My SEO Story

As I get older, I find the more transparent we are, the more likely we will connect with those who we really want to connect with.

The impetus

In 2004, I started my first business as a Realtor.  I hate sales, but my dotcom job at Expedia couldn’t keep up with my ex’s spending problem; as a result, my friend who was and currently is a realtor encouraged me to jump in to generate more income than I was making at the time.

 

So, I looked for every possible way of NOT selling people in buying or selling a home.  First thing I did was build a website and I was told by the provider that my website would be “search engine friendly.”  However, it didn’t seem to garner much search exposure despite the considerable amount of money I invested into the “search engine friendliness” from the company.  As a result, I started “googling” permutations that helped me learn what “SEO” was for the first time.  Eventually after surfing through hundreds of resources, I found SEOMoz (now Moz.com).  The posts were intuitive and the Seattle based company seemed like they knew what they were talking about.  I began learning from Rand Fishkin who was incredibly approachable.

 

At first, I had no clue what I was doing. I relied too much on the website provider called Z51 or something like that.  I remember it started with “Z”.  Despite not being able to learn the “magic” of how to make my site more visible through SEO, I ended up leveraging sites like a now defunct relocation site (titled HomeBuyersUSA or very similar).  In essence, I didn’t leverage SEO as much as I simply just leveraged the resources online — which ends up being the way you truly learn SEO.

Part deux

Fast forward 3-4 years.  I stopped working in real estate because many agents were money grubbing; that wasn’t my cup of tea.  I found myself questioning why I was selling/buying homes.  My ex- also complained quite a bit about me pouring too much effort into my work.  Lastly, I could see the bubble building in the housing market.  Basically, I predicted the crash around 2 years before it happened.

 

I landed back in education for the second time in 10 years.  I was charged with running a franchise of schools in the 2nd largest city in Korea.  We were heavily focused on growing the academies like a startup. As a result, we needed to recruit a plethora of talent.  However, we didn’t want to pay the $1000+/teacher and I remembered I could organically use the web to find teachers & bypass HQ’s more expensive means.

 

Needless to say, life does give you a 2nd shot at things.  Sometimes a 3rd, 4th and as many as the proverbial 9 lives.

 

I continued to learn from Moz and experimented with a WordPress site which helped us save hundreds of thousands in recruiting fees.  My skills were honing digitally.

Diving deep

After three years of helping the company grow 1400% with this special power, I landed back home in Seattle.  My parents were getting older and asking me to take on their convenience store business.  They had repeated their success three times, but for me, I wasn’t planning on even trying once.  Over the years, I constantly told myself I need a larger mental challenge.

 

After 6 months of trying to follow in their footsteps, it was time that I blazed a new path.  I googled “Seattle SEO” and other permutations that I thought were used to find an SEO agency.  I emailed everyone in the SERPs.  And one guy got back to me.  After a few meetings, we agreed he would teach me everything he knew in exchange for a large chunk of the profits for the first year or so.  He didn’t really care about losing his positions because he was exiting a business I would soon find would be very painful.   He wanted to pursue his #1 passion in teaching guitar to the masses.  The Stanford grad didn’t feel the need to help businesses, but rather the many searching for “hey jude chords” and 25,000 other phases that would soon drive organic traffic to his website.

 

His “tricks” worked like a charm.  In less than 3 months, I was #1 for “SEO Seattle,” “Seattle SEO” and all the combinations including “+ agency”, “+ company” and phrases that would drive so many leads I had no idea what to do with them.  I became so confident, I would challenge the godfather of SEO at local meetups and secure deals that would eventually help companies sell for $500 million USD.

King Penguin

At the time, I heard “content is King,” but laughed it off.  I had a link building strategy that didn’t require solid content. I helped all my clients simply rise to the top without creating true relevance…until.  I tripped into learning how powerful content was after creating my first major study of the “Top 100 Keywords on the Internet.”  I googled phrases that I thought would generate the answer to this question: “What truly were the most popular phrases on the Internet?”  Unfortunately, not a single source provided this answer — not even Google.  All the answers and results simply identified “how to find out what terms were sought after.”

