This weekend I had the honor of meeting Joost de Valk, commonly known as “Yoast” to the WordPress community. As CEO and founder of the Yoast SEO plugin, de Valk is a bit of a legend in the copywriting, SEO and plugin development world. Yet, on being introduced to me, he immediately said, “I’m just another guy.”
And, it is totally true.
Joost de Valk is an easy going, friendly and fun-loving dad of four, vacationing with his family. He is as comfortable shooting the breeze about amusement parks and minivans as he is discussing code. He understands the need for community and connection and selfies. However, he is also amazingly brilliant and dedicated, traits that led him to develop the Yoast SEO plugin.
I remember my first encounter with the Yoast SEO plugin in March of 2011. It seemed to be a shiny new toy, one that might easily break. It often conflicted with existing website code and, I’ll admit, I questioned its value. At the same time, I saw the plugin’s potential.
You see, I started using WordPress as a blog platform for paying clients in 2009. My work was always highly praised and my pages and posts performed well in search engines. I understood the elements required in website content and the precision needed, having learned how to increase rankings on non-WordPress platforms. I recognized that a tool that made blogging essentials easier for the everyday WordPress user was fundamental.
Pretty soon I was singing the praises of the Yoast SEO plugin. Each update made it even better.
I saw that it helped new bloggers, but it also helped me.
It showed my clients that I was doing my job! They saw green dots light up their dashboards and all questions on content quality were erased. My blogging business grew as the Yoast SEO plugin enhanced my credibility, post by post and page by page. I started teaching others how to “go green” with Yoast and loved watching as they blossomed as bloggers. A good friend of mine had questions about the plugin prompting me to write a blog post outlining this amazing tool.
I’ve watched as businesses and bloggers in every industry have increased their visibility using the Yoast SEO plugin. Many times that visibility launched them into a path of success.
As CEO of Yoast, Joost de Valk, has seen the challenges of success firsthand and suggested plugin developers in the room, “Take it as it comes… and start charging for it sooner than I did.” He commended the developers of the Give plugin on creating an extension based payment model, saying they went about it the right way.
It’s hard to imagine that profitability was not on de Valk’s mind as he developed the Yoast SEO plugin. Still, money was not the initial goal for de Valk. “I was scratching my own itch,” he confided. “I had SEO issues. I wanted to rank.”
“It was fun and I realized that more people needed this,” de Valk reflected, remembering the early days of the Yoast SEO plugin. “You take it as it comes. I had over a million users before I released a premium version. I still have to tell people there is a premium version. Once you have 50,000 to 1 million users, you know you have something people want.”
“If I wanted to be a millionaire, I could have made it a lot easier for myself, especially in the SEO world,” de Valk shared.
Passion is what motivates plugin developers, he reminded. “Realize that and do it because you love it and because you love the community. That’s, in the end, why this is fun,” shared de Valk. “If you don’t like doing this; if you’d be afraid of standing where I am now, then don’t start.” He added that there is not an easy path to developing a plugin or a company, saying, “If no one is complaining, you’re doing it too well.”
In closing, de Valk encouraged those in attendance to follow their own plugin dreams. “Just do it. If you have an itch, scratch it and see if other people have the same itch,” he suggested. “If you’re going to do market research, asking what type of plugin should I be developing to make lots of money… Get out of this business,” de Valk advised before passing out Lego Yoast figurines and related swag. “Because,” he added, “that’s not how it works.”
Who has inspired you in the WordPress community? Please share your story in the comments below.