MARK: We’re here with Heather Lloyd Martin, the president and CEO of Success Works, and probably one of the leading earliest SEO copywriting experts in the country, potentially the world. It seems like you got on that bandwagon pretty quick…
HEATHER: Yeah, I did. Back when I first started talking about it and first got involved with SEO there wasn’t any SEO copywriting really. It was about putting keywords into copy, but nobody was really talking about melding direct response copywriting techniques; it would be old school print and direct mail with online. It was too new for people to be thinking about that yet. So yeah, it’s amazing to see how far it’s come from it not really being on people’s radars, to what it is today and being a fundamental part of SEO. It’s very cool to see what’s happened.
MARK: Yeah I totally agree. One of the fun things we like to do is go back in time, for some of us that’s a long ways (laughs)…
HEATHER: (Laughs) Yeah.
MARK: What were you doing before you got into the search industry and then walk us through your entry and what that was like for you. How did you learn stuff? What got you started?
HEATHER: Oh man, way, way, way back in the day, this would have been about ’95 or ’96, I was working a dead-end job and didn’t like it, didn’t want to do it, didn’t know what else to do, and my boss at that time had internet, and this was way back; I don’t even remember the modem speed he was on, but it was a long, long time ago when everything took forever to load, and I remember thinking there’s probably opportunity there for being a writer. I was in this job I didn’t particularly dig anyways so I thought, “Maybe I can just give it a shot and go online and see if I can be a freelance writer?”
MARK: Without mentioning the company name, what were you doing? What were your days composed of?
HEATHER: Before I got into search?
MARK: Yeah, you’ve already called it a dead-end job so that’s why I don’t want to mention the company name, that wouldn’t be nice.
HEATHER: (Laughs) Oh yeah, I’m not even sure if they’re still in business anymore. I was working for a place in Fisherman’s Terminal and it was a place that made freezer technology for fishing boats; cool people, but just a job that was basically an office job, so I didn’t have a whole lot of opportunity to be creative. I was doing the eight to five thing and I’m kinda not geared towards the eight to five thing anyway, and I had been self- employed beforehand and that was a period of my life that I decided to go into a job to have a stable paycheck and all of that but it wasn’t anything that I was really enjoying at all. I was answering phones and filling out forms and being behind a desk and stuff that I can’t even imagine going back to now because it’s not who I am.
MARK: (Laughs) …and you were not a writer but you just love the idea of being a writer.
HEATHER: I loved the idea. I had always been involved in marketing and advertising. I’d always been involved in writing somehow. I used to sell advertising space for a publication and I wrote some of the articles, and I did that in university as well, but at that point I hadn’t said, “Alright, this is my career choice. This is what I want to do,” because being a writer is one of those things where you don’t think you can have this career choice, especially when you have a stable paycheck that you can have coming your way. But I got sick of it and decided to quit and see what else was out there.
Oh, this was AOL time, so I am online with my little Mac. I think it was the SE 30 that I had back then. I was going online to America Online in the forum’s where my screen name was so early it was HeatherL1 (laughs), and connecting with people to find out what was going on and what they were doing. Back then, I mean it still is like that now there are a lot of “get rich quick” schemes of different types of programs that you can be involved with, and that were a lot of it, but it gave me an opportunity to see that people were kind of hungry for information. People were connecting online and it was where I kind of learned how to connect with folks all around the world and get really comfortable with that as a medium, just from behind the computer screen.
So I ended up pinging a lot of online publications and building a little bit of a brand being an early online writer. The big break was I started writing for Entrepreneur Magazine and they needed to have someone come in to write about having a home business, and that rocked because once I worked for Entrepreneur that was the break I needed to be able to say, “I’ve got this one publication that I’ve written for, so maybe I can go out and get more gigs from that.” That’s how I sort of fell into writing full time. Even before the SEO stuff came in I was writing for Entrepreneur, and I was doing copywriting for clients who had web pages or needed print brochures or press releases or collateral, and I would create that for them.
