Oct 22, 2020
Jay Taylor is the Managing Director of Leverage, an award-winning digital marketing agency and Certified Google Partner. Leverage partners with its client brands to help them dominate their market with custom-tailored, location-based digital marketing strategies and concentrates on verticals in legal, healthcare, real estate and construction. The goal is to position a client company at the top in terms of search visibility and digital presence for each of a client’s geographic locations and practice areas.
Key to this effort is utilizing a “hybrid strategy,” embedding websites with obvious search terms and then including other less competitive, highly targeted keywords. Jay provides the example of a “Tampa personal injury attorney,” whose keywords might also include “Tampa dog bite injury attorney” and “Tampa slip and fall attorney.” While great content is essential to successful SEO, the agency recommends adding paid search, PPC, Google Ads . . . all of these combined can be “very effective.: The goal is to get a client’s site to show up once on the first search results page, and quite possibly once on the second or third pages, with a possible first position in Organic . . . AND in the paid results above that AND in the right-hand side knowledge panel.
Is that enough? Not yet.
Jay believes reputation management is essential for establishing a successful online presence and even more critical for establishing a successful search presence. Companies need to have a reputation generation and management strategy running alongside their SEO and PPC efforts. The objective is to beat competitors with both the number of reviews AND with a higher average rating. Perception: More ratings + higher average rating = CLEAR WINNER!
Jay started his career in marketing working at someone else’s agency. He studied finance and marketing while pursuing his MBA and started Leverage Digital upon graduation in 2006-2007, way too soon, he says, in retrospect. A few more years of experience at an established agency would have provided him with the opportunity to learn how run an agency, “from sales to operations to account management,” and to understand the services. He confesses to googling “how to write an invoice” upon securing his first client.
Jay gave himself a deadline of “being profitable within 12 months” and two years later started hiring staff so the agency could grow. At the same time, he shifted his personal focus from technical work to working on client strategy. Today, Leverage’s creative team handles design and copywriting, the development team handles programming and website development, and the account management team services the accounts.
When Covid-19 struck, his agency went remote. They are back in the office now, masked, and with social distancing measures in place. They meet with clients either remotely or in person, depending on the client’s preference – but the focus is always “on safety.” Jay defines agency growth more In terms of growing the size of the accounts they have rather than adding to the number of accounts.
Leverage has received a number of industry accolades and honors, including those from the International Davey Awards, Hermes Awards, W3 Awards, and Communicator Awards. In 2018, Leverage was named the 9th fastest growing company owned or led by a University of South Florida alumnus. Jay notes that it important “to focus on your strengths and be the best in your area of expertise and not try to be all things to all people.”
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Jay Taylor. He is the Managing Director of Leverage, based in Tampa, Florida. Welcome to the podcast, Jay.
JAY: Thanks, Rob. I appreciate it. Thank you for having me on.
ROB: Fantastic to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us about Leverage. What is your specialty? What is your superpower?
JAY: Sure. We are a digitally focused agency here in Tampa Bay. We are specialists in helping our clients engage their customers at the local level with custom tailored location-based digital marketing strategies. Essentially, what that means is that whether our client has one location or 100 locations, we help them dominate each of the markets that they serve in terms of their search visibility and their overall digital presence.
ROB: With that in mind, help us flesh out that idea a little bit. What are some examples of types of clients that you tend to work with?
JAY: We have concentrations in the legal, healthcare, real estate, and construction verticals. A good example would be a law firm. Let’s say a law firm that has five different locations in five different markets. Each of these locations really needs to be front and center whenever somebody is searching for whatever the practice area may be. Let’s say they’re searching for a personal injury attorney. If their customers search for a personal injury attorney within one of the markets that they serve, we need to make sure that our client is populating at the top of the search results for that particular search within their market.
Then we replicate that for each of their markets. Again, whether they’re serving one market or five markets or more, we make sure that they dominate the search results in each of those markets.
ROB: That’s really interesting. For the example you gave of personal injury attorneys, they can be, shall we say, very aggressive marketers. I would imagine some of those search terms are pretty competitive. What is the state of the art in 2020 to get somebody ranking for the terms they want to rank for in a local market?
