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Startups & SEO: I’ve Seen How the Other Half Lives

I’ve seen how the other half lives. I’ve seen how the other half lives. And although I’m not referring to some late 19th century photojournalistic exposé, I am talking about two modern-day contrasting ways of life. You see, as far as I’m concerned, only two types of companies exist: corporations & startups. A year ago today,…

I’ve seen how the other half lives.

I’ve seen how the other half lives. And although I’m not referring to some late 19th century photojournalistic exposé, I am talking about two modern-day contrasting ways of life.

You see, as far as I’m concerned, only two types of companies exist: corporations & startups. A year ago today, I left the clear-cut career path and “job stability” offered by corporate life to join a 70 employee Search Engine Optimization startup. In this post, I’ll share the lessons I’ve learned about SEO and startup life over the past 12 months.

I began my career working for the investment banking division of a Global Top 20 Bank—basically, a corporation’s corporation. As you might guess, I was in for a big surprise when I effectively worked my way to the opposite end of the spectrum and joined iAcquire last October.

It’s no corner office, but I like where I work from.

Although I noticed many differences in startup life, such as the substitution of interdepartmental red tape, needless cc’s and company politics with an infectious team environment, ping pong tables, and an office Sonos player, one particular change truly resonated with me—getting to know leadership.

 

Getting to know leadership is what sets corporations and startups apart; it builds credibility and fosters company buy-in. Think about it; how many of you can say you’ve had drinks with your company’s founders or CEO? Me? I’ve had a beer or two with Joe Griffin and Jay Swansson on several occasions. I’ve spoken candidly with them about their families, favorite sports teams, ambitions, and old war stories (notice the absence of company politics). These casual conversations with our founders have led to a better understanding of who they are and what they value. By getting to know them on a personal level, I became confident in their ability to lead the company, and willing to go to bat for them through thick and thin. In other words, like the rest of our team, I have completely bought in to iAcquire. Good luck with finding that kind of loyalty at the corporate level.

I’ve learned a lot.

When I joined iAcquire, I thought “SEO” was a leftover alphabet soup agency from the Roosevelt era (only half-kidding). And though as a Customer Development Manager, I knew I wouldn’t need to be the most technically-savvy person at the company, I still wanted to be able to hold my own in client conversations. Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me.

Fortunately, I found plenty of help.

The SEO community is jam-packed with amazing resources. The lessons readily-available to newbies on SEOmoz, SEL, Twitter, and conferences in particular, are a true testament to how bright and willing to share this community is. Thanks to them, I understood the basics of SEO in no time.

From there, the real learning began. Just as technical Search Marketers continuously test their theories and perform A/B analyses to determine the best strategies, non-technical Search Marketers must also “test”. My training called for getting on as many client calls as possible to “test” the market and broaden my exposure. The more I understood about the broad range of challenges facing in-house marketers, the easier it became to identify those whom our solutions would best serve. What I learned through this process was if you know your product and can target ideal clients, conversations become much easier to navigate.

Lastly, iAcquire has done an extraordinary job of attracting A-team talent. Whether it’s looping these all-stars in to client conversations or dropping by their desk to ask a quick question—they are always willing to help. When you’re new to an industry, it’s nice to be able to lean on true experts when you don’t have all the answers. What’s great about startup life is that kind of help and interaction is the norm.

At a recent conference.

I’ve seen a business overcome adversity.

This May officially marked the end of my iAcquire honeymoon. As you may know, our business faced some major challenges around this time. The story has been well-documented and the outcome of these events led to a stronger and more robust business. What has not been shared, however, is how our team reacted.

The most incredible part about what we went through in May was that in the face of adversity, not a single person lost faith or jumped ship. I witnessed an entire company come together, remain positive, work hard and persevere. That was an incredible business lesson in it of itself, and it just goes to show what can be accomplished when you have the right kind of culture.

I’ve seen an industry evolve.

The Search industry has dramatically evolved over the last 12 months. For starters, we’ve seen a shift away from standalone link building tactics to more content-oriented strategies (11  Panda updates in a year will do that). In addition, conversations about Search have elevated past SEO Analyst-types to include more VPs of Marketing and CMOs—a great sign of how seriously companies are beginning to take our channel. Lastly, Search’s piece of the pie has, and will continue to grow.

Think about it; when was the last time you searched through the aisles at Sam Ash, Virgin Records, Best Buy for a new CD? How about the last time you booked your summer getaway through a travel agency? I doubt you’ve driven to multiple stores to “price shop” over the past two years, and my guess is the last time you purchased computer software at Comp USA, Circuit City, any brick and mortar store was during George W’s first term in office.

What you’ll notice is the scenarios above have all been replaced by online transactions that usually begin with Search. Something tells me the companies crossed out noticed that too.

I’ve found myself in the right place at the right time.

As Search Marketers, we are in the right place at the right time. Our industry is maturing, growing, and becoming more important to every business’ bottom line with each passing day. What’s more is the opportunity for Search Marketers to benefit as we go through this paradigm shift is outstanding.

In my opinion, iAcquire’s General Manager, Tom Rusling, said it best in this blog post, published 2 weeks before I joined the company:

You don’t have to go into high finance or management consulting to have a great career, or even a chance to get wealthy one day. There’s this thing called the Internet- it’s brought on one of the most monumental changes to business, work opportunity, and the economy. Advertisers and marketers are shifting their budgets to Internet marketing by the billions. Search engine marketing makes up about half of all online advertising. Think this might just be an interesting place to gain experience?”

A year later, I’m here to tell you - he was 100% right.

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