In this week’s “From the Ground Up” interview, we sit down with Scott Darrohn, COO and co-founder of fishbat, an UpCity Certified Premium Partner and one of the top SEO companies in New York City. Below we discuss how fishbat has attracted projects from high-profile clients like the European Union, why saying no to potential clients is sometimes more important than saying yes, and more!
Q: Let’s get started by having you tell us a bit about how you got into the industry and how your company, fishbat, has gotten to where it’s at today.
A: Back in the late 1990s, I was an equities trader. I was the youngest guy at the firm, so I was tasked with handling all of the digital ad spend. At the time, Google wasn’t yet dominating the industry, they were just one of many. In fact, there was a company called Overture that controlled a lot of the market share in those days; it was like an early-stage Google Ad Network where search engines would put Overture on their site and other companies could run ads.
From there, the natural transition was trying to figure out how we could show up organically, and I heard of this thing called SEO. I was in these weekly meetings where we’d all discuss how to create links and how to get your site to rank and that was the beginning of my career in SEO. I started more from the sales perspective of trying to figure out how to generate more leads for our firm.
My brother and business partner, Clay, was the general manager for two of Long Island’s largest radio stations, WBR and WBAB, for about 15 years or so, but when he started to see the writing on the wall in regards to digital, he transitioned more into the social media space and created an agency from its infancy stages. All the while, I’m doing SEO and content creation, building strong relationships with editors throughout the internet at well-known companies. That’s really how fishbat got started: we came together with the understanding that digital was here to stay.
From my early days in the SEO community and my brother’s experience as an early beta tester for Facebook Ads, we had enough expertise to quickly be able to build up a reputation as a solid agency in New York and Long Island. Now, we’ve grown nationally and internationally (we’ve even worked with the prince of the UAE, as well as the European Union!).
Q: That’s actually a point I wanted to touch on in this interview: your focus on larger clients. From your website, it seems you’ve worked with several pretty large companies. Is that a conscious decision to focus on that particular niche or is that something that has come about as a result of your reputation and the relationships you’ve built?
A: When we initially got started, we would take on almost any account. Money is money and we needed to keep the lights on. Ultimately though, our services are heavily focused on content creation, which is time-intensive. For some of our clients, we put out hundreds of pieces of content each month, and we’re not talking about just social posts. We got to a point where we had to look at what we were dealing with and where we could provide the most value. We still love working with small to medium-sized businesses, but we’ve found our sweet spot with a slightly higher tier clientele.
Part of that comes from the strong relationships we’ve built with companies that in the past were doing a lot more traditional marketing, but a lot of it was conscious.
Q: Looking at your site, you definitely focus on your own content as well. Would you say that content has been one of the main drivers of your reputation thus far?
A: Absolutely, but not only the content we have on our website, but also the third-party content like guest posts that we have out there. I’m a contributor to some pretty well-known publication; I sit on the Forbes Agency Council and I have another article due to be published in Forbes in time for the holidays. For agencies, getting content on your website is huge because it positions you as a thought leader, but getting featured on other websites can do even more for your reputation. Your content has to be killer first before people will notice you. SEO takes time and there’s no quick way of getting around it. Allocate a certain part of your day every day to relationship building and content creation, not just as an agency but as an individual and you’d be surprised where it will take you.
Q: That’s great advice. Would you say that that type of hustle everyday attitude is part of fishbat’s corporate culture? In other words, what makes fishbat fishbat?
A: There’s a lot that goes into it, but we boil it down to three things: Mission, Men, Me.
We’re selective with the employees that we hire. We try to get the best of the best, the cream of the cop. Beyond that, one of our biggest missions is to deliver a unique approach to every client. We need to understand the objectives of each client and provide what they need, not offer a cookie-cutter solution that might be more profitable for us in the longterm. Each client is a little bit different, each industry is different, competitive landscapes are different. You need to understand what the mission is for that client and the team needs to come together to provide the best experience possible. That’s the Mission with every client.
The second facet, Men (or women), symbolizes team effort. Once we’ve identified what the client’s objectives are and what the mission is, can we get everyone working together cohesively as a unit to deliver an effective overall strategy? Teamwork is critical to who we are, and that all rests on the final piece of the puzzle which is Me. Each individual should contribute in their own unique way. You should have a true understanding of where you fit into the team and how you can work together to maintain the type of performance that’s necessary.
