Ed Reese

The Beardbrand Way – An Interview with Eric Bandholz

We’ve been working with Beardbrand for about a year-and-a-half. During that time we’ve witnessed their explosive growth and national media attention as well as a cultural shift in how society views beards. It’s one of the most striking examples of the power of community I’ve seen in business. I sat down with Eric Bandholz to better understand how they engage with their audience, earn their trust, and operate their business—the Beardbrand way.

From the beginning, you’ve had an incredibly strong belief that Beardbrand would be successful. How were you able to stick to your guns, even when people told you it was a crazy idea?

Eric: I don’t know any other perspective but mine as an individual. I figured what I’d gone through was likely experienced by other men out there. I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew there had to be a large community of men out there who wanted to grow a beard or didn’t like shaving.

How can I help make that experience better? It really wasn’t thought of from a business standpoint first. It was thought of from my individual standpoint first, followed by connecting with professionals who want to grow facial hair. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was solving a problem, but rather looking into the root reasons for uniting our audience.

You often mention bearded persecution in the workplace. Was that something that was present in the early days of Beardbrand?

Eric: Yeah. Before Beardbrand even existed I wrote a couple of guest articles on Business Insider in 2011 where I talked about bringing the beard back to the corporate environment and what a person has to deal with when they grow out their facial hair.

The culture has changed in the past few years (at least from my perspective) to be much more accepting of beards. Do you think that’s the case?

Eric: Yeah. Society is definitely shifting to become more tolerant of facial hair. I’d like to say we’ve had a part in helping with that transition, but we’re definitely not exclusively responsible for that. We have inspired a lot of guys to grow beards, though. I can confirm that. I don’t even know the number of emails and letters I’ve received from guys over the past three years who have been thankful for our words, our help, and our products.


One of the many letters of support Beardbrand has received over the past three years

You understand your audience very well. Does that come naturally or is it something that has improved over time? What’s your secret?

Eric: I think I have a good foundation in that I’m passionate about our products and the industry. We do our homework to make sure that we formulate the best products. From there I think it’s about engaging with our audience.

For example, I’ve read every single comment on my YouTube channel that’s been posted to any of my videos. On Reddit I’ve read every single comment and response to any posts that I’ve had. It’s not specifically going out there looking for feedback. It’s just simply being involved and immersed within the community.

I’ve gone to over a dozen beard competitions around the nation and talked with with a bunch of bearded guys. When you’re connected—when you’re in it—it’s not work. You learn by doing.

Most organizations have a hard time publishing content consistently. But between Beardbrand, Urban Beardsman, YouTube, and Reddit, you’re a prolific publisher of content. How do you do it?

Eric: For me it comes down to expressing my emotions as they come to me, usually related to some kind of talking point of the day. Like today, I was talking about an article referencing the supposedly high concentration of poop in beards. It was important to come out quickly to say that’s a crock of shit. Our article [rebutting the poop in beards theory] was posted yesterday and has already received 400 shares on Facebook, which is a good response for us. With YouTube, it’s mostly listening to the community and providing what they want to know.

From a tactical standpoint, we’ve brought on an editor. That’s helped with both the day-to-day side of things and our long-term strategy in both the type of content we create and the platforms used for distribution.

How is your communication on Reddit different?

Eric: I don’t use Reddit as a way to drive sales at all. I use Reddit to share cool content that we’ve created and to connect with the community. The moment you use Reddit to drive revenue you’ll find the complete opposite result. It’s about being authentic and sharing your passion.

How do you adapt to the quickly evolving social media landscape?

Eric: The platforms have ebbed and flowed for us over time as we’ve grown. Facebook was really good for us in the beginning. Then it became irrelevant for a long time. But lately it’s picked back up. To me it’s being able to react to the trends, measure results, and adapt quickly to get the most impact from your message.

In the year-and-a-half we’ve been working with you, we’ve received very little pushback to our recommendations (perhaps more than any other client). Is that part of a strategy or are you trustworthy by nature?

Eric: Our company is built on trust as one of our pillars. So, we work with vendors that we trust. There is no point in paying a vendor to do something if we thought we could do a better job in-house. If a vendor says we should do something, then we do it. If we think a recommendation is not appropriate, we’ll take the time to help educate them on why it won’t work for us.

