How can you grow your website to become the world’s largest in your niche? Traffic without conversions does not let you influence profitable customer action, which marketing is designed to do. How can you get more results from your Website traffic? Marketing automation with Google provides prospective customers with what they want and when they need it to help influence their purchase decisions.
Today, we’re talking to Mike Danner, vice president of digital marketing at Ancient Nutrition. He helped the company’s Website, Dr. Axe, become the largest natural health Website in the world and generate about 19 million unique visits each month.
Nathan: How can you grow your website to become the world's largest in your niche? That might as well have been the only question I asked our guest today on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Mike Danner is the Vice President of digital marketing at Ancient Nutrition and he has helped the company's website, draxe.com to grow to become the largest natural health website in the world with 19 million uniques every single month, that is insane and that’s just one accomplishment that Mike has helped influence.
Traffic without conversions doesn’t really help you influence profitable customer action, which after all is exactly what marketing is designed to do. To get even more results from their website's traffic, Mike and his team turned to marketing automation.
Now, there are tons of things you can automate within marketing, but for the sake of this conversation, think about providing your prospective customers exactly what they want, exactly when they need it to ultimately help influence that purchase decision.
Today, you're going to learn more kind of content Google tends to reward to help you capture organic search traffic. You'll learn why the simplest approach is often the best approach when it comes to marketing automation and you'll learn where to start with marketing automation after Mike inevitably sells you on its massive potential.
I'm Nathan from CoSchedule and I'm super excited to introduce you to Mike. Let's get started.
Nathan: Hey Mike, thanks for being on the podcast today.
Mike: Thanks for having me.
Nathan: I’m excited to have you. Let’s kick this thing off. Could you tell me a little bit about Ancient Nutrition and some of what you do there?
Mike: At Ancient Nutrition, the tag line is ever evolving in the current stage of the route, but we’re really trying to bring back a lot of the ingredients that used to be inside like natural foods, as we try to produce in big farming, in those Netflix documentaries, we’re trying to make sure that a lot of those sustainable ingredients and a lot of those things that would be in everyday food are back into your supplements.
We have the world’s largest natural health website under the Ancient Nutrition label called draxe.com. I think last I checked, it was over 19 million uniques a month and somewhere between 20 and 25 depending visits a month from those 19 million. I'm trying to educate people with natural health and trying to get people back to restorative medicine when Western medicine may not have worked for them or trying to get off a lot of subscription pills that they want to try to take a natural approach. We’re trying to give them both the education to do so and the supplements to back them to speed up the process.
Nathan: From a marketing standpoint you guys are just crushing it. I was wondering if you could just give me a quick overview—a synopsis of some of your growth story. What have you done to be able to grow those sorts of massive results?
Mike: We are pretty progressive, we are doing a lot right, but I think that it would be a disservice to anybody who is listening to this direct and to not admit that we’re playing in a growth vertical. We’re doing all the right things and I believe we are the right people. But we’re also playing in a vertical, we're seeing just this upending…
One of my favorite – I can be kind of a history junkie or a quote junkie at least, I think it’s Benjamin Franklin who said that every generation requires its own revolution. What we’re seeing is that this generation’s revolution has a lot to do with sustainable farming with getting rid of big manufacturing lines. Even our questioning of what’s happening with pharmaceutical industry; as much good as they provided, there’s a lot of inquiry about the industry, so people have never been more open about asking questions about what this is.
Naturally, our biggest channel that most people don’t recognizes is actually organic. People searching out this information and trying to find it, that was one of the investments that our founder Dr. Axe, he had enough foresight to believe that education and that Google was going to be the way.
That’s where we got started and then everything else—the marketing, the mechanics, the people—that was really laid on top of that foundation, which is just an incredible scaffolding for us to be able to build this marketing enterprise on top of.
When I started three years ago, it was six people. It was two customer service people, one marketer, Josh and a few contract writers who were just trying to populate the website. Three years later, it’s over 200 and we just got a big investment into the company. We’re really trying to keep up with everything, but it all began very humbly.
