In-house Spotlight: Duane Forrester, SEO with Sports Direct Inc.

This week’s spotlight is on Duane Forrester with Sports Direct Inc., a leading sports media content publisher. Duane is quite visible in the search industry, also serving as a moderator for, is a SEMPO board member, writes for Search Engine Watch and speaks at conferences. He’s a solo-in-house SEO that has grown traffic and has created synergy with IT and product management.

This is one of my favorite interviews yet, as Duane offers up great advice for things that you can apply today to improve relationships within your organization. So read up, and then take someone out for coffee.

Duane’s Advice for Talking to IT: Look beyond your own lingo. It’s always a challenge when dealing with IT. Face-to-face you talk, everyone seems on the same page, but somehow things morph between that conversation and launch. You need to understand that the SEO world’s lingo isn’t the same vocabulary used by your IT department. As an in-house SEO, you need to learn your IT’s lingo in order to communicate properly, and understand that it can be different company-to-company. Consider it the difference between UK English, American English and Australian English. We do all speak English, but many words and phrases have completely different meanings.

Duane’s Signature Tactic for Relationship building: “Over-coffees.” Building relationships can be tough at the office, where there are high demands, lots of people and a busy environment. Duane takes people out for “over-coffees”, it’s a quick coffee during the day that pulls the person outside of the office setting. These $2 cups of coffee have dividends that are probably ten thousand-fold. By taking someone out for coffee you’ve given them a gift, reduced some of their stress for a bit and identified them as someone worth more than just a quick office chat – and you have their full attention to talk without interruptions.

On to the Q&A….

Jessica: Many companies safe-guard their in-house search marketer and prefer their SEO to have less visibility in the industry. However, you are the exact opposite: conference speaker and a SEMPO board member. How did you get your company to allow you to become so active and visible? How did you build the case and make it happen?

Duane: When I first started down this path, I was, like nearly everyone, at the bottom end of the learning curve. At the time my biggest focus was finding a useful community to participate in – a place when folks knew their stuff and were willing to share. I found that at Fast-forward several years and I’m a mod there. Since I became a mod at SEF, I’ve been able to demonstrate to my company the value of my network. When we faced challenges beyond my scope, I simply said, “Let me reach out to my network and see what comes back on that one.” No one person can know it all, and a few wins brought forth from my network led to me being able to easily slide into a more visible space within the industry. It’s still the same deal – my networking pays off through contacts who can share things we need to know. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true.

Fortunately, my immediate report is a big fan of personal growth, too. He’s keen on seeing his staff grow. While anyone can make the pitch to grow a useful network – and that alone should seal the deal – it really helps when your boss understands the value of growth to you. They might not pay me more, but allowing me the opportunity to grow within this industry benefits us both, and I’m grateful.

Jessica: We know that in-house, relationship building is vital. You’ve nailed it down to two untraditional meetings that work extremely well: “over-coffees” and the occasional “gabfest”. Tell us what they are, how you use them to build rapport and to slip in what you need to happen for search marketing.

Duane: With select individuals, I simply splash out some cash and treat for coffees. Everyone likes to be taken for a coffee now and again. It’s a personal touch that also pays dividends in ‘forced focus’ for you. Let’s face it, when someone is busy at their desk, they might be looking at you, but are they really giving you 100%? Doubtful. Take them to Starbucks for a quick coffee, though, and they’re yours for the drive there, the wait in line, the drive back and the few brief moments of relaxation you’ve afforded them. Do this a couple of times with key people and when you arrive to ask for help, you’ll see the warm & fuzzies on them.

Another opportunity to watch for is somewhat harder to nail down. It’s still a relationship building item, but it might not lead anywhere near any topics you need covered. But, just shutting up and listening when someone talks is a pretty powerful tool. Sure, it might mean 20 minutes of your day to listening to someone else’s challenges or thoughts, but do it a few times and people naturally form a relationship with you. If you’re polite enough o listen, and offer decent advice from time to time, they will make time for you.

If you’ve really got to have someone’s attention for a while, buy them a lunch. Doesn’t have to be fancy, but taking the time to devote a meal with someone shows a desire to invent in a relationship. It might sound sappy and psychological, but relationship building is like that. Get to know someone, find out what they like/dislike, and press the buttons accordingly.

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4 thoughts on “In-house Spotlight: Duane Forrester, SEO with Sports Direct Inc.

  1. Enjoyed meeting you, too! I also really liked Duane’s interview. I met him at SES Chicago 2006 and thought he was terrific. I love the over-coffee ideas… in Jacksonville, it’s 98 degrees, so it will have to be over-smoothies though, lol.