This is a follow up story for Rankings.io. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey, I’m Chris Dreyer, CEO, and founder of Rankings.io. Rankings help elite personal injury attorneys dominate first-page rankings. My friends know me as a bit of an SEO nerd, but I would describe myself as an SEO nerd. My wife says I’m hard-headed and my mom says I have a rebellious streak; I like to think of myself as being relentless in pursuit of my goals.
Our origin story can be found here. This was our story from $0-$275k/month. This is a continuation of that story, up to $700k+ in monthly recurring revenue and three consecutive years on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Our business is divided across four main pillars: marketing, sales, finance, and operations. In other words, attraction > acquisition > profit > results.
We’ll cover key changes in all of these pillars.
Marketing: The Art of Attraction
Towards the end of 2019, I had to take a hard look inward to identify my personal HVAs (high-value activities) and make difficult decisions about where I should devote my efforts. To this point, I had been “in the weeds,” an SEO technician for a high percentage of my time.
I identified the following as my HVAs:
- SEO strategy
- Setting the company’s vision
- Being the “face” of the company
I tend to be introverted and pre-COVID, I attended conferences and in-person events but sporadically. Most of my marketing tended to come from behind my computer rather than face-to-face. As a business owner, everyone has their insecurities; mine was how I was perceived by my peers. In my seventh year as a business owner, I’ve overcome many of those insecurities, though I still have some (particularly my voice and how it sounds in video/audio, as well as my weight (I’m working on it, Jenna).
As you can see from the actions we’re about to cover below, there are numerous forward-facing activities that I have taken to step into my role as the face of the company.
One of the things that I’m glad I pursued was launching our podcast. I can’t underscore enough the importance and value of this marketing initiative. The Rankings Podcast has served as our flywheel, not only generating content but also opening doors for us: we’ve had such elite attorneys (John Gomez, Matthew Dolman, Andrew Finkelstein, et al) and prominent entrepreneurs (Seth Godin, Neil Patel, Roland Frasier, et al) on the show.
We also began investing more heavily in the production of video content for the launch of our YouTube channel. Yes, you read that correctly: we only got serious about video in our seventh year. LOL In Jedi terms, we’re still in the “youngling” phase of video (in fact, we only have 129 subscribers at this moment), but we’ve been able to re-purpose that video as micro-content and social ads.
My big “I wish I would have known…” moment in the video is that I didn’t bullet-point everything out in advance. I relied on shooting from the hip for those first videos and, even though I’ve been in SEO for a long time, I wish I would have gotten more of my thoughts refined on paper before the cameras started rolling. I think people watch superstars (like Gary V) and interpret his informal, seemingly unscripted approach as an achievable target; it is, as you might expect, not nearly as easy as it seems.
While we are an SEO agency, we also believe in the efficacy of a multi-channel approach, and the dreaded “paid advertising” boogeyman does have its place.
We launched paid ads campaigns on both Google and Bing. In the beginning, we cast our net a bit too wide and went after phrases like “law firm marketing.” For many businesses, this would make sense, but as we only do SEO, it was unnecessarily wasteful.
Our social game has been aided greatly by two strategic partners, Shaina Weisinger’s Repurpose House and Russ Perry’s Design Pickle, as well as our own internal team.
Repurpose House takes original content and converts it to micro-content for social media. Design Pickle has been a key asset for us, generating high-quality graphic design work in several arenas.
I also have to specifically call out Shay Rowbottom and Shay Rowbottom Marketing for their cutting-edge LinkedIn marketing strategies, copywriting, and best practices for attracting attention on the LinkedIn platform. One sentence is not capable of doing justice to the benefit that we have received from working with them. With their help (and in a very short span of time), I have amassed more than 20k followers on LinkedIn.
Unless you are employed by Google itself, you’re operating at least partially in the dark. To provide the most value for our clients, we worked in conjunction with Daniel Kupka’s team at FrontPage Data to produce multiple personal injury-specific data studies. It’s a means for us to empirically identify the most impactful SEO actions that will generate results for our clients.
Mini SEO Acquisitions: Playing the Game of Monopoly with Google
When you think of business acquisitions, your mind probably goes immediately to buying the entire company. However, one of the most beneficial light bulb moments for us has been acquiring landing pages and blogs within our industry.
One thing that is important to remember is that the value of a landing page may be different for you than for someone else. For example, the first 301 redirect/page acquisition that we made was from an individual who was no longer interested in servicing the legal vertical, but who had a page that ranked well for our core phrase (i.e., SEO for lawyers). He approached us with an offer to buy the content and 301 it, which maintained its rankings and opened our eyes to a new strategy.
After our first acquisition, we ranked #1 and #4 for the phrase “SEO for lawyers.”
If you’ve played the game Monopoly, you know that the objective is to acquire as much property as possible, so that the other players can’t help but land on yours. What I quickly discovered was that this was a tactic that reframed my approach to SEO.
