It’s a tale Steve Phillips doesn’t mind sharing. When asked how he came up with the name for the search engine optimization company he runs out of his Fort Thomas home, Phillips answers with a smile: “That really happened by accident.”
Then, he launches into the story.

Each year, Phillips and his brother go trout fishing in Arkansas. One year, while waiting for the fish to bite, Phillips’ brother broke into an impersonation of Bubba fromForrest Gump. Instead of naming shrimp, however, he named kinds of trout: “brown trout, rainbow trout, blue trout, green trout, purple trout ...” At purple trout, Phillips’ brother stopped and mused, “You know what? That would be a cool name for a business. People would remember it.”

Phillips obviously agreed. When he started his search engine optimization company a few years later in 2004, he claimed the name Purple Trout, LLC (with his brother’s blessing and permission, of course).

While there’s actually no such thing as a purple trout, in the world of SEO, it’s definitely alive and well.

Since Phillips formed Purple Trout, the number of his clients has grown from five at the end of the first year to 160 today. Spread all over the country, his customers cover a wide range of professions including law firms, nonprofit agencies and real estate companies. “A lot of our clients are re-doing their web sites and are looking for other means to get their names out there, other than through traditional marketing,” Phillips explains.

Steve Phillips’ 5 Tips for Entrepreneurs

1) Do not lose the passion and drive for your business that you first experienced when you started. Your enthusiasm will get others
excited about what you are doing.

2) Under no circumstance should you go into debt until you have a profitable plan and established clients.

3) Think big, but start frugally. Save money and time by working from home. The client in California doesn’t care if you have a highrise
office and 20 employees.

4) Buy from and work with other start-ups.  They share the same business pains and successes as you do.

5) Appreciate your clients. Send them
“thank you” notes, greeting cards, etc.
Without them, you will not survive.

Lucky for them, non-traditional marketing is Purple Trout’s forte. With 15 full-time staff members (also from all over the country), the company excels at helping customers pinpoint exactly why they want to draw people to their web site in the first place, and then works with them to develop keywords that will bring them that traffic.

Phillips recommends clients develop one to three keywords for their site, keeping in mind those words will be used to draw people to the site’s sub-pages, as well. It’s crucial, he stresses, to ensure the keywords are reflected in the content of the site. Citing one of his favorite examples, Phillips points to cookies.

“If you’re running a web site about baking chocolate chip cookies,” he says, the keyword had better not be peanut butter cookies.

Once customers have developed their keywords, Phillips advises them to get writing. Writing articles and blogs and developing podcasts and webinars using the keywords can usually guarantee Google will take more notice of a site, and will, consequently, give a web site a higher search results ranking when people search for those keywords.

While Google isn’t the only search engine Phillips and his team focus on, it is the largest. “It’s all about Google,” he says, but adds that Purple Trout concentrates on MSN and Yahoo, as well. The three search engines combined make up 95 percent of the market.

Purple Trout doesn’t guarantee its clients’ web sites will make it to the first page of a search engine’s results (or top 10), but it’s certainly not rare for that to happen. Phillips says all of his customers have an average of six or more keywords that put them in the top 10 on Google. According to Phillips, if a business’s web site is not among the top 30, nine out of 10 people won’t know it’s there.

“You have to master Google,” Phillips says, but quickly amends, “As soon as you master it, though, you’re never done.”

Some people think once they’re in the top 10 on Google they don’t have to do anything else, but Phillips warns that’s not the case. The trick is staying there.

“Google, just like you, wants to come to your web site and see new content, and they want to see new links pointing to your web site,” he says. “But if you stop adding new content, Google’s not going to be impressed, and neither is a human.”

That’s when a web site’s ranking starts to slip, Phillips says. When clients cut ties with Purple Trout and walk away, thinking that because their web site is ranked No. 4 on Google one week it’s not necessary to keep investing in SEO, Phillips starts sending them ranking reports each month. That way, he can watch with them as their ranking starts to plummet. Once customers see that, he says, they usually come back.

While some might think telling people how to do SEO would hurt Purple Trout, Phillips argues it’s what sets his company apart. “We say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, here’s what’s next, here are the results and here’s what we’re going to do to improve them.’”

Phillips discusses clients’ ranking reports with them over the phone or at their office, telling them how Google views their web sites and what their competitors are doing to increase their own ranking. He also meets clients at his office, which is set up in the basement of his home.

With a trout calendar adorning the wall, a pen collection on full display and Reggie, a stuffed chicken sporting Reds gear, looking on, Phillips’ sparsely decorated office suits his self-described “monkish” personality. Its proximity to where he spends his non-working hours, however, can play on his workaholic tendencies. “There is no personal time,” he says.

Although Phillips is considering external office space, he does have practice working from home. He’s been doing it for 17 years. Before starting Purple Trout, Phillips worked in software consulting for 13 years. Before that, he was a sportswriter for 15 years in Indiana, covering high school sports, the Indiana Pacers (“fun, but they were terrible”), Indiana University basketball under Bobby Knight (“frightening because I didn’t want to be the sportswriter who asked a stupid question”) and several Indianapolis 500 races.

When he covered sports, Phillips recalls family and friends constantly plaguing him with questions such as “What it’s like talking to Charles Barkley?” Phillips would tell them it’s like talking to a normal guy who’s just very good at what he does.

Now, Phillips jokes that the neighborhood kids boast: “I live next to Purple Trout.” And, while he understands the company still has a long way to go — “In the big picture, we’re a scratch on a flea’s back” — he’s also full-speed ahead: “We have just barely scratched the surface of our potential.”

While Purple Trout may be an imaginary fish, it’s certainly casting a wide net.