Simon Heseltine – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Wed, 01 Apr 2020 20:00:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6.1 SEO for recreational and commercial vehicles in a COVID-19 world /seo-for-recreational-and-commercial-vehicles-in-a-covid-19-world-332066 Wed, 01 Apr 2020 20:00:03 +0000 /?p=332066 Comparing optimized versus not marketplace sites during March reveals all-time record traffic day not related to algorithm shifts.

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March has been a very challenging month around the world, and while marketers are not on the front line of the fight against COVID-19, we are fighting to keep our businesses going, and to keep traffic coming to our sites, or our client’s sites, in the face of an unprecedented situation. No matter how much time you took to plan strategies, model out scenarios and prepare your business for 2020, there’s no comparable situation that can offer any substantial direction to any marketer right now.

On March 11, COVID-19 was officially declared a global pandemic, since then various industries have seen swings in traffic to reflect the new reality, with those industries that serve news, entertainment, groceries, etc growing, and those that aren’t as necessary today as they were yesterday experiencing drops – hotels, sports sites, etc.

This article is going to look at two main industries to see how they’ve been impacted by COVID-19, the recreational vehicle market (excluding cars), and the commercial vehicle market, using data from Trader Interactive’s sites (full disclosure: my employer). In February, Trader Interactive purchased four vehicle marketplace sites from a former competitor, this means that for several of Trader’s sites, which have been optimized, there’s a comparable, unoptimized site for data validation (i.e., to somewhat offset the potential that changes in traffic are due to algorithm shifts due to prior work).

Recreational vehicles

This first section has data that includes marketplace sites for motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles and personal watercraft. These sites were all ticking along nicely, up year over year, right up until that Wednesday, then the gap narrowed, and by the Monday was below the year over year numbers.  The two weekends since the announcement have performed well, but from last Wednesday the traffic started to move back up, and March 29 was an all-time record traffic day.

Leads to the sites did not increase at same rate as traffic, which indicates that people were doing more research on the vehicles, rather than pulling the trigger and purchasing.  This makes sense, with the uncertainty in the world at this present time, and with the fact that one type of lead – phone calls – should be expected to be lower with the physical locations of some dealerships closed.  That said, why are people even looking? Assumptions are:

  • Escapism – many people are in isolation, and can’t wait for when they can get back out again
  • Social distancing – motorcycles, ATVs, etc. are a great way to get out and still adhere to social distancing principles.
  • Stimulus check – that Friday the COVID-19 stimulus bill was passed, which has a provision for money to be sent to individual Americans, based on income.  Some people may have been looking at what they could spend that on.

When looking at the data for the RV marketplace, which wouldn’t necessarily have the same motivations, as while you can escape in an RV, when allowed to travel, you’re most likely going to have to end up in a campground where social distancing is much harder. So while there was the same dip on March 11, and a narrowing of the gap last weekend, the traffic is still below. Another RV marketplace site I reached out to, expressed that they have seen a similar trend on their traffic, with some recovery over the last week but depressed year over year.

Aero, on the other hand, followed a similar trend to Powersports, going from level to the previous year, to below, after March 11, to above since mid-last week.

While this could have been an algorithmic change, we do have validation with another Aero site that came into the Trader Interactive fold in February, which shows a similar change, albeit at a smaller level of shift, indicating that this is more likely to be an industry-wide effect.

Commercial

On the commercial side, there was a very similar dip, post announcement, with a recovery last week. The interesting thing here is that the peaks and valleys of weekends appear to have flattened, most likely due to the increased focus on the supply chain, where having a working fleet of commercial trucks has never been more important.

The newly acquired commercial truck marketplace site, which has not been optimized, also shows this flattening effect and increase over the last week.

On the equipment side (construction and agricultural), the pattern also holds, with the usual weekend dips now flattened, however, it has actually returned to pre-March 11 levels (historically March has been the month with the highest levels of search traffic).

So, across all these different realms within this vertical, apart from RV, there’s a consistent pattern of traffic recovery, and in the case of Powersports of traffic increase, post the initial two-week traffic dip.

Only time will tell if this continues, especially given that the vehicle dealers are going to have to change how they sell the vehicles in the current environment in certain states (physical locations closed, limited number of people allowed on the premises, people reticent to potentially expose themselves to the COVID-19 by venturing out, etc.), but it does show that the demand for both recreational and commercial vehicles is still there, after a two-week hiatus, and needs to be serviced.

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Is SEO table stakes? (Hint: No!) /is-seo-table-stakes-hint-no-305314 Thu, 13 Sep 2018 17:53:49 +0000 /?p=305314 Anyone know why the idea that SEO is no longer a specialized practice and has turned into table stakes has taken hold? Bueller?

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Back in late 2006, the topic of the day was “Is SEO rocket science?” It wasn’t, of course, unless you were referring to boosting your organic traffic to a rocket-like trajectory or trying to impress someone by spouting off the mathematical equation for PageRank.

As a nascent industry, it did seem to some at the time that search engine optimization was a dark art, or at the very least, something the layperson could not easily comprehend.

Flash forward 12 years, and the prevailing feeling among many SEO’s has changed radically. Now, I’m hearing not only do they feel SEO is not rocket science, but it’s gone to the other extreme and has become table stakes, a basic practice everyone connected to digital marketing should know.

In some companies, SEO has become so generalized, top management feels there’s no longer any need for special expertise and are eliminating dedicated SEO teams as they cut editorial and content staff.

I have seen some this dismissive attitude first hand.  In 2015, a previous employer eliminated the SEO team and traffic dropped close to 30 percent soon after.  The reason given for the elimination? They thought SEO is table stakes. Clearly, it’s not.

