≡ Menu

I love working for an enterprise-caliber company. I love the complexity. I love the mountains of data. I love leveraging a large bevy of internal resources and expertise. Heck, I even love the excruciating amount of work involved in getting buy-in from the myriad of business divisions and departments that play a pivotal role in green lighting digital marketing efforts.

But most of all, I love outmaneuvering other enterprise brands that appear set in their ways and incapable of innovation.

And I find that one of the best ways to develop a nimble approach that’s well-suited for outmaneuvering the competition is to develop a startup mentality. What do I mean by that? Here are a few observations that might help paint a concrete picture:

  • Startups can’t afford to schedule tons of meetings filled with tons of procedural aspects but thin on strategic, analytical, or tactical rigor or discovery
  • Startups can’t afford to build a deck every time they want to convey and idea or get buy-in from parallel stakeholders
  • Startups adhere to the DRY principle (not just with their code but with all aspects of their business)
  • Startups know the value of subscribing to news outlets like Hacker News (again, not just for the coding insights but for the amazing myriad of powerful business intelligence tools and insights that are referenced there on an almost daily basis)
  • Startups aren’t afraid to fail, aren’t afraid to push boundaries, and try to avoid skating where the puck was
  • Startups like hiring entrepreneurial types and like cultivating that mentality as opposed to repressing it

If you find yourself working for an enterprise-level organization (or even just a relatively large and/or traditional smaller business) try to think of your role and your department as startup of sorts. Doing so will help you expose areas in desperate need of innovation or fat-trimming within your own department or even the broader business. And perhaps most importantly, it will help you easily spot opportunities where you can out-innovate your competition and cultivate measurable ROI increases.

Because it doesn’t matter if you’re working for a one-person startup or a Fortune 50 corporation. The name of our online marketing game should always be ROI.

{ 4 comments }

Want to have the ability to upload thousands of optimized title tags in one fell swoop? Or add custom SEO tools to your company’s CMS? Or build complicated redirect logic to nip a myriad of potential canonical/duplicate content issues at the bud? Want to truly scale your SEO and take it to previously unforeseen heights?

There’s a dev team for that. And it’s probably sitting right under your nose.

In my experience, most in-house dev teams – particularly at large organizations – have the programming, server admin, and database admin capabilities to achieve some truly profound SEO implementation. Unfortunately, it’s also been my experience that many in-house, agency, and freelance SEO leaders fail to fully tap into these capabilities for a variety of reasons, none the least of which is anadversarial approach to communicating with the individual members – including executive leaders – of said team.

Granted, making friends with a dev team can be a daunting and potentially complex task depending on the size of your organization and depth of it’s technological underpinnings, so I figured I’d share some techniques that have paid dividends for me:

