Interview with Bob Massa - Internet marketing for technology startups

By : Shabda Raaj

Bob Massa is a pioneer in the field of Internet marketing. He has been working on Internet Marketing and Search Engine Placement since 1997. He has operated and SearchKing. He gained both fame and notoriety when he sued Google, which is a classic case study in PR stunts. We talked about the importance of SEO and Marketing for startups. More information about him can be had at or his blog at Ask the SEO guru.

Shabda: Would you tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started with SEO and Internet Marketing? What is about this field which keeps you inspired?

Bob Massa: I've always been a modest sort of person and find it difficult to speak of myself without being self deprecating. So, instead of blowing my own horn, I'll use some of the things others have said about me.

  1. Bob Massa has been one of the more respected figures in SEO & Internet marketing since before my time. He originally gained fame - or notoriety - for suing ... v7n blog
  2. Bob Massa is one of the most eloquent people in the search marketing industry. I have wanted to interview him for a long time, and finally got around to it. He was probably one of my favorite interviewees. Aaron Wall - Seobook
  3. Bob is one of the Internet's most recognized, leading experts on top search engine placement. i-cop

I have been in sales and marketing most of my life and in 1996 my wife and I owned a printing company. Each day more and more of our customers wanted us to "get them on the internet". I was killing myself trying to make a living in a small printing company. I was working very hard. It’s tough making a living when you’re selling sheets of paper for a penny each. Especially when Kinkos sells them 5 for a penny. Then in '96 the 14 hour days, fast food 2 meals a day and the three packs of cigarettes caught up with me and I had a heart attack at the age of 41. It was a mild one, (something only a doctor would say), but it did force me to take a hard look at my life and cut back to one greasy burger and two packs a day. I’m not much of a take-it-easy kind of guy so while I was recuperating, I put in the AOL disk I’d been spammed in the mail with and got online, (even back then knew that sucked). BUT, since we already had customers coming into our print shop asking us if we did “websites”, and I couldn’t sell them printing, I talked my wife into reading Webpages for Dummies and we were rolling. I’d write the text and she’d build the pages but it didn’t take me long to figure out, “Ok, there’s the webpage, now what”? That led to me reading everything I could get my hands on about search engines and search engine placement. Back then there wasn’t much, it wasn’t called SEO yet and what was there was wrong. It was great. I enjoyed the challenge but even more the confidence and sense of accomplishment from seeing my efforts go to #1 spots. It was fun and it was easy to sell. As for keeping inspired, that isn't really the thing. I have done so much SEO for so many clients over the last 11 years that most of the time I see it as simply my job. Every so often a project comes along that gets me excited at the challenge again but most small businessmen don't stay in the same business for years because they make so much money they want more. Most of them stay in the business because they can't afford to get out. I’m no different. I have a lot of people depending on me, it is a good business, I'm good at it, I've built a good team and I still get excited at the challenge. So is that inspiration or just not being able to afford to get out? And then there is always THE question. If it is this good now, what’s it going to be like in 10 years? I like the feeling of being a part of that and even in my own small way helping to define that direction.

Shabda: In many circles SEO or Internet Marketing is equated with spam. Why is this impression of SEO and what can Internet Marketers do to counter this reputation?

Bob Massa: The negative impression comes from a LOT of people talking about it but few really understanding it. The more people that understand SEO is not about being #1 in a search engine rather it is about increased awareness of a product, service or concept that generates traffic that converts into a desired action, the sooner the industry will be able to serve more people better and at a better return. I’m not really sure internet marketers can counter anyone’s reputation other than their own. In my opinion, any professional needs not concerns themselves with others but instead focus on what they can control and strive to learn more, manage better and exceed their clients expectations . Delivering excellence will always be a viable product in any industry. To say it is easy. To deliver it is hard work BUT once delivered trust is established and that can not be discounted. There is nothing in the world that can not be made with a little less quality and sold at a lower price. He who considers price alone is this man’s legal prey.

Shabda: Talking about startups, many startups I talk to believe that if their product is any good, the marketing will take care of itself. "After all Google grew this big on word of mouth", is what they say. What would you say to this and what would be your advice?

Bob Massa: I would say that nothing sells itself and to believe that Google relied on word of mouth alone is a mistake of epic proportions. There can be little argument that Google actually built a better mousetrap at a time when the world was overrun with mice. BUT, the better the product performs, the more need there is to market it effectively. If you think for a moment that Google was not as brilliant at marketing and PR as they were at mousetrap building then you really should read The Google Story. That book will clearly illustrate that a LOT of marketing went into all that free word of mouth. They worked hard at getting early adopters and that coupled with a value rich product is the formula for success with any business. By the way, early adopters are the ones who tell the communicators who are the ones who get people searching for information about you. To learn more about how that free word of mouth thing works, read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. It will make you money!

Shabda: Say I am a small tech startup with a budget of 10000 USD only. I can spend this to make a kick ass product, and hope that marketing take care of itself, or spend 5000 for making a so-so product and spend 5000 on marketing. What would you recommend?

Bob Massa: Spend $1,000 building a kick-ass product and $9,000 on marketing. Marketing NEVER takes care of itself.