We trust the people we work with. We also know that there’s a lot to be lost in moving slow. So I’d rather occasionally get things wrong and move quickly to fix them than move slowly and miss an opportunity.

You’ve put the brakes on us before when we’ve recommended online conversion tactics we’ve seen work well for other clients. Is that (not being too salesy) an important part of establishing trust with your audience?

Eric: Yeah. I mean, it’s a tough line. Ultimately we are a business and want to use our growth to spread the message and change the way society views urban beardsman.

In your opinion, are there online sales tactics that break that trust?

Eric: From my perspective as an online consumer (and as Beardbrand’s #1 avatar), I don’t like pop-ups when I go to a website. It tells me something. It tells me they’re desperate, lack confidence, and are willing to needle and beg me to make a purchase. I’d rather buy from companies who are confident in their products and don’t need to beg.

That’s the strategy we’ve had from the beginning. It’s tough, though. I want to make sure we’re dong the best, but it’s a long-term play. We plan on being in this business for a very long time. We don’t plan on doing this for a couple of years, make a quick buck, and ride around on yachts all day.

How important is customer service in maintaining that trust?

Eric: That’s really important to us. We know that anyone can go to Amazon.com and get something that’s going to be cheaper than our products. Where they can’t beat us is our ability to educate the audience, help them beyond the product purchase, and really provide a first-rate customer service experience. We’re always working to improve and I think we’re getting better all the time. Everyday we get photos from guys that are growing their beards to let us know about their journey. For us, customer service isn’t just about making sure the product gets there on time. It’s about getting to know our customers better, too.

The Beardbrand team sitting together not thinking about riding around in yachts all day

The Beardbrand team is not interested riding around in yachts all day

Beardbrand has been featured in the New York Times, Men’s Journal, Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, and many others. How have you gotten so many bucket-list PR opportunities in such a short period of time?

Eric: We definitely invest in PR. We work with a firm called Pistol PR that has helped with a lot of those connections. But it also goes back to my personal style of trying to build relationships and never burn bridges.

For instance, the Fast Company article started when I did an interview with an intern at the Wall Street Journal for a little project I was working on called Bingle back in 2009. I maintained that relationship over the years. I was able to connect with Rob Brunner when my contact took a job at Fast Company because of that relationship.

There are stories like that where, as you get older, and grow your network, opportunities present themselves. Like I said, we invest a lot in PR. Some months you get a lot of articles, some months you don’t. But it’s part of a systematic process for us. It’s another example of a long-term play.

Of course we can’t have a Beardbrand interview without at least one Shark Tank question. Your “Ultimate Shark Tank Guide” on Reddit is, well, the ultimate guide to Shark Tank. Can you summarize why you went through the time-consuming process to appear on the show?

Eric: Shark Tank, for us, wasn’t necessarily a solution to take us to the next level. We were going to get there, with or without Shark Tank. But the risk was that another competitor was going to get on Shark Tank first and get that national exposure and awareness.

We obviously knew it was a great opportunity to share what we were building in front of millions of people as well as gain access to very successful, talented and knowledgeable investors. It was a really good opportunity from that standpoint. But we never wanted to ride on the coattails of Shark Tank and have that be the reason for our success. We wanted it to be one of the things that helped us get there.

Anything you’d like to add in closing?

Eric: I think the thing that I’d like to point out is that this isn’t an easy flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. It’s been very purposeful and meticulous work with a lot of time and resources behind it to get where we are today. It’s absolutely been a journey of labor and of love. I’d also like to say that success comes from simply being a member of your community. Imagine going to a bakery and getting to know your local baker. Think of the special items your local baker will create for you over the years and the feeling that relationship creates. We want to do that on a national level with our customers and our products. That’s our goal: to be part of a community and connect with them as best we can on a personal level.


Ed Reese

Why Content Measurement is Important

I’ll be teaching a six week in-depth analytics course starting next week, so I thought it would be a good idea to go over a few of the topics we’ll be covering in the class to give a little preview as well as provide some good tips for our blog readers. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at the importance of measuring content.

For the past few years there has been a lot of talk about content strategy and optimization. This is good! For the longest time, we online marketing folks were way too focused on generating junk to get a bunch of crappy inbound links to try to rank better. Google’s recent updates of Panda, Penguin, and now Hummingbird pretty much said bye-bye to this type of content in favor or unique, high-quality content focused on the needs of users. “Nice!”

