Marieke van de Rakt on readability, product marketing and leading Yoast

 
Joost de Valk

Joost de Valk

Founder & Chief Product Officer
Marieke van de Rakt

Marieke van de Rakt

CEO
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In this episode

Writing easy to read texts can be hard, especially when you’re writing for a niche audience that expects you to use certain difficult words. Listen to this episode of the Yoast SEO podcast to hear our CEO, Marieke van de Rakt, talk about making even the hardest online texts easy to read. It doesn’t matter if you are a webshop owner selling pens or a Criminology student explaining difficult topics in a paper, everyone can do it! Best of all: your website visitors (and therefore Google) will praise you for it. 

Topics

Marieke and Joost will cover the following topics during this episode, with timestamps indicating when the topic comes up:

  • 1:20 – How Marieke became the CEO of Yoast
  • 4:20 – The origin of the readability analysis in Yoast SEO
  • 7:52 – The importance of readability
  • 12:53 – Readability analysis changes in the past 5 years
  • 18:12 – Product copy and SEO
  • 26:14 – Using video in your marketing
  • 28:39 – What led up to Marieke becoming the CEO of Yoast?
  • 31:40 – What a conversion rate and Marieke’s PhD conclusion have in common
  • 38:42 – How Marieke sees the core values of Yoast

Transcript

Joost de Valk: Hey everyone and welcome to yet another SEO podcast. We’re joined today by the awesome, the most fantastic woman in the world. That is my wife and my boss. So I’m sort of obliged to say this, but it’s also true. Her name is Marieke van de Rakt she has been with us for quite a while now, but I’ll let her tell you that herself actually. Hi Marieke!

Marieke van de Rakt: Hi, really nice to be here. It’s really weird that you’re pronouncing my name incorrectly in English. Everyone is always trying to do it as correctly, but you’re just butchering it. 

Joost de Valk: I call myself Joost de Valk as well when people refer to me in English. It’s what you do, it’s part of the Dutch thing of trying to be ever more English.

Marieke van de Rakt: It sounds like a popstar, a rockstar even if you’re a Marieke van de Rakt right? 

Joost de Valk: It sounds very cool. It has a certain ring to it that Marieke van de Rakt just doesn’t really have.

Marieke van de Rakt: No that’s just the girl from the countryside.

How Marieke became CEO of Yoast

Joost de Valk: And you’re not. So Marieke you’re now the CEO of Yoast, but how did you get there?

Marieke van de Rakt: I wanted to make an inappropriate joke, but I’m not going to do that. I’ve been in this position for more than two years now. Before that my husband was the CEO, which is you. But I was always involved. Oh, I think it was 11 years ago when you really founded Yoast from our attic. I just finished my PhD and I was working at a university, but I was always involved in what you’re doing and how the company was growing. At one point it just became too much to combine all these things. We also had three children at that time, we now have four children, which made it a bit too much to combine all these things.

And I decided if you can’t beat them, join them. I joined Yoast, I think that was eight years ago. Pretty soon after that I founded the Yoast Academy, which is my baby. I’ve been doing a lot of marketing, a lot of blogging, writing, which is also something I really enjoy. Two years ago, we decided that it was a good idea that I became the CEO. We have a lot of things in common, but CEO wise we are pretty much each other’s opposites.  

Joost de Valk:  I’d say we’re complementary skill sets. For those who are listening and don’t know, I run product at Yoast, but I also involve myself a bit sometimes with finance, which Marieke hates. 

Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah I’m so sorry. Legal, I hate legal as well.

Joost de Valk: Yeah so I do the boring bits and she does the exciting bits of company culture and talking to people. Which I prefer not to do outside of this podcast. 

Marieke van de Rakt: You do like to talk to people, but you are the nerdy part of our company. And I think, if we look at our customers, we have the Joosts who are like these techy people who know everything about SEO and about what you can do with our plugin. And then we have the Mariekes who are the writers, the people who use our product to rank higher. Of course, everyone uses our product to rank higher, but we’re not technical people per se. So I think we’re just representing all of our customers, the nerdy ones and the writers. 

Joost de Valk:  I couldn’t agree more. I like all the technical stuff, but at the same time a lot of the stuff that you hear back from users that they like us for are the things that are not all that technical, because they don’t see or understand the technical bits.

