I printed this off of one of Rand Fishkin’s decks at the beginning of 2012. It’s the analytics from the Everywhereist’s site. It shows her journey over a span of two years. It’s been hanging in my office as a source of inspiration.
This is the lift in Mack Web’s traffic between April of 2012 (when we started using content and social media marketing for our company) and January of 2013 (when we started seeing some really big results). That’s just a 10 month period.
Sure, we’re in a web savvy industry. And yes, we are in fact marketers so some of this stuff may come more naturally to us. But we’re no different than many companies out there. We have limited resources (a team of 4). We have a small budget for this (ok, more like no budget). We have a whole lot of other things that do in fact take priority. But we still made the commitment and did the work.
And it’s paying off.
Both personally (in my career), and at Mack Web, we have experienced a tremendous number of victories in less than a year. But none of them have come without effort. We have pushed harder in the last 10 months than in the last 10 years, but these efforts have catapulted us to another level. And that’s pretty awesome.
What follows is a narrative of the steps we’ve taken, the things we’ve done, and the mindset we cultivated to move us forward. And we think what happened is a pretty marvelous case study of what can happen when you put in the effort, when you persist in the face of underwhelming results, and – most importantly – when you pursue your passion.
It started like this:
The turning point
We decided that if we were going to tell our clients that they had to do something, we had to do it too. Lead by example. If we test this stuff out on us, we would have first-hand knowledge of how it may work for our clients. Granted, it’s different for every company (especially those in industries that are not as savvy as ours) but we at least had to take the lead in paving the way.
We’re always telling our clients that in order to get results, you have to be committed to (and passionate about) doing the work. So, in April of 2012, we made ourselves a client and started doing stuff on a regular basis in order to work toward our goal.
We started experimenting on us.
We set a goal
Back in March of 2012, Mack Web set a (5 year) goal during a visioning retreat:
BE THE GO-TO EXPERT FOR WEB MARKETING IN THE WEST
Constantly work on our brand awareness through our blog (posting one valuable piece each week), PR (getting out in our community), seeking speaking engagements, and attending conferences.
Find mentors in the industry. How did they get where they are now? Why are they doing what they’re doing? What wisdom do they have that could help us with where we’re going?
Explore other companies we aspire to be like (not just in the SEO industry). What is their culture like? What kinds of cool things do they do? Borrow those things and make them our own.
Invest time in on-going training & knowledge. Participate in online tutorials, watch webinars, read, engage in our community, and attend conferences.
We created a strategy
Our small (but mighty) team had our work cut out for us, but we were up for the challenge. We wrote a strategy and assigned the appropriate actionables. We determined that we were going to use SEO, social media, content, and email marketing as our tools. In a nutshell, my initial responsibility was to be the face of Mack Web. I would go to conferences and also speak if we were asked.
As the CEO, I was also going to take on finding additional mentorship and making friends (and forging strategic partnerships) with other companies that we respected (both locally and globally) in the industry. The entire team was going to be responsible for content on the Mack Web blog and I was going to seek guest blogging opportunities to pull in more exposure from a larger and more diverse audience.
Lastly, we all were going to be held accountable for investing time in our individual and collective knowledge base (to benefit our clients and the company). We were going to commit time individually each day, and then also once a week for more in-depth training.
We knew we’d need to set aside the time to dedicate to getting these efforts done, so we created Innovation Friday. Every Friday, without fail, we would spend five hours on us. No client work. Just Mack Web.
We were on our way.
We learned stuff
(and reached out in real life)
In addition to setting goals and having a strategy, we invested a TON in knowledge. But more than that, we actually applied the stuff we were learning.
There are many ways to learn things these days: go to meetups, tradeshows, or conferences, watch webinars or videos, listen to podcasts, read blog posts and books. Hands down though, going to conferences has, by far, been the most powerful catalyst for us in the last 10 months.
I went to three conferences last year: In April, LinkLove, in July, MozCon, and then in November, SearchLove.
Mack Web’s growth in the last year has everything to do with these conferences for two very different and important reasons. First, I made new friends and strengthened existing relationships with people who have been a tremendous help and inspiration. (No matter how impressive your prowess in your industry, never ever underestimate the human element).
