little fascinated how an indie dev cuts up a day and how you prioritize the writing with the dev work.— charlie (@_charliewilco) February 10, 2023
example: when did the ‘comparison’ docs become a priority? lots of research and analysis, where does that weigh against your storybook spike.
I have been spending some time lately on long-tail SEO: comparison pages (“Buttondown vs. FooCorp”), integration pages (“how you use Buttondown with Bar.js”), and so on. This is, frankly, boring but valuable work — the kind I tend to shy away from unless I gamify it into a streak or something similar.
One model of “how to think about long-tail SEO” is the Crusonia plant, an economic plot device of a crop that, once planted, grows at a stable and monotonic rate with unceasing free yield.
Much like all economic fables, this is a structure of convenience to ignore the messy realities of the world (“assume the cow is spherical”, and all that) and so perhaps the lossiness of the metaphor destroys its use. But this is not an essay about economics in the grand sense: it is an essay about economics as it pertains to my SaaS, and so a toy model can be more instructive than destructive.
Let’s pretend, for a second, that a given marketing page is Crusonian: once written and published, it yields a certain number of page views every month, and those page views convert into users at a certain rate, and those users convert into paying customers at a certain rate, and those paying customers all have a life-time value that evens out to Buttondown’s median life-time value. It is suddenly very easy to model out the value of such a page:
net_new_visitors_per_month * registration_rate * conversion_rate * ltv == marginal_value_generated_per_month
If I were to take the numbers from Buttondown’s most recent long-tail SEO pages, you very quickly arrive at some attractive math:
70 new visitors per month * 4% registration rate * 12% conversion rate * $450 LTV == $136/month
$146/month! That’s a pretty good number, even with all the caveats mentioned above: not all conversions are alike, and it’s entirely possible the people who convert based on a comparison page for a particular competitor are actually terrible customers who churn quickly, and so on.
These pages do not take a huge amount of time to write: around, say, ninety minutes. If I value my time at — insert arbitrary number here — $250/hour, it only takes six or seven months for a single page to pay for itself:
time_to_write_page * cost_of_labor / marginal_value_generated_per_month = time_to_break_even
1.5 hours * $250/hour / $136/month = 2.75 months to break even
Anyone who’s groomed a backlog knows that, even ignoring all the napkin math, this analysis is deeply flawed. The question with any sort of work is not: “is this work worth doing?” but “is this work worth doing more than other work?”
The answer here, frankly, tends to be no. When it comes to writing, I know blogging (like, say, HN-bait about using a monorepo) generates more returns in terms of pageviews; I know product work qua product work like adding teams support moves the more important levers like attach + expansion revenue.
But it is fairly hard to accurately estimate the return of those investments. Blogging, while good for short bursts of traffic, tends to be very bad from an evergreen perspective; product work is often hard to quantify, and I think Buttondown benefits from being led by a more ineffable sense of product direction rather than “what’s going to juice the numbers most?” — because, spoiler alert, the answer there is adding support for drip sequences.
And so I come back to the metaphor of the Crusonia plant: a very slow but perpetual source of evergreen value. And it’s an area of historic underinvestment: Buttondown is still fairly poorly discovered outside of word-of-mouth, and its SEO should be better.
The rejoinder I anticipate receiving upon sending this is: “well, do you have to be writing these pages?”, to which I can confidently answer no! Marketing execution work is a task to which I find myself neither particularly well-suited nor particularly gratified by; it is a good candidate for delegation. And I am deep in the weeds of sourcing some folks in the messy middle of “content marketing + technical writer”; some sample work from candidates is rolling in this week, and I’m excited to get it published and hopefully begin some fruitful relationships.
(Thanks, Charlie, for asking! And if anyone else has a question for which they want a rambling, half-coherent metaphor, reply to this email: I’d be happy to write.)