The origin of the readability analysis in Yoast SEO

In fact, one of those things is the reason I wanted to have you on the show today. It’s almost like I planned this. Because our readability analysis, you talked about the Academy as being your child, I think the readability analysis is in many ways, your child as well.

Marieke van de Rakt: Yes that’s the thing in the product that I came up with! We had Yoast Academy and I was saying that the SEO analysis with the bullets, which is a really nice thing, but text should also be nice to read. It should have everything what it takes to rank high on Google, but it also should be a nice read. So we came up with doing the same kind of check system for readability. 

I knew a little bit about readability because I enjoy writing, but I’m not a linguist. So we hired Irene who’s still with us today and had a magnificent career here at Yoast. She was pretty quickly doing her research, finding out what we should put into that readability analysis and then she coded it herself. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah. She couldn’t code beforehand. Now five years later she’s one of our engineering leads and she’s even on our management team now. That is quite the career, but she’s also no longer alone. We have a couple more linguists, don’t we?

Marieke van de Rakt: We have an entire team! We have our team of four linguists. And we also work with some freelancers. We noticed when we first made the readability analysis for English, that these kinds of things are different for all languages.

In order to do that correctly, you’d need to do research in different languages. A native linguist is the best you can have, I think. It’s really hard even for linguists to do research in a language which isn’t related to anything you really know. So to do research in all these languages they talk in India. That’s really hard for our Dutch people. 

Joost de Valk:  Yeah. I just counted. There are five linguists actually, but the team is consistently growing. So that’s good. It is a large team and we even have more linguists across the company now. If you look at the background of Yoast people, they have very diverse backgrounds from non-educated like me to people with a PhD in criminology like you to Philosophy majors and all these different things. But we have one thing we have the most of and that is linguists.

Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah I think that makes sense because our product of course has very much to do with language. Google is doing a lot of research into language and in order to help people rank high in Google, you need to have the same knowledge. So it makes sense to have linguists on board at Yoast. To work on the readability, but also at the SEO part. We do a lot of research in languages.

The importance of readability

Joost de Valk: Why is readability so important? What is it that makes it a thing that we need to focus on?

Marieke van de Rakt: First it’s important for the user. Reading from a screen, which we all do is hard. It’s harder than reading from a book. It just means you need more brain capacity in order to read from a screen. Especially from a mobile screen, because if sentences are rather long, you’ll see that on a mobile screen the sentences were run over multiple lines. That thing, just the fact that it runs over multiple lines, that makes it harder to process. Of course, if you’re reading from a mobile, you are distracted by your surroundings. There are so many things surrounding you. That’s different from reading a book. If you’re just sitting at home on your couch. 

Readability, especially for texts, for digital texts, for web text is really important. That will just make it easier to get your message across. And that’s just the user part. Also for Google readability is really important, partly because Google wants to present the user its best experience. Google sees that texts which are nice and easy to read will get more engagement. But also because it’s harder for Google to grasp the meaning of sentences that are really irregular or really hard, because those kinds of sentences will not be around that often.

Joost de Valk: Does that mean that writing a more readable text will also make it easier to rank? 

Marieke van de Rakt: Ah, this is a hard question. I think it will, because you’ll have a larger potential to rank for. I’m not saying that readability is a ranking factor. I won’t go that far. But it will give your reader a better experience, which will definitely help with your ranking in the long run.

A lot of people say “but I write about a really difficult topic, so it doesn’t matter to my audience because my audience is really smart. They’re all like really smart people. And it doesn’t matter for my audience.” I don’t agree. If you want to reach a larger audience, which I think basically is the thing you’re doing with SEO, trying to get more people to your website, then you’ll have to have language that will allow other people outside of your niche to come and understand your texts. 

I don’t think that the language should be the thing holding your customers back to understanding what you’re talking about. If your subject is really hard, then the language shouldn’t be the thing that gets people not to understand it. That should be the topic, not the language. 

Joost de Valk: So your PhD thesis, does it pass our readability check? 

Marieke van de Rakt: It does. I’m really proud of that. I’ve always been a writer that uses small sentences. I like to make things easier to understand. I think if something is hard and you can’t explain it correctly, then you don’t understand it correctly.

