The Cutting Room ft. Joshua Hardwick

YouTube player

Tommy Walker [00:00:00]:

Hey, what’s up? You’re tuned into The Cutting Room, the show where we talk to industry leading marketing professionals about their content marketing philosophy, process, and pregame before they edit an article live.

I’m your host, Tommy Walker, and if you are joining us live today, please let us know in the chat and say Hi, what’s up? If you are brand new to the show, let us know what you hope to get out of the episode today. And if you are a veteran, let our new folks know what your favorite episode is.

So my guest today is Joshua Hardwick, the head of content at AaHrefs. I’m very excited about this conversation specifically because I think the work that they do over there does a really good job of incorporating the product into the content in a way that is seamless, natural and organic, and it doesn’t feel forced. And I think a lot of times as a profession, a lot of us will go, I don’t know if I can incorporate the product or not. I think they do it really well and I’m really excited to hear what Joshua has to say about that. Before we get started, you might have noticed too, AaHrefs is our sponsor for the show. For the next little while, if you want to check out their free webmaster tools, you can do that by going to AWT. You can get over 5000 pages scanned with over 100 technical issues that might be there, and you can get a lot of link intelligence data. We’ll have more on that before we get into the edit later. So, without any further ado, Joshua, tell me about your content marketing philosophy and how has it evolved over time?

Joshua Hardwick [00:01:35]:

Yeah, so I guess you were talking then about incorporating the product into the content. Yeah, I think that’s pretty much the philosophy, really, that we’ve one of the things that I think we do quite well, or that we try to do quite well, is not creating content about stuff that the product doesn’t really help to solve. So we try to focus quite narrowly on content about topics that aHrefs actually genuinely helps to solve, like stuff that you need AaHrefs for. So for example, you can’t really naturally integrate AaHrefs into a piece about something broad, but you can do it with something like link building. So if we’re talking about link building, if we’re doing a blog post about link building, you really can’t solve that problem without AaHrefs, and this is why we choose the topic. So I think it’s a case of, yeah, we choose topics that the product actually helps to solve and try and go to town on those rather than going too broad.

Tommy Walker [00:02:40]:

Now, have you always been in that spot, or is that something that’s evolved since you’ve been at aHrefs?

Joshua Hardwick [00:02:47]:

So it’s always been the case, really, since I’ve been at aHrefs anyway, which is five plus years full time. So I think it was Tim that really came up well, not came up, but at least ran with this philosophy of the product led content and really prioritizing topics that we deem to have like business value. So we kind of store topics based on this kind of scale of one to zero to three, like how much business value does it have? So like I say, link building would have like a three because you can’t do link building well, you will really, really struggle to do link building any reasonable capacity without a tool like AaHrefs. Whereas I don’t know something like we do have posts on the lower business value topics like I don’t know how to do marketing or marketing one on one, those kinds of things, but it’s a lot harder to integrate AaHrefs into those pieces naturally and in a way that’s really beneficial to the person reading it. And I think you fall into that trap sometimes of going after the traffic and not the valuable traffic. So yeah, it’s always been that way and occasionally I get a bit sidetracked and go off course, but yeah, we try and stick to that.

Tommy Walker [00:04:02]:

Nice. So Emily is in the audience here and she says she’s fairly new to the show, which is cool and hi, nice to see you. And they virtually always incorporate product into the blogs but they would like to know how to do it a little bit more subtly and I think that’s something you do really well because it’s one thing to say we only create content that can tie back to the product somehow, right? Yeah, but there are definitely really bad ways to do that and I think that for a lot of content marketers in particular, it’s an all or nothing situation because of finding that balance can be really difficult. On the execution standpoint, can you speak to that just a little bit? And then when we get into the process, I’ll also want to talk about the topic selection part itself. But can you speak to how from an execution standpoint, what’s the philosophy behind that balance between the two? Because there’s definitely got to be something there, right?

Joshua Hardwick [00:05:05]:

Yes, I think there’s a couple of things. I think the first thing is you’ve got to really know your product well. You need to understand the kinds of things it can and can’t solve and the kinds of things that it’s good at solving. So I’ve been using AaHrefs for, well, probably like ten years at this point. I used it before I joined the company. The whole reason I joined the company was because I liked the product and wanted to become a part of the company and help market. It was like a perfect opportunity. But yeah, I think knowing the product well helps you choose the right topics because if you see a topic you automatically know, oh, I’ve used the product to do that before and if you feel that way then it’s definitely a good solution. Like if you’re there thinking, I don’t know, that kind of seems like our product might help, but I don’t really know how. It may not be the greatest topic. I think the other thing is to not start from a point of trying to pitch the product, start from a point of trying to solve whatever problem it is that people are trying to solve and find ways along the way to incorporate the product where you can. And I mean, there are times when I’ve started writing an article thinking like, this seems like a reasonable topic to talk about, to write content about, like something that AaHrefs may be able to kind of help with. And I’ll get into it and I’ll pick aaHrefs. And I’ll kind of think as I’m doing it, I’ll be like, no, I think really you might not use AaHrefs to solve this problem and it might be better to just tell people, use this solution, this is like a free way to do it, just use this. You don’t really need Href for this. And I can’t see someone signing up for AaHrefs just for this one purpose. So yeah, you’ve got to just it is a bit of a knowing your product, common sense kind of thing and I don’t think we always get it right. I think sometimes we maybe push a little bit too hard or not enough, or sometimes you overlook things that the ways it could be useful that you don’t include in the content. Like sometimes we’ll go back to content and realize, hey, why didn’t we pitch this, why didn’t we explain that you could do it this way, this is like an obvious thing. Or we might release a new feature and when we update the content we can think, oh, that actually solves that problem. So we’ll incorporate that there. So, yeah, I think the biggest thing is knowing your product. Really?