 

Using the keyword planner and all these resources that fortunately were being blogged about, I created the first ever set of results.  Since then, Ahrefs, Siege Media and several others have copied my pioneering study.  Their resources made their content “more relevant” in google’s minds and we no longer dominate these searches.  We still generate a bit of traffic though for “most searched topic on internet” and like phrases.

 

Despite this success, our clients got pummeled when Google released Penguin.  The day after my birthday, May 25, 2012, my hopes to continue providing instant digital marketing benefits clients began to dissipate.  Several months later, I ended up firing my clients despite some of them even telling me I should continue charging them monthly fees regardless of the benefits.  In 2012, I deactivated my agency.

International SEO?  

My sons were in Korea after the divorce.  I left them in 2010 because I knew they were in good hands with their mom and felt a calling to go back to the states.  However, 2 years was too long.  I eventually found myself back on foreign soil.

 

Despite being thousands of miles away, I continued to get many businesses asking me if I could help them.  However, every time I was honest about being across the Pacific, they felt uncomfortable with me trying to help.  In some cases, they probably thought I was some scam.

 

I pitched local companies thinking they might want to leverage my talents to spread their Korean products or services.  As I learned, they weren’t the best at marketing.  They felt that product marketing or building products or services would be enough.  This still plagues the successful nation in stunting part of their growth.  Korea could be much larger on the global front if they would get over their pride.  With that said, they were right with some things like Samsung’s or Hyundai’s products, but it still took much longer than it should.

 

My confidence waned because I had no one to truly practice my skills for the first few years.  But finally, I had a taker and then another.  The first one leveraged my abilities and enhanced his exposure and eventually sold his company for a reported $30-50 million USD.  We never found out the exact amount, but his brand new white ferrari, quarter million dollar watches and exclusive condos that only celebrities could buy were evidence he did well.  The other taker let me build my PPC skills and we took it to the bank creating the first profitable expansion of the company outside the mainland (of China).  I also got to see Google’s power outside the US.

 

After 5 years abroad, I found myself back on familiar turf.  My ex gave my sons back and I ended up helping them finish high school.

Finding Kant   

Immanuel Kant is obviously a famous philosopher.  What I learned, however, is that his genius wasn’t discovered until later.  While his prowess was recognized consistently, his true magnificence wasn’t as widescale until his later years — at least that’s what I read.  Regardless, he became a beacon for me.

 

I helped one company sell for $500 million USD after getting them to page 1 for one of the most competitive phrases on the Internet.

 

I ranked #1 for the main phrases to look for a Seattle SEO Agency.

 

I figured out how to raise the visibility of any company with one of the most powerful digital channels in history.

 

Yet, I didn’t give myself credit and only thought of all the downsides with the significant algorithm change.  I didn’t think larger and failed to realize I was still providing more value than most agencies were throughout the country.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of or gauge how strong or weak I was in this very important field.  The costs of SEO and digital marketing conferences were prohibitive.  Instead I gambled on old school methods to succeed.

 

After I had gotten back in 2017, my agency had dropped a bit in the rankings.  A competitor had found a way to dominate the SERPs through some sleezy practices of replicating hidden duplicate content, but different GEOs.  And I didn’t take 2 recommendations that Google and others were touting for a while: speed and security.

 

Simultaneously and what many SEOs don’t realize, but many of us are constantly looking for someone else to pay the bills.  While we do get clients, it’s not always consistent for many of us.  So, I started to look for enterprise work.

 

For the second to last time, I failed to give myself the credit I deserved.  I wanted to show my capabilities to some larger organizations, but most rejected me because of either my age or my lack of experience with enterprise — despite 2 successes that reaped the shareholders immensely.

 

Again, I hated sales.  And because my agency wasn’t in the top positions, I had to do more of what I hated.  In order to avoid selling, I joined the leader in automotive SEO and started to vet my skills against 30+ other SEOs.  I was able to gauge if I was at the top of my game or otherwise.  I found that my abilities were definitely not at the bottom.  After a while, I realized I might know more than most.

