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In a significant move, SEMrush has acquired a highly-regarded community for SEO professionals: Traffic Think Tank.
Founded by renowned digital marketing experts Matthew Howells-Barby, Nick Eubanks, and Ian Howells, Traffic Think Tank has gained a global following since its inception in 2017, thanks to its invaluable insights and resources for SEO enthusiasts.
Since 2017, Traffic Think Tank has built a reputation for providing valuable insights and resources, earning a loyal following among digital marketers worldwide.
To delve deeper into the success of Traffic Think Tank and to gather career advice for SEO professionals, we had the privilege of interviewing one of the minds behind it all.
Howells-Barby expresses his excitement about joining SEMrush and the opportunities this acquisition will bring for both Traffic Think Tank and SEMrush customers.
In this article, you’ll learn more about the success of Traffic Think Tank, why it was sold to SEMrush, and Howells-Barby’s career advice for SEO professionals.
Can You Tell Us About The Early Days Of Traffic Think Tank?
As Howells-Barby recalls, Traffic Think Tank was born out of a desire to create a community that mirrored one of his career-defining experiences:
“When I look back to the very start of my career, when I first came into the SEO space, I would say the single most valuable thing that happened to me … is I got invited into a small private Facebook group with about 15 people that were far more intelligent about SEO than I was.
And the kind of rules of the group were to share what’s working with one another, and everybody helps each other. And nothing goes outside of the walls of this private Facebook group.”
When the beta version of Traffic Think Tank launched in November 2017, only 100 people were permitted to join.
Howells-Barby believes that strategy was helpful because it allowed them to build a strong community before the recent hype around remote work and online education companies.
The Value Of Closed-Knit Communities
Closed-knit groups that share what works with one another and everyone helps each other are essential for innovation, Howells-Barby says.
“You can get rid of all of the noise of the millions of articles telling you the generic advice… I think if you’re going to truly be able to go a step further, it requires immense trust between a closed-knit group that is willing to share the things they don’t really want to share publicly.”
Traffic Think Tank was founded on this ethos and built a community of people with a common thread in search or marketing.
Over time, the community grew to include some of the most respected names in the SEO industry, with members from various backgrounds and skill levels.
Howells-Barby notes that community members have formed lifelong friendships, launched successful businesses, and even gotten hired through the group.
While Traffic Think Tank offers educational content, Howells-Barby believes that the community aspect is what people love the most, as nearly 70% of all messages are shared via private DMs.
The closeness of the Traffic Think Tank community has been maintained by charging for the group early on and keeping it to a maximum of a thousand people.
How Would You Describe The Community To Non-Members?
Through our discussion with Howells-Barby, we learned Traffic Think Tank aims to provide a psychologically safe space for members to discuss digital marketing and SEO topics.
Howells-Barby stated that one of the first things that excite new members is the realization that they can openly discuss topics that were previously difficult to access or discuss.
“I think one of the first dopamine hits you get is where you kind of go in and it’s like, oh wait, people are actually talking about this. It’s kind of like the first time you have that open conversation about compensation with … peers in an organization and you’re like, oh wait, people talk about this? Like, okay, this is kind of interesting.”
This has resulted in successful initiatives such as Failure Therapy, a popular channel where members can share their failures and learn from one another.
Howells-Barby emphasized that Traffic Think Tank takes its values and code of conduct seriously and that any violation of the code of conduct results in immediate removal from the community.
Community values include diversity and ensuring that everyone feels comfortable and safe to contribute to the conversation.
Additionally, Howells-Barby mentioned the importance of leaving your ego at the door when joining Traffic Think Tank.
Why Sell Traffic Think Tank To SEMrush?
Speaking about why Traffic Think Tank decided to sell to SEMrush, a big corporation in the SEO industry, Howells-Barby said there were several reasons behind it.
Traffic Think Tank had been running as a side business for nearly six years and had always been stretched thin.
Despite having an operational team to help run day-to-day tasks, there were still big things on their to-do list that they needed help to do.
Howells-Barby, Eubanks, and Howells, the founders of Traffic Think Tank, felt like they were letting down the community and needed to consider options to level up growth.