Tommy Walker [00:07:39]:

Yeah, we had a similar thing when I was at Shopify, one of the major things that I was doing was taking they were like, how do you come up with topics all the time? And I’m like, well, I do a lot of online shopping, so I’m trying to think of little bits of the experience. Like I’m almost watching myself as I’m doing these things to go, oh, can I talk about that a little bit more? Can I talk about that a little bit more? Does that sound like fairly straightforward where you’re using the tool on a regular basis and that’s part of how you’re getting inspired for some of the stuff you’re talking about?

Joshua Hardwick [00:08:14]:

Yeah, it’s kind of like because you know the product when you’re doing your keyword research or your topic research, I think the topics that it actually helps to solve jump out at you because you’ve used the product and the ones that it doesn’t help to solve, they kind of take a backseat. So yeah, it all kind of comes from knowing the product and what it stood at. But yeah, there are times as well where, like I say, I’ll kind of know that Ahref can probably solve something or that I’ve used AaHrefs to do something before. But then I come to write the content and I start writing it and I explain to people what I do. And I think that is way too complicated. And I realize that the way that I’m using products is inefficient. So I teach myself how to use the products even better over time through the content writing process. I think when you put something down on paper or you’re trying to explain it to someone else, that’s when all of the unnecessary stuff and then inefficient stuff and stuff that people won’t understand jumps out at you. And yeah, sometimes I’ll just think, well, what if I cut these three steps out? Would it really make that much difference? So, yeah, I think things get simplified and I think this is another way that we end up naturally pitching the product. Because you’ll learn as you go as the writer, I think some of the.

Tommy Walker [00:09:41]:

Time now when you work with outside authors, right, because there is quite a few outside authors that you guys work with, they might not necessarily have such hands on experience with the product. And I know I’ve worked in companies where I didn’t use the product because I wasn’t necessarily the market. I could write well and I could manage a team. But what are you doing if you’re not in the position where it’s like, oh, I could use this product every day. Right. How are you communicating that to people who don’t necessarily use the product every day?

Joshua Hardwick [00:10:19]:

Yes, to be honest, we don’t really work with people that haven’t used the product. You can usually tell if someone’s used HS before from how they’re writing the content. But yeah, there are people I mean, I literally work for HS and have done for five years, full time, and two years before that, and part time. So obviously I know the product probably better than most people just because of that reason. So you do even when you’re working with writers who have used the product and do use the product yeah, they often don’t use it or know how to use it to the extent that I do. So, yeah, it’s two things, really. It’s one, we do look for people that actually do have some knowledge of the product and have used it. When we’re working with outside writers, but also as an in house team, we obviously work with those freelancers or whatever, so we can help guide them if they’re showing how to do something, we can say, oh, look, it’s probably not a good way to do this. A better way would be to do this. I recommend a better way to do it in the article. So, yeah, we really need. It’s not always myself that’s working with the freelancers, but obviously other people within the company that know the product reasonably well. So they’ll be working with outside writers and they can give that same kind of feedback. They can say, look, like an example that I remember from recently is like someone saying to look for certain traffic numbers in aHrefs and that’s fine, but they were talking about for their own site. I thought just use Google search consoles, then you’ve got the real numbers. You don’t need to have the estimates from aHrefs. So we avoid those kinds of plugs, or at least I try and avoid those kinds of plugs because that’s when people can tell. I think that you’re just there’s no point to try and sell the product in that scenario. It’s like you’ve got a better solution, it’s free, it’s from Google. Just say that. Just say you can get the real numbers in Google Search Console and you can work it around it. Sometimes you say like, you can get the numbers from Google Search console, but if you don’t have access to that because some people don’t have access to that for their own website, if they’re working in a company, then have a look at the aaHrefs numbers, they’re probably like quite close. It’s an estimate at least. So yeah, I think there needs to be like that level of honesty sometimes in the content. Like don’t force a plug or a use case of aHrefs or whatever products it is that you’re trying to promote in your content. I think you lose credibility if you do that.

Tommy Walker [00:13:00]:

How do you know if you’ve taken it too far?

Joshua Hardwick [00:13:02]:

Yeah, I don’t think there really ever can be too much pitching. Like if you’re just explaining like, here’s the thing that solves this problem, that’s not really a pitch.

Tommy Walker [00:13:14]:

I used to be in this camp of don’t show the product. People were interested in the product. They’re already here. They know that we sell something, they’ll click, they’ll learn more about themselves, about it themselves. And I’ve since come to this place where I realized, I don’t even know what the last website I looked at was, right? I have no idea. And seeing the product and the context that it’s being used in for me is like test driving the solution as well, to see if it’s something that’s going to be right. And I was saying in part of the promo here too, and tell me how you feel about this. If you’re not putting product in, at least in the context of the thing that you’re doing, you’re almost educating, educating the visitor on how to use your competitor. Who does do that? Does that feel about right for you?

Joshua Hardwick [00:14:12]:

So I think this is one of the problems with not doing product led content. Because then you’re just educating people about general stuff, right? And they don’t remember that you educated them. I mean, maybe there’s like branding at play and they kind of get a familiar sense of like blue and orange or whatever over time, like the HubSpot kind of methodology of just like, it’s always there and eventually you kind of just get familiar with that brand. So it’s in the back of your mind at all times. But yeah, if you’re just teaching people how to do something without the product, then as you say, you are kind of educating them how to do it with any solution, I think, rather than your particular solution.

