Welcome to episode 231 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Kingston Duffie about increasing engagement on websites.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Mike Morrison about growing and retaining your membership site audience. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
A Better Experience
If you’ve been around the food blogging industry for the past few years, you’ve probably heard the word “engagement” more than any other metric. And that’s because brands, bloggers, and creators are putting a greater emphasis on engagement, even over other KPIs or metrics like pageviews or followers.
And that’s why Kingston is here today! His company, Slickstream, is aimed at increasing engagement on bloggers’ sites. And if you’ve visited our sister site, Pinch of Yum, lately, chances are you’ve seen Slickstream in action. Heck, you might have even used Slickstream without even knowing.
This is a really interesting interview focusing on ways that you can increase engagement on your own site–enjoy!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How Kingston got his start
- Why you should reflect on your “why”
- Why listening is an important skill as a business owner
- Why it’s important to pivot
- How to determine your success with KPIs
- How Slickstream works
- Why search is so important on websites
- How to use Slickstream on your site
Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on Spotify:
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey friends, you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Thanks for making this show a part of your day today. Alexa here and I wanted to welcome you to the 231st episode of the podcast. The focus for today’s episode, this 231st episode of ours is engagement. Now, if you’ve been around the food blogging industry for the past few years, you’ve probably heard the word engagement over any other metric.
Alexa Peduzzi: That’s because brands, bloggers and creators are putting a greater emphasis on engagement even over other KPIs or metrics like page views or followers. That’s why Kingston is here today. His company Slickstream is aimed at increasing engagement on blogger sites.
Alexa Peduzzi: If you visited our sister site Pinch of Yum lately, chances are you’ve seen Slickstream in action and heck, you might’ve even used Slickstream without even knowing. This is a really interesting interview focusing on ways that you can increase engagement on your own site and we think you’re really going to like it. So without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.
Bjork Ostrom: Kingston, welcome to the podcast.
Kingston Duffie: Hey, glad to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Super excited to talk to you about multiple different things, but the core of what I’m excited about is just to flip seats a little bit because for a long time we have been partnering together and I have been talking about what it’s like to be a publisher as you are building Slickstream and anybody who’s been on Pinch of Yum once we start talking about it, you’re going to be familiar with Slickstream.
Bjork Ostrom: We’re going to talk about why that’s been an important tool for us. But before we do that, for the first time ever, I’ve never been able to do this because we’ve always been talking about data and how we can improve engagement. But for the first time ever, I would love to spend a little bit of this podcast to actually interview you just about your story. So would that be okay? Are you okay if we jumped into that?
Kingston Duffie: Absolutely.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. So this would be one of those things where I’m going to jump into right away something that might be embarrassing but embarrassing because it is such a high compliment. So way back when we were first connected, I was like, okay, there’s a decent amount of emails that we get where people are looking for insights or help or advice or they want to talk to publishers. So I said, let me do a little bit of research who this Kingston is.
Bjork Ostrom: So I Google and one of the first page articles on Google was a New York Times article where it’s like, okay, there’s some credibility here, mentioned in New York times article. Let’s see what it says. I’ll read the first paragraph. This might be the embarrassing part, but it’s an immediate props out to you. The first paragraph says this, there is a time when children were told they could hope to be president, but for many Americans, the envied footsteps are no longer those of Al Gore or George W. Bush. Now people dream of being like Pete Kingston Duffie, Richard Tinsley or Denise Savoy.
Bjork Ostrom: So take me back to the year 2000. You were building a startup and obviously had enough success to be featured in the New York Times and for this author to say no longer the envy of parents would be Al Gore or George W. Bush, but Kingston, what was going on at that time and what was your story at that time?
Kingston Duffie: That was a super exciting time for us. That was my second startup that I created a company called Turnstone. In 2000 we had just taken that company public. We did, one is called an IPO, raised money on the stock markets and that’s was when that New York times article came out was when all the evaluations were going through the roof.
Kingston Duffie: The company is worth a lot of money and suddenly I, who had been an obscure person suddenly was in the limelight at least for a little while.That startup was came out of nowhere. We just started it in 1997 and two years later, we were filing to go public and it was a really wild roller coaster ride.
Bjork Ostrom: I would imagine. I would imagine this article being that it’s February 2000, so just a couple of months after or a month after Y2K and then we realized that actually this isn’t a big deal, but it’s right at the, I would imagine there is the peak and then soon there’d be this point where the roller coaster potentially is going down a little bit. What was that like to ride that roller coaster during that time as it relates to a startup and especially a startup that has an IPO that goes on the public market?
Speaker 4: It was amazing because this was my second company in Silicon Valley. It was also funded by Venture Capital and we had a board of directors with some VCs on it. They were complaining, this is funny now to remember it. They were complaining at every board meeting, you guys are not spending enough money. As the management team of a company, you’re thinking, no, no, you’re supposed to be lending. We’re spending too much money.
Speaker 4: Now, they were saying, “You are not spending enough money because we got to grow even faster. This market is really on fire.” Rick, you mentioned Richard Tinsley. Rick Kinsley was the CEO. I was the CTO of the company and we were partners in it and we were saying, gee, we don’t know how fast this market can grow, so we’re reluctant to really grow so fast. We were doing… We went from zero in 1997 to $100 million in revenue in less than two years.
Speaker 4: The board of directors was saying, “This market is crazy, let’s spend way more money and grow even faster.” But all of a sudden in 2000 most of your listeners probably aren’t old enough to remember this, but the market we were in just took a big tank. All of a sudden, all of these new DSL providers all went out of business and they were our customers and this was like phone companies going out of business. It was amazing.
Speaker 4: But we were sitting there literally with $300 million of cash in a bank account because we have been very profitable and all of our customers basically disappeared overnight. So that’s where the hard part of running a company really comes in and where things go South. So we have a lot of work to do to figure out is our market going to continue to exist? What should we do?
