Last week I was interviewing a candidate for a Sr. Manager, Marketing Strategy & Analysis for SapientNitro, a fellow search marketing expert and they asked me how I became involved in search. Then yesterday I had to explain to someone what I did for a living after the first thing that rolled off my tongue was my usual, “search marketing expert”. She asked me how did I become a search marketing expert? I realized I am self taught and have become one of those self anointed experts, but perhaps if I shed some light on my search marketing experience, it might make it easier to accept my claim to be a search marketing expert. I have been involved with search a long time albeit only in the last 4 years have I been working full time at it.
Before I get into how I became interested in search, let me explain why I keep referring to it as Search Marketing and not SEO. I have been involved in SEO for a long time as you will discover. I have grown tired of how SEO has become tarnished by so called Black Hat SEO. My job is to assist businesses with their online marketing and specifically marketing using search engines. It’s not just optimizing their code etc, it’s also making sure their content is matching what searchers are looking for. It is more and more marketing than optimizing. Now with that out of the way …
My interest in search began while I was working for the newmedia trade show in 1997. I was also doing some freelance videography and I was fascinated with the use of video in selling real estate. I remember passing by the office building at Don Mills and Eglinton which was being retrofitted as condos and thinking they were a good potential for a video. When I got home I tried searching for them on Yahoo! but couldn’t find them. When I eventually tracked down the site (after physically writing the web address on a piece of paper), I checked the source code for these new pieces of web site code I had read about called “meta tags”. This article described this new technique to get found by the search directories and search engines called “search engine optimization” or SEO. This site didn’t have these tags which would help them get found by search engines. I started checking every site I went to and the story was the same, none of these sites were set up with these meta tags so search engines could understand and sort them out.
I realized there were 8 basic rules from my readings and studying highly ranked sites:
1. Name the page filename with the main topic of the page
2. Give the page a title using the topic keywords which corresponds with the filename
3. Briefly describe what the page is about and use the topic keywords in the description a couple of times at least,
4. Use the keyword meta tag to tell the search engines what topic keywords they should look for
5. If the topic is really important, putting the topic keywords in headlines is a good idea
6