Up Close and Personal with Mike Arnesen

Mike Arnesen is speaking at State of Search 2015 and is the founder & CEO of Upbuild, the former Director of Analytics & Optimization for Swellpath, and is a self-described “geek for optimization.” We wanted to find out a bit more about his conversion thought process, who he looks up to, and his opinion on Matt Siltala’s epic beard.
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How did Upbuild get started?

Now that I look back on it, UpBuild is the culmination of all of my years working as an agency-side SEO, my increasing idealism around this idea that digital marketing can “make the web better”, and my dissatisfaction with what most folks (myself included) took as a given in “agency life”. My goal since day one has been to create a company where kids like me, who absolutely love optimizing websites, can do what they’re good at for organizations that they’re proud to partner with. That goal hasn’t changed in the slightest since we started six months ago and I hope it never does.

What are some of the most important analytics optimization tips you’ve learned?

That Google Tag Manager and a good understanding of JavaScript will enable you to become the “Mark Watney of Analytics”. If you haven’t seen The Martian, you should really see it. I hear the book’s great, too.

What I’m getting at is that you can track anything in analytics (or at least that’s what I believe until someone proves me wrong). If you just lay out all your tools, supplies, and random odds and ends in front of you, you can architect a solution to anything. That shouldn’t be a surprise; this is the Internet! Anything is possible here.

What are some of the most important things you’ve learned building an agency?

Focus on your team above all else. When I was a one-person show (that lasted less than a month), I quickly learned that if I didn’t take care of myself and if I lied to myself (involuntarily) about my work capacity, things would start to fall apart. It’s no different now that UpBuild is a team of four – I’ve found that by taking care of my team, respecting them as experts and as people, and supporting them to do what they do best, everything else just sorts itself out.

Another important thing that I’ve learned as an agency founder is that choosing carefully what you say “Yes” to and not being afraid to say “No” is invaluable. Whether saying “No” to scheduling more meetings in an already busy week or even turning down money from a potential client who’s just not a great fit, learning that I can’t say “Yes” to everything is one of my greatest learnings.

How can people get better at analytics, even if they don’t love analytics?

Wait. Hold the phone! Who doesn’t like analytics? Hahaha.

One way people can get better at analytics is to come work at UpBuild. 😉 I’ve noticed I tend to bring SEO folks onto the team and work with them to teach them analytics on the job. However, I can’t hire everyone (yet).

Since I come from a super deep SEO background, it might not be surprising to hear me say “get in the habit of searching for answers on Google.” I’m constantly impressed by how much information is out there on analytics and how many answers are just one query away. You can bey that if you’re struggling with something in analytics, someone else has already had that struggle before. If you’re struggling with something that no one’s struggled with before and you’re able to find a solution, you’re suddenly on the “cutting edge”! That’s pretty cool, too!

But when in doubt, read Simo Ahava’s blog (http://www.simoahava.com/). I’ve learned more from reading his blog that I have from anything else. Google should be paying him for all the great posts he’s done to explain how use Google Tag Manager.

Tell us more about Punk Rock Digital marketing? When is your next blog article coming out?

Punk Rock Digital Marketing (or Punk Rock SEO) is about harnessing what makes punk rock great and using it to fuel your online marketing programs. Punk rock is all about realizing that the way things are isn’t cutting it, getting worked up about it, and doing everything you can do something about. In the context of music, it’s being super loud and probably breaking a few guitars, but in the context of SEO it’s about seeing a SERP that sucks, getting mad about it, and then using all of that energy, intention, and effort to claw your way to the top. Oh, and it’s also about never selling out.

As of this week, blog posts will be coming out twice a week at http://www.upbuild.io/blog

How did you start writing for Moz? Any tips on writing for outlets like Moz?

I’d love to sit down with State of Search attendees at the after party and tell them everything about how I started writing on the Moz site. In short, I blame Justin Briggs (https://www.briggsby.com/) for motivating me to start writing on Moz. It took me about 40 hours to write my first post and I’d like to think that insane amount of investment paid off. It also helps that everyone at Moz is super nice and just ridiculously supportive of the SEO community.

You’ve talked about Optimizely. What do you like most about it?

I love how easy it is to spin up and launch tests in Optimizely. I hate having to sit with site design elements or functionality that someone said was “what our users want”. Unless you have some data to back that up, I’m not buying it – let’s test it. I once ran a test that took five minutes to spin up and launch that removed some admittedly beautiful, high-res images from the top of a site’s product category pages. The variation without the banner images saw a 40% lift in clicks on product thumbnails and a 25% lift in revenue. But at the end of the day, the President of the company was “really attached to the imagery” and we had to live with poor site performance. Wow. That story was kind of a downer.

You’ve talked about shaping company culture. What are the best takeaways you have?

There are no rules when it comes to building a successful company culture. Do what you feel is right and don’t shy away from being idealistic. Also, if you’re not being mindful of company culture, you’re asleep at the wheel. You might wake up a year later to find that people are fleeing your company and it’s too late to change what’s become a toxic part of your company’s DNA. Focus on culture from day one (whether you’re a founder or a team member on your first day). Everyone has the ability to contribute to a positive work culture.

At UpBuild, we wanted to lay down the values that shaped our company culture early on. The idea being that if I got hit by a bus, someone could take over for me and we’d still be the same great company as long as they stuck to those values. You can read more about those on our site at http://www.upbuild.io/our-culture/

Who do you look up to/reach to when you get stuck?

I certainly tend to reach out to other founders when I get stuck. One of my best friends, Alon Goren, is the founder of Invested.In (http://invested.in/) and his brother, Yarone, is the founder of a UX firm called Iteration Group. When I was debating my next move after leaving my last gig, I actually few down to Southern California and spend the week with them learning how launch, run, and scale a startup successfully. Rand Fishkin (https://moz.com/rand) was also awesome enough to sit down with me in UpBuild’s second month to give me advice on running a startup; that was super amazing.

What’s more epic, your hair or Matt Siltala’s beard?

Well, Siltala’s beard has its own Twitter account (https://twitter.com/siltalasbeard) so that’s hard to beat.