Tommy Walker [00:14:55]:

And I think one of the big problems with that is that when you’re looking at an SEO strategy as a whole, if that’s going to be your major front door for everybody, you’re having to get a bunch of keywords. It’s not driving repeat visitors in some ways, right? You’re not trying to get people to come back. It’s like, hopefully we write this and hopefully we rank one over here and we rank one on this one and we rank one. But it’s such a scatter shot approach and that’s always sort of befuddled me, is I’m like, why would you not try to drive people deeper and instead go after these single pages? So if you’re showing the product, it’s like an extra layer to the branding. I want to switch gears for a second here because I want to get to your process, right? I would love to know about your process from ideation to publication. What does it look like when you’re coming up with the ideas? You hinted at this before, but when you’re coming up with, here’s what we’re going to write about this month or this quarter or this year, what does that look like for you?

Joshua Hardwick [00:16:04]:

So, yeah, we do the keyword research and we find the topics where we think our products can help solve that problem. You never really know until you actually look at the SERP and delve into that keyword. Because if someone’s searching for link building, maybe they literally just want a definition and that’s not going to be that much help for us, but maybe they’re searching for a list of tactics or a list of guide to actually doing it, and that’s where we can help. So when we’ve got the keywords, they’re kind of always ideas. So yeah, we’ve got the sheet of keywords and literally all we do is all of our writers can look at that document and they can just skim it and think, oh, that seems like an interesting topic for me. I’ve got some experience with that. I might like to write about that. And they can go ahead and look at the search results and start to understand intent and whether it makes sense for us to cover it. And then if they think that that is the case, they usually just pitch the topics to me. So they’ll pitch them in batches of three to five topics whenever they run out of stuff to write. They’ll pick another five and then I usually shortlist three of them to actually focus on the top three. So there’s a peer review system, so they each work with another member of our team. So they’ll write the outline, they’ll send it to another member, they’ll give feedback, they’ll draft it, and then they’ll send it to the other member again to give feedback. And I think this just defends against some of the stuff that we were talking about, start of over pitching or not using good pitchers. You’ve got that second opinion, you’ve got someone to just kind of run past and then it just goes to the editor.

Tommy Walker [00:17:47]:

I want to ask a question. Here the major thing that I love about what you’re saying. And something maybe I’m pointing something out that it’s so ingrained for you that you don’t necessarily see it, but hopefully it’s a conscious thing because then it makes the rest of the question go, well, John Bonini, who hasn’t been on the show yet, but he is scheduled to show up at some point, will say, keywords are not angles. Right? And I think what you do really well, and this is like the real heart of everything that we’re talking about is you’re doing the keyword research and you’re kind of talking about what it is that you want to do, but how are you coming up with the angles along with the key phrase?

Joshua Hardwick [00:18:30]:

So, I mean, there are times when ideas don’t start from keyword research just to point that out. Like sometimes we’ll just have something we want to say, like some opinion, and we’ll do a non SEO focused article. But yeah, with the search focused stuff, we do try to integrate our own opinions and advice into those things because I think otherwise you just end up with samey kind of me too content that people are sick of. And again, we don’t always get it right, but I think part of the way we do that is, again, we’ve got the sheet of general topics, general keywords that writers can look through so they don’t have to just work down the list one by one. They can skim it and they can think, this is interesting to me. And I think if something’s interesting to someone, they’ve already got their own opinions on how something should be done or how you do it or whether you even should do it. But yeah, this is a hard thing, to be honest. It’s not like we’ve got some magic process that means we can always do this really well. Sometimes we don’t do it well. Sometimes we don’t do lots of things well. But the example that maybe comes to mind, which might not be the best one, but I did a post like on Expert Roundups a while ago and when I saw that keyword, I already knew what I would love to say, which is forget this kind of thing this is like 2005. There’s better things we can do. So I’ve got to try and wrangle that around intent, which is people searching for expert roundup related keywords wanted to know what they are and probably wanted to know how to do one. So I’ve got to try and convince them a little bit that, yeah, you could do this, but I think maybe there’s a better thing that you could do. I don’t think you can manufacture an opinion so much. You just have to be experienced and know the topic, I guess, which is not the best answer. But I think people that know stuff.

Tommy Walker [00:20:31]:

I think that works is it’s like it’s a challenge to match up with the search intent anyways, right? Because sometimes we’re just the research itself is intuit and we’ve had a variety of answers on the show where it’s like I talk to people all the time and then some people are saying, I don’t even bother with keyword research anymore. That’s not how I drive traffic to my business. But I think we’re at this place now and I’ve said this before, but I think we’re at this place now where if it’s like a how to or what is or these types of things, a lot of that can be commoditized because of do I need to say AI? I don’t want to say AI. I hate saying it now, but there’s like a how to do it our way or what is, but the way we think about it. And I think you do an excellent job of that. Whether you realize it or not, you do a really great job of that.

Joshua Hardwick [00:21:31]:

I think this is another way the product led approach actually helps. As if it’s product led then it’s not the generic answer, it’s your answer. It’s how to do it with your product. Maybe AI can come up with that one day, but it may come up with just competitors now.

Tommy Walker [00:21:51]:

And there’s a way to incorporate product story too, right? Like, here’s how we came up with the reason to have this feature or whatever. Right. And I’m curious audience, I know Emily had said she wants to think about how to do it a little bit more subtly. If you can dig into that a little bit more, I’m sure we can talk about that a little bit further. But for right now, I would like to talk about your pregame before you edit. So you’ve gone through, you’ve done the keyword research, you figured out this sort of angle that you’re going to take with it. You’ve gotten the piece right. There’s a peer review process. You talked about that a little bit, but before you sit down to actually look at a piece, what are you doing?

