Search Marketing In-house Spotlight: Shane Vaughan with Balihoo

Today’s in-house spotlight is on Shane Vaughan with Balihoo, a startup search engine for the media planning and buying industry. Shane began his search marketing career at Hewlett-Packard and left to join Balihoo in January, 2007. Shane went from a customer acquisition side of marketing to search engine marketing and now leads all of marketing for Balihoo. Now that Shane is over all of marketing for Balihoo, he sees how the skills he developed as a search engine marketer pave the way to success in all aspects of marketing.

Biggest Take-away: If you’re looking to hire a leader for your marketing department, you just may want to consider prospects with search engine marketing under their belt. As Shane says, “Search marketers are building a skill set that allows them to bring precisely the right message to the right person… and then track the response to that message down to an individual level.” At a macro level, this is “the holy grail” of marketing, says Shane.

On to the interview…

Jessica: You came from HP to a startup called Balihoo. What challenges are unique to an in-house search marketer at a startup .com versus a more traditional company?

Shane: Certainly one of the major challenges of in-house search marketing at a .com company versus a larger, more traditional organization is simply that you have fewer resources available. People, dollars and time tend to be spread very thin at a smaller company. I’ve found that it’s much more critical not to just identify opportunities in search marketing, but to be much more diligent in prioritizing those opportunities and setting your company up to pursue the highest-return options and leaving the rest for another time.

The other side of the resources coin however is that it’s much easier and faster to focus your resources in a smaller company. Getting marketing, IT, content development and senior management support of a search marketing initiative within a large organization can often be a long, painful process. However a smaller company can more quickly identify the opportunities and focus all of the resources of an organization to achieve success in that area.

Jessica: The decision to make the switch from an established company to startup is a tough one. What were the key factors you considered and what made you take the leap?

Shane: I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug and always assumed that I would be taking that leap, be it sooner or later. For me, the decision really came down to one major factor: the ability to have a significant impact on the business. In a large company it oftentimes becomes difficult to see your impact on the business because the goals of the organization are simply so large and expansive. At HP, although I might be able to increase online sales 20% through a highly-optimized PPC campaign, it was a struggle to see how that truly impacted the future direction of the company given that those dollars represented just a drop in a very large bucket. Conversely, at Balihoo, when my SEO efforts get us top-ten placement in the engines and we realize the traffic from that placement, it’s practically cause for an office party.

Jessica: I find that at a .com SEO is a large portion of the business model, often making search marketing easier than non web-based businesses. What has your experience been?

Shane: I think that’s very true. I believe that a big reason for this is simply due to the fact that, by nature, individuals within a .com business have a base-level knowledge of SEO and understand its power. When the highest levels of senior management are already so bought into the value of SEO that it’s a part of the business plan, you can be assured that you won’t have to do too much in terms of “sell-in” of your SEO efforts and initiatives.

Another interesting side-note to this point is that when SEO is fundamental to the success of a business, it negates the issues that many in-house search marketers have of “getting their voices heard.” Since its inception, search marketing has always struggled to get a seat at the table with “traditional” marketing vehicles like PR, advertising and direct mail. Nearly every search marketer in a large company has had the experience of finding out about the key marketing strategy meeting that happened yesterday to which they weren’t invited. However, when search marketing is a fundamental part of your business, it’s often the search team that leads that strategy session.