Tory Gray, founder & principal SEO consultant at The Gray Dot Company, about SEO consulting and how to grow during a crisis.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Tory Gray: We’re doing a-okay, thanks for asking! While we’ve always been a remote-first company, Covid has forced us to focus on what’s important – at work and at home – and invest in our own growth vs. just focusing on servicing our clients. That “balance” has been a saving grace, and a great learning experience during an otherwise stressful time for everyone, everywhere.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded The Gray Dot Company.
Tory Gray: I’ve been doing SEO and growth marketing since 2008. I was fortunate to work in agencies, and in-house at a few startups, in both product and marketing roles – all of which helped me “bridge the divide” between the work itself and actually getting it implemented. I started The Gray Dot Company after 5-6 years of startup life, needing more control and balance – and I’ve never looked back! It’s funny to me how I never went out looking to be an “entrepreneur” (I probably would have avoided it if I thought about it enough…), but I fell back into it and I couldn’t be more thankful.
How does The Gray Dot Company innovate?
Tory Gray: SEO is inherently a slow game. Lots of strategy and plotting and research/testing are involved in attempting to stay ahead of the game, or the algorithm. So most of our innovation is really around researching & planning what to do and monitoring the results in an agile feedback loop.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Tory Gray: We are situated, fortunately, in a growing industry that blew up even more due to Covid. We were already growing, so there was some shifting & general disruption in those early months as the world grappled with the changes. It’s fair to say that it slowed our growth in the first half of the year. But it also helped cement clients that we’re the right fit and gave us the butt-kick we needed to invest in our own marketing & sales (instead of just doing marketing for everyone else!)
It was also a good time to find and get involved with Women in Tech SEO – an awesome organization! – to meet other women like me in the industry, to learn and grow with, and also to help fill the “social interaction” gap that Covid exacerbated for entrepreneurs everywhere. Suddenly I could hop on a quick video call to ask a question, help someone answer theirs, or just generally have a nice “water cooler” chat with someone. It made such a huge difference to the quality of life in these times.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Tory Gray: I don’t think we had to make difficult choices so much as we had to be flexible with clients who had to do so; so many goods, smart people & companies were caught in the crossfire. We just worked on being understanding and flexible and making it work for them, and filling the gaps in our team with volunteer work (largely pro bono work to help launch newly out-of-work people) and our own marketing to expand our client base.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Tory Gray: We were always remote-first, so Covid didn’t really change our workflow. It did make it much less enjoyable – let’s not kid ourselves, none of us are just “working from home” right now, we’re all “working from home in a pandemic”. Suddenly we can’t leave the house to grab a coffee, or see a friend, or catch up with a co-worker, or hit the grocery store at 2 pm on a Thursday. Those luxuries are in short supply right now, obviously.
Overall, we’re been more conscientious about finding great freelancers with solid account management skills and excellent skills. We’ve also been experimenting with a lot more tools (largely in the machine learning & artificial intelligence for marketing space) that could improve our workflow or our work product – Frase, Clearscope, and Ranksense, to name some specifics.
Who are your competitors?
Tory Gray: As a boutique SEO consulting firm, our competitors are everything from “doing SEO yourself” and your typical digital agencies, to the bigger consulting companies who are starting to up their digital game. We’re sort of a blend of an agency and a big consulting company – the strategy & quality of advice/communication you’d expect from a consultant but without the “big consulting” price tag, the capabilities of an agency, but with more strategy, better communication skills & more flexibility in how execution gets done.
We excel at the “tech” in technical SEO, with specialties ranging from senior software engineering to advanced schema markup & GTM implementation, and from strategic link building audits to scaling high-quality content production. Our secret sauce is really that we combine technical excellence with strategy & communication. We literally help “connect the dots” so businesses understand the what AND the why. After all, SEO work that’s not implemented (b/c there was no buy-in from your executive or engineering teams) isn’t going to help your business grow!
How do you plan to stay in the game?
Tory Gray: We’ll stay in the game because, fundamentally, the combination of soft and hard skills at this depth is hard to come by, and many businesses today need solid trustworthy SEO advice. Being a real partner to these businesses makes a dramatic difference.