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Blake Emal: Here’s what you’re going to get out of this episode. First off, we talk about how to start a career in something you know nothing about. Then, we move on to the dynamics of working at a company versus working for yourself. We also talk about the future of SEO, and here’s a hint, it’s about the people. Building a social following is also something that we’re going to talk about here on the podcast, so building a brand for yourself or for your company, and then finally, the principles of fine cinema. Yes, that actually does come up.
Blake Emal: Welcome to the Yours in Marketing Podcast. On this week’s episode, I had the opportunity to speak with fedora-sporting SEO royalty, aka Cyrus Shepard. Cyrus is the founder of zyppy.com, and he’s also a self-made SEO expert most notably known for his time as a director of audience development at Moz.
Just a reminder to please leave an honest review for the Yours in Marketing Podcast. Each and every week, from now on, I’ll be shouting out one of our new reviewers by name on the podcast. We’ll randomly select a name of the reviews we approve during the week and we’ll shout you out, so if you feel like getting famous, please leave a review, we would love to shout you out. Enough fanfare, let’s get to the interview.
All right. With us today we have SEO extraordinaire Cyrus Shepard, he is one of the biggest names in SEO. He is an absolute SEO expert, beast on the matter, but also he’s just a really cool guy. We’re going to get to know Cyrus a little bit better. Cyrus, how are you doing today, how are you feeling?
Cyrus Shepard: I’m good, thanks for having me. What people listening don’t know is I missed this interview a couple of times previously. I was struck with a concussion about a month and a half ago so I’ve been recovering, but so I’m really happy that we made it today, and happy to be here.
Blake Emal: I appreciate your vigilance. I know it’s not easy to overcome something like that, but all that matters is that we’re here now, right?
Cyrus Shepard: Absolutely.
Blake Emal: Let’s start with this, because given that it’s March, are you a sports fan? Are you doing a March Madness bracket?
Cyrus Shepard: I feel sort of embarrassed by this, but I have become less and less of a sports fan every year. In college, I was crazy about March Madness. I did all the brackets, I watched every game. Over time, I’ve just become less of a sports guy, and it’s kind of embarrassing to talk about with sports people but it’s just the reality of the matter.
Blake Emal: So no bracket this year?
Cyrus Shepard: No bracket, I don’t even know who the good teams are.
Blake Emal: Well, I’ll just spoil it for you. Duke’s going to win it. Nobody else has a chance, yeah, Duke’s-
Cyrus Shepard: So nothing has changed in 20 years.
Beginnings in Film
Blake Emal: Right, you’ve got that absolutely right. And so, you went to USC, right, for college?
Cyrus Shepard: That’s right.
Blake Emal: You got a degree in cinema and production. I’m not reading that wrong?
Cyrus Shepard: I got in on my own merits, I did not pay to get in, I did not take my SAT scores, so, yeah. Yeah, I studied cinema at USC, it was a great experience. I never really used my cinema degree, I worked in Hollywood as a background actor for a few years, I was trying to be a writer. My most noticeable gig was, have you heard of the show 24, with Kiefer Sutherland?
Blake Emal: Yeah.
Cyrus Shepard: I was one of the regular background actors in the office there, in the counter-terrorism unit. I’d just walk around wearing the same clothes every day, because it all happens in a 24-hour period.
Blake Emal: Right.
Cyrus Shepard: Would go sit in a room with the other actors, it was a great job.
Blake Emal: That’s fantastic. When you were in school, was the plan to become an actor, to become a director, to become a writer, or did you always think that it was going to lead somewhere else?
Cyrus Shepard: I wanted to become a director, a writer-director. I loved movies, I still do. I’m a huge devotee of Steven Spielberg cinema of the 80s and 90s, but yeah, I really had no talent as a screenwriter. I spent 10 years banging my head against the wall trying to get scripts produced in Hollywood, and I was really not a good screenwriter at all, so it was a weird career choice for me.
Blake Emal: Well, so you’re writing these scripts, you feel like you don’t have the talent, so at what point did you just decide, or what made the switch of, all right, I just need to stop this and go for something else?
Cyrus Shepard: It was actually a small taste of success, I had finally gotten an agent to be interested in me. There are these screenwriting competitions that they have in Hollywood, and they’re mostly bogus, but they can give you a little recognition, and I actually placed third or fourth place in this screenwriting competition, which was a huge deal. It should’ve been a validation moment for me because I was finally getting my foot in the door.
But I had worked so hard to get to that point, and writing had become so scripted, for a better word. It was almost like I was following a formula. I was doing what I knew would work instead of what I was loving to do. I was so exhausted at that point, I’m like, if this is what it takes to succeed, I don’t want to do it anymore, I’m not enjoying it. This was too much work, I’ve spent 10 years of my life getting to this point and I hate it now. So one day I just told my wife, I’m done, and I never went back.
A Leap of Faith into HTML
Blake Emal: So what was the next step after that, where’d you go?
Cyrus Shepard: Then I was completely lost. I was supporting myself with these dead-end jobs, waiting tables, bartending, fire fighting, the background acting, none of them with benefits or insurance. I basically had no money, I was basically broke, my wife was just finishing a second degree, and at that point, we decided to move to Seattle for no reason whatsoever. I got to Seattle and I started… I didn’t know what else to do and I was taking more dead-end jobs.
This was in the recession 10 years ago, it was terrible economic times. I got a job, it was another dead end job in a restaurant, I was being trained by a 19-year-old kid who was more interested in eating soup than doing anything else. After three days of this job, my wife came and picked me up and I said, honey, I know times are tough, I know the economy is rough, I’m going to quit this job and I’m going to try to make a living doing something on the internet. And that’s how I got into SEO.