Q: Awesome. I think that’s a really solid way of looking at it. It’s not just about one aspect; an agency needs to be a well-oiled machine to function properly and that means all the parts working together to accomplish the same mission.
I want to switch gears a bit and discuss the challenges you faced while growing fishbat. What can you tell us about that experience and what lessons did you learn from it?
A: There are certainly a few big challenges. One of the toughest for a lot of people is identifying a workflow that makes sense. You’re going to have some accounts that will take more time than others, so it’s important to understand what your team’s current workload is and what stress future projects will bring so you don’t overburden your employees.
On the other hand, you don’t want to over-hire because then you’re spending money on employees that don’t have a full plate of work to manage. That was very difficult when we started because there weren’t as many tools as there are today. Now, there’s a lot of software available that makes life easier.
Think about UpWork even; they’ve made hiring a freelancer or a contractor super easy. That idea of just hiring a freelancer on short notice was non-existent back in the day unless you had a large network of relationships. There are payroll apps, there are benefits apps, there are apps for finding just the right person by scanning through LinkedIn. It’s crazy the amount of data businesses have at their fingertips today that can help them make smarter decisions.
When we first started, it was basically trial and error for us. The unfortunate reality was that every move we made wasn’t always right, but we made sure we learned from our mistakes and would be very detailed about what we did, what worked, and what didn’t. Now, things are easier, but that was a huge challenge for us as we started to grow.
The other challenge was learning when to say no. It’s easy to fall into the trap of accepting every piece of new business that comes your way, but the reality is that that’s not a great long-term strategy. Like I said before, some accounts will require more time and more careful consideration to manage, and sometimes those engagements just aren’t going to be profitable no matter how hard you try. The budget needs to match the level of service needed, and if those two things don’t match, the relationship just won’t work. We started to build referral partnerships with other businesses in our area so that whenever we stumbled upon a lead that wasn’t the right fit, we’d be able to refer them to someone who will be able better for them and vice versa. You have to learn how to say, “Thank you for reaching out, but we can’t accept your project at this time.”
Q: I love the idea of turning your competition into a lead generation channel. Referrals can come from places you least expect, and I think not enough agencies realize the potential of networking with their competition.
For our final few minutes, I want to talk a bit about your online reputation and how that has played into fishbat’s growth.
A: Your reputation is very important. People are going to check you out online and they want to know that you know your stuff. That’s why we believe content is the key to everything, not just SEO. Content is the way to rank on Google, but the content you write will also increase your reputation. From a psychological standpoint, when potential customers see you appear across multiple searches, it’s instant credibility; when they click in and see that your content provides actual value, it seals the deal. We’ve focused on content since the beginning of our company, which is why our reputation has gotten to where it is today.
Beyond content, you have websites like UpCity that help us build our credibility by showing third-party reviews. At the end of the day, there are a lot of companies out there creating great content and who have salesmen that can be convincing, but what separates you? They’re going to look at those reviews and expect to see that you provide the best service possible, because they won’t work with you just for your name or because you rank for a certain keyword.
Q: I couldn’t agree more. Before we sign off, I’d love to get your thoughts on where SEO and digital marketing are headed as we look towards 2020 and beyond.
A: People have been saying SEO is dead since Penguin or even before, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The old cliche is still true, content is king, but what’s really important now is conversion rate optimization (CRO). Google looks at a lot more than just your content. They take into account how your website performs and user experience and conversions play a key role in that.
I think the future of SEO and digital marketing is as good as it always has been, but it’s about mindset. If you’re doing SEO and expect to rank in a month for a competitive keyword, that’s not a realistic point of view. We tell clients it will take a minimum of six months to even start ranking and even longer to hit the first page. We set that expectation at the onset because nothing kills faith in SEO more than misplaced expectations. The worst thing you can do is oversell and underdeliver.
In terms of where I see things headed next, I think video is going to be huge, especially streaming. As always, digital marketing is going to continue to be about adapting to what the new cutting edge is and doing what works for you.
Co-founder of NYC digital marketing agency fishbat, Scott has been involved in digital marketing since the late 90’s. Understanding the complex landscape of digital marketing has been a strong point of his for years on end. Scott has delivered unprecedented results via SEO over the past decade for multiple clients ranging from large Fortune 500 companies to niche B2B companies and understands the fundamentals that are required to maintain a strong and effective SEO campaign while adhering to all of Googles guidelines.