I would say, we began with nothing more than a vision to say, “Hey, Josh really cared a lot about people.” He cured his mom of several diseases, all naturally and really wanted to tell the world about this, so it really began with a passion. Of course, and a vision––two things: One, become the number one natural health website in the world, which at that time I think we were like, 32. Second, one was to buy Whole Foods one day, and of course Jeff Bezos bought it, so I guess we'll either have to buy it back from him or figure something else to get there.
Nathan: Nice. Something that you had mentioned as a big part of your growth is organic in search. Could you tell me a little bit about the approach that you guys have taken there to succeed with organic?
Mike: Back in the day when we don’t know anything––Josh. One of our favorite team quotes that we cite all the time, I believe it’s from Jim Rohn, he says that, “Success leaves clues.”
Josh has always been a modeler. When he started his clinic, I think a large practice for chiropractor is anywhere between 300-400 patients a week. Within his first year, at week 51 out of 52, he was at 1000 patients a week. He was just growing because he went out and sought up the biggest clinics—the best clinics—in the country. We tried to work with them and studied with them, figure out what they were doing and then pull it across and mimic it. Again—success leaving clues.
What we ended up doing was the same thing. We were looking at Rock-Ola. We were looking at how can we create the best article. I’m not saying that as a platitude to so we can put up on a plaque. We believe in the best concept internally, like a sign or something. Josh was absolutely committed to writing what he considered to be the best and most authoritative piece out there in the internet.
I think when most algorithms happen or adjustments happen with Google, we began with writing with the customer or just the people seeking information in mind. We wrote along this content, we had infographics, I wanted to make it the best. Then, of course, with every update that Google came out with between 36 months ago and now, most people see a decline in traffic. But what we were seeing because we were trying to care about the customer and we were modeling Neil Patel, we were modeling Rock-Ola, we were modeling anybody who we really would have thought we were interested, “Hey, how can we do exactly what you tell us to and do so quickly and get in into the space?” Every update that’s come out from Google has actually increased our rankings except for this last one which is really dispersing.
Now that we’re so big, it’s impossible for us not to see some shifts in traffic, but all the way up until now, it’s always been an improvement in our search ranking and we see an increase of visits when most people are seeing a decline because Google is trying to do the same thing, which is provide the best information for people looking for it. When we began with that in mind, it’s like trying to begin with how do we get our H1 tags to be keyword stuff. We didn’t know how to do that. We were just writing the best content that we possibly could.
I think our most popular article when we got started was about the benefits of coconut oil. I think it was called—I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. Obviously, very keyword stuff, DR marketing. That was his assistant who gave it that title. Of course, later on, we wrote this to make sure that it is friendly to the search intent and tried to do our best technical SEO, as well as best content.
It really began with two things: following everything Neil Patel had to say and second, really making sure that we didn’t write a different search engine, we wrote it for the reader.
Nathan: For a lot of things that we do here at CoSchedule too. We love what Neil Patel has to say. Following his example just seems like a logical approach. Something that you do really well Mike, too, is once you get that traffic, you use automation to help increase those conversions. I was wondering if you could explain to me what role has automation played in your growth? How was that evolved for you guys?
Mike: When I got started, I had no experience in digital marketing whatsoever. I didn’t realize that digital marketing was going to be so tech-focused at that time. I did have a background to pay for books in college and things that I wanted. I was building websites after class, and different things, and hacking together—always hustling. I had a little bit of background on that.
After my first job when I got recruited to computer, my first day, I just kind of sat down in this little co-working space with Josh and Evan. Evan was employee number one, he was doing the marketing. Honestly, he was doing everything. He was shipping boxes, he was making everything, it was incredible.
I sat down and I was like, “Hey. What do you need me to do?” He passed over a sticky note and it had the password to the website? And he said, “Here, login and get started.” I was like, “Okay. What does that mean?” He’s like, “Well, just find stuff that’s broken and fix it.” I was like, “Okay.”
