Tommy Griffith, a digital marketer and the creator of ClickMinded — a series of online marketing courses, criticizes the universities’ approach to digital marketing studies, talks about the clickbait economy, and provides some SEO tips for entrepreneurs.

Tommy Griffith is a digital marketer and the creator of ClickMinded — a series of online courses for marketers & entrepreneurs, including 7 comprehensive classes on digital marketing.

Enjoy the listen:

About Tommy Griffith

Tommy studied finance at university but ended up learning SEO and SEM for a year and a half, to promote an ebook he wrote on how to start your own fraternity.

Subsequently, he was hired by PayPal, where he spent two years as an SEO manager. His next stop was Airbnb, where he worked another four years.

During that time, Tommy came up with ClickMinded, which started as an in-person, face-to-face SEO training course. But when Tommy decided to put it online on Udemy, the course grew so fast that it led Tommy to leave Airbnb and work full-time on ClickMinded.

Resources mentioned in the article:


Can You Study Web Creation at University?

As an online marketing educator, we wanted to hear Tommy’s thoughts about the new profession of “web creator” that mixes web design, development, and marketing, and how it relates to traditional university degrees:

“Oh my, God. Do you have four hours? You’ve triggered me. I have a lot of opinions about this, a lot of very strong, agitated opinions about this. Mostly because I’ve been in this space for a long time. First, I was a university teacher. While I was doing this, I taught for a Master’s degree program in an elective in San Francisco and I taught an internet marketing elective.

On top of that, I’m competing with a number of universities, so a number of different areas. I’m competing with them in the SERPs and offline and things like that. On top of that, I’ve also been reached out to by universities to join curriculum committees and to help create a curriculum for this stuff.

What universities are currently offering for digital marketing education in the world today is garbage. It is a complete scam, especially in the US, they’re charging between 40 and $100,000 for internet marketing education. When you actually get out, when you do it and you try and go to a company and try and get hired with it, you get laughed out of the room. 

We hired people at PayPal and Airbnb and no one would ever respect, at least today, no one would ever respect a master’s degree in digital marketing. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s much more based on your portfolio, your prior work experience, which is very chicken and egg when you’re trying to get started. It’s a very difficult combination.

The broader point is that there’s a number of universities that are being very manipulative in convincing younger kids that they need this and they’re interested in it, and what they don’t realize is they’re much better off getting some free time, going to a city where no one knows them and firing up YouTube and just figuring it out. Installing WordPress, installing Elementor and trying stuff out on your own to get started. You know what I mean?”


SEO for Every Channel

What are the things that Tommy’s students are most surprised to find out during the course?

“I think a lot of people, a lot of a-ha moments in some of even our free content that we do is that people infer that SEO is Google on your desktop. That might have been true a decade ago, but it’s not the case anymore. Of course, there’s mobile. We all know that, but the way we think about search engine optimization is you’re trying to approach document relevancy for any modern web application. 

Google, it renders search results, and you try and be the most authoritative document. People generally understand that, but any modern web application that has a search engine, they have to still solve this problem of what ten results do I show my users? You effectively have to apply SEO to all of these. You do it for YouTube. You need to do SEO for Pinterest. You can do SEO for Amazon. You can do SEO for the App Store. You can do SEO as an Airbnb host.

Every platform has to solve this document relevancy problem. You as an entrepreneur or a marketer or a business owner have to get into the shoes of both your customer in terms of what they’re looking for, but also what the engineering behind the platform you’re optimizing for is looking for.

On Amazon, you might be optimizing for sales. On Pinterest, you might be optimizing for pins. On Etsy, you might be … Everything is going to have slightly different metrics around that, but that’s the basic idea around SEO. It’s making sure that whatever you’re doing on whatever platform is most appropriate for your users is optimize and beneficial to not only those users but to the platform you’re optimizing for as well.”


Clickbait Economy

We asked Tommy how he stays updated with the most relevant trends, but his answer actually contradicted our initial assumptions:

“We have a lot of strong opinions on this. One of the big things of why we pivoted ClickMinded from just this SEO course to going more comprehensive on digital marketing was we’re a little annoyed with a lot of digital marketing media today. I’m not going to name any websites, but there are too many sites out there where if you subscribe to them and you’re following them on social media and you’re getting their emails, you will induce so much anxiety in yourself. It’s ridiculous. I promise you, even though these people are sending out updates all the time on how to massively increase your Twitter followers, I promise you, you don’t need this stuff.”

