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Scaling up your SEO agency 101

An Interview with Jimmy Page

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood chats with Jimmy Page. Founder of Inseev Interactive
Jimmy talks about his journey in the field of marketing. He takes us through the details of how he has built his agency, scaled it and the future plans. He also shares his favorite client story, his SEO process and more

Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of E-coffee.

Our focus has always been “be respectful”. Treat your clients exceptionally well and make sure that they know that you show up to do the absolute best job that you can possibly do for them every single day.

Jimmy Page
Founder of Inseev Interactive
Today we have with us, Jimmy Page. Jimmy is the CEO and founder of Inseev Interactive, a San Diego-based digital marketing agency specializing in SEO and paid media. Jimmy has a BS in marketing from Penn State and an MBA from San Diego State. Jimmy founded Inseev Interactive eight years ago, and Inseev Interactive has since grown to over almost 65 employees. Well, Jimmy, thank you for doing this with us and welcome to the show.

Thanks so much for having me.

Jimmy, before we dive in, our viewers would love to learn a bit more about you. If you could tell us your story about what brought you to this specific career path.

So born and raised in Pennsylvania, for the most part. Today, I live in San Diego, which is where our business started. As mentioned, I moved out here, did my MBA out here, started working for a number of different corporations. For the first five years of my career, I was working in marketing departments primarily as an analyst spent a lot of time right out of college really getting good at utilizing data, learning, Excel modeling and other kinds of databasing tools and love the technical side of marketing, really saw advantages for my own career being able to move faster by getting more codified skill sets under my belt faster. So I liked the analyst path; I got to work with a number of different business leaders and CEOs side by side, looking at their decision-making process, helping them to get numbers and data and views of things that would get them to the right place as business decision-makers. So I had a lot of great experiences, sitting next to really smart, awesome people on the corporate side of my career. Right before I started this agency, about a few years ago, I went to a company as a broadcast analyst called Provide Commerce and they owned a bunch of big e-commerce brands like pro flowers, cherries, berries, gifts. com. Brands, here in the US, a lot of people would recognize the e-commerce side of things. Ended up building and managing my own sites since college, new SEO, well, at the single sites – very small business level, moved over to get a ton of experience running SEO programs for those brands and got to spend a lot of money with hundreds of different agencies in the United States. Everyone that I could find literally trying different things had many, many millions of dollars to spend on SEO Services. Got a firsthand really fast look at how everyone was doing everything and what was out there here in the US again, and really decided that I wasn’t always happy with what was there in 2013 2014, sort of 2012 to a lesser degree, Google’s rolling out a lot of very advanced and expensive algorithms to counter SEO tactics that had worked in the past. Google’s always chasing SEOs. Obviously, it’s a cat and mouse game and probably the largest time transitionary period that I ever saw, or maybe that existed in the search optimization game was not 2012 to 2014 period, where a lot of companies that did old, sort of very manipulative of high volume, low quality, link building, for example, or going out of business, their ways of doing things just truly weren’t working anymore. A lot of very reputable companies and brands were going out of business because they were taken out of the Google index for nefarious SEO tactics. So I was working on big brands with us that needed to be very low risk and still needed to be making progress. I got to a spot where I was really struggling to actually spend my budget. And as mentioned, even before that, I wasn’t happy with what I was getting, I would say and I had a good concept of how especially for big brands, Most of our clients today are large brands and enterprises. How I could just use basic PR tactics and cleanup and maintenance tactics to get a lot of links. If I had a sizable team of people to do that, I wasn’t really given the opportunity to do that in house and those things converge on it being a good time and opportunity for me to leave and try it myself. So those are the origins of our company and sort of where we came from. It started as my consultancy, if you will, I was what today we would call it our organization, SEO strategist and built out a first link building team totally outreach based we do it differently than I would say most people do it probably

From there built out bigger, bigger link-building teams, content teams, strategy teams, paid media, and today were very heavy on SEO still. And we do a whole lot of paid search for mid-market brands and enterprises as well. And eight years of evolution, as you mentioned, we’ve got about 65 employees today and work with all kinds of different verticals and clients, a lot of e-commerce but also a lot of financial services and fintech, health and wellness education space a bit as well. So we’re all over the place

Jimmy what according to you, all the three main skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur.

