The B2B Revenue Executive Experience is a podcast dedicated to helping executives train their sales and marketing teams to optimize growth. In this episode, Geoff Atkinson, CEO of Huckabuy, and Chad talk about the power of the SEO search channel in our marketing and sales world. They talk about the reality that Google has put out a set of best practices and website building instructions that creates what Geoff calls “Google’s perfect world” and what this means to the rest of us.
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Chad: So we always kick it off with, you know, an odd-ball question so people get a little bit better sense of who you are as a human being in a person. They rotate all around the board, but just depends on whatever strikes me. For some reason, last night as I was typing up our questions and getting us ready, I was curious about the last book, movie, or event you attended that resonated with you and why.
Geoff: Good question. I was impressed when I went to the silicon slopes event here in Utah. Silicon slopes is this sort of startup organization that has really taken off and there’s something like 50,000 people there, and I’m in a little bit of a bubble up here in Park City, although we get down there quite a bit now to talk to companies, but just to see the size of these businesses, like the Qualtrics of the world, and Domo and Pluralsight and we’ve, you know, gone and seen their offices to as we sell into these companies, kind of blew me away and inspired me that, real big business was getting generated in Utah.
Chad: Alright, so now for our listeners, you mentioned it, but let’s give them a little bit more context around Huckabuy. What do you guys do? How to get started? Give us the story there.
Geoff: Yeah, for sure. So, Huckabuy is an SEO software platform. My background comes from Overstock, which is a Utah company. I was their SVP of Marketing, we had this sort of great SEO story going from a channel of zero to 300 million. And so I was kind of on the front lines of watching a really big growth curve of SEO and saw what worked and what didn’t work. And honestly, I just saw a big gap, a big technology gap. The conversation that a website has with Google, I argue is as important as the conversation we have with users. And yet, we spend so much more time and money on what the user experience looks like, and kind of ignore what Google’s experience is when their bot comes and crawls a website. We handle that conversation. There’s a technical gap. And not many companies do it. Well, not many companies have the in-house resources to do it well. We’ve built a product that optimizes your conversation with Google so that you get the search rankings and organic search traffic that you deserve.
Our product really resonated early and we sold it to some really big companies and filled this gap for them like SAP and Salesforce and Pluralsight. And it’s taking off now, which is really exciting.
Kieran/Scott: How do you navigate around Google’s algorithm updates?
Geoff: We incorporate Google’s macro trends into our strategy and product — not their really micro algorithm adjustments. But we take their macro trends and basically say, “This isn’t going away. This is where they’re heading.” And we build our product around those macro trends so that in the long run, as our customers experience algorithm updates, they all win. I always say, when there’s an algorithm update there’s losers, but there’s also winners and we want to be on the side of the winners. So we try to be directionally correct towards Google’s macro trends, and then if we do that then our customers are in a good spot.
Chad: So is the passion for this organic search channel — especially going from B2C to B2B — was that because of the success at Overstock, or is there something about it that just you know, trips the trigger? What is it about this that makes you so passionate?
Geoff: I wouldn’t say passion was the reason. It was more of a desperate claw towards revenue, and it was the easiest path towards revenue and it really was blind luck.
I do have a passion, though, for what I call technology-driven marketing, which SEO is probably the king of, where you’re doing things through technology to drive revenue, sales leads, whatever your core metrics are. I’ve always found that investments in technology have the highest ROI versus any sort of paid media channel. And so I do have a passion for that. I love technology. Product is my favorite part of my job. It’s working on the product and making the product better. I’m not a developer, but that is the passion that I have. And I think you can see that come through with the growth that our customers experience and how much they get out of the software.
Chad: Okay so we’ve got blind luck, and need for revenue, and then a passion right? That’s a powerful combination if you can channel it right? So many organizations fail that to find that niche, to find that passion, and to find somewhere where you can combine that with what the market needs, it gives you a nice place to sit — especially when you’re founded and based out of Park City.