Speaker 4: In fact, we spent about a year really understanding that the markets were changing and in fact we took that money that we had in the bank and just redistributed it to our investors and said, I think this is over. We’re delighted that we did that rather than go spray it away trying to be into some other market.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s really interesting to think back to that time. I was a freshman in high school and I was just getting into investing in stocks. My dad was an art teacher at the high school. I remember every day when school would wrap up, I would go over to his classroom, and I think at the time he had one of those, the school had purchased, at least for the art department, those like colorful Macs, desktop Macs.
Bjork Ostrom: So I’d log on and I would check my stocks on some online stock portfolio thing as the nerdy freshmen that I was. But I remember just seeing the ups and downs and being so impacted by that. But I can’t imagine as the founder or co-founder of a company that times, well in some ways 100 million. So it’s, you feel that in a way that on an amplified scale.
Bjork Ostrom: But one of the things that was interesting to me with your story is that when we first jumped on a call, and I’m having these conversations with you and when your partners in Slickstream was there or somebody on the team, Carl and I remember we were chatting a little bit and I said, so this is before I had really researched or done my due diligence.
Bjork Ostrom: I said, “So have you ever started a company before?” You just were like politely like, “Yeah, I have some experience with startups and they have a couple other” and Carl kind of chuckled in the background. I think knowing the true story of how many times you’ve been through this, but one of the questions that I have is for you as it relates to startups, is why.
Bjork Ostrom: What is it that keeps you coming back to this and what is the engine that keeps you going? Because I think it’s helpful for entrepreneurs of which everybody who listens to this podcast is in some way to hear other people reflect on their why. I think the why is really core to doing what we do. So often we think that it’s money, but oftentimes it’s not. The why is different than that. So I’m curious to know what is your why? Why do you keep doing this?
Kingston Duffie: Well, that’s a great question. Bluntly, in companies I’ve done up til now, I’ve made all the money I’ll ever spend. Money is not a very big motivator after you get over a certain level. But there are a lot of other motivators. I’ll tell you, it comes from me about, there’s really two things. One is, in a small company, as a startup, you tend to be working with a handful of really good people because why would we be working with the people who aren’t good?
Kingston Duffie: So you’re in an environment that you can move quickly, like a speedboat, and you’re surrounded by a team of people that you really trust and you like. That’s a fun environment to be in. So coming into work every day, you don’t have all that big company yearocracy and everything else, so that’s a big factor.
Kingston Duffie: But I think the even bigger factor is there’s nothing that motivates someone more, in my opinion, than seeing someone that you’re helping happy with what you created for them. That’s such a rewarding feeling. I think that’s true in almost every entrepreneurial field you can think of, which is the real turn on, is to see a customer say, “Oh, I just love that thing you created.” That’s what gets me up in the morning.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s an art. It’s a version of design. It is creating things in the world that people respond to and that people appreciate and that people get value out of. What I hear you saying is that, that is your why at this point is to create things that in a small way or big way, make people’s lives better. For Slickstream that is, it’s kind of twofold. It is both the user.
Bjork Ostrom: So somebody who comes to a website and we’re going to talk more about Slickstreaming a little bit to people who come to a website have a better experience, but it’s also the publisher and it’s the person who is creating a site and then is using a service like Slickstream to make that a little bit better. So before we get there to talking about Slickstream, a few more questions just about your journey.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the questions that I have is, or one of the things that I’ve observed as I’ve worked with you that’s been really inspiring is this relentless pursuit of understanding the people that you are working with and the customers that you have. I think that’s one of the things that people are timid about or they’re cautious about but I’ve noticed with Slickstream you and the team are really to engage the customer to ask questions.
Bjork Ostrom: For people who are publishing content or potentially creating a product what advice would you give for them that you’ve learned through the years as you’ve built startups, as you’ve built a customer base, as you’ve created very profitable, very successful businesses that you’ve learned as it relates to engaging the customer and learning from them, and then how you fold that into your final product?
Kingston Duffie: What I think we’ve learned over the years is when everything, it looks like it’s on fire and growing like crazy, you can get easily caught up in this idea of, “Oh, can I make it grow faster? Can I have more? Can I scale it” in Silicon Valley you hear this word scale all the time and I scale it faster. When you’ve got something that people want, you can get this sort of viral moment when things are growing really fast.
Kingston Duffie: In fact, we’re in that moment right now. It’s looks, dream things coming up fast. Well, we have to keep reminding ourselves is, it’s great when it’s all growing magically, but what is your most important asset? It’s going to be loyal customers because inevitably something’s going to go wrong. Inevitably the market’s going to go a little soft. Inevitably, something’s going to go wrong.
Kingston Duffie: When it does, boy, the foundation on which your whole building is built is going to be those customers who say yes, but I really like those guys. They’ve really tried to do the right thing for me. Even if, Oh man, they made a mistake and took that on my whole site, but I know they’re really trying to do right by me. That’s what’s going to save you when you’re on the downturn.
Kingston Duffie: But you’ve been in the upswing what makes people passionate about telling their friends about something? Well, it’s because they loved it. It wasn’t just that it was okay or yeah, I got a four percent increase in something, it’s they loved it. So what I’ve learned is the only way you find out if they really love something is to talk to people and when you do, if you’re listening, they’re going to tell you the next thing you need to do.
Kingston Duffie: So you’ve got to have some good ideas of what to put on the table, but it’s the good customers who are loyal that are going to tell you exactly what they need in you, you’re great example of that. You’ve been super helpful to us as we’ve tried to figure out which are the parts of the product that we should go forward with, which are the parts we can, that was interesting, but let’s let that go. So that’s been really important for us.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, thanks, I appreciate that. Important to point out while I’m thinking of it, I kind of loosely mentioned this before, but honored to be an advisor for Slickstream. So just people know that we are invested in the success of the company, but also we use Slickstream on Pinch of Yum is this really great combination for us in both using the product and then also being able to be involved behind the scenes and weighing in on or talking through some of the potential ways that it could be improved or tweaked or enhanced.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that we’ve seen on our side or that I’ve seen is that exact example or that exact picture that you painted where for somebody who has been through rounds of success with startups, I think in our minds a lot of times what we can imagine is have you watched the show Silicon Valley? It’s the HBO show.