MARK: And what were they doing with it? Were they posting it to their sites, or were you turning that over to a web development team?
HEATHER: It’s so funny because back then it was like having a website was something that you did just because, but nobody really put a lot of time and effort into it. So some of it would be giving it to them to upload into their website, and a lot of it back then was still “Let’s make sure your print brochure looks ok,” you know, “Let’s make sure that your direct mail pieces look ok.” I was doing a little bit of email copywriting back then, and maybe some online press releases back then, but it wasn’t the big total online push that it got to be a couple years later.
MARK: Got it. Ok, so you’re using the internet, finding leads and getting work, and doing some advertising, but the end product at this point, maybe it’s pre-engine, but it sounds like it’s more for print and stuff like that. So the search engines show up, and what inspires you here?
HEATHER: The search engines show up and there was an online forum back then that was called WTB which was “Women Talk Business,” or “We Talk Business” and it was women only with a few token guys that were all really early adapters of online and were using it to run their business. Like Eva Rosenberg was one of the folks that started off during that and she’s since become a very well known enrolled agent working with things like CNN money and having seminars all over, so there were a lot of people that hadn’t really built their brand yet, but we were all sharing information and talking about how to do stuff. Everyone knew everyone had their own little niches that they were known for, and people knew that I did online writing. Back then Jill Whalen was associated with that as well, and everyone knew that Jill did SEO. It happened to be that one day Jill contacted me, and this was before Jill catapulted into the brand that she is today, and said, “I’ve got these clients that need online writing. I know that the writing is really important and I want them to have good writing because I know it makes a difference.” So even if she wasn’t a copywriter she got that. So we started working together and then a few months after that we decided to launch a newsletter, and a few months after that we got on the SES in Dallas, so Danny invited us on to one of the earlier conferences, and it sort of blossomed from there. But literally, everybody back then kind of fell into what they were doing and just happened to meet a lot of folks that helped us along the way.
MARK: Do you remember what year you met Jill Whalen?
HEATHER: Oh geeze. That would have probably been around I want to throw out about 1997. I think it was early in 1997, and it might have been even a tad earlier than that but we weren’t just talking a whole lot, but Jill was online really, really early. So I wouldn’t doubt it if it were a tad earlier than that.
MARK: What about that first conference? Do you happen to remember when that was?
HEATHER: I don’t remember the exact year. I want to say it was 1999 or 2000. It was Dallas. It was one of the first conferences that was held in Dallas before they moved that conference series over to Chicago.
MARK: Got it. Ok.
HEATHER: But it was before they even had panels. I think it was maybe two days. The first time that Jill and I spoke was in this great big room with a bunch of round tables and you had your little placard in the center of it and you put down what you were going to talk about. I think I was talking about copy and Jill was talking about SEO, but I think more of the focus was on SEO at that point; no one was really talking about copy. And people crowded around this little table so they could hear you. I remember that’s where I met Marshall Simmons and Derek Wheeler because they were in that little audience, and Marshall at that time I think was still working for MMG, and everyone had heard of Marshall. I felt so happy that Marshall was in my audience and actually understood and agreed with what I was saying. I was like, “Oh, I didn’t mess this up. This is so cool.” (laughs)
MARK: (Laughs) The official MS seal of approval.
HEATHER: (Laughs) Exactly. That was when he was doing ISearch before Detlev took it over, so that was like pressure man, and that’s when I realized too that everyone in search was really, really cool. I met Detlev then; a lot of the old timers were there. Danny and Barbara I think were at that conference. That was an awesome time that we were all trying to figure out what we were doing and everyone was, and still is, really, really helpful.
MARK: Yeah, no kidding, they’re great. What was Barbara’s last name?
HEATHER: Barbara Cole. She’s WebMama.
Oh yeah, she’s been doing it since back in the day too. I think she’s been doing it as long as Shari Thurow has. They both sort of had the same design that they were talking about back then.
MARK: Kind of a usability focus?
HEATHER: She used to be although Barbara has gone on and talked a lot about big brands and helped launch SEMPO.
