SEO Interview with Business Accelerated

This is an audio interview conducted by the Business Accelerated Company regarding the basics of email marketing. This interview, between Ellen Harris of Business Accelerated and Jason Werner of Opus Media, takes the opportunity to explain the basic principles and value that developing a basic understand of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) program that can provide value to nearly all types businesses.

Listen to the audio interview here:

 

Ellen Harris: Hello everyone. This is Ellen Harris with the Business-Accelerated Company and today we are interviewing Jason Werner of Opus Media. His company is a web design and full service marketing boutique established in Baltimore, Maryland in 2008. They excel in delivering marketing solutions that are founded through planning and research designed to speak to a target audience and implemented in a coordinated manner across marketing channels in order to deliver the greatest impact. Jason, welcome back. Good to hear from you again.

Jason Werner: Good to be back. Thanks for having me Ellen.

Ellen Harris: Oh you’re welcome. Today you’re going to bring a search engine marketing. You were very thorough with search engine optimization and now you’re going to share with us today search engine marketing. One of the things I’d like to start off with is can you give us a brief overview of what search engine marketing is, what it does, and what it means?

Jason Werner: Sure thing Ellen. As we see it, search engine marketing is a term which we use as an over arching term for really two main components. Search engine optimization or SEO for short and paid search marketing we abbreviate it as PPC are the two main components to what we put under the umbrella of search engine marketing. As you talk to different people amongst our industry you may find that certain folks refer to search engine marketing exclusively as the paid search channel and they break out search engine optimization or SEO separately. For us at least, we kind of put it all under one umbrella.

That’s a bit of a subjective opinion. Essentially what that means to a business is that you are targeting an action of a user. The action is that they are searching for something specifically through a search engine and underneath either channel search engine optimization or paid search, you’ll find you’re able to make yourself known to someone who is actively searching for a solution that you may offer.

Ellen Harris: What does search engine marketing matter to business owners and their websites?

Jason Werner: It matters to business owners for a lot of different respects from both the paid and organic perspective. What they both tie back to though is that action of the user. The user is actively seeking an answer to a question when they go to a search engine and they type in “I am looking for socks”. They are looking for answers to their question about where can I buy socks online and there’s many variations of that search. Shop socks online, men’s socks, men’s dress socks, women’s socks, kid’s socks. All sorts of different types of socks that someone could be looking for online and what search engine marketing does in both the paid and organic capacity is allows you to be visible to those people at a time in which they are actively searching.

As we like to position it here, it’s a time when you’re talking about a warm lead. We know it’s a warm lead because this person is actively searching for your product or services. As far as what that means to a business as we talk about paid search versus the organic side of things, it’s two completely different animals in a lot of respects that get us to a similar solution we’ll say.

Ellen Harris: What is the impact with respect to Google’s change to their algorithm?

Jason Werner: That really brings us back to the statement about their being two major channels, the paid search side, actually Google has some changes they’re making on the paid search side that are coming up shortly that are just basically how that process works, how those tools really work more than anything else. On the organic side which is where most of the questions come from the algorithm side of things is the organic search algorithm, so the organic search results that you see on any search results page are a result of a math equation, this algorithm that Google keeps close to their chest so to speak where they … It’s a proprietary math equation that is used to determine the relevancy of websites as it pertains back to the search being done by the user.

That exclusively impacts organic search. Organic search being a more long term channel for growth in marketing is about … It’s about establishing an ownership in a lot of ways around key search terms. When we use the example of socks it can be that slow growth proposition or as Google puts it, glacial with regards to developing visibility for the term men’s socks because it’s such a broad and widely searched term. The principals of the algorithm take place in understanding how to organize and give results back to the user who is searching men’s socks. As someone goes to Google and looks for men’s socks, they are going to find that they get the results that Google deems best and what’s best on Google is relevancy. Relevancy is based on user factors. In Google’s opinion it’s about the users first. Makes a lot of sense.

They want to provide search results that are of the greatest significance to the person that is making that search happen. As it relates back to what they’re searching, the search results are served and that is created through the algorithm itself, the order of those search results. Yeah, there’s a lot of publicized information around when Google makes major changes to it’s algorithm because a lot of times it plays a significant impact on how we go about managing and maintaining and just running organic search programs, SEO programs in terms of what are the types of methodologies we use to conduct those campaigns.