  1. Have some respect – Seriously, if I had a nickle for every time I heard an SEO bad-mouth a developer or development team either in person or in the Twittersphere I probably wouldn’t have too much money since I’d need to accumulate 2,000 nickles to make $100, but I digress…my point is that just because you know your way around an htaccess file, some javascript, and a handful of PHP functions doesn’t mean that you fully grasp the complexity of maintaining a large, data-driven web portal. Moreover, even though certain coding conventions seem like obvious missteps from your SEO-centric viewpoint, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other non-SEO-related factors that are potentially complicating the situation. Therefore, it’s better to address dev-related SEO opportunities respectfully and with a spirit of collaboration and cooperation than it is to go in guns blazing with a healthy dose of condescension. 
  2. Remember that SEO isn’t always (e.g. almost never is) the No. 1 priority – Heresy, I know. But the fact of the matter is that – for example – if a new code release creates problems with the checkout functionality or slows down page load speed (or creates a myriad of other potentially business critical issues) addressing said issue is going to trump your needs. So instead of escalating SEO-related dev requirements to the executive team prematurely (or unnecessarily) start by working directly with the developer(s) and the product/project management team to understand what the current priorities are and where there might be some open time slots where your SEO tweaks can fit into the overarching plan.
  3. Remember that usability trumps SEO – Even worse heresy, I know. Yet while it’s seemingly counter intuitive, I’ve found that giving ground – and some case completely giving way – on decisions that might not be 100% SEO friendly is the most sure-fire way to earn the trust and respect of your dev team (and your product team, and your design/creative team, and your C-level executives). And you know what? More often than not, what you will find is that those elements you gave ground/way on don’t end up being as “make or break” as you thought they would be and/or as that supposed SEO guru/blogger/thought leader said they would be. Moreover, your willingness to not always make it about you will help ensure that when you do raise the red flag on truly critical SEO facets folks will take time to listen and comply.
  4. Learn to code, learn to manage a server(s), and learn to manage database structures – Few things will be more humbling, liberating, and empowering. The perspective you will gain will be profound, and best of all, you’ll be a in a much better position to understand exactly what your site(s) and your dev team are up to as well as being in a much better position to lucidly explain your needs and desires.
  5. Give your team explicit and public-facing credit when things go right – saw a big increase in SEO visits or revenue that were at least partially attributed to dev implementation? Made it through a major site redesign and/or CMS migration with no major SEO hiccups? Etc, and so forth? Make it a point to give your team a healthy dose of praise. And don’t just praise them directly. Make sure to also give your bosses and your bosses’ bosses the heads up via email and/or in-person, so that the dev folks know that you’ve got their back and that you plan in sharing the success. This is yet another way to get serious buy-in and collaboration.

And if all else fails, I hear that the occasional round of drinks doesn’t hurt ; )

 

 

 

{ 9 comments }

The most challenging things about digital marketing is the ridiculous pace at which its very landscape changes. Social networks come and go. Search engines rise to supremacy only to be superseded right under the mainstream’s nose. The very technology frameworks that provide the foundation for the internet evolve at break-neck speeds. The sheer amount of marketing data being produced grows ever more profound.

And yet I find that it’s this exponential rate of change that provides the lion’s share of competitive advantage within this digital marketing thing of ours.

Like Aaron, I’m a big believer understanding – and predicting –  how macroeconomic forces will shape the digital marketing landscape both in the short term and the long term. However, unlike Aaron and other industry thought leaders I’m not interested in painting Google  - or any other industry entity for that matter – as the bad guy. Why? Because in my opinion it’s a) a waste of precious time b) there are much bigger bad guys to fry.

That said, it is important to understand how subtle changes in the landscape, like this one or this one, could ultimately lead to a complete redefinition of the rules for this marketing game. That’s what the big money is doing, and they’re not thinking 2013. They’re thinking 2023, 2033, and beyond.

So make sure to leverage mental tools like conjecture and criticism along with a healthy dose of skepticism in order to come up with innovative hypotheses on what it will take to differentiate your marketing programs from those of your competitors. And always be prepared to falsify and abandon even your most treasured “best practices” if the data and evidence seem to point in a new direction.

Because it’s this willingness to accept and embrace change that will likely determine your long-term ROI.

{ 4 comments }

George and Trayvon
Could have been best friends on another day
But instead, George pulled his nine piece out
And took Trayvon’s life away

Could have been
My son
My brother
My best friend
Could have been
Somebody’s doting daddy someday

But instead
He’s a media feeding frenzy
Travyon’s the lead on the news every day

But that don’t help
His momma with her cryin’
That don’t help
His daddy take the nightmares away

He ain’t the only one
We’re killing them every night and day
‘Cause shooting instead of retreating
Is how we do it in the US of A

Don’t stand your ground
Even though it’s the law in 2o odd states
Don’t stand your ground
It’s a doorway to increasing hate

Cause I got a gun
And there ain’t nothing wrong with that
But the way we’re making the law
I can do what George did and still get away

{ 0 comments }

Not too long ago, marketing was dominated by gut feelings, intuition, and vague definitions of creativity. TV shows glamorize this analogue era as if it were the golden age of marketing and advertising but the truth of the matter is that it was an era dominated by truisms like:

“Half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.”

Sadly, though we know have the technology and mathematical rigor necessary to identify and address the wasted half (as well as all sorts of interesting pieces of information about consumers and competitors) many marketing and business leaders insist on continuing the Madmen-inspiring tradition of relying on what amounts to subjective opinion.