Here are a few reasons why the idea that SEO has turned into table stakes has taken hold.

Problem #1: SEO is sporting gray hair

SEO has been around since the mid-1990’s and has matured.  Once thought of as a cottage industry, SEO firms have grown and collectively the industry has become a powerful entity with solo practitioners and publicly traded companies working side by side.

SEO as a discipline has been woven into traditional marketing strategies, most medium- and large-sized companies have an in-house SEO expert or use agencies to handle their work. SEO has become a common marketing strategy and a ubiquitous part of the company.

Problem #2: Not fast enough

Search engine optimization is not the only channel driving traffic, nor is it the only one you should pay attention to, there are others such as paid search, social networks, email and affiliate marketing. What all four have in common that SEO does not is speed of result.

SEO lacks immediate results, a change you make today may not show the full results for several months, or until Google makes the next core update. Whereas with paid search efforts, social or email marketing, results can be seen and the ROI determined fairly quickly. This slow response lessens the appeal of SEO.

SEO professionals

Problem #3: Knowledge of the basics

Any in-house SEO worth their salt has instituted a training program within their company to ensure everyone is SEO trained so they can effectively perform their jobs.

This means the dev team will know about technical SEO so they can implement technical recommendations, the content teams will be trained on editorial SEO, and other teams will know enough to be able to determine when they need to reach out to the SEO team for advice.

Because of this, you’ll have folks who are “doing SEO”, but aren’t explicitly SEOs. Following the 80/20 rule, these people will be able to do 80 percent of the SEO, content, keyword research, meta tags and internal linking work.  That is great until something goes wrong and you need someone around who can do the harder 20 percent.

A lot of companies eliminating multiple SEO positions do not understand the need for a person who can “do the hard part” since they see the 80 percent adequately working.

Another issue is Google.  Google is constantly making changes to its algorithm, many are minor and unnoticed, but then there are those which impact many. Some are specific to certain industries, some to types of searches, others address relevancy and quality issues.  Even with an in-house team, recovery from major Google updates may be challenging since any change made will only be seen once Google updates. But without a dedicated SEO on the team, chances are the company will wait even longer since bringing in outside agency help to “fix” things requires more time.

With a dedicated SEO on staff, there is a high probability Google’s updates won’t affect a site since it’s being maintained and kept up to date on current practices.

The solution: Experience and connections

A dedicated in-house SEO should be well versed in modern best practices, have an idea of the future direction of search, and be on top of algorithmic changes as they occur. They should have good connections within the industry and with peers they can reach out to for mutual help and brainstorming. Problem is, as the industry grows and matures, your network of peers begins to shrink as people retire, are promoted or change career paths. This lessening of core specialists has an impact on industry growth as new practitioners coming in don’t have the benefit of experience and turn to “fast” tactics such as paid search and social networks to see results.

The expression “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” absolutely applies to SEO especially newer practitioners.  It’s easy to get caught up in doing fast, easy and cheap tactics but if they go against Google’s terms of service and harm the site, bringing in experts and tools to fix the issue requires much more than paying a dedicated SEO to maintain the site.

Pay me now or pay me later.

So I ask, do you still think SEO is table stakes?  If you’ve read this far, then it’s pretty obvious what this author’s opinion is, but to reiterate:

  • SEO is still an important traffic driver.
  • SEO can atrophy if you don’t keep up to date.
  • Everyone should know SEO, but you need someone experienced and dedicated to lead it.

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How to project SEO traffic levels and avoid saying, ‘It depends’ /how-to-project-seo-traffic-levels-and-avoid-saying-it-depends-302084 Wed, 18 Jul 2018 16:35:00 +0000 /?p=302084 Establishing a baseline and understanding historical trends helps forecast traffic trends and alerts you when traffic changes. Contributor Simon Heseltine lists steps you can take to predict incoming traffic and changes to your site.

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Have you ever had this conversation with someone from upper management?

Boss: “If we implement your recommendations, how will this impact traffic?”

You:  “It depends.”

Boss: “If we create a new content project, will it generate a lot of traffic?

You: “It depends.”

“It depends” is the typical response by a search engine optimization specialist (SEO) to questions about traffic projections and is a top response that infuriates management.

As any SEO knows, you can’t predict with any accuracy what a change will do to your traffic, since there are numerous external factors you have no control over.

But — you can give your boss an idea of incoming traffic while addressing and taking those external factors into account.

Let’s look at what we can and cannot control, the impact certain issues may have on traffic and how to predict incoming traffic to your site.

Baselining

The first step is to establish your baseline by establishing where your traffic is coming from and how much you’re getting. Be sure everyone is using the same data and is looking at it in the same manner. Ideally, have a dashboard that’s shared by all, so everyone who needs to can look at the numbers whenever they want.

Seasonality

Next, you need to look at the impact that seasonality has upon your traffic numbers. Look at how your traffic has trended month over month over the last three to five years; there should some be consistency in seasonal trending from year to year.

For example, for a warm weather-based product, perhaps your sales peaked from June to August and then dipped from November to March. A retail product may peak over the holiday season and dip for the rest of the year. Average these trends over the data periods, and remove any outliers, such as your atypically lower numbers for one month in 2016 when a large portion of the site was noindexed during a site relaunch.

Annual trending

Next, look at how traffic to your site has been growing year to year over the last few years. If your typical growth is 5 percent year to year, that’s what you should most likely expect as a baseline growth. Look at your history to see what projects were done over the years to get an idea of the impact they may have had, above and beyond the baseline trending.

Now you have expected numbers based on both annual and seasonal trending. They are the numbers you should work to hit unless you have a major project come along.