I don’t know whether actually having a tactical skill in a way I would think about it is predictive of your success as an entrepreneur, but I think I picked out a couple of things, I think resilience is probably the number one sort of characteristic, whether or not you consider that a skill. But it in my experience like you get to manage a significant number of employees, and that could be internal at a large organization as well, it’s not necessarily unique to entrepreneurs, but you really are in a situation where your job becomes dealing with problems, and you’re taking punches every day, and you will inherently have stacked failures when you’re undertaking this an endeavor. And so, certainly, for me, the biggest journey in my career was getting to a spot with many different mechanisms where I could manage my mental and emotional states through a lot of really complex stuff happening really fast. So, I just think resilience in general, it’s something anyone would tell you, “you really have to be able to pick yourself back up and, and keep pushing forwards”. And that ties into my second one, which is you need to sort of have a relentless pursuit of, of something like for me, it was, it was being independently employed, it was, it was just since I was a child wanting to own my own businesses and companies and want to create significant wealth for myself faster than I would have ever been able to in the corporate world. By taking on I was the type of person that wanted a lot more risk and responsibility, and control over my own destiny, career-wise. And, I was able to get some of that larger companies, but not as quickly as someone like me lost it. And so I think a lot of good entrepreneurs set themselves a goal to sell a company for a billion dollars or something, and whatever happens is it just bounces off of them and on the path to achieving whatever that is. I think that’s a really important thing for people that are in this for a long time and an indoor through it, I think that’s definitely really important. t I think empathy and I don’t mean “how’s everyone feeling and how can I make them feel better today” type of sense, but as you’re dealing with human beings, the ability to put yourself in that other person’s shoes understand, what they’re thinking about what they want, what ultimately is gonna look like success for them. In today’s conversation and long run, it matters a lot for selling, it matters a lot for managing people, matters a lot for keeping clients and producing great service products. You’re a services company. In any company where you’re managing people, there’s a ton of meeting and interacting involved. No one understands where someone else is coming from and be in their shoes. So the people that I know, that are some of the most successful entrepreneurs, I think, would fit those three things.

Also, growing to 65 employees and your trajectory has never been stagnant. How, how did you start? I understand when you're starting something from scratch yourself, it would have also been difficult to trust people and delegate stuff because delegation is very important to scale. So how do you take care of that? You build the pillar people first and then all? Do you do it while the journey is happening?

I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong way. Probably someone like me, when I started this, I had never owned, a significant company, I didn’t have, I wasn’t interested in raising money and taking on financial risk if I could avoid doing it in the short run, I didn’t really have the experience in that. I didn’t come from a finance background, where my first thought would be, “raise a bunch of capital and sell 25% of this before it exists”. So, I grew organically on this first one. Of course, we did install key people where we needed to, but the first five or so of those all came from working up through roles in existing departments and those kinds of things, building out new departments. So I had a great experience doing it that way – really organically. It’s probably a little bit less financially risky. It’s really hard. It’s not the way today with where I am. If I was going to do it, again, knowing what I know, I would do a lot of things faster, right. And I would probably be a little bit more willing to be less cash flow positive, if you will, early on, sort of making capital investments, just to get further faster, right. But when you’ve never done it before, and you’ve never seen it, like there’s a constant hesitancy or you’re doubting yourself, like you’re trying to reduce the risk a lot, where it might not be risky, but you’ve never seen the other side of it. After you’ve done it once. I probably would if I understood your question correctly, do more building infrastructure early on instead of building infrastructure along the way which would have helped us to grow faster and those kinds of things at the same time we grew very well. I mean, our growth rates have been fantastic since the beginning of the business and you have to grow responsibly as an agency like you can if you care about being good, you can really kill that by trying to grow too fast and so you need to consider all those things and how you decide to do it. People especially on the agency side one of the great things about it is it doesn’t have a ton of capital requirements to start an agency and so if you are you want to give it a shot, it’s your first-time guys starting your business, keep your financial risk minimal, don’t take on debt if you don’t need to take on debt, be savvy about that.