More on that in a moment.

I’m very fortunate to work at a place that employs real life data scientists. Why? Because they’re able to help me apply statistical rigor to the various hypotheses I come up with as I pour through the mountains of data produced by our digital marketing programs. This ultimately helps me sift through subjective ideas and opinions, falsify the ones that are ultimately nonsense, and focus in on the ones that might lead to measurable business impact.

More importantly, they help me realize just how deficient my own quantitative analysis skills are at this point in time. That’s a problem because like most people I talk to in our industry, analyzing data is one of my favorite things to do. Heck, for many years, I thought I was really good at it.

But the reality is that I’m not. Not even close. Sure, I can slice and dice some obvious data points and come up with an interesting angle from time to time, but if the world’s leading consultancies and thought leadership collectives are correct, we’re on the verge of a literal revolution in terms of the degree of expertise needed to properly leverage data to optimize marketing programs. This revolution could and likely will render my current level of analytical expertise obsolete. And me with it.

I’m not about to let that happen. You shouldn’t either.

P.S. If you think reaching that a senior leadership position provides you with immunity from prerequisites like mathematical proficiency you might be right. But then again, you might not be…

{ 6 comments }

Next week I’m going to be getting together with some good friends to talk shop. One of the main topics of conversation will be what is commonly referred to as content marketing but is arguably just an extension of a solid SEO and social media strategy.

I like to call it SEO-friendly content (e.g. blog posts, infographics, videos, etc).

This type of content has been around for a long time – well before buzz phrases like “social media” were invented – and it has always been extremely effective in terms of driving search engine authority because it facilitates the securing of both solicited and unsolicited inbound links from bloggers, digital publications, and other authoritative websites. Some might say that it’s the ultimate form of link and PR fodder, especially if it’s coupled with effective outreach.

And yet only a fraction of businesses – large or small – are able to actually implement this tactic effectively. This is fairly odd in my opinion, since most industry surveys demonstrate that SEO is often one of if not the highest of priorities within the overall marketing mix. In other words, companies know that SEO is important and yet they are unable or unwilling to leverage one of the most effective weapons in the SEO arsenal.

The reason, based on my experience, is that SEO-friendly content marketing is counterintuitive to most traditional marketers and business stakeholders.

Here’s what I mean by that:

  1. Most marketers and business executives I’ve worked with think that the goal of every content asset is to explicitly promote the brand or sell a particular service or product
  2. Most marketers and business executives are trained to use conversion and revenue as the primary (or in some cases the only) success metric to gauge the effectiveness of a piece of digital content
  3. Most marketers and business executives have no real understanding of how and why non-promotional content assets can profoundly impact natural search authority (especially when coupled with targeted outreach)
  4. Most marketers and business executives don’t know how to utilize web analytics data to demonstrate how non-promotional content (and outreach) can result in measurable increases in natural search conversion and revenue

Many of you reading this are probably either incredulous (e.g. “Hugo, you’re crazy. How can most marketers and execs not understand these things? It’s practically 2013 for goodness’ sake!”) or demoralized (e.g. “Hugo, tell me something I didn’t know.”) and that’s ok.

If you’re in the former camp, consider yourself fortunate since you’ve obviously work in a very progressive marketing environment. If you’re in the latter camp, don’t fret. Just learn to frame the counter-intuitive nature of content marketing in a manner that resonates with your colleagues. Get them to take their traditional marketing hats off for a minute and find the case studies and data points that help drive home the tangible business value both in terms of SEO as well as other softer metrics like social reach.

And who knows. You could end up dragging your organization (kicking and screaming in some cases) towards a measurable increase in digital marketing ROI.

{ 19 comments }

For several years now, I’ve been working on a data-driven marketing platform of my own over at www.engagefinder.com (eight years if you count the time that I spent manually executing the link building technique that is the basis for this platform). I’ve shared it with handful of industry confidants to get their thoughts as well as work through some bugs and now I’m ready to share it with everybody.

