Dennis and Geoff discuss Geoff’s history as SVP of Marketing at Overstock.com, and how he started his own B2B software company, Huckabuy. Geoff shares some insight into SEO trends, and explains technical tweaks you can make to your company’s website to keep up in the SEO world, and even get ahead of the curve.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- Sales is one of the most fundamental skills to have in business
- Immediacy and voice search are huge SEO trends to look out for in 2020
- Structured data and dynamic rendering can facilitate massive growth for B2B companies
Time Stamped Highlights
[0:53] Introduction to Geoff and Huckabuy
Dennis: Hey, welcome back, everybody. And today we have yet another amazing guest. His name is Geoff Atkinson. Geoff is the former SVP ofMarketing at Overstock.com, where he grew SEO from zero to over $300 million as a channel in the late 2000s. He went on to start Huckabuy, which is a software company disrupting the SEO industry. With software services that automate structured data and dynamic rendering on websites. Prominent customers include SAP, Salesforce, Concur among many, many others. I think you guys are going to really enjoy the conversation because today we are going to talk about the future of SEO and how to be better prepared for it because that landscape is changing just like every other landscape in marketing online. So welcome to the show, Geoff.
Geoff: Thank you, Dennis. It’s so great to be here.
Dennis: Yeah. Thank you for joining me. You’re in Park City, Utah. So you’re a big skier?
Geoff:That’s correct. Yeah. I was actually listening to previous podcasts of yours and you had another guest come on that is living in Aspen. But yeah, I’m in Park City. Great winter so far. We’re having an epic season.
Dennis: Yeah, Adam Robinson I think it was that was a recent episode. He was a skier. He was in Colorado, I think. But yeah, everybody seems to be a skier these days, right? It’s the lifestyle business. Now do you? Do you have a remote team like he did? Or do you have more of an office there in Park City?
Geoff: We have an office here in Park City, but our development team is distributed and some of our customer success is distributed. There’s about seven or eight of us here in Park City, and then the rest are kind of across the country, but everybody’s in the US.
[2:28] Geoff’s Experience as the SVP of Marketing: How He Got There, and How He Moved the Needle
Dennis: Awesome. Well, yeah, my obvious question is about your experience at Overstock, I mean, you were the SVP of marketing. Overstock was a huge business and probably still is today. I mean, I don’t follow it. But tell us how you ended up there. I mean, give us a short version of your story. You’re an east coast boy, you were from the Boston area, and then you migrated all the way out to Park City to join the Overstock team. How did that all come to play?
Geoff: Yeah, so actually, I was planning on moving to New Zealand and my mom said to me, — I was a ski racer in college — and she said, “You have to take one job interview before you leave school, otherwise, this has been such a big waste of money for us.” And that job interview ended up being Overstock and Overstock is actually based in Salt Lake City. And so I took the job, at the ground floor making not a lot of money thinking, “Okay, I can have this real job but still be a ski bum.” And then I ended up having a mind for this digital marketing world. And yeah, we had quite a ride there. I was fortunate to have the co founder, take me under his wing and be my mentor. And yes, seven years later, you know, we’d grown that thing into an enormous e-commerce giant. It was a really fun run.
Dennis: And so you started out at kind of the entry level and you obviously, eventually your shoulders got more broad and more broad. You took on more responsibility and became the SVP. How long were you there? Seven years? How long were you running marketing during that time frame?
Geoff: Probably five to seven.
Dennis: Wow. Very cool. So a lot of that growth was directly under your control and your direction. So what would be the biggest lesson You took away from that experience, right? I mean, you went from you took that channel from zero. And we’ll try to make it a little more narrow, right? Because I mean, I’m sure there’s a lot of things you learned in that seven or eight years. But from the perspective of growing that SEO channel from zero to 300 million, if you had to say, what’s the biggest thing you learned during that process?
Geoff: I would say two things. One of the most important is just how technical SEO is, ultimately, it’s a technical problem. We spend so much time on the UI/UX for a human, but I think a lot about what the experience is for a Googlebot and how important that is because it really dictates how many humans so we had a team, at some point have about 40 people working on SEO, and more than half of them were developers. So that can show you kind of where we put our resources to get that kind of growth. The other is being willing to adjust your business based on demand. So I got there and it was like an electronics and jewelry and watches company. But we figured out that there was huge search volume in the home and garden categories like furniture and bedding, and so we pivoted it. We built a supply chain and now everybody knows Overstock. So a homerun garden company where you get your sheets and memory foam and all that stuff. So being willing to look at cert, what people are searching for, and the demand that’s out there and being agile enough to change your business to go after that demand and fulfill it, the faster path towards growth. And, you know, knowing that you have the product that people are going to want, it’s much easier to actually look for what people want, and then just fill it.
