I’ve often been asked about guest posting for SEO purposes. I always said that it was less than ideal, but when at an agency I couldn’t really say that it shouldn’t be done.

After being in-house for a year and a half now, I’m putting my stake in the ground.

I do not think that enterprises should be guest posting for SEO purposes.

Before we get going, allow me to draw a distinction between “amplification”, which is spreading the word about content you’ve produced or something you’ve launched, sometimes via guest contribution, and “guest posting ” as most SEO’s think of it, where you write content specifically for a site for the purposes of a link that hopefully will pass some link equity.

Here is why I think “guest posting for SEO” for enterprises is a waste of time and better-used resources. Continue Reading…

I am a voracious reader, which is hilarious because when I was younger and bored, my mom would say “Read a book!” to which I always lamented “But reading is boring.” How we change.

May was no exception to me reading a lot, and actually I read a lot more in May than I have most other months recently. Part of that was due to a cross-country trip in which I had a lot of plane time to read, but I also think that May was an exceptionally good month for good writing.

Here are the articles and books I read in May that I found really impactful. Continue Reading…

Manager Mistakes

John Doherty —  May 22, 2015

Have you ever managed anyone? Then you could probably write this post too. Have you ever been managed by someone? Then you could write this post as well.

I’ve managed people in a few different companies and roles now. Like any position, management is learned skills that you have to both figure out and be trained on. Unfortunately, making mistakes in management skills directly affects people as opposed to simply business metrics.

Here are some management mistakes I’ve made and am seeking to learn from. Continue Reading…

When I became a boss I never really thought about the fact that the way I’m put together and tend to be day-to-day could end up being a liability for me in some ways. I mean, the same is true of marriage (I’ve been married just over a year), but in a professional sense it feels different.

I have always considered myself a 10x professional. I get a lot done and pride myself on that. I can have 8–10 things in my head and on my mind at once, and I can pretty well hold all of them in tension and somehow get them all done. I don’t say this to brag; it’s simply a reality of who I am.

Continue Reading…

Learning To Say No

John Doherty —  December 16, 2014

Today I tweeted something that seemed to resonate with others. This was the tweet, with an embedded quote from this post (h/t Joel):

This was the quote:

“You can only go so fast for so long. You have natural output limitations. Other people rarely consider that when they ask for stuff and set deadlines. In fact, they rarely consider anything. Most times, I find the expectations that other people have around time are arbitrary. They don’t *really* need that thing right now–and if you gave it to them tomorrow, the world will go on.

Don’t be afraid to say, “It’s not going to happen by that time. Here’s when I can have it for you.”

There’s really no way to argue against that. If you draw lines and say no, they’re just going to have to figure out an alternative and accept. ” Continue Reading…

A little over a year ago, I joined HotPads.com as their online marketing manager. I was the first marketer at HotPads in a while, hence the team was me and I was doing everything (though nothing super well). One year later, I have a team of eight marketers (including myself) spanning SEO, email, and content. We’re soon to add a few more positions too.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned creating and growing a marketing team over the past year.

But first, here’s how I feel about my leadership experience over the last year:


Lead Don’t Dictate

As an individual contributor, I never had issues with motivating myself to learn new skills or challenging myself to try new things where I might fail. As a leader, this can work well if you harness it correctly, because then you can show your team that what you are proposing could actually be a) feasible and b) helpful to your goals.

The challenge comes in communication. One lesson I learned the hard way was that I was failing to communicate to my team *why* I was doing something. They took it as me doing their job and not trusting them, when really I trusted them completely but wasn’t sure myself if an idea would actually be a good idea.

A large part of leadership that I previously did not understand is communicating why something should be done, and what the end goal is. If you fail to get someone on board to do something, you’ve failed to inspire and you’ve failed to lead. At this point you’re a dictator. I especially have to be careful of this because my personality type is ENTJ, which I share with Napoleon, Stalin, Steve Jobs, and others. Yikes!


Hire for Culture, Not “Culture”

In San Francisco where I live, and in tech culture more broadly, people talk about “hiring for culture” frequently. When I started thinking about hiring, at first I thought culture was similar interests, a fun attitude, etc. Those are nice things to have in a coworker, but what about things like work culture, humility, how they solve problems, and other things like this that affect the day to day?