It’s not a fancy tool-set like you’ll find in industry-leading portals like SEOmoz, SEO Book, or Raven Tools and it definitely doesn’t have the the myriad of enterprise-level bells and whistles of a truly robust platform like Conductor. It just does one thing and it does it extremely well; find completely new referring sites that are likely ready and willing to be an ongoing sources of SEO-friendly inbound links and social media influence.

Anyhow, if you want to know more about the platform or the story behind it feel free to do so.

In the meantime, understand that this decision to build a data-base driven marketing platform is a reflection of what I think the digital marketing industry is moving towards. It seems that with every passing day I come across a very specific tactical methodology that can fairly easily be turned into an automated and alert-driven process that saves time and insures that no important data points fall through the cracks. And as a matter of fact, that’s what this tool does; it takes a multi-step process that requires:

  1. a fair amount of finagling with analytics platforms like Google Analytics
  2. extensive amounts of Excel-jockeying
  3. a significant amount of sheer will power to continue the process of fishing for data that might prove to be devoid of any actionable information

and automates the entire process. The platform takes care of all these aforementioned tasks for me automatically and on a daily basis. And the kicker? It sends me a frickin’ email anytime it finds an actionable piece of information (a completely new referring domain in this case) and sends me nothing if there are no new referrers on a certain day! Sure, I can log in and review historical reports and custom cuts of the data if I want. But the real value is the hours of manual work that are no longer needed and that I can reinvest into more strategic pursuits.

I plan on building out many other similar automated data processes like this one, extending out across various marketing channels, and I know that many other really smart people are doing the same thing. What’s really beautiful, though, is that despite all of these efforts, we as an industry have barely scratched the surface on what data science and quantitative analysis can do for digital marketing and general business optimization.

And don’t worry. I’m fairly sure that there will always be a place for gut feeling, aesthetic principles, and bouts of spontaneous creativity. It’s just these traditional marketing elements are going to be surrounded by a sea of automation and artificial intelligence.

That’s a very good thing, by the way, because who the hell wants to sift through referral data and build out a constantly growing master spreadsheet of historical data manually when our new robot overlords underlings could do it for us?

: )

P.S. If you do decide to take the platform for a spin and run into bugs or have questions about how to get the ball rolling please don’t hesitate to ping me. That’s what I’m here for.

{ 0 comments }

Several months ago, I decided to become a data scientist. It was an easy decision when you consider the impact that algorithm-driven business models are making, but the actual manifestation of the goal is a different manner entirely. It’s been one of the most humbling and downright frustrating experiences in my life. I thought I had some mathematics and computer programming chops, but the material I’m pouring through on a nightly basis often leaves me pondering if I’m simply too obtuse to ever reach the upper echelon of the hacker set.

But I’ll continue pushing through, spending at least a few minutes of every day working on my core math skills as well as my coding ability, because the last two times I did this, the long-term ROI was staggering.

The first time around, I was a sales rep with zero web or marketing experience, who raised his hand when the boss asked for volunteers to learn about this “internet marketing” thing everyone is talking about (there year was 2002).

The second time around, it was 2007, and I was already knee deep into this interactive marketing thing of ours and seemed to be holding my own. Yet I realized that I simply did not have the verbal and visual communication skills needed to reach the upper tiers of leadership, so I decided to become a professional presenter.

It was settled. I would hone my Powerpoint skills and learn how to present to a room full of people.

And man did I suck at those two things.

But over time, as I invested more and more time reading books, watching the true pros, and practicing as much as possible, the challenges seemed less daunting and the progress seemed to come faster. Mind you, I’m still far from elite in terms of building a persuasive deck or mesmerizing the crowd when presenting in person.

In fact, on most days, I review the finished product and come away thinking that I more or less still suck.

However, I’m definitely orders of magnitude better than I was when I started this adventure, and every so often a decision is made and business gets done as a result of an idea I’ve presented and I realize that all of the effort I put in has paid off.

