Ricardo Diaz, who leads the SEO technology platforms at Amway, sat down with Humans of Marketing to discuss his non-traditional journey from manufacturing to marketing, his commitment to making a positive impact in the world, and the unique conversation starters he keeps on his desk. He also emphasized the importance of stepping away from your screen and reminded us to add a little Avril Lavigne back into our playlists.
Christine: I’d love to start at the beginning and hear a little bit about how you got started in marketing.
Ricardo: I actually didn’t start my journey in marketing, as some people do. It wasn’t even in a related field either. It actually started off at a trade school. I took about four years of carpentry in high school, and I honestly thought that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life, build homes, and make cabinets.
But after I graduated from high school, I found out that there were no jobs available for a skilled tradesperson during that time. Right around the same time, my father passed away, and I stayed home and helped support my mother and siblings. I was the oldest, and I felt a responsibility to take care of them so I needed to find a new line of work.
A family member told me about a job at his company, and I applied for it. Within weeks I began working there and started working in the world of manufacturing. It was a 10-year journey as what I like to call an “anything operator.” I worked in all kinds of manufacturing work over the years. But it wasn’t until my last job in manufacturing that I had a discussion with my supervisor that I would say has changed my life.
The plant manager was reviewing some things and telling me what a great job I was doing. I had reduced returns to the lowest they have been in years and was able to boost production. At the time, I was promoted to a line leader. As we talked some more, I told him I was going to college for web design and development. I had a love for computers since I was a kid, and I always dreamed of building websites.
I can just remember him staring at me for about a second or two, and then he told me something I still remember to this day. He told me about a conversation he was having with his wife the night before about me and how he felt like I didn’t belong there. He said that a lot of the people working there just happened to fall into this line of work and then got stuck there because of family obligations. He didn’t want me to end up like that, and he knew that I could do more.
Soon after that, I started school, studied online, and I became a web developer. I remember giving him my notice and telling him I was moving away—he smiled at me, and he literally said to me with the most serious face ever, “You better not come back here, because I’m not going to hire you.” I tear up thinking about that moment in time. He said that to me because he wanted to make sure I didn’t have a safety net. He wanted me to keep going forward.
On my last day at work, everyone stopped by and wished me luck, and as I finished my shift, he walked me out and said, “good luck kid, don’t look back.”
At that time, I moved to Michigan, and I eventually ended up getting a job at Herman Miller in the marketing department. In case people don’t know, Herman Miller is a furniture company, and they make some of the best furniture. I have several of their chairs and desks at home, and they have lasted the test of time.
I was doing entry-level marketing work with them, and I worked with some of the best marketers ever. They took me under their wing, and they showed me everything, including things I still carry with me today. That job led to my other marketing jobs moving forward, and eventually, Amway.
Christine: It sounds like you’ve taken a lot of learnings from your experience, and that’s pretty amazing. In your current role, what are you working on that you’re most excited about?
Ricardo: The SEO work I have been doing at Amway has been inspiring. Right now, I’ve been coordinating training calls and helping our international market partners learn how to use Conductor and DeepCrawl, then measuring our strategic SEO efforts and reporting about it so that we can continue to push the needle forward. Markets are effectively improving their own online ranking and/or adapting their content-creation strategies because of platforms like Conductor and DeepCrawl.
It’s incredible to see the excitement with different teams, and the possibilities begin to present themselves with all the different things they can do with the platforms. That gets my heart pumping—I see that excitement, and then we start having discussions about how they can change things moving forward.
Christine: As you’re figuring out what those next steps look like, is there anything you’re working on? A new skill you’re developing, or something that you’re excited about learning?
Ricardo: Professionally, I’ve done a lot of work with nonprofits and charities, and that’s always been one of the things that I find the most rewarding. I enjoy helping organizations that probably would never be able to consider SEO and web development as an option and help them become more discoverable online.
Personally, my wife and kids are the most significant long term project I’m working on. The kids tend to see dad as a superhero, and one of my recent notable milestones was building a giant castle for my girls’ dolls. It took me about half a day; I assembled this whole dollhouse, and when they saw it…their eyes glowed, and they hugged and kissed me. They were so excited!
As for skills, I’m always trying to learn something new and make it a point to keep my developer skills up to date. SEO does keep me busy with all the new things coming out, but I always make sure never to forget where it all started.
