Today’s spotlight is on Bill Macaitis, VP of Online Marketing & SEO/SEM, who works with some of the most interesting sites on the web such as MySpace, FoxSports, AskMen, AmericanIdol, and Ign. Bill has been with Fox Interactive Media (FIM), a division of News Corp, for two years now. Before this he headed up the online marketing and SEO / SEM department at IGN Entertainment. There he helped build IGN into the largest gaming information network in the world primarily through search marketing. IGN Entertainment was acquired by Fox Interactive Media in Aug 20 05 for $650 million.
Not many companies have a search marketing team for 15+ people, yet Bill has managed to successfully demonstrate the ROI of the medium by elevating FIM to the largest network in the US with over 46 billion page views (ComScore – Aug 07). Fox has followed the trend of companies moving SEO / SEM in-house with a centralized department that serves as an in-house agency. This week’s interview will give you insight into building an in-house department to service the different divisions of an extremely large company.
Biggest Take-Away: Getting buy-in can be a challenge, and there isn’t a strategy that works across the board. Bill reiterates this and says that “securing buy-in for SEO & SEM requires numerous strategies based on the individual you are dealing with.” This is definitely what I have seen – and, sometimes you need to change strategies mid-stream.
On to the interview…
Jessica: Where was Fox’s SEO team at when you started, and how have you grown the team?
Bill: When I was with IGN Entertainment, I had built an in-house SEO / SEM department that serviced the ten sites in the IGN Entertainment network. When Fox Interactive Media acquired us in May of 2005, I think they were impressed with the success we had and a decision was made to form a centralized FIM online marketing and SEO / SEM department.
At the time most of the other FIM sites (MySpace, FoxSports, Scout, American Idol, Fox) were either not doing any SEO / SEM or were using and outside agency. We consolidated efforts under one department and quickly began working with each of the individual sites.
The decision to centralize the department was made for several reasons. First, it just didn’t make sense to have each site have their own SEO person and SEM PPC person. This was costly and there was no sharing of knowledge. By centralizing the department we were able to leverage resources, capitalize on economies of scale, share knowledge, consolidate technology and provide endemic knowledge to each of the verticals within our network.
Jessica: You have 16 people on your search marketing team, how have you structured such a team and broken out the plethora of search marketing tasks?
Bill: The search marketing part of my team is split into three main groups: SEO, SEM PPC and Research & Reporting. As we are the online marketing department we also utilize other traffic drivers such as display, e-mail and affiliate but most of our focus has been on the search side because of the incredible ROI.
The SEO & SEM PPC teams are further split up by verticals (gaming, movies, social networking, sports, etc.). We wanted people with a passion for each of the verticals that possessed the endemic knowledge necessary to truly understand each business line. For instance we have a SEO Manager for Gaming and a SEM Manager for Sports.
The research and reporting team is an internal support department that will handle much of the ongoing traffic reporting, keyword research and ongoing ROI tracking. They deal with the web analytics that are utilized across all of the FIM sites (internal, Google Analytics, Visual Science, Omniture) as well as the panel based audience measurement companies (ComScore, Hitwise, Nielsen, Compete).
Finally we assign career levels to each of the positions: Associate, Manager, Sr. Manager, Director, and VP. This allows growth opportunity for individuals and a career path to follow. It also allows us to bring in experienced people (when we can find them) or those that have the right attributes but that we will train.
Jessica: SEO at Fox Interactive Media is centralized, we see this sometimes with very large companies. Typically there is one centralized team that provides guidelines, standards, education, etc. What role does your team serve and what services do you offer to the different divisions?
Bill: I like to speak as ourselves in terms of an in-house agency because I wanted to instill in my team the sense of responsibility that each of the FIM sites are our clients. We do everything possible to provide the highest level of service and support. We actively reach out to all of our internal clients, regularly fly to meet them in person and focus on providing bottom line results that meet to their business goals.
One of the things I wanted to avoid was becoming a non-responsive centralized department that didn’t provide great service (think begging your IT guys to help fix your laptop). We let all of the FIM sites know that our department is there to help them out.
The services we provide all revolve around traffic generation. Although we do some display, e-mail and affiliate we have focused most of our efforts on search engine optimization and search engine marketing (PPC) because of the strong ROI. We also provide traffic reporting and keyword research that supports these efforts.
Jessica: In search marketing we all have our opinion of what works and what’s important. We all have our own way of doing things, how do you maintain consistency for your in-house agency?
