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Editor's Note: This is episode 8 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’m 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 relation 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 for episode eight is Mike Moran of IBM. Mike's credentials list is literally a mile long, (and he’s) 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 you’ll find at mikemoran.com. In episode number seven, we talked a bit about planning a search engine marketing campaign, touching on topics ranging from SEO to pay per click to social and in this our final episode number eight, we will talk with Mike a little bit about executing a search marketing program.
LO: So, Mike, can you give a little bit of a high-level overview of the top-level considerations for implementing a search marketing campaign? What are just some of the top-level topics organizations need to be aware of?
Mike Moran: Well, I think there are several different things that are important. For organic search, you need to be thinking about: are you in the search indexes for the search engines? You need to think about what keywords people are using to find you. You need to think about whether the content on your site is something that search engines will think matches those keywords, and you also need to think about links. You have to think about how many other sites are linking to your pages to show that you are a credible site that the search engines are to respect.
And for paid search, I think the most critical things are understanding what the value is of every new visitor you come to the site so that you know how much to bid. And you also need to be able to write good content for your ads (so good copy) so that you get very high click through because the higher the click through you get, the less you need to pay in order to rank up high. And you also need to understand what it is that you are basing all of your value on. So are you basing it on profit, or are you basing it on life-time value? What kind of metric are you using to understand how to really understand the value of page search so that you know how much to bid and you know that you are making money as you do that?
LO: Exactly. Okay, well, let's drill down to some tactics, some fundamentals of implementing search campaigns, and we’ll start with some SEO related or search engine optimization related questions. What are some tips you can give site owners on how to ensure and why it's important to get their sites indexed?
MM: Well, if you think about how search engines work and many people don't know how they work, they seem kind of magical. What's really happening is that days or weeks or months before a searcher walks up to the search engine to type something in, Google and the other search engines have sent a program around to all the websites on the internet called a spider. What the spider’s doing is that it's acting like a person, looking at your pages, and what the spider does is it remembers all the words that were on your pages. And it will also look at the links on those pages, and it goes and finds other pages that way. So you can think of it as just like this person going all around the web clicking on things and finding new pages. I mean, this is actually geeky joke, the spider crawls the web. And you know we engineers really know how to have fun. But the problem is that if your spider doesn’t find your page, it doesn’t go in the search engine's index, and the index is where the search engine looks every time there is a search. So now it looks like it's looking at the actual pages all across the internet, but it's not; it’s looking at whatever words are found in its index, and it knows which pages match those words. So if your pages are not in the index, they can never be found. No matter what people search for them, no matter how many pages search results they look at, it’ll never be shown, and so getting your pages into the search index is the single most important thing you can do.
LO: So indexing is definitely important in terms of search visibility. I mean, if all your pages aren’t in the index, it looks like showing up for baseball game with two thirds of your team maybe. But in terms of keywords, talk a little bit about targeting keywords or picking keywords and the notion of segmentation with keywords.
MM: Yeah, I think that marketers can really resonate with the idea that keywords are actually your first level of market segmentation. So for other kinds of marketing you might be segmenting based on demographics like age or gender, or if you are B2B marketer, you might be segmenting on firmographics like what industry they’re in or what the company size is. With search marketing, the first level of segmentation is on the keyword, so it's on what people are typing in. What you’ll find is that different keywords show that the searchers have different ideas in mind. So for example, somebody who’s looking for a bed and breakfast is going to type in something like ‘lodging’ rather than ‘hotel’ because they’re looking for something different from a hotel [ md] that's something that's really important from a segmentation point of view. You’re going to get a much higher conversion rate as a bed and breakfast if you’re buying the ad for the keyword ‘lodging’ than if you are buying one from ‘hotel.’ By looking at what searchers are typing in those keywords as your first segmentation, that's what really helps you to identify which ones really are good matches to your site. And a lot of people get caught up in the idea of trying to get the most popular keywords, but that's not really the best way to go after it. What you really need to do is to find the ones that are the closest match to your site. So for some sites, having a really popular keyword is fine, I mean, if you’re Xerox, go ahead and buy the word ‘copier,’ but if you're a company that makes personal color copiers, then I don't think buying the word ‘copier’ makes a lot of sense because 99.9% of the people that are using the word ‘copier’ are not going to buy a personal color copier; they’re trying to buy some other kind of copier. So what you really want to do is to focus on the keywords that are going to convert the highest few then they’re going to be the people who are the most qualified to buy what you sell.
