Only a decade ago, professional racer Lisa Wehr was tearing across the Alaskan tundra with Huskies pulling her sled. Now she's pulling for advertisers with similar speed in her job as CEO of search agency Oneupweb.
The epiphany to switch careers came around the time Wehr found risking her life was not an option: She was pregnant. She started a new career designing Web sites, finally narrowing her focus to the rough-and-tumble world of search.
“To succeed in search means making real connections in the gray area where search engine behavior and human behavior meet,” she said. “While charting that territory is challenging, there are many opportunities. Our job is to leverage those opportunities for our clients.”
Her agency handles search engine marketing and optimization for clients like Maritz, Equifax, Unisys, Eastwood, JC Whitney and the National Association of Realtors. Not bad for a 5-year-old shop that's outside the search triangle of New York-California-Massachusetts.
The 30-person Oneupweb is based in Lake Leelanau, an idyllic spot in northern Michigan that's far from the madding crowd. The office interior is colorful and loosely structured for better teamwork and productivity. The view of the lake while driving to work is inspiring.
Location doesn't matter for Wehr and her colleagues as much as quality of life. Nor does that arise as an issue when Oneupweb pitches against rivals from the New York, San Francisco or Boston area.
“Our clients take us seriously because we deliver serious results,” she said. “Can a firm in a small town compete globally? Absolutely. We have the talent, technology and vision to compete with anybody, anywhere.”
Going up against the odds is second nature to Wehr.
Once, when she was still a professional sled dog racer, her entire team of Huskies broke through a frozen river and started sinking in running water. She was in second place at the time. She pulled her sled and the team out, coaxing each traumatized dog to get up and run. She finished second.
Sled dog racing is similar to business, Wehr said, requiring teamwork, common goals and dedication.
“It's all about testing your mettle in the face of overwhelming odds, putting yourself in a challenging situation to see if you have what it takes to persevere,” she said. “That has very real applications to the business world. The people who ultimately succeed in business are the ones who adapt to the changing environment before it swallows them.”
Wehr got her first taste of the Internet designing Web sites while living in Alaskan town of Willo, 80 miles north of Anchorage. The first client was her mother, who ran a successful real estate business in Michigan with Wehr's father. The project was demanding, and the mother cut the daughter no slack.
Wehr started making the rounds of shops and offices in Alaska, preaching the gospel of Web sites and their potential to take business beyond physical boundaries. That's how she got her initiation into optimization way before it became trendy and trade show chatter.
But ultimately she sold the design side of her then-business, Alaska Web Art. Search's measurability and results proved more attractive, especially as advertisers compete for top rankings in both natural and paid search.
Wehr is aware that search marketing as we know it will change in the months and years to come. The Internet, compared with other media, is still in its youth. And not only is technology evolving, but so are Internet users here at home and worldwide.
“Human behavior has a way of evolving to take advantage of favorable opportunities,” Wehr said. “Searchers are always becoming savvier. For example, searchers now know to use longer search phrases and how to manipulate keywords to find exactly what they are looking for.
“Human behavior changes search because the more we learn about what drives searches — emotions, history, etc. — the more we can deliver relevant results,” she said. “It is adaptive marketing.”
Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters