Goodbye SEO, Hello PhD

by Scott Cowley · 79 comments

Next week, I’m leaving SEO. Next month, I begin life as a marketing PhD student at the excellent W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in what will be a full-time, 5-year program with the plan of becoming a marketing professor, teaching and researching at the university level. It feels kind of appropriate that this should be the first post of since it’s also the first post on my path to becoming Dr. Cowley.

It comes at a time when things have never been better from a career standpoint. The SEO industry has been incredibly generous to me these last three years. Frankly, it’s hard to leave ZAGG. It’s hard to leave the responsibility of managing SEO for a publicly traded company to start at the bottom rung of the ladder again. It’s hard to have to back out of an invitation to speak at PubCon for the first time and know that I won’t be seeing many industry friends with regularity anymore. It’s hard to put the brakes on a consulting business that has been flourishing or to leave the professional marketing organizations I’ve been involved with here in Salt Lake.

And it’s hard to move a wife, 7 months pregnant, and a little daughter to a larger, hotter city in the middle of summer, away from parents, siblings, close friends, beautiful mountains, and the comfort of a normal salary.

But trust me when I say I know exactly what I’m doing and I’ve never been more excited.

A Marketing PhD?

The most common response to the news so far has been, “So… you want to teach?” Let me use the opportunity to clarify.

A PhD in marketing typically consists of research, teaching, and academic administration (and writing New York Times bestsellers, of course). The weight of responsibility rests heavily on the research though. If you don’t want to research consumer behavior and marketing models, there are much easier, faster ways of getting into a classroom. An MBA is usually enough for most community colleges.

The focus of my research will be largely digital, interactive, and social marketing. So I won’t be leaving internet marketing completely. In fact, I want to eventually work with every one of my industry friends on research projects involving their companies. So if that sounds cool to you, let me know (comment or e-mail) and I’ll put you at the top of the list I’m starting.

I’m so excited about being a researcher and educator. A marketing PhD has been in my sights for several years, and being in internet marketing has only helped solidify that desire.

A Hundred Thank You’s

I couldn’t reach this goal alone. Many people jump into PhD programs right after their bachelor’s degree. Honestly, I wasn’t ready emotionally, intellectually, or professionally. I personally think that I made the cut only because I know where my skills and interests lie and because I had a track record of success–two things that would not have happened without SEO.

I have a lot of people to thank, and I wish I could be more descript, but this’ll have to do.

(Rather than give everyone the links they’re entitled to, if you’re on here, send me note on Twitter and I’ll link your name to your URL of choice)

Thank you Eric, for giving me research experience and lighting the PhD fuse, Amy for giving me TA experience, and Jeff for giving me teaching experience (and giving me invaluable feedback during the admissions process). And thank you Sterling, for all you did to get me into ASU. I consider meeting you one of the ultimate “miracles in hindsight.”

Thank you Paul for converting me over to marketing. Thank you Ben for giving me the kick I needed and Ralph and Clyde for keeping me afloat during a rough patch. And Jon in the glass cubicle for taking way too much interest in me and letting me into your classroom.

Thank you Dave and Nelson at, who took a chance on me. I feel constantly in your debt. Thank you Ash and Greg. You two are the most patient people I know. Thank you Adam for teaching me the ropes. We have our disagreements, but it doesn’t dilute the value of your instruction. Thank you to the early crew for making work a place I loved to be and for keeping the competition friendly: Robyn, Albert, TJ, Greg B., Travis, Tiana, Andy, Brian, Chris M., Hasson, Dustin, Cammack, Scoville (best carpool ever), Suzanne, Todd, Tamra, Scott, Joe, Lori, Chesnut, Patterson, Nate. Thank you Tyson, Brad, and Lauren for putting up with me. Thanks Malmborg for being the ultimate example of curiosity, work ethic, and low body fat. Thanks Bischoff for your contagious intensity.

Thank you Jack for starting Social Media Club of Utah Valley at the perfect time. I trace a lot of my motivation back to that first meeting. Thanks to the rest of the Utah Valley guys that made me realize that social media is all about making real-life friends: Seth, Chad, Bags, Nate, Robert, Pincock, Rick, Rob, Parker, Jake, Adam, Velda, Vince, and never-boring Dave Doering.

Thank you to all the people up in SLC who made sure I never lacked for friends or education. Thank you SMC elite: Pete, Brian, John, Janet, Roxy, Josh, Sheri, Evin, Nicole, Thom (and Krista for carrying the banner).  Thank you Team Awesome: Paco, Doc, Matt, Brendan, Hang, Ryan, Nick. And thank you Utah marketers who leave me in the proverbial dust when it comes to expertise and work ethic: Maile, Dave P., James K., Elisabeth, Josh, Rachael, Kathy, Clark, Jeremy, Kyle, Mandi, AJ, Alison, Sunny, Mitchell, Tom, Josh (now in CA), Ross, Luke.

Thank you Brett for PubCon–my favorite event in the world. And thank you to those in internet marketing whose kindness keeps me motivated: Mat, Gabriella, Dana, Lyena, Kate, Taylor, Dr. Pete, Henshaw, Alan, Elmer, Arnie, Lane, Thomas, Brian, Arienne, Wil, Melanie, Melissa, Ben, Mike, Alex, Kristine. I hope our paths cross as frequently as possible.

And to those at ZAGG, thank you for making every day exciting and fun. Thank you John, for being a fantastic boss and showing me the definition of executive leadership. Thank you Drew. It’s incredibly motivating to sit next to a friend who’s the best in his field and know that success comes only from hard work and strategy. Thank you Jessica and Kollin for making every day hilarious. And thank you Neil. I feel lucky to have worked with you in two different jobs. Thank you Dustin and Brady for rounding out the room–we wouldn’t be where we are without you. And thank you devs and designers and those at ZAGG who never made fun of me for having an Android phone.

Thank you Mike, James, and Eric for unknowingly giving me PhD envy. And thank you Jeff for getting me into SEO and for being a constant sounding board. We’re now on opposite sides of the country, but I won’t forget what you’ve done for me.

Thank you Mom for always being interested in my life and for teaching me that if you never ask, the answer is always no. And thank you Dad for never expecting me to work any harder than you–except for the fact that you’re the hardest working person I will ever know. (And thanks for not pushing me into fish biology)

Thank you Kathy for being my better half, for knowing exactly what I need and staging necessary interventions, and for joining me on the journey. And little Myra for being my daily ray of smiling sunshine.

And for everyone else, I’ve created the following Checklist Thank You Card.

Check Box Thank You Card (PSD)
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