Blake Emal: That’s a huge leap of faith.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, it is.
Blake Emal: That must have been terrifying.
Cyrus Shepard: It was. I had been interested in websites for a long time, and building websites, I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was building HTML websites and I didn’t know what my plan was, but I literally had an HTML book that I was going through and that was my business plan. I was going to go through the HTML book and somehow magic was going to happen, and it kind of did in a way, it kind of did.
Blake Emal: Yeah, well that sounds like a really fun book to read, just straight up HTML. I’ve taken a couple of classes on HTML. It’s useful, but it’s not the most exciting of material.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah.
Blake Emal: So, seamless segue here, I’ve got to ask. So many of your pictures out there, when you’re giving events, you’re giving speeches, you’re sporting the fedora.
Cyrus Shepard: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Blake Emal: Why the fedora? What’s the origin story of the fedora, and what’s the future of the fedora as well? Let’s talk about this.
Cyrus Shepard: The origin story is, I went bald and I hate it.
Blake Emal: That makes sense.
Cyrus Shepard: So, yeah, I started losing my hair at 21 years old. I had so much hair, it was beautiful. I did all the supplements, all the Rogaine and everything to try to hold on to it, and it was just pathetic. I did 10 years where it’s really thin on top, but I’m still growing it. It got to the point where like, this is ridiculous, so I started shaving my head about four or five years ago and started wearing a hat, just a ball cap, but I’m advancing in age and respectability, so started buying nice hats once in a while and having a lot of fun with them.
Blake Emal: The fedora is one of the few hats that you can wear in a professional setting that’s acceptable.
Cyrus Shepard: Absolutely, and when I go to conferences, when I do a lot of MC’ing of SEO conferences, it’s nice to wear the hat. They’re terrible to travel with on planes because you can’t pack them. In a lot of places in Europe, it’s not polite to wear a hat indoors, but still, I love the hats.
Blake Emal: Before we move on to more of the SEO side, I have a couple of questions about your cinema background still. Now that we talked about your love for movies, I have a couple of questions around this, because I also love movies. Don’t want to spend too much time, but thoughts on the Oscars this year. Green Book, was it deserving?
Cyrus Shepard: It was possibly deserving but I don’t think it was the best movie of the field. I remember years ago when I was rooting for Saving Private Ryan to win and Shakespeare in Love won, because Saving Private Ryan was competing against Thin Blue Line, Terrence Malick, and it split the vote. Now they have this stacked ranking system that’s supposed to reward second… I don’t know exactly how it works, but no, I don’t think Green Book was the best film of last year.
Blake Emal: I agree with you. What about the no-host situation, you were cool with that?
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, I was totally cool with that. Doing a lot of MC’ing myself, I don’t think there’s any reason that you need a continual host throughout the whole program. Last year at MozCon they asked me to host, but we split it up with three different hosts one day after another and that worked great, and I think you can even do more than that. It’s a great opportunity to bring more people onstage.
Blake Emal: Yeah, it was quicker, it was nice.
Cyrus Shepard: I do want to give a shout out to my USC classmate Erik Aadahl, who was nominated for sound on A Quiet Space. They did not win.
Blake Emal: Whoa, nice.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, they did not win, he is going to get the Oscar though someday.
Blake Emal: Yeah. No, that movie was incredible. That was like one of those movies you have to see in theaters though to have the full effect, but that was an incredible movie. If you could win any Oscar, your dream Oscar, which one would it be?
Cyrus Shepard: It would be for directing, it would be directing the best picture.
Blake Emal: You’d have to beat out Alfonso Cuarón.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, oh God.
Blake Emal: He wins it like every year now.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, he’s so good. He’s so good, yeah.
Blake Emal: And then, you mentioned also that Spielberg, that’s your guy.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah.
Blake Emal: So, number one Spielberg movie of all time?
Cyrus Shepard: Oh…
Blake Emal: Saving Private Ryan… ?
Cyrus Shepard: There’s so many, but the one that I am in love with is Jaws.
Blake Emal: That’s a fantastic [inaudible 00:10:53].
Cyrus Shepard: It just continues to deliver. It’s so old now, but every shot is intentional and you can learn so much just watching it. It’s amazing to me that directors in the decade since have not really taken the lessons of Spielberg to heart and they’re just putting cameras everywhere, and shooting scenes like they have for decades without really understanding, they can do it like this and do it better.
Blake Emal: Well, just being a movie lover like you, I just had to ask a couple of those questions. But I think it’s also a little bit pertinent, because too often in B2B, marketing, whatever space you’re in, we focus too much on the business side of it, but then, we’re all people. We all have interests. It’s okay to have fun as well, so hopefully, that comes across here. But Cyrus is, clearly talking to him, just a cool guy.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, I got to ask you, what’s your favorite film?
Blake Emal: Okay. This is a little bit of a dark horse for most people. They would never think of this movie, but my personal favorite movie of all time is The Green Mile.
Cyrus Shepard: The Green, oh, I love The Green Mile.
Blake Emal: I love that movie. It’s got great villains in it, it’s got this really nice side of it, this really evil side of it, it’s just really well composed I think. I love that movie.
Cyrus Shepard: Who directed that?
Blake Emal: I have no clue who directed it.
Cyrus Shepard: I can’t remember… The same guy who did Shawshank Redemption.
Blake Emal: I think so, yeah. Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, really good movie.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, yeah, underrated for sure, underappreciated. Not underrated, underappreciated.
Blake Emal: Yeah, it’s one of the few Stephen King books turned movies that actually turned out well. It’s not often that that turns out to be a good movie, but that one’s great.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, cool.
