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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.

Friday, January 23, 2009

SEO/SEM Salaries - Actual Survey Results

As the search marketing industry grows by importance and the qualified individuals that choose to make a career from search marketing (either SEO or PPC) gain experience and insight as search becomes more and more complex we start to ask ourselves are we really making what we are worth? As Richard Zwicky pointed out during his lunch and learn at the Search Insider Summit in Park City Utah this last December of 2008 a lot of us SEO's left contemplating our salaries.
Rand Fishkin posted a general guideline with job titles and descriptions back in 2006, and Payscale even reported their findings on January 20, 2009 based on individual's years of experience as well as broken down by city and state. Unfortunately Rand's salary ranges while pretty acurate are quite broad leaving most of us thinking "Yeah I fit somewhere in between, but where exactly?" and Payscale leaving some of us wondering how the heck does someone actually have over 10 years of experience as an SEO? Not to mention the salary difference of someone that has between 1-4 years and 5-9 years experience really not jumping that considerably.
Being the research junkie that I am I decided to run my own SEO salary survey. I posted the form on my blog back in July of 2008 and waited to recieve over 1,000 participants grabbing not only their SEO salaries, but the company size, agency or in-house, and so on. The results were pretty interesting, and I have to admit renewed my faith in the industry once again that us SEO people are valued more than we were 7 years ago (when I was making $35k a year as an SEO Lead).

As you can see most SEO people search anywhere between $30,000 to $89,000 per year salary with a larger number in the $50,000 to $89,000 per year salary range. Though it still looks like quite a lot of the agency SEO's are making under $29,000 per year salary. Rarely will you see an SEO making over $90,000 while working at an agency.
In-house SEO's however have a different (ut not by much) salary range than the agency SEO's with the majority making anywhere between $30,000 to $49,000 and $50,000 to $89,000 per year salary again with the majority bringing in $50,000 to $89,000 per year salary. But as you can see a much larger percentage earn over $90,000 per years salary as in-house SEO's than the agency SEO's.
As I pointed out in my last post comparing the roles of an in-house SEO vs someone that would work for an agency I suggested in the end that someone wanting to make SEO a career would benefit from starting out in an agency and moving to in-house full time as they gain more experience and knowledge. With more and more companies hiring in-house SEO's these companies are recognizing that the role these people play should be in the upper management positions requiring a higher salary range, and more and more are even beginning to develop entire teams rather than using agencies (or to supplement the agency).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

SEO Career - Agency vs. In-House SEO

As the search industry grows agencies are popping up all over and more and more companies are hiring in-house SEO's. How does one decide to get into search engine optimization and which direction does one take in their career path? In-House SEO or SEO Agency?
In 2006 I finally jumped ship from SEO Agency to full time in-house SEO at Classmates.com as their SEO Manager. It was a position created with no real thought put into it as to what work was needed, how to scale the effectiveness of the position, or who the position would be reporting to but there definitely was a need for someone in-house as the agency they were working with at the time had great suggestions for SEO but weren't able to get the work completed.
I was originally hired to work under one of the VPs in Marketing who was very good at analysis, but not so much on the technical side of the website, and most certainly didn't understand SEO. He set me loose after I explained the keyword analysis and analyzing what terms were driving conversions from paid search in order to determine a starting point for optimizing the site. Unfortunately that VP quit just a few weeks after my hiring along with not having someone to directly guide me I continued to work on the site as if I were a consultant optimizing for a client. During the first couple of months I befriended a few of the VPs throughout the company who had setup a meeting with Ted Cahall (CEO) along with a group of developers, Directors and other VPs in order to hammer out what changes needed to be made and set a priority. Close to the end of the meeting Ted Cahall had asked me how much revenue I predicted out of these changes. A concept I had never even thought of. As consultants our goal is to optimize the site and increase traffic or rankings as much as possible to show that our work was effective. It was always up to the clients and the website to drive the conversions. Now I was faced with an end-to-end process that I had worried about as a UI designer, but never as an SEO.
My role as an in-house SEO was definitely a learning experience for both Classmates.com and myself. Being in-house and optimizing a website is a completely different beast altogether. This posting looks at the different aspects of each role pointing out the pros and cons in hopes that SEO's can not only understand the difference, but can make a decision as to what direction they would like to go in as a career.