Christine: What do you feel like you’ve learned as a dad that has made you a better marketer?
Ricardo: Patience and how to keep calm when everyone around me is not. I have been in a lot of situations at work when there is a lot of pressure to meet deadlines and expectations. People would question me all the time and ask how I remained calm, and it would always come back to being a dad.
I feel like kids need to see strong parents so they can feel safe and know things are going to be okay. I would also say that time management and planning are the other two significant skills any parent gains. It’s hard balancing life, work, and kid’s appointments, so those are skills you learn right away.
Christine: Your family is obviously a huge source of inspiration and motivation. What else inspires you in marketing?
Ricardo: I find a lot of inspiration from stories others tell in marketing circles, conversations with people, and what I find online. When it comes to SEO, you spend long hours in front of a screen looking over data. We tend to forget that all that data is actually real people looking for answers to their questions.
When someone clicks on a search result, they hope that the page that opens up will have the answers they are looking for.
For me, I tend to walk away from the screen and just talk to people and better understand how they search for things or why they do. I’m that person that starts talking to you at the checkout line or at in the store when they are picking up something from the shelf. Usually, it starts off with a question, and before you know it, they are telling me their story about why they select this brand over others or what they were specifically searching for and why.
So, while it’s easy to say that I find loads of inspiration through SEO blogs and social media, the truth is that I find the most inspiration by actually getting away from the screen.
Putting faces behind the data helps drive the work I’m doing in SEO. It’s about helping that person find the best product or service at that moment in time.
Christine: What does success mean to you?
Ricardo: There are different types of success. Like finding success in work, family, or in life. But success for me means being happy with who you are and what you’re doing in your life, no matter what it is.
Christine: What are you most proud of that you’ve worked on as an SEO? Is there a specific campaign or project?
Ricardo: One of the things I’m most proud of was the work I did for a previous employer, Fusion Education Group. They brought me on board to help develop their website. The organization is actually pretty unique — the schools they work with, Fusion Academy, are one-to-one: one teacher and one student in the classroom.
A lot of the kids who come to the schools are kids who need help because they can’t succeed in a traditional school setting. They could have a career at that point in their lives, an athlete, or they’re in acting and need to have that flexibility to work in the morning and have school in the afternoon.
So many amazing stories came from parents and students once they discovered the school, and they thanked us because, for many, it was a place that was able to restore hope for these families.
My personal goal is to impact the world positively, and I know a lot of the work I did on that website created some ripples, and definitely passed on that positivity to other people.
Christine: That’s a great story. There are times when people are really trying to find answers, and they’re struggling. And you can be somebody who can help them at that moment, to get the information that is trustworthy and helpful. That really speaks to the truth of why SEO is really important in the world and the fact that we can make sure the internet is a little bit safer, a little bit easier. You can connect people with the answers they need in a way that isn’t designed to scare them, especially when they’re in a period of vulnerability, like people looking into something like that school.
Ricardo: Exactly. That’s the mindset I have, whenever I do anything SEO-related. I put my mind in that place of a person searching for answers. During that job, we often said, “Okay, pretend it’s 2:00 in the morning, the parent has had this rough, incredibly bad day. Their kid came up to them, told them that things are not working out, they’re being bullied. They’re at their last straw, and they’re scared, and they really don’t know what they’re gonna do.”
What would you type in that search box? And I remember half of the campaigns started off that way, “What would you type at 2:00 in the morning?” That’s actually how a lot of our SEO work was being done at that time, especially the content being created.
Christine: Tell me a little bit about how you stay motivated and stay inspired. We talked about how walking away from the computer screen is an important part of that, but when you walk away from the computer screen, where do you go? Who do you talk to?
Ricardo: A lot of what keeps me going during the day starts with a cup of coffee in the morning. That’s how I start every day.
And then smiles. I like making people laugh, and so I try to do that every day. I usually take enough time to talk to people who stop by, or as I walk to get coffee, I’ll stop by and say Hi to them. Broadcasting Happiness is one of those really contagious things that I learned—if you can make someone smile, they’ll do the same for other people.
That human interaction is what better helps me to understand people and the human mind. Also, it creates friendships that last. I’m still friends with many of my former colleagues, and we stay in touch.
