76. Steve Pockross, Verblio The Content Balancing Act

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Steve Pockross is the CEO of Verblio, a company that connects businesses with high-quality, on-demand content. Having cut his teeth in tech and crowdfunding, hes a newcomer to digital marketing, with fresh ideas on how to make content quick, effective, and adaptable to your business.

Good quality content is both an art and a science. Steve thinks hes found the secret to both, combining experienced writers with a system that rewards high-engagement articles. We talk about responsible outsourcing and the recent content trends that Steves observed.

Transcript

Steve Pockross

Every single position could be insourced or outsourced

Chris Dreyer

Creating content is a balancing act. Good writing is expensive and takes time. The cheap stuff won’t rank, so what’s the point? How do you find the middle ground?

Steve Pockross

It could be your marketing team, it could be your finance team could be your call center. It could be your accountant. All of these are personal preference. How important is it to you?

Chris Dreyer

You’re listening to the personal injury marketing mastermind, the show where elite personal injury attorneys and leading edge marketers give you exclusive access to grow strategies for your firm. As CEO of Verblio, Steve Pockross is finding a way to balance all of the variables of good content, flexibility expertise, controlling costs. His company is a marketplace for talented subject matter experts who write articles on demand. Steve and I discussed the pros and cons of outsourcing content creation and what articles get the most attention nowadays? I’m your host, Chris Dreyer, founder and CEO of Rankings.io. We help elite personal injury attorneys dominate first page rankings with search engine optimization. Being at the forefront of marketing is all about understanding people. So let’s get to know our guests. Here’s Steve Pockross, CEO of Verblio

Steve Pockross

I got into digital marketing because I was fleeing the call center space. I, it started, uh, so I’m, I’m obsessed with marketplace plus SAAS as a concept. How do you bring together an incredible curated group of freelancers that are very focused on one skill set and apply that with the SAAS technology and do something incredible and new with it. I started doing that in 2004 as I was. Exiting business school in the, in the dot bomb or very poorly time. And I was trying to transition from, uh, from non-profits to my new world. And my new world was startups and I had the absolute privilege and, uh, and good fortune to join one of the early marketplace, SAAS companies as a about employee number 30 ish and grew to 450 ish, um, on a ride that was single digit millions up to 150 million. And, and. Had quite a Silicon valley, uh, story to it. That was really exciting. Some of the things I took out of that is the power of just looking at, if you can combine great technologists with a great business model and incredible talent, what can you do with it? So I spent a lot of time, uh, I worked with. VP of business development or strategy for them, uh, developing new business models on this platform. So, uh, one of the things I created was an insurance business. Uh, I also created partnership marketing businesses and all sorts of just and lead generation and all of this is my first foray into actually doing marketing. Uh, I love it. It’s basically I studied history and social sciences as an undergrad. I’m still obsessed and quit. You do a lot of polymath, uh, Uh, side hobbies. I basically decided that that digital marketing was behavioral. Science has come to life in real time where you get to create experiments on, see if your ideas are true or not, and have the immediate feedback and then go and concoct a new theory. Um, so I was really excited when, uh, when I moved back to Denver and a couple of the founders of Verblio. Uh, a journalist who started the company with a technical co-founder had reached the point where they’d, they’d crossed the 2 million mark and were ready for somebody else to scale it. And I got the opportunity to beat a first time CEO. And so it was a perfect fit is exactly what I wanted to do. And it focused me a lot more on the core of where modern marketing is going. So thrilled to make the transition from the 20,000 person call center world into, uh, the front lines of digital marketing.

Chris Dreyer

That that is quite the background. And let me tell you, we have a lot of similarities that I didn’t know until just right now. So history, education background. So you have the history background. I was actually, one of my early careers was I was a telemarketer. You know, those guys that you would hang up on. So I did that for a few years. Really conditioned me, uh, helped with the soft skills and. Uh, made my skin thicker, so to speak, but it was a good experience. Um, yeah, and Verblio, I was just fantastic. So we’ve been strategic partners now for, for several years and, and I just love the work that you guys do. And so let’s, let’s jump over to Verblio, uh, you know, how is Verblio, uh, different from other content service providers? There’s many out there, how is Verblio, uh, different.