Bill: One of the nice things about centralizing the department is that you can maintain consistency in service, methodologies and processes. Our SEO team for instance will regularly meet to discuss and debate topics such as widgets, social tagging, link bait, press release optimization, ideal word count, etc… In SEO there are a lot of different viewpoints out there but by having everyone in one office we are able to consolidate knowledge and usually come to a group consensus on these topics.
If we weren’t centralized we might have eight different SEO managers each doing their own thing. For a large network like ours it made much more sense to go centralized. This way we can keep a consistent strategy across all of our sites and make sure everyone is following best practices.
Jessica: In such an entertainment industry leader, where coolness is definitely more appealing to the execs than search engine friendliness, how do you evangelize SEO and attain the buy-in, support and budget to do the things you need for high rankings?
Bill: It definitely is a challenge when you see that first site designed all in flash. I don’t think SEO is all about creating a 2000 word page with no images though. A big part of SEO right now is providing the content (images, video, widgets) that will attract links. You can always find a compromise if you work hard.
At the end of the day though, this question is really about how to secure buy-in. I’ve been doing in-house SEO / SEM for about ten years now and I’d like to say there was one thing that works every time. Unfortunately there isn’t.
Everyone is different. Securing buy-in for SEO & SEM requires numerous strategies based on the individual you are dealing with. Some people react better to numbers (show them the ROI). Some people react better to trust (develop a relationship with them). Some people only do things if it was their idea (make them think it was their idea). Some people only react to competition (show them their competitors rankings).
At the end of the day you have to be flexible and persistent. Most senior in-house people will tell you that 50% of their job is selling and evangelizing search.
Jessica: You have many sites, how many people do you assign to each site? SEO vs. PPC? What is the level of their involvement on projects?
Bill: Each site will get their own SEO Manager and SEM PPC Manager. For some of the larger sites like MySpace and IGN we will split up the sites into channels which again have their own SEO Manager & SEM PPC Manager. In general each person will have 6-8 sites/channels that they are responsible for.
We also have a secondary person on each account for each role. This helps provide continuity in knowledge and backup support when people go on vacation or are sick.
Jessica: SEO is very results driven and some companies identify a “result” differently. Some companies look at successes week-over-week, month-over-month and others year-over-year. What do you recommend for your websites? Is there a point at which you might shift from one to another?
Bill: From a time view perspective many of our sites have strong seasonality which is why I always prefer Yr/Yr measurement. Gaming sites for instance always spike in May when the E3 conference rolls around. You can still use a month or even a week time period but just compare it to the previous year (Aug 06 vs Aug 07). This way you can get a true representation of how your efforts have performed.
From a results perspective we focus almost entirely on ROI. We want to show the results we generate in terms of actual dollars in revenue. When you only look at things like keyword rankings or even unique visitors or page views you are shortchanging yourself. At the end of the day if you can quantitatively show how much incremental revenue you are generating you are viewed much more as a revenue generating department then a cost center.
Jessica: Fox has acquired several Internet properties over time, some of which haven’t had a high priority SEO initiative. How do you go about diving into a newly acquired property without ruffling too many feathers?
I think the first thing you want to do is simply meet with everyone on the new site, especially senior management. Understand their business. Ask questions, what are their pain points? What are results in their mind? Align yourself to their business goals. We recently acquired Photobucket and Flektor and both were very enthusiastic about working with us.
We will then work with them to explain what SEO & SEM PPC is, show them past results and explain to them how we can work together. To be honest the initial meetings and selling of SEO/SEM PPC isn’t hard. Most people are very enthusiastic and want to dive into it. Where the difficulty is, especially on the SEO side, is when they see all they work that has to be done. That hard part is selling them on prioritizing the SEO projects above the 500 other projects that are waiting in the engineering queue. I think a lot of people don’t understand the work involved on the SEO side.
Jessica: What advice do you have for someone building a team, who wants to grow it to 10+ people? It’s a challenge, do you have any tips for simplifying the growth curve?
Bill: I would say you can always start small. When I first started I brought in an outside SEO agency until I got comfortable. From there I brought on some interns. Then they moved into full time positions. The department slowly scaled as I generated results. Getting executive buy-in is key. SEO and SEM do work beyond a shadow of a doubt. But you need to show management that they do work. You have to generate results.
In the beginning you will be using more generalists; someone who does SEO, SEM PPC and the research side. As you get bigger you can start to specialize more; for instance someone who only does SEM PPC for the sport sites.
Jessica Bowman is an In-House Search Marketing evangelist who relishes in the human side of SEO – the art of getting things done within an organization, a challenge for most search marketers.