And so the process begins again with regards to data science. I’ve come to realize that my mathematical and statistical skills are sorely deficient. I’m definitely no Nate Silver. But I also know that time and dedication will result in a significant improvement in both tactical skill and strategic perspective.

Those are crucial weapons to wield in a marketing landscape that is become more sophisticated with every passing day.

P.S. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you’re already “good enough” at whatever skills you deem necessary for long-term success. Many a career and business idea has been stagnated by “good enough”, so always strive to shift from good to great.

{ 10 comments }

I’m reading a fascinating book on the evolution of math and statistics over the past 100 years, and its impact on the scientific method of inquiry. This particular passage really caught my eye:

“A scientific career is peculiar in some ways. Its reason d’etre is the increase of natural knowledge. Occasionally, therefore, an increase of natural knowledge occurs. But this is tactless, and feelings are hurt. For in some small degree it is inevitable that views previously expounded are shown to be either obsolete or false. Most people, I think, can recognize this and take it in good part if what they have been teaching for ten years or so comes to need a little revision; but some undoubtedly take it hard, as a blow to their amour propre, or even as an invasion of the territory they have come to think of as exclusively their own, and they must react with the same ferocity as we can see in the robins and chaffinches these spring days when they resent an intrusion into their little territories. I do not think anything can be done about it. It is inherent in the nature of our profession…”

Make no mistake about it. Marketing, and digital marketing in particular, is a science (or at least it should be). And we are all – including me – subject to the type of folly outlined in Ronald A. Fisher’s aforementioned quote.

Keep this top of mind in your day to day. It will help you avoid falling into the trap of believing that your years of experience and measurable ROI have somehow inoculated you from being wrong at least some of the time. It will also help remind you to constantly question even your most cherished conclusions.

This is crucial, because the coming years will bring about a literal avalanche of data-driven marketing methodology that will likely falsify many of the “best practices” that many of us have leaned on for years.

{ 8 comments }

A colleague of mine shared a presentation with me. It was about the correlation between TV air time and revenue generated by our website. There were some fascinating data points, some of which were counter-intuitive, which is always a good thing because data that goes against intuition is what typically gets the gears to start turning.

What stood out to me is the fact that this study was addressing a question that had never been asked before. Namely, how does TV promotion impact e-commerce?

These are the golden moments that can lead to new questions, new KPIs, or perhaps even a completely new way of prioritizing and setting business strategy. They are definitely not an everyday occurrence, and unfortunately for some businesses, they are not an occurrence at all. Why? Because a lot of businesses are satisfied with conducting business as usual.

Don’t be that business. Learn to cultivate those “nobody’s ever asked that before” moments.

“But how do you go about doing that” you ask?

I’m sure that there are a lot of ways, but here are a few that have worked for me over the years:

  1. Don’t lean on mainstream publications to inform your strategic approach – Sadly, the majority of colleagues I’ve had over the years subsist solely on information gleamed from mainstream publications and consultancies. Well guess what? That means you’re feeding your mind from the same trough that virtually all of your competitors are feeding from. And that will almost never lead to these golden moments. This approach a recipe for mediocrity in a marketing climate that’s rapidly becoming more and more of a zero sum game.
  2. Test anything and everything, especially if its new – Over the years, I’ve witnessed countless companies pass on strategies and tactics because they seemed foreign and outside of the mainstream marketing consciousness only to go into reactive mode a year or two (or ten) later once said tactic or strategy had reached the tipping point in terms of widespread acceptance.
  3. Invest in data science – The smartest people I know with access to the most privileged information around tell me that this is where the smart money (and people) are going. And I can tell you from personal experience as well as empirical data that few companies, even at the enterprise level, are fully leveraging data science to improve their business, let alone to improve their approach to marketing.

This third bullet point is a biggie for me. I spend a ridiculous amount of time playing with bigger and bigger sets of data (e.g. the kind that forces you to abandon Excel and learn SQL) and I’m also refreshing my math skills with an eye towards returning to school to pursue a degree in applied mathematics.

Why? Because data has revolutionized our understanding of the real world in the past 100 years or so and it will do the same to this marketing thing of ours in the coming years.

{ 0 comments }