The Journey From HTML to SEO Expert
Blake Emal: Let’s shift a little bit. Let’s get a little bit more into your path. Obviously we talked about, it’s been really untraditional, but your transition into SEO, what was your first exposure? You mentioned getting into HTML first, then how did you transition into the whole SEO side of websites?
Cyrus Shepard: I got incredibly lucky on so many fronts in my career. I hate it when we see successful people who take credit for their success by saying, it was me, it was all my brains, my luck. I have no brains or any of that, it was all luck for me. I quit the restaurant business, I was building websites, I was building some affiliate sites as people did back in 2008, 2009, and I needed to figure out how to market them. I had no clue how to market them.
I was googling, how to get visitors to your website, and I was running into AdWords, and, you know, I started out greener than green. And then I stumbled upon SEO and I’m like, oh, wait a minute, I don’t have to push people a message, I can wait until people are looking for something, and if I know what they’re looking for I can place my content directly in front of them at the moment that they’re looking for them.
This was magic to me. I had had some really bad sales jobs in high school where I would call people up, telemarketing, selling them coupon books, selling coupon books to little old ladies who absolutely didn’t need them. I felt horrible about myself, they were terrible jobs. This is what I thought that selling was, so when I discovered SEO it was like light bulbs started clicking off in my head and I was in love. That moment turned everything for me.
Blake Emal: It’s not that common that somebody will find something like SEO. Some people, if you explain that to them, that could be super boring, right? I’m in SEO as well, that’s my specialty, but I understand when I talk to people about SEO that aren’t in marketing at all, it’s a snooze fest. They don’t care. How could people just become passionate about something that other people find boring? And how do you stick with it?
Cyrus Shepard: There was no question for me about sticking with it, just because I loved it so much. This is a question I have today because SEO is changing so much, and Google is changing, the landscape, I suspect SEO is not going to look the same in 10 years as it does today, so that raises some questions to me about how to stay relevant. How is this job that we’re doing of making websites more visible and helping people connect with customers and visitors, how is that going to change?
When I was doing this, when I was learning SEO, I was really green. My wife was working for a wholesale wine accessory company here in Seattle, and she loved the job. They were doing millions of dollars a year in business. I looked at their website and it was horrible. It was horrible, they had one page indexed in Google. This was a million dollar company that had one page indexed in Google, because their homepage was an image, all the other pages were set to no index, I mean, it was terrible.
I asked my wife, set up a meeting with your boss, I just want to point out a few of these issues that I’m learning about. So I had a meeting with him, I went in, I prepared like 10 slides, here’s 10 things you can do, and I just wanted to help the business out because my wife worked there, just wanted to do them a favor. We got done and he was like, that’s awesome, how much do you charge? I’m like, oh, no, no, I’m not… I’m just a beginner, I barely know this stuff. And he’s like, well, obviously you know more than I do, so how much do you charge? And I went, well, okay.
So we set up a contract and I became their consultant, and it was my first SEO consultant job. I had no idea what I was doing, but they gave me total control of the website. Over the next two years, we grew millions of dollars of revenue. The site was so unoptimized it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Redid the home page, and they were doing hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, then I ran into a problem. I ran into a problem like a lot of SEOs run into.
Business was doing great, but they didn’t understand why. They didn’t understand that it was coming from SEO, the more business was coming through the website. And so I’m like, I need more clients, I need to charge more money, this has been a great learning experience. So I started searching for different SEO opportunities and I stumbled upon Moz, which was SEO Moz back in those days, and they were hiring for some SEO customer support.
I was kind of an entry level SEO in those days. I applied, I got the job, it was awesome, and three months later they promoted me to lead SEO of the company. So in a very short time, I went from just learning SEO to doing SEO for the number one SEO company in the world, and I had imposter syndrome out the wazoo. But that’s how I got started in SEO, it was just an incredible series of fortunate events.
From Learning to Leading
Blake Emal: I’m sure there are other people listening that have had that experience, maybe not to that extent, like at a Moz type company, but going from entry level to all of a sudden being asked to do so much. What advice would you give to somebody that’s going through that right now, or that will go through that in the future? How do you get over the imposter syndrome and actually become great?
Cyrus Shepard: Let me tell you about imposter syndrome. Shortly after I started at Moz, within the first week, they had put me in this position. Well, we met with the growth team of Facebook. I’m in a conference room with VP level people at Facebook and we’re going over, how can Facebook improve their SEO? I’m sitting there going, a few months ago I was doing this wine website on the side.
We have this page up, and it’s like Britney Spears or something like that, and like, why is Twitter outranking this page? It was a weird situation. I’m looking at it, and it was obvious to me why the page wasn’t ranking, there was very little content on the page, it was just an issue of basic SEO techniques, practices. I realized at that moment, SEO is done one page at a time.
It’s an algorithm, everything is treated according to a set set of rules, and if you can do SEO for a wine website you can start to understand principles of SEO for Facebook or Twitter or any website in the world, and you have the skills to do that. The principles don’t change. That was kind of a turning point for me, sitting in that room, that maybe I actually could do this, and if I can do this, anybody can do this.
Blake Emal: What were your first impressions when you got to Moz? What did you perceive as your reality there, what the company was like at that point?
Cyrus Shepard: Everybody there was my hero, Rand Fishkin, and Jen Lopez, and Danny Dover back in the days who wrote the Web Developer’s Cheat Sheet. I was just in awe walking around the hallways and running into people.
Blake Emal: I’ll bet.
Cyrus Shepard: I rode an elevator with Rand Fishkin and I was so nervous that I couldn’t say anything. I was just like… I froze up. The most surprising thing to me was that the people there at that time, you know, Sarah Bird, who’s now the CEO, they were so much nicer in real life than they were online. I thought that was incredible because they were so nice online, but in person they were amazing. I’m still friends with several of them today and they’re just some of the best people I know.
