This is a transcript of an audio podcast.
Editor's Note: This is episode 7 of 8. If you are just jumping in, you might want to start with the transcript of episode 1.
Lee Odden: Welcome to IBM press Podcast series with Mike Moran and Lee Odden. I am Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank online marketing and Executive Editor of marketingblog.com. TopRank is an internet marketing consulting agency that provides enterprise search engine optimization, social media, and online public relations services for clients that range from Hewlett Packard to McKesson. TopRank helps companies reach their marketing and business goals through strategic consulting, training programs, and implementation services. Our guest is Mike Moran of IBM; and the credentials list on Mike is nearly a mile long. As the author of two important books, the new Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules and Search Engine Marketing, Inc. Mike Moran is an IBM distinguished engineer with more than 20 years experience in search technology. He led the original search marketing strategy for IBM.com as well as the integration of IBM.com's site search technologies. Mike worked on IBM's website for eight years and now works on IBM's OmniFind Enterprise Search and Analytics Products. In addition to his search work, Mike is also a columnist for Revenue Magazine and WebProNews. He also writes a very popular blog called “Biznology,” which can be found at mikemoran.com So in our previous series of episodes 1 through 6 in a series of 8 we talked about Do It Wrong Quickly, and now we’re going to talk about Search Engine Marketing Inc. and starting with planning a search engine marketing campaign.
LO: One of the first questions I guess I have for you, Mike, on this topic is — how marketers can understand the business value of search engine marketing.
Mike Moran: Well, I think that was one of the key goals we had in writing this book. I co-wrote this book with Bill Hunt of Global Strategies, a search consultancy, and we felt like — different from the other books that were on the market, we wanted to make sure that people understood the business value of it. We wanted to make sure that marketers could read this book and understand the technology and the technologies could understand the business stuff. Because one of the questions you ask yourself is, “Okay, so if I do all the advice that they have, like fix my metatags, and I change all my content, and I make sure that the spider can crawl — and you have all these really arcane details that you have to work through — how do you know when to stop? How do you know when you are done? How do you know when you should be spending your time and money on something else?” And unless you understand what the business value is, you’re not able to do that. The way to really analyze your business value is to look at your activity metrics. So you want to first look at what Bill calls a missed opportunity matrix. So you want to use keyword tools so that you can understand how often the words that should find your site are being typed into search engines. Then you want to look at your metrics tool to find out how frequently people are actually coming to your site from search engines based on those words. And the difference is your missed opportunity. If you’re also using your metrics to understand how many customers eventually buy that come to your site — whether they buy online or offline — then you know how much revenue and profit you’re making based on that. If you could increase those people coming to your site, if you could reduce those missed opportunities, we show you ways of estimating how much more money you could make by doing that. That's a critical part of your equation because you need to know how much you want to invest in order to bring more people to your site. You can't just say, “Well, just keep doing it until it's perfect,” because it's never perfect. What you really need to do is to say, “Here's how much we’re willing to bid for paid search, here's how much we’re willing to invest in our website to attract Google for organic search.” Those are the kinds of things that you need to understand business value in order to do that, in order to communicate with executives, and to explain to them why search marketing is so important.
LO: You mentioned both pay-per-click and SEO in that example, and I am wondering if you have some guidelines for deciding what is the right place and time for paid search versus SEO. Or should they always be done together or one or the other? And in addition to that is the notion of social media as a stand alone channel. What do you think about that?
MM: Yeah, I think that those are questions that people are vexed by every day. I think there are some simple answers though. To me, every website ought to be doing organic search or SEO (search engine optimization), and the reason is — if you have a website, you want to be able to draw more people to it. If you’re drawing more people to the website, you’ll want to do that in a way that doesn’t cost a whole lot of money. So search marketing is the cheapest way to get a lead. I mean, there is the survey that was done a few years ago that showed it was .45 cents per lead for search marketing, and it was almost ten dollars for direct mail, for example. So if it's the cheapest way to bring people, then every site ought to be doing it. So I would say every sight ought to be doing organic search.
