This Former Google Employee Started An SEO Agency And Grew It To $18M/Year
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Kevin Miller, and I help scale the best D2C & technology companies with proven growth marketing frameworks I learned at Google and various startups. I am currently the co-founder/CEO of GR0.
I launched GR0 in April 2020 with my long-time friend and co-founder Jon Zacharias, who brings a decade of SEO knowledge with him. We wanted to build an agency that was solely focused on igniting organic growth through search engine optimization and we decided that was the only product we wanted to offer. With so many agencies out there striving to offer as many products as possible, we wanted to break the mold and offer only one product - and make sure we were the best at it.
We developed a unique three-pronged approach to SEO: content writing, backlink acquisition, and on-page optimizations. By identifying all the keywords closely related to the client products and services, GR0 utilizes new content, backlinks, and on-page optimizations to increase SERP rankings and to introduce new consumers to the client, bringing the target audience to the top of the marketing funnel.
Partnering with companies like Theragun, Ritual, Pressed Juicery, Venus et Fleur and Universal Music Group, GR0 quickly became a name in the SEO field and we experienced explosive growth ourselves within our first year. With over 75 full-time employees and 150+ clients, GR0 is projected to yield approximately $18MM in 2021.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I grew up in Ormond Beach, FL, and I went to college at Georgetown University. Following my time in DC, I had the privilege of living in the most beautiful city in the United States, San Francisco, where I learned, lived, and breathed startups. I worked at 5 different startups you wouldn’t have ever heard of, and I worked at two companies you would, Opendoor and Google. I learned by doing, and it was painful at times, but worth it.
If you don’t know something (and there’s going to be a lot you don’t know), then find somebody who does and ask them exactly how to do it. This is the fastest way to learn and you shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out.
By all accounts, 2020 was a difficult year. But for me, it was a time of immense growth and progress. Amid a global pandemic, I saw an opportunity to build something new. With some established savings, connections, and alongside my business partner Jon Zacharias, we began building GR0. Both of us had experience with online marketing — specifically by utilizing search engine optimization — and began offering these services as consultants to smaller businesses that found themselves desperately needing an online presence while brick and mortar stores were closed.
We saw the opportunity to do this as a full-time, real thing. SEO is still relatively newer in the marketing space, and it is still quite abnormal to be an SEO expert - it’s not super popular or common compared to other marketing avenues. Jon and I were both middle of the road in our careers, trying to figure out what was next, but we both had one thing in common: we wanted to start a company.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We created the three-pronged approach based on what worked best for our initial 5-6 clients. When working with our initial consulting clients, we realized three main things made for a successful SEO campaign: high-level content writing, backlink acquisition, and optimizing the domain from a technical standpoint. We like to think of it as a car: the optimized website is the vehicle, the content is the fuel, and the backlinks are the pedal on the gas. Without all three parts, there’s no chance the car can speed off towards better search engine results.
We found that the sweet spot is the happy medium between a significant amount of searches with low difficulty to rank - that is where the opportunity lies in SEO.
Throughout our consulting, we discovered that Google cared about the quality of the content, not just the domain ranking of the website itself. Simply put, we found that if you answered the questions that consumers have on Google about the target keyword and put those answers in one blog, you could rank higher than even a giant corporation with a much higher DR.
We recruited writers who were amazing at storytelling from all over the United States, taught them how to write for SEO specifically, and also recruited SEO specialists to use tools such as Ahrefs.com and SEMRush.com to identify the keywords and topics to target. We found that the sweet spot is the happy medium between a significant amount of searches with a low difficulty to rank - that is where the opportunity lies in SEO. We also learned that to provide the most thorough answer on a given topic in Google’s eyes, generally, the article needs to be about 1,500 words.
The second pillar we developed was our backlink acquisition strategy. In the world of SEO, it is incredibly important to be mentioned by authoritative news outlets to help raise trustworthiness by Google. We developed our “Performance PR” offering, an innovative strategy to feature our clients in stories that were already being written and allow journalists to use and call upon a client’s expertise in a particular subject matter to make their story more accurate and insightful.
By creating this network of journalists, we can place our clients in the news and ultimately bring up their domain authority in a completely white-hat and evergreen approach. We also bill per link that we deliver, similar to a restaurant receipt, which is the inverse of most PR agency approaches. Our strategy is one of the ways smaller businesses can compete with Goliath-like companies that will always be able to outspend on paid media.
Lastly, we knew that a website would never be able to rank highly on Google if the site speeds, meta descriptions, title tags, and overall heading structure were not optimized properly. Our team has perfected the art of ensuring that every page on a website has a unique title and is easy to locate by Google to identify new content that has been written. This is the more “complicated” and technical side of SEO and the main goal is to help Google understand what is on your website and why.
