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AO: What was one unconventional growth tactic that you ran that did support surprisingly well?

Nadya Khoja: When I started out at Venngage, this is something I often talk about, but I didn’t really know anything about marketing. And when I joined, the CEO was like, let’s focus on SEO, go get links. So I googled, you know, what is SEO and what are links and how do I get them? And there was obviously a lot of different content and I didn’t understand any of it. So, then I just started like emailing people or messaging them on Twitter. You know, like what somebody would do when you need to get a link, you start asking people.

And obviously people were like, no, like why should I help you. Also, I have no authority in this space. So it became really difficult for anybody to even want to trust me or open my emails or anything like that. And I didn’t really know any of the tools. So, what I started doing was try to give them a value prop. So, I would start reaching out to people and say, hey, you talk to me and give me a link to this. I need a link, but what I can do for you is I can create a free custom visual, whatever you want.

If it’s like for your blog, whether it’s an infographic or brochure or just something that summarizes it in a nice visual way. And all I want an exchange is for you to say that we worked together on this and that Venngage and their company collaborated. So, I started co-branding this and I would just do this myself because we only had one designer at the time. So, I started just using our own product. One of our internal company things is we eat our own dog food. I figured I might as well use our product to get the results we need.

I started reaching out to people initially. And then eventually that started working really well and not getting as much rejection. And the response rate was really good. And so we started to scale it up. I would hire freelance designers who would be able to use our tool and spit things out really, really fast so that we were able to push out between me and one other marketer on my team, we were getting probably somewhere between like 10 links each a week, just from this approach. And they were usually good quality and very anchor specific links, which are something that a lot of marketers are going for.

But one of the things that as we started to scale, and as I started to think more about, you know, I don’t just want a back link. I want a good mention, I want a notable site and I want to drive some type of referral traffic, if possible from it. So, we would approach it more as a partnership and try to see and approach what their goal is. It’s like our SEO team acts as account managers with different partners.

And we try to keep that relationship as strong as possible by providing them with as much value  and the currency that we get paid in is links. So ,what I started doing is using tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush and going to different sites and kind of scraping different websites to see which blog content they already had that was ranking and driving a lot of traffic. So. I’d only go to sites that were already driving. A lot of traffic and look at their top three articles. And then as I would pitch them this idea, I would say, hey, do you want to work or collaborate on this?

And I would already know which articles to pitch them because I could see their profile and which ones were driving the most traffic. So I’d single those articles out and kind of give them a very personalized feel of why I thought that particular piece of content would benefit from a visual, where their current rankings were, and how we would help them. And then we started getting a lot of people who are really interested in this thing, because let’s say I pitched, you know, you guys have an article that’s driving 5,000 sessions a month or something.

And I get my backlink in there with a little shout out to Venngage. And I visualize that article for you. But on top of that, I’m helping you promote your article because it might be a keyword that I don’t rank for, or I probably won’t rank for, for a really long time, but I know you rank for it first or second. So using that as a process to drive referral traffic, and therefore it’s beneficial for me to help somebody else build links to their content because they’re already kind of ranking for it. And I want them to stay there because I know I’m going to drive the referral traffic from their article anyway.

So it was a really big value add and partners were kind of skeptical because they’re like, wait, you’re just going to give us a thing and then help us rank for this article with nothing aside from the link.

AO:  This is amazing. I don’t mean to stop you, but I’ve just got some questions cause I’m loving this. So, the first thing is, could you give us a little bit more tactics on the way that we can think about creatively doing this barter approach? Cause I mean, for you, it wasn’t just, well, this is what we can do. This is what our company actually does. So, we should just offer that. But is there any first creative thought process that you can go through on how you came up with offering your actual service for free?

Nadya Khoja: Yeah. So I’m inherently a lazy person and I don’t want to do a lot of work. So when I’m thinking about a goal, I try to think of what’s one thing I can do that will get as much stuff done as possible in the shortest period of time. So I don’t have to think about this again. And so obviously my role is to drive revenue, right? I know our channel is SEO. So I’m like, how do I get money and get people to actually come to our tool and use our tool and see the value of the tool and get links and create relationships and not have to do as much outreach because I hate doing that.

So it was really just the laziest path I could think of is, I just need one person to promote this product for me and they’re already ranking, so I don’t even need to do anything else. And I’m just driving all of this other traffic from other sites. And so that was what I wanted from it. And to backtrack a little bit, one of the things I often tell my team is, instead of trying to kill two birds with one stone, try to kill 10. And so trying to think of the range of impact that you can make and how does it actually help somebody else because ultimately like any channel that you’re trying to grow or any tactic that you’re trying to use, it really comes down to the relationships that you’re building with other people, right?

All marketing is relationship building, whether it’s with your user, whether it’s with another marketer. And so that’s kind of the mindset that me and my team keep going into whatever channel that we’re building in terms of the actual tactics. So yeah, they were really, really skeptical and they weren’t willing to take, to just accept what my offer was. So we frame it as what their value would be and what they would gain from it. And we kind of had to show them as we started to get more and better partners who we had worked with to build that credibility. I mean, yeah, it was pretty simple.