So What is Good Content?

While the definition of good content is somewhat subjective, thankfully it’s something that can be identified and measured. For the purposes of this post we’ll be defining “good content” as original content that benefits both visitors AND the company’s business goals. But even this definition can be tricky.

We see a lot of companies that view this as a chance to overtly sell their products or services. Others tend to provide a wealth of factual information so that visitors are more likely to make a purchase. Every website is unique: there is no magic formula when it comes to content. But the sooner you get busy understanding your audience and finding out what they crave, the sooner your business will benefit.

Start with the Big Picture


Let’s take a look at my wife’s nonprofit, Bloom Spokane, to examine the peaks and valleys of their historic traffic. In their case, these rises and falls are very much tied to their blogging efforts. As a nonprofit, they do not advertise at all. Blogging / outreach is their primary driver of traffic. We see that they had a big spike tied to an awesome blog post that went viral in early 2011 and had sustained growth the following year. Excellent!  But then what happened. We have a drop and a very flat traffic period for the next year. Let’s take a look…

Analyze Content Demand


I set up a segment to take a look at their top all-time blog posts. They have a lot of good informational posts, but their top two are either edgy / controversial or humorous. The Bloom blog does an amazing job of providing valuable information to expectant mothers, but maybe their audience wants more humor or possibly a more diverse selection of content. But, looking at the last 18 months of blog posts, there hasn’t been anymore break-out blog posts in terms of popularity.

What should they do? In their case, I would not recommend radical change, but a good idea would be to examine what their readers want. I’d recommend continuing to look at their analytics, as well as performing periodic surveys to learn exactly what their audience wants from the site. They definitely have their bases covered in terms of informational content. I would suggest adding more emotionally-driven content that visitors really connect with, in combination with the current informative posts.

Learn What Content Influences

Next, we look at what the content causes the audience to do next. Did they sign up for a class via the form? Did they visit a desired area of the website? In Bloom’s case, one of their main goals is to drive visitors to their provider page. These are professionals who list their services and advertise on the website. With Google Analytics, we are able to see where these blog visitors went next. Awesome!


We see that blog posts have driven 6,628 visits to the Bloom Provider Directory. Sweet! Also it is interesting that my humor-ish post, which was the #2 blog post in terms of overall visits, has fallen to 5th for driving visits to the provider directory. Also, the two very popular articles on whether or not to perform a circumcision are not even in the top ten when it comes to driving people to the provider directory. This is not a problem. It’s just something to consider each and every time you publish content.

Have Content-Related Goals

Most of the companies I talk with about content tracking do not have (what I would define as) goals. Their most common goal is to publish on a consistent basis, which is a good place to start. That said, I will be pushing people to define content-specific goals and dashboards to help define content strategy, measure effectiveness, and really help their business thrive.

In my blog post for Bloom Spokane, I used the quote below from Shane Falco aka Keanu Reeves to illustrate what I think advice from  husbands to their wives during labor would be like. Though far from an apples-to-apples comparison, I think it applies to writing as well. Blogging is harrrrd. Writing good content is harrrrd. But it’s worth the effort. Don’t worry. We’ll help make the tracking of it easy for you… with a little help from Keanu.

I hope this has been helpful in understanding the importance of tracking the killer content you’re producing. If you’d like to dive deeper into the analytics side of life, take a look at our upcoming analytics class series.



Ed Reese

United Airlines Responds to Dave Carroll

Yesterday I wrote a post re-capping Jason Murphy’s great SEOmoz post that offered ideas to United Airlines regarding how to respond to the Internet smash United Breaks Guitars from Dave Carroll. As it illustrated, United actually has a phenomenal opportunity to show a captive audience of how they can “make things right.”

United’s response: Donate $3,000 to a nonprofit on Dave’s behalf.

My response: Really? Three grand? That’s it?

Really? Three grand. You REALLY need to be featured on SNL’s Really ?!? with Seth & Amy. You have an audience of millions awaiting your response and this is the best you can do? “Wow.” Talk about underwhelming.

You see, if this were a private issue I would call it an appropriate response. You broke a $3,500 Taylor guitar, cost Dave Carroll $1,200 in repairs plus countless hours chasing down a response. $3,000 would be absolutely appropriate if nobody else knew about it. But they do. You blew an incredible opportunity to save face here.

