Posted by Bill.Sebald
There's no shortage of advice on the Internet. This holds especially true in digital marketing; after all, we’re the folks who came up with “content is king,” right? If we weren't the inventors, we clearly co-opted it.
I’ve been wanting to write a piece that takes us back to the roots of digital marketing. A reminder of sorts; one that might serve to snap some marketers out of the mundane daze of their daily grunt work. I wanted to inspire a vacation from hanging out in the weeds, which unfortunately can be common for some digital marketing practitioners. Falling into tactics and routine processes without any deviation certainly feels like grunt work — something that marketing should never be.
In reality, there's still plenty of life left in classic digital marketing advice. Like music or meals, sometimes the basics still have plenty of flavor left. Maybe you simply have to challenge yourself to hold onto your roots.
So, I decided a great place to collect this general advice is the platform that still hangs onto 140 characters — Twitter. I wasn't looking for anything too specific or particular, just cornerstone digital marketing advice. I posted a few repeated tweets requesting the following:
You have 140 characters to give your best digital marketing / SEO and client management advice. Go, go, go!!!
— Bill Sebald (@billsebald) March 1, 2016
Next, I’m going to share some of the fantastic responses and expand upon them. Thanks to everyone who helped me out with their responses.
@billsebald Figure out how to be better, more useful, and immensely more helpful than all of your competitors.
— Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes) March 3, 2016
This is a great tweet to kick things off. My mind immediately goes to the concept of 10x content, of which Rand is a big proponent. Want to be the best option for searchers? Be the best solution. (Wow, that makes it sound awfully simple!)
But it’s true; this translates from the written word to business, and frankly, to life in general. Or what about The Immutable Laws Of Marketing, where not only being the best — but being perceived as the best — would help you fit into the The Law of Perception, among others classic concepts.
Here's a quote I've always believed: "Perception is reality." I find it really tough to argue. Even if you think you’re a stud, it doesn't mean a thing if your customers do not. Using your own company as an example, you could compete by putting together one hell of a PR game, or you could genuinely build a practice that does the talking for you. If you’re an agency or consultant getting repeat business and having success through referrals, you’re doing something right.
Han Solo said it best: “Don’t get cocky, kid. A strong perception will fade if you don’t maintain it with consistently high value." He may not have said the last part.
@billsebald move discussions from tactics to strategy. Tactics change, strategies live on.
— John Doherty (@dohertyjf) March 2, 2016
In my opinion, the heyday of SEO was very much a tactical time. It was a land of scalability and, well, a lexicon of spammy tactics. We spoke and wrote about SEO strategies, but we were often only discussing tactics.
But Google made some significant changes to offset the value of many standalone tactics. Google didn't want to be manipulated by SEOs — they wanted to be influenced by valuable websites. I believe we're still very much in a rebirth of SEO, and I’m completely in agreement with John — true strategic partnerships are the most valuable SEO relationship you can have today.
Tactics are components of a strategy, built upon a hypothesis and goals, and including milestones. It's a bigger picture, but an accountable one as well. Being a strategic thinker is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be practiced. I would suspect (and I’ll bet John will agree) that the most success in 2016 will come from those consultants and agencies who master the multi-stepped, multi-faceted, data-driven strategy. And those who have the ability to help their clients execute and implement in parallel.
@billsebald measure what matters to the business - don't get hung up on metrics that don't drive to that goal.
— Steve Hammer (@armondhammer) March 2, 2016
@billsebald tie yourself to revenue, not traffic, rankings etc, over communicate, & expect to get fired every time you talk to a client.
— Damon Gochneaur (@DamonGochneaur) March 3, 2016
Several interesting points here from Steve and Damon. First, measure what really matters to the client. If it’s not revenue, it’s certainly some form of ROI. Let’s be honest: as digital marketers, notably SEOs, this is a serious challenge.
Reporting on rankings and traffic is easy. We have software with report “export” options, but we're not hired to be button pushers. In actuality, we are hired to help our clients hit their KPIs, while muddling through a plane of limited visibility through search referrals and unpublished Google metrics. How did we get ourselves into this?
Being goal-oriented is everything. In my opinion, some of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself are:
- Why is this particular task (or strategy) worth doing?
- How do I measure it?
- What are the metrics I can use to show my client we had an impact?
More often than I'd prefer to admit, I hear from prospects who say, “I don’t know what my last SEO company really did.” That’s shocking to me. Why would a client keep an SEO company who failed to communicate up to the required level? But at the end of the day, even if it takes longer than it should, the client does ultimately end up leaving if they don't get what they want. Business 101.
Last, “expect to get fired every time you talk to a client” is truly an interesting one (and one I’ll be stealing). I love it. If you want your client for the long term, try to impress them every time. Have you ever rescued a sour client relationship? It's tough being behind the 8-ball. Treat every opportunity like it's your last. That should keep you honest.
@billsebald use data to support all your decisions
— Nick LeRoy (@NickLeRoy) March 1, 2016
One of the most beautiful things about digital marketing is the ability to capture loads of data. In the old days, someone sat next to a billboard and clicked a counter as cars drove by, with no sense of engagement or demographics. Now we are so data-rich that going into the campaign creation stage without due diligence is almost negligent. While Google does keep plenty of juicy metrics a secret, we still have client analytics, log files, and even fairly accurate competitor data (a la SEMrush).