Just as important, I assimilated and applied what I had learned. Over a series of weeks, I would pass the wealth of knowledge on to the team and we would use Innovation Friday to watch videos, chat about key takeaways, and implement any necessary training. Then I would evaluate our systems, processes and approach, and we’d integrate the new information. Once I took the plunge and started going to these conferences, I found them — exhausting though they were —absolutely addictive. There was a huge rush of energy and an overwhelming tide of new and exciting and information. And when I realized the kind of momentum the company was getting from it, I knew I was hooked.
That conference attendance, paired with the voracious amount of reading we were doing, allowed us to change old routines and do what was best for the client, making all of the difference in our success.
I started working toward a focus
(in my guest blogging)
When I was at MozCon, I had breakfast with Jon Henshaw and he gave me a piece of advice that has been a major contributor to all of the good fortune I’ve experienced in my own career in the last 10 months:
Find your focus. Decide what you want to be known for in the industry. Don’t just write blog posts, write with intention. Post less frequently if that’s what it takes. Instead, collect your ideas. When you do write, make those posts epic.
I’m telling you. This works.
It took me a while (5 months to be exact) to figure out my focus. It wasn’t until the end of the year, after I had gone to all three conferences that I finally realized what I wanted to be known for. By this time, Mack Web had pretty much made it through our internal transformation. There’s still more work to be done (there always is), but we had made it through the hardest part. This gave me a ton of clarity and I had finally figured out what I wanted to focus on. It was all of the stuff we were experimenting with on ourselves and doing for our clients. This is where I found my passion.
I scrapped an off-topic Moz post that I had spent more than 8 hours on over the holidays and began the year with Building Community with Value. It was a relief that I had finally found my groove.
In those 10 months, I wrote more than 25 posts. 7 of those for SEOmoz, 5 as a guest on select industry blogs, and the rest on the Mack Web blog. It’s really only been in the last 3 posts that I feel like I’m starting to gain traction. All because (at least it seems) I have an intention.
After I figured out what I wanted to focus on, I wrote a strategy for myself (ironic, I know). I know exactly what I’m going to blog about and when. I know whether to say yes or no (or soon) when somebody asks me to guest blog, or speak, or help them with a side project. I don’t have as much anxiety when I’m with my family or that nagging worry that I’m getting behind. It’s all mapped out for me (for the next few months at least). I have peace of mind.
We measured the results
You’ll be delighted to know that we are now super famous. I am an overnight success. Oh, and also a millionaire. Every night I go swimming in my vault of gold, like Scrooge McDuck.
And I didn’t even have to write a book.
Although it would be pretty exciting if all those things were true, here’s the more realistic (yet very awesome) truth of my individual and our collective efforts as a team:
We increased our traffic by 168%
In just 10 months, we’ve increased the traffic to our website by 168%. But more importantly, we are experiencing results doing something that we are very passionate about and that adds value to our company and our community.
Even though Mack Web has been around for 10 years, last year felt like our first. It was the first time in 10 years where I felt that not only were we really helping people build their businesses, we were also adding value to our own.
It really feels like we matter now. Like we’re making a difference. This may have been the hardest we’ve ever worked, but it’s also the most satisfaction we’ve ever experienced. This is what keeps us pushing ahead.
I’ve been asked to speak at some big conferences
I can hardly believe that I’m actually writing this, but this year, I’m speaking at both SearchLove Boston in May, and MozCon in Seattle in July, two of the top conferences in our industry. The fact that I’m speaking at even one of these conferences (the same ones that I attended wide-eyed and awe-struck last year) is an honor, and with two, I think I’m going to have to just pack it all in — it can’t get any better than this.
To grow into being considered among the top industry experts who will appear on that stage (especially within a 10 month window) is a huge accomplishment. For me, the experience is reward enough, but yes, I do anticipate it will contribute to Mack Web’s growth this year.
I became an SEOmoz Associate & we’ve signed some clients
Another exciting result of all this hard work is being asked to be an SEOmoz Associate. Carrying this title is an incredible honor and accolade (that, and they have a tremendous following: more than 200,000 on Twitter; 100,000 on Facebook, and 31,000 on Google+). I am proud to represent Moz each month when I write for their blog.
SEOmoz is an amazing company and community. They are admirably passionate about educating and being helpful and I can’t say enough about how they’ve contributed to our growth.
In the last few months, we have been receiving (qualified) leads from my posts on SEOmoz. This is not only flattering, but it is especially exciting because we spend so much time educating and qualifying our clients. To acquire potential clients that are not only avid SEOmozzers, but avid SEOmozzers who have read and resonate with what I’ve written, we’re definitely heading in the right direction.
