Interview with

Jon Henshaw

Out of all of the people that I know, I would classify very few as polymaths — people that are able to make things happen across a wide spectrum of disciplines. This is probably a quotient both of the company that I keep, and of the population at large.  Jon Henshaw is one of those rare few that seems able to do things that most of us (me?) can’t, won’t, or haven’t thought of.

I remember seeing a stack of journalism books that he posted to Facebook. Being both a reader and a builder myself, this sent my curiosity levels through the roof. It seemed to me that this was how people like Jon build their next big thing.

After some prodding, he told me of his plans to build out what was to become Coywolf. I’ve since become a member and watched as he’s built it out into something else entirely, something unexpected, but also something awesome. It’s a new kind of thing, and I think that only Jon Henshaw could have made it for us.

There’s the community, the pro content (which also features a podcast), the news site, and now a CRM (that Jon says is his own unique spin on the concept) in progress.

Quick Insight

[...] the most powerful conversion results come from social proof. When other people promote your product or service because they love using it, you not only get more conversions, you also get higher customer lifetime value.

Coywolf is a pretty complex publishing powerhouse. You’ve got the news site, the education content, the community, etc — why did you choose to use multiple domains as opposed to consolidating everything under one?

There are several reasons why I chose to use multiple TLDs.

  1. I thought it would be a fun experiment to use multiple contextual TLDs because I’ve never seen anyone else do it. Conventional wisdom would say it’s crazy, but I’m holding out hope for accidental brilliance.
  2. I wanted each section to be its own thing, and I didn’t want it to be dependent on a single technology. For example, coywolf.pro and coywolf.news use WordPress, coywolf.community uses Discourse, and coywolf.shop uses Shopify. I plan to add more sections with contextual TLDs soon, including coywolf.app, which will use AWS and coywolf.reviews, which will use WordPress.
  3. Using multiple TLDs and technologies means that there’s no single point of failure. If one of the sites is inaccessible for some reason, the rest of the sites should continue to work. And since it’s visually presented as a single site, it just means that one section of the site will be inaccessible.
  4. Each TLD is a single property, which means I’m creating and growing multiple properties, instead of just one. It also allows me to do something different with one of the sections (TLDs) if I ever choose to. For example, I could separate it visually from the other sites, and take it a different direction if it ever makes sense to do that. I see it as a form of future-proofing.

What does outreach and promotion of a documentary look like, as compared to a website?

I’m assuming you’re talking about Strange Negotiations, the documentary about musician David Bazan, for which I’m an Executive Producer. The answer to your question is that I don’t know yet. That’s one of the things I’m hoping to learn through being associated with it. It’s not an area I have much experience with, but I think that the same outreach techniques I’ve used for building mentions and links will translate well for bringing attention to the film.

At a high level, I think that researching sites that write about documentaries or have written about David Bazan is an excellent place to start. Then I can refine the results down to writers and sites that I think would be interested in getting a free screener of the film and possibly writing about it. I haven’t done this yet, but that’s the general approach I’ve been considering.

Through chatting with you, I’ve come to realize that you’ve got some sneaky, and fairly significant coding and design chops. To what extent do you think other marketers should develop these skills? 

By sneaky, I’m hoping you mean “not obvious” 🙂

I’ve been hand-coding HTML and CSS for two decades, so you might say I know how to build a web page. However, I wouldn’t consider myself a real coder. I only know how to do basic things with JavaScript and PHP. Over the years, instead of trying to become a software engineer, I’ve focused more on figuring out the necessary code snippets needed to accomplish certain dynamic functions. Also, most of what I’ve learned is specific to WordPress.

I don’t think digital marketers need to be software engineers – I’m proof of that. However, if they care about SEO and want to do it themselves, they do need to understand how pages are coded and the impact it has on how search engines crawl and analyze them. I try not to leave anything to chance with Googlebot. I do that by carefully crafting every part of the HTML page so that it’s abundantly clear what each block represents. It’s not enough to focus on presentation(browser rendering). Digital marketers also need to be intimately aware of the code behind what they see on the page if they want the content to be truly optimized.

What’s your internet device usage breakdown? I’m going to guess 45% mobile, 55% desktop.

My device usage is probably more like 80% desktop and 20% mobile. I prefer to do my research, writing, coding and reading on the desktop. I use mobile mostly for reading articles on Feedly and for social stuff. I don’t know why you asked that or what my answers say about me, but I’m still a desktop man.

Does that breakdown differ when you’re shopping online? 

Nope, it’s about the same. For me, using a desktop for shopping is faster, and it usually provides more details. Also, I have to filter out all of the product spam that other marketers have put in my way. I find that to be easier and quicker on a desktop. The only time I use mobile to shop is when I don’t have access to a desktop computer, or it’s on a site or app I’m familiar with, and I know what I want.

We’ve all got them. What are your pet peeves and red flags when browsing around?

My online pet peeves are simple. Don’t interrupt me when I’m focused on a piece of content, and don’t waste my time.

I think an excellent red flag is a site that prompts me to download Flash or software to clean my site :).

Seriously though, there are so many things I could list that I could turn it into a book. For the sake of brevity, I’ll briefly focus on landing pages.

Anyone who says they’ve made millions of dollars and is trying to sell you on their guaranteed program that will make you a million dollars is likely full of shit. There is no quick or guaranteed path to success. Aside from cheating, which will typically get you in trouble or will be short-lived, the best way to achieve sustainable success online is to put in the time and be committed to it. If an offer seems too good to be true, then it is. That’s your red flag, and you should run away.

Do you have any war stories from times that you’ve changed something or tested something and produced significant conversion results? (Either positive or negative) 

Without getting into specifics, the most powerful conversion results come from social proof. When other people promote your product or service because they love using it, you not only get more conversions, you also get higher customer lifetime value. That’s why influencer marketing works so well. However, it works best when an influencer is an actual customer and shares with their network because they want to, not because they’re getting compensated.

What do you think about the rise of paid/premium newsletters, communities, and publications in the age of content marketing? A few that come to mind: The Information, The Athletic, Stratechery, Coywolf, (and ahem, Conversion Gold)

I think that commercial interests and advertising are ruining the web experience. It’s making it more challenging to find trusted sources of information, and when you do, it’s difficult to consume it because the user experience is so disrupting and irritating. The reason we see the rise of subscription-based newsletters, communities, and publications is that consumers need a respite from the status quo. 

I created Coywolf out of my frustration with the status quo. I wanted to make sites that respected my time and weren’t constantly interrupting me with things I don’t care about. Most importantly, I wanted to publish content that wasn’t fluff and filler written to fill quotas, sell ads, launch popup modals, and promote conferences.

The unanswered question is whether enough people will pay for a better experience. I think if the content and UX is considerably better than the status quo, enough people will.

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