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No. 90
May 8th, 2008

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An Interview with Small Business SEM’s Matt McGee

Matt McGee

For those who hadn’t heard, Marchex and Matt McGee recently decided to part ways. Regardless of any “structural” changes that Marchex was making, I was surprised that they would let such a charismatic and knowledgeable ambassador for their company out of their grasp! But their loss will be someone else’s gain. (It might even be Matt’s own gain if he decides to go the solo consulting route 😀 .)

I’ve looked to Matt for Small Business SEO advice and for general career guidance since I was a wee babe in the SEO industry (read: a lowly lurker on his blog). He was kind enough to take some time away from his ridiculously packed travel schedule to answer a few questions that I had been looking forward to asking him for some time.

As part of that travel schedule, Matt will be heading here to Portland on May 20 for an SEMpdx HotSeat event, speaking about his SEO Success Pyramid, so if you have any more questions, you should sign up and ask him yourself! While there, yours truly would love to meet any local Mihmorandum readers, so make yourselves known. You can’t miss me, I’ll be the one in the bright blue trucker hat.

Without further ado, on to the interview:

DM: You’ve mentioned a couple of times over the last 18 months that while you were with Marchex, you didn’t really DO Small Business SEM much anymore … what have you / do you miss about it?

M2: That’s true. Most of our SEO clients were larger companies and/or well-funded companies, so it was quite a change from my previous job. It was a bit intimidating at first, but I learned that I like doing SEO for clients of any size. There are good and bad things about working with any client, no matter the size.

To answer the question, the thing I always enjoyed about working with smaller companies is that there’s a better chance of forming a creative partnership. I think smaller companies are generally more appreciative of success and willing to remain loyal when you can show results. But I can’t really speak poorly about larger companies, because my favorite client over the past 18 months was a large retailer with whom we developed a really tight relationship. They have a great team; I’ll miss working with them.

DM: Did you enjoy working for one client as opposed to many or do you prefer the variety?

M2: I was still able to work with a variety of clients, and that’s the best part about doing SEO and online marketing. When you get to work with a variety of clients, you’re forced to be as well-rounded as possible in the strategies and tactics you use. The more you work with a variety of clients, the smarter and sharper you become as a marketer.

DM: You are an amazingly talented photographer. What kind of equipment do you use? (NB to readers, if you think I am kidding, check out Matt’s Flickr photo stream)

M2: Thank you, but I’m really a hack when it comes to photography — just smart enough to be dangerous. I don’t even have any equipment, at least nothing compared to what real photographers use. I have a little Canon S3 IS, a not-real-great zoom lense, and a tripod. But I am happy and proud of some of the pictures I’ve taken. My secret? Shoot a gazillion photos of the same thing and cross my fingers that one or two turn out well. It works!

DM: How did you get into it in the first place?

M2: I read a lot of magazines with great pictures when I was a kid: Sports Illustrated, Life, and National Geographic to name a few. I think that got me interested in photos. Then I got my first camera at about 14 years old. It was one of those dorky Kodak Disc cameras. I snuck it into a U2 concert in 1985, shot some photos, and was hooked for life.

DM: Do you submit any of your work to iStockphoto?

M2: No, I looked into that a year or so ago, but the size and resolution requirements just made it seem like too much work. I shoot photos for fun and put them on Flickr, and that’s good enough for me.

DM: You love U2 as much as I love college basketball. I’ve only got about eight guys that I work with on Bracketography, whom I can barely keep up with them during hoops season, yet you’ve got over 25 contributors on atU2 and you’re able to put out a quality website for the entire year. Do you have any tips for guys and gals out there with their own niche sites in the “infant” or “toddler” stages? Is there a basic management process that you can share, or ideas on how to delegate some of the more time-consuming responsibilities to your users (but still maintain a quality publication)?

M2: I never intended to have a staff for the U2 site. But some of my most frequent readers started sharing news tips and writing things for me to post, and that made me think it would be smart to have contributors. And then it became much more formal, with certain people handling specific roles. We have an Assignment Editor who oversees editorial planning; we have a Copy Editor who fixes all our grammar and punctuation; we have a couple people who specifically produce our podcast. So I think that’s one piece of advice: Look to your audience for staff. Ardent fans and supporters already have a stake in what you do, and often make great staff members.

The other thing I’ve done is make sure the staff knows that it’s not my site, it’s our site. It’s a democracy, and if the staff overrules me on decisions, so be it. Everyone on staff should (and does, I hope) know that they have ownership in the site, and I think it helps make the quality of contributions much higher.

DM: How do you find time to sleep? Photography and @U2 notwithstanding, it seems like you are always blogging, sphinning, posting comments…AND I know you have a family AND I know you were commuting back and forth to Seattle for a couple days a week.

M2: There’s no such thing as enough sleep. I love sleep. But I’m a night owl, and tend to be awake several hours after the rest of the family has called it a night. That frees me up to write blog posts, play on the Internet, and get things done in peace and quiet. And the commuting thing — that came to an end about six months ago, when I started working from home full-time. Thank goodness for that.

DM: Along the same lines, what does your average day look like?

M2: It may change now that I’m in career limbo, but I tend to wake up around 8 am, work a full 9-5 day, have dinner and family time until maybe 8 pm, and then I’m back on the computer working again. The only TV I watch during the week is LOST, so that leaves me plenty of time to work after the kids are in bed.