In fact, in just one day United Breaks Guitars jumped from the 4th to 3rd on page one of Google and added two new references to the story. It was also viewed on YouTube over 300,000 times yesterday alone. Check out the rest of a page one search for United Airlines. Half of page one is of the story. Here’s a look at a few:

United Breaks Guitars

So who are the winners and losers in all this?

Dave Carroll & The Sons of Maxwell
It’s nearly impossible to put a value on this degree of exposure for a band other than to say this is a life-changing event that will impact their lives for the better. I wonder how many other people like me just bought their album. Dave Carroll is my new personal hero. Look for them to gain a huge crossover following.

Taylor Guitars – Taylor is so brilliant. They didn’t even have anything to do with all this mess. But they’re savvy enough to know a great marketing opportunity when they see one. They set up Dave Carroll and company with sweet Taylor gear and are going to get some great mileage out of this. Talk about a low cost relative to the amount of positive exposure this will generate. Nice work, Taylor. (As a proud owner of a Taylor guitar, I can tell you their guitars are awesome.)

United Airlines – Sorry guys. You blew it. Sure, you gave a few bucks to charity and got a positive response from Dave about it. But this is a very public black eye that $3,000 won’t fix anytime soon.

SEOmoz and Jason Murphy – SEOmoz for recognizing how great Jason’s post was and promoting it to the main page and Jason for adding a new perspective regarding reputation management strategies. Thanks!


Ed Reese

New Reputation Management Strategies

I’m finishing up a reputation management project and thought this would be a good opportunity to explain online reputation management in simple terms, include an entertaining example, and direct you to more resources.

In the simplest of terms, online reputation management is the process of creating new web pages that rank higher than the pages containing the bad stuff for your name, product name(s), and/or important keywords. Create enough high ranking & relevant content from enough sources and in time your reputation is clean. Ideally, it’s pushed down to page 3, 4, and lower, but page one is the first big goal.

I hadn’t given much thought to embracing poor reviews until I read this SEOmoz post about reputation management. It was written by Las Vegas Reputation Management & Social Media Consultant Jason Murphy. He gives United Airlines some brilliant ways to respond to the wild popularity (and incredibly awesome) United Breaks Guitars YouTube video from David Carroll. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video. Oh yeah, it’s also the 4th listing on page one of Google for “United Airlines.” Tell me this didn’t get their attention.

Well, according to the LA Times, it looks as though they are contacting Dave Carroll to “make things right.” I’m curious to see if they’ll take any of the steps outlined by Jason in his post. Rather than re-cap his ideas, check out the complete post to see some very creative ways to handle a big reputation management challenge.

In addition to Jason’s post, I recommend reading related posts from SEOmoz, Distilled, Matt McGee, and Bruce Clay.


Ed Reese

ESPN Pulls Link to UConn/Syracuse Game

Media companies are funny.

They want the traffic from social media sources, and offer up embedded links to their videos and content in hopes that it creates a viral following. That is, until they get something that is insanely popular.

Then, they throw a temper tantrum and yell, “Mine, mine, mine!”

That’s what ESPN just pulled with their own video recap of the UConn vs Syracuse 6 OT game in the Big East Tournament. I watched the video this morning, and noticed they provided an embedded link in the video and posted it to my web site (giving full credit to ESPN as well as an additional link to the full story).

Now the video is pulled due to the popularity of the clip. Sure, you can still get it at ESPN, but they radically changed their sharing policy once they realized it was a good clip.

Lame, lame, lame!

Not that ESPN cares about what I think about their sharing policy, but it’s just not a good practice. If they genuinely want to engage in social media and have people participate in the conversation they need to keep a consistent policy and go with it.

My 2 cents.

Rant over.


Ed Reese

The Madness Starts Early – UConn vs. Syracuse

College basketball is about to trump all things search for a little while. March Madness started early this year in my book courtesy of a six overtime game between UConn and Syracuse in the Big East Tournament. Yeah, you heard me right, six overtimes. Check out the highlights. It’ pretty freakin’ amazing! Here are a few of the details from this epic battle that lasted until nearly 2am this morning:

  • Eight players fouled out
  • The game lasted 3 hours, 46 minutes
  • They had a combined score of 244 points
  • Seven overtimes is the record for college basketball (Cincinnati vs Bradley in 1981)
  • The game was 1/10 of a second from being over at the end of regulation

Check out the highlights above or read the details on ESPN. It’s just the beginning of March Madness, baby! Man, I don’t see how Syracuse can have any legs left to play West Virginia tonight.

