The SEO MBA Year 1 Recap
A transparent look at the results so far, and a look ahead to year 2
Hey welcome back to the SEO MBA, a newsletter and course platform helping SEO professionals learn the business skills they need to thrive. Written by me, Tom Critchlow. This time, a recap.
In 2020 I had a consulting gig helping a large client build out an SEO program. As part of that, I was leading the interview process for a senior management SEO position. Time and time again I met people who knew more about SEO than I did, but they lacked the business skills for me to feel comfortable putting them in front of the CEO.
In short I realized there was a skills gap in the industry - too many talented SEOs were missing executive presence.
And so the SEO MBA was born with a mission to close the skills gap. To help SEO professionals learn the business and communication skills they need, to not only get senior jobs but be effective at securing SEO budgets and managing stakeholders, clients and cross-functional teams.
The first course on Executive Presence launched last November so what follows is a kind of year 1 recap.
Here’s the chart of sales over the last year:
Clearly the Executive Presence course has far out-performed The Art of Client Management course. Executive Presence is selling about 80/20 against The Art of Client Management, and about 25% of the revenue of the second course comes from upgrades (people who bought the first course and decided to buy the second as well).
By the end of 2022 over 500 people will have enrolled in one of the SEO MBA courses. Not bad for year 1.
Beyond course sales and revenue however, the true measure of impact is the many testimonials and stories that people share. Stories of people feeling more confident, using the skills in their job, getting new jobs and building executive presence. This warms my heart and gives me faith that I’m doing something useful and meaningful - these stories are what I’m most proud of.
In addition to the courses, I’ve enjoyed finding a voice and opinion in the newsletter. It hasn’t always been as frequent as I’d like but I’m really pleased with how the content came out and the positive reactions.
Here’s some of my favorite pieces so far:
Strong opinions about the state of the industry. These pieces are where I get most opinionated and perhaps controversial with viewpoints that directly address bad practices I see in the industry. Examples:
Is SEO worth it? where I take issue with the idea that SEO is a “cheap” investment.
Let’s never talk about SEO audits again that surfaces how much I dislike “SEO audits”
How to put an SEO strategy together. These pieces explore some fundamental mindset shifts required to work on strategy not tactics. Examples:
Mindset shifts for strategic SEO where I look at ways to position an SEO program, not just a one-time project
How to make an SEO strategy looks at how to “be strategic” in a concrete and tangible way
Managing expectations by finding good comparisons looks at a core missing piece of most SEO work I see. The ability to add context and benchmarks to your strategy.
The presentation skills series. These are some of my most popular pieces! I love nerding out on effective executive presentations - it’s an important skill for securing buy-in and budget. The series:
The SEO career series. There are very few senior jobs that have SEO in the job title. So what do you do about it? The series:
The SEO Skills Matrix (all time top post so far)
And finally, the two pieces that got absolutely no love but that are two of my personal favorites!
Nerding out on Nerdwallet - a look at the S-1 filing for a company that built their entire business on SEO
The consultant’s stance - how important our language is and the role of the expert
Phew! That’s a lot of writing.
What Worked in Year 1
Ok, here’s some things that I think went well this year:
Writing the free email built a nice solid audience and was a very effective way to launch the courses. It’s a very simple, crude funnel (step 1: free email, step 2: paid courses) but it’s broadly effective, at least for launching things.
I’ve kept the technology stack and process layer extremely lean. This makes the whole business very easy to manage which is something I personally value - balancing parenting, consulting work and the SEO MBA would have driven me insane otherwise! The whole thing is just Substack, Podia and Stripe.
Rejecting the live cohort model early on meant that the courses are more accessible across price points and time zones. It also gave me a lot of time freedom to work on consulting, future course development etc. I think the combination of self-paced video with 1:1 assignment feedback and weekly office hours is a nice blend of learning environment that seems to work well.
Everyone who purchased a course at the professional tier gets access to the weekly office hours and these have been wonderful! The chance to talk candidly in small groups and everything from careers to management to strategy to freelancing and more. These spaces have been very wholesome!
What Didn’t Work in Year 1
I’m very happy overall with how things went, but there’s still plenty that could have been better:
The most obvious miss is The Art of Client Management course. I had high expectations for the course - aimed at a clear pain point (client management) for a very specific audience (agency SEOs) - I thought this course would sell much better than it did. The most likely cause is that while client management feels useful, executive presence feels aspirational. Client management prepares you for the job you have, while executive presence prepares you for the job you get next.
While I’m glad I kept the tech stack lean, I’ve done basically zero email automation, funnels or “marketing” in any deliberate form other than send the free newsletter. Substack + Podia are both great products to use but neither of them allow you to do any notion of segmentation or automation. I’m sure there’s room to get more grown up about this stuff next year.
Rejecting the cohort model was the right choice I think but the downside is that I probably didn’t spend enough time actually teaching this year. Outside of beta cohorts the only live interaction is the weekly office hours - and I love this time! So I should figure out how to increase my time doing live interactions, as this kind of teaching lights me up.
Outside of the chart up top there’s another ~15% of revenue that comes from group buys and invoices for corporate purchases. There is an obvious opportunity to do more outreach and nurturing of this sales pipeline - I think group purchases should be at least 50% of the revenue for a business like this. Now, if only I could find a CRM I like…….
So, What’s Ahead in Year 2?
I’m still figuring that out! I enjoy tinkering with the business and trying things out so we’ll see what I rustle up. Some things that might happen:
There’s a new course coming soon. It’s a smaller course, designed specifically around executive presentation skills. That said I built the whole thing and scrapped it once already because it wasn’t good enough… So let’s see if I can get it to a place I feel good about.
Expanding the course lineup with new teachers feels like an obvious way to grow the business - but most of the people who would want to launch a course are busy launching it under their own brand… If you’re building an SEO course that would fit the SEO MBA brand let me know!
I obviously need to grow up a bit and put in place some marketing automation, email flows and such. Maybe I’ll even dabble with some paid acquisition too - I want to make sure I’m setting this up so it’s not a huge time suck though.
There’s definitely an opportunity for an SEO MBA jobs board and an SEO MBA community - people ask me directly for them! But I’m a big fan of keeping the business simple. I’m mulling and debating if/when I build these things out. I know how much work it takes to keep a community healthy and high quality so I’m not going to rush into that decision lightly.
I’m going to dabble with some kind of more intense live instruction. The weekly office hours aren’t enough to scratch my desire to teach.
Keep the email going! I’ve enjoyed writing and that’s not going to dry up. So expect some new emails soon.
(Have an idea for what I should do with year 2? Drop me a note!)
Ultimately, I feel really good that everything I’ve done in year 1 has directly supported the mission. For the people who have been through a course I truly believe that there have been many positive outcomes - new jobs, new confidence, new SEO budgets!
But the skills gap still looms large. There are still too few resources to help SEO professionals learn business skills and learn how to operate at more senior layers of organizations.
So there’s more to be done. Join me in year 2 and we’ll see where this all goes.
Thank you and much love to everyone who has supported and helped along the way.