An Interview with Michael Roebuck on SEM

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Friday, October 06, 2006
An Interview with Michael Roebuck on Search Marketing

Michael Roebuck is General Manager of All Web Promotion is a full-service web site design and marketing agency specializing in search engine marketing and Yahoo! Store design. He has been involved in the website design and marketing since 1999, and continues to play an active role today.

Today I will be interviewing my boss and friend Michael Roebuck on the topic of search engine marketing, and specifically how to build and manage a full-service design and marketing agency. Michael is the General Manager of All Web Promotion, a company that has been in business since 1999, and is the perfect candidate to speak with on the matter.

Interview with Michael Roebuck

Hi Michael, welcome to my blog. While we're certainly not strangers, I do believe this is your first appearance on my blog. I'm very pleased to have you on-board.

Thanks for having me. I'm honored to be here.

Let's start with the basics, shall we? Can you tell my readers a little bit about you and your background? How did you get started in our industry?

Before All Web Promotion, I was the Marketing Director for a manufacturing company called Badge-A-Minit. That was my background. Everything I learned in college or previous jobs just didn't matter anymore. I remember vividly that even the formula used to determine markup was different than I was used to.

Anyway, I was very interested in the Internet and getting the company web site designed and listed. I guess I spent too much time on it because shortly after I found myself running the mail machine for flyers.

Ha! Such determination should have gotten you a promotion. At what point did you decided to leave Badge-A-Minit and begin your own company?

Because Badge-A-Minit is an entrepreneurial company, and I had the direct phone number of the owner; I explained that other people would want to pay for this service. The rest is history. One night in Chicago going through the thesaurus and studying other web sites, my dad, brother and I came up with a name. All Web Promotion was born!

Looking back to that night, how has your company progressed?

It's like night and day. I started the company alone and now we have 10 people. The early days were nice because we were very small and everyone kind of did everything.

Michelle [Plym] was my second employee and is still with us today. She started off doing SEO, and has since moved on to be a Yahoo! Store and RTML designer.

Over the years, the company has seen a few bumpy roads. I remember when an employee quit the day before I was to leave for an SES show in California. In fact she was supposed to go with me. I got a call at 9:00pm stating she wasn't coming back. Luckily for me, at that time my brother [Peter Roebuck] was doing some of All Web's accounting and billing on a part time basis. I heard he was looking for work and I offered him a full time position. A few years later I kind of split the company in half. Peter continues to do billing and at the same time oversees the SEO side of the company where as I oversee the Yahoo! Store design side, as well as everything else. This arrangement has worked out great thus far and has allowed me time to grow the company in different directions.

With you [Karl Ribas] on board now, you get to manage the SEO and PPC projects that come in, as well as cover me when I'm gone or unavailable.

To sum up your question, I guess the company has progressed due to the employees that work for it. We all are vital for the smooth operation. Everyone has a specialty and we all work together to remain cutting edge and knowledgeable in all aspects of the Internet. The company follows the growth of the Internet and I steer it with future perceptions in mind. Most have turned out positive so far.

All Web Promotion started solely as a Search Engine Optimization company. What made you later decide to incorporate website design services? Why did you choose to work with the Yahoo! Store platform?

I added website design because we wanted a way to create some e-commerce websites quickly. We chose Yahoo! because of the name, its ease-of-use, features, and the fact Yahoo! Stores were included in Yahoo! Shopping. After I set up a few stores for myself, it was determined that others needed help as well. Therefore, as a company, we started offering Yahoo! Store design services.

Having worked only two jobs my entire life; I can honestly say that I've never before worked for a company like All Web Promotion. The atmosphere is both fun, and very rewarding, almost to the point where "working" doesn't at all feel like work. Would you agree? How would you describe the overall work environment at All Web Promotion?

I think it's great. Employees all think for themselves and argue with me. I used to hang up signs reading, "Question Authority" and encourage free thinking and problem solving. It must have worked because as opinions differ, we all hear about it. I feel that is really important though. I don't claim to know everything myself, but put us all together and we could solve world hunger. Or at a minimum, what size bed to place in an airplane [referring to a recent argument between Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin].