Geoff: Yeah, it’s kind of the perfect storm. I would say, though, that there’s some parts of the business that I don’t have a passion for. And you got to find people, and in an early stage startup you wear a lot of hats as the CEO, and you have to do those things. Especially now that we’re growing, it’s nice to have really strong people that can pick me up in those areas, and pick Huckabuy up in those areas. But yeah, it was a perfect storm, you know, it kind of has come together. And we got a lot of work ahead of us. But it’s fun. It’s starting to get fun now. And that’s always a really good thing when you’re having fun and growing.
Chad: Perfect. So what so as we were prepping, you mentioned the difference between the science and art of mastering this SEO channel. Can you unpack that a little bit for me? Help me understand. Because I’ll be the first to admit, having started my career in marketing, I then jumped to the dark side of sales. And I know what SEO is, and I know about the conversations with Google and stuff, but I would say my understanding is very minimal.
Help me understand what the difference between the science and the art of SEO is.
Geoff: Yeah. First off, I wouldn’t say sales is the dark side; sales is what pays all the bills and drives the revenue. No, I think that is probably the most critical channel and marketing is just a way to drive sales and enable sales.
But yeah, the art and science of SEO. So the art of SEO is what I sort of think of when you talk to agencies. So this industry is dominated by services, which is really strange, in my opinion, because it’s a technical problem. So a lot of agencies and a lot of consultants are advising you to do certain things. And oftentimes, they’re advising you without really the facts at play. So they’re advising based on what used to work or what worked for them in the past, with very little reliance on science. So the art of SEO would be like good content writing, to having things go viral, to getting backlinks.
The science of SEO is the technical conversation that you have with Google, which we rely heavily on, we believe in the science of SEO. I think, you know, I have a bit of a track-record through my Overstock experience of actually having grown something really significantly, and knowing what it takes to do that. And it was really science-based. And I think there’s a little too much art in the SEO world, which is what creates a lot of people thinking that it’s a black box and it’s this really scary task. And there’s a lot of sort of bad connotations with SEO that I’ve come across. Anyways, everybody kind of was like, oh, man, I don’t want to work on that. But it’s really not that bad. If you lean on the science side, it exposes what’s true, what actually works. And it’s sort of refreshing because there are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there in the SEO world. And so when you talk the science and you actually show people what you’re going to do for them technically, and they understand the technical concepts, then it’s really I think, for a lot of our customers, it’s a relief because they can actually they get their hands around SEO and understand it and understand what they’re doing to make make it better for their company.
So that’s what I mean by science. It’s really the technical conversation with Google. The art side, we definitely rely less on than your typical SEO approach. But I think that’s refreshing for our customers.
Chad: And so let’s talk about this, this conversation with Google, right, “Google’s perfect world,” I know, some of the stuff that we pass back and forth, you kind of provided some outline, but for our listeners, I’m not sure everybody would understand exactly what you say, when the bots come in and crawl the site. What’s it looking for? What does it mean to have that conversation? Kind of illustrate that for us a little bit.
Geoff: Yeah. So we talk a lot at Huckabuy about what is Google’s perfect world? What would a website look like if it were built for Google as much as for humans? There’s a few things that fall into this category. So one of the things they don’t like is they don’t like these sort of complicated front-end coding languages that create dynamic content because it makes it very hard to in the crawl and understand, so they like sites that are just flat HTML. I would use Wikipedia as a great example of Google’s perfect world, flat HTML, lots of content, easy for them to crawl, the pages load instantly — so page speed is another thing that falls into the perfect world. If they’re just at a site and waiting for the site to load all the time, they’re not going to crawl everything, they’re going to get 10-20% down a page and leave, they just sort of get frustrated, because it’s like being not at home and the lights are on and, and they’re just burning energy waiting for the site.