So you should be able to explain it to people in a way that people will understand. Now I have to say, in the field of research where I did my PhD, it wasn’t particularly common to use subheadings. So I had to add those to my thesis. But I did do that and white spaces, they didn’t do that either. As far as it goes for transition words or passive forms or sentence length I have mastered those.

Joost de Valk: That’s pretty good. I have to say I still need the readability analysis to write better text. It’s funny because it actually has made me a better writer, I think. Having that constant feedback on writing when you’re writing. You feel like I’m going to get a red bullet, because this sentence is far too long. You just know that you need to fix that. It really helps in improving. 

Marieke van de Rakt: A lot of people think it’s really annoying as well. I get that, because it’s kind of personal your writing. When we first made the readability analysis, we’re Dutch and we’re blunt. Now we say your readability needs improvement, but in the first phase we just said readability: bad. 

Joost de Valk: Which was true, but also not very nice. 

Marieke van de Rakt: No, it’s not very nice. It’s just because we’re not native English speakers and in Dutch, we’re used to saying things much more bluntly I think.

Joost de Valk: We are a bit of a blunt people, I’ve noticed.

Marieke van de Rakt: We sometimes need improvement as well. 

Readability analysis changes in the past 5 years

Joost de Valk: This readability analysis has been changing. Did anything change in a major way over these five years? 

Marieke van de Rakt: Well, no. The people back in Roman times, the Greek people, they were researching language. So we didn’t invent anything new five years ago. I think we were the first tool that really took readability into account in an SEO way. Of course you had Grammarly back then and Hemingway and they did similar things. But really focusing on the easiness to read a text is something we were the first to do and to really research that. 

I think it’s an honor that so many tools have built a kind of a readability thingy in their tools as well. That’s the open source way of doing that. So I think all the things we know about what makes for a good read we’ve known for like centuries. That’s so different from the SEO part we’re doing, because that has not been around.

Joost de Valk: No but to be honest, that doesn’t change all that much either. It’s funny because what you’re saying about simple is harder, because you have to understand it better. That’s one of the things that I always find when I look at our SEO plugin. People go yeah, but that’s a very simple plugin in some ways. And I’m like, yeah do you know how much time it took me to make it that simple, because it is so hard to grasp a topic that well that you can simplify it.

Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah. I think Einstein actually said that. If you don’t understand it, or if you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it correctly. He said something like that, he was really smart. So he knows his stuff. 

Joost de Valk: So everything he said must have been true, right? 

Marieke van de Rakt: I don’t know about that, but I think it’s really hard to explain something in a simple way. Especially if you have a hard topic to write about, then you probably have a lot of those really hard words, these lengthy terms that nobody understands. You probably need to use those words because your audience expects you to use them. It helps a lot if you use those words and then put them into shorter sentences.  That’ll make it easier to read. You don’t have to dumb down. Some people ask me, I don’t know how to dumb down my writing style.

We call it opening up for a larger audience. That’s just what you should do. I think even you were one of those people who said yeah, but my audience is really smart. 

Joost de Valk: The thing is, I came from having worked at The Guardian for a couple of years. 

Marieke van de Rakt: Their audience is really really smart.

Joost de Valk: Yeah, you have to be because otherwise you can’t read their paper. It’s a thing that I’ve actually changed my opinion on. So I love their English. I love their application of the language and just how beautiful it all is in some of these articles. But at the same time, it’s also hard to grasp.

The Guardian is doing climate activism and if you’re trying to reach a large audience out there. Then you’d probably be better off if you wrote a bit simpler and made it easier to understand for a lot of people.

Marieke van de Rakt: And they can get away with it because of their brand. But if you have a normal website and you want to become The Guardian without a brand, that’s really hard. So in order to get a bigger audience, you need to have language that’ll appeal to a large audience. 

Joost de Valk: I would even go as far as saying that in order for them to appeal to even an American audience, they have to get rid of some of their Englishness in how they write.

Marieke van de Rakt: And their paperness. They of course are a newspaper and they used to write for people who read from paper, which is really different from reading from a screen. We’ve had those tweets that Hemingway would have died at our readability score. I never tried it, I only put my PhD through the readability thing. But if you put Hemingway through the readability thingy, it gets red bullets. Of course our readability analysis wasn’t built for novels.

