In another Happy Dog Sound Bytes podcast episode, we will be speaking with Ian Lurie. We will discuss how merging data, software, critical thinking and marketing can open the floodgates for success.
Ian is a popular, well liked, well spoken, personable nerd. He started a very successful company, Portent, a digital marketing agency in Seattle. Let's dive in and see what Ian has to say.
It was a floodgate. It was an absolute floodgate. Their rankings shot up, which brought them more traffic, and because their site was running faster, they were converting better. Also, their content management teams had an easier time updating stuff on the site, so it just hit absolutely everything. That happens once in a career, I think, maybe.
Ryan: Welcome, everybody, to The Happy Dog Podcast. Today's special guest is Ian Lurie, and I'm going to give you a quick introduction, Ian, and then I'll bounce it over to you and then you can tell us a little bit more about yourself. My backstory with Ian is I used to go to a lot of conferences back in the day and I would see Ian around. He has spoke at many conferences, he has keynoted, and the way that he speaks to his audiences really piqued my interest. One of the big reasons is that he embraces his inner nerd when he talks and he's very tech-oriented, data-oriented, but he's also very marketing-oriented as well, and that's something that piques my interest as well.
It's kind of an odd thing to find somebody that can really marry the two things together. Usually you find a very marketing-heavy person or a tech-heavy person, but he's really great merging both of those things together. He's been a marketer for over 25 years now and if you think about that, that's like before the age of the dinosaurs, like back in the day of AOL, so he's been doing it forever. For his nerd cred, he's been playing Dungeons & Dragons since 1978, and that's a long time, too.
He is a good combination of the marketer and the nerd, and he's one heck of a guy, so let me introduce you to Ian. Ian, why don't you tell us a little bit more about yourself and what you're up to these days?
Ian: Sure. Age of the dinosaurs, yikes. I do marketing, obviously I’m a marketer. About half of what I do is SEO, the rest is more general kind of everything from copywriting to strategy. I ran an agency called Portent for 25 years. I sold it a few years ago. I went out on my own. I was a CEO for 25 years. It was time to try a different job, so now I'm an individual consultant doing marketing consulting for all kinds of clients, big and small, and I'm enjoying it. I love just doing the work.
Just before this all started, we were talking about how you and I were chatting about my 11-year-old daughter when we met for the first time. I have dropped that daughter off at college now, so that tells you how much things have changed.
Ryan: Yeah, they certainly have, and Portent is a name that some people know, especially in the marketing industry. Just because I'm not fully aware, did you start from the ground up? Was that kind of your baby that you brought into existence?
Ian: Yeah, I started Portent in 1995 and we started out as a general kind of marketing strategy agency, very quickly moved... Strategy agency, it was me in a side room of my house with two cats, but yeah, we started as kind of a small marketing generalist, and then this whole internet thing seemed like it wasn't just going to be a fad, so we pretty quickly moved into that. You talked about my nerd background, I was using computers back in the '70s, so I was very comfortable with them, which a lot of people of my generation aren't necessarily, so the idea that I could do marketing and use computers at the same time was the greatest thing ever. At that point, I was sold. We very quickly got into doing pure internet stuff. Started helping clients rank on AltaVista and publish copy and content on the internet.
Our first client, and I'll stop ranting about this in a second, but our first client, we helped them distribute their sales manuals using America Online instead of mailing them, shipping them to people. That should tell you that, yes, the age of the dinosaurs, America Online, that is actually where we started and just progressed from there.
Ryan: Oh my goodness. As soon as you said America Online, I heard that actual sound in my head-
Ian: ... yeah, that's right. Yeah. I had so many of those stupid CDs. I don't know about you. I was using them for coasters, I was using them for everything.
Ryan: Oh yeah. The ones that came in the mail?
Ian: Yeah, yeah.They would just spam you with, right? They would just send them to you constantly, but...
Ryan: You ran Portent. You started it from the AOL days and you turned it into quite a successful business, but at some point it sounds like you were like, "You know what? The CEO thing, I kind of just by serendipity came into that role and I ran the business, but I'm really jazzed about performing marketing, and so I'm going to break off on my own and for lack of better terms freelance or consult. Can you tell me a little bit more about that transition and like what you're doing now? What you can offer people now?