Oh yeah, I should also let you know that I’ll be “working from home” next Thursday and Friday from an undisclosed location in a secret bunker loaded with flatscreens. I love this time of year!


Ed Reese

Search Marketing & American Idol

How will your marketing campaigns be judged in 2009?

Yep, the economy is bad.  There is no way to sugarcoat it.  Sure, it has impacted some industries and areas more than others.  But even if it hasn’t caused a serious downturn in your market, geographic area, or your business in particular, I’d argue that fiscal caution reigns supreme at the moment.

But what does that have to do with American Idol?

Every marketing spend out there is currently being judged by the corporate version of American Idol’s Randy Jackson (as VP of Business Development) , Simon Cowel (CEO/CFO), and Paula Abdul (VP of Marketing) and new exec Kara DioGuardia (VP of Technology).  Think of this audience.  They are in your meetings.  They decide whether you live or die (at least from a project standpoint).  In a good economy, Randy (Biz Dev) is given enough rope to risk new products and experiment with new business channels.  “Yo Dawwg, I’m gonna roll with your new Facebook-but-for-lawyers-website-thing.  It could be HUUUGE!” Paula (Marketing) can argue that a new emotionally charged TV campaign will have a big impact. “Honey, it’ll be great.  Soccer Moms all over the country will be calling in to sign-up. “Kara (Technology) will be allowed to pursue the latest and greatest tech solution to save the day.  That’s all fine and dandy in a good economy.  Yes, it’s still evaluated and put to discussion.  But it’s not quite as tough.  In a bad economy, people want a sure thing.  And the final (and sometimes only) vote goes to Simon (CEO/CFO). ÂAnd guess what’s he going to look at?  Yep, the ROI. What would Simon say about your marketing campaign?

Hopefully, he wouldn’t be this harsh

Search Engine Marketing (both SEO & PPC) Continue to Provide ROI

Fortunately, for search engine marketers, ROI can be easy calculate for the Simon’s of the business world.  In fact, a recent article from Enquiro discusses how search engine marketing (primarily from Google’s perspective) is still growing despite poor market conditions.  Here’s an excerpt:

Despite one of the worst economic years in recent memory, Google showed 23% growth in revenues. During the same time period every other economic metric went into free fall. Consumer confidence plunged to its lowest levels ever. Retails sales and online sales both hit the skids. Let’s not even talk about home sales. The Dow Jones is down 40% in the past year. The economy didn’t just slow down. It screeched to a halt. But in this same time, search kept plugging through without a hiccup. Did the astronomical growth continue? No, but 23% is pretty damn good in anyone’s books.

The article then went on to say:

So, when we hit bottom and start climbing out of this economic black hole, Search will have consolidated its position as the most accountable of marketing channels. It will form the basis of a new marketing model: consumer driven, immediate, measurable, effective, interactive.

Search Engine Marketing is consumer driven, measurable, & effective.

A completely non-scientific inquiry search engine marketing professionals (myself and people I know and trust in the industry) has shown that we are busier than we have ever been. A big part is due to our unique ability to prove that we are improving business for our clients.  It’s not a gut-check.  It’s not a demographic guide that says we likely reached 17% of our target audience.  It’s detailed analytics showing how we provide value and increase revenue.  In addition to the obvious, we are also able to make insightful recommendations to help aspects of your business we aren’t even managing.  But don’t take my (somewhat un-objective) word for it:

Marketing Sherpa’s Recent Internet Marketing ROI Survey

Web Pro News’ Top Internet Marketing Strategies

Search Engine Optimization came in first place with 36% of respondents indicating SEO was likely to be the most important online advertising channel. Blogging came a close second at 33% and Pay per Click (PPC) advertising came third with 26%. These three marketing channels, which are the mainstay services offered by search marketing firms, tend to offer the strongest returns on monies invested by the advertiser.

And to give you an idea of the wide variety of options on the table, nearly 500 marketing professionals were polled last November by public relations expert Lee Odden about the Internet marketing strategies and tactics they would be employing in the next six months.  Their responses are quite interesting.