Steve Pockross

It’s a, it’s a great question. And, uh, like all services takes a while to get there, but I’ll try to be succinct as possible. So we think about, there’s a few things that make us different. Um, the first is our mission is to provide high quality content at scale for any niche. And so in that there’s really three value propositions. Um, Which is quality, which is subjective in many ways, but also there’s objective measures to it. Um, how do you get that quality? We think it’s by creating a new business model and that business, that business model involves, um, changing the incentive structure to the writer. So many of our competitors or many, uh, outsourcing companies have the command and control philosophy, which is we get the work from you. And then we sign it to writers. Or you pick and you go through and do a lot of work by picking a profile of a writer. And most of that is done by what is the writer look like? Um, or have they written, um, as opposed to actually looking at the product, uh, and it also means that the writer doesn’t have as much risk. They of course want to have the, have good performance, but we don’t. We think that there’s a better model and that’s, we’ve created a writers choose the clients philosophy, which is our clients put in as much information about what they’re looking for. What’s the ideal type, what’s their style. Um, and what type of background of a writer and our writers match them a match themselves. To the client and they only get paid if they actually, um, are successful in matching what the client’s needs are. So a few things happens that one is about 95% of our posts get accepted by the client. So it’s, uh, there is, uh, the clients who are the writers who do it well are very successful. Um, that means that they’re going to be faster. Um, so our average turnaround time is 24 to 48 hours versus waiting weeks in more of the command and control structure. It means that our matchup, we think that our matching is better. And the fact that the writers are who find our clients are excited, they’re engaged and engaged writers mix, better writers. We pay our writers more. We try to. Uh, premium above the rest of the market. And we think all of those, and we give our writers the opportunity to choose who they work for, which gets them really excited about just trying new things. They get to try. They could write about 15 things a day, as opposed if you are the forklift technology writer, and you just write about forklift technology, a hundred blogs a month until you just need to go really quickly. Um, so we think that those, all of this. Things create a more engaged workforce. We think it gets faster turnaround times. We think you can do it at scale. Uh, and we think it gets better quality.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. And that’s, that’s really fantastic. And I think all of those elements, the better pay the, you know, the pay they’re only going to get paid. If you select, you know, you keep the work. Um, let’s talk about, you know, uh, value valuating writers and getting the right writers on the platform. You know, what’s your approach in. And basically selecting these writers. So, you know, is there an assessment, is there sample writing projects? You know, how does that initial stage go?

Steve Pockross

We put a lot of thought into that. There’s, uh, a lot of actually my thinking comes from the early live ops days of the first example. It came from my origin story. So I’ve been experimented with these models a bit. And so what we’ve come down to is this is one there’s an objective level to writing. Do you have a quality understanding of punctuation, grammar, syntax, all of that good stuff. So we would have a pretty hard writing exam in order to get in about four and a half percent of potential writers. Pass that test. I was told that I passed the test by my head of writers, but then I thought afterwards, you know, I think she has to tell me that no matter what. So all I know is it was really hard. And that’s the objective level. Once you get in there, it’s the question of do our clients like you, do you like our client system? And we’ll do some level of QA because the marketplace pretty much proves out, uh, if you’re going to fit and make it work. If you get declined many times, you’re not. You’re not, um, you know, you’re not going to find a way and the virtuous cycle isn’t going to begin, but if you do, uh, then you’re going to find more and more clients and we start to feed you more opportunities for work. Uh, and so after that, we put everyone through a background check or a w nine. So, uh, just to make sure that they have social security number, um, Which is actually a big barrier because a lot of people slow down at that point. And actually the follow-up, which is a nice sign, that there’s more hurdles. And then we do a QA on your first post and your fifth post to really understand do you fit. And after that, we kind of release you into our clients. Uh, and a lot of it comes from our client feedback and from your feedback on, on if it works and, uh, And oh, the other thing that we ask for up front is for every ever every level of your expertise that you might have, if you’re an attorney, if you’re a paralegal, if you’re a nurse or any qualification you have. So if we have a specialized client. Who asked for these things. We now have a go-to pool of our 3000. And so what I like to say is, uh, I gave the example of starting the insurance business. When I asked her 20,000 call center agents back in the day, how many of you are actually insurance agents, which is a really hard thing to do because it costs $6,000 a year to license an agent. We turned out we had 300 to 400 different insurance agents already. And so what that means is I had the largest insurance call center in the world and didn’t know it. And so that’s how I want to feel about every niche. And that’s how we deliver niche content, like, like legal content. Yeah.