Blake Emal: Do you have any good Rand Fishkin stories?
Cyrus Shepard: I… My lips are sealed.
Blake Emal: Your lips are sealed. I recently just read through his new book, Lost and Founder. It was really, really cool book.
Cyrus Shepard: What people don’t realize about Rand, and I don’t mind speaking about him in third person, he’s the real deal. We’ve become pretty good friends over the years, and he is so passionate and so genuine. What he professes to be online is who he is as a person 110%. There is no pretension there, there is no posturing. Obviously, he’s a giant in the SEO world, but as you were talking about, SEOs are real people, he is one of the most real people that I know.
Blake Emal: Is it weird to you that nowadays CEOs are celebrities? The tech industry, especially in the Valley, they can become celebrities. Rand Fishkin can walk around and people will know who Rand Fishkin is because he does videos on Whiteboard Fridays and he ran Moz, whereas back in the day it was like the actors were famous. That’s still the case, but is that weird to you?
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, it is a little weird. Social media is such a weird place that it can amplify anybody. There’s a corollary phenomenon that is also disturbing, which is, social media can amplify anybody. If you’re good at social media, trolls, and people who are totally undeserving of the attention, anybody can pose as a successful SEO on Twitter and I think we see that. It’s hard to separate people who are giving good actionable advice from people who are just good at amplifying themselves.
Blake Emal: Right, yeah, it’s kind of hard to sift through… Social media just makes it so easy to put out information. You can say, I’ve got 20 years of experience, and I’ve done X results, but can you back it up and have you really put in the work? Like, how many people have really put in the work to be able to say those things? That speaks also to kind of, I mean, I’d love to get your opinion on this but, where SEO is going in the future as well, just in terms of everything is supposed to be more genuine. It’s going from being more and more natural, more and more genuine, more towards user experience than it is about just implementing tactics. Am I speaking the truth here?
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. I ran a poll a couple of days ago on Twitter and I asked people what they found the hardest part of SEO was, and the answers really surprised me. The four choices were technical SEO, content creation, link building and outreach, and buy-in, and the two biggest problems that people had were content creation and link building and PR outreach. That is a problem, no matter how Google changes, no matter what technical problems there are, that’s going to be a problem that never goes away.
That’s been marketing since the dawn of time, how do we create messages that resonate with people, and how do we amplify those messages? I think that’s going to continue to be the future of SEO. The platforms are going to change, the tech is going to change, best practices are going to change, but crafting those messages that resonate, that’s something that we continually have to learn over, and over, and over again, and try to be good at.
Blake Emal: Along with this, you recently spoke about the new release of Domain Authority 2.0. You actually wrote the article about it, right?
Cyrus Shepard: I wrote one of the articles. I don’t want to take any credit, the Domain Authority, Russ Jones and some very smart search scientists at Moz had worked on that. I just came in the end and was a messenger, did one Whiteboard Friday, but we had many, multiple streams going through that, yeah.
Blake Emal: So from Domain Authority 1.0 to 2.0, from what we’ve just said, trying to make it more resonate, the messaging, more with the user, make it more user-friendly, more natural. How does Domain Authority 2.0 fit into that, how does it reflect that?
Cyrus Shepard: The original Domain Authority, there is what Domain Authority is, and there’s the marketing myth, what people think Domain Authority is. It’s this huge metric that’s used by tens or hundreds of thousands of people out there in the world, and from a marketing point of view, it’s very challenging to communicate how people should be using it when it’s that broadly adopted.
I think any time you have a technology platform or metric or software that’s used by that many people, different people are going to see different things. Domain Authority 1.0 was loosely based on Google’s Pagerank Algorithm, there was a little bit of machine learning that looked at Google Search results, and the main use of Domain Authority is trying to predict Google rankings, how authoritative is this website. Over time, it kind of got, not out of date, but there were opportunities there to make it much, much better.
The new Domain Authority 2.0 takes spam into account, it takes people who are manipulating the link wrap into the account, it’s much more reflective of actual Google rankings, and they used some very, very clever things to do that. It remains the most predictive domain level metric out there, so getting that message out about what it is used for and what it isn’t used for has been challenging and fun at the same time.
Blake Emal: I think a lot of people think that it’s like a Google metric, and it’s not. They’re like, oh, if I get my DA up, then I’ll guarantee, like, Google’s going to rank me higher, it’s like, well, it’s not Google’s metric.
Cyrus Shepard: It’s a complicated messaging because if you do raise your domain authority, chances are you are actually going to rank higher, but it’s not because Google is using that. We’re using the same signals that Google is using, they just happen to overlap.
Blake Emal: Right. It’s definitely worth optimizing for, but hard for people to understand, well, if I raise this up then Google’s going to reward me. It’s like, no, you’ve still got to put in the work.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah.
Blake Emal: Well you’ve been given so many cool opportunities with a company like Moz to work on things like this. You still have a relationship, clearly, with Moz, you’ve done Whiteboard Fridays with them still and stuff, but what led to deciding, all right, I’m going to try to move away from the nest a little bit and start my own thing?
Transitioning Away From Moz
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. I left Moz, I think in 2015, and my wife and I started our own business, which was Fazillion, that’s the corporate name. Mostly affiliate marketing type stuff, also some consulting on the side, which we’ve enjoyed immensely. I stepped away a little bit from that last year due to some family health issues that everybody experiences in their life, so I had sort of basically taken a break.