I went around, and rummaged around and found a bunch of broken links, found a bunch of these, there was broken opt-in. The next day I was like, "Hey man, I went and fixed a bunch of stuff. Here is what I did.” He was like, “Oh, that was fast.” He kind of gave me a look and he’s like, “Have you heard of ClickFunnels?” I was like, “No." He's like,"Russell Brunson?" I was like, "No." “Neil Patel?” “No.” He's like, “Ryan Deiss?” “No.”
He’s like, “Well, I just bought this thing called ClickFunnels.” It just came out of beta that month. He bought it and of course, he bought the upsell. It was 18 hours or something like that of Russell Brunson marketing automation training, Hero’s Journey, all the different pieces that I now take for granted. Staring at my Two Comma Club Awards in my office here.
I didn’t know anything about that but he said, “It’s all through this thing called ClickFunnels and Infusionsoft. Can you figure those two pieces of software out and just get it working?” I didn’t know any better so I said, “Sure. How hard could it be?” Not knowing anything about it, I just watched the videos, did exactly what he said, and two weeks later we had our biggest launch ever. It was $460,000. That was the most money the company has ever made in a single week. From there, we were like, “Wow. This worked really well. What if we all tried to make this work.”
I'll never forget this moment. One of my favorite moments in my life and definitely this career at this job, but talking with Josh he’s like, “I want to make this digital program, teaching people about stuff that I had to teach people at the clinic. I had to repeat myself over and over. I just want to put it into video format and sell it.” I was like, “Okay, cool.” He’s like, “I was thinking about launching in two weeks.” I said, “No problem. Send me all the email copies. Send me all of the videos. Send me all the links to everything wherever that’s hosted and I’ll just put together and I think I can have it done in two weeks.” Of course, all the graphics and PDFs with it, too.
Both Evan and Josh just looked at me kind of dumbfounded like, “What are you talking about?” I was like, “You just send me the links and I’ll put into Infusionsoft and I’ll set it up. We don’t have anything. We have to make it.”
“Wait a second, you want to launch a program in two weeks.” I was like, “What?” Evan and I stayed up until 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM, ordering in food and trying to make this thing work in two weeks. It’s an arbitrary launch. There’s no reason to launch it, we just wanted to do it. We're like, "Okay, let's figure this out." It was the biggest launch of the company’s history and over the years. I’m not sure, now that we’re a little more sensitive about numbers and I'm not sure I can actually say it, but let's just call it a lot lot bigger than the Two Comma Club Awards would get you.
Back to your question, all through automation, right? Everything we had to do—we started scaling like crazy with this digital product. At that time, we put this thing together, we did these all kinds of stuff, but then really critical to my learning track at that time was, we visited Brad Martineau. I forget his company’s name, but he's in Phoenix. He used to be one of the head guys at Infusionsoft. He left to start like an Infusionsoft consulting firm. From there, we went to sign up for his course. It was $10,000. We were just sweating our eyes out like, “Can we afford this? It’s going to be so much money,” all those kind of stuff and honestly, it was one of the big keys.
Russell and a couple of other mentors from afar, they say, “Pansies care about how much it costs. Marketers care about what the return is." We went out, we did it. We followed their model and honestly we still practice a lot of what they teach us about simplifying automation because the temptation with all the cool things you can integrate nowadays is to overcomplicate and to try to get it all there. What if the user opens the email at 6:00 AM instead of 7:00 AM? Should we send them a custom message? They told us to get rid of all of that and said, "Keep it really simple so you can actually iterate it."
We probably said the phrase—organize, optimize, customize––their mantra for building automation, which is to first get all your thoughts in paper then you get it out. Then, you optimize it. Once it’s finally working and really humming, then, you can go in and add that third level complexity of the customized layer.
One of my staff members called the fourth layer—bedazzle. But we don’t do any of that because it just doesn’t work at scale, it’s too much to keep up with. It was all through automation.
