He’s just 25, but already Trevin Shirey’s seen success as a blogger, been featured on ESPN Radio, and had his work noticed by major press like Pittsburgh Magazine and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. At his day job he does SEO and digital marketing. Also of note: for a regular guy, he’s got a fairly gigantic Twitter following @tjshirey.
8 Questions with blogger Trevin Shirey
The professional scoop
1. Share some secrets of your blogging success with us. How did you get noticed by major press outlets for your personal blog?
Honestly, most of it was blind luck early on. I really got my start with Internet marketing when I created a blog dedicated to my favorite football team in college. I was bored over the summer and just started writing content. I was really surprised by how well it did. A few posts I wrote were mentioned on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s website and things kind of took off from there. I ended up ranking really highly in Google for a bunch of keywords and people kept finding me. I was lucky with the timing as it was right around the time when mainstream media really started turning to bloggers for interviews and other content. People would search “Steelers blog” and I would come up in the first few results and it just kept growing and growing.
To borrow a journalism term, being the “first to press” was always a big thing. A lot of decently powerful blogs can beat big news sites to publishing stories if you hustle. We got tons of traffic by getting stories up very quickly as they were happening (as an aside, this is a lot easier when you are in college). I applied a lot of things I learned in my journalism studies to the web and it paid off in a big way.
Persistence is huge when it comes to blogging too. There aren’t a lot of blogs who have been around for four or five years that haven’t attracted some sort of audience. If you keep writing good stuff consistently the traffic will come. My personal blog is a good example of that. A blog post I just wrote on Google Hummingbird ended up getting thousands of visitors. All I did was share it once from my Twitter account. I never thought more than a couple of people would read it (had I known this would have happened I would have spent more time on the post in the first place :D). The Internet is sneaky like that...if you keep hustling with your blog, people will come.
2. On your website, you call yourself a “growth marketing” geek. “Inbound marketing” is all the rage, but “growth marketing” is a lesser known term. Tell us about that.
I still struggle with coming up with the best term for what I do, to be honest. I use the phrase a lot “I drive traffic to websites” and I think that is probably the most accurate but it doesn’t really fit into a neat job title. “SEO” is only part of the puzzle if you really want to succeed online. Wade Foster wrote a post a while ago about being a full-stack marketer and becoming that is really my personal career goal. I take a lot of pride in the technical background that I have and enjoy using data to drive the marketing decisions that I make. To me, growth marketing is a term that means using data and technical skills to drive marketing decisions that grow a business.
3. In a post you wrote titled How to Study SEO in College, you admit that your self-education in SEO meant sometimes you stayed up all night coding or blogging and missed your expensive liberal arts classes the next morning - but that you don’t regret it one bit. It seems like the digital marketing field is one that’s better self-taught. Do you think a career in digital marketing and SEO is seen as a lesser route by higher education?
I had an awesome experience in college (shoutout to Anderson University), but definitely, think a lot of the most valuable lessons I learned came outside of the classroom. I had a super fast Internet connection and a lot of free time...I spent a lot of my time blogging, learning to code, learning WordPress, trying (and usually failing) to launch new websites…I definitely wouldn’t have gotten started in my career if I worried too much about classes I was taking in areas that I really have no passion in.
Higher education seems to be integrating SEO a bit more into their curriculum nowadays, but it is the type of thing you can’t really learn unless you are out there doing it. I had an awesome business professor who actually gave us websites and held a competition to see who could rank the highest for a particular keyword. That’s what we need more of in college marketing classes.
I know a lot of high achievers and brilliant people who got sucked into the world of academia and didn’t leave enough breathing room to do things that they really enjoy doing outside of the classroom. To me, college was about discovering what I was passionate about and then spending my time getting better at that.
4. There are a gazillion internet marketing agencies out there. As we both know, it can be hard to stand out, even as the market for internet marketing services is hot. In your opinion, what’s the mark of a truly great agency that stands out from the mire?
The coolest part about the web is that anybody can start a website or a business in a matter of minutes. It’s also somewhat of a curse because for every wonderful marketing agency out there-there are probably 15 “pretenders” with a nice looking website that make the rest of us look bad.The agencies that I admire the most are the ones who are actually pushing results for clients. I see a lot of Internet marketing companies that get too caught up in the SEO industry instead of worrying about attracting new clients and growing their business.
A lot of times the people who are really crushing it for their clients are companies that you don’t really hear about a lot. I admire the companies who can do spectacular work without spending all their time trying to tell everybody how awesome they are. To borrow a line from The Sopranos (AKA the greatest show of all time), I admire the “strong, silent type.”
5. On your site, you have a link to the “MozCon Tweet Generator.” Tell us more. Did you create this?
Ha! I’m glad you asked about that. I created it on a whim when MozCon 2013 was going on. If you follow a lot of people in the SEO and Internet marketing industry during MozCon each year, your Twitter feed gets absolutely flooded with #MozCon tweets. There are a few decent nuggets every now and then, but most of them are broad, fluff tweets that end up annoying me every year: “Content marketing is the future #MozCon” or “Don’t build links. Earn links #mozcon”
I built the tweet generator so people could send out similar tweets from home instead of paying thousands of dollars to send them out from the conference. I think Moz are good people, but our industry as a whole tends to get caught in the SEO echo chamber where we just repeat the same ideas over and over again and rely too much on what others say instead of investigating for ourselves.The #MozCon Tweet Generator was making fun of all that noise.
The personal scoop
6. Sports seem to be (sort of) important to you (understatement?). On a typical weekend, what games and teams do we find you following with total devotion?
I grew up just north of Pittsburgh so I’m very much a diehard Steelers, Penguins and Pirates fan. I have a special affection towards the Pirates since they have been the worst franchise in sports history for the past 20 years. Their meteoric rise to the playoffs this year has been amazing to watch.
I grew up running track and field and cross country so I still really enjoy watching that as well.
7. Do you have big goals for yourself as a writer/blogger? Like, are you targeting The New York Times, or planning a book?
I am so focused on client work that I don’t really have any set goals for my writing or blogging. My only real goal is to hopefully write down some ideas that challenge people to try something new or change the way that they think. There is so much noise generated every day in the world of marketing and I’m super proud anytime I feel like I publish something fresh and new. Maybe one day when I’m older I’ll compile everything I’ve written into a bigger project.
8. If you could spend a day with any famous person (living or dead), who would it be, and why?
It would probably be Roberto Clemente -- a Pittsburgh Pirates legend and an even better humanitarian. I read every book I can about him and there is so much we can all learn from such a wonderful person. The world needs more people like him.
I also really admire C.S. Lewis and would love to chat with him about life and faith.
Last question: do you have anything you’d like to promote or any projects you’re working on that we/our audience should know about?
TrevinShirey.com is always the best place to keep tabs with whatever I’m working on. I try to share everything on there. I’m also writing some non-SEO thoughts in a new hobby-turned-blog related to fitness.