Brian Jackson of Kinsta

You can find Brian at:


Resources mentioned:

KW Finder
Screaming Frog
WP Rocket


Sebastian: Brian, welcome to the SEO show.

Brian: Thanks for having me.

Sebastian: So you’re the CMO of a managed WordPress hosting company called Kinsta as well as the director of a WordPress plugin called perfmatters and a blog called woorkout, is that right so far?

Brian: Yes. We have two little plugins that we run and I have my marketing blog that I’ve kind of done for a couple years so, yep.

Sebastian: I guess the most obvious question would be, with so many managed WordPress hosting companies out there, what really makes Kinsta unique in the market?

Brian: I would say two things, and while that might sound cliché, I will explain both of them briefly. One thing is that we’ve always been obsessed with performance. We were actually the first managed WordPress host to use Google Cloud Platform exclusively, and now other competitors have also followed suit. So, we feel like we probably made a good decision there. Everything’s going to Google Cloud now and it’s because they just have a lot of power behind all of their infrastructure. And they have pretty much unlimited money to keep launching data centers and all this stuff. Just this last month, we actually just rolled out these new compute-optimized machines. The easy way of putting it is they’re just super fast machines, the fastest thing that Google Cloud has, and we just roll out those to all customers for free. So, that’s something since day one we’ve been really adamant about. Our CEO is a developer system in himself, so he’s always wanting stuff to go over super fast, so it’s always trickled down to the rest of the company that even though we could launch 100 features that are great for hosting, if you don’t stay fast, all of those features are pointless. So, the other way too is support obviously and we have 24/7 support, but the way we structure ours was slightly differently. Most companies have tiers, like you reach a level one guy and if he can’t answer it, you get to a level two guy and then it goes up the chain. We don’t actually have any tiers like that at all. We pay our support people more and look for more experienced people in the space, so that we don’t have to have those separate barriers. So, if you get a support rep at Kinsta, it’s going to be the same guy that’s helping our fortune 500 companies even if you’re on a starter plan so they’re fixing a wide variety of problems. The cool thing is, you’ll get to talk to someone right away that actually knows how to use WordPress, is probably developing their own plugins and all sorts of stuff. So those are the two main things I would say we’re different in.

Sebastian: So for those who don’t know, what is Google Cloud Platform, and how is that different to a traditional host with servers and such?

Brian: Yes, so if you compare it to like a shared hosting provider, like a $3 or $5 a month host, those are usually typically using their own little private servers. Like with Linode or DigitalOcean, these are providers that have cheaper servers that you can use. Google Cloud — a competitor for them would be like Amazon. In the cloud you have like AWS, you have Google Cloud Platform and then you have Microsoft Azure which is not really popular in the WordPress space, they do a lot of more enterprise stuff, but not in the WordPress space as much. So really, you have competing Amazon and Google Cloud for the huge cloud platforms and Google’s still way behind because Amazon was first to the race, but Google Cloud is actually growing faster in the cloud sector than Amazon. But the reason people are using the cloud over say, these smaller private servers is because they just literally have unlimited funds to put all this stuff into their infrastructure. Like Google, Amazon does is too, builds their own pipelines under the ocean to go across continents, and so when you’re using these cloud providers, you get a piggyback off of some of their faster networks. And the little cloud server providers, they don’t have any of this huge infrastructure because they’re just selling little servers and data centers all over the place. So the cloud is pretty much where everything is headed. It’s just, you have a few players that have a lot of money and so you end up with a lot of power behind the scenes.

Sebastian: So, for a typical SEO who has let’s say, they have a lot of websites of either their own websites or client websites and they have it on some lower tier hosts like maybe Bluehost or even a mid-tier like a Dream Host, would you recommend they go through the pain of migrating all their sites to a Kinsta or would you just say, let’s just make the best of it and install some really good plugins and hope for the best? What would you recommend?