Make Your Team Look Good

The last feedback you ever want to hear as a manager is that your team feels like you are taking credit for their work. Part of your job as manager is to amplify their amazing work to your boss. If you’re leading well by making them decision makers (next section), this should be easy to do because they’ll be the ones sending the update emails and you can either a) make sure that your boss is CCd on them or b) you can forward it directly to your boss.


Make Them Decision Makers

You’re probably not the right person to make tactical decisions in areas that you are not a specialist. The person actually doing the work is the right person to make that decision, so why do we try to make the decision when we are the senior employee? I recently read The Decision Maker after the team at Buffer wrote about it, and it changed my perspective on leading a team. Now, instead of making a decision when asked for one, I respond with a question and get them to think through the answer. I’m always the support (and rarely will push back, and only when I think it’s the wrong decision or they haven’t gathered enough information), but the channel owner makes the decision.

I’m actually actively trying to give away as much decision making as possible, and it’s been amazing for the last month.



Some Final Words

I love the HotPads marketing team. I love leading the HotPads marketing team and inspiring them to do great work. This last year has been the hardest of my professional career, but the lessons learned have been invaluable.

Here is what I’ve decided are what I care about on my team:


And how I feel about leadership:


I wrote this post as part of our bi-annual Hackweek. Yes, we do hackweeks twice per year, and yes, we are always hiring.

In my role at HotPads, I manage an ever-growing team of smart marketers. My job is to hire, train, and retain the best and smartest, with the goal of removing roadblocks that keep them from both working together and succeeding at their individual jobs.

I’ve had managerial positions before, but never this direct and I’ve never been able to build my own team. Building your own team is quite different from inheriting a team, which is a whole different topic I’ll explore at some other time. Continue Reading…

I’m Not A Good Employee

John Doherty —  August 5, 2014

Have you ever heard someone say “I’m just not an employee” or “After working for myself, I can’t imagine ever working for someone again”. I’ve often felt this way, even though I don’t work for myself (well, there were those two weeks).

When I started my job at HotPads back in October, I told my then-boss “I have to be honest with you – I’m not a good employee”. What I meant by this is that I hate to be managed by others. I want to explore this a bit more, because not everyone who hates to be managed can work for themselves. Sometimes, we must learn how to succeed as we are, where we are. Continue Reading…

Last October, as many of you know, I made the move from search marketing agency Distilled to become the Online Marketing Manager at hotpads.com, the nationwide rentals brand of the Zillow Rental Network. I’ve been at the job for four months now, and a recent conversation with Jonathon Colman (another Bay Area transplant) has made me take some time to reflect on the difference between agency and inhouse life.

Here are the main differences I see between agency and inhouse life.

Access to Decision Makers

In an agency, you are constantly viewed as an external member of the team, or in my least favorite term ever, an external “solution”. Even in agencies that pride themselves on getting close to their clients and working to affect change (two terms used constantly internally at Distilled, and I love them), you are still not able to build the close relationships through serendipitous conversations and lunches that happen when inhouse.

Inhouse, you have much more access to those who are able to make decisions. Even if you are a fairly junior member of the team, you will likely still have access, within one or two steps, to the top of the chain in your business unit. The marketing team at HotPads (which has four people including me, and growing) has direct access to Zillow’s CMO, who is my boss. If they wanted, they could directly email her and ask questions (though they normally will go through me and we will approach together). But that access is (usually) much tougher to come by in an agency.

Now that I’m inhouse, I’ve found that I spend less time trying to simply reach the right people, and more time actually building relationships with the right people and getting things done internally.

Accountability To Results

Agencies are often brought in to fill a gap or to help out the inhouse team when a problem is out of their ability level or the team is too busy to come up with new ideas. The agency will usually be the one to think big and come up with ideas, and then the inhouse team is left to execute most often (and in my experience, agencies are most successful when their client has a strong inhouse team). Because of this, the agency is often not held to achieving results quickly because of the added steps of delivering work to the client, interpreting it for them, and then relying on the inhouse team to implement.