So flat HTML is an example and really fast page speed is an example of Google’s perfect world. And probably the biggest one is their language that they prefer to speak to a website in. The language is called structured data markup. That is the language that they prefer to speak to a website. And so with structured data markup you can mark up almost anything that’s on a page. You can say: “This is a person,” “This is a place,” “This is a thing,” “This is a software application,” “This is a product,” “These are reviews.” And, because it’s structured, it’s the same across all sites. And they have a much easier time understanding each and every site if it has this language layered on top of it. So the first thing that we do as a company is we automate the language of structured data markup so that any given website can talk to Google authoritatively, and tell them all the information that they want to tell them. When you do that, you know, really great things happen because they start understanding more and more what you have going on.
Chad: And so let’s talk about those outcomes. Because we want to make it I mean, a lot of people are probably going, “Wow, that’s way above my pay-grade — deeper than I want to go,” right? And so when we talk about the outcomes, if you can use your platform or you have a flat HTML site or whatever, and Google can speak effectively, and you can have an effective conversation with Google, then what kind of outcomes would a company be expecting to see, or the individuals in marketing and sales teams, what would they need to see to know that it’s effective?
Geoff: Well, let’s use an example. Concur is a great example of a customer of ours, they get an enormous amount of their sales pipeline through organic search. It’s something like almost 75% I think, it’s a very high percentage. We move the needle for them — we grew that channel by 90% in like six months. So think about what that does that’s feeding over like 400 account executives to have 90% more inbound leads than you did six months earlier. You know, what’s the impact on a sales organization of that size — that’s pretty dramatic.
The average customer, and our customers do lean a little bit more towards the enterprise — although we work with companies of all sizes — our average customer after 12 months grows their organic search channel by 62%. And that’s a big number. Organic search usually is the number one new customer acquisition channel for companies. So to grow at 62% a year, that’s going to have a pretty fundamental revenue and business impact on a company. What company doesn’t want more organic search traffic that qualifies into really good leads? So whether it’s e-commerce, software, or B2B sales, it can really move the needle and the quality, I think the biggest thing is the quality of the traffic.
So organic search traffic is typically very qualified, it converts at about 2x the rate of any paid channel. So the business impact ends up actually being greater than the traffic impact because the people flowing to the site are just way more qualified. So yeah, pretty solid revenue impact with our customers today.
Chad: Nice. And so I mean, you’re almost getting to the point where you know, the rainbows and unicorns of the salespeople believing that marketing should be providing you know, 75% of their leads or better, is actually a reality in some of those cases?
Geoff: Yeah. I mean, when I look at really successful unicorns and companies that are growing, they typically now are in that marketing phase where they’re getting the majority of their sales leads via marketing. Because early on, you can have a great sales staff. And you can have all the BDRs in the world. And you can get away with, you know, building a pretty big company. But at a certain point that just doesn’t scale anymore. You’ve talked, you know, you’ve reached out, you’ve emailed enough people, you’ve sort of exhausted your networks, and there has to be a more scalable way. And by that point, most companies have invested in marketing, so they’re doing paid search, they’re doing email marketing, but they again, they run into scale issues, because it starts getting too expensive, competitors get in the mix, you can only spend so much at a certain point before it turns red.
And so organic search ends up being a later-in-life — for a software company anyways, or a B2B company — something that happens to them later on. They realize how important it is, if you think of an e-commerce company, like an Overstock or Amazon, it’s necessary right out of the gate, because you don’t have the margins of a B2B company, you gotta scrap for every penny. And so they’re onto SEO, from the startup-stage on, whereas for software or B2B, it kind of hits a little bit later in the life cycle. But once it does hit — and the really smart CMOS and VPs of marketing that get organic search — they’re the ones that create this engine through organic search that drives an enormous amount of sales volume and sales velocity. So those are the success stories that I see. It’s pretty rare for a company to get really really big without doing it. Because it does end up being the most scalable channel to drive inbound leads.
Chad: Yeah, and it’s one that that you can tweak over time — it’s easier to adjust SEO, then it is to adjust an entire global marketing department or global sales force, right? The ability to respond to trends in the market or changes in, you know, search behavior.
The response time, it’s just that much faster.