Joshua Hardwick [00:22:38]:

Often just hoping that it’s not as bad as it sometimes is. I don’t think there’s really much of a pregame, to be honest. It is just opening the dock and you can usually tell pretty quickly if people have got what you were going for or whether it makes sense. And I think from there it’s a case of if you can see that they’ve generally got the idea, you’re like, okay, let’s just try to get this across the line. Let’s polish this up. Let’s just get this perfect. If you know that they’ve not got the idea and it’s ended up a bit of a mess, then, yeah, it’s usually a case of more broad, kind of high level edits or in some cases just saying, this is not working out. I think we should just cut this and not bother with this. But yeah, I don’t think there’s much of a pregame apart from a feeling of dread and hope at the same time.

Tommy Walker [00:23:45]:

I hear that you go and you’re like, you could see within the first five words, like, oh boy, is this going to be a good one.

Joshua Hardwick [00:23:54]:

But I mean, sometimes it delights you as well. It’s like it works both ways. You get the dread of seeing that someone hasn’t done something how you were hoping it was going to be done, but sometimes they do something better than you even envisioned it. And you think, oh, I’d have never done it like that. I’d have never put it that way. And you’re surprised at just, I don’t know, the fact that someone’s kind of taken it and put their own kind of thought and opinion into it. So, yeah, it can go one of two ways.

Tommy Walker [00:24:26]:

I love that. Okay, cool. We are at the halfway mark here. If there are any questions, please feel free to drop them in the chat. Right now we’re going to get the article ready and while we’re doing that, you can take a look at what’s going on with AaHrefs Webmaster Tools. Again, you can get this absolutely free, really cool stuff that you’re able to do. And let’s just get right into that while we wait for the edit. Let me tell you a little bit about AaHrefs Webmaster Tools. Now, when I started the Content Studio, aaHrefs was the first tool that I bought, and this will give you a taste of why there are two parts to AaHrefs Webmaster Tools site Audit and Site Explorer. Site Audit scans up to 5000 pages per month and searches for over 100 predefined issues that could hurt your site’s rankings. Once the audit’s finished, you’ll see your website’s health score, a breakdown of the top issues, and how many URLs are affected. And if you need a refresher on what these issues are, they make it easy to see what it is and tell you how to fix it. To see which pages are affected by an issue, click on the number beside it and you’ll get a full list of URLs, which you can then export and fix. They even made it easy to look at each category of issue with these super handy links in the sidebar. So if you want to see on Page Issues, click over here. And now you’ve got a nice summarized report of things like word counts, title tags, and meta descriptions. You can also click on the Issues tab to see a list of issues labeled by importance so you can prioritize appropriately. The second part of Webmaster Tools is Site Explorer, which gives you a look into your backlink and search traffic data. Starting on Site Explorer’s Overview page, you can see top level metrics for your website like domain rating, total backlinks, total referring domains, and the number of keywords your site ranks for and your estimated search traffic. And right below that is an interactive graph that shows you how fast you’re acquiring backlinks from unique websites, which is a good indicator of your site’s popularity. In this report you’ll see useful things like the Website and Page Authority metrics of the linking page and the number of referring domains it has, the estimated search traffic to that page, and the context of the link, which is all super convenient. You can also use these handy filters to really drill in on the data you want to see. There is also the Organic Keywords Report, which shows you all the keywords your website ranks for. You’ll also see keyword metrics like Search Volume Keyword and Difficulty score. You can also see the top content on your site based on their popularity on these social networks. This only scratches the surface of what Webmaster Tools is capable of doing, and you can do this absolutely free. All you have to do is go to AWT and verify your site within just a few clicks. All right, let’s jump back into the edit. Welcome back to the show. Thank you so much for everything that we’ve had so far. Audience, feel free to follow along with the edit here. We will be dropping it in the chat. There you go. And you can watch as we go along. Just to give you all an idea, the title of this piece, which you can’t see right now, is Storytelling the Science of Storytelling and Its Effect on CRO. So talking about storytelling science and conversion Rate optimization, what was your first impression of this piece before we get into it?

Joshua Hardwick [00:27:49]:

Yeah, so I think the impression starts out kind of positive. I quite liked the intro, but I guess I soon kind of realized that it disintegrated a little bit from there, which is probably what we’ll get into.

Tommy Walker [00:28:07]:

All right, so let’s jump into it. So we’ve got decent intro overall, but I feel like it should be flipped. So let’s talk about what happens from the beginning into a little bit further in and why you feel like that should be flipped.

Joshua Hardwick [00:28:22]:

Yes, I’m just looking at it now, actually. It basically starts with this kind of story, I guess, and I just felt like it was a lot of words to get to something. That would actually make people want to read on. So basically, it talks about this experiment where people bought some stuff, added like personal stories to them and listed them on ebay, and they made loads of money. So they spent like $150 on something and made like $8,000. But you don’t get to that fact, which is the impressive part, which is going to make you want to read on because that’s interesting and cool. That’s like right at the end of the intro. So I guess I was saying to flip it and kind of say, look, there was this study where these guys did this, they bought some stuff, they did this and they sold it for a massive profit. And then get to all of this stuff about who they are and here’s.

Tommy Walker [00:29:18]:

How they did it and why they did it. Yeah, I get that, because the way I’m reading it right now, it’s kind of like, have you heard of the project? And then yeah, and they said, like, one of the things you hear was makes it feel complicated and unnecessary. Just say experiment. As a literary and anthropomological experiment. Rob Walker and Josh Walker, I’m going to assume that this was one of the pieces that they had bought, but it does it gets to quite a bit of point, take a while to get to the main point, right?

Joshua Hardwick [00:29:55]:


Tommy Walker [00:29:56]:

Which is this. This is what people care about. So, all right, taking it forward from here. So what did I read that story for? The intro doesn’t explain how this will be applicable to my problem of wanting to improve conversion rates for my business.

