As Senior Manager of SEO/SEM at Solstice Sunglasses, Vincent Totino is always trying to put himself in the customer’s shoes. For Humans of Marketing, he spoke to us about his process, his managerial philosophy, his favorite SEO thought leaders, and his love of fantasy novels, comic books, and AC/DC.
Christine: What made you get into marketing? And what has your career path looked like, up to this point?
Vinny: I’m going to have to go back really far, because I’m really old. I actually started as an over-the-counter trader on Wall Street. After 9/11, the market dropped, and my job was no longer fun. As long as you’re having fun, it’s not a job. And that’s what it became, it became a job.
After the company I was with had some layoffs, a friend of mine introduced me to his company, and I started selling website development and design services to plastic surgeons, cosmetic dentists, cosmetic surgeons, and the like. After a while I realized that once they have a website, they still need to get it marketed.
I kept a foot in on the paid side, because obviously I needed to be able to understand both. While SEO is its own field, it’s still part of search engine marketing as a whole. I still needed to be able to understand that.
So I started teaching myself SEO, and things just ballooned from there. The owner of my company created a new position, and I took over as SEO manager, eventually managing roughly 15 to 20 people. Eventually, I saw that my position wasn’t really going to expand, and I took a job with a company called 360i, on the agency side. That’s where my technical experience and SEO knowledge really grew.
And I kept teaching myself all the nuances, and all the different aspects of it. SEO really pushed me — every day, I was learning something new, or, Google was changing the algorithms, or someone was doing this, someone was doing that.
I jumped around to a couple of other places, some in-house some, some agency, and then decided to go off by myself for a while. That was working okay, but one of the things I found was that, if there was something new, I needed to be able to act right away on it.
Nothing like being late for a party unless, of course, you’re bringing something new that no one else has.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t working. I decided to go back into the marketing aspect of things, and started working for a company called Haymarket Media. They had a proprietary CMS there, so any time I tried to do something, it would take anywhere from three to six weeks to get it implemented. And sometimes when it was implemented, it was implemented incorrectly.
Then the opportunity here presented itself, and I’ve been here ever since. The year plus that I’ve been here with Solstice has actually been my first foray into the eCommerce side of things, and it’s been extremely exciting.
Christine: What makes the eCommerce side exciting, and what makes it different than the other kinds of marketing that you’ve been involved with?
Vinny: It’s just the way everything interacts. It’s not just SEO. It’s social media, it’s the paid side, it’s basically everything. It’s customer-focused. That’s what’s driving all this, whether it’s eCommerce, whether it’s Google, whether it’s content marketing, everything is coming from the customer, the visitors.
Christine: What inspires you? What gets you out of bed every morning and excited to head to work at Solstice?
Vinny: The people that I work with. They’re very nice, and my manager, Monica Swendsrud, has my back 100%. I’m grateful for that. Her understanding of what I need to do drives me to come in on a daily basis. Plus the fact that I see what I can affect on the site, and how I can make the site better. I feel like it’s a competition. My objective is to get my sites ahead of my competitors. I’ll do whatever I need to do, ethically of course.
Christine: Talk to me a little bit about how you get that buy-in — from your boss, from your team members, and from your brand as a whole?
Vinny: It was a bit difficult at first. It helped that I could provide data, and that I could create a forecast for what I expected to change and how I could make it happen. The CEO understood and became a proponent. It took a while — SEO is a marathon, not a sprint — but once results started to materialize, she was all-in.
Christine: Awesome. That’s a lot of trust. What was the process like, convincing people to take the chance?
Vinny: Part of it is that I had experience in some of the issues they were having, and could show them what I was able to achieve in the past. But first and foremost, it was understanding what they wanted to do and showing them how to move forward with it. Once I was able to get that plan and get them fully on board, then everything sort of fell into place. And we were able to show positive results.
