Gennaro Cuofano

Thanks for the interview, Gennaro. It’s a pleasure to have you here, especially after enjoying your “How to use AI to power up your SEO strategy?” talk at the WordPress & Marketing Barcelona meetup. For those who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thanks for having me, Ruth. It was a pleasure being in Barcelona to meet many interesting people and startups, like yours. My adventure in digital marketing started back in 2015 when I was a financial analyst for a real estate firm in San Diego, California. Back then, I realized this was not the path I wanted to undertake as it was going to be good financially but not so regarding personal freedom and happiness. So, I resigned and started my own blog

I began to experiment in the digital marketing world until I met Andrea Volpini, WordLift‘s co-founder at the end of 2016. I got in love with the project, and I jumped in without hesitation.

Regarding your company, what are the biggest challenges that you face with your customers?

As WordLift is a very innovative software in the SEO space, a big challenge is how to communicate it. In fact, when you provide an innovative solution, the hardest thing is to explain why it might benefit you without getting bogged down in technical aspects. For instance, if I say “WordLift is an innovative solution for SEO, which uses AI to automate on-page SEO by leveraging on Semantic SEO“, this definition might be hard to understand for someone which is not in the SEO industry.

However, if I tell you “this software will help you out in getting more leads for your business by allowing Google to understand what your web pages are about”, this is something anyone can understand. Thus, the challenge is to find the right balance between value proposition and technical details. Your customer is focused on their business and doesn’t want to lose that focus. Thus, as a provider of an innovative service, we must make things as simple as possible while allowing our customers to keep focusing on their core business.

You’re the author of several books and, as you’ve mentioned, have created a Four Week MBA program, can you tell us a little bit more about these experiences?

My experience with digital marketing started in 2015. I had resigned from my previous job and wanted to start on my own. The most logical thing that came to mind was to put together a blog, and info-products related to the professional and academic experience I had. However, the main objective was to focus on the practical aspects of the digital business. In fact, most of the academic programs last too long and cost too much.
Nowadays time and money have become critical resources. A few years back investments in education were worth pursuing as they had a linear ROI. Today, you want to focus on becoming a learner and experiment on those things that are tied to real life rather than academic evaluations. Thus, The Four-Week MBA is just that. My way to add value to professionals which don’t have time for an MBA but want to learn quickly how the real online business world works.

You’re quite involved with the WordPress community (you organized some WordCamps, didn’t you?). How’s the experience? How did you get involved with the WordPress ecosystem?

When I first started to blog there was no doubt for me that WordPress was the right CMS. Not only for its simplicity but also for because it is SEO-friendly. Personally, I got in touch with the WordPress community in Rome thanks to WordLift’s co-founder Andrea Volpini, which together with a group of enthusiast young Italian entrepreneurs got the community started.

I participated with WordLift at the first WordCamp in Rome, where I had the chance to meet the active WordPress community. That is also why this year I will be joining as a speaker another WordCamp in Italy beside taking part to other WordCamps around Europe. And of course, WordCamp Barcelona will be a great opportunity to meet great people part of this global community.

Many of our readers are plugin developers like you and us. One of the problems we all have is reaching our target audience, as the plugin marketplace is huge. Could you give us any recommendation on how to help developers reach potential customers?

The most significant challenge for those operating in the plugin marketplace is to find alternative distribution channels that allow them to focus on paid clients. In fact, where the WordPress repository gives visibility, a proper growth marketing strategy cannot be based on that single channel.

But it needs to be diversified. Thus, finding the right distribution channels where to tap into is the key to scale up. For instance, what are some complementary plugins to yours? Once identified it makes sense to cross-market to generate value for everyone.

In general, before you’re able to build a website that has a strong reach it takes a long time. Thus, in the meanwhile, you might want to use a strategy that growth marketers call OPN (other people’s network).

In short, you might want to leverage on larger, already consolidated networks. For instance, guest blogging on a large, known site in your niche might be a good short and long-term strategy to grow your audience, while also implementing a backlink SEO strategy.

Speaking of customers. You’d probably agree with us that, first and foremost, you must offer a product or service that deals with a pain your customers have. So, what are the most important problems you think your customers, WordPress users, have with their websites?

Findability is a big issue. In fact, many insist that SEO is about quality content. This is true, but it’s only part of the story. If you write quality, in-depth content but don’t follow basic SEO guidelines you make it very hard for Google to find it. True, the Google’s algorithm has become way more powerful in the last years. However, as of now Google still reasons in term of crawling budget.

Therefore, the more you allow the search engine to understand and index your pages quickly and efficiently the more it will like your content. That is also why Google incentivized site owners to use structured data and Schema markup so that it can better understand, index and rank web pages.

Given the fact that you’re an SEO expert, what recommendations would you share with our readers to improve their rankings?

Back in 2015 Google rolled out an algorithm update, called RankBrain. In short, Google now uses AI (in the form of natural language processing) to interpret and understand users queries. This entails that the search engine when showing results will focus less and less on single, isolated keywords and way more on users’ intents.

For instance, if you sell a service or product, go into the log of your customers’ conversations and find recurring patterns. What are the things your potential customers are asking that you’re not addressing within your editorial strategy? That’s it! This is where to start building up your SEO and content strategy. In fact, that log might be the most important asset you have.

We always try to put our interviewees on the ropes, forcing them to share some epic fails from the past and… well, you’re not running away from this question! Tell us about some experience of the past where you screwed up 😉

Well, where do I start? 🙂 I remember a few years back when I was in San Diego, thinking about how to become an American citizen as my number one priority. However, I eventually gave it all up and got back to Italy because I wasn’t happy with my career. That has taught me a great lesson. I realized that for how much you love a place if you’re not following a passion you can’t go far.

Finally, did we miss something you’d like to point out? Any final words of advice?

I’d like to recap the main ideas we explored in this interview.

First, digital marketing is one of the most exciting places to be right now. In fact, it allows start-ups to experiment quickly, with low or no-risks involved.

Second, when communicating with your customers is critical to find the right words that will enable them to understand your product/service without getting bogged in technical details.

Third, Google got much smarter at understanding users queries and extracting information from your content. Thus, a while back it made sense to focus on keywords, now it still does. But instead of focusing on single keywords, you might want to investigate your users’ intents. How? I would start doing that by looking at the most critical asset you have, your customer/support log conversations. Dive into it to extract your editorial strategy for this year!

If you have any other question feel free to ping me on LinkedIn.

Well, thanks, Gennaro, for your contribution and answering our questions. Of course, we take note of your suggestions to consider as future improvements to our web. And thank you all for following us and reading these interviews. Stay tuned for the next one!

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