Next month, I'll be attending the Search Engines Strategies 2009 Conference and Expo here in Toronto June 8-10. Now in its 6th year, the event is organized and programmed by Andrew Goodman, the SES Advisory Board and SearchEngineWatch.com, the leading authority on Search Engine Marketing (SEM), including SEO and PPC. That very same Andrew Goodman, founder of Page Zero Media, was nice enough to answer a few questions for me.
Toronto Mike (TM): In my 9-5 job, I spend a small fortune with Google Adwords. What changes would you like to see from Adwords to improve the tool as a lead generator?
Andrew Goodman (AG): Changes? The tool itself has very few glaring shortcomings. It's been a direct marketing tool serving the custom needs of a million customers who collectively spend over $20 billion a year on the channel, with good reason. We'd all love clicks to be cheaper and we'd all love more customers to buy from us, but AdWords features are of course robust, especially the reporting.
As companies increasingly get leads from their "brand" keywords (though some companies debate that), it's important to see full attribution so that mega-high-intent keywords share some of the credit with earlier research keywords and even other digital campaigns. That's gotta be a priority for the AdWords team (crediting assists, etc.).
TM: In the PPC universe, can one live on Google alone? How important are the other other search engines in terms of securing eyeballs?
AG: Easy question. For now, the others have weak market share, and are not very important. We'd all love it if they could improve.
In a general sense it's not healthy to be dependent on any one marketing channel or any one vendor. But in most markets and most verticals, if you're talking strictly about paid search, then 85%+ of your spend ought to be with Google. Anything else flies in the face of measurable search market share and measurable campaign performance.
TM: I love Twitter as a broadcasting system to the masses. I'm trying to see how the corporate world can harness the power of Twitter. How do you see Twitter helping the corporate marketing world?
AG: Yes, for the same reasons that email or RSS can be a great extension of corporate communications if the purveyors of the message or conversation understand the opt-in, permission-based, respectful requirements of the medium.
That's going to be an interesting, ongoing conversation. Mark Evans will dig into this a bit at SES Toronto. Do you want to be following some lame corporate logo (Whole Foods Says X) or a personality (Juanita at Whole Foods says Y)? Not an easy one. I'll leave it to Mark to elaborate.
I've always been amused by Steve Rubel's take on corporate identities in social media. He had this funny line about how cartoon characters shouldn't blog, and no one REALLY desires to follow the Michelin Man. And if Mickey Mouse were to blog, the requirements of authenticity would require the "real" Mickey working at Disneyland to moan: "I'm schvitzing in this suit and these kids are punching me! This sucks!"
TM: How do you stay on top of the highly guarded Google algorithm when it comes to organic rankings? SEO techniques seem to change on a regular basis. How does a web author stay ahead of the curve?
AG: On one hand, you take the wisdom of crowds (even if that means collected expertise of the top SEO people), but then, it's kind of interesting to try to distinguish between uneducated ramblings and mob mentality on forums, and real, principled expertise.
Is it good to be an independent thinker? Sure, to a degree. And then again, siloed thinkers inside IT depts. may ignore the collected expertise of top SEO people. It's important to be plugged in, to understand where we have strong consensus, and where we have reasonable grounds for debate. And where certain assertions are 100% based on superstition.
A good friend, Mike Grehan, author and expert on all things search technology, takes the tack of listening very closely to what search scientists say.
I've always sort of leaned in that direction. You want to understand the principles underlying search, and take into account some combination of the principles search engines want to pursue, and your judgment of what the economics of the situation and the adversarial game nature of the situation will create in the real world. Everyone in this game is in there trying to "read the tea leaves," and I'm not sure why it is that some are better than others at continuing to read them reasonably correctly.
Remember back to the infamous Florida update. That and subsequent Google algorithmic "crackdowns" caught a lot of clever SEO's off guard. They grew accustomed to their warmed-over linking tactics working, etc., and then as Google inevitably got better at evaluating the true worth of certain sites and pages in the consumer's eyes, wham! a bunch of "optimized" sites got hit. But to not see that coming was to assume that short-term tactics would last forever, in the absence of sound, integrated digital marketing strategy. It's not long ago that people thought hidden white-on-white text, text hidden in CSS layers or in comment tags, etc., was a "clever" SEO strategy. Maybe if you're setting up throwaway microsites for poker gaming, but not for the rest of us. Sigh.
Believing what Google says flat-out (that is, they say X, they mean X) is also a pretty good idea. On the paid search side, you can point to a few publishing business models that were earning $20+mm a year for their small owners just buying and selling clicks in 2004-2006. In the more recent period 2008-2009, the same businesses earn 95% less than they did before. If Google explicitly states something is against their rules, and the CEO is telling the national press why that is the case, they mean it.
On the paid search side you can go on Google's Inside AdWords blog and discover that Google actually has a hate-on for certain business models. Needless to say that poses a major challenge if you run one of those kinds of sites: http://adwords.blogspot.com/2007/09/websites-that-may-merit-low-landing.html -- and amazingly, some people are dismissive, and conduct their affairs like that's just an opinion. (Google's opinion is never "just an opinion," unless perhaps in a court of law.) When the "tea leaves" are actually there in black and white and in English, they don't need a whole lot of interpretation. Call it a Google Slap and Tickle or Quality Score Madness, call it what you will, but they're not kidding around.
Back to SEO. While I wouldn't exactly suggest you can learn everything you need to know about SEO from Google's "Webmaster Guidelines" page, it is the case that there are solid principles underlying great SEO... with micro-tactics being only slightly important in the mix. Information architecture and site performance tuning, for example, are part of a solid SEO foundation, but how many companies even know what those are? We have a session on this at SES Toronto anchored by the popular Shari Thurow.
TM: How about a hot PPC and SEO tip for the readers of TorontoMike.com?
AG: User experience issues - if you take care of them - can indirectly lead to better search rankings and PPC efficiency. On the SEO side, clean up code weight and make pages load faster and you may see a nice improvement in rankings. On the paid search side, similar basic fixes can lead to higher conversion rates.
That's the thing that companies don't want you to tell them: the magic isn't magic, and there's real navigation, marketing, and testing that goes on. You don't fire all your SEO effort into a silo called metatags (very little or none of it, arguably) or keyword "stuffing", and you don't get 100% success with PPC by building long keyword tests or some other one-dimensional philosophy. They both require a full effort, involving many moving parts.
TM: You're a Toronto guy. Are the Blue Jays for real this season?
AG: Dude: they are totally for real. I've been to the ballpark three times already and I expect to be back to quite a few more before season's end. We can talk about individual player performances and the amazing patchwork pitching staff, of course... but what strikes me as giving them that slight edge is Cito's and the coaching staff's leadership. Showing confidence in players and giving them philosophies to work with pays off, but so does firm control, being pretty ruthless with personnel at times. You'll notice they haven't given Brandon League many innings because he hurts the team with his wildness even though he can throw 100mph. Overrated BJ Ryan gets sent down to AA with an "injury" but the real reason is: he's sucking canal water and there are no special rules for high paid busts. Gotta love Cito. Go Jays!
I'd like to see Alex Rios become more disciplined at the plate. Currently, he is shining mostly on pure talent. Imagine if he combined that with focus and discipline.
Thanks, Mike, for the opportunity to share my thoughts.