Mastering SEO with PPC Insights: A Conversation with Mike Wienick

June 18, 2024 | Interview

Jump Satori offers highly experienced senior marketing and operations executives on a fractional basis, providing companies with top-tier expertise at a fraction of the cost.

 

Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of MarketingLego. My name is Harshit. Now, I have Mike with me today. He’s the founder and President at Jump Satori. Let me know if I pronounced it right. He is consulting for offering companies highly experienced senior marketing and operations executives for a fraction of the cost. Plus, they have multiple digital marketing service offerings as well. A big welcome to you, Mike. Happy to have you with me.


Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Brilliant. Let’s start with your journey, Mike. In the field of marketing, what led you to start your consulting back in 2015?


Yeah, it goes further back to graduating from college with a degree in computer science. I had a first stint selling door-to-door sales, which is always a good experience. But eventually, after a couple of odd jobs, [I] started exploring search advertising. This was very early on. I landed a job at a mortgage company, and we were doing paid ads on Overture. So Google was alive at that time, but it wasn’t big. And then eventually, we were running ads on Google. And then we started doing things like SEO on top of the paid ads. So I’ve been in the game for a long time, over 20 years at this point. That experience lent itself to taking on my freelance clients and eventually joining an agency. From that agency, I was recruited to a company called Quality Smith. Quality Smith did home improvement leads, primarily in HVAC, siding, roofing, and windows. I started in the marketing department. They had just rolled off using the agency for Search, and Search was their biggest channel, so I took it over and pushed PPC and SEO. Eventually, Quality Smith was probably the second or third-largest producer of HVAC leads in the country.

We sold that to a network of 800 contractors that we had developed through our sales team, but we also sold it to all the other big lead as, Service Magic, [which was] then known as HomeAdvisor, [and] then known as Angie’s List today, and other big companies like that. So that was an internal job. I eventually took over that company. We took it to market. We were bought by a company called Reply, which is now known as BuyerLink. They own contractors.com and that’s their big home improvement site. But they did leads across many verticals. I ran paid media for them. We were spending about 2 million a month on Google, to give you an idea of the size. And I also ran the SEO team there as well. I did that for a couple of years. And then a friend asked me to join his agency to help clean up the profitability and take it to market and sell it. And that company, a year later, was bought by a public company. Since that time, which was about 10 years ago, I have been doing this consulting under various names: MW Consulting, my initials, and then CurveLine, and most recently, Jump Satori.

But it’s been 10 years. I call it fractional CMO and CEO today. That’s a name de jure. But it’s been called other things, [like] Growth Consulting, Growth Partner, [etc.]. I think agencies are great. They’re fantastic. This is just a bit of a different approach, this is focused on senior people. So at agencies, a lot of times, you push work to junior people who are overseen by fantastic senior people and you get economies of scale there. For my firm, the focus is on people with 20-plus years of experience working from an executive level. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years.

That’s brilliant. That’s great. I believe in many industries, the market is quite shifting towards having fractional CMO. I would love to understand what’s your main ICPs, your main target industries, and who is the perfect fit for your consultancy?


The number one thing is, I focus on small businesses, and I’m defining that as 500,000 a year in revenue, up to 30 million, to sometimes 50 million, in revenue. That seems to be what works well for me. I’ve worked with much bigger companies and growth companies that are VC backed. The issue there, for those types of companies is, they’re looking for interim help. But if you’ve raised money, you’re not going to say, “Hey, our CMO is fractional. Don’t worry about it, Mr. And Mrs. Investor.” So the companies I work with, they’re longer term. I would say the average length of an engagement is about three years plus. I have clients I’ve worked with for six years plus and ongoing. As far as vertical, pretty agnostic. I do have a couple in the home services space, because of that experience I just talked about. I also work in the auto services space. I used to be a fractional GM of Glass.Net. We took that company into the market. It was purchased by Safelite, and now I work with Glass.Com. So, I have some [experience] in those services space, B2C services space, but I also work with a fantastic company, Piva, in the pet space.

And then I have a couple of B2B clients that are in the medical device and pharmaceutical space, respectively. I definitely would say B2C is a specialty, but plenty of experience in B2B. It’s more about where they are as a company and their journey for the fit. A lot of these companies may have been doing marketing with a founder, and then they grow and they need someone to take over, or maybe their head of marketing left, or maybe they have a junior team and they need a senior person, usually they have some traction, and they’re looking to scale and they want someone with a ton of experience. But, they don’t necessarily want to pay someone a full-time salary that has 20-plus years of experience. For those small businesses, that’s why I’m a good fit and they’ll stick with me. [For] A lot of those clients, I’m one of the longest-tenured people there. I know all the ins and outs of the business, and I truly am a member of the executive team. I just happen to work a little less hours, but I try to have a full-time impact.

