Searching Beyond the Paid

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Search And The Tao of Neil Peart

Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush, is regarded by many as the best rock drummer of all time. On VH1, Pantera's drummer, Vinnie Paul Abbott, called him "God on drums."

We saw Rush at DTE Music Theater on Tuesday night. It's the 5th time I've seen them, and as usual, the drum solo was the best part of the whole show.

So what does this have to do with search? Well, I was flipping through the tour book Wednesday morning, in which Neil wrote a 3-page narrative about the evolution of their latest album, Snakes & Arrows. Near the end of the article, I was pleasantly surprised to find this paragraph:

"One thing I have always done when we decide on a title is check to see if it's been used already. In the old millennium, that would involve a visit to the local record store and a flip through their master list, the Phonolog. These days, of course, it's a perfect job for a search engine."

How cool is that?!? It's as if I've stumbled upon my own personal "six degrees of Neil Peart" - something I do for a living is actually helping a hugely successful rock band to do their job. It just doesn't get any better than that.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

100th Post

I wish I had something super-profound to put in this, my 100th post - but alas, I don't! Starting this afternoon, I'll be on vacation until next Wednesday for the last hurrah of the summer.

I'll try to make Post #101 into something profound. Until then, enjoy the relative quiet in the SEM world for these last days of summer!


Friday, August 24, 2007

6 Reasons Why In-House Search Engine Marketing Is Super-Effective

SEMPO has an article in their Learning Center called 6 Reasons Why In-House Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is Ineffective. Gugo at the Search Engine Watch forums posted a rebuttal this morning, and I added my own, which I'd like to share here.

The SEMPO article is an editorial, so take it for what it's worth. Still, I just couldn't let it go by without responding. It's a nice try on the part of the author, but sorry, it's off the mark.

Here are 6 reasons why outsourced SEM can be ineffective:

1. SEM and SEO Campaigns are time intensive. When your SEM agency is managing multiple clients, time spent on your account can suffer, causing irreparable damage to your campaign. An in-house SEM's sole job, day in and day out, is to monitor your company's SEM efforts, keeping a constant eye on performance.

2. SEM requires dedication. That's why you should hire someone whose sole job is SEM for your firm. Their dedication is what they're getting paid for, plain and simple.

3. SEM is very competitive and the market drives costs up. Why risk your hard-earned dollars on an agency that doesn't know diddly about your business? An in-house SEM understands your business economics and how they fit with SEM strategy and tactics, allowing you to compete smart.

4. Successful SEM campaigns demand accurate tracking and analysis of effectiveness. An in-house SEM understands your internal business tracking methods and metrics, and how they fit with the organization's overall marketing mix. Rather than relying on out-of-the-box analytics solutions, your in-house SEM can look at internal measurements to gauge the effectiveness of your campaigns vis-a-vis your other marketing efforts. Furthermore, as an expert not only in SEM but in your specific vertical, your in-house SEM understands the nuances of marketing in your space and can interpret the metrics accordingly - rather than just looking at figures on a page from a canned analytics solution.

5. SEM agency reps often are unaware of search engine policies. Especially if you're speaking to a junior rep who just hired in last week.

6. SEM agencies often do not have support. Having support at the search engines is great, and usually agencies do fine with this. But does your agency have support within your organization? Do they know which guy in IT to go to when your landing page URL suddenly breaks? Do they know which marketing director to approach when they need additional budget for a PPC test? Do they regularly sit down with your CEO to talk about overall organizational goals and strategies?

Don't get me wrong - SEM agencies exist for a reason. Many small to medium size businesses cannot afford to hire a full-time in-house SEM, and for these folks, a good agency is a godsend. But don't diss in-house SEMs. I've been doing this a lot longer than many agency folks, and I find I often know just as much if not more about SEM than they do. We're all in this together, you know!

I wonder what SEMPO's In-House committee thinks of this article??


Thursday, August 23, 2007

SES "Paid Links Session Video"

This great piece of linkbait is all over the SEM blogosphere, but it's so darn funny I have to post the link. It's a "secret video" of the Paid Links session at SES San Jose.

If you've ever been to an SEM conference, you'll love it - he has all these guys pegged. If you've never been to a conference, well, it'll just seem weird. Personally, it was the best laugh I've had all week!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Website Grader

I found out about Website Grader via a post on Sphinn yesterday. It's a cool free tool that looks at elements of any web site, making suggestions for improvement. You'll get a report on Google Page Rank, page structure, domain info, headings and tags, indexed pages, RSS feeds, inbound links, and search rankings. Based on these factors, you'll get an overall score on a 100-point scale. Stats are also available for competitors' sites, which is great for benchmarking and sleuthing.