Brian: So, I’ve seen thousands of people do both routes so you can definitely go both routes. The one thing for me personally, being an affiliate marketer and SEO person myself, I’m trying to hustle on my own little side projects just like every other SEO person is trying. A couple of advantages to using Kinsta over doing it yourself or something is that first of all, you’ll just save a boatload of time. You don’t have to use all of these different plugins. We actually support, you’re probably familiar with WP Rocket. It’s a great plugin, we’re actually partners with them, but you can still use that at Kinsta. The great thing is, at Kinsta, we do the caching for you. So you don’t have to test all these stupid caching plugins and worry about all that stuff. But you can still use WP Rocket and take advantage of their other cool stuff like they minify files, they let you disable emojis. They do all sorts of different things in that WP Rocket plugin. So, one thing is the caching, you just never have to worry about again. And the other thing would be just in terms of speed, we’re constantly — we were just saying, we released those new faster machines. This is something we’re always going to be doing. And so you never have to worry about your site’s slowing down. If anything, we’re trying to speed them up. We put out a huge benchmark posts with all the data from these machines from actual clients that we moved over privately beforehand, so we could actually show people — and we’ve seen some sites up to 200% speed increase. And we’re giving this away for free, it’s just a free upgrade we’re giving people. So, we’re getting great feedback obviously, because people are seeing why their site is noticeably faster the next day. That’s stuff that if you’re trying to do it yourself, it’s just never going to happen, or you’re going to have to put a lot of work and you’re going to have to know a lot of the technical stuff behind the scenes to make that happen. Another thing — and obviously for SEO, the faster the better. Especially, I was just reading this last week, Google’s finally pulling the trigger and they’re going to be doing that, the little slow label on websites. It had been rumored for years, but they’re actually going to do it now. So, if you have a fast website, it’s really going to hurt with SEO for branding everywhere.

Sebastian: Are there any famous plugins or tactics that we keep hearing over and over that are being promoted in the industry that in your opinion are either not as effective anymore or just counterintuitive?

Brian: In the SEO industry? I’m trying to think. That’s a good question actually. I can’t think of any that are not useful anymore. Mainly because the ones I’ve — are using, they’re always trying to update and get better. I use Yoast myself, I have for years. There are some great new little SEO plugins out there, like RankMath is one I think, and I forget the name of the other one, but there’s another little SEO plugin that focuses just on performance which is great too. So yes, there’s great plugins in the SEO space in my opinion. There’s a lot of little performance plugins you can use too. But as far as SEO goes, I don’t know if I can name one that’s just like, I’m not using any more that I was before, mainly because maybe I got lucky and I picked the right ones that are still going. But Yoast has been going for probably like, seven or eight years.

Sebastian: And you know, we love using WordPress as SEOs, but if you had to pick another CMS, what would be your first choice?

Brian: I probably wouldn’t use a CMS to be honest if it was me. Now this will impact — wouldn’t impact everyone because you’d have to have some technical knowledge not to use a CMS. I’d probably go for a full static site or something like just straight HTML or something, or tie in with Gatsby and there’s other cool platforms doing stuff where you can actually still use WordPress, but then tie in to a static site on the front end. Basically you essentially log in WordPress on the back end, but on the front end, it’s pulling it through into a static site. People don’t actually see that you’re using WordPress, but you might be behind the scenes for the blog part. But then for the rest of the site, it’s a static kind of a site and static has definitely performance advantages as well. I probably go that route if I wasn’t going to do a CMS and the bad thing about that is, then with SEO, you’ve got to make sure you do all your tags and stuff kind of custom or it’s going to be harder than just throwing it into Yoast meta box at the bottom of the post or something. I’d probably do that just because I’m so obsessed with performance.

Sebastian: And I see that Kinsta has a pretty decent blog out there, you guys are obviously investing in some content marketing. Are there any tools like Ryte or ClearScope or Surfer that you would either use or recommend other people use?

