published Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Ringgold: Web hub in house

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    Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Marnie Pehrson, 44, hugs her son, Elijah, 9, in her office, where she runs one of the oldest and most successful e-zine websites in the world. She lives in Ringgold, Ga. with her husband and six children.

Marnie Pehrson began tinkering in 1996 with an experimental website from her home computer in Ringgold, Ga.

Far from the stereotypical coffee-chugging, acronym-spewing techie, the mother of six talks slowly and mostly listens, associates say, yet still manages to stay “hyperproductive.”

Over a decade has passed since she started toying with the idea. Her website — ideamarketers.com — attracts about 5 million hits a month, according to DoubleClick Ad Plan by Google. The site generates more than $200,000 a year.

Experts promoted by her site have appeared on all major network and cable channels, in business publications and even on The Weather Channel, she said.

Along the way, she and her husband have parented six children, taken on four employees, written several historical fiction books and invented an online business category in which Pehrson creates and promotes experts for a fee.

“It was really hard in the beginning, and I wasn’t the best at it, but Greg has worked a lot to help out,” she said of her husband, a former cook and medical worker.

In their spare time, the couple raises scholarship money to send students to study at Utah’s Brigham Young University, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

IN THE BEGINNING

In the early days, Pehr-son’s site started out as just “a few articles” by people with something to say or promote, she said, nothing more.

But then she began sending out weekly e-mail newsletters filled with essays submitted by the public on topics ranging from marketing to cooking.

“It was a lot easier to get people to give you their e-mail back then,” she said.

Early Internet users ate it up, passing around and reposting the articles, which directed traffic back to Pehrson’s site.

“We had good search engine positioning on Excite, Lycos, WebCrawler and Yahoo,” she said of the search engines popular before Google came on the scene.

As technology evolved, she switched from e-mail to RSS feeds, and from banner ads to a sophisticated system where advertisers bid for space.

She’s been able to support herself, her husband and her children through ad revenues, which make up 75 percent of her sales.

The other 25 percent is derived from a publicity program, a more recent development.

In effect, Pehrson locates and promotes experts in any given field through a grassroots full-court press after thoroughly vetting them, she said.

Phil Davis, president of Tungsten Branding, was one of the first experts Pehrson promoted around the turn of the 21st century.

“The lion’s share of the benefit was on my end. If you type in naming and branding expert, I’m No. 1 worldwide,” Davis said. “How valuable is that? It’s priceless.”

HOME LIFE

After checking a client’s credentials and ensuring that he has a product to promote, she uses every method available to seed his name into the Web world, from iTunes and YouTube to Facebook and blast e-mail.

Greg Pehrson works to augment the site on blogs and on social media while the children are at school.

He quit his 13-hour-per-day medical job in 2008 to help with the children and the website, running the children to music lessons or basketball games between blog posts. He watched the site’s traffic double in two years.

“With what I have to do, I can really switch it around,” said Greg Pehrson, who also handles meals. “I can do the work any time of the day.”

The flexibility enables him to devote energy to the children and frees his wife to tweak the website.

“It’s been more of a blessing for me to be here with them,” he said. “I like doing this.”

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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