Networking: The In-House Search Marketer’s Most Powerful Tool

You are a pillar. You are on an island. You are alone – a stranger in your own land. Such is the life of an in-house SEM. Or is it? True, you may be the only one in your company talking your talk and walking your walk, but you are hardly alone. As more companies […]

Chat with SearchBot

You are a pillar. You are on an island. You are alone – a stranger in your own land. Such is the life of an in-house SEM. Or is it?

True, you may be the only one in your company talking your talk and walking your walk, but you are hardly alone. As more companies bring search marketing efforts in-house, more and more internal experts just like you are facing the same questions, the same barriers and the same attitudes. Being the sole flag bearer internally usually means you’re time is limited and it’s hard to find enough data on your own to support your thoughts and ideas. The Internet can certainly provide the data, it’s more a case of information overload.

That’s where networking comes into play.

Rarely do people succeed on their own. Success usually comes as a result of lessons learned, and since business does not happen in a vacuum, it’s inevitable that you will find yourself either reaching out to others for advice, or learning from others as they go through their own processes. Chances are good that for every question that comes to mind, there are a multitude of people who’ve already encountered the problem, asked the question and found an answer.

External networking

This is where networking in the classic sense begins to take shape for in-house SEMs. Surely the in-house SEM at Ford isn’t going to start buying coffees for his counterpart at GM, but both of them should be looking for peers in the search marketing community.

If your business is new to the Internet, or new to blogging, or redesigning an old website, chances are you’ll have questions no one in your organization can answer. The concepts will be new to everyone and without time to research and learn, even the quickest learner will be left grasping at straws when trying to piece together a sound search marketing plan. Things change so quickly that just to keep up to date on the latest list of changes takes several hours of reading each week. What if an algorithm changed and you missed it? What if a new resource just came out that would benefit you, and you missed it?

As an in-house SEM, the job is yours. It’s on you to make the results happen—whether the desired outcomes are sales, leads or just traffic in general—it’s on you. By working on building a network of contacts, even a relative neophyte in search marketing can post some impressive wins for their business online. If you have good contacts and work them well, you’ll learn a lot that you can apply immediately.

Even better, you’ll look like a hero to your company.

Let’s say you meet a search marketing expert at a search-focused event. You trade cards, keep in touch via e-mail and build a healthy relationship. Over time, as the expert shares tips and tricks with a neophyte, that “newbie” becomes very well versed. Suddenly things that were merely words start to morph into concepts they understand. They begin applying these ideas to their own work, for their company. In the end, it’s the company that derives the full benefit from the in-house SEM’s networking efforts. Building a network allows the learning to continue long after an event or show has passed.

Those networking events will continue to pay off down the road as an in-house SEM’s career grows. By meeting the right folks now, and listening to what they have to say, you’ll be much better placed come interview time when the itch hits to find a new job. Every company looking to hire a dedicated in-house SEM would prefer to hire a star right out of the gate. Chances are they won’t be able to afford the star, but if you are plugged into the stars, you’ll be a valuable resource to any company looking for a solid search marketer.

Internal networking

Internal networking is one of the first and most important items you can check off your list as an in-house SEM. To paraphrase a catchy 3M ad from years ago, you don’t make the product, you make the product better. So, it’s essential that you have very solid relationships in place with those who actually do make the product.

Having a good internal network of relationships helps ensure you’re included in projects from the outset. It’s all well and good for your company to say “search is vital” and send around the e-mail saying you exist. It’s a completely different landscape when you walk into another department and ask for changes to things. It’s like you’re somehow telling them they built it incorrectly. Having good relationships within your company can help over come this. As others get used to dealing with your requests, they begin to understand the need for them and you’ll soon see them anticipating your requests in advance.

How to build your network

Going to search marketing conferences is great, but it’s unrealistic for most in-house SEMs to think they can go to several events a year. As your boss might say, “it’s not like going to them generates business for us.” And that makes perfect sense. You’re an in-house SEM, not an agency wonk. Often we’re told, pick one—and not the expensive one.

