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Eric Enge

Growth Hacking Interview Series #127: Eric Enge

Eric Enge is the founder and CEO of Stone Temple Consulting. A prominent SEO and digital marketing industry thought leader, he has been an entrepreneur for most of his 30+ year career.

Eric is also emerging as a recognized expert on content marketing.

He is the lead author of the book The Art of SEO; a columnist and contributor to publications such as Search Engine Land, MozCopyblogger, Marketing Land, and Social Media Today; and a regular speaker at industry conferences such as Search Marketing Expo, Pubcon, ClickZ Live, and many others.

How did you start out as a marketer?

All the way back in 1997 I left the job I had at Phoenix Technologies. When I left there, I was a general manager of a business unit of the company.

I started doing business development consulting, and that started to pull me into the world of sales and marketing.

That went very well, but after about 5 years I ended up getting drawn into the world of SEO, but I’ll tell you that story in just a minute!

Looking back, what is your hardest struggle when it came to delivering results?

The hardest part is when a client isn’t cooperating. Many times we can resolve this through an education process, where we get them to understand the reason for our recommendations.

Sometimes this requires a great deal of patience. Of course, there are times when the client simply won’t cooperate. At Stone Temple Consulting, we fire clients who won’t let us help them succeed.

Of course, there are scenarios where clients accept, or can implement, only a portion of your recommendations.

If that’s enough to help them improve, then it is often worthwhile to stay with them and help them move forward in stages. That’s pretty common.

We only fire them if they are just not listening at all, asking us to do things we think are wrong, or not letting us do enough so they will see a material benefit from our involvement.

How did you get your first client back then, and what kind of service did you do for them?

I used to be a solo consultant offering business development consulting services. A friend of mine asked to to help him do that for a business he was running which was a DVD e-tailer.

After working with them for 30 days, I told him that he should try to get traffic from search engines. Then he came back to me and said “great idea, go make it happen”.

A year later, we were doing $3M per year in search and we were off to the races. That was back in 2002.

What do you find most rewarding about what you do?

Success. When you see a client start to see significant gains in traffic, that’s exciting stuff!

We have a lot of readers who are bent on becoming freelancers, aside from freelancing how else can someone earn online, and what is your advise?

Freelancing is fine, but you have to have the right mindset. You have to work on bringing in new business all the time, even while you are in the middle of servicing clients.

A lot of people aren’t comfortable with that. One option is to consider working for a small agency in your field. Gain some experience with the consulting side of things first, before you try to go off and do it on your own.

How is your typical work day structured?

Honestly, it’s filled mostly with meetings and phone calls. As a large agency, there is a lot of that which fills most of my days.

However, I usually manage to find an hour or two in there somewhere to focus on learning new things and how they work. That’s the most fun part of the day!

Can you tell us about a time where you had to put in significant effort up front and then wait a long time for success?

This happens a lot in building relationships with influencers. I worked for a long time to build a relationship with Rand Fishkin.

I’d been working on a regular basis to build a relationship with him, and we’d started to interact with him, but hadn’t gotten to the point where he knew who I was, but hadn’t yet begun to share my content.

Then after many months, of trying to do that, I saw this post from Rand: Free Linkbait Idea on Web Analytics in November 2006. If you look at this post, Rand is throwing out an idea for someone to do a study that will yield a huge amount of traffic and links.

If you go to the post and sort the links based on oldest to newest, you’ll see that I was the first comment, and here is what I wrote: “You have a volunteer. Sent you an email about it. Eric”.

I then followed through and executed the study. I published that report in August 2007 the Web Analytics Shootout.

So that was great. Rand helped share the report, as he said he would and started to pay more attention to me after that.

However, the real payoff came in December 2008. At SES Chicago, Stephan Spencer approached me about joining together with him, Rand, and Jessie Stricchiola in authoring The Art of SEO.

This led me to be a co-author of that book, which published its first edition in October 2009, and now it’s on its 3rd edition as of October 2015.

This was a huge lift in visibility for me, and patience in building the relationship and waiting for the benefits was essential to success.

You’ve been tasked with redesigning the company’s brand strategy from the ground up. Walk us through your process.

This could easily be the topic of a whole 6 part series of articles, all 700+ words each. Let me try to give you a simple bullet outline to cover it:

a. Develop a list of the core values / messages for your company. This at the heart of any rebrand.
b. Start thinking about visual styles, fonts and colors that line up with those values and messages.
c. Develop logos and templates that fit the prior two points.
d. Roll those out organization wide.
e. Next, start thinking about the types of content that will align with the prior 4 points.
f. Make sure you have the subject matter experts (SMEs) that can develop that type of content.
g. Work out a media plan as to where and when you can publish content that supports your brand. Make sure you pursue the effort of building relationships with media people and persuading them of the value of your content to their readers on an ongoing basis.
h. In parallel, build relationships with influencers who can accelerate your visibility.
i. Rinse and repeat the above and watch your brand, reputation, and visibility grow.

So this is a very brief outline of what’s involved, but it does cover the main steps in the process.

Can you tell us about a past situation where you had to juggle multiple projects with competing deadlines?

That’s every day around here! I move from clients, to research projects, to managing people to trying to learn new things within every single day.

Project planning is critical to success. If you’re one of those people who deals with projects on a “just in time” basis, you’ll be in a ton or trouble!

What recently-developed marketing strategy, technique or tool interests you the most right now?

The most exciting tactic for me these days is paid social, and how this can help drive content marketing campaigns.

In particular, you can use paid social campaigns to focus only on the media people and influencers you want to reach. These types of campaigns can be relatively inexpensive, but have a very powerful impact.

What do you do to stay up to date with new marketing techniques?

I find a way to spend time on research in new tactics every day. Some days it may only be a few minutes. Other times, I may be able to get 2 to 3 hours to really dig into something.

But, the most important thing is to make sure you remain committed to finding the time on a regular basis. Then dig in and learn what you can on a regular basis!

Can you tell us about a project you’re most proud of from your past work history?

The writing of The Art of SEO was a huge project for me. After Stephan, Rand & Jessie asked me to write that, it fell largely on me to create the first draft of the book.

Over a period of 13 weeks, I wrote a chapter a week, until all 13 chapters were written. It was a huge effort, yet that was only the beginning.

The process of editing the book after that was massive, and went on for 8 to 9 more months. It finally published in October of 2009. It was a huge success for all of us.

Which one book/blog post would you recommend every Marketer should read?

It’s funny, but I’m going to go back a ways to a classic. That’s Seth Godin’s classic book, The Purple Cow. I think this is a must for any digital marketer.

It teaches us how important it is to create content that is “remarkable”, which means worth remarking about. That means you truly need to stand out from the crowd.

I’m a complete fan of this concept. In my own words “be an expert or go home.” If you can’t do this, you won’t get very far in your digital marketing efforts.

What advice would you share with other Marketer’s who want to become more productive?

That’s a broad question! There are so many tips to potentially offer, but let me know go back to something I said in the prior question, that’s the notion of being an expert.

If you are going to pursue digital marketing you need to stand out. You also need to invest in publishing content that adds value to the community at large, and that will be seen as valuable by influencers and early adopters (i.e. other experts).

These are the people that can help build your brand. If you can’t add value to their day, chances are that you aren’t going to get very far.

If there’s one Marketing Guru you’d recommend who and why.

I think a great place to start with Seth Godin. He is a marketing genius, and he does a great job of simplifying marketing and getting across basic principles that can help you a better marketer.

Capture the true essence of what he teaches, and you’ll be a great marketer.

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