Upcoming projects

Obviously, no one can predict the future, but if you have projects in the wings and some you want to implement, you should take them into account when forecasting traffic.

Based on past project performance, you should have an idea how long it would take them to generate traffic once a project was implemented and what the growth pattern should look like. When adding upcoming projects to the baseline traffic model, think about a best-case scenario and an expected scenario. These two scenarios give you a range you can use to project traffic numbers.

Of course, those traffic numbers could still be suffixed with “it depends,” as there are a number of factors you have no control over that can adversely impact the actual numbers, like internal staffing changes and economic impacts.

Another key point about forecasting project traffic: If you have an idea of which projects brought in the most traffic, you will have a good idea which projects you want to implement in the future or drop from the planning schedule. No sense in repeating poor performance.

Search engine algorithm updates

Search engines change their algorithms constantly in their continuing effort to improve search results. These changes may negatively impact your traffic. If you’re doing something against their webmaster guidelines, then you may expect this to happen, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes the search engines change how they present data in order to improve user experience, which may impact how your pages are displayed, ranked and clicked on.

If your web pages are negatively impacted by a search engine update, all you can do is examine what’s changed and see if there’s a way to recover the traffic you’ve lost.

Competitive changes

Your competitors can change their sites at any time and try to copy your SEO efforts by optimizing for the same keywords or creating similar content. This can have a negative effect on your traffic stream.

This is a primary reason why an SEO can never stand still. You must keep an eye on your competitors, as well as your site and traffic, to identify opportunities or changes early on. Best to be proactive rather than reactive.

Mistakes

Mistakes happen to all of us, that’s a given. When something is missed in the quality assurance process, changed in an update or a third-party tool malfunctions, traffic has the potential to drop. This is another reason why proactively monitoring all elements of a site is very important.

Expect change

There will always be an element of “it depends” when projecting SEO traffic levels, that’s a given. But establishing a baseline and understanding historical traffic trends will give you an idea of what to expect and alert you when traffic levels fall.

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Building an in-house search marketing team — Part 2 /building-an-in-house-search-marketing-team-part-2-299493 Tue, 05 Jun 2018 15:31:00 +0000 /?p=299493 When building an in-house search team, don’t just think about the initial build, think about how to keep the team engaged. Contributor Simon Heseltine outlines an organizational structure that will give teams the best possible chance to succeed.

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In Part 1 of this two-part series, I talked about building, growing and maintaining an in-house search marketing team and also outlined different organizational structures.

In Part 2, I will continue to talk about each of those issues plus outline an appropriate organizational structure that will give an in-house team the best possible chance to succeed.

Determining roles

Now that you have the organizational and hierarchical structure in place for your new in-house search marketing team, the next thing is to determine the roles and fill them. The appropriate size of the team is really going to depend on your business, the number of sites you operate and the size and scope of the sites.

Determine the current and potential revenue for search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and social media production. Examine whether the opportunity cost of not having dedicated people and resources focused on these things means you may lose money or market share.

You may be a multinational company with one site that requires several SEOs and SEMs to manage groups of product lines or a national company with multiple sites that require one SEO or SEM per site. Or a mix of in-house and external agencies might be a better option. However you set up your staff, their first task should be assessing the needs of the team.

Hiring the team

Internal reorganization

If you have team members already performing the functions in the old organizational structure, then all you’re doing is a reorganization. A new, fresh structure will help everyone from a knowledge-sharing and career path perspective.

New hires

Before you can hire anyone, you need to create the job description. If these are new roles within your organization, look at job sites for similar positions to get an idea of what you should be looking for and how to write the description.

Don’t be hemmed in by looking for a particular background; instead, look for a particular mindset.

You want problem solvers, people who will voraciously devour news about what’s going on in the search and social world on sites like Google, Bing and Facebook.

You want curious people who are willing to try new things and not be discouraged when they sometimes fail. Not all solutions work for all situations.

You want a mix of people: some who may have more of a technical bent, some who may have more of a content bent. This will really depend on the focus of your business.

Make sure the human resources (HR) department has a set of questions and expected responses to look for when they do initial phone screenings. This way, they can winnow out those who only know how to spell SEO and not how to actually apply it.

You may want to have a project for candidates to complete as part of the hiring process. Tasks such as performing keyword research and identifying known issues on a site would show the potential hire has some SEO knowledge.

However, don’t go overboard with the ask, as some qualified candidates may walk away if asked to perform a full site audit.

Team retention

Now that you have your team in place, how do you keep them happy and productive?

Education

The rate of change in the world of search and social can be maddening. Whether it’s the constant Google updates, the redefinition of match types or Facebook changing its algorithm, your team needs to be on top of it all.

Giving your team tools to do this is important. Consider providing them multiple opportunities to keep on top of the latest changes by giving them time to read SearchEngineLand, giving them the opportunity to listen to webinars or podcasts or paying for them to attend conferences.  It will all enhance their knowledge and potentially increase their productivity.

Conferences are handy in that they allow staffers to visit trade shows and identify new tools and services and increase their personal networks, which can help your business overall.

One concern companies may have about providing expensive training is that their employees will take the training and then use it to find a different job.

This is always a possibility, but if you don’t train your employees, you will get stuck with a team working with old data and strategies, which is not conducive to a successful team.

Think about providing opportunities for cross-training. Not only does that broaden the knowledge base and skill set of the individual employees, it also gives you the potential for internally backfilling roles, or simply having a backup person when needed.

Career paths

In order to retain the team members you want to retain, and in order to grow your team as the company grows, you need to offer a path for team growth.

If your teams are all-low level, with a single manager, and nothing in between, then you should expect turnover, as the team will not see an opportunity for advancement.