Kingston Duffie: I watched the first two episodes, it so embarrassing. I stopped watching.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s too close to the truth. Yes, totally, totally. It’s one of my favorite shows and I think I’m far enough away from true Silicon Valley, both in distance living in Minnesota. But also we’re kind of bootstrap slower growth companies that I can watch it and kind of be fascinated and still kind of relate to it. But there’s this character on there, and I forget his name, but he always talks about that he’s a part of the Three Comma Club and he has all these phrases for it and he’s the most obnoxious, terrible character that you just love to hate.
Bjork Ostrom: I think in the minds of a lot of people, there’s this idea of success looking like that. But what’s interesting to me is that on the opposite side, and I would say it’s the complete opposite side, has been my interactions, and I know other people that have worked with you as it relates to Slickstream where it feels like you and the Slickstream team like, “Hey, we are serving you. We are working hard to figure this out.”
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a really humble position to take, especially when you’ve had previous success, but also just in general to have this idea of serving customers and to be so outwardly intentional with that. I’m curious to know if that’s just who you are and then you also hire that way, or do you have internal tools in your tool belt that exist, that you could share with the audience to say, these are the concepts that I have or the beliefs that we have of what you’ve already shared a little bit.
Bjork Ostrom: But something to help other people understand how they can serve their customers and their audience because you’ve been through it, you’ve done a good job with it. We’ve seen that showcased, but I’m guessing that you have these mindsets or these frameworks potentially that exist even if they’re loosely existing in your head in terms of how you implement that within the business.
Kingston Duffie: So that’s a big question, but let me, just a few things come off the top of my head. First is there are many paths to success. Just in Silicon Valley I look at a couple of examples. You’ve got Steve Jobs who was the founder of Apple, who he was renowned to be a really, really difficult guy to work for because he was so passionate about how things needed to work and he would extremely demanding of the people around him, but what was that demand about is, he was super passionate that the customer had to be absolutely delighted.
Kingston Duffie: That he would bend over backwards so that when he gave one of those presentations of the new feature, people would gasp with how wonderful it was. But boy, he was just terrible to work for because you just had no time for anyone who didn’t do what he said or make it work what you wanted it. That’s a pathway to success that real determined I know what’s right and I’m going to be the guy standing in front of it when we put that up.
Kingston Duffie: There is another paradigm and this is the Bill Gates paradigm who very much behind the scenes, easy to work with, the people around them all like him but he is just steadily nudging the organization always a little bit in the right direction and that was another big path to success. So if you take someone like a Larry Ellison who’s the founder of Oracle, he’s a guy who is absolutely ruthless in business, that he will do anything to close a deal.
Kingston Duffie: This is public knowledge. He is well known for, if you’re going to win, do anything to win. These are three different models of very different behaviors that are all very successful in Silicon Valley. My own belief is I come from it with this idea that the people around me that I’m working with and the people around me that are my customers know in many cases, a lot more than I do.
Kingston Duffie: So I come at it from the standpoint of I’m an ideas guy. I’m always throwing up, you can speak to this Bjork. I’m always coming up with five new ideas for what we could do but I then stop and listen and trying to hear that might’ve seemed like a good idea. But Carl, for example, one of my partners, very sharp guy who sees the world in a different way, will come back and say, well that sounds interesting, but I don’t think it’s going to work. So I think listening for me is a difficult skill, but it’s a really important one. I think that’s been my path to success so far is working with talented people around me.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. It’s a concept-
Kingston Duffie: I want to be clear that I don’t think there’s any one right answer idea of what gets you to success.
Bjork Ostrom: … That’s great and I think that it’s a concept that occasionally try and revisit here is that sometimes what we can do is we can see somebody else walking on a path in the… You referenced the path to success and think like, “Oh, I need to use that path to get that same to the same place.” A lot of times that path isn’t going to be a good fit for us or another analogy or example is, I watched a video, this is a few weeks ago about those goats that scale the mountains at like these extreme angles and it works for them, but it probably wouldn’t work for our lazy dog Sage, but they could both probably find their own path to success.
Bjork Ostrom: I think the same is, is true, like you said, for entrepreneurs, for people building things where you don’t have to replicate what somebody else does, you have to understand who you are and then how do you operate within the most successful version of yourself in order to move things forward. So I think a great little point there.
Kingston Duffie: A little bit, exactly right.
Bjork Ostrom: Related to that, I think one of the things that you need to be willing to do is to change and adjust and pivot along the way. I know what Slickstream that was true where when we first started having conversations it was really early stage and even maybe a little bit unclear about the exact direction that Slickstream would go as an engagement tool.
Bjork Ostrom: So was there a different version of slick stream and how did that come about? Then also within that, this is the double question, which is terrible for a podcast interview to do, but can you talk about the need to pivot and change as an entrepreneur to evolve your idea and how that happened with Slickstream?
Kingston Duffie: Well, even I’ll go back even a step before I started talking to you. We have been… So I have formed a team of some of the best guys I had worked with in the past and said, let’s go out and start something new and I don’t even know what exactly it’s going to be, but it’s going to be something about collaboration and let’s go try this.
Kingston Duffie: So that’s how this group came together and we decided let’s not rush things. Let’s go try a few different things and we’ll find where is, in Silicon Valley we often talk about this idea of fast moving water, meaning think about putting your canoe in the river, but you’re stuck in an eddy on the side. What you’re really trying to do is find the place where the water is moving fast. Sometimes it’s hard to see it until your canoe actually gets into the water.
Kingston Duffie: So we’re trying some things and I want to tell you about just one example, which is we had it in mind that there needs to be kind of the next generation of internet web publishing and we see a lot of content is sitting in an old fashioned model and we want to nudge that forward. So we invented this new thing that we called Braid and it was an interactive online magazine, where are the idea of each new story that we write, think of a story in a magazine.
Kingston Duffie: Each new story that we’re going to write is going to be like an app where the people who’ve come to read the story, it’s not just reading text or images on a screen, it’s really interacting with it like an app. The way that I would learn about what this was is interacting with it. So for example, one of the stories we did in this was to tell the story of North Korea and nuclear weapons development and we did that by letting you explore what were all the nuclear weapons that had existed.