Since we launched that funnel in February of that year of 2015, we had to hire a person a week to keep up with customer service. We started selling a lot more supplements. We started selling a lot more stuff. It just became this epic feat of bringing cash. A scaling entrepreneur's biggest struggle is how can you scale revenue without scaling staff if you’re not purely a digital product.
We created a digital product to help us scale revenue and scale cash, so we didn’t have to take on investment because it was all funded with Josh’s clinic money at first, and then we self-funded all the way up until last year when VMG invested over $100 million in the company.
Nathan: There's more to come with Mike in a few seconds here, but for now just really quick, I'd like to ask you for a favor. If you're digging what you're learning from Mike and all the other guests on the Actionable Marketing Podcast, could you share the love?
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Something I wanted to talk you about, you had dropped the word “funnel.” Could you give me an example of what that looks like for you guys? What sort of thing triggers a journey? I’m curious to know how you approach that?
Mike: I’ve been to enough conferences and seen enough like really cool diagrams on YouTube being explained where they can be like 37 steps. We have some funnels that are – we say funnel – it’s generous to call it that, but better two steps or three steps.
One of the things that we attempted at the beginning was we romanticized this idea that we could have this opt-in on the website. From there, we got their email, we send them an ebook and we would send them more value. Then, we tell them Josh’s story and we do all these things.
After a while, only months and months later, when we were going back and digging through the data, we see that there’s not actually a lot of people opening all those emails. Some marketers will tell you what that means that’s why you have to put in non-open or non-click or halt in your automation so that you can say, “Hey, send them the same message over until they read it.”
We tried that for a little bit,but then it just slowed down a lot of people progressing through kind of a narrative in getting into the sales portion. We ended up removing a lot of that, instead, focusing on those micro intense steps. The most easy and taken for granted one are cart-abandoned emails, where you can say, “I was in my cart and I put it in my cart, I gave you my email address, but then I left.” Some consumers are obviously smart enough that they do that intentionally for a discount. We don’t offer discounts in our cart abandons. We’re not trying to train customers. We did do that for a long time, and say, "Hey, can we incentivize them to come back after their purchase?"
That would be like a two-step funnel. Add something to your cart, give us your email address, then we’re going to hit you right back. Those revenue per email on our cart abandons are the highest across––all email programs that should be their highest return email. We can also have things like browsing bandwidth, when you take our quiz and tell us a little bit about yourself. We have so much content. We happened to build a lot of algorithms and things that are going to help us figure out, “Okay, how do we start tailoring content?” Everyone desires this like Netflix level or Amazon level. People who bought this also bought and trying to figure out what the next step for them is.
We didn’t start doing that until we got to this scale and I encourage most marketers unless you really have a good service or tool that does it for you to not worry about that, but to be focused on that two-step funnel—and that two-step funnel is if you did this, now do this. That will be the shortest definition of a funnel that I could offer that I think is really valuable of thanking them for downloading the ebook. Now, here’s a product that’s relevant to that ebook. If you downloaded something on the benefits of collagen protein, now, we’re offering you our collagen protein or telling you the 10 things you should look out for when you go in to buy a collagen protein because you’re really just trying to give value and if they buy it from somewhere else, we’ll be sad. But we really do care about the reader more than we care about the sale.
Nathan: Something that you dropped there is focusing on the data. I was kind of wondering what sort of data you actually look at to inform some of that decision-making?
Mike: Actually, I just realized that you asked me the question at the beginning at what my part of in this whole mess is and I didn’t answer that. I do get probably the most made fun of at work because I said at one time on a stage, now no one will let me live it down that my spirit animal is the pivot table.
I absolutely do love data and analytics and at the scale that most marketers want to get to, you can’t hit the scale that you want to without doing the analysis because the analysis is looking back at your shoulder to figure out where can I be saving money? Where can I be making more money?