Ian: You know, part of it... I loved being a CEO and I have to say I miss it sometimes and I really miss my team. I mean, they were so much fun to work with. An interesting thing, as an ex-CEO, if you don't know how much you should sort of check in with your old team like, "Hey, how's it going?", without being a stalker. It wasn't so much deciding to move on, it was Portent grew on the back of its team, and I got very lucky with those two or three key hires who then made two or three key hires and so on.
It hit a point a couple of years ago where the people who are running the company were so much better at it than I was, and I was like, "I could stay here, I could be the old guy in the corner handing out sage wisdom and everything, but the truth is this place is functioning really well without me. I think it's a good time for me to go and do and try something else." It was just the timing was perfect. I had sold the agency to a company that runs it well. Not runs it well, that lets it run itself really well. I had someone who replaced me, his name is Chad Kearns, as CEO, and also very, very good at his job.
The place was just kind of humming along and it made sense. It was a good time to do it and it worked out really well. The agency's doing really well. I'm in a good place being able to do the work that I do, thankfully, even during the complete cluster that the world is right now.
Ryan: When you're consulting, do you ever consult on a business level? Or is it almost purely just marketing?
Ian: I actually do a lot of sort of business coaching. I shouldn't have said that. Not in the classic coach sense, but I will work with teams on how to, you know, "You're the marketing team. Okay, let's work on how you communicate your recommendations and performance to higher levels in the company." Or, "You're the CEO and you're trying to make some sense out of what the marketing team is doing and you need some help directing them." Or, more often, "You're the VP of Marketing. You're facing challenges with one or two channels or putting them all together. Let's sit down and work on that."
Then, sometimes I'm doing super tactical SEO and super tactical copywriting and content work, so it's a pretty good balance because, obviously, I've done more and more strategy over the years and it's fun for me to do that and work with teams, but I also like the detective work and some of the more tactical stuff, so I kind of get to mix it up quite a bit.
Ryan: Nice, and that's probably a perfect point for you to merge software with your ideology and practices and what you're doing on a day-to-day basis. Tell me a little bit about how you take data insights, things like that and use software to help you solve some of these business-related problems?
Ian: It's always so interesting because there's some super tactical tools I use. If you're an SEO, you're using crawlers and you probably have a text editor and you're doing some pretty specific stuff with data management and processing. When you start backing it up a level, the tools I use become more typical, so I'm going to use some kind of spreadsheet and data analysis tool like Google Sheets, Excel, or something a little more powerful than that.
Data presentation and information presentation is a whole tool set that I find folks kind of neglect and it's something I have always used and use more and more now. The more strategic I get with clients, the more I'm coaching them and helping them in how they present data to other people, the more I'm using those tools and demonstrating them to people, and then, asset management and information management, just for my day-to-day.
Now that I don't have a team of 50 people who are all responsible for their own stuff, it used to be when that was the case, my responsibility was making sure they all understood how to record and access their own information, have it at their fingertips. Now, I have to do it for myself. Turns out a lot of what I was telling them was completely wrong. Sorry, sorry, everybody about that, but yeah.
Ryan: You talked about presenting data in a beautiful and understandable way. Are you suggesting people are sometimes neglecting tools like Microsoft BI, Google Data Studio, and things like that?
Ian: They're neglecting those, but they're also just neglecting the use of their brains--that sounds awful. They don't necessarily have a good grounding in how to use those tools to deliver the data in an easily consumed way. When you start diving down into these more and more powerful tools, there's a tendency and a temptation to deliver more and more complicated reports and deliver more and more complicated and nuanced information and analyses, when really you should be using those tools to clarify and make it even easier for people to understand it.
I love Power BI, I love Tableau, I love Google Data Studio. I particularly love Google Data Studio. I think at the price it's the best thing you're going to find by far, but just because you can report on 50 more metrics doesn't mean you should. Being super critical about what you're communicating and then really mastering the art of drilling deep into those tools and the way that they can present data. How do you create the best possible set of charts in a dashboard so that your boss or your executives can look at it and take in that information right away? Or your client can take in that information right away? The complexity of these tools lets you do complex analysis, but you should be able to deliver the results of those analyses in a more and more consumable way.
