Growth Hacking Interview Series #14: Sam Nam

Sam Nam is the Vice President of Marketing at Digital Room, Inc., a venture-backed e-commerce printing company. Find him online at samnamiam.com.

Hi Sam, great to meet you! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you became to be involved with the SEO industry?

Hi, Floyd! Thanks for having me. A little about myself? Well, I’ve been working in marketing and sales for 12 years.

I started my marketing career with Gravity Corp in 2002 and “cut my teeth” as a junior member of the team that launched Ragnarok Online in North America.

After Gravity, I worked in sales and finance for a few years, but found myself spending more time on my sideline blog and Ecommerce projects.

In 2008, I met Ronnie, the founder of Digital Room, and decided to ditch finance and try online marketing full-time.

Ronnie was an amazing mentor who had been doing SEO since 1999 and had already successfully built multi-million dollar SEO strategies.

I learned from him directly and six years later I’m here! Time really flies.

How do you personally keep up to date with the latest in SEO?  It’s an ever changing industry so SEO consultants by nature need to be on the ball – how do you achieve this?

I started my online marketing career in SEO, but these days I’m managing a lot more than just SEO.

Keeping up with the changes in this industry has been a challenge for me, because I can’t read as much as I used to.

The best way for me to keep up is to have strong friendships in the industry.

A lot of blogs and sites are publishing same ol’ content and it takes effort to sift through the same ol’ stuff to find the new valuable information.

I rely on my industry friends to keep me up to date by sharing articles with me or just brainstorming over dinner and a beer or two.

There have been a lot of algorithm changes from Google over the last year.  I am sure that you’ve had many potential clients come to you with ranking issues due to past SEO practices they might have undertaken.  Do you have any top-level advice for people who have seen their websites take a dramatic hit recently, or incurred a penalty?

First, stay calm. J Taking a huge traffic hit can be very traumatizing for a client and they need to feel secure with their consultant’s expertise.

I’ve seen sites recover from almost every type of manual action and penalty. Set a game plan for recovery and operate with extreme urgency.

Crisis is the opportunity to win lifelong trust from your clients by showing them you are a dependable and understanding partner.

What sets your SEO practice apart from the competition?  Are there any unique aspects to your consultancy that gives you a competitive advantage?

Our competitive advantage is in our people and culture. We operate within a democracy of fact and logic.

Ideas and innovation can come from anyone who can present the data or logical reasoning, allowing our SEO innovation to grow exponentially as we add new team members.

There are very few secrets in SEO (we are all learning from the same blogs and forums, right?).

The true competitive advantage comes from the specialist’s pride and ownership in his or her project.

If you were talking to client in your local area who was unsure about the benefits that local SEO can bring to a business, what would be the key components of your pitch to them in order to convince them?

I would use Adwords keyword planner to find keyword search volume in their geographic region and educate the client to understand how many customers they could potentially reach based on that data.

I would then show them all their competitors who are already ranking. Business owners are very competitive and will naturally be more open to a strategy that a competitor is using.

For any beginners to SEO, what advice would you give them?  It could be anything from how to set the business up, to winning business, or just some plain motivational advice.

Find a mentor. Approach professionals you respect in the industry and ask for their time. Buy them coffee, beer, dinner, etc.

Their experience is more valuable than any other learning tool.

During your career as an SEO consultant what has been your favourite or most interesting project that you’ve worked on?

The most interesting project I worked on was a small personal blog project I ran for six months in the dating advice niche.

The blog was small, but it came with a lot of memories.

I won my first blogging contest; I was featured on several prominent women’s blogs; and I was invited to a private party at the Playboy Mansion (in exchange for a review)!

I closed the site in 2008 because I started working for Digital Room.

Are there any other websites or online projects that you want to tell our readers about – or perhaps any social channels or things you are working on currently?

Yes, we have a series of creative content sites youthedesigner.comyoutheentrepreneur.org and another “You The Photographer” site we are launching this summer.

Our current content marketing strategy focuses on creating niche sites for target customer audiences.

This allows us to gain credibility in the industry to leverage when we do linker outreach (P.S. we are hiring for these sites in Manila).

How do you view content in SEO as leverage in providing relevant search results and as a way of doing link-building in the advent of the recent changes in Googles Algorithm and penalization of Ann Smarty’s MyBlogGuest?

Quality content produces results in a multi-stage cycle.

1) When you build authoritative content, it will rank for key terms. (Maybe not all, but a little)
2) When you have authoritative content, it builds your credibility within an industry.
3a) When you have credibility, people share your content and it ranks better.
3b) When you have credibility, people ask you for guest blogs, interviews, sponsorships, co-promotions, etc.

But it has to be great content. Don’t mistake good for great!

What do you think of Google’s approach to SEO? Are they being helpful by launching the disavow tool or do you think that this only gives more credence to negative SEO?

I think Google is being helpful. They can’t please everyone, but they are trying.

What is the fastest way to generate backlinks?

Depends on your outlook and time horizon!

If you are building a brand and company that is meant to last a long time, GREAT evergreen content will cumulatively build a monster backlink profile.

For example, if a great piece of content gets one quality backlink per week and you produce 50 pieces in a year, you will be getting 50 good links per week after 12 months.

I have other strategies that I used to generate millions of backlinks over the past 5 years, but those links are not as high-quality as the types of links you get from good quality content.

In 2014, just focus on quality content and building a brand.

What is the best quick fix way in optimizing your website for SEO?

No quick fixes. Period.

How do you measure your SEO success for a particular campaign?

We use two metrics. The first is impression share within our keyword set and the second is year over year improvement in organic traffic and revenue.

These are good metrics to use because they eliminate seasonal variance in search demand.

What project that you’ve handled that gave you a hard time in optimizing yet you came out successful afterwards?

Before Panda first hit, we intuitively knew as team that an update of this nature was coming.

We spent months cutting thousands of pages from our sites and rewriting stale content.

Due to a lack of time we were only able to focus on our top sites and as we cut pages those sites lost traffic!

However, we knew low quality content (even if ranking) needed to be amputated.

When Panda was first released our sites gained a lot of traffic and we felt relieved that we had taken the right gamble.

And lastly can you suggest any book, video, person, website that keeps you inspired in doing SEO?

I met Rae Hoffman (sugarrae.com) at SMX Advanced 2014.

She was staying at the same hotel as me and we randomly started talking at the bar. Her ideas are so genius yet simple to understand.

For the past year I wasn’t focused on SEO, but after speaking with her I was inspired to get back in and keep improving my skills and strategies.

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