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Inside Information: Interviews With In-House Search Marketers
In-house search marketers face many unique challenges, ranging from running huge or dispersed sites to finessing internal politics and corporate egos. I thought it would be interesting to get the inside scoop from five in-house search marketers that are both successful at their jobs and who command the respect of their peers.
What follows are interviews with Melanie Mitchell, the VP of SEO and SEM at AOL, Anthony Kirlew, Internet Marketing Consultant & In-House SEM Specialist, Patrick Schaber, Marketing Manager, George Bounacos, Sr. Manager, Search Engine Marketing at Innovectra, and Edward Serrano, President of Nine Blue.
The first question that I asked the group was to identify the biggest challenge(s) to their search marketing success.
Melanie: Getting management to understand the importance of SEO and rallying the organization around it. Much of educating management comes down to education of what it is, what it can do, what’s it going to take to get there, as well as tying all of it to an ROI. If I was going to ask executives to commit to a search marketing strategy, I had to show them how it would pay off.
Influencing the overall organization—and depending on its size—can be a big challenge. There are many different groups with many different personalities that you need to work with, and they have their own goals and objectives that may not align with yours. Many of these folks also have their own opinions on how to do SEO from gathering snippets from various sources. As many of us know, when you first begin to learn about SEO it can be a bit overwhelming—and there are thousands of online blogs out there about search marketing. Some of the information on these blogs is right on, but some of it is outdated as it is a dynamic industry that is always evolving. Some of it is easily misinterpreted, or just plain wrong. Thus, for these and many other reasons, it takes a lot of work to influence people who don’t directly report to you or your group. You have to show “what’s in it for them.”
Anthony: Working with developers or managers who just don’t get SEM, but let their egos take over to where they continue to question your suggestions and recommendations (and not for the sake of learning) because they can’t fathom that you know something that they don’t understand.
A close second would be working with management that really doesn’t understand what the results of SEM should be. This is a reminder to anyone looking at taking an in-house position to make sure you discuss “traffic and ranking” goals and expectations explicitly before you start; this way, your success will be documented and no one can question whether or not you are doing what you were hired for.
Patrick: My biggest challenge as a small business in-house marketer is time. Search marketing is not a one-time setup project. This is something that takes time each day and needs dedicated resources.
George: Biggest challenge is balancing an organization’s strategic needs with the industry’s dynamic nature. You can’t chase every new fad, but knowing which fads will turn out to be good or bad long-run is like reading tea leaves. Ultimately, you have to compartmentalize your knowledge and continue to view the page and site as a new visitor would.
Edward: Access to reliable and credible information. With the advent of AdWords a few years ago, Google had an interest in educating the business world on contextual advertising and the science behind it all, but the same hasn’t happened for other areas such as search engine optimization, et al. I find that in the area of SEO, most of my time is spent wading through loads of misinformation and gathering bits and pieces of credible information to then construct the logic path to success. With regards to CPC, I’d say that the biggest challenge is properly and cost-effectively tapping into the content network. While a ton of web sites carry AdSense like code which allows advertisers to generate relevant leads/prospects, the analytics/tracking for that part of CPC is lacking.
One topic that always seems to be an issue for In-House search marketers is finding the right people, at all levels, but it’s especially an issue when you need to hire someone to lead your In-House effort. To that end I asked the group to illuminate me on the skills and experience they’d look for if they were promoted to the next level in their organization and had to hire their replacement.
Melanie: Besides having to understand the space, you need someone who is personable and is not easily overwhelmed. This person would have to be ok with wearing multiple hats throughout the day and be able to constantly shift gears. Additionally, this person would also have to be able to look beyond the immediate needs and be able to lay out a longer term strategy of where we are, where we need to be, and how do we get there.
Anthony: Skills—a good mix of all things that comprise SEM:
- Organic search marketing (including site coding)
- Link building (and link baiting)
- An understanding of what really matters (e.g., Results vs. Toolbar Page Rank)
- PPC / Paid Search
- Social Media Marketing
- Metrics analysis and tracking
- A good overall business sense. Many execs don’t realize what an integral part of a company the SEM person plays and they miss out on valuable industry insight that comes around in SEM circles or other competitive analysis than a good SEM Consultant can provide.
Experience: If I were hiring my replacement, it would be for a management position, so I’d want to make sure the person had several years of experience directly doing all of the above, not just one component such as paid campaigns. I would also want to see results—the numbers don’t lie. If there were one strength I’d want to see, it would be Social Media Marketing because anyone who does SMM well usually gets good results with traffic.
Patrick: As a small business marketer I handle multiple aspects of marketing, so that is a tough question. But, I would for sure be looking for some kind of search engine marketing experience on the resume. They don’t have to be experts, but need some familiarity with paid search, social media, and writing optimized content for the web.
George: I would look for balance in a replacement. They need people skills up and down and especially externally. They also need good perspective on business and their industry. They have to be a solutions provider, not a specialist looking to fit each client’s need to their skills. Finally, they need to know which information to capture and how to effectively present that to customers and management. They need to learn 43 variations on the spelling of the word “troy.” Maybe not the last.;)
Edward: A solid analytical background. While we all have access to tons of information on the inner workings of our web sites and traffic, it takes a person who can interpret mounds of data and derive a workable path to success based on it. Recaps and summaries don’t solve complex problems or reveal potential opportunities. Analytics web services have relieved us of the heavy lifting, but someone has to make sense of it all.
Tune in to my next column, where the group names their favorite search marketing tools, discusses the role of social media in their organizations, and gives further opinions on the complexities of search marketing from an In-House perspective.
Simon Heseltine worked as an in-house search marketer for several years before moving over to work as Director of Search for RedBoots Consulting. In January 2008 RedBoots will move to a new brand – Serengeti Communications. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.