Kingston Duffie: It was a very newsy kind of article at the time, North Korea was running its nuclear program, but we tried a lot of different these articles and we would get more or less success, very much like a new post on a blog might get a little viral or not but along came one of these articles we did, which was just meant to be kind of fun, where we came across the data for every drive in theater that had ever existed in the United States.
Kingston Duffie: We managed to find the data for where were they all and we created this interactive explorer where you could just go look for drive in theaters and on a map, an interactive map where you could drill down and actually see, Oh and in fact what we did was we said if you see a drive in theater that you actually had been to when you’re a kid or something, go mark on it that I was there.
Kingston Duffie: This map became the aggregation of everyone leaving little comments and flags about the drive in theaters they had visited in a funny little story about when they were at that drive in theater and this, it was very simple. It was really just a map that let you tag these little comments on, these points on the map that everyone could see as other people were adding tags. Well, this thing went viral. It really, something about driving theater’s got captured people’s imaginations and this thing went very viral.
Bjork Ostrom: Fast moving water.
Kingston Duffie: We thought, well, we have really figured it out. This is going to be the new way in which you tell stories to people on the Internet. When it went viral, we thought we’re really in the money now, all we have to do is put some advertising on this or whatever. Well, we had added advertising to the site, but we weren’t very sophisticated about it.
Kingston Duffie: We discovered that out of these millions and millions of views, we made about 0.80. The reason was Google had decided this site did not conform to their standards of what they’re willing to display ads on. I won’t tell you the whole story, but we were just so let down after all this work and people loved it and yet we couldn’t make any money on it.
Kingston Duffie: That was the genesis of what became Slickstream is. Let’s put some of this energy into helping the publishers who are already out there struggling with that same question of how can I make some money out of this in a way that has integrity and lets them build that revenue. So that was really the genesis of Slickstream and you can see it’s coming from a very different place.
Kingston Duffie: The technology we were developing there had nothing to do with what eventually became Slickstream, but we started to realize if we can’t make money doing this, let’s help the people who are already trying to build content make money. In doing that, what we realized was we knew that SCO had a lot of attention and we knew that really if you think about it, the amount of money you make, and we’ve proven this now with data since then, the amount of money you make from a site is really directly proportional to how much time people spend on your site.
Kingston Duffie: So just as important to have one person spend twice as much time on your site as having twice as many people that come to your site and spend half of that time. So we’ve decided to focus on engagement. That was the genesis of what is Slickstream. Then from there it actually was the easy part to start thinking, “Oh, what kind of gadgets could we do on the site?” As you will have remembered, I had 25 different ideas for things that might go on the site and affect that. So we’ve tried to narrow that down over time.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that’s been interesting for me to see is even with some of those ideas, as you start to build them out, it can be like a really beautiful implementation. It can work really well. It can work exactly like you thought it would. But this is the thing that’s been inspiring for me is we’ve worked together is if the data doesn’t support the success of that thing, you just throw it out.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like this isn’t going to work, we either evolve it or we go onto the next thing to try and find something that does work based on the data. I feel like that’s such a hard thing to do when you’ve put time and energy into creating a beautiful thing. But if it doesn’t prove itself to let it go, is that an important part of the process and as a team, is that hard to build something, test it, then realize that maybe it’s not going to work and then let it go.
Kingston Duffie: It’s really, really hard. I have to tell you that you get emotionally attached to something you created and it’s really hard when the data is telling you something you don’t want to hear. In the last company I did before this one, it was a very different thing. It was actually a company that was going to help people testing their websites and automating that testing and I went out at, when we started the company and talked to a lot of this was targeted at large enterprises, not really the blogging community.
Kingston Duffie: We’d go out to VPs of engineering and say, “Hey, we have these new ideas for how we could really automate the creation of a lot of this testing for websites and are you interested in that?” They would say, “Oh my God, this is my biggest problem. If you can solve that problem, I’ll spend anything.” We thought, “Oh my God, we’re really in the money now. This is going to be great.”
Kingston Duffie: So we invented all this technology, it was really awesome and it would allow a test engineer to just basically walk through a scenario on a website and it would actually build all the scripts and everything so that he didn’t have to understand all the technology required to automate the process. We showed it to these VP of engineering and they thought, “Oh, this is awesome. I’m really going to like this.”
Kingston Duffie: Well, we took it into their test engineering groups and we just couldn’t get anyone to use it. It just, no matter how good it was, they said, well, that’s not the way we do things here. We just kept changing the product, trying to adapt and we never really succeeded. We eventually found a path to success and we sold the company to a larger testing company and this is one of their biggest products now, but it’s taken 10 years for that to take hold.
Kingston Duffie: We eventually had to accept the fact that this wasn’t suitable for a Silicon Valley startup but that’s a great example of where you think you’ve got the right answer, but the data, in this case, the test engineers were just telling you, “we don’t do it that way, we’re not going to use it.”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s also, I think it’s inspiring to see that because of leaning into data, and I know that a lot of people who listen to the podcast and are part of this community aren’t necessarily data people. So would you have any recommendations for how people can, even on a one-on-one basic level, start to fold in data to some of their decision making. Then after that we can talk about some specifics as of Slickstreaming including how we can access data within Slickstream.
Kingston Duffie: Sure. I have a belief that anyone who’s gone into Google Analytics and spent 20 minutes realizes there’s more data than you’ll ever know what to do with that screen after screen after screen and now you can put a filter on and you can look over different timeframes. There’s an inordinate amount of data to look at. So quickly what you realize is everyone kind of goes cross-eyed and just closes it because I don’t know what to do with it. It’s too much.
Kingston Duffie: What I think is the right answer is to decide even arbitrarily what are the top three, we call them KPIs, key performance indicators. Just pick some that you think, “Those are indicators of success.” Some people might just pick something simple as how many page views am I getting or how many visitors am I getting or how many return visits? You decide.
Kingston Duffie: I think just saying, okay, I just have a number. I see it every day. Is it going up or is it going down? Once you get in this pattern of, even if there’s one or two or three numbers, I keep looking at them every day. What are they telling me? What’s going to happen, I predict is you’re going to say, “Oh, they’re failing to really tell me this part of the story. So I need a new one or I need to change one of the ones I have.”
