Archive for June, 2009

Rick Short Explains How to Turn Staff Into Prolific Bloggers


Soldering can’t possibly have anything to do with blogging, right?

Wrong. For Indium Corporation, a supplier of soldering materials and electronics assembly equipment, blogging is now a central piece of the marketing mix.

Rick ShortWhy? Because blogging helps Indium reach target audiences, get the company message out and — above all — get found via search engines and social media.

In a recent email interview, Rick Short, Indium’s director of marketing, explained why blogging is so important to his company.

Q: You work at a company that supplies electronics assembly equipment. What made you want to start your first blog? Weren’t you worried about a shortage of readers and topics to write about?

A: My goal was, and remains, to own the space as the “thought leader” for a wide variety of pertinent topics, technologies, etc. This, theoretically, delivers customer contacts on targeted topics-leading to increased sales, as well as insight into future opportunities (technologies, developments, etc.). It also delivers our customers a sophisticated source of support. Bottom line — I wanted a win: win scenario.

Since the Indium Corporation has so many accomplished technologists who perform basic and applied research, as well as many individuals who are active with customer applications in the field, I knew I had the content. My real challenge was getting my staff to warm to the concept of being a blogger. This required a change in mindset, as well as a slight change in routine and responsibilities. Some perceived this “new” practice to be frivolous. After all, “writing a column” (like a journalist) seems quite unlike the traditional serious and deeply-involved creation of a “white paper” – it doesn’t feel right to some scientists. Once they realized how this type of sharing is valuable, they started coming around.

Q: As the director of marketing communications at the Indium Corporation you manage trade exhibitions and blogs (among other things). Which channel is more efficient for you? Why?

First we need to know the units that you use to measure efficiency. To me it involves things like time, money, utilization rates, and (most importantly) contact generation. So, in terms of things like time/contact, money/contact, and “times used” (how many times we can put one piece of information out to the market), blogging and related social media is, by far, the most efficient activity.

That said, I don’t have to select only one way to go to market, so I use a variety of activities to earn our target audience’s respect, trust, and favor.

Q: Indium has 10 employees blogging about topics varying from electronics assembly and technology to interface materials and semiconductor packaging. How do you justify so much company time devoted to blogging?

A: Another way I’ve heard the same sentiments goes something like this, “I don’t have time to do that silly stuff, I’ve got an experiment to finish (or a white paper to complete).” That was the voice of many of my bloggers at one time or another. Many people see blogging as an activity that takes precious time away from their “important” work.

My tactic is to reduce the process down to a very simple form, an inarguable form. In the case of my staff, it almost has to be a mathematical equation. Remember, my staff, and our customers, are extremely sophisticated, well-educated, and technologically astute. They seek and value data and logic, not warm fuzzies.

So, I break it down to this: products and technology generate content (meaningful information) which generates (customer) contact which generates profitable sales. Then, I demonstrate how easily my staff’s hard-earned and extremely-valued content is purveyed via blogging (and other social media). Next, I use some anecdotes relating to the effect of delivering a white paper at a technology symposium, or having it printed in a trade journal versus having online, syndicated, and searchable for years and years.

Eventually, these smart people see that blogging thrusts them and their content into the spotlight in a long-term, efficient manner. They quickly get it.

Q: Which one of the Indium’s blogs have you found to be the most successful and why do you think that is the case?

A: Each blog is a success since they each have different target audiences and expectations. I can’t simply declare that, because blog “A” generates more leads than blog “B” it is better. We need to consider the population of the target audience, as well as other factors. We also need to consider the resources needed to keep the blog vibrant.

Q: Your company has facilities in China, Singapore, South Korea, the U.K. and Italy. How do you think your blogging and vlogging generate international leads?

A: In many ways, technology is “global.” Sure, language matters, and barriers exist. We blog in Chinese as well as English. We wish we were blogging in many other languages. We have resource constraints and we make the best of them.

As usual, we seek to overcome cultural and language barriers via the use of numbers, tables, charts, graphs, and videos. We also seek to tap into emotions and experiences. We may be geeks here, but we’re people. Our highly-technical audience has a tremendous sense of passion and of humor. My ideal communiqué has no spoken or written words-it conveys the message perfectly using only universally understood imagery. Alas, that ideal is rarely achieved-but we nail it sometimes.

Q: How do you compare your video marketing efforts on YouTube with your blogging program? Are your videos a source of leads, or do you have other goals for them?

A: There are similarities and differences. The basic similarities include our desire to earn respect and trust via authentic, unassailable facts, depicted clearly-and our customers’ (almost universal) ability to easily access each. The differences are mechanical.

But, remember, a YouTube video can be easily embedded into a blog post. In fact, that is exactly why I created our YouTube channel. I wanted a place to house my embeddable video for blog usage.

In conclusion, I see them as being one comprehensive toolbox, not mutually exclusive.

Q: What advice would you give to a company that needs to increase online lead generation, but doesn’t think blogging is right for its industry?

A: Rethink. And use outside experts to help you rethink. Many times, our leaders are very experienced. That could mean they’ve been doing the same old thing for too long and are in a rut. I’ve certainly been that guy a few times. Outsiders can refocus us, bring opportunities into the light, and wake us up.

