Dec 092010


Company founder Jeff Quipp, left, says half the battle is hanging on to talented young employees like Martha Vasquez and Tony Tie in the competitive world of search engine optimisation.

Company founder Jeff Quipp, left, says half the battle is hanging on to talented young employees like Martha Vasquez and Tony Tie in the competitive world of search engine optimisation.


Like someone determined to build a better mousetrap, Jeff Quipp decided to start his own search engine optimisation (SEO) company after being mistreated by supposed experts in the nascent business.

“I recognized the increasing importance of search, and we tried to hire a couple of companies to do the SEO and they both took us for a ride,” says Quipp, founder and chief executive of Ajax-based Search Engine People Inc. “I said, at that point in time, that if there are no good companies out there and I only see this industry growing, then I want to be that company.”

His unofficial motto, which has been in place since his company launched in his home office in 2001, was “to offer really good service and results and not make it a shell game.” The official motto, a bit more catchy, is “win, win, win.”

“That means the clients have to win, our people have to win and the company has to win,” he explains.

The company is fast-growing and has enjoyed double-digit sales gains throughout its history. For its most recent fiscal year, it rang up revenue of about $4.5 million, which is a 50-per-cent gain over the $3 million in sales it produced the prior year.

SEO firms like Quipp’s aim to boost their clients’ presence on Internet search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and newcomers like Bing. Although search engines come and go, the dominant player remains Google, accounting for more than half of all online searches. Getting clients’ websites to come up on Google’s first search page is the stock and trade of most SEO firms.

Those are the kind of results that customers such as IT management services company Fusepoint Services pays for and expects.

“I’m not trying to sell to everybody,” explains Roger Hamshaw, director of marketing with the Mississauga-based firm. “[SEO] works very well from a search engine perspective because there is a limited number of people that are going to be looking for managed IT services.

“The keywords that people use to go into Google to find my services — and trust me, everybody goes to Google — it is well over 80 per cent” of how potential clients find companies in the IT space, he says. “Search Engine People have me on the first page, in the first spot, for five of my top keywords.”

The IT company has done so well with search-based marketing that it only uses paid search advertising and more traditional media advertising to buttress its SEO efforts, which after five years is now more about defense than offence.

“Once you have a high-quality score or pagerank from Google, you own those anchor positions, you are in a link-building process where you want to defend that position.”

Done correctly, search engine optimisation is a recession-proof business to be in, notes Quipp. From a one-person operation in those early days, his company now numbers 45 employees and his preoccupation is not attracting new clients but rather attracting, training and retaining the young twenty-somethings who populate his office.

“For us, a big part of it is making sure we have a culture that is a lot of fun and has a lot of perks for people.” Besides a steadily flowing river of free coffee, there’s a games room, gym, massage chairs and a twice-weekly visit from a massage therapist to ease the daily stresses of the company’s computer jockeys.

Part of Quipp’s challenge — and original business opportunity — is the fact that colleges and universities do not train people for the skills necessary to take on the SEO function, or much of the other related online marketing work that his firm offers.

Once trained, these employees become highly valued commodities in the Internet-based talent search, so the challenge for his five-person management team is to keep them happy, motivated and resistant to the siren call of headhunters.

“We’re fairly well-known in the world and you have got a lot of companies trying to recruit your people.”

At 45, and one of the oldest people in the company, part of his challenge might simply be to keep up.

“We go out as a group and do various things,” he says. “We’ll play paintball one weekend, go on a boat cruise another weekend. It is really just to get all the groups talking together and get everyone happy with who they are, how they fit in and that they see they are an important part of the game.”

The company has had a somewhat easier time attracting clients than keeping those precious and portable assets who tend to leave the office every evening.

About half the new business at Search Engine People is generated through referrals from existing clients, with the rest coming from a combination of client conferences and presentations such as at last week’s giant Construct Canada tradeshow.

Unlike the fairy tale of the shoemaker’s shoeless children, the company also does plenty of SEO work on itself.

“We practice what we preach,” says Quipp. “If you go to and type in ‘SEO’, we are the first company other than Wikipedia and Google to rank in the search results.”

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