Geoff: Yeah, for sure. And I think the biggest thing that I think about is just the pure scale of it. You never like high-five each other and say, “We’re done with SEO.” It’s like, eBay is still working on SEO, Amazon’s still working on SEO, and SEO built those companies into what they are today. So it just keeps going and you get a Concur, that’s a massive player, you get to their size and you add 90% on top of that — that is a really big win. That pretty much is not accomplishable in any other channel.
Chad: What’s the next thing on the frontier of organic search? What are you seeing is the big thing around the corner that companies or people should be aware of?
Geoff: Voice search, voice search is becoming a thing. So whether or not people are comfortable today, people are starting to get comfortable purchasing things via voice search. So they might be comfortable booking a movie ticket, or they might be comfortable getting directions, people are starting to get comfortable setting appointments. And that’s just going to get better and better, especially as I don’t think voice search is as from a user perspective — like how it is to interact with voice search — is good enough for really the the market to completely sort of flip over like it did from desktop to mobile, for example, in the search world. That was a really big flip that had happened as soon as mobile phones got faster and the connections got faster and you could actually browse the internet instead of hunting and pecking on your palm pilot. It just flipped all of a sudden and I think that’s going to happen with voice search there.
So voice search is extremely important. Fortunately for us, voice search is completely powered by structured data — which is amazing. And if you think about voice search, the unique things that when you search online, or on your desktop or mobile phone, you get 10 blue links back. When you do a voice search, you just get one result back. And so it’s sort of a winner-takes-all type situation. And I think companies really have to start optimizing for it. Whether or not you know you’re comfortable researching, you know, software products or whatever it is that through voice search, you might not, but in two years, pretty good chance you will, in five years there’s a really good chance. So that’s the piece that I think is upcoming that’s really important to be thinking about.
Chad: I mean, I’m with you. I see people talking to their phones like that all the time, and I still just, I don’t know, maybe, maybe because I come from a time when phones had cords and that.
Geoff: I’m the same way. I don’t feel comfortable doing it at all. We have Google devices like these Google Home devices in our offices that I sort of forced myself to use because I’m just not comfortable doing it yet. And that’s where I think that sort of user interaction is lacking. I don’t think it’s good enough yet, for someone like you and me to start being like, wow, that was an incredible experience. You know, I just bought the perfect product that I wanted at a really low price, and I didn’t have to open my desktop, and I didn’t even have to look at my computer, and I know I got the best price and I’m really happy like that experience isn’t there yet. But Google is working on it.
Chad: That’s the fulfillment side of it. Right? There’s also a human element in voice like I I have caught myself I mean, I’ve used you know, Siri and the Google Assistant both and I had Alexa in the house for a while until I got you know, paranoid one night anyway, that’s a different story. But literally, I think for me, and I’m not an easily flexible individual, right, like it takes a lot for me to be embarrassed. But for me to be sitting there screaming at my phone, that it’s not understanding what I’m looking for is infuriating. And then it’s also extremely vulnerable because you’re trying to get something done. And then all of a sudden, you become aware of people around you hearing you. So changing the way you talk, or at least for me, it did, it changed the way I would talk to the phone or the phrasing I would use. And I was just in a buddy’s car, and he was trying to use the Bluetooth, the phone, to dial his wife, and she’s got a unique pronunciation of her name, and he has to like, he has to pronounce it the way the car wants it to be said, rather than vice versa. And so I think you’re right, there’s friction there in terms of how do you get the experience of “I just bought something” but also there’s that human element of, you’re gonna have to make that voice stuff. Pretty simple. I mean, we all talk slightly differently depending on where you come from, or phraseology or things like that linguistic challenge, I think it is a fascinating one. I think it probably goes back to the fact that I was an English major in undergrad, but I would love to see that come to fruition. I just, I’m gonna own it right now and say, I’m not going to be one of the early adopters.