Working inhouse, this is not true at all. If I went to my boss and said that it will be at least 6 months before we see a positive impact through my and my team’s work, I’d be laughed at. When inhouse, you are responsible for the results, not just delivering work. You could argue that agencies will not be kept onboard if they are not getting results, but in my experience an agency is rarely let go because of a failure to deliver results.

Kill Your Pet Projects

I’ve always championed content, especially writing. I’ve recommended that clients create and invest in blogs to drive traffic. I’ve executed on large content pieces and outreach. All of this is well and good when you’re an agency hired for these purposes, and longterm I still believe that they work and I will continue to invest in them.

But when I moved to HotPads and soon found myself owning the inbound channels, building out a team, and researching online opportunities for other businesses, I quickly realized that I had to focus on what moves the needle now, while still looking to the future.

I wrote a number of posts on the HotPads blog, but after a month or so I realized that the three or more hours I spent writing a blog post that might get 400 visitors was probably better spent diagnosing a technical SEO issue that would get us an extra 100,000 visitors. The trade-off was easy to make.

At heart, I’m not a specialist. I know a lot about SEO and am very good at it, but I’ve never been the type to be a specialist. It’s a specialist’s job to focus on one area and grow that. It’s a strategist’s job to see the opportunity and figure out how to get there. Inhouse I’m a mix of the two. At Distilled I was a strategist. Depending on your level at the agency or inhouse, this could be true for you as well.

Ways of thinking change when you’re accountable instead of a third party vendor, and if what you’re doing is not getting the desired results then your inhouse career will likely be short-lived.

Depth Not Breadth

Mike Tekula wrote a great post on the Distilled blog in December 2012 about a t-shaped skillset. He illustrated it thus:


I think this is a really helpful way for agency marketers to think about building their skillset, but the inhouse life is slightly different if you are not a head/director/VP level. As an inhouse marketer joining above an entry level position, you are already expected to know your job (and continue growing in your abilities) and continue to go deeper in their area of expertise. Unless you’re a director/VP level, the expectation is that you will be the subject matter expert in your area that the higher-ups can lean on for solid advice.

Work/Life Balance

Agencies are known for less of a work/life balance than an inhouse job, and in my experience this is true. Most of my agency friends work at least 60-70 hours per week. I had weeks at Distilled where I worked 80+ regularly, and probably did that at least once per month during my whole time there.

Inhouse life has afforded me more of a work/life balance in my new home of San Francisco. While some of this may be attributed to moving from the 9-8 New York workstyle to the 9-5 San Francisco style, I still see my agency friends in San Francisco working (at times many) more hours than I do.

I’ve credited a lot of this with the difference in how a day at my inhouse gig is from a day at an agency. When managing multiple clients plus team members, the interruptions come fast and furious in an agency. According this Gallup poll from 2006 (http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/23146/too-many-interruptions-work.aspx#2), it takes over 20 minutes to get back on track after an interruption.

Working inhouse, I find I have better planned days, fewer frantic moments of diagnosing issues, and thus I am able to concentrate and get my work done quicker than in an agency. Because of that, I work fewer hours and have more time in my evenings.

This isn’t to say that inhouse life is any less busy. In any given day I’ll be helping other team members with their job, communicating with internal stakeholders, giving SEO recommendations, and chatting with other managers about the office and teams. The difference lies in how frantic the day is and if you could be called upon any second with an issue. That happened all the time in an agency. Inhouse, this happens way less.

So What’s Better, Agency or Inhouse?

There is no “better” in my mind. Rather, I’d encourage you to think along the lines of “what’s best for me at this point?” I think everyone should work both at an agency and inhouse during their career,because you learn different skillsets that will help you out down the road. Without my years at Distilled, I would not have been prepared for the challenges of working inhouse, and vice versa when I went from inhouse to Distilled in the first place.

Have you worked both inhouse and in an agency? What do you find to be the main differences?

I recently had to go through the challenge of finding an apartment across the country, while also in the midst of starting a new job and the holidays. I couldn’t have done it without UBER and AirBNB.

For those of you not familiar with them, UBER is “Everyone’s private car service”, an on-demend car service that you use to call a personal car. It’s a much better experience than trying to hail a taxi, which is easy(ish) in New York except on rainy days and less easy, yet doable, in San Francisco. Uber costs a bit more than a regular cab usually, except for eco-friendly Pruis-driving UberX vehicles.