As an interesting case study, I went so far as to build a website that could help count words, track keywords, and even generate words from letters for games like Scrabble called The Word Counter. It wasn’t just a fun side project -- I wanted to use the website to serve as a proof of concept and a way to put my SEO work into practice. Here are the current stats, taken from August 2021 using entirely organic SEO efforts.
Through the hustle and a lot of trial and error, Jon and I were able to turn GR0 from a two-person venture into the fastest-growing agency in the US today.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When we first launched, we had 0 full-time employees. It was just Jon and myself doing all of the work for our clients. We would reach out to people on LinkedIn and Upwork to help with our content and engineering - young, hungry people who had a great attitude and a specific skill set. However, we knew that this wasn’t sustainable.
We decided to launch with just our few individual clients -- we figured that if our tactics worked for these 5-6 clients, it would work for 500-600 clients too.
Eventually, after a couple of months of working 16 hour days, we made our first full-time hire: Bridget Reed. I recruited her through LinkedIn - I did not send her an InMail but rather asked to connect with her and then would add a note. I felt that this seemed more personal and I saw a lot more success in responses this way. Luckily, we found Bridget, an amazing content editor who helped build our content team and acted as our recruiter for our now massive network of writers.
In regards to financing, Jon and I put in $20,000 each to bootstrap and launch GR0. No one wanted to give us a loan -- we wanted one and tried, but as first-time founders and to launch a marketing agency, no one wanted to help. We decided to launch with just our few individual clients -- we figured that if our tactics worked for these 5-6 clients, it would work for 500-600 clients too.
Besides working tirelessly on the SEO campaigns ourselves, we also had to focus on bringing in new clients. With the results of our work speaking for itself, we asked our current clients to make any referrals they had. We knew that if we solved their needs by any means necessary and made them happy by any means necessary, our clients would be more likely to make referrals on our behalf. We had no choice but to dedicate everything to them and prove that we could provide service and attention that no other agency could. We continuously did this and built a large referral program within months of launch. It was so effective that in our first year, we relied on warm leads alone.
Since we had very little funding, we hired a freelance designer through Upwork to design our website. Due to our lack of budget and time, our website was quickly thrown together and ended up being incredibly basic and not entirely functional, i.e some buttons didn’t work or link out to anything. For the first six months, we had a terrible website and didn’t even show up on the first page of Google results for our company name. Obviously, as an SEO company, that wasn’t a good look for us.
However, as we gained more clients and had more incoming revenue, we were able to do a complete revamp of the website and began to build our online reputation. We created profiles and invested in partnerships with many platforms such as Crunchbase, BuiltIn LA, Comparably, Clutch, UpCity, and Glassdoor among many others. Along with this, we also started publishing press releases about company updates, increasing the number of news articles linking back to our GR0 website. By our 1-year mark, the first-page search results for “GR0” were all pointing back to us and we were even beginning to show up in Top SEO Agency lists.
For all new companies, I recommend creating profiles on as many online platforms as possible to increase the number of results for your company on Google.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launch, we have spent $0 on paid ads, email marketing, Facebook ads, or any email newsletters. We have focused all of our efforts on networking and building our referral network. We wanted to focus on satisfying our clients and increasing the likelihood that they would continue to refer and recommend our services to their friends.
We were lucky to impress a few important clients in the beginning that they became super champions of our service and have since referred hundreds of clients. They also happen to be 3 people who are very trusted in the marketing community -- their referral spoke volumes to anyone interested in SEO.
For the first year, most of our business was built on incoming warm leads, helping us gain traction very quickly. We have continued to allocate resources to building a Business Development team, who focuses on expanding our referral partner network at GR0.
Since then, we have also built an outbound sales system under the guidance of two Amazon and Silicon Valley start-up experts, who helped us understand how to authentically reach out to cold prospects so that our business did not rely entirely upon warm referrals. We wanted to build a sales system that was sustainable and evergreen, one that would consistently bring in opportunities.
Besides building up our sales program, I would attribute much of our growth and success with our clients to our genuine hustle. With incoming leads or notes from clients, Jon and I try to respond within 5-minutes - even if it’s just to say “information received, we will get back to you shortly.” That small act can make a huge difference in acquiring and retaining clients, who end up feeling taken care of and supported -- lack of communication and delay in response time is a huge issue at many agencies, speaking from my own experience working with other agencies, and we strive to pave our way as an agency that feels like an in-house marketing team.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, GR0 is thriving and looks like a completely different company than just 12 months ago. With over 75 full-time employees, over 150 clients, and two office spaces, GR0 has flourished into one of the top SEO agencies in Los Angeles, and one of the fastest-growing agencies in the nation. In terms of profits, we see a monthly revenue of approximately 1.5 million and projected revenue of almost $18MM for 2021.