Ryan: I agree a hundred percent, and I think sometimes people will take data and whatever's at their disposal and just kind of barf it all over the screen-
Ian: Yes. I was about to use a word like barf or vomit. Yes, exactly.
Ryan: The trick is getting the insight. What valuable nugget of information can you glean from all of this? I would venture to say that's almost an art form. Is that a correct assessment?
Ian: I think so. If you read books by folks like Tufte and Stefan Few, or Stephen Few, they talk a lot about how there isn't art to delivering that data and how mastering the tools is so important, but then mastering how you use those tools to deliver the information. This is something else I talk a lot about, the tools, that as people often start adding tools or changing tools because they feel that a particular feature is missing, when really they needed to dive deeper into that existing tool and truly master it. That's especially true with data, data analysis and visualization.
Almost any tool from Excel to Tableau can provide amazing, amazing easily consumable reporting, and it's just about using it and mastering it. Just because you look at a Tableau ad and case study and see a gorgeous table doesn't mean you can't do the same thing in Excel. I love Tableau. I mean, anytime I get a chance to use it I'm ecstatic, but you shouldn't go and use it just because it appears that it has a feature that maybe your current tool set doesn't have. Sorry, I went a little bit off-track there, but-
Ryan: No, that's fine.
Ian: ... that's the best general lesson I give to people when I am coaching them on how to use tools is don't change tools because it appears there's a feature missing in yours until you're really sure that feature is missing.
Ryan: No, I agree. I agree a hundred percent, and staying on the track of software and the marketing world and the business world in general, you have lots of experience, as we covered earlier, in this industry. Over the years, I'm sure you've used all sorts of different software, but now it's 2021 and I'm sure a lot of people want to know what software do you think is a must in the marketing and the SEO fields.
Ian: In the SEO field, you got to have a crawler of some kind, so that probably means either Screaming Frog or Sitebulb or DeepCrawl. Or it could be something you build yourself, but I don't recommend that. You need some kind of market intelligence tool set like SISTRIX or SEMrush or Moz or Majestic. Probably two of those for their overlapping feature sets. You need some kind of basic text editor. I like Atom, but you got to be able to work in text and look at at least basic page code. Then, something that can analyze large amounts of data, so that might be Excel, Google Sheets. It might be SQLite, which I know is going to make some database folks flinch. It might be all the way up to BigQuery, and you need analytics, some kind of analytics tool set. Again, starting with Google Analytics and understanding that you can do almost anything with Google Analytics. If you want to move to On Assure, sorry, I just dated myself, Adobe Analytics, great, awesome. Just understand that you're probably not going to add that many features that way. Make sure you thoroughly understand your current tool set before you jump up to another.
If I'm going to general marketing, then you get to data presentation tools, PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides. Again, learn whichever one you need inside out. You need some kind of information sharing tool set, so that could be a project management tool, something as simple as Basecamp. It could be Slack, if you truly learn Slack and learn everything it can really do. Some kind of asset management, which can be as simple as Google Drive in well-organized folders. That's usually how I have people start and how I start, going up to more advanced systems whose names are so... there are so many of them I can't even begin.
You need some form of content management if you're working on a website, and that can be as simple as WordPress. Again, it can do almost everything you need it to, or something more complex. Then, depending how nerdy you are, you need some form of performance testing tool set, and that means multivariate testing like... I'm completely blanking here. Help, oh no, dead air, dead air, dead air. Any one of the multivariate testing tool sets out there, and some kind of site performance, as in site speed testing tool set. There's a bunch of free tools you can use for that like, well, just Google Measure is a good one.
Ryan: Yeah, I was just going to mention that. I've probably used the same experimentation software stack that you might have used back in the day and then completely changed their business model where... it was astronomical pricing or I couldn't even sniff it because it was so expensive. Then, we switched and we have worked with Google. They have their... What is it? Google Optimize I think it might be called.
Ian: Well, they changed the name. That's why I was blanking. I'm like, "Google Optimize. What's it called now?"
Ryan: Google changed the name of something?
Ian: Yeah, I know, no way. Unbounce is another one, HubSpot, those are all good multivariate testing tools. Yes, and they did change their pricing models.