When building an in-house search team, don’t just think about the initial build, also think about how to keep that team engaged and fresh. If you do, both your team and business will continue to grow.

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How to build an in-house search marketing team /how-to-build-an-in-house-search-marketing-team-298992 Wed, 23 May 2018 19:57:00 +0000 /?p=298992 In part 1 of this two-part series, Contributor Simon Heseltine outlines various internal organizational structures and explains how each will help build, grow and maintain an in-house search marketing team.

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Building, growing and maintaining an in-house search marketing team can be a challenge for any organization.

In Part 1 of this two-part series, “How to build an in-house search marketing team,” I will address each of those issues, as well as outline different organizational structures that will give an in-house team the best possible chance to succeed.

Getting the org structure right

When you’ve decided you want to either bring search in-house or formalize a team from staff spread throughout the organization, the first step is to determine what the search marketing team will focus on. Once that is decided, the second step is to decide how the team will work with the rest of the organization.

Typical components should include search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC), content, social and email and may span business-to-consumer (B2C), business-to-business ( B2B) or both.

You may also decide the team should have dedicated resources, such as developers or project management, in order to ensure that projects the team works on are implemented.

Teams and structure

The embedded team

If you have existing search functions within the organization, this is more than likely your starting point.

Product area A will have its own SEO and SEM specialists, product area B its own, and so on. There may be some cross-team collaboration and communication to share learnings, ideas and tools. While this means the teams are subject matter experts (SMEs) on the product areas they work on, it does mean that their growth opportunities, in terms of specialist knowledge and career path, may be limited.

The centralized team

With a centralized team, they all report to the same in-house search team. This can be set up in several different ways.

Each team member may have primary responsibility for one or more websites or product areas, in which case they’d be SMEs in those areas.

Typically, if the team is small, they could operate on a trouble ticket system, working on the highest-priority issues regardless of the site or product.

The matrixed team

A matrixed team is the “happy medium” between the embedded and centralized teams.

With a matrixed team, there is a central in-house search team structure, but the team members are still embedded within the various functional areas, as in the embedded structure. Typically, they are “dotted lined” into their product areas and will be treated as a member of that team but will have the structure of the in-house team to provide additional support.

Where to put search marketing

Once you’ve decided on the structure and the functional areas contained within the team, you then must decide where the team should exist in the organization. The appropriate decision here will depend on the rest of your organizational structure, the processes you have in place, the functions you place within the team and the leadership structure within the company.

There’s no sense placing the team in an area of the organization where they won’t be effectively supported.

Marketing

While this may seem like the ideal fit, given that search marketing has the word “marketing” in it, there may be reasons to keep traditional marketing and search marketing separate.

For example, keeping them separate might make sense if search marketing works only in the B2C area and traditional marketing only deals with the B2B sector. However, putting search and traditional marketing together can be beneficial and should make for greater consistency in messaging, especially if content creation is within the portfolio of the search team.

Development & IT

Given the crossover between the work that search does and technical changes or requirements from the search team via Google, Facebook and other online platforms, it may make sense to place the development and internet technology (IT) team directly within the tech organization. Keep in mind this may create a level of separation from the editorial and content side of search, so they will need to find a way to work together.

Design

If the organization has a design team, then it may make sense to involve the design team in projects from the beginning and involve the search marketing team at all stages of a project life cycle.

However, while design and the search marketing team should work together, that doesn’t mean that they should be bundled together in the organization.

Search marketing

Having a separate search marketing group within the organization means the search team can functionally work with other teams and have a voice in the organization dedicated to their wants and needs at an executive level.

The leader of this team needs to be someone who understands search marketing and can work with the leaders of the other functional areas within the organization. They also need to keep up with search engine changes and social networks.

Now that you’ve determined the appropriate organizational structure and hierarchical location for your in-house search team, the next step is to staff the team, which I’ll cover in my next article.

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Don’t Panic – Plan For Disaster /dont-panic-plan-for-disaster-13248 Wed, 30 Jan 2008 11:02:43 +0000 http:/beta/dont-panic-plan-for-disaster-13248.php If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know all about the “hit by a bus” scenario. What happens when key members of your team leave? Is there knowledge sharing among the team? Can your business function effectively while you scramble to find a replacement, and if it truly is a “hit […]

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If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know all about the “hit by a bus” scenario. What happens when key members of your team leave? Is there knowledge sharing among the team? Can your business function effectively while you scramble to find a replacement, and if it truly is a “hit by a bus scenario,” are there resources and artifacts available to get the new person up to speed on the immediate tasks that must be completed to keep your business moving forward?


I’ll admit that this topic was triggered by an article I read this evening about the 50th anniversary of the Munich Disaster that takes place next week on February 6th. 23 people died, including 8 first team players for Manchester United. The manager was hospitalized, and the assistant manager who wasn’t on the plane had 13 days to rebuild a competitive team before their next game. Disaster planning is also a topic that’s been raised many times throughout my career, and is generally more of an issue within small companies due to the lack of available resources.

Let’s start off with what you should be doing now, and then move into what you should do when that bus comes careening recklessly down the road.

Proactive damage mitigation

As much as people hate to take the time to write things down, the need for them to document processes and client interactions is vital. Using a good project management tool and getting the team to buy in to using it will save you many headaches down the road. In the past I’ve used Basecamp, which seems to be a favorite of other SEOs that I’ve spoken to, but these days I use a product called ClockingIT, which has the added benefit of being free, so there’s no excuse not to use it. There are plenty of other project management tools out there, and as long as you use one of them and not a collection of white boards in the hallway you should be fine.