Ellen Harris: Okay, when you use the example of socks, I think immediately of a little company. They’re very new and they’re called … The product is my mismatched socks. It seemed to be a major hit with the tweens, young girls in between teenage years. I was just thinking about the search algorithm, just something like that. A user would probably end up searching with a long string. From a search engine marketing perspective and just looking at it from an end user. For the business owner but looking at it from the end user perspective, I would think that your search term and relevancy on the organic side is where you, your company replaced most if not all of your focus in helping a business owner reach that level of relevancy in their business with their search terms.

Jason Werner: Yes, as far as long tail versus short tail is concerned, what we’re referring to there is the length that’s being searched and building and understanding a relevancy, kind of touching on the major points of search engine optimization organic search with respects to keyword analysis and understanding what people are searching and with those changes that have happened with the algorithm. The most specific of which being with hummingbird is a cute little pet name that Google gives to all it’s algorithms.

That one in particular focuses around long tail search, which is to say people don’t simply just search men’s socks necessarily. It could be as complicated as where do I buy men’s socks and looking in the some data for some of our customers it can be really long. Where do I buy men’s socks in cranberry red for a shoe size 14 or larger. As searches that long and long tail the search have come back.

Google does a pretty good job placing those searches with relevant results. The more specific the search, the more specific the results. A lot of the challenges and the push pull with search engine optimization really is finding your niche as a business and figuring out the searches that are being done with the greatest prevalence and using that as a way to, as we say, to inform your syntax. Meaning, the way we write and the way we talk about your content and your product on your website.

Your product or your services for that matter is informed by the information which we can glean from what is most prevalent in search. Picking out an example with the socks do we call them cranberry socks, is it burgundy? Is it Merlot shade of dark red that we might be talking about with those socks that is most widely searched. Honing in on that, we can glean in on sites from Google to say hey it’s not actually cranberry, it’s wine red. People say wine red all the time. We can go back through and say hey we need to kind of change how we look at this in some respects and at least inform our syntax or inform the way we write the information on our website so that it is more catering to what people are searching for.

Ellen Harris: Very interesting the way you laid that out. I’m a business owner and I’m looking at all of this. I know I should have some pre work or preparatory work that I’ve done before I come to you, what are some of the things I need to set up or at least have outlined on paper so when I come to you in this context of search engine marketing, that will make your job easier in helping me reach my goal which is more traffic, more people buying my product or services.

Jason Werner: That’s a good question Ellen. As far as the set up work is concerned, there’s really just knowing your business. A lot of times the challenges that we have to overcome and having those initial dialogs is really developing and understanding that there’s no longer any sort of guess work, particularly pertaining to keywords seem to be a popular sphere of focus. So much focus on what keywords, they’ll be focusing on … With a lot of the more recent updates keywords are becoming more of this gelatinous kind of amoebic thing because of these long tail searches.

We kind of focus on a group of keywords or a common trend in keywords and it’s not quite the same rigid process it used to be as far as focus on this keyword, hammer it home, say it a hundred times in a page. Make sure it’s the title of the page. That stuff starts to look very unnatural. If there’s one thing Google does have to say about succeeding with the organic side of things is that keeping it natural is what they want to see. They want to see a natural progression of things across all aspects of the metrics in which the algorithm looks at.

As far as what sort of set up work you need to do as a business, working in a full service capacity around search engine marketing handling both the organic search stuff which I mentioned earlier is a bit of a long term growth proposition where you’re kind of taking ownership of those search results. It takes a long time to get there. Again, in Google’s own words, glacial.

It takes a long time to see results, takes a long time to build results. Coming to the table with a little bit of history about your website, how long it’s been up. We do a lot of diagnostic work with websites in terms of understanding what components of the fundamentals of SEO from a code standpoint. We can evaluate and really audit the code of a website to help a business owner understand the nature in which the websites been built will influence how their content’s being presented to Google, how Google will infer your content on your website has everything to do with the code structure.

