Hey everyone! We’re here again with a new interview for our interview series. This time our guest is Andy Crestodina (@crestodina). Andy is the Co-Founder and Strategic Director of Orbit Media Studios and he also wrote a book called ‘Content Chemistry’ which you can find on Amazon.

Let’s begin!

Q) Tell us something about yourself and how did you start Orbit Media.

A) 1999 was good time to be a technical recruiter. But I didn’t love my job because there was nothing very creative about it. I wanted to make things. I wanted to point at something and say to myself “I made that.”

So I quit that job in January of 2000 and started designing websites. My friend Barrett Lombardo was the programmer and together, we gradually began to find a few clients and learn from a few mistakes. By April of 2001, we formed Orbit Media as a web design company in Chicago.

Within a year, I realized that building websites wasn’t enough to drive value to our clients. I needed to understand how search engines work. I needed to learn to measure results using analytics. So I gradually started improving my digital marketing skills.

Today, we’re still just a web design company, but we’re a bit bigger. There are 35 of us and we have $4.5MM in revenue. My role is mostly marketing so I do a lot of writing, speaking and teaching on all kinds of content marketing topics.

Q) What were some of the challenges that you faced throughout your journey with Orbit Media?

A) Finding clients was (and will always be) a big challenge. Growing topline revenue is a challenge for virtually every business.

But our marketing is stronger than our competitors so we’re a bit better at creating demand than most companies in our market. The trick there is to understand lead generation best practices. This post explains my holistic philosophy on the topic. It’s absolutely critical.

Q) Can you shed some light on how did you acquire your first customer?

A) Companies don’t need web design every day. Most websites get redesigned every three to five years. Probably only about 1% – 3% of businesses are thinking about a website redesign at any given time. So in the beginning, we knew it would be a long time before we would have any repeat or referral business. We needed another strategy.

So I started by building a list and cold-calling 50 advertising agencies in Chicago. There are hundreds of marketing and advertising companies in Chicago. Back then, they didn’t have good capabilities in digital. They really couldn’t design or program websites, so they outsourced this work. It was an opportunity for our little company.

After 50 calls, I got 10 meetings. After 10 meetings, we got two clients.

And since agencies are B2B service companies, they had many clients with website needs. We got several projects per year from each of these first two clients. So we started as an outsourced partner. It was our initial strategy and it worked pretty well.

Q) How do you measure success for each of your clients? Do you believe in pre-defined KPIs?

A) For a lot of companies, the goal for the website redesign is simply to have a better website. They don’t have strong KIPs. A lot of clients just want something that does the following:

  • It’s easy to update
  • It’s mobile friendly
  • It’s looks better than their current site

Any website redesign will hit those goals. In other words, for many projects, the expectations just aren’t that high.

But our best clients are obsessed with Analytics. They want more traffic (usually through higher rankings) or a higher conversion rate (usually through better content, design and usability). In those cases, we measure ROI carefully. The results are typically so strong that the websites pay for themselves within the months, not years.

Q) In 2011 and 2012, so many companies got affected due to Panda & Penguin. How did you revise your strategies post that?

A) Actually, we weren’t impacted at all. I read a lot about it, but I mostly ignored Panda and Penguin since it didn’t affect our rankings or traffic whatsoever. If anything, our rank improved during those years. Probably, we climbed as others fell.

I think we weren’t affected is because we’ve never done any “link building.” I’d done of a lot of guest blogging, but it was mostly for the bigger marketing sites. And we’d put a lot of high-value content on our own site that seemed to attract quality links organically.

Q) According to you, what is the future of content marketing? It’s having good market share these days.

A) The future of content is very noisy. For a lot of niches, it’s getting harder to win. The keyphrase and social media landscapes are very competitive.

So the winners will be those who can find narrower niches and really own the sub-topics. Once they build relevance there, it should be possible to expand into broader topics.

So niche down and build your relevance in search (links and mentions), social (followings and influencer relationships) and email (list growth). You’ve got to become a pro in all of the three main channels.

Q) What are the common lead generation methods you employ for your clients? Of course, around digital marketing.

A) The best trick I know is just basic keyword research. Find a phrase that people are searching for and isn’t too competitive. Then write the best page on the Internet for that topic! If the post ranks, it will probably attract links and authority over time.

If you can become a mini version of Wikipedia for your industry, eventually you’ll have enough authority to rank for the buyer-related, lead generating phrases. That’s when you’ll really start to attract targeted traffic and leads.

I also recommend using social media as a networking tool. If you want to get press, win guest posting opportunities or do search-savvy PR, you need to build relationships with influencers. And that means using social media to build connections.

Don’t try to outsource social media. You can’t outsource your voice. If you want to be a thought leader, you have to get out there and lead!

Q) What advice would you like to give to the Entrepreneurs who’re freshly taking a big leap in digital marketing?

A) Three things: leave early, go far and stay long.

  • Leave Early
    Content marketing is a race and it started years ago. So don’t delay. Create an outline for a body of work and start writing. Blog on topics within that outline. Later, you can combine them into a book. But start right away. It’s only going to get harder!
  • Go Far
    As I said earlier, you need to find a niche that’s narrow enough that you can succeed. If everyone is doing X, then you need to do 10X or you’ll struggle to build an audience …or you can do Y. If you don’t have lots of resources to publish and promote a lot, just get more specific and you can still win some high quality traffic.
  • Stay Long
    The winners in marketing (and everything else in life) are those that don’t give up. Content marketing is a very long game. You’ve got to dig in and stay active for a long period of time. A lot of marketers don’t see any results until they’ve been at it for 18 months. That’s a long time, but it’s worth it to build a lead machine.

Persistence wins every time, doesn’t it?