Got you. I would love to just have your take on mostly consulting and marketing agencies and niche down into one specific industry, that’s the trend that’s been going on. I’m sure you must have tried multiple things during your journey of building this firm altogether. What’s your take? Whether niching down is the way to go, or going broad is something that works better. What do you feel?


I think for any agency or consultant, niching down is probably the advice I would give, but I’m not necessarily following that advice myself. But I would say I do have a niche a bit in the consumer services space for sure. So I do think there’s a bit of a niche. I also would like to say not all my clients are this way, but I do have a lot of high-touch, high-energy, high-emotion clients. And I’m thick-skinned from the Northeast, and I am used to dealing with intense people. And I love working with intense people. This is a negative way of saying it, maybe not the best way to put it, but I think for businesses to work well, it’s like you’re putting your boot on the neck of the business and you’re pushing. Maybe a nicer way is like you’re helping a friend over a fence and you have to constantly be pushing. So, I love working with executive teams that are constantly pushing. I get bored otherwise. I think for me, I want to rapidly make changes. I want to rapidly test things. I want to rapidly try to move the needle.

So I would say my niche is unique. It’s a bit of consumer service. It’s high-touch, high-energy clients. But I would definitely recommend that consultants and agencies try to find a niche or an angle because it’s so crowded out there, especially in the agency space, especially now in the fractional space. A lot of people are getting laid off from tech jobs, and they have a lot of good experience, and they’re going out and saying they’re fractionals, which they are, and I’m sure they’ll do a fantastic job, but I think it’s just getting very crowded. I do think the world is obviously moving in that direction. COVID sped things up, but the idea that people can work remotely, I work fully remotely. Some of my clients I’ve never even met in person, so I work fully remote. People are used to using things like Upwork and things like that, so they’re used to that fractional thing. So, I do think the world is moving in that direction to use agencies in fractional more, but I think they’re getting crowded. I think the take to have a unique niche or angle or differentiator is important. I’ve also seen people do different things.

They work on one task at a time as a differentiator. They’re just different pricing formats and schemas. So there’s got to be something that makes you stand out.

That does make sense. Can you please tell us a bit more about the service offering? I see on your site there are quite a lot of them. So, can you please describe those? SEO, affiliate, etc


Our engagement usually comes in three flavors. One is agency-like, where I’m managing one specific channel or two. My deep experience would lend itself to being paid search for Google, Microsoft, or SEO. If we’re going to manage channels specifically, those are most likely the channels it would be. But that’s a small portion of my clients. Most of my clients really are a fractional executive-type approach. The two flavors there are I came in and I took over founder as I said, or there was just no one internally really owning marketing, and I’m going to own all channels and develop an integrated marketing strategy cross-channel. I’ll bring in people from the outside that I’ve worked with and agencies I’ve worked with to take over different channels. Like, here’s a PR firm, here’s an SEO firm, here’s a paid one. I might run some of those channels directly, depending on the budget. I might say, “Hey, we’ll bring in a PR firm because that’s not my expertise, but I’m going to run the paid ads.” That’s one flavor. The other flavor is that they did have internal employees and/or agencies, and I’m just taking over, and I’m going to manage those teams as if I’m a full-time person.

I might make changes to the agency or the internal personnel. But first, I’m obviously going to come in and try to work with them. That ideal engagement for me is, where I think I could be the most impactful is, when I am sitting above a team. I’m used to building teams and doing that. I can certainly work with a client, like I said, and be hands-on and in the weeds on the channels. But eventually, we’re going to want to be in a position where I can delegate some of that and touch other channels. Ideally, I’m truly a CMO, and I say COO as well, because a lot of them, we’re going in and, “Hey, I can do this for marketing, but I think we need to change the business or your operations in these various ways.” So, I get pretty involved. For some of my clients, I run all the sales ops. I’m in deep with those clients where, as I said, usually I’m the right-hand person to the CEO in those engagements and running the business alongside them.

Got you. And Mike since your forte has always been the paid ads, as well as a SEO. I would like to understand, how you align the PPC and SEO strategies effectively to enhance the outcome. What are your go-to strategies?


Yeah. So if they’re not already doing either of those, and we’re starting fresh or they’re only doing one of them, what I like to do is lead with paid [ads]. The reason for that is because I can have your paid ads running in 24 hours and have you up at the top of the search results. I think the best keyword research for SEO is running paid ads. So my SEO, I know a lot of SEO folks who like to throw everything at the wall, and we’re going to rank for everything related to this, even though it doesn’t lead to conversions. So, I want to rank for words that are going to lead to conversions, that the client has a product to sell or service to today because I’m focused on ROI. One of the big things I focus on is within three months, I’ve increased the business enough that I’m paying for my fees. One of the best ways for me to do keyword research is to start with keyword research on PPC, run ads, see what drives conversions, and then I know what to focus on with SEO. And as you well know, SEO is a longer-term game.

