Yoast CEO Marieke van de Rakt on Helping Millions of Users with SEO [INTERVIEW]
Yoast is one of the most popular WordPress plugins, and Stratabeat had the privilege of interviewing CEO Marieke van de Rakt on the latest episode of B2B Marketing Tech Talks.
With millions of users, Yoast’s flagship plugin Yoast SEO aids developers and users in implementing certain SEO tasks in WordPress websites. But the company also offers Video SEO for WordPress, Local SEO for WordPress, News SEO for WordPress, among other plugins.
In addition, Yoast Academy is an online SEO training course, including webinars, conference talks, and deep dives on basic and advanced SEO topics, monthly SEO news modules, templates, and step-by-step plans.
Stratabeat has been using Yoast SEO in the development of the websites we’ve built since the beginning of the agency. Grab your coffee, sit back, and hit play to meet Marieke and learn more about Yoast.
Tom Shapiro: Welcome everybody to another episode of B2B Marketing Tech Talks. I’m your host, Tom Shapiro. I’m CEO of Stratabeat, which is a branding, web design, and marketing agency. And today, I’m very excited to introduce you to Marieke van de Rakt, who is the CEO of Yoast.
Yoast is a fantastic SEO software, which Marieke will walk you through today. But, we at Stratabeat have been using Yoast since the beginning of the agency and we love it. It’s truly useful. Marieke, welcome.
Marieke van de Rakt: Well, thank you, thank you for those nice words and I’m really happy to be here and to be talking to you.
TS: Great, great. I’m very happy to have you here. Could we just start out with a little bit about yourself, your background?
MVDR: Yeah, sure. So, I’m Marieke, our company and I am from the Netherlands. I actually don’t have a background in tech at all. I studied Sociology but also Communication Science, which is basically marketing. I did a PhD in Criminology, which doesn’t have anything to do with the tech world, or at least I didn’t find any similarities yet.
Well, my husband, Joost de Valk, that kind of rings where the name comes from. He started a company, and he was always involved in both SEO and in WordPress. And he started doing things in WordPress I think 15 years ago. Then, about 11 years ago, he decided to take a leap of faith and start his own company. I always was involved or I interfered a lot with him, telling him how to do it differently and all that stuff.
But so, the company didn’t just start growing. That took a little bit of time, and in that period of time, I was still working at the university. And then at one point, we started hiring people, and I quit my job. Then, I think two years ago, I became the CEO and Joost still works with us but is basically focused on product and on development, and not so much on running the company and growing the company.
TS: That’s quite the background and very interesting about the Criminology piece.
MVDR: It is. We could do a different interview about that. I’m not taking that path anymore, but I did an entire PhD and wrote like eight or nine articles about that, in really high standing journals in Criminology.
TS: That’s fantastic.
TS: So okay, let’s look at the company. Can you tell us a little bit more about what Yoast does, both on the software side as well as on the Academy side.
MVDR: So, Yoast basically started out as a WordPress plugin, and that’s our main platform. We also have a plugin for both TYPO3 and Magento. And so it’s not just WordPress, but WordPress is by far the biggest.
Our plugins help people to rank higher in Google. So, we do a lot of technical stuff in the background, but we also give advice on how to write text that is best optimized for the search engines. We’ll help you with internal linking, with redirects, everything you need to do, in order to get the best results in Google.
So, that’s the software part, and we also launched our Academy platform. We basically have a lot of courses on SEO and all aspects of SEO and help people to do that themselves, because I think a large part of SEO is something you need to do yourself because, you can outsource it a little bit, but you still, will always need to be involved because it’s also a big part of your marketing.
TS: How about the marketing of Yoast itself as a business? How do you differentiate Yoast?
MVDR: That’s hard, because our slogan is “SEO For Everyone”, but it’s a good question. So, it’s really hard because our mission is to help people do SEO, and it all started with, so before my husband started Yoast, he was doing consulting for the really big brands. So the Guardian, Ebay, Facebook, all these big brands, and he noticed that everything I’m telling these people to do, I could build in a WordPress plugin as well, and everybody could use it.
So, we’re really trying to help everybody. But marketing, for everybody, is really hard. So, what we do is, we do a lot of marketing for everyone, so a lot of SEO basics, things that will help the normal not-tech savvy people to do their SEO, but we also want to be experts.
So, we also do marketing and try to be cutting edge and have the best experts, telling us what’s going on in Google, and we really are those experts. We have people that present at the best SEO conferences as well. So, our marketing is also aimed at getting those influencers to know us and to tell them what’s going on in SEO. So, we’re targeting both the people who know a lot about SEO, but also the people who don’t know anything, because they’re basically our audience, they’re buying or using our products.