We audit and make sure that the code is being structured properly and that you’re firing on all 8 cylinders when it comes to adding things like metadata and all tags and a whole slew of different things. I think there’s 50 different checkpoints that comes out as part of the auditing we do as the code side of things. Having access to that as a business owner is often a big help for us. Understanding where you are as a business would probably be the biggest thing in the sense that are we a new website that’s just launched today? Are we an established website with a long history where we need to take that into consideration with any major seat changes we may push out because long standing websites with some value in their search engine optimization, their organic search.

Making major changes in a hasty fashion can lead to negative effects. Fall back down the ladder so to speak. From that perspective, understanding where you are as a business and where you are as website, the legacy of a website in the terms of it’s age and domain, and really getting a full complete picture of your business and trying to understand the goals, objectives of what you feel you need to … Or what it is you feel you need to do with search marketing to step it up and take it to that next level for you.

Again, a lot of that comes back to auditing and again taking on those different types of businesses, a new business may be a great candidate for a mix of paid search and organic search to supplement, used the paid search side of things to really supplement the organic side of things in the sense that with paid search you’re targeting the same audience. Again, it’s someone doing a search but the ability to show those ads as we like to say is almost and instant on, instant off proposition in that if you start a page search campaign today, you’ll start seeing your ad being served in search results tomorrow. It’s a way to kind of buck the obstacles of the glacial pace in which organic search happens.

As a business matures and as organic search starts to take off and progress in this slow growth fashion, we can start to re-evaluate what we’re doing with the paid side of things to kind of ween you off paid media in some respects.

Ellen Harris: We knew off of the paid media and guiding your more toward the natural organic search engine side of the business, or side of the algorithm if you will.

Jason Werner: To be clear Ellen, the algorithm only effects the organic results. It’s almost as though there are really two algorithms at play. When we talk about the organic search, we’re talking about the algorithms that again make all the headlines in the media. Whenever Google makes a major change it sets our entire industry on fire and everybody is running around trying to figure out what they’re going to do. The one common totem that Google really provides with respect to the organic side of things is provide quality content that people want to read and share. You will go far with your organic search results visibility, which is still true to some respects, the share part of it is probably the part that hangs most people up in their understanding and building natural back links.

The latest update to the algorithm which happened back in October of last year was a major change to how Google evaluates that sharing or those link backs to your content in terms of link building activities. I would argue that before the algorithm update a good link was worth a point and a bad link was worth half a point, if you will look at it on a scale of integers here. After the algorithm update a good link was worth half a point and a bad link was worth negative two points. You’ll slide into the negative pretty quickly if your link profile, all the links pointing back to your site … If you look at them kind of as it’s own metric, a link profile, you could quickly end up hurting yourself or experiencing a penalty if so many people got with that update to the penguin algorithm which deals with link backs and the value of link building.

Ellen Harris: Help me set the expectation for that business owner who’s been around 10 years or more. Realistically, working with you and we’re doing the analysis of the audit, how long my company has been around, my goals, my expectations and what I would like to accomplish with search marketing. Would it be a fair assessment to say it would take approximately 18 months?

Jason Werner: When we talk about the attribution of organic search back to results, you bring up a really great point in that we have to take a lot of careful consideration up front to what is it we’re measuring and what are we considering to be a success or a conversion at the end of the day. For a lot of folks in the service industry it’s about garnering leads for other folks. Looking at online retail and product based businesses, it’s about creating a … Completing a sale really. When we talk about an 18 month market, it’s going to depend on a lot of factors.

The competition in your industry has a big effect, the current status of your website is a big effect. What we really try to do out of the gate to avoid having to come back to you 18 months later to say yes, this has worked or no it hasn’t is to really measure things in a more incremented fashion. It really is baby steps in that regard. The analogy I often give folks when it comes to the organic side of things, if paid search is like being a day trader where we’re dealing with essentially the stock exchange of searches where a search goes out and people bid on that search to become visible through this auction process with the paid side of things which is their replacement for an algorithm, is the auction model.

With the organic side of things, we like to look at if the paid search is like being a day trader, buy low, sell high, the organic side of things is more like being a financial planner for someone’s retirement in the sense that you get those statements in the mail … If you have a retirement account, you get those statements in the mail and they don’t look like much. We send out those statements every month as part of measurement and making sure that we’re pushing into the right direction.