 

Several of us would spend a bit of time together at lunch thinking about how to work together.  I told them about my agency and we eventually struck a deal to partner.  They left the company while I stayed to make sure I had a steady check for my family.  Combined, we got my agency back to the top positions of Seattle.  For the next 4 years, I would find myself in similar positions, but this time, the work would go to my former co-workers.  They just paid me a small bit from all the work.  Periodically, I would take on a client here or there to moonlight, but they took most of the deals.

 

They eventually joined me with their own agency at the top of Seattle’s SERPs.  They ended up building their own successes and today, both of them are independent and doing quite well.  One of them is so busy that he’s backlogged until October this year and can’t take on any new business.

Hindsight’s 2021  

Early this year, I joined ClubHouse.  It’s an audio based social network that I like to call “LinkedIn on Steroids.”  I had the fortune to be involved in the largest marketing club hosted by Mike Prasad.  He gave me instant credit and it started to build across other channels.  Thanks to Mike, I became more “authoritative” than I even expected.  But I repeat:

 

I helped one company sell for $500 million USD after getting them to page 1 for one of the most competitive phrases on the Internet.

 

I ranked #1 for the main phrases to look for a Seattle SEO Agency.

 

I figured out how to raise the visibility of any company with one of the most powerful digital channels in history.

 

I also was able to vet my own thoughts against some of the top SEOs in the world who optimize the New York Times, the Condé Nast properties and many I’m failing to mention.  I was able to hold my own and in many cases, I felt like my thoughts might be even stronger.

 

I eventually realized that the goal of doing Enterprise might not even be worth it.  I knew I could do it, but I soon started to realize it was what I do daily, but with more evangelizing and politicking because there are still millions of decision makers who fail to realize the potential of SEO.  While I haven’t done everything under the sun and there are definitely “technical SEO” tasks that might require a bit of reading or sleuthing, like I’ve done historically:

 

I always find a way.

My Advice

Thanks to @Nathan Saya for inspiring me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while.  As a small token of my appreciation, let me try and elucidate some thoughts about the future of the industry.

Is SEO growing?  

Let’s turn to our trusty tool Google Trends and see.  Yup, it looks like it is only growing. 

Is it for anyone?  

No, it definitely is not.  Expect to be challenged.  Expect to doubt yourself.  Expect Google to make you question why you chose this profession.

 

With that said, do you like puzzles?  Do you like solving problems?  And do you like people?  If the answer to all 3 of these are yes, a career in SEO might satiate you in ways you never expected.

Is it too late?  

Not at all.  People are getting in all the time and quickly ramping up.  Rob Bertholf has a program where he’s teaching people how to become SEOs. (we run the SEOs room on Tuesdays at 8a PST on ClubHouse) Periodically, I take on some kind souls to help them with their careers.  However, you will only learn if you ask, ask and ask some more.  Like you’ve started to.  I find the most aggressive folks winning just like any other discipline.  With that said, it’s the most aggressive who know how to be savvy in their asks and not constantly asking for someone to do their homework.

Should I build an agency, work for one or work in house for a large enterprise?  

How about working for a small enterprise?  I’d argue this is going to be  your easiest way to get in.  For the former 3, you’ll have to do a lot more networking than you’ve wanted.  Join us on ClubHouse and schmooze with the best of us.  I think the holy grail is usually the last one (large enterprise), but I also believe it’s also misunderstood and as many find themselves at the epitome of their careers, they find it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Any extra advice in building an SEO career?  

Study all the channels.  SEO can’t operate on its own.  Understand Social.  Understand Email.  But most importantly, understand Analytics and tie it together with your SEO experiments.
Also, you’re going to have to become an incredible evaluator of experiments and find causation in the sea of correlations.  It’s not easy.  With that said, constantly vet out to see if these studies are true:
And find a way to get your hand on as many websites as you can (to learn).  None of us have completely learned every nuance and notion you will take you to optimizing your next site.
By the way, this is a nice start to anyone’s career in SEO.