Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to present at SMX East 2012 in New York. SMX East is one of the largest search engine marketing conferences in the country, and attracts upwards of 1,500 online marketers across all specialties.
Zeon also sent two fellow Honey Badgers to the conference for support, and in the end there were 150 audience members in the crowd. It was a great opportunity for the Zeon Search team as a whole, and we ended up learning a lot about the new tactics and strategies in search for 2013.
The presentation can be downloaded on Slideshare or viewed below. We’ve also transcribed the notes to go along with the slides. Were you in the audience at SMX East? If so, let us know what you thought!
Slide 1 (Intro)
Thanks Matt [panel moderator], as the moderator just mentioned, I’m Anthony Piwarun and I’m a senior search engine marketing specialist at Zeon Solutions, a web development and online marketing services firm dedicated to building websites that seamlessly guide our client’s visitors from point A to point B.
You can follow me on Twitter, @apiwarun, and feel free to fire off some tweets using the #smx hashtag.
So I’d like to begin a few quick questions…
- How many of you work agency side? Client Side?
- Ok, how many of you agency folks routinely include creatives and developers in SEM meetings?
- And how many of you in-house SEMs find yourselves fighting for internal resources to get things done, and have all but given up on aligning your internal teams?
Alright, perfect. I just wanted to get a better idea of the breakdown of the audience.
Managing an SEM program, or any online marketing campaign for the matter, is like a house of cards. If one card falls, the whole house crumbles. To avoid this domino effect, successful SEMs will educate, communicate with, and train other marketing teams on what they’re doing and why it matters.
Now I know not all of us work in an agency setting, but as an agency employee, our prerogative is to go into a client engagement and become the SME. It’s something that’s illustrated quite well in the Showtime series “House of Lies”, the theme for this presentation. The show is about management consultants that go in and identify issues within an organization – much of it due to lack of communications and alignment.
When talking about the three pillars of enterprise alignment for SEM programs, it’s important to first see how some of the big functional teams come together.
Within the past few months, Altimeter published a paper about a concept describing the convergence of paid, owned, and earned media. On the paid media side, we have:
When talking Owned Media, we’re looking at everything branded. Owned by the organization:
Finally, when referring to earned media, we’re talking about traffic sources that are earned through external activities. Some examples would be:
The article spoke about the need for alignment between all channels, and after reading it I felt proud that at Zeon, we understand the need for alignment and practice the concept everyday. Towards the end of the presentation, I’ll walk you through some of the activities that we do to align.
Before that, it’s important to understand how the current system is broken…
It’s not all peaches and roses. SEM teams, be it in-house or agency, are feeling the pain of an anarchic system with communication breakdowns and alignment #FAILS
To get to the root of the problem, I emailed or spoke on the phone with industry leaders across each vertical, with both agency and in-house backgrounds. I asked them a single question: “What is the biggest stumbling block you’ve experienced when working with enterprise-level SEM teams?” The results I got were astounding…
First, I spoke with design teams. From web designers to user experience architects. I wanted to speak with them because they are one of the most pivotal groups needed for success for one reason: the conversion. As search engine marketers, our success is often gauged by sales, revenue, or leads. Designers and UX architects know the best practices and can get your qualified traffic from point a to point conversion.
As I mentioned on the previous slide, the reason why we want to bring in designers is for landing pages and conversion optimization. Whether we need to build out 3 landing pages or 300, getting these guys involved towards the beginning of the process is imperative.
Points of insertion would be the development of user personas (often following discovery) and the run up to wire frames and comps for landing pages. It always helps to work with the team doing personas so you can use them in your keyword research.
When interviewing designers, a common pain point was “complete disregard for design and not having a seat at the table.”
Tamara Adlin, principal of Adlin Inc., said it best when she said:
“The biggest stumbling block is that I almost never work with these folks. The structure of most organizations is silo’d in a way that keeps a bit of a moat between UX and SEO. In real life, however, I’m never invited into the meetings with the ‘SEM pros’ unless I force my way in.”
Bringing design in the process will help your landing pages convert, ultimately helping you get a higher ROAS, whether you’re selling online or just generating leads.
