Ten Things Search Taught Me About Running A Business

It's been about three months since I launched my new venture, Connectual. In thinking about the ups and downs I've experienced, it struck me how profoundly my tenure in search marketing prepared me for running a business.

Here are 10 things I've learned over the years in search that have helped me as a business owner.

1. The keys to success are opaque. No one -- outside the engines and, even then, I'm not sure there's any single person -- knows exactly what it takes to achieve the top paid or natural spot on the SERPs. Similarly, anyone who tells you they know exactly what you need to do to run a successful business is either lying to you or trying to sell you something, or both! Your best bet, in search and the executive chair, is to just try and do as many things right as you can.

2. Attention to detail is key. In search and in business, the smallest misstep can cause your best-laid plans to go awry. Spent months optimizing your new Web site but forgot to permanently redirect your old URLs? Queue 'N Sync for the soundtrack to your natural search listings. Spent months working on a partnership deal but innocently tweeted something negative about a product put out by your prospective partner? Mariah, do you want to take this one?



3. You're always on. Just because you're enjoying your weekend or taking vacation doesn't mean your search program or your business stops running. There's always one more thing you could be doing. Being Type-F, I've sworn off luxuries like unplugging and unwinding. The ability to live fluidly will help you succeed as a search marketer and entrepreneur alike. Besides, sleep is overrated.

4. Make your message concise, clear and compelling. In search, you have anywhere from 95 to 190 characters --- depending on if we're talking paid or natural -- to stand out from the pack and get your message across. In business, you're lucky to have that much. It's all about distilling your unique value prop down to a message so clear that your mother can easily tell her friends what your company does. Good word-of-mouth marketing is essential for any business to thrive. The only way you can hope to catch that lightning in a bottle is if the message is basic enough to play to the lowest common denominator -- no offense, Mom. A good litmus test is the Twitter Pitch. Can you describe your biz in 140 characters or less? It's not as easy as it sounds.

5. Everything (and everyone) must be held accountable. Search is one of the most measurable platforms available to marketers. As my colleagues at Resolution Media like to say, "What doesn't get measured, doesn't get done." So, too, with a start-up or small business, you have to find the right success metrics and prioritize everything accordingly and unwaveringly.

6. Don't expect to be #1 overnight. With PPC, it takes time to build quality score with the engines. With SEO, you have to continually iterate and add value to the community to achieve and sustain a top ranking. I've had to consciously remind myself to be patient and not try to accelerate my plans for hiring, raising money and developing new products. A good business plan is like a good SEM project plan, complete with time for research, post-launch benchmarking, well-defined expansion phases, and clear dependencies throughout.

7. Test, Test, Test. There are so many variables that impact performance in search, it's a sin to not test them all and test them often. When running a business, there are any number of products, features, service-offerings, partnerships, etc. that you might choose to pursue. It's important to be flexible in your approach and not rule anything out. Testing a new business idea may not be as easy as executing A/B landing pages, but the results can be just as dramatic. I'm a big fan of Google's 80/20 rule that encourages employees to spend 20% of their time on products outside their core function. Shout out to @ngawel who weighed in with this one when I put out the call to the Twitterati to help me compile this list. Make sure to follow @AaronGoldman if you want to participate in future crowdsourced columns.

8. Relevancy is king. As I wrote in my column, "Is Twitter to Facebook as Google is to Yahoo?" -- "The lesson learned from Google is not just simplicity, it's automation, crowdsourcing and, above all, relevance." To business owners, there's nothing more important than being/staying relevant to your core audience and your core offering. For example, at first, Google launching an operating system may not seem very relevant to its mission of "organizing the world's information." However, it's certainly core to its unstated mission -- and the one its shareholders are more concerned with -- of generating more search queries and making money by selling ads alongside them. For me, when I decided to start Connectual, I thought long and hard about an offering that would keep me relevant to the various constituents in the digital marketing space with whom I've spent years building relationships. Since I had strong connections on both the buyer and seller side, I decided a consulting/rep firm was the ideal model.

9. There's no such thing as free. Whether you're talking about "free traffic" from SEO or "free Web analytics tools" from Google, you have to remember that there are hard costs associated with the manpower required to implement said solutions. And there are opportunity costs that must be factored in. I touch on this in a post on my digital marketing blog -- "Dell Sells the Litter via Twitter -- But at What Cost?" When running a company, one must resist the temptation to be lured by free, unless it's related to a pricing strategy for your own products.

10. If you have a status-quo business plan and a chance to make your shareholders a lot of money presents itself -- take it. Sorry, I couldn't resist including this one courtesy of @unsavory. He is, of course, being sarcastic -- but the point resonates. Sometimes the best way to learn is by watching others fail. In the case of search, there are countless companies trying to make a buck merely repurposing search listings from the Big 3 and calling themselves the new way to search. And everyone and their mother (ok, not mine... yet) is starting companies/divisions/products/etc. related to search whether or not it's in their DNA to provide such an offering or whether or not such an offering already exists.The bottom line, in search, in business, and in life, for that matter, is to avoid chasing the money.


2 comments about "Ten Things Search Taught Me About Running A Business".
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  1. Autom Tagsa from Canadian Consulting Firm, July 15, 2009 at 10:17 a.m.

    good points raised here. with regard to #3, in today's social web, does anyone who owns/is involved in an online biz EVER really unplug for long periods? It's become the nature of the beast. Am also a huge proponent of #7. thanks for the share

  2. Matt Chansky from Momentum 18, July 15, 2009 at 1:43 p.m.

    I think this is one of the more/most insightful articles I've read in a long time. One can only hope that new business owners and certainly current business owners would endeavor to glean from the common sense wisdom and observations. I just kept nodding my head. All points were well made and relevant.

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