To Survive SEOs Need to be Brave – Not Busy

Five tips on being brave, engaging your clients’ customers, and driving a long-term and sustainable digital marketing strategy.

In Good To Great, Jim Collins points out that the advent of the automobile brought on a quick but unnecessary death for carriage companies. If carriage companies had recognized they were actually in the transportation business, rather than the carriage business, they could have adjusted and survived. Similarly, search engine optimization (SEO) will continue to be successful if the companies that provide these services understand their true business: engaging real people who require the products and services of their SEO clients. This is a powerful paradigm shift in SEO, where high keyword rankings have historically been the only indicator of success. But it’s a shift absolutely necessary if SEOs want to remain a part of a company’s marketing strategy.

Over the last decade SEO has gone from a basement business to a successful profession. This is because search engine optimization proved itself a very economical way to accomplish a company’s growth goals. But over the last few years the digital landscape has evolved. So have the challenges and opportunities for reaching people online.

Today, the way information is delivered to people using search engines is dramatically different than just three years ago. There is no longer a universal search return. Rather, search engines display individualized information to people based on their geography, perceived interests, previous search history, and personal relationships – even recommending search results based on what was of interest to their friends.

Because the search engines now draw from so many sources, the technology and platforms that search engine optimizers must become familiar with have also increased dramatically. Where once a SEO’s sole focus was on a client’s website, today he or she must address social networks, social bookmarking, geo specific local search, online video distribution, mobile applications, press releases, web trends, guest blogs, infographics, content development, newsletter distribution, syndication, business citation, and much more. This accelerated volume of opportunities and specialization was reflected in the MozCon 2013 SEO speaker program, which covered nearly 20 individual areas of emphasis!

To keep up and make sure their clients continue to rank well in the search returns, an SEO’s current strategy largely relies on creating and distributing a lot of flimsy content (blogs, videos, press releases, etc.) throughout all of these new channels. This is done in the hope that search engines will continue to perceive a lot of activity related to their websites and continue to rank them higher than their competitors who do little or nothing online. These tactics have successfully worked in the short-term, but the data show that keyword rankings are increasingly volatile, with flip flopping first and second page placements becoming the norm. This ranking instability is further evidence that traditional SEO tactics do not translate into a sustainable growth strategy.

To create a sustainable client generation strategy, SEOs must shift to a model of long-term and meaningful community engagement. It is no longer good enough to create the perception of online activity, rather SEOs need to engage their clients’ professional communities, local communities, and the press – both online and in the physical world. It is especially important that search engine optimizers create digital activity that is authentic so that their data and feedback are real.

Below are five tips for initiating a sustainable client engagement program.

1.) Be Brave

Be brave enough to do what is in your clients’ best interests. Be brave enough to buck the status quo. Be brave enough to do something your competitors are not.

2.) Be Brave Enough to Write Content with a Niche Audience in Mind

Don’t try to reach everyone in the world every time you post. Look for an audience who shares a specific interest or topic and add something to an existing conversation – rather than trying to create your own. This will increase the chance your content will be shared because you will have addressed a very specific and existing problem or interest.

3.) Be Brave Enough to Tell Real People About Your Business

Don’t just post. Reach out to people who share your interests. Tell them about your content and why you believe it is important. If you are writing for a specific topic, take a quick Twitter hash tag survey and see if you can find five people to message who also have your topic on their minds.

4.) Be Brave Enough to Ask for Advice

A lot of people believe asking for advice makes them look weak. This is just not true. In fact, asking for advice puts the attention on the responder, who then leaves a conversation feeling more valuable. There is nothing in this world more powerful than making one another feel valuable. So if you are brainstorming a topic for a piece of content, reach out to people who know something about it and publicly ask for their advice.

5.) Be Brave and Look at your Competitors as Potential Clients

Sometimes the people who would be most interested in our insight are the people we consider our competitors. Engaging with them can feel uncomfortable. And sharing with them or letting them in on our “secrets” may seem like bad business practices. But the truth is that if you’re publicly broadcasting, and your competitors want the information bad enough, they will find it. So turn that into a strength. Embrace your position as an industry authority on your topics. Build trust with your competitors and colleagues with real and meaningful content and remind them too, that you are available should they ever need you. I think you will find (as I have) that a majority of your competitors are more like you than you imagine. They too want to provide the absolute best service they can. Make sure you let them know you are happy to be part of that effort.