Shabda: You have sometimes mentioned the example of one of your clients, who used to post post-it notes to public restrooms, and got a ton of leads this way. How can startups use these types of unconventional marketing to get users?

Bob Massa: There is one indisputable fact. If you believe you can’t afford any marketing ---- you’re right. The smart thing is to develop a strategy, set a goal and a budget and then spend that budget and hit your goals. I have no idea why, but it seems most startups do a LOT of work and planning on almost every aspect of building their company except marketing. It seems so strange to me. Sales are the MOST important aspect to any start up because you may have invented the world’s greatest mouse trap but if you don’t sell them, you go broke and a year from now no one will even know you ever existed. A sales strategy should actually be the first thing you plan for. You should hire professionals when you can because in the long run it will be cheaper by delivering results faster, but for many start-ups funding and capital is a major issue. That does not change fact you market well or you die! The world doesn’t care whether you’re underfunded or not. Consumers don’t need you nearly as bad you need them. You can blame everyone but yourself for failing but the reality is that regardless of what your budget is, it is up to you to move your product or service. If you don’t ---- you die. That is just the way it is and the sooner you accept that reality and deal with it, the better your chances of success. There are a LOT of ways to get the word out. Read that book I mentioned “The Google Story” for starters, but even beyond that, there are bathroom walls, there are taxis always looking for money, there are events, conferences, rally’s and get togethers everyday. Maybe you can’t afford an ad at the conference, but could you afford to put a poster in the coffee shop next door to the conference hall? Could you pay a guy to circle the block on a bicycle with your ad on a trailer? Could you put a monkey in a T-shirt with your ad on it?

Shabda: For a startup which is just starting out, would you recommend focusing their marketing spend on PPC (which will give them costly but predictable returns) or focus on organic results, which have a bigger upside but higher risks?

Bob Massa: Well, every business is unique and every business owner’s objectives, (And budgets), are unique, so there’s no perfect answer that would be the “right” thing for every business. PPC is good for generating traffic instantly, split testing ads and potentially burning through a lot of cash fast. If the business chooses to implement a PPC strategy, it is very important to set strict budget and stay on budget. To me, there is no such thing as either or. I believe every website should always be focused on building organic traffic. You may choose to use PPC but you should never choose NOT to include SEO.

Shabda: What are the resources which a novice to Internet Marketing, but an accomplished technology person can use to come up to speed on SEO/SEM?

Bob Massa: Try to spend a little time each week reading your favorite seo blog or forum and of course the more time you spend, the faster you learn, but outside of that, you really don’t need any resources other than simple common sense. Make sure your site is getting spidered and indexed, try to stay focused on appropriate content for the appropriate page or section and most importantly, always be looking for linking relationships and try to stop thinking like a technician and think like a customer.

Shabda: You have a long association with Internet marketing. What are the broad changes you see in Internet marketing landscape today, compared to say 5 years ago. Compared to 10 years ago? What is the direction this industry is moving into?

Bob Massa: Compared to 5 years ago, I would say it is blended organic results. 5 years ago you only had to compete with other people in your field. Now you are competing with Wikipedia, Youtube, books and news at least on virtually every keyword. 10 years ago it was Google and their Page Rank algorithm. And where is moving now? PERSONALIZATION. Showing a specific set of results to you based on your online history, (which includes a LOT more than just search history), and then showing different results to me based on my online history. I also think this next two years is going to explode in wireless. As more and more carriers offer web services on mobiles at a fixed cost, literally billions more people will start accessing the web. Remember a lot more people have cell phones than computers.

Shabda: How do you see the Social aspects of the web, and in particular social media affecting the search industry?

Bob Massa: To you and I, social media does us little good outside of just hanging out and/or trying to make links “look” natural. There is tons and tons of data on every social media site and the vast majority of it inane. We would go crazy trying to find anything other than our circle of friends we like to play with. However to a Google who is very interested in personalization and with the resources to index and cross reference all that data now they are in a position to know much, much more about you and better know what ads you would most likely respond to favorably. Increased return on their ads, that how I see it affecting the search industry.

Shabda: Would someday Google be dethroned of their prominence in search space? Would social search play a part in this, and are you bullish on the social search?

Bob Massa: It is always possible. There is always someone capable of building a better mousetrap and unseating the established leader. I believe if MSN acquires Yahoo, that could pose a threat and I also believe Google pushes the line and I could see a time when the US Government may step in a do to Google what they did to Microsoft. I’m not sure what you mean by “social search”. If you are referring to social search as the wiki refers to it , the no, not really. Unless you are able to index and cross reference all that data and assign it to an individual, then I don’t see it having a lot impact other than research.

Shabda: Before we leave, would you like to share some insight, hard to find information, or quick tip for the small tech startups?

Strive not for adequate, strive only for excellence. It is wonderful to dream big and shoot for the moon but you build a business one customer at a time. Focus on the little stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself.

This was the interview of Bob Massa. You can read more of Bob's insights at 1, 2, 3. This is part of our series of interviews about "SEO for Startups". So subscribe today and stay updated.

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