Year in Review 2013-2014

Overview of years 2013-2014 in the life of Simo Ahava and this blog.

…or How My Organic Traffic Went Through The Roof.

It’s been one of the craziest 365 days in my life, and I thought it would be apt to write a bit about all the stuff that’s taken place. I haven’t really been talking about myself in my guides and other previous posts, so please indulge me, for once!

The beginning

A year ago I had just quit my job at my previous employer, Innofactor Plc. When I quit, I’d been working as a product owner for Microsoft SharePoint CMS (content management system) components, and I wasn’t really seeing any future in it. To be honest, I still don’t think “Microsoft SharePoint” and “CMS” should ever be uttered in the same sentence, but Innofactor did do some pretty cool stuff that made the relationship between the two a bit smoother.

Anyway, a good friend of mine called me and told me that there was an SEO job open at the digital marketing agency he was working at. Well, I jumped at the chance because

  • He’s a great guy and I wouldn’t mind working with him

  • The job would involve more interaction with clients (which I missed)

  • SEO was something I’d been doing as a freelancer for a long time, and I didn’t mind making it my profession

So now I found myself working at NetBooster, a pan-European digital marketing agency. Our Helsinki office is small, but we have a dedicated crew doing their absolute best to deliver more value to our clients.

About a week before my work started, I created this blog at I wanted a channel through which I could write about my experiences in digital marketing.

My first posts sucked. They really did.

The problem with SEO

I very soon noticed a number of problems with SEO, especially for someone working at a digital agency. First of all, no matter how hard we try to be on top of things, reading up on the latest trends, algorithm changes, penalties, recoveries, exposés, etc. it will always be nigh impossible to deliver this knowledge to our clients. Part of the problem is that especially in Finland there’s still a lot of “old-school” SEO being shipped around, where shady agencies are delivering black hat links, 200€-per-month maintenance packages (what the hell can you do with 200€ per month???), and promising stuff to clients that will never bring actual profit or ROI to them.

Trying to promote content-based strategies instead of mindless ranking tactics to companies still deeply entrenched in the latter is very difficult. It’s obvious SEO can’t be confined to a silo in today’s multi- and omni-channel marketing world, but for some reason we still get heaps and heaps of RFPs where this is exactly what the client wants.

SEO is really, really, REALLY easy. Just create good quality content regularly, and market it naturally. Stop laughing, it’s the truth! If you don’t believe me just read Jeff Sauer’s excellent post on his SEO views.

Just for a point of comparison, here’s what my organic traffic looks like from day 1 of the blog to today:

That’s from 0 to almost 7,000 monthly sessions from organic sources. I know, it’s not HUGE but I must remind you of the following things:

  • I have never ever built a single link for my blog

  • I have never ever spent a single second on keyword research for my posts

  • A blog focusing mainly on Google Tag Manager is pretty niche

  • I do not promote my posts in social media

OK, I’ll have to clarify the last bit. I do “promote” them, in that I use them to start a discussion in Google+. I don’t do the promote-once-in-the-morning-then-again-in-the-afternoon-then-again-in-a-week stuff because I’m just not comfortable in promoting my own posts. I let others do that for me.

So SEO is really simple. I get a lot of content ideas from my blog comments, which is why, I guess, they always seem to answer some search intent.

Digital analytics

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know it’s mostly about web analytics. Google Analytics, to be more precise.

I don’t hide the fact that I think data is the only stable thing in the turbulent world of marketing. Or rather, the only stable strategy in a business where strategies pop up like zits after a weekend of booze and chocolate.

The thing I learned during this year of intense interaction with clients in workshops, seminars, consultation projects, and so forth is that there’s a LOT of untapped opportunity in how data is utilized.

Because I’m very developer-minded, the first opportunity is in data collection. It’s not enough to just pull page view hits and then observe changes in standard metrics. Remember, Google Analytics is a tool for millions of businesses, and these standard configurations must cater to all these needs and not just the needs of your lumber yard or clothing store.

If you want to dig into how data collection can be optimized, I suggest you take a look at what people (including myself) have been writing about tag management.

However, I really enjoy reading stuff by Googlers such as Avinash, Justin, and Daniel, because they get it right.

They know it’s not just about data, but rather the insights derived thereof and the people, the analysts, doing the interpretive work.

A smart data collection method will only get you so far. A smart data analyst will take your business to the stars.

The people, the wonderful people

Another reason this has been a great year is because I think moving to the world of digital marketing and especially digital analytics has been my professional break-through. I’ve met so many wonderful people over the months that I can’t even keep count.

My blog and my activity in Google+ (I love, LOVE that platform!) have brought along all the following awesomeness:

  • More conference invitations than I can keep up with

  • Guest post requests (still haven’t had time to do any)

  • Podcast interviews

  • The culmination of my developer ambitions (secret is revealed at the end of this post)

And many other things.

I’ve never ever seen a developer / professional community as vibrant as the ones surrounding Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. I think it’s awesome that the Google engineers and product managers themselves work with us in these communities, awaiting input and feature (and bug) requests, and contributing to the discussions.

The conferences have been awesome, and I have to single out two which should be on the list of “must-visit” for all analysts and marketers out there:

Superweek (Hungary) - Situated on top of a mountain, with rolling fog and clouds enveloping the hotel grounds, this conference is set in a very The-Shining-esque milieu. Nevertheless, it’s still one of the top conferences in digital today. It’s going to be organized in January 2015, make sure you don’t miss it.

MeasureCamp (London) - A true unconference for beginners, experts, and enthusiasts in digital analytics. The atmosphere is amazing, and the sessions are truly inspiring (even if they’re ad hoc or in a game show format).

I’m working hard to get a strong web analytics / digital marketing community in Finland as well, but this requires time and effort that I can’t spare alone. Luckily we’ve started doing a lot of little networking events here in Finland, and maybe some day we can boast our own eMetrics, SMX, or Superweek.

Personal stuff

Personally, it’s also been one of the most amazing and massive years of my life.

I got married in August to the most wonderful, beautiful, amazing woman in the world. She’s my best friend and she means the world to me. Someone who can put up with my all-around geekiness should deserve a medal. We also had a really fun honeymoon doing a crazy road trip in the United States. That’s 2 weeks and 3,000 miles of driving, with a loop from New York City - New Orleans - New York City.

We also just bought our dream house, and I can’t wait for us to move in.

On a sadder note, my grandmother of 98 years (!) passed away late April, and this made the very over-worked month of May even more difficult to endure.

Life has its ups and downs, I guess. Luckily, this past year has been almost overwhelmingly full of positive twists and turns, so I consider myself very fortunate.

Meet the newest Google Developer Expert

I was just added to the Google Developer Expert program as one of the fewer than hundred (at the time of writing) individuals and one of the just four Google Analytics experts, whose job is to evangelize, educate, write, and develop Google’s products from a developer perspective. It doesn’t make me a Google employee, but it is a sign of appreciation from Google for the work I’ve put into making Google Tag Manager more accessible to developers and marketers alike.

This is a huge thing for me, since I’ve never considered myself a developer. I guess that must change now :)

Thanks to the GDE team at Google for accepting me to the program, and special thanks to Mr. Daniel Waisberg for supporting me throughout the process and Mr. Nico Miceli for the great chat we had around GDE stuff in my first interview.

Thanks also to everyone reading my blog posts, and thanks to the Google Tag Manager team for making such a fun product to write about!