Contrary to popular belief and a blizzard of like titled blogs and articles, SEO is not dead. But the profession’s continued survival will require its membership to be brave, to engage actual people in real conversations, and to replace rankings tactics with sustainable online growth strategies.

Travis Luther is the President of Denver, CO based Luther Media, LLC. Luther Media, LLC is a niche marketing agency and the parent company of Law Father  – LawFather.net, and ValetAds Valet Ticket Advertising –  ValetAds.com. Luther is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

 

travis luther denver mozcon 2013

MozCon 2013 Welcomes Young and…Old? | A Demographic Shift for the Best

This week I am attending the MozCon SEO (Search Engine Optimization) conference in Seattle. One overwhelming change to this year’s gathering is a noticeable and sweeping demographic shift in the age of the average attendee. Where there once was almost nothing but 20 somethings complimenting each other on their cool new iPhone cases and Chuck Taylor’s, today there are 30, 40, and 50 somethings slamming shots of vitamin B 12, reminiscing about workouts wearing a Sony Discman, and joking about the possibility of a popular movement to bring back Geocities.

The aging of attendees was most obvious to me on the morning I saw an older man, probably 45 to 50-years-old shepherding a group of four 20 somethings into the presentation hall. Leading the pack, he reviewed the day’s schedule of speakers and reminded each of his staff what topics they would be personally responsible for paying especially close attention to. I was struck by the fact that people at MozCon were actually being managed, that the managers were also here, and that the managers were the ones trying to impress upon these young people the importance and privilege of participating in MozCon!

Over the last four or five years I have faithfully attended MozCon myself. In this time I have sat, eaten, and spoken with hundreds of fellow MozCon attendees. What I have gathered is that from a large company’s perspective, MozCon has historically been a consolation conference awarded to a company’s young and ambitious “web folks” who really had no other conference to attend. For others, MozCon was a place for marketing managers to send their young pups, to keep them up-to-date on what had largely been “peripheral” marketing concerns. But we faithful attendees know the truth: MozCon is an opportunity for data driven and innovated online marketers to surround themselves with others who share a passion for dominating the search returns and for driving quality traffic to the websites they own or manage.

So what does this shift in demographics mean (other than the possibility of an AARP discount offered on upcoming conference tickets)? I believe there are two possibilities; 1.) Either the older people attending are actually the weathered and former younger MozCon attendees of years gone by (which would include myself) or, 2.) Companies have realized that SEO and inbound marketing are so important that the ‘kids’ can no longer be trusted to manage it. I believe the latter is true. The ‘old’ people I have talked to this week (who are easy for me to engage because I am one of them) are not simply corporate ‘tools’. They are smart, educated, creative, analytical, excited, and motivated. In short, they are a company’s best people. They are here because more companies are finally recognizing that SEO and inbound marketing are essential to a company’s stability, and more importantly its growth. And with this recognition comes an important shift. Inbound marketing teams are no longer being lead by the young people who are most vocal about wanting to lead them. They are now being led by talented people who have a history of successfully implementing important business strategies. Age is no longer a default limiter on the pool of available talent who are energized about an opportunity to work on these new marketing challenges.

I, for one, am very excited by this injection of new blood into our profession. With age generally comes experience. Experience is the foundation of wisdom. Embracing a wide swath of experience and wisdom, and encouraging sharing will only connect the dots between each of our individual challenges to solve our common problems. And that is why I am already so excited about MozCon 2014. I just can’t wait for this next opportunity to surround myself with the absolute best people, young or old, within our industry.