MARK: So you’ve gone through the transformation and now education starts, because you’ve probably been exposed to a lot of aspects of search now, and one of the things I’m always amazed by is when I go to the conferences, usually somebody from the podium asks the audience to raise their hands if this is their first conference, and there is a lot of hands that go up. It seems like it’s around 40%, I’m guessing here, but with all those new people coming in, one of the things that we are hoping to do is help them understand how the early pioneers got started and how they learned what they were learning, because I think they find themselves on this curve and they are saying to themselves, “Oh maybe it’s too late.” My own version of this says, “It’s not too late, just get started.” Also, there are so many ways to learn this stuff and there is so much information out there that I think some discernment is helpful to guide folks best so that they can learn the good stuff first and then over time be able to understand the junk or when this actually applies. So, how did you start learning more about search? What have been some of your favorite and best resources, and favorite educational sources?
HEATHER: Actually a lot of what I learned about search and what I learned about search I need to credit to Detlev. Detlev Johnson was awesome for helping me understand a lot of it because on the marketing side and the conversion side and the copywriting side, I was really comfortable with that because that was my world before I got into SEO was copywriting, but where I had the disconnect initially was on the technical side, and the best and most valuable and most wonderful thing that Detlev ever did for me that way was that he would lead me through on the technical side about how things worked and I was able to see, “Oh ok, when a website is generated dynamically, here’s what’s going on and here’s what that’s going to mean in terms of the content.” So to have that one on one with him was really, really important because it helped me be able to understand what I do better from the IT perspective, and be able to consult with clients much more efficiently even back in the day. That has really been wonderful.
Conferences were also good to be able to talk to folks but I think after the conferences with the networking dinners and all of that, that’s also been really good because although I like the general information at conferences and I learn a lot by going to people sessions, and some speakers are really awesome and provide tremendous amounts of information, where I retain it for myself is those one-on-one conversations after the fact; hanging out at the restaurant or hanging out at the bar and finding out how what they said on stage is applicable out in real life or with my clients, or whatever is going on. So that was also good. Forums back in the day were helpful. Now I’m looking at Search Engine Land and of course Danny and Chris’s stuff I’m always going to read. But for somebody coming into it who doesn’t know, if they want to do it for their company, I always try to encourage and I know especially with the economy a lot of clients freak out when they hear this, it really is so advantageous to have somebody come in as a consultant to explain how all of this stuff works in relation to their site. That’s probably the stuff that I’ve always found most useful, “Yes, there’s theory, but let’s bring it down into practice and what does this mean to me?”
If I was brand new learning and I was learning as an in-house SEO, that would probably be one of the most comfortable ways, is bring someone in. I understand the basics from what I’ve read online but what does this mean to me? If I were going to go out and be an SEO today, and having maybe some business background with it but not a whole lot, I would probably be hitting every conference in the world rather than trying to hire someone who can say, “Alright, here are where the niches are and where the opportunities., here’s how you can build out a business, and here’s where your knowledge will pertain to that.” But you’re right, it is confusing and back in the day we all had a really good handle of everything that was going on at any given time and today there are so many different aspects of what makes up a campaign, which is awesome, but it also means that the best ways that you can kind of deal with it and learn is to go to those people that are experts in their field, like Lee Odden when it comes to social media and PR, and say, “what do you do and how do you do it?” (laughs), and that’s where you get a huge wealth of information coming through.
MARK: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense because there is probably two hundred techniques, or beyond that. Let’s say even if you memorized the two hundred techniques that you’d learned from the sessions, then it’s all about when that’s the appropriate thing to do.
MARK: The basics are pretty simple; you need to get all of that stuff in line, but then you have to analyze the competitive space and having a consultant apply those techniques to your site in your situation, that is probably the fastest way.
