Nadav Dakner on Content Marketing, ‘Death of PageRank’ and Startups Living on Borrowed Time

Startup companies are known for popping up like mushrooms, thriving, evolving, sometimes pivoting, and sometimes just fading away from the limelight. That’s the nature of entrepreneurship. Some make it big, while some don’t. Most successful entrepreneurs know when to find the next big thing, however, and play the ever-changing game accordingly. Our interview subject for today has been into various online enterprises for seven years now, and I have known him for half of that period, since I started consulting with offline small businesses around the region on their social media needs.

Based in Israel, Nadav Dakner believes that startups are in a perpetual state of living on “borrowed time,” especially those in conflict-stricken areas like his own country. In these cases, he says, one should always be alert for any escalation, any eventuality. But of course, it’s not only the political climate and potential conflict that startups should be watching out for. There’s also the change in business environment. Before venturing into doing content marketing (PR, Content Strategy and link acquisition) for reputable brands, for example, Dakner had focused on SEO and link building, knowing “every trick in the book” just to rank for certain keywords. With the various adjustments that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) made in combating link spam, however, the more discerning online entrepreneurs were able to branch out into more quality-oriented services.

Dakner has since founded InboundJunction, a content marketing company that focuses on enhancing brand awareness and online visibility through crafting brand-, image- and messaging- related campaigns for well-known brands worldwide. As co-founder, he also serves as CEO of the lean team. In his dealings with team members and clients, Dakner has also discovered how religious fundamentalism can contribute to the detriment of team dynamics. Here are some excerpts from our interview.

VR World: You’ve been in the business of web publishing, content distribution and SEO for some time now. Can you tell us how the business has evolved over time?

Nadav Dakner, Co-founder & CEO at InboundJunction

Nadav Dakner, Co-founder & CEO at InboundJunction

Nadav Dakner: Online marketing has evolved a ton over the years. Back in the early days of SEO, you could rank for almost any keyword you desired by applying various linking strategies that would actually harm your website today. We actually started out as affiliates and used to own hundreds of niche websites that we ranked on for many keywords so we know every trick in the book and all the various aspects of content distribution and SEO. In 2013, we decided to change shift and completely shy away from the affiliate side of things and changed business model to provide a more premium content marketing service for well-known businesses.

VRW: Yes, I do recall those days (I also dabbled in some SEO consultancy in the early days). Am I correct in saying that social now plays a bigger part in how businesses can promote their brands rather than these raw linkages?

ND: SEO and getting a business to rank online is an equation comprised of more than 100 elements. There is a big debate as to whether social impacts SEO directly (e.g., whether getting mass social shares to your homepage will increase your SERP) or indirectly (getting your brand name mentioned often will increase the likelihood of people typing it in Google, and as a result making Google think it’s a bigger brand with stronger authority). And it doesn’t stop there. Social media will get you more traffic and referrals and even inbound links and so it doesn’t really matter if the effect is direct or indirect — social media is vital.

VRW: Now that you mention it, does PageRank still have a high relevance in today’s environment? Or do other metrics (like Facebook’s social graph, number of social connections, app popularity etc.) have more impact in the authority of a publication?

ND: PageRank is just one aspect in the process of website assessment that should be used in conjunction with others and never as a standalone. Many people speculate as whether PageRank will be updated again (Google claims it won’t). But here’s an approach for you on how to use this “outdated” metric: consider PageRank as a polarized metric in which high PR websites can be really good (an authority website that got thousands of organic links) or extremely bad (many websites “faked” their PR through aggressive and rapid link building to make them sell for a higher price or offer lucrative sponsored posts).

A quick way to check if the website is good is to use OpenSiteExplorer and scan for its link profile, usually hundreds of quality links go hand-in-hand with a quality website but if the PR is 6 and the site has 10-20 links, that does raise an alarm. Social sharing should be a byproduct that comes naturally if a website has great content or lots of traffic. When viewing the number of shares a homepage has, I immediately look for the amount of engagement in individual posts, and so if a homepage has thousands of shares and little to no engagement in the post, that website bought likes/shares for money.

For me, the most important metric would be traffic, and right now the folks from SimilarWeb are pioneers in that field and are the new-age Alexa for me. Think about it, if a website has organic traffic (as opposed to direct or referral), that means Google likes it and so a backlink or a story from that site will be valuable.

VRW: How about social conversations? Does it matter how prominent a person, author or writer is, or how active a user is on social networks?

ND: Quite simply, the more Twitter followers/LinkedIn/Google+ connections a person has, the more traction he gets for his stories. More traction equals higher quality, more social proof (having an opinion leader endorsing your product), sign-ups/leads, traffic (shareability), and even SEO improvements (better chance of syndication and citations). Work on making your name a brand and you’ll get more work and also the legitimacy of pricing your service higher.

VRW: Is InboundJunction funded by institutional investors? If so — or if not — what is the impact of your business/funding model in the business that you are running?

ND: We are self-funded.The type of business we do doesn’t need a large capital to start running, which is a strong starting point. We are innovative in the way we work but we didn’t develop innovative technology and so we didn’t require funding, although we’re considering developing a software which I can’t discuss right now.

VRW: Let’s get more in-depth with your startup roots. Your company is based in Israel. What is the dynamic of being a startup in Israel (or Asia in general) and working with global companies?

ND: Everything is very fast-paced here. In Israel, we tend to feel that the whole country is always on borrowed time so we try to be very productive and really “get out there.”  This situation results in businesses innovating ourselves every day all over again. We have to be very creative and professional to survive as a successful business (not just in Israel, but perhaps also applicable in other regions, as well).

VRW: Do you think Israel has any advantage over other startup communities/hubs in Asia, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, India and South Korea, for instance? Are there any challenges or disadvantages? I recall some of the more prominent startups had roots there, such as Waze (a billion-dollar Google acquisition) and Viber.

ND: People respect Startups from Israel. Israel is also a very small country so everyone knows everyone (even personally) especially if they are a major player. With us, for example, we know almost all of our clients personally, as we’re literally an hour away (at worst) from their offices, so that would be a solid advantage. One disadvantage would be the fact that at certain times a year, you might be forced to drop everything you do and run to a shelter or get drafted to defend your country. It’s not like in the movies though. It doesn’t happen often, but there are really annoying periods from time to time.

VRW: Now that you mentioned it, what was the impact of the weeks-long conflict between Israel and Palestine in the recent months? Did this adversely affect your business?

ND: The everlasting conflict is something I’m totally used to by now. In this specific case, I was on call and on the verge on being drafted as a solider but luckily my unit wasn’t enlisted because its forefront is in the north. Surprisingly, some people whom I worked with for years (freelance programmer, several webmasters) stopped answering me and even try to harm my business. Then later I found out that their religious views clashed with my nationality, and they decided they hated my guts. It was a wake-up call for me, and today I only work with people I trust.

VRW: So does this mean, in general, that the security situation affect businesses and startups in Israel, especially given potential emergencies and incidents?

ND: By now, we’re so accustomed to the reality of the situation in Israel that it really doesn’t. If there is an immediate danger or a big incident, we can get distracted. The worse part of it all is that you can get drafted for two weeks all of a sudden, leave everything and everyone is your life and go to serve your country which is quite crazy. Imagine leaving your business or newborn baby for 2-3 weeks — that’s scary, and it happens from time to time.