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Interview with Chris Dickey, CEO of Visably – The Basics of Search Engine Visibility & Marketing a SaaS Company – Episode #24

Chris is a veteran marketer whose career has spanned public relations, in-house marketing direction, and publishing. Chris ended up pivoting his PR agency to start using PR to create powerful brand visibility where SEO and SEM tactics were falling short. Chris is the Founder + CEO of Visably, a new Software as a Service (SaaS) business that marketers can use to measure their brand’s footprint across all channels that appear in search. Using machine learning to classify over 100 million domains and websites, Visably is poised to be an indispensable tool for PR and Digital Agencies. So far, Chris has raised more than $700K to date for his company.

In this episode we talked about what he’s learned from his 17 years of marketing experience, why he started Visably, the marketer’s dilemma, how affiliate marketing works, and much more!



Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:00  

As we’re recording in 5432 Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. We are now recording episode 24. And I want to start off as I always do by saying thank you to the listener, that being you. I started off this podcast as a side project not even thinking that I’ll have guests on the show, or a growing audience that would be sending me questions, recommendations and ideas for what they want to know more when it comes to digital marketing and business overall. 


And with that being said, I’m very excited to talk to today’s guest. His name is Chris dickey. Chris is a veteran marketer whose career has spanned public relations in house marketing direction and publishing. Chris ended up pivoting his PR agency to start using PR to create powerful brand visibility, where SEO and search engine marketing tactics are falling short. 


Chris is the founder and CEO of visibly a new software as a service business that marketers can use to measure their brand’s footprint across all channels that appear in search. using machine learning to classify over 100 million domains and websites, visibly is poised to be an indispensable tool for personal use me for public relations and digital agencies. So far, Chris has raised more than $700,000 to date for his company. And we’re definitely gonna talk about that, too. Welcome, Chris.


Chris Dickey  1:33  

Thanks for having me.


Kenny Soto  1:34  

So Chris, before we started recording this podcast, I talked to you about the purpose of why I created this digital marketing podcast. And I like to start off with giving the listeners more context about your professional background. So my first question for you is why did you become a digital marketer?


Chris Dickey  1:55  

Well, I think if you’re a marketer, you have to be a digital marketer. You know, I would say that my career I’m in I’m probably in year 17, or 18, of being a marketer. And when I started out, especially it was most relevant and publishing, people still submitted photos and slides to get scanned, and then we scanned them and put them into magazine, then obviously, that does not happen anymore. So there’s been a massive shift. When I started in marketing, there was no iPhone, there is no smartphone. 


You know, the internet, I think we still talked about AOL. So this entire, the entire marketing profession has completely changed since I started. And it’s been really fun to be on the front end of that and be a young person who kind of was able to adapt quickly to those changes, I think it was more challenging for peers who were older than me, I, I’m on the very kind of tip of what you might call a millennial, early 80s. This was when I was born. And you know, I was probably the very first generation to grow up with a computer in my house. And I think that’s been a, you know, a huge advantage as a marketer, as we’ve kind of moved, you know, aggressively into a digital space and realize that you have to meet people in this digital space, which is very confusing and very crowded, and very loud.


Kenny Soto  3:37  

What were you doing before you started visibly? And can you give us a picture of that transition from that particular role you had to starting your own company?


Chris Dickey  3:48  

Yeah, so I had a really great set of experiences, I worked, I’ve worked in house. As a marketing director, I was the marketing director and circulation manager for nationally circulated magazine in the United States. And then I got into agency work and got to work on really large companies over the place. 


And then about 10 years ago, I started my own agency, and we were a PR agency, we decided to specialize in outdoor and active lifestyle, consumer goods. So stuff that you would basically buy to go hiking or skiing or really play outside with, we work with those brands as an agency. And what what became very apparent to me was that these traditional channels that PR professionals were using to reach audiences say magazines or newspapers or even TV did not have the sticking power, nor the reach that they used to. 


And, you know, really what you need to think about as a marketer is how do you reach people? I mean, there’s, there’s, there’s a huge amount of kind of that, you know, there’s a huge funnel of course, right and marketing takes place in all different parts of the funnel, but a lot of what I’ve always been focused on my career is very How to funnel marketing. How do you attract and reach new people and put them in your funnel, because you’re constantly dealing with attrition. 


