Syed Balkhi on Awesome Motive’s acquisition of All In One SEO

Syed Balkhi joins me to discuss the acquisition of AIO SEO.

All in One SEO is one of the most widely used plugins in the WordPress ecosystem, with more than two million installs.

In the announcement post, Syed says the entire All in One SEO team is joining Awesome Motive, aside from founder Michael Torbert:

Aside from new ownership change, it’s business as usual. You can continue to use the plugin that you love without any interruptions.

With the exception of Michael, the entire All in One SEO team joined Awesome Motive. This means that you are still being supported by the same talented people.

On top of that, we have added more team members from Awesome Motive who will be working on the All in One SEO project, including me.

In a near future release, you will see a small plugin design refresh in the WordPress admin area.

With our experience and a dedicated team, we will be adding several new features and improvements to the All in One SEO WordPress plugin in the near future.

Some of the questions he answers:

  • So who is your target customer with All in One SEO?
  • How is the model structured? You’re directing strategy… is there a partner you’re working with?
  • How does your vision for AIO SEO compare to what you see in Yoast SEO?
  • How do you envision the free/premium divide?
  • What are the first three things you plan to do?
  • How did the conversation with Michael start? Did you approach him? Did he approach you? Tell me a story.
  • How far do you think you can scale this business model?
  • What do you think about the consolidation we’re seeing in the plugin ecosystem — the consolidation you’re a major player in?

Links:

Full Transcript

Brian Krogsgard 0:02

this episode of the draft podcast is brought to you by Gil. Gil is email marketing built for e commerce stores go to jilt. com to try it today. I know that jilt is an awesome product because I work on it every single week. And I get to see it up close and personal jilt has amazing integrations for WooCommerce, Shopify, and add so no matter what platform you’re building your e commerce site on, it will work for you. It’s built specifically for e commerce with extremely powerful segmentation options for you to set up automations to work for you while you sleep. And you can do your manual email marketing through our broadcasts feature and Jill. It’s a great tool. I know you’ll love it tried today. Go to Jill calm. And thanks to Jill for being a post as partner. Hello and welcome to the draft podcast. My name is Brian cross guard. I’m with side balki Hey side. Hey man, how are you? I’m doing great. So you know like you Guys have news coming out all the time. And you’ve got another plugin that you’ve put under the automotive umbrella. And it’s all in one SEO. So first off just congrats on the acquisition of a really long running popular plugin.

Syed Balkhi 1:18

Thank you. Thank you.

Brian Krogsgard 1:20

So let’s start with what attracted you to all in one SEO as the type of plugin that you were interested in.

Syed Balkhi 1:29

So when I started a web beginner I was I started with all in one SEO, I’ve had a lot of respect for the plugin in industry. I believe it you know, it is one of the tools that are that are essential for for a website owner. And it is something that our users have continued to, to build. If you haven’t checked out the WP begin to engage Facebook group, this question comes up a lot I did a, I did a video about it and people were asking, like, you know, when are you going to build a SEO plugin that is beginner friendly. And, you know, it’s just keeps coming up over and over every year if you’ve been able to build one product, what would it be? And SEO keeps coming upset. We tried to make a deal happen. And you know, I approached several several authors and this was the one that we ended up going with.

Brian Krogsgard 2:25

So you say, you know, people from the dopey beginner groups were the ones that initiated this conversation. So who is your target customer with a plugin like this?

Syed Balkhi 2:38

Small business owners like you know, DIY website owners, I would say is there is a target market you know, we we try to stay away from the super advanced super Delve audience, we you know, we want to help small business owners so our goal at awesome motive is to you know, help small business go and compete with the big guys. And that is something that we continue with all of our products.

Brian Krogsgard 3:00

So obviously the I guess I would say the market leader in this genre has been Yoast SEO for years. If I remember the correlation of how the usage worked out all in one, SEO was the most popular plugin for a really long time in the SEO market, and then Yost took over that spot. What’s the comparison that you see in Yost? I mean, I think you and Yost divock are friendly and the team at Yost, how does how to your efforts here? You know, like, how does it different from Yoast? Is Yost an advanced plugin? Like what makes you most advanced versus like the beginner features that you envision? All in one Seo? That’s the stuff that I don’t quite know how to nail down in my mind.