Ryan: Yes, for sure. I imagine when you talk about these things with people that are busy running businesses and they're planning and they're dealing with employees. They only can do and learn so much, and so when you start bringing up, "Yeah, you should have a code editor or a text editor," that's almost like a good segue to say, "Hey, there's a lot that goes into marketing and business and data and you need a professional that is tech-savvy, that can handle some of these more complex things to really get the job done well." Is that a correct assessment?
Ian: The thing I always tell people is that, "Tools don't replace expertise." Don't get a tool or a piece of software because you think it's going to replace the fact that you need a great writer or you need someone who can do SEO or you need someone who can understand marketing strategy. You do have to understand tools can make you more efficient if you already know how to do something. They can't teach you how to do something.
Ryan: Exactly. Well, on that note, what do you think is the most overrated software?
Ian: I'm not going to answer that because I don't want all of the hate on Twitter. What I would tell you is….
Ryan: I guess I don't blame you.
Ian: ... yeah. I don't think there's anything overrated per se. I think companies need to think really critically about what they have. People tend to go buy the newest thing without realizing that what they've got now has most of those features. Tell me if you start to realize there's a theme here.
Until you thoroughly understand your current tool set, any new tool is overrated.
Ryan: That's a great answer. That's perfect. Let me flip that around for you. I'll make it easy. What about underused or underrated? What aren't people using enough of?
Ian: Well, they don't use their brains, and I don't mean to say people are stupid, I just mean you get so freaked out and you're doing so many things at once that it's easy to forget that your best tools if you just step back for 30 seconds and think a problem through and attack a problem. Usually the most underrated software is the tools you have. You have to remember that half of your company will hate whatever tools you have no matter what it is, what they are. Swapping out a tool simply because people want a change may not be the right way to go. The underrated software is generally the tools you have.
Now, there are some specifics. I think basic web analytics is very underrated. I think people don't necessarily understand what you can do with a simple tool like Google Analytics and just how much you can track. I think Google Chrome is a badly underestimated tool in its ability to let you inspect and work with page performance and play around with things if I'm getting really tactical, but in general, the most underrated software is the stuff you've got available to you. So many times I sit down with someone and the first thing I hear is, "I didn't know you could do that with this." I understand it, I do. You're working with this stuff day in, day out, but you have a specific use case for it, just understand that the most underrated software is probably what you've got in your computer right now.
Ryan: What about custom software? We're talking a lot about third-party, created by... software as a service, things like that. Have you ever in your time in the industry come across custom software that was built specifically for a client that really helped or did the trick for marketing your business?
Ian: It's an interesting question. You know, at Portent, we actually built our own custom crawler, actually one person, Matthew Henry at Portent built this amazing custom crawler with me pointing and saying, "Can't it do this?" It's an example of a custom tool where we didn't have to sacrifice features and power for creating something that was sellable in the marketplace, so it worked really well for us because it's immensely powerful, but probably not the prettiest thing you'll ever see. I've seen clients who have built specific solutions to problems at scale, like say a client who has a product feed with half a million products in it. They could go use a product feed, a prebuilt tool, but it gets very expensive because they tend to charge by the product or by the click or something.
They could try to do it by hand, which obviously no human being would want to do that, or they can build something themselves. I have seen cases where that has worked. Where I've seen things generally go horribly wrong is when people build something because there's one or two features that they want to have that it doesn't. Custom content management systems, custom online stores, those are generally catastrophically bad.
Ryan: Yeah. I don't think I've seen one custom content management system that's been a blessing, I guess is a nice way to put it.
Ian: No. So the times I see tools work well is when they're solving problems of scale. The product feed example is real and that was incredibly beneficial. We had a client who built a custom analytics solution for a problem at scale, and that also worked really, really well for them.
Ryan: Yeah, and that lends itself to where custom fits in, and it doesn't fit in with... I just opened up a Mom and Pop shop down the road and we're just starting business. I think it's more for the businesses that are ready to take that next step and evolve and grow and hire and do all of those things that they have growth problems and custom might be able to help with some of those larger companies that deal with those growth problems.
Ian: Well, and you said evolve and grow and hire, and I think that's the important consideration is if you're going to build something custom, remember, that means that you're going to have to support it yourself, forever. You have to make sure that you've got the team that can do that and that it's being built in a way that it'll be supportable in the future. It has to be a truly unique problem. You need to be facing something that is so challenging that it's going to be easier to build something new than it is to go out and purchase a solution.