If the team truly is a team (that is, it’s not a team of one), there should be cross training and regular project and process meetings to ensure that you have a functional backup for each team member. In larger teams, each member most likely has a functional speciality—analytics, SEO, SMO, etc. Having team members be backup for different areas gives them more of the bigger picture view of the team, allowing them to appreciate the impacts that the various functional areas can have on each other. Don’t forget that at the very least you want to be able to let your team members take vacations and sick days when they need to, without severely impacting your schedules. Cross training gives you the support to be able to allow them to do that.

Post-loss—the solo shop

For a company that has an in-house staff of one, two weeks or less will most likely not be enough time to find the right candidate for the position and get them trained. Sure, it may happen—but that depends on the supply of qualified candidates in your area willing to jump in right away. Your best option may be to bring in an agency to bridge the gap while you look for the right person; you could even involve the agency in the interviewing process, as they may be able to identify functional gaps that you may not have known to look for. Assuming there is a two-week notice, the outgoing SEM can train the agency staff member with any domain knowledge that they will need to have to complete the tasks. The documentation that they created proactively will go a long way to helping with this transition, and the one from the agency to the new hire, when you do find the right person.

Post-loss—the in-house team

If you’ve cross trained the team, and the potential capacity is there, then the team should be able to pick up the urgent short term tasks while the hiring process for the new team member moves into top gear. Once the new member is hired, the documentation and the current in-house knowledge should bring them up to speed quickly.

As long as you plan for the certainty that you will lose team members, you will find that you minimize the disruption to your projects and your company. As for what happened in 1958: the assistant manager patched together a team out of reserves and bit players from other teams, along with the few players that eventually recovered from their crash injuries, and that cobbled together Manchester United team went all the way to the cup final.

Simon Heseltine is the Director of Search at Serengeti Communications a McLean, Virginia based digital marketing agency, runs the Virginia Search Marketing Meetup group and writes for Endless Plain. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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Inside Information: Interviews With In-House Search Marketers – Part 2 /inside-information-interviews-with-in-house-search-marketers-part-2-13039 Wed, 02 Jan 2008 11:03:09 +0000 http:/beta/inside-information-interviews-with-in-house-search-marketers-part-2-13039.php In-house search marketers face many unique challenges, ranging from running huge or dispersed sites to finessing internal politics and corporate egos. I thought it would be interesting to get the inside scoop from five in-house search marketers that are both successful at their jobs and who command the respect of their peers. This is the […]

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In-house search marketers face many unique challenges, ranging from running huge or dispersed sites to finessing internal politics and corporate egos. I thought it would be interesting to get the inside scoop from five in-house search marketers that are both successful at their jobs and who command the respect of their peers. This is the second half of my Interviews With In-House Search Marketers.

What follows are interviews with Melanie Mitchell, the VP of SEO and SEM at AOL, Patrick Schaber, Marketing Manager, George Bounacos, Sr. Manager, Search Engine Marketing at Innovectra, and Edward Serrano, President of Nine Blue.


What’s your favorite search marketing tool?

Melanie: For the publicly available tools I would have to say WordTracker. Before you write me off as “uncool” for not naming the latest trendy gadget, let me explain why. Keyword research is one of the most important parts of SEO. Wordtracker data is easy to use and is displayed in a user-friendly format that shows how often specific keywords/phrases are searched for, as well as the number of sites for which these keywords and phrases compete. This, of course, gives you a better understanding of how people are searching for a particular subject and possibly provide you with ideas for target terms you may not have thought of otherwise.

A useful addition to Wordtracker’s suite of offerings is the related keyword facility. We have 70+ channels and products and we cannot be experts in every subject matter we work with, and facilities like this help us, as well as our programming and editorial folks, uncover many related keywords and phrases that we may never even have considered to be valuable.

Patrick: I’m a big fan of Google AdWords for paid search.

George: My favorite tool is querying the raw server logs. I also love my thesaurus and Excel or Access. Everything else is a nice to have.

Edward: Google Analytics. It’s so broad and deep in its offerings, especially when combined with the e-commerce option—that it makes business fascinating.

I asked the group for their thoughts on the “is SEO rocket science?” debate from a while ago, because it still pops up from time to time, and I wanted to hear what those working in large and small corporations across the US thought on the topic. As you may expect, they all agreed that Search Marketing isn’t rocket science, but I did want to share a couple of the responses.

Anthony: I love this question because it comes around so often in many ways. My off the cuff answer is “of course it’s not rocket science, but I don’t think it’s a fair comparison.” You could argue that search marketing is harder to master than rocket science because if you go to “rocket science school” and get your “rocket science degree,” then you are done and no one questions you—you are a rocket scientist. In our field, you don’t need a degree or even specialized training, but you do need to be committed to continually learning as things change so rapidly. Also, a lot of what is “shared” in our industry is speculation or hypothesis based on someone’s experience, but others are often quicker to debate it rather than embrace it or test it. This just says more about where the (SEM) industry is and how people respect it (or not).

Edward: Search marketing is common sense. I like to think that it gives us the ability to target mind-set and needs instead of demographics. Traditional marketing vehicles such as print advertising lack what search makes clearly available to us—the ability to target people who are in need of a particular set (and even subset) of products/services and deliver what they need at that moment—and just as importantly, not target those who don’t need that product/service.

Last, I asked about the adoption of social media strategies within their companies: what’s the In-House take on social media?

Melanie: I cannot comment on the details. However, I can tell you we are seeing double digit percentage increases in traffic in a number of cases.

Patrick: Our strategy involves blogging which we hope will appeal to our audience and also to search engine crawlers. Along with that, we’re starting to socialize our content on niche social media sites. Our content is starting to get some momentum and so far the results are what we expected.