Joshua Hardwick [00:30:14]:


Tommy Walker [00:30:17]:

Say you’re in that position, right? You are the editor. You get a piece like this and you feel like that’s how it looks. Right. What kind of feedback are you giving to the author? Or do you already at that point, feel like it’s a lost cause to get the rest of the piece in order?

Joshua Hardwick [00:30:40]:

Yes. I think what I would probably do, if that was the case, is what I actually did yesterday, I think, which is to read. Have a scheme of the rest of the article to try and figure out whether it is a lost cause or whether they just need to connect that intro and transition a little bit better into the rest of the article. But yeah, I mean, the feedback that I gave is kind of the feedback that I would give a writer. Like, most of the time I might kind of add on a bit more of a bit more of a suggestion, like, why don’t we do this? Why don’t we say something like this? To transition? But yeah, so I guess from that intro, the lack of the transition into why this applies to me as a business owner, wanting to improve my conversion rates is really just a small thing. It depends on what the rest of the article is like right? So, yeah, I think that’s when I kind of read ahead and kind of thought, okay, if they’re making this mistake, did they actually is the rest of the article making similar mistakes?

Tommy Walker [00:31:49]:

Right? And do they really care about the storytelling element of it, or is it really just a means to an end for conversion rate optimization? I think that’s kind of the overall theme of the feedback I saw you give throughout here is like, do they really care about half of this? Right? Yeah. Okay, so we’re going to scroll through here. This part right here talks about monkeys and electrodes and pre mortar cortexes. I love this. Again, totally pointless, dumped here. We’re talking about something else, but this whole area. Tell me what your thoughts were on this as you’re going into this context, because I think context, and I put that in quotes, is something that we can have as authors and as editors. Sometimes we feel like we need it, but then oftentimes it’s completely unnecessary.

Joshua Hardwick [00:32:59]:

Yeah. So I think just your reaction kind of reading that then and saying, like, we’ve got monkeys, we’ve got prefrontal coltexes, I think that’s what the reader would think. What is all this? I’m just trying to increase conversion rates. Why are you telling me about the monkeys? Kind of thing. So, yeah, I understand the need for the context. If this is like, okay, there’s this experiment, and, oh, we can apply the kind of things that we learned from this experiment to conversion rate optimization. Like, this is obviously where the authors go in. They’re kind of trying to build this groundwork and this context to say, look, this is an interesting experiment. You can apply this in this way to your business to do this. I think there’s just too much of it. And I think that I left a comment somewhere that basically said, we’re 700 words in, and all that’s happened is you told me about a monkey study and someone selling stuff on ebay. I came here to try and increase conversion rates for my business. It’s like 700 words is like an article that’s a full article, and especially these days with, again, to mention AI Chat GPT, it’s like people just want more and more, like TLDR approach, and they don’t want to read 700 words before we get to the point. So I think that was my comment then I think I also said, just cut half of this stuff out, which is something I feel like I say a lot to people and they get annoyed.

Tommy Walker [00:34:30]:

Yeah. Sabrina Tira says the study about the monkeys feels like a major tangent. We’re not getting to the point of the article soon enough. Yeah, I agree. It is one of those things where maybe it feels like a little too much. You’re leaning too much into the science of but still, how does this relate to storytelling now in the instance where you’re starting to see this with your own pieces, right? Not your own piece, but, like, a piece that’s been turned into you. Is this kind of the point where you start going, like, do you even go through the rest of the piece, or do you go, hey, I already know that this is going off the rails a little bit?

Joshua Hardwick [00:35:08]:

Yeah, it depends a little bit. I think in this case, I would have looked at the rest of the article to see if they get, like, once they get to the inevitable advice on increasing conversion rates. If I see that that’s sound and that makes sense and it kind of does tie back in some way, then I’d give the feedback to, like, hey, let’s just cut this down and get to that a bit faster. Yeah, but if I skimmed the post and I saw that the actual advice just didn’t make sense, I think that’s when I think it was a lost cause and kind of just wrap it up. Because if the author is not given good advice and the build up and the context around that advice is too much, then there’s just too much work to get it to where it needs to be.

Tommy Walker [00:35:59]:

Yeah. And one of the things here, too, that I thought was interesting is you had said, I can’t find the piece, not familiar with the study in depth, but it doesn’t sound like this is an accurate summary of the study. So this says, this rocked the scientific community. At this point, we’re talking about the discovery of mirror neurons. Okay, there’s something to that, but maybe that’s interesting. But this says, this rocked the scientific community because there was direct evidence indicating that we do not use logical thought to interpret or predict the actions of others. Now you’re saying over here, you don’t think that’s an accurate summary of the study. You release quite a few studies at AaHrefs, and I imagine those are cited quite a bit as well. What are you doing? What’s the feedback that you give when you feel like that has been misinterpreted, any of the data has been misinterpreted to put it out there? Because I know I’ve seen that with a lot of different pieces as well, where it’s like, yeah, I see where you’re going with it. I don’t think that’s the takeaway, though.

Joshua Hardwick [00:37:08]:

Yeah, I think a lot of our study, like, the takeaways in our studies are a lot simpler than this scientific study that this author he has referencing that this is a real kind of scientific study. We’re just kind of looking at a bunch of keywords and going, oh, 20% of them are like this. So it’s harder to misinterpret the stuff that we’re publishing, I think. And obviously, we have no control over how third parties are interpreting that and if they’re referencing and what they say in their articles. But yeah, I’ve never really noticed an issue with our own authors in house or freelance quoting our studies and misinterpreting them. Misinterpreting them so far, at least not that I’m aware of, anyway. So I think, yeah, it may just be to do with the simplicity of our studies.