Ryan: For sure. Well, Ian, you've been in the business for a while, as we covered twice already. I don't know why I keep bringing that up, but I just do. The reason I point it out is because you have such vast experience dealing with businesses that have all sorts of issues and have had to solve them. Sometimes they've gone from nothing to spectacular, or a different phrase I guess we could say is they were in software hell or data hell or they were just stuck somewhere doing something an old-fashioned way or the wrong way and you brought them to a better place.
We like success stories here and I'm curious. Do you have anything off the top of your head? A good success story we can chat about?
Ian: If you don't mind, I've got a couple that are always at front of mine for me-
Ian: One was a client who was using a major CMS and E-commerce provider solution, let's just say, and we’re facing terrible problems with inversion and SEO. Just about nothing was working as expected and we were able to chase down a site performance issue that was based on a configuration issue in this big, fancy solution they had bought. They changed this one thing and all of a sudden everything improved. I love that kind of thing because in marketing you rarely find the one lever that fixes everything, but we did, so that meant we had to live up to that expectation from then on. It was awesome. It was such a good feeling to be able to do that.
Ryan: After you pulled that lever, was that something that was just like, "Hey, things are a little bit better?" Or, was it something like, "Hey, revenue's up 20%?"
Ian: It was a floodgate. It was an absolute floodgate. It was incredible. Their rankings shot up, which brought them more traffic, and because their site was running faster, they were converting better. Also, their content management teams had an easier time updating stuff on the site, so it just hit absolutely everything. That happens once in a career, I think, maybe.
Ryan: Just out of curiosity, was it something as simple as turning on caching?
Ian: Yeah, it was something like that, yes. You know what? I can tell you because I never know how nerdy to get with this stuff. Just say the word "interesting" if I'm getting too nerdy. The thing that was going on was they had caching turned on, but they were caching in the wrong place, so they were caching on disk instead of in memory. They needed to to slightly change their server configuration and then change to caching in memory.
Ryan: So they had to run Memcache?
Ian: Yes, basically, although it was, I mean, at much bigger scale than M-cache. This was something built into the software itself and I can't say... more than that without getting a software provider very angry at me.
Ryan: For sure. No, that's a good story. You said you had a couple of them. What's the other story on top of your mind?
Ian: The other one was a client who has a lot of local stores, local providers, and their challenge was data. They were having a very hard time figuring out performance at a local level for things like paid search and how foot traffic was adding up to customers and whether digital advertising was actually doing anything for them and how well each of those locations was actually converting the traffic that was being sent to them.
Together, we all put something together that combined geo data with advertising with store locations, and instead of buying ads at sort of a state or a county or a zip code level, we started buying ads at a much smaller... you know, much more precisely targeted. They stopped cannibalizing and double-buying ads and competing with themselves. That was actually just using Google Analytics and it's one of those times when understanding the tool top to bottom was really invaluable, well, Google Analytics and then the ad platforms, Google Ads and Bing Ads, and understanding what they could... but putting all of those together.
Ryan: You know, putting all of those together is great because, like you said, you put them all together. You can actually have events and things in Google Analytics that show your AdWords data and vice versa, correct?
Ian: Yeah. Yeah. Integration, I didn't even think of this, but integration is possibly the most underrated tool you've got, is the ability to pull all of that data together. That's where sometimes a simple spreadsheet and understanding VLOOKUP is all you need. That's how we started, actually, on this particular project is we found that, "Oh, hey, look, there's all of this geodata and it's not creepy. It's all aggregate and anonymous, but we can just overlay this with the money we're spending. All of a sudden, we know exactly where we're efficiently spending money and where we're not."
Ryan: Nice, and so circling back to what we talked about initially, you can probably take all of that data and present it to them with the insights that actually matter on a tool like Tableau or Power BI or Google Data Studio, or even something just from spreadsheets. As long as the data itself and the insights itself speaks to that business owner and they can make valuable decisions off of it, that's what matters.
Ian: Yeah. I mean, we literally gave them a map and we used, I think, Google Data Studio, but we literally gave them a map and you could click and drill down to very small like block-by-block areas and see how ad buys were working or were not working.