JAY: That’s an excellent question. Everyone tends to go after the obvious search terms. We actually try to avoid those. We try to help our clients outmaneuver their competition in terms of the search terms or keywords that they’re going after. Sticking with the personal injury example, a law firm here in Tampa that specializes in personal injury are going to, in most cases, want to target “Tampa personal injury lawyer.” That’s an obvious term that all of their competition is going to be going after. It’s very competitive, and probably not the best use of resources.
What we would recommend or advise is, hey, instead of putting all our resources into going after a handful of highly competitive keywords, let’s go after lots of less competitive, highly targeted keywords. Let’s go after “Tampa dog bite injury attorney” or something along those lines, or “Tampa slip and fall attorney,” something that’s not as obvious and not something that all of your competitors are also going after.
By having that what we call hybrid approach where, yes, we’re going after the competitive search terms as well, but we’re also going after a lot of the less competitive, more targeted search terms – and by more targeted, I mean they’ll convert at a higher rate – we are able to help our clients compete at a lower cost and also outmaneuver their competition.
ROB: That sounds like a meaningful long-tail strategy. That informs a little bit of what terms you’re targeting, but sticking a little bit into how are you targeting, in 2020 is this still a game of content marketing? Is it crafting specific pages really well? Are there supplemental non-SEO strategies that are coming to bear there?
JAY: Absolutely, all of the above. Content marketing is a significant component if we’re talking about organic search or search engine optimization. Content really is the foundation of a successful SEO campaign. We do recommend adding a paid search component. SEO and paid search or PPC or Google Ads, whatever you want to call it, combined can be very effective.
What we like to do is help our client literally dominate the search results page for each of the keywords that they target. What I mean by that is, instead of just showing up once on the search results page – let’s say they show up once in the second or third, maybe even the first position in organic. We also want them to show up in the paid results right above that, and we also want them to show up in the knowledge panel on the right hand side.
We refer to that essentially as the holy grail, if you will. We have them listed three times on the Google search results page for one single keyword. And if we can replicate that for 20 keywords or 30 keywords, that is a very effective overall search marketing strategy that consists of both organic and paid search.
ROB: Makes plenty of sense. One thing we’ve often heard when it comes to local marketing is the challenge of local reputation management, of ensuring that your contact information, whether due to a lack of maintenance or due to maliciousness, is not being shown as incorrect. Is there much of a trend around the need for reputation, or is Google getting better about that, and Bing and Yelp and so on?
JAY: Reputation management is critical in terms of establishing a successful online presence in general. I believe it’s even more critical when we’re talking about establishing a successful search presence. What we advise our clients is that you cannot have a successful search presence without also having a great online reputation.
We typically advise having a reputation management strategy in place that coincides with your SEO and PPC efforts. When somebody finds your website on Google, as an example, they see that you have fifty 5-star reviews while your competitors probably have fewer reviews than that, and they’re probably going to be somewhere right around 3 to 4 stars while you’re closer to 5 stars. Because of the volume of reviews that our client has and because their overall rating is going to typically be higher than their competition, they’re going to be the clear winner from a perception standpoint that a prospective customer might have when they find them after performing a search.
ROB: Reviews have certainly become a battleground for getting noticed. These days, some businesses almost have so many growing reviews that there’s a question of authenticity around that. How are you seeing that question of, “Are these reviews for real?” And sometimes maybe they’re even not for a competitor.
JAY: That’s interesting. One thing that I see is sometimes all of the reviews will come from people who work for the company. That’s great; it’s great to get feedback from your employees, from your staff, and it’ll give you that 5-star rating on Google in particular. That is good to a certain extent. There’s nothing wrong with getting reviews from your employees, again, getting positive feedback.
But at the same time, that’s not what your customers are looking for. If they dig a little further and they start to actually read the reviews, they’re going to quickly discover these aren’t reviews coming from other customers. These are reviews coming from employees of the company, and they’re probably not going to have much faith in those reviews.
It’s much more effective, much more powerful to have reviews from actual customers. It’s pretty obvious when a real customer is leaving a review versus somebody that is not being authentic. Sometimes you’ll see a review that’s way over the top and it almost sounds like it came straight from the owner. And in some cases it might have. It’s pretty obvious. I definitely would not recommend that.