[5:25] The Business Superpower Everyone Needs
Dennis: So, here’s a question for you, you’re a guy who is pretty technical, right? I mean, you seem to be a pretty technical guy, you’ve probably got some chops in the developing side. And you also do, obviously, have a marketing mind. But here’s my question to you. If you could pick any business superpower, something that you don’t currently have, maybe it’s something that someone else has that you just really wish you could do, maybe Who knows, maybe it’s public speaking, maybe it’s marketing, maybe it’s Who knows? I don’t know. I don’t want to fill your bucket. If you could pick any business superpower, what would it be?
Geoff: Sales. You know, I was in the B2C world where you never see your customer, you’ve got millions of them, but you just interact with them digitally. I’m learning. I’m now in the B2B world and I’m learning the sales world. I think I have a bit of a knack for it. But I’ve got so much to learn and so much to grow in that space. So yeah, that’s the superpower I would be interested in.
Dennis: Love it. I mean, and now that you’re steering your own ship, right, and you’re running your own business. I mean, obviously, sales is a big part of everybody’s job. But as the owner of the business, the CEO, the leader, you’re always selling something either selling internally, selling to investors, selling to your customers, there’s always stakeholders you got to be selling to so I think that is an amazing superpower. I’ve always told everybody I mean, if you can develop the skill of selling successfully, you’ll never starve. You’ll always be able to go anywhere in the world and earn a great income, and six figures is just the start of a great income and sales. So I have a tendency to agree with you.
[7:03] The Future of SEO: Immediate Search Results and Voice Search
Dennis:Today we’re going to talk about the future of SEO and how to be better prepared for it. Right? He’s going to give you some tips and strategies, a little bit of a framework on how to be prepared. But first, we’re going to talk about what the future of SEO is. What are the trends? What’s going on right now that you see, starting to dominate search, particularly over the next three to five years?
Geoff: Yeah, there’s a bunch of trends. One in particular that really stood out to me — I just learned in the last couple of weeks — is that for the first time in the past year, studies show that users care more about immediacy, and getting an answer or getting a product or getting watching a show, than they cared about brand loyalty. So you know, we used to go to espn.com, if you trusted espn.com to get your sports score. Now I just put in, you know, “Boston Celtics,” and it pops up the score and I don’t care where it came from, as long as it’s on Google, I trust it. So immediacy has become not just a trend at Google, but almost a cultural trend. So it’s not going away. No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s voice search or search on mobile you can just look at the search results that are starting to come back and see how they satisfy that immediacy. There’s a bunch of stuff you have to do to be able to solve that problem, and satisfy that need for immediacy.
Another macro trend is voice search. You know, it was interesting to watch the transition from desktop to mobile and how quickly it happened. It really happened because the user experience just got there. We went from Palm pilots and trios, where we were hunting and pecking with a stylist and taking 30 seconds to load a webpage, to iPhones at faster speeds. And as soon as that happened, the user experience caught up to the desktop and everybody switched. The user experience of voice search has not reached that point yet. You can’t just search for the best price. Let’s say you want to order a certain product at the best price. It’s still way easier for you to do that on your desktop than it is to do it via voice and so there needs to be an improved experience there. In my opinion, this is one of the first times that Google has some serious competition because Apple could solve this problem better than they could, or Amazon with Alexa could solve this problem better than Google could. But I have a feeling Google’s gonna be the one that gets it right. And so, probably in the next five years, you’ll see that same massive transition, like it was from desktop to mobile, that’ll go from typing to voice.
Dennis: So there are two or three big trends you talked about. One was the impact of immediacy and how Google is adjusting with how they display the results. So rather than clicking through and then having to maybe search for an answer a little bit further, it just pulls up the answer right on Google, because they don’t want you to leave Google, right? I mean, that’s really the hidden agenda. They want you to stay on Google. Because the more searches you do, the more time you spend there, the more ads they sell. I mean, that’s just the reality of it. The more data they gather about your interests and wants, needs and desires, which lets them sell more later. Right. Then the second one you talked about was the voice search, right? And how Voice Search works today and kind of how that’s changing. And I’ve heard a lot about voice search, and I use voice search for my iPhone. But like you said, today voice search, to me, is really more just the difference between typing and speaking, but I still get the results a lot of times in Google just on a page, or I’m still getting those results, it just makes it a little bit more convenient. Do you see that dramatically changing? What are your thoughts on that? I mean, obviously, it’s impossible to predict the future. But you’re the guy who if I was gonna ask that question to you would probably be the most qualified that I know.