Towards the end of last year, I had a couple of offers from some companies in the SEO space to do some contracting consulting to come on and help them out, and Moz here in Seattle, we worked out an agreement, so now I’m doing some consulting with Moz. I’m not an employee of Moz, they are a customer at this point. I don’t know the length of this relationship, we have a set term in our contract, but I’m doing a lot of things that I love, working with a lot of the people there right now, creating some content, advising on some things, and it’s fun to still have a relationship with them.
Blake Emal: What was the key driver behind wanting to do your own thing and leaving a company like Moz?
Cyrus Shepard: I really hate working for other people.
Blake Emal: Got it.
Cyrus Shepard: I’ve worked for some awesome people, and I’ve worked for some awesome people at Moz, but I really value my independence and the difference between being in-house and working for yourself. Any SEO who’s ever worked in a company knows the frustration of wanting to change something on a website and not being able to do it right away, having to put a ticket in, talk to the engineering team, argue about resource allocation.
It’s so wonderful not to have those constraints and just build your own websites. I’ve been publishing a little bit of content over the past year on zyppy.com. We’ve only published three articles, but those three articles got tens of thousands of visits, maybe in the hundreds of thousands at this point, and that’s so refreshing just to have complete control over every step that you do. I’m kind of a control freak, so yeah, I love that.
Blake Emal: I think a lot of people that do their own thing will relate to being a control freak, that’s probably a common theme. What were the challenges though? If you had to do something differently from that transition what would that be?
Cyrus Shepard: I’m fascinated by the psychology of successful entrepreneurs, because I don’t think I have some of those traits. My friend Rand Fishkin, he’s definitely-
Blake Emal: Namedrop, you want to pick up that name you dropped?
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, no, I’m not dropping it, I’m…
Blake Emal: No, I’m just…
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, my good friend Elon Musk, the other day…
Blake Emal: No, go for it, yeah.
Cyrus Shepard: Rand is so driven, and so wired for success, and I’m always wondering, like, what’s the difference between him and me, because I don’t have a lot of those traits that a lot of successful entrepreneurs have.
There was a study done a few years ago about personality traits, cognitive distortions of entrepreneurs. And I see those traits in a lot of entrepreneurs, they include black and white thinking, personal exceptionalism, things that can sometimes lead to depression and mental disorders also lead to very high success rates in Silicon Valley. So I’m trying to figure out myself what personality traits I need to work on without going into psychosis or depression, to balance success with my personal drives.
Blake Emal: That’s a huge thing. We need to focus on that a little bit more, just in general, as a society, but also in business, the mental health aspect of it. It’s so important to keep it in mind, because the more stressed out you get, obviously, the more that’s going to affect your work. And so when you’re doing something like moving from Moz to doing your own thing, you’re going to have control over everything, which is great because then you don’t report to anybody, but then at the same time, you have control over everything, which means if you fail or if something doesn’t go exactly as planned, all of the stress is on you. The whole burden is on you, so how do you manage that?
Cyrus Shepard: I’ll be honest, over the past few years since leaving Moz, I’ve had a wonderful time. I’ve had lots of opportunities, I’ve done SEO with some great sites, I’ve done my own projects, and then when, I took some time off last year because of some family reasons. It was incredibly easy for me, I had that opportunity, but one thing I haven’t done on my own is, I haven’t really built a business.
I have an income, I have consulting that I do and I have projects that I make money off of, but I haven’t built a business. I think that’s the next step for me, is, building an actual business that can run on its own, that has inputs and outputs, and that doesn’t necessarily need me at the seat every day, and I think that’s a challenge I’m very much looking forward to.
The Creation of Zyppy
Blake Emal: So now you’re doing a company called Zyppy, let’s talk about Zyppy for a second. Why on Earth did you call it Zyppy, how did that come about, and what do you do?
Cyrus Shepard: I’m fascinated with naming things and what works and what resonates. I saw Zyppy on a domain marketplace, it was a premium domain. I won’t tell you how much I paid for it, it might be embarrassing, but it hit all the triggers for me, it had zip. It was short, it was brandable, there wasn’t a lot out there like it, so I got it and it was love at first sight. My wife is one of the most talented graphic designers I know, we worked for a few weeks coming up with the logo for it, I love it. I love the colors, the identity, the branding, I love everything about it.
Blake Emal: What was the key service that you were wanting to… What did you want to do differently with it? Why was this supposed to stand out?
Cyrus Shepard: What most people don’t know is, Zyppy is actually a stealth software company. I had this idea for creating a new type of SEO software, something that doesn’t exist in the marketplace, I can’t speak too much about it. Been working with a developer for the past year and a half, we’ve come up with some creative solutions, we’re not close to launching anything yet, but Zyppy is actually, was created for that reason. Since we’ve had it we’ve used it to publish some content to build some attention around the brand, so that when we do launch, if and when we do launch the software we have that brand equity already built in.
Blake Emal: You also do consulting through this brand though, is that right?
Cyrus Shepard: Yes, there’s some weird things around business. My consulting is actually through a company called Fazillion, which is a parent umbrella company, but yeah, it’s basically Zyppy, yeah.
Blake Emal: Okay, got it. Talking about consulting, one of the key things that comes to mind, because I’ve done some consulting on my own as well before coming here to Directive, and the thing that was hardest for me I guess is the fact that you have to be okay with one to one in your time. The time you put in is the exact amount of income that you’re going to get out of it, whereas you turn it into a software company and all of a sudden you can exponentially grow, which is kind of like what Moz did. They started out doing consulting, then they turned it into this software, and now people don’t know Moz for their consulting nearly as much as they know it for their software. Is that kind of the goal here?
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. I was originally an affiliate marketer, and I love that because it’s the idea of scale, you make money in your sleep and the business runs 24/7, and consulting, when I first joined Moz I didn’t really understand the software business at all. I just wanted to do SEO, I was in love with SEO, I didn’t even care that Moz had software. I didn’t understand that part of the business.