We recommend developing a review generation strategy, having a system, a program in place to request legitimate reviews from legitimate customers. That’s the best way to handle it.
ROB: So getting reviews just becomes a process you execute as a business, just like you would pay your bills and order supplies and whatnot.
JAY: Absolutely. It just becomes a part of your marketing strategy.
ROB: Perfect. Jay, if we rewind a little bit, what is the origin story of Leverage? How did you get into this business?
JAY: It’s a pretty long story, so I’ll give you the short and sweet version. While I was getting my MBA, I figured out that I wanted to start working in the marketing and advertising industry. I got a job working at an ad agency here in Tampa and really fell in love with the work, fell in love with the day to day challenges. I was studying both financing and marketing while I was getting my MBA, so I was learning the theoretical side of marketing, but I was also getting the practical experience at my job.
This was right around 2006-2007, and then the recession hit and I said, “Probably not the best time to start a business, but I’ve always wanted to start a business.” At that point in time, I was right out of school. Really didn’t have a lot to lose at that time of my life. So, I said, “I’m going to take the risk and I’m going to do it now because it’s now or never.” That was my mindset.
I took what I learned in school, I took what I learned working at that advertising agency, and I used that to help launch Leverage. This was in 2008. At that point in time it was just me, and I was working out of my house. Bootstrapped. I didn’t take any loans. I didn’t borrow any money from my parents or anyone. I really started with a few hundred bucks and used that to purchase my equipment, purchase the necessary software. I did everything. I designed the websites, I programmed the websites, I did the SEO, I ran the Google AdWords, as it was called at that time. I did everything.
Then after doing that for a little while, I realized, “If I want to grow, I have to start to hire.” I also realized that I really enjoyed working on the strategy side of things with clients, and if I was building websites and doing a lot of the technical work, I didn’t really have time to work with my clients and communicate with my clients and work with them on developing their marketing strategy and overseeing that.
So, I started to hire and fill those roles that were needed to meet our clients’ needs and ensure that we were providing them with the best outcomes, because I certainly wasn’t the best graphic designer. I certainly wasn’t the best programmer. I went to school for business. I didn’t go to school for these things. So, I hired experts who did, and here we are. It’s been a long road, but a good journey, a fun journey.
ROB: At what point on that journey did it become clear to you that this was going to be able to be more than an experiment and a “why not?” and that you were probably going to be doing this thing for a while? What did that look like?
JAY: I gave myself one year and I said, “I want to build a profitable business within 12 months. I have to be able to support myself within 12 months, and if I cannot support myself within 12 months – meaning be able to comfortably pay my rent, buy my groceries, have food on the table, put gas in my car – if I can’t do those things after 12 months comfortably, then I’m going to go get a job.”
So, to answer your question, I gave myself a 12-month deadline and I was able to meet those goals. I was able to get to a point after that first year where I was still working out of my house, but it was comfortable. It wasn’t a situation where I felt like I was being stretched too thin. By Year 2, I was able to rent my first office. By Year 3, I was able to begin hiring employees.
Year 1 was by far the toughest, and then after Year 1, I really started to gain some traction and go from being a solopreneur, as it’s called, to building a team and having a legitimate operation.
ROB: I’m going to press in a little bit. I think a lot of people would want to know – just wondering how other people are handling work life and structure as we’re 6 months into this COVID pandemic. How did you first adjust your team structure and working patterns, and what does that look like for you now, in October 2020?
JAY: We went remote for a while, especially when things heated up in terms of the pandemic, when things got really bad there for a little while. We went remote. We thought that that was the responsible thing to do, the prudent thing to do. It was challenging because we’re a very collaborative environment. We’re in the office every day. So, it was challenging, and we really relied on technology to help us get through that. Lots of Zoom calls.
As of today, we are for the most part back in the office. We’ve altered the way the office is situated so that everybody remains 6 feet apart. Everyone’s wearing masks. It’s a very safe environment. We want everybody here so that the collaboration can continue. And yes, you can collaborate through Slack and other means, but that face-to-face interaction I feel really helps us deliver the best outcomes for our clients, and ultimately that’s what we’re here for: our clients.
