Reflections of a Pivotal Point in My Career

Something recently reminded me of an event early in my web marketing and SEO career. For me, it was a very pivotal moment of my career; for you, it might be an entertaining story of a consulting douche bag and how SEO battles don’t change much.

dustin in magazinesRoll back the clock to a little over a decade ago when cell phones were bricks generally seen only in movies and Prince’s “Party Like It’s 1999” was forward-looking. I graduated from the University of Washington with a couple finance-related degrees and began working for, surprise, a financial company. After quickly proving that my abilities went beyond filling out paperwork for clients and managing portfolios, I spent my time on “special projects”, which included things like investing research, Y2K compliance, & building our web presence.

I quickly discovered the importance of search engines and was quite successful at driving leads & press to the site & company. In 2001, I had increased their assets by over $50 million, was named “Best of the Web” by Forbes three times, and was even selected by Inc Magazine as the best marketer of the year using techniques that have changed little to this day (but now have names). How was this success rewarded? They brought in a consultant.

bad consultantMy boss’s friend was unemployed after his start-up went belly up. I won’t name him, but will describe him. He looked very much like the Comic Guy on the Simpsons – he was large, sported a red goatee, and a greased back pony tail. His previous occupation was as a conservative radio talk show host (seriously – I’m not kidding) and as you can imagine, he was a talker. He loved buzz words, though a true understanding of them was of little importance. And now he was a consultant.

Things seemed a little backwards. If you looked at our resume’s & track records at the time, you would have guessed I was consulting for him. Considering it was my boss’s friend and upper management was wowed by the fancy words and whiteboard drawing, who was I to question the new relationship?

To this day, I can’t recall a single person I couldn’t work with–other then this guy. He was a bully and I was his young prey. His big idea was to change our various sites to a single flash site. When I warned him that search engines have trouble with Flash, his response was that “no one uses search engines to find websites.” Apparently countless web analytics reports showing all our traffic sources wasn’t enough for him, nor was an export of our client referral source records, nor the daily stories of new clients who found us via a specific search query. Facts meant little to this talk show host, unless the facts or half-truths supported his cause. After much back and forth, it was clear that it was his way or the highway.

I decided to take a very large risk (especially considering this was during the dot-com crash & a troubling time for the stock market) – I crafted an email to the President and Vice-president of the company explaining that the direction we were heading in was going to hurt us and that I was ready to leave the company if they continued to use his “services.” Clearly my boss would want to fire me for going over his head and making him look bad, but it was a risk I had to take to restore my sanity and keep the company from driving directly into the brick wall in which it was undoubtedly headed.

The story does have a happy ending. They did get rid of him and I used the existing sites to raise another $200 million (doubling the 20-year old company’s assets) before I left a couple years later to take my boss’s job at a larger company. The irony is that I am now a full-time consultant and he became an anti-consultant evangelist.

From that point on in my career, I decided I would never stay silent when I saw the company I worked for start to take a wrong turn, even if it meant losing my job because I wouldn’t want to work for a company that ignored evidence and experience anyways.

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