Joost de Valk: No we didn’t build this for literature. We built it for web copy and there is quite a difference. 

Marieke van de Rakt: Yes and Hemingway wasn’t trying to maintain a mom blog or selling pens online and that is the thing that our customers are trying to do. That’s really different from writing a novel, which of course is art. I think part of the guardian is art as well. And they can do that because they have that big brand and people enjoy that. But ranking wise, or trying to get a large audience that doesn’t already love the guardian. That’s hard.

Product copy and SEO

Joost de Valk: Yeah, I agree. You already mentioned selling pens, but if you’re selling stuff online one of the hardest things to write is product copy. Just 

Marieke van de Rakt: You shouldn’t call it product copy! That’s your first mistake! 

Joost de Valk: Well, what should I call it? What is it?

Marieke van de Rakt: It depends. It always depends, right? But if you look at our product,  people aren’t trying to buy an SEO plugin, they’re trying to rank higher in Google. So in order to appeal to your audience, you should write about the problem you’re solving and not about your product. So we make that mistake every year. Then we’ve written something which is really product based. It’s just focused on what we are selling and not on what people want to buy.

In good product copy, you always should think about what’s the problem I’m solving? If you’re selling pens, it’s pretty simple. You want people to write. But probably you have a pen that makes the writing experience really nice. You should find your niche, find out which problem you’re really solving for your audience and write about that.

That’s probably also the thing that people are searching for, right? They are searching for Yoast if they know Yoast. They are searching for an SEO plugin, if they know that exists. But if they’re further away from that, they’ll probably be searching for how can I rank higher in Google? And that’s what we want to rank for, because that’s where our people come in.

Joost de Valk: There’s a bit of a difference in what type of copy you’re writing as well, depending on the product that you’re selling. For our product, a lot of people won’t even know that they’re looking for our product. At the same time, a lot of people searching for pens online or for dresses or shoes will know exactly what they’re looking for.

Marieke van de Rakt: Well Joost, shoes is such a big product. 

Joost de Valk: That’s true. But when I search for a product, I know which shoes I’m searching for. 

Marieke van de Rakt: But a lot of people don’t, I think. Maybe they’re searching for shoes for the summer or shoes that won’t get them those weird blisters. They could be browsing as well. Every product has a promise or should have a promise, but sometimes people don’t even know that they want that. Then you should go further away and find out what people would want. What do your customers want? 

Joost de Valk: So that should be the first step of your keyword research. 

Marieke van de Rakt:  Yes and also the focus you’ll be taking in your marketing approach. I think every company makes the same stake, because you’re really proud of what you’ve built. We were really proud when we built the readability analysis, but nobody out there was really waiting for it, but they were waiting for ranking higher Google or getting a bigger audience. These are the things you want to convince people to use your product with. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah. What we’re slowly getting to is a coherent marketing strategy, which is fitting because you’re the CMO of the company as well. You’re thinking about what do they want, what is my promise with this product? Then you’re putting that into copy. At that point, the readability of that copy becomes important again, I think, in order for people to understand that mission, right? 

Marieke van de Rakt: Yep. 

Joost de Valk: Okay. They need to understand what problem it solves. One of the things that I think is the hardest problem in SEO is to build product pages that are nice if you have 10 versions of a product. In writing copy that becomes boring rather quickly, is there a way that we can make that nicer? 

Marieke van de Rakt: No!

Joost de Valk: This is where we stand out. We’re honest about our product and no, we can’t make this better.

Marieke van de Rakt: Writing product pages is really hard. It’s really hard to give an answer to such a general question, because I think it always will remain boring. It will become even harder if you sell a lot of products. If you have one thing that is really niche and really solves something, I think it will be easier to write copy about that. Because you have something that’s that you only have. But for a lot of shops, they’ll have products that multiple shops also will sell. That will always be a challenge. You could do a lot of things about that, but I’m not going to lie to you and saying that it will be fun and easy.

Joost de Valk: One of the things I was trying to get to is a lot of these shops need blogs strategies or something to also allow people to discover their products. That’s basically what we’re doing with our blog team as well. It’s one of the teams you lead at Yoast. How many people do we have writing? It’s a lot of stuff that we do for that. 

