Gary Spagnoli of Zen Anchor Digital Headshot

Gary Spagnoli – Zen Anchor Interview

We interview Gary Spagnoli from Zen Anchor, discussing his journey to scale his fully remote agency and the challenges of winning new business.

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Gary Spagnoli is the founder and CEO of Zen Anchor Digital. Gary has provided strategy, account management, automated ad scripts, and analytics support for companies for over ten years.

Zen Anchor is a Google Partnered Meta/Facebook Partnered agency that provides profitable SEO and PPC marketing solutions for lead-generation-focused companies.




Zen Anchor Jobs:

Book Mentions:

  • Traction – Get a grip on your business – Gind Wickman
  • The E Myth Revisited – Why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it – Michael E. Gerber
  • Managing The Professional Service Firm – David H. Maister

Value Drops:

  • 4:30 – he decided to set up his digital marketing agency in 2013 as a fully remote distributed team – years before the pandemic when jobs went remote.
  • 8:20 – Winning more business by having systems and processes in place, selling, and pitching via zoom and video chat.
  • 9:53 – Scaling your business – rather than working in your business, work on your business. – Fully documenting your processes and phases of work.
  • 19:53 – Advice for new business owners on growing new businesses online.
  • 26:41 – Gary talks about his aha moments with Zen Anchor.
  • 42:05 – Gary talks about his goals for 2023 and the changes he sees for digital marketing.
  • 55:10 – What makes Zen Anchor different?
  • 57:15 – Gary talks about hiring for new roles

Show Notes:

Questions for Gary:

  1. Can you provide the listeners with some background on what Zen Anchor is?
  2. What drove you to create Zen Anchor?
  3. What are the industries that Zen Anchor caterers to?
  4. Are there any niches that the business focuses on?
  5. How much of Zen Anchor’s client base is small to mid-sized companies, and how much is enterprise level?
  6. What differentiates you from others in the space?
  7. How many members are on your team currently?
  8. When you formed your business, was it just you, or did you have a team in place?
  9. How have you grown your business while still working on it?
  10. What growing pains have you had as you scaled your business and grew your team?
  11. What advice can you give new business owners on how to grow their lead generation?
  12. What breakthrough moments can you share with our listeners?
  13. What would you do differently if you could?
  14. What are your goals for the year / down the road?

Episode # 4 Transcript

[00:01] Announcer: This is a call to all current and aspiring entrepreneurs. How you market your business can be the difference between whether or not you succeed online. But don't worry, we're here to help with current strategies, tips, and tricks that you can apply to your online business or business idea. This is The EMJ podcast with your host, Matt Hepburn.

[00:29] Matt Hepburn: Today on The EMG Podcast, we meet with Gary Spagnolia of Zen Anchor Digital and we learn about the challenges that digital marketing agencies face on scaling their business and lead generation. This is going to be a great one, guys. Hope you listen.

So, Gary, welcome to the show.

[00:46] Gary Spagnoli: Hey, thank you for having me, Matt.

[00:48] Matt Hepburn: Absolutely. For some of our listeners, they don't really know what Zen Anchor is. I was hoping that you could explain to them what the agency is and what you do. Sure.

[01:04] Gary Spagnoli: So I'm actually the founder of zen anchor digital. Zen Anchor is a Google partnered Facebook partner, now Metal partnered agency that specializes in lead generation campaigns using SEO or Paid media. We also provide email marketing and analytics support. Our team is fully remote, totally global. We've been doing this since 2015. I've been doing it for, I don't know, even before that, twelve years now. So I've been involved in the digital marketing space for twelve plus years, and our team is growing and yeah, that gives the low down of what Zen does.

[01:41] Matt Hepburn: Yeah. So just as a side note, gary and I know each other from way back when, working at Martindale Hubble together. So back in 2013. 2014. LexisNexis. So, long time. Long time. We haven't talked to each other, but let me ask you, what drove you to create Zen Anchor? Was there a passion or did it come from another project?

[02:10] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, it's like many entrepreneurs, there is a stubbornness there. And so what happens is you work within an organization and you think, I could do this better.

[02:21] Matt Hepburn: Exactly.