LO: The application of that keyword then is related directly to content and links, right, keywords and content and keywords and links that come into the website. Can you talk a little bit about both content optimization and the business of getting after links?
MM: Yes, the most important thing for content optimization is one that people don't talk about enough which is how you make sure that you have the right content for a search. People like to focus on looking at individual pages and optimizing them, but the place to start is to actually say to yourself, if some searcher was typing those words in, could this ever be the best page on the internet for that question? Does this have the kind of information that that person would be interested in, or is this just a product's specs page that I’m trying to optimize for that word because it's never going to be the best answer. And so what you really need to think about is writing content that's going to help people to understand whatever the topic is that they’re searching for.
Now if what they’re searching for is the name of your best selling product, then putting a specs page up might be fine, but most of the time they’re not searching for that; the vast majority of searchers aren’t brand oriented. They’re either problem oriented or they’re product category oriented. Most companies, I find, do a really good job with their brand name terms; they do kind of an okay job with the product category, and they do a lousy job with problem words. They don't think about what problems their product solves, and they don't have content out there that explains all the different problems, and how you know you have that problem, and what the four ways are to solve that problem, and, oh, by the way, the fourth way is something that we sell — let us tell you more about that. You don't have those kinds of pages out there so they’re missing a wide swath of search terms out there that really could be found business for them.
LO: So when you are optimizing content, you’re not just doing that for search engines, of course, you’re doing it for users; that's what it sounds like you’re describing.
MM: That's correct because what good is it to finish number one in a search engine when the content is going to make people faint dead away. I mean, you’re not making any money off of that. Just like if you think about organic search as public relations where the PR person can’t have a story that appeals totally to the editor of the news paper, but does not do any thing for the readers because even though they might get it printed, they’re not going to really get any bang for the buck out of that. The same thing is true for search engines. Just because you get the search engine to rank you high it doesn’t help if it doesn’t persuade people to actually buy from you, and so you need to be able to do both.
LO: In terms of link building, can companies can get away with procuring a certain number of links, or is it an active ongoing thing? Is linking really just a method of ongoing promotion where links are our by-product?
MM: I think that more and more that would be my advice to people. I think that there have been all sorts of schemes that have evolved over the years since Google first pioneered the idea of having higher rankings based on your link credibility. There have been people who tried trading links, and there have been people who want to buy links, and you know those kinds of things can work for short periods of time until the search engines kind of catch up with them. It's kind of an arms race of whether they get fooled and how they fix it, but to me the thing that really is important is to make your site a link magnet. So make your content so good that people just feel compelled to link to it.
If you have that same kind of content that we talked about earlier that’s going to get that problem-oriented content where people who have a problem are going to be searching for things and they are going to find you, that's actually the precise kind of content that other people are likely to link to as well. The less ‘salesy’ your content, and the more you think like a newspaper reporter, and the more you think like somebody who is writing something that's actually helpful for your customers rather than just assuming that you are going to try and sell, sell, sell; instead, what you’re trying to do is help, help, help. The more you help people, eventually you have to just trust that some of that is going to come back in higher sales. To the extent that you can really put out that kind of help-oriented content, then what's going to happen is that people are going to link to you; searchers are going to find you when they’re searching for the kinds of problems they have, but you’re also going to attract people to pass it along. You’re going to attract social media attention as well. You’re going to have people who were digging it and who were posting it and tagging it to Delicious, and you’re going to have people who are passing it along in Facebook, and all these kinds of things will start to happen for you just because the content is valuable, helpful, and well written.
LO: Excellent. Let’s switch gears a bit and talk a little more in depth about paid search. What are some fundamental paid search optimization suggestions that you could make?
MM: I think one of the things that's often overlooked is how important it is to have the keyword in the content. I think that Google has something called dynamic keyword insertion, but there are ways that you can automate this with other search engines as well. If you can have the same search ad, but you can have different model numbers plugged into pretty much the same copy automatically — and having that search term in your ad is really important — it really inspires a lot more click through.