If blogging truly offers no benefits, big deal. Move on. Do what works for you. There are so many scenarios out there, and so many lead-gen tools available that it should be possible to craft an effective program.

Q: What are your favorite blogs? (Other than ones run by Indium or HubSpot!)

A: Being a Marcom geek, I love Dan Santow’s blog, Word Wise. Writing and grammar seem to be a forgotten art in communication. I believe it really matters a lot. I truly enjoy Dan’s particular (and proper) attitude toward writing. Moving beyond the topic, he puts the blog together (mechanically) in a crisp, clear, easily understandable layout. Then, he writes succinctly and effectively. Bottom line: when I am done, I am better — and I can implement what I’ve learned the rest of my life. That is value. Remember, a good blog (like all good Marcom) is all about the audience and never about the author.

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Tips from a recovering journalist: How to write effective press releases that help SEO

Posted by MikeK@DanconiaMedia

This post was originally in YOUmoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.

It’s been said here before: Press releases are much less powerful than they used to be for SEO purposes. While churning out news releases and submitting them to free sites may not do much, the medium can actually be more powerful than ever if used right. Convincing a single reporter or high-profile blogger to pick up your news is infinitely more beneficial than posting worthless releases all over the place and Digg’ing and StumbleUpon’ing them with your multiple accounts.

I have a somewhat unique perspective about news releases. Not too long ago, I worked full-time as a newspaper reporter, and my inbox was regularly inundated with press releases. Some of them caught my attention and were turned into lengthy stories. Others, however, failed to captivate me or my peers and, as a result, went nowhere.

Here are some tips on how to craft your releases in a way that increases the odds of them getting noticed by the media:

Get to the point. Make it clear from the get-go what your release is about. Don’t try to be cute. I used to get releases all the time from PR people who buried the news or tried to get creative with their writing. Sometimes, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what some releases were even about. If you’re looking for a creative outlet, press release writing is not the avenue. Try writing a short story.

At least pretend you’re objective. Obviously, you have a vested interest in what you’re writing about, but it’s still important to craft your releases like down-the-middle news stories. Avoid unnecessary adjectives; most adjectives are unneeded. You don’t want your release to read like an advertisement. Pick out the newsiest element and concentrate on that.

Speak English. I see releases all the time that are stuffed with industry jargon that most people do not understand. Don’t assume that what you’re writing about is a familiar subject for the people who’ll read your release. Dumb it down. Assume your release will be read by the densest guy in the room.

Send it out manually. Instead of just dumping your releases into submission sites and hoping someone important notices, email it yourself to media outlets and bloggers you think might be interested in it. If you’re publicizing a new product, send your release to newspapers in the company’s area. If you can, find out which reporters cover the relevant beat and send it to them directly; that usually only takes a phone call.

Have good timing. If you’re looking for coverage, sending your release out on Election Day or after hours on a Friday is goofy. Those are good times to release bad news you’re obligated to report – any White House spokesman will tell you that – but it’ll do you no good unless your story is wildly sensational. News outlets are typically more desperate for copy during the summer months and around holidays.

Act like a human. Interactivevoices’ post about getting a link from CNN.com – the only PR10 news site – illustrated this perfectly. There’s no harm in picking up the phone and calling reporters directly to see if they’re interested in your story. For all you know, the only thing preventing your news from being published is an over-finicky spam filter.

Don’t beg. When I was working as a reporter, I didn’t realize why some sources were so hellbent on me including links in my stories. Now I know. If your link is relevant to the story, the reporter will probably include it. If not, you’re still getting good publicity.

Of course, all of this will only help if you actually have something worthwhile to say. If you think there’s nothing interesting to say about your enterprise, you’re probably wrong. You just need to think long and hard to figure out what it is.

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Join the Fan Club: Facebook Fan Pages are Better for Business than Groups and Profiles


    

      Smaller Businesses are now looking to join the world’s largest social networking site, Facebook, to access and attract new customers. But what should they do when they arrive? Should these businesses set up a profile, a group or a fan page to establish their brand?

How are Facebook Fan Pages different than personal profiles and groups?

Facebook Fan Pages are interactive pages that enable users to share your business and products with other Facebook users. They typically include a wall, photos, a discussion board, an information tab and Facebook applications. These pages should be set up using a personal profile to receive full functionality but can be managed by multiple administrators, who remain anonymous to fans that join the page.

Facebook Profiles are used to represent an individual and are held under an individual’s name. According to Facebook’s Term of Service, each profile on the site can only be used by one individual. Users can receive and write wall posts, post bios, videos, and photos, and install applications.

Facebook Groups are similar to Fan Pages but are geared more toward informal communities of people that share a common interest. The members of these groups are not necessarily looking to learn more about the business or new products. Due to size and security limitations, interaction with group members has constraints. Only groups with fewer than 5,000 members can send email blasts; thus, its members are not updated as regularly as Fan Pages. Additionally, group members are more difficult to access because mutual acceptance is necessary to participate in a Facebook Group.

Why are Fan Pages the best for businesses?

      Creating a fan page is the optimal way to represent your business on Facebook because it is the most viral of the three. When someone becomes a fan of your business, that information is posted on their wall, exposing your business to their friends too. Additionally, when fans interact with the Fan Page, stories that are linked to your page are passed on to their friends via News Feed. One of the most valuable features is that businesses can send “updates” about new products and content to fans and the brand becomes even more visible.