And that is, you know that that act of discovery is taking place primarily through search engines these days. And that’s that was my that was my kind of epiphany, as a PR professional is recognizing that our RPR hits our media hits that we’re performing the best. We’re no coincidence, the ones were also showing up at the top of search. And it was that position at the top of search that made them made their performance just skyrocket. And recognizing that correlation between performance and search really led me down this path to say, how can we do more of that? And how can we be more thoughtful and deliberate about this process? And how do we reach customers on this platform that is incredibly relevant to all of our lives?


Kenny Soto  5:54  

You mentioned a word that I definitely want you to expand upon, which is attrition. And you referenced that word, when you were talking about top of funnel marketing, can you give us more like context on what attrition means?


Chris Dickey  6:08  

Attrition is, is the idea that people are constantly falling outside of your funnel, right. And so, you reach you reach, you have a yet a positive or you have an interaction with the customer, whether they actually are end up in a buying a product or not, you know, I think the nice thing about subscription models is that they come back time and time again. But for everyone else, if you’re if you’re, if they’re buying a pair of pants, they buy a pair of pants, and they have their pants, right. And so maybe they don’t, they don’t need pants anymore. 


You know, that’s, that’s the whole point. It’s like, so you have to go out and you find someone else that needs a pair of pants. And so, you know, that was particularly something that we found in in publishing was, there was a certain amount of subscribers that were just not subscribed, we were we were losing anywhere between 30 to 40% of your subscribers every single year. 


And just just what happens and all publishing, I think, and it happens for any company essentially, like you just don’t get people to come back. And so the marketers dilemma is to put more people in your funnel than you lose, right? So you have a net win. And that’s, that’s, that’s effectively, every marketer in every sales organization has that dilemma is, is you’re gonna have a natural rate of attrition, and you just have to fill the funnel faster that you lose people.


Kenny Soto  7:27  

Yeah. And certainly I feel like within my own career, there’s definitely a lot of tools that are available to help with this dilemma. And you have one of those tools, you’ve created a service that helps with with that dilemma. So I wanted to know, for more context, what does visibly do? And who is the ideal customer of your software as a service company?


Chris Dickey  7:54  

Yeah, thanks. So. So visibly, really focuses on? How do you build powerful dominant brand visibility strategies for the first page of search, and why the first page is search? Well, that’s because that’s the only page that matters is statistically speaking about 1% or less of all search traffic will will navigate beyond the first page. 


And frankly, around 70% of all search traffic for any given keyword will click one of the top five organic results. So that’s your real estate, if you want to reach a customer, you have to be at the top of the page on the first page. They’re very, very competitive places to be, especially for high value keywords, the keywords that people use most frequently to find a service or product. A lot of SEO professionals will say Oh, well just we’ll just, you know, look at these, quote unquote longtail keywords, which are keywords that get really specific and have a lot of words in them. 


And maybe they’re long questions or something like that. And yes, those are those are less competitive, they also have a lot less people looking at their stuff. So, you know, I think both strategies are super relevant, you know, you should go after longtail keywords, because those are also very, very targeted customers if someone’s looking at that keyword, but at the same time, don’t give up on the really high value keywords in the highly competitive keywords. 


There are just other ways you can find your way onto that page. And I think that’s the whole point here. And you know, just to step back to why why are we focusing on search? Well, search is the only place in the world that’s going to deliver you an insanely qualified customer. Somebody who has who is already at a point of of a consideration looking for a product or service that you offer. There’s no other place that you can find that person or that group of people. And they show up day in and day out into perpetuity. And they’re ready to make a buying decision and we know exactly where they’re going to click and now it’s up to you as a marketer to figure out a strategy to get there


Kenny Soto  10:01  

And who would you say like? Or what type of business actually is the intended use case for visibly?


Chris Dickey  10:10  

Yeah, so, so what visibly guys, and maybe I should just describe it. And so what we do is we do an audit of all of the links in the first page of search, and we want an SEO platform does is they look at the links, and they say, and they look specifically at the leg and they say, is this your website? Yes or no. 