Travis Luther is the President of Denver, CO based Luther Media, LLC. Luther Media, LLC is a niche marketing agency and the parent company of Law Father  – LawFather.net, and ValetAds Valet Ticket Advertising –  ValetAds.com. Luther is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Nomination for Denver Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 Award

It was a great thrill to receive a letter in the mail last week informing me that I had been nominated for The Denver Business Journal’s  Forty under 40 Award. This nomination recognizes “young, dynamic, up-and-coming business leaders” under the age of forty-years-old. This is the third time I have been nominated for this award in the four years I have been eligible. I am not sure from whom this nomination came, but thank you. It is an honor. The Denver Business Journal will run a full-page ad in their February 22nd issue congratulating all nominees. The awards dinner will be held on March 21st at the Hyatt Regency Convention Center in Denver. For more information on the event, please call Deborah Sadinsky at 303-803-9278.

Video: Online Social Networking & Building Social Capital

Below is a video titled “The Strength of Weak Ties: Using Online Social Networking to Pocket Social Capital.” It is a video of a presentation I gave to a group of lawyers related to online social networking and accumulating social capital. While the presentation is addressed to attorneys, the themes, terminology, and instructions are applicable to almost any individual and business. The general theme of the presentation is that by expanding one’s social network, one can improve the quantity and quality of  information that comes into that network. This new information can be extremely valuable to our businesses because it can generate new leads and new ideas – as well as keep us better informed as to what is new or emerging within our industries. Once we understand what social capital is and the role it can play in our businesses, we can formulate a strategy that takes advantage of online social networks as an additional way to accumulate social capital.

If you find the information within this video to be important and valuable, please share it with your friends and acquaintances via the social networking links below. Thanks!

Winning the Entrepreneurial Pie Eating Contest

During a recent conference for entrepreneurs, I attended a segment on work/life balance. I looked around the auditorium and realized that if at any moment, during any part of the day, the word “business” were to be replaced with the word “alcohol” no outsider would be able to tell that we weren’t all actually attending some Alcoholics Anonymous annual jamboree.

Business had made us drop out of school. Business had isolated us from our friends. Business had caused divorce, ruined our families, and put distance between ourselves and our kids. Business made it hard to sleep. Business made us unsure of who we really were. We spent all of our money on Business. We begged, stole, and borrowed for business. And every time we tried to get away from business, for some reason we just kept going back.

Business has become an addiction, an addiction most of us acknowledge started when we were very young. It is an addiction that most of us acknowledge has made us very sick. And even though some of us seem visibly to be doing better than others, few of us will ever be able to go without a taste.

So entrepreneurship is a disease. And like any good disease a counseling, consulting, and self-help industry has sprung up around it – CPA’s, consultants, creative accountants, researches, and authors. Even the government is stepping in with the SBA to “assist” those of us who are suffering. And for those hell bent on not getting better there are Angles and VCs around to meet us in dark alleys and give us what we need to get by for another couple of months.

And thank god for all of them. Without them no entrepreneur would be able to 7 or 10 step his or her way to anything. We would not know how to hold influence over anyone! We could not go from good to great. Can you even imagine a world where we would not be able to learn about that one thing that no other business owner knows about that will make our business totally successful from that one author who never owned a successful business and is actually willing to sell his or her secret to any buyer so that it actually creates no real competitive advantage? We would be totally fucked! Or would we?

During a break at the above mentioned conference I was in the bathroom when I overheard a panel member (a venture capitalist or ‘VC’) say to another panel member, “Do you know the one thing I really love about entrepreneurs? They’re just so optimistic. I just love their optimism.” In case you just smiled, patted yourself on the back, and said to yourself “Yes, aren’t I though”, let me just translate what he really meant when he said that. It goes like this, “I just love entrepreneurs. They are such suckers. They are willing to give up large stakes in their companies for relatively small amounts of money in the hope that their small percentage will be worth a lot of money someday. It is their optimism I just love because it keeps a pretty steady line of suckers at my door. Oh, and I don’t even have to come up with these super creative ideas all these entrepreneurs have. In fact, when we invest, we don’t even have to value the idea – it’s not part of the valuation process at all! Not one penny or 1 percent of investment is attributed to the value of the idea! It’s not part of any equation or line item. I get the ideas for free!”