[02:21] Gary Spagnoli: That's what happens. But I had left in 2013. I decided I could start to freelance on my own and I would work on WordPress websites. I was a web developer or a self taught WordPress theme coder. And I would not put myself in a position of I'm not really that good of a programmer, but I was making websites. While I was making those websites, some of the clients that we worked with, my initial clients were brick and mortars in New York. I'm based in Chicago now, but in New York, the first few clients I had, one was a dental practice, another then referred me to a chiropractor. And I worked with a handful of health coaches as well, and yoga teachers that just wanted a personal website. The personal website would sometimes lead into an email campaign, literally just setting up MailChimp. And it also then evolved into, hey, can you help with some of the SEO and the pay per click now I met you, Matt, though, because I was already a Google Ads specialist contractor within LexisNexis. I bounced around in a few big agencies. I was a contractor at LexisNexis, though. So was I. Yeah, I was SEO and SEM for years before I decided to start freelancing. But then the Zen anchor story is the following. I worked as a freelancer in 2000 2014, and I traveled around the digital nomadic lifestyle that maybe other entrepreneurs that listen to this year. And by 2000 and 2014, I started hiring folks. And I had worked with other partners in the past when I was starting to get in play, like get started with my entrepreneurial journey because I didn't know what the heck I was doing. And really, it was until 2014, end of it that I made my first hire for somebody to provide support to us on the SEO side. But I was actually on the PPC side, and that hire actually came through Reddit. And at that time, I decided to no longer be just, you know, the Gary Spagnoli Show. I wanted to set up a brand, set up a name, and had a vision for what the agency would be, which would be a remote distributed team that provided all things digital marketing for clients in the health and wellness space. So I was thinking chiropractors, dentists, yoga studios, those types of things. We are no longer just focused on that. We've actually whittled down our service lines. We don't do websites any longer. We've tightened the services, and we still try to focus on just a handful of niches. But health and wellness is not the primary one any longer. The main one for us today is insurance. And weirdly, insurance occurred because of health and wellness, meaning I work with some dental practices, and that turned into opportunities with direct to consumer dental insurance, and that later turned into larger opportunities with insurance, which was a more lucrative space. And just there were larger marketing budgets in the space. So that's the story as to how Zen really got started and why I went down that path.

[05:29] Matt Hepburn: So I have to say, 2013, 2014, thinking about remote work, pretty amazing compared to most of this nomadic lifestyle, really kind of opportunities came really from COVID right? It really opened up a lot more. There weren't as many. If you were to look for SEO or SEM jobs that were remote, most of them were, you have to be on site until COVID happened for you to be thinking about that in 2014, 2013 and really saying, this is the way I want to set up the business. That's amazing.

[06:10] Gary Spagnoli: And thank you for the kind of words, Matt, the way that our business accelerated. Because at the beginning of the journey, there's highs and lows. You see your PNL going up and down. You see you bring on contractors to provide support, and then you realize you didn't have the systems in place to actually manage them. And it was a learning process over the first few years. But during COVID when COVID first began, there was a doomsday scenario for us, which was we worked with a handful of brick and mortars. And I remember this happened in March of 2020. They started shutting down a lot of the stores. And I remember there was a Monday where I lost two accounts on the same day our team lost two accounts. And I remember folks were like, it's not affecting you that negatively, right, because you're in the digital ad space. And I was like, yeah, but I'm sending leads to these chiropractic centers or to these dental practices, and they were shut down. So what happened was, you need a.

[07:25] Matt Hepburn: Place to flip those leads, right? You need to immediately find a replacement locally where you can basically say, look, I have an abundance of leads that I need to switch over because businesses are closing down.

[07:38] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, I found that these what happened was, there was this Monday where we had two accounts we lost on the same day, and they were big. They're big accounts, and it's because they had a pause. Their media spent we were spending near six figure 50 to month generating leads for multiple locations for them. And they were like, no, let's pause this for now. And we'll reallocate for when the pandemic subsides.

[08:06] Matt Hepburn: Right.

[08:07] Gary Spagnoli: And of course, the pandemic continued to get worse. And so I was really concerned. We were on the edge, but it was for us, because of the remote work systems we had in place, we actually end up winning more business because other agencies that I think grew through the relationship based wine and dining, they were not as prepared as we were in terms of selling, pitching, putting the other proposal. I've been doing video chats and video presentations for years, and all of a sudden, we were competing with fairly large agencies for decent sized accounts, and we won a couple of them. And I don't think we would have been in that position if it weren't for us already having the remote work and the operational pieces in place to sell.

[09:06] Matt Hepburn: Having been in a few of those situations with larger enterprise companies, they kind of scrambled. And we're still scrambling whether when we were going to go back physically, and we never did. And that changed the evolution of being 100% remote. Totally changed.

[09:30] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, it changed the game for a lot of folks in the digital marketing well, in the marketing space in general, because I think the more nimble, smaller agencies can adapt, and some of these larger, more bureaucratic firms.

[09:49] Matt Hepburn: Absolutely. So you mentioned scaling. So I'd love to hear how, as you were starting to grow the business, and you mentioned that you use contractors or whatever, that's always a problem of scaling a business, especially an agency. How do you work on your business versus in your business, and how do you do that? And I was wondering if you had any challenges related to that when you were first scaling up.