And if it’s not your website, then they move on. What basically does is that we look at the content behind each one of the links, so the actual page content and we we we review all that page content, and we look from brand mentions, and we’ll tell you, our is your bread mentioned within the content of this page, yes or no. And that’s, that’s the big change there. Because that’s, that’s actually what customers actually see, right? They don’t look at the links and make a decision. 


They look at the content behind the links. And that’s what they actually consume. That’s what I was very interested in exploring and organizing for other brands. Because as a PR professional, what we do all day long is leverage other people’s opinions on behalf of our clients, right? So a P, so an SEO a company does not pick up those those reviews or opinions, whereas visibly does. And so what we’re really recognizing is how you’re touching customers within the search engine results page. 


And also, what is the what is the structural break breakdown of the page. And that’s something I think is overlooked by a lot of marketers. We look at, you know, search volume, search volume, we look at kind of SEO competitiveness, all this stuff like that. A metric that is that is really I think missing from you know from the stack, or the mix, if you will, is search intent, and what is the breakdown between earned media PR hits and ecommerce hits as a transactional keyword or, or an informational keyword in what kind of content is Google or whatever search engine elevating for this particular keyword? Those are really important questions to answer when building a search engine strategy. 


And the reason why is because once you recognize the makeup of the SERP search engine results page, you can you can say oh, this is a PR play. This is all PR hits. Or you can say oh, this is all e commerce. And we need to kick this over to our E commerce team. And they need to have a conversation with these with these partners about how we can be better merchandise on their search engine landing pages. Or it’s kick it over to your PR team and say, Hey, these are the outlets and the writers that we need to be building relationships with and we need to get into these reviews.


 And in you know, I’ll tell you right now, the strategy works once you build these lists, once you understand the landscape, once you break it down by who’s appearing and where where you exist, who’s writing about what all of a sudden, you have lists really valuable lists. And visibly helps organize those lists we help we help you extract all the PR hits from from any number of keywords or all the ecommerce hits from any number of keywords, you want to do that kind of sorting on your own.


 And next thing you know you have this really huge targeted spreadsheet of who you talk to to improve your visibility within the search engine results page.


Kenny Soto  13:29  

And I love how deeper diving into this topic. I want to know how does this differentiate itself from service providers that will promise backlinks?


Chris Dickey  13:43  

Well, careful that service providers promise backlinks, not all backlinks are created equal number one. And number two backlinks are designed to be a vote of, of confidence on the web in your website. Right. So Google recognizes that they recognize the value of backlinks, they also recognize the value of bad backlinks. 


And there is a lot of research done that points to the fact that if you have sites of ill repute linking to your site just for the sake of having a backlink that can actually reflect negatively on your domain authority or your score within Google. Furthermore, it’s really important to recognize that not all links are created equal. There’s a differentiation between what you call follow link and a nofollow link. 


And so a follow link is a typical hyperlink that just goes back to your website. And it’s that it’s that vote of confidence that Google’s looking for. The nofollow link is there’s this little extra bit of code in there. And you don’t see it as as somebody who is surfing the web, but Google’s crawlers see it and it it tells the group Google to say dude count this link toward this brands Domain Authority don’t do not give them any link equity here. 


And so whenever you’re talking to a company that’s promising backlinks, I would just take that with a grain of salt and say what are they really able to promise here? What if you want to do a backlink strategy, the best thing to do is hire a PR agency that knows their stuff and has good relationships and knows how to pitch stories to reputable websites. And that’s what they do all day long is get other people to talk about your brand. 


And then they link back and then those links add up. And all of a sudden, you know, you have a link from say, you know, any any reputable kind of media website. That’s the sort of thing that starts improving your positioning within within the search results.


Kenny Soto  15:52  

Now, let’s say I’m going to, I’m going to paint a scenario here. Let’s say that I’m a small business owner, and I work in the E commerce space, and I’m selling shoes, for example, what are some quick things that you would look for, to see if or better, better yet? What are some low hanging fruit that you look for immediately to see how this small business owner can optimize their search visibility online?


Chris Dickey  16:24  

So So are you talking about somebody who is a manufacturer of shoes, and they’re in there selling through ecommerce sites, or they are with their own e commerce site?


