We received the chance to pick the brain of SocialSEO Founder/CEO Greg Walthour — a pioneer of the search engine optimization industry and the man behind one of the top SEO companies in the nation.
You started out as a commercial real estate broker. What caused your career to take a 180?
I’m originally from Atlanta and moved to Colorado to become a commercial real estate broker. My boss asked me to help get our website listed in Yahoo. I said I knew nothing about search engines but that I was happy to look into it.
After helping them rank higher, I realized I should be doing SEO. So, I leaped and started my own company in the late '90s. I was probably a little ahead of my time because business was a little slow until 2005-2008. That’s when organic SEO started to take hold and business owners were starting to hear that if they wanted to be found in search engines, they needed to hire someone.
The Yellow Pages dying and the internet coming alive were the perfect storm. And then, Google came along, and here we are now.
You’re a pioneer in SEO. What’s kept you in the industry for more than 20 years?
I think SEO is exciting because it’s never the same. The algorithms of search engines change over two times per day. Sometimes Google will report that they have 500 to 600 algorithm changes per year.
What allowed you to be number one on Google last year can be very different from what gets you on top of Google today. What’s made it exciting for me is being able to help businesses. It’s amazing to go into someone’s website, look underneath the hood, and make changes that have a gigantic impact on their business.
What are some of the most common SEO mistakes and misconceptions you encounter with clients?
A common misconception is that you can change your website overnight. I think that certainly you can have impacts that can be quick, but the average website is going to take at least 4 to 6 months before you see tangible results.
The biggest danger we see is website redesigns. It’s a misconception that you can change up your website and not expect to take a dip in search rankings. There are many factors and technical aspects that have to be taken into consideration to preserve your existing rankings and traffic.
What’s the #1 takeaway you wish marketers and advertisers understood about SEO?
That SEO is a long-term investment. Some people assume you can just optimize a website and then walk away.
I often use the analogy of landscaping. If you lay down sod, water and fertilize it, it’s going to be beautiful for a few months. But if you don’t continue to water, mow, and keep the weeds out, your lawn is not going to be nearly what it once was. It’s very similar to SEO.
You have to continue to make changes and watch your traffic, trends, and bounce rates — and make sure you’re doing everything you can, on an ongoing basis, to stay ahead of your competition.
How can marketers and advertisers better apply SEO data?
By using keyword tools to understand what their customers are typing into search engines.
We have more data now than we’ve ever had. The answer is generally right underneath you if you look for it.
How do you stay current on the trends?
Being connected and having so many employees that are reading or a part of the communities like Moz, Search Engine Watch, and Search Engine Land.
We’re constantly getting training from other SEO experts around the world. And one of the biggest ways to stay current is the hands-on experience of actually working on websites.
What are some SEO developments currently impacting the industry?
One of the biggest things we’ve seen is the change of the maps listing.
About a year back, there used to be a 7 pack of listings and now that’s changed to 3 listings. So, there’s maybe 200 companies trying to get into that [local] 3 pack, and its algorithm changes pretty often.
What are your SEO predictions for 2018? And looking beyond over the next 5 to 10 years?
I think if there’s one big thing we want to pay attention to for SEO, social media, and paid search, it’s video.
We’re seeing you can’t go to the news [online] anymore and watch news without first seeing pre-roll. You’re seeing a significant amount of self-starting video on Facebook — not only with the video moving but with text-overlay and even sound as you scroll over.
We’ve always seen video be a big impact on SEO. The second largest search engine behind Google is YouTube. For websites in general, we know for a fact that video is more engaging. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then video is worth one million.
Looking back, what has been the biggest SEO development surprise for you?
It would be what didn’t happen. I always thought in the early years that it would all become paid search one day.
Social SEO is the #1 digital marketing firm in the state and has a 97% customer retention rate. How have you set the bar?
It all starts with making your employees happy and creating a culture where they want to come to work, and they’re passionate about what they do.
We believe in a strong culture, hiring the right team of winners, and making sure employees understand the single most important thing is to take care of our customers.
When our customers renew, the job security and ability of our employees to continue rising goes to the moon.
You’ve built your company to be one of the top SEO companies in the nation. What were the factors for success?
Getting some big name partners in place, for example, Dave Ramsey who is nationally syndicated, has been a big piece. And customer word of mouth has been awesome for us.
More than 95% of our business has been generated from digital marketing. People are typing in “Colorado SEO,” “Denver SEO company” or “Boulder SEO firm” and they’re finding us ranking at the top of the search engines.
We believe that pull marketing is much more valuable than push marketing, and it’s produced the leads that have allowed our business to grow.
Leads are gold. And if you can get the lead flow increasing, then you’ll continue to grow.
When most people hear social media, they don’t automatically link it to SEO. What's the importance?
What’s made social media and paid search so powerful is targeting.
Around 98% of people that come to your website will leave without giving you their email, filling out a form or calling you.
That’s 98% of prospects that have gotten away. So you can reach out to them through re-marketing through Facebook and pre-roll video on YouTube and their partners.
Describe The Springs’s entrepreneurial atmosphere.
There’s a good bit of technology here, and we’re right in the tech part of the Springs. There’s a lot of growth here. It’s definitely booming and been a great market for us to find great employees.
What’s a piece of advice you keep coming back to?
Google always says “sell fast.” I’ve always taken that to heart. If something’s not working, stop doing it.
Don’t over-invest in something that’s not going to work. That could be an employee, customer, process, product or service.
Outside the office, what’s your life like and how do you achieve work-life balance?
Life is good. I feel like getting out of the office helps me to think more about the business and work on the business verses in the business.
So I try to get to the mountains and spend time with the family and travel. Sometimes I’ll go see the Northern Lights or chase tornadoes or grizzly bears in Alaska or the eclipse in Idaho. I like nature, photography, and the outdoors.