Podcast Title: Secrets of Marketers
Host: Jeremy Blossom
Guest: Geoff Atkinson
Jeremy & Geoff talk about Geoff's background in the marketing industry, how he moved from SVP of marketing at Overstock.com to start his own company, why people need to care more about SEO, why the technical part of SEO is important, and how Huckabuy solves technical SEO — unlike SEO agencies.
What You'll Learn in This Episode
- How Geoff pushed revenue growth at Overstock.com through keyword research and SEO
- How technical SEO can be a game-changer for B2B companies
- Effective SEO tactics for B2C companies
- How you can build a productive company culture that drives growth and inspires employees
Time Stamped Highlights
[1:00] Geoff’s Story: How He Drove Revenue from Zero to 300 million as SVP at Overstock.com
Jeremy: Hey Geoff, would you mind just kind of giving us a warm introduction on who you are and where you came from? You've got a really fascinating story.
Geoff: Absolutely. So I was a ski racer growing up. I'm from the east coast, Boston area and got into college as a skier. I was also on the US ski team for a year. And then after college, I wanted to get a job somewhere like in a mountain town and sort of still be a ski bum but I came across a great opportunity at Overstock.com in 2005, in the relatively early days of Overstock. And, you know, we saw sort of phenomenal growth there. I ended up becoming their SVP of Marketing and the founder and CEO, Patrick Byrne, was my mentor. His godfather was Warren Buffett. His dad was the CEO of Geico. So it's just like this kind of incredible career starting opportunity to have, you know, a 25-year-old kid controlling 1.2 billion in revenue. We were heavy into SEO. That was a great channel for us. We went from zero to 300 million in about four years, which was pretty cool.
Now I have my own company called Huckabuy that checks a lot of boxes when it comes to SEO, specifically technical SEO. And we help our customers like Salesforce, SAP, and a lot of others drive their organic search growth. You'll get a different take on marketing from me, I'm sure.
Jeremy: Yeah, that's what I'm looking for. What an impressive resume and you're so humble about it. I love your story. Like most marketers, at least some of the really successful ones, you didn’t start off thinking “that's my mission in life: I'm gonna go and become the senior vice president marketing for this huge company,” you were a skier and you kind of transitioned into this. So that I think actually adds to probably why you were so good at what you did. You come at it from a different perspective.
[3:20] Why Geoff Started Huckabuy
Jeremy: I'd like to start off just by getting into your motives for starting your company. You could have left Overstock and literally done anything I mean, you could have moved into the VP role or any other company you probably wanted to do, but you specifically have chosen to start your own company around SEO. What's the big reason for you going all-in on SEO?
Geoff: Honestly, it was kind of accidental, but I'm glad that I'm here now. So the way that I started this thing was actually with a B2C company. Because that was my background, right? So it was like an online compare-shopping and compare-coupon type of site. And at the time, Google had sort of changed their algorithms to not really like these affiliate site models. And so we were really kind of swimming upstream. But we had built some really cool SEO software that people that knew the company and knew me wanted to start licensing.
About three years ago, we pivoted into the SaaS business without me even knowing how great SaaS is — the recurring revenue model and all that jazz. So, actually it was kind of an accident that we built such a great business. The problem that we're solving — and this is coming from my experience at Overstock — is just how technical SEO is. The SEO industry is almost entirely driven by services. So there are tons of agencies, and tons of consultants, that can't really fix the fundamental problem. And so it's like a $95 billion industry with an NPS score of zero. Basically, you'd rather go to your dentist than talk to your SEO agency. The problem is that these agencies and consultants literally don't have the technical chops — or even sometimes the technical access — to make the fundamental changes to a website that allow Google to understand it and give it the rankings and traffic that it deserves. I saw it as an outdated industry that was really ripe for disruption. I thought, “Let's get after this thing from a technical and software perspective.” And so that's really what have I done, we're like the exact opposite of really any other SEO experience you've probably ever had. We're software and you literally get the software live, and our average customer grows like 62% in 12 months. So it's pretty wild. It works. We kind of feel like we've struck gold and now we're trying to reach the masses and get our name out there because I think what we've found is pretty special.
[5:49] Myths Around SEO and Why Technical SEO is so Important
Jeremy: Yeah, absolutely. You guys are doing something that I'd say 99% of the people are not doing. As I mentioned to you in our pre-show interview, one of our guests on the show is Neil Patel. And you know, I tell him that most of the people who are in this SEO space — SEO marketers — have gone so far that it's almost a pet peeve of mine. It's given us SEO and marketing people somewhat of a bad name, because they're going out there over promising these results and saying a bunch of things that they really can't deliver on. Because you're right, there's this fundamental issue. And so, you know, Neil also agrees, he's like, “Yeah, there's a lot of people that have a couple of the pieces figured out and they over-sell those couple pieces of SEO, but they're missing out on the bigger thing.”