DM: Even before your spring travel schedule, you were a veteran of the conference speaking circuit, and IMHO on track to be a hall-of-famer. What advice would you give to folks looking to break into that circuit & speak for the first time?

M2: Thank you, David — I appreciate that. Advice? Hmmmm. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in starting at a smaller show, like Rebecca Kelley did at SearchFest 2007 in Portland. Obviously, you have to pitch to speak on a subject you know a lot about — because beyond your 15 minutes, you better be ready to take another 30 minutes of questions. The Q&A is often where you separate the good SEOs from the good speakers. I think it’s probably a good idea to pitch with a friend; having someone up there with you that you know and like can make the first time easier. And lastly, follow the instructions very carefully when submitting your pitch to the conference planners.

DM: Are you getting as much value from conferences as you used to?

M2: I learn something new at every show I attend. And as you attend more shows, and get to know more people, you tend to get more value and education from the after hours networking. As you know, everything they say is true about the real conference happening in the hotel lounge/bar.

DM: How many do you think is a good number of conferences per year?

M2: That probably depends on the person, don’t you think? The great thing is that, no matter your level or interests, you have plenty of options now. If I were just starting out, and money/travel were no object, I’d probably try at least one big and one small show just to see how they differ.

DM: If there’s ONE emerging area of Small Business and Local SEO that you’d advise small business owners to bone up on, what would it be? Reviews? Video? Social Media? The NEXT big thing? Where are they going to get the most bang for their buck over the next 2-3 years?

M2: I’d go with hyperlocal blogging. I think blogging is going to continue to trickle down to the so-called Average Joes, and those people are going to blog about what’s happening around them — their street, their neighbors, their neighborhoods, their towns and cities. It will become incredibly pervasive because it’s so easy to do. There’s almost no barrier to entry for starting a blog.

We all know that a good blog is a powerful SEO tool; the quality of content and links brings trust fairly quickly. So it makes sense that a good local blog would become a trusted source for local information.

So, for the small business owner this provides an opportunity to connect with local customers much more easily by having their own local blog, and by joining discussions on other local blogs. These hyperlocal blogs will become easier to find, too, because of sites likes Outside.In and And I think local newspaper and TV web sites will reach out and make connections with local bloggers for content and exposure.

DM: You’ve recently become an unrestricted free agent. What kind of position are you looking for from your next team? GM-Coach, Player-Coach, Coach Only? GM Only?

M2: I’m open to just about anything. I’ve never cared much what my title or position is, as long as I’m working with good, smart, and creative people.

DM: Matt, thanks SO MUCH for such an extensive interview. I am sure most if not all of your readers are just as appreciative of all of the strategies and insights you have shared on your blog over the years as I am. We know you’ll do great no matter where you land!

  • Great Interview. We’re all looking forward to seeing Matt in Portland later in the month.

  • Really enjoyable interview, David & Matt.

    I was so interested when I saw Matt’s mention of Placeblogger in a powerpoint. While obviously a very powerful source for local link acquisition with the right strategy, have either of you fellows given thought to the value of having a local business with a somewhat non-blogworthy niche take on authoring a blog that is mostly about their location, rather than their specific business.

    To clarify, what if you had a plumber come to you. Sure, he can write some posts about unclogging your drain yourself, plumbing tools every family should own, 10 weirdest things found clogging a sink, but for consistent geo-targeted blogging, inspiration might wear thin. So what would you think about such a client devoting a large percentage of their business blog to Placeblogger-worthy information such as local events, local places of interest, local news, etc?

    When the niche is small and the competition scarce, I know that even an infrequently updated blog can do wonders in organic local serps, but if the business wants to be more consistent in their efforts, what strategy would you fellows recommend in a situation such as I’ve described?


  • Matt McGee

    Thx for the Q&A, David — that was a lot of fun. 🙂

    @Miriam — shhhhhh. That’s exactly what I’d recommend. But don’t tell everyone about it. 🙂

  • One of my real estate clients, Julie Gardner, has been wildly successful with Matt’s hyperlocal blogging strategy. Her blog is a mix of local real estate AND community events. She writes once a week and has expanded her email list to several hundred brokers and community members. I think it’s an absolutely terrific area to focus on, but like everything else, takes dedication to stick to a regular posting schedule :D.

  • What would you pay a blogger to do that if the business owner can’t blog himself/herself?

  • Haha, Matt…I see. I see.

    David – that is really cool. Congratulations to your client!

    Gab – You might want to check out the copywriting page on our site if you’re thinking of starting to offer this kind of service yourself. This will sound self-serving, but I honestly can’t think of a better investment for a local business to make, if the owner doesn’t like/doesn’t have time to do the writing. Hire a blogger to do the consistent, local blogging for you. If you check our our page, you can see what we’re charging for this service and it might help you think of what to charge, yourself.

    My advice on this – don’t charge too little. This is a service of high value. It takes a lot of work to do the research to make what you write relevant, compelling, etc.

    I do think the very best thing is when the siteowner is the blogger, but a ghostblogger with passion for the subject is a very close second best.


  • Gab, thanks for stopping by. I would definitely defer to Miriam as to how the process would work and how much it should cost, but I would guess somewhere in the range of $50 – $100 per article. I think Miriam is right that it is a great investment, particularly coming from someone who understands SEO, the tone a blog should take, and what kind of content will lead to buzz and links.

  • Great interview! And I really loved the answer to the next Big Thing: hyperlocal blogging.