SEO for pleasure and profit or “How I learned to stop worrying and love my life”

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Tony Banks crosses his fingers while taking the Loyal Oath

Let’s talk about me. Why not? It’s been about a year since the company I worked for — dgm UK Ltd — went t*ts up. I’m not entirely sure why it collapsed. I know it has something to do with unpaid VAT and dithering at the highest management levels, but I don’t know who to blame, if “blame” is indeed the right thing to say.

What I do know is that I started at dgm in October 2009 as “SEO Manager”, a title which even my then boss said didn’t really encompass what I did so it was amended to “Head of Search”. Life was good. I had a posh title and a life which included surfing the internet for a living and getting paid to visit people in far off lands, mainly Nottingham.

And do you know? I was rather good at it. Life was sweet. I worked with some of the nicest people I’d ever known, we all went to the pub on regular occasions, we had pizza every other Friday. After the initial shock of not being in Central London, I even grew to like Kentish Town, and getting to work every morning was a doddle: the direct train there ran past the end of my garden

Autumn became Winter. Winter became Spring. Spring became Summer. Life was great.

Then dgm went bust. Oh, it wasn’t a sudden affair. We lingered on for weeks playing online Asteroids and fending off calls from worried afilliates while people with personal agendas played financial tennis with the company’s accounts and order books, and brokered deals about tatty furniture and withering client lists and who exactly owned the overdraft. But by July 2010 dgm was no more.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve faced joblessness — four times in the past three years, I think you’ll find — but it must have been the most optimistic I’ve ever felt about it. I had real prospects of going it alone with a budding list of potential clients, some (but not all) companies I’d worked with at dgm.

Special Relationship

And then there was the biggest potential client of them all: Hilton Hotels. Gosh, was I Mr Popular? Everyone wanted to know me because I knew the people they wanted to know. Of course I don’t blame them. The sort of business I’m in is all about networking, and working closely with Hilton’s Demand Generation team meant I was a source of good links to people with influence (and contracts).

Then dgm went bust.

For a while there it looked like I was to become a proper freelance SEO consultant. I had a series of clients lined up, some ex-dgm, some not. And there were new opportunities too, following up all the leads we were making before the end came. It even seemed as if a new search agency might rise from the ashes.

Then there was Hilton.

Although Hilton was dgm’s biggest search client, it was a relationship that could never speak its name. For all the time I was with dgm, I was working on the Hilton account at least half the day, analysing pages, tweaking sites, building links, you know, all the usual geeky stuff.

Yet post-collapse I think it’s true to say that most people cosying up to me were more interested in what I could Hilton to do for them, than what we could be doing together with Hilton.

Thankfully there were honorable exceptions. Not least Hilton themselves, who seemed to bend over backwards to offer me work: they appreciated me, it seemed. Of course, this was enlightened self interest to be sure: they were getting me at a knock-down price, certainly less than the money they were paying dgm for my part-time support (and they weren’t paying dgm that much), but I felt a genuine warmth from the team and indeed everyone I encountered at Big H.

Friends for Ever

For a while I still tried to do private work for ex-dgm clients while acting as Hilton’s only in-house dedicated natural search resource. I had no idea how things would pan out after all.

But over the weeks and months the outside client list gradually diminished to the point now where the only people I do stuff for (outside Hilton) are friends. That goes down well at home when days off become “tweaking” days. Not!

Last week I took the final step when I was appointed Hilton’s Global Director for SEO. A proper job indeed.

Yes, life is sweet. I’m still Hilton’s only in-house dedicated natural search resource but that will most likely change in the coming months as demand rises.

And of course now I’m everyone’s best buddy again because they reckon that I’m the person they want to know. I can’t blame them. This business is all about relationships and networking: your friend is my friend, and such.

Difference is, I’m poacher turned gamekeeper. I’ve seen the price list. I’ve read the script.

The reason I’m making this post is to tell this story, as much to myself as anyone else. In some ways I wish I could send this back to the me that I walked out of that job at a nasty little telecoms company on principle four years ago: life just seemed to be going from bad to worse. I was applying for job after job, with little apparent success; the weather was miserable and cold, and the money was running out. I was also feeling my age, big time.

Then there was the downsizing at the online casino which saw me one week being told that I would be getting a suite of offices and a huge search team and the next hearing that I had less than a day to clear my desk.

How far away all that seems now.

But if you knew now what you didn’t then, would you know now what you know today? Isn’t uncertainty a spur to do better next time?

I guess, dear reader, what I’m really trying to say to whoever wants to listen is: never give up. No matter how bad you think things are, they CAN get better.

Now I have a marvellous, onerous task ahead. It may make writing this blog even harder; not just because my diary is filling up with appointments to visit people in far off lands, — Washington and Singapore for starters — but because with power comes responsibility: a responsibility not to put my foot in it.

That may be difficult. Not because I’m a loud mouth or because I’m stupid, but because I still think the truth is almost always the best thing. It’s just that sometimes people can’t handle the truth, no matter how nicely packaged.

So, here’s to the next 12 months and an earnest desire to be able to quote at that point the late, great Tony Banks, who said of his coveted role as Sports Minister in Tony Blair’s government …

I am still in the job — and that is as much of a surprise to me as to anyone else

Let’s hope it’s not that much of a surprise one year hence …