“We knew that either we needed to consider bringing on additional partners or building out the team more significantly or looking at something like an acquisition to really level up kind of on the growth side. We grew the team pretty significantly, but we realized that that still wasn’t delivering what we needed. And bringing on additional partners got a lot more complicated [and] incentives could get misaligned.”
SEMrush, one of Traffic Think Tank’s earliest supporters, proposed the acquisition, and Howells-Barby and his team were impressed with SEMrush’s commitment to keeping the underlying culture and values of Traffic Think Tank.
SEMrush’s incentives align with Traffic Think Tank’s goals of delivering value to its community.
Additionally, SEMrush has promised to invest in new community initiatives, like delivering value back to the community, helping level up content production and production value, and producing in-person experiences.
The acquisition by SEMrush will enable Traffic Think Tank to deliver on its extensive to-do list in a way that itsr lightweight, agile team couldn’t on its own.
What Trends Do You See Shaping The Future Of SEO?
Discussing how SEO has evolved, Howells-Barby says the fundamentals and principles of ranking content in search have not changed much over the years.
Howells-Barby noted that while AI has become a major discussion point in recent years, its impact on search has been gradual rather than sudden. He pointed to the evolution of smart speakers and the shift towards conversational search as examples of how search has changed.
AI-generated content is likely to become more prevalent, which could make content creation more challenging. However, he emphasized that AI will not likely replace all content and that content creators will still have jobs.
“I think on the content creation side, [quality] is going to suffer a lot. I still think that AI is definitely not going to just replace all content. I think it’s going to take certain segments. I mean, it’s been in financial services and finance for a long time already. It’s just people often didn’t realize it. So I think that’s kind of like a place where it’s going to become a little bit more challenging on the content side.”
In the coming years, Howells-Barby sees search becoming more fragmented, with Bing gaining more market share and offering different opportunities than Google.
“Do I think Bing is going to beat Google? No, I don’t. Do I think it’s starting to really kind of gather up and hoover up more market share? Definitely. And I think for the longest time, I wouldn’t even look at Bing when I was doing anything in organic search. I think you have to now, and the rules are going to be slightly different and there’s going to be opportunities across each of these kind of platforms to do stuff.”
While Howells-Barby doesn’t see AR or VR impacting search in the near future, he believes that search queries will become more specific, and relevance will remain essential for ranking.
He highlighted the importance of links in SEO and noted that they’re still the most critical factor in determining authority and ranking.
Career Advice For Aspiring SEO Professionals
As someone who has succeeded in the SEO industry, Howells-Barby has valuable advice for others looking to grow their careers.
There are two essential steps to building a successful career in SEO, Howells-Barby says.
The first step is to acquire a foundational knowledge of SEO, which can be obtained from various free and paid resources.
However, Howells-Barby believes building a solid network of trusted individuals is the most critical step in building a successful SEO career.
He suggests joining communities, whether paid or free, and reaching out to people in the industry at all levels of your career for casual chats.
That can help you build relationships and share information and knowledge, which can pay off 10 to 100 times throughout your career.
“I would say the thing that delivered the most value for me early on in my career, and I still do this today, is I would reach out to people in the industry at all levels of my career, and just try and line up at least one call per week with someone operating at the same level as I was.
When I was … early in my career, I would hit up people that were working early in their career in organic search, and have a casual 30-minute chat, whether that be at the time over Skype, or a coffee if it was nearby, and just compare notes, and start doing some, I guess, do people favors with no expectation of like getting anything out of it, just starting to build these early networks.”
Having a network of people who are invested in your career and can provide support and guidance is more valuable than any online course or job title, Barby emphasizes.
Lastly, he recommends not obsessing over social media followers or being the most famous person on SEO Twitter, but instead focusing on building a community of people who can help you succeed.
The acquisition of Traffic Think Tank by SEMrush marks a significant move in the SEO industry.
Founded in 2017, Traffic Think Tank quickly gained a global following thanks to its close-knit community that shares valuable insights and resources for SEO enthusiasts.
The acquisition by SEMrush will enable Traffic Think Tank to accomplish its long list of tasks and take advantage of new community programs, improve its production quality, and host physical events that it couldn’t do independently.
Overall, this acquisition sounds like a positive development for both SEMrush and Traffic Think Tank customers, and we look forward to seeing how it will shape the future of the SEO industry.
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