[10:21] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, I heard some advice early on that was related to how to run a professional services firm. And there's a few books that I read about how to structure your organization for any sort of professional services firm. So that could be accounting, legal consulting agency, whatever, people based, more so than software based. And so the first round was reading those types of books and getting some frameworks in place. And then you try to apply those frameworks. Those frameworks will give us some structure, but you have to adapt them dependent on your unique organizations needs over time. When we were scaling out, I wanted to document all of our processes so that we were able to hire junior folks that we could then train on how to properly execute within each of the business lines, the two primary lines for us, fantastic SEO and Paid media. And so we would have worked with our SEO strategist along with myself to document each of the phases of work and turn that not into just a written document, but in our case, we use Basecamp for a project management tool. Use Google Workspaces for getting those tools in place so that we'd handle some of our client communication we built out. Like, hey, here are the phases of work and how we structure them. And so today, present anchor and our SEO phases of work. As an example, we have basically six phases. We go through a discovery process, which any marketing agency or consultant should do. And we call that really phase zero. The discovery process allows us to understand what are the clients goals, what are their objectives, what do they want to accomplish, and it gives us time to review both internal and external metrics. So internal meaning, how do we evaluate the success of SEO today? External meaning what the heck are your competitors doing, and what do we see it's happening in the market? It's not limited to that. But first, go through that discovery phase. Second, keyword research phase, document every step of what it looks like to start doing the keyword research. Once we have all of the documentation from the discovery phase, keyword research phase then leads into the technical audit and the technical optimization phase. What is included there? Are we doing a screen frog scrape? Are we doing Google search console? What are the tools we use? After the technical audit, we then get into content optimization. So optimizing the existing content on the site from there, we get into content development, from there, link building. But these phases of work, we had to give ourselves just chapters of the story.

[13:29] Matt Hepburn: Sure, absolutely.

[13:31] Gary Spagnoli: Document each of the tasks and then literally record video on how to go through these processes so that other folks can help execute on it. So contractors and then you start to look at, okay, what are the software solutions here as well, that we could automate some of those pieces.

[13:51] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, that's fantastic. It's a great way to have a process for everything.

[13:57] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, I have a book recommendation related to it, too. Traction is a good book. The emth Revisited, I think is a good beginner book if you're early in the journey, I think Traction, which are you familiar with that?

[14:11] Matt Hepburn: No, I'm not sure about that one. Who's that by traction.

[14:15] Gary Spagnoli: I don't know who it's by. I don't even know if it's hanging out up here. All right, we'll find it by Wickman. W-I-C-K-M-A-N. He has documentation on internal operational processes. It's not related to my industry, my work particularly. It's applicable to any young company or startup. And he calls it the entrepreneurial operating system. To this day, I follow his Monday meeting agendas. We've been doing that for two or three years now. And it's verbatim copy and pasted from his book. So we use that framework to this day. And then I mentioned the managing and professional services firm, which I think is a Harvard Business Review book. I forget, but the original hierarchy of Zen anchor to this day is based off of literal copy and paste from that book.

[15:13] Matt Hepburn: I think that is probably the best thing they're going to get out of this podcast is really about how to make processes for their own business, how to make processes for the marketing of their business so they can scale. Right. And because as an agency without a process, it's very, very hard, especially if you're starting up as a solo entrepreneur. How do you move from getting deals to working on the deals? How do you expand? You can only make do a certain amount of deals yourself. You have to at some point hire more people to do it. And there's a common phrase of, well, I can't clone myself. Right. So how do you do that? So having processes in place that are this detailed would be how you would actually make that happen.

[16:04] Gary Spagnoli: There are platforms I would recommend, too. Like I experimented with Trainewell allows you and I'm not affiliated and also I'm not using them anymore. It allows you to document and like screenshot and annotate some of your flow. And it's really helpful structure, but that gave us guidance. But today the way we document everything is through Google Docs basecamp loom videos that we record.

[16:36] Matt Hepburn: Loom videos?

[16:38] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah. They see in the culture how things need to be executed. Because our organization, we have a team of twelve people and they're kind of working around the clock because we have team members in India, the Philippines, Africa, Europe and in the States.

[16:56] Matt Hepburn: So it's wonderful diverse. Love it. Diverse environments are really, really important for we were talking about this before we started the interview, but really give a wonderful, wonderful environment for people to feel accepted and you're more likely to have employees who stay on longer. When you have a diverse environment, when you guys are all aligned to these are the goals of the company and this is the moral compass of the company and they're natural fits for that. When you have an employee that can align to that versus somebody who comes in because they have the technical chops but they're not aligned to that, that type of employee will be gone in six to twelve months, probably of his own accord or from not being a good fit and having been kicked out.

[17:49] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, I totally agree, Matt. And I think that culture fit is critical. We have had to let go of folks in the past that weren't in alignment with the Zen anchor culture. And that is something also that you can't learn in the books until you start to hire, because you realize there are things that are slightly differentiated by individuals that help make this crew. And an example within our organization that is a cultural difference, which I don't advise every organization to do this, but we don't use Slack, I'm antislack. And the reason that we don't believe in Slack is because we have a totally distributed team. There is less real time communication and we expect longer form written content. And so when we go through the hiring process, I really like to optimize towards readers and writers and folks that have English degree or a major in literature of some sort. And it's because we focus on longer form written development, not just for SEO, but for the client internally. When you're writing up a brief, it can't be shorthanded, it needs to be as detailed as possible. And I have found that I've hired other folks from other agencies that takes some time, that takes some time to learn because they're used to jumping into the room and whiteboarding it out. And for us, we prefer written communication in some scenarios. And you might read books that don't give you that guidance.