TS: Still on the topic of your marketing, can you share with us just one or two things that you’ve found to be really effective at helping you to grow the business through the years.
MVDR: Having a free plugin.
TS: That’s a good one. That’s a very good one.
MVDR: It’s part of our core values as well. So, the WordPress mission is to democratize publishing, to make it possible for everyone to start a blog. But I think you can start a blog, but if nobody’s going to visit your site, you won’t have any use for it. So you need a plugin to get there, to really democratize publishing. So, it didn’t start out as a marketing strategy, but of course it helps if 12 million people use your free product. That’s fine.
MVDR: That helps.
TS: That’s a lot of free publicity and word of mouth, and as you were mentioning, influencers…
MVDR: To make sure that the product is really well because otherwise it won’t work. Apart from that, having a strong brand, is also something that’s been really important.
So, the first person we actually hired was our brand manager, and she’s still with us. So, I hired her eight years ago, and she’s still like the boss of how everything looks and feels. I think that sets us apart. At least in the WordPress world, people know our brand, they just know the “Y”, and they know the little green dots, which are also part of our brand. So that has helped a lot, in getting the word out and getting people to remember us from whatever they see on the internet.
TS: Yeah, I agree. I think that you’re a great example of a strong brand that then translates into great marketing.
MVDR: Yeah, it’s not easy.
TS: Well, you’ve done a great job with it.
MVDR: Thank you.
TS: So, looking more broadly outside of just Yoast, but across the entire WordPress landscape or the entire SEO landscape, I want to ask you two questions. One is, what do you see as the cutting edge of WordPress technology today or in the near future, and same with SEO technology, where do you see SEO technology taking us in the years ahead?
MVDR: So, for WordPress, I’m not a tech person, so that’s hard, but there are a lot of people talking about headless. I think that’s something that at least a lot of hosts and agencies want to go to. I don’t know if that’s something that every WordPress user will use, but it is something everyone is talking about will be a big deal. It will be a big deal for WordPress as well, because most plugins won’t be able to integrate with a headless website. Ours of course is not, we are able to integrate and also to be used in a headless environment. So, that’s something that’s spoken about a lot in the WordPress world right now.
TS: Yes, definitely.
MVDR: Yeah, and for SEO, well, I think Schema is something that will evolve because Google is really keen on setting that up, and improving that. So that’s something that will become more and more important, something you can’t even do without, I think. Then, I think the Schema part is the part in which Google really needs help, because Google isn’t that good in understanding what is what on a page, or if you have a recipe for example, Google just can’t read it and say, oh, this is an ingredient. You need to tell Google that.
MVDR: So, the Schema part helps them in all the things that a computer is usually not as good at understanding, but then, Google is really good in understanding content, or just text.
In English, it’s really good, and in other languages is coming there, but it’s getting better and better in understanding text in a way that humans understand text, as well. That’ll mean that the way we write will become more important. So, we need to put more effort in making something that people want to read, and start for writing for Google, which we were doing like 10 years ago, because right, doesn’t matter what you wrote, as long as you wrote. I think the demands of text will get higher because Google is so good in understanding what text is.
TS: On a personal note, I wanted to ask you…I know that you’re a runner.
MVDR: I am a runner!
TS: You know, my son is a very serious runner. He loves running, running is his life. Back when I was in high school, running was my life. So, it’s near and dear to my heart.
MVDR: Did you really quit running?
TS: Well, I do still run, although I hesitate calling myself a runner, if you know what I mean. [Author’s Note: Although Tom used to be relatively fast in high school, he really is slow as molasses now!]
Marieke van de Rakt: I don’t know if other people would say that I am a runner because I just do it for fun.
TS: Can you share with us anything about your running life, any aspect of running that you enjoy?
MVDR: Well, I started running more in the whole COVID situation because in the Netherlands we weren’t allowed to go to the gym anymore. So I had to do something, and we were allowed to run outside. I live in a pretty rural area, so I can run across a little lake.
MVDR: I run really fast there, because they have all these geese. That’s the ugly animal that looks like a duck.
I’m really scared of geese, I’m terrified. I think they are 50 or 60, with each other, then when they get the little ones (and they will get little ones in like a month), they get a bit aggressive. Then I just run really fast, or just turn around, or just go away.
TS: So, it’s really fantastic for your training, if you run faster?
MVDR: You’ll have that interval training you always wanted, you just have to run in my own town with the geese.
TS: All right. Well, great. Marieke, it’s been fantastic talking with you and thanks so much for joining us today.
MVDR: Well, thank you. It was a pleasure being here.
TS: Great. Thank you.