Quick: explain to me what search engine optimization (SEO), actually is and how it works.

Can you? Can you really?! If you’re able, that’s awesome.

But Timothy Warren, president and CEO of Cincinnati-based Helium SEO, has found that oftentimes, professionals and their companies don’t fully understand SEO as well as they could. Helium SEO, created earlier this year, pivoted to fill that knowledge gap.

While Helium SEO’s initial goal was to create artificial intelligence that would do companies’ SEO for them, potential users were skeptical. Since then, “we’ve made it our mission to explain to companies what SEO is and how it actually works,” Warren said, in addition to using an artificial intelligence-powered tool to streamline the SEO process for customers.

Photo Credit: Helium SEO

The “we” is a five-person team, comprised of four founding engineers — including Endel Marciq, chief operating officer; Nick Shah, lead machine learning engineer; and Paul DeMott, cheif technology officer — and Warren, a marketer. They were brought together after Warren heard that the aforementioned engineers were working on AI-based SEO tool. “I have to talk with them,” he had said after discovering their work. The rest is history.

It works a bit like this: Helium SEO meets with clients, oftentimes B2B and B2C companies, and together they analyze their website and its keywords. Then, Helium explains to them how many links the company needs to create, the content they need to put on their pages, and other steps that the enterprise can take to improve their SEO. Then, Helium steps in and assists the business. If someone wants to create their own content, Helium has a tool that does just that, as well as streamlines the arduous process of creating backlinks.

“Digital marketing is becoming so technological in nature. If you’re not tech minded, you can’t keep up with the demands of clients in a cost-effective way.”

“Everybody can write a blog, everyone can build social media, but building links is the hard, expensive part of building SEO,” Warren said, and that’s what Helium aims to make easier. “Humans create the content, we oversee it, tech builds the links,” he added, emphasizing that, contrary to what some clients initially feared, the process is completely white hat and “totally above board.”

The tech is the linchpin of the Helium SEO’s work, and it was built off of Google Censor Flow, an open-source machine learning AI platform. While Warren couldn’t say much about how the AI was built, he explained that resulting AI was incredibly advanced. “We created an AI that can create content as well as a human,” he said. “We’ve built tools that can create entire WordPress website.” That includes logos, social media, etc. — and event content composed at the level of a high schooler.

“There’s lots of ways we can apply that technology,” Warren said. “You can imagine the increase in efficiency, right?”

It’s considering how the company can better harness that technology that’s driving its future goals. “Imagine that there was an AI that could step in and bridge the gap for brands,” Warren said. “That’s what we’re heading, and that’s what our tech can currently do. It’s a whole new world … an interesting future that we’re in.”

There’s also plans to take a closer look at digital marketing, and how Helium SEO can continue to blur the lines between engineers and marketers. “We’re piloting the next generation of digital marketing agencies, [an] agency that is run by marketers and powered by engineers,” Warren said. “Digital marketing is becoming so technological in nature. If you’re not tech minded, you can’t keep up with the demands of clients in a cost-effective way.” While marketing agencies are doing the best they can, Warren argued that marketers need better, smarter tools.

As a result, Helium SEO is “automating every process we possibly can,” Warren continued. It’s a way to stay on the cutting edge. For example, “instead of hiring sales people, we’re building a completely automated sales process,” he said.

“Our long-term goals [is to use] our internal software tools and processes [to] around double the efficiency of a typical agency,” he added. “We’d like to acquire a local agency and implement our system, and go from one to two in terms of efficiency.” Ultimately, Helium SEO has “huge empire building aspirations.”

It’s an aggressive perspective that has been a part of Helium SEO from the start. The company was bootstrapped, a very intentional choice. “We ran it scrappy from day one, going out and doing sales and bringing clients in our own,” Warren said.  “We didn’t want to dilute by bringing in investors if we didn’t want to.”

So far, the business has been profitable. “Response has been amazing,” Warren said. “We started marketing on a Monday and had paying companies on a Friday.”

Part of its success is because the company provides the results they promise, he added. One of their clients, a fast-growing software company, “has been using our software for about eight months and ranks higher on Google that they ever have been before,” Warren said.