[19:31] Matt Hepburn: No, I love it, but I also do like the diagram of whiteboard as well as to show like what are I want to have an image of what this is supposed to do at the same time where I have the written description. I think for me, I like both together.

[19:49] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, understood.

[19:51] Matt Hepburn: Yeah. So this is fantastic. They've been able to grow your team like this. Can you give some advice for new business owners or ones who are struggling maybe from the pandemic or whatever to generate new business? How would you recommend doing that while they're also scaling their employees working in the business?

[20:18] Gary Spagnoli: Sure. So there's a couple of easy levers, let me give you four that as to how I organize at Zen internally. Now, related to scale that you mentioned earlier, there are ways to scale out for sales and there's ways to scale out for fulfillment and actual ops. Internally, our organization is now more focused on the Ops and making sure that we could handle volume because luckily enough, we actually have a pretty strong sales pipeline right now. The way in which we would generate business initially, I'll give you first heard from others, probably read it online, is going to be referrals. Do good work. Do good work and don't be afraid to ask. Ask for referrals. I don't think you need to build like a full referral system and all these things. I think you just need to literally pick up the phone and ask them or send them an email, hey, do you have any other business? Don't be ashamed of that. And because if they're really happy with your work, people want to show you off.

[21:23] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, absolutely. I still have people that come to me years after managers that I used to work with who would call me up and say, hey, are you still consulting on the side? And out of the blue felt very heartfelt that they would think of me. But doing good work is important.

[21:44] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah. And we're not fully at a position yet to really evaluate things like Net, Promoter Score and MPs because we're a smaller firm. We're a firm that focuses on closer relationships. But it is something in the long term plan where you would evaluate, okay, well, how many referrals did this one up, this client, this relationship lead to? And yeah, what is our MPs with them? And we don't have to do that today. And I made the mistake of actually starting to set up some of the systems to do this. You don't need to do that if you have less than 25 clients. Just talk to them.

[22:21] Matt Hepburn: So now you're leading me to a new question though. You immediately went into like, what's retention? Like as an anchor, how long does a client usually stay? Yeah, because it's always a tricky field to play.

[22:40] Gary Spagnoli: So we try to bring on folks for twelve months long contracts, and our retention right now is about 18 months. Some of our relationships we've had for five years now, I've been working with some accounts for a very long time. If you looked at the average, it's going to be above 18 months. But our median, because we've grown since 2000 and 22,021, I would say it's about 18 right now. Now the other ways though that an organization could potentially grow is first referral. Second is going to be partnerships. So I mentioned at the top that I cut away some of our business lines. What happens is then if opportunities come up for website development, for example, we developed relationships of reliable website partners and I have three website partners today and none of them were contracted, at least initially. It was handshake deal like, hey, I'll refer business to you. And some of that has led to a financial return for us. But the most important thing is that they provide good work and make sure that we're referring a good partner that actually hits their deadlines and executes those partners though can also refer work to us. And so we actively looked for firms that don't do SEO and Pay per click or CM or social media advertising and it has led to business for us. In addition to partnerships that is more relationship based. I did also go down the route of getting like Google Premier partner, Facebook partner, active campaign partner, unbound partner you worked with SEMrush SEMrush for a moment. I don't think we're an official partner there, but I have a rep there and I thought that would be helpful, to be honest. For our organization has not led to any leads. It may have helped in the sales closing process but hasn't really led to a new business. It's just something nice to include in your sales materials. So Partners is one, the third is going to be brokers. And we had two relationships, credo and brief. We had accounts on both of them basically offer qualified leads at a paid level for digital marketing agencies. But no matter what business you're in, you can look for lead brokers. I mean we work a lot in insurance space and they work with lead brokers quite a bit. And then the fourth is of course your website itself. So your own marketing that's all the way down the pipeline in my space because it is very relationship heavy in terms of the types because I focus heavily on the insurance in the health and wellness industry. But you should be doing marketing for yourself too and so building out your site, building out your social media presence, that of course leads to leads as well. So that's kind of the four that we look at, where I look at within the organization and evaluate our lead pipeline, the sales. But of course there are other models then affiliate could be kind of over.

[25:46] Matt Hepburn: Absolutely.

[25:47] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah.

[25:48] Matt Hepburn: So that is wonderful to hear about the partnership and along with referral being at the top, which is not necessarily the norm, usually that's much lower down in the pipeline and it's more paid and SEO and directly from what the website is generating to bring in lead generation, that is phenomenal. I'm kind of stumped by that because that's just not the industry norm.

[26:29] Gary Spagnoli: That's how we grew and so, like I said, related to how we write and the cultural differences, sometimes things are a little bit different as you start to grow.

[26:38] Matt Hepburn: No, that's fantastic. What kind of breakthrough or AHA moments have you had over the five years you've had or five plus years with the business that you might have had a stumbling block and you were able to overcome it? What type of growing pains have you had that the listeners might say, oh, I can avoid this misstep?

