Interview with Andre Jensen

MARK: We are with Andre Jensen of Jensen Incorporated? No.


MARK:, excellent.

ANDRE: I think I’m going to go with “Andre the Search Giant.”

MARK: (Laughs)

ANDRE: I bought that domain name today.

MARK: That is great.

ANDRE: I think that’s a pretty good brand for speaking especially; I think that will be good.

MARK: I flew on an airplane with him once.

ANDRE: Andre the Giant?

MARK: Yeah, and the other two guys, those blonde twins “The Wonder Twins.” I was on this plane and I thought, “Gosh, that’s got to be him.” And we landed in Houston and they all got out and there was a big wrestle mania thing going on. Once he stood up I knew it was him. He flew coach! I just felt sorry for whoever sat next to him; he’s just a massive guy., that is excellent. I love it.

ANDRE: I think it’s a pretty fun one to go with.

MARK: So one of the purposes behind this whole interviewing a bunch of folks is – there are a lot of beginners that I am talking to and they understand one thing, and they run into a little road block, what I’ve noticed is that these stories are very similar. Everybody runs into some little road block in their beginning, and then there are all of these experts out there like yourself that have been around for a long time. What I want to do is back up to the months before you got into search and we talk about what that original inspiration was, what you liked about it, how it happened, and then the challenges you ran into when you were first learning, and then how you overcame them. What’s really funny is that today people are still talking about title tags and everything that we were talking about over ten years ago, and people don’t know that; it’s their little stumbling block today or tomorrow. I think if the experts that have been around as long as you have can just kind of enlighten them, and encourage them a little bit, and let them know that it’s very similar, although the market place is different, you went through the same thing.

ANDRE: Right. I think it’s funny that you mention about how we’re still talking about the same basic search optimization techniques that were around way back then. I was just reading that there are some 25 million businesses that aren’t even online yet; I mean that’s just ridiculous. So as far as the basics go, I don’t see that service going away until web design firms are willing to start putting that stuff in as they build out the website – like if they are doing the keyword research as a part of their service and building the content around that and then having optimized titles and meta descriptions in place. Now if the search engines stop weighing the title tags as part of the ranking algorithm, then it would obviously go away because it wouldn’t matter, but then you just get into writing them like newspaper headlines and what not, trying to get people to click on them.

MARK: Could you ever see a title tag becoming totally irrelevant?

ANDRE: Only if the engines were going to figure out a way to not have you clicking on it. How do you get to a website? There are really just two ways, either you click on a link or you type in the URL directly into your browser. Where are you going to click on that link? 99% of the time it’s in the search engines, so unless they were to change some way of you getting to that website, I don’t see it going away.

MARK: Yeah, I agree. Let’s talk about dates and times, and by all means name drop. What were you doing say, ’96 – ’97, somewhere in there? I’d love to know about the two months before you got started.

ANDRE: So the infamous CompUSA thing, that I guess was a…

MARK: That’s just urban legend. Nobody actually believes that ever happened.

ANDRE: Yeah, see that’s what I’ve been hearing now. I didn’t realize that that was a rumor that Marshall Simmonds, Derrick Wheeler, and I all worked at CompUSA in Tigard, Oregon.

MARK: It never really happened right?

ANDRE: (Laughs) I don’t know. I want to talk with them to figure out what they’re saying.

MARK: I mean, you either all worked there or not, right?

ANDRE: Yeah, we all did.

MARK: Because there are paychecks that would be written to employees of a company.

ANDRE: Which is funny, I recently moved and I found one of my paychecks from there and oh, it was so sad.

MARK: So would you be making more money at CompUSA or more money in search?