Tommy Walker [00:37:56]:

You’re very lucky in that regard. I’ve seen very different results in the past. Sabrina I would be interested in Sabrina, who’s in the audience right now, if that’s something that you’ve encountered in the work that you’ve done as well and kind of get your take on what we’re talking about there.

Joshua Hardwick [00:38:17]:

Okay, cool.

Tommy Walker [00:38:18]:

So scrolling forward instead, we feel them again. What is this even? Cut. We don’t need the stuff about monkeys. This seems to be the relevant part. Okay, so let’s talk about that when you feel like this starts to get on track in context just a little bit more.

Joshua Hardwick [00:38:35]:


Tommy Walker [00:38:38]:

Go ahead.

Joshua Hardwick [00:38:39]:

Yeah, I feel like this is a common theme, really. Whenever I think I said this already, one of the big things people need to do is just cut it down to half in general, because this is precisely what I feel at least is happening here. You’ve got this short paragraph of what, like 50 words? 40, 50 words. And that’s all you really need. You just need to say, look, there’s a study, this university study, and they found out that when people listen to speakers, their brains light up on an MRI scan as well as speakers. So it’s kind of like they’re experiencing the speaker’s story for themselves. This is all that really needs to be said. You don’t need so the monkey stuff doesn’t really need to be there. And to just backtrack a little bit, we’ve completely neglected the study that was in the intro. Like, the study in the intro was a different study. It was some guys buying some stuff and selling it on ebay. We never come back to that throughout this entire article, from what I remember. Anyway. So all of this 700 word intro and the part on the monkeys and this stuff can literally just be condensed into a university did a study where they realized that when people listen to speakers on stage, if you put them in, like, an MRI scanner, their brain lights up, so it’s like they’re experiencing the same thing that the speaker experienced. And therefore, this applies to increasing conversion rates, because if you can tell a story, your audience is going to feel that story, and you can kind of control what they feel to an extent, basically, what we’re saying here, or at least what I gathered from reading this post. And, yeah, I think we could do that in much less words. Much fewer words than we are doing.

Tommy Walker [00:40:45]:

Yeah, no, I totally get that. And then we say in a similar study, no clue what this means. Too much jargon cut. What do you feel? We live in a very jargon, heavy space. Right? What’s your take on jargon in general? Because I’ve seen both sides of the equation on that.

Joshua Hardwick [00:41:05]:

Yeah, well, I think for me, I feel like it’s just like a barrier to understanding. If you don’t know something and there’s a load of big words in there and terms you don’t understand, it just blocks you from actually kind of understanding whatever the piece is trying to say. I’ve seen studies on this, and I think we’ve quoted them a few times when I’ve written stuff where it’s like most people’s reading level is quite low. I don’t want to say low. They don’t understand, like, a lot of jargon.

Tommy Walker [00:41:41]:


Joshua Hardwick [00:41:42]:

Yeah. I think it’s lower than most people predict it is. So really, by including the jargon, you’re just alienating more and more people, and there’s often just no need for it. For example, in this post, the whole part about a literary and anthropological experiment, you see, I can barely even say the word right. We don’t need it. Just say an experiment. It’s not necessary. It doesn’t add anything.

Tommy Walker [00:42:09]:

Right. Simplify, simplify. Simplify and condense. Yeah, that’s one of the things. I was just editing a piece, and it was very much like that, where it’s like, this is really well written, except a lot of this stuff just takes away from the central argument that you’re trying to make. And I’m disengaging as a result, which is too bad, because I think there might be something I can get out of this, but you’re not leading me to it on what I can get out. All right, cool. Let’s move forward. Was there anything else before we move on to the next sort of section that stood out to you about this that you might be able to drop some advice on?

Joshua Hardwick [00:42:52]:

I think the only other thing that I noticed in that section and throughout was just these, like, randomly dropped images, or what felt like randomly dropped images. This is not a big deal because you can just click delete and it’s gone. But, yeah, I think people get this in their heads that they need to break up a wall of text, which I understand why you don’t want to see a wall of text, but the solution isn’t to just dump a random image there with no context. The solution is to decrease the wall of text. Get rid of the wall of text. And that’s kind of what I’m saying. So, yeah, I didn’t really understand the context of some of these images. Like, there’s just this, like, horse model star. And I know that when you read it, you get it. But people don’t read intros either, I don’t think.

Tommy Walker [00:43:41]:


Joshua Hardwick [00:43:42]:

I remember I did a Twitter poll on this, and I think it was like 50 50, because I always thought, yeah, I don’t read intros. As soon as I land on an article, I just start scrolling.

Tommy Walker [00:43:49]:


Joshua Hardwick [00:43:49]:

So if you saw a horse there, I think you’d just be like, what is this? Yeah, it’s not really necessary.

Tommy Walker [00:43:59]:

Right. Sabrina says, I’ve seen some of that tendency. Writers may use the research just to support what they wanted to say, rather than taking the time to wade through the academic research to understand what it is really saying. Quite frankly, doing the research well is hard work, but I think we owe it to our readers to be accurate. I think there’s a lot to that, too, because maybe it falls back into this sort of high school or college level stuff where it’s like, show your work, show your work, and it’s like, okay, cool, but to what degree, right. Do you need to show all of the research to support the argument, or do you need to process that to get to what that actually is? And I think there’s a fine balance for writers to look at that, but also as editors, a really fine balance that we have to be willing to go, hey, I see you did a lot of work here, and I totally get where you’re coming from, but I’m going to have to cut the majority of it because you’re not incorporating it into the point that you’re trying to make. Some of the stuff cool, let’s keep it. But a lot of it can go because you’re just doubling up on you’re saying this one supported it and this one kind of supported it, too, and then this one, and it’s like, yes, cool, we get the point. I don’t care. Tell me what I’m here for. So, yeah, that was my take on that. I’m sorry. So we’ve got some minor nick picky things here. Like, it could look like it could be we won’t get into that weird screenshot. We kind of talked about that right here. More obvious example. Do we need to talk about that? What else through here do you feel like is worth pointing out? Because I think there’s some really interesting things here.