      Fan Pages also pass along more SEO credit because the pages are public. Since logins are not required to view Fan Pages, search engines can index the page. The page can receive facebook.com link credit. When social networking platforms, like Facebook, are linked to a company’s web page, the Fan Pages can channel more prospects throughout the network.

      Lastly, Facebook Fan Pages are easy to set up and manage. Facebook Fan Pages also give you access to data that can be used to target and monitor your prospects online. This information is extremely valuable in courting potential customers.

5 Tips for Interacting on Fan Pages:

1. Be Authentic: Don’t always try to push your products and services on people. Start a relationship with visitors.

2. Provide interesting content: Frequently update content so updates constantly appear on walls of members.

3. Tell your story: Share how the business came about and what is going on now.

4. Control your page: Clearly state your policies somewhere on the page so your site does not get spammed.

5. Get a vanity URL: help with branding by putting the business  name right in the web address.

 

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My Startup Experience: VC, Entrepreneurship, Self-Analysis & The Road Ahead

Posted by randfish

(Intro: This post continues a series of personal growth focused entries. It doesn’t have much direct, applicable SEO value, so feel free to skip if that’s what you’re seeking)

I’ve learned more in the last 9 months than at any previous time in my life – about myself, about this company and about the worlds of venture capital, entrepreneurship and startups. And, in the spirit of transparency (one of our guiding principles and an ideal I haven’t been maintaining as well as I could of late), I want to share, to talk about where SEOmoz is today and why we’ve decided to explore additional capital opportunities. In fact, I feel compelled – because even if only 100 people, or 10 or just 1 learn something here they can apply to themselves, it will be worthwhile.

Segments in this Post:

A Brief History

Let’s start back in August of 2007. SEOmoz was tiny - 8 people growing a business out of a 1,000 sq. ft. office in Seattle’s University District (man, do I miss that place) and two people who believed it was going to be much, much bigger – Kelly from Curious Office and Michelle from Ignition. It’s only in retrospect that I can really appreciate their foresight, because when they invested $1.1 million in the company that November, I was an SEO geek who wanted to use that funding to solve an SEO problem. My dream was to better understand the web’s link graph and how the engines could use that to rank sites & pages. I should have been thinking about the problems faced by those wanting to do SEO and how a scalable, technology solution could be used to help them – like what Vanessa Fox did when she built Webmaster Tools inside Google (more on that later).

Our first round of capital raising was very unique, and for that reason, may be less applicable than other advice on the topic. Nevertheless, I’ll try to share that experience and the macro and micro-economic factors that impacted it.

VC Invested 2004-2009

Investment Data via NVCA Press Alert

You can see that not only was 2007 the most active year for venture capital investment, but that Q4 of 2007 was a particularly high spike. It’s probably not surprising that SEOmoz took its funding in this type of environment – possibly the best time to raise money from an entrepreneur’s perspective since 2000. Why? Because when deal flow is very high, terms tend to be more entrepreneur friendly. Ours certainly were.

It’s uncommon (though not unheard of) for a firm like Ignition Partners, with over a billion dollars under management, to put so little capital into a company. Between Ignition & Curious, the amount raised was $1.1 million, less than half the size of their next smallest public investment (Crunchbase has a list here, though SEOmoz’s funding amount is inaccurately reported as $1.25 million, and the participants inaccurately listed as 1 – and Ignition does do some smaller deals that aren’t listed). Quantity wasn’t the only outlier – our valuation, the terms themselves (things like vesting, board structure, preferences, etc.) were very good and the deal closed quickly. Today’s funding environment could be a very different story. As you can see from the charts above, the floor fell out in the VC markets last October, and although May 2009 may have been a step forward, entrepreneurs who seek capital today shouldn’t expect  seed or series A rounds to look the way they did in November of 2007.

SEOmoz was also helped in this deal by an important factor I think every startup should consider – WE DIDN’T NEED THE MONEY. We were already profitable and growing, already had a brand name in the industry and had attracted interest from multiple investors. I think that every entrepreneur who’s considering startup-dom should think about establishing those goals before they go for institutional capital – a profitable, growing company with a product that’s on the market and a brand name that’s well known makes you:

  • A) Lower risk to investors
  • B) Interesting to multiple parties and multiple kinds of investors (angels, VCs, private equity, etc.)
  • C) More confident in every step of the process
  • D) Able to walk away from a deal you don’t like

This psychology is so powerful that I can’t imagine doing it any other way. If I wanted to build a travel portal to take on Kayak.com, I’d start a great travel site (maybe even just a really interesting blog), build up some brand recognition, use advertising or low-cost premium features to drive revenue and only after those numbers made for a compelling story, approach investors. I’d use that same formula even for a capital intensive business – start with cool ideas, great writing and valuable resources, become a hub for your industry, show web traffic and positive interest, then go fundraise.

We started as a consulting business – in fact, SEOmoz is on a .org TLD because when I started the site, there wasn’t even a business behind it (even the name "moz" comes from the ethos of open sharing pioneered by folks like DMOZ & the Mozilla foundation). Gillian and I were running a website design & development shop and learning SEO because our customers needed it and we had no other choice. Eventually SEOmoz got so big and popular as a blog that it made sense to conduct business under that name, and a few years later, we realized consulting wasn’t the right way for us to scale this incredible community around us. Those decisions – made much more by accident than grand vision – gave us the credibility and the story that made investors excited.