Marieke van de Rakt: We have three people writing full-time on our blog. We have just hired the fourth. I’m writing myself still as well. So we have a lot of people who will just write blog posts. Nothing else. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah just write and research and update blog posts. If we translate that to a store that sells dresses. They have to write some product copy for our product page, but let’s say they’ve done that. What should they do? Should they have a blog? Should they be talking about that? Should they use that? 

Marieke van de Rakt: They should really. I think if it’s a shop that sells dresses, then you should figure out what makes you set apart from other shops that sell dresses. Maybe you have dresses that are eco-friendly, or maybe you have dresses that are focused on a specific niche. Finding out what makes you stand out and why people should buy your dress, will allow you to set up a blog strategy. Then you can really try to reach that audience and write about that. I can think about dresses a lot, so I can just imagine all these stories that you could tell about the dresses, as long as why you are selling them. I think every successful product or web page has a promise and has a mission. Only sometimes people just don’t know it. 

Joost de Valk: When you’ve become a customer. So you buy some dresses every now and then. How do you learn about new dresses? Is that in blog posts as well? Or is that mostly email? 

Marieke van de Rakt: I think I am a really bad example for this. I think it’s also on social media. So I think for me and I’m old so I’m on Facebook, but also Instagram could be a great way to reach your audience. 

Joost de Valk: So the audience you already have, you don’t need to reach them on Instagram or Facebook with your new products? 

Marieke van de Rakt: No, the audience you already have are people that are following you and you should tell them new stories about the things you’re doing.

Joost de Valk: Yeah. Honestly, I don’t think you’re weird in that in any way. It’s how Mascolori, my favorite shoe brand, sells me new shoes all the time. It’s by just hitting me with advertisements for new shoes.

Marieke van de Rakt: If you have a physical product, you can do so much with images. That makes it easier. 

Using video in your marketing

At Yoast we don’t have a physical product. We have a pretty difficult product to understand. So we do a lot of blog posts and explainers and all this kind of stuff. We’re currently looking into doing more video as well, which helps with explaining difficult things. It all depends on your product and what your best strategies should be in getting people to notice you and to buy your stuff.

Joost de Valk: We’ve recently had Phil Nottingham on the show and we talked about video a lot. I think video is probably one of the most underestimated powers again in search. For a while it was gone and now it’s popping back into search results more and more again. It’s actually something you can do a whole lot with in all areas of SEO.

Marieke van de Rakt: I think readability for video is also really important. I see a lot of people using the teleprompter to do their video. If you use a teleprompter, you should make sure that your text is something that people can actually follow, because it gets boring really fast.

Now we’re talking normally, but if you’re talking and reading from your teleprompter it should be texts that are actually made for reading out loud. The sentences should be short and it should be nice to watch. You’ll just hit all the spontaneity out of people if you’re using a teleprompter.

Joost de Valk: Yeah. It’s one of the things that we’ve probably learned over time. We record a lot of Academy videos with autocue or teleprompter or whatever you want to call it. You have to practice those texts so they come out a bit natural, because even when you’re reading from a screen, otherwise it just becomes very dull.

Marieke van de Rakt: And you don’t know when the jokes are coming up. Then you’re reading your joke and think Oh! You’re laughing at the wrong time. You really need to practice.

Joost de Valk: To be fair. That happens to me a lot in real life as well, where I just laugh too late. It’s just part of being me. But this is true. It is really important to have that understanding you are acting basically at that point and you need some practice.

What led up to Marieke becoming the CEO of Yoast?

You’ve set up a Yoast Academy, you’ve kick-started the readability analysis and then you became the CEO. This was entirely logical to you and me, but not to a whole lot of other people. So let’s take people along a bit. What changed in the company and why it was sensible for you to become the CEO instead of me?

Marieke van de Rakt: We’ve always done this with multiple people. There was always a board at Yoast and we recently had a change in the board, but we’re always with four. And we’re now with five people. So you and me, and then we have Omar and now we have Thijs and Chaya. We used to have Michiel who left the company.

You were pretty much the driving force for a really long time. And I think that didn’t change, but it became a little bit more balanced at least between the two of us. I think as the company grew, I was the one who was always trying to get all those people together. I did a lot in company culture and making sure that people had a really nice place to work at Yoast.