Let's talk about some of the myths surrounding SEO, and why the technical part is so important. What are some of the things that you're having to reset expectation-wise or retrain someone when you're going through what Huckabuy can do for somebody versus like what they're currently thinking SEO is all about?
Geoff: Yeah, Neil's great. He's a friend as well and a super smart guy. And you're right, there is a ton of snake oil salesmen out there that are giving the industry a really bad name, and it gets back to that NPS score of zero, right? So I'd say that sort of the miscommunication is all about, well, what can an agency actually charge you for? And that's their driving light, right in a capitalist economy. They're going to figure out what they can charge you for. What they can charge you for it. Typically stuff that Google doesn't really care all that much about. They're gonna charge you for, you know, optimization of metadata. And metadata, you know, isn't all that important anymore. It's all about structured data. They're gonna write a lot of content, but they can't write content the way an internal team can, because no one knows about these complex businesses as a third party. I mean, writing is really hard. And so if you just have a random agency churning out writing for you, it's usually not a highly paid employee. And they're just gonna write garbage and Google can sniff that out. And then the rest of it is really just snake oil. So they'll say that they're doing stuff like a technical SEO audit, or they're going to, you know, implement structured data, or they're going to improve PageSpeed — stuff that does really matter, but they did end up just not doing it. And so I wonder how many of the billable hours out there are actually being done. Because if I look at some of these agency bills, I'm just like, “They're not doing this.” And so I think that's part of it too, right? You get a line item on your agency bill each month for like, $5,000. And you're like, what are they actually doing for me for that $5,000, it's really hard to actually figure it out.
The reason that the technical side is so important, so if you think about websites are always built for human beings, right? We spent so much time on UI/UX. But what's the UI/UX for Google? When they come, what's their experience? Normally, it's really, really bad. And in my opinion, it's actually more important than the user experience in a lot of ways because it dictates how many humans end up coming.
There's certain things that Google really cares about:
1. Page speed — they want really fast pages.
2. Structured data — their preferred language that allows them to talk authoritatively with a website.
3. Good content that's written well.
Essentially, what Huckabuy is doing is just listening to Google, listening to what they want out of a website, where they're going, and building software that basically gives them the perfect UI/UX when they come to crawl a site. When you do that, the results are just incredible. And no agency could do that. They couldn't actually make a huge impact on page speed. They couldn't create a dynamically rendered version of a website — which is something we can probably talk about later. They're just not able to do that. And so yeah, you end up with this really bad situation where they're basically selling a fake list of goods and they don't really deliver on it either; it's a problem. It's kind of a hard problem for Huckabuy honestly, because so many people have been burned. But when they hear about us, and they hear what we do they don’t trust us. That’s why we’re so big on accountability and credibility and transparency — which none of these firms do. We have to hit those things way harder, because people have been burned in the past.
[11:09] Ask Yourself: Is My Content Optimized for Google To Crawl?
Jeremy: Yeah, the paradigm shift for me when you were explaining Huckabuy to me, was basically what you just kind of walked through. I'd argue that if you really were truthful with yourself, 90% of everyone listening [or reading] right now would say they probably really haven't given Google as much thought as they probably should have. I certainly didn't think about it when I was actually building out which code I was going to use for my site. But those technical things are super important.
That's just it, that's the competitive advantage Huckabuy provides, right?
It’s about clearing up those roadblocks, letting them through and letting them to just be able to download everything that they need. And they'll reward you for that. That's essentially what we're trying to do. There's so many other efforts that are happening that are actually good for the user, but Google's not getting the benefit of that. Let's make sure that they get what they need to be able to reward you for that.
[19:25] How Long Will It Take to See Returns on SEO?
Jeremy: Some of these companies are so over-leveraged in one traffic channel, they’re not getting that residual. What would be some of the timeframes of this? People who are very passive on SEO, if they were to put money into it and really start to build that up as a channel, how long would it take for them to see returns and rankings?
Geoff: Six months is usually like a minimum. You'll start to see the needle move pretty significantly in six months, if you're doing the right things. If you go down the path of working with an agency or whatever, sometimes it just never even moves, which is sad. But as we said, for a new customer give it six months, and you'll start to see stuff really heading in the right direction. If you give it a year, you're going to see double that. That's the thing about SEO, it's pretty linear. It takes time and investment over time. Good SEO companies will have 30-50 people working on SEO for like 10 years, and that's how they get so good at what they do. But, you know, six months is a good time frame to answer the question,“Is this working or not?” There's so many bad ways to go about it and bad external things telling you what to do that you could waste a lot of money and a lot of time. But if you do it correctly, then you should see movement in six months, no problem.
