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Ralphy is my good buddy. He’s also my 21-year-old nephew and arguably the biggest role model in my life.

Ralphy
You see, Ralphy was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was two years old. And while he is fortunate that his particular type of affliction is not as aggressive and deadly as others, the impact those rogue cells have had on his life is immense. He can’t really see and struggles with a variety of motor skills, so playing sports is out of the question. He also struggles with memory and other cognitive functions. And these are, unbelievably, just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he has to overcome on a daily basis.

And yet despite all of this adversity, Ralphy is one of the happiest and most fun-loving people you will ever meet. He’s almost always smiling, laughing, dancing, telling jokes and generally putting smiles on the faces of people around him. Which is what made the question he asked me yesterday so devastatingly succinct.

“Uncle,why am I disabled?”

The question froze my mind in its tracks as we ambled down Flatbush Avenue, making me momentarily forget all of the sunshine and happiness we witnessed in Prospect Park.

I suppose the stock answer lies somewhere between a religious platitude and a children’s nursery rhyme. Neither of those will fly for me. Ralphy deserves better. He deserves the truth.

And so I told him a little bit about genetics. About DNA. About cellular biology. I explained that sometimes the natural yet astoundingly complex beauty of evolutionary biology requires just a hint of randomness. Dumb luck. And that he was unfortunately the unwilling recipient of a genetic mutation that led to his present condition.

I also reminded him that as tough of a break as this was, he was fortunate to have working limbs, and a sense of humor, and an amazing appetite, and well, consciousness in general.

And he agreed.

Then he amazed me for the umpteenth time by reminding me about how he loves to help the less fortunate kids at his school. Kids that can’t talk, or walk, or think. He seemed sincerely thankful and mentioned that he relished the opportunity to help “his friends” out when they needed it.

I finished this particular conversation by mentioning that if it weren’t for an army of anonymous scientists and medical researchers he and others like him wouldn’t even be here today and that had he been born a 100 years ago he’d of likely had no chance at life. I made sure to remind him how these true heroes never make the evening news, never have an entourage, never get a red carpet gala, and are rarely wealthy. Heck, they are often attacked when their discoveries don’t align with previously established dogma, superstition, etc.

But I digress.

He seemed to appreciate my answer and so we left it at that for now. Then we got back to clowning around and talking about the more mundane things in life. Like which types of girls he likes the most and how we could work on getting him a steady job around town.

I also got to thinking about my renewed resolve to encourage my fellow digital marketers and analysts to donate their skills and their time to non-profits and other charitable and socially-benevolent organizations, so that we can help kids like Ralphy – and other disadvantaged members of society – get their fair share of the good life.

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I’ve purposely been laying low in recent months due to the significant changes that I foresaw coming both in my personal and professional life.

And now those changes are manifesting themselves, so I figured I’d share.

For starters, I have decided to leave my current role as head of search for HSN and take on a senior role with J.P. Morgan Chase, working to help build their burgeoning digital marketing group. It’ wasn’t an easy decision because HSN was doing some truly innovative things within the digital space and because I made some truly great friends and built some valuable professional relationships in my tenure. But at the same time, the Big Apple has been calling me and my wife back for some time and the opportunity that presented itself was truly profound on many levels.

For those of you that are based in the NYC area, feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to connect in person. I’m a big believer in building relationships in the real world, so I’m open to grabbing a bite to eat, etc. once I get settled in. Don’t be shy! Reach out.

Also, it worth noting that I’m taking advantage of this life pivot to expand the scope of this blog. I’ll definitely continue to touch on subjects relating to digital marketing and analytics, but I will take an opportunity to branch out into other subjects that I am passionate about including but not limited to:

  • programming and software development
  • mathematics, statistical analysis, and quantitative analysis (I believe the cool kids call it “Data Science”)
  • scientific research and experimentation
  • art & philosophy
  • non-profit and charitable causes
  • Being a father and a husband

I’m doing this partially because I just enjoy expressing myself regarding topics beyond the bounds of my current profession and partly I believe that enriching your mind by exploring varied domains will actually help you improve both your professional and personal standing in life.

If you were only here to read about search or digital marketing, then I apologize and I hope you’ll stick around. I promise to try and keep things interesting and insightful.

Cheers!

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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.

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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 ; )

 

 

 

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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.

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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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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