Chris Dreyer

And that’s incredible. And I want to talk about just a few of the advantages that I’ve seen working with you in a moment, but you know, one thing that. It’s just a plague when it comes to content services is plagiarism and it is, you know, are there extra precautions that you can take too, besides just Copyscape? You know what, uh, what are some of the things that you can do? Are there, do you have to do to kind of combat this.

Steve Pockross

It’s interesting. So we, we think about plagiarism a lot. We think that we have kind of our best practices now, and we want them to be a lot better. I hope that I hope that the tools change. So what we do is we run every piece that comes through our system on draft, by Copyscape. And when the client accepts the piece by Copyscape to whatever levels that we think is the acceptable amount, uh, we train our. Uh, we, we certify all of our agents in a plagiarism test to make sure that they understand what that means. We make them legally responsible, um, for, for not doing it so we can hold them accountable if anything happens afterwards. And then we take an extra step that we just added, which is that, um, if it takes 10 days for a client to, um, to purchase a post, once they’ve written the draft, we then do Copyscape again to make sure that it’s still hasn’t been copied by the time it happens. Oh, wow. And so we think that’s kind of the best we can do right now on our side. Now, when it gets to the other site, the majority of the issues that have been reported for plagiarism with us is after we sent it to the client and they posted it, someone stole it from their site. Uh, and then wasn’t aware of how it got released into the wild. So you will know a hell of a lot more about that than I do. Um, but it’s a problem I’d really like to solve. Cause it would avoid a lot of finger pointing, like, you know yeah.

Chris Dreyer

There’s no doubt that a service like Verblio can provide value to some businesses, but is it the right choice for personal injury attorneys? I asked Steve to lay out the pros and cons of working with a strategic partner for content.

Steve Pockross

Great. The, so the pros in doing this a lot and we do it across the industry for a lot of the industry leaders. So we have a scalable group of legal content writers and lawyers who can act as editors or as writers for those, depending on what level. So this is what we do all day. Um, this is what we spend all of our time thinking about how to deliver this. At scale, we deliver 80,000 pieces of unique content every single year, about 10,000 of those are legal content pieces. Um, that’s what I have to say and on the, on the benefits side, and then there’s the control side. So it really depends on personal preference. Every single position could be insourced or outsourced. It could be your marketing team. It could be your finance team could be your call center. It could be your accountant. All of these are personal preference. How important is it to you? If you take it in house, it costs you more money and you have to put more mind share into it, but you get more control. How much control do you want? So I would say if you’re a personal injury attorney, who’s going to be reading every single piece of content, rewriting it anyway, because your voice is so important to you that you just feel. You know, that control is very important, then you should definitely go in-house and you should find someone who finds your voice. And if your goal is to reach the largest audience possible through best through SEO and getting lots of content out there and really out competing as a marketing channel. There’s a, there’s a place in there that you’re going to have to trust, uh, trust other expertise. So like your leading agency rankings and, uh, and your content provider to provide legal content, that’s going to work. So it’s really kind of, it’s harder in the content world because it’s very qualitative. You feel something for it. And, uh, it is effective as a marketing channel and it’s also personal and qualitative. Yeah. I