Content Strategy – it’s not just a buzzword. Time and time again we hear the phrase “content is king”. I agree… content is king. But we don’t want to pollute the SERPS with crap. To avoid that mess, build a strategy to develop and disburse content. Whether it’s landing page copy, website copy, link bait, or downloadable resources like white papers or case studies, everything should fall into place.
Content strategists aren’t just copy writers. They’re specialists with a wide array of backgrounds from focusing on the user through design and user experience, to focusing on outcomes in analytics. They create and/or plan landing page content, sales copy, or resources to boost conversions (like the white papers and case studies).
Points of insertion for a content strategist should be immediate – at the discovery stage. It’s best to get them involved at the start of a program so they have time to do a content audit and start strategic planning. Also, when building out our landing pages, it would be helpful to have them check our copy and suggest ways to get the visitors more engaged.
Some of the issues described by the Content Strategists that I interviewed were time and resource constraints.
Margot Bloomstein, principal of Appropriate Inc. and well known author on content strategy, said:
“I hate the “yeah yeah yeahs.” You know what they sound like: Yeah, we don’t need to talk about (content) strategy. Yeah, that’s nice, but we don’t have *time* for strategy. Those are all dangerous, expensive misconceptions that get in the way of true organizational change and alignment around sustainable content creation.”
I encourage you to try out content strategy and work with the team to plan, develop and distribute content. A planned attack is sure to increase user experience and boost conversions.
After we go ahead and build out that sexy content with help from strategists, it’s time to put it to work and test how it impacts our SEM campaign. If you’re like me, you don’t want to silo this beautiful white paper, case study, or other type of digital asset. Use it and promote through other channels! One of those channels, social media, employs specialists that engage potential customers and ease them through the buying process.
Social media is a major assist in soft-sell conversions, as well as customer retention, so why not include them in the planning process?
Some points of insertion would be bringing them in with meetings on content or design strategy. Also, hold separate meetings for promoting your content.
Some issues include a lack of communication and silo-building for each department.
Jason Falls, founder of Social Media Explorer, said:
“By far the biggest stumbling block is the combination of clients not understanding the technology and SEM types passively talking over their heads. It’s hard to find a good SEM practitioner who can both translate what the tasks and value are and not be arrogant or impatient with the client’s understanding.”
This hits home quite a bit working in an agency. Sometimes, we take over accounts where previous vendors didn’t want to talk about what they were doing in fear that the money train would end. Come on, folks! There’s no secrets in search!
Bring in social media in an effort to promote content and increase engagement. Soft-sells are still a sell, and retained customers are good for everyone involved.
SEO… paid search marketers “brothers in arms”. Any search engine marketer worth his weight in clicks knows the importance of integrated programs and aligning with teams with a similar goal: maximum visibility on the SERPs.
SEO’s can help in paid search efforts because they already have some of the data we need. Keyword research, conversion rate analysis, top search queries… these are all things that an SEO can bring to the table. Clear off a spot and get an extra place setting because there’s no more room for food fights anymore. As online marketing gets more and more intertwined, cooperation between these two historical “frienemies” is imperative for the success of your client (or internal stakeholders).
Points of insertion would start at the beginning. From client discovery, to content planning and monthly reporting, SEOs can give us a wealth of information that will make our jobs easier.
Time and time again I hear about issues with bringing SEO to the table. From “PPC has better ROI” to “I don’t trust this guy”.
Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOMoz, talks about his concern being:
“With in-house teams, the biggest challenge I’ve seen is the ability to earn respect & trust internally, which is both the result of internal politics as well as questions about the expertise and degree of experience from the in-house members. “
Can’t we all just get along? Build efficiencies and reduce duplicate efforts by aligning with the SEO team.
Paid search? Wait, isn’t that what I’m speaking on? Yes, there are issues within paid search teams as well. From SEMs not wanting to share data to an overall lack of communication, we need to whip ourselves into shape and start aligning with other teams.
Matthew Umbro, author of the PPC Blog, says:
“Lack of communication tends to be the biggest stumbling block. With so many departments now involved in the success of the paid search program, including design, development and analytics, keeping everyone in the loop is a challenge. It is imperative that a project management system be put in place and all departments meet on a weekly basis to discuss updates to the PPC account.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself!
