mattmcgeeMatt McGee (@mattmcgee) is a respected member of the online marketing community, helping companies understand “the Internet” and succeed online since the late 1990s. Two years ago he created the SEMMYs, an annual awards event that laudably recognizes “the great content produced across the search and online marketing industry.”

I had the pleasure of holding a candid interview with Matt this week on the eve of the 2010 SEMMYs (don’t forget, folks- SEMMY finalists will be announced this Monday, January 25, public voting begins January 29, winners are announced February 1st!). Here’s what he had to say.

| aimClear: Firstly, thanks for your time today! I notice in your background you’ve been an online marketing consultant for over ten years. That’s quite a stretch- you were there when Internet marketing arguably began to truly gain traction with consumers. Could you give us a brief overview of how you got started in search industry?

In a previous life, I was a TV and radio sportscaster/host. But in smalltown USA, that doesn’t earn a guy enough money to support a family. So, when my wife and I were about to have our first child, I gave up my ESPN dreams and turned my web site hobby into a job designing web sites for the local ISP/web host in town. Stayed there for almost 10 years. Early on, it became painfully obvious that even the coolest site around was pretty useless if no one could find it. So I started trying to figure out how Excite and Lycos and others ranked pages, discovered Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch, and taught myself SEO. Or maybe I should say that Danny taught me? Probably a mix of both.


| aimClear: An impressive leap! The past decade has proved to be a tremendous period of evolution for this field. What are the biggest differences you’ve noted between then and now?

SEO is certainly a lot more mainstream these days, more accepted by companies big and small as a necessary aspect of online marketing. Of course, there are still countless business owners who have no clue what it is. But back then, it was much more mysterious than it is now. I remember saying to clients that we needed to develop their web site a certain way — we needed to “do some SEO” — and their eyes would glaze over or they’d think I was gonna spread pixie-dust to bring people to their site. Now, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who calls himself an SEO. The growth of our industry is remarkable.

| aimClear: That’s for sure. Poor cats. What concepts and principles of online marketing do you think will never go out of style?

Give people what they want. SEO principles are no different from traditional marketing. You want to create something great that people want and get them to talk about it to as many people as possible. Offline, we call it word-of-mouth marketing. Online, we call it linkbuilding or social media marketing or SEO. You want to have something remarkable and get people talking about it. Those things will never go out of style.

| aimClear: Just like a classic black hat. I mean dress! Now, as an online marketing consultant who’s worked with corporate behemoths and mom-and-pop shops alike, have you noticed more obstacles with one over the other?

No, I don’t think there are more or less obstacles for a big company or a small company; it’s just a different set of obstacles. I like working with small business owners because you can really make a difference in their lives, in their companies, for their employees, etc. I don’t find it very fun helping Big Brand add another $500,000 to the bottom line. But it’s a joy to help a mom-and-pop reach a point where they can hire a new employee, for example.

| aimClear: Definitely- that must feel quite rewarding. You’re co-creator of the SEMMYs, annual awards doled out to the cream of the crop writings about search and online marketing. Could you tell me a bit about your motivation behind hosting them?

A few years ago, Loren and the crew at Search Engine Journal were doing annual awards that honored bloggers and blogs. I think I won “Best Local Search Blog” one year, for example, and it was very cool to be recognized that way. But it occurred to me that there was no recognition for all the great content that bloggers and web site owners create. I just thought it would be cool to say — “The industry thinks this is the best article about SEO written this year.” Just like Hollywood honors individual films with the Oscars, I thought there should be a way to honor individual pieces of content.

| aimClear: Oh my god, I get it now. Oscars, Emmys, SEMMYs! Genius. Have you noticed the criteria or caliber for SEMMY nominees and winners evolve since they began in 2008?

Well, the first year was pretty much a trial run. No one else knew about it until the web site launched, and I was the only person nominating articles. So, for the most part, if your blog wasn’t in my feed reader, you probably weren’t going to be nominated. That was pretty lame, and I said as much on the SEMMYs web site. I said that, if the industry responded favorably to the idea of the SEMMYs, I’d find a way to make sure more blogs and authors had a chance to be nominated. With a few exceptions, the response was good and so now there’s an eight-person committee that nominates articles throughout the year. And yes, that’s really made the caliber of nominees dramatically better each year.

| aimClear: Do you predict changes or raised bars in the years to come?

It’s funny… every so often I think there’s nothing left for people in our industry to write about. How many articles can we possibly write about “Top SEO Mistakes” or “How to Setup a Killer PPC Account.” And yet, people continue to create some tremendously creative and helpful content on a weekly basis. It’s amazing. And so yes, I do expect the bar will keep going up. We’re marketers, after all — if we want exposure and recognition, doing the “same old” won’t cut it.


| aimClear: Very true. On the About the SEMMYs page you explain that you hope for the award system to serve as “a complement to the excellent existing awards.” The parallels in honor and genre are apparent… but in what ways do you hope the SEMMYs stand apart from similar search marketing awards and honors?

Oh, I don’t know … that sentence mostly refers to Loren’s SEJ awards that I mentioned earlier, but he hasn’t done those in a couple years. There are always those “Top Blogs” and “Top Marketers” lists that you see, but I don’t think anyone else is focusing on content, so that’s what makes the SEMMYs unique. Long ago, I thought maybe Danny would use Sphinn and its voting system to create some kind of awards based on content. That would make the SEMMYs less unique, I suppose. But now that I’m the Editor of Sphinn, I don’t think I need to worry about that. Mwuhahahaha!

| aimCle ar: That’s quite the conniving chortle you got there! On a more serious note,  over at you paint yourself as a guy who, among other things, loves big, juicy cheeseburgers, and ice cream. With M&Ms. The ice cream that is, not the cheeseburgers.” Have you ever actually tried big, juicy cheeseburgers with M&Ms? I smell a viral 2010 treat…

You know … I have not actually tried that. But I think we’re having burgers tonight, so I’m gonna stop here and go scour the kitchen for M&Ms!

  • Suzanne Vara

    Great interview. I love the part “SEO principles are no different from traditional marketing. You want to create something great that people want and get them to talk about it to as many people as possible. Offline, we call it word-of-mouth marketing. Online, we call it linkbuilding or social media marketing or SEO. You want to have something remarkable and get people talking about it. Those things will never go out of style.” As a marketer with more years of trad adv than SM it is nice to see that someone else sees this in this way. The measurement is different but the fundamentals are the same.

    Thanks so much for posting a great interview.