Linkdex: The State of the Nation (2016)

Since the launch of our new plat­form in Jan­u­ary, we’ve been deliv­ered bou­quets over brick­bats. Inde­pen­dent research shows that our rec­om­men­da­tion lev­els are through the roof. But the hard work doesn’t stop there.

Mark Smith By Mark Smith from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 2 comments

We’re three months in to only the sec­ond ver­sion of Linkdex – the first plat­form saw us through our first five years – and it’s inspired me to write my inau­gur­al blog as CEO of Linkdex. Most­ly to give a view of how we think and where we’re going – with some oft-repeat­ed views thrown in for good mea­sure.

For all my brash­ness, I’m not one to hog the dig­i­tal lime­light. We have oth­ers here who are far more qual­i­fied, far more high­ly spo­ken of in the SEO indus­try. My job, pret­ty much since I’ve been here, is to keep the cus­tomer hap­py, with­out mak­ing a fuss and with­out the need for the mar­ket­ing spot­light to be shone my way.

For me, the def­i­n­i­tion of “cus­tomer” changes depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion. There are those who buy Linkdex, of course, and those who use it. But there are oth­ers, too: the peo­ple who work here, dri­ving the busi­ness for­ward so suc­cess­ful­ly; those that sup­ply Linkdex, help­ing us make the plat­form just what it is; those that put up the mon­ey for the com­pa­ny in the first place (share­hold­ers by any oth­er name) and a myr­i­ad of oth­ers, peo­ple whose cus­tom and input would help any busi­ness thrive, let alone Linkdex. Some­times that means fac­ing up to mis­takes we’ve made, oth­er times tak­ing tough deci­sions to move the busi­ness for­ward.

Some­times it just means I’m the first in the pub and the last out of it, and it always seems to be my round.

Bal­anc­ing a busi­ness like Linkdex – SaaS plat­form as it is, expec­ta­tions of hock­ey-stick growth, demands for con­stant improve­ment, respond­ing to out­landish com­peti­tor claims and coun­ter­ing rumour with truth – would be a full time job if we let it be. It’s real­ly impor­tant that we don’t though – that we instead look to stand for some­thing, rather than los­ing our­selves in spread­sheets of the future, or find­ing our­selves reach­ing for the same clichés to describe our­selves; becom­ing just anoth­er gener­ic prod­uct on the mar­ket.

I’m against cer­tain hack­neyed phras­es (per­haps infa­mous­ly, if only due to the pro­fan­i­ty-laden response) – “cus­tomer cen­tric mar­ket­ing” is one of them (isn’t mar­ket­ing cus­tomer-cen­tric by it’s entire nature?) – and I’m a bit too long in the tooth to be entire­ly enam­oured with the bull­shit gen­er­al­i­sa­tions allowed for when folk talk about “dis­rup­tion”.

Not every­thing needs to be dis­rupt­ed: for exam­ple, Linkdex has an unwrit­ten rule (though about to be writ­ten via this very post) about how we deal with adver­tis­ing agen­cies that are cus­tomers of Linkdex: we don’t approach their clients under any cir­cum­stance. They’re the cus­tomers of our clients, allowed to exist in total har­mo­ny with the sup­pli­ers of our client (ie, us) with­out being resold on a plat­form they already use (direct­ly or indi­rect­ly).

See, I don’t believe the Agency mod­el is about to be “dis­rupt­ed”; I do believe it will evolve and adapt, but ulti­mate­ly they don’t need one of their sup­pli­ers sud­den­ly decid­ing that they can offer a bet­ter ser­vice and bit­ing the very hand that feeds them (while under the false secu­ri­ty of a long term con­tract), all in the name of “dis­rup­tion” itself. It’s not dis­rup­tive. It’s just bloody stu­pid.

That con­cept of dis­rup­tion did come to mind, though, over the last few months. As we secured our last round of fund­ing, ensur­ing we were cap­i­talised to grow rev­enue and prof­it, we start­ed to real­ly think about what we expect­ed to become, what our cus­tomers real­ly want­ed us to achieve, to sup­port them with.

We’ve grown by 1000’s of per­cent­age points in rev­enue and clients since 2012 (as I can nei­ther take cred­it nor blame for any­thing Linkdex-relat­ed pri­or to 2012, I treat it, with great humour, as Anno Domi­ni; I once did that joke in a new starter pre­sen­ta­tion and Kirsty Hulse gave me the strangest look, as only Kirsty can, and asked me: “so you think you’re the mes­si­ah?”. I still don’t have a good answer and have rarely used the same joke since), but it’s the feed­back and the joy of our cus­tomers – and the users, those that actu­al­ly use Linkdex to suc­ceed in Organ­ic Search – that real­ly mat­ters. Build­ing a sales machine to flog your prod­uct is one thing, but build­ing a plat­form that actu­al­ly deliv­ers on the mar­ket­ing mes­sages we relay is going to ensure that the sales side is far more straight­for­ward.

In the past, Linkdex has poten­tial­ly dis­rupt­ed itself; look­ing for ways to deliv­er to the minor­i­ty of cus­tomers a greater, sin­gu­lar expe­ri­ence, as opposed to look­ing more to the plat­form to deliv­er the finest, mass expe­ri­ence. That changed some time ago, but those changes are only now com­ing through – we’ve delib­er­ate­ly said good­bye to some tal­ent­ed peo­ple as we cease sup­port of dis­con­tin­ued ser­vices, while build­ing out the real focus of the busi­ness, ensur­ing that we can gen­uine­ly offer that “peak” expe­ri­ence through the scal­a­bil­i­ty of the plat­form.