Edward: I’ve not delved too deeply in social media and thus don’t fully understand it enough to capitalize on opportunities. I also think that the sheer number of online marketing options have forced small/medium sized companies to, in effect, choose children. Having limited resources requires us to seek to develop and improve those areas of our online marketing efforts that will have the best immediate and short-term payback (pay the bills, you know), and attempting to dip into new marketing avenues involves time and research which often takes away from proven producers… the common opportunity cost issue.

Thanks to the group for answering my questions. Now, a question for you, dear reader: Are there any particular topics that you’d like me, or the other Search Engine Land In-House columnists to focus on for future columns? Post your requests over on Sphinn.

Simon Heseltine worked as an in-house search marketer for several years before moving over to work as Director of Search for RedBoots Consulting. In January 2008 RedBoots will move to a new brand: In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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Inside Information: Interviews With In-House Search Marketers /inside-information-interviews-with-in-house-search-marketers-12743 Wed, 21 Nov 2007 12:30:40 +0000 http:/beta/inside-information-interviews-with-in-house-search-marketers-12743.php In-house search marketers face many unique challenges, ranging from running huge or dispersed sites to finessing internal politics and corporate egos. I thought it would be interesting to get the inside scoop from five in-house search marketers that are both successful at their jobs and who command the respect of their peers. What follows are […]

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In-house search marketers face many unique challenges, ranging from running huge or dispersed sites to finessing internal politics and corporate egos. I thought it would be interesting to get the inside scoop from five in-house search marketers that are both successful at their jobs and who command the respect of their peers.


What follows are interviews with Melanie Mitchell, the VP of SEO and SEM at AOL, Anthony Kirlew, Internet Marketing Consultant & In-House SEM Specialist, Patrick Schaber, Marketing Manager, George Bounacos, Sr. Manager, Search Engine Marketing at Innovectra, and Edward Serrano, President of Nine Blue.
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The first question that I asked the group was to identify the biggest challenge(s) to their search marketing success.

Melanie: Getting management to understand the importance of SEO and rallying the organization around it. Much of educating management comes down to education of what it is, what it can do, what’s it going to take to get there, as well as tying all of it to an ROI. If I was going to ask executives to commit to a search marketing strategy, I had to show them how it would pay off.

Influencing the overall organization—and depending on its size—can be a big challenge. There are many different groups with many different personalities that you need to work with, and they have their own goals and objectives that may not align with yours. Many of these folks also have their own opinions on how to do SEO from gathering snippets from various sources. As many of us know, when you first begin to learn about SEO it can be a bit overwhelming—and there are thousands of online blogs out there about search marketing. Some of the information on these blogs is right on, but some of it is outdated as it is a dynamic industry that is always evolving. Some of it is easily misinterpreted, or just plain wrong. Thus, for these and many other reasons, it takes a lot of work to influence people who don’t directly report to you or your group. You have to show “what’s in it for them.”

Anthony: Working with developers or managers who just don’t get SEM, but let their egos take over to where they continue to question your suggestions and recommendations (and not for the sake of learning) because they can’t fathom that you know something that they don’t understand.

A close second would be working with management that really doesn’t understand what the results of SEM should be. This is a reminder to anyone looking at taking an in-house position to make sure you discuss “traffic and ranking” goals and expectations explicitly before you start; this way, your success will be documented and no one can question whether or not you are doing what you were hired for.

Patrick: My biggest challenge as a small business in-house marketer is time. Search marketing is not a one-time setup project. This is something that takes time each day and needs dedicated resources.

George: Biggest challenge is balancing an organization’s strategic needs with the industry’s dynamic nature. You can’t chase every new fad, but knowing which fads will turn out to be good or bad long-run is like reading tea leaves. Ultimately, you have to compartmentalize your knowledge and continue to view the page and site as a new visitor would.

Edward: Access to reliable and credible information. With the advent of AdWords a few years ago, Google had an interest in educating the business world on contextual advertising and the science behind it all, but the same hasn’t happened for other areas such as search engine optimization, et al. I find that in the area of SEO, most of my time is spent wading through loads of misinformation and gathering bits and pieces of credible information to then construct the logic path to success. With regards to CPC, I’d say that the biggest challenge is properly and cost-effectively tapping into the content network. While a ton of web sites carry AdSense like code which allows advertisers to generate relevant leads/prospects, the analytics/tracking for that part of CPC is lacking.

One topic that always seems to be an issue for In-House search marketers is finding the right people, at all levels, but it’s especially an issue when you need to hire someone to lead your In-House effort. To that end I asked the group to illuminate me on the skills and experience they’d look for if they were promoted to the next level in their organization and had to hire their replacement.

Melanie: Besides having to understand the space, you need someone who is personable and is not easily overwhelmed. This person would have to be ok with wearing multiple hats throughout the day and be able to constantly shift gears. Additionally, this person would also have to be able to look beyond the immediate needs and be able to lay out a longer term strategy of where we are, where we need to be, and how do we get there.

Anthony: Skills—a good mix of all things that comprise SEM:

  • Organic search marketing (including site coding)
  • Link building (and link baiting)
  • An understanding of what really matters (e.g., Results vs. Toolbar Page Rank)
  • PPC / Paid Search
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Metrics analysis and tracking
  • A good overall business sense. Many execs don’t realize what an integral part of a company the SEM person plays and they miss out on valuable industry insight that comes around in SEM circles or other competitive analysis than a good SEM Consultant can provide.