I think the other thing that’s really overlooked is that people have a tendency to really have an over reliance on automated bidding systems. I think that although they’re critically important, and you have to use them, most of them can’t optimize on the really most important business value metircs like total-profit or life-time value. Instead, they might be able to optimize on profit margin or return on advertising spend or some other kind of metric that might sub-optimize your profit or life time value. I think that some times what you need to do, even in a well-running paid search campaign, is you have to just do some experimentation manually, double your bids, and see what happens for two days. It's not going to cost you very much money, and you might find that you’re doing a lot better in terms of the metrics that really matter. That's the kind of the thing that I think people think they can kind of put it on auto pilot and just leave it alone, but my tendency is to say that is not the optimal way to work.
LO: Super. I guess one of my last questions has to do with individuals within the organization that want to make paid search and SEO or even social media part of their regular operations. What advice do you have on the operational logistical nature of making search part of the overall marketing mix?
MM: The last chapter we have in our book is about — I think it's chapter 15 — is about operational metrics and making everything operational. I think that there are a few different things that you need to do. One is that you need to put it on the same footing as all your other marketing investments. So you need to think about it in the same way you go after the same goals you go after in the rest of the marketing.
There are also some very basic things where you need to compel organizational behavior. If you have a large company or even a medium sized company, you might find that you have the same people bidding against each other for the same keywords. This happened at IBM with the word ‘Linux.’ You know we had Linux servers and Linux software and Linux consulting, and you name it, and somebody was selling something around Linux. They were all bidding against each other. So IBM had several different spots that they were leapfrogging each other on bids which is wasting lots of money. One of the things that you need to do sometimes is to centralize keyword management so that you can present one face to the customer for your company and just have one Linux page that comes up that lets people pick which kind of product they really meant.
The other thing that you might want to do for organic search is to have metrics that really analyze your content. So we did something in IBM where we analyzed how many pages had titles, how many of them had the keywords on the titles, and how many of them had broken links. So we looked at all those kinds of factors, and we rolled them all up into a score card by divisions. We set metrics to say, “Okay, if it’s under 97 percent of your pages with titles, you’re red, and if it's between 97 and 99, you’re yellow, and if it’s over 99, you’re green. Then we would do management by embarrassment where we took all the executives and stuck them in a room and showed them what their report card was for that month. We did it over and over again, and after a while they said to each other, “Hey, look, I don't really know what Moran is talking about, but go do whatever it is he wants because I don't want to be red again next month.” You have to come up with some simple ways — remember they’re executives — you come up with simple ways that kind of compel behavior that you want. Because the thing that’s hard about search marketing for the larger the company — I mean this is true for medium sized companies as well — is to get everybody to row the boat in the same direction. You need to come up with some kind of organizational things to really make your campaign operational.
LO: Right. That really comes back to one of the things that you mentioned in our first Podcast that has to do with the fact that search marketing with larger organizations has as much to do with technical knowledge about, let's say, SEO as it does with communication skills with complex organizations and multiple stake holders, and you need to be able to build a collaborative or a cooperative environment for this particular goal.
MM: I think that's right. I think that the things that you have to know to do search marketing is you have to understand direct marketing principles so you know what the value is. You have to understand the technical pieces of search marketing just like you would need to understand the technical things of how you buy ads on the network or all the technical aspects to all kinds of marketing. You have to understand that second part too. The third part is if you’re in a medium to large company, you need to understand organizational behavior and how you get people to do the things you need them to do. I think those three components that we talk about in the book are things that are really important for success in the long run.
LO: Well, excellent. I think that's a wonderful thought for us to end our Podcast on. That's episode eight out of the eight Podcasts we have done The first six talked about Do It Wrong Quickly, and the last two numbers, seven and eight, talked about the book, Search Engine Marketing, Inc covering search engine marketing planning and implementation. I want to thank you,Mike. You are a very brilliant guy; you know a lot, and I think a lot of folks listening to this Podcast are really going to appreciate your insights.
MM: Well, thank you, Lee. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to hang out and ask me some questions. If anybody has not subscribed to Lee's blog, they’re making a big mistake because it is one of the best ones out there. So, Lee, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
LO: Super, thanks a lot. So for more information on both books, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules as well as Search Engine Marketing, Inc please visit mikemoran.com. This series is brought to you by IBM press at www.ibmpressbooks.com.