Duane Forrester, a Senior Project Manager at Bing who oversees Webmaster Tools, syndicates to SEJ his well-written, thoughtful blog pieces on SEO. Over late night emails, he answered my questions on SEO, our industry, and why we need to stop waiting for the “next big thing”.
In your first syndicated post for SEJ, you said, “Mostly what it means is that if a business is singularly focused (we’ll focus mainly on SEO this year, and focus on social later), you could be falling behind and not realize it.” That really stuck out to me. What are three strategies marketers can do to stay ahead of the curve to be proactive so they don’t get behind?
- Content: Almost goes without saying, yet so many sites try for shortcuts. Searchers are looking for content, not optimized web pages, so why not feed them what they want? When thinking about content, think laterally – do your customers prefer to read or watch videos? Do they respond more to bulleted lists, or long form text? And gathering customers from organic search is the first step. How are you treating them after that? What are you doing to walk them through their research in deeper into your conversion funnel?
- Learn new things. Sounds kind of trite, I realize, but do you know how local marketing is changing with the advent of in-car navigation systems that showcase store locations? Are you prepared for the shift from “mobile” where we are today, to “mobilized” where we’re heading with next-gen automotive integrations and expanded features enabling longer use-time of devices? What happens when companies start linking affinity programs (your grocery store) with payment solutions and smart in-home devices? What are the opportunities for you to extract more business and exposure through these emerging concepts? That’s the kind of learning I’m talking about.
- Pull. The. Trigger. When you uncover new data and see a way to get involved, give it a try. Don’t be afraid to apportion some of your budget to purely testing new ideas. Win or lose, you learn.
- Bonus – invest in customers. Usability testing and in-person discussions will go a long, long way to helping you understand the mindset of your customer. And marketing is the task of using that knowledge to elicit a response. Tough to win when you’re guessing, but easy to win when they tell you, face-to-face, what they want.
You also mention that the department that does more than SEO (such as paid search, social media, customer service, print media, PR, and more) will be in greater demand. I think the responsibility to grow falls somewhat on each person that makes up a department. As individuals, how can we increase our experience to incorporate more of these skills?
When most SEOs started, they were often tasked with more than just SEO work. Today’s teams are usually a bit more specialized, but never lose sight of emerging trends (touched on above). Those who seek the trends are better positioned to predict the future. SEOs typically have access to so much data, spotting interesting trends is like a hobby. So a company would do well to exploit that inquisitive nature inherent in SEOs and apply what they can uncover in new directions. I keep calling out SEOs, but this applies equally to those in other discreet disciplines of search and social marketing.
One trend I’ve noticed in our industry is that people are obsessed with predicting the “next big thing” or what’s going to “change the game forever.” Do you like that approach, or is it more effective to keep your head down and focus on the present? (Or, is it a mixture of both?)
Really, it’s a mixture of both. Sacrifice one too much and you lose an advantage. Calling out the “next big thing”, though, does make for great headlines. And for a lot of businesses who are investing time and resources, they’d rather have one big bet to focus on. Smaller businesses can reap rewards from smaller, faster testing. In either case, you have to focus on execution daily, while trying to determine where to guide the business next week, month, and year. There is no rest for the wicked, or the successful.
That being said, obtuse “fortune telling” might be my biggest pet peeve in the SEO world. If you have one, what is yours?
It’s got to be that every few months a new “OMG” something pops up, causing people to rethink their plans, reassign resources, and generally it all gets in the way of the main goal: making the business successful. If you’ve build a solid business, on a solid plan and you’re growing, then why be distracted by sideline chatter that is not affecting you? Spending even a week treading down the wrong path means lost time and progress in other areas. Our industry is all about the headline this week (as are most others, I realize), but raising your head every time someone blogs about X means you’re not focused on your goal.
Most Fortune 100 companies (and beyond) now take SEO and paid search seriously. Do you think the adoption process took longer than it should?
Gotta give this an “Oh heck yes!”, but then again, I’ve been an SEO for 15 years, so I might be biased. Seriously, though, the adoption timeline is about right. Some businesses have even beaten the curve, as is evidenced by how fast this industry went from a bunch of geeks speaking their own language to a $20B/year space. Large companies, like large ships, take time to reset their course. In the NEXT 10 years, you’ll see this work become ingrained and so intrinsic that no business will skip some form of it. Might not always be SEO as we know it, but the broader spread of marketing efforts: organic, paid, social, etc. will always be part of the marketing toolbox moving forward.
And along that same line, for companies who are still struggling to “come to Jesus” (as one might say), how can marketers prove that SEO and paid search needs to be taken as seriously as print advertising or radio and TV?
Ask the person posing the question to track their own actions for a week. How often do they use search in some form? It’ll be quickly obvious how ubiquitous search’s ability to bring back relevant data has become. Bottom line also includes the fact that if your competitor invests and you don’t they have an advantage, so be careful debating the need to invest too long, or you’ll let them get ahead. Simple test? Look at paid ads related to your own products and services. Bet there are plenty, and they’re all your competition, so what are you waiting for? Once you get started, though, track, track, track, review, and refine.
Random Bonus Question: I saw on Twitter that you are a “dog guy,” which makes me extremely happy. Care to share a little about your pups? Here are mine looking angry in Halloween costumes.
Boca is an 11-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Clever, adventurous and knows SEO like the back of her paw. Likes her scotch tight and rocky.
Diva is a 12-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Beautiful and dumb as a stump. Did I mention she’s very, very pretty? Merlot anyone?