Kingston Duffie: So what we’ve been trying to do philosophically is to say, we’ll give you a fair amount of data, but we’re trying to give it to you in a simple enough way so that you can focus on the one part of it that is important to you. Let me give you an example. So one of the sites who recently came on and joined us, fairly large site, their most important thing, they really thought it’s important to us that our viewers really love our stuff. So this favorites feature that Slickstream has, that’s their number one thing. They want to see if they put this on, how many people are favoriting things and which of their content is getting more and more or less favorites.
Kingston Duffie: We have a lot of other data than that but for them that’s the first thing they would really want to focus on. I think it’s a positive. Don’t try to solve all problems at the same time. Go pick one or two things that you think are what you want to be working on and make those things better. Then have a pattern for a strategy like if I want that number to go up, what are the possible things I could do to try to make it go up and try them?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. That’s one of the… An interesting reality with KPI’s, data decision making for people who aren’t necessarily data people, is that sometimes a better product is not going to have this overwhelming amount of data that it’s giving you and that allows you to have fewer things to look at in an easier understanding of things and kind of the simplicity of how you’re interacting with it.
Bjork Ostrom: So let’s talk about some of the specifics of Slickstream. So for people who have visited Pinch of Yum and as you mentioned before, more and more sites are certain to use it, so they’re becoming familiar with it, there’s probably a familiarity with Slickstream even if you don’t know that that’s what it is. It’s not something that’s like heavily branded.
Bjork Ostrom: So you’re not seeing mentions of Slickstream everywhere but if you have been to Pinch of Yum, you’ll know this from your interactions with it. So let’s break down the core components of it starting with the idea of favoriting and on Pinch of Yum you can see this as a little heart in the bottom, whether on mobile or desktop and that’s right by the search as well. But let’s start by talking about favoriting. What is that and how does that work and why is that such a simple but powerful tool?
Kingston Duffie: We probably all have experienced over the years these little hearts that show up on pages or in the older days you’d see those Facebook like buttons. This was a way for viewers to kind of express satisfaction. But really what we concluded was they of have drifted away to a large extent because why would a viewer do that? Yes, okay, that’s nice and is there real data there we didn’t know?
Kingston Duffie: What we wanted to do was to tie this together with something that had an incentive for a viewer. It was they really want to remember that this was a recipe they really loved and they’re going to want to come back to it again later. That’s a favorite as opposed to a like and we realized that if we bonded those two things together, now there’s a win-win.
Kingston Duffie: Now we have a publisher hearing what people like and that’s linked to what the viewer is keeping a list of. So that little heart, we tried to make it as simple as possible, which is tap on the heart. You have made this page a favorite. You have told the publisher that you like it and those two things go together.
Kingston Duffie: Then what we did was, although probably a lot of people don’t even realize is on Pinch of Yum, you might sit on one of your popular pages and start seeing hearts fluttering out of that little button. What does that mean? It means that someone else, somewhere else in the world is on that page right now and they liked it.
Kingston Duffie: This, we tried to do it in an elegant way, but we also try to do it in a way that helps this view viewer think about, “Oh right, maybe I should do that too.” So this is creating a community, trying to take advantage of a community effect. This is that people are social and when I see other people liking things, it’s going to make me think about liking it too. So when you tap on that button, two things happen.
Kingston Duffie: One is some hearts flutter out, not only on your own screen but on everybody else who’s on that page, right at the same time but a second thing has happened, which is it has been adding that page to your list of favorites. But how did that happen? We didn’t want you to have to sign in before that happens. So we are keeping track of your favorites up to the point where you’ve got enough of them that it’s interesting to you to say, well I want to make sure I save those. At that point you might enter an email address so that you’ll never lose those. So those are-
Bjork Ostrom: Otherwise, tracked via a cookie.
Kingston Duffie: It’s actually stored inside your local browser. But yes, the same idea. We don’t use-
Bjork Ostrom: Same idea. Okay, got it.
Kingston Duffie: … it might… and so this favorites feature is interesting because you spoke about data and then I go, we’re fascinated because on most sites we’re seeing something like three to five of all page views result in someone expressing that age as a favorite.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is a really high number for an interaction on a page.
Kingston Duffie: Way higher than we expected. So you think, “Well, so what? That’s just going to be a lot of little hearts fluttering. It turns out that if you look at the content analytics, some really neat stuff happens is it’s not just three percent or four percent, it turns out that the better posts have more likes on them. Now suddenly a publisher has something to work on. They really, look at this.
Kingston Duffie: It’s got twice as many favorites as my other posts that must be telling me something about what people like better. So this is an example of engagement through content quality. In our view is ultimately the value of the site is nothing we’re going to add to it. Ultimately probably in the site is the content that the publisher is putting on it. So we’re trying to helping them doing that.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting even within the analytics area, I can see for Pinch of Yum number one, I haven’t looked at this specific screen in a while. It’s interesting to see the actual, the number of total favorites for a Pinch of Yum, which at this point is like 1.3, eight million punch. I had no idea that it was that high, but it’s really cool to see that there are people who have tagged this, her favorite of different posts within Pinch of Yum. Then thousands of people a day are interacting with that in favoriting those recipes.
Bjork Ostrom: Those are probably people who wouldn’t otherwise be interacting or engaging or bookmarking or whatever it would be that content. So obviously there’s other ways that maybe they’re not bookmarking it and instead favoriting it. There might be some of that but the basic idea is like you’re kind of capturing readers who otherwise would come and then leave especially as it relates to search and as it relates to Pinterest.
Bjork Ostrom: Those aren’t necessarily loyal readers. The other thing that I see on this page that’s interesting is it doesn’t rank order top favorites by number, it rank orders by percentage of page views, which as you talked about, is really valuable for us because we can see, okay there’s 6.5 percent of people that visit the peach cobbler recipe on Pinch of Yum, favorite that. That’s telling us something in terms of that piece of content and people’s interest in that as compared to one that maybe has a lower percentage of favorites.