AirBNB, of course, is the epitome of the “sharing economy” mindset where people put their own apartments up for rent for a nightly or weekly fee. While it is a controversial service, I have met many who use AirBNB and love it, both hosts and guests. I think of AirBNB as a premium CouchSurfing experience, since you find interesting places and people to stay with wherever you may be traveling.

Loyalty, not Habit

Both UBER and AirBNB have zeroed in on the convenience factor of business. Some businesses, like Snapchat, are what one of my favorite books, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, calls a “fad.” These are a flash in the pan that peaks early, often because of so-called “viral growth”, and then trails off and in the Internet world eventually dies. The Internet is littered with them too – Turntable.fm, Groupon, SocialCam, (insert Facebook app here). Check out Socialcam’s search volumes in Google Trends:


I’d even argue that right now Snapchat and Pinterest are both fads, and we will see over time if they can become trends.


When building for the longhaul (a “hundred year business”, as the Evernote CEO likes to say), you set out to engineer something that builds loyalty, not just habit. A product or company that builds loyalty can still see “viral” growth, in that they grow very quickly and people use them often (aka habitually), but their focus on experience is what sets them apart. Then they become a trend, like Zillow:


Then they go and make you feel special, such as sending you a gift card for a similar service:

Both UBER and AirBNB have built loyalty with myself and many others I know (given, I’ve been living in NYC and am moving to SF). When moving out of my apartment in Park Slope, I used UBER when I was moving the last of my boxes. I knew that I could load up the app on my phone, and within 5-10 minutes I would have a black SUV at my door to help me out with taking my boxes, and I knew that I would get a great experience. I could have called a cab, but I didn’t.

Similar with AirBNB. I have become loyal to them, to the point where I asked special permission from my boss at Zillow to stay in AirBNBs in SF instead of hotels downtown. I was able to get to know both the Mission and the Castro because of staying in them for a week at a time in an actual apartment instead of a hotel.

Both services also know who I am, which as I’ll cover in the third section makes them even more valuable.

Local-based Knowledge

Check out the list of UBER Twitter accounts that I found on a recent Followerwonk search:

They have a Twitter account for every major city. When I’ve left a note about a driver or let them know about a bad experience, they’ve been quick to get back to me on email or Twitter. This lets me trust that the person behind the account knows approximately where I am and what is going on in that area. They can’t immediately give me a better route to the airport, but they can make me feel better that I’m being listened to.

AirBNB is in another category. They’ve invested years of time, effort, and money to produce their local guides. AirBNB isn’t just a housing site – they’re a travel site invested in getting you familiar with the city you are visiting so that you can make the best decision possible about where to stay. Check out their beautiful Park Slope page

I actually used AirBNB while checking out neighborhoods for where to live in San Francisco. Not the typical use case, but that’s indicative of a trend not a habit as well – you figure out new ways to use the service to enhance your life.


Finally, they’re personal. UBER knows who I am because I use the service. I have a profile (complete with a star rating) that the driver sees when I request a car, and I see theirs. Apparently, if my star rating gets below 4.5 stars, I won’t be allowed to use UBER. Wow. This makes sure that both the person and the driver are accountable, and serves to make UBER a trend instead of a fad.

The customer support people at UBER know who I am as well because of my profile on the site. Everyone gets personal attention, also adding to the overall experience and making you “feel like a badass”, as the UBER founders describe how they wanted to feel when founding the company.

AirBNB goes as far as displaying your profile online for all to see. Here is mine:

Not only do you review where you stay, but they review you as well and the reviews are made public at least to potential hosts. Not only does this build in accountability (just like UBER), but also serves to personalize the service to you. AirBNB is becoming my canonical travel profile online (which is what Foursquare really should be) and I love them for it.

The Future of the Sharing and On-Demand Economies

Look at a few of the characteristics I’ve covered:

  • Personalization
  • Transparency
  • Extendability
  • Platform-ability

These characteristics can and should be taken to other verticals as well. Zillow and HotPads, for example, do this for you when you are logged into the site or mobile app. I am consistently surprised how few sites actually do this and I think it’s the next step for both the sharing and on-demand economies.