GR0’s reach is continuing to grow - we now have over 10k followers on LinkedIn and a growing presence on other socials, including Instagram and Twitter. We are also grateful to have been recognized for several awards within our first year of business, including 5 Comparably Awards for Best Company in Los Angeles, Best CEO for Women, Best Leadership Teams, Best Company Happiness, and Best Company Career Growth as well as 2 Stevie American Business Awards, and recognitions from Clutch, UpCity, and Great Places to Work. In 2021, I was awarded a Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Award as a top CEO and received a 100% approval rating from anonymous and voluntary employee reviews on Glassdoor, which is the highest honor to receive from my team.
Our short-term goal is to focus on employee/client retention. If we have the best employees, we can continue to work with the best DTC clients. For long-term goals, we do not have any new plans to expand to other marketing products, but we just want to aim to be the best in the world for SEO and truly own this corner of the marketing space.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Founding and building GR0 was not easy to work with, but I would say that one of the most important factors in our growth was recruiting. A recruiter is easily one of the most important hires you can make - they are shaping the company from the inside out. There is nothing more important than hiring correctly and well when it comes to building a business and retaining customers.
Although we were incredibly lucky to find ourselves with high demand from incoming clients, this also turned out to be a double-edged sword as we found ourselves understaffed and overworked. Going from 25 to 75 employees within 1 year meant that we needed to hire quickly and accurately for the roles, and make sure we were doing so with as little turnover as possible.
Employees are the most important asset at a company, especially one that is largely client-facing like GR0 is, so making sure that the talent we bring in is trustworthy, hard-working, and aligned with our values was the most important priority for our growth.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our business uses a multitude of platforms and tools to stay aligned. Having launched the company during unprecedented times at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, we needed to rely on several tools to make sure our business was running smoothly.
Our entire database is built into Notion - this is where all of our information lives. When we sign a client, their agreement and company information is inputted there for Account Managers sitting halfway across the country to access on their end. They then upload all progress and deliverables into the Notion buckets, so that at any time, we can access and refer to the status of the campaign. This allows us to have our SEO team scattered across the country without a hitch in our services.
Our Sales team uses Salesforce to track and monitor our leads, which is also connected to Pandadocs for us to send our proposals and agreements. We prefer to use Salesforce as it allows us to integrate with Slack, Notion, and Groove. We also use LinkedIn, Zoom Info and Salesloft for our leads tracking.
On the content side, we work with Clearscope and Grammarly. Clearscope allows us to analyze our articles compared to top competitors for the keyword and ensure that our content will get us that top spot on Google.
And lastly, on the SEO side, we use a range of tools to analyze our client’s campaigns, including Google Analytics, SEMRush, and Ahrefs, among many others.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Short Cut Your Startup by Carter Reum:
I would recommend this book to all entrepreneurs who are interested or about to start their own business. This saved me from making a lot of dumb mistakes that I would’ve made if I hadn’t read about them prior. It allowed me to be a lot more thoughtful about some of my decisions.
Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz:
This was a great read because it taught me the ugly side of startups that we don’t hear about or see in the media. The startup life is not as glamorous as it can be made out to be, so this was a really good reality check. If you read this and still want to start our business, then there’s probably nothing that will stop you!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My main tip for new entrepreneurs is that if you don’t know something (and there’s going to be a lot you don’t know), then find somebody who does and ask them exactly how to do it. This is the fastest way to learn and you shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out.
When I was first out of college, I cold-emailed the Snap Inc founder, Evan Spiegel, and pitched myself as a marketing hire. He declined but gave me valuable advice. This was back in 2013. At the time they only had 10 engineers. He didn’t have the budget for a full-time marketer. But he still took the time to share some guidance. Seven years later, I started my SEO agency, GR0. And every time I thought about quitting—I remembered Evan’s advice. Here’s where things come full circle: the other day I had an aspiring entrepreneur reach out to me. I gave him advice and connected him to a potential investor.
So, shoutout to Evan Spiegel because he didn’t have to give me advice. He didn’t even have to email me back. But he chose to do so and chose to pass on valuable information.
Everyone else that you are looking up to also relied on someone else at some point, and they are likely going to be willing to pay it forward.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We currently have 4 positions open in Sales, Technology, Operations, and our SEO team. All of the positions are remote and full-time opportunities.
Interested candidates can learn more about each role and apply on Lever.
Where can we go to learn more?
Please follow us on social at:
For more information about GR0, please visit Comparably, Glassdoor, Clutch, or Crunchbase.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
GR0 has provided an update on their business!
3 months ago, we followed up with GR0 to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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