ThomasNet’s search strategy was well underway when Jill Sampey took over search engine marketing. Having been with the company for several years, she was at an advantage in understanding how to run with things successful and make changes in the direction. ThomasNet is an industrial business directory with millions of pages, one of the key things Jill quickly learned when having to manage millions of pages is that processes and repeatable systems and reports are vital to search success.
Jill’s Advice for someone taking on an existing campaign: Learn as much as possible about the sites history, including partnerships and distribution arrangements because they can cause challenges for the future.
The best take-away: Take the time to think about what you track so that you have everything needed to for what Jill calls “Crisis Analysis” and “What the Heck Happened to My Rankings” Analysis.
On to the Q&A….
Jessica: You joined ThomasNet.com, overseeing search marketing, after the SEO strategy execution was well underway. What made you join a company whose search campaign was so far in its execution? What should someone look for when being interviewed by a company whose campaign is well established?
Jill: I was actually working at ThomasNet prior to taking over the SEO strategy. Taking over an existing SEO strategy has many unique challenges, particularly in a time where the history of the domain has influence on current and perhaps future rankings. One of the most interesting parts of the job is making sense of the site and ranking data collected over the years. When being interviewed by a company whose campaign is well established, I would find out as much as possible about the site’s history, from domain history and search history, to other key structural changes. One of the items that comes back to haunt many large publishing sites are old distribution deals and other partnerships. It is also helpful to understand the motives behind the original campaign. Knowing such things will better prepare you for potential issues with ranking, and more importantly issues with corporate buy-in. If a company’s management does not see the importance of search to their business’s future, it can be extremely difficult to execute an effective strategy.
Jill: Since the search marketing campaign was well underway, how did you get your arms around what had been done and redirect the strategy with your recommendations?
Jill: I first gathered all the intelligence I could surrounding the website, domain, goals, marketing endeavors and company stakeholders as possible. I then sat down with the key players internally to better understand, from their perspective what had been done. After that, it was just a bunch of data analysis.
Jessica: ThomasNet recently went through rebranding of the site and a shift that now keeps everyone running off the same search intelligence. What are some of the secrets you have for handling the internal politics and opposition associated with such a large change?
Jill: The key to an effective “internal” search engine strategy is managing stakeholders’ expectations. I held regular stakeholder meetings to discuss the strategy and bring forward any concerns, as well as sending out benchmark updates to all involved. In a rebranding effort it is particular important to send out a clear and concise message to not only avoid inflated expectations, but also to urge a more widespread use of the new brand in email or offline communications.
Jessica: One thing you have a lot of is process management to keep everyone informed. What types of processes do you have in place?
Jill: I find documentation very important to the effective management of a search strategy, particularly if you have multiple people working on it. We also have a common repository of search intelligence, in which we all pull data from. This makes sure no one is working off of old or faulty information. We chart key changes to our website, to help with what I refer to as “crisis analysis” or in other words, “what the heck happened to my rankings” analysis. Documenting changes also helps in terms of updating intelligence gathering systems, making sure all pages on the website are tagged correctly, etc. We also have regular meetings to go over the status of search related projects.
Jessica: Can you expand on how the SEM process works at ThomasNet?
Jill: This may sound cliché, but our SEM process starts with our user’s needs. We find out what our users are looking for and make sure that we provide the content and access to the content that they need. Our success in SEM directly mirrors our success in serving our user’s needs.
Jessica: You have millions of pages; the only way to scale is by implementing smooth repetitive processes. What have you implemented for the SEO process?
Jill: We run most of our processes off of tools, built on our unique business and crawling needs. We have a wide range of inclusion/exclusion options to help better manage publishing processes. In addition we run regular QC reports to ensure a smooth process.
Jessica: With such a large site, with thousands of pages, a major challenge is data management. What are the key things you have created that make large-scale data management possible for search?
Jill: Well one of the things that has helped us dramatically, is to run reports based upon the reader’s goals, rather than data types. This is most important when sharing data interdepartmentally. In terms of over all data management set up your database with key business rules, or end “want to knows” in mind, then build an intuitive front end to it, that has exporting and charting functionality.
Jessica: You mentioned that one of the things that makes your efforts run smoothly is not only its process management, but how the process management keeps everyone informed. What advice can you pass on for others to implement in their company?
Jill: The best advice I can think of is to pass on information in a clear and consistent way, even when it is not asked for. You need to keep the unique needs of your company in mind when collecting and distributing data. Think ahead of the things that other departments and management would want to know, and give them the data that speaks to their needs.
Jessica: What two questions do you recommend every search marketer ask before taking an in-house job that has the search strategy execution well underway?
Jill: 1. What effect do search engines have on your business?
2. Who is ultimately in charge of what gets published or changed on the website and what relationship would my position have with that person?
Jessica Bowman is the Director of SEO for Business.com and an independent consultant. Most known for being an in-house search marketer, Jessica relishes in the human side of SEO – the art of getting things done within an organization, a challenge for most search marketers.