But when you work in software for a while you understand that margins are so much better, and the scale is so much better. And also, marketing becomes easier. When you’re an affiliate marketer, you don’t own the product, you’re kind of on the side and you’re promoting someone else’s product and you don’t have that control, but when you sell software it’s your product.
Marketing something that is real is so much easier than marketing something that belongs to somebody else, that everybody else is trying to market and you’re trying to differentiate it, or marketing a service that is… Marketing your time as a consultant. Marketing a real product that people can buy and subscribe to is awesome. I love marketing real products, also I love software and I love SEO, so that’s why I love Zyppy.
Blake Emal: Full circle there.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah.
Advice to B2B Leaders
Blake Emal: Well, so based off of your career so far, if you had to give one piece of advice to current B2B leaders to build your online presence right now. If you started over from scratch, because you’re big on Twitter, you obviously, when you create content you know how to do it right, you can get tens of thousands of visitors to something. So, if you were starting all over, what advice would you give to a B2B leader on how to do that?
Cyrus Shepard: That’s a great question because I think it is still so easy to create a presence for yourself on social media. I share articles all the time on Twitter, and there’s so few people that are sharing original content or original research, it is so easy to do an SEO experiment. There’s so many things you can test and publish the results.
Those things get so much attention. They’re shared, they’re put in newsletters, people see you on Twitter. It’s still so easy to gain attention to yourself because nobody is doing the hard work of publishing original research, publishing original thoughts, putting things useful out there, and if you do that I think you can build a name for yourself fairly quickly.
Blake Emal: So you’re telling me that you have to actually do hard work though.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, or you can just be annoying, I see people on Twitter doing that. You should see my mute list, it is pretty amazing.
Blake Emal: I imagine. Man, I was really looking for just like an easy way to do this, just tack it, you know, but it looks like I’m going to have to do some hard work here.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, sorry about that.
Blake Emal: I think that it would behoove everybody in B2B to try to build their presence up by putting in that work. Thought leadership is pretty underrated, and something that you’ve kind of built a foundation on. People know who you are, we know about the fedora, we know about the SEO, because you put yourself out there, and you put in the work, and you actually write, you talk, you do events…
Cyrus Shepard: And I know SEO, but you can be a thought leader in any industry. Just share your knowledge, share best practices. If you’re selling consulting services in any industry, the best way to get customers is to tell everybody all of your secrets. You don’t lose business by telling people your secrets, because people want you to do the implementation, so share everything you know, and it can lead to good things.
Blake Emal: I agree with that. Something I saw with my own consulting is, when I just gave everything away for free on social media, like, here’s what I’d do in this situation, I’ll just give that advice away for free. Then people look at that, and they say, if that’s the information this guy is giving away for free, imagine what he would give me if I paid him. It’s really powerful, and I think we underestimate the power of free knowledge. And that’s why there are so many resources that are out there Backlinko with Brian Dean, he just gives everything away for free, but then people also sign up for all of his courses and everything, because they know that if that’s what’s free the paid stuff’s going to be really good.
Cyrus Shepard: Brian is a hero of mine. He’s absolutely amazing. He puts out better SEO content than anybody, and God, he is productive, man. I think he’s cloned himself three times. I can’t do that.
Blake Emal: He just put out another article yesterday about eCommerce SEO, I think he put out another ultimate guide like last week, it takes me so long to write a blog, it was crazy.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, yeah, guy’s a genius.
Blake Emal: Yeah, he certainly is. But that guy came from nothing as well, he was not in SEO his whole life. I guess that just speaks to the fact that, just like your story, if there’s something that you become interested in that you want to take a flyer on, you can do it. You can build a career out of it. I started young, so thankfully that was the case for me, but I still believe it’s not too late to get in on this, especially with SEO. It’s just going to constantly be changing and improving.
Cyrus Shepard: Absolutely. The fundamental problems of SEO, gaining visibility for your platform, is never going to change. The tactics are going to change, but the fundamentals are always going to be there.
Blake Emal: All right, I’ve got a couple of rapid-fire questions for you.
Cyrus Shepard: Okay.
Rapid Fire Questions With SEO Expert Cyrus Shepard
Blake Emal: Let’s do a little segment here at the end, rapid-fire questions for Cyrus Shepard. All right, number one, let’s try to do hot potato, as fast as you can. What’s your preferred way of publishing content, blog, video, podcasts, social media?
Cyrus Shepard: Blog, second, video.
Blake Emal: Oo, okay, so podcast is lower on the list, I see how it is.
Cyrus Shepard: Podcasts, podcasts are awesome, but…
Blake Emal: No, no, no, that’s fine, yeah, that’s fine, I get it. All right, if you had to gift one book to one of your friends right now, what book would you give?
Cyrus Shepard: Oh, oh, ah…
Blake Emal: He’s looking around.
Cyrus Shepard: What are my favorite books? Okay, I’ll just, I’ll cheat and say, Why We Sleep, which is what I’m reading right now. Fascinating book on sleep.
Blake Emal: Who’s that by?
Cyrus Shepard: I don’t even know, a Harvard professor who is really smart.
Blake Emal: All right. I want to do one last little thing with you. Do you remember what your very first Tweet was, ever?
Cyrus Shepard: I don’t remember the exact wording, but I was working at Moz, and a requirement for working at Moz was setting up a Twitter account, so it was something about my first day at Moz.
Blake Emal: Yeah, all right. I’ll read it to you here if you don’t mind.
Cyrus Shepard: Okay.