Your main focus has always been on product. That’s the thing you really wanted to focus on and not so much on being the boss or the leader of the pack. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah or even the person to the outside world, doing all the presentations. 

Marieke van de Rakt: You are still the person to the outside world, but at least now you have someone next to you. That took a bit of the pressure off, because it can be a lot. I also think it can be a lot of pressure, because people are looking up at us. We have 12 million users. So I think that took a bit of the pressure off. We’re always deciding things with the entire board. It’s not entirely a democracy, but you always listen to all of us, so that didn’t really change. Only now I was the boss. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah. It was quite a natural transition for us in many ways. You hit that stage where you’re reaching like a hundred people in the company and company culture becomes something that you have to work on. Well you are obviously much, much better at that than I am, because I simply don’t care enough.

Marieke van de Rakt: It’s just marketing Joost, it’s just marketing.

What a conversion rate and Marieke’s PhD conclusion have in common

Joost de Valk: It is very like marketing, yeah. But honestly, within marketing, there are the parts of marketing that I like and the parts of marketing that I don’t like, you like the other stuff. 

Marieke van de Rakt: I like telling stories and coming up with crazy ideas and you like measuring the effects. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah. I’m more on the analytical side of things, absolutely. It is very much a different approach to how you do things. It’s actually good that you mentioned that, you like measuring things, because your PhD was quite technical and you did quite a bit of measuring in that. 

Marieke van de Rakt: You know that now, but when I was doing my PhD Joost wasn’t really interested. Then when I finished it, he was like, Oh, I could have really helped you with that. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah. Turns out that data analysis is something I can do pretty well. I didn’t actually figure out that I could have done that to her data as well. I’m still sorry for that.

Marieke van de Rakt: I wrote a really quantitative PhD. So my PhD was about the influence of parents on their children in their criminal behavior. So I had 5,000 fathers and 7,000 children and we analyzed in which ways those criminal trajectories resembled each other. They do resemble each other, but not as much as you might expect. If your father was a criminal, you don’t necessarily have to be a criminal as well. That’s basically my PhD in a nutshell. 

Joost de Valk: That’s a very good nutshell. Honestly, one of the things that I always tell people when I talk about this is that it’s both funny, but also very interesting that the conversion rate on a website and how many people buy stuff is very similar to how many kids become criminals when their dad is a criminal, because it’s always a low percentage.

Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah. They’re using the wrong statistics in order to measure that. Or at least a lot of people are using the wrong statistics. When I came and joined Yoast, I also thought that I would be the analytics girl, but I can’t bear it. I don’t know, people in our field are just collecting data and they’re not asking the questions. I only ask two questions and want them answered, but I do not care about gathering data all that much. I only gather data if I want to answer something, which is a really different approach to a lot of people in the analytics world. 

Joost de Valk:  I think a lot of people in the analytics world have matured a bit into actually doing a bit more hypothesis based research and actually thinking about what they want to research before they do. But I also do think that they still sometimes use the wrong statistical methods to calculate what the impact is of the change they’re doing. This is obviously not true for everybody in blah, blah, blah, all the usual caveats apply. 

Marieke van de Rakt: When I joined the company eight years ago I found that. I just assumed that I would be the research person and I still enjoy doing research, but not in a way that people are doing it in this industry. At least, what I saw them doing.

Joost de Valk: It’s funny, our mutual friend Avinash at Google has been saying, I think basically that for years now: if you don’t know what you’re going to do if that KPI changes, why have that KPI at all? It’s one of those things that you imprinted on me that a lot of these things are nonsense. Because you’re just looking at nice screens, but you’re not changing your behavior. That is the good thing about a science background I guess. 

Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah or maybe I’m also a bit biased.

Joost de Valk: You did criminology, which is like a human science in many ways. We are trying to fix human behavior all the time.

Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah. I think a lot of people forget that these are people. We have this discussion all the time. If you look at our social media revenue, that’s nothing. We don’t sell anything from our social media campaigns. People don’t buy, especially not our product, just because they saw an ad online. That just takes a while and it’s not linear. It’s not, you’ll get this newsletter and then you’ll visit our website and then you’ll buy our products. Usually those marketing funnels all look like that, but that’s just nonsense. It’s all about creating awareness. 

