Q&A With Bill Macaitis, SVP Online Marketing For Fox Interactive Media

Bill Macaitis is the SVP of Online Marketing for Fox Interactive Media (FIM), which runs a network of entertainment sites including MySpace, Fox Sports, IGN, Photobucket, AskMen, Rotten Tomatoes, American Idol, GameSpy, Scout, and Flektor. The FIM network reaches over 171 million monthly unique visitors. Bill has over 12 years of online marketing experience with a specialty in search. He has spoken at numerous conferences including SES, Ad Tech, SMX, Pub Con, Searchnomics, and iHollywood: Search & Media Summit.

Below, Bill offers insights into managing a huge search marketing operation, tips for advancing your career as an in-house marketer, and where to find the best focaccia in San Francisco.

How did you get your start as a search marketer?

bill-macaitis.jpg I was attending the University of Illinois working on my business degree about the same time that Marc Andreessen, a fellow U of I grad, released Mosaic (which later became Netscape). This was one of the first graphical browsers and it spread like wildfire around the campus. I was utterly amazed at the power of the Internet to connect people to knowledge and each other. I knew at that point that the Internet would forever change the world around us and I wanted to be a part of it.

I imagined all the wonderful ideas that could change the world and ended up settling for something closer to my heart at that time: online gaming. I helped co-found Case’s Ladder along with Jeremy, Abi and Greg, who I had met playing Command and Conquer online. Case’s Ladder was a player ranking site where you could challenge other players to matches and your scores were recorded.

We were a virtual company and quickly grew the company to support hundreds of online games. Although we didn’t end world poverty, we did end up entertaining over 10 million people and achieved an exit event through a sale to eUniverse. I learned a lot about online marketing during this time and focused in on guerrilla, viral and search marketing. I still employ many of the same techniques to our larger sites today.

Over the next 12 years I utilized online marketing and search to grow sites into multi-million unique visitor powerhouses. I always equated search as waves hitting the beach. The waves are the massive amounts of searches taking place and the beach is the sites where the traffic ends up. If you optimized your site and ranked high, you were rewarded with a constant stream of visitors. If you did nothing, those waves still hit the beach, they just went to your competitor. I always tried to stress that the traffic is going out regardless, it’s just a matter of if you get your share of it.

I spent time in marketing leadership positions at Systems Software Associates, Club Photo, IGN Entertainment and, most recently, Fox Interactive Media. The latter two were network models where I was able to work with dozens of different sites. This was a marketer’s dream as I could quickly see what worked and what didn’t and apply these learnings to all of our sites. Another benefit was I had the opportunity to work with all three of the major monetization models: advertising, subscription and e-commerce.

I have always been a strong advocate of search because of its phenomenal ROI (both organic and paid). At the same time I think a disciplined marketer needs to look at all the tools at their disposal depending on the end goal. This had led me to explore and utilize a wide variety of marketing mediums, including both offline (sponsorships, TV, radio, print, conferences) and online (display, e-mail, affiliate, viral, social media optimization, and PR).

What has been your biggest challenge?

Speaking to search marketing, by far the biggest challenge is getting full buy in from the executive level on down within the organization. For search (and, more specifically, SEO) to work, you need to have _everyone_ bought into the overall strategy and execution. This means marketing, product management, content management, UI, editorial, design, project management and engineering all have to understand SEO and believe in its power.

That’s a lot of touch points in an organization. But you need to influence all of them because SEO (and, to an increasing degree, SEM CPC) requires shared resources and you are competing against a multitude of other initiatives. It’s a challenge, but at the same time it is extremely rewarding to see the revenue and traffic flow in when all of your hard work comes to fruition.

What has been your biggest success?

I have been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people and brands over my time. Looking back, I’m proud that every site I have worked with has achieved profitability and several have reached exit events.

At IGN, our marketing efforts helped grow IGN into the largest gaming network in the world, going from 6MM to 30MM monthly visitors. SEO was absolutely key to growing IGN’s network, with some of our sites getting 40% to 90% of their traffic from search. As a result of that traffic and our company’s ability to monetize, we were able to sell IGN Entertainment to News Corp for $650 million.