What we do is, I would reach out to somebody based on that process I talked about before, we’re going through Ahrefs looking at which articles were already ranking for terms that we weren’t ranking for and format the pitch. In the beginning, we actually created an outline for them. So we did all the work, but we didn’t want to make the design without their approval first because we didn’t want to do more work than necessary. And once we started doing that, we would pitch them and we would kind of keep hitting them up. And now what I’ll do is I’ll go on LinkedIn and try to find whoever is, I don’t go for the writer of that article. I’ll look for the content manager, the editor, at that website and go right to the top. Because I know that if they like the idea, and they probably don’t have as much context because they’re not, as in the weeds, as the person actually writing the article and falling all the metrics. They’re probably going to go to the person on their team and be like, do this thing. And that person’s going to be like, okay, fine. I have to do this now because my boss told me. So, I would just go straight to the top of who is the editor or the manager of the site and just get them to help me with myprocess.

AO: It was amazing by the way, I’m freaking loving this. Like this is gold, but Jorge, I know you had a question, right. 

Jorge: What were the objections that you were getting from the folks that you were reaching out to and how were you getting around them?

Nadya Khoja: So usually one of the biggest forms of rejection, I was just getting ignored, right? And especially with marketing sites like writers, but the process that people usually follow with link building is they’ll find an article, they’ll scrape it like a list. They’ll get somebody else to find the email address of whoever the writer is. And so that writer is getting pitched all the time with different requests and tons of different sites. I just know this because our team gets pitched all the time from other sites. And all of the pitches weren’t good or it seems scammy, or it didn’t seem legit.

So, when I’m thinking about a brand that I’m buying from, I obviously want to buy a credible brand. It needs to be positioned in the right way for me at the right time. So, instead of doing massive cold outreach first and trying to hit up the writers, I was like, can I get 20 links from one site with one email rather than having to email every single writer and getting rejected a bunch. And that’s when I started looking at who’s the editor of these big sites, whether they’re top ranking articles already earn traffic, can I get them to agree with three guests infographic right off the bat without having to do any more outreach?

So usually one email was suffice, but then I could really focus on nurturing that one person. And then, that person at the top was going to go to every writer on their team, like trust these guys or work with these guys. So then later on, if somebody else on my team is like, “Hey, remember that last time we worked together”, they’ll be much more likely to reply to the email because they recognize me or my team. So that was the way that we approached it and how we started doing it. But it really just came from being ignored too much and having to send too many emails and like email deliverability problems and redjections because cold outreach is the worst.

And I just don’t like getting ignored and I have some assumption problems.

AO: This is so good. Thanks for being so real on all this. I mean, I think this approach is amazing and it just makes a lot of sense. And it’s super simple. Could you give us any more, in terms of roadblocks that someone should consider as they’re trying an approach like this.

Nadya Khoja: The main roadblock is when it starts to scale or if you have competitor content that’s already in that article. Some people are just unwilling to, I remember there was one site that we worked with where they were ranking on a keyword that we really wanted to rank on. And we were actually competing heavily with them on that keyword, but they were not a site that was selling the same product. They were just selling like an ebook or a download for it.

So, that they were just ranking on that term with this site and ranking on a keyword that we really wanted, we were competing with them on, but they were not the same product and they were just selling this or they were promoting this ebook and it was a download. So I couldn’t get a link on that landing page because it didn’t make sense. So, we ended up partnering with them on other content. So, my end goal was to take over this page or I want to be involved in this page somehow, but I’m not going to go directly there yet.

So I kind of did this loop around thing where I approached them with other types of articles that could have used some value add. And we started that way. And then eventually when I built a really good relationship with the company, I was like, Hey, like, do you guys send an email when people download this ebook from this page? And they’re like, yeah. And I was like, since you guys, aren’t a product that offers this service and you’re just sending them a download. Do you think in the email you could promote Venngage and tell people to actually come to our site and make their own infographics or whatever posters or visuals that they wanted because they were selling downloadable, proposal or something.

So, they were like, yeah, sure why not? Because at that point, we’re friends and to this day, I think it’s still in that email. So, now anytime somebody goes to their site, even though we’re not ranking first and we’re ranking like second or third on that term, if they don’t click on us, any of the top mentions that they see will still be associated or affiliated with us. So that’s how to think about SEO. It’s not only about owning the first spot. It’s about influencing every spot on that page and taking like a chunk from everybody else. 

AO: That makes sense. This is really cool. This has been so enlightening. Thank you for taking the time to just share this approach. And I think a lot of people, a lot of our listeners are going to get  a lot from it. It’s just creative thinking overall. ‘Cause it’s not necessarily infographics for everyone. It’s about the approach of getting creative and the things that you have in your hand that you can offer an exchange and work in a team. And it’s not just about making it all to go to our site. I see so much sharing and, and other altruistic things here. It’s pretty neat.

Nadya Khoja: I think it’s like the same. It doesn’t matter what your software is, or what your company does. We are all trying to offer value to somebody, right. Or we’re giving a service or something. If you can give people a sample of what that is for free as a value add, and then make that like a trade. They’re not only going to see the value of your product first hand, because you’re just giving it to them. But you’re still gonna find the marketing, you’re going to get the amplification from it. Because they’re going to start talking about you, ‘cause they’re promoting you on their site.

Plus all their users are seeing you. So you start to get well known. And then of course they’re speaking highly of you as a person because you’re helping them and giving them something.

AO: This has been incredible. Thank you so much for your time. We’ve learned a lot and hope to have you on the show in the future as well. 

Nadya Khoja: Thanks.

AO: That’s it. Another great episode of The One Growth Show , the official podcast of growth marketing conference to learn more about upcoming events, visit and subscribe to the newsletter. If you enjoy this episode, let us know. We’d really appreciate it if you’d give us a five star rating, super easy, just click the last star on iTunes, and also share this episode on social media. After all you want your network to know you’re the person they can always turn to for the best growth and marketing content, don’t you?

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