HEATHER: It does. It cuts that learning curve, and it’s not like you can’t learn it by yourself, you can, but it just makes you better and faster and more competitive faster, and gives you a better handle and control on it faster. Yeah, you’re right there are so many different techniques, and yeah you can learn the basics and you can read books that are really awesome, but if you have a hairy site that doesn’t follow a lot of the rules which like 85% of them don’t, what a website is supposed to have to be absolutely perfect, then you have to start making judgment calls and those judgment calls can cost time and cost you money.
MARK: So when Google came along all of a sudden, links were always a traffic thing, but all of a sudden links have to start to do with rank. What did that do to your business? Was there any impact?
HEATHER: Actually, it was a positive impact. It was awesome because one of the things that was really clear back then was that having a good quality site that people want to link to is a big thing, and part of having a site that people want to link to is the information on the site and the content on the site. About that time was when businesses started looking at their actual conversion rates and realizing, “wow, ok so it is possible to get a top ranking and not have the sales that we want,” so that’s when a lot of that was going hand in hand, and when Google was talking about links and having good link structure and quality content for people to link to, and people were realizing, “Wow, quality content also helps draw conversions,” that’s when on the conference circuit people were starting to pay attention a little bit more. It wasn’t just about tweaking things or trying to gain the engines as much; it was also about looking at it in terms of, “Alright, so how do we build out a good quality site to where we don’t have to worry about tweaking it every time there is an algorithm burp.
MARK: Right. That’s got to be a big boost for folks doing good SEO copy.
HEATHER: Yeah, exactly.
MARK: It is kind of a trick and an art. Keyword density has lead to some kind of gaming text, and you read it and it just doesn’t read right and then you can tell when a really good copy writer has really done their job where they’re accomplishing both things at the same time. That’s a gift or is it learned?
HEATHER: It’s a little of both. You can learn how to mechanically write. I think that there are some people that are pre-disposed to being better writers, but also it’s a little bit of an art and a science. It’s knowing how the search engines think and being able to make judgment calls based on what you know about the site and what you know about the SEO, but also having that creative side to where you’re able to take those key phrases and put them into the copy, plus do the conversion stuff, plus the persuasive architecture. So it’s an interesting skill set. All the skill sets in SEO are interesting, but this one is one that will straddle definitely the technology side and the marketing side, if you want to do it really well.
MARK: Yeah, you just raddled off two years worth of study. If someone were to chase all of those topics down and then balancing them all together into that perfect blend; that’s why I keep coming back, I can’t get enough of it.
HEATHER: Exactly, yeah (laughs).
MARK: And also, you’re right about the community. It’s a group of really smart and fun people. That’s what I like about the conferences, everybody is in one place and one day you can have lunch with one person and that night have dinner with a different person, and it’s just difficult to do that anywhere else in the country except at a conference.
HEATHER: It is, and search engine conferences and I’ve heard other people say this in other industries and I probably don’t appreciate how fortunate I am working in it, is that it’s amazing that you’ve got so many people. We’ve basically grown up together in the 10-15 years that we’ve all been doing this. We’ve gone through a lot of life changes, a lot of business changes, a lot of everything. We’re basically all competitors, but you know, you go to an SES, or a PubCon or an SMX, and we’re great friends and we will help people do anything that they need to do because they’ve helped us. If it wasn’t for really good folks like that who have helped me throughout the years, I’m not sure if I would be here. There have been some tremendous people that have given me so much along the way that I’m incredibly grateful for. It’s awesome to be in a community that would do that.
MARK: Yeah, no kidding. You’re probably right, their probably aren’t a lot of industries that enjoy that.
HEATHER: Yeah, I’ve never heard of it and other people have actually commented on it. So it makes me try to appreciate it as much as I possibly can. I probably take it for granted, but it’s still very cool to know how helpful we all are with each other and how much we are all rooting for each other to do well.
MARK: So it sounds like you like the conferences as a great learning mechanism. 15 years ago there weren’t any books available, some forums or websites have certainly shown up, you mentioned Search Engine Land. Do you know of any other great websites or books that you would recommend to someone getting going?