Ryan: That is so cool, and that's a common problem that I think chain business owners really do have is, how can they quantify a success from digital advertising in a non-digital world? You know, walk into the door, brick-and-mortar world? How do we do that? If you don't want to give away your trade secrets, by all means don't, but was this something as simple as coupon codes? Or would you rather not say?
Ian: There's no trade secret here. Some of it was cell, mobile device data. Again, not creepy, totally anonymized, but just showing that somebody did a search or clicked an ad on their mobile device and that the ad was clicked on a mobile device at this particular location or close to this location. Then, we know not that that person made that purchase, but that purchases happened in approximately the same time period in this location. That was a lot of it. Then, just understanding the targeting options, obviously, in the particular ad platforms.
Ryan: Interesting, and what kind of success did this bring your client?
Ian: That helped them reduce costs, and I can't remember exactly how much. It was over time, but it was something like a 30 or 40% reduction cost per transaction. It was not subtle, and of course, I'm going to give you the shiny examples, not the ones where we had tiny little incremental gains, but yeah. No, it was a pretty profound change for them.
Ryan: That's great. That's awesome. There's obviously risk/reward for any business that's going to rethink their software stack. In fact, I recall you saying you maybe don't even need to rethink your software stack, just learn how to use it, but there probably are times where some people just aren't using anything, or they might need to get something. What is the risk/reward for a business that's rethinking their software stack for marketing and everything else?
Ian: Well, you can probably tell I'm conservative about it, and I am a total tools nerd, so I have to slam the brakes on myself all of the time, but the biggest risk is that you're just going to swap one set of headaches for another. The reward, obviously, is you can improve efficiency, get better insight, you can do all of these great things, but you gotta understand that you have to really know that you're not just swapping one set of headaches for another.
If you want to get the best possible reward out of it, you need to account for the overhead because that's part of the risk because you have to account for the overhead of learning a new tool and understanding you can't just roll it out, do one training session with your team or even with yourself, and suddenly realize all of the benefits. You really have to be ready to do that rollout. That's always a risk is, how hard is it going to be to teach everybody?
Ryan: Exactly, and sometimes software providers will have onboarding capabilities that do help you out a little bit. They might have specialists so it doesn't have to take time off of your plate. You can rely on the software provider. I know that happens once in a while and when it does happen it's nice.
Ian: Yeah. It can't be their standard training, though. I mean, the standard training is a good place to start, but you need someone who's going to help your teams solve their problems in real time as they're sitting there or at least pretty close to when they experienced the problem. Otherwise, they're just going to go back to doing something else. At Portent, there's a constant education process going on around the crawler. There's always features that people don't know are in there and we were constantly saying to folks, "Come ask questions, come ask questions."
It's not because they weren't asking questions, it's because they are so deep into their jobs every day, you've got to constantly remind them that they have this resource, which raises one really important point I've got to make. The problems are very different when you're in a larger organization and you're either a boss or on a large team. You may not have insight into everything, the cost benefits, the risk/rewards, and that's a whole different thing and it's a whole management course that I am not qualified to teach, but just be mindful. It's very different if you're an owner of a small business or a sole proprietor versus if you're a manager in a bigger organization or an employee in a bigger organization.
Ryan: Oh, that's an excellent, excellent point and, actually, as a business owner, I appreciate you bringing that up as well. Any last little advice for anybody who's listening wondering if they should really embark on improving their software and how they approach it?
Ian: Just do your research, be hypercritical, and don't get paralyzed in the analysis process, but don't change for the sake of change. Understand the cost. It may be that the tool you're looking at is incredible and, in fact, that's very likely, but just understand the cost of making that change, not just in dollars, but in the time it will take to learn that new tool. Make sure that you're getting everything you can out of your current tool set.
Ryan: Perfect, and now I'm looking at the next section of what we're doing here is the lightning round. In case you don't know, it's just five rapid fire questions. First thing that comes to your mind. There's no such thing as a wrong answer. It's just us getting to know you a little bit better. Are you ready to dive into it?
Ian: I'm a little afraid, but okay, go ahead.
Ryan: Okay, the first one's an easy one and it's the one I ask everybody that comes on this podcast. What is your favorite food?
Ian: Oh, that is an easy one. Kit Kat’s. Thanks for throwing me a softball first.
Ryan: Halloween must be your favorite holiday, then, correct?