Geoff: I’m not either, I think it’s gonna happen on both sides. So I think there’s going to be humans who will change the way that they search. If you think about the first few times that you used the search engine and what you typed in, it was like idiotic compared to what you do now. Everybody knows how to work a search engine now. People know how to search for the best price so they know how to find something local by putting in the zip code or saying “near me.” So the human behavior will change just like your behavior has changed when you make queries or whatever on your phone. And then also though, the search engines will change to adapt to what humans end up wanting. That’s my point with voice search not being adopted today is that it’s not a good experience. I can’t buy what I want. I can buy anything I want on my laptop in like, two minutes — I can get it. I can’t do that yet, comfortably. I’m not comfortable. I’m sure early adopters probably have no problem doing it at all, but I’m not one of them.
So I think it’s gonna be both sides. I think humans will change how they search and what they’re asking and what they’re trying to do, because they’ll learn the game. And then search engines will adapt as well to make the experience better. And once that happens, though, I think sort of the sky’s the limit, I do think that you and I, in our lifetime, we will use voice search a lot more than we do today. Whether we’re early adopters or not, I think we’ll end up I just see that as inevitable, almost it’s, it’s definitely going to be an easier path to get things done at some point in our future, and we’ll probably end up using it.
Chad: I think a lot of it comes back down to the trust, right? Can the people trust not only the technology to deliver the experience, but what the company’s doing with that data. I mean, we’re hearing about those conversations all the time.
I remember, I was in the digital agency space back in the day when we first started building apps that actually could geo-locate, and people were freaking out, like, “I don’t want, I don’t want anybody to know where I’m at.” And now you get pissed if your phone doesn’t know where you are. When you say, “No, why don’t you know that I’m sitting in Salt Lake City at this cafe?” But eventually that changes, and people will get comfortable.
Geoff: Yeah, exactly.
Geoff: I have a funny story about comfort levels and marketing applications. So at Overstock, we were doing a lot of display advertising. And we were also at the same time doing a bunch of personalization. So you come to the site, we show you the last products you clicked on, and stuff like that. And I had this idea that if we bought display ads, and we had a cookie set, it’d be the same thing as someone visiting overstock.com. So at the time it was double-click, and we were buying a lot. I mean, we had a lot of ad space with them. And I said, “Well, we’ll still make the buy, but we don’t want you to host that. We’re gonna host all the ads.” And that enabled us to basically be able to serve up what are now very common, which is personalized recommendations and display ads. But we flipped it on. And so we’re the very first company to do this. And I remember my mom calling and just freaking out, and she’s like, I just went to Overstock, and you’re following me everywhere now. It’s really disturbing. And then we heard a story about a guy that was living with his girlfriend, and he had come to the site and started looking for engagement rings on a shared computer. Then his soon-to-be fiancé went on. So it got us in a lot of trouble. And we just flipped it on. It was sort of a brash move that I think jumped marketing technology forward, but it ended up having some consequences. But yeah, when you see those ads, unfortunately, I’m the person to blame for the start of it.
Chad: Well, what I love is that we’ve gotten to the point where with some of this, were based on your search in the way you interact, you’re gonna have to do pre-targeting based on your profile, and not to make everybody freaked out about the 5000 data points that Cambridge Analytica had on everybody, but you can literally start to predict what somebody is going to want. And that’s extremely powerful from a marketing and business standpoint. It is extremely uncomfortable when you realize just how much of your behavior has been mapped, quantified, and measured.
Geoff: Yeah, it’s crazy. I’ve kind of grown comfortable with it, but I know because it’s what I worked on for a long time. But I totally understand people’s fears. And I think it’s to an extreme that people don’t even, or can’t even wrap their heads around. The amount that Facebook or Google knows about you is almost more than like your family. They know all your darkest secrets. It’s kind of mind-boggling.
Chad: It is pretty impressive. I could go on that topic for hours. And it can be very empowering, but you also got to realize, I’m wondering if at some point, it becomes a great equalizer. Like we all have freak flags and we all fly them in different ways, people will use the anonymity of the internet, right? It also sets kind of a baseline for what it means to be human.
