A look at the people behind the numbers in area business:


Title: CEO

Age: 36

Ryan Berkness, CEO and founder of Burnsville-based PR Caffeine, says the secret of attracting visitors to a company's website is that there are no such secrets at all.

Instead, owners and managers of companies of any size can learn to drive online traffic by using social media and digital marketing to improve the search ranking of their site in what is known as search engine optimization (SEO).

"There's a lot of sludge or snake oil in the industry," Berkness said. "We try to show people that there are real things that you can do. You don't even have to pay our team to do it, you can do it yourself."

Berkness shares SEO tips at free monthly meetings of the Small Business Advisory Board, which he helped form a year ago. He also offers them in "Mastering On-Page Optimization: The Secret Sauce of an SEO System," his newly published book, available from his company's website.

Berkness began building commercial websites in the 1990s. He founded PR Caffeine, a digital marketing agency, in May 2012 after selling a previous company. PR Caffeine has a staff of more than 190, including full- and part-time employees and contractors.

Optimizing sites for high search rankings is critical, Berkness said, because search is the starting point for 93 percent of online experiences and 71 percent of purchasing decisions that businesses make.

Q: Why did you start your own firm?

A: I enjoy the freedom that comes with being an entrepreneur and finding problems and creating solutions. It's more than a job to me; it's what I'm passionate about. Beyond SEO, beyond marketing, it's actually helping our clients' businesses grow.

Q: To what would you attribute PR Caffeine's growth?

A: We've definitely come across as a breath of fresh air because the first thing we do with clients is show them how SEO works and what we're going to do. We bring a level of integrity and transparency to the industry. By getting results for our clients, that tends to spread like wildfire. Every client that we've run through our search engine optimization program has seen results.

Q: What is the role of the Small Business Advisory Board?

A: [Founder and business consultant Vernon Stading] and I shared a goal to set up a board of advisers to help small businesses and midsize businesses with hand-picked experts in various arenas. Businesses can ask questions at our free luncheons and come away with a lot of great advice and the ability to contact us for deeper things.

Todd Nelson