Essentially, buying existing geographic real estate vs. generating properties from the ground up. We decided to pursue this and made our second acquisition, with the purchase of SEO-For-Lawyers.com.
After this purchase, we now ranked #1, #4, and #5 for “SEO for lawyers.”
It wasn’t long after that I was speaking with one of my peers and he mentioned his interest in selling another page ranking on the first page for “SEO for lawyers,” the updated version of which now resides at chrisdreyer.co/SEO-for-lawyers/.
As of this writing, our properties rank #1, #5, #7, and #9 for one of our most essential and high-intent phrases.
I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out how powerful this is. We plan on pursuing this tactic for the foreseeable future.
Side note: if you have a landing page that ranks for any SEO terms, and you want to sell it, holler at your boy.
From here, I’ll just bullet-point out some highlights, so your eyes don’t bleed from another wall of text:
- Made Improvements to our SEO Discovery
- Dedicated Sales Person
- Recently hired our first SDR (sales development rep)
- Better focus on sales data (win-rate percentages, sales cycle, activities, etc.)
- Hired Southwestern Consulting sales coaching
- No longer accepting checks for new clients (after a few situations with too much “money on the street”); this was a simple solution for cash flow
- Hired a CFO coach
- Basecamp Workflows & documented a much higher percentage of our core processes; we’re still rocking Basecamp, even though some of you may be giving the stink-eye for not moving to newer, shinier objects (like Asana, ClickUp, etc.), but I found that most project management tools work; it’s just a matter of how you use them
- “Teach Our Clients Not to Be Crazy” Onboarding Experience - I should probably explain this: basically, clients turn “crazy” when their expectations are out of whack with reality. We have optimized our onboarding experience to properly set expectations in every capacity that they work with our team, as well as answer common questions related to their goals (e.g., “how long does SEO take,” “when will I see an ROI,” “when can I expect my first round of content,” etc.).
- Training - Monthly SEO Roundtables, 1-on-1s, SEO Video Series, Udemy, Team Treehouse, Gotch SEO, #learn Slack Channel, etc.
- Post-Mortem Meetings
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
One of the biggest lessons we learned was how to manage exponential growth, especially in a manner that I (quite frankly) don’t see other digital agencies doing. When you think of the word “out-sourcing,” it’s associated with a negative feeling or a taboo. However, if you rephrase this to “strategic partner,” it feels more intentional and about serving your clients’ best interests; that reframes it as a positive.
Reading books shouldn’t be a chore; you should be enjoying the growth.
Before I dive into the advantages and disadvantages of this, let me pose an analogy:
Most people, to some degree, know how to feed themselves. You can make a sandwich, you can make a burger, whatever; it satisfies your hunger. However, most of us also go to restaurants. Just because you have a bad experience at one restaurant, you don’t decide to swear off all* *of them. Maybe they had a bad night or you ordered something that wasn’t their specialty. I use this analogy to explain strategic partners and how they can be used in most business endeavors.
When it comes to finding the correct strategic partner, they have to be analyzed in some capacity through this basic metric: you can have two of the Iron Triangle, but not all three (good, fast, or cheap; pick two). You can have something good and fast, but it’s expensive. You can have something good and cheap, but not quickly.
credit: Rob Timmermann of wearetg.com
Most businesses equate using partners with poor quality, but who do you think is better: the link building agency that only does link building or the digital agency that just happens to do link building? The content company that only does content or the company that has a content branch.
Our competitors try to use this against us as a negative, but I assure you: it’s an overwhelming advantage for us about our competition. This isn’t a cheap process, but finding the correct partner never is. We’ve spent a few million dollars (at least) analyzing performance and piloting new partners to identify who is the best. To tie it back to our previous analogy, you have to eat at a lot of restaurants to find out who makes the best dish in each category (i.e., Pappy’s BBQ in St. Louis, fight me).
One final note, and to echo a few things from Dan Sullivan’s book (Who, Not How). If you focus on how it’s a linear progression towards a goal. If you focus on who, it’s exponential and fast. If you focus on how it’s your time and who, it’s theirs.
Strategic partners can be your whos.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I’d be lying if I said that $10M in annual revenue wasn’t a milestone that I’m looking forward to achieving.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
How to Get Rich, Naval Ravikant.
American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company, Bryce G. Hoffman.
Your Next Five Moves: Master the Art of Business Strategy, Patrick Bet-David.
Self-promotion right hooks: be on the lookout (towards the end of 2021) for Niching Up: The Narrower the Market, the Bigger the Prize, by Chris Dreyer AKA, me.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Check out Atomic Habits and check out a habit for continuing education. That’s the most important advice I can provide. Reading books shouldn’t be a chore; you should be enjoying the growth.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always looking for great account managers and SEO specialists.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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