How about the team? How would you describe those that work for you?

The people are great as well. It's taken a while to get here, but we're here. The employees love what they do and because of this, they perform well. I also try not to treat anyone as if they "work for me." As I see it, we all work with each other. We all have our job to do, and we all work together to achieve success.

Our team is strong in almost every sense. It seems as if everyone has a special talent that they can contribute, and often I'll look to incorporate their talents into actual services that the company can benefit from. For instance our graphic design and photography services were created solely on the fact that employees had strong backgrounds in each of these areas. Like I mentioned earlier, I don't know everything, but together, as a group we are a powerful bunch of people.

Well said. We do have a great team with strengths in many areas, which I'm sure help to make your job a bit easier. As General Manager, what kinds of things do you do to improve employee morale?

I don't plan any official events or activities to improve morale. I treat people as I would want to be treated. Everyone is empowered to make decisions and think for themselves. I have a philosophy that goes like this: "As long as you can justify why you did something, you'll never be wrong. I might over-ride you, but as long as you can justify your actions, everything will be ok." I think living by that philosophy as well as treating everyone as equals, automatically boosts morale.

I love this philosophy! I happen to think it works very well for us, and maybe it could work for other companies too. What kinds of things do you do, or implement, to ensure that your team remains up-to-date and knowledgeable in their areas of expertise?

Together, we subscribe to numerous newsletters and industry blogs, manage a company iPod that is passed around with various podcasts on it, and attend various trade and industry shows. Apart from that we constantly test and try our own ideas.

What is the best part about managing a company like All Web Promotion? What, in your opinion, makes showing up to work each day worth the trip?

I love what I do. Each day is different and I deal with a different set of challenges. Variety is the spice of life! Nowhere have I met so many interesting people all trying to get ahead or get out of the daily rat race. So when you ask me the best part about managing a company like All Web Promotion, it's the people. We're taking people's dreams and turning them into reality. Then we take that reality and ensure the world gets to see it. What could be more fun than that?

Great answer, and I definitely agree with you. We work with many interesting people, and helping them to create and market their "dreams" makes each day worthwhile. With that said, how would you describe the typical All Web Promotion client?

Because of our ability to create a fully functional, turn-key e-commerce web site for only $299; we get lots of inquiries. The average web site is a bit higher though, as some customization is usually requested. Regardless, most of our clients are small businesses. From the mom and pops who start a part time job to get out of the daily grind to the smaller corporations who need a better web site for less.

What would you say is your absolute favorite client-success story?

When I was starting out I received a phone call from a guy who was just getting into a particular niche market. He had spent everything he had and I was his last hope. He gave me a couple months to get his web site listed in the search engines. If I failed, he was going to have to go to school to become a home inspector and he didn't want that. He's still a client today, and is a considerable force to be reckoned with in his niche market. He's also a really nice guy and I'd do anything for him for that reason alone.

Small business success stories are the best, aren't they? In fact, All Web Promotion is in itself a small business success story. As much as you were an influence to your client's success, there's probably someone who has influenced you in the same way. Who, if anyone, would you say has been the most influential person in your life?

My Dad. Hands Down. The older I get, the smarter he becomes. He is an engineer by trade and was able to take a comment made to him at a trade show and turn it into a dream come true. He took the risk of quitting his secure job with a stay at home wife and 3 babies to pursue a dream, and it has paid off for him. He answers to no one and is really a pretty smart guy.

I have the privilege of knowing your dad, and would agree that he's a great guy. Quite the poker player too, but that's for another interview! How do you think your dad's influence has helped you to become a better leader and General Manager?

Probably his lack of influence has been the biggest factor. Apart from observing him for the past 30 some years, he stays away and lets me run things as I see fit. This means I make my own mistakes as well as solve my own problems. Sure, he's there if I have a question but he typically doesn't offer his advice. Because of this, I run the company as I would want to be run. I'm not simply an extension of him doing what he dictates.

You've been at this ship's hull for over seven years now. How have your individual duties and responsibilities changed since you first started?