Since the launch of our new plat­form in Jan­u­ary, we’ve been deliv­ered bou­quets over brick­bats. The lat­est research we under­took through an inde­pen­dent con­sul­tan­cy, Brand­hook, showed our rec­om­men­da­tion lev­els are through the roof. But the hard work doesn’t stop there.

A hap­pi­er cus­tomer becomes a more demand­ing cus­tomer and it’s for us to step up and con­tin­ue to meet the high demands of our many thou­sands of users. I don’t want to dis­tract myself by only look­ing at the var­i­ous growth pro­jec­tions of busi­ness; we’re final­ly in that place where we can deliv­er a knock-out blow, we have both the plat­form and an enor­mous tal­ent pool (both by qual­i­ty and quan­ti­ty) to ensure that we do the one thing we have com­mit­ted to doing: keep­ing the cus­tomer sat­is­fied (I was try­ing to avoid using a 1960s song title to show my age, but the more I wrote, the less like­ly that became).

To under­stand what you want to be, you almost have to be clear on what you’re not. That’s meant changes at Linkdex, a focus away from offer­ing labo­ri­ous ser­vic­ing (with a nod to the qual­i­ty of that ser­vice, but it ulti­mate­ly didn’t scale into thou­sands of hap­py cus­tomers); and strict avoid­ance of con­sul­tan­cy (one thing I think peo­ple find hard to avoid, but ulti­mate­ly we’re not a con­sul­tan­cy and show­ing peo­ple how to get the best out of our plat­form will allow them to achieve more scal­able suc­cess for them­selves).

We have one of the world’s lead­ing SEO plat­forms – so let’s deliv­er it to the cus­tomer and be pre­pared to lis­ten when that cus­tomer, the peo­ple that REALLY use it every day, have some­thing to say about their expe­ri­ence. For only then can we real­ly improve.

Behind the tech­nol­o­gy, we’re still human: I still find myself reach­ing for the stick to beat out of us the need to be the smartest per­son in the room or the SEO guru; the need to talk when we should lis­ten, the desire to respond when we hear non­sense, either about us or oth­ers or the indus­try itself. I still find myself doing it, but in a rather strange way: I ver­bal­ly pro­tect our com­pe­ti­tion from the envy and the spite that comes from the mouths of the myopic. I don’t expect that in return, but I’m a huge believ­er that there’s bare­ly a sin­gle indus­try in the world that hasn’t thrived with great com­pe­ti­tion. We’re all judged by the com­pa­ny we keep; by the com­pe­ti­tion that’s reach­ing up for us. I believe that Linkdex is the best choice for most any cus­tomer that’s seri­ous about SEO; that doesn’t mean I’m blind to the fact that oth­ers are try­ing to reach our heights. I’m just con­fi­dent that, as we improve, they won’t catch up. That doesn’t make them bad peo­ple, a shock­ing plat­form, unfit for pur­pose, going bank­rupt, or what­ev­er the lat­est rumour about them is. It just means they’re not as good as us. I can live with that.

Then there’s the indus­try itself: it’s still matur­ing; to me, it’s becom­ing a gen­uine part of the adver­tis­ing mix, earned media as opposed to paid media, but part of that very mix nev­er­the­less. From Agency to In-House teams, it’s slow­ly, steadi­ly being recog­nised for what it is. Some­one, some­where kills off SEO every six months and we all take a lit­tle step back, but then those very same peo­ple, with no ounce of self-aware­ness, start talk­ing about “evo­lu­tion instead of rev­o­lu­tion”, remind­ing them­selves that while peo­ple search on a great big bloody data­base like Google, there will be the need to opti­mise to ensure that the cus­tomer finds what they’re look­ing for. The device became agnos­tic; there was no year of mobile after all. It just steadi­ly came upon us. Now we hap­pi­ly deal with it.

And with this matur­ing indus­try, so we will con­tin­ue to mature Linkdex, our focus trained square­ly on ensur­ing that our plat­form ever-improves, thrilling our cus­tomers, grow­ing our cus­tomer base through rec­om­men­da­tion from those very users that we both deliv­er and lis­ten to.
That’s my job, as much as it’s the job of the entire busi­ness. So if you need me, I’ll be qui­et­ly flit­ting between every cus­tomer that this busi­ness has, new and old, in every which way, to make sure that we’re lis­ten­ing and seek­ing to con­tin­ue to thrill.

And if you hang around long enough, you’ll even­tu­al­ly find me lis­ten­ing in the bar, with the sin­gle guar­an­tee I can real­ly offer you: it’s my round.

Mark Smith

Written by Mark Smith

CEO, Linkdex

After 12 years in publishing, during which Mark launched and edited over 50 sporting and entertainment magazines, Mark moved to TMN Group as CEO. Through organic and acquisitional growth, TMN Group grew from sub £1M in revenue to over £60M, and its valuation rocketed to near £100M. Mark joined Linkdex in 2011 to head up the commercials and is now at the helm as CEO.

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