Jeremy: Yeah, I was thinking you're gonna give us a timeline around that — like six months or so — because I think that's a big misconception too. You get agencies out there that say, “Oh, I'll get you results here in the next 30 days after you start with us.” And it's a red flag. That's just not how SEO works at all. Also it’s about setting the provocation. I think that's what's also hard for your kind of small to mid-sized companies, right? I can go and spend a million dollars a month on ads, and I'm going to make all of it back that month — maybe early next month in paid acquisition. If you go and spend that money in SEO, then it's more like an investment where it's gonna pay over time, but if you keep investing in it month over month over month, the return on the ROI becomes way greater than the original investment was. And it doesn't stop. I mean, barring, you're still practicing best SEO practices, if you just abandon ship and stop investing in the channel, it's gonna go and turn the other way. But, you know, that's what I wanted everyone to hear, is a realistic timeframe on when somebody could see some type of results that are coming through.
[36:33] Dynamic Rendering
Jeremy: It's so cool because you're taking all that information, data, insight and lessons that you learned over at Overstock.com, and you're putting it right into Huckabuy. As I was getting to know more about you guys, one of the coolest things I learned about are these dynamic pages functionality. I think a lot of people probably don't understand it, so I'd love for them to kind of get an idea of a few of the things that Huckabuy can do. And again, guys, this is all the stuff that Geoff learned from, you know, from his years at growing a massive online e-commerce brand using SEO. So go ahead and jump right in.
Geoff: Yeah I think not many people are familiar with dynamic rendering, like probably 90% of your audience has never heard of it. Now, I don't blame them either. But in my mind, it was sort of the biggest change Google's made in 10 years. Basically, a website user experience will dynamically render depending on what calls it. So, the user experience is different between mobile and desktop. Google also came out and said that they will accept a version with a user experience just for Google bots.
Huckabuy Cloud is a dynamically rendered, simplified version of a website — call it like perfect version of a website just for Google. So we take the site, we convert it into flat HTML — which is simplified code — and we add structured data, which is the language that Google prefers to talk to at the top of the page. And then we have a partnership with CloudFlare, who's the world's fastest CDN (content delivery network). So your pages are not only now, full HTML, perfect structured data, they also load instantly. So when Google comes, they can download basically the entire site right away. It's kind of crazy concept, but they love it. So that's dynamic rendering.
[39:32] The Components of a Holistic Solution to Technical SEO
Jeremy: That's amazing. And so that's just part of the stack, right? That you guys are offering from a holistic solution. So you've got dynamic rendering, what else do you guys got? And like what what are the things, tools, tricks, numbers that you're able to pull using your stack?
Geoff: So our stack is right now focused on SEO. So the automation of world-class structured data, which has become an enormous part of the algorithm. Structured Data, it's what powers when you search for a callback enhancements. So when you search for the weather, and it just shows up, or a sports score, it just shows up or you ask for a recipe and the recipe just shows up, that's all powered by this language. And if you've noticed their algorithm and what their results are getting, almost every single query is going to have some sort of enhancement. Now, that's all powered by structured data. Voice search is also completely powered by structured data. So we take a site from wherever they are on that, you know, usually they're like zero on structured data a d we'll take them to a world-class structured data. That was our first product. Then we built Huckabuy Cloud. And now we're building a page speed product. And page speed is a really tough problem. Every website has a problem with it, like everyone. And so we figured out how to fix page speed. It's related to our Huckabuy Cloud product, but it'll actually give you lightning fast PageSpeed not just for bots, but for users as well, which really cranks up your conversion rates, lowers bounce rates, I mean, it does all sorts of stuff. So that's a product coming out in the next three months, current customers are getting a taste of it now. And it's really impressive. So that's part of what we do. When you think about your tech stack and how Huckabuy can help, it's pretty agnostic. So whether you use HubSpot, or WordPress or Shopify, we can optimize your interaction with Google, and then in three months we'll actually optimize your interaction with humans as well in terms of page speed and delivery of that content. So that's really what everybody's working on.
[45:30] How to Create a Company Culture that Gets Maximum Results
Jeremy: A few more questions for you just because I'm loving this conversation. Now, you're a young guy, and you were put into an amazing position at a young age. What kind of culture did you create on your team as a marketer and to get the maximum performance? I think a lot of people listening are either on a team or running a team, what were some of the things that you did to inspire and get everybody to perform at their best?