ANDRE: Uh, a little bit more in search. I think I’m doing alright. So yeah, I got a job at CompUSA as a shelf stocker. This was 11 or 12 years ago, maybe 13? I was just stocking shelves; didn’t know anything about computers. My dad had an old Pentium 12o or something, and he was telling me about all of the features so I’d go over and play a video game on it or something, no big deal. So I get this job at CompUSA, and I start reading the back of all the boxes, just to learn what things are. I didn’t know what a printer cable was really used for; it printed something but I didn’t know why you needed it, and the difference between the different ones and stuff. So once I figured out all the little cables and everything then I started hanging out in Derek Wheeler’s department, which was software. I don’t think he was a software manager; he was just in the software department. So I started reading all of the boxes and customers would come in and say, “Hey do you know what this does?” and I’d read the back of the box and tell them what it did. So then they moved me into the software department. Once I was there I had already read everything, so I was comfortable with that. So I started hanging out in the hardware department with Marshall Simmonds. Marshall taught me about the computers and how to sell them basically; what people are looking for. So then I started selling the computers and it was pretty fun. It’s funny, I still talk about “Bennett Bucks,” the store manager was Pat Bennett, this old mafia looking dude, so they came up with “Bennett Bucks” so if you did a good job they would give you money that you could use in the store. So I started buying computer parts. I bought a Pentium mother board, but it had a 486 processer on it, and I built a computer out of this thing, and then I just swapped out the processor to a Pentium Chip when I had more money and whatnot. So I built this computer, and I was tinkering around with it, putting different stuff on it, and by this time Marshall had met John Audette and was deciding to go start at MMG, which was here in Portland.

MARK: How did they meet?

ANDRE: You know that’s a question for Marshall. I know that I remember seeing John in the store, and spending a lot of time with Marshall. I let them have their conversation; I figured Marshall was working some scam, you know? (Laughs) So I didn’t bother them or interrupt or anything. Then Marshall takes off and not too long after, I’m not sure how long after, Derrick takes off. So now I’m at CompUSA by myself…

MARK: Buddies were gone.

ANDRE: Yeah, not as fun anymore. We had some good times there. In fact, at the first Bend Webcon when Marshall and I were on the expert panel, at one point he writes on his little note pad, “Can you believe we were stocking computer monitors like 12 years ago?” and he slides that over. I thought that was pretty funny.

MARK: Now were you there when those guys got hired or were they there?

ANDRE: No, they actually put the store together. I came on about three months after they started.

MARK: Oh, ok.

ANDRE: So, without my friends there, it was kind of boring. I went in to try and get more money, and they said I was maxed out at my pay level or something so I couldn’t go past I think it was $11 an hour. So I decided to quit and go stay at home with my son. I had a nine month old, Andre Jr. My wife has a civil engineering degree, so she went to start at some business, I can’t remember what they actually did, but she was starting off at like $12 an hour – the lowest level in the company. So I’m like, “Well it makes sense; how bout you go to work and I’ll stay home with the kid.” When I got to the house, doing my daily routine and stuff, I started tinkering around with the websites and whatnot. This is pretty funny, I found a website where half of the website was like your notepad so that you could type in html, and then the other half would show you exactly what you’re doing. So I built this site, and all it said on it was, “This is a website that I just put together in 2 minutes,” or something like that, and I sent the URL to Derrick, and he’s working at MMG I’m just shooting him over ICQ at the time. I sent him the URL and he’s like, “This is the worst website ever.” I was like, “Dude, I just wanted to show you that I could build a website.” And he said, “This is horrible!” he’s like, “It has no topic. You’re never going to get anyone to come to this thing.” And I’m like, “Damn dude, all I was saying was ‘Hey I’m learning html.’” (Laughs) So he just destroys me and tells me I have to have a topic; something unique that nobody else is doing. And part of my “Bennett Bucks” and CompUSA, I had a little webcam, and little Andre Jr. was always on my lap, and I had a fake keyboard, one that wasn’t hooked up to anything, and he’s pounding away on the keys and I’m typing away on my little cheesy computer. So Derrick tells me I have to have a topic and whatnot, so I decide I’m going to do a website about Andre, so I bought, and started posting daily pictures of him and it was all from his perspective, so it was like his voice – obviously me typing – but I had a lot of uh…

MARK: And how old was Andre Jr. at this time?