All of this data helps me remain confident in my belief that search engine marketing (SEO & PPC) will make it out of Hollywood week and continue its trek to the finals despite the worst economy in decades. Oh yeah, when we win you (our clients) win, too.  That’s why we’re in business in the first place.


Ed Reese

Tine Reese Design Case Study

It’s human nature to try to appear bigger and stronger than we really are. It’s served us well for thousands of years. In ancient times we would thump our chests, wear huge plates of armor, and give the appearance of size and strength. It intimidated our enemies, kept fights and battles from starting in the first place, and ultimately, kept us alive. Today, many small businesses take that same chest-puffing approach to gaining clients and growning their business.

I’m here to tell you it’s a big mistake.

It’s the wrong thing to do for a number of reasons. However, for the purpose of this post I’m going to relate it to the Local Search side of Sears in a case study about Tine Reese Graphic Design.

Tell your prospective clients exactly what you offer.

Tine (pronounced “Teen,” short for Christine) only wants to work 2-3 days/week at the moment. The rest of her time is dedicated primarily to her family (son, dog, cat, and husband, plus prepping kiddo 2.0 that’s due in early March). She doesn’t want to pretend she’s a big design agency and quite honestly doesn’t want the stress of one. She’s a part-time freelance graphic designer with a passion for arts organizations and non-profits. Talk about a niche market! By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m the husband in question listed just after the cat and dog (hey, at least I’m in the top 5).

So why does she need search engine optimization, anyway?

Too many small businesses think they need huge leaps in search traffic. While this may be important to some businesses, most small businesses should really focus on getting the right traffic. In Tine’s case, because her desired niche has such a small search volume in the Spokane area, she needs to have a laser focus to ensure that any local arts organizations or non-profits can find her online and view her portfolio.

The importance of relevance.

From a local search standpoint I made sure that her descriptions and categories were consistant, descriptive, and accurate in her Google Local Business Center (GLBC) as well as the many web citations I created. Many small businesses don’t take the time to add a complete description in the GLBC and local directories. And even if they do, many are listed under inaccurate or non-relevant categories. Don’t let this happen to you!

Tell it like it is – SEO

Her web site is very graphics driven with little text, so my options were a bit limited in terms of on-page optimization possibilities. I chose to focus on the term “freelance graphic designer.” While it has a much lower keyword search volume than “graphic design,” or “web site design” it much more accurately describes the search for an individual graphic designer. I also focused on the type of work she wants; web design, print, logo design, and invitations. Again, relevance was given much higher priority than search volume.

Tell it like it is – About/Description

She wanted her web site to primarily serve as an online home for her portfolio. However, I think she did a great job with the about page that really connects with her desired audience (I had nothing to do with this).

“Tine Reese is an experienced and passionate graphic designer who understands the communication challenges faced by nonprofits, foundations, arts organizations and small businesses. With a knack for simplifying complex ideas and conveying messages clearly and elegantly, she creates targeted communications that consider a client’s organizational objectives and, most importantly, budget.

Over the last 14 years Tine has worked at design studios in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco and co-founded a highly successful marketing communications firm whose clients include many of the most outstanding nonprofit organizations in California.”

I’m pretty confident that if a local non-profit, small business on a budget, or arts organization found her web site online that she’s going to get some serious consideration. Conversely, a big corporate entity would easily know that hiring her is probably not the right fit.

So what are the results?

Her web site hasn’t even been live a month yet and I’m already quite pleased with the search results. Here’s a list of Local Search results for her in the Spokane area:

freelance graphic design spokane
freelance design spokane

freelance print designer

But a couple of things just blew me away. The first was gaining an authoritative one box for the term “freelance graphic designer Spokane.”

I seriously doubt this will stay there very long (especially after this post). Another big surprise this early in the game was ranking 2nd overall in Google Maps for the term “freelance logo designer.” These results are certainly nice from an SEO standpoint (especially this early in a project) but the real results come from gaining new accounts. On that front, I’m happy to report that she has three new clients since her web site has launched and is really excited about the work. I honestly can’t take much of the credit, though. Her portfolio is awesome! That’s what really gets the work. Some people think that SEO’s have some secret sauce (I heard this from a client in a meeting last week) for success. We don’t. But we can expose your business to as many of the right people searching for your product or service as possible. The rest is up to you.


Ed Reese

Hotbed Media Case Study

Hotbed’s Marketing Objective: Get found on the search engines and still be cool.