Syed Balkhi 3:45

For sure, for sure. Yeah. So I mean, I’m friends of yours. Of course, I told. I told Yost about, about the field before he went public. So it doesn’t affect our friendship. I think you know, in any market You have multiple players, right? They have their own unique sets of features and divisions that they carry forward. And I know Yost has a vision that he is moving forward with. My, my goal is to really focused on two things, one, reliability, and the second is to be results focused. And that the second one is definitely a primary thing I want a plug in, that is results focus on, you know, almost every SEO plugin, when you look at it in the market, and there’s some newcomers that are that have entered the market as well. They kind of just help you set up and let you optimize some pages. And that’s kind of it like there hasn’t been any innovation, if you may, from a bigger picture point of view in the SEO plugin market in a while.

And I want to change that.

Brian Krogsgard 4:56

So talk to me about that. Because I know I know. I know. baki well enough to know he’s got a plan. As soon as he has control, you’ve got some things that you want to do. I have to admit, I haven’t installed all in one SEO and I don’t even know how long I don’t know what it looks like, once you get working on it on the interior. What are your what’s it like today? And I guess, what are your big three things that you want to do? I know you got those mapped out?

Syed Balkhi 5:24

Yeah, I mean, we have a very clear 12 month plan the three year picture, I would say, you know, install it, just so you can see, you can have a before and after comparison, I think that you know that you can you can see the impact that we’re, we’re about to happen on this plugin. So, you know, over the years, like, I’ve built a lot of internal tools that we just use, and like when you asked like, you know, what is the target market release me and I’m like, I try to dog food pretty much all of our own products and I think that’s, that’s one of our secret sauces on how we make the best product. So I want to bring in a lot of the internal tools that we have, that we already have into a central plugin that we can control manage, and also, you know, share it with the WordPress community and in the small business community as well. I am also the you know, when you think about like a lot of my friends who are influencers somewhere, you know, meeting SEO experts as well they all have, you know, their own internal SEO tools that they’ve built, we kind of shared that knowledge, we sometimes shared those scripts with each other. So we can kind of have an advantage and I want to bring that level the playing field. So we’re going to be bringing a lot of those other tools in it so when it when you know when you think about the name all in one SEO, I think this is going to really become that. Without divulging too much of the you know, fine details, I think, think about think about it from that way it finally is true SEO suite for WordPress,

Brian Krogsgard 6:59

you mentioned And the way that you know people typically look at SEO and WordPress right now is you go to a single a singular URL. So let’s say it’s a, you know, it’s a page of, you know, the best WordPress host or whatever. And you optimize that page. So is what you’re talking about more of how to figure out a site wide plan or overview, is that

Syed Balkhi 7:22

right? Exactly. So when you think about that, you know, a small business owner they come in and install the plugin then what what happens do they do the chase a light, a specific color, but what is that in regards to anyways? I want to I want to really help people discover new growth opportunities. So like SEO is not just some acronym. That doesn’t mean anything new. Most people will be they everybody kind of has a vision, but everybody’s lost. really making that easy, making people making easy to identifying opportunities, measure those opportunities and you know, doing a little bit More than just setting up an optimizing. Okay. Yeah.

Brian Krogsgard 8:03

So, you know, when I think of small businesses, and when I talk to the friends that are, you know, they run small businesses like a dentist or something I usually start thinking about SEO in terms of local stuff or so what’s the free and premium divide for you?

Syed Balkhi 8:20

Yeah, there’s gonna be a lot of premium features that we’re going to add, of course, over the over the years, we’re going to continue improving the tree offering, which is, you know, core of this plugin anyways. That’s, that’s, that’s, that’s where I think I’ll pretty much stop at you know, there’s gonna be a lot of cool tools that are going to come come in that we’re going to add in the premium version. There’s also going to be a lot of really cool thing that we’re going to add in the free version that we just haven’t seen. Is this going to happen over the course the next three months? No regular we’re going to do some like small refreshes the three in the three month period, but the bigger picture and the big Things are going to be rolled out over the, you know, 12 month period because we have to take our internal tools and then, you know, turn it into so it can be used by tuning people.

Brian Krogsgard 9:12

I’m pretty biased towards jilt. And it’s with good reason. When I was considering to take on some part time work to compliment what I was doing with post status, I went straight to Sky verge and said, I think that sky verge seems like a fantastic company to work for. And Jill seems like a really exciting product to work on. Guilt is really the tool that you need to compliment your ecommerce store. It’s email marketing, but it’s built specifically for e commerce stores. So what’s that mean in practice? Well, you can do your marketing outreach through a manual newsletter built into Jillson, some people don’t even know that. That’s done via the broadcast feature. But then there’s the automation tools. jilt started out as an abandoned cart automation tool, but it’s a lot more than that. Now, you can segment based on anything that’s part of your historical store data. So if you will Want to email people just who purchased a product in a certain category, then you can do it. If you have an update for a product and you want to send an email to people who have purchased that historically, you can do it. If you want to send an email because people have spent a certain amount of money in their lifetime, and your store, you can do it. You can do so much with guilts Automation features, the segmentation data is extremely thorough, whether you’re running a WooCommerce store, or a Shopify store or an ed d store, and you’re not using jilt, then, quite frankly, you’re giving up potential revenue. Try jilt today, go to jilt.com. I know you’ll love it. How did the conversation with Michael start then? Did you approach him? Did he approach you? Tell me a story around the process of acquiring a plugin especially one was such a huge user base. And I guess there’s a lot implications when someone new takes over one of the most popular plugins in the plugin repo.