By having an active network of individuals that you routinely reach out to, you’ll be able to build your case for needing to attend search marketing events. The benefits are clear—you know the people; their advice helped your business; you need to keep that “access to information” open and going to the event to meet with them helps keep those valuable relationships alive. There is a world of difference between e-mails back and forth and buying someone a drink at a conference hotel bar.

While this isn’t a sure-fire way to open the purse strings, the minute you can say, “We did this, as so-and-so- suggested we try, and we generated $X in added revenues,” things get easier when it comes time to argue for your travel budget.

Here are some ways to get started in your quest to building an external network. With any network, be careful to vet individuals offering advice prior to implementing the advice. It’s very easy for people to claim “expert” status online for their own benefit.

Now, these tactics may seem somewhat guerilla in nature, but they still work. People respect those who work their way into a space and prove themselves to be intelligent and willing to help others. So approach these opportunities with the perspective of someone new, ready to learn and eager to contribute.

Building your internal network is usually easier. Rather than building virtual relationships, you’re back into the somewhat easier to relate to domain of face-to-face interactions. If you’re not strong here, don’t sweat it. Some of the best things I’ve done to build my internal relationships were pretty simple.

Taking the time to explain why something matters in your world can work wonders. A site architect or programmer might not understand what a 301 redirect is, but taking a few minutes to explain what it is and why it’s important in your case will go a long way towards building the long-term relationship you’re after. Simply saying “We need it” often gets a blank stare. Explaining what it actually means, how the engines handle that request, and why it’s appropriate in the instance is a much better approach. Invest the time in educating those you seek assistance from. It’ll pay dividends now and later.

Each week I set aside time to discuss our company’s projects from the prospective of others. How does this project affect the programmers? How about the SysAdmins? What’s the impact on the Project group? Has Quality Assurance been factored into the end dates effectively? What are the Product Manager’s goals? …and so on. This means I’m even springing for a coffee or two every week.

I simply invite someone out for a coffee or I bring them what I know they like. It’s a great way to show appreciation for their time, advice and expertise, and it’s a pretty small thing from my end. A few dollars a month and stalled projects start to get fast tracked, or even better, folks now come directly to me to involve me at the concept stage. My own internal network spans many departments so I’m looped on every concept early in the lifecycle.

Buying our site architect a hot chocolate (he’s not a coffee guy and prefers Second Cup HC to Starbucks) every few weeks has been one of the best investments I’ve ever made. He’s now not just an advocate for me, but he knows enough to throw flags and say it’s time to get me involved when folks start pitching new ideas or revisions. Our product Managers and the Design team receive the same treatment every so often. Small thing, big difference.

It’s really about the basics of relationship building. Listen to people, ask questions and generally pay attention to their needs. Hit even a few of those small items and you’ll find an internal network of supporters intent on making you happy.

Here’s a personal example of how building your personal network can help you and your company.

My company recently launched a new sports-centric ad network. Running about 600 million ad impressions currently, it’s slated to expand to 1 billion impressions by the fall. When we launched it, our sales force began cold calling everyone they thought might like to advertise across the network.

I began to target my own contacts made over the years from attending the shows, meeting folks online, etc. Where our sales guys were dropping blind e-mails to a company hoping they made it to the right personal internally, I was able to get them into direct contact with the person who has final authority on all ad buys for the company.

No one immediately thought to target other large networks. I did, and began beating the bushes to see if any other networks needed space to show ads.

Getting in touch with large agencies managing multiple client accounts was a priority. This was easily accomplished through my list of contacts. I know folks at some of the biggest interactive agencies in North America. Those contacts have allowed me to help my company directly generate revenue. Being able to help like this not only gave me a sense of satisfaction, but helped me increase my own profile within the company. Executives were pleasantly surprised to learn how far my network of contacts spread.

I’m sure many other in-house SEMs have similar stories of their own networks helping them out. You’d be wise to really get started on building your own list of contacts. It takes a while, but the efforts are worth it.

Duane Forrester is an in-house SEM, sits on the Board of Directors with SEMPO and can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites. The In House column appears periodically at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Duane Forrester

Get the must-read newsletter for search marketers.