At Greenlane, any time we create a campaign for a client, hours of data gathering and looking for stories precedes the actual strategy creation. Does this guarantee success? No. Does it improve the odds? Yes – a helluva lot. A “data-first” position is what the most seasoned marketers adopt, but it should simply be something everyone – no matter how experienced – should adopt. For some right-brained marketers, reading numbers like words it’s a skill you need to learn and practice.
@billsebald stay in constant communication, no matter how good the work, the relationship keeps the contract going.
— Jeff Gibbard (@jgibbard) March 3, 2016
This is a great point. We're in the relationship business. This makes us an important line of defense/offense when needed, a challenging partner, and a safe pair of hands to rely upon. When your point-person sees you as a partner, you have an agent defending your honor when it’s time for internal budget reviews. Who's the first to get fired? The consultant... unless that consultant does amazing work and is beloved.
Plus, the more frequent the communication, the better the intelligence gathering becomes. How many times have you talked with a client and the conversation took an unexpected turn?
Here's an example. An SEO finds themselves talking about an email campaign they knew nothing about. The SEO started to learn about all this content that the email team was creating based on A/B tests. The SEO learned about stockpiles of great content that never appeared anywhere but in customers’ inboxes. This SEO found the motherlode, even though the call was originally about URL structures. (This is a true story. My name was removed to protect my identity).
These conversations are gold, and don’t happen often if you’re not speaking on a routine basis. Enjoy the communication.
@billsebald Give the opinion/strategy that will work for the client's business (as if it was your own), not what the client "wants to hear".
— markkennedysem (@markkennedysem) March 2, 2016
Are you someone willing to mix it up with a client, or are you just trying to placate them? We’re not here to let our clients eat Big Macs, folks. We’re being hired to tell them there’s over 500 calories in that hamburger, and give them reasons why they should or shouldn’t eat it. Our job is to empower clients with what we’ve learned in the steps we’ve taken before. I proudly tell new prospects that "we will fight for our ideas if we really believe them to be the best." I’ve never had anyone reject us for that statement that I know of. Even if they have, I’d argue that we probably dodged a bullet ourselves.
@billsebald I don't need that much: K.I.S.S.
— Corey Eulas (@coreyeulas) February 29, 2016
The “Keep It Simple, Stupid” Principle. It’s a great principal in marketing, especially in design and usability. But I agree with Corey that the same holds true with digital marketing.
A fantastic way to balance your relationship with the client is to understand what level of complexity they want. Do they want massive amounts of data, or would some visualization help them get the point faster?
I love our attorneys (said nobody ever, and this is from a guy whose ex-wife is a divorce attorney). They're great at expediting a phone meeting, giving us just what we need, and executing on follow ups. I hate law and don't understand most of it. But when we have a need, they do a fantastic job of relaying it to me in my language. It's an incredibly important trait of any service provider. As I am with tax law, most of our clients are the same with SEO. Keep it simple.
Albert Einstein said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." It’s a balance which brings valuable results.
@billsebald Spend the time + research to find a niche within a niche. Once you've found it, create content that matches audience intent.
— Chad Lio (@WaiverWarrior1) February 29, 2016
I like this a lot. It’s the advice I give many clients who either have relatively young websites or aggressive competition. SEO is organic — start with a few sectional wins, and Google will start noticing your website as a whole. The niche (sometimes within the niche) is often areas of lower competition and higher opportunity. Hit those areas hard. Get a good footing there and create a roadmap for expansion.
Let’s say you’re an eCommerce site who sells nothing but buttons. Looking at Google's Keyword Planner, "Mother of Pearl Buttons" (whatever they are) has a search volume of 880 monthly estimated searches. Not a huge number, but pretty high for a small niche campaign. Showing your customers and Google that you’re the master of Mother of Pearl Buttons is really not above the reach of even the smallest company. You will live in infamy, kind of.
@billsebald Clients must understand they're never "done" with their website (optimization, content, design, etc). If stop, eventually drop.
— Dan Kern (@kernmedia) April 30, 2016
Here's an analogy I occasionally use when talking to prospects who are thinking of merely dabbling with SEO for a only a brief period.
"SEO is like a big game of King of the Mountain. On your mountain, you have many aggressive competitors all climbing towards the top. Someone will always get there. Then, without warning, Google might make a change and knock away all your progress, starting you at the bottom again. Not guaranteed, but this can happen to the other climbers as well. You have two choices: quit the game, or play to win in this routine scenario. SEO is a game that's not for the weak of heart. But keep in mind, when you do win, your rewards should offset all your losses."
That analogy either produces excitement or pause, and I think this is important. We should encourage our clients to understand the true rules of engagement with SEO.
@billsebald buy Bill Sebald a beer.
— Phil Nottingham (@philnottingham) April 30, 2016
Without a doubt, this is my favorite piece of advice in the entire article. I think it speaks for itself. I'll be at MozCon this year, so everyone can feel free to take Phil's advice.
How about you? Any nuggets of advice you'd want to add? Sound off in the comments.
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