Syed Balkhi 10:59

Absolutely. So, you know, I think I mentioned to you, you this came back from the WP beginner communities after I did the web kind of census survey, which happened in the beginning of the year, I start getting all sorts of data from the audience and from survey responses and start analyzing. And I reached out to, to Michael, as I started the conversation, you know, it started from discussing of what does this look like, you know, does this look like us partnering together and running that does it look like us taking a full full hundred percent stake into the business then, you know, Michael walks from Italy, you know, there was, like, a lot of conversation that, you know, started with things like maybe March, so we didn’t close the deal until January 3. So it takes you know, it’s like think about it when when this is something that you have been doing for 10 plus years this is your baby. It’s a it’s an emotional process. It’s a yes, it’s a very emotional process. It’s not an easy decision to make, and I’m not you know that. I think the things that made it easy or easy arel to make things you know a little bit more smoother was I’ve known Michael for a long time, right. Michael has been in the WordPress ecosystem. This was the original WordPress SEO plugin. I’ve had numerous occasions where I hang out with Michael, at the WordPress community summit, the first ever anti de spoken network in Raleigh several times I actually flew out to Raleigh to hang out with Michael to kind of share our vision because you know, for for both of us, the most important part is users and the community. And, you know, we were in you know, we were lying there. So that’s like that’s, that’s really a nutshell what happened in the nine month period, right? Of course legal comes in Ba ba ba ba ba that Normal of any any deal, you boring stuff you can

Brian Krogsgard 13:02

you can have it all settled, I guess and still have several months left on Enter before it actually, you know, get signed and is ready to go.

Syed Balkhi 13:12

Right. And especially with my travel schedule, it kind of made things a little little difficult, right? Because we’re growing and then I you know, I have certain certain like level commitments already like that that are planned six months plus in advance always. So it becomes a little tricky. So we wanted to do face to deal in December, but it kind of went in by the January.

Brian Krogsgard 13:35

Yeah. So the, you know, I’ve seen you do this a couple times now where you acquire another business and obviously you don’t acquire something unless you see potential growth in it. So you see growth in this product. However, I would say this product may be different than some of the others whereas where, you know, it was at the top of the game for a while and then it had a you know, maybe it grew WordPress a little bit, but it wasn’t the market leader there were there was growth and other plugins in the sector, significantly higher than all in one, SEO is growth. Whereas some some tools that you started, you were the growth plugin, like WP forms was a fresh plugin, you know, brand new, or you acquire one that is on a high growth trajectory. So this one’s a little bit different than that. So how do you view the business model? And then how do you think that you can continue to scale this business model that there’s so many products under the automotive umbrella these days?

Syed Balkhi 14:33

You know, I think the important part is that you that you highlighted is almost every plugin grows with WordPress. You know, when I started using WordPress in 2006, I don’t recall the exact number of how big WordPress was, but it wasn’t 35% of the web.

Brian Krogsgard 14:52

Right? If I did a post on this, I think it was in 2010. And we weren’t 8% of the web yet, so 20,006 it was probably like 1% Maybe 2% of the web, right?

Syed Balkhi 15:02

So So when you think about this right I’m very bullish on WordPress. I really believe in WordPress, I even posted a story about like my cab driver using WordPress and learn from the Vcn Uber driver and I was like, wow, this is crazy, like you could get picked up from the Atlanta airport. So the, you know, the business model really is, you know, anytime you build an ecosystem, you rely on the ecosystem. I think the WordPress ecosystem has a lot of growth happening right now. And users are always looking for so you know, whether it be just because we have WP forms and needed it is the best hands down. WordPress form plugin doesn’t mean people don’t use others. Right. So I don’t look for Oh, is this is this plugin necessarily growing or not? I think this is a plugin with a very loyal user base. Good, you know framework I haven’t had a lot of sentimental values, you know, tied to all them on SEO because this was a plugin I started using, you know, and when I launched WP beginner, I think for a long time I was the de facto maybe an official doc for this, because I would share my configuration and people would just come and copy and paste that into the chat back and forth. Michael and Steve, you know, who’s been with all the one for 10 years, he actually joined us a motive. That’s pretty, pretty awesome. But we also had a lot of sentimental values for this. And I’ve learned a ton from Michael who’s been very generous mean in the early days of the WordPress ecosystem. So I think there’s a lot we can do in terms of the growth side of the plugin for sure.