The first thing I wanted to do was make changes to the titles and meta descriptions. The page had no meta descriptions to speak of, and the titles were, for lack of a better term, crap. They were way too long, and just didn’t provide the correct information. The next step was the creation of content for the category pages and all the product description pages. Slowly but surely, we’ve started getting more and more traction, better rankings and more traffic.
Christine: Very cool. Tell me a little bit about your team right now. How is it structured?
Vinny: I do everything where SEO is concerned. Then we have someone else that handles the affiliate marketing, the paid search, the social media. We have a small, but mighty team, and we all have each other’s back. It’s all teamwork. If you can’t get your team involved, you’re doomed to fail.
Christine: Are there any other teams that you work directly with?
Vinny: I have a Dev team that does some of the things that I don’t have access to, like working with the source code for the website. Right now, I’m in the process of working to create a schema markup for the website, so I’m discussing it with them, to see how we can incorporate it.
Christine: Tell me a little bit about what you’re working on right now. Do you have any particular projects or things you’re focused on that get your SEO blood pumping?
Vinny: Right now, we’re working on creating a page for face shapes, and the frames that go best with each particular shape. We’ve gotten all the content together, we have the illustrations. We’re in the process of trying to ideate how we’re going to set it up on the site. Once that’s done, we can start to move forward on pushing it out.
And then for the end of this year, beginning of next I’m focused on starting our blog. I’m already coming up with topic ideas, and thinking about how I want to implement the blog. The question is whether or not we create a separate site for the blog, and monetize it, or if we have the ability to put it to put the blog on our site.
Christine: Very cool. What are you most proud of in your long and storied marketing career? Any particular accomplishments, or things that made you really happy?
Vinny: When I was working for 360i, we were discussing a project with CMT, Country Music Television. If you searched for the term, “country music,” they were nowhere near the top. We practically redesigned their website so that videos would be shown on the site, rather than taking the visitor off the site to see them. We embedded a player onto the site itself, made some other adjustments, and within about three months, if you typed in the term, “country music,” they were showing up one and two.
Vinny: If you typed in “country music videos,” they were one, two, and three for practically everything.
Christine: That’s amazing. Those are a huge head turn.Vinny: Yeah. And another one — one of the companies I worked for was a company called Top Ten Reviews, and they had a number of different content sites. One of them was Space.com. If you searched for images of space, we were showing up above NASA.
Christine: Wow. That’s really cool. What’s one brand new thing you’re trying to learn, or a skill you’re developing as a marketer?
Vinny: Schema markup. I’ve done it before, but it’s a constantly changing environment, there’s always something new being shown. I’m trying to wrap my head around how I can make the information correct as far as the schema goes, and still get my products up and running on the site. I’ve done schema for articles, but I’m still working on doing it for products and reviews and ratings.
I’m also still doing my research on voice search, and thinking about how we’re going to do it here at Solstice.
Google will go and they’ll say, “we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this.” They prime you and then it takes about two years before they fully implement everything. So I figure I got about a year before the whole voice search thing gets implemented.
Christine: What about outside of work? What are you doing outside of work that makes you a better marketer?
Vinny: I read. I can veg out with a good book like it’s nobody’s business. And hanging out with my family. It sounds cliche, but my family is my life. They occupy most of my thoughts, although sometimes my kids drive me crazy.
Christine: I would love to know — what are you reading? When you take that time for yourself, what gets you to crack the cover open?
Vinny: Usually, I’m reading four books.
Christine: Do you have any recommendations of great reads for our marketers out there?
Vinny: There’s a book by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Jessie Stricchiola, and Rand Fishkin, called The Art of SEO.
Christine: And I’m not going to lie, I’m a fantasy science fiction fan myself. What are some of your favorites in that genre?
Vinny: Obviously it’s the Tolkien books. Right now I’m reading The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. And it’s not fantasy, but another favorite is Stephen King.