Joshua Hardwick [00:45:50]:

Yeah. So I think the main thing if you don’t mind if I just scroll to, like, the last comment that I did, which is probably like a bit of a summary. But, yeah, I think the main thing again, kind of just from memory was it felt like there was all of this build up of, like, here’s some science. Here’s some science, which is kind of like getting you geared up to be impressed. Like, oh, this is going to be something that I haven’t heard before.

Tommy Walker [00:46:18]:


Joshua Hardwick [00:46:19]:

And then it just kind of disappeared. Like, the science didn’t really lead to anything. It just led to generic, what felt quite generic, conversion rate optimization advice and things like have testimonials, have reviews on your product pages, which is like, how was this connected to people selling stuff on ebay or the monkeys? I get it a little bit. It’s a weak kind of connection, if that makes sense. I think it’s almost like they set theirselves up for failure by going for something so complicated, so scientific and saying like, I’m going to give you some advice that’s based on these experiments, this concept, at that point, if there isn’t the obvious advice there, you kind of have got nowhere to go. You’ve kind of boxed yourself in a little bit, right? Whereas if you just said, look yeah, I guess to an extent, I think the premise of the post is maybe a bit weak. Does the science, storytelling and memory. Is there a way to draw some advice on really good advice on conversion optimization out of that?

Tommy Walker [00:47:43]:


Joshua Hardwick [00:47:44]:

I think you’d have to work really hard and understand that literature well to be able to do that. Whereas if you just said, look ten ways, and I get that this is like SEO copy, but if you just said, here’s ten ways to improve your conversion rate optimization, and you just went for that simple kind of angle, you can just tell people some advice and that’s what they really want anyway. They don’t really care if it’s connected to science or again, I get that you want something like grounded in science and not just something that someone’s made up, but yeah, I think that’s the overall thing. I’m not sure what else I said.

Tommy Walker [00:48:18]:

I love this last line in your feed, Peck, though overall it feels like a damp squib. The intro plus science stuff promises something exciting, then we’re given nothing. I like that. Yeah.

Joshua Hardwick [00:48:30]:

So I think that’s what I was just saying, but just in more words, which is yeah, I think that’s my point again about there being a lot of words here and we don’t need them all. I just said this short sentence and probably spent five minutes explaining it, but there I’ve got a short sentence that I wrote down and I explained it a lot more concisely.

Tommy Walker [00:48:55]:


Joshua Hardwick [00:48:55]:

This is kind of what people need to do, I think a lot of the time they need to just it is difficult to say something concisely.

Tommy Walker [00:49:03]:

Yeah. Oh, no, for sure.

Joshua Hardwick [00:49:04]:

It’s really hard. I don’t do it well all the time. I’ve been writing content for, God like 13 years, like, at this stage, in some capacity. And I’m not talking about content at school, I’m talking about online content. So, yeah, I’ve been doing it 13 years and I still feel like I’m terrible at it sometimes. So you can understand why, but this is the job of an editor, I guess. This is why you have an editor, to kind of say, look, this is good, but you can make it even better if you just trim it down, like get to the point.

Tommy Walker [00:49:43]:

And one of my favorite edits in GPT right now is edit this reward economy. Look at this for clarity. Where are some places where it can be redundant? And it does a really good job of pointing that stuff out in a really objective point of view. Can I tell you a secret?

Joshua Hardwick [00:50:01]:


Tommy Walker [00:50:02]:

I wrote this piece.

Joshua Hardwick [00:50:04]:

Okay. I was worried that I was going to be criticizing some random persons after, but now I know it’s you. I know it’s fine. Yeah.

Tommy Walker [00:50:15]:

No, my whole opinion has changed. No. So to give a little bit of context behind the piece is, yes, there was some basic CRO advice that was weaved into there. But the audience and I think that this is important overall because on the show, one of the challenges is the editor not knowing the rest of the context of the piece. Right.

Joshua Hardwick [00:50:40]:


Tommy Walker [00:50:41]:

And this audience in particular very much wanted to know the why behind certain things work. Okay. Why does product photography play a role in this? Can I understand the underlying principles behind these things? That being said, there is a lot of unnecessary stuff in here. There is a ton of unnecessary stuff in here and it does as I’m reading through it years later, objectively, I can say there is a lot of additional work here to go and the average reader would not care about the why. They want to know the what.

Joshua Hardwick [00:51:25]:

But when did you write this? You mentioned years ago.

Tommy Walker [00:51:29]:

Yeah, like 2014.

Joshua Hardwick [00:51:31]:

Yeah. I think that plays a big role with this one as well.

Tommy Walker [00:51:35]:

Yes, it was a product of the time.

Joshua Hardwick [00:51:37]:

Yeah. The way people want content, or at least the way that I want content, is completely different. Now. I’d have read a long piece back in 2014 and I remember 10,000 2000 Word articles that I’d read and admire. I never read that kind of stuff. Now I can’t do it. Don’t have to. The person kind of copy pasting into chat GPT summarize this because you’ve not got the time. And I think that’s the way things are going has always kind of been aaHrefs like to just get to the point. But I think it just gets more and more like that. Especially in this last year with this. Again. Not mention AI. I hate mentioning AI. So tired, absolutely sick and tired of hearing about it. But yeah, in this world of AI being able to summarize things well and generate quick responses to things and just answer questions, people are going to be trained to just want the answer they.