I ran this blog through the tool, and was glad to see there are a lot of things I'm doing right! I'm not a programmer or a web designer, so it's nice to know that even a hack like me can figure out this blogging thing. There is lots of room for improvement, though, and the tool gave me a good list of things to work on.

I also ran our MagazineLine site through the tool. We scored 90 out of 100 - pretty darn good, but like most sites, there are a couple of quick-hit items that will make things even better.

How does your site or blog stack up?

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Visit from Google AdWords

On Monday, five staffers from the Google AdWords Ann Arbor office paid us a visit here at MagazineLine. It's always exciting to get visitors - being in the Midwest, we don't get a lot of them (grin), and once again, Google is way ahead of the pack by offering to make the (quick) trip. For the better part of the day, members of our marketing and IT staff talked about search and internet marketing with the biggest hitter in the space.

I was really impressed with the amount of training and preparation the Googlers brought with them. We talked mostly about holiday marketing plans, and they had some great ideas on expanding our reach, as well as new testing ideas we haven't tried before. We also talked about some of the Google products, including Checkout and Analytics.

The conversation also uncovered some gaps in our current Google strategy. For instance, we discovered that although we're regularly submitting a feed to Google Base for Product Search, we're basically nowhere to be found. The Googlers didn't even know we were listed there. The discussion brought the issue back onto our radar, and with the help of Google, we've found some fairly easy ways to improve our feed and get better visibility.

All in all, it was a productive day on both sides of the table. As I've said here before, it always helps to have a face to put with the voice at the other end of the phone; and we were able to accomplish so much more in person than we ever could by phone and email.

We're very lucky to have the Google office so close by. It's definitely bolstering an already-strong relationship.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Yahoo Keyword Insertion Nonsense

We've all heard about the eBay ads on Google that use keyword insertion for everything - you know, "buy used fish on eBay," etc. It's become a big SEM joke.

I was searching for the name of this blog on Yahoo just now, just to make sure I'm ranking for it (I am). I found this lovely specimen. Look at the second sponsored ad:

(To see for yourself, just go to Yahoo and search for "beyond the paid" without the quotes.)

Huh? As far as I can tell, this is an ad for a service selling "Top 25" lists, and the ad is supposed to be say "legitimate {keyword} for serious {keyword}." Which is still terrible ad copy. What if I searched for, say, "stock certificates"?

2007 Top 25 Stock Certificates
Legitimate Stock Certificates for Serious Stock Certificates

It still doesn't make sense! Even if I searched for something like "investments," it wouldn't make sense. "Legitimate investments for serious investments"??

Clearly this advertiser has no idea how keyword insertion works. Either that, or they chose that option by mistake when they created their ad group. Either way, this is one reason why keyword insertion should be used with caution, and only when you fully understand how it works!

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's Here: "Mastering Panama" Handbook

Mona Elesseily of Page Zero Media has published a must-read handbook on Yahoo Search Marketing's Panama system, "Mastering Panama: A Special Report on Yahoo!’s New Search Marketing Platform."

I ordered my copy yesterday, so I haven't read it yet - but knowing Mona and the Page Zero team, it's bound to be great. Mona is one of the top authorities on Panama and YSM in general. And she and Andrew Goodman haven't let me down yet. I first bought Andrew's Google Adwords e-book back in 2002 when we started with Adwords, and my copy of "Winning Results" is dog-eared and well-used. These two know their stuff, and their publications should be part of every good SEM's library.

If I wasn't already excited about Mona's book, the closing paragraph on the Page Zero website clinches it:

"Cue the Van Halen guitar riffs. Get ready to rock your Y!SM campaigns this fall."

Oh. Yeah.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Cars & Guitars at The Henry Ford

My husband and I are big rock-and-roll buffs, so on Saturday our family took a little trip to The Henry Ford Museum to see the Cars & Guitars exhibit (warning: if you don't love Uncle Ted's "Cat Scratch Fever," turn down your speakers before clicking).

We weren't disappointed. Although the exhibit isn't huge, it's full of life-size photos of the rock stars whose cars and other memorabilia are featured. I'll try to post pictures soon (posted, on 8/25). They had cars from Rick Nielsen, ZZ Top, Van Halen, Elvis, and John Lennon; and hometown Detroit artists Madonna, Kid Rock, Bob Seger, and Ted Nugent. Very cool. Below is a photo of me and the Van Halen "Hot For Teacher" car:

Another fun thing was the two games of Guitar Hero they had set up near the exhibit. I've never played the game, so we eagerly lined up to try. Bottom line, I sucked! But it was fun anyway, even though I'm no Eddie Van Halen.

