Meet Derek Coleman, Tuff’s SEO Strategist. Derek works closely with Tuff’s clients to audit web properties, implement technical SEO fixes, and increase organic revenue.
Below, he shares how Charlie Sheen inspired his career switch from finance to digital marketing, his experience jumping out of a plane his first time flying, and on defining yourself in the larger context of your life (not just work).
Tell us a bit about your 3-5 years before Tuff. What were you working on?
I graduated with a finance degree and I was in finance for a few years. And during that time, in my personal time, I was always putting together WordPress blogs and Shopify sites. As part of that, I was trying to rank them and grow my following on Twitter.
I started off with one blog. It was Charliesheenfacts.com when Charlie Sheen was kind of a viral thing. I just kind of took that Chuck Norris style approach And, I grew the Twitter to like 16,000 followers and I started doing a lot of SEO on the website. And then I was like, you know, I kind of want to switch from finance into digital marketing.
I realized finance was not really what I wanted to do anymore. My passion was more in digital marketing. So, I took a job at a tech company and that’s really where my professional SEO experience started. I was there for three years and it was a lot of content-driven SEO. We published almost 750 pieces of content a month. I was quickly learning how to optimize all of this content for SEO on a piece-by-piece basis as well as the large funnel focus of which ones have the most opportunity.
I got a lot of experience there on the content side and then I moved to LA to work at a different startup as a Director of Growth Strategy. This role started off actually as a technical SEO strategist so I got to learn a lot of the technical SEO side working with things like tags, metatags, descriptions, coding and PHP. It was a standalone website, not on WordPress or anything.This role gave me more of a full stack SEO approach.
After that, I started freelancing for about a year and this gave me experience with so many different clients, so many different industries, so many different types of marketing.
Is there any crossover in how you think about SEO based on what you learned in finance?
Yeah, definitely. I’m more of an analytical person so that helps me with the amount of work I do in spreadsheets. Learning those Excel formulas back in the day was more helpful than taking a course to learn SEO. It was more of a muscle I developed or a mindset of analytical work and working in spreadsheets that has stayed with me.
Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?
I had worked with a number of agencies, both in my full-time roles and while freelancing. And, I didn’t really like the culture of a lot of the agencies. They’re very data-driven but not in the client data-driven sense. Rather, singularly focused on their own revenue targets.
And while getting to know Tuff, I felt there was more of a human approach. In the process of seeing the job description, going through the website, and interviewing, I got the sense of a small but tight-knit team. So, I think that is really what separated Tuff and helped me make the decision. I didn’t want to be just like a number somewhere, churning out work with impersonal relationships with clients.
Is there anything about you that usually surprises people when they’re first meeting you?
The first time I went on an airplane, I skydived. And then after that, I started to travel quite a bit. I didn’t really travel until I was 23 but now it is really important to me.
You’re quite passionate about traveling. Has this informed how you show up at work?
When I’m meeting people, I try not to default to ‘what do you do for work?’. If I am striking up a conversation with somebody, it’s probably about something we have in common or something we’re experiencing in the moment, like a basketball game that is on. I think it is important to recognize that we’re more than just our job.
What is it about SEO that gets you fired up?
I really love some of the more technical problem solving. I was just working on this for a client, they have like 16,000 ahref language tags and we needed to make some updates. So I was like, ‘okay, let me write a quick script and it’s just going to fix them all so quick. It’s going to be awesome’. And then, it didn’t work.
I put the script in PHP, but it’s on big commerce and they don’t accept PHP. So next up I’m on different forums trying to figure it out. And, I think I got it now. I tested in a sandbox and am getting ready to push it out live. So the challenge of fixing technical SEO at scale is really rewarding.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in SEO and client management?
You have to build trust and become a teacher to help people understand SEO and the importance and impact of this work.
If a company has hired you to do SEO work, they will hopefully have some level of understanding that there’s not an amazingly quick win in this work. Like, you can’t guarantee first-page results in a few weeks. With that being said, I think it’s good to tackle the quick wins first so you can come back to your client, share, and create energy around the work. Like, ‘Boom! 16,000 errors fixed in like day’. It’s good to give some quick results at the beginning while also setting expectations that SEO work is a marathon, not a sprint.
What advice would you give someone starting out at Tuff?
The clients are great. I think there is a good process for making sure clients are equally the right fit for Tuff where we can build a relationship and communicate transparently. This lets you really focus on the results you’re able to get for them and do a great job in that work.
Ellen is the founder at Tuff and one of the team’s core growth marketers. She is a versatile marketer with expertise in multiple channels – from ppc to seo to email to others – responsible for the experiments and testing. She is happiest when she’s on the ski hill or outside pointing her mountain bike downhill.