Season 3 - Episode 4: “Quitting Janitorial Duties & 'White Hat' SEO” with Sean Si, Founder of SEO Hacker11 January 2022
In this last episode of Season 2 BOSS-it podcast, Mark Edwards has a warm and engaging conversation with Sean Si, CEO & Founder of SEO Hacker.
Sean Si introduces himself as a born-again Christian from the Philippines. He runs a 50 people digital marketing agency, one of the most-trusted and leading SEO companies in the Philippines.
He founded SEO Hacker at just 21 years old with only about (1300 pesos) $65 capital and it's now grown, through grit, prayer, mentorship, book reading and podcast listening (including BOSS-it), to a $1 million company.
From Failure to Success
Sean's route to setting up a business was anything but traditional. Having, in his words, "failed" at college, Sean was nonetheless able to land a job with HP.
He stayed at HP only 5 short months because his 'side hustle' - SEO Hacker - was already earning him 8-10 times what his day job paid and, as Sean puts it, he "had to resign and jump on this opportunity before the train left."
Growing an Audience Larger Than Three
At the same time, Sean was writing a monthly blog, "God and You", talking about his faith. He had an audience of just three but what was more disconcerting than the number of readers was the fact he knew them all - His mum, brother and sister :D
So, Sean set about learning how to expand his audience - and stumbled across SEO.
Three Hats for SEO
Black hat SEO – The unethical side of SEO. Some of the practices are to leave blog comments that are very vague and general, leave links that point back to the client’s website, leave foreign posts and create foreign profiles. It’s like being a web spammer. It’s frowned upon nowadays.
White hat – The purely ethical side of SEO – SEO Hacker operates entirely here – They are probably the only white hat SEO company in the Philippines. It’s a sustainable model and, because Google is happy with it, they’re never going to penalise you or your clients. It’s also the reason SEO Hacker is No.1 and why they have a lot of “big name” companies as clients.
Grey hat – the bit in the middle
The Importance of Company Culture
In a country that Sean admits is known as the second most corrupt in SE Asia, it's particularly difficult to run a business honestly. But, he goes on to say, that because his core principles are integrity and honour, doing so is non-negotiable - Even in the face of 'crazy' Philippines taxation.
Podcast Names & Other Games
Sean began his podcast - The Leadership Stack - in July 2019, before the pandemic hit. At the time, the name "SEOHacker would have cost him $8000, which he didn't want to pay - So he settled for what he could find on GoDaddy :-)
The podcast is aimed at entrepreneurs who are trying to scale their business, from zero to becoming a startup. It is a labour of love - Not something that makes any money.
Footnote: Sean eventually bought SEOHacker.com last year, after 10 years of running the business.
With the same straightforward approach, he used to acquire his podcast domain from GoDaddy, Sean realised that all domain names in Slovenia ended "si", and had the inspired idea to source his personal domain name from the country - sean.si - https://sean.si/
Evolution of Growing a Business
‘Mom and pop’ startups often remain as ‘mom and pop startups’ for years, because change is difficult; it takes you out of your comfort zone and it also requires money.
Many changes are required along the way, to ensure your company makes it through the first 5 years and beyond.
SEO Hacker had no backers and has grown organically, meaning that, as founder, Sean has had to wear many hats along the way - even assuming all janitorial duties in his first office because he couldn’t afford to hire people to do it.
Quitting Janitorial Duties
Ultimately, more sales are needed in order to quit these jobs. Increased revenue is also needed if you want to scale.
Sean is still the main face of SEO Hacker and continues to handle the marketing but has quit all the other jobs.
The company now has 50 partners, with a vision to grow to 500, so there's still some way to go..
Nail Your Processes When Scaling
As SEO Hacker grew, it was important to finetune all processes, so a process engineer was hired to undertake this.
As a result, the hiring process evolved into a 6-step process, leading to the company hiring some amazing people.
All processes stem from the hiring process - You have to show them their career progression, salary range, things they need to know to do their job and so on..
Without processes for every aspect of the business, you’re still running your business like a ‘mom n pop shop’.
Because of the ethical way they work, SEO Hacker has helped reduce cynicism around SEO. If you search for “SEO Philippines” they're usually at the top of the list.
Sean takes time to educate the companies that contact him, in the ways of ethical SEO.
Cynicism is highest amongst US & UK software companies, - some of whom may already have been penalised by Google.
Many have previously outsourced the function to agents who use SEO companies in India & the Philippines.
These agents rarely hire SEO Hacker because their rates are the same as US rates - The reason for this is that there's a lot of 'heavy lifting' involved when you do things ‘white hat’.
If you’re ‘black hat’ - or even grey - you can just run some software and get rankings fast but you can also accrue penalties really quickly too.
With the ‘white hat’ approach, you’re playing the long game and getting more solid results - without the risk of penalties being imposed.
Three Key Mistakes with SEO
1) No.1 is hiring the wrong SEO company because, if Google penalises you, it’s serious and takes 6 months to a year before you recover. It can ruin your business.
2) When you have no idea how SEO is done, you’re at risk - If the company you hire is behaving unethically, your rankings can rapidly plummet
3) Clients being too impatient to get results - They want to see results in 3-6months, but, if you’re doing white hat SEO, it’ll take 1-2 years - (unless you’re in a niche market when it can take 3-6 months.)
The Issue with Niche & New Products
If a product is really niche and/or so new that nobody has heard of it, SEO won’t work. There has to be a campaign to raise awareness - across Social Media channels, events, YouTube etc. Until this has been done, there's no point considering SEO.
Sean clarifies: SEO is in the “Interest" & "Awareness” (2nd & 3rd) phases of the funnel. The first phase is “Discovery”. If people don’t know who you are/that your product exists, they’re not going to search for you, so you can’t get that search traffic.
And finally.....What's the Most Important Thing..?
Humility - You have to have a lot of humility as a CEO. In his book, "How the Mighty Fall”, Jim Collins (link below) explains how hubris & ego are the main reasons companies fail. You have to make sacrifices in order to succeed and be humble enough to do whatever it takes.
Sean believes everything has “Divine Appointment” - You have a purpose, desire and reason for living. You have a burning “Why” in your heart. To find out what it is, you have to have faith.
A jovial, friendly character, Sean's closing observation gives great insight into his positive attitude to life's ups and downs and where they may lead - "Almost getting kicked out of college, quitting my job - How lucky can a guy be..?!"
Great to meet you, Sean Si!