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Gillian Muessig, President and Co-Founder, SEOmoz, Unites States

Team YS
10th Jan 2011
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Gillian Muessig is one of the key speakers at Click Asia Summit 2011 and shares her views on SEO in India with YourStory in an exclusive interview ….

After 20+ years of traditional marketing, you changed your company’s focus to SEO. Why did you do that?

SEOmoz got into Search Marketing because no one else could do it for us. Truly… here’s the story:

In 2003, I became involved in the very first companies attempting to utilize the brand new world wide web. I became very excited by the potential, both in business and for the global community. We do not kill those with whom we trade. I saw the web as a tremendous source of hope for global prosperity and peace. I still do and I try to leverage that in everything I do.

In 2001, during the ‘dot com bust’ years, clients no longer had budget to buy expensive (or even inexpensive websites); there was no capital expenditure in marketing budgets. But I was able to sell the idea of ‘commissioned sales online’, which we know today as Affiliate Marketing and Rev-Share pricing models. I used the more profitable, although more labor intensive rev-share model to keep my company operating. The rev-share model meant that my company designed, authored, developed, deployed, marketed, and maintained client websites for nothing – not even a downpayment in those days! Only when there was a sale and the customer made money did we get a ‘corner off the dollar’ or a commission.

My marketing company was very good at developing websites with very high conversion rates. But we did not do the SEO work – the work needed to bring those websites to the top of the search engines when people were searching for appropriate products. So I outsourced that work. Four times. At that point Rand Fishkin, today the most famous name in search marketing, came to me and said, “I guess I am going to have to learn this.” The short story is that he did and his work was extremely successful.

Click Asia

SEOmoz.org began as a blog to share information about search marketing and get others to do the same. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. ‘moz’ was a bow to D-moz and Mozilla, which have user-generated, freely shared information and support. And ‘.org’ was an indication that this was just a conversation… we didn’t intend to make money with it.As we became increasingly successful in the rev-share projects and consulting, we looked for a project in which we could control and reap the benefit of the whole project, rather than a portion of a rev-share project. At the time, SEOmoz.org already had 15,000 regular reader-members. We decided to deploy guides and then our first SEO tools on the website and charge a small amount to access them. We kept the blog, some tools and existing guides free to all.

On launch day, we sold 3 memberships. In a few months, we had hundreds of paid members and we turned our focus to making SEOmoz the focus of our future business efforts. SEOmoz.org started in 2003; in 2006 it became a corporation; in 2007 we took a small VC funding; in 2008, we launched Linkscape®. Today, SEOmoz is the providers of the world’s most popular search marketing software. There is still a huge volume of free SEO information, tools and support at www.SEOmoz.org and at www.OpenSiteExplorer.org. We also offer a subscription based service beginning at $99 USD per month. Our daily blog is read by more than 50,000 SEOs around the world; the SEO community is more than 300,000 search marketers.

Why did SEOmoz move away from the consulting business?

In 2009, I was at the Taj Lands End to pick up the World Brand Leadership Award for my role in building the SEOmoz brand from obscurity to the world’s best known SEO brand. So I had time to think carefully about branding and explain why we chose our current path. There are several reasons for closing our consulting services:

  1. Clarity in branding is critical. We became aware that people didn’t really know what SEOmoz did. Were we consultants with some tools? Bloggers with some consulting clients? And some tools? Were we selling a subscription service to our tools or our consulting services? It was very confusing and much of the public perception was just wrong. So it was important to clarify what SEOmoz did for a living. When we messaged that we no longer did consulting and were an SEO Application Company, our brand grew strong and increased in power globally.


Lesson Learned: Define your brand clearly and tightly. Do no be all things to all people or try to be a master of all trades. You will end up being average (or worse) in everything. Clear branding builds a stronger, better brand and helps you be a master of your niche market. Focus.

  1. Competing against your customers is a bad idea. As SEO consultants, we were competitors for the subscribers to SEOmoz.org applications and support services. On occasion, we would hear a company say, “We’re happy with our SEO consultants and SEOmoz is just using their toolset to get in the door to do consulting, so we don’t want to get a subscription there.” That was not the case and it wasn’t good for building the toolset and applications.
  2. We also heard other SEO consultants say they thought we might be using information from their use of the platform (think: facebook and google have valuable data from your use of their services) and we could use that info to compete with them in the consulting market. Again, this is not true, but the perception is the only thing that matters.
  3. Lesson Learned: The wise thing to do was to stop all consulting work as soon as possible.
  4. When you’re technologist is focused on anything other than your core business, you are losing money. As consultants, our chief technologist and CEO, Rand Fishkin was often required to perform research and reports. While we made a great deal of income from consulting, every time Rand as sidetracked by a consulting project, the design and development of the SEOmoz application was slowed.
  5. Keep focused on the long term goal. Stop doing things that sidetrack your long term success as soon as possible.
  6. Valuation. If I am a consulting company, I am worth 1 to 1.5 times the annual revenue of the company. If I am a tools or application company, I am worth 6 to 10x in the financial markets (Venture Capital valuations). When the numbers are so clearly laid out, it’s easy to make the decision to be an application company, rather than a consulting company.

You travel a lot, evangelizing for SEO. What are some of the most common myths you encounter about SEO and digital marketing?

  1. It’s easy. My nephew in high school could do this stuff. Why should I pay some guy or company to do this for me?
  2. SEO is complex, requires technical knowledge, continuing education, and a clear understanding of local, regional and international marketing requirements. It’s not kid’s play!