Well, thank you so much for explaining it so well by giving your own example. How do you plan to grow from here? What does the strategy look like?

As an agency, we would say there are two ways. You keep growing the things that you do today, or you go wider and you start doing new things. Our next couple of years’ roadmap really isn’t to massively expand into new services. Our focus right now is being the best SEO agency in America. We’re also secondarily, hopeful that we can be the best-paid search agency in America, we have a smaller paid search team today, but I do think it’s one of the best and I love both of those services, I see a ton of opportunity and doing them better than a lot of the people around us. And today, I believe that certainly on the SEO side, the size of our team, we are the best large SEO agency in America, we just won Best large SEO agency in US search Awards, which is an awesome award that we’re really excited about. So we’re not looking to start new services. We see a ton of headroom in the existing market space that we play in. And for us, it’s really about, we’re expanding sales and marketing, we started doing that this year, a year and a half ago, as a 45 or so person, company sales marketing was B, we never did any marketing, we barely had a website, we grew organically, really fast, by doing really good work and working with big companies. And today, in the last year and a half, we’ve made a ton of progress on that we’re winning the most important awards in our categories. We are collaborating with some of the best brands in America, we work with SemRush on creating content, educating people Moz, Deep Crawl all kinds of awesome brands this year. So we’re gonna keep doing more and more of that, making sure that everyone knows if you do want the highest quality, it’s us. And we work extremely well with enterprise partners, and we will keep trying to get that message out there. More salespeople, more marketing people, more helping people understand the opportunity of SEO for their enterprises.

I was about to congratulate you on the US search awards. But yeah, I mean you're definitely doing a great job in SEO and wishing you all the best for the paid site as well.

We appreciate that. Thank you so much.

Oh, Jimmy, fear can be an obstacle for any entrepreneur because most entrepreneurs do have this fear to start something of their own for the first time. In your experience, did you like to have a fear of any sort? And if yes, how did you overcome that?

I would say I was afraid every day for the first four years at least. And, we were doing extremely well throughout that period of time, but I’m the person that looks for a way for things to fall apart constantly. And I think early on, I was probably because of the nature of this and how prevalent that can be in it. I was probably way too focused on those kinds of things. I didn’t actually like if I put myself in the shoes of a first-day person, I had a full-time job and built my consulting practice, I had one full-time employee before I quit my full-time job so it was making more money than my full-time job was and unfortunately never pulled back from there. So I never got into that situation where I was like, Well, I have $20,000 And like, I’m praying that at some point, I get to a spot where that’s gonna start going cash flow positive, right, that was never my situation. So I didn’t have the financial fears right in front of me, but again, the person that probably created those fears for myself greatly. Learning how to manage the stress that roots from thinking about the future and worrying about the past, is a critical piece of what you would need to do in any of these stressful jobs. So if you are a fear-based person, – a person that’s very defensive and you need a lot of like structure and then ways of preventing things from going wrong and again, maybe like a lack of resilience, which is not a bad thing to know that about yourself. Like I have a hard time recovering from failure. For example, it may not be for you, right? Like, it’s not for most people, at the end of the day,

Congratulations on the growth; you have been expanding in the last one and a half years. Again, like with the pandemic in the picture, people are working remotely now. So, company culture, right, I mean, how do you foster, and ensure that company culture is propagated while people are working remotely as well?