Can you explain a bit more about that anxiety and where it stems from?

“Yeah. There’s this amazing book that’s tangentially related, but it’s called Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday. Have you ever heard about this book? It’s an older one. It’s a great read. Actually, the most fascinating part about it is that it was written in 2012, and it has honestly predicted everything that has happened since then. 

The basic premise is the media are basically relentlessly optimizing for page views. We are in a page view and page click and clickbait economy. This guy just called it. He was one of these media manipulator guys who did this stuff all the time, and then he just wrote an expose on what was happening. Unfortunately, this has also oozed over into a lot of digital marketing stuff. People have quotas. They need page views. They’re selling on CPMs. Every single time Google search console adds a button, there’s a million posts. Every single time Twitter changes the UI, there’s a million posts.

To be frank, it’s the same economics that drives the celebrity gossip magazines at the grocery store. It’s the same stuff. The reality of what we do is we like to focus on really specific SOPs, checklists, templates and digital marketing tutorials on how to set things up. We just do these walkthroughs and it’s like the 80/20 stuff of here’s exactly how we do it, and we’ve had a lot of success with that.

We talk about that a lot. We basically went into it being like, okay, I’m sick of this and business insider articles that are about growing, getting more followers on Pinterest. We wanted to create these tutorials that we wanted. It’s SOPs, checklists, cheat sheets, and very specific stuff that to be frank, the average user probably doesn’t … It’s probably too nerdy for them. It’s a 17-page walkthrough on how to add the Google tag manager to a WordPress website. 

Not everyone wants that, but certain people that are looking for it love it. It’s really for nerds and for people that have to technically implement a lot of this stuff. It’s not like the high level executive level stuff. It gets fewer page views than the monsters, but I think the audience appreciates it a little bit more.”


Dial Into the Customers Avatars

What is Tommy’s view on entrepreneurs running their small startup who want to streamline their SEO process, so it doesn’t take too much of their time? And does he have any useful tips? 

“One of the counterintuitive things I like to think about is just when you’re evaluating, let’s say you get dropped into a business and you’re consulting for them, and you have to clean up someone else’s mess, something like that, which a lot of people probably have to do at some point.

One thing I really like to do that makes everything crystal clear for me is take a step back and really dial into the customer avatars, who the actual users are. The best way to do this is the most brutal way possible, which is really in-depth phone interviews. It sucks. It is hard to do, but we did this.

My now co-founder, Eduardo, made us do this. I didn’t want to do it. I was so grumpy about it. We interviewed probably 30-something people, and every interview is just brutal. It’s 30 or 40 minutes, super personal. Who are you? What kind of education you have? How much money do you make? Are you married? Do you have kids? Where do you live? What do you do on the weekends? What are you trying to do at work? Really specific dialed in customer avatars.

From there, I like to over-invest in keyword research. You can pick your tool or whatever you like. I like or Ahrefs for keyword research. Everything flows from the customer avatars.

When you’re doing that keyword research, you can do what we call total addressable market sizing, which is just a fancy way to say you extract all the search volume, you apply a clickthrough rate percentage to it, and you get a total conceivable number of visits you could be getting per month. Once you’ve done these two things, which is really dialed in customer avatars and dialed in keyword research, the counterintuitive suggestion I have is actually to kill pages.

What a lot of people do is they get interested in SEO, and they end up looking at their site, and they have 1,500 posts. The reality is they look at their keyword research. They know their customer avatar. They probably have ten buckets of content that those 1,500 posts could fit into.

Brian Dean is great at this. He’s fantastic. He’s a buddy of mine, and he also has an SEO training course. He’s coined so many different phrases and terminology for the industry, but he really, I think, led the way on a lot of these power pages, these ideas that you should have an absolutely epic single piece of content instead of lots and lots of mediocre ones, a much smaller number of URLs doing the heavy lifting.

One quick hit feedback for people that are listening is dial in your customer avatars, really dial in your total addressable market search volume. Once you’ve done that, kill as many useless pages as possible and just focus on a couple of big winners.”