HEATHER: One book that I recommend to folks who are just learning is I think it’s called SEO in an Hour a Day. One of the things I like about that book, I can’t remember the authors name, is that it helps take something, you know SEO is a big topic and for people who overwhelm easily and goodness knows you can certainly do that with SEO, it helps break it up into little chunks and to help you understand alright. So if you want a campaign, you don’t have to be doing everything at once, you can do a little bit everyday and still have a really robust campaign. It’s good to just learn about it. If you have a dynamic website that you’ve just been thrown into at in a corporate situation plus everything else, you’re probably not going to have that freedom to do a little bit a day, but it at least shows you it’s possible. The book by Mike Moran and Bill Hunt, Search Engine Marketing Inc., I think is a really excellent book for anybody, whether you’re coming in as in-house, or you’re coming in as someone who is going to handle SEO clients because it does give you, it’s a huge thick book, a lot of perspective on how to sell things, how to manage things, and the different parts that go on with the campaign. That was just updated, I know they’re talking a lot about social media now with that book. It’s one that I keep referring to fairly frequently, because they have done such a really good job with it.
MARK: I think that is available either through the http://www.globalstrategies.com website, or Amazon. It is a good one, I think so too.
HEATHER: It is. It definitely is. I think Mike has it at http://www.mikemoran.com too, so that one is definitely worth the price.
MARK: Right. Those are all of the things I’ve heard so far and it sounds like you have encouraging words for folks that are just getting started, and there are other angles besides copywriting, but I think it’s a fascinating one and I stumble across a website and I see bad copy, and it seems like your market is very large.
HEATHER: Yeah and it’s cool there’s an organization called The American Writers and Artists Institute, AWAI; in their world all they market to is writers. Travel writers, copywriters, photographers, artist types, creative types, and they have a lot of educational resources for folks that want to get into that or want to learn more if they’re in that. They’ve just recently launched an SEO copywriting DVD that they’re promoting on their end and that we’re going to be launching out into the SEO world. It’s available now I just haven’t promoted it we’re still working on that. I think that’s cool because it actually legitimizes it, so for folks that want to come in and do SEO copywriting it is actually a form of copywriting where you can make money in it, and you can get trained on how to do it, and here’s how you can learn to do it from home. But for folks that aren’t interested in copywriting and they want to get involved in another area of SEO or SEM they’re certainly scads of different types of market niches to get involved with and different ways that they can build out a really nice and fun business for themselves doing the kind of stuff that they like to do. You don’t have to do everything in SEO, you don’t have to know everything in SEO, you just have to have the resources and know who to contact so you can give your clients exactly what they need to have and what they’ve hired you for.
MARK: Right. What was the name of that organization again?
HEATHER: AWAI. Their website is http://www.awaionline.com
MARK: Thank you we’re going to make sure that’s a link.
HEATHER: Oh brilliant, thank you.
HEATHER: That must be wild when you look at the Bend area from back in the day; the little hot spot for SEO.
MARK: That is kind of interesting isn’t it?
HEATHER: For something that started off so technical you’d expect it out of New York or San Francisco; it’s so cool that so many people came from and still live in Bend.
MARK: (Laughs) yeah.
MARK: Cool. Well do you have any closing thoughts for our readers and listeners?
HEATHER: I suppose the only closing thought is that it’s been a very cool ride. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to be part of an industry that is moving and changing so quickly and yet the people within the industry stay so cool. I’m not sure of any other time in my life I’m going to be able to experience what I’m experiencing now and I’m really happy with it. For new people coming into the industry, I think there is definitely still room to move with that. There is always definitely new room for new ideas and new blood and people looking at things in a different way and I think it’s just going to get more exciting from here.
MARK: That’s awesome. I do appreciate you making room for us.
HEATHER: Oh you’re welcome! I think this is an awesome idea. I remember Detlev telling me that he had done an interview with you, I think it was just when it happened. Where did you come up with this? It’s really awesome that you’re cataloging it.
