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.