So, we maintain a safe environment, but without sacrificing that collaboration that really allows us to achieve the best outcomes for our clients.
ROB: That’s really helpful context there. What are you seeing in terms of clients and their receptiveness to meet? You mentioned you have multi-city clients, so some of them I’m sure you would get on planes to talk to. Where are clients at in this day and age?
JAY: For the most part, they’re fine meeting via Zoom. We have meetings pretty much every day with clients via Zoom. It’s worked out just fine. A lot of our clients are not local. That was not uncommon before, so it really hasn’t impacted the way we do things now. But we do still meet with clients in person here at our office in Tampa if they’re local and they prefer to meet in person – of course, adhering to social distancing guidelines.
So, it’s a little bit of a mix. But I would say that our clients who are local do have a preference in some cases, still, to meet face to face.
ROB: Got it. Little bit of everything, and I’m sure it comes and goes a little bit.
JAY: And Rob, I just want to mention this. At the end of the day, we’re here because of our clients. We try to be flexible and meet our clients the way they want to meet. If they prefer to meet by Zoom, then that’s what we do. If they prefer to meet in person, then we make that work as well. Ultimately, taking care of them is our number one priority.
ROB: Absolutely. Jay, when you reflect on the life of Leverage so far, what are some things you might do differently if you were starting from scratch today?
JAY: [laughs] I laugh because that is a very easy question to answer. I would have stayed with the agency that I started with a little bit longer. I think I probably jumped in with both feet a little prematurely.
I think there would’ve been a lot of value in continuing to work with that agency, and if not that agency, another established agency to gain more experience and just learn more about the business before going out on my own. But of course, like every twenty-something, I thought I knew everything. I thought I had it all figured out. At that age you tend to be very confident in yourself and your capabilities, even though you probably don’t know as much as you think you do. I suffered from that affliction and decided I was going to do it right then and there.
So definitely getting a little bit more agency experience before venturing out on my own is what I would have done differently in hindsight.
ROB: What are some of the things you think you might have learned staying and learning in that agency environment faster than you did on your own, or you had to maybe take some lumps?
JAY: I think there were probably a number of things. I think I would’ve learned a bit more about the business itself. Just how to run an agency, and just the simple – everything from sales to operations to account management, and then of course the actual services themselves. I think I probably would’ve learned a lot more in all of those areas.
I definitely took the more challenging road, which was basically “just figure it out as you go.” I remember when I first started the agency – this was probably within a few weeks, maybe a month of starting the agency. Landed my first client, and I had to google how to create an invoice. I had never created an invoice before. Google was a great resource for me at this time. This, again, is in 2008. So I googled “how to create an invoice.” I did not even know how to create an invoice because I’d never had a reason to create an invoice before. Just things like that.
ROB: You might not even know how to get money from people. At least you knew that you needed to send an invoice, so that’s helpful. You learned some in the other agency. It’s a good start for sure.
You started off – you mentioned that 2008 timeline. I think until recently you were known as Leverage Digital. I’m sure when you mention something like a personal injury attorney, there’s probably a steady pull to get into other lines of business. I think attorneys are very famously – out-of-home advertising, buses, billboards, you name it. How have you decided which lines of business to open up and do and which ones to still stay out of?
JAY: In terms of the types of services that we offer and the channels that we focus on?
JAY: You referenced our recent brand refresh from Leverage Digital to Leverage. We did that because Leverage is easier to recall, it’s easier to say. There’s too many syllables in Leverage Digital. Even hard for me to say, even though I’ve been saying it for over 10 years.
So, we dropped “Digital” for those reasons, and also because we feel digital is becoming somewhat antiquated. 10 years ago, it made sense to have that in the name, and now I think digital is expected if you’re a marketing agency. I don’t think there’s a marketing agency – at least there shouldn’t be – on the planet that doesn’t do digital. That used to be a unique characteristic of ours; I don’t think digital is unique to us anymore. So, we dropped it for those reasons.