Experience: If I were hiring my replacement, it would be for a management position, so I’d want to make sure the person had several years of experience directly doing all of the above, not just one component such as paid campaigns. I would also want to see results—the numbers don’t lie. If there were one strength I’d want to see, it would be Social Media Marketing because anyone who does SMM well usually gets good results with traffic.

Patrick: As a small business marketer I handle multiple aspects of marketing, so that is a tough question. But, I would for sure be looking for some kind of search engine marketing experience on the resume. They don’t have to be experts, but need some familiarity with paid search, social media, and writing optimized content for the web.

George: I would look for balance in a replacement. They need people skills up and down and especially externally. They also need good perspective on business and their industry. They have to be a solutions provider, not a specialist looking to fit each client’s need to their skills. Finally, they need to know which information to capture and how to effectively present that to customers and management. They need to learn 43 variations on the spelling of the word “troy.” Maybe not the last.;)

Edward: A solid analytical background. While we all have access to tons of information on the inner workings of our web sites and traffic, it takes a person who can interpret mounds of data and derive a workable path to success based on it. Recaps and summaries don’t solve complex problems or reveal potential opportunities. Analytics web services have relieved us of the heavy lifting, but someone has to make sense of it all.

Tune in to my next column, where the group names their favorite search marketing tools, discusses the role of social media in their organizations, and gives further opinions on the complexities of search marketing from an In-House perspective.

Simon Heseltine worked as an in-house search marketer for several years before moving over to work as Director of Search for RedBoots Consulting. In January 2008 RedBoots will move to a new brand – Serengeti Communications. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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The IT Group: Friend Or Foe Of In-House Search Marketers? /the-it-group-friend-or-foe-of-in-house-search-marketers-12517 Wed, 24 Oct 2007 12:30:48 +0000 http:/beta/the-it-group-friend-or-foe-of-in-house-search-marketers-12517.php The battle lines are drawn. On one side stands our plucky heroine: the redheaded stepchild of the corporation, the search marketer. Armed only with her knowledge and expertise, she stands, all alone. On the other side stand the massed hordes of the IT department. Armed with their “best development practices,” their coding standards documentation, and […]

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The battle lines are drawn. On one side stands our plucky heroine: the redheaded stepchild of the corporation, the search marketer. Armed only with her knowledge and expertise, she stands, all alone. On the other side stand the massed hordes of the IT department. Armed with their “best development practices,” their coding standards documentation, and their knowledge and expertise, speaking in their arcane language of such strange topics as struts, asp, and refactoring. In the middle stands the prize—the corporate website. And conventional wisdom says that only one side can have control over the prize and only one group can win.


Of course, the reality is that it’s not like that, although it may sometimes feel like as though it is. Both the search marketing team and the IT team are on the same side. Both want the corporate site to succeed, and both want to be a part of that success. As an in-house search marketer, here are some of the issues that you’ll probably encounter, and how to deal with them (writing as a former developer, these are observations from both sides of the fence).

Personality clash

We’re all human. Everyone has a different personality, and while some work well with others, some just don’t. Some of the more frequent personality types that you’ll encounter include:

  • The know-it-all
  • The closed mind
  • The control freak

The know-it-all thinks that they know everything about the web, and as such your requirements are merely “recommendations.” How can you know what needs to be done on the web site when that’s their job? To work with this personality you do need to network with them, and then you want to educate them. This can be done subtly by sending them articles that you “think they’d be interested in reading,” and by inviting them to formal training sessions within the company. It may be wise to invite them to training sessions for management so that they’ll have to take part, rather than disrupt the meeting with interruptions as they “make their point,” or as they sit there playing with their smart phone, not listening. You’ll have to decide based on your experience of interactions with the person which is the best approach.

The closed mind is a dangerous personality type, especially if they’re incompetent. The closed mind just doesn’t want to listen. They have their way of doing things and that’s the way it’s going to be. They’ll make excuses that they don’t have the resources, or that implementing your recommendations would involve a radical change to the system that just isn’t budgeted, etc. When dealing with this personality, you may feel like you’re in a constant battle to get anything accomplished. The only way around the problem is to network with management, as you’ll find that they’ll have more sway with this personality type than you. However, that can also lead to resentment, so it has to be done carefully and without malice, as you want the focus to be on getting the work scheduled and done, not on the personality issues.

The control freak is an interesting personality to work with. They want all changes to go through them. They’ll send back changes that don’t conform to their standards, which may, most likely, make sense in an ideal world, but in this non-ideal world that you’re operating in, may just serve to hinder and slow down your work. The way to deal with them is to work within the guidelines where necessary, and work to change the guidelines that don’t make sense. Use your position on the search marketing team to set your own guidelines, stroking the ego of the IT control freak, by letting them know that you’re doing this based on the success of their work on guidelines. Heck, you can even then turn the monitoring of the guidelines over to them, since they like doing that. Then the next time that changes are made they’ll have the power of approving the changes based on guidelines that you’ve set. If they want to take credit for the success of the guidelines, let them do it. As long as the work’s getting done and implemented, what does it matter?

With any of these personality types, and especially when you’re dealing with a combination, you’re going to want to keep a close eye on the site so that previous recommendations of yours don’t suddenly get changed because IT decided that another way was better—for example, moving the analytics code to an external file because “it all looks the same.” If you don’t notice a change before it goes live, you’re going to notice it the next time you look at your analytics and either see a massive spike or a drop to zero in conversions.

Corporate priorities

In a lot of organizations, especially smaller companies with limited budgets, you’ll find that you’re going to have a battle for resources, especially when the work directly involves the IT team (database modifications, content management systems, integration, etc). The challenges here involve getting buy-in that your recommendations will be more beneficial to the long term success of the site than that new piece of functionality the IT team wants to implement.