Hotbed didn’t want to sacrifice look and feel for the sake of SEO. Do you really want your website found if it looks bad? In the agency world, that’s the kiss of death. I knew it had to retain the vibe of their old website. In addition to being found via the search engines, Hotbed wanted to keep viewers on their website longer, so they could view more videos. They had a lot of great content and just waiting to be discovered. My goals were to generate a massive increase in traffic and keep them there.

The Process: Switch from Flash to HTML and write logical, strategic, edgy copy.

A big reason Hotbed didn’t rank well was due to Flash. Their Flash websight was designed in 2002 with no emphasis on search engine optimization. This is pretty common in creative fields. While there are work-arounds available for Flash websites, Stokes opted for a re-design in straight HTML. This allowed us the flexibility to examine each milestone to make sure that it captured the Hotbed vibe, worked well for users, and ranked well with the search engines. We performed extensive keyword research to discover the words and phrases Hotbed wanted to rank well for within their industry. Stokes has a very creative, cutting edge writing style that I didn’t want to dilute. So I didn’t. I made keyword suggestions, but let his writing roam free. We then optimized keyword phrases for titles, descriptions, sub-page titles, images, and videos based on our research. We also optimized their videos for video search.

The Results: Hot, Hotter, Hottest.

Hotbed’s first job as a direct result of search engine optimization came just weeks after the new website was launched. A producer at an advertising agency in Phoenix typed “commercial film production” in a Google search, saw Hotbed listed second on page one of Google, asked for a reel, and hired them two weeks later to produce a six figure commercial project. Not a bad return on investment. That’s what it’s all about; getting found by potential customers, connecting with them, and generating revenue. But, it’s also important to look at the data. Especially when it’s this smokin’ hot. Here’s a quick glance at their Google organic results. I started the project on August 10th. The number of organic searches that led to Hotbed in July of 2007 was 75. By February it was over 500.

Keyword + Location Rankings
San Francisco CA Film Production
Film Production Company San Francisco
Film Companies San Francisco CA
Production Company San Francisco

It’s important to note that not only did the number of relevant keywords used to find www.hotbed.com increased dramatically, but a number of other metrics improved as well. Relevant traffic, because it generates the right traffic (read: your target audience), also increased time on site, page views and lowered the bounce rate. It’s important to look beyond the general traffic increases, however, to determine if your audience is being reached. By cross referencing your organic keyword traffic with your existng relevant keyword list (which should be a fluid and ever growing list based on your audience search terms) you can determine your relevant keyword search data. Here is the increase May 2008 vs. May 2007

Time on site increase: 385%
Pages per visit increase: 250%
Organic search increase: 685%
Relevant keyword search increase: 1,248%


Ed Reese

The Value of Internet Yellow Pages

I originally posted this article to Mihmorandum: The Small Business Web Design + Local SEO Blog by Local Search Guru David Mihm. I met David at SMX Advanced this Summer and talked with him briefly about some very curious data that I believed was being driven by status changes in my SuperPages account. I saw him again at The SEOmoz Expert Seminar in Seattle and talked about it in detail. He thought my data was interesting enough to warrant an article and gave it a platform on his blog. This is a re-post of that article. David wrote a reaction to my analysis the following week.

Fluctuating SERPs: The Reason for My Curiosity

In late 2007/early 2008 I noticed something very interesting. When I upgraded our free Superpages listing to a featured listing, our organic traffic immediately increased for nearly all of our desired keywords + location. We ranked on page one in organic search as well as in the blended, 10-pack results for our desired keywords + location. Then I stopped the featured listing to see what would happen (though I kept the free listing intact). Sure enough, the rankings, as well as traffic, dropped. After seeing low traffic for a while I upgraded again and the SERP’s jumped back to life.

Initial Investigations

I brought this up at the Q&A session at SMX in Santa Clara. It seemed that my featured Superpages listing was getting priority and I asked the Local Search Panel if that was the case. The consensus of the panel was that it didn’t have much effect, and that it was likely other factors causing the spikes in rank.

The person sitting next to me happened to be a reporter from Wired. The next day she published a quick blog post about my observations. Had I taken some time to think about it a bit more that day rather than rant, I might not have looked like such an idiot. However, it did start amplify the discussion. A very good take on her article can be found on Greg Sterling’s Screenwerk blog. It includes some great comments from Chris Silver Smith, Mike Blumenthal, and others. While many of the original comments to the article were negative in tone (can’t say I blame them), a few people emailed directly to say they had experienced similar results.