Brian: I can share a couple of tools I use for our content marketing. So, I’m a big fan of Ahrefs. I use that literally every single day. It never closes in my browser. It is expensive if you compare it to some of the other tools out there. If people are looking for a cheaper tool, I definitely recommend KW Finder is a great little tool that just popped up out of nowhere in the last three years and they’re adding all these cool features, so that’s a great cheaper alternative. Then I use Grammarly a lot still even though I’ve written for years. When you’re writing sometimes at like 1am, 2am it’s still will help catch errors and that’s what I use for. I don’t use it to know how to write, I use it more to just help me catch things as I’m busily writing throughout the day. So, tools like Grammarly, I think can help a lot. I actually write in — I’ve been writing a lot more in, it’s a Mac app called Bear. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. It’s more like a note taking app, but it’s really — the UI is just beautiful and when you start using it, it makes you want to write and so I actually have been writing more in there than WordPress and then I actually move it to WordPress when I’m done. My advice would be to people that, if you have a better tool that you like writing in somewhere else, maybe take advantage of that other than you don’t always have to use the WordPress editor. And so, I’ve been using the Bear app recently and it’s just great and it also syncs between all my devices. So it makes it super easy to write and then I can move it to WordPress when I’m done. I think one other tool I do use is AccuRanker for keyword checking. Ahrefs does have that now as well but it’s not as robust because it’s something that they’ve just added within the last year or two. AccuRanker has been doing this for years. The one thing I like about their keyword rank tracking tool, so the advantages they have is they check their keyword rankings every single day. Whereas Ahrefs, I think they have it but you have to be in the super high plan to get the constant checking. For me, things move so constantly in SERPs that I just need to know like, if a 100 keywords drop off the next day, I need to know that. That’s important especially if you’re debugging a Google algorithm update. You can’t wait 5 days for the keywords to update go see how this is actually impacting my entire site. So, a tool like AccuRanker definitely comes in handy just to keep track of everything that’s pretty much on demand as far as your keywords go in SERPs. And I know some people will say that keywords are dead. I will say that is 100% not true. I still keep track of keywords and it’s still how we’re driving our organic growth even till today. So obviously you want to write for the user, but still think of the keyword behind the scenes. I always say, write smarter, not harder. You can do both. The people that are saying just write for the user and don’t look at the keywords, I would not advise doing that.

Sebastian: You mentioned Ahrefs, do you use them for audits as well or do you use like a SEMrush or a Screaming Frog etc.?

Brian: I’ve been using Ahrefs audits more. That’s actually I think their newest tool and so it’s definitely not as great as SEMrush. Their audit tool is way better in my opinion, but I do use a Screaming Frog a little bit. It’s still great – I think that’s the oldest SEO tool probably still around that people still use. It’s just really quickly scan your site, get an Excel sheet of all the stuff if you need it and just quickly bang some updates out. So yes, I’m still a fan of Screaming Frog and I have it installed on my machine still even right now.

Sebastian: Speaking of tools, is there any tool out there that you wish existed but currently does not?

Brian: That’s a good question. I think there’s one too I just found the other day and it’s not perfect yet. But it’s one too I’ve actually been searching for, literally for years and it’s incredible. It’s so new that I don’t even remember the name of it because I just started using it. It’s called a Pastel. This might not impact everyone but at Kinsta we do a lot of affiliate marketing, and a big part of our SEO thing is also helping our affiliates with their own sites. When we push out these crazy awesome new machines, we actually reach out to affiliates to help them update the review posts of Kinsta. And so we want to help our affiliates with their SEO, because if they rank higher, it literally in turn – they make more money, we make more money so it helps everyone. So you can think of SEO as not just on your own site. Sometimes it’s helpful to help other people as well. Pastel is actually – it’s really cool. A close tool I would say it’s compared to is, I don’t know if you’ve used InVision before. The problem with InVision is more like enterprise and it’s for just a daily user. What you can do with Pastel is, I can take any website URL, literally paste it in there. In a second, it’ll have a screenshot of the entire page. And I can go on there, put comments anywhere I want to on the page, and upload an image and basically we can just email that URL to the affiliate and say, here’s the things you need to change. Here is new images for that stuff, maybe our UI is changed, add this, add this and done. All they get is a URL, they can go through, make the changes, boom done. Before, most tools you have to have something installed or the other person does, and that doesn’t help me if I don’t want to have an affiliate to go install this tool, they’re not going to do that. They’re busy, we’re busy. So, this tool allows you to just take any third party site, no installation, boom screenshot, here’s what you need to update done. So yes, really cool. I’ve been using it recently, I’m going to start using a lot more.

Sebastian: And talking about perfmatters for a second here, I’m sure most people haven’t heard of that. Is that comparable to say an auto optimize which most of us use for performance?