This, again, is where educating your organization and networking within your organization will enable you to get your items on “the list.” You’ll also have to accept that there will be times when management will deem other work more important than the work you’re recommending. What you should do then is, after making a point of the opportunity cost, look at the work that has been approved, and see how search marketing can be applied to that work.

You’ll also have the challenge of scope-creep in other projects forcing your project to be pushed out into the next release cycle. Regardless of how much educating and networking you’ve done, you may not be able to get your project back on the schedule. All you can do then is make everyone aware of the opportunity cost of the delay, and get ready to make your case for the prioritization meeting for the next release.

In reality, the in-house search marketing team and the IT team are both on the same side. The issue is that they both see the prize at the end of the road, but they may have mapped out different routes to get there. It’s only by working together, and understanding the issues that each faces, that you can compromise and find the best and fastest route to success.

Simon Heseltine worked as an in-house search marketer for a medium sized Virginia company before moving over to work as Director of Search for RedBoots Consulting. He also organizes the Virginia SEM meetup group. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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Education Is Vital For In-House Search Marketers /education-is-vital-for-in-house-search-marketers-12274 Wed, 26 Sep 2007 11:33:58 +0000 http:/beta/education-is-vital-for-in-house-search-marketers-12274.php Education is very important to in-house search engine marketers—it’s the only way you can hope to keep up with the scrappy entrepreneurs who are constantly pushing the envelope with new tactics and techniques. There are many routes that you can go to get your education, but you should understand that in a constantly changing field, […]

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Education is very important to in-house search engine marketers—it’s the only way you can hope to keep up with the scrappy entrepreneurs who are constantly pushing the envelope with new tactics and techniques. There are many routes that you can go to get your education, but you should understand that in a constantly changing field, education needs to be continual. While you’re learning you’ll be using your new knowledge as part of your daily job. But what else can you do with that education to further the goals of your department?


First, let’s look at the places that you can get your education:

Blogs

The big two here are Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch. Why are they the big two? Well, apart from the fact that they both have many columns addressing various aspects of SEM, and they both keep on top of all search news, both of them put out daily lists of links to other blogs and articles that either say something new and original, or contribute a new perspective to an ongoing blogosphere discussion. So if you just read these two blogs, you’re going to get exposure to a variety of viewpoints, and be kept very well informed on most of what’s happening in search.

Forums

Forums allow you to be involved on a day to day basis in a much more dynamic environment, enabling you to ask and answer questions with other forum participants. Different forums have different styles, focus, and ‘rules of engagement’, so you’ll probably want to lurk for a while to get a feel for a forum, just to make sure that it’s the right place for you to spend your time. Examples to check out here include: The Search Engine Watch Forums, the Cre8asite Forums and the Small Business Brief Forum. While it’s not a true forum, I’m also going to include Sphinn in here, as you do have the ability to create discussion threads, and the comment threads tied to a particular article are sometimes more informative than the original articles.

Conferences

Conferences are a great place to get an in depth education on a variety of SEM topics. The standard bearer for years has been Search Engine Strategies (SES), with PubCon being another option. However, this year has seen the entrance of Search Marketing Expo (SMX). To determine which conference you should attend, you should look at the focus of the conference (some of these conferences are becoming more specialized, focusing on topics such as SMX Local & Mobile and SMX Social Media), the sessions being offered (will they add enough value to cover the cost?), and the location (the conference promoters try their best to spread the conferences throughout the US, and throughout the world. If you’re East coast, then maybe you’ll want to wait the 3 months for the next New York conference, rather than heading out to one on the West coast). Conferences are also a great place to network and meet people that can answer questions that you may have either at that time, or at a later date.

Training Courses

These days more and more vendors seem to be offering training courses on SEM topics. Training ranges from more personal training than you’d receive at a conference session, to specialized training in one or more specific areas of SEM, to tool vendors giving you ‘hands-on’ training on their products. With training courses you need to research the type of training that you are looking for, and look for a best fit based on your needs.

Books

Books? For something that I described as a constantly changing field? Yes, books. There are some good ones out there that can give you a good grounding in overall strategy / tool set use, even if in 6-12 months time they may prove to be outdated. Some examples of books that I’d recommend you read are: “The new Rules of Marketing and PR” by David Meerman Scott, and “Web Analytics: An Hour a Day” by Avinash Kaushik. Then there are the e-books that you download that are usually regularly updated by their authors. Examples of SEM ebooks include: Aaron Wall’s SEO Book, and Jennifer Laycock’s Small Business Guide to Search Engine Marketing.

Networking

In a previous in-house column in Search Engine Land, Duane Forrester did an excellent job discussing how an in-house SEM can build both their internal and external networks, so I’m not going to reprise that here.

So, now that you have all of that education, what are you going to do with it? Well, obviously you’re going to apply it to your job. But here’s another thing that you should do. You should now turn around and become an educator yourself. Take the knowledge that you’ve gained, and spread it around your company. Obviously, other members of your team should be trained up, so that they get the benefit of everything that you’ve picked up that’s pertinent to the job. You should also give upper management overviews of what you’ve learned, and how it’s going to benefit the company when applied. You should take the opportunity to pull in team leaders from other departments, and let them know what you’re doing and why. Let the IT group know why you’re going to be pushing for certain architectural changes on the site. Let corporate communications know why you’re going to recommend particular changes to the press release process flow, etc. If you can get the organization on your side up front, then you’ll have a much easier task the next time the budget is being discussed, or even at corporate task prioritization time.

Simon Heseltine worked as an in-house search marketer for a medium sized Virginia company before moving over to work as Director of Search for RedBoots Consulting. He also organizes the Virginia SEM meetup group. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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