Last updated on January 11th, 2015
Stone Reuning has been doing SEO since the pre-Google era, back when Yahoo was the king of search. That alone would be impressive, but it’s really just part of the story.
When it comes to decision support cred, it doesn’t get much better than Ernst & Young, and that was only one stop along Stone’s 25-year career in consulting and business services. He and his brother Wes – an SEO Advantage partner and Executive VP – both worked with Fortune 500 companies before teaming up to form Tampa Bay Associates, where they developed and implemented business solutions. Then, in 1999, the Reuning brothers created the venture that would become one of the internet’s most innovative and successful SEO companies: SEO Advantage.
Stone and I “sat down together” in the virtual office this week, and he told me the story of how SEO Advantage was formed, and how Stone and Wes saw an opportunity and seized it at a time when SEO and mainstream internet use were still in their infancy.
The Reuning brothers were specializing in medical systems in the late 90’s, back before Google took over the search world. “We were going to move our healthcare company into the internet arena,” Stone explained, “but within weeks it became obvious that if we wanted to make this work we needed to get this website to the top of Yahoo and Alta Vista, and in front of the CEOs of hospitals. We were looking at providing software for healthcare businesses, but once we started to develop the website we saw an opportunity to do something new that every business would need. Making that progression was natural for me, because succeeding on the internet was just another math problem.”
Thus SEO Advantage was born, and in the years since it has stayed on the forefront of every SEO development, adapting to algorithm updates when necessary, but usually surviving those updates relatively unscathed. This is a credit to Stone’s forward-thinking leadership and ability to see the future of search before it happens. It’s also the direct result of the fact that, unlike many SEO executives who become completely disconnected from the day-to-day operations of their companies, Stone works in the trenches. He remains directly involved with every single client SEO Advantage serves.
I asked him how he maintains that passion, and it became immediately obvious why managing from on high is not and never will be his style. “My main interest has always been in product development,” he told me. “I enjoy developing new approaches, looking at math, and making things work in a profitable way. How do we make systems work, and how do we make them work better?”
“I’ve always viewed clients as business partners,” he continued, “I ask them, ‘what are your problems? What are the things you’re trying to solve? What keeps you up at night?’ I like to form long-term relationships with clients. Some have been with us for over a decade. Building these relationships, to me, is the right way to do business.” Considering SEO Advantage’s success, that’s not just an opinion. The company’s record has been proven time and time again, to the benefit of clients in fields from law to medicine to precious metals.
Another contributing factor to that success is the company culture that has evolved over the years. SEO Advantage employs a virtual office approach, and although Stone is hands-on with every client, he doesn’t micromanage, preferring to give his employees a sense of ownership over their work.
“I think it says a lot about who we are as an internet-based company that we fully utilize online resources as part of our day-to-day operations. We aren’t constrained by geography. We find and hire talent from all over the U.S., giving our clients the advantage of the most skilled, experienced staff available. Our approach breeds creativity and attracts people who are driven and self-motivated outside of a traditional office environment. It also keeps down our overhead, which is great from the client perspective.”
When asked to name the number one aspect of SEO Advantage that gives it a decided edge over other SEO companies, Stone didn’t hesitate. “Our team,” He said immediately. “Early in my career, one of my supervisors said to me, ‘I want you to basically do my job so that I can go do another job.’ That stuck with me, and that’s why I’ve focused on building a company of managers. SEO technicians who are used to following someone else’s instructions to the letter wouldn’t fit in here. I want managers who are invested in their work, and I find that giving passionate people autonomy makes it fun for everyone, which in turn promotes even more creativity and innovation.”
Next I asked Stone to name the best and worst developments in SEO over his career. His answer: “Google and Google.”
“SEO was easier when we started. Companies could get people to rank with spam, but the long-term value of that approach was short lived even back then. It would make people rank, but it didn’t actually produce revenue. It’s more complex for us, but it’s also better for the people using the internet.”
“I’ve always gravitated toward what Google reinforces,” he continued, “and we’ve always been much more on the messaging side of things. It’s nice these days to not have to compete with the spammers, so while Google makes it more complex, it’s actually easier for us, because we never became dependent on those sorts of tactics.”
To wind things down on a casual note, I asked Stone what was the one thing he couldn’t work without during the day. I expected him to say something like coffee or music, but instead I got one more indicator of how passionate he is about his work.
“The newness of the SEO problem,” he answered. “I’m a math geek. I like trying to figure out new approaches with the math. The internet’s even better than a math problem, though. It’s the biggest math problem. You have to infer, figure things out. For me, growing businesses is fun.”
That approach and attitude pretty much sum up how SEO Advantage operates, and why the company has been so successful in developing new approaches to search marketing for our clients over the years. “Growing businesses is fun.”