In my opinion, we have been very sophisticated, but small – it is a small team, but we've invested a lot into their education for split testing optimization. One of the key distinctions that we still, I really want to do a better job, but I think that we do a pretty good job of is there's two distinct phases in all data absorption, monitoring, and testing. If you try to lump all these but then diagram between those together and you say, “Okay.”
The first one is experimentation. Experimentation is about watching for insights. Insights usually come from—when you’re looking at your data, they’re going to come from the deltas. When you’re looking at changes, I know you guys invest a lot into Google Analytics, but recently they’ve opened up this new feature called Insights.
In Insights, there's an AI bot that sits inside your Google Analytics account. I’m not sure if it’s only available for premium, I don’t think so. It’s actually going in and it’s watching and it’s normalizing your data.
Let’s say your conversion rate is 2% everyday, no big deal. All of a sudden, it goes up to 4%, it actually will go through and actually detect the changes and then call them out and send you your reports and say, “Hey, something happened with the conversion rate on this day. You should go check it out.” What it's not telling you is, you should go check it out, figure out what happened, and try to reverse engineer it, and do it everywhere because that’s the experimentation in the insight phase.
The second half is exploitation. We learned this insight; we got this test to do something interesting. Now, how many places can we put this test inside our ecosystem? That’s where you get the highest leverage from your data and the highest leverage from your testing programs that you have whether it’s one person, whether it’s you, as a single marketer, only looking back at your headlines every six months or going through and finding out that we have a small team that does it, a marketing team that does a bunch of things.
We’re trying to figure out, “Okay guys, we had this thing work over here in this Facebook Ad. Now, can we take that same creative and plug it into our email? Or could we take that same creative and put it on to our opt-in page or our website?” A lot of the missed opportunity that we have is when we dot––it’s creating the time––because nobody wants to look at your data. I’m a data junkie and I've got a million things to do, because it fits in the Eisenhower quadrant of the—there’s the important and urgent and there’s the important, not urgent. All your data analysis fits in that important not urgent category.
Unfortunately, 99% of your data analysis fits in the not important, not urgent category. You’ve got to sift through all of that to find those wins that rolled in over time. The last test we had after full roll out will represent over, I think that kind of told me it's going to raise over $3 million a year, annually, just from this one test we ran, but only going to get us to $3 million a year, annually if we actually roll it out through the entire ecosystem.
That’s on us to have the discipline to look at that data, as well as the discipline to then to go back because unfortunately, you guys probably know this, too, product guys, entrepreneurs, and marketers, we love shiny objects. That’s the fun of experimentation and trying new things.
The non-sexy part is that I learned it, now I've got to go implement it everywhere. But the sexy part of that second half is the amount of money or the value that's going to break your bank account actually go into that. I would encourage you to not just get hyped about learning a new test or figuring out an Insight but actually trying to deploy it and feeling the win and the victory from it.
Nathan: Something that I want to pick on or just to dive further into, is you’ve been doing a lot of these experiments, a lot of testing. What’s working best in your marketing automation right now?
Mike: In marketing automation, I’m going to borrow from Tim Ferriss, he says that for our body, the simple plan that you stick to is infinitely better than the perfect plan that you don’t. I could say that the marketing automation, life in general, for sure, but marketing automation specifically, that could not be more true.
There’s a lot of people telling you that, "Well, make sure you’re looking at your channel by funnel by device reports. That level of sophistication is absolutely better than what we do and we want to get there. I would say that when you're not going to do that, what’s something simple that you could do constantly?
In marketing automation, you’re probably bent that more towards the technical answer of what types of headlines or whatever but I would say that the philosophy saying, “All right, how often are we going to test? What are we going to do with that data when we test it?” We’re really having that integrated or holistic look at your testing program is the only thing that works really well because you can get hyped up, you can go to a conference or you can hear a great podcast where they're saying, “Hey, we’re seeing these 10 types of headlines work.” You get high from doing it. Then, you send your marketer an email saying, “Hey, try this out.” Of course, they’ve got a thousand things that goes at the bottom of their backlog and I would say that, "Okay, how can we just carve out the discipline of testing,” which is saying, "We're going to run one test a week and we’re going to bring it up."