Kingston Duffie: Exactly and I think that that is the secret sauce. It’s up to the publisher to try to figure out, now I wonder why they liked the peach cobbler better, but at least now I have some data to work on.
Bjork Ostrom: So that is the favorite area. It’s hard to explain this stuff on a podcast, but if you want to experiment with it, you can go to Pinch of Yum on mobile or desktop and you’ll see that in the bottom right. Then right below that is search. One of the things that I love about this version of search is that I’ve always been a little bit disappointed with the search results from WordPress and not only the quality of the results, but also the speed at which you can refine and adjust your search.
Bjork Ostrom: The great thing about Slickstream search is that it’s real time. So it’s adjusting and changing your results based on the words you’re typing in real time. So somebody can drill down to the piece of content that they’re trying to find without needing to do multiple searches within WordPress. So can you talk about why search was important to build in and what’s involved with that and as it relates to Slickstream?
Kingston Duffie: Yeah, so we think about engagement as being many dimensional thing, but at the end of the day, what is it about? Someone comes to a webpage, maybe most of the time they probably Googled something and landed up on your page. At that point maybe this page is exactly what they were looking for and now they’re there, they’re going to fully absorb it. In the case of Pinch of Yum that might be a recipe. That’s exactly what we wanted.
Kingston Duffie: They wanted peach cobbler and this looks like a great recipe. In that case, we want to be out of the way and let them absorb that content. But when they’re finished observing that content, Google has taught people after you finish a page, go back to Google and do something else. I think that one part of our job is to be like the magazine aisle at the checkout at the grocery store, which is, “Hey, you’re on your way out anyway did you realize that there’s a new edition of people magazine? You might as well take a look at it.”
Kingston Duffie: In particular on these sites, we know that publishers are very proud of the fact that they have hundreds of pieces of content that they’ve created in the past that are really good stuff. I often hear people talk about buried treasure. I’ve got all this stuff and people don’t even realize it’s there. So we’re kind of in the business of trying to make that more available to people. So when it comes to search, if you’ve given someone a good experience on the page that they’ve landed on, it’s so easy for someone to say, “Wow, I wonder if they have any other peach recipes that might be interesting.”
Kingston Duffie: So to the extent that the content is engaging the user, we want that user to feel they’re right. They’re just one step away from finding the other good stuff right here on that side. So this site search we thought of as in one scenario a user is, has a question in their mind and we want to give them a fabulous experience to find out the answer to that question. If that question is do they have something?
Kingston Duffie: So we put a lot of energy into making that a really good search experience and compared with WordPress where the WordPress search is kind of mechanical and it works okay. We’ve just tried to make it that much better in several different dimensions. In particular, what you just mentioned I think is important, which is especially on recipe sites, on food sites, people are very visual and so to the extent as you’re typing images of the food that might be relevant to you are coming up, just like the results are coming up very quickly, I can see something that’s going to catch my attention and draw me in. So that’s why we worked really hard to get the search just right.
Bjork Ostrom: It reminds me of what you were talking about earlier where it’s your why and one of your why’s is because you want to create things that are used and make experiences better and people’s lives better. A small microcosm version of that is search. It’s a great experience, it feels good, it works how you’d expect it to work. So you can see that manifested in different parts of Slickstream, which is really cool to see.
Bjork Ostrom: So that’s kind of in the bottom right. We also have integrated that in on Pinch of Yum, just as the standard search. So we’ve replaced the WordPress search all together. So when you click on our search bar, it brings up the Slickstream search. Another thing that’s been interesting to see develop is this what’s called the filmstrip.
Bjork Ostrom: I think people would be familiar with that in the sense of like, it’s recommending other similar pieces of content. But there’s actually a lot more going on with that in terms of smart AI, I don’t know if that is too buzzy of a word, but there’s learning. There’s some machine learning that’s going on behind the scenes to continually make the filmstrip better at recommending content that people will actually click on. So can you explain what filmstrip is, where people would see it and how that works?
Kingston Duffie: Yeah, so first of all, the idea of recommended next things to look at is, of course not a new idea. There’s lots of WordPress plugins that are doing that kind of thing. However, we’re of the view that I go to a site and I recommend you do this, just pick any site you want and go look for the section on recommendations at the bottom of the poster in the sidebar and I predict that while you’re going to see is you’re looking at a post for, let’s call it peach cobbler and what am I going to see a recommendation for is these new brazed spare ribs or something, which happens to be something that the publisher seems very proud of.
Kingston Duffie: It’s a new one or it’s been popular in the past and what we realized is that’s not how people think. If I came here looking for peach cobbler, I’m going to find it kind of gross thinking about barbecue right now. What we really need to do is to try to get into the psychology of the person who is on this site and if we want to do that, we actually went through quite a large study looking at exactly these questions of should I show the most popular, should I show the most current, should I show some mix? What should I do?
Kingston Duffie: It turned out that the data told us black and white. If you have other content on your site that’s related to the content that the viewer is on, that’s by far going to have the most likelihood of someone clicking through and saying, “Oh, I see peach cobbler. I see you also have this butterscotch cobbler that well, yeah, that sounds… I want to track check that out too.”
Kingston Duffie: It turns out that relevance is a very high determining factor of whether people are going to go there and so what we have learned is start with the idea of relevance is an important way to give you a first pass on figuring out what you want to offer people who come to the site but then the next thing to realize is a Pinch of Yum for example, you guys are getting a lot of people visiting every week and those people in that volume has the potential to give you huge amounts of data.
Kingston Duffie: If you look at that from the perspective of your WordPress server, the server is sitting behind CloudFlare or pick your favorite CDN, which means that all of your pages are getting cached out at the edge of the cloud. So your WordPress server never gets to see who’s doing what on your pages. On comparison Slickstream we set separately out in the cloud and we talk directly into the browser when the viewer’s there. So we’re getting every click, every scroll.
Kingston Duffie: We can see all of that data and because we have that data, it’s what you were just talking about is we can put that data into a big machine that is now saying, we see that. Yeah, there’s a butterscotch cobbler at the top that we’ve placed there and beside that is a peach Melba and so forth. There’s a bunch of these things, but you know what, that one that’s third or fourth down on the list, it seems like that’s getting more often.