Then at one point in time, people will be convinced they should buy Yoast SEO premium now. That could be because we are running a sale, but it also could be because we are releasing a new feature that solves a problem that people have, or that people now are finally taking the time to do something serious with their SEO. But we don’t know that because it’s human behavior. 

Explaining human behavior is one thing, but predicting human behavior that’s really difficult because people just make up their minds at one point in time. You can’t really predict that even with large numbers. 

Joost de Valk: One of the books I was a really big fan of when I went into this industry is called the Cluetrain manifesto. It talks about markets and conversations, and it also makes the whole B2B B2C distinction that everybody always has in marketing a really moot point, because they say in the end, even in a B2B company, the person on the other end buying your stuff is still a person. So you have to convince a human of doing something. So it is very much about relationship building. 

Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah, I think so. So that’s what I like about marketing. You’re trying to convince someone to buy your product. Or in our case to use our product because usually our marketing is all focused on getting people to know Yoast SEO, which of course is a free product. If we get them there, then eventually maybe they buy our product, but that’s a really small percentage that’s actually buying our product. We should do something about that. 

Joost de Valk: There’s probably some other marketing that’s needed for being a free user to becoming a customer. It is very much based on the other part of marketing that I really like and that is branding. Building that brand and just continuously hammering that drum and telling people like this is who we are, and this is what we stand for. 

How Marieke sees the core values of Yoast

It’s one of the things and the last topic I wanted to discuss with you that you’ve worked on over the last year, more than before, it’s our core values. Actually exposing our core values to the outside world, because we’ve always had those values are not new.

Marieke van de Rakt: I think we’ve actually put them on chalkboards so that we can change them because with values, they change over time. So as your company’s changing, you’ve probably had changes in your core values.

We talked about this yesterday. Being the best that’s not in our core values, but it’s something that over the past few years we’ve been feeling a lot. So I think it should be put in there. It doesn’t mean that something else should change or should be gone out of there. But I think that should be a core value that we should add. 

Joost de Valk: If there’s a list we want to be number one, that’s pretty much it. I think that sort of is the standard mission statement of an SEO. 

Marieke van de Rakt: It is, but it’s not in our core values. Yeah. We have really weird core values. Now we just did discussions with the board and with our employees and came to this list of things that are important to us. For some people that work at Yoast, some things are more important than the others, but they are all in our value system. 

Joost de Valk: For me, it’s very important that the number one core value that’s there is making the web better. It’s not making money. It’s not building a huge company. It is making the web better. Which drives a lot of what I do every day.

It’s been quite a fun experience to see that and to put it out there and to have people also within the company to actually reflect on that. It’s probably a good part of company building in a way to actually be open about your core values and to be even more mission-driven.

Marieke van de Rakt: We just started a project to have new people in Yoast onboard with the core values. I don’t know if you know this yet, but we’re going to build a video in which we tell people about why these core values are so important to us. Because I think just writing them down, doesn’t resonate as much as if you tell them why you want to make the web better. Why that’s really important to us. 

Joost de Valk: Then I have to know myself, because I honestly don’t know I’ve been on this web since, what is it? ’94 or something. I honestly don’t know why I want to keep improving it. 

Marieke van de Rakt: I do! I think you want to keep improving it because you believe that the web is a way for people to all communicate to each other and make it equal.

Joost de Valk: Well it is a huge equalizer. Yes, absolutely. SEO is an equalizer as well, which is a fun part. 

Marieke van de Rakt: It’s why we do it. It’s the SEO for everyone. 

Joost de Valk: The whole SEO for everyone comes back. Marieke, it’s been a pleasure talking to you as always. I know that I can talk to you for hours and hours and hours, which is why I married you. But we’re gonna have to stop this recording and invite you to come back at another time if that’s okay with you. 

Marieke van de Rakt: That’s okay. I was really nice being here. 

Joost de Valk: Thank you everyone for listening. This is the Yoast SEO podcast. If you’re not subscribed yet, subscribe on your favorite platform and see you in another week or so for the next episode. Bye bye.

Marieke van de Rakt: Bye!

Want to know more?

If you want to read more on readability, the core values at Yoast and our CEO Marieke van de Rakt, make sure to check out these posts:

Yoast SEO Podcast series