My head of optimization, he hosts a meeting every single Friday, and It’s This Week in Data, that’s where we evangelize the test results. We make predictions about what the test we’re going to do because we’re trying to get people constantly surrounding the topic of optimization, what could happen, and the returns from it, as well as the data.
On a more technical level, we want to make sure that—right now, we’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out whether or not, what platform we want to be using. We use a platform called convert.com. It was by far the easiest one to work with—it’s VWO, Visual Website Optimizer. I think they changed this, but at the time that we rolled out with them, they had the notorious page flash when the page loads in and then the split testing application takes over and then the page has to reload again and run the test variant. We didn’t want to have that and convert a lot of this to not do this, we switched to that one.
Of course, we want to use the big dogs like Optimizely. Google’s Optimize program—split testing program—because it integrates directly with our Google Analytics premium account is pretty incredible. You just have to be a little more technical savvy than our marketers are.
Our developer team loves it. But, of course, once again the simple plan that you stick to, we run tests in the other tool, although they’re not going to get us as clean a data as running it through optimize. I’d rather do that 10 times a week than one test a month from borrowing the precious time of our developer team to run test when the marketing team could just be learning on their own.
I would say that the philosophy—it's really important in automation and winning right now, but also, really stick in with the thought leaders because a lot if these cool tools like Visual Website Optimizer, they’re now opening up—kind of like the App Store, they’re opening up recipes which is like, “Hey, we’re seeing across the ecosystem. These types of test that are winning.”
You really don’t even have to be creative, you just have to go look at the library and look at the ones that are winning and say, “Well, why don’t we test that?” If it works for you, then move into the exploitation phase and try to max it out across your whole ecosystem as well.
Nathan: We’ve covered a lot of ground with automation today. I’m kind of wondering—just a question to kind of wrap up this conversation. Imagine, I’m a marketer who’s brand new to this idea of automation. You’ve been there before where new marketer. I’m really curious about your advice here. Where would you recommend that I focus first with automations as I kickoff this new program?
Mike: Naturally, we are talking about automation, but always anchor towards your goals. If you are in business for yourself or you’re a small marketer at an agency or you’re listening to this for just tips, make sure that you're focused on, what’s our goal. Because sometimes when you’re small, automation isn’t necessarily the thing that’s going to get you there. But I would say that making as much as you can evergreen as possible, where they opt-in, they get the email, then they get the thing, then they get to keep an offer, that’s a great place to start.
Read everything from Russell Brunson, read everybody there. But a lesser known name that I really think that everyone should check out is Austin Brunner from Austin, Texas. Austin from Austin. He came in our business and he teaches small businesses how to use automation really well. We brought him in as a consultant, paid him for two days of his time.
Honestly, it was a game changer for a lot of us, and for us, even at a big scale. I couldn’t imagine that following some of his simple playbooks or taking his course, or anything like that, could provide an immense amount of value, as long as you have a program that's got a decent amount of traffic or you’re getting good CPAs on your prospecting to drive people into your funnel.
Automation is only as good as a multiplier. If you’re going to multiply a base of—I don’t have an email address or I don’t have any ability to scale cold traffic—automation isn’t what you should be focused on. You should be focusing on the offer market fit, but that’s a different podcast for a different time.
Nathan: Mike, that's perfect advice and I think that’s a great place to end this. I just want to say, thank you so much for sharing everything you know about automation in letting me pick your brain on all these other stuff too—the organic search and well beyond. Thanks for being on the podcast today.
Mike: Thanks, Nathan. Thanks for having me.
Nathan is the Head of Content & SEO at SimpleTexting. He's a demand generation enthusiast, content marketing advocate, and team player. He enjoys spending time with family and friends, running ultra marathons, and canoeing in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.
Connect with Nathan on LinkedIn.