[27:05] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, so let's get into the finance stuff for a moment.

[27:11] Matt Hepburn: Sure.

[27:11] Gary Spagnoli: So I can think of two that we'll get into the first is make sure that your revenue centers, your service lines, you are able to measure a PNL on them and see how profitable the projects are. And so what we found at the end of 2019 was the website projects and web development projects that we were working on had either smallest profit margin or was unprofitable. So it's unusual because it was actually a good share of revenue. But every website project we brought on expanded beyond scope and oftentimes it was break even. And I thought the project was ending break even at the time. But then once I had the full PNL at the end of the year from that line of how much we invoiced and then how much we had spent servicing that was associated with that business, it was much tighter and probably unwise to continue to do so. What we learned is that I was not efficient or our organization was not efficient at creating websites like others may be. And so we weren't scoping it out properly. We had worked with a lot of accounts. My experience when I first started Zen was creating websites on WordPress for, you know, two grand, five grand, ten grand. Muller, let's quickly make a website. What I found is the type of clients we were working with, they require a higher up market for you can't make a website in our industry, your pricing needs to be much higher. I was still probably pricing it based off of working with smaller, quick landing page type sites. And yeah, there were just a lot more hours, quality assurance, debugging fixing issues. There was an AHA moment after evaluating the finances. So get your revenue center and your PNL in order by individual service line. That's one thing. The second thing was making sure that the reporting within our organization was not optimized towards the metrics that may matter to the client the most. And I'll give you an example on the SEO side, what you look at is keyword rankings. You look at visibility, you look at traffic and the client. We're sending reports that show how those keywords are doing. But I started to realize what they ultimately say they want for evaluation is not always in alignment with absolutely, really make them happy. And we started to frame our services around lead generation because there are elements that are outside of our control once a lead enters the pipeline to be sold on. And so we felt as though we could have an impact on driving quality traffic and evaluating how many of those turn into leads using a baseline. So the AHA moment was really let's not just report on keyword rankings in the SEO line, for example. Let's also report on how many leads are coming in. And ultimately we want to look at how much money is coming in. But that is the one that it's.

[30:55] Matt Hepburn: Not as easy depending upon the business, but yeah, how many conversions they're getting for whatever the goal is that you're actually measuring. Right?

[31:02] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah. And on paid Media, that was more explicit. So our pay per click line, because you can measure ROAS and ROI, it's.

[31:09] Matt Hepburn: Much harder with SEO right. As to say, what is the so it's more down to what form completion was done, what action was taken, or maybe it might be, what's the last touch, or how many touches did organic actually contribute towards the amount of conversions that happened.

[31:31] Gary Spagnoli: Right, yeah. And I think the AHA so the first AHA is really measure PNL by service line. The second is ask the client how they evaluate the success of this channel. And even if they do say it's just going to be based off of traffic, I still think you need to dig a little deeper to see, like, what would make you what it's managing up to the account and what's going to help you get that promotion, what's going to impress the C suite within your organization, and what's going to get them to add this to their PowerPoint that they're presenting in their quarterly business review or whatever?

[32:11] Matt Hepburn: So I'm going to add another thing on to here, from my experience and see if it aligns here. So in enterprise and mid size businesses, what I find is that a lot of different departments within the business have different setups of subdomains and even analytic accounts, and it's really hard to track. So it's cross analytic conversions from maybe a partner website over to the main marketing website. And they haven't really thought through how they're going to measure that conversion or traffic going from one platform to another. So I'm sure a lot of these processes had to come up with in similar situations where you have that, how are you going to measure that? And you have to make recommendations to the business saying, well, how are you measuring it if you don't have a goal on this other sub domain, but you have the goal on the main marketing domain, but you're driving traffic from the marketing page over to the partner sub domain website. How are you measuring that?

[33:20] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, and I think it's really we're recording this at the beginning of the year, and I think it's really important to put together a plan with the client of, well, this is our expectation on traffic. And you do want to be conservative with it. We want to be realistic. And a lot of times entrepreneurs can get very you should be naturally optimistic if you're trying to go down this route. I think it's important to look at year over year trends, month over month trends, and how far. And that's how some of our reporting is sophisticated from the eyes of our industry. But from a C suite, the thing that they usually care the most about is, in as simple as I need.

[34:11] Matt Hepburn: To guess, quarter over quarter, year over year, how are they doing right. Are they? Yes. They want to just know if that's their PNL. Right. Are they hitting their numbers or are they below? And these goals that we've just been talking about, right? That's how they can measure that with a monetary amount associated with a goal.

[34:34] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, definitely. I think that in our space of SEO and paid me, a lot of folks sometimes miss that they're very impressed by driving a ton of traffic. We have an account that had done extraordinarily well with driving significant traffic volume, but it just wasn't really converting still. And at the C Suite level, it's irrelevant. If we were getting we went from getting like 6000 visits to 160,000 visits. Even though the volume of leads did ultimately go up, it didn't scale at the same level because we targeted two top of funnel.

