I first met Ian when he spoke at our SearchFest 2008 event. Though we’ve communicated frequently via social media, we, more often than not, missed each other at conferences we both attended until Ian, I, Scott Hendison & Ruth Burr had dinner at Pubcon (where Ian taught me that there were as many flavors of salt as there are brands of beer & that archaic video games get new life when played on a High Def TV). Ian not only has a wonderful sense of humor but is a very talented search marketer who expresses smart ideas in his own idiosyncratic way.
Ian will be speaking at SearchFest 2010 which will take place March 9th in Portland, Oregon. Get your tickets now.
1) Please give us your background and tell us what you do for a living.
My background is pretty absurd, really. I went to UCLA Law School, graduated in 1993, and realized I hated law. I mean, not just a mild dislike or a vague feeling of disquiet: I HATED it. So, I started working as a copywriter – I’d always enjoyed writing – and a marketer.
A couple of years later, I told my boss I was leaving to form my own company. He said “Great, we’ll be your first client”, and I was off and running. The Written Word, Inc. (later renamed Portent Interactive) was born.
Since then (15 years, officially, as of January 7th 2010) I’ve been running Portent. We’re a full-service internet marketing agency, but we focus pretty heavily on SEO, social media and PPC. Those three things drive 70% or so of online commerce, and our clients tend to lean towards them, too.
My own jobs at the company are sales, training our staff and consulting. That’s only 3 jobs – far better than 10 years ago, when I had ALL of the jobs.
2) How can you tell an intelligent search marketer / social media consultant (one that you’d feel comfortable trusting your business future to) from one who really sucks?
A good search marketer / social media consultant thinks before they speak. They don’t bluff, and they admit that it’s not all a science. Plus, they understand MARKETING. Finally, they’re all good communicators. How many great SEO/SMO folks do you know who can’t write?
The really awful marketers and consultants expose themselves in a hurry: They talk up out-of-date strategies, try to treat the field as an exact science, and can’t write to save their lives. And they never improve or learn. Plus, when I meet them I get an immediate desire to hit them with a chair. It’s some kind of superpower, I guess.
One thing about that last comment: There’s a big difference between a marketer/consultant who’s learning and one who sucks.
3) How has search marketing changed in the last year or so and where do you see it going?
Personalized search is the big, nasty monster in the room. It’s affected SEO, obviously. But personalized search is going to have a huge impact on how people use the web, and I don’t think it’ll be a good one.
If the search results are in constant flux, there’s no common roadmap for the web. It’s chaos, I tell you! Chaos!
I actually think we’ll see Google back off a bit on personalized search and real time search this year. But, by the end of the year, people will start trying to find alternative search tools – they’ll no longer trust the continuously-shifting stuff Google serves up.
4) Please list some of your top webmaster “Analytics FAILS” and how they can be overcome (in order to increase revenue / leads).
1. No analytics. Yes, I still run into this all the time. Some organizations just never set them up. Others have analytics in the clutches of 1 person who won’t let anyone else look at them. Someone has to grow a backbone and demand access to the reports, or demand that the tools get set up.
2. No analysis. Reports aren’t analytics! Once you set up Google Analytics or Omniture, you have to interpret the data. 99% of the time, someone shows me the reports their previous consultant sent them, and it’s a bunch of exported PDFs from Google Analytics. How the hell is that supposed to help anyone? Step back. Look at the data as a whole, and the story it’s telling about your site and your company. Instead of tables and charts, write 3 sentences explaining what you see. You’ll learn to be a better observer, and you’ll start performing analysis before you know it.
3. No conversion tracking. That’s probably self-explanatory.
4. Mechanics. Failure to consider things like subdomains that can impact your data.
5. Substitution of analytics for higher thought. I see a lot of marketing teams turn into vapor-locked monkeys who can’t make a single marketing decision without data to back it up. Some folks say that’s good. I think it’s awful. We’re not computers – our marketing strategies shouldn’t be decided by computers, either. Use your brain. Go with your gut.
6. Attribution. Everyone counts the first or the last click. They rarely consider what happens in between. That means teams often shut down a campaign that’s actually performing. Start looking at your log files, or get a tool like Enquisite Optimizer and use that data to see if an otherwise lousy campaign is a big contributor.
5) You’ve done a wonderful job developing an online persona which you effectively utilize in blogging and throughout social media. How can an online marketer develop their unique personal brand and stand apart from others in their field?
Heh heh. You have to do what comes naturally. Really, I use Conversation Marketing as the place where I can let it all hang out now and then. That’s the secret.
Oh, also: Write a lot. The more practice you get, the easier it is to ‘speak’ naturally through writing.
6) What would you say to the many search marketers who remain invisible in their industry (even though it’s never been easier to be visible)?
Hmmm. That’s a tough one. I often feel invisible myself. I guess I’d say you have to take it one client at a time, one blog post at a time. Reach out to bloggers you respect, guest post and interact with them. Try to speak at conferences. It all comes together eventually. I hope. Cough.
7) How do you deal with the many different types of client organizational dysfunction?
Sigh. I’m one of the worst at this. I’m a very passionate advocate for my clients. I want them to grow. Why someone would resist making a simple strategic or tactical change that would make them more money, or get them more votes, is beyond me.
I try very hard to see their perspective, organize and advocate for changes within that perspective, and not create havoc.
I also ride my bike a lot, and occasionally punch solid objects.
And, sometimes I lose my temper.
8) Where does paid search fit into the sales / lead generation spectrum?
To me, paid search is a laser, while organic is a shotgun blast. Both are very effective. Paid search has less of an impact, but it is easier to aim and adjust.
9) Talk about the challenges of hiring and retaining great search marketing employees.
The biggest challenge I see is hiring and retaining great thinkers and learners, and keeping them hungry for more learning. Most people just aren’t raised or taught to be intellectually curious, or to be real critical thinkers. So you have to really evaluate folks and look for a sense of excitement about the work.
10) How has the market for search marketing services held up during the “recession” and where do you see it heading as the economy recovers?
I saw a big dip in early 2009, but then things came back stronger in the 4th quarter of 2009. Folks are diverting dollars to search as a ‘low cost’ alternative. As the economy recovers, I think it’ll stay this way. Most organizations are finally figuring out that this whole internet thing isn’t just a fad…
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