Update: Mack Web has now signed clients off of our content marketing efforts on Moz. That’s all I have to say about that.
How to make all of this work for your business
Over the last 10 months, we’ve figured some stuff out (through good old fashioned trial and error). If you decide to take the plunge with SEO, social media, and content marketing to build your business, here’s a few things that may help smooth out the road ahead:
Have a goal and break it down
Make some lofty goals, but then make sure that you also break them down into baby steps; actionable, chewable pieces that you can digest and actually work on along your journey.
Share the responsibility for your goals with your whole team. Even if you’re a small company, don’t let the burden rest on just one person (like the founder or CEO) or you won’t get very far. Everyone can be accountable and take responsibility for a part of the plan. (You may, however, have one person who is assigned to managing or facilitating the strategy so that accountability is maintained).
Be sure to assign specific tasks and deadlines or they won’t happen. Just as if you were your own client, create an execution calendar. Have weekly meetings to keep each other on track. This will allow everyone to communicate and if someone has hit a roadblock or has a challenge they’re struggling with it can be solved instead of completely derailing all of your efforts.
Keep in mind that you may not ever get to your actual end goal, but that doesn’t really matter (if you’re doing the work). You’re going to have some great things happen along the way that may even lead to bigger and better things that you hadn’t foreseen or originally intended.
And don’t forget to celebrate. You’re going to be working hard and it’s important to bask in even the smallest victories.
Go to conferences (or other places where there is learning and people)
Don’t just learn digitally. Get in there. Learn first hand and meet people face-to-face. It’s called relationships. It’s what makes things great. It’s also what manifests serendipity.
There’s something that happens when you’re in the moment, wading around in the palpable energy of all of those great people at conferences that kind of just puts things into motion. Social media does not work without the human element. You’ve got to put yourself out there and be with people.
So, do that, and then read. Read a lot. (We may have mentioned this once or twice). Read stuff from people inside of your industry, and read stuff you’re interested in outside of your industry. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read until your eyes bug out of your head. Do it. Make it part of your routine. Since we made learning a priority as a team, everything improved: creativity, innovation, productivity, and delivery.
When you read, pay attention to who you’re reading and curate their stuff. Share it on social media, and, if you’re writing, integrate it into your blog posts. Create a little group of people that you think are awesome and keep tabs on the people you respect. Maybe someday you’ll go to a conference and you’ll get to have a beer and be friends in real life.
That’s the best part.
Find your groove
Bottom line, set some goals and have a strategy. It works.
But above everything else, and especially if you’re thinking of using content as a tool to reach your goals, think first about what you’re passionate about. If you choose something to focus on and write (and even speak) about, it better be something you really love.
But before you just select your focus based on your passion, do some research. Is there someone already out there writing and speaking about the topic that you’re passionate about? If so, how can you be unique? What can you add to the conversation? In your writing especially, you want to be generating stuff that is better than what’s already out there. Not only for your audience, but also so that your content has a nice cozy little place in Google’s index.
For me, I just got out there and started writing about the stuff I knew and had experienced with our clients. In the end, ruminating on my journey in my company brought me clarity on where I wanted my focus to be. It may be that way for you too. Just be strategic about it because when you have intent, the (positive) results seem to come more naturally.
Being passionate is more important than any other tool, tip, or technique
This last year hasn’t been about the web marketing that we’ve done for Mack Web. On a personal level, this last year has been all about discovering my passion for building this company into something remarkable. This passion that I feel about Mack Web comes from the same passion I feel for the culmination of SEO, social media, and content marketing (all the tools we’ve used to build our community and experience these results). This is something I wish I could instill in everyone who wants to take this web marketing journey.
If you read this and think, “ok, so what you’re saying is I have to write exactly 25 blog posts, and go to three conferences (which ones were those again?), and get really focused,” then you’re completely missing the point.
There isn’t an exact formula. There isn’t a magic path to take. The truth of it is that you could do all of these same things that I just described and not experience any of the success. You’ve got to be passionate, care about your business and your community, and keep doing the work.
Here’s to working toward big goals
So we haven’t received the Best Web Marketing Company in the West award (I’m pretty sure Ryan Seacrest will be contacting us directly any day now), but, as you can see, the ‘smaller‘ victories we experienced in those 10 months have more than compensated.
We may never reach our five year goal, but this journey is pretty sweet. I think we’ll stick with it.