Growth Hacking Interview Series #131: Nate Dame
Nate (@SEONate) has led SEO, content marketing, and influencer marketing campaigns for national and international brands. Now a regular speaker and columnist, Nate oversees client strategy and thought leadership for Propecta when he’s not too busy being husband and dad in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Propecta is a leading SEO consultancy and agency trusted by B2B companies, including a few of the world's largest technology brands. With proven people, processes, and tools, Propecta partners with companies to develop and execute comprehensive strategies to build an organic search presence that generates significant revenue.
How did you start out as a marketer?
I actually began in nonprofit work, trying to help youth pastors get better equipped. That led me to email marketing—providing resources and newsletters to youth pastors and parents. So email was my first experience with marketing.
That practice of producing good, helpful content in email form eventually led to doing more marketing online, and SEO and organic search especially.
Looking back what was your hardest struggle when it came to delivering results?
It was, and still is—with regard to organic search and SEO, aligning the metrics we have to business-specific goals and objectives.
Google continues to hide information with “not provided” keywords and sampled data in Analytics. Search Console gives us some data, but it’s definitely not complete. So every project still has the unique challenge of tying the data we do have to measurable business outcomes. It remains a struggle, but keeps me on my toes.
How did you get your first client back then, and what kind of service did you do for them?
My first big project was Sketchers. I was just starting to work with Steve Wiideman, who started as a partner and has since become a friend and mentor, when he secured the project. It was an amazing experience to work with Steve and a fast-moving company with aggressive, nation-wide goals—especially so early in starting my own company.
The Sketchers project was a wide range of SEO work, but mostly SEO strategy.
What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
I really enjoy understanding people and what motivates them. I like figuring out what questions they’re asking online, and providing those answers. It’s great to be able to create something really helpful for people and decision-makers, and, in the process, expose them to our clients.
That’s what SEO really is: being the most helpful. Being a marketers doesn’t mean I’m just selling ad space, and trying to convince people to click a link or give us their credit card. We really can be resourceful; it’s the basis of what we get to do.
We have a lot of readers who are bent on becoming freelancers. Aside from freelancing how else can someone earn online, and what is your advice?
I think if you’re trying to create a business, you need to figure out what you’re good at and passionate about, and operate at the intersection of those two. And be unique in doing it: don’t do too many things. Chose the one or two things you’re really good at and passionate about. If there’s an opportunity to sell your time at that intersection, then do it.
If you were given the chance to build your career all over again what would you do differently to achieve your dreams faster?
I’m not sure I’d want to grow much faster. If you grow too fast, especially as a specialized services firm, the work you do can get diluted. We are growing a good pace right now, and we have to continue to grow at an appropriate pace so our work doesn’t suffer.
There are things I’ve learned along the way, like how to find and hire the best team. That’s the main lesson I wish I could have learned faster: waiting for the best team members. In the past we spent time hiring people who maybe weren’t the perfect fit for what we were trying to accomplish.
Now, our team is solid and many have been with us for many years, but, if anything, I would have worked even harder to build this team quicker.
How is your typical work day structured?
It varies by the day. Some days are packed with meetings from morning ‘til evening. Other days I work hard to block out my calendar so I have dedicated time to tackle projects, respond to emails, and work through new process developments.
Can you tell us about a time where you had to put in significant effort up-front, and then wait a long time for success?
We just finished a project that had some significant technical challenges, so that required some substantial effort up-front. The client knew they were taking a bit of a risk.
There were a lot of technical challenges that needed to be cleaned up, and we weren’t sure exactly what the impact would be on organic search: if it would be immediate or if it would take a while. And actually, this time, it was immediate. We finished up and by the end of the second month we saw a huge jump in rankings and traffic.
That doesn’t always happen, of course. Most projects need daily changes and updates, and when we look back at the end of a year, we see big improvements. There is measurable growth each month, but by the time we can compare year-over-year, the total traffic or business impact becomes really significant.
That’s what SEO really is. It’s the ability to snowball growth and continue to build traffic over time. Most projects are slow, but substantially impactful over time.
You’ve been tasked with redesigning a company’s brand strategy from the ground up. Walk us through your process.
It starts with a deep understanding of the audience and who the company is targeting. It’s developing personas; understanding their hopes, dreams, and aspirations; and strategizing how your brand is going to meet those.
It’s a multi-step process, and for larger projects there are more steps, but it always starts with a deep understanding of the audience and the pain points the brand is going to meet.
Can you tell us about a past situation where you had to juggle multiple projects with competing deadlines?
Deadlines constantly compete within the team, so it’s important to have good communication and connection. We’re mostly a virtual company. We have an office, but most of our staff work remotely, so we have a strong cadence of internal meetings to prioritize and react.
When a client has an urgent request or need, we have to be able to respond to that, and we do. We give our best, but it also impacts other deadlines. The key thing is always to keep communicating internally and with clients.
What recently-developed marketing strategy, technique or tool interests you the most right now?
What’s fascinating about SEO is how it is always evolving and changing. We’re in a whole new world of what SEO is and what it means, compared to just a few years ago.
Primarily, SEO is about knocking out foundational needs like technology challenges, and being a good marketer—figuring out who you’re reaching, what their needs are, and how to meet their needs with great content and a great experience online.
That’s the foundation of SEO: providing the great content that is the right content for a specific audience—not just keyword content, but topical, authoritative, detailed content. I’m excited to see SEO evolve to this point.
What do you do to stay up to date with new marketing techniques?
In the world of SEO, Search Engine Land’s SearchCap daily email is helpful. They don’t come out with something earth-shattering every day, but it does put every update, announcement, etc. is in your inbox every day. That’s helpful for people who aren’t in SEO full-time. It’s a great way to make sure you see the important things and stay on top of the industry.
Second is Moz’s Top 10 email, which I think is monthly. That’s a great resource for some of the best content from the month, and highlights the topics that might really be worth spending some time reading.
Can you tell us about a project you’re most proud of from your past work history?
I described one earlier that saw some good change after fixing tech issues.
Projects that do the best over time are the ones when we can redesign a website. One was a high-end property and ranch realtor website. It’s a small business, so we built the site and did some SEO work and stepped away from it, but it did extremely well. I think it has been a combination of a well-designed site that they can use and update themselves, and the beautiful properties they list, but over two to three years, their SEO traffic skyrocketed 1000 to 1500%.
Another great project was the Saddle Creek Logistics website. It performed well immediately after the launch, and is still doing great. There’s a case study about that project on our website.
Which one book/blog would you recommend every marketer should read?
Oh man. Just one? I’m reading a few right now that are helpful and interesting. One is Great By Choice by Jim Collins. It’s a great, general business book with a lot of applications for marketers.
What advice would you share with other marketers who want to become more productive?
Organize and think about your day. If it’s a day of meetings, embrace those meetings and get it done. Be all there and invest in those relationships—whether it’s with staff, clients, prospects, etc.
When you have blocks of time to get work done, get the big things done first—those big projects or harder tasks that you tend to procrastinate or put off. Just get it done and move on. Be ruthless with your time in order to use it effectively while, of course, being generous with those around you.
Build great relationships and be as effective as you can with your limited time. There’s never enough time in a day.
If there's one marketing guru you'd recommend, who and why?
I was at a Master Class with Robert Ross, who is a trainer with Content Marketing Institute, recently, so he comes to mind. Really great, insightful presentation.
Honestly, though, you have to read broadly if you’re going to look to others for advice, because everyone has their own formula. Learn from their formulas, of course, but you ultimately have to make your own. You can’t just take someone else’s formula as-is and use it. Read broadly; follow many influencers and gurus.