At Some Point I Stopped Doing SEO and Started Management Consulting

I originally got into SEO because the idea of creating massive amounts of traffic for a website out of thin air was the most exciting thing I could imagine. It felt like being a superhero. That idea has since matured but the desire to affect huge change on web business has never died. A management consulting approach has come out of this drive for big results, today more than ever web businesses rely on complex teams of people working in unison. Changing websites like this is about affecting change with people.

There is a massive need to understand how businesses operate online

There was an interesting phenomenon I’ve seen as I’ve worked on websites from the one man shops all the way up to biggest brands in the world; they all are struggling to find certainty in how to invest into online platforms. There are plenty of public examples but let me assure you these conversations are happening at every level of online focused companies. Despite the interest very few companies have been able to reconcile the speed and variable rewards of online focused marketing. Everyone is looking for the same thing, that stable channel to invest in that gives a predictable and profitable result.

ROI driven online marketing investments exist

Can you guess the website?

So what does this ROI based marketing look like? It’s two parts:

  1. Get smart people who understand your business testing out opportunities for growth
  2. Once you find a potential engine of growth execute it

There is no expert who can help you skip this process. No one can guarantee you results in any marketing channel online. Smart people reduce that barrier and smart people with experience can turbo charge it but until proven every idea is just a test.

Tests are unfortunately not things businesses are used to investing in. In fact for most businesses this would be a significant departure from anything they have tried before. How do you get budget for testing? How do you justify spending a whole month figuring out things that didn’t work? These are great questions but unfortunately there is no single answer.

In startups I’ve found the biggest hurdle is investing in something without a concrete ROI attached. Established companies often struggle to execute upon likely successes. In both instances the answer is the same, talk to the people involved and find out why things are the way they are. Just as important is that they need to see and hear you appreciating their concerns.  If you are going to ask for someone to do something far outside their comfort zone you better show them you have their best interest at heart.

1. Get smart people who understand your business testing out opportunities for growth

The reality is that most businesses looking towards marketing experts have already found an engine to drive their business forward and pushed it to the point of diminishing returns. That means the easy money is gone. Finding the next pivot for the business is going to be hard work no matter how you slice it. Even more challenging is that the business was originally setup to support a different channel, there may not be enough people, skills or resources in place to get started right away.

That said, how a business approaches this challenge determines their long term viability online. It genuinely is that important.

2. Once you find a potential engine of growth execute it

Interestingly enough, many businesses are in fact sitting on profitable opportunities. It sounds like it should be a simple problem but appreciate it’s not. You need to find out why things were set the way they are. The branding and PR teams don’t talk? Why?

How you affect change is to understand both the reality of the situation and how it came to be. If your ideas connect with a genuine business goal, respect the key considerations and can demonstrate your knowledge to the people involved; just maybe you will get to be a superhero.

If that all sounds fun shoot me an email at about working with me at the Distilled New York City office.

Chris Warren

Chris Warren

Chris started his career as a professional poker player for five years. He soon realized that life in Las Vegas wouldn't be the last stop in his career and started building for profit websites on the side. This wasn't successful but eventually it...   read more

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  1. SEO and Online Marketing are new terms and ideas for many of our clients. We spend a lot of time trying to find the best answer for why a company should invest in testing especially if they don't have any guarantee of ROI. But as you said, there is no single answer.

    I've found the best way is to get as much information about the client and the industry as possible and to make sure that all expectations for the projects are given. Let the "hard work" take it from there. Thanks for the post!

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  2. Hi Chris,

    Very well written Article. Do you think there is SEO future ?
    There are too many SEO experts working and they have been working from years, Do you think they will have work in near future ?

    Thank you


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    • Chris Warren

      Hey Saif,

      I definitely don't think SEO is going anywhere in fact I think the trend is going the opposite way. SEO is actually getting more credibility within the business community, every company understands that Google/search has a significant impact on their visibility that they can't ignore.


  3. Hi Chris,

    i have the same question like Saif ,do you think that seo have any future .as you know Google is changing every day.I just read a article of Dr. Pete on seomoz about serp crowding .if those things happen then it will show up only brands on the 1st page people like me small seo's will be killed by these changes.Please Guide.