Some months they come in the black and other months they come up in the red and trying to understand why, if it’s seasonality or if there has been changes to the site that have had an impact and really spending the time and the expert man power on how to divulge what has happened is a big part of what we do from the organic perspective. Showing those statements and say we had ten more visitors from organic search last month than we did the month before which may lead to 20 more the next month, which may lead to 80 more the following month, which may lead to 200 a month after that. Kind of this slow growth proposition, this snowballing effect where you start to build slowly an incremented fashion towards a greater goal.

I think it’s important to keep metrics on that and to build a sound attribution model first and foremost through leveraging analytics and some of the other analytics beyond just website analytics using some search engine analytics tools which we tap into a handful of different sources for that information to put these comprehensive reports together for clients to say hey, this is what’s happened with organic search for you over the course of the last 30 days. You eventually step back and take a look.

We had a project that came up the other day where twelve months later into this project we’re talking about 270% more traffic than they were this time last year, and they’re a seasonal business so April for them is a big month of a seasonal business. Coming back and seeing that we had increased traffic 250% just from organic visits alone was a big win in that respect. It is twelve months later but every month along the way from April last year to April this year we were providing reporting and analysis and explaining the data, taking the time to show them what they’re looking at with these five and six page reports.

Ellen Harris: Interesting. You, Opus Media, you Jason, your team you’re really working closely not only with the owner but with their TPI’s if you will so that you have a clear in depth insight on what’s effecting any changes or growth in the algorithmic side of the equation if you will. You’re really looking at in depth so you can come back and say here’s what your changes are doing for your website, here’s what the impact is and do you make recommendations to an owner on where they could improve or increase or decrease whatever it is they’re doing on their site.

Jason Werner: Yeah, it’s recommendations. Depending on the capacity of what we’re being asked to do, and we work with businesses of different sizes with different internal resources. We kind of look to structure ourselves side by side with our clients. In terms of, for some clients they have a great capacity for creating content as a big part of their organic search programs. Others need the assistance in the content creation perspective. We facilitate that. We create content calendars and develop content around those calendars over the course of the SEO engagements that we handle.

Yeah, we provide the consulting and the managements and the advisements. For what we’re seeing with the results, as well as for the clients that are managing their own contents we’re providing insights into what they can do to improve stuff for those clients where we’re essentially ghost writing for them. We kind of build that into what we’re doing and it’s more of an internal collaboration. Hey we need to look at doing this or we need think about re-purposing this piece of content because a counter is a great thing to have because it holds you accountable at the end of the day to having to create content.

By the same token, when something comes up that we see in the data as a small team, or as a marketing boutique as we say, we’re able to kind of make those snap decisions and change direction quickly to take advantages of opportunities that may have snuck in at the end of last month when we show our report.

Ellen Harris: This is so very interesting to me. I don’t want to belabor the technical side of things but I like the way your company works directly with the owner. That’s really important, particularly if they got a goal that they may not have crystallized it as clearly as your company does, which is outstanding. My last question for you is this, is there a tip you can share that the audience should think about when they are considering search engine marketing in their implementation?

Jason Werner: Is there a tip with regards to search engine marketing?

Ellen Harris: Yeah. I think you may have given all the tips, but is there one that you missed?

Jason Werner: There’s a lot of misinformation out there. There was a recent update to the Google algorithm on the organic side. Mobilegeddon it’s been called, in again, in the publicized media. Mobilegeddon, the premise of that was that Google was going to re-evaluate how it dealt with search results down to our mobile device. Makes sense that you don’t want to go showing mobile results for a site that doesn’t have a mobile friendly presence as Google puts it. Sites that haven’t mobilized or made to accommodate viewing on a cell phone, either through a separate mobile website, through a mobile theme or a completely separate site that shows on a mobile device … Or through the more popular answer responsive design.

Those websites through this mobile algorithm update for lack of a better way of putting it, those sites that did not provide a mobile friendly website were in some way penalized in mobile search exclusively. This led to a lot of confusion. We had a number of calls and emails wondering hey, is our website ready for this because I read it somewhere or the oh my God, I talked to my buddy who I golf with and he said that our site’s not ready for this for whatever reason. In each case kind of having to go back and explain that what specifically the mobile update meant from Google’s perspective.