ANDRE: Nine months.

MARK: Yeah, so his typing skills weren’t quite…

ANDRE: Not quite the best. So I build and all the commentary that was on there, and it’s still up there; I’m pretty sure I didn’t delete anything. So his daily comments were usually a lot of shit talking about me, and my parenting skills and whatnot, because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. He had a lot of “Seinfeld” kind of humor, you know, like, “What’s the deal with diapers?”

MARK: (Laughs)

ANDRE: So Derrick started teaching me online marketing basically. He gave me a list of like 50 places to go and send your URL to and say, “Hey I’ve got this new website, check it out.” And you’re hoping to get those little web awards, or just get them to mention it in anyway. At the same time Marshall is telling me what I need to do with the keywords and whatnot; horrible keyword research with kids and websites, it’s just disgusting. Some of the worst keyword research I’ve ever done in my life is around “Kids,” “photos,” and whatnot; it’s disgusting. So I got his website mentioned in Yahoo Internet Life Magazine, and the site had only been live for 3 months. That was big. His site still gets 300 visitors a day from all over the world; it’s crazy. It hasn’t been updated in four years. So I got going and I’m spending my days hanging out at the house at this little apartment in Beaverton; MMG moves over to Bend. My dad lived in Sisters for a long time when I was a kid so I knew the area, and I always thought that if I had a kid I would like to head out that direction. So when MMG moved out there I got a little more serious about getting on board with them and moving the family out that way. Some of the things I was doing on were pretty good. I came up with the idea to have Cyber Relatives so that people could sign up to be a Cyber Uncle, Aunt, Grandparent, whatnot, everything except for Cyber Parents – Melissa didn’t like that; she didn’t like the idea of somebody else being a Cyber Mom or Dad to our kid.

MARK: Other positions were available?

ANDRE: Yeah, so people were signing… Derek and Marshall are both Cyber Uncles. Do you know Scott Denel? Berkley is one of his dogs; I’m not sure if Berkley is still around but he was a Cyber Pet. The whole idea behind it was to get people to give me their email address and a little information about them so I could send off emails when there is a new update or a new section that I was launching, so I can get them to come back to the site. If they filled out when their birthday was, Andre would always email them and say, “Happy Birthday.” So he got invited to be a guest moderator at a parenting website in Australia, so people think he’s parenting.

MARK: Now how old is he?

ANDRE: This all happened really fast. I think he was almost a year now, and this was just before I was going to move to Bend to come on Board with MMG. So people would write into this parenting news group and they would have questions. One of the questions was, “My five year old won’t stop banging his head against the wall when he’s throwing a tantrum when he wants his blanket,” and Andre’s answer was, “well give him his blanket. Why are you taking it from him? You should soften up those walls.” He was always taking the kid’s side in every situation and he was a pretty snarky little boy. When I went to interview at MMG, I basically brought my website with me. I had them load it up there during the interview and showed them some of the things that I was doing there, like the product reviews; he was reviewing his books and whatnot.

MARK: Like Sam I Am, and Green Eggs and Ham?

ANDRE: Yeah, it was a lot of Dr. Seuss, a lot of Blues Clues and Teletubbies. It’s actually pretty funny, I’m going to jump ahead really quick just to tell this story, when I left MMG I went out on my own, kind of like I’m doing now. What I did with them was I had this little company just to pull in contractors. A lot of people were contracting MMG left, like Scott Denel for web design, and this guy Hunter, who was working with Derrick for search. So I was like, “You do the search. I’m going to do the online gorilla marketing,” like news group hosting and link development and stuff like that. I had a publicist and everything. When somebody had a client they would refer each other and network like that. So I took the Web Step Top 100 with me; basically built up another directory because we weren’t really doing anything with it at MMG…

MARK: They didn’t care about it?