So I want to make sure I’m focused on the right keywords. Now, if they don’t run paid [ads] and they don’t have the budget for that, and we’re starting with SEO alone, it’s a little bit more difficult. But obviously, you can have your keyword research or standard keyword SEO research, and then try to prioritize the words that you believe to be the best converters. But ideally, I would recommend to people, if they have a little bit of budget, to test your theory. If you’re going to be building links, writing content for these 50 SEO key terms, see if they actually drive business because I’ve seen it way too much where an SEO person or agency comes in, they get rankings, we’re getting a lot of visits, but it’s not people who will ever turn into dollars, and that’s useless for the client.

I think there’s a good hack as well. There’s the same case for the client is, if you don’t have the budget for the paid ads, you can still see what keywords tools and competitors are targeting through paid ads and try to bank on those too through SEO. That’s also one of the ways to study what’s working, and what’s not, right?


Yeah. Tools like SpyFu and other tools out there are great to see what your competitor is doing. So that’s a good hint if you don’t have any budget to test yourself, like I said, ideally, you can test yourself, but there are a lot of ways to do that keyword research without testing. But yeah, I focus on that, and I think I differ from some of the SEO folks out there that I will go after highly competitive terms, if they are converters. When I worked with glass.Net, for instance, we wanted to rank for Windshield replacement. That’s the biggest word out there. We ranked for many different versions with a lot more tokens in them and what is the cost of windshield replacement, those types of things. But we knew that drove it, and I’m not afraid to go after those big words. Now, when you do that, you may not rank on page one, luckily for glass.Net, we did. But you may not rank for page one, but you’ll start ranking for those other longer phrases related to it. Again, just because I want to rank for what’s going to move the needle.
Some other people in Autoglass may try to rank for words on every car model out there. And not saying we didn’t do that at phase three, but our main focus was ranking for words that are going to convert. Because if we rank for an Accura Integra, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be someone who’s ready to get their Windshield replaced. So I think that’s a different approach that some SEO folks go after, but some shy away from. They don’t want to go for the big ones. And again, I think you have to consider competition. But you have rank for words that are going to convert.

Yeah, that makes perfect sense as well. Eventually, you might end up ranking for short-tail keywords as well because you’re building that authority in your niche. But it makes perfect sense. At the end of the day, you have to deliver RON which needs to be done quickly. Yeah, makes perfect sense. Now, because you’re working with basically companies scaling from, you just mentioned, 500K to maybe 50 million. I would love to understand how your approach changes concerning SEO, a big versus a small company altogether.


Yeah, I think it starts from an initial analysis of the company. Again, I don’t work with a lot of companies that I would say are going to be a VC investible company. Some are, for sure. I think it’s looking at the company and understanding where their growth could go. Then we can talk about the plans. If we are working with a company that’s 500 grand, and I think they can be a $5 million company, I might approach it differently if I think it could be a $300 million company. I think it starts from some analysis of that, not to limit yourself in any way or limit the imagination of where they can go, but I think we want to talk about where they can go and then their goals. I do think even for the smallest business, this forecasting is important, and real forecasting and plans, change all the time. I’ve worked at VC backed company where we were doing quarterly forecasts and presenting them to the investors and the board, and we had to hit those. But honestly, a lot of those were pulled out of thin air because they had to show certain things to the investors, even though we knew that I don’t think that’s real.
So I do think setting lofty goals is important, but you have to be realistic, and that sets the tone. So if someone is doing 500 grand a year and they want to double it, and I think you can for that type of business, double in the next year, I think we have to be realistic of what’s going to impact that. So SEO is a long-term play. It certainly could impact a thing a year later if we’re planning for next year. But likely, if you’re going to be predicting heavy growth, you’re going to lean more into paid ads while you’re still doing SEO, but understanding that might be impacting year two or three more than the immediate next year, if that makes sense. I think the best business leaders are planning multiple quarters ahead and not just flying by the seat of their pants. So I think that impacts a lot of how you deploy resources against paid versus organic. Organic is the long-term play. Organic, you want to invest in because if it hits, you can grow the business so much. In a lot of the paid campaigns, you may only get an impression share, of 20%, 10%, and sometimes much higher.
But if it’s a competitive term, you might only be getting a 10% share. All of a sudden, you rank in the top three, and you’re getting a 100% share of search, essentially. I’m not ever someone to ignore SEO. All my clients are like, You got to do SEO. If you ignore it, you’re going to kick yourself three years from now. But I do think you have to be realistic in understanding what’s going to impact the next quarter and the next quarter and be real on your projections. That’s what I think about the balance between paid and organic and other channels out there as well.

