Q&A with Jason Hennessey, CEO of Hennessey Digital
1) How did you get your start in SEO?
I think most people who have been doing it for a while got their start in SEO accidentally. In 2001, I had a mobile DJ company. I was paying for college with the GI Bill and the money I was making by DJing weddings. I wanted to reach brides coming to Las Vegas for a destination wedding, and I had an idea to build a web directory for brides to connect with wedding vendors — DJs, banquet halls, photographers, florists, etc. So I hired a developer to build the site, “WeddingMall.com.” He built a website for me, but after playing around with that site for a couple of months, nobody was visiting it. I had no traffic. I called my developer and told him, “I don’t know if my website is broken, or what’s wrong? Nobody is coming to it.” And he told me that he’s just a developer, and what I needed someone who specializes in something called “SEO.”
2) So you learned about SEO to grow your own business?
Yes, I found a book by Aaron Wall that covered SEO comprehensively, and I paid $40 for it. I read it front to back, then read it again. I started implementing the tactics — changing Title Tags, improving content — and eventually it started to work.
Then one day I got a call from the catering manager at the Bellagio, asking about advertising at my “Wedding Mall” site. That caught me by surprise! I asked her how she heard about us, and she said I was ranking No. 1 for “wedding venues in Las Vegas.”
At the time, I was really looking for more DJ gigs, so I offered to give the Bellagio free advertising if they would list me as a preferred DJ vendor. I started getting a lot more business from that relationship. Then I started getting calls from other wedding vendors — florists, limousine companies — and I was charging them $100 a month to have a listing on my website. That became a really nice business, so I built Vegas Wedding Mall, Seattle Wedding Mall, Los Angeles Wedding Mall. I used my SEO knowledge to make them all profitable.
And that was where my interest turned to SEO.
3) In six years, your agency, Hennessey Digital, has grown very quickly. How did that happen?
It certainly didn’t happen through marketing! We put a lot of pride in the quality of our product and having a good reputation. We didn’t need to do any advertising because the few clients we had were referring us to their friends and colleagues. Then we leveraged our case studies to gain more clients.
As my reputation started growing, I was invited to speak at niche conferences. I would share case studies on stage, and continue to build my reputation and trust. That was the perfect recipe for growing an agency. That rapid growth led us to make the Inc 500 in 2019, and the Inc 5000 in 2020.
4) And now you’ve just created a Hollywood studio?
Yes, it’s just opened! We see podcasts and videos as a big part of the future of internet marketing. It gives everybody a voice and a platform to get their messages out. We invested in this high-class studio in Hollywood, not only for our own agency to use for our clients, but to serve others who want to host their own shows at a high-quality studio.
Many high-end podcasts and videos are being produced in major studios. Then you have other people who are recording on an iPhone in their grandmother’s extra bedroom, and we wanted to create something in the middle.
This is a place where a CEO of a Fortune 1000 company can show up in Hollywood and produce a video or host a podcast. So, we’re going to produce shows, manage talent and lease out the space occasionally. It’s located in the heart of Hollywood, actually on the first floor of the Academy building at 5200 Lankershim Blvd.
5) What is the biggest SEO mistake you see companies make?
It’s very tempting to take shortcuts in SEO. Someone may read an article about how someone was able to rocket their site to #1 in Google in a matter of weeks with tactics that Google frowns upon, and then they start trying to do the same thing. They may start buying links from low-quality sites, publishing countless low-quality pages stuffed with their target keywords, or hiding text from users and only showing it to Google. They may think these tactics trick the search engines, but Google is almost never fooled for long. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a site make a huge jump in the rankings, and then suddenly disappear from Google’s search results completely — that’s Google catching them in the act.
6) You also help clients with PPC?
Yes, some of our clients make big investments in PPC campaigns for us. We love PPC because everything can be quantified and tested, and you can constantly fine-tune your campaign to squeeze out a higher return on investment. We see PPC as a terrific complement to SEO in that with PPC you can get almost instant results, while good SEO takes time. Doing both helps our clients drive new business now and down the road.
7) Who is your ideal client?
Really, it’s anyone who sees digital marketing as a way to aggressively grow their business. Most of our clients are law firms since that’s where we got our start and that’s the industry where we’re best known, but the fact is that we can significantly help anyone who sees search engine marketing as a way to significantly grow their business, rather than as a cost center. When we meet a client who has a “sky’s the limit” mentality, we’re able to help them start growing quickly in a matter of months.