And yeah, it didn’t hurt that Q4 of 2007 was probably the best time to raise money in the last 8 years.

How Outside Capital Helped

Taking the outside investment proved to be an excellent decision, and, to be honest, even in today’s market, I’d still consider raising money if I were in the same position again. Outside capital made me a better entrepreneur, focused our company more seriously on the things we needed to do and made us more accountable and metrics-driven. Some companies feel that pressure internally and can build those processes without external help. We needed that external pressure and it’s been remarkable. I’ll try to detail some of the big ways investment has helped us:

  • Metrics Requirements - Any outside investor will require reporting of specific data points about the business from financial, HR, marketing and development perspectives. You’re probably doing this already inside your business, and we were as well, but experienced outside perspectives distill the list into the critical pieces, identify important missing criteria and work with you to help develop the raw numbers into actionable data.
  • Accountability – A lot of CEOs and company leaders choose that job because it means they’re in charge. And while that’s certainly an enjoyable perk, bringing in outside investors makes you accountable again – not in the same way a typical boss does, but the responsibility and pressure to perform. In many small companies, very few people beyond the CEO and perhaps one or two others are fully aware of the company’s performance or lack thereof – and when things go south (or simply don’t go as well as predicted), no one’s there holding your feet to the fire. If external pressure can help you excel (as it has with me), then funding provides a great benefit. 
  • Board Meetings – Rarely in small companies does leadership take a regular hard look at their priorities, strategy and direction (Will & Duncan, you’re the exception, not the rule). Board meetings provide that gut-level check on every facet of the business, and let you step back to see the forest for the trees. They’re not necessarily fun, but they will make you a better entrepreneur (and if they don’t, it means you’ve likely chosen the wrong board members).
  • Thinking Long Term – Running a business is incredibly hard, and startups, doubly so. With so much time and energy devoted to turning the flywheel, it’s easy to miss an opportunity or ignore a fundamental problem that’s outside the scope of the day-to-day. Professional investment means you’ve got a partner watching out for precisely that issue.
  • Adding Experience to the Team – Every new person we add to SEOmoz, that’s the biggest team I’ve ever led. Every dollar of revenue that comes in is the most money I’ve ever managed. With outside investors, they’ve seen and been through much bigger and can help guide you along the path – whether it’s filled with potholes or littered with opportunities that just need to be scooped up.
  • Networking Opportunties – VCs know a lot of very important people. From strategic operators at big companies to C-level executives at startups to government, charity and press, you’ll rarely find a more connected group. This shouldn’t be surprising, as networking is one of the biggest value-adds VCs advertise. The problem is that for most entrepreneurs, myself included, the need for these networks is few and far between, so it seems less valuable than it really is – once your company is in a position to either do big enterprise partnerships or be acquired, those connections can "make or break" the firm.
  • Oh Yeah, the Money  – Did you know VCs also provide capital? Yep, it’s true – and having dollars to spend when you’re a creative entrepreneur with a great plan is pretty awesome.

There are probably a dozen more ways that venture capital investment has helped SEOmoz, and I’m certain that many of them will be immeasurable and possibly even invisible. All of this isn’t to say that VC doesn’t have it’s downsides – there are a few, and it pays to be aware of them:

  • Funding is a Time Suck – I’m personally feeling this right now (as I’ll explain later), and it’s important to be aware of the opportunity cost of seeking investment. For most startups, the CEO and the executive team are essential to running day-to-day operations of the business. When you take time out to build slide decks for investors, meet with VCs, network amongst your contacts and field calls, it pulls time & energy away from the company.
  • Control of Your Business is Diluted – VCs build company boards. In our scenario, the board is comprised of three voting members (Gillian, Michelle & myself) and one observer (Kelly). This structure means that company management and founders have the deciding vote in any contentious issue (only one has ever arisen on SEOmoz’s board). In a future round, though, we expect that another 2 members would join the board – one individual from the investment firm and one independent member we all agree upon. Just to be clear, though – even in our scenario, there are certain types of votes which must pass with 100% of the board’s approval (mostly things like sale of stock, funding, etc.).
  • You Have a Boss – OK, it’s not a typical boss and you don’t report to them on a regular basis, but you do have someone who watches your metrics and performance closely and can replace you if/when that performance is unacceptable. One of the most significant powers the board holds at any VC-backed company is the ability to fire the CEO.
  • You Have Fiduciary Obligations – Legal documents bind you to operate the company with its interests, not your own, at the heart of your decisions. This impacts quite a bit of the decisions you make at a company, particularly when you switch from something like a longtime, family-run business (such as ours). It’s definitely good for the company (and good for your own internal discipline), but it can be painful at times.
  • Your Exit Options are Limited – Retire, walk away, close up shop, sell for a low price because you don’t want to go out for higher bids or you particularly like the buyer – these options (and many others like them) become challenging to impossible, once you take outside investment.

As you can tell from my opinions above and my previous advice to myself, I’m a big proponent in spite of these potential detractors.