Got you. And do you plan, also because we just mentioned SEO and the landscape has been changing, Generative AI, all of those things, Google, SGE, Microsoft, Bing have got it. So all of these things happening, do your clients worry about the future of SEO? Or you, as a person, do worry about it. What are the things that have changed? Maybe your approach changed when it comes to optimizing or in fact, just having that generative thing optimization, in mind.


I’m sure you agree, SEO is crazy right now. It’s wild with the advent of AI content, with the advent of all the generative AI, with the advent of Google trying to grapple with that. And we’ve seen so many updates from Google, the helpful content update. As we speak today, in early May, they were supposed to roll out a spam update as we’re talking today. It’s just been, since the fall, a ton of updates. So I think it’s a very weird time for SEO. I think the landscape will change. To answer your question, every one of my clients is concerned about it. I am concerned about it, too. But I also understand that search engines, Google, makes the majority of their money from paid, and that’s very related to SEO, obviously, in the search results. So I think they’re going to have to figure out how to keep their golden egg going. So I think that allows me to sleep at night a little bit, understanding that it’s going to play out. Like, Google is not going to go down without a fight here. And if there’s paid search, there’s going to be organic.
I think there’s going to be opportunities. If more of these AI companies, I’ve heard rumors of ChatGPT search coming out. I know the perplexity of AI is people are more and more. I think there’s time. I think that’s the answer. I’d be lying to say I know what’s going to happen next, but I think there’s time. I think folks like you and I who live this life every day, I’m very active. I’m more from reading, but I do post on Twitter, X, or whatever you want to call it today, you live in a bit of a bubble. I use my parents who are in their 70s as an example. They’re still using Google. They’re not going to complexity AI right now. I think change is coming. I think Google is trying to figure it out because we’ve entered this landscape where I could write 20,000 articles overnight. So the world has changed. Ultimately, the baseline idea of search hasn’t changed. That people are searching for good, unique, true information for whatever they’re searching for. And I don’t know how that’s going to be delivered five years from now. Will It be all through AI, and you might make money by licensing that content to AI?
Will it be still in a search-like format? Will you just be working with ChatGPT and running ads, and then you make money, will there be organic results there? I don’t know. I think stay the course. Don’t do anything crazy. Continue to produce unique content. I would lean into reusing content as much as possible. We record this podcast. We already talked you’re going to cut this up into short segments for people to consume in different ways. You’re probably going to make a transcript of this and make content out of it. So I think lean into that stuff, lean into experiences. So like we talked about my Autoglass client, not just writing an article about a specific thing in Autoglass, but can we shoot a video? Can we go to one of the shops we work with and have a video experience of that? So I think you have to think of it that way. What can make you unique and stand out? But I think people are lying if they’re saying, I know ABC is going to happen because Google doesn’t even know what’s going to happen. And it is a weird world we live in where Google is becoming more weary of AI content.
They said it’s okay if it’s unique, but they also have Bard, which produces AI content. So it’s a weird world right now. You’ve seen the trend where user-generated content sites like Reddit and Quora have moved up a lot in the searches, which I get because they’re saying these are real people, but I also don’t get it because half of that stuff is not factually accurate when someone posts something I read in Quora. So Google is struggling with this right now. Some great sites have lost a ton of traffic with these Google updates. I think there will be balance at some point, but we’re not there. We’re in the middle of this very tumultuous period in SEO. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be investing in it, but they should be really careful about how they’re doing that, and make sure they’re following Google’s guidelines. And I know sometimes Google rewards people who don’t follow their guidelines, but they’ll correct it. It will get there. So put out good content, get good organic links, and ride this wave out a little bit. But don’t be too scared. People are still going to need information. I think paid search and organic search will have a place in the future.
I don’t know in what format exactly.

Got you. My current question is do you take any measures just when you’re doing content optimization for your clients? Any measures, like having that generative engine optimization in mind, just to be the favorite of these AI-based search engines altogether? Maybe it could be just taking care of the NLP altogether or something, some pointers. Or is it something that you still waiting for and then moving forward?


I would say for some of our clients, we’ve been including key takeaways at the top of any article and FAQs at the bottom in the idea that might be easier for future AI to consume if we are doing some summary for them. That was just a take we took. I don’t know if that is going to be helpful in the future, but we’re trying to understand what would make it more consumable for AI. Again, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do think AI will either have to license that or they’ll have to give credit, “Hey, we got this from such and such website.” I think we’re looking at ways we can make it more consumable. We’re certainly using AI content and some of my clients, too. On the opposite end, we’re using it. We always have at least two humans edit it as well. So we’re not just like, here’s this. We’re not posting 20,000 articles at once. We’re doing this at a pace that would be reasonable with human writers. But again, I think the jury is still out. But if you can think about or guess or project how AI might work, can you make your content a little bit more consumable for them?
I think that was some of our thinking behind the key takeaways and FAQs on almost every content we do for some of our clients.