Agency SEO

Depending on the position you are in with an agency the responsibilities change but the end result will always remain the same. Most often than not when a client signs a contract they expect certain things from their agency. A client usually chooses SEO because they aren't showing up in the search engines for terms that they feel they should be showing up for. The reasoning behind this is if they show up for the right terms they will see more conversions or leads from the website they invested so much money in with design and development. For them it all boils down to revenue, for the SEO agency it translates into ranking and ultimately traffic (eventually digging into qualified traffic and leads).
Typically most SEO agencies will have anywhere from 10 to possibly hundreds of clients assigned to one search engine optimizer (or SEO Strategist). Each SEO Strategist begins working with each client by asking a few questions in order to understand the business model and what the client considers an aquisition. The SEO Strategist will then draw up a keyword analysis looking through words and terms based on what the client thinks their users will be suing to find their website. From there the SEO Strategist will choose a select few terms that are most relevant and develop meta tags (Title and Description), suggest copy revisions or additions to the website, suggest a linking strategy and so on. The agency will then send regular ranking reports along with tracking analysis of the traffic coming to the site through natural SEO.
Some SEO agencies have grown beyond the cookie cutter fashion of optimizing a website for their clients in offering landing page design, testing, optimization etc. or even offering social media campaigns that generate links as well as traffic from social networking websites or blogs, etc.

In-House SEO

In the past couple of years more and more companies are bringing SEO in-house not to replace the agency they are using necessarily, but to help manage the relationship between the agency and the people internally that need to complete the work in order to champion the work through effectively. To explain the role of an in-house SEO is to list out most of the responsibilities and goals of what is expected of them.
Core responsibilities of an in-house SEO:
Develop the company and or website SEO strategy and implementation. (complete with time line, work needed from other teams, agency help, etc along with spend)
Hands-on optimization; improving site structure, page construction, content, keyword lists, and SEO copy writing where needed (some companies have copywriters on staff and developers allocated for the work needed)
Keyword Analysis, and set KPI benchmarking and reporting for sites' organic search optimization efforts and continual monitoring of search trends related to the company or website.
Define SEO requirements in a product management capacity by recommending site enhancements that maximize ROI and increase rank of natural search result listings.
Serve as internal search expert, driving all communication between company's domestic and/or international companies to ensure best practices are shared and leveraged throughout.
Work on landing page redesign projects to ensure that paid and natural search pages are not only maximizing traffic but driving conversions.
Analyze and translate quantitative and qualitative data from web analytics tool into an actionable SEO plan.
Create and validate business cases for projects.
Maintain dashboard with work completed including spend along with conversions for each item in order to track cost per acquisition for natural SEO. (in some cases you will be expected to report this to upper level executives or help your superior report your work and effectiveness)
For some larger organizations an in-house SEO can be expected to:
Document business requirements for other teams, working with stakeholders throughout the organization to factor in their needs.
Is the business voice for SEO projects throughout the product development process, working closely with the technology organization.
Experience in defining and writing product/​functional specifications

In some cases an in-house SEO is expected to:
Work closely with the paid search marketing team (if not part of the responsibilities as an in-house SEO - depending on the company size) in creating SEO strategy to increase organic traffic and rankings.
Leverage social networking, user generated content and PR releases to drive qualified traffic. (as social media becomes recognized as a high impact strategy I believe companies will start to hire social media people as a role all its own)
Manage SEO initiatives for Google beta programs such as, mash ups for Google maps, Google co-op, plug-ins for Google desktop, widgets and other incremental SEO opportunities where applicable.
Set up a process to continuously educate internal teams on SEO best practices and emerging optimization techniques.

As you can see the roles and resposinbilities of the in-house SEO and SEO Agency employee are completely different, but yet both require a solid understanding of SEO. So how does one get started in SEO as a career? If you are passionate about SEO and you find that you have a unique satisfaction of seeing a website or page rank for a term you targeted then you have been bitten by the SEO bug and are definitely cut out to work both for an agency or in-house. It is highly recommended that you start with a smaller agency or on your own optimizing as many websites for clients as you can. Gather data and document as much as you can so that when you go to the agency or company hiring an in-house SEO you have examples of your work to show you understand the basics and can at least optimize a website. Agencies give you the opportunity to work with multiple websites and clients so that you not only get different scenarios of website optimization, but become exceptionally good at working with people along with the common questions such as, "I searched 'X' and we don't show up, why?" The questions you get from clients as an SEO Strategist in an agency prepare you for the same questions you will get occasionally see as an in-house SEO.
When you are ready to make the transition from agency to in-house SEO be prepared to have a robust understanding of marketing and how they track conversions, budget, etc as well as having the patience in working with other teams such as copywriters, designers, developers, legal, PR and so on. You will not only have to know SEO well, but to be able to explain different aspects of it to people that think differently from you. For example, when talking to a designer you will want to stress the importance of copy on a page that would most likely have a design focus in order to get key terms in there, or explain to someone in legal that you don't have complete control over what ranks in the search engines.
All in all both positions are very rewarding and a job in search engine optimization is not only challenging, but a lot of fun with a constant evolution in strategy and know how.

For more help on getting started in a career in SEO visit:
Market Motive SEO Training
SEOMoz Beginner's Guide to SEO