Today’s guest interview features the inspiring success story of Benjamin Houy of French Together and how he developed a following of nearly 200,000 monthly unique visitors to his site in just three years. On the ‘about’ page of Yozzi I wrote that I was looking for a mentor to help me build an online following and it looks like I’ve found a mentor in Benjamin Houy who shares his advice in the following interview. Benjamin discusses the methods he implemented to create his online success story.
Thanks for participating in this interview, Benjamin.
Thanks for interviewing me Dimitris. I’m always happy to talk about language learning and can’t wait to be able to write in Russian on Yozzi 🙂
What inspired you to start your French-learning blog, French Together, in 2013?
When I started French Together, there were a few blogs teaching French, but they were all about French grammar.
I wanted to teach the French people actually speak and show French learners that studying grammar rules isn’t the only way to learn the language. I also wanted to show that it’s not necessary to live in France or spend hundreds of euros on French lessons to be successful.
Basically my goal was to apply what I had learned as a language learner to help other people learn French in a more human way, that is by listening to real French and speaking with real people.
What kind of mentor did you have to help you build a following?
When I started French Together I already had a bit of experience, because I had been running Parlons Allemand, a blog for French people learning German for almost two years. I no longer own it, but it taught me a lot.
Following their tips helped me quickly build a following, but I was also lucky to have the encouragement of my fiancée who offered her feedback.
What aspects of the website did you do on your own and what aspects did you outsource?
At first, I did almost everything on my own. I set up WordPress, chose a theme, wrote articles etc. In fact, for the first two years, I believe the only thing I outsourced was the design of a logo.
Trust me, you don’t want to know what a logo I would have designed would be like :D.
What kind of growth path did you see your website have since the summer of 2013?
Most of the growth came from Search Engine Optimization. From the very beginning, I made sure French Together was following the best SEO practices and I followed blogs like yoast.com religiously.
I learned to always write about topics people are interested in and targeted keywords whenever I wrote an article.
As a result, I quickly got traffic from Google
In September 2016, I had roughly 200,000 unique visitors and this number keeps going up every month. I’m pretty confident I will reach 10,000 daily unique visitors by the end of 2016.
What kind of following do you have today? What are the demographics?
Today I have a pretty diverse following ranging from students who need help with their homework to people who want to learn French to advance their careers or retired people who now live in France and would like to be able to better communicate with their neighbors.
But most of my readers are simply people who love French culture and would like to learn French to be able to experience it fully.
What were the major challenges you had to overcome? How did you overcome them?
The main challenge was to find my unique voice. I knew I wanted to help people learn authentic French, but I wasn’t sure how to do it exactly.
The first two years were pretty chaotic, because I was constantly changing my mind and trying to find the perfect content for my audience.
After two years, I realized that the best way to find the perfect content was simply to ask people and the idea of what I wanted to offer got clearer and clearer.
That’s when I created a set of rules I called the rules of French Together. This really helped me clarify my purpose with French Together and everything got much easier after that.
These rules are now written on the front page of French Together and constantly remind me of my goal.
Tell us about the language products you developed and at what time you monetized your website.
My first attempt at monetization was the sale of a link to a well-known hotel reservation portal.
After that, I tried using Google Adsense and finally started having success with affiliate marketing.
Later, I wrote How to Learn French in a Year, a book I sell on Amazon. The book sales and affiliate sales allowed me to work on French Together full time after roughly two years.
But I only started considering French Together my job in January 2016 when I graduated from University.
That’s when I started seriously considering creating a French course. I had always wanted to create a course based on real-life conversations, but always felt it was too complicated.
I didn’t simply want to create yet another French course, I wanted to make sure it would truly make a difference and help people learn French faster.
I spent lots of time reading studies about language learning, analyzing reviews of other courses and finally discovered the work of Fabien Snauwaert at bilingueanglais.com. After exchanging a few emails with him, I decided to create a course using everyday conversations to teach the most common French words in a fun and authentic manner.
I must say he helped me tremendously, because he showed me how to best use a frequency list to create dialogues and inspired me a lot.
What are the main marketing challenges for your site?
The main marketing challenge has always been to create a product that’s both appealing and useful.
Most French learners want to learn with a grammar book, because they believe it’s the only way to learn French.
My main challenge has always been to show that learning with real-life content is not only more interesting, but also more effective. In my opinion at least.
How would you describe your language-guidance methods?
I would describe them as “authentic.” For me, the main goal of languages is to communicate with people and this shows in the way I teach at French Together.
I always try to teach useful phrases and not simply give lists of words and grammar rules to learn.
When I left high-school, my English was terrible. I knew lots of grammar rules, but I could barely hold a conversation. So I decided to spend hours everyday watch American TV series and talking to my pen pals. This helped me quickly become fluent, so that’s also the way I teach French.
I always recommend people to start by spending lots of time listening to comprehensible input in their target language and then speak (or write on Yozzi) as soon as possible.
I also rely heavily on the use of Anki and other Spaced Repetition Software methods to memorize vocabulary and believe it’s essential to start by learning the most common phrases first.
What kind of feedback do you receive from your customers regarding their progress with French?
Nothing makes me happier than receiving emails from people who tell me they used my course and were able to have their first conversation in French and connected with locals during their trip.
But I also love simply getting feedback from people who read How to Learn French in a Year and tell me it renewed their enthusiasm for the language.
Tell us something about your own language-learning goals.
My fiancée is Russian so my current goal is to speak Russian well enough to be able to talk to her family. They only speak Russian and nothing would make me happier than to be able to get to know them better by speaking their language.
I also feel that I will never truly understand Russia unless I speak Russian.
I started learning English by reading at school and it literally took years before I heard from than one minute of English.
As a result, my English accent is pretty…French :D. If I were to start again, I would learn English without reading at first.
I’m not sure what the best way to improve my English accent is, but I’m considering using the Mimic Method.
Thanks again Benjamin for sharing your inspiring success story with us. Looking forward to seeing you in Thessaloniki at the Polyglot Conference.
Hello. It’s Dimitris, the founder of Yozzi. Thanks for reading this post. For another inspiring interview read about the Kickstarter campaign for Space Polyglot with WitNut CEO Nikolay Shindarov. If you are looking to improve your writing in your target language, check out this post which covers a variety of sources depending on your level of proficiency. If you have an advanced level of French, check out this article in French written by a non-native and feel free to comment on the writing and the style. Use the contact form to let me know what you would like future articles in English and French to be about.