That’s brilliant. I would love to, because I do see a mention of link building on your site as well. I would love to understand how do you do when it comes to your link-building strategy for any one of your clients? Like what are the basics of it. The other thing would be, what are the quality parameters that you look after while approaching any site for a guest post, or could be a link insertion or getting a mention or a sticker? What are those quality parameters that you seek?


Yeah, in full transparency, we outsource most of our link-building. The link building we do is more, “Hey, can we build a calculator that’s going to attract links?” and things like that. But going out and getting the links, we use a variety of outsourcing companies that we’ve worked with. And how we work with them, we do give them guidelines on the domain rank, and the quality of the sites, we can approve what sites they go after and not, and the accompanying article they generally write for us, we review all that. Yeah, we look for things like domain rank as a signal, but more importantly, we look at the quality of their site and the relevancy. Is this relevant? Is this about just cars or is it about taking care of your car? That’s a difference, right? So understanding those minor differences and directing our outsource team to go out and do that. The reason we don’t do it ourselves is we don’t have those relationships that they have, number one. My team is very lean, right? For the clients I work with directly, I do 90% of the work.
I do have assistants who help with our reporting and stuff, and I guess we could have them outreach for link building. I don’t think that’s an efficient use of our time when there are companies that do that all the time. But I have tried, in my career, probably around 100 different link-building companies. And so I have my favorites that I trust and we know how to communicate with each other and agree on what those quality factors may be. The true answer is I outsource a lot of it, but we keep a very close eye on it and we give them very clear guidelines. But we look for qualty, and relevancy. We want to make sure that their whole site isn’t littered with just link-building articles. That’s not the main way they make money, which on some sites, they sell links to. I ran a parenting blog and I made all my money by selling links, so I’ve been on the other side of it. But we want to make sure that they are offering their services and products, too. It’s not always perfect, but those are the preferences that we give to our partners.

That’s brilliant. I would love to know. I’m sure you must be doing this PR as well. You do have some of the SaaS clients also on board with you. What are you doing much more of a content syndication for them? How exactly did it overlaps with the rest of your efforts?


As far as content, we want to reuse it, as I said. We’re not necessarily syndicating it out through partners, but ourselves. We write an article, that’s a script for a video, that goes to YouTube with the link. We’ll look at relevant user forums, and now we’re going to lean more into Reddit and Quora and get a link to that article there organically, “Hey, here’s a good article I read on this subject.” If there’s a relevant post on Reddit and Quora because Google is ranking them so highly. The idea with any one of these is that we want to create a really good piece of content, and we want to get it out there. I think 10% of your time is on writing the content and 90% on getting that link or getting that content in front of people is the way we think of it. That, again, is done through social media. It’s done through posting on user forums. It’s done by making company videos and putting them on YouTube and other social channels. That’s the way we think of getting our content out there. We don’t use any specific service for that today.
It’s more just us doing the work, our team.

Are you also, for any one of your clients, maybe leveraging Hello, Helper, Reporter, or such platform to maybe secure high authority, mentioned on basically high authority sites and stuff?


Yeah.

Typically, it was well for the B2B space compared to B2C, but yeah, I know.


Yeah, if it’s relevant. But that takes time. You can’t just go in and say, “Hey, look at my site.” That takes planning ahead of time. “Hey, there’s a relevant subreddit or there are relevant questions on Quora” and just establish yourself as someone who is going to be helpful on those platforms and answer questions. And then you can organically drop in links and articles and not force it. So I think we’re going to continue to lean in the Quora on Reddit as we see more of them getting more rankings. I imagine other SEO folks will be doing the same because if Google is ranking them highly, then a link from them is more valuable than it was six months ago when it wasn’t ranked quite as highly. So I do think there’ll be even agencies, I think there are some today, but agencies and services that specialize in that, that they have a bunch of topics covered in the Quora on Reddit. They have some reputation on those platforms, and then they’ll sell you a link placement on those platforms. I imagine it’s already going on, but more so, I think, as we’ve seen Quora and Reddit, get ranked higher and higher by Google.

What are the main SEO KPIs that you look into? To make informed marketing decisions.


The absolute number one is revenue or ROI from SEO, the conversions. Like I said earlier, the visits are nice, rankings are nice. They are contributing factors. So we look at them. Hey, did our organic visitors go up or down? Where are we from a ranking standpoint? But honestly, all that matters is, are we driving money? So I think when I run SEO directly, that’s what I focus on. When I’m wearing my CMO hat and I’m working with agencies, I probably annoy the heck out of them because that’s all I want to bug them about, are we driving more conversions? As I said, if you rank for a word or a bunch of words that bring in 100,000 new visitors, but not one of them buys anything, and you’ll never have a product to sell them, it’s great. If you’re eventually going to have a product that will convert well to them, great, fantastic. But if they’re never going to buy a product from you, who cares? So, unless you’re running an ad revenue site, again, if you can’t drive revenue from them, who cares? So that’s the number one I look at. And then everything else, like I said, is a contributing one.
We keep a close eye on things like visitors and rankings and number of links and things like that. But I think of those as contributing metrics, not the main metric.