Brian: Yes. So, I would say it shares some of the same features as auto optimize and WP rocket. It’s like a blend between the two I would say. One thing we do have that they don’t have, is a script manager, and that actually lets you go through each page individually and disable the scripts that you don’t want running down to a page level basis. Like say, you have the Contact Form 7 plugin installed. By default, it loads of scripts on your entire site. Really, you only want it to probably load the scripts on your contact us page because that’s where the form is loading. With our script manager, you can literally in one click say, run on the contact us page, disable site-wide everywhere else and boom it doesn’t load it. So, it helps with performance a lot. The more you play with it, the more you can take advantage of that because you can — if learn how your plugins are loading and where their scripts are loading, you can go through and really fine tune it. Especially your homepage, because that’s probably the most important page on your site. I always tell people, focus on your homepage first if anything because that’s what should be loading the fastest. You can do all sorts of stuff. WP Rocket lets you disable things like emojis and all that stuff you might not be using, we can do that in our plugin too, so little things like that, that we’re doing with our plugin. Essentially we created it because I kept hacking all these little things into my own sites and I couldn’t find a plugin that had everything I wanted into it. And so my brother and I are 50/50 partners in our plugin business and we kind of just went like, let’s just make our own. He works for a WordPress agency with hundreds of sites and so he actually uses this himself across hundreds of sites too. So we both are using it on a daily basis on our own stuff. It’s great because it makes sure that we keep up with the updates because we’re always watching for new things that are coming out. Like Chrome just launched like native lazy loading, and so we pushed out support for that as well, so always keeping track of the new latest stuff we can do.

Sebastian: And Brian, do you follow any digital marketing books, blogs, podcasts, etc.?

Brian: Yes for blogs – SEO Roundtable is probably one I go to more than I should. There’s a lot of SEO blogs out there and that one’s – I wouldn’t say that the quality is the best but it has the most up to date news. If there’s a rumor of a Google update going on – I think Barry (Schwartz) is the writer on there and he is bound to write about it even if there’s a rumor. So it’s always great just to – You have to take some of the stuff on there with a grain of salt because SEOs tend to have a tendency to freak out sometimes I think. And you can always look at day to day even though it’s important to. You have to look at day to day but also look at the big picture and not always freak out otherwise you’ll just end up stressing yourself out. But yes, I I love checking that site just to see if there’s a rumor of stuff. It saves me time from looking other places. And I’m trying to think if there are any other tech blogs — I read a lot of WordPress stuff, so probably not as much technical stuff. WP Tavern is one I like to get — that’s another one I don’t think they have the most in-depth content, but it’s great just to keep up on latest stuff happening in the WordPress space.

Sebastian: And obviously we’re both on Twitter, it’s got a healthy SEO community there. Are there any other social channels that you find are just as helpful?

Brian: I love Twitter. I have since day one. And it seems to work really well in the WordPress space too. And I think in the SEO and the WordPress space in my mind, or in my industry they’re kind of meshed because I chat with a lot of SEO WordPress people. There’s a lot of people that are just on Twitter and it seems to work really good in this space. I don’t really use LinkedIn that much to be honest. I know it’s great for B2B but I just don’t find that many people chatting on there if I compare it to Twitter. I mean, even on Twitter, I’ve actually met people here for coffee in Scottsdale here. I’ve even signed up enterprise clients to Kinsta over Twitter DMs. So yes, Twitter has so many possibilities if you really use it a lot that just work really great. And Facebook in my opinion, is dying especially the organic part of it. I mean unless you’re running — we do some Facebook at Kinsta and they — we’re still having success with remarketing Facebook ads and stuff. But as far as organic stuff goes, Facebook is almost not even worth it anymore to do anything over there, unless you have a massive page with organic reach that you’ve had for the past 10 years or something. But yes, I’ve stopped most of my Facebook stuff all together to be honest.

Sebastian: And last question Brian. If SEO and digital marketing and WordPress all went away tomorrow, what would you find yourself doing instead?

Brian: That is a scary question. If it all went away tomorrow, I’d probably end up doing a writing gig or something that’s not like SEO focused but more just writing. Because I actually have a huge passion for writing. I love writing and with Kinsta growing so big, I don’t do as much writing as I used to and I wish I could do more writing so yes. Something that has to do with writing just because that’s really what my passion is.

Sebastian: Hey Brian, thanks so much for your time bro. I Appreciate that.

Brian: Yes.

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