Kahena Interview IV– Dave Chaplin
Before iAcquire’s outing and subsequent delisting, there was PenneyGate. On February 12, 2011, the New York Times ran the infamous The Dirty Little Secrets of Search. The fallout began immediately and wasn’t pretty. J.C Penney was sent from the top of page 1 to SERP Siberia and its SEO agency, SearchDex, was fired. Dave Chaplin is the CEO of SearchDex. He came onboard two months before the proverbial hit the fan, which would have to be one of the most grueling initiations a CEO would ever have to negotiate. He graciously agreed to speak to us.
Talk us through what happened with the JC Penney incident.
The JCP revelations blind-sided senior management at SearchDex. We learned a lot from that episode which is used to control the processes of everyone involved with our services today. SearchDex has always only been a company focused on natural search optimization. We have never been a link building company. Our relationship with JCP is good. all of us have a clear understanding of all the issues that arose in February of 2011. We appreciate and our grateful for the relationship that we have with JCP.
What was the immediate aftermath?
I was CEO of SearchDex for two months when the JC Penney incident happened. As a company our immediate response was to work closely with our clients to ensure that our reputation and performance with them was solid. I was interested in making sure our clients knew who we were and what we are about. We came out of this time period with very secure client relationships and great opportunities to grow these relationships How has the episode affected Searchdex? We continue to concentrate on improving our processes. We are a technical solution with a heavy dose of project management and consulting within each implementation and how we engage long term with a client has been what we’ve focused on. The episode caused us to look at everything we do and to concentrate on what we are good at. What happened also went a long way in educating me on the market. My background was in enterprise search, facing what we did as an organization brought me up to speed very quickly on the new world I am now living in. We experienced a temporary disruption in closing new business but we are passed that now and we are making large investments in building a very active sales and marketing organization. We continue to grow our programs within our existing clients. We are a better company since this episode and we are much more focused on improving our platform and expanding into new markets. I am proud of the people I work with and we are much further along as an organization because of what we’ve been through.
Does it still come up today?
On very rare occasions. We are concentrating on doing things right and it is paying off. All of our clients willingly take reference phone calls so we are able to show people what and who we are through our existing clients.
What things about SEO/SEM drive you crazy?
I love the rate of change and speed at which the industry is changing. At the same time those very same things drive me crazy. I am always interested in being better, faster, more innovative, etc. In this space that can make you crazy.
You can invite any 8 people (living, dead, fictional) to a dinner party – who do you invite?
Jesus Christ, Ronald Reagan, Abe Lincoln, Babe Ruth, Martin Luther King, Ben Franklin, Jack McCoy (Law and Order) and Eli Manning
Away from work, how do you like to relax?
I like to work out every day, it is the most relaxing thing I can do. I try to travel as much as possible especially during the summer months when Texas gets too hot for me.
What does a typical day of yours look like?
I’m usually in the office from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm. My day is all over the map but most of my time is monitoring how our programs are working for our clients. I am also responsible for all investor relations plus any capital raising that we’re doing. I became CEO of SearchDex at the very end of 2010 and quite a bit of my time is spent on studying the broader industry and formulating strategy. I’m on a lot of investor calls and client calls daily. I also spend way too much time keeping up with my email. I try to work out before work but when I can’t I get to it before heading home.
Who are your favorite heroes in fiction and real life?
In fiction my favorite hero is Jack Ryan from the Tom Clancy novels. In real life my favorites are all the men and women who defend our country every day. I’m also very impressed with some of our past leaders who had to stand in very difficult times. People like Lincoln and Washington.
What are your biggest indulgences?
It’s food. I’m originally from New York and I can never get enough pizza, bagels or New York deli.
Given the demands of your position, how do you achieve the balance between personal and business?
I don’t. I basically blend the two together and don’t even try to balance them. Since moving to Texas in 1998 to start my prior company Engenium I have a totally integrated life. Work is life and life is work, I don’t even try to differentiate between the two.
Where do you think the industry will be in 2 years time?
Very hard question the answer and Google is doing everything they can to make it that way. We concentrate on the large retail online businesses and SEO SEM will become more important to these businesses over the next two years. Traditional marketing dollars are moving to the digital arena and online revenues are becoming more important. Our industry will respond with better social, mobile, organic and paid solutions. Localization and personalization will become more important. The rate of change will increase and Google will make sure of that. I believe there will be some consolidation in the space taking away some of the fragmentation. Innovation, the ability to measure results and make changes quickly will become more important. Technology will drive decisions and make reaction times shorter.
What are your thoughts on Penguin?
Penguin did not have any negative impact on our clients. Penguin, Panda, and whatever comes next illustrates the need to have a solid SEO program that is not overly reactive to the whims of the day. I believe the ability to measure algorithm impact and test changes to a SEO program are keys to moving forward in this industry. Penguin drives home that point.
Does Google have too much power?
No. Google has created an ecosystem that businesses can capitalize on. If something more important comes along people will move towards it. I don’t see that as a position with too much power.
In what circumstances wouldn’t you work with a client or cease working with one?
We will only work with clients interested in doing on page SEO. We are also moving into paid search. I will not work with dishonest clients or clients interested in misrepresenting who they are. We drive first time visitors to our clients’ websites because their ecommerce site is designed for direct load traffic. We position the client for search traffic but we will not work with someone who wants to attract traffic through any kind of misrepresentation.
What are the common mistakes you see that SEO agencies make?
Over reaction to Google changes and over reliance on external linking.