Kingston Duffie: So what we’re doing is saying, based on a lot of factors, we’re actually slowly shuffling the contents that were showing in those recommendation lists for each different article and put the best possible thing there that people really are using the most. So there’s a lot of fancy stuff going on that to you just looks like, I wonder how they’d figured out that all the Pinterest are the good ones. Well, there’s a lot behind that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and there’s something that I really love about, this tool working behind the scenes to continually tweak and adjust and get a little bit better and gets one of the things that doesn’t really exist on a site like Pinch of Yam or most publishing sites is this any layer of smartness to use a, not smart word, but you know like Amazon, you go and it’s tweaking. It’s just adjusting, changing that they’re optimizing to display content that is most relevant to you. Previous content you bought, suggesting that you sign up for a subscription for something you’ve bought multiple times.
Bjork Ostrom: That doesn’t really exist for a “normal” publishing site. So it’s nice to start to layer on some of that, to know that there’s some work happening that isn’t work that you’re having to do manually creating content. It’s kind of refining the content that you have to get it better to really lean into kind of this idea of engagement and that’s what Slickstream is all about. This idea of engagement. It’s not about how do we increase traffic necessarily. It’s about how do we increase the effectiveness of that traffic once people get there.
Kingston Duffie: So another thing to just say Bjork is that one thing that a lot of successful companies know is that it’s great if something goes viral and you make a lot of money, but the continuous longterm growth that turns the big companies into longterm successes and what we’re trying to do is to realize that most web publishers are not all that sophisticated about data but to the extent that we can be their partner and we can say, we’re constantly working in the background, trying to find the ways to make things a little bit better all the time.
Kingston Duffie: If you’ve looked at the Pinch of Yum data, I think you will see that there is this slow up until the right trend in the data. Some of that is you guys getting better about your content. Some of that is us getting better about recommendations in search, but that’s what happens over many months and years. You see that steady longterm growth and so we have another dozen ideas that we’re working on about what are other ways in which we can kind of make that slight continuous improvement across.
Kingston Duffie: We also want to find more and more ways in which we can give very actionable data back to the publisher. If we could tell you, did you notice that this particular post is not doing well for this reason and that’s actionable, that’s something that we hope publishers will find very valuable. So we’ve got a lot of innovation to come and some of that comes from the idea that we can get access to the data for a site.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s been interesting to see some of those ideas and like I referenced before, some of those being implemented and then sticking with those and starting to improve those, testing out some of those and saying maybe this isn’t something that we should pursue going down the line and to see multiple iterations of that. Always working towards that gradual slow improvement and something that we talk about on the podcast all the time. I have this concept of one percent infinity and it fits in perfectly with how Slickstream works, where it’s getting a little bit better every day.
Bjork Ostrom: Somebody asked me recently, they said, “Hey, I’m interested in selection, will it have a massive impact on my blog?” It’s like there might be some things that you can do that will have a massive impact on your life for your blog or your relationships or whatever it might be, those things do exist in the world. But what we’ve found is that we are better off when we seek the slow continual gradual foundational type improvements.
Bjork Ostrom: We found that to be true with the enhancements that we get from Slickstream. It’s been fun to see that over time. So one of the things that was actually done recently that I thought would be worth mentioning as kind of a last thing to talk about was an actual study that was an AB test. So for those who aren’t familiar, an AB test means it’s also called a split test. But the idea is you show a certain segment of people one thing and you show another segment of people another thing, and then you compare the results of that to see if there was an impact. It could be with medical studies or it could be with websites.
Bjork Ostrom: In our case obviously it was with a website and we said what is the impact of using some of these engagement suite from Slickstream as it relates to all these different metrics. I don’t have that pulled up, but I’m wondering if you remember some of the significant data that came out of that as we kind of wrap up so people can know, hey as we’ve talked about we’re making all these decisions based on data, here’s some of the important things that we learned from that study as it relates to using Slickstream and layering that over the site.
Kingston Duffie: Yeah, there’s a couple of things that’s stand out in my mind from that study we did. The first is you can imagine that we’ve added this film strip of recommendations across the top and we’ve added these search buttons and these favorites’ buttons and you think, okay well we’ve given new ways for people to navigate your site and to go to more page views and you say, okay, well great. I must be really adding a lot of value cause look people aren’t clicking on my widgets all the time. We know that’s happening.
Kingston Duffie: The one thing from the study… Well, let me just say typically across all of our publishers sites, if you look at the number of clicks that happen on the page, cause we see every click on the page, the number of clicks that go on a page to get to another page on your site, different sites have different click through rates. But once you add widgets onto the site, the Slickstream widgets onto the site, we typically see that somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of all the clicks that are going from one page to another page on your site are starting to use our widgets to do that.
Kingston Duffie: One of the big questions in our minds was, well that’s great. We obviously are being used people, the viewers must like these widgets because they’re using them a lot. You say, well, yeah, but what if the widgets weren’t there? Would they just be clicking through just as much anyway? That’s a really important question to answer because if they’re going to click through anyway, why do I add more stuff onto my page?
Kingston Duffie: From doing this AB test, we actually compared people who we’re clicking through on the, sorry, people who did have the widgets on the page and people who’d never saw a Slickstream widgets cause we took them away and we compare that data and we said, here’s something really surprising, if you think about with Slickstream widgets are getting this many clicks on those widgets to go to another page on the site well that must be that they’re not clicking on some of the other links that are on the page.
Kingston Duffie: It turns out that the amount we decrease the number of clicks using the links that are already on the page just slightly by a one or two percent and all those widget clicks that are happening are just turn out to be more clicks that are happening. So the net increase in page views on the site is more or less. It turns out very similar to the number of people the times people are clicking on widgets. It’s a kind of an easy, how much more traffic am I get? Well, it’s more or less the additional widget clicks turn into additional page views.
Kingston Duffie: The other notable thing that I think we found was that when you look at the number of page views per session, in other words, how many page views are people having on a site, we were having trouble understanding how can it be that we’re adding so many more of these widget clicks, but the actual page views on the site is not going up hugely amount. If we’re adding 10 percent more, why isn’t the number of pages on the whole site going up by 10 percent.
