Alex Melen is an Award-Winning Serial Entrepreneur & Keynote Speaker. He is the founder and CEO of web hosting company T35 Hosting (founded 1997) and advertising agency SmartSites (founded 2011). SmartSites now manages over $30MM/year in advertising spend and has 6 offices worldwide. SmartSites is featured in the INC5000 as one of the fastest growing digital agencies in the U.S. and Alex has been featured in Business Week’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs, Bloomberg, Forbes, NPR & more.
Hello Alex! What inspired you to create SmartSites? How did the venture come about?
Smart sites were started in 2011 almost 8 years ago at this point and it was started with with my brother kind of putting together both of our experiences in the online space. My experience before starting Smart Sites I worked in the digital space for both first Samsung and then four for Wal-Mart. In that position I really got to know the digital space and the agency world really well and I saw a huge opportunity for the small and medium sized businesses that were really being underserved. Bigger agencies obviously wouldn’t go and try to service those kind clients and those businesses were really left to fend for themselves. Oftentimes they would just hire one person in-house to try to do their digital data, outsource at to someone’s brother or cousin or try outsourcing overseas and wind up with that experience. So the goal Smart Sites was to bring the high level of agency service that the Fortune 500 companies received make that kind of level to small and medium sized businesses. So it’s smart sites we literally do everything in the digital space for making the Web site to develop into a SEO, paper click, social media, logo branding anything digital you could think of. We have the expertise to do and we really strive to be a partner to the businesses so that business owners could really focus on their own business and what makes them successful and we can focus on the digital aspect and helping them be successful in everything that they do. We’ve been doing that for eight years and consistently growing 30 / 40 percent every year as far as our services grow and our clients keep referring more and more clients as as they see the level of our service.
What marketing strategies do you use to promote your clients through SmartSites in the beginning?
The strategies we use for our clients are actually funny enough similar to strategies we use for ourselves. So the core strategies we focus on on the marketing side is a SEO which is search engine optimization, organic traffic, paper click which is you literally paperclicks. So that’s the platforms like Google ads, Bing and Facebook. Post to do a little been a social media side. Which is usually a little bit more of a supportive effort. And when I say social media I exclude actually paid ads while paid ads, part of social media is still very powerful. The social media part it’s more of a commenting, posting, it’s still a little bit more on the supportive side but those are the main services and they actually work the best when combined together so SEO is really really good for a long time, long term strategies. It’s very good, very good value in the long term but you have to invest in it for a long time. You have to invest for it for months and months to see results but the results are long lasting. Once you stop investing in it doesn’t disappear but it’s organic search traffic you literally show up in organic results where you don’t have to pay for those clicks and it’s tremendous value over the long run. Then you have a paper clip which is almost the opposite- paper click is very instant. I could build you campaign today and you can start getting traffic and sales today but you’re paying for every one of those clicks and as soon as you stop it you actually will stop getting sales and then we have the social media phone app which which helps bring build your brand identity helps you interact with your clients helps on the customer service end. And like I said when you bundle all those together the SEO for for a long term visibility paperclip for their immediate results then social media for interaction and brand building. It actually provides the best results both for own internal marketing efforts and for what we do for our clients.
As a keynote speaker, what are your favorite topics to speak on?
As a keynote speaker I love speaking about everything digital. Digital, the digital space though is such a broad category that it spans so many different things and so many different levels of expertise. For example when I attend small business conferences where it’s companies and business owners that aren’t too familiar with digital we cover more basic topics. Talk about digital in general the importance of it. Talk about the metrics and trends. The reason why they should be in the digital space because as most people know that’s where the eyeballs are shifting to that’s where attention is and you obviously want to be in front of your customers where they are. But in terms of speaking topics it could also be a much more specific where done multi hour events. Just speaking about SEO and the logic behind SEO I also done events where I speak about paper click and specific paper click strategies. But as you could probably already tell anything digital I’m very passionate about. I’m passionate about helping people understand digital and people helping people succeed with digital online. Even 2019 digital is such a space where the advertising spends doesn’t cut up. If you look at the actual raw numbers companies in the US still overall on aggregate spend more money on TV and TV ads than digital while at the same time if you look at where people spend their time- people are spending a lot of more of their time on digital. Literally people are on their cell phone even when watching TV. So I really am trying to help a lot of people understand that and help them refine their marketing and actually optimize our marketing and digital presence to start generating results. And even in 2019 the opportunities are still there and we still have a lot of businesses that we bring online that see phenomenal results that didn’t think it was possible in this day and age and they felt that it was too late to be getting into digital.
What upcoming technology changes or policy changes will alter the digital marketing sphere?
So the digital space is actually really interesting because in terms of changes and technology changes it is always changing as opposed to things like out of home which is billboard, prin,t ads in magazines and newspapers, radio which has been pretty much the same for decades. Even when the others change, there’s so minor that they’re not revolutionary. The digital space is changing almost in real time- I don’t see any dramatic changes there will be a game changer where I could say well in two years you’re not need a Website but there are still a lot of changes happening. For example in the pay per click side more and more people are actually doing Google ads, which is not surprise. And as more people get do it it actually becomes more expensive for everyone and you have to become more efficient, better and more targeted to be able to generate results. On the SEO side which is organic search traffic, Google’s always coming out with new rules, new best practices- things that they don’t want you to do and things that they do want you to do. For example, five years ago mobile wasn’t as important. Now Google takes into consideration they’re really pushing mobile so things like that are always going to be changing but I think the core thing to remember is entire digital space is always in a state of change and you always really have to keep up with the best practices and what you should be doing. Otherwise you get left behind pretty quick. A perfect example I have is Google last year rolled out new types of expanded ads. So what that means is you can now have more text. What that means is in the Google search results when someone searches something if you’re following the new ads, your ad now takes up twice more space but only twice more real estate without any extra cost. If you did not know this new ad type was just rolled out you wouldn’t have known to make it and to create it and you would have lost out. So the takeaway is digital is always changing and you really have to keep up and follow all the best practices.
What’s next for SmartSites (Melen, LLC)? Any exciting projects, expansions or projects coming down the pipe?
Here at Smart Sites we always try to grow the business obviously in any business you don’t want to stay stagnant and just keep doing what you’re doing but especially in the digital space where everything just moves a little quicker. So the next steps for Smart Sites is to continue to grow our business. As we’ve always done we finished 2018 with with 85 full time employees worldwide. We plan to finish this year, 2019 with 100 and that mimics the goal and roles that we’ve had in the years prior. Obviously there’s there’s a lot that comes with that both growing the employee count but also growing our capabilities growing our office space growing. How many projects we work on and really the quality of service we provide. So there’s a lot of fun goals for smart sites. We hope to continue our growth and it’s primarily driven by the service that we offer. There are happy clients keep referring other future happy clients, our employees love providing the services that we do and it just fuels our growth and we plan to keep expanding and keep trying to help as many small and medium sized businesses with their digital presence as we can.