MARK: A long time ago, I think it was ’96 I don’t have the invoices anymore, John Audette had approached me. We were writing these little things called AdAps for him for MMG. We were a contractor here in Bend. So I was like, “These are kind of fun. This is interesting. What are these guys doing?” so I went over there and saw what they were up to and was like, “Wow, this is really cool,” and that pretty much sparked this thing inside. We’re a software development company, kind of always had that slant and so the technical side of IP delivery and I guess it’s cloaking, back then it was just innovative and we never ever did that in a deceptive way, it was always just to support a brand that had a flash site. That’s how I got started and I just love it. It’s just permanently challenging. Now, when I use the word “game” I think of it as not “gaming” the engines like in a bad way, but it’s a game to go against these competitors. I do quality content and usability. All of those things are very important to me; it just depends on which client and which market we are in as to which techniques we draw from and who’s phone we need to make ring.
HEATHER: (Laughs) Exactly.
MARK: But I think that’s the part I love about it. I’m a lifetime learner. I thank John for asking me to do that stuff. I don’t know when the light bulb would have come one without getting that early introduction.
HEATHER: Yeah, yeah. He turned a lot of people on to the possibilities.
MARK: Yeah, and now his son, we think Adam might be the first “second generation search marketer.”
HEATHER: Oh my God.
MARK: Because there aren’t a lot of mothers or fathers out there who’s children were doing search or are doing search. So we think Adam Audette might be the first. I don’t know what that means it’s just kind of funny.
HEATHER: That’s freaky, but you’re exactly right because the only other people I’m thinking about is like Rand and Gillian, but they weren’t involved with it back then; Rand was too young.
MARK: Right. The thing is, there are more coming. One of the things The History of SEO wants to do is, “Let’s mark out this one era that if we don’t do it now we’re never going to get these people on the phone and have them remember very well what happened…”
HEATHER: (laughs) True.
MARK: I don’t get a lot of new names, like you had one for me today Barbara Cole, so I need to go do some research on Barbara and learn more about what happened and when and then get her on the phone. But there aren’t a lot of new names popping up so I have to just get through my interview list, get those all posted, and then I think what’s coming next is this wave of the dot bomb happened, so there is this gap where there wasn’t a lot of people doing internet marketing during the dot bomb, companies weren’t funding it, so some folks had to go do other things, some folks were able to stay in or had other aspects they focused on during that time. Then it started to pick back up again and then the social media thing comes. I think that’s going to be another wave of people. I’ve already interviewed Brent Csuterous and Chris Winfield and Todd Malicoat and some others. I’m really still trying to focus on those early days, but then I think this social media era is going to be the next little project. But I want to just keep this thing going. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a place where new people can come. They go to a conference, they can come to The History of SEO, learn all about the people, find them the next conferences, and I hope they walk away thinking, “Gosh, you know what? All of these experts started just like me.”
MARK: “I’m in this thing, and I don’t think I can, but that’s exactly what everyone of them say too. “ That’s kind of the primary dominate message I’m hoping that the new folks are getting from it.
HEATHER: Oh that is cool. That is really cool. Because yeah, how inspiring to find out that Marshall, what did he do, Comp USA? Back in the day before he got into MMG?
MARK: Yeah, isn’t that funny?
MARK: And he worked with Derek Wheeler and Andre Jensen!
MARK: (Laughs) It’s so cool.
HEATHER: And you’d never think of that! You’d never walk up to Marshall now, “Mr. New York Times guy” and think, “Oh yeah you were just some guy working at Comp USA!”
MARK: “Hey, where can I find an ink cartridge for my printer?” (laughs).
HEATHER: Exactly (laughs)!
MARK: If you have any questions I’d like to keep this open for a possible follow-up.
HEATHER: Of course.
MARK: If you can think of anyone else that needs to be here, please shoot me an email or send me a note and we’ll get on it.
HEATHER: Ok, that sounds awesome.
MARK: Thanks again for participating.
HEATHER: Hey thank you so much for thinking of me. I think that’s very cool what you guys are doing so this was fun.