  3. SEO is scammy. If I build a good website, I’ll be fine. Search engines have inherent limitations in their ability to find, crawl, and index pages properly. The true art of white hat SEO is to build and manage pages in ways that enable search engines to do their job correctly.
  4. In short: The black hat SEO asks, “How can I scam the system to be #1?” The white had SEO asks, “How can this page deserve to be #1?”
  5. Social media has no ROI. This one is amazingly short sighted! If I could tell you what your customers are saying about you, your brand, your products, and what they’d like you to build and sell them tomorrow and how much they think it’s worth to them, you’d pay me millions of dollars a week to hear it. Well, I can.
  6. Social media can provide astounding visibility into a company’s customer base. SEOs are just beginning to leverage that – and I hope this conference will help them learn more about how to do that.

What game changers do you see for SEO in the foreseeable future?

Mobile marketing is growing. Social commerce is taking off. Personal information aggregators are beginning to pop up. Look for companies like pageonce.com to take over the information retrieval and program management processes of our daily lives. Available on mobile and desktop devices, these aggregators will provide us fast, easy ways to keep track of our increasingly complex online lives.

Watch for more gaming in online and offline marketing. The ‘gaming’ of our lives is something that is growing slowly out of social media initiatives and will become an increasingly larger part of our online and offline activities.

Considering the lack of internet penetration in the country, how do you feel about the future of SEO in India?

Wow, what a future it will be! THIS is where the opportunity lies! With only 18-20% penetration of web enabled devices into the marketplace, India is already a powerful player in online commerce. As more people become enfranchised, empowered by the technology itself, and able to increase their quality of life through better communications, access to knowledge, and better jobs, the Indian market is poised to become one of the most exciting markets in the world. You are at the starting ground – this is your moment of opportunity. Don’t miss it!

What can small or medium sized companies in India gain from investing in SEO?

Reaching local, national, and international markets is possible for companies of all sizes. If I were a manufacturer of an exciting product, I would want to be selling to financially qualified the world over. Why sell only to the person who walks into your store, when you can sell it to people throughout the country of India and beyond? Creating websites that can be found when people are searching for your kind of product or service is a long term investment that begins to pay off in the short term and grows, like interest added to a savings account over time. Invest now. It will never cost this little and the first ones to the party will have the most fun (in other words, the first people to reach these larger markets will make the most profit).

Do you feel that when it comes to SEO in India, some things are getting lost in translation? Should Indian businesses develop SEO models of their own or try to copy the best practices of the west?

Technical SEO is the same around the world. Social media is VERY LOCAL-SPECIFIC. In the US, we like our social media a little ‘edgy’. We like strong jokes, mild insults that are funny as well, something we call ‘snarky’. We in the US think Indian social media is very tame. But in Australia, they look at the US and think we are tame! They like their social media to be very strong. They make jokes and comments that make us cringe in the US. We are surprised and sometimes uncomfortable with it. The Australians are delighted by it and think we are too feeble for their style.

In India, this kind of communication would be considered rude and inappropriate. Social media here requires attention to the local customs and local style of communication. Be supportive, friendly, appreciative, generous with your knowledge without being boastful. Communicate as you would with your peers.

No, India does not need a separate technical or on-page SEO style. Yes, India definitely needs to establish its own social media style.

Other than SEO, what digital marketing efforts do you feel are important for the success of a business?

Search marketing covers a broad spectrum of tactics. SEO, SEM/PPC (facebook ads are a great deal these days!), mobile marketing, social media marketing, social commerce, melded media (traditional and online media combined), ARGs (alternate reality games or role playing games), game mechanics in marketing, are all logical tactics that should be reviewed before developing a successful search marketing strategy.

Do you see digital marketing coming at par with or overtaking traditional marketing in the future?

Digital marketing has already overtaken TV marketing expenditures in Q3 in the UK. Internet marketing is just the delivery vehicle of information in the future. Therefore, just as the first half of the twentieth century belonged to radio and the second half was the time of TV, the Internet will be the delivery vehicle of the future. What comes after that is as yet unknown, but rest assured, the Internet will see its day and its decline just as every other technology has.

You are known by the title of “SEOmom”. What do you feel about such a title in the cutting edge world of SEO?

It’s an honor to be known as SEOmom. I have two sons. Rand Fishkin is the most famous SEO in the world today. Evan Fishkin, the younger son, is fast becoming the world’s leading authority on game theory in marketing and in-game marketing. The name was bestowed on me for the first time by an SEO at a conference when he witnessed a speaker asking me for advise on managing a head cold while having to speak publicly. I reached into my laptop bag and gave the speaker an analgesic and the SEO announced, ‘Look! Gillian isn’t just Rand Fishkin’s mom. She’s a mom to all of us! She’s SEOmom!’ And so it was born.

At the cutting edge of communication technology – the technology that brings together children (and adults) of all races, creeds, and nationalities, that provides us a place to meet, to play, to air thoughts, and build ideas, a technology that bring the world the best hope for the kind of communication that brings peace, I am honored to carry the name of ‘mom’.

Now is a good time to share SEOmoz’ mission:

To democratize the spread of the ideas on the web

And to share the tenets on which Rand and I built this company and which I help other brilliant entrepreneurs to build their companies (including several in India):

http://www.seomoz.org/blog/what-we-believe-why-seomozs-tagfee-tenets

Thanks for the opportunity to share my journey, excitement and joy at being a part of this industry with colleagues at Click Asia.



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