For paid search, I think it depends on whether you can show — based on all those analytics that we talked about earlier — what kind of profit you’re making. If you can identify the fact that you are selling things based on search and you’re making a certain profit, and you can justify paying the search engines a per-click cost that yields that profit (so if you know, for example, that you sell 1 out of a 100 visitors that come and you know you make a dollar profit every time you do that) well, then, it's worth a penny to bring people to your site. You shouldn't be doing any page search if that's true. But, if on the other hand, you do the math backwards and you find out that you are making five dollars, then you have a lot of room to be able to bid on those search keywords that bring people there. By doing the analytics, you understand whether you should be in page search or not.
Social media search is very similar to organic search to me in that many of the things you can do are free. They take people's time, but they don't really cost very much money most of the time. So those are things that make a lot of sense; they’re a little harder to measure though. You can't always measure how many people come to your site, and sometimes they are coming to your site very early in the sales cycle. Though it's hard for you to know how that works, I think as long as you keep the expenditures low I think it's okay for you to just do social media for its impact on your search marketing. So if you are going to get lots of links to the site, it's going to help your organic search marketing. You can really look at social media as a way of helping you get your website more attention. There are people that will come based on those links. There are also the search engines that will give you more credibility based on how many other sites are linking to you. As long as you keep the expenditures very low, I think that social media is something that most sites ought to be thinking about.
LO: And it’s a scenario worth exploring for a couple of reasons. Maybe one is that the emerging trends and growth in popularity of social media and social networking sites, let's say, and if you have an advanced foot hold and your understanding of participation and engagement with those communities, you will be a lot better off should they start to explode like Facebook is exploding right now, as an example.
MM: I think that's right. I also think that there is a certain novelty aspect to everything on the web. When banner ads first started, lots more people clicked on them just because they were new. So a lot of these things that come up, sometimes they come up and then they fade, other times they come up and then they really do sustain. I think that trying new things almost always pays off in the beginning and then overtime, as you say, if it's something that really does have legs, then you’re going to get experience with it and be in that community longer. That’s going to help you to have a more advantageous position than somebody who is a newcomer when it's two years old.
LO: Exactly. Then there are social situations where we’d like to count conversions or outcomes as they occur on our site. But with a representation of our brand in other places, there [might] not be monetary transactions happening, but there are brand interactions that happen especially within social media or other types of search — whether it be new search or mobile search or even blog search, right? Those are the things that are more difficult to measure, let's say, but again there are outcomes that are desirable that can occur in these different channels that they don't necessarily relate to the types of measurable outcomes we’re looking for on the website. That's something that marketers can investigate and pay attention to, like you say, if the investment is doable.
MM: I agree with that. I also think that — although one of the real advantages of internet marketing is that so many things are measurable just like with traditional direct marketing for catalogues and direct mail — one of the things that has happened (because that's true) is we hold internet marketing to a higher standard than we hold off-line marketing. I mean, how many people would be asking the question, “Well, before I invest in doing this TV campaign, can you tell me exactly what the impact will be on sales?” I mean, nobody asks that question right. So what I would say is that if you think that you’re getting some kind of brand awareness boost out of something that costs a fraction of what it costs to buy TV ads or other things that you're already spending your discretionary marketing money on, I think that's something that you are impelled to investigate.
LO: So within the realm of search engine optimization there are rumors of certain secret tactics or loop holes (exploitation of an advantage-gaining source of tactics), and some folks just call that spam I guess. How can marketers tell what's spam and what's not?
MM: I think it's really hard for people. I think that there are some people that really think that's got to be the way, right — if I just have enough money, I can pay somebody to trick my way to success — and you know the truth is that there are people who make a living out of fooling Google. I just don't think it's going to be anybody listening to this Podcast. See for those people, it's a full time job or more for them to try and even keep up with all those things. I would argue that companies don't need to do that. You don't need to trick everybody. What you just need to do is to figure out that there are certain techniques that you’ll want to use; just make sure that you get the ranking you deserve. That's really what you want. You don't want to get a worse ranking than you deserve. And everybody likes to get a better ranking than they deserve, but what they really need to do is to focus on their message, focus on their content, focus on their products, focus on their offers and make those things better because that improves your business all around. And if you do those things, you’re going to end up doing well in search marketing. I think that what you really want to do — because most people don't want to have to figure all the stuff out for themselves — the real question isn't, “How do I recognize spam?” because if you do do this yourself, you will know which things are ethical and unethical because it's very easy to either follow our book or look at the search engine's terms of service and you’ll understand what things are spam and not spam.