Brian Krogsgard 16:49

As an aside, you mentioned in the in the announcement posts that Michael is not joining awesome motive, it sounds like he’s gonna go find out what he wants to do next, but the rest of the Anyone that was working on all in one SEO is actually going to become an automotive employee.

Syed Balkhi 17:05

Absolutely. that’s already been done yet our goal whenever we make an acquisition, are you in a position or you know, one of the automotive core values people first and we always take care of that first.

Brian Krogsgard 17:15

So you’ve got WP forms monster inside see prod web mail, SMTP raffle press. And you know now we’re putting all in one SEO as kind of primary product things. You’ve got some other stuff too. If people go to automotive com, they can see everything that your team is working on. But what about this scale side of this? So we talked actually last week I don’t know if you you probably didn’t listen to it. We talked last week about back when you showed me your your schedule blocking and you know, we’re talking about trying to manage multiple projects and you’re the kind of the key to this to me, in our space, because there’s so many things that you’re paying personal attention to, but you’ve created ways to where, you know, you don’t have to be there. You’re your vessel You add but like, Is there a ceiling for how you can scale like is it 10 products? Is it 15 or 20? what’s the what’s this business model for you?

Syed Balkhi 18:11

I wish I wish I knew what the number was attended it repeated 30 I think it is one of the things that you know that like I never do anything alone, right? There’s like I’ve worked like my secret against it’s not such a big secret is I work with really really awesome partners, really talented people. You know, Thomas Griffin, who leads OptinMonster and trust also, you know, product. Jared is a new release web form then smtp. These guys are phenomenal leaders right CRISPR staff meeting monster insights, phenomenal leader and they all have their own strengths. Right and we what makes us work really well together is how we compliment each other. So you know with john Turner in T product wrathful press, right, that he brings a whole new set of values to automotive and in in what we’re looking to do over the next 10 years. So, you know, when when we decided to acquire all in one SEO we looked for, you know, who would that personally because Michael was not going to be coming on board. And, of course, like, this is it. This is something I’m really passionate about. And I know a lot about this industry. I wanted to make sure that there’s somebody else who’s really, really talented who can lead and Benjamin Rojas, I don’t know, I don’t know if you know him or not in the WordPress ecosystem. He’s a phenomenal developer had had several other products in the EBD ecosystem that he sold to Pippin when you know, they did the market consolidation, their position. He’s been working in the OptinMonster team for I believe, like four years, three, four years, and so He’s actually going to be leading this division and department call and Seo? Of course, I’m going to be I’m very involved that, you know, I’m not involved in OptinMonster day today, but you know, I’ve been for two years. Same thing with the forums, that division is run by Jared Christophe got, you know, my stream says pretty much on online, so I’m going to be very involved in it. So like, while we have a lot going on, I’m not liking every single thing all the time. It’s not it’s not humanly possible. You see my time blocks, right? So these things move around around every quarter.

Brian Krogsgard 20:34

Okay, so you are bringing in Benjamin he’s going to be the Christoph or the Acheson or version of your partner. You’re almost like an implementation partner, whereas you’re the strategic partner.

Syed Balkhi 20:49

Yeah, absolutely. I you know, we call it the integrated

integrated roles that you know, GM sorry, beta spouses and trying to finish that’s that’s the that’s where all

So yeah, Ben Ben is awesome. And I’ve had a pleasure working with him for last years. And he just continues to impress me, is literally like two and a half three people into one. And you get to that pretty much about like, you know, Christophe, you’ve seen the energy that he brings in Jared and Thomas. JOHN, you say that about everybody that said, no worse.

Brian Krogsgard 21:23

It seems like everybody, do you think this is a pattern of just the WordPress ecosystem? or part of the way you’ve made these partnership decisions? Everybody that has played that role internally for you as a developer? Do you think is that strategic or just circumstance?

Syed Balkhi 21:40

I think it’s a circumstantial, more so than not, I don’t believe that, you know, this role has to go to a developer. I think Israel has to go to somebody who understands product and building products. So you know, you’re like Dude, I you know, my extend the Development I

Brian Krogsgard 22:02

would you say I’m the more than you let on but no.

