An Interview with John Rasco, CEO and Founder of RefreshWeb
Studies show that in the B2B market over 75 percent of purchasers searching for a new solution begin their search on the web. That makes search engine results some of the best sources of targeted traffic, whether that traffic originates from "organic" unpaid search listings or paid advertising. To leverage the power of this targeted traffic source, marketers must understand how to use both paid and organic SEM effectively. We spoke to John Rasco, CEO and Founder of RefreshWeb, a top-ranked B2B Internet marketing agency, about what makes search engine marketing unique.
The complete recording of this month's interview is available for download as a podcast. Click here for the complete interview.
Marketing2IT: What are three things a tech marketer starting search engine marketing needs to know?
John: A lot of people wonder what to do first. There are two different categories that fit into search engine marketing. There's paid search or pay-per-click, which is easy to get started with and gets results quickly. The other category is organic search. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about the language on the site, meta tags and the information architecture of your site. Those are some of the factors that search engines use to rank your site. People really need to focus on the difference between those two. First, paid search is like advertising. You've got a classified ad in terms of content but you're paying for every click that comes to your site. Organic search is like owning real estate instead of renting it. SEO takes some work and really understanding your customer. It's a long-term strategy. PPC is a little more tactical but each has its place.
Second, I'd say SEO isn't black magic. It's indexing your site using the information architecture as a one-to-one marketing tool for quality traffic, the kind of traffic that you'd like to see on your site. What's a little complex is that you're using the language of suspects rather than of prospects. With prospects you're talking messaging, positioning -- they kind of already know what they're looking for. Suspects don't know what they're looking for yet. We're always looking at suspect behavior rather than prospect behavior.
Third, don't guess about what terms are important. You've got to do your research and find terms that suspects are using that are likely to turn into transactional queries rather than informational queries. When you're inside a company, and you've seen all your press releases and you know what the competition is doing, and you've been talking about this every day for three or four years, it's really easy to default to your buzzwords and tagline. People looking for a solution have to form their search using a description of the problem. You can't expect them to know the answer. That's not going to be what their query is.
M2IT: Does search engine marketing offer unique challenges or benefits for B2B tech marketers?
John: Very much so. There are huge benefits that drive the market for B2B marketers and some interesting challenges. For example, 89% of B2B shoppers prefer to use Google for search. They're a lot less likely to click on a PPC ad because they're looking for information. And because they're scanning the results looking for relevant information they're much more likely to go deeper in the results to find answers than consumers. The consumer market space is really brutal. You really need to be in the top three results. But we find in the B2B space you get consideration anywhere on the first page and about half of the traffic on the second page. There's a lot of room to play there in the top 10 or 20. Our clients have 70% to 80% of traffic from Google and that search traffic is looking for very specific answers. It's very important to research your prospect behavior and understand what they're looking for.
What search does is give your site intuitive access to the information that they're seeking. It makes you look really smart if you come up high in the results and have relevant information. We focus attention on the copy on the page to make it good marketing copy and well as search-optimized copy. What Google does is it prefers to look at the text on the page. Other search engines may use just the description, but since Google is looking at the text not only does the search term have to be there but this may be the only chance you have to have compelling motivating copy associated with a search term on the search result.
M2IT: What are some classic search engine marketing mistakes that can really hurt success?
John: Lots of people make the simple mistake of not researching their market. They think they know what the prospect is looking for because they know their industry. This will really frustrate people.
The simplest mistake is pointing PPC traffic to your home page. That's part of why people think pay-per-click is easy, because you just point people to your site. But people have searched on something specific. Your strategy with PPC is you want to bid on hundreds of terms and point people to specific landing pages. What we do is organize it topically. We may have a couple hundred search terms organized into 20 or 30 topics. That way we can create ad copy and landing page copy that's specific to that topic. We see that conversion rates on an ecommerce site can improve 30% to 40% with a specific landing page.
You can't optimize on everything. You can't take your 300 search phrases and seed them across your site and win. On the organic side, take 15 to 20 terms that have good quality traffic and optimize your content on that. You have to remember that any page can be an entry page and that's why search is so powerful, how it can so quickly double, triple, even quadruple your traffic.
The other mistake that people going into search make is thinking that SEO is going to be a quick fix. This is hard work. You really have to think about it, monitor your results, and watch the competition. There's a lot of missed opportunity as well if you don't do the research. We have a client in the Sarbanes Oxley space and when we did the competitive analysis we found that the highest volume search term was "SOX compliance." Our client was in the 4 or 5 position and wanted to move up. We found that "SOX compliance" was undefended. It's an easy win when you see an opening to go in and optimize for that term and then build on other terms.
M2IT: What are the key success factors of Search Engine Optimization?
John: Because Google is so important to tech marketers I'll talk about the four factors for Google. Google's algorithm is designed to use mathematical models to determine the importance of a page for a particular search term.
Page content is obviously extremely important. There are eight or nine places on the page where you can put search terms: meta tags, title tag, description tag, keywords tag, comment tag, heading tags, text itself, formatting tag, alt image tag.
The second factor is your site's internal link architecture. It's very important that your navigation not be simply graphics but actually uses words, ideally search terms that point to other content that's related to that search term.
The third thing that's important to Google is external links that point to your site. It's wonderful for a company when a publisher like CMP makes reference to them and it promulgates all across their site and suddenly you have 300 links from a respected publication. Links are more important than ink. It's nice to get a story but the link will live on longer than the article. It's really important when you're sending out a press release to use search terms in your headline.
The fourth factor that Google weighs is recency, the refreshing of the site -- is it continually updated, is it being maintained actively? Something that's come up in the last revision [of Google's algorithm] is longevity -- the length of time you've had your site and the how long ago you purchased your domain.
M2IT: Is it a myth that there are "search engine secrets" that will guarantee a top listing?
John: It's a myth that you can guarantee top ranking because every search term has it's own competitive environment. The key is to do the competitive analysis to understand where your opportunities are and go after them. We have found that many agencies feel that SEO is too technical. There are some technical aspects to it, but I tell my agency friends this is "The Revenge of the Copywriters." Copy is what's important and not graphics. The days of having a flash intro and nothing else are over. People have built invisible sites. Many companies have this problem, where their site was built by a design firm and is maintained by the technical people and has never been used as a marketing tool.
M2IT: What is a marketing trend that our readers should be aware of?
John: Something I'm very excited about as a marketer, someone who's not as concerned about privacy issues, is personalized search. It benefits me if search engines have an idea what I'm looking for. Personalization has huge benefits. For example, if I type in "usher" I'm probably going to get the hip hop star. But I may be interested in Usher scotch or a Presbyterian who's interested in learning how to usher. The extent that a search engine knows what I've searched on in the past is helpful. If I've bought a lot of CDs, then I'm probably an Usher fan. I think the realm of personalized search will really improve search performance but I think it will create major changes in our industry.