But we still decided to focus on digital because that is what we excel at. A lot of agencies that have started doing digital over the last few years, they’re still learning it. They don’t really know the space yet. They don’t really understand it. There’s still a lot of trial and error and a lot of testing, whereas we’ve been doing it for over a decade. It’s in our DNA. It’s what we do. There’s really no reason for us to get outside of that and to start doing billboards and outdoor advertising and things like that.
I truthfully am not interested in doing those types of things. Of course, we could if a client asked. We always want to be accommodating and we’ll help them, but that’s not really our focus. That’s not what we excel at. I think it’s really important to focus on your strengths and be the best in your area of expertise and not try to be all things to all people.
ROB: That definitely makes sense. The focus thing, you were even able to categorize early on some of the vertical markets you work in most often. There were plenty of things we didn’t hear. Some people go deep into auto dealerships. Some people go deep into restaurant marketing, multi-location restaurants, franchises, etc. So, there’s definitely some focus there.
When we look at what’s next for you and for Leverage, if people look you up, at least on LinkedIn, it looks like you’ve got a few people that work with you on this thing. So, what is coming up next for Leverage or broader in marketing that you are excited about?
JAY: With the pandemic and some of the external factors that we’ve all been dealing with for the last year, or at least for 2020, digital channels are really becoming more competitive because budgets are shifting more and more to digital.
Advertisers are – as the example we cited earlier regarding billboards, they’re less inclined to get a billboard because there’s less people on the roads. That marketing budget has to go somewhere. If it’s not going to billboards, it’s not going to tradeshows, it’s not going to conferences – it’s going to digital. That is making digital more competitive, but it’s also creating opportunities for digitally focused agencies like ours.
We’re well positioned to help our clients compete and remain dominant players in the markets that they serve, and we’re also well positioned to help clients that we don’t yet work with become dominant players in the markets they serve because we have that expertise in digital and we’ve been doing it for so long.
ROB: That makes perfect sense. How do you think about, within the agency, scaling up? When you think about the next 25% of people you’re going to bring on board to serve your clients well, how do you think about structuring? Are you in a pod structure when it comes to clients? Do you have more departmental responsibilities and more vertical focus – this person focuses on content, this person focuses on creative, etc.?
JAY: The latter. Basically we have our development team and then we have our creative team. Our creative team handles the graphic design and copywriting. Our development team obviously handles the programming and development of websites. We have our account management team that handles account servicing.
And I’ll tell you, in terms of scaling, I’m not so interested in scaling in terms of growing the size of our agency as much as I am in growing the size of the accounts that we work with. We’re not a volume-based agency. We’re more selective about who we work with. We prefer to have fewer, larger accounts than having lots of small accounts, if that makes sense. By doing that, we’re able to provide our clients with a very high level of service. And that’s really what it’s all about for us: the level of service that we provide.
If we have lots of clients, then we’re going to have to have lots of people to service those clients, and they’re probably not going to get the same level of service because we’re managing so many different strategies for so many different accounts. By having just a few larger accounts that we can really learn and invest in and invest our resources into, we essentially are able to function almost like an outsourced marketing department for our clients. And they get the same level of service and they get the same or better outcomes than if they were trying to do everything in-house.
ROB: That’s great to think about the benefit, even for your team, of giving them the ability to focus on serving a client well rather than having to switch contexts between serving 50 clients, and maybe something slips and then you’re serving more clients not as well as you’d like to.
JAY: That’s right. I’ve learned over the years that whether a client is spending $1,000 a month with you or $100,000 a month with you, their expectations are not that much different. Everybody wants to get great results. Everybody wants great service. There’s no wrong or right way to do it; it’s just the way we do it, we’ve discovered that we want to be able to give our clients the best level of service and the best possible outcomes.
But we’re realistic and we know we can’t do that if we’re spread so thin because we’re working with a high volume of accounts. So we really prefer to be selective, make sure that we’re the right fit for them and they’re the right fit for us, and that we can deliver on their expectations.
ROB: Got it. That’s perfect, Jay. When people want to find you and they want to find Leverage, where should they go to track you down?
ROB: Excellent. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Jay, and I hope people will look you up. I learned a lot, and hopefully we all will together.
JAY: My pleasure, Rob. Thank you for having me on.
ROB: Be well. Thanks.
JAY: Thanks. You too.
ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.