Got you. Now you have the mindset of a brand, an agency, altogether, because whenever I talk to agency owners, ranking are the number one thing and tons of other things. But yeah, I get it.


Yeah. As a fractional executive, my fiduciary responsibility is to the owners or investors in that company. Those are more vanity metrics to me. They’re good signs, right? If you’re ranking stinks, you’re not going to get the traffic to drive the revenue. So again, you have to pay attention to them. But again, if you tell me I rank number one for 20 terms and not one of them drives a sale, I could care less. I think you have to be able to rank for things that are going to drive the business. I can’t pay employees on a ranking. I can pay them with money. I think that’s what’s important.

Yeah. It makes sense. How’s being intrigued by your affiliate marketing mention on your side? Another top to understand is how exactly affiliate marketing management service, is going to be approached?


Generally I’ll start very simple. I generally start my clients on ShareASale, which is an affiliate network. It’s not the largest, but I found it to be one of the most affordable. Like, Rakooten is huge, but it’s way more expensive and it’s a little bit overwhelming. ShareASale is small. You have to keep an eye on it, but I found the quality of the affiliates to be really good. So I generally start clients on ShareASale. We do that affiliate network. From there, we can grow to those bigger networks. But then also we go and reach out and try to form direct relationships with people as well. For instance, Piva, the pet company I work for, we’ve been growing rapidly, and now we’ve reached out to some of the bigger players in the space, and we’re trying to have conversations because they have complementary products that we don’t offer dog owners, but they do. So there has to be some symbiotic relationship we can do. But the first thing I did was put them on ShareASale, and that takes time to grow. So you’re making an offer. If it’s a company that’s selling leads, my old business, we’d pay out X amount for a lead.
If it’s an e-commerce site, you might do a percentage of a sale. The affiliate gets most of that. ShareASale takes a small piece. So that is a very risk-free way. I think it’s 600 bucks, something like that to get started on share a sale. And then there’s a very small monthly $25 fee if you don’t generate X number of sales. And then it’s whatever you agree. So there’s no risk, “Hey, I’m going to invest 100,000 in Google and no guarantee I’m going to get a return on that, or I’m going to put 100,000 into SEO work.” With the affiliate stuff, it’s very low risk, and it’s a good way to get started. But obviously, those direct relationships with bigger players are the more valuable ones, but it takes time. They don’t want to work with the smallest person in the room. So you have to understand what’s going to work for you, and then you have to have a big enough business that you guys can form some partnership. In the lead business, in my former life working strictly in the lead business, we thought about affiliate networks, and then we also thought about publishers.
Publishers are essentially direct relationships, but big companies. So maybe it was a media company that had a lot of home services, traffic, and things like that. But those were more direct. We had people who ran just those publisher relationships, and we had separate people who just ran the affiliate networks. But for my clients, we keep it simple. We’ll start with a ShareASale. We’ll go to other affiliate networks, and from there, we’ll try to get direct relationships. I love it. I think, again, it’s going to be one of your most cost-effective, least risky ways of starting to get some inbound traffic and some conversions.

Any best specific tool that you use to manage the affiliate platforms that you get on loan for any of your clients? Because I’m sure most of the companies that you work with, that’s small to mid-size, might not have their in-house tool to manage the affiliate partners.


Yeah, I don’t have a go-to tool. ShareASale has its software, so you’re just using the network software for that. Then the direct relationships, some of my clients do have tools, and some of them will just manage it through Google Sheets and track things like that. I don’t have a go-to recommendation. Some tools will sit on top of the networks too and manage directly in both. Yeah, for most of them we have certain tracking and we’re just pulling data from Google Analytics a lot of the time and dropping that in Google Sheets and using Looker Studio to create reporting. We also sometimes just use the CRM that they’re using for sales to manage the relationships. There is affiliate relationship software, there’s partnership relationship software. But again, I work with the SMBs, and we don’t try to buy software if we don’t need to. But there is some excellent software out there. We just don’t use it too often.

Interesting. Do you influence your marketing as well for any of your clients?