Kenny Soto  16:33  

Through their own e commerce site, Probably they probably have like a couple of third party vendors that help them push their products on their own sites, but they’re really focused on building their own infrastructure in house and building their website that they own so that they can get more sales and more orders fulfilled.


Chris Dickey  16:53  

Yeah, good question. So I would say one of the top things that they should be considering is this, this whole area known as affiliate, and affiliate is when you give somebody a very small commission, it can be a large commission, depending on how you that like the relationship, the setup, is you give a third party a commission to drive traffic to your site. 


This is particularly relevant right now in the media landscape, because the media landscape is really trying to figure out how the heck do they monetize their audiences, right? Because they’re not selling the ads they used to. But they are still driving huge audiences, and what they’re what they’re doing. And everyone’s seen this as they’re turning their websites, and the malls. 


And all those links are driving there, they’re reviewing a product, and then they’re saying buy it here. And then they’re optimizing for SEO, and they’re using their their their domain authority to win very top of search results. So anyone who’s looking for a new pair of shoes that might there might be, you know, a review from Cosmopolitan magazine, and it says, oh, here are our top five favorite shoes, blah, blah, blah. 


And then one of those links goes back to your, your your mom and pop ecommerce site, that link is not going to be something that they just give you willy nilly, they’re gonna want a little something in return. And that’s what that affiliate plays. And I think it’s fair because it’s because it’s, you know, it’s a, it’s a performance marketing tactic, you don’t pay for the clicks, you only pay if someone actually buys, right. So they’re sending you a paying customer, that person checks out buys a pair of shoes, you give them a seven to 10% Commission, totally bear, in my opinion,


Kenny Soto  18:37  

Amazing. And we’re going to now diverge into something that I definitely want to ask you, you are running your own company, and that has its own set of specific challenges. One of those challenges is raising funding, if that’s something that you want to do, or if you want to grow organically, that’s an option as well. 


But you’ve recently raised more than $700,000. And I want to know, what was the process of getting that started and getting people interested in funding your company? And what advice could you tell to any listener here who wants to start their company or already has a company and is seeking funding?


Chris Dickey  19:19  

Yeah, great, great questions. I think I think there’s so many, I could talk about this for hours. A few pieces of advice that I would that would dole out is that I would say number one, do what you know, you know, get into a category that you understand backwards and forwards and you understand the market, you understand the customer and you understand the need, you understand them that product market fit as as the as the industry as we call it. 


And it’s not something that just as interesting or a hobby but it’s something that you are deeply ingrained in running an agency and for the last decade. We saw these pain points with our clients So we saw it play out with our clients, we saw them struggling to, you know, to get visibility, anywhere, and we found that search was the most obvious. 


And then we had a tool set that was very relevant to it, and nobody was really doing it. So I think I think at the end of the day, you know, we did something, we took a practice that we developed at an agency, we tested our clients, and then we turned it into a software. And then, you know, taking that idea is is not enough, you have to have a proof of concept. 


And that’s I think the biggest hurdle is not just not just getting up, you know, not just getting the spark, but getting that proof of concept working. So an MVP, if you will, a minimum viable product. And, for us, we were lucky. We’re based in Wyoming in the United States, Wyoming is not known as a tech center. And the state of Wyoming is trying to do something about that. And I applaud them for doing it, they had a grant program that said, Hey, if you want to start a tech company, and you live in Wyoming, we want to help you out. And so they gave us a little bit of money, we were able to take that money and pay some software engineers to develop a minimum viable product. 


Once we had that working, we could we could take that product that and show it to some investors, who could see what we were trying to accomplish. And I could speak very authentically about the pain points and the problem, and what we were trying to solve for. And then that got us through that very first round. And it’s a seed round. And it’s very risky round for any number of investors, it’s not some of the institutional money will come in on it’s usually usually friends or family at that point, or it’s or it’s a few angels. And in our case, it’s a few angels.


Kenny Soto  21:45  

Now, this is a selfish question. And my point, I’m always interested in knowing what particular skills that a guest is leveraging to grow in their career. So Chris, what skills do you believe are your main go to tools that you use to service your, your clients, create your own company, fund your company, and just grow as a marketer?