I mean, I don’t have a silver bullet on it. And in, in the spirit of always being honest, if I’m trying to teach people, I think the reality is that you don’t like there are a million effects that come from putting people together in the same place and working together that that just can’t be replicated, it probably won’t ever be replicated in like a digital realm in a remote realm. So we had an extremely tight, call it culture and people spending a lot of time together outside of work company-sponsored stuff very regularly, multiple times a month, everybody eating lunch together and spending a lot of time together. And that was a huge part of what a lot of our employees loved about working here. At the same time, specifically on that point, like at the time, if I asked, Would you rather work from home 90% of people would say, “yeah, I’d rather work from home, right?” So it’s an interesting dynamic, just purely on the remote piece, where, today, in our survey, we survey our employees regularly. The fact of the matter is, again, 90 or 95% of people are happier with the remote environment doesn’t mean that 95% of people aren’t missing some aspects of that culture piece that is frankly, there is a more real way when you’re together. So talking about that understanding in being frank with each other about it, okay, this is part of the future for us, where we went from being all in one office to now remote and increasingly distributed outside of San Diego, where we’re headquartered. And, we’re having incredible success at it, it’s going to be the future for us, there are huge benefits, particularly on the recruiting side, and being able to go wider. So it’s not going to go away for us, and, and we have to talk to everyone about the reality of that you can do a lot, I mean, we still, we spend a lot of time together on Zoom, doing happy hours, there are a whole lot of slacking and just little nuance things that go on there. We, create micro-groups for interests, like wine, or mindfulness, or those kinds of things, and people will meet virtually, on a regular basis. But if I’m going to score some of the things that we’re doing incredibly well, like, I don’t think we’re at a 10 out of 10 there, and we’re getting better and better, but we’re learning at it. And, I’m excited for watching it evolve into the future. And again, continuing to capitalize on tons of great benefits that we get from being remote.

Jimmy, how do you develop and maintain strong client relationships?

I think the honest answer for a lot of people there at the enterprise agency level would be: “well, we try to get great results”. And then we put a layer of “well, we have an awesome relationship period, we care about each other”. We actually spend a lot of time taking them out to dinner and those kinds of things that if results start to sort of fall apart, or we think quality in work is lacking or whatever. We have some of the softer connections and relationships and that thing. And I was exposed to that a lot, particularly on the buying side of these things. Our focus has always been “be respectful”. Treat your clients well and make sure that they know that you show up to do the absolute best job that you can possibly do for them every single day. Teach our people how to be the best strategists and consultants that are out there. We focus entirely on other agencies while focusing on how to grow their clients and how to get them to buy new things and how to build services on the side of what they do to get more revenue will regularly tell a client to spend less money if we think that makes sense for them. So if you’re on their team, if you just follow that guiding light and pretend that you’re employed there, and you don’t want to lose your job, and you’re not going to lose your job, if everyone knows that you are trying your absolute hardest, you’re smart, and you’re an awesome player on their team. Stay focused on those things. And it’s the same thing as having a job when it comes to an agency, right? You’re not going to get fired if you’re one of the most valuable people in the room and the conversation. If you’re thinking about SEO, if you are bolt-on what’s thought of as a technical Best Practices thing? It is like “take it or leave it”. Here’s one, here’s another one who knows, what’s the difference? If you as an SEO are the strategic business leaders saying, hey, there’s, there’s a $20 million marketing channel here, and you’re doing a lot of things around it without thinking about the impact on this channel. Now, I’m here to help you do that. And I can do it in a real way, sitting alongside the rest of your strategists. That really helps you be the guy that’s not going to be commoditized out or replaced with something else. And I think that’s what makes good agencies sticky and stick around with their clients.

As a leader, Jimmy, what would you say? Was your biggest learning from the pandemic?