The Importance of Categories

I was advised to delete my Google Local Business Center categories, instead relying on Google to index and incorporate the more detailed Superpages categories and sub-categories. Within six weeks of this change, my search results for all relevant keywords + location (San Francisco) increased 40%.

My first assumption was that this was mostly category-based, as Superpages (and other IYP’s) category list is much more robust than Google’s. While I’m not sure if this is the case for all industries, only a few of GLBC’s categories are related to our industry (film and video production). In the Google Local Business Center category list, only three make sense. Meanwhile, for Superpages, the related category list is extensive.

Sharing, Caring, and Matt Cutts

A few months later I shared this tip at SMX Advanced in Seattle during the final Q&A session. I talked with several SEO’s after the show (including David Mihm) that had ideas as to why this might be happening.

On my way out the door, Matt Cutts stopped me and mentioned that Google took a look at the site after they read the article in Wired. He mentioned that it was possible my recent results were as much due to the work of their engineers as my category change. I thought it was pretty cool of him to let me know they had been working on the relevancy for Local Search. It isn’t every day that you hear that you helped influence a search algorithm (at least not for me).

(n.b. from David, Google undertook a massive adjustment in their determination of category around the time of SMX Santa Clara. Mike Blumenthal has a great write-up on this, including a quote from a Superpages resource saying, “Perhaps they only accept categorizations from partners which have taxonomic processes which they believe to be of higher quality.”)

My Experiment

I decided to test the two variables that I hypothesized were affecting Hotbed’s search results. I dropped my Superpages listing from featured to free and added my categories back to my GLBC.

My keyword + location results in both organic and blended search dropped almost immediately. My organic traffic dropped 70% in one month!

Thank God for SMX Local. Armed with this data I was determined to find out why this was happening. My citation with Superpages was still there (though no longer a featured listing). I was trying to wrap my head around the drop in rankings. Do featured listings in the IYP’s receive more link juice? Are they somehow circulated through a wider network of distribution partners? Are they somehow perceived as more relevant?

The content and discussions at SMX Local in San Francisco got me back on track. Definitely check out David Mihm’s great SMX Local recap for a summary of content.

During one of the breaks I had an opportunity to talk with a group of ten local SEO’s to figure out why I was receiving these dramatic results. What follows is are the assumptions of that group as well as continued discussions with David for this post.

  1. While Superpages is a strong, relevant, and authoritative site, it shouldn’t have that much power in determining rank.
  2. An authoritative citation shouldn’t have any more or less power at the search engines whether it’s a featured listing/citation or not.
  3. As business for Hotbed is mostly local/regional traffic, keyword + location specific searches will dominate both local and organic search traffic.

Delving Deeper

David and I took a close look at my Superpages listing. No matter how we searched for Hotbed, it always came up on page four or five of the results within Superpages. It’s a good possibility that the citation is not being indexed by Google that deep in the Superpages results.

As a featured listing, the citation is guaranteed page one visibility. The default results are generally listed in alphabetical order. So, if you happened to be Abe’s House of Video Production you’d be just fine. Hotbed Media less than fine, and Zeekâ’s Zany Film Studio would be absolutely screwed.

The Answer

I just checked the results again on Superpages and noticed that default is no longer alphabetical but standard search results. This could explain my recent increase in rank. However, many other factors are now in play that I believe are having a very positive impact on the web site ranking and overall exposure. There were many great take-a-ways from SMX Local that I have since implemented.

  1. Addition of a citation and video on eLocal Listing. Steve Espinosa from eLocalListing had a great presentation and I really wanted to try their services.
  2. Addition of BOTW local listing per David Mihm’s suggestion.
  3. Addition of MetaCafe citation and video as another authoritative citation/video source
  4. Created an account on Universal Business Listing to ease submission process.


I was relying too heavily on a single featured listing for local authority. Per Mike Blumenthal and others at the conference, addition of many authoritative citations is very important in local search. A featured listing in the IYP’s is probably a good way to kick-start your local listing. However, the same effect can be accomplished for less money with a little bit of effort. I have still not re-activated my Superpages featured listing and have seen great gains in the past several weeks.