Chris Dreyer

love all of that. And the minds, me of a recent interview we did with Neil Patel. How he structures his content team. He has a percentage of individuals that just do, you know, and keyword type content that you’re, that you’re using for SEO. And then he has what he’s called expert content, where it’s, it’s unique, it’s a linkable asset. You can share it on social media. And I think there can be a balance between, you know, maybe you’re that. Heavy hitting trial attorney, or you have just a unique type of experience where you can write some content, but, but maybe the more volume and just targeting keywords, getting your practice area pages, you could use a strategic partner. The other thing Steve, I wanted to mention to you too, is, and to our audiences, you know, one of our competitors tries to use it against us. They’re like, oh, they outsource their content. And I’m like, yeah, we do. And the reason we do is because if we need content, we get it. But the moment we don’t need content. We don’t have to order content. We can take those that utilization that investment and do link building or local SEO. So it actually, uh, utilizing a strategic partner like yourself, it allows us to ebb and flow and do what actually the client needs, as opposed to bringing all of the staff. In-house having a giant payroll for content that I just have to keep feeding the beast so that it allows for a lot of flexibility that I really enjoy.

Steve Pockross

That’s great. I, I mean, I think it’s a key strategy to everything. What do you want to, what do you want to be your true value proposition then? How do you use strategic partners who are specialists to really supplement and give you an extra edge? So that’s what we’re trying to do, and I’m, I’m glad we get to do it, uh, with rankings.

Chris Dreyer

Absolutely. And you know, so let’s talk about incorporating client feedback, you know, so when you get client feedback, how do you incorporate that into subsequent content?

Steve Pockross

Great. So every, every piece of content has an option for the client to provide feedback and we actively solicit it. Um, it, it turns out when, when we’ve done our dataset surveys, actually our data research that our pieces are our clients that give lots of feedback are the ones that stick with us the longest. They have the least amount of churn because they’re actively getting better voice. They’re getting what they’re looking for out of the writers. Uh, the ones that are most dangerous to us are the ones who accept a ton of content. Don’t give any feedback. And at the end say, oh, I don’t really like it, but it is a co-creation process of learning your learning, your tastes, learning your goals, and for the writers to know them as well. And so our platform, we think about that, this is another key difference is that we incorporate all cons are all feedback given from one client to one writer. To any writer that would ever write for that client. So there is basically a, a long list. Every writer can come in and be like, and learn very quickly without having to go through the process again. So our goal is for, for you as a client to come to Verblio and you’ll have a, instead of having to train up one writer, then you hire another freelancer. The freelancer goes, you have to try. And another one that the platform is basically what you’re training. And within that three months that you would train a normal writer. You’ve trained a team of writers and never have to go through it again. Uh, we think it’s a better way in a, in a new model of using kind of this, this, uh, this technology and the, and the people model together.

Chris Dreyer

And, uh, and a follow-up question on that. So it’s like your software in itself, kind of a living style guide. Is that essentially what it is?

Steve Pockross

That’s really well said. And then also for larger clients, we also have an upfront certification where if you, if you’re creating a pool of 50 writers, because you’re doing 500 to a thousand pieces of content per month, we will create that style guide as kind of a certificate to start and then make it a living style guide.

Chris Dreyer

Got it. Got it. So let’s, let’s talk about tactical because you know, you work with a lot of. Different companies, you know, let’s start with, you know, ideation, you know, how should attorneys go about topic, selection? What are, what are some of the methods that attorneys can take to just find topics to create content on?

Steve Pockross

Oh, man, you’re asking me a question that, you know, 10 times as much as I do about the topics. So I would say trust your agency, your agency knows best practices. We do have a service, which is a topic creation by our writers who have seen kind of best practices and kind of have their own ideation. You’ll run out of ideas, others otherwise. And then, you know, if you’re not using an agency, which I assume if you’re listening to this podcast, you probably are. Uh, there are a lot of great tools out there, like a Surfer SEO and, um, uh, Clear Scope and a bunch of the new ones that can really help you kind of figure out where the sweet spots would be. Although I do worry about saturation. If everybody’s using the exact same tools to come up with the exact same keywords that you might not be there. And so my. My gut basically says somewhere in between the concept of that mass production content that we’re talking about. And what do you want to write about? You’re going to write a lot more if you’re really interested in it and maybe you’ll stand out in areas that you hadn’t even considered as the targets, because when you speak about something passionately that you believe in, it stands out and people will find you

Chris Dreyer

As the CEO of a content writing company, Steve has a unique bird’s eye view of what clients are asking for and what material is performing well, I wanted to know what are the trends in written content and where’s the sector headed.