I’m also extremely proud to work for Fox Interactive Media. I lead up an amazing marketing team which helped grow FIM into one of the largest networks in the world with 171 million monthly unique visitors and 49 billion monthly page views.

Please list three things companies should be aware of when embarking on a search optimization plan.

1. It requires engineering cycles 2. It won’t always look pretty 3. It will be the best thing you ever did

How do you see the future of careers in search evolving?

Search is becoming the cornerstone of the online marketing mix for many companies. I think as more companies realize the power of search (both paid and organic), more positions and departments will be created to fill this need.

I think you will also see a continued shift from companies using external agencies for search to moving this function in-house. The demand for qualified search people has never been higher as the revenue generated from search continues to grow exponentially.

Any advice for those looking to build their careers?

One of the things I love about search is that it attracts the entrepreneurial type. The information is all out there, but you need someone with the passion and drive to go and seek it out. If you want to get into this field I would recommend first learning as much as possible. Go to the top search sites and blogs, listen to podcasts, go to the conferences, network, ask questions, take classes, get certified. If you have the passion, you will succeed.

With that said, there is a _lot_ of information out there. With search sometimes you will get bad or misleading information. I recently put together a list of top search resources that I presented at an SES conference. It was requested by a few people afterwards, so this might be a good opportunity to share it to others looking to get into the field.

Below are my top 10 picks (in no particular order) for search resources to learn and stay on top of the industry.

Top 10 industry sites

Top 5 podcasts

Top 10 conferences

Top 10 certifications and courses

Top 10 associations

Top 10 magazines

Top 10 research firms

And, on the lighter side… What’s your favorite city and why?

I was born in Chicago and I grew up watching the 1985 Bears shuffle through the NFL with a list of characters like Refrigerator Perry, Walter Payton, Jim McMahon and Richard Dent. I was also fortunate enough to watch the Jordan years and six Bulls championships. It’s probably why I turned into such a big sports nut. I love the architecture that Chicago brings, their waterfront and the great night life.

As much as I have a fond place in my heart for Chicago though, San Francisco is definitely my favorite city. I moved to San Francisco about 5 years ago and I don’t think I’ll ever leave. The city is simply amazing. I love everything from the great ethnic diversity, the ocean, redwood trees, Victorian houses, crazy hills, and to boot you are about 30 minutes from wine country. I currently live in a fun little neighborhood called North Beach.

Do you know of any outstanding restaurants you could share with readers?

You betcha. Here’s a couple local places that you can’t miss the next time you visit North Beach.

Laguria Bakery: This place is run by an old Italian family that just makes focaccia bread. For about $5 you have a slab of focaccia heaven. Just get there early. When they sell out, they close.

Mama’s: Incredible place for breakfast/brunch. The line is consistently about 45 minutes long and they don’t take reso’s so get a nice cup of coffee and prepare to wait (they also only take cash!).

Cafe Divine: Top notch food. Great views of Washington Square Park. Can’t go wrong here for lunch or dinner.

If someone were to offer to buy you a drink, what should it be?

I’ve always been a fan of Bass ale.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I absolutely love what I do. If I ever switched things up though I would probably run for a local neighborhood supervisor. Things like graffitti, potholes, empty storefronts and no fiscal discipline annoy me to no end.

What profession would you not like to do?

About 100% of the stuff they feature on Dirtiest Jobs.

What are you reading right now?

Timeout: Barcelona 2008. I’m traveling with my wife to Paris and Barcelona in a little bit. She handles the languages and I handle the sites.

Thanks very much, Bill.

Duane Forrester is an in-house SEM with Microsoft, sits on the Board of Directors with SEMPO, can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites and is the author of How To Make Money With Your Blog. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing


About The Author: is an in-house SEM with Microsoft, is a former Board of Directors member with SEMPO, can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites and is the author of two books: How To Make Money With Your Blog & Turn Clicks Into Customers.

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