2007-2009 Growth 

This company looks very different than it did just 2 years ago, and I’ve been lax in sharing the kinds of numbers and data about the business that was once a signature of my blogging (see 2006 and 2007 financials, for example). While there’s a lot that I’m obligated not to share, I’m going to go right up to that line – not just because I think it will make this story more interesting, but because it’s part of our guiding principles.

Full-Time Employees

SEOmoz Personnel Growth 2007-2009

It’s tough to build this chart, because the number of full-time folks fluctuates even inside a single year, but I’ve done my best to approximate the annual averages.

PRO Members

SEOmoz PRO Membership Growth

PRO membership has really taken off in the last 6 months – and while we doubled membership from 2007-2008, we were able to do that in just the first 6 months in 2009.

Revenue

Revenue, Expenses & Margin 2007-2009

Sadly, while I can’t share exact numbers, this chart does give an accurate concept of where we are. 2009 is shaping up to be a very exciting year. Although I also can’t show margin numbers, I will say that from Nov. 2007 to Nov. 2008, SEOmoz burned capital (approx. 3/4 of the investment we took). Starting in Dec. 2008 and continuing each month through to June 2009, we’ve been profitable and rebuilt a respectable cash reserve (of course, if you ask Sarah, we still need to sweat every penny of it).

Visits to the SEOmoz.org Website 

 SEOmoz Website Traffic Growth

Traffic is growing nicely as well, though what this chart doesn’t show is that 2009 has been virtually devoid of the types of "linkbait" that were a hallmark of the site in 2007 (and much of 2008). We’ve found that while those efforts can produce great traffic boosts and link growth, we need to focus on conversion rate optimization and the PRO membership product before we return to viral content generation.

A (Not-So) Short Story that Led to a Decision

Last October, just after we launched Linkscape, SEOmoz started fielding between 2-4 calls per month from venture capital firms seeking to place investment. These are exciting, flattering and fun calls to get, and in those initial conversations, the focus makes for an ego-padding chat. It’s pretty easy to see why these investors were so interested – no, not because SEOmoz itself is all that awesome (they didn’t even know much about us when they called) – it’s because of the potential market for SEO:

Most Effective Online Marketing Tactic - eMarketer

Via eMarketer’s Search Spending Swells Worldwide & Online Marketing Effectiveness

SEO is at or near the top for four different categories:

  1. Where marketers get the most conversions
  2. Where they get the most branding impact
  3. Where they are planning to re-allocate budget
  4. Wherethey are planning to increase spend

VCs love this stuff, and they love it even more when the market as a whole appears to be big and growing:

Growth in SEM Spend 2005-2009
_
Data Source: SEMPO State of the Market Surveys

A predicted spend of just over $2 billion on SEO in 2009 suggests that SEO may finally be earning some respect, just as the growth in PPC spend slows its acceleration rate. Richard Zwicky‘s SEM analytics company, Enquisite, is an example of this market shift commanding respect. Enquisite’s raised over $11 million in venture capital in the last few years (including a series B round of $8 million in February) . His favorite mantra is the disconnect I wrote about last october:

PPC: 88% of all SEM spend VS. SEO: 11% of all SEM spend

PPC: 10% of all search clicks VS. SEO: 90% of all search clicks

Markets don’t stay this inefficient for long.

No wonder investors have jumped at opportunities like those Richard presented with Enquisite and others like Conductor ($10 million raised in April), Marin Software ($13 million raised in April), Optify ($2.75 million raised in Oct. ’08) and Yield Software ($6 million raised in June ’08). And no wonder they were calling up SEOmoz, hoping to learn more about us and see if there was an investment opportunity.

Despite these inquiries, our board meetings in October & November were very operational and tactical. We were at the tail end of turning around from cash flow negative to positive, and there were some high stress moments, capped off by a working "product" meeting in early December. At that roundtable, I presented some concepts for SEOmoz’s future product direction and got shot down. And thank goodness I did.

The problem with entrepreneurs like me is that our creativity, emotional attachments to technology and love of product "coolness" can sometimes get in the way of making things that real people find really usable & useful. When that happens, it’s even more essential to be surrounded by smart, secure people who feel up to the challenge of challenging you.

After the meeting ended, I spent a lot of time thinking strategically about where we needed to go. That thinking ended up in dozens of notepad pages, and I’ve shared a few below:

Rand's Scribblings

Rand Scribbles Some More

Even more scribbles from Rand

My goal was to get to the core of the "SEO Problem" with a software product, and luckily, I didn’t have to go that road alone. Adam Feldstein, a longtime friend of mine, joined SEOmoz in January and we spent an entire week together in the mozplex’s meeting room, diagramming a product evolution we’ve come to call "Turbomoz" internally (much as we did when Linkscape was called "Carhole").

Adam and I presented a walkthrough of our new plan in early April to a packed room, including the SEOmoz board and several internal folks. The feedback was terrific – they loved not only the product itself, but the simplicity, the design, the intuition behind it and the potential to reach a lot more of the market than just the intermediate-to-expert level SEOs that make up the majority of our members today. An early version of "Turbomoz" is set to release in late September.

A few weeks later, I headed to Boston, where I got to spend a lot of time with a great friend and mentor, Dharmesh Shah, the founder of Hubspot and blogger at OnStartups. Dharmesh and I talked a lot about our two companies – how they’re growing, what the economic downturn has impacted, where we see opportunities and what makes a startup successful. It was a tremendous learning experience, and something I can’t recommend enough to others. If you’re currently running a business and can find someone with a similar model who’s willing to exchange information and ideas, do it. Being a CEO can be a very lonely job – even close friends and family won’t be able to empathize in the same way another CEO can. Many cities even have startup support groups (although they’re not usually called that, exactly).