Steve Pockross

We have a really good, cool frontline view, uh, frontline seats of the top agencies. So we, we write for over a thousand client digital marketers every month and about two thirds of those are agencies. So it’s a pretty cool seat at the arena. The things that we’re seeing are every single year at the site, the length of content goes up and it’s unclear if that’s. If it’s just ranks better, or if people are reading them better, I’ve still read that, you know, only 17% of really long pieces get read anyway, but it seems like they’re more authoritative. Um, and so I think there’s going to be a game every year. It keeps going up. When I first came on board, our average in four and a half years ago, our average post was. Think 300 something words, and now it’s 1,200 words. Um, so that was a pretty dramatic shift. We actually wrote less than 5% of our volume was over a thousand words at the time. And now it’s 75%. So clearly marketers are seeing some value there. Um, the second is really the big trend in repurposing. Uh, which I know that you do a lot of, especially like on your podcast and for your clients, which is taking any medium that you have. Uh, if it’s a podcast, turn it into a blog. If it’s a video, turn it into a blog. It’s a blog, turned into a video, um, back and forth. And so we’re doing a lot of that work with leading marketers who are trying to find ways to take their existing content and make it bigger. I think, uh, revamps and SEO enhancements are really another big, uh, big part of that. Um, and the last is, we’re actually seeing a lot of, um, a lot of UN agencies who used to think that the content creation or the content strategy was their sweet spot. That was their core value, passing, more and more services to Verblio, and having us handle more and more of the content creation process outside of the writing in addition to, uh, the services. So basically they’re looking for their next level of competitive advantage and asking us to do more of the ongoing work for them.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, that’s fantastic. And, and I’m definitely on board on with the re-purposing every, even this podcast itself, we break up into micro clips for social. We do a transcript. Uh, we transcribe it. We turned it into a blog and you know, I think it’s any attorney that’s doing speaking engagements or they’re on the stage or they do a webinar or they have a podcast themselves. That’s just a great way to create content. I, myself, the reason why I love the repurposing aspect is I’m not a keyboard warrior. I don’t love the set down and bang out a long article, but. I’m happy to do an interview or speak on a stage or do a webinar. I love that. So if I have to do the actual writing myself, um, you know, so the repurposing is there just a really strong strategy.

Steve Pockross

I’m exactly the same. I tell everyone that, uh, I’m married to a writer. My brother and my mother are both professional writers and the blinking, the blink, the flashing cursor on the screen is my absolute nightmare is starting to just sit down and write. So I love that we can all create content in different areas and still add value.

Chris Dreyer

Absolutely. And you kind of briefly touched on this and I kind of wanted to get your thoughts on it. You know, in 2015, there were 4.5 billion webpages on Google. Now in 2021. Who knows trillions. I don’t, I don’t have a clue, a ton. Right. And it’s not a situation where. A topic hasn’t been covered for the most part. Now there are some truly unique studies and things that come out where most keywords already have an article that’s been written. So, you know, where does refresh has come in? You know, how frequently are they going to need to be applied? You know, what do these content upgrades, uh, mean for the future of, of SEO and just marketing in general?