Blake Emal: I’ll have a follow up as well. So, first Tweet ever by Cyrus Shepard reads, a lonely day at the SEO Moz office, thank goodness for @aaronwheeler and his music to help keep me company.
Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, I remember it was lonely because it was a rare Seattle snowstorm and no one came in the office, but I was so excited to work there I showed up.
Blake Emal: What was the music, what were you jamming to?
Cyrus Shepard: That was too many years ago. I can’t recall.
Blake Emal: Well, let’s see, what year was that, 2009?
Cyrus Shepard: Probably 2010, 2011.
Blake Emal: Yeah, all right, definitely not Nirvana.
Cyrus Shepard: Black Eyed Peas, I don’t know.
Blake Emal: Black Eyed Peas, all right. Well, thank you so much for joining us. That is all the questions that I have for you right now, but hopefully, we get to do this again sometime. It was good meeting you, eMeeting you. Also, I want to give you a chance to shout out your company’s… Anything you’re working on, and then we can include it in the show notes as well.
Cyrus Shepard: All right. I would give a shout out to Moz, because, doing some great work with them right now, and of course Zyppy, which will have some new content on there soon. I don’t have anything to shout out, but I’ll shout out my wife, Dawn, because I love her.
Blake Emal: That’s a good husband right there.
Cyrus Shepard: She’s standing right behind me.
Blake Emal: Ah, okay, I got it. So again, that’s zyppy.com, Zyppy with two Ys, two Ps.
Cyrus Shepard: That’s right, yeah.
Blake Emal: Z-Y-P-P-Y.com. Go check it out, read the content, and then we’ll be on the lookout for what comes next with Zyppy. That’s exciting, but it’s a little mysterious, we have no clue what’s happening.
Cyrus Shepard: No clue, no clue. Who knows?
Blake Emal: All right Cyrus, it’s a pleasure, and thank you so much for coming on
P2P Interview with Ashton Meisner
Blake Recorded: And now it’s time to switch from a B2B mindset to P2P, that is Peer to Peer. I’m going to be interviewing people here at Directive, my peers, my colleagues, to try to find out what makes them tick, to see where they come from, what their goals are professionally, and give you an idea of what the culture is like here at Directive. It’s going to be a really interesting opportunity, and maybe you’ll even find people that have your exact same job title, your same position, or your same goals, or maybe they just like the same music as you.
Blake Emal: Okay, this is P2P, Peer to Peer, where we are talking today with co-worker Ashton Meisner, who sits right next to me at Directive. Ashton, how are you doing?
Ashton Meisner: Doing great, thanks for having me.
Blake Emal: Yeah. Ashton basically begged me to come and do this interview.
Ashton Meisner: I’ve been dying to be here. It’s an honor.
Blake Emal: Ashton was one of the first people that I met at Directive because I sit right next to her. She’s in the marketing department. Why don’t you tell us what your title is, what you do on a daily basis, and then we will reverse engineer it back to where you got your start.
Ashton Meisner: Cool, yeah. I’m the media relations and marketing manager here at Directive. I actually started out as an SEO specialist, diving into the back end and learning more about the technical side, which was different for me coming from a PR background. That was how I kind of got started here at Directive, and I had an opportunity to, as we expanded, take on the marketing role and really build the brand here.
I do a lot of outreach for media relations, getting Garrett on different podcasts, which is cool so he can share his knowledge, and running our content marketing initiative where everyone here at Directive writes articles where we share our expertise. We’ve been sharing those with different outlets digitally, so it’s been pretty cool. That’s kind of a glimpse into what I do, the marketing/media side.
Blake Emal: All right, so let’s go back in time.
Ashton Meisner: Yes.
Blake Emal: You went to school at Arizona State.
Ashton Meisner: Yes, go Devs, go Devils.
Blake Emal: Okay. First of all, what did you graduate in? And then we’ll kind of go into, directly after college what happened?
Ashton Meisner: Yeah. I actually, originally started as a broadcast journalism major, my dream was to be an ESPN sports reporter. Then I started learning more about the lifestyle, wasn’t super for me. I learned more about PR and how everything is going digital, so I knew that would just be a better opportunity. I think if I ever wanted to move around or stay close to home, whatever that looks like, I had some security. So, yes, ended up graduating journalism PR, journalism with an emphasis in PR.
After I graduated, I had a role with the Arizona Diamondbacks where I worked in the community relationships department, which was really great, working with all the nonprofits, being able to work with the players for cool events, and it was really busy. Sports, it sounds all glamorous, but it’s a grind. There are a lot of things that go on on the weekends and all that good stuff, but it was so fun, and I’m a huge baseball fan. So, I got to do that for a year, and then I was able to obtain the position of marketing coordinator at Camelback Ranch, which is the spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Chicago White Sox.
Blake Emal: Stop there for a sec.
Ashton Meisner: Yeah, let’s stop.
Blake Emal: I want to ask some questions here, because I love baseball too.
Blake Emal: I grew up playing baseball and it was my favorite sport growing up.
Ashton Meisner: Awesome, yeah.
Blake Emal: Working for the Diamondbacks…
Ashton Meisner: Yes.
Blake Emal: Name a player that you met that somebody listening might recognize.
Ashton Meisner: Paul Goldschmidt was amazing, but he’s gone now, which is so sad, because I’m a big Diamondbacks fan, but he was awesome. So great with the kids and always, he was so busy, he was an amazing player, but he would always take time to be at the charity events and stuff, which is really cool.
Blake Emal: Very cool, okay.
Ashton Meisner: Yeah. That was my experience there. And then, I started working with Camelback Ranch, which was, you have the LA Dodgers side, and then the Chicago White Sox side, which was so fun, because they’re so different, both teams. So I got to work with both and we had our own office as well.