My visits with Dharmesh inspired me to be more self analytical and more self critical. If there are things in the business that aren’t working, places where opportunity isn’t being executed upon, and chances to make a difference, I owe it not only to myself, but to our investors and, most importantly, to my employees to make the change. As the late King of Pop said, "start with the man in the mirror."

Just a couple weeks later, I landed in San Francisco. If you haven’t read the back-and-forth between Silicon Valley vs. Seattle VC/entrepreneur/tech startup, check out Glenn Kelman (Redfin‘s CEO) comparing the two, Michael Arrington responding & Glenn firing back. There’s a grain of truth to the staments they make:

Sure Seattle is beautiful (Kelman talks about lakes and outdoor stuff a lot in his post). And if you want to have a balanced, healthy lifestyle, that’s a great place to do it. If you don’t think you have what it takes to make it in Silicon Valley, maybe Seattle or other mini-tech hubs is the place for you. But the best of the best come to Silicon Valley to see if they’re as good as the legends that came before them. It’s a competitive advantage to be here. And if you aren’t willing to take advantage of every possible advantage to make your crazy startup idea work, perhaps you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur.

The "valley culture" of depriving oneself of everything else except work really does exist, and it’s easy to become both enamored and afraid of it very quickly. But I also agree with Glenn that:

So even though all of us in Seattle would probably concede that Silicon Valley is generally better for startups than anywhere else, that doesn’t mean that we have to agree with Michael that Silicon Valley is always better, or better in every way. For starters, people in Seattle have helped me in an open-hearted, small-town way that I might not have found in the Valley.

And where Michael and I really disagree is on whether it is good some times to be away from all the me-too Valley companies trying to make money on Internet ads, even though he complains about them every day on TechCrunch.

I was very lucky to get some of that same "open-hearted, small-town" help, even in the Valley. A few years ago, Michael Eisenberg introduced me to Nirav Tolia, a former EIR with Benchmark, and the two of us have become fast friends. Nirav’s just launched a great startup – Fanbase – and has introduced me to a number of terrific entrepreneurs, nearly all of whom have great interest in SEO. At dinner one night, a fellow CEO (Thomas Layton of Metaweb), crystalized the question that had been weighing on my mind for the last 8 months – should SEOmoz take another round of funding?

Here, word for word (to the best of my memory), is what Thomas said to me:

Let’s make this easy. I’ll give you three things, you prioritize them, and I’ll tell you whether you should take the money.

  1. Do you want to be the CEO and in control of the company’s destiny?
  2. Do you want to make the most possible money from an exit?
  3. Do you want the company to achieve the most and become the most it can be?

I don’t actually remember which one I picked on the spot… I think I struggled a bit to be confident in my response, and that’s because honestly, I hadn’t been asking myself that question, even though it’s something every CEO/founder should inherently know. A few days later, though, the answer was clear – #3. I want SEOmoz to be all that it can be. I believe in SEO. I believe in the people here. And I believe that with the right help – and another dose of all the positive things our first round brought us – we can achieve even more remarkable things.

Thus, we’re exploring the VC path, talking to those folks who’ve been calling and thinking a bit more seriously about a series B. It’s not something we’re definitely pursuing, and plenty of circumstances could change our minds about whether it’s the right option. As the media is quick to remind us, valuations and deal terms are not great right now, and with SEOmoz in such a strong position, we can afford to be patient, be picky and choose the right partner.

What I’ve Learned About Myself

  • I do well with external pressure, even when it’s critical. I think that comes from childhood, when my Dad was obsessed with my grades and it made me work harder.
  • I get inspired by those who’ve achieved amazing things. I want to meet more people like that and spend time with them – it’s a remarkable experience.
  • I need to do a better job of thinking long term, even when I’m mired in the day-to-day. CEOs are supposed to be visionaries, and it’s irresponsible for me to be slacking off.
  • I need to find ways to outsource more of my personal workload and trust others to do as good a job or better than I could.
  • My stubborness is sometimes useful, but I need to do a better job of letting go when the situation warrants.
  • I’m so lucky – so much luckier than I’ve ever considered – to be where I am. Thankfully, it appears I’m not alone – if Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (worth reading, BTW) is right, everyone who gets to do these kinds of exciting things in their lives owes that opportunity to the people around them, and I’m no different.

My Top Advice for Other Entrepreneurs

  • Don’t be too scared of taking venture capital – it gets a lot of negative press, but in the end, you and the VCs want exactly the same thing – for your company to succeed magnificiently.
  • Find VCs you love to work with – people you want to be friends with and spend time with and drink beer with. Find people who care not just about your company, but about you personally. I think this has been the best part about Michelle & Kelly on our board – they don’t just care about the numbers. They care about us. Seriously consider being flexible on deal terms if it means working with the right people (though often those "right people" are the same ones who’ll give you the best deals).
  • Be relentlessly self-analytical and self-critical. Work hard to identify your flaws and pad them with team members who can compensate. My relentless optimism and cavalier march to spend money to grow the company is tempered by Sarah’s risk intolerance. It’s a great balance, and every company needs it.
  • Leverage the entrepreneurial community around you. If my experience is any guide, CEOs and startup founders love to help and guide others – and that culture isn’t limited to Silicon Valley or Seattle or Boston, either. I’ve had friends from New York City to Reykjavik to Shanghai, Sydney, London and Nashville lend their time, their networks and their advice. I only hope that I can do as well to help others.