Syed Balkhi 22:08

I don’t think you can be a a developer you have to be you have to understand the products and more importantly understand the problem you’re solving and being able to improvise at, you know, at a, at a fast scale and being able to solve problems faster than other people. I think that’s that’s what I look for.

More so than

Brian Krogsgard 22:29

All right, I want to finish up.

I want to get your take on the consolidation that we’re seeing in the plugin ecosystem is something I’ve been talking about. I think since 2017. We’ve seen that playing out in hosting business, we’ve seen it of course, that’s kind of par for the course in the landscape of broader hosting. We’re really seeing it ramp up in terms of plugins in the WordPress space. You You’re one of the big players in that consolidation process, but there are others too. There’s some people Whether they’re public yet or not, that are you know bundling up plugins and they’re coming at it with a strategy to take advantage of this market. So what are your What are your thoughts about consolidation and where we are kind of in I guess the market cycle of WordPress plugin businesses

Syed Balkhi 23:18

think they in an important thing to look at is not just the consolidation part of WordPress but scale that new plugins are coming and being introduced. Right. So it’s not it’s it would be not fair to look at the market just from one angle because there’s so much growth happening with with a new plugins being added and when when the market is growing at that scale consolidation becomes natural. And this just shows that WordPress is not in its infancy. anymore right when you because they are players. Better. That is certain sides enough to be able to have these kind of conversation. This was, you know, the consolidation doesn’t always happen for monetary reasons, sometimes, you know, you’ve been doing this for you have a plugin that you’ve been building for like, seven, eight years, maybe you just want to move on. Right? So I don’t necessarily, you know, that’s just natural now that WordPress has been around for so long, then that’s just a natural transition of people’s lives. That’s happening from an ecosystem point of view. Just the growth is phenomenal. When you look at the new plugins being added all the Gutenberg bought collection plugins that are being added, you know, and all of them are getting installs. There’s not like, you know, there’s one or two or three that just kind of own the market, every single one of them is getting itself. You know, you there’s like, just because like we launched web form doesn’t mean there hasn’t been new contact or plugins. I mean, it says, I think that’s just a natural phase of any ecosystem. And it It means great things for the user, like the users of WordPress are going to benefit the most out of it. Because it shows that there’s truly legitimate resources being put into building products and it’s not just, you know, one person, you know, doing this as a side hustle. And there’s nothing wrong with that there’s a lot of great plugins come out of solid there are some really good ones that are still you know, somebody’s side hustling and just crushing it right in the market. So I think it just it’s just good It shows that businesses can use you know, WordPress plugin, and reliably knowing that they’re this is not going to be disappeared is not just going to be discontinued. So, I think that I’m very bullish on the WordPress market and I have been for the last 10 years of running WP

Brian Krogsgard 25:48

awesome. And you think this consolidation will probably continue on as a natural part of our ecosystem?

Syed Balkhi 25:55

Yeah, I mean, absolutely.

That’s just natural for any system whether you’re in WordPress, or you’re in landscaping, or pool cleaning,

Brian Krogsgard 26:06

maybe the difference from here on out will be that we’ll start to see larger ones. And maybe I don’t know if you have an opinion on that. But I think that’s my gut feeling. You mentioned something like you get to a stage and, you know, some people are looking to exit and some people now have the resources to be able to make those acquisitions. So as time goes on that discrepancy between the big, you know, the people that are big enough now to where, let’s say, I don’t know, a million dollar acquisition is in their wheelhouse, whereas five years ago, that was totally impossible for them to even consider as that becomes more and more the type of thing that is possible for a company to do will will naturally see more of it. Would you agree with that?

Syed Balkhi 26:49

I think they you know, what I would like to see is, you know, more of this happening, right because this just further validates the industry in itself. I think it is happening, right, you know, have it happening, whether it’s public or not public, right. I know several players that are that are in the market. And in terms of big, I think that’s just reality, right? You lay outside looking in big is not always what you see. Yeah, we’re all small and big and not what you think. I think that it’s just relative. Right. So to the individual perspective.

Brian Krogsgard 27:27

All right. So that’s all I really have for you. I just wanted to chat with you about this acquisition and get your take on it. Is there anything that you want to either leaf people, whether they’re an all in one SEO user, or if it’s somebody in the post s audience question for me, the floor is yours.

Syed Balkhi 27:45

No, you know, I always appreciate the work that you’re doing and really excited to see Cory on board with post status. I just wanna say thank you, you know, to the to the community for the continued support of automotive our suite of products. We, we always strive to do better and serve our users. And I just hope to continue to earn everybody’s trust for years to come.

Brian Krogsgard 28:08

Awesome. I appreciate it. Thanks for joining us and we will talk to everybody soon. Bye