ANDRE: Not really. It’s free information; it’s just a list of links. So I compiled the list of links again. For my website that was one of those value adds, where I was trying to get people to link to it because I had this good list of directories and it was up to date. I sent the link to the directories to Chris Sherman, when he was at – he took over after Marshall left. You’ll have to confirm this with Marshall but I’m pretty sure he was the SEO guide when he was at, but he was also consulted on all the other guys. About hired him, he wasn’t just a guide like all of the other guys were. So Chris Sherman came in and was doing just the SEO Guide of that. Anyway, I drop Marshall’s name, and I said, “Hey I have this list of directories, I don’t know if you would be willing to add it to your resources on the About page…” And he writes back and says, “Sure. It’s nice to meet you and I want to thank you for your website,” and I’m talking to him about a whole different site. I didn’t even mention Andre Jr., and I never mentioned my last name on his website, so I thought that was pretty odd. He actually referenced it when his kid was born because he doesn’t watch TV, so he didn’t know what kind of kids shows were acceptable and whatnot, so he took the recommendations from Andre Jr. on what his favorites are…

MARK: Chris Sherman?

ANDRE: Yeah, Chris Sherman.

MARK: This is cool. (Laughs)

ANDRE: So I thought that was pretty neat. He gave me a link to my site. Anyway, back to my interview. I interviewed at MMG. I was one of the only people that we hired, besides Bill Hunt, that had any kind of experience before going in. Having done my website and marketed it put me a little bit more advanced; not like they paid me anymore. I was making next to nothing. I think I was employee number 17 or 18 there, just behind Sally Nolder at the time, who is now Sally Audette, Adam’s wife. She was there as well. Yeah, so that was MMG.

MARK: Do you have any dates on any of this stuff?

ANDRE: Golly, I’m not very good at this. I think it’s all on my LinkedIn actually.

MARK: We’re also looking for little factoids. Like if you have some email from some person who back then like a Danny Sullivan email, or a Chris Sherman email, that kind of puts a context around a date and time. It would be cool if you had anything like that.

ANDRE: That’s really why I’m not as big of a name as a lot of people are because I worked with Derrick for so long that he was kind of the face man. He always got to go to the meetings, or go to the conferences and whatnot. There a few people in production at MMG, and Derrick and I were pretty much it as far as the online marketing kind of things go. Marshall was it for search along with Detlev Johnson. Adam Sherk was the PR guy, who now works with Marshall for Define Search Strategies. So I don’t really have a whole lot of interaction with those guys, other than my little Chris Sherman story, and then meeting him at Marshall’s wedding at Black Butte Ranch. That was about it. So yeah, I worked at MMG for a while until Marshall left to go to Derrick left to go to this company called Intrapromote. Then without Derrick being there I was kind of off into my little island; nobody knew what I was doing. It just got to the point where people wanted more and more services, but it wasn’t in line with what MMG was doing, so I ended up just going on my own. I started contracting with some companies, like Intrapromote; Derrick needed some help there, so I was helping him out.

MARK: And again your buddies were gone.

ANDRE: Yeah, Derrick and Marshall are gone? I’m out!

MARK: (Laughs)

ANDRE: So I was working on my own contracting with some different agencies just offering some online marketing services, and then the dot bust happens; the big internet crash.

MARK: That is a great observation. That was probably a huge dip in a lot of folks. I forgot about that. That might explain the way I was talking earlier.

ANDRE: A lot of companies went out of business. A lot of the companies that were sending me work were going out of business. So I’m seeing this trend happen where the market sucks and everything is going downhill, and at that time I had Melissa and Andre Jr. and myself. I’m looking nervous, and then Melissa gets laid off. So then there was no work and it was like no one was making any money, so I go get a quick job over at Office Max just to pay the bills. I’m working at Office Max at night, and still doing consulting during the day, but it starting to come down to a trickle; there was no work. So I’m working more hours at Office Max and I’m trying, now this is funny, to get people to come in to buy a printer or a fax machine or something and I’m like, “Hey, how’s your website?” And so here I’m trying to sell them some optimization or online marketing services and I’m just the guy selling you a printer so how do you know?

