn’t require me to go off-site, we can do it all from within our office here and I can spend a lot more time on research & development that way, figuring out how to further optimize people’s websites.

Last year I decided I’d start to sell premium plugins, with our Video SEO plugin being the first premium offering and this has gone amazingly well. So much so that I hired my brother Thijs to assist in support. Last week we launched our second premium plugin, Local SEO, which I built together with Arjan. It’s doing great so far and we’re happy with the feedback we’re getting, which is pretty exciting.

Firing clients

The combination of website reviews and premium plugins means I have less and less time to actually spend on consulting face-to-face with clients. I kept telling myself that my consulting clients were where I got new ideas for products and I thus needed to keeping doing that consulting. But that’s not true, I was just looking for an excuse. My consulting clients are all big online companies whereas our products are aimed at publishers, SME’s and their online marketing agencies mostly… In fact, the truly good new ideas for products are coming from our website reviews, because we’re selling those to exactly the SME’s we’re targeting our other products at.

What I will keep doing is training people, in our Dutch office, because in talking with them and in finding problems that people have when they make their first SEO steps or when they “grow” in their SEO expertise, that’s where I learn too. That’s a good “breeding ground” for other stuff. SEO strategy consulting for large online brands… Not so much.

Because of this, in the last few days, I’ve gone through a very weird process: I’ve been “firing” some of my remaining clients. I’ll keep a few consulting clients around because they’re too interesting, I’m doing an awesome project at the Guardian for instance, which really is teaching me new things about publishing, the web in general and SEO specifically. But most of my other clients will have to find another “home”. Luckily I’ve got a lot of good friends in the industry who can pick up where I’m leaving in a great way and with more time and enthusiasm than I can at this point.

I’ll keep some room in my agenda for 3 – 4 consulting clients a year, those will be reserved for major online publishers specifically as that’s where I feel I can make a difference and learn a lot at the same time (you can apply here, though there’s only 1 spot left for this year). People that approach me for other work I’ll start saying no to and, if possible, refer them to industry friends.

What’s next?

With that behind me, I’ve got more time to focus on our existing site review and premium plugin business and on new products. We’ve got more cool stuff lined up: two more premium add-ons to WordPress SEO are slowly being specced and developed and we’re also going to go in a “new” direction, by releasing our first child-theme in a month or two. It’s going to be aimed at a very specific market and I’m very curious how it’ll pan out. It’ll be a Genesis child-theme, because I don’t really see a need to develop a new framework when there’s something as good as that out there already and I love working with the Copyblogger family.

The direction is clear though: we develop products aimed at SME’s, publishers and their SEO / online marketing agencies to help them build & optimize their websites.

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41 Responses to On focus, and how we’re slowly changing our business model

  1. Michael Madden
    Michael Madden  • 7 years ago

    Can’t wait to check the new theme out! Your shift in focus is a natural and timely progression. We wish you continued success!

  2. Marlon
    Marlon  • 7 years ago

    Thank you for share your thoughts and experience. My best regards!

  3. racquel
    racquel  • 7 years ago

    Hi Joost,

    I am using your SEO wordpress plugin on my website and it works perfect. Lol ranking 1 on google search for my search words in text and images. Sure its not only because of your SEO wordpress plugin but is helps alot. Learned alot about SEO thkans to you and some others too google+ rel=author is also a great tool to rank your site higher of course.

    great job

  4. Brice
    Brice  • 7 years ago

    Been using your WordPress SEO plugin for all my sites including my most recent membership site and i’ve been always amazed at the frequency of the plugin updates. Looking forward to your 2 premium addons to the WordPress SEO plugin.

  5. Abhishek
    Abhishek  • 7 years ago

    I look forward to your Genesis child theme. I hope it will be as awesome as your plugins.

  6. The Frosty
    The Frosty  • 7 years ago

    That is great to hear, I’m slowly doing the same with Extendd. My plugin marketplace running on EDD. When I created my first premium plugin Custom Login Pro I never thought I have 9 more on a site.

    Love your video SEO plugin, and was looking at the local SEO one. Is the Local mainly for one location? Or can it be used for a local listing site and many locations?


  7. Todd Krause
    Todd Krause  • 7 years ago

    After making my last comment, it redirected to me to another page, thanking for making my first comment. What plugin did you use to do that?

    • Joost de Valk

      That’s our own comment redirect plugin.

    • Todd Krause
      Todd Krause  • 7 years ago

      I also think the email verification for comments is perfect. What is your process it for this.

  8. Todd Krause
    Todd Krause  • 7 years ago

    Joost – I’m looking forward to you releasing a genesis child theme. Will you be selling this through the Genesis Marketplace?

  9. Rob Metras
    Rob Metras  • 7 years ago

    Joost: If the upcoming themes reflect the quality and workmanship in the way your WordPress products do I am sure they will be a runaway success. I appreciate all you do for the community of users and wish you the best as you change direction

  10. Mark Lewis
    Mark Lewis  • 7 years ago

    Sometimes you have to do what’s in the best interest of your company, even if that means cutting your losses and maximizing your revenue. I know you’re a great business man because I’m here commenting on your post — I’ve used and loved your product and I know that I’m not alone here. Great stuff Joost. The future is bright :)

  11. Herman Dailybits
    Herman Dailybits  • 7 years ago

    Last week I read an article from a Belgian guy, who is now an engineer at Instagram about the reasons he left Belgium (an the Netherlands):

    “First, Belgium has become the kingdom of consulting, nobody seems proud of building stuff.”

    As a video seo customer I’m curious to see your next products.

  12. MK Safi
    MK Safi  • 7 years ago

    This sounds exactly like the strategic vision and focus that a company needs to excel! Congratulations!