So now that we covered how it used to be from some of the top names in each industry, I want to tell you a story about the last agency I worked at prior to moving over to Zeon. I was managing a paid search account for a Fortune 50 firm that was spending upwards of $100k per month in display, PPC, and social ads. It was my first monthly spend account over $50k, so I wanted to be extra sure to dot my I’s and cross my T’s. On my end, I set up a flawless account structure. I’m not one to brag, but it was beautiful!
Being the SEM on the account, my job may have been done flawlessly. But I was only one piece of the puzzle. I had to work with content strategists, the client-selected SEO vendor, designers, developers, and social strategists. That’s a lot of moving pieces. I called a meeting to present what I’d done and laid out some next steps for the other teams so we can get that thing up and running. It looked a lot like this image. And there were crickets at the table. At the end of the day, designers were pointing fingers at developers, Social strategists were poking and prodding for content and messaging. It was a mess.
The problem was that we didn’t have a structure in place; a workflow. The whole thing was a mess, and the campaign launched 2 months behind schedule.
To avoid this type of experience, I urge you to…
Break down the Silos.
Bring awareness to your campaigns through visibility, improved communications, and education. I’m not one to just say there’s a problem without offering a solution, so with that said I’d like to touch briefly on some activities that we employ internally to bring alignment.
Daily Standups. A standup meeting is an easy-to-run, easy-to-manage brief touch-base meeting where you can bring your team together, be it designers, developers, strategists, copy writers, etc. Each person takes 30 seconds to touch on what they’re doing for the day (or week). It’s a good way to get everyone on the same page. The key for this is to keep it brief.
At Zeon, we meet at the beginning of the day, gather around a whiteboard, bulletin board, or even the water cooler to talk about what each team (or team member) is doing. Each participant essentially gains visibility into what the others are doing, and it could easily result in a transfer of knowledge, elimination of duplicate efforts, or even insight into things you wouldn’t have been looking for.
What’s cooler than talking about a call-to-action or SEM strategy over soup and a sandwich? Lunch-n-learns are a way to bring cross-functional teams together and educate them on what your team is doing. Food bribery works!
An example of a lunch and learn we recently held at Zeon was about selling paid search. We set up a brief, 1-hour Lunch & Learn with the sales and accounts teams and went over the basics on why search is important and why each and every prospective client for a web design, development, or mobile app should consider it as a qualified traffic-driving medium.
Ugh, nobody likes internal meetings. But unfortunately, when everything is tied to ROI there’s no choice but to give it your all out effort.
An easy to follow template would be to set up a weekly status between each group, be it paid, organic, dev, or copy, that touches the campaign or program using a screen sharing utility like GoToMeeting or join.me. Go through five slides each on what your role is, what your goal is, and tactics you’ll be employing to achieve success. Encourage feedback after the call, and post the slides online to your organization’s project or task management discussion board for comments.
Note: As one of my colleagues told me early last week, some people absolutely despise conference calls (hence the reason for this classic visual). The key to success is to make it interesting, engaging, and efficient. Respect everyone’s time and make the calls short, sweet and to the point.
Before I let you go, I want to talk a bit about some of the tried and true online tools that we use internally. I spoke briefly on some of the activities that we do, but we know that standing around a whiteboard everyday may not be the answer for every organization. And when I say tools, no, I’m not talking about you Don Cheadle.
In terms of project and task flow management, we use Trello for tasks and Basecamp for projects. These are low-cost or free solutions that allow you to see what other teams are doing, and where your tasks are in the roll-out process.
For internal training, we absolutely love join.me. There’s a free option that works perfectly, or you could upgrade and get additional features. GoToMeeting is the obvious option for larger organizations, and has a ton of features like video conferencing, screen sharing, and webinars.
A final parting note. Encouraging alignment across teams in organization, be it in an agency or internal marketing teams, will help you build efficiencies save time, and in turn, save money.
Educate, Communicate and Train your teams to achieve this goal. In the end, we’re all in this to make money.