Yeah, I would say I’m not an expert at influencer marketing. I’ve used it for some SaaS companies. We’ve dipped our toes in with some of the Ecom companies. What I would do is we generally talk to an influencer agency because it’s not mine. I’ve run it directly, but I don’t necessarily have the experience. There are some fantastic influencer agencies that I would bring in to work with clients. I think the big thing to understand is a lot of that influencer stuff, some of my clients think it’s going to be direct sales. There are direct sales, but it is, I would say, more branding than direct sales a lot of the time. I think you have to think of it that way. Sometimes for me, where my background is performance marketing, it’s not as exciting as I thought it would be when influencer marketing first came out there. But there are great agencies. There are niche agencies. Like my pet client, there are influencer pet agencies that only work in the pet space. I think you can get really good ones. And the advantage there is that they have a Rolodex. Dating myself by using the word Rolodex, but they have a network of, “Hey, here are the top 200 pet influencers.”
We already know what their rates are and how to work with them, and we already have those relationships. So I think you can go out and source your own. There are tools to source your own. But if you’re not an expert, I think the influencer agencies, if you have the funds to pay for an influencer agency, are really helpful because they’re experts at dealing with these people and negotiating I understand.

For sure. But then again, your idea of having ROI because you prioritize that, everything else, and branding’s tough. You understand that.


We put it in the PR bucket. In the way I think about PR, because PR firms are expensive, I think of it from an SEO standpoint. Again, because I am an old-school searcher, and I think it’s from SEO because one, you’re getting real links from PR. And two, I I do think, and Google has said this, not only are we seeing UGC sites ranking high, but just branded sites. I can tell you in the home services and auto services space, some sites have terrible SEO. Their content stinks. They have a lot of links, though, because they’re well-known, and it’s just the brand. I do think of PR as an SEO play. I do think influencers are starting to go that way as well. I think it’s so more integrated in today’s world, just the way Google is changing and things like that. And again, because I may be a very small company, but I could use an AI tool and have as much content as a Fortune 100 company in three weeks. I could rival the biggest company in my space as content. So I think Google continues to look at things like links, but mentions and branding, I think it all plays into it.
And I think it will play into it more as Google will better dial in the algorithm to take into account the brand. Again, my background is more performance than brand, and I’ve done plenty of brand marketing in my life, but I think it’s becoming more intertwined than ever with the changes we’re seeing in the marketing landscape.

Mike, let’s talk about you. You were named Portland’s Boss of the Year quite some time back, but I would love to understand what leadership principles or practices you believe contributed to this recognition?


Yeah, it was way back in 2011, a little less gray hair then. I think it all comes from, why are we here? Why is somebody working at your company? Because it’s work, right? If I won the lottery, I’d be a tinkerer. I would always be working on some entrepreneurial thing, but it wouldn’t be the number of hours I work today. I’m sure a lot of employees who have worked for me would say, “Hey, yeah, if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t be doing this.” I believe in purpose and mission, and you have to find it. When we’re doing Home Improvement lead generation, we would talk about helping out contractors and small business owners. That’s something you could feel good about. I’m an animal lover, so my client Piva, we reunite owners with their dogs almost every day. So that’s a driving force. I think there has to be a mission. I think there has to be a separation of work and home life. I’m maybe not that good at it today for myself because I work from home and I work out hours because I’m a single dad half the week and two young kids.
When I was running internal teams, if we were going to have a team-building exercise, I tried to make it during the day as much as possible. I think little things like that, it’s not a big deal, but I don’t want people to take away from their personal life. Now, if we were going to have a really fun Christmas party at night, I think that’s a different thing. But we tried to keep work to work. I’ve always said to my teams, that when I worked in an office, I had teams, if they needed to go out and run an errand, I think I was ahead of the curve. I was like, Go out. You got a doctor’s appointment. You have to take care of it. I don’t care. I trust you to get your work done, and you’re going to hear from me if you don’t get your work done. You got to take a personal phone call. Just walk out and do it. I don’t care. I want to work with adults who are mature enough to get their work done. I think I look for that in hiring. If you can create that environment where everyone knows they’re going to get their stuff done, and then if they don’t get their stuff done, they’re going to get talked to, put on a performance improvement plan, and eventually be showing the door.
People respect that. I don’t think you have to be a jerk about it, but give people as much freedom to live their lives, work hard, and deliver. I don’t want to be a micromanager. I think those are my principles about it. I think to keep working, and let people handle life. Sometimes you have to handle life during the day. Sometimes you have personal stuff going on. If people are going to get their work done, I don’t care. Go do what you need to do. All that dough feeds back into what we talked about earlier: having projections, having a plan, and knowing what goals we have to hit. If you don’t know what goal you’re contributing towards, that’s a problem, and I’m doing my job as a manager. If you don’t know what you have to accomplish this month or this day, which leads into this week, which leads into this month, which leads into this quarter, which leads into this year, if you don’t understand that, then we need to have a conversation. So I think, again, if they know what they have to do to contribute and they stay on that plan, that’s great.
And I do believe when we put out plans and projections, I let every team member have a say in that. Do you agree with this number? Because you can’t hold someone accountable for something that they think is completely out of whack. We force them, yeah. Yeah. If my plan has this growing 400% this quarter or this year, that’s your segment of the company. That’s your organization within the company. And you’re like, Mike’s crazy. I think we’d be lucky to grow 50%. We’re not going to grow 400%. So I think that buy-in, you have to have buy-in. Okay, you think it’s 50, I think it’s 400. Let’s sit down. Let me show you my thinking. You share mine. Let’s agree on a number. And when we work out of it, that’s great. We agreed on a number. I’m going to hold you accountable to that number. I believe in all that is saying is I believe that people are mature enough that you can give them that independence if there’s a plan, and you can let them run with that, let them have fun with things, let them try things as long as they’re within budget and plan.
And it’s very easy then to say, have conversations, the tough conversations when they fall out of that plan. “Hey, Bob, you agreed to this plan. You’re falling behind it. How can I help you?” That’s the early conversation. But the conversation could get tougher from there. Maybe it has nothing to do with Bob. It’s not his fault. Something went wrong in manufacturing or the engineering team didn’t ship fast enough. But I think you have to have a plan and hold people accountable and let them have the freedom around that.

