How lucky I feel, to live in Bend with bright folks, doing important work for companies like Google. But how did this happen?
“Yeah but their canonical annotations are using relative URLs, they need to be absolute.”
“Are you sure? Seems relative URLs will be just fine.”
“I’ve seen them not be respected.”
“Ok. What about the hreflang signals, we need that as part of the global technical solution, right?”
“Cool. Let’s write that up in the recs and make sure they understand we’ll include those annotations within the XML sitemaps.”
“Ok. How many locales globally?”
“It’s like 35 or something. Check Basecamp or it might be on a Google shared doc.”
“Have we started content strategy for the major markets?”
“Only Japan and North America so far…”
The meeting wraps up. Smart, energetic Bendites juggling Macbooks and coffee get up and hustle to their next meeting, looking at their phones or joking with each other. I get up and walk over to the window. How lucky I feel, to live in Bend among these bright folks, doing important work for companies like Google and StreamOZ. How did this happen?
It all started with AudetteMedia, a company I founded with Meg Thompson and my father, John Audette, in 2008. Started with humble beginnings and only one client – an ecommerce site I’d helped since 2001 called Zappos – we eventually grew into a well known SEO agency. But we were never known here in Bend. Our focus was on the Fortune 500 and Bend didn’t have too many of those, so we set our sights elsewhere. Small but mighty, at our biggest we were only 15 people, but were developing SEO strategies for clients like Under Armour, Zappos, Michelin, Gannett, and Amazon. We did it all from a modest office across from Strictly Organic on Arizona Ave. (which we frequented daily for our caffeine fix), eventually taking over the second and third floors.
Then one day, while on the conference circuit I frequented for many years (and still do, somewhat less), I landed at a table with this guy: George Michie. He was CEO of another agency called RKG. We soon realized the two of us thought very much the same about many things related to digital marketing.
RKG bought my company in August of 2011. Since that time, we’ve grown to well over 200 staff, with nearly 30 team members here in Bend. We no longer work in the modest barn-shaped building across from Strictly Organic, though. We have a posh office now above the park and Deschutes River. But one thing hasn’t changed: we’re all Bendites living here for a reason and working with even more great companies like Nordstrom, Walmart, Google, and Edmunds.
Last month, RKG was acquired by Merkle, a global company of over 2,000 people across many offices. This latest chapter is still unwritten, but I’m pretty psyched about what’s ahead. I’ve sort of had a plan all along: to live in Bend, build a great business, and scale it so I could stay here. I never wanted to sacrifice my quality of life for a career by moving to a large city, especially with my children growing up here.
Bend is actually considered as the birthplace of SEO, but few people outside of the industry are aware of it. Industry rock stars and thought leaders like Marshall Simmonds (who ran SEO for the NY Times for many years), Derrick Wheeler (who is a long-time leader of SEO within Microsoft), Andre Jensen, Adam Sherk, Bill Hunt and Jeremy Sanchez all either live in Bend or got their career start here.
A lot happens in Bend that’s off the radar. Just up the river from us are Ogilvy’s GSI offices who work with great brands like Nestle and IBM, running social, search and strategy. I joke that this section of the Deschutes River is responsible for more online marketing decisions for the Fortune 100 than similarly sized blocks in cities like San Francisco and New York City.
There is a price, of course. Living in Central Oregon means I travel a lot. I call it the Bend tax: we pay extra to live out here in the mountains in the form of longer trips and extra flight segments.
Even so, sitting here in my office typing this blog post, with the Cascade mountains out one side and the blue Deschutes River out another, having just helped my team deliver a global technical SEO strategy to Google, extra flights are worth it. To a nerd like me, I’m livin’ the dream.
I hop on my bike and take the long way home, grabbing a few choice single track options along the way. The sun is dipping behind Faith, Hope and Charity, a historic pioneer name for the Three Sisters. The evening is warm and the air smells of Ponderosa pine and juniper, with pink, purple and orange colors lighting the sky. The sandy soil crackles under my tires. The high desert is vibrant and alive.
I live in Bend. Like all things, it’s what you make of it. But it feels like you can make just about anything happen here.