MARK: This is the one over on the east side in Bend?

ANDRE: Yeah. So I’m working there, Martin is born, so this is six years ago. Now it’s starting to be that more and more companies are coming back, like Intrapromote and MarketLeap. MarketLeap hired Derrick away and of course the first person he comes to when he needs some help is me. So I cut way back on my hours and I start contracting with MarketLeap in February of 2002, and I only contracted with them for like a week before they hired me. It was much better pay, everything was good, I had a real job, and I could work in my house again, so my wife went to work at Office Max. There was no work for her either so she’s working at Office Max. Now this is pretty funny, things started picking up and about 6 months after they hired me they needed help. I was just swamped I couldn’t do anymore work, was working from home actually living in Derrick’s house. I was renting his house from him on Aubrey Butte. He didn’t want renters, so he convinced us to rent it because he could trust us and stuff. So we were sitting up there. I told Noel and Paul about Melissa, that she used to do this stuff before and they hired her on, and I had to convince Melissa to quit Office Max to come work for MarketLeap, this internet start up little small company; there were like seven employees or something. She was like, “We don’t want to put our eggs in one basket. It’s the internet; it’s not going to be around.” Those kinds of comments. So it took some convincing to get her to start there. Now every time she gets a bonus or a pay raise, I’m like, “Well, you’re welcome.” I was thinking she would actually be another one to talk to because she’s been doing this stuff for about seven years, as far as contracting on and off. She’s been at MarketLeap, or now it’s Axium Digital for four and a half years as an account manager.

MARK: That’s a great idea. 

ANDRE: Yeah so, Paul Owen and Noel McMichael started MarketLeap. Jeremy Sanchez worked there, that was from the MMG days, and then Jeremy left to go to PositionTech, and then from PositionTech he started with Global Strategies with Bill Hunt.

MARK: PositionTech and Jim Stob?

ANDRE: Yes. So we went through the Digital Impact buy out. It was another one of those situations where my piece wasn’t that great, but it was all in stock which was decent. Then when Axium bought digital Impact six months later, going from ten people at MarketLeap, to two-hundred people at Digital Impact, to six thousand at Axium Digital, that was good. Pay day there was decent so I was pretty happy. So working for that big agency, with six-thousand employees, there’s no pay raises all of a sudden, and when I did get a pay raise I think it was 5 or 6%, which is decent for corporate America, but for me…

MARK: If you’re already 18 or 20% underpaid, it’s going to take awhile to catch up. 😉

ANDRE: Yes. So the opportunity came up to work with Bill Hunt and Jeremy Sanchez and Andy Weatherwax. Bill and Jeremy were part of MMG, and Andy was part of Outrider; Outrider bought MMG and there was another company called BrainBug which is where Andy worked. I Had met him a few times and really liked him and everything. So I was employee number one, and I thought, “this is my chance. This is where my big pay day is going to happen. This is where I’m going to make it.” After Ogilvy bought GSI, I thought anybody would be happy to work for a company like Ogilvy or work for somebody like Axium, those are good companies, and not the easiest places to get on with, but for me it just didn’t work. Once you say that I have to wear khakis to work or something, I don’t know, just the corporate world just doesn’t flow with me. So I decided to go solo and that’s were free lance search engine marketing came up. It’s proven to be fruitful. I like it. I like taking my 2 o’clock nap.

MARK: You had mentioned as far as challenges, or maybe just shifting more towards the things that you like to do, that the companies that you were working for with the recommendations that you were giving them took a huge chunk of time to implement.