Makes sense. Mike, we’re coming to an end here. Let’s have a fun quick rapid-fire session. Are you ready for that?


Sure.

If you had one social media platform for the rest of your life, what would it be?


I love Twitter X. I love it. I know it changed a lot last year, but I think if you can dial in Twitter, X, it is the absolute number one learning platform on the internet. It takes work, though. I think that’s why it’s tough for people to get going. You have to filter people. You have to find the right people to follow. But absolutely, I’ll give you a quick example. I’m an amateur trader. I like to trade. And early COVID, people were on Twitter showing cities being shut down in China. So before anyone else, I was ordering stuff online. I put puts against the market early and caught the bottom of the market. Twitter is a great way to see what’s going on in the world. It’s a great way to learn about certain topics. I do think, to my earlier point, you have to understand it’s a bit of a bubble. So if everyone on Twitter is talking about this new AI tool, the majority of people haven’t heard of it. But I think if you understand that Twitter is super powerful.

All right. What’s the most bizarre marketing tactic you have ever seen work successfully?


That’s a good one. I don’t know if I have a good answer for that. I would say some of the stuff I’ve seen at shows where people go to a booth, I feel, is bizarre to me. It’s not bizarre in the same as strange, but gosh, you give away an iPod. I remember going to shows back in the day and they’re giving away an iPod, and they get a thousand business cards because someone lives on an iPod. I just found that bizarre. I’m not someone who would drop my business card in there, but that’s not that wacky. I think some of the local business stuff that you see in giveaways like that can get pretty bizarre. My businesses are very digital-based, so it’s not anything too out of the ordinary.

Okay. And what’s the weirdest place you have come up with a brilliant marketing idea?


I used to keep, I guess it’s not that weird, but I used to keep a waterproof notepad in the shower, so I write stuff down in the shower a lot. That was, as a dad with a busy family, sometimes just being in the shower, even if it’s a quick shower, was the moment of Zen where ideas would come to you.

That’s great. If you could magically increase one of your, say, let’s pick SaaS, client’s marketing budget tenfold, what would be the first thing that you would do with that extra funds?


Yeah, there’s probably a quick answer, But this is the nerdy side of me. I would probably have to do some analysis of what’s working and what I think you could still put money into without diminishing returns. If Google has given us a 10X return, but they’ve had a budget cap on it, that would be the first place I’d do it. I do think I’d put a lot in long-term SEO. Then just I think about video and YouTube, I look at my kids, they don’t watch TV. They love YouTube. I have to limit their time on it and things like that. But they know niche YouTube people. They know big YouTube people. I think that’s the future. If you’re a consumer-facing company, that video, whether it’s YouTube or TikTok or what have you, I would put a lot into video knowing it may not have an immediate return. But I think this generation coming up, that is their world. It may end up being a different social media platform, maybe a different channel that we haven’t even heard of yet. But I think video in short form and long form, you have to lean into.
I’m certainly not an expert at that. I’m learning as I go, but I would put a lot into video.

My very last question, what’s your last Google search?


Oh, my last Google search, what was I looking for? I think I was, oh, my son has a flag football game on a turf field, which he normally plays on grass. And I’m so old, I remember the old Astroturf, which you wouldn’t wear your cleats on. But I think today’s turf, you do wear cleats on, and I found out you do. But I was googling if he should be wearing his sneakers for his flag football bowl game or if he should wear his cleats. But I was dating myself. I wrote to his coach and asked him, too. I was dating myself. No one’s playing on Astro Turf, which we used to play on as kids if we had big games, and the world has changed.

All right, Michael. I learned a lot of things from your experience. I’m sure my audience will appreciate this. Thank you so much,. I appreciate your time here with me.


Thanks. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Thank you.

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