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  4. Absolutely hit the nail on the head here. So many of us, like you, ventured into Digital Marketing wanting to personally be the vessel implementing changes to improve results. In reality (particularly in-house), you often end up as the sole person who understands what is needed to begin with and default to Project Manager, outsourcing and recruiting the best people to take on the many areas which need setting up before success is even an option. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is somewhat of a diversion. I certainly find many companies don't understand who or what needs to be in place before SEO, conversion or content strategy can really begin so the job of explaining this to all involved becomes a Strategy in itself.

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    • CelestialChook

      I agree with your comment. A lot of my time as an in-house SEO and content manager/strategist is spent getting people in various functional areas and at different levels to a base level of understanding of where we are and what we could do if we positioned all our ducks in the right places. It's then about squeezing in 'being the vessel of implementing changes' around the rest of the day job!

  5. Johnny Gedye

    "How you affect change is to understand both the reality of the situation and how it came to be. If your ideas connect with a genuine business goal, respect the key considerations and can demonstrate your knowledge to the people involved; just maybe you will get to be a superhero."

    I like this.

    I'm finding SEO isn't so much about "getting to a certain rank for a certain keyword" more about taking a good hard look at how a business positions itself on the web.

    Sure, I've gotten lots of non branded keywords to number 1 or thereabouts - but has it necessarily generated the large amount of sales that I expected - Nope.

    Some of my clients are within the science sector and by and large I've found that by improving the branding of these sites, optimising the site pages for visitors rather than focusing solely on search engines is key to driving better conversion rates. Which is what REALLY matters.

    One things for certain - Google is making it quite clear that in the future, you're gonna have to pay (at least a little) to compete. Especially for high volume shopping style areas.

    Nice article


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  6. It's amazing to me that this model has been out there for a few years (although it's been called different names), and yet it's still counter-intuitive for most businesses to operarte this way.

    Understanding the reality of the situation and how it came to be is such a powerful insight. In today's highly matrixed organizations, 20% is knowing what to do, while 80% is having the gumption, emotional intelligence and patience to affect major change in an organization across departments.

    The good news is that it's only really hard until the fly wheel starts spinning. It's much easier once you can establish a reputation for identifying change that needs to occur and moving it forward.

    Great article, Chris. They should pay you more at Distilled :)

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  7. Chris-

    What website is that chart for? Maybe I just missed it...


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  8. Excellent, and I mean it, these are the things I'm going through at present, and the problem is clients (and sort of understandably) want everything now.

    Focusing only on SEO will definitely let you down in the long run, I've always thought it's great getting a horse to the water, but then making it drink...

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  9. Very good article, thank you.

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  10. This is a really good post. There is a hurdle that is not really mentioned however and that occurs shortly after success kicks in for the startup. We have been growing pretty quickly over the last 2 years and have been actively trying new things out online like tweaking the home page, adwords changes, different ppc channels etc. Not having a strong IT background we have needed to enlist the help of a couple of SEO firms plus outsource development work and invest time into testing delivery methods too.

    The problem is finding honest people to partner with, until this year we have been very small fry so have used elance or other short term labour hire solutions and it did get us from A to B but as we tried to find longer term partners we have really seen a lack of integrity in the industry. After a couple of failed SEO ventures we reached out to Distilled for advice and even though we cant quite afford them yet they did (like total pro's) recommend us to good partners. We couldn't have afforded them either a year ago but if we had found a reliable people earlier we would be further along the path.

    I guess i make this post to reaffirm the need to outsource quality people in CRO or DEV roles but with a good dose of make sure you are testing and monitoring your help too.

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    • Alec,

      This is my first time on this site. I picked up the post from a twitter friend that I truly respect. It's a brilliant read, and one that highlights the sort of brainpower behind this site.

      Your point about integrity in the industry is a good one. I do think, with the recent flushing of lowbrow SEO methods, that the less talented, less professional "professionals" will soon be left for dead.

      Or at least I hope so!

  11. Jim

    One of the main problems with SEO is that many businesses cant tell what sort of ROI they are likely to get from their SEO cash. With PPC they are in control more.

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  12. Larry Heart

    SEO, like any other discipline, be it online or offline business is a field, which requires constant development, hard work and being agile. Our insights are 1% of our clickstream while clickstream is 1% of our efforts...
    I'm really glad that this post has become so popular among readers.
    I wish all readers to become new prospect superheroes.

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  13. Well written, well thought out post on an important topic! It boils down to having a broad vision and understanding for your clients' online success and getting the departments to work in unison, your article articulates a new trend that of the agile business model.

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