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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rand Fishkin gets "Honest about Social Media Marketing"

I am not one to engage in heated discussions especially topics thrown out in order to spark a "lively debate" on the internet. In fact my general rule is that if something strikes a cord with me I will sit on it a few days and will usually completely forget it ever was said but at times fins myself am still thinking on it. In which case I will then respond later when the initial reaction has wavered a bit.

Today I was hit by a posting that happened to spark a blogpost of my own after laying dormant for so many months. But why? Could it be that I am calmly in Florida for the Search Insider Summit wrapping up Winshuttle's Community Site (launching next Tuesday) and helping to put the final touches on Media Post's Search Insider Summit agenda, and speakers that I now have time to post? Possibly - since I still stick by my theory that people that have time to rant are people that don't have enough work to do. This evening I seem to fall into that category.

So my rant for the evening is in response to a good friend of mine Rand Fishkin. I am going to start off by stating that while I have known Rand for a short period of time he has been a great supporter and I still hold him in high regards. Unfortunately Rand Fishkin's post to his blog at 1:49 am Monday May 4th in which he states,

"The majority of marketers who engage in social media do so NOT because it produces greater ROI (professionally), but because the metrics are more immediately tangible and emotionally rewarding."

A very a bold statement in which Rand Fishkin continues to state his case by simplifying the act of what it takes to optimize a website,

"Let's say I put in some effort attracting more relevant visitors to my site. I see that a certain phrase is sending good quality traffic via my analytics and decide to pursue a higher ranking for that keyword. I do a bit of external link research, find some good places for a listing, maybe acquire a small handful of external links. I tweak the title tag, the H1 and a bit of the page content and make the call to action more prominent and compelling. I find a few important pages on my site (the top pages tool is badass for this) and place some good internal links. My rankings rise a few positions and I see more traffic the next week.

My conversions go up, and my company makes a few hundred more dollars in signups every week thereafter."

Now before I continue to quote his blog posting I am going to break a part the entire posting as I would an email to some of my favorite and very intelligent developers from my past (you know who you are) as we would discuss why work needed to be done on the website in order to obtain rankings (discussions that oddly don't happen anymore as more and more developers and others are seeing that SEO isn't a bunch of "smoke and mirrors"). In the past my emails would come with links to Google's webmaster guidelines and other websites that included SEO best practices, but in this case I am just going to state my opinion in response to Rand Fishkin's opinion (and remember, this is just my opinion).

So picking apart the above statement:

1) First item on the agenda "some effort". Really? SEO takes some effort? simply add meta tags, keywords, h1 tags and some internal linking and bam you have rankings...

If that were really the case a lot of us SEO's would be out of a job. Ok that statement was a bit broad - so more detail: Understanding the basics of SEO is great. Focus on a few key terms that you know your audience is searching for and get your Title tags to reflect them (so that the snippet draws your user to click when you do get rankings) place them in the correct densities within the content of your site (across the site for broad aggressive 1-2 word terms and whole pages around specific 3-5 word phrases for a more targeted audience) internal linking including those terms in the anchor text seeded throughout the site (yes the navigation on each page gets skipped as they are overlooked as shingles) with related content linking to other related content not just for users but bots as well.

Of course that's just scratching the surface - once you get rankings how you present your value proposition and your call to action after the user has clicked through the snippet to the page that is ranking is crucial in driving that conversion.

2) "I do a bit of external link research, find some good places for a listing, maybe acquire a small handful of external links." Where are these external links coming from? Rand doesn't get into detail here, but my assumption would be that the person obtaining the links would be hitting up forums that have postings on the topic in which they would be optimizing for, or comment on a blog post here and there with the phrase located in the comment surrounded by a hyperlink. But isn't that social media marketing? I would hope the SEO isn't purchasing links on a website somewhere, 'cause that would be bad...

Rand Fishkin continues to talk about the metrics of SEO and how effective the "some effort" is:

"To see 59 conversions this week vs. 53 from last week means an improvement of more than 10% for an investment of only a day's work. Repeat that process and you've got something amazing on your hands."

An average SEO makes anywhere between $30-$80,000 per years salary. let's assume that the SEO putting in "some effort" is a beginning SEO since the work is pretty basic. A days work would cost the company $115 for an SEO making $30,000 a year (not counting the cost in benefits, computer, software, etc). That "one days work" just brought in 6 more conversions than the week before bringing them to a $19 cost per conversion. I don't know about you but that's kinda high. In fact I just brought Winshuttle from a $18 cost per conversion in Adwords to now $6 cost per conversion and increased conversions from 100 per week to 100 per day with 1 weeks work. (not gonna bring my salary into it, I'll let you figure out the math on your own)

Rand Fishkin goes on to talk about the social media side of his statement. Now here's where I am going to slightly agree with him that the psychology of having friends is what drives social media marketing. In fact studies have shown over the past few years that the driving factor behind social networking and why it is becoming so popular is the psychology of human interaction. When it comes to the buying decision process us humans will usually talk to friends or go into a store and talk to a salesperson about their take on products comparing each item's pros and cons before making that purchase. why do we want to do this? We are social creatures at heart and will "trust" anything a "friend" has to say about something before we make that decision ourselves. How many times have you not only gone to a friend before making a buying decision, but talked to a friend before making life decisions in general? Choosing what college to go to, who you want to date, if you should marry them or not, should you buy a house or rent an apartment, and so on. Ultimately the decision is yours but you generally won't make it without talking to someone first.