Chris Dickey  22:13  

Yeah, great question. I would have to say that marketing is this wonderful amalgamation between creativity and analytics, right. And, you know, I think a lot of people sit on one side or the other that spectrum there, there’s all they’re doing is like, like the paper, like the paid search metrics, they’re just looking at how they can tweak numbers to like, get a slightly higher click through rate, great, but you still need a messaging, you know, you still need a message that resonates. 


And if you can do both of those things, if you can be genuinely creative, and you’re good writer, and I think writing is really foundational to being a good marketer, because that’s communication, and it’s crafting, messaging and stuff that sticks, understanding how to kind of cut through, cut through to the core benefits of you know, of a product or service. And then take that and really embrace this very analytical world that we now live in and show the results.


 I think that’s the part from the creative side is that people come up with great, beautiful, brilliant ideas, and they execute them, but then they can’t really Montt. They can’t really measure what they just did. And, and then So that’s those are the two things, it’s like measurement really matters. And so this creativity,


Kenny Soto  23:33  

Do you have any specific resources that you use to stay up to date in marketing or business?


Chris Dickey  23:40  

Yeah, I, I’m a huge fan of newsletters, believe it or not, you don’t have to read every single one. But they’re free. They deliver the top news directly to your inbox every single morning. I create, you know, a rule on my on my email, so they all dump into a specific folder doesn’t clutter my main inbox.


Kenny Soto  24:01  

 Do you have any particular favorites?


Chris Dickey  24:03  

I think I’ve I don’t know. I mean, one that I think does a really good job is the daily brew, and they actually have a marketing specific email that that I really like. I really like Ad Age. And Adweek. I think, you know, I’m not a not an you know, advertising. But the advertising industry is so wildly creative. And they also do have they also have put in place great measurement. 


It’s just fun to see what they’re doing. But you know, I also subscribe to a bunch of PR newsletters, I subscribe to a bunch of search engine optimization and SEO newsletters. It’s just good to see what the industry is talking about and how people are having these conversations. The other space to monitor is Twitter. 


Twitter is a great place to just get a really neat feed of opinion and of professionals sharing small bits of information. And so go to Twitter, you know, participate in the community just be a listener if you feel like it, but it’s another great news feed that can be very highly adaptable, depending on who you decide to follow.


Kenny Soto  25:15  

And my last question for you, Chris, if you can go back in time, about 10 or 11 years back in time, with all of the knowledge and skills that you have now, how would you 10x your speed to get to where you are today?


Chris Dickey  25:31  

Oh, man, I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s possible. I’ll be honest with you. I think there is. I think there’s definitely everyone wants to skip all the heavy lifting, right? Everybody wants to see I don’t, I don’t want to go through all that, like all that hard work to get to the other end of this tunnel. But at the end of the day, all the hard work, all of the RFPs that you apply to and you don’t win, all that stuff adds up to these little nuanced understanding of an industry or marketplace. 


And I think you need to ask yourself questions like, Why did I succeed here? Why did I succeed here. And those are really valuable insights that you can only achieve by these incremental kind of moving, you know, moving forward, you know, progressing in your career, I like to say, you know, at the agency that I started, we were always climbing. We’re always climbing a sand hill, or like, or like, or like a sand dune.


 And we, we take a step up, and we slide six inches back, and we take another step up, and we slide six inches, but, but you’re like the net, but there’s a net like gain every single time. You know, it’s just, it’s just fighting for every edge. And I think that is really valuable. And you know, stick with it, push forward, you’ll get there. It’s not going to be a sprint. It’s gonna be a marathon, but smart people prevail.


Kenny Soto  27:04  

I think that’s a perfect way to end this podcast, especially as we’re closing in on 2021. And we have no idea what’s going to happen there. both business and life-wise. Chris, if someone wanted to connect with you online, where could they find you?


Chris Dickey  27:18  

Well, I think LinkedIn is great. Chris Dickey you’ll see I’m the CEO of visibly I’m also have an agency called purple orange. I would love for anyone to come check out what we’re doing visibly right now it’s free guys. We have a we have a we have we have a beta site. It’s it’s it’s a new company. We’re not charging for the service yet. We’d love you guys come check it out as V I S A P L is a and comm check it out and see what you think.


Kenny Soto  27:49  

Thank you so much, Chris, for your time. Thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. And as always, I hope that you have a great week. Stay tuned.

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