Lee Odden

What is Your Measure of Success

Have you been in the search marketing business for more than a few years? I am curious what your measures of success as a business are?

For some, it’ notoriety. It’s the pomp and circumstance of celebrity within their industry that gives them something to hang their hat on.

For others, it’s respect from their peers and certainly contributions to the growth of an industry are also perceived as indication of a company’s success. There’s also no arguing that financial success is an unmistakable yardstick from which to measure any businesses’ success.

I suspect it may be a combination of these “signals” that indicate success, but it really does depend on why the business was started in the first place. Many independent SEO consultants that I know are very satisfied that they get to do what they love to do and make decent money at the same time. There are others that use their search marketing expertise to monetize content in a very, very big way and clearly it’s a financial motivation that drives them.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed in the search marketing business is that with the web, it’s fairly easy for a company or even a person, to present an image of success online, even though “the books” don’t paint that rosy of a picture. It makes me wonder if people get a little too caught up in the notion that making the effort to become well known in an industry can be as much a distraction as it can be evidence of success? In other words, there appear to be a good number of SEO/SEM practitioners that are spending more time promoting their own brand and not building their business.

In the end, I believe that a businesses’ success has to do directly with the goals the founders set out to achieve, more so than any external evaluation. There are plenty of “lifestyle” companies providing tremendous value both to their clients and employees. At the same time there are always going to be companies built on creating momentum so they become attractive for acquisition or sale. ie, they get in to get out. It’s all about the money.

If you’re a search marketing consultant or if you run a SEO/SEM company, what’s your motivation? What is your measure of success?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Money.

  2. Money. But not in the fashion of becoming rich. I currently consult as the SEO for a very large company. And though I love my job, I would really love being independent a lot more. Being simple in nature, I needn’t vast amounts of funds to keep me happy, just the allure of planning and implementing my own work schedules and tasks. Alas, I need money to do this.

  3. The company I work for is in it for the money. I have a different measure, and while yes I do need money to feed my family, I would like to be well known. I value respect and think that respect is a much better measure of not only success but how you got the success, than money could ever be.

  4. Our goals are simply based around collected revenues. We have performance based bonuses, so it gives staff motivation to produce instead of sitting around reading and posting on blog sites. Ok… back to work 😀

  5. Proof is the pudding right? For me it’s looking at the analytics and seeing the improvements and increase in traffic, targeted traffic and conversions for the client. Without that … I think you’ll have just a bunch of one time sales, big hype with little results and zero “net cred”. It’s also fun to take on some challenges to push my skills and experience and get some traction. Try, learn and try again.

  6. A comfortable amount of recurring visitors. Not just visits, mind you, but unique page views in a constant order.

  7. Number 1 ranking for most competitive keyword and high ctr plus excellent conversion.

  8. Lee, BRAVO. Great post. I think the first goal, of course, for any business is profitability. But ultimate goal? Ours will likely be acquisition.

    With that said, how do we measure success? Everything we do is focused on building reputation, brand, case studies, and, above all, revenue.

    I’m reading “Made to Stick” right now, and they make a case about Southwest Airlines. Southwest’s goal is to be THE low cost airline. It’s a mantra spread throughout the company to every employee. This makes it easy for employees to make decisions — does this action help us be the low cost airline? Will giving a salad to everyone on board help us be THE low cost airline? No. So no salad. Sounds harsh, but that’s how you achieve goals.

    The same is true for any company, SEO, SEM or otherwise. That’s what frustrates me about Google as a business — I can’t figure out what their business goals are? World domination perhaps, but otherwise it’s not real clear.

  9. Money? No. People. Money is fleeting, temporary and its value fluctuates. Positive feedback from people, increasing attention, that brings consistent value.

  10. Matt, actually, value is defined as “the monetary worth of something”. While something may have value through “positive feeling”, it all ties back to money.

    Why? Well why do you want positive feedback? Just to feel good? No. You want positive results and feedback so that clients will continually renew with you — i.e., continue to pay your company money.

    Bottom line: Businesses are created to make revenue. Period. It’s not to be harsh — but that’s what their goal is. Without revenue, a business dies. Without revenue, all of the employees lose their jobs. A business’ main goal, above all, has to be earning revenue — for the simple fact that it requires revenue to stay alive. Just as we all require air to breath to stay alive, a business requires revenue. All the good feeling in the world does not pay your bills.

    Sounds harsh, but it’s just reality. Good feelings should drive more revenue.

  11. What a great question! We have been doing search engine marketing for many years (are we there yet!). Our revenues used to double every year, but they are getting more stable now – as they should. The industry is maturing. All these things come into play. I am a creative entrepreneur, so I am leaning toward building another business someday.

    For me, our company is a little about lifestyle, a little about building a great reputation in Atlanta, and a lot about having a great time making money for our clients. I have become great, great friends with many wonderful clients over the years. When you make people money, they love you. I like gaining the trust of smart, hard working entrepreneurs.

    Now that revenue is stablizing, I am considering selling our business – TwentySix2 Marketing. We have some great Fortune 1000 clients, so it may be the right time to sell. I see myself staying on board and continuing to make other people money and gaining more lifelong friends.

  12. Motivation: Freedom to work from anywhere I choose with my laptop and internet access. Freedom to work for myself and dress like I want. Freedom to set my own schedule and work on my other projects.

    Measure Success: I’m at a point now, that I take the clients I want to. No more of the days of taking virtually everyone who crosses my path. Although I’ll do over 75 workshops on internet topics in NC this year. I don’t care to be known like Aaron Wall who by the way I have a lot of respect for.

  13. Interesting that some too this question in terms of success for client campaigns and some for success of their own business. The question was meant for the latter but all responses have been interesting.

  14. 1 – working for myself and being able to afford that.
    2 – getting sites to rank where I think they can when I am being paid a limited amount.
    3 – Building a client base that trust me and come back. I need to eat.

    One problem I do have is that client don’t want my name on their site showing they have used an SEO and they also don’t want their name on my site. This makes life a bit difficult sometimes. The market that I work in like to keep things “close to their chest” Any ideas on this?

  15. At first it was money then it went to rankings, then audience, then money and rankings. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my measurement of success changes every few months.


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