I would help run the game script, I actually did a little bit of the broadcasting on the field. We’d do this big dice game and I’d be like, hey, come down, we have John on the first base, or whatever. So that was kind of fun and I had my own team of, jeez, like 12 interns, so that was the promotions team that ran around, and ran that initiative, which was cool, with two of my colleagues.
Blake Emal: Some people would say that sounds like a dream job, so why are you here now versus there? What changed?
Ashton Meisner: Yeah, so in all honesty, it was an amazing position, and I loved being there in the spring and everything, but because it was spring training it wasn’t a full-time position. I’d get there in December, we’d be done in April after the season ended, and I had the opportunity to stay but I’d have to get another job, and I was just kind of in a weird place, didn’t know if I wanted to move from Arizona.
I ended up applying for different jobs in different states to see, and I ended up getting a PR job out here in Orange County. So that’s how I got here. I did leave the world of sports, which I love so much, but I’m like, well maybe I need to build some more of my resume, learn a little bit more, and then maybe I’ll come back to sports down the road. But that’s how I did get out here, and then that was the position I had before I ended up here at Directive.
Blake Emal: How did you find out about Directive? Who interviewed you? What drew you to the position, and why are you here now?
Ashton Meisner: I was looking for something new, and my fiance, one of his colleagues had mentioned to him how I was looking for a new job, and he said, she works in marketing, right? She should look at Directive, they have incredible company culture. And I was like, oh, that’s what I’m looking for, something really, where I just love going to work every day and where I meet encouraging people. So, I applied for Directive.
It was a little bit different, out of my wheelhouse. I’m used to doing all the media, the sports, all that said, and this was definitely a more technical role. I thought, maybe we’ll just go and see, and I met Tanner and Garrett, and they were so great, really passionate about what they do, and that’s kind of how I like to show up every day, just be there with a purpose. So, I thought well, this is an opportunity to learn something completely different. I accepted the role, they had just moved to this new office, which was exciting, and I became an SEO specialist.
Blake Emal: And this was how long ago?
Ashton Meisner: This was at the very end of July last year.
Blake Emal: So not too long ago!
Ashton Meisner: Yeah, one year ago. And then, I was able to kind of go back into my comfort zone of marketing, which I love, and it’s been incredible every since then.
Blake Emal: And then, you work like crazy, I see this, but then also, when you leave here you work like crazy.
Ashton Meisner: Yes, I do.
Blake Emal: So what do you do when you leave?
Ashton Meisner: Yes, it’s a different kind of work. I actually am a yoga instructor, part-time, at CorePower Yoga, which is really great. I get to do both the corporate style and then go teach yoga classes, which is fun. I was a dancer and cheerleader at Arizona State, so after doing that I wanted to stay in that fitness, active lifestyle. I love Yoga Sculpt, which is the form I teach at CorePower, and, yeah, it’s a great way to express myself outside of the office.
Blake Emal: I’m going to pull up some rapid-fire questions here that I have.
Ashton Meisner: Let’s do it, rapid fire.
Blake Emal: All right. This is the rapid fire round with Ashton.
Ashton Meisner: I’m ready.
Blake Emal: We didn’t do this with Byron, but we’ll do this going forward. I think it’s important to see what people really think about these things.
Ashton Meisner: Oh, no.
Blake Emal: Okay, texting or phone call?
Ashton Meisner: Phone call.
Blake Emal: Favorite day of the week?
Ashton Meisner: Sunday.
Blake Emal: Why?
Ashton Meisner: It’s just so relaxing, and I like going to church, and I don’t know.
Blake Emal: Day off.
Ashton Meisner: Day off, yeah.
Blake Emal: Yeah.
Blake Emal: Favorite city in the United States besides any that you’ve lived.
Ashton Meisner: Oo, that’s hard, rapid fire. Napa.
Blake Emal: I almost had you stumped.
Ashton Meisner: Yes!
Blake Emal: Last song you listened to.
Ashton Meisner: This is embarrassing, but I think it was…
Blake Emal: It was Justin Beiber, wasn’t it?
Ashton Meisner: I think it was.
Blake Emal: Yeah.
Ashton Meisner: Yeah, which, I think it was Thought of You, Justin Beiber. That’s just rapid fire, okay.
Blake Emal: Lucky guess. Would you rather be able to speak every language in the world fluently, or be able to talk to animals?
Ashton Meisner: Every language in the world.
Blake Emal: Why?
Ashton Meisner: I sit next to Hannah, the Director of Marketing, and she was speaking Spanish earlier. I just wish I could communicate to more people, and if I travel I could just understand and not be confused, ya know?
Blake Emal: Invisibility or super strength?
Ashton Meisner: Invisibility.
Blake Emal: What’s your go-to social media platform?
Ashton Meisner: Hate to say, I love Instagram.
Blake Emal: Still on the gram.
Ashton Meisner: Yeah, love the gram.
Blake Emal: All right, cool. Well, that’s Ashton, she’s awesome, and if you ever reach out to Directive, you’ll probably at some point come in contact with her, or she’ll come in contact with you.
Ashton Meisner: Yeah, hit me up.
Blake Emal: There you go. Thanks, Ashton.
Ashton Meisner: All right, thank you, bye!
Blake Recorded: Thank you for listening to Yours in Marketing, I’m Blake Emal. If you would please do us the favor of subscribing to the podcast if you found value in this, and tell your friends. Tell other B2B leaders, tell people that need to hear about this. If you have a website, if you are in marketing or out of marketing, if you just want to learn how to build your website, how to build your business online, or if you just want to learn more about interesting people in general in the B2B space, please subscribe to this podcast. You definitely will get your money’s worth, because it’s free