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Business Technology

Year of The Panda? Juice.ai and What It Means for SEO (with Derek Sturman)

“SEO is dead.” 

That’s a tagline I hear thrown around a lot these days. I’ll bet you’ve seen it more than once yourself, whether in some YouTube comments or an especially enraged Reddit post. 

While it’s true that best SEO practices are always changing, the industry is only growing

But if we’re being honest here, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’re literally digitizing ourselves as a civilization. As people all over the world spend record amounts of time online, it makes sense that services for enhancing online business visibility are in high demand.

Panda, the company behind Juice, claim to have the key to fully automating the (often nebulous) world of search engine optimization. 

I sat down via Zoom with Panda’s CEO Derek Sturman to learn more about Juice. Our conversation meandered through different subjects including small business, marketing, human psychology, and what the future of artificial intelligence means for people like me who create content for a living.

How Juice came to be

The logo of Juice, the latest release from Panda Inc.

After graduating from Wesleyan University in 2017  Sturman moved to LA to take on his first real job – a junior publicist role at a now-defunct PR firm in West Hollywood. 

“Basically the entirety of my job for the company was finding placement opportunities for the firm’s clients. One of the senior publicists insisted that the only way to do this was to spend hours reading about different journalists at different publications, and trying to manually pick writers who had interests that aligned with the client’s profile.”

The work was painstakingly slow and inefficient. 

“After my first two weeks, I had enough. I learned a little bit about SEO and used some basic tech tools like Zapier and some Chrome extensions to see if I could automate the work, or at least improve the work I was doing manually.” 

The results couldn’t have been better. Sturman’s bosses marveled at how his productivity jumped 500% after just a few weeks on the job. 

“I tried explaining to them that they were underutilizing basic technology… that they were still operating like it was the 90’s or something.”

Upper management was mesmerized by the results. Oddly enough, however, they declined Sturman’s plan to overhaul the company’s operations. His guess as to why? They couldn’t stomach a scenario in which 30% or more of their employees become obsolete by a tech-first transition.

After trying for a better part of the year to convince the firm’s head that change was necessary, Sturman decided to set off on his own. He teamed up with a longtime friend to create Promo Panda, a digital PR firm that to date has served more than two thousand clients.

He also served as a consultant for various ecommerce companies, including Cemtrex and Green Dot, helping them to improve organic search presence for their engineering and managerial talent.

Then, in 2020, Sturman got a text from a friend about a mysterious new development in AI: GPT-3.

Harnessing the power of AI for regular people

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years (and given the pandemic, I mean that literally), there have been huge strides in what AI can do when it comes to natural language processing. 

Since the release of OpenAI’s GPT-3 in 2020, voices all over the internet have drawn attention to the capabilities of AI when it comes to things like generating coherent, often eerily human-sounding text. 

Others have pointed to upstarts like Rosebud.ai, creator of tools that can automatically generate visual media, whether images of ethereal landscapes or even portraits of people that don’t actually exist.

And yet, despite all the hype surrounding these technologies, there are seemingly few solutions that are geared specifically towards allowing small businesses to take advantage of them. 

Sturman saw an immediate opportunity.

“A large part of SEO has to do with content creation. Any tool that can help you generate high-quality content quickly can absolutely be harnessed to increase ROI from search engines.”

Sturman spent 2020 and some of 2021 experimenting with tools built on the new technology. He found that his experiments often left much to be desired. 

“While there are some products on the market that are using things like GPT-3, to us, they still seem like tech demos. They do an amazing job of showing off AI’s potential, but the reality is they still require end users to go through inordinate lengths to realize tangible benefits. We found that to be a huge disappointment.”

Juice, according to Sturman, was conceived out of frustration with existing offerings like Jasper.ai and Copy.ai. He cites these products as examples of “tech demo” companies that rely on the novelty of AI instead of maximizing true value-add to their customers.

“With Juice, we have one goal: maximize organic growth of any and all websites so that their proprietors can focus on literally anything but SEO… Our ultimate goal is 100% automation, absolutely.”

In fairness, Sturman estimates that they’re only about 5% of the way there. But that 5% puts them well ahead of their competition, in his eyes. 

Open source to the rescue

One of the biggest problems with OpenAI’s GPT-3, according to Sturman, is that there really “isn’t anything open” about it. 

The technology is licensed exclusively to Microsoft, who has placed a number of arbitrary rules and restrictions on how GPT-3 can be used, and who it can be used by. 

“A lot of people don’t know this, but any tool built on GPT-3 is inherently flawed. Microsoft limits the number of words that can be output with a single click, meaning they directly limit how productive GPT-3 products can be for you.”

GPT-3 also automatically censors text that it outputs. This caused issues for some of Panda’s early SEO clients – a condom distributor and an online adult store. Both were perfectly legitimate businesses, and both were totally unable to leverage GPT-3 for their SEO content. 

Sturman quickly discovered Eleuther.ai, a collective of AI researchers and engineers who sought to create truly open-source AI models comparable to those that had been ceded, like GPT-3, to legacy corporate monoliths. 

“Eleuther and their team deserves a ton of credit. I’d say they’re the most important collective in this space, hands down.”

Eleuther’s first release, GPT-Neo, was the final spark Panda needed to start firing its engines. 

Juice.ai, and the future of Panda

Juice is live. Here are some things that Sturman claims it can do, right out of the gate:

  • Generate complete, 1,500-word blog articles complete with images, YouTube video embeds, and more.
  • Allow users to quickly find long tail keyword phrases that will help generated articles to rank on page one of Google
  • Offer pricing that beats (in some cases drastically) those offered by competing projects

After trying it out, I can safely say that Juice delivers big on power. Especially given how simple it is.

Eyes on the prize

As he stares out of the window of Panda’s office in Lake Oswego, Oregon, Sturman casually throws out a hint at what’s next. 

“Even if reception at launch is positive, our work isn’t finished. I could name you ten improvements we plan on making to our technology… give us a few years and we’ll be a world leader in small business development.”

If Juice is as valuable as Sturman claims, then Panda is a startup to watch. Not bad for a company that’s been bootstrapped since its inception.

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