Tommy Walker [00:52:39]:

Want in this piece in particular. And I’m going to try this out afterwards. Just out of sheer curiosity, if I were to ask it to summarize this piece, I don’t know what it would summarize.

Joshua Hardwick [00:52:56]:


Tommy Walker [00:52:57]:

And I think that’s one of the main things that we have to think about content in 2023 and moving forward is like there has to be a spine, there has to be a clear through line from beginning to end. And the tangents. Right. Sabrina was saying there was there are a lot of tangents there and it’s like, how do we get to that point? Maybe still incorporate some of the science in there. But does it need to be as much as three studies backing up the same point? Or can you go, this is why people these are mirror neurons, right? This is why people like photography and then move on. Right.

Joshua Hardwick [00:53:47]:

That’s an interesting thing, actually, because I actually did this yesterday. I don’t know if it was with a piece that a freelancer had written or something that I’d written or something that existed on the blog. I took the piece and I said to Chat GPT, I said, summarize this, and the summary was like, not a summary.

Tommy Walker [00:54:06]:


Joshua Hardwick [00:54:06]:

And I think this led me to believe we must have gone off path because Chat GPT didn’t manage to summarize it. Basically just took the first part and summarized that. And I thought, so it struggled to pull out the main points.

Tommy Walker [00:54:19]:


Joshua Hardwick [00:54:20]:

So as you’re saying that, it got me thinking then that maybe this is something that could be weaved into the process of running like a content team. A freelancer sends you a post, just take it, put it in Chat GPT before you even look at it, get that overview of what they’re trying to say. And you can kind of look at it and go, well, that seems kind of like roughly about right. I’ll go and read it now, knowing that what they’re kind of saying is generally makes sense. So, yeah, that’s just me thinking out loud. I think that might be something I might try.

Tommy Walker [00:54:53]:

I’m going to give that a shot. I’m very curious to see what it looks at here, but yeah, I think that’s a good idea overall, so cool. Well, Joshua, thank you so much for coming on to the show. I really appreciate you taking the time and I really appreciate the feedback. Once I saw you going through that, I was like, yes, this is exactly the type of thing I would want. Go ahead.

Joshua Hardwick [00:55:19]:

Yeah, so I did think this actually halfway through our conversation, I promise I’ll only take a second. I was just going to say, because I’ve been asked, you asked me to give feedback on this document and this is something that we’re always aware of, actually, at AaHrefs, because, like, with the peer review system, you’re asking for someone’s feedback, they’re always going to give you some feedback. They’re never just going to go, yeah, that’s fine, publish that. So you could do this indefinitely, you could edit this, send it to someone else and say, can I have some feedback on this? And they pull out more stuff. It never ends. The mere act of asking for feedback just means you’re always going to get some criticism and some points for improvement. So, yeah, I just kind of want to say, like, it’s not like I’m right reviewing this, I just got a certain style and when I’m reviewing freelancer’s post or in house people’s posts, it’s not that I’m saying you’re wrong, you shouldn’t include this or you should include this. I’m saying I know what I want to achieve on our blog. I know what I think generally people are looking for and that they don’t want to read stuff unnecessarily and I’m doing it with that in mind, like a specific style. Yeah, I just wanted to say that is something to be aware of, really.

Tommy Walker [00:56:48]:

We had Emily Anne Epstein on the show a while ago. She’s the content lead at Asana. And one of the things I was just listening to her episode because we just released it on the podcast. If you want to go check out the podcast where she said editor is going to edit and that’s basically it. Our job is to find things to make it better. So that’s always a good point. And authors who watch this just know that if an editor is giving you that level of feedback, they really care about the work and that’s important. The last thing you want is an Apathetic editor. Joshua, where can we find you online?

Joshua Hardwick [00:57:28]:

Twitter, probably. I don’t use social media a lot, but I occasionally post a random tweet.

Tommy Walker [00:57:34]:

Awesome. Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on. We’re going to wrap the show again. If you want to check out this article and see many of the other articles that have been edited on the show, go to TheVault and you can get access to a number of those and replays from previous episodes as well. And again, check out Href’s webmaster tools. Really cool stuff. You can get there in absolutely free. Fantastic tool. Thank you so much everyone and have a great rest of the day. Thanks so much for watching. If you like that episode, please leave a comment and a like down below. And if you want to be notified about future episodes, please go to the thecutting room, enter your email address. You’ll also get replays and other exclusive bonuses. Thanks again and we’ll see you in the next one. Thanks so much for watching. If you like that episode, please leave a comment and a like down below. And if you want to be notified about future episodes, please go to the decutting room, enter your email address. You’ll also get replays and other exclusive bonuses. Thanks again and we’ll see you in the next one.

Joshua Hardwick is an artist.

In his work at aHrefs, he seamlessly weaves product into the content, to create work that is memorable, useful, and immediately actionable (if you have the tool)

Technically, you could do it without the tool, but you immediately feel just how challenging it’d be if you tried.

Some things we talked about:

👉 How aHrefs selects topics that can tie into product usage.
👉 Their unique peer-review editorial process.
👉 Why deep product knowledge is essential.

These were our favorite quotable moments:

“We do the keyword research and we find the topics where we think our products can help solve that problem. You never really know until you actually look at the SERP and delve into that keyword.”

“With the search focused stuff, we do try to integrate our own opinions and advice into those things because otherwise you end up with samey me too content that people are sick of.”

“We’re 700 words in, and all that’s happened is you told me about a monkey study and someone selling stuff on ebay. I came here to try and increase conversion rates for my business.”

If you’ve been wondering how you can more tastefully incorporate product into your content, this one is for you.

Get more of
The Cutting Room

Episode replays, writing challenges, exclusive offers and more.

    We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.