The weather in downtown Victoria sometimes baffles the brain. It is a cool, overcast Pacific NW morning with a warm fog that makes it feel somewhat muggy. A perfectly dreary sweater day has suddenly turned into sweaty weather and I need to move quickly. I haven’t any time to lose.
I am almost late for lunch with SEOmoz president Gillian Muessig and her husband, Scott Fishkin. Gillian and Scott are Rand Fishkin’s parents. This promises to be one of the most fun interviews this year but the persistent tourist-jam on downtown Victoria’s narrow sidewalks is slowing me down.
I rush along the Inner Harbour causeway dodging random tourists and politely ducking as I pass their cameras. By now I am gliding at a fair clip. I still have four long blocks to go and about five minutes to walk them. I pass the faux-castle Empress and the hulking pink-granite legislature buildings, blowing an obligatory kiss to the solitary statue of Queen Victoria and motor the final stretch to the restaurant at the Gatsby Mansion. I feel drenched. I am drenched Merde…
I arrive a half minute late. Gillian and Scott are gracious enough to note how oddly dank the weather is today while I wipe my brow with the Gatsby’s fine linen. They are wonderfully nice people. Having watched the rise of SEOmoz and previously met Gillian Muessig I have a feeling this story will want to write itself. Two hours of animated conversation later, I am left with several unique idea tracks to think through and a better understanding of the universal scale of efficiency management.
The interview starts as soon as we sit down. Gillian has a lot to talk about. For most of the past year, SEOmoz has been changing its business model. The company has outgrown the traditional SEO service model. Sometimes when things work well, they work too well.
Gillian starts to work her way into near-future plans but I need to interrupt her to confirm she had in fact said exactly what I thought she was saying… “Gillian… Let me get this straight, SEOmoz is, by and large, moving away from traditional SEO?”
Inarguably, SEOmoz is one of the most successful independent SEO firms. Rand Fishkin is among the best known names in SEO, as is some of the higher profile SEOmoz staff such as Rebecca Kelly, Jane Copeland and Scott Willoughby. They are considered among the best in the business. The firm commands up to $1000 per hour for what Gillian considers the most comprehensive SEO services in the world. Not only do they know they’re good, their clients do as well.
“We’re going to keep our feet in the water with several types of client but we’re going to focus most of our efforts on SEO education”, says Gillian as she starts to explain the directions the MozSquad will be taking in the future. “It’s not good teaching what you can’t do yourself.” Though SEOmoz is not getting out of the SEO services business entirely, their approach to the market and to other SEOs is evolving rapidly.
The problem with offering SEO services at such high rates is that such services rely on selling access to Rand’s time, a working reality which is simply no longer scalable. Being the man in the yellow shoes, Rand’s name attracts a lot of potential business; too much potential business. SEOmoz already serves an established client base ranging in size and scope from Fortune500s to typical small businesses. The company directs dozens of potential clients to other SEO firms each week. They haven’t actually taken new clients since June having referred hundreds of new leads to other reputable SEO firms instead. The telephone and email queries keep on coming, as do expansive opportunities for the company’s expansion.
According to Gillian, there is a lot of external interest in seeing SEOmoz expand.
“We’re seriously looking at VC and Angel money to help us grow the SEOmoz space and develop new and valuable tools, guides, services, etc… more quickly,” she said, “Many interested parties are contacting us and teaching and Rand and me just how many (astoundingly different) options are out there. We’re moving carefully and we’re grateful for all the SEOmoz members who have contacted us through blog responses and privately to help us navigate these waters.”
Anyone who has been involved with SEOmoz or have subscribed as members on the SEOmoz website already knows a bit about the webamorphosis the firm is undertaking. A visit to their website reveals an expansive array of free information, charts, stats and tools but an even richer set of essential SEO tools, articles, industry connections, and other information can be found behind the paid-subscriber curtain.
This week, SEOmoz is announcing the launch of its Premium Member Discount Program. “We have developed more than a dozen relationships with SEO service and product providers to bring some significant discounts to our Premium Members,” said Gillian. “SEOmoz is adding, and improving the services/offerings to Premium Members. In the very short term future, we’ll have discounts to offer on a number of SEO services, including analytics, conferences, and other SEO to-the-trade service providers.”
One of the more interesting and immediate offers made to SEOmoz premium members are discounts on SMX events. An informal marking arrangement between Danny Sullivan’s Third Door Media and SEOmoz has each firm promoting the other through publicity and discounts. A link from the Third Door Media site provides a discount for premium membership at SEOmoz. Gillian wants to stress that no formal agreement or partnership has been struck quoting Danny saying, “Let’s date before we think about having babies.”
Another more immediate announcement is the October 1 SEOmoz SEO Training seminar being held in Seattle. The MozSquad will film each of the eight seminar modules with plans to release an 8-DVD set of training discs to be sold on the SEOmoz website. Seminar attendees will be asked to provide written permission for the use of their images, voices and questions, likely before the “obligatory party” the Mozzers plan to hold after.
In the midst of all this change, SEOmoz seems to be trying to keep their feet on the ground and in with the grassroots of the industry. Though they have moved towards a pay-for-play education and training model, Gillian emphasized, “There is and always will be a lot that is free for the taking at SEOmoz. We built our reputation on being ‘open’ and ‘transparent’, on sharing what we know and helping others in the community to grow, just as those brilliant and kind folks in SEO did for us when we started out a few years ago. Recently, we added new free SEO tools to SEOmoz. We’ll continue to add more as we also create paid service accounts for those with larger needs. We’re hoping to have “corporate” and “enterprise” focused account options available in the future. Professional SEOs, site owners, small-midsized businesses and enterprise/large businesses all have different needs. We’ll work to serve them accordingly.”
The last and likely most challenging plans Gillian told me about involve SEOmoz developing a full scale SEO certification program. Though there are currently three other major SEO certification initiatives within the industry itself and several university and college level search marketing courses, the Mozzers believe they have the right mix of attitude, information, knowledge and talent to develop a successful training component.
So what is SEOmoz now? That’s a little difficult to pin down because the company is a lot of things to a lot of people. It remains one of the hottest SEO firms on the web. It is also one of the leading sources of premium SEO content, tools and assistance. It is the home to Rand, Rebecca, Jane, Scott, Matt and a number of other well known and loved names in the industry. It’s a growing family business that is trying to grow to reflect the talents, interests and reality of the new generation of search marketers. SEOmoz is a successful business transiting to uncharted but apparently friendly waters. Like the industry it grew up in and serves, SEOmoz is a constant work in progress.
Jim Hedger is a long time search marketer and creative partner at Markland Media.