Christine: Talk to me a little bit about your current job. What makes Amway a special partner for you?
Ricardo: Everyone has a purpose, a role to play to keep things going. Every employee can tell you the role that he or she plays, and it works like this well-oiled machine. The only limitations you have are the limitations you place on yourself—Amway encourages growth, and they encourage their workers.
It’s something that I don’t think I’ve experienced with other companies I’ve worked with. I feel like my leadership has my back, and they just encourage me to try out new things.
Christine: Tell me about your team. How is it structured, and how do you guys work together with the organization?
Ricardo: I work in digital, and my SEO counterpart in marketing is Ryan Hipp. He leads the Enterprise SEO program from there, and we work together to help others understand the importance of SEO and help markets lead their SEO efforts.
All our global partners are scattered around the world in different markets, and we work together to improve Amway’s online presence globally. I’ve had the honor of working with some incredibly talented people around the world.
Christine: How does that evangelization of data work? Do you have a process to let people know why this might help them or make a difference?
Ricardo: My partner, Ryan, did most of the heavy lifting before I came to Amway. He spent the last four years—introducing SEO, telling people about the importance of the program, and introducing the idea of adding SEO to workflows.
When I came on board, I started looking at everything with a fresh pair of eyes and helped to transition into Conductor and DeepCrawl. Then introduced the idea of Technical SEO to all of our conversations moving forward.
But lately, we have been focused on getting everyone trained to use the platforms and using them effectively. The process has been simple for the most part because everyone knows that SEO is essential because of Ryan’s work in the past.
Christine: How do you promote and share wins in the organization? If you are seeing some great traffic, or having a particular page perform very well, do you have mechanisms to share that beyond your direct lines of report?
Ricardo: We are frequently communicating with our market partners, and they share all the “wins” with us through emails, monthly meetings calls, or skype messenger. Within our own departments, we send out emails all the time and have quarterly meetings where we show how well markets are doing with their SEO strategies.
It’s one of the things that I enjoy about Amway—they promote people’s work so that everyone feels like what they’re working on is essential. It also shows the markets that the work they’re doing matters.
Christine: If somebody was just getting started in marketing, what piece of advice you would give them, knowing what you know now and having accomplished what you’ve accomplished so far?
Ricardo: I’d say three things. The first thing I would tell them is to read. Read motivational books about improving yourself, or about how to see things differently. Sometimes, when you learn something new, it changes the way you see the world, and that can assist in the way you move forward.
The second thing is definitely quiet time, especially as a parent. We live in a world where we view hundreds of ads a day, and we’re surrounded by people, and everyone wants to hang out with us after work, but it’s essential to find time for yourself. I like to refer to myself as an introvert who’s capable of using extroverted abilities when needed. When I have to use these extroverted abilities, I usually end up burning myself out, and then I need time to regroup. You can never find inspiration from a dry well.
The final thing would be to have a spirit of gratitude for everything in your life. Being grateful inspires you to be more motivated and to sustain or grow what you have. Leaving a note on a co-worker’s desk, letting them know how much you appreciate their help, tends to produce a spirit of gratitude. And I know in the past, it’s made people help me become successful as a person.
Christine: Talk to me a little bit about reading. What kinds of things do you read? Do you have any specific recommendations of things that you think would help ground people in the right attitude?
Ricardo: “Broadcasting Happiness,” was a great book that changed the way my mind works. “Linchpin,” by Seth Godin, was a great book that helped strengthen me—it put me in a place where I know my value.
The best book of all is probably, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits,” which they made me read at my last job. I was hesitant, and then I read it, and it was such a good book.
Recently I’ve been reading two books called—“Lost and Founder” by Rand Fishkin and “Stories that Stick” by Kindra Hall. Both books have been amazing to read. “Stories that Stick” has given me a much deeper insight into storytelling, and “Lost and Founder” has taught me to learn from my failures to become a better person.
Christine: Are there any specific thought leaders who you follow to stay up to date on trends?
Ricardo: Wil Reynolds is someone who I follow. I’ve seen him several times in conferences, and I come out of his talks a smarter human being. If given a choice to choose between two conferences, I will always pick the one with him first.
Then Lily Ray from Path Interactive always has great content and is such a talented person. I had the chance to meet and speak with her and was impressed with how much she knew about SEO and everything, really.