That is where the power of social media comes into play. Especially in my case at Winshuttle working with business to business as the purchasing decision making process takes months and requires a bit of nurturing throughout. That process can be sped up or solidified in the company's direction if handled appropriately as the lead comes through the gate. Social media plays a huge part in that initial messaging. If the user sees the brand not only mentioned but talked about in a positive way before ever coming to the site they are swayed that much more before we capture that lead. If this is done right it not only shortens the buying cycle, but also frees up our sales people by bringing them more qualified leads faster. The less time they take, the more they can close, the less the company has to pay per qualified lead and so on and so on.

Here's where I start to pick apart Rand's post piece by piece:

After showing a screenshot of SEOmoz's own analytics rand fishkin goes on by pointing out that Twitter has only .35% of the conversions while Google holds .72%,

"There's Twitter at the bottom of the list, bringing 10K+ visits to our site! That's huge, right?

Here's the problem... It's also the lowest converting traffic of any referral source - less than half that of aggregate Google referrals."

Here Rand is counting just Twitter, but what about Facebook, or possibly other social sites in which SEOmoz is mentioned? When I search for SEOmoz I see not only the offical website but look - there's twitter, a blog (copyblogger.com), youtube, stumbleupon, digg and of course Facebook (on page 2). All which obtain rankings and help in solidifying the SEOmoz brand as users conduct research for the best ways to learn how to optimize their website or look for cool tools to help in optimizing the site. Oh and wait - wasn't this blog posting by Rand himself social media marketing? In looking at the amount that Rand Fishkin blogs seems that he manages to get in at least 1 post a day if not every few days.

Rand continues on by stating,

"I grant that direct referrals are never the whole story, and that there is real branding, marketing and user acquisition value to the traffic, participation and effort spent in social media. What I worry about is whether these intangibles are worth the expenditure.

In every one of the social media cases, the feedback and the metrics are coming from real people that I can reply to, hear back from and strike up a conversation with. The lonely days of lines & numbers as the only recompense for my marketing efforts are at an end. When I engage in social media marketing, I don't feel like an SEO geek, toiling against an algorithm and an anonymous search audience. I feel like a social butterfly, blossoming in the world of Twitter & Facebook, the same outlets the media is raving on about all day long (when not obsessed with swine flu, that is)."

I admit I myself tend to get distracted from time to time when a topic I am interested becomes a buzz on Twitter or Facebook. I of course will justify it by saying that it's for work since most of the discussions I take an interest in are online marketing related. There are days in which I know I need to sit with my head down and get work done and those are the days that the tweetdeck gets shut off and I don't touch Facebook until I get home at night and the kids are fast asleep.

Just as any addiction, social networking should be used in moderation.

Why am I picking on Rand you ask? Because this is a point of discussion each time I go out with Rand and give him a hard time about not tweeting a lot (or that Todd Friesen tweets too much) or that Rand doesn't follow a lot of people on Twitter (but neither do I so I can't pick on him there) or that he almost never logs into Facebook and ads all those people that want to be his friend. He just "doesn't understand why people are so addicted to Twitter or Facebook". A discussion we continue to have and have always walked away with Rand Fishkin continuing to have his opinion and the rest of us social media brats with ours.

I know that in the case of my position at Winshuttle the social media work has become extremely effective in not only generating brand awareness in resolving issues people might have for SAP that Winshuttle's products can solve, but also in engaging SAP consultants that might use transactionSHUTTLE with one client and recommend it for another (I actually have quite a few consultants as Facebook friends and have engaged in discussions with them at times).

The moral of my story is simply this. Rand Fishkin's post brought up a statement I have been often telling people especially as I am here attending the Media Post Email and Search Insider Summits that Social Media Marketing is today what SEO was several years ago. Back in the day when I worked for an agency and then at Classmates the struggle was to get buy in from others in order to get changes made for search optimization. Optimizing was more about proving that SEO was valid and worked when there was no way of really tracking that the efforts made were bringing in the dough (ROI). Now Search optimization has become not only proven over and over to the extent that executives and other people are asking me what are we going to do next (rather than me asking for the work and getting some of it done) but is now easily tracked and measured.

I say give social media a few years (especially in today's economy) as company's start to see the value in the benefits a tweet a day and a Facebook page can make.