ANDRE: Yeah, that’s a good point. Working for Fortune 500 companies, part of what I did at a lot of these places was a lot of in-house training; going down and teaching teams how to do this for themselves. A lot of these companies would have three hundred different brands, all with their own website, and every website is using their own web developer, their own search marketer, all different recommendation stuff is all over the place. So trying to bring that in-house so that they can start managing everything themselves, getting the company to change their title tag, it’s a big process. One company in particular had 700,000 URLs, I mean what do you do? How do you manually write 700,000 URLs? I had to spend month after month after month writing case studies on why it’s so important, and really educate them on getting it so that they can turn around and get the VPs and the CEOs to sign off on it. It’s pretty funny because I teach that class at COCC about the basics of search. Small businesses and sole proprietors come into the class and I speak to them like I would my mom, who doesn’t know didley about search, and I have to because a lot of people come into that class without knowing anything. It’s the exact same way I talk to VPs of any fortune five hundred, because a lot of them have no idea about search anyhow. I could talk at a totally different level than I do in my class and when I’m speaking, but when it really comes down to it a lot of the VPs have so many other things going on, that you have to talk to them on a very elementary level so that they can understand what we are trying to do.

MARK: It’s almost an advantage for a smaller company, where they can make decisions and implement your plan quicker because they don’t have all of these layers of stuff.

ANDRE: There was a keyword, I’m really struggling to remember what it was; I know it was something with servers. “Networking Servers” or some random keyword phrase, that this small company while I was at Market leap… we got a lot of small clients when we were growing MarketLeap; we pretty much took anyone that had a budget. This guy was a small consultant and I was able to get him number one for a keyword phrase that Microsoft was number two for, for the exact same product, and it was Microsoft’s product. He called me up and said, “I don’t know what you did. I don’t understand how this works. How is it possible that my site is number one and Microsoft is number two?” I said, “Well that’s the beauty of the internet is that small mom and pops can do just as well as some of the big companies.” But at the same time, I’m not really a big fan of mom and pop being online compared to some of these companies. I know that’s a weird thing to say…

MARK: But you want the best solution, right?

ANDRE: It depends on what they’re selling and why they are there, because if there is a small electronic shop in Bend, Oregon that’s online, why would I buy a DVD player from you when I’m not even sure if it’s in stock, it’s probably more money than Best Buy, and you’re going to take two weeks to get it to me? If you have a unique offering or there is a reason that Mom and Pop should be online, then I am totally behind it. For the most part, if I’m shopping for something then I want it at the best price and I want it to get to my house as soon as possible.

MARK: And you want a good return policy. Costco rules the world…

ANDRE: You know they changed their return policy. It used to be they would just take anything, no matter how long you’ve had it, but now it’s like 30 days or something like that.

MARK: Electronics is 180 days. It used to be a year and they cut it back.

ANDRE: But yeah, it is possible that small sites can succeed. I use my coffee mugs reference all the time. This guy Owen makes handmade coffee mugs in Bend, Oregon, and last time I looked he was fifth for the phrase “Coffee Mugs” and I had actually told him to go for “Handmade Coffee Mugs” because I was like, “You’re not going to get top ranking for ‘Coffee Mugs’. You have no content. You’re sight is only five pages. You’re not going to be able to do it.” So I was like, “Go after ‘Handmade Coffee Mugs.” So he did both. He still went after “Coffee Mugs” and he did the same recommendations from my class, he’s taken it three times now. The class is $60, so for $180 plus his time he’s fifth in Google for “Coffee Mugs.” And his business is just booming. He is getting orders from all over the country now. He loves it.

MARK: That’s awesome. So stick with it, don’t give up, there’s going to be a little barrier, but just push through.

ANDRE: Yeah, every website can benefit from the basics. The same basic techniques that have been going on for years and years are the same stuff. Title tags, Meta tags, use the keyword on the page, you’re going to benefit. Now, every site obviously has its own issues, their own barriers that they have to overcome and whatnot, but for the most part the basic work for any site.

MARK: Cool. Well I really appreciate your time. This was awesome.

ANDRE: Thank you. I love talking.

MARK: If you have any questions or you have any follow ups, shoot them on over and we can always do a second one if there are some big pieces missing.

ANDRE: Ok, thanks. I like that.

MARK: Thanks for your time.