Then Rand Fishkin was one of the first people that introduced me to the concept of SEO, what it was, and how we should do it correctly. His knowledge about SEO and Google is awe-inspiring, and you always come out of his talks seeing the world differently.
Christine: Do you have any hobbies or interests that make you a better marketer? What do you do outside of work that gives you a new perspective?
Ricardo: I do nothing related to marketing outside of work. I really like to leave work at work and just spend my time doing something fun.
I’m one of those people who likes to try new things all the time. Especially with my brother, we used to randomly look online for fun things to do around the city. We’d get together a list, and then we’d try to do all of those things.
When I travel, I’ll go around looking for the weirdest things, the strangest museums. It’s about gaining knowledge but having fun at the same time, and it also gives you great conversation starters. Whenever you go to a conference, I tell people random stories about places I’ve been, and it gets conversations going.
The latest thing I’ve done is axe-throwing, where they set up this target board, and you’re in this chain cage, and you throw the axe towards the board. It bounced off a few times, but I got the hang of it after a while.
Christine: A lot of people we talk to use music to focus or get pumped up. What’s one song you have on repeat right now that gets you in the right mindset?
Ricardo: I grew up in the ’80s through the ’00s, so I tend to find myself listening to a lot of music from that time period. I’ve been listening to Avril Lavigne lately, things like “Sk8er Boi,” or “My Happy Ending,” or “Girlfriend.” They’re such classic songs, and they never get old.
Christine: Walk us through your typical day. Give us a day in the life of Ricardo, starting with waking up in the morning, what does that look like? I know there’s coffee.
Ricardo: There’s definitely coffee. And I spend at least 30 minutes with my wife in the morning enjoying that first cup. We make it a point to spend time together during breakfast and dinner, just talking to each other about our day and our family.
Then I head off to work, where I start by going through all of my emails and looking at the meetings I have for the day. I always like being prepared for meetings and being on time for them. That’s sometimes hard when you work at a 1-mile long building and need to run across to the other side for a meeting.
I couldn’t mention a typical day without saying something about my desk. It’s located in a place where people have to go by me in order to go upstairs, which is the best ever. I’ll bring in something really weird and put it on my desk, and there is no way for you to get past my desk without stopping and saying, “What is that?”. I have this really cool looking fan that’s a conversation starter for sure. I plan to bring in a robot soon and program him to say random things when he sees someone.
The rest of the day involves diving deep into analytics information and reading the latest technical health crawls from DeepCrawl and reporting them out to markets. I also help several other teams with content creation and consulting teams on how to better optimize their websites for discoverability.
Christine: What do you look for, or what would you want, in a marketing community?
Ricardo: My ideal marketing community would be a group of people who you can be real with. People, you can share ideas, failures, and have discussions with them about crazy ideas you wanted to try. I used to have a group like that, and it’s something I miss having.
We used to meet up monthly and discuss articles we found or cool tools we wanted to try out. Each meeting, I would say, “These are the top three articles that I’ve discovered and found interesting,” and we’d read them, and have a cup of coffee, and then a discussion.
That real aspect is something that I wish there were more of, especially as you attend conferences where everyone’s showing off their titles, and what they’re doing and their famous clients.
I’d rather just talk to someone about, “Hey, I’ve had struggles with this campaign, and I don’t know what to do.” Those have been the discussions at conferences that I’ve really enjoyed—a group of us would surround the person and say, “Have you tried this? Have you tried that?” And that person would take notes, and we’d help each other that way.
That would be the most ideal marketing community, a place that we can all just get together and just talk about our issues and offer suggestions and tips. Where we could become a support group, especially when it comes to SEO, where there can be very little internal support at some companies. I wish we could all create a support group online, where we could say, “Hi, my name is Ricardo. I do SEO.”
Christine: Our last question is, what’s the weirdest work-appropriate thing you’ve ever googled?
Ricardo: There’s actually a conspiracy theory on Avril Lavigne that she died in 2003, and that she’s a different person. They made a comparison of photos of her early in her career and how she looks now. Some of it’s super silly like her eyes have changed. She just doesn’t have makeup on, or she has tanned skin. And that kept me busy for like 30 minutes.
It was just so weird. People age. They look different as they get older. So, that’s probably the most bizarre thing I’ve looked up on Google, but it won’t be the last.