Interview with Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten (TNW)
Now this a quote we love: “…being patient and providing quality pays off…“. It’s one of the lessons Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, co-founder of The Next Web (TNW), shared with us in this interview.
TNW owns one of the most visited tech news sites, and they organize large tech events around the world. Besides that, TNW also offers gadgets for tech geeks, and they’re just launching a tech hub and a market intelligence platform. Boris seems to be a busy guy! Luckily he found time to answer some questions for our new series “5 questions”. In this series we ask digital entrepreneurs to reveal some of the secrets of their success.
TNW is living proof that WordPress can run large scale sites just fine. Why and how did you pick this particular CMS?
When I launched our first blog (for Hubhop, a company I sold to KPN later) I built my own blog software with PHP and MySQL. It was a lot of work, and I wasn’t good at it, so I didn’t enjoy the experience. When WordPress came out, I did like how flexible it was. I liked that at least I understood the code and what was happening behind the scenes.
So when we needed a CMS for our site, I didn’t have to think very long about what we would use. WordPress was just the obvious choice. Even more so because from the beginning, we decided we would always keep on developing and innovating. Our goal was always to be a technology company first.
Running a site of this scale means optimizing lots of processes, both on a technical level and a personal one. What measures did you take to keep the servers humming nicely and the editors happy?
We have a team of developers who work on this full-time. We serve millions of people a month, and we want to make that a seamless experience. So a lot of effort goes into making sure we can scale along if there are traffic spikes. It has been years since we ran into trouble when we hit the front page of Digg. Nowadays we can handle 20 times that amount of traffic and everything still just works fine. That’s still a bit of a miracle to me.
A well-thought-out SEO strategy is a must-have for sites of any size and scale. What’s your secret SEO-tactic?
We also have dedicated SEO people here, and they are doing an amazing job of keeping track of everything and optimizing for search engines. And of course, we use your amazing plugin as well. We also firmly believe in creating quality content and not getting lost in SEO alone to get more traffic. It’s great to optimize great content through the smart use of SEO, but it sucks to having to promote shitty content with great SEO tactics. I’d rather invest in quality content than try to find tricks to cheat traffic our way.
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TNW is one of many high volume sites that uses Yoast SEO for optimization purposes. Can you tell us how you use the plugin and maybe share some ‘hidden’ tips on using it?
I think the most important part is making sure our writers really understand how things work. There’s a lot of contact between SEO people and writers about what the trends are and how we can optimize for SEO. And optimizing is an important word. I don’t want to write for SEO, but I do want to optimize what we write. That’s an important difference that our writers understand. They all love to see great engagement on posts, and we also love quirky and teasing titles, but try to avoid clickbait titles.
Failure is an important part of finding out how to make things work in the best possible way. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned while working on TNW?
My most important lesson is that being patient and providing quality pays off. That seems logical, but most people fail at both. Lots of blogs were started with the idea of growing fast and making money fast. Pretty soon you are resorting to clickbait articles and putting all your hopes on SEO. The quality of your content degrades and soon you’ll find yourself in a negative spiral towards less quality, less traffic and less revenue.
Quality is hard, and it takes a very long time before people get used to you and you become a part of their daily digital diet. We didn’t start out with an idea to make a quick buck. That’s also the reason why we are still doing well, and have survived many of our competitors.
We’d like to thank Boris for sharing his lessons and experiences with us! Follow Boris on:
Stay tuned for another interview next week!