The hard part is not how you recognize spam, but how do you recognize a spammer when you’re trying to hire somebody? You’re trying to hire an agency that’ll do some of this work for you, do you strategy, help you optimize your templates, or all sorts of arcane things that people know how to do. The question is how do you know somebody who is going to cheat? Well, there are a couple of ways. One is that those people usually promise results; they usually say we will give you a number one result; or we’ll give you this or we’ll give you that, we guarantee this; we guarantee that. A legitimate search engine agency probably won’t make those kinds of guarantees. The other way that you can do it, and we suggest this in the book, is when you interview the company act like you are looking for a spammer. Just say, “Hey, I heard there were all these secret tricks. Do you guys know those tricks; do you understand how to do that stuff? I mean, I know it's a little shady, but you know, if we pay you enough can you do that kind of stuff for us?” Well, an ethical search marketer will try and talk you out of that. They’ll try and tell you, hey, that's not really the way to go. But a spammer will take that bait and explain till the cows come home, you know, how he does all these little tricks and how smart and clever he is — I don't really know when the cows come home, but I know it's a long time from now — and basically they’ll kind of give themselves away if you just approach them like that.
LO: Okay, so someone is really sold on the notion that this organization really needs search. I mean, the lowest cost per acquisition or visitor at least is a real opportunity they’re not taking any advantage of it, and there really is a formidable opportunity matrix, let's say. What advise can you give on selling those upstream the organization and who maybe hold purse strings on why we should implement search?
MM: I think some of the things you mentioned in the question are really good. I mean, showing people that it's cheaper than other methods and that missed opportunity matrix works wonders with people, but sometimes you need to convince people in ways that are not financial. A lot of times, the head of the company is not someone who believes that you’re going to do something just because you had a number on a spreadsheet. But what might happen is you might be able to appeal to the sense of competition and say, “Hey, look at what our competitors are doing? If I search for this, we come up on page 29 and our competitors come up on the first page. Look at that, we’re getting beaten here.” Sometimes you can get those competitive juices flowing and people are ready to respond to something like that. You can say then, “Hey, look, we’re on page 29 so I think we’ve locked up the obsessive compulsive part of our audience because anybody who’s willing to go to page 29, that's probably who they are. But you know, probably from normal people we’re not doing real well.” That's the kind of the thing that you can show people and get them to understand it. It used to be that it was hard to get executives to say search is important, but I think that's really changed in the last couple of years. I think that everybody knows it's important now, and it's a lot easier to just show them what the search results are and have them go, “Oh, geez, that is bad.”
LO: Right. A lot of this is tied to analytics isn't it, I mean, being able to report on the affect of the work that's being done and how that's contributing to the bottom line?
MM: I think that's critical. One of the things that's refreshing for a chief executive is for someone to come to him with a marketing campaign where you’re actually saying, “If we do this stuff, we’ll make more money.” Usually they’re used to dealing with marketers and what happens is they come for more money and the CEO says, “What do I get?” They say, “Well, you know a much higher brand awareness.” It's like, “Oh, wow, my stockholders will care about that.” And so, for you to even be able to show that you’ve done some analysis and you maybe run some tests in which you have shown that you have some basis for the analysis or where you just go ahead and say, “Hey, look, this costs only a little bit of money to start, but what we are going to do is we’re going to prove to you in this one small area that this works; and after we to do this, we’re going to come back to you and ask for more to have that kind of thing, that kind of pitch come to the big boss. It's going to be a lot better received than this kind of presentations that are used to showing up their old day.
LO: Super. Well, I encourage everyone to quickly get out and buy both books, of course, Do It Quickly but also Search Engine Marketing, Inc It's a fantastic book and a great guideline for how organizations big and small can navigate the sometimes uncertain waters of search engine marketing. So this is episode seven of our series of eight from IBM press and our discussion with Mike Moran of IBM now that we’ve talked about some of the basics of planning of search marketing campaign. What our next episode is going to discuss will be Implementation. You can find more information about Mike Moran at mikemoran.com and you can also find out more information about both books, Do It Wrong Quickly and Search Engine Marketing, Inc. at that same Web address. This series is brought to you by IBM press at www.ibmpressbooks.com.