Again, there’s a lot of misinformation. One case comes to mind where someone we work with, a client of ours … They have a separate mobile version of their website to get served on a mobile device. Their golf buddy actually kind of said you know hey, you don’t have a responsive website, you’re going to be penalized. All this work that Opus Media has been doing for you guys from an organic perspective is going to go out the window if you don’t have a mobile website. Having to pen an email that explains concisely that A, the mobile penalty is only for mobile search A, and that B, a responsive layout is not a requirement to meet the mobile guidelines for Google. Went a long way to kind of put our client’s mind at ease as far as what they had been told versus what the actual facts of the situation are.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there. The biggest tip I can give you is understand that if you’re going to start reading about this stuff you’re going to know just enough to be dangerous, is really it. It really is a change of minute situation. The stuff that happened back in October was a major [inaudible 00:25:37] change with the changes to how Google perceives and addresses your link profile. We went to bed on a Thursday night thinking we understood the rules of the game and the rules were badminton. We woke up Friday morning and Google handed everybody a nice wake up surprise with a rules of the game change. It became football overnight. It went from badminton to football. It’s that much of a major change.

Staying on top of that stuff really becomes a bit of a full time job for us and just understanding what the landscape is and working through it accordingly. A lot of what a folks come to us for is the pro active stance we take on just staying on top of this stuff. It really is something new to read everyday.

If you want to commit to it, great. I find this stuff fascinating on a personal level, which is partly how I ended up here. Reading about this stuff and having a business challenge where it’s a shifting scope every couple of days, yeah it can be daunting but it’s certainly never a dull moment. If you want to engage yourself with the knowledge, either find someone who comes to you as an advised and trusted professional with some serious resources.

Stay away from the gimmicks. I get five or ten emails a day that are from companies wanting to do SEO for our own website, which I guess I get a giggle out of. If they actually read the site they would quickly know that that’s something we do. By the same token they’re making a lot of lofty promises. I’m sure our business owner audience out there has gotten that email that says we can get you on page one of Google, which there’s half a dozen real problems with that statement because no one can guarantee what Google’s going to do tomorrow, A. B, there’s no qualifier for what terms we’re talking about.

If it’s your brand name, well no kidding. If you’re not ranking on page one for the name of your company you’re probably either have a company name that’s used in four dozen other places, or there’s something fundamentally wrong with the basics of your organic search as it pertains to your website. The lofty promises, the guarantees. Anybody who writes you a guarantee for organic search either there’s some small print somewhere that you’re going to miss that really nullifies any guarantee, because you can’t make guarantees around what Google’s going to do tomorrow.

We’re beholden as a industry to whatever Google decides to do. The notion that people could promise first page results or first page results within three months or anything like that just run the other direction. That would be the other thing. The gimmicks that it seems too good to be true from an organic search perspective, it probably is. They’ve done a lot to really kind of quell any gaming of the system. The things that we as an industry used to get away with doing to accelerate organic search growth and increasing visibility quickly, those things have been quickly put to bed by these changes to the Google algorithm on the [inaudible 00:28:39] side of things for sure.

There was actually a really great article in Forbes magazine online about five false promises of SEO or something along those lines that would be a really great read for anybody looking to get some information. Actually Forbes is surprising a really great resource for just business level knowledge around SEO. They’ve got a lot of great writers on staff and I enjoy reading that stuff that they put out because it’s to the point, it’s succinct.

Ellen Harris: You underscore what I always said. You can’t listen to everyone. Make sure you are connected or know a trusted adviser and Jason, how long has Opus Media been around?

Jason Werner: 8 years.

Ellen Harris: 8 years. Okay. 8 years in my mind constitutes expert level. Jason Werner, Opus Media. Clear they excel in delivering marketing solutions that are founded in fellow planning and research. [inaudible 00:29:38] speak to a target audience and implement it in a coordinated manor across marketing channels in order to deliver the greatest impact. It has truly been a privilege for us to have you speaking with us today, Jason. Thank you so much for your time and everyone come back again for our next interview with a surprise guest. This is Ellen Harris with Business-Accelerated Company. Enjoy your day.