[35:19] Matt Hepburn: And what you're going to get from listeners from that is a response from the C Suite saying that traffic is irrelevant because it's not converting. And they don't listen to the tactics, they don't want to know about it, but they just know that it's not converting and there's this large increase of traffic. So we have to go back and examine what we're doing with those different teams and come up with a strategy.

[35:45] Gary Spagnoli: I think within the marketing line.

[35:51] Matt Hepburn: For.

[35:51] Gary Spagnoli: Better or worse, I think the majority of C Suite cares about just three things and one of them is going to be the financial metrics. So how does this help? Help me hit my PNL or hit my goal? The second is the strategy in the short term and the third is going to be vision long term. Like where are we really headed if we're not hitting the PNL into the strategy in the short term is a little bit shaky. Is this in alignment with the long term vision on that marketing or the SEO side? Like, we're revamping the website and maybe this first round of content change and content development is causing volatility, but we have to take these risks and make these changes. And if we can communicate that with the CEO or the CMO, they will be a little bit more receptive to experimenting and testing things out. They won't necessarily care about web traffic, like you said, Mad, and I think that those things do matter. But if we're talking C suite, yeah, they want PNL.

[36:57] Matt Hepburn: So where it will matter is from my experiences, right, if the traffic is increasing quarter over quarter year over year, whatever it is, and the leads are increasing at the same time, then that's a win win. Right? But when they're not aligned, that's when they basically say we're out of alignment with them because the leads aren't increasing. So we have to go back and evaluate with those teams. But yeah, anyway, it's always a challenge, right? I'm going to ask you, what would you do if you could do everything over again? Would you do anything differently with your business, not saying any regrets, but how would you talk to your younger self and say, you really need to do this in a different way?

[37:56] Gary Spagnoli: What I would have continued to do, which I fell off from doing, is you need to continue to run. You got to continue to do some of the work, even if for yourself. And so I'm not actively running SEO for these small websites that I owned today. We're not that actively I am a part of a couple of things that we're offering our services, too. But I think that the organization you need to let go. You need to delegate. You need to manage folks. You need to document all of your processes. But I think on the side, you should be spending 5% to 10% of your time running your own little experiments. And something that I think I did wrong maybe two years after the fact is just completely let go of that. And that can hurt you when you're talking down to the tactical level. I'm trying to get better at that in 2023, meaning I'm literally running Google Ads campaigns for myself right now in some other small business. And it's not my team. It's not my team. It's me running it. And I think it's important, though, because I want to better understand the features and understand the things that we're selling and servicing and offering to other accounts at a deeper level. Another thing that maybe we may have done wrong or I may have done wrong at the beginning was you have to have the mission and you have to have your values documented, and they will evolve over time. And I've heard this from other entrepreneurs and mentors, and I didn't think it was that important, because what I think is important is sometimes business metrics of like, hey, are we growing? Are we bringing on more leads? But as you start to hire and you start to see the organization run without you, you want to make sure it's in alignment with your values and what you think is an organization that you're proud of, that you built. And so that should be documented early on. There's a book by the founder of Patagonia which I think is called Let My People Go Surfing. Or Let My People Go Surfing might be the name. I have to google it.

[40:11] Matt Hepburn: All right, yeah.

[40:13] Gary Spagnoli: The evolution of a reluctant businessman. I read it in Q Four last year, like, towards the end of last year. And, yeah, I thought it was a very good read, and it was actually written, the HR manual of Patagonia that has evolved over time. And yeah, I think that having your values documentary is important.

[40:34] Matt Hepburn: So if you were going to give your values in one liner, I'll give you my one after you give me yours, what would you say with one line or one sentence to say what your values are?

[40:47] Gary Spagnoli: Lead with empathy. Lead with empathy. That would be one of the most important things. I think that is important to line is right here. Yeah. I think it's just very important to be empathetic to the struggle, the challenges of running a business and the challenges that everyone is facing in terms of trying to achieve their goals.

[41:18] Matt Hepburn: That's wonderful. So I'll tell you mine. By serving others, we find purpose.

[41:24] Gary Spagnoli: I love that. Yeah, I love that. Matt. I believe that is a very biblical type of thing.

[41:32] Matt Hepburn: Yeah. So we're Protestant, but by serving others, we find purpose.

[41:43] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah. I like it.

[41:47] Matt Hepburn: So just a few more. This has been an absolutely amazing episode. What are your goals for 2023 and what do you see changing in the landscape? What do you think are the big items that are happening in digital marketing?