I spent a lot of time sort of trying to predict things that might come our way and be ready for those things. So one, learning is like that exercise, actually, all things can happen that are completely unrelated, that never hit my radar. I’ve got a good friend who, as an example, has just a gigantic ticket brokerage basically, and sells concert tickets. And, I’ve looked at his business in a lot of detail. And I’m like, “this is one of the greatest businesses I’ve ever seen”. I don’t see any risk to it, it’s ridiculously margin positive. The whole thing halts to zero and one day, so like, those kinds of things do exist in the world. And like, I’m not saying that you should necessarily play to them, but psychologically, that you have to know you don’t really have control over a lot of this stuff. And I think that was an interesting thing for me to go through and notice and learn. Definitely tactically realized – I always had a philosophy, we have a lot of services. Some of our services, our entry-level link building, and those kinds of things, we have people that are a couple of years out of college, so learning a lot, because of the nature of our agency and what we do, I always had a perspective personally, I would love to work from home all the time, but I just don’t think it’s right for our mission of being the best at what we do here.

And as a result, probably without the pandemic never would have opened up like a fully remote option for the entire company. And was forced into looking at that and just hoping that we will be able to sort of maintain what we were before from deliverability and quality standpoint, and I learned quickly that it was much better and much better for employee happiness, the same were better for output and quality. Again, I could sometimes relocate people in San Diego for the people whom we need, they’re very hard to find. And I mean, being able to look nationwide for who we need. It’s been incredible watching those learning. So I learned a lot from that entire process. We did have a pullback, we had the first dip in the entire history of our business revenue-wise and we had to be really smart about how to manage the cost side of our business through that and then how to pull out of it and sort of navigating through or were very uncertain times. So the tactics day in and day out taught me a ton about just how to manage through crisis situations, right that I hadn’t dealt with before.

You already have named a few tools. But still, what are your go-to SEO tools?

I haven’t actually been practicing SEO for five, six years. But the tools that we use as an agency for keyword tracking, we love Stat, I plug Stat all day, I think it’s a fantastic tool versus everything else. That’s out there in the marketplace. Of course, we use Moz. As I mentioned, we’re a collaborator and partner with them, we’re at Moz recommended agency, we love Moz and have a long relationship with Moz. We use Deepcrawl for technical monitoring. Another company that we rea we use majestic, got a bunch of webinars with majestic in the past couple of months, they’ve got an incredibly powerful link graph. They power many SEO tools that people don’t even know about. SemRush is our go-to competitive research third-party crawl and monitoring tool. So we use it both on the paid media side and on the SEO side. We use Asana and every hour for project management, we have our own custom project management tools, we have our own custom reporting tools that bring data from a lot of the tools I just mentioned together. So we build custom databases and tools on top of Google BigQuery. Do a lot with Google and Google’s Cloud Data Suite. Visualize some with Google Data Studio allows Tableau particularly on the TV side of our business. And, we tried to find a reporting solution that would work for us, we couldn’t even get close to what we needed. So we have a really sophisticated, amazing, out-of-the-box Reporting Suite that we can plug anyone into that’s pulling data from everywhere.

Talking about link building, I know you are heavy on link building, how have you seen link building change over the years?

I guess I spoke to that at a very high level and the origins of our company. I’ve seen it go from – “it would be absurd for you to pay more than say $100 for a link” to a period in time where it was like, “you would never even talk about paying for lunch in a general sense”. That whole concept was almost ready. I’ll call it the real companies side of things – the corporate side of things. Link Building budgets were gone, in many cases, right? We’re not willing to engage in the same way because Google created so much fear around it. And again, in that environment, we created what we do, which is link building in exactly the way that Google would ask you to do it. Some of our clients like Salesforce and TransUnion, and giant companies, many of which definitely won’t let me say their names long talking about link building. We do it exactly the way that they’d be comfortable with if you’re Salesforce or Walmart or Target or whatever, you might get 300 links to your homepage every day. And 100 of those links will be better going to category pages if you just ask the webmaster, “Hey, there’s a better page for this tremendous value from an SEO standpoint”. And so certainly at the enterprise level, being smart today about not breaking Google’s rules. And frankly, Google has backed off massively from the fear and doubt that they were causing eight years ago. Now, they’re more, don’t build that links. But if you do, we’ll ignore that. Whereas before, it was like we might kill your whole company, like if we think you might even be thinking about this. So, it’s a different environment today, and it swung really far a long way sort of back to the middle, I would say. But for us, it’s really about doing it in a way that’s sustainable and safe and, and not ignoring the fact that it’s still by far the biggest impact factor in the algorithm. A lot of agencies that look like ours in terms of wire size and clients that are really just doing technical SEO and basic on-page and don’t want to talk about building because they can’t do it? It’s really hard or it’s risky in the way that they know how to do it. And that’s not the right way either, right? You just got to find, find a way of doing it that is safe and effective.