I don't get to get my hands as dirty as I used too. I got into this job because I loved doing it. Now, I sit behind a desk managing employees and doing business tasks. I get to jump in every now and then, and I still oversee a few clients, but I'm more of a solutions provider now. I get to work on the really tough tasks and solve the big problems that no one else knows or wants to commit to. It's a different kind of fun. It's still crack and I need my daily fix, but it's a different, newer crack. A more potent Internet Crack maybe?

Interesting.... Looking back at the success you've experienced thus far, what if anything would you change or do differently?

I wouldn't do anything differently. I've learned a lot and have helped many people succeed. If I didn't do what I did, we might not be here now. On the other hand, I might have bought stock in Yahoo! before the crash or Google and be sitting on a beach somewhere now, but other than that, I wouldn't change a thing.

What unique characteristics help separate All Web Promotion from say other online marketing and design companies?

As far as design goes, we can turn out a beautiful e-commerce capable website for thousands less than a design company or advertising agency could offer. Companies love that!

Mom and Pops love the scalability and training we offer. We can build them a site and then train them to use it thereby eliminating the need to hire a designer in the future. We can start with a basic site and as they sell and make money, we can add more functionality. Also, being that a lot of our clients are small business, we created an after hours support line. No-one else offers this. If you are working on your site at night (which most part-time people do) and hit a snag, give us a call. Most likely we can help you.

As you're well aware, Search Engine Marketing seems to have the ability to change gears and progress without notice. Where do you see the Search Engine Marketing Industry being 10 - 20 years down the road?

I have absolutely no idea. This industry moves so fast, I don't know where we'll be 20 days from now. I presume in 20 years the search engines will be some form of artificial intelligence that has been implanted in your brain. All you'll need to do is think and the answer will appear.

Interesting thought, but let's roll with it. Where will All Web Promotion be at that time?

We'll probably all be cross eyed and hunched over some form of computer. Our kids will be running the show and trying to get us old geezers out of the way so they can "modernize."

Ha! Early retirement does sound good! It is a shame we didn't get in on that Google stock when we had the chance. For those looking to start an online business, what would you say is the biggest misconception that exists?

Build a web site and you'll get rich. It's the age-old problem of people thinking that all they need is a web site and customers will beat a path to their door. It's not true. It's hard, repetitious and tedious work. But the payoff is great.

Another problem is overnight success and Google. People want to be number 1 for Google only and they want it by tomorrow. I have to agree with them partly because they know that 80% of their sales come from Google so why spend so much time on the other engines? It's a tough sell trying to get people to understand that a presence across the Internet is needed.

As a business owner myself, I focus on Google as well. Who is this MSN fellow anyway? Do they really matter? To some clients, they aren't even a blip on the stats report.

Great answer, and so very true. It's disturbing to think that some honestly believe that once their site is complete that they can just flick on the neon "open" sign and sit back to watch the orders fly in. This is a huge misconception, and I'm glad you mentioned it. Considering your experiences and everything that you've seen and done in this industry, what advice would you offer those looking to start a Search Marketing/Design company?

It's a tough market to get into nowadays. I started early but as long as you are knowledgeable and can perform, I think anybody can get involved. It takes a little while to learn this stuff though, and I still learn something new everyday, which is part of the reason I love it so much. You have to like challenges and be willing to work to overcome them.

Looking to the future, what can we expect to see from All Web Promotion with regards to website marketing and design services and resources? What can we expect to see from Michael Roebuck personally?

Umm... don't know. What's new with the Internet? We are integrating more usability features into the sites we design and dabbling with various third party applications to make web sites more advanced for less money. I guess as new features and functions get developed, we'll add them to our services. Basically, whatever we need to do to remain on the cutting edge of Yahoo! Store, and search technology that the common businesses can afford.

Well... that's that. I'm out of questions, and that means that you're officially off of the hot seat. Thank you very much for taking this time to chat with me. I for one had a blast, and hope that you, as well as our readers, did too.

Thanks for having me. It's been a pleasure and I hope it's been enlightening.

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