Questions & Answers

In the spirit of this post, and of SEOmoz’s guiding principles, I’d like to open the comments to questions and offer to answer anything I reasonably can in a post next week. You can also feel free to email me if you have private questions. One quick thing I’ll say is that for those seeking VC, three resources have been of great help to me – OnStartups, VentureHacks and Hacker News.

I sincerely hope this blog post has brought you value and helped bring a little more transparency to a world that’s rarely seen outside of Sand Hill Road meeting rooms.

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New Data Shows Over Half of Executives Under 40 Use Twitter


Last week Forbes Insights, in association with Google, released a study showing that more than half of business executives under the age of 40 interact on micro-blogging platforms like Twitter.

The report, “The Rise of the Digital C-Suite: How Executives Locate and Filter Business Information,” showed that 32% of business executives under 40 read or generate microfeeds daily (dark blue in the chart below) and 24% do so several times a week (light blue in the chart below).

56% of Executives Under 40 Use Twitter and Micro-blogging
Forbes

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh
is an example of this Twittering executive class. “We’ve decided that we want to embrace transparency as much as possible,” 35-year-old Tony said.

So what does a company get from Twitter, according to Tony and the report?

Grow in Transparency and Personality
Companies use Twitter to both enhance their business transparency and enrich their personality. With 837,745 Twitter followers (as of today), Zappos is constantly building personal connections and interacting with employees and customers.

Yet Tony sees the site as much more than a networking platform. To him, Twitter has become a tool for personal growth that allows more transparency, positiveness, helpfulness and appreciation.

Instant Feedback
As a real-time social network, Twitter provides businesses with instant feedback. “We have over 400
employees on Twitter, and we’ve created a website that aggregates all
mentions of Zappos,” Tony explained.

This is
definitely a modern information-gathering technique as the
micro-blogging platform provides instant feedback and new insights. The
Forbes study suggests that as digital natives, young executives are
willing to “try new ways to access information” and, as a result, find
an increasing value in the micro-blogging platform.

Open Communication Channels
Twitter also makes it possible for businesses to set up two-way tweeting communication. Like BatchBlue, a CRM (customer relationship manager) for small businesses, you can “provide another communication channel
for your customers.

Today, BatchBlue has 2,348 followers with whom it
interacts. The company invites its followers to events, updates them
about planned outages and requests feedback about ideas or product
development. Its successful use of Twitter as a communication tool even
got the company featured on “The Ultimate Small Business Twitter List.”

A Word of Warning: Understand Twitter Culture
Senior executives should understand Twitter culture in order to get involved in it efficiently. The Forbes report shows that Twitter is “almost non-existent” for CEOs over the age of 50. This data makes a clear statement about the generational split in terms of Twitter usage.

While younger executives are eager to experiment with this emerging social and technological phenomenon, senior executives don’t feel as comfortable with it. The study attributes this generational split to a difference in information gathering approaches. In order to harness Twitter’s marketing power, executives need to first understand its culture.

Image Credit: Forbes

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A Bad Day for Search Engines: How News of Michael Jackson’s Death Traveled Across the Web

Posted by Danny Dover

Update: Google representatives responded to complaints of the Google News delay with the following explanation:

"The spike in searches related to Michael Jackson was so big that Google News initially mistook it for an automated attack. As a result, for about 25 minutes yesterday, when some people searched Google News they saw a "We’re sorry" page before finding the articles they were looking for."Source


 First and foremost, let me extend my best wishes to the family and friends of Michael Jackson. I can only imagine the pain of losing a close friend and then having to watch it play out on a global stage. He made an extraordinary impact on the world and although not perfect, he is a teacher even in death (as evidenced by this post).

The following is a timeline of how the news of the Prince of Pop’s death traveled across the internet. Not all the times are exact (they might be off by up to 5 minutes) and not every source is included. All times are GMT.

From an internet marketer’s perspective, I found this story fascinating to watch unfold. I was impressed by the speed of information distribution and very surprised to see which site posted the news first. Wikipedia is still the fastest news aggregator. It was faster than Twitter and much faster than Google.


A Timeline of How News of Michael Jackson’s Death Traveled Across the Internet

19:21One of Michael Jackson’s employee’s calls 911

The next forty-nine minutes are best described as the calm before the storm. The Los Angles Fire Department arrived at Jackson’s rented mansion in Bel Air and family members were alerted of the news.

20:10(Story Breaks) A small entertainment site called x17online.com breaks the story.

They post photos and a brief story a full 20 minutes before the much larger entertainment site TMZ.com posts the news. Information goes live on the internet. BOOM!

20:30 - TMZ.com posts "Michael Jackson — Cardiac Arrest"

Michael Jackson at Hospital
Source: TMZ.com via X17online.com

TMZ.com posts the story on its homepage and the story is distributed to hundreds of thousands of people via RSS. My guess is they paid a pretty penny for the image above and it paid for itself ten fold with all of the links TMZ got from the story.