Jimmy, new posts versus existing posts?

It’s hard because if you’re, if you’re starting up, an info product site, there’s a spectrum of risk that I will be willing to tolerate, right, and say, in that situation, there’s a huge amount of risk. If your domain gets burned, you go to another domain, it’s not the risk of it is not massive. While building your link profile, you should really make it look the way that Google wants it to look. And if you have one strategy, which is either one of those things, or if you have both of those things, you’re building all of your links in editorial content, right period, if you have a new site, you build 1000 links like that. It’s an hour of time, so that becomes worthless because Google can just look very easily, it doesn’t need a pattern, in a technical sense, it just needs a pattern of it, no one will get all of their links and editorial content, it’s not possible. So I think you do need to be careful. But the types of links that you get, you need, a serious variety of links, and they all need to be defensively natural links. There is a huge place, especially in a large profile for very purposeful editorial links. I mean, I think if you just look at what would the basic algorithmic fundamentals be, obviously, pages that have clout, history, rankings, etc, are going to pass more value. If you can make all this lookup and up and natural. So I think it’s great. If there’s a service that, I think it’s the type of thing that can be pretty easy to see and be in place placed once in an article that doesn’t change over time is a more normal thing to happen. So, shape out your link profile, as naturally as you can make sure that the whole thing is not just links that are in articles, more or less and a variety of things. Google would expect some of your links to be on pages that were never indexed before and some to be on ones that were indexed before and think through those things. And make sure that if you’re, if you’re manufacturing a whole profile, do it safely. If you’re a big company, and you’ve got 200,000 Linky domains, you’re going to start hammering a category page or two, if with one type of link and neither one of the ones that you just asked me about, have their place.

Any favorite client story that you would like to share?

We’ve worked with, I can’t tell you how many brands that have sort of started and become extremely large, watching them have gigantic exits have been a huge part of that. We’ve built out, just like we built sites out to tens of millions of monthly visitors for enterprises. I don’t have one that sticks out. It’s like, “wow, that one really felt good”, but it feels really good every time you really help someone and help them to go far. It also feels great. Every time someone’s been working with an agency for five years, and we take it over and make tremendous progress quickly. And I’ve got 100 of those two, I would say go to my site, you’ll see a bunch of case studies, companies that do let us talk about them. And those are some of the ones that we get more and more every day.

Sure. We will share the links to your site and case studies as well when we publish the interview. Well, Jimmy, it has been fun talking to you. I know we are less than time but before we close, we do a quick Rapid Fire. So it will ask you a set of five quick questions. So, I mean, whatever comes to your mind, try answering them as soon as possible. Question number one -- describe yourself in three words.

Impatient, Dedicated, Ambitious

If a movie were to be made based on your life, what genre would it be?

Drama

Who is your favorite superhero?

Batman

Are you a morning person or a night person?

Night

Your costume this Halloween?

I have twin daughters and my wife is pregnant with another set of twin daughters right now and so she is due in a couple of months. She is going to be Winnie, the pooh, I am going to be Christopher Robin and my kids are going to be Tiger and Pigwood.

Well, congratulations on being a father once again. Jimmy, thank you so much for joining in.

Thank you so much for having me. Cheers!

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