Kingston Duffie: We found something really fascinating, which is on sites like in the food space, it turns out that when you have multiple page views in a session, the majority of those are actually just caused from browser actions. People hitting refresh or even the browser itself autonomously refreshing. That was a fascinating thing for us to learn is a lot of page views do just come from these browser actions, which are necessarily humans making choices.
Kingston Duffie: So the ability for us to totally impact overnight, your pages are going to grow by 25 percent, we’d love that if it were true, but you have to do this in stages. So what we’ve learned is we are having a good positive impact on incremental traffic to a website, but that ability for us to affect it isn’t as big as you might think.
Bjork Ostrom: So basic idea being a lot of times when people think about layering in a new tool or a new product like, “Hey, this will 3X something or 2X something.” But as you mentioned before, it’s less about this massive. I have 100,000 page views and now I have 200,000 page views. But instead, it’s saying how do we squeeze, and this is a phrase I’ve used a little bit too often on the podcast, but I’ll continue to do it.
Bjork Ostrom: How do we squeeze the juice out of this site a little bit more in to be more intentional about it. That might look like an additional three percent or five percent or six percent. In the AB test and the study that we did, which was interesting, I don’t remember the exact, we’ll link to it in the show notes for this and you can check it out or you could go to the Slickstream blog and check it out but the Slickstream group, if it’s an AB test, the Slickstream group resulted in 17.6 percent more clicks on content.
Bjork Ostrom: You can do the math with that as it relates to RPM and it’s not going to be exact, but you can kind of get an idea of how that works. I would encourage anybody who’s interested to go ahead and check that out because there’s going to be data that you can look at that kind of supports it, because I think that’s the theme, one of the themes for this podcast has been data supporting decisions that we’re making and that being such an important part obviously with what Slickstream is doing as well.
Bjork Ostrom: So if there are people who are interested in checking this out in using the tool, one of the things that I know is true is that it’s not a plugin. I think it’s important to point that out. As you mentioned, there’s a server costs, there’s calculations that are happening, there’s a backend to it. So I think it’s important to uncouple this idea of a plugin that you add that’s, like a WP tasty plugin, which is code that we code up and then you put it on your site and you pay $79 a year.
Bjork Ostrom: This is actual servers that are running behind the scenes. There’s a cost to keep it up. So it’s more of a SaaS application, software as a service than it is a plugin. There’s an inherent cost that goes with running those machines like you talked about behind the scenes, but it’s also relatively affordable for people who are in the early stages.
Bjork Ostrom: I know that you’ve kind of been talking about what specific look like with pricing. If people are interested in checking that out, if they’re interested in using it. I know you’re in the early stages of onboarding people. There was a waiting list at one point. Where are things at with that right now, Kingston and how can people check out Slickstream if they want to potentially use it on their site?
Kingston Duffie: So if you just go to slickstream.com, you’ll find our website and it has a lot of information there. You can see how all the things work and we talked a little bit about it and in fact we’ve started building a blog there with some things we’re learning. So that’s still very early but you might find something interesting there. But on that website you’ll see the pricing, which we have a minimum price, but basically we just take a very small part of… We charge a little bit for every thousand page views, which hopefully is a very tiny amount of the RPM that a publisher’s making.
Kingston Duffie: So our work goes up as the size of the site goes up and so the price we charge goes up as well. On that, you’ll also just see a button where you can ask to join the program and what we do once you just give us your email address and what website you have, we’ll do all the work so that by the time we reached back to you, we’re already to go and your stuff could be up just by adding one embedded code at the top of your pages.
Kingston Duffie: We do have a WordPress plugin, but all it does is add an embed code at the top of your pages. So it’s very, very simple. All of our work goes on the server side. So the backlog we have now, we’ve got that way down. We had a lot of people who have expressed interest and we’ve just gotten faster and faster at bringing people on board.
Kingston Duffie: So for most of the people that have been signing up lately within 24 hours, we’re back to you and ready to go on your site and people seem real happy with that, so I think we’re ready to go when people want to try it out. We use a waiting list just by the way, because we see these vote. A lot of people just found out at us and so we need to have a list so we don’t let people just sign up themselves and do it automatically, we need to be involved.
Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. One more thing that I want to mention that people can follow along with as a PS, this is like the credits have rolled and then now it’s like at the end of a Marvel movie, you see the little teaser. But one of the things that we’ve been experimenting with that you’ve talked about before, you’ve talked about these ideas that you’re trying out is a Slickstories and that’s embedding Instagram like stories within a blog post.
Bjork Ostrom: We won’t get into the details on that, but there is a little waiting list or notification list for when that goes live. We’ve been testing it out with Pinch of Yam a little bit, so I do want to mention that as kind of a stay tuned moment, a little bit of a teaser as we wrap up the podcast.
Bjork Ostrom: So Kingston, it’s been so great to work with you. It’s been really fun to hear a little bit about your story, which I hadn’t heard before and then talking about Slickstream and knowing that it helps accomplish that core, that why that you talked about, which is helping people in what they’re doing, creating something in the world that people interact with and get value out of. So I appreciate you coming on the podcast and have appreciated working with you Kingston.
Kingston Duffie: It’s been really fun, you too Bjork.
Alexa Peduzzi: That’s a wrap, my friend. Thanks again for tuning into the podcast this week. We hope you love learning more about engagement and why it’s just so, gosh darn important for bloggers and creators and you know what else is important? Podcast reviews, sorry, horrible joke. But seriously, podcast reviews help the Food Blogger Pro podcast so very much, and it only takes a few minutes.
Alexa Peduzzi: Just head on over to Apple podcasts, find the show, and leave us a review. Simple as that. We’ll be back here next week with an interview that I’m personally extremely excited about and I think you will be too. It’s with a blogger you’ve probably already heard from. You’ve definitely heard from her on the podcast before, and she’ll talk about a topic that’s really hot in the industry right now in treat. Well, we’ll see you next time and until then, make it a great week.