An intimate interview with Marty Weintraub, CEO of aimClear

In a most brutally honest and open interview, Marty Weintraub shares his journey from his humble beginnings as a college web writer to the CEO of aimClear, battling and beating a devastating cancer diagnosis and kicking online marketing butt along the way. We are most grateful to Marty for sharing this amazing insight into his life, both personal and professional. He more than met any expectations of an “expert interview.” We were blown away, and we’re sure you will be, too.

LC: Please share a little history about aimClear, and how you came to be the CEO?

MW: This is a fantastic question, because the story is somewhat unique. I’ve never told it in writing, and it’s emotional for me.

From 2002-2005, I was the in-house web writer at a small .edu in Minneapolis. It was a fantastic job because I was in charge of all aspects of our online program. This included SEO, Yahoo PPC, Google PPC, running the affiliate program, email, and even building a cool custom student portal.  Those were heady times and I used to refer to myself as a “hybrid” marketer, with my fingers in all channels.

Coming from a classic .asp/MS SQL background, as early as 2002 I was programming dynamic landing pages and doing multi-variate message testing, building D.I.Y. curl-scrapers to automate Google and Yahoo Panama bidding, and I touched every lead that the school mined online, literally, for years.  Yes, those were heady days. In 2002 I think we spent about $700 on AdWords and booked about $3 million in business. The next year, we spent about $20K and did $5 million. Ah, those days of simple search PPC were freakin’ beautiful! As social media emerged and SEO became more complex, we evolved.

It was, seemingly, all too good to be true. In August 2005 I received devastating news, that I had stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was crushing to my family and me. During the treatment, 7 months of chemo and weeks of intensive radiation, my employers made it crystal clear that they did not care if I came to work every day, they just did not want me to stop doing their AdWords.  And so it was. Day after day at Mayo Clinic, and then recovering at home, I poached Internet access from my Treo650 and ran the AdWords program.  I literally sat there in chemo, praying with a needle in my arm, running AdWords on my laptop.

I was PET negative and clean from cancer by late 2006, and I got all good things in return, after so much pain.  At first I just wanted to give up.  Chemo and radiation had gutted my physically, though I had survived. I was sick to my stomach for years, had no stamina, was terribly out of shape and psychologically destroyed. #fuckcancer. My employer, who had been my friend and fishing buddy for 25 years, challenged me: “Where has your entrepreneurial drive gone Marty,” he chided me on his bass boat out on the Chippewa flowage one day. “You can’t give up!” That day he offered to turn my .edu job as an employee into the first client of a new company he dared me to start.

I took the risk. 5 years ago during Thanksgiving (2006), I made the decision, wrote the business plan, and began laying the groundwork for aimClear.  Shortly after that one of my early clients showed me a USA Today article about Danny Sullivan. I attended SearchEngineStrategies (SES) Chicago 2006 and it blew my mind.  It was my first live exposure to Danny, Rand Fishkin, Barry Schwartz, Chris Sherman, Chris Boggs,  Christine Churchill, Michael Gray and many others.  The last time I had been that piqued emotionally was at age 14, when I danced with the cute girl I coveted at a high school mixer.

It was amazing. I had been in the industry since 1995, when I helped a dozen CBS affiliate stations create their first website, but I did not know there were so many kindred spirits, lovely people, just like me, out there in the world. It was moving. I had found my true future. I set the goal of being qualified to be VP of Search for the New York Times and to build a company that was one of the top 100 boutique online marketing firms in the world.

I became fascinated with blogs and blogging.  Determined to participate as much as possible I resolved that aimClear would have a blog. By the time SES came around that spring, I was ready. I had moved into an office January 1, 2007, and already had a couple of employees. Things were moving quickly.  By later that year I was known for conference coverage and started getting press passes.

In 2008 I made it my goal to speak at 1 mainstream online marketing conference and write one article for a mainstream trade publication. I spoke at 8 conferences that year, wrote a dozen articles, and the company grew 2X over the previous year. Since then aimClear has doubled, year over year, for each of our 5 years. We have 10 employees in Duluth, Minnesota and 5 in Saint Paul. We’re about to add more.

All of this comes on the ragged tails of cancer. All this joy, world travel, these amazing clients, my Facebook advertising book (Wiley/Sybex 2011), my family life, aimClear, everything, is all a bonus…a gift.

LC: You’ve clearly a passion for Facebook marketing, as well as expertise. So what are the unique ways that marketers can use Facebook to reach target audiences?

MW: Look into the real world to find how humans cluster. Think about the publications users read, unions they belong to, causes that matter, people they follow, personal predilections, tastes, biases and every part of what makes them unique.

Most advertisers approach Facebook, and other social channels, and ask, “Who is here that I can advertise to.” The coolest marketers look to the physical world, note how humans actually cluster, and then look for the same clusters mirrored in Facebook.

LC: According to Top Rank, the rally cry heard throughout your SES Toronto presentation was “PPC is to SEO, as Facebook Ads are to social SEO.” Could you elaborate on this?

MW: Sure! SEO marketers use paid inventory tools like AdWords keyword research tools to blueprint their SEO. The reason we do that is because PPC inventory research tools are the only place that search engines give up what users search for. They have to, because otherwise it would be more difficult to sell that inventory (searches) by way of AdWords. The same dynamic exists for social. Anywhere social media platforms sell inventory, the have to give up where the users are. Otherwise, it would be hard to sell that inventory.

Also, SEO artists use PPC to test conversion funnels and messages. With SEO it’s too hard to move traffic fast enough and with quick enough feedback to undertake multivariate testing.  The coolest SEO practitioners test their keywords, messages, landing pages and funnels with PPC and then apply what they know to SEO. Social is the same. Use Facebook Ads to test messages that community managers take out into the social-virtual world. Anywhere you can buy focused eyeballs in social to test audiences, messages, landing page experiences, etc… consider taking advantage of it. PPC is to SEO what Facebook Ads is to community management.

About Marty Weintraub 

An expert, speaker, and author of Killer Facebook Ads: Master Cutting-Edge Facebook Advertising Techniques, Marty can be found at the aimClear Search Marketing Blog and on Twitter.