Ian: No, because then everyone's trying to take away my Kit Kats, so it's the rest of the year is my favorite because nobody cares and I can just eat my Kit Kats.
Ryan: Best answer I’ve heard. That's awesome. All right, next question. What's one thing you wish you had known when you began your career?
Ian: Ooh. That the nerd factor is not really what makes you successful. After this whole discussion, the way you work with people is... I know anyone who has been doing this for less than five years is rolling their eyes like, "Sure, everybody tells me that." I cannot emphasize enough how being able to work with a group of people and put your own biases aside professionally is the most powerful tool you'll ever have. That's a whole other podcast I know, but that is the one piece of advice that I wish I had had. Oh, the other one is it's better to make more money than you're spending. That's definitely a sound business plan, so two important factors.
Ryan: But there are shiny things to chase.
Ian: You know, there are and you should, but just understand that they better not cost more than they earn you. Otherwise, your business is not going to last very long.
Ryan: Oh, that is some sage wisdom. All right, next question for you. Who are the three people who have been most influential to you?
Ian: Oh boy. I'm just trying to think of something that's not cliché, but I can't. My parents are both PhD scientists who are also very good communicators, and that really kind of shaped me a lot. Having the computer on my desk in 1978, but also having really drummed into me how important it was to be a good writer, that completely changed me. I would not be able to do marketing the way I do it now where I can do SEO and site crawls, but still be able to write a decent blog post if I hadn't had that mix. Seth Godin, pretty influential for me. His approach to marketing really kind of shaped mine and also agrees with mine, so it's great to look at his stuff and say, "Look, here's this important person who thinks the same way I do, so you should pay me." That's a good one. Then, I was a history major, so I would say probably one or more of our Presidents. Abraham Lincoln, who I know a lot of people look at as a role model, his ability to bring together people who had contrasting viewpoints. You ever look at his cabinet, you wonder how they got anything done, and turn that into a strength. That's pretty profound to me.
Then, Neil deGrasse Tyson because he's able to take science and that's for people. His ability to take science and communicate it in a consumable way is obviously something I'm going to admire a lot.
Ryan: That's cool. All right, a couple of more questions. First one, what is the one common myth about your profession or field that you want to debunk?
Ian: That there's a secret to what I do. There is not a secret, not to marketing, not to SEO. There is not some handy-dandy list. In the end, problem-solving, really great communications, endless learning, those are what make it work. Anyone who tells you that they have the secret recipe for a number one ranking on Google is so utterly full of crap, just don't even return the call, don't reply to the email. That's why so many practitioners of marketing and SEO or any of the other disciplines and their clients get victimized when an algorithm changes or the markets change or a company changes its ads policy because they're looking for that secret. They find that one lever to pull, which like I said is a once-in-a-career event, and they keep pulling it, and when someone takes that lever away, their entire model collapses.
The other half of that myth is that this is easy. Look, I went to law school. I was raised by two of the nerdiest parents on the planet. I've used computers since I was nine, and this isn't a brag, I'm just saying I'm a nerd with a lot of training and I still find this stuff incredibly difficult. There is no recipe for it, so that is the myth that I fight the most often.
Ryan: The secret sauce magic recipe that these cloak-y marketers possess and they secretly know how Google works, but nobody else does.
Ian: Right. I mean, look at all of the best people in our industry. Not one of them will come to you and say there's a secret. None of them will, or they'll say, "There's a secret, but we don't know it and nobody else does, either." Those are always the most successful people. They're always the people you want to work with and you know that just from talking to them, so it's good just to understand that.
Ryan: Perfect. All right, last question. Hopefully, this is an easier one. What does your future hold?
Ian: (Laughs) How exactly is that an easy one? You know, I'm going to be doing this for the foreseeable future. I'm having so much fun doing it. I am working on a couple of writing projects, but I anticipate consulting for quite a while.
Ryan: That's great. On that note, how do people get in touch with you?
Ian: You can find me on Twitter, it's just @IanLurie. It's I-A-N-L-U-R-I-E. You can also just email me, email@example.com, and I always answer.
Ryan: Aah, perfect. Thank you so much for spending time with us today. I really appreciate it. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Ian: Oh, yeah. No, thanks for inviting me, Ryan. This was really fun.
Ryan: All right. Thank you.
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