  13. Franck
    Franck  • 7 years ago

    Outstanding post. Be ready for exponencial growth, now that you are lifting away some highly time consuming work load

    I wish you all the best for this new stage in your “not so solo now genuinely global business”

  14. kelvin
    kelvin  • 7 years ago

    I am excited to hear that you will be releasing a theme. It must be a awesome theme, not to mention I’ve being using your SEO by Yoast from my site :)

  15. Matt
    Matt  • 7 years ago

    I’m glad to hear that you are going to release a theme. I cannot wait to see what you guys have come up with! When do we get a preview?

  16. Lily
    Lily  • 7 years ago

    That is a win for people like me that love your plugins and Genesis. Can’t wait to see the theme. Congrats on your successes and may you have many more!

  17. Paddy Moogan
    Paddy Moogan  • 7 years ago

    Congrats on the new direction!

    If I’m honest Joost, I have always been a bit baffled as to why you didn’t do this sooner :) I think it’s a great move and you’re in the perfect position to work in that space.

  18. Michael Musgrove
    Michael Musgrove  • 7 years ago

    I think you’ll be very successful with your decision. You’ve created a brand that will help get your theme business off the ground quickly, you have a large existing audience, and hitching your wagon to Genesis is a smart move. Genesis must be getting significant market share from Thesis 2 converts over the past few months, and the have some big names endorsing them, with great word-of-mouth across the internet.

  19. Paul Letourneau
    Paul Letourneau  • 7 years ago

    Wow! This is the best news! Can’t wait to see what you and your team do to bump Genesis up even more in the SEO world. So glad I made the right choice a few years ago.

  20. Erwin van Ginkel
    Erwin van Ginkel  • 7 years ago

    Making choices and refusing jobs is difficult… (makkelijker gezegd dan gedaan) So, great job! You and your team are our Dutch pride in ‘WordPress world’!

  21. Bharath
    Bharath  • 7 years ago

    Great news! I’m sure it will be a top notch child theme. Will be waiting for it.

  22. pete
    pete  • 7 years ago

    I’m glad to see you developing your own theme. I’m surprised you’ve ever used anyone elses!

    Do you see any changes in hits via google since you’ve been tinkering with themes?

  23. Remco ter Voorde
    Remco ter Voorde  • 7 years ago

    Nice move, looking forward the Genesis theme, expectations are high

  24. Jesse McFarlane
    Jesse McFarlane  • 7 years ago

    Sounds like a good move. The WP ecosystem definitely needs more niche focused themes and your paid plugins have been great additions so far.

  25. Lars Offringa
    Lars Offringa  • 7 years ago

    I love to read about your (SEO) business and developments. There’s so much value. Love your product(s) as well. Curious about the upcoming child theme.

    Keep it up!


  26. Christopher Meinck
    Christopher Meinck  • 7 years ago

    As a Genesis user, that’s fantastic news. I’d love to see something similar the TNW design for Genesis and hope you’ll include ad positions for publishers who rely on advertising to drive revenue. Best of luck.

  27. Mark Pine
    Mark Pine  • 7 years ago

    Your the man! Will continue to buy all your plugins and refer your site to associates and clients;)

  28. Thomas Griffin
    Thomas Griffin  • 7 years ago

    I’m in the exact same boat with Soliloquy and other products I am creating.

    Working with clients has been great, but now it is far more a distraction than a benefit. Focus is everything when creating products and experiences around them, and clients only distract from that focus.

    The sooner you can pull away the better – excited for you! :-)

  29. Brian Gardner
    Brian Gardner  • 7 years ago

    Outstanding news, my friend. Really excited to see what you come up with Genesis child themes — I’m sure they’ll be top notch, and very pleased to hear this!

  30. Barry Adams
    Barry Adams  • 7 years ago

    I’m actually happy about this because it means there’s more room for us in the consulting market. :) I’m sure that your change of direction will be a massive success for you, Joost, as has been pretty much anything you’ve ever done.

  31. Kamal
    Kamal  • 7 years ago

    Awesome & Congrats Joost and Yoast team..

  32. Jeremy
    Jeremy  • 7 years ago

    I’d also like to offer my congratulations on following-through on a pretty tough decision. You are, of course, 100% correct to turn away this business – but it is a brave step, none-the-less. Reminds me in part of a saying I heard: “my business is running fine, if it just wasn’t for those damned customers!” (I know that this is not actually what you’re saying tho ;)).
    You must be feeling like King of the Hill right now.
    Well done!
    (Oh, and btw, thanks for all the greatness you deliver),
    looking forward to mooooaaaaar!

  33. Mark (theWebalyst)
    Mark (theWebalyst)  • 7 years ago

    Thanks Yoast – I learn a lot from what you do, and even more when you take the time to share more of your experiences and plans.

    Good luck. I plan to look at Genesis soon having been very unimpressed with the Thesis 2.0 experience. I look forward to seeing what you are up to there too!

    Mark (in London – for now!)

  34. Greg Taylor
    Greg Taylor  • 7 years ago

    As a fan of the WordPress SEO plugin and the Genesis framework, I am excited to see your theme(s) and give them a go for my clients.

    I have a lot of questions regarding the theme, but I’ll hold off until the release.

    Best wishes with the transition of your business.

  35. Tim @ An Entrepreneurial Life
    Tim @ An Entrepreneurial Life  • 7 years ago

    I have seen too many product companies, with roots in consulting, hang on to clients for too long as they make the transition. AND these companies have also tended to be too good at listening to these clients and not developing product for the broader market.

    Congrats on what seem like an excellent set of business decisions.

    Good Luck,