(that's me attempting to play VH's "You Really Got Me" and failing miserably, while my son looks on)

If you are anywhere near the Detroit area between now and September 30, be sure to stop by The Henry Ford. If you're not a music fan, it's still worth going. They have a ton of great historical artifacts there, including the chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot, the limo President Kennedy was riding in when he was shot (along with at least 5 other presidential limos), the bus Rosa Parks was on when she refused to move to the back, and lots of other cool stuff. It's fun and educational for kids and adults alike.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

10 Not-So-Secret Reasons To Attend Search Marketing Conferences

Lee Odden posted a tongue-in-cheek list of Secret Benefits of Attending SEM Conferences on Monday. It's pretty funny, and yet it got me thinking about the real reasons I attend search marketing conferences.

10. Breaking news from the search engines - At almost every SES, and at the inaugural SMX, at least one search engine has made a major announcement about a new feature or offering. You can read about these in the SEM blog posts, but it's always better to hear them first-hand at a search conference.

9. Opportunity to ask questions - Whether it's questions about the aforementioned breaking news, questions about a presentation idea, or just general questions about SEM, a search conference is the place to do it. I always try to ask at least one question per session I attend; and if I don't get satisfactory answers there, I hunt down speakers or session attendees to chat informally. You can do this on the various SEM forums, but a dynamic, face-to-face conversation is always better.

8. Have your site reviewed for free - Most SEM conferences have "site clinics" or "landing page clinics" or similar sessions, where you can volunteer your web site for review by experts - for free. We've done this a couple of times (we call it "taking one for the team"), and we've gotten great feedback on our SEO efforts, landing pages, shopping cart, and other aspects of our site that have translated into improved conversion and money on the bottom line. This alone can pay for your conference fees many times over.

7. Meet your search engine rep - If you're heavily involved in PPC advertising, chances are you have a dedicated rep at the various search engines. SEM conferences give you an opportunity to meet your rep face-to-face to talk about your account. This isn't always possible, since every rep doesn't attend every show. However, I've been able to meet a couple of my reps, and it's always been fruitful, if for no other reason than to put a face with the voice at the end of the phone (or the typist at the end of the email).

6. Meet current vendors to discuss issues - It's a rare search marketer that doesn't work with at least one or two SEM vendors. At the larger shows like SES, these vendors are on hand, often with managers and other high-level executives manning the booth. There have been times where I've had trouble resolving an issue with customer service over the phone, and one conversation with the booth rep at a show mysteriously resolves these issues in a flash.

5. Meet prospective new vendors - As SEM needs change and evolve, the need to seek out new vendors crops up. Instead of trolling the net and hunting them down, you merely need to stroll the floor at an SEM conference. You'll come back with business cards and literature galore, along with key information to help decide if the services can help you. And, as Lee mentions, you can get some great swag too. I've gotten cool stocking stuffers at more than one SES Chicago.

4. Interview opportunities from DM press - As SEM becomes a bigger industry, I've noticed more press representatives at the conferences, which wasn't the case in the early days. I've been interviewed by industry analysts and more than one direct marketing journalist. Usually these opportunities have stemmed from the questions I've asked during sessions (see #9 above).

3. Networking Benefit #1: Meet Your SEM Peers - Whether you're agency, in-house, or something in between, a search conference is the place to chat it up with your industry peers. SES has Birds-Of-A-Feather seating at lunch, which is a great way to hook up with those who share your interests. I usually try to sit at the "Paid Search" or "In-House" table, and I've met tons of great people who do the same thing I do for a living.

2. Networking Benefit #2: Rub Elbows with the Big Hitters of SEM - Along with meeting peers, search conferences are the place to sidle up to the industry shooters. As much as the search industry has grown, it's still a very friendly place. Speakers, A-list bloggers, and other VIPs can be found at lunch, in the halls, and at the parties and bars - and I have yet to meet one of them that wasn't more than happy to talk openly to me about search. Where else can you find Matt Cutts, Tim Mayer, Danny Sullivan, Barry Schwartz, Rand Fishkin, and a host of others, all in one place? I've had the pleasure of having lunch with Andrew Goodman, David Szetela, and Matt Van Wagner, and we've shared some great stories about search, and become good friends along the way.

1. Opportunity to live and breathe search for a couple of days - As an in-house SEM, I'm the only one at my company who's "doing" search day in and day out. While most of my co-workers have a basic understanding of what I do, they're certainly not versed in the details of it all. At a search conference, you're in a world where everyone speaks your language. It's like coming home from a long stint in a foreign country - you can finally use all the jargon and acronyms and what-not without having to translate everything you say.

I have yet to go to a search conference that hasn't paid for itself for these reasons. Yes, the conferences are a ton of fun, but they also have tremendous business value.

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