Geoff: Yeah. So you’re actually a bit ahead of me, I actually hate using voice search. I kind of have to force myself to do it. We have a bunch of Google homes in the office and at my house. I think it’s a terrible user experience personally because if you don’t have a device in front of you, you no longer get like the 10 links back, you get kind of a janky answer, or they just can’t solve it. So, I do think like how you’re using voice search where you’re using it on your mobile device, and then you actually have a screen to interact with, that’s going to be a very big step before they really have that sort of — you know you’re going to get the best product or the best movie time back just doing a voice search and having an answer with voice. So whether it’s your mobile device, it’s your laptop or it’s your TV screen, having that voice search and screen combination is really, I think, the next step that’ll get pretty dialed. So you’ll have, you know, a Google device on your TV, and pretty much anything that you want that TV to do, whether it’s, to book a trip, watch a show or check the weather, it’s all going to be there visually. And then at some point, that sort of like almost conversational voice search will get better. But I think in the short term, the future looks like voice to screen.
[11:57] The Only Constant in Business is Change: Here’s How To Stay Ahead
Dennis: All right, great. So that kind of paints a picture for the audience. Obviously, people have seen, you know, like for example, one of the things that’s really, I’ve noticed, particularly in the last year is these rich snippets. Rich snippets are where you’re searching for the answer to a question —very similar to that scenario where you talked about the sports score example — and they give you the answer right there. It’s almost like a zero click search, I guess, is what they call it. Right? So I think that paints a pretty good picture for the audience.
Now, why don’t we talk a little bit about what small businesses, or even enterprises, should be doing to start preparing for that. One of my early mentors told me very early on, “The only constant in business is change.” I’m sure he didn’t coin that phrase, but the fact is, is that we’re changing at a rapid pace. So you definitely want to try to stay ahead of the curve. That’s the goal of this episode today is to educate you a little bit so you can be prepared. So Geoff, give us a little bit of a framework on how they might be better prepared as these changes unfold?
Geoff: Yeah, I mean, you talk about a ferocious market leader that’s changing the world, Google is probably as prominent in that world as anybody. So SEO is changing at an incredibly rapid rate, and the industry actually is really lagging behind. One of the big things is a relatively well known, but probably not really well known by your listeners, is the language called structured data markup. Structured data markup has been around for 10 years, but it’s a language that Google wants to speak with websites. So you can use structured data to almost talk about anything — movie times, events, products, whatever it is — and that’s the language that’s powering all of those rich enhancements on search results. It also powers all voice search. Structured data is pretty straightforward, there’s lots of ways to do it. Obviously, we have a solution, but you need to have structured data throughout your website for Google to be able to not only understand your website, but also be able to start positioning you and featuring you in that rich features in search results. So that would be one sort of macro trend, technically, to help your listeners get ahead of the curve, actually the curve’s already kind of here, but to make sure they get on that train, where if users are only getting one answer back, you’re that answer and you control the conversation and structured data is the fastest way to get that done.
[14:36] This is How Huckabuy’s Automated Structured Data Works
Dennis: Do your software products integrate with, like, WordPress, for example? Because I mean, WordPress, obviously powers a huge percentage of the web. How do you guys tie in or how to pry it providers like you tie that in? Can you explain that to us?
Geoff: Yeah, so we’re front end agnostic so you can have any tech stack in the world. All we’re doing is looking at the HTML and the information on the front end of the website, and building this language on your behalf, and then it’s just embedded at the top of the page. So when a Googlebot comes in, they can capture all of the structured data and understand each and every page much more clearly. So it’s a really light implementation, actually. But it gives us very powerful information for Google to be able to absorb.
[16:14] SEO Macro Trend: Dynamic Rendering
Dennis: What’s next? What else can we be doing to try to catch up and or get ahead?
What I’ve found is that people listen to them no matter when it is. That’s an interesting thing that I wasn’t expecting — the benefit over time. I always thought, “Well it got released today. It’s getting shared around LinkedIn, and that’ll be it.” But, no, if someone’s just discovered a podcast and they really like it, they’ll listen to all the podcasts, going back for like a year. And so, yeah, we get this long term benefit that I was not expecting.
Erik: Yeah, to your point on, having some potential customers come through that maybe came through the podcast host network that you’ve built up. I can definitely understand how that could be tough to track. I mean, like, maybe they’re in Facebook groups, and someone needed an SEO platform and your name came up and, but they’re not really gonna necessarily mention that it sort of how it got in front of them and how they ended up talking with you. But that was actually a byproduct of doing that podcast.