Christine: You can’t go wrong with Stephen King. I like reading him as somebody who writes — he gives a lot of insight into his writing and his process. What’s your best piece of marketing advice?
Vinny: Put yourself in the visitor’s place. The easiest way to figure out what a customer or visitor wants is to go to the website yourself and look at it from a street-level view. Tools are great because they can give you insight as to what’s going on and what needs to be done. But you still need to know what the site’s going to look like and how a visitor is going to interact with it. The only way you can know that is to go to the site itself and play around with it.
Christine: I love that advice. We’re very much about putting customers first, and it’s something that the best SEOs take into account and prioritize. What does Solstice do as an organization to make its employees feel great?
Vinny: The employees have a say in how the company moves forward. You’re only as good as the people who work for you, and if you treat them right, they’ll work harder for you. When I was a manager, I always treated the people I was managing as people. Sometimes as a boss, you need to put the hammer down, so to speak, but if you can show people that you’re there and you understand what’s going on, it can help make things better.
You also need to understand that your employees have personal needs as well. If the people who worked under me needed to work from home, then I understood it and I allowed them the opportunity. It was a little bit tough go at first, but we’ve gotten to that point here too.
I also try to put everyone at ease, and treat them like I’d want to be treated. Everything else falls into place.
Christine: That’s a reflection of what we were talking about before — putting yourself in the user’s shoes.
Christine: In addition to the books that you were talking about, are there any thought leaders, podcasts, blogs, or social media accounts that you follow to stay up to date on marketing trends and what’s going on in the industry?
Vinny: Rand Fishkin, Danny Sullivan, Avery Schwartz, Eric Enge, Michael King, and Cyrus Shepard are the top ones that come to mind. As far as sites are concerned, it’s Search Engine Land and Search Engine Roundtable. My favorite is Michael King, because he’s just constantly pushing something out.
Oh, there’s another person, his name is Bill Slawski. He runs a blog called SEO by the Sea, and he’s constantly looking at the different patents that Google files for, and offering takes on what they’re thinking about. He’s been instrumental in driving me to come up with different ideas to respond to what Google is doing. He’s the one that got me started thinking about schema markup.
Christine: Usually when we ask this, people have one or two names and then they blank out. So that was excellently done. When you’re looking to focus, what song or artist do you put on to get in the zone?
Christine: Nice. Any song in particular?
Vinny: Shoot To Thrill, Back In Black, Highway to Hell. Let There Be Rock. For Those About to Rock (We Salute You). It’s a Long Way to the Top.
I have a little bit of trivia about that. It’s a Long Way to the Top is the first rock song ever to incorporate bagpipes.
Christine: That’s very cool. It’s a brave thing to do, to add a bagpipe to anything. When you’re listening to music, sitting at your desk, do you do an impression? How do you stop yourself from singing?
Vinny: Oh, I have my headphones and I’ll do it under my breath. People pass by every once in a while and I’m typing and basically bouncing up and down in my chair, and people go, “Oh, okay. Vinny’s listening to music.”
Christine: Our final question is — what is the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled? Something you can talk about on this phone call.
Vinny: The weirdest thing I’ve ever Googled. That’s a tough one. Growing up, I first learned how to read reading comic books. Right now I have about 4,000 comics at home. Have you seen The Avengers, Infinity War and Endgame? I have the books that those two movies were based on, and I was trying to find out information about Jim Starlin, the artist and author. I was trying to find out if he was dead, and what his thought process was about writing the stories. I found out that he wasn’t dead, and so I got all the books signed by him.
Christine: Oh wow.
Vinny: There’s another artist called Frank Miller. He did Sin City, but he was also the artist for the first books that Wolverine was in. I wanted to get him to sign the books, and then I found out that someone I worked with at Haymarket Media lived down the block from him. So I was able to get those signed by him as well.
That’s pretty much it. And then I’m just Googling different storylines as far as the movies are concerned. I like to see how the Marvel Universe is moving forward.