Geoff: I think that’s a great theory. You’re blowing my mind right now. I’m like, yeah, that’s like, that’s really a deep thought there. Deep thought. I’m into it.
Chad: We ask all of our guests some standard questions towards the end of each interview. The first is simply; as a CEO, a founder, that makes you a prospect for other sales professionals. And I’m always interested to learn, when somebody doesn’t have a pre-existing relationship or an introduction into where there’s not a trusted channel to get to you. What have you found to be most effective in terms of people capturing your attention and earning the right to 15 or 30 minutes on your calendar?
Geoff: Yeah, so I’ve sat in the seat, I probably sat in a seat more at Overstock than I do today. But I definitely still sit in it today. And I think it’s genuine. It’s a display of genuine interest to help someone. So, I have a problem the salesperson knows about it and genuinely has a solution to make it no longer be a problem for me, and also the way that they’ve crafted it shows me that they’ve really put thought into solving this problem for me.
That’s sort of a quick way to answer it, but when you come to the table with something really cool that you’ve thought through and want to sincerely help me fix, you have a much higher chance of engaging with me than a cold email.
Chad: So it’s putting in the work to get to know you, right? To put themselves in your shoes, to understand what problems you may actually be facing, and not just blast you with some templated crappy mail.
Geoff: I just think with the amount of inbound that any executive gets, it’s much more about quality than it is about quantity. There’s definitely the quantity aspect of sales and I get that, but it’s the quality touches that I think really get through where someone has really thought something through. And they’re sincerely like, “Oh, man, I really hope they don’t do this. I really hope they do this. If they don’t, I’m going to be kind of bummed out because we have a great opportunity here.” Those touches can get through, I think at a much higher rate. And they end up being much more meaningful conversations too, because you’ve already shown there’s a level of trust going into the conversation that this person really sincerely wants to help me and it’s thinking about it in the right way.
Chad: Yeah. I 100% agree.
Chad: So last question. We call it our “acceleration insight.” If there’s one thing you could tell sales, marketing or professional services people, just one piece of advice you’d give them that you believe would help them hit their targets or exceed them, what would it be and why?
Goeff: Well, on the whole, I know this is a little bit self promoting, but I honestly believe it, that organic search is way under-invested in compared to any sales or marketing channel — any sales or marketing effort. It is. And I think it’s because it takes time you don’t get the immediate gratification of a paid search campaign or whatever you’re doing paid wise. But I think that companies that are reaping the rewards and money spent and people and time invested in SEO get such a huge benefit back in the long run. But it’s just not even a fair fight.
Other than that, I think the biggest recommendation is to get behind a product that you really believe in, and that you think actually is changing companies and making things better. I think a lot of salespeople that I’ve come in contact with, will take the best job at the company with the best reputation and you know, the highest sort of commission rates or whatever they’re looking for, instead of really thinking, “Do I really believe in this product and want to sell it and put, five years of my life towards it?” Instead of just a year or a year and a half and moving on. If you get behind something that you really believe in, it’s so much easier to sell than if you’re toting the latest CRM software or wherever.
We’re starting to build a reputation in Utah, where we attract like — we just got to the top sales people from Lucid, who’s a bit of a unicorn here in Utah. And they’re just like, “I can actually believe in this, this is something that I, and all my contacts could use, and I firmly feel that they need to use it. And if they don’t, I’ll be bummed out, because they won’t get the leads or whatever that they deserve.” So I think believing in something that you know, get to know the product, and it makes sure that you actually believe in it, or you decide that you want to sell it, because I see a lot of salespeople, just selling stuff that they don’t believe in at all. It doesn’t go as easily as if they actually have some skin in the game. They’re like, yep, this is what I want. This is what I’m supposed to be selling. Well, and you can tell right? I mean, it comes across, I can’t, I’m the type of guy where I’m, I’m an open book. Like if I’m trying to sell something I don’t believe in, you’re gonna know it. You’re gonna sense it in the way you know the enemy. When somebody’s passionate about something, it’s easier to connect to.