Steve Pockross

So the one thing I do now is this conversation is that we don’t know, all we know is that it’s going to be really important. It’s going to be much bigger as we go. And we don’t know what form it’s going to take yet. It reminds me a lot of video conversations like five years ago, videos, the biggest thing. And then we’re going to figure out how to do it. And so I think right now there’s going to be a point where we all understand what are. What a critical refresh is. Um, we have, there’s so many elements of it. There’s the length of the article. There’s the keywords. There’s the actual content in the writing of the article, what needs to be refreshed as unclear, and then which percent of them when it ranks, how high, um, should you go after them? And then how do you build out a model? So it becomes process driven right now. It’s really. Kind of each company has their own version of it and it’s going to be standardized and we are, we hired a new, uh, unbelievable product marketing lead, who is her first job is really focused on how to do revamps in a scalable way. That’s process-driven that can help our marketers, um, I think we’re going to have Verblio, or should have a stronger point of view on what you should be doing as a marketer and what we’re seeing as we build up this product. So I hope to have a better answer for you soon, but I will say it’s really important and we’re all going to be doing a lot more of it. I just don’t know how.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, I’m definitely on the, you know, let’s just take a major market like Chicago and your personal injury attorney. Will everyone has a car accident, lawyer page. So it’s not a situation where I will. I wrote, yeah, I’ve got a car accident, lawyer page. I wrote it. And then you move on to a new topic. It’s like, Well, so does all your competitors, so how are you going to make yours different and better? You know, one of the things, you know, if Google evaluates the frequency of, of it being updated, that could give you a boost for SEO, the link fee, you know, the new stats, the making it relevant, of course, eat expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness is, is critical for attorneys, you know, uh, attorneys and physicians. It makes me think of. You know, if I was a great SEO, uh, affiliate marketer, and I made a site that’s talked about, you know, with no credentials as a physician and I could rank something on cancer, that would be just a disaster. Right. So they’re really looking for experts to, to have that additional boost when it comes to ranking their topics. Because, you know, if I’m sick, I don’t want to go find this article. That’s, that’s written by some, you know, uh, someone that’s not an expert in their craft.

Steve Pockross

Uh, and then I wonder if there’s going to be other, like other things that are going, what happened, like, you know, photos have been so, uh, unique photos has not been a big part of the experience in a really long time. And everyone’s using the same stock photos. Will there be a point where like, if you have a unique photo that gets you ranked faster, or if you have a video that summarizing it, um, or if it’s part of a longer series, will it, I, I think we’re all going to come up with ways that these are going to be more and more effective. And I know you’ll be thinking about it a lot too.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, so we, we talked about just a ton and you know, the biggest takeaway for me is, is the flexibility of working with your team. You know, you get 70 plus pool of legal writers. I’m not, it may be larger now. And just to have the ability to scale an ebb and flow in terms of strategies is the huge advantage. And. It allows me to do more of the strategy work and have a team that can execute on the production in a high quality fashion. So thank you for that.

Steve Pockross

First of all, that’s our entire goal is to empower marketers like you to use a new, competitive advantage. So I’m happy to hear it.

Chris Dreyer

So, you know, in closing, you know, what’s on the horizon for Verblio. Oh, and where can people go to get in touch with you?

Steve Pockross

Uh, so the horizon has lots of growth. Um, we are. We’re we’ve basically grown 500% in the last four, four years. And we continue to build out this platform, uh, continuing to build out the technology and the writer pool. So we can keep, keep delivering higher quality and more niche content at scale and do more and more things. We acquired a video company a few years. A few years ago. Um, so, but doing lots of that, if you’re interested, you can find us at Verblio.com. Uh, another big thing that I’ve been working on is my own podcast, which I’ve really enjoyed. So if, uh, uh, this, our podcast is called “Yes And Marketing” and, uh, talk to a wide range of eclectic and interesting leaders and very a liberal arts philosophy to marketing and marketing ideas can come from anywhere. So come here to get inspired.

Chris Dreyer

Always a pleasure to talk with Steve. What’s most fascinating to me is that a lot of video and other content on social gets shorter, but written content actually gets longer. That definitely informs some of the decisions we’ll make going forward. I’d like to thank Steve Pockross from Verblio, though for sharing his story with us. And I hope you gained some valuable insights from the conversation you’ve been listening to the personal injury marketing mastermind. I’m Chris Dreyer. If you liked this episode, leave us a review. We’d love to hear from our listeners. I’ll catch you on next. Week’s PIMM with another incredible guest and all the strategies you need to master personal injury marketing.

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