I promise you that at some point, someone who wants to talk to you about investing in your company will ask you, “What would you rather have? A big piece of a small pie or a small piece of an enormous pie?” The person who first asked me this question was a venture capitalist himself, and since then I have heard it asked many times over. In the mind of the person who first asked me this question, my obvious answer should have been that I would rather have a small piece of an enormous pie. My “optimism” should have lead me straight to this conclusion because my “optimism” should have provided me no doubt that all my ventures will be wildly successful – and that the size of my ownership stake will have no bearing on that fact. However, having now heard this question posed over and over, the analogy has started to cause in me the same reaction I used to have while encountering rattlesnakes as I walked along the banks of the Snake River: 1.) Stop 2.) Listen intently to where the rattle is coming from, and 3.) Slowly start walking backward and in the opposite direction of the sound. This reaction comes from realizing the fact that the person asking this question has given up on the fact (or never recognized it at all) that ideas are the most valuable pieces of the pie. If investors think money makes pies grow bigger, they are wrong.

I will admit that at one or two points in my life I have explored the possibility of outside investment in my companies. I clearly understand that money is a “lubricant” that can get things moving faster, and that has been my primary motivation for seeking investment. But I always back away because I have been unable to find a relationship between value and money that exceeds the value I can gain from my own ideas and my own consistent, exhaustive, physical labor. Cash alone cannot create real, significant value in a company. Therefore, giving up a significant portion of your company for cash will do nothing to increase the value of your company. Only great ideas and physical labor can. Thus, the idea that those who inject a business with money deserve, in the end, a bigger portion of the “pie” is a fallacy. Money does nothing. You do. As entrepreneurs in need of “lubricant”, we should start asking for more and giving up less. We should never put ourselves in a position where knowing who owns the pie becomes confusing. It should always be your pie to share, not your pie tin to clean up once the eating is done.

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Fail Early | Fail Often

There is a quote I once read (I believe in a Jim Collins book) that says “If you want to double your successes, you need to triple your failures.” What I understand this to mean is that if you want to have success in your life you have to at least try; and try again; and try again. It is one thing to sit and ponder possibilities. It is quite another thing to give them a shot.

There are a lot of business books out there that suggest the true path to entrepreneurial greatness is to do what you love. These books sell a lot of copies because the paths to success proposed within them are “easy” – much like diet books that tell you you don’t have to exercise, you just have to stop eating bread seem to fly off bookstore shelves. But I believe the likelihood of a person actually being financially successful as a result of doing what they love is on par with the likelihood that someone who loves to play baseball will become a professional athlete. The chances are slim to none – but that doesn’t stop us from embracing Hank Arron’s story as if it were a real possibility for ourselves.

What I have learned over the course of trying and trying and trying is that being a successful entrepreneur is about finding the right combination of two things: 1.) A great idea, and 2.) A great opportunity. Great ideas will only be successful when they are accompanied by a great opportunity to deliver them. The matching of the two is not a perfect science. And the only way to find out if you’re on to something important is to create a plan and execute it. If the above mentioned quote holds any statistical merit, you’re likely to burn two or three businesses to the ground before you stumble upon something that just might work.

FAIL EARLY | FAIL OFTEN

So if you can embrace the fact that most of your ventures will fail you can embrace the fact that some will succeed. But as entrepreneurs what we really want to know is when is it a good time to call a venture dead so that we can move on to the next failure? To do that we need a conceptual framework for quickly identifying failure. We want to fail early and fail often so that we can get going on the next venture that may pose an opportunity for success. So my question to you is “What are some variables that we can assign to a venture to quickly measure for failure?” Could these variables be time invested, money invested, sales figures? As entrepreneurs we should try and flush out as many variables as we can. Once we have established these variables we can start to work to identify indicators across them (or correlations i.e. when sales fail to reach x and investment exceeds y) that can serve as triggers to indicate failure and allow us to responsibly shut a failing venture down as quickly as possible. Discuss…

luther media website

New Luther Media Website

For a long time now I have been putting most of my efforts into the development of LawFather.com. I had a few spare minutes so I have begun construction of a new website for Luther Media. In the event that someone outside of the legal industry is interested in our search engine optimization services, I wanted it to be clear that they are available to almost anyone in almost any industry. You can learn more by visiting the new Luther Media website. Feel free to email or call with any questions or suggestions.