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Article by Donna J. Tuttle, posted in the San Antonio Business Journal on December 31, 2010

SAN ANTONIO – December 31, 2010 – In the world of Web site SEO, it’s a jungle out there.

Hundreds of companies are vying to be the big bananas and millions of unsuspecting consumers are willing to pay gobs of money for the seemingly magical keywords to improve their search engine rankings.

Here in San Antonio, Ryan Kelly has spent two years trying to demystify SEO (or search engine optimization) and build a company with an innovative, useful perspective on the industry.

And the answer was found by shunning bananas altogether and embracing the pear. Two years ago, Kelly founded Pear Analytics, an SEO tools and software company that has doubled its revenues from $400,000 in 2009 to $800,000 in 2010.

“The pear seemed to represent a fresh, crisp approach to analytics, so I went with it,” Kelly says.

Today, Pear Analytics — armed with a new business model and backed by two of the city’s most successful technology investors — is entering 2011 with an eye toward a new round of funding and breaking the $1 million revenue mark. While successful, the road to profitability has not been easy — the firm has had to pull back and retool its core mission more than once.

“It’s funny because, in business, the hardest thing to do is to break $1 million. Before you hit $1 million you haven’t figured it out,” Kelly says. “This time, I think we have it figured out.”

Seeds of beginnings

There are myriad complicated ways to describe search engine optimization. But the bottom line is this: Companies need to get noticed on the Web. When potential clients search a product or service online, firms vying for business want to be listed at the top of the results.

“All the companies and people who show up after page three on the Google results, those are our customers,” Kelly says.

Kelly, a former Pratt & Whitney jet designer and engineer, left the company after wearying of the constant travel. He joined San Antonio marketing firm Blue Clover for five years, and left to bootstrap his own SEO company when he realized his passion lay in the qualitative analytics of the Web.

When Pear Analytics first was formed in December 2008, the company’s claim to fame was a free Web site analysis tool. Visitors to the Pear Analytics Web site simply typed in their Web site, hit enter, and voila! in 20 seconds an instant SEO report featuring the good, the bad and the ugly was produced.

In early 2009, Pear Analytics took first prize at the Innotech Beta Summit and suddenly was an online media darling. That summer, the firm decided to build SEO software that business owners could use and attracted investors Pat Condon and Morris Miller, both co-founders of Rackspace Managed Hosting (NYSE: RAX), one of San Antonio’s most successful and high-profile public companies.

“We got our cash and started hiring, and that’s basically when I made a lot of mistakes,” Kelly says. “We built a software tool for experts, but Joe businessman didn’t understand what it was doing for them.”

The firm regrouped. And in an effort to search for a repeatable and scalable business model, they decided on offering piecemeal services with extremely low price points. “Called Fix My Site, we were charging $1 per error to fix what was wrong with people’s Web sites,” Kelly says. “Turns out that’s not very scalable either. We would fix three errors in one-and-a-half days and get paid $3. We were eating the cost all day long.”

The bottom line, Kelly says, is that most SEO firms struggle to find the sweet spot to make business work. Companies are always eager to sign on for monthly-fee Web site and SEO consultation, but are quick to cancel their subscriptions once their basic checklist of needs is met.

Resetting the compass

After much consultation, the company has created a new business model and is chasing a very specific chunk of the market.

Pear Analytics now offers small-to-medium sized businesses with little-to-no Web presence a package system ranging from $200 per month to $675 per month to create a Web site and drive traffic to the site. Pear will devise keywords, find out why competitors are outranking the client, build links to the company’s Web site, write content and track and monitor keyword rankings.

For customers like Winston Crump, owner of QLaser of Stone Oak, who met Kelly on a Southwest Airlines flight, the new full-service package finally gives his business’ Web site the attention it’s long needed. Crump sells handheld Low-Level Laser Therapy units that provide pain relief for people with issues like arthritis, fibromyalgia and more.

“The net savvy weekend warriors and marathoners are a key market for me, and Pear Analytics is helping me get found on the Web,” Crump says.

Pear also is working with Boston company Juice Analytics to simplify — and make more visually appealing — the analytics reports for Pear customers.

“Clients get lost if they have to scroll down pages of data,” Kelly says.

Nick Adams, services manager for Australian-based ReachTEL, a business that helps companies contact their customers by utilizing technologies such as voice broadcast (robo-dialing), SMS and e-mail marketing, recently signed on for the new package after being a Pear Analytics customer for awhile.

“There are so many sharks out there in the SEO industry it’s unbelievable. I’ve paid for link building, copy writing and on-page work before and every time people over-commit and under-deliver,” Adams says. “Thankfully, unlike most SEO companies, Pear has delivered everything they promised and much more. We are able to see real measurable results in our keyword rankings and we’ve been delighted with the copy writing service. Being able to actually speak to Ryan, Megan, Chip or Julie on the phone about our specific needs is just mind-numbingly great service for a company that’s 10,000 miles away!”

Pear Analytics and its eight employees recently moved into 4,000 square feet of new office space at The Century Building at 84 N.E. Loop 410. Under the new business model, the staff is currently manually performing all the research for the SEO analysis by piecing together a series of third-party sources. But they’re currently building software so that clients will eventually be able to sign into a visually aesthetic portal.

The other element of the new business model involves building up a pool of on-demand freelance copywriters, link specialists, keyword experts and other SEO professionals which the firm can tap into as business grows.

Pear also works with a handful of big companies on a consulting basis, and recently signed on with CareerBuilder to build a game that the online HR firm can offer their clients to analyze their human resources SEO.

Piotr Dancewicz, director and head Web business strategist of Good Good Web Design and On Line Marketing, a boutique Web design and SEO company based in Perth in Western Australia, says he switched to Pear Analytics for the company’s quality and efficiency.

“I’ve used a number of different content writing companies and Pear Analytics have outshined all of them. In most other content writing agencies that I’ve used in the past, their content was very generic and in most cases misspelled and used unrelated phrases and words — so I had to redo a lot of the work myself,” Dancewicz says. “The other services are super cheap, but, in the end, costs me a lot more. The quality of what Pear Analytics delivers is superior.”