21:12Wikipedia reports Jackson’s Cardiac Arrest

Wikipedia report

A member of Wikipedia adds the news of the Cardiac Arrest to Jackson’s Wikipedia article. This is well before any other news or social media source.

21:20
TMZ.com posts story of death

Report of Jackson’s death starts to show up on RSS feeds and eventually Twitter. It is 11 minutes before the first person clicks on a bit.ly link to TMZ.

21:30CNNbrk tweets that Jackson goes to hospital

The official CNN account tweets to its 2 million followers that Jackson went to hospital after suffering from a cardiac arrest

21:31 - First bit.ly link to TMZ story

The first bit.ly link about the story is clicked by someone which leads them to the TMZ article.

21:45Wikipedia freezes Michael Jackson page

After an explosion of edits to Jackson’s Wikipedia article, editors take the step of locking it down in protective status.

21:48Wikipedia first reports Jackson’s death

Wikipedia editors get enough evidence to post Jackson’s death.

21:50bit.ly link reaches high of 2,500 clicks a minute

Bitly Graph

Bit.ly link to TMZ hits high of almost 42 clicks a second.

22:03TMZ story on Jackson’s death is submitted to Digg

A bit late to the game, the story that would eventually go on to be one of the most dugg stories ever is first submitted to the site.

22:11TMZ story goes popular on Digg

The story is moved to the front page of Digg where its distribution erupts.

22:19"RIP Michael Jackson" tops Trends on Twitter

Twitter Trends

Story takes the next step and appears on Twitter’s Trends. Tens of millions of Twitter users now can see the story.

22:20MSNBC.com Confirms Jackson’s Death

One hour after the news of Jackson’s death hits the internet, the first mainstream news source publishes a confirmation article.

22:25CNN.com Confirms Jackson’s Death

CNN, out maneuvered by TMZ and MSNBC, confirms Jackson’s death.

22:34Approximately 2000 mentions a minute of Michael Jackson on Twitter

Mentions of Michael Jackson hit an all time high on Twitter with nearly 1,500 a minute. That’s almost 20% of all tweets at that time!

22:38Twitter starts to overload. First signs of the fail whale

Twitter starts to falter as a result of the massive spike.

22:40
- First stories of Jackson’s death make it on Google News

1 hour and 20 minutes after the story is first posted on TMZ, Google News starts to report the story.

22:46Google News Results of Jackson’s death start showing up on the results page for the query "Michael Jackson"

Google News

Google News results top the Google results page for "Michael Jackson".

22:58Googlebot crawls CNN twitter feed

Google starts returning CNN’s twitter feed in "Michael Jackson" SERP and provides link to cached version.

23:00"Michael Jackson Died" shows up in Google Trends

Google trends updates and show’s "Michael Jackson Died" as hottest trending item.

23:18
4chan.org goes down

4chan members temporarily overload servers. I mention this mostly because I find it really funny. ;-p

23:47"Michael Jackson Heart Attack" and "Michael Jackson Cardiac Arrest" show up as suggested search on Google Homepage for "Michael Jackson"

Google Homepage

Indirect news of Jackson’s death (if someone types "Michael Jackson") shows up on Google’s homepage.


My Take Away
:

Google has a really big problem and SEOs need to pay attention.

(Note: I choose Google rather than the other search engines because it leads them in all of the aspects I mention below. Everything I say about Google applies even more to the other search engines. I only have a basic idea of how difficult the technology problems are with the issues below. For better or for worse, I hold Google to a higher standard and I am not afraid to expect more.)

First, a little background information. I believe it was Ben Hendrickson who first mentioned to me the existence of three separate time priorities when indexing the web. He pointed out that the current version of Linkscape crawls and analyzes the slow moving web with a delay of about 4 weeks. (This is damn impressive given an index size of 54+ billion pages.) Blogscape (PRO Only) is much faster and aggregates the fast moving blogosphere of millions of feeds with less than 6 hours of delay. While impressive, we are still trying to catch up with Google and have started to run into the same wall as them. Sites like Twitter, have created a new real-time web. It is only in the order of perhaps hundreds of thousands of pages but indexing it is almost useless with a delay of more than a few seconds.

The events of Thursday demonstrated that Google is falling behind in the emerging real-time web. It was 3 hours and 17 minutes after TMZ first announced Michael Jackson had experienced cardiac arrest before it appeared as a auto completion suggestion on Google’s homepage. In the computer age that is a huge amount of time. It is 3 hours and 17 minutes during which consumers may choose to go somewhere other than Google to get the information they want.

As SEOs, we largely rely on the success of Google for our incomes. These are the same incomes that put food on the table for our families. It is easy to think that Google’s technology is flawless, after all, it really is incredible. However, it is experiences like the events of Thursday that reveal how truly vulnerable the search engines are.

For me it was humbling,

Teaser: SEOmoz does have a plan for the real-time web and we are excitedly working on it. More information to come in the future. :-)


If you have any other story sources that you think are worth sharing, feel free to post them in the comments. This post is very much a work in progress. As always, feel free to e-mail me or send me a private message if you have any suggestions on how I can make my posts more useful. If that’s not your style, feel free to contact me on Twitter (DannyDover) Thanks!

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