Geoff: That's a great question. It's probably a little bit different now. I wouldn't say I'm so young now, I'm 38. But when I was young, I charged really hard as you would probably imagine. I think one of the things I did was vocalizing ideas, especially big ideas. So like, the sort of stuff that we're talking about here today. There was so many employees that had to learn that change in mindset and we actually didn't even hire marketers, like we hated hiring marketers, because they would come in and have all these ideas and we'd be like, don't do anything like that here. We loved to hire statisticians like right out of college. But to be able to get people all on the same page when it comes to a project as complicated and difficult as SEO optimization at a huge brand like Overstock, everyone has to be motivated. That comes from my sports background I really think like, you have to be motivated, everybody has to see the bigger picture. And they have to know why they're doing what they're doing every day, and how it could possibly change the growth of the whole company.
Also it was a it was a total meritocracy, too. Your education level didn't matter. I was the perfect example. I mean, I started there at 22 years old, making 35k a year and left you know, at a much different number. So, it was a meritocracy. And people were rewarded based on performance, which in Utah for some reason was very refreshing — Utah's a bit of a conservative state. White males seemed to kind of get ahead, and we disrupted all that we were like, friendly across the board, we would promote whoever was successful and that really kind of stoked the culture because you'd have these males that are like, kind of expecting a promotion and they wouldn't get it. That really fueled the whole company. They'd realize everyone is on the same footing. If you move the needle, you know, I always say, "I've never asked for a raise, never asked for promotion in my life." And I want my team to think the same way. I want to be like, "God, they're doing so great. We have to give them a promotion. We have to give him a raise, or else Amazon's gonna grab them tomorrow." So that culture at Overstock — it was a real meritocracy. People got the bigger picture of where we were going, what we're trying to do. I think people got pretty inspired, like we still stay in touch because that's such a rare thing to go through with a bunch of people. We were all pretty young and we all got together here in Park City this past winter before this Coronavirus hit, and it was so cool. We all remembered it really positively and I didn't really expect that. Everybody looked back on it really positively. And I gotta give a lot of credit to our CEO, Patrick. I mean, Patrick set the tone. A leader like that is amazing. We all just fell into line, and he found people I mean, what CEO promotes a 25 year old? I guess it's more common now. But, I mean, it was just rare. It's a rare culture and to find it of all places in Salt Lake City, Utah is also even more rare. But yeah, it was a lot of fun. I'm a huge culture guy. It's part of branding, part of everything. I always got thought of as this very direct-response marketer, but branding was a huge part of what we did and culture plays a really big role in that.
Jeremy: Yeah, you can't grow anything with a culture that's divided. Well, you can grow but it won't last. You'll see it just sparkle and then you know never turn into a real flame. You see that time and time again the things that go from a spark, to a flame, to a raging fire are because of a core team of people that it's like this infection that kind of like spreads through to other people and inspires them to step up and do more.
[51:01] How to Stay Inspired in Business
Jeremy: I'm a massive fan of anybody that who can excel in anything that they dedicate their time and effort into. And you've done that multiple times in your life man, from being a professional athlete and getting on the US ski team — God knows that I wish I would have done that in my past because of how much I love it — to being a rising star at one of the fastest growing companies in America. And not only that, being a part of a culture and then to do it again and start your own company and be the founder of such a phenomenal company and a phenomenal organization. What do you do to keep yourself inspired? How do you stay inspired? What are some of the things that you can you can give somebody else if they're in their boat like to stay you know, stay on fire for what you're doing?
Geoff: Well, first off, Jeremy, you're not doing too bad yourself. You have a heck of a resume and a great story. And I'm sure everybody that's here is here to listen to you more than me. I'd say honestly, it's people like yourself, that I get to meet and hopefully kind of change the way I think about things. I'm just really inspired by smart people that are doing cool things, whether it's entrepreneurs or athletes. We're in a really unique bubble here in Park City and that it's mainly a tourist town. But there's a lot of people that love living here, and they're very interesting people, they always have a story, they’ve probably been a success somewhere else, and then bought a house here with their family. So I try to surround myself with people that inspire me, to be honest, that's kind of what I'm going for. I love doing podcasts. I love to meet guys like you and most of the time though, I'm very competitive because an athletic background just breeds you to be competitive and I've always envisioned where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do and this was a part of that journey. I wanted to build my own business and have it be successful. I don't know if Huckabuy will ever be an Overstock, but you know, I'm pretty driven. Then I see a lot of people that are way more successful than me, and they inspire the crap out of me. So, yeah, guys like you, man, I think you're an inspiration. That's the kind of people that I like to be around, people that are getting after it.
Jeremy: Me too man, that's very nice of you to say. Geoff you are an amazing person through-and-through. Thanks for being on the show today.
Helpful Content from the Show
- More about Geoff
- More about Huckabuy: SEO Company