17:59 SEO Case Study: How Technical Changes Equal Growth
Dennis: I think that’s a perfect segue. So here’s what I’d like you to share, paint us a little bit of a picture. You talked about some strategies, obviously structured data markup, dynamic rendering and these different strategies, right? And how there’s different software that can do that from you and others. So let’s talk about maybe a case study or two, why don’t we talk about maybe some clients where, you know, maybe one or both of these, where you’ve seen a huge impact, I mean, dramatic where it was where it was very eye opening, that what you guys did was the impetus of seeing that sort of growth? I mean, I’m sure you have those. Can you help us share a little bit around that?
Dennis: Yeah. And it was really all centered around those two components that you talked about, which is structured data and dynamic rendering. Any other case studies or thoughts you want to share about maybe customer success or anything else?
Geoff: Yeah. But one thing that we were talking about earlier is just we try to help customers think about the demand that’s out there. Especially in B2B world, we love to come up with these funky little names for our products that aren’t actually what people search for. We encourage our customers to look at the demand. So like, we encourage them to be asking how many people are searching a month for any given product or subject or whatever, and then actually building products, or at least their website, to monitor and match that demand. So getting towards sales growth is much easier when you go after something that’s got a lot of demand already out there, rather than trying to force yourself upon unwilling customers. That’s a trend that I’m surprised the B2B world hasn’t really picked up on yet. We definitely are all over it. We say, “Let’s call things what people are searching for.” So if you’re building whatever type of B2B product, look for what people call it, and call it that and use that keyword throughout your website. We’ve had customers that have changed their navigation to call their products what people search for, and just doing that doubled their SEO. It happens all the time. They used to call it, you know, whatever, and then they changed the name, they put it in a navigation, and they call it what people search for, and their organic traffic doubles.
[21:45] Huckabuy’s Sales Strategy
Geoff: Yeah, we’ve a couple big things. One is our own organic search channel, and it’s starting to really take off. And that is a scalable channel that we’re going to ride as far as we can ride it. We’ve also done a little bit of a pivot around our sales team. So traditional software companies, you have a bunch of account executives, and in the tech, SEO space, they don’t like to talk to your account executives, they don’t answer emails, they don’t answer phone calls. And so our sales team is transitioning into technical SEO experts. So they’re still salespeople, but they’re actually SEOs. They’re really smart at search and that’s what their background comes from. And they kind of get stuck and pigeonholed from a comp perspective and a career path. You know, once you get to the SEO person at a company that’s great you are. So we’re giving folks like that an opportunity to make more money, to go out there in San Francisco or wherever they are, — they already have a brand and they’re trusted as an SEO expert — and those are our sales channels. Now, I don’t know if that’s going to work or not. I have a feeling that it’s gonna be a growth driver. But that’s a pretty big, you know, pivot for us and a kind of a different approach to sales that I think is gonna be pretty prominent this year, and I think it’s gonna deliver results.
Dennis: Is that more of a partnership model or is that internally?
Geoff: We’ll do some contract deals, but I think most of them will be hired. So, we’ll focus on finding really smart SEOs. The dorky or they are, the better. You know, we want to be able to have people talking to people and understanding each other, and have it be much less of a sales process and much more of an educational process. They say things like, “This is a thing. This is where Google’s going. You know it, I know it, we have a solution for it.”
Dennis: They’re a sales engineer more than they are just a traditional salesperson, got it. Love that.
[24:07] SEO Tools The Huckabuy Team Uses
Dennis: Here’s two rapid fire questions before we close out. One is, you know, being a tech guy, I’m sure you have your list of these, but what’s your favorite growth tool or software app, something you guys are using at Huckabuy or you use yourself that helps drive growth for your business.
Geoff: So there’s a great SEO tool called Ahrefs. We’re much more about performance and driving growth, and they’re the best analytical SEO tool. Also, I’ll be pretty lame here and say Slack. I mean, I think Slack is actually just absolutely incredible in terms of inter-company communication. So those are the two tools that we really leverage a lot and probably use the most internally.
[24:47] Must Read Book: The Sales Acceleration Formula
Dennis: What would be one book you’ve read recently, or has helped you throughout your journey, that you’d recommend to the audience?
Geoff: It’s called The Sales Acceleration Formula. It was written by the CMO of HubSpot, I forget his name off the top of my head, but it tells the story of how HubSpot grew so significantly and how diligent they were in their hiring and how they went about it and you can just see how it works. When you read the book, you’re like, “Oh, I completely understand how they got to be as big as they did.” It has tons of little tips and tricks. So, my answer is Sales Acceleration Formula, hands down. I think for a B2B leader, that’s a great book.