[42:07] Gary Spagnoli: So there are two different ways to answer this, because one is selfish or related to Zen specifically, and the other is what I think on a more macro lens and macro lens we care about, but it's not necessarily critical to some of the goals for Zen. Anchor. So then our goal is to continue to grow by hiring. We need to bring on more strategists that help us provide the lead generation types of campaigns in the industries that we specialize in. We're also trying to tighten the industries that we work within, particularly within the insurance space. So we have explicit goals towards lead sales revenue and we expect to grow at least 25% this year. That's a big number and I expect that we will hit it. I don't think it's a super, super Bhag type of goal, but I think it's possible. But what I'm seeing happening in the industry outside of Zen is we know the AI is taking everything over Chat GPT. I think the Chat GPT is giving us a sense of how important it is to have creative people and having a diverse and inclusive environment, so that you are getting unique perspectives when you're building out any sort of marketing campaign. Because the AI tools are only as good as the prompt and you need to have smart, clever, unique prompts to really get the most out of them. And the magic is always in the editing. There are lots of filmmakers that have spoken about this and studied some poor intelligence. The magic is in the editing. And so if we're going to use it or write in the copy and writing content, it's important to still have some sort of human review. So AI, I think, is going to be one big thing. The second thing is the iOS changes that happened a couple of years ago that affected all the Facebook pixel tracking also has an implication on analytics and the Google Analytics for migration.

[44:19] Matt Hepburn: I'm going to go there, right, with you.

[44:22] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah. So those are the two, though, that I see on a macro level that are, you know, having an influence on our business on Zen anchors business, but a huge level like in the industry. Yeah, it's a tidal wave. The AI stuff and the new analytics platforms that are more sophisticated, that are GDPR compliant, are going right there with you.

[44:48] Matt Hepburn: So I don't use Google Analytics anymore. I use Plausible Analytics, which is pixel tracking. So there's a bunch of conventions that we have to have for GDPR, right? So the data should never leave the UK, has to stay in the UK. So the database centers are in this, the company is in Estonia, so it's already there. And then things like Google Analytics would use things like what IP address are you coming from to determine location. Right? So all that information needs to be anonymized so that it doesn't have a personal attribute associated with the cookie that's gone through with it. Even if it was using a cookie, it needs to be anonymous so it's not associated with a person.

[45:40] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, we were talking about Plausible before this. I will definitely experiment.

[45:45] Matt Hepburn: It is a really light script compared to Google Analytics. So it's not free like Google Analytics, you have to pay for it, but it's not overly expensive and I would definitely check it out. It meets a lot of the GDPR compliance that companies like Google are not meeting right now. So basically, whether it's Universal Analytics or Ga Four, they both fail for GDPR.

[46:23] Gary Spagnoli: It's a great recommendation, I'll definitely check it out. I think that the analytics stuff though is big because legacy models of how we did marketing attribution when I say legacy models, I literally mean like from the direct mail days, like 15 and beyond. I think those will continue to make some level of return because we're looking at things like Triple Whale and North Beam, which I've experimented with. You were mentioning plausible. I'll investigate that. Yeah, there's just a lot of change. The change happened a couple of years ago, but now there are solutions, I guess, from that change.

[47:01] Matt Hepburn: You mentioned email marketing. So even things like I use ConvertKit for email marketing, it's absolutely amazing. And you have the ability with a normal email campaign to opt out if somebody wants to opt out from their personal information. But when you start adding things on top of that, like things like write message, which helps you segment out your list, the problem is that's another personal information that's added, but it's in a different database even though it's associated with your email marketing. And how does somebody request for that to be removed for GDPR? So there's a lot of things that are coming up on how we segment our data in digital marketing that need to be considered in 2023, I think. It's not like semantic SEO is a new thing, it's been around for a lot. But 2018, I think they opened the topic, google opened the topic topic clusters and the clusters into entities into the knowledge panel and we're just seeing a lot of maturity in tools and we're looking at machine learning as well. So one of those tools that I would recommend that everybody take a look at is Market News. And we had another episode on that. But whereas it's different from Chat GBT, it doesn't write the content for you, but what it does is you put in a top level topic and it will give you other topics versus keywords. So it's much more relatable and it's relatable to the Knowledge Panel. I still think what we need to do once we go to that level is look at our main topics within the knowledge panel, look at the categorization of what people have and then go, oh, we need to make here are categories for our topic. These are our top levels. And then we can dive down further, answer questions, make more relevant content that way. I think that's kind of where the future my prediction at least on where content marketing is going to go to make it more relevant. We're seeing this old skyscraper content, long form content, no longer performing because it doesn't have relevance on the rest of the website. We have to have the relevance of the rest of the content where it works with internal links or even the cloud NLP. There are tools out now where you can take a competitor's links or the links from the top ten search results and put it in there and see what link matches up to the category that Google is in. The top ten is very interesting and then you can see, oh, this is quality because it matches up by how Google is matching this up by entity versus I think it's because it's a DA 90, we think it's relevant. Let Google tell us what's relevant.

[50:13] Gary Spagnoli: I love that. I am definitely going to experiment with Market News. I think that Matt, you and I, we should have discussions outside of the pot about this because I do think there is going to be some changes on how SEO will be structured moving forward, particularly when it comes from a link building perspective, because we've already always talked about things related to social media. It's going on for ten years now, distributed out on social as well. But I think that the topic organization and that internal linking has an implication for how you distribute out the content beyond what's already on your website. And I'm a big fan of Ross Simmons on Twitter who offers his simple mantra is published once, distributed everywhere, and he says that from a holistic digital marketing model. I think of that from a link building model as well, though to me.

[51:17] Matt Hepburn: It sounds more like relevant PR, right? And then if we're going to go with internal linking, especially with larger financial, I'm going to just go to your financial sites, right? What I would do is I would use another strategy for internally is I would use screaming fraud. I would basically find maybe what we're going to do is we'll use something like market use to say like, hey, here's our content topic, right? And now we're going to find, we're going to approach this two different ways. We're going to look at all the main keywords within the sub headlines of that piece of content. So let's actually first with that, crawl that domain and just do a custom search for any within HTML, any page or blog post that shows up with that. And then we'll export that into a list and we'll go look at that to make sure that it's relevant. But if it's relevant, then that's a great internal link opportunity, especially if it's something whereas this is long form early content about what is this? Right? And then if it's one word, then that's a really realistic internal link, right? The second one is going and taking those topics with something like market the other related topics and crawling the site and seeing if you have any of those. If not, then something like Market Muse would say, like what are the different topic clusters that the whole industry has or a thousand different web pages that are competing for this has and how much do you have and how much do you not have? And if you want to rank more, you need to be more comprehensive on the content that you rank here and on a local. For small business or mid sized businesses it's easier because you're talking about smaller topics and it might be location based, so entrepreneurs and listeners shouldn't be freaking out when we're talking about this on the enterprise level. But if you're looking on a smaller business website, you can do that by not covering like enterprise companies do a multitude of topics, be very niche down into what your business is about, who you are about, and talk about what services that you have and then the other topics around that relate to it.

[53:51] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, I love the focus. Your site around that specific niche is critical from an SEO. In a time before Zen Anchor was built out and I was making sites to attempt them to get ranking, I had a site that was focused literally on rock, paper, Scissors that did fairly well in terms of driving organic traffic and affiliate. And it's not as though there aren't a ton of people on Wikis writing about Rock, Paper, scissors, but had a blog that was explicit to that. And I think it's important to niche down from an SEO lens and it's important from a business lens, but I also think that I hear that advice so frequently and it's difficult in reality and I think you start broad and then you niche down and you find it over. It's better to choose one initially, but you might have chosen wrong since we're.

[55:00] Matt Hepburn: Talking about Niching down and I kind of got us off track and I apologize for that.

[55:04] Gary Spagnoli: No.

[55:05] Matt Hepburn: What makes Zen Anchor different from the other agencies that are out there?

[55:10] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah, I think that we have experience within specific industries. The insurance, the health and wellness space. No one has the same level lead generation experience in the world. We today manage some of the direct consumer advertising for one of the largest dental insurance spenders in the world in terms of TV media buy. And we are handling some of the digital media buy for them, and there aren't that many that are doing dental direct to consumer. We have that experience. The work we've done with a company called the Institute for Integrated Nutrition, which offers health coach certifications. I worked with them back in 2013, 2014. That has given us an opportunity to see how a lot of yoga teachers, chiropractic centers, and health and wellness businesses are structured. And we've been doing this for ten years now, so there aren't too many other digital agencies with that level of experience. I would contend none. There are none, no others. And both of those are in markets that are growing too for us, because more and more folks are obviously focusing on their health, on wellness, and that will continue to accelerate, and we tend to optimize towards businesses that are in that space.

[56:37] Matt Hepburn: I could even see some of that being the yoga stuff being digitally provided with COVID Right. So they don't have to actually be present. Right?

[56:47] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah. We have worked with a handful of accounts that offer digital classes only and help them with booking the registrants for those classes and running social media advertising.

[56:59] Matt Hepburn: Campaigns and building means that lead generation is anywhere localized. Right?

[57:08] Gary Spagnoli: Yeah.

[57:10] Matt Hepburn: That's amazing. Earlier, I talked about expanding your team. Right. And I know you have a site, I believe it's Is that correct? For the teams that you're looking to hire?

[57:26] Gary Spagnoli: Yes. So We're hiring right now. I'm looking for an SEO specialist. We're also hiring for a paid media manager, or PPC manager, to help us with all of our social media and social campaigns, as well as an email marketing specialist. There may be additional roles up there, but we're growing right now to then Totally remote, fully distributed. There is no office. You can see all the perks benefits on the site. Yeah, we're hired.

[57:59] Matt Hepburn: That's amazing. All right, guys, you've heard it here. Go to anchor. Comjobsandapply. So with that, I'm going to wish Gary a good evening and we'll talk to you soon.

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  • Matt Hepburn

    Matt is the founder of The Focus Visibility Podcast. Matt has over 14 years of experience in search engine optimization. Matt has worked with various enterprise businesses, including formerly (White Source Software), John Hancock USA, SEMrush, Commvault, and iCIMS. Matt has also worked in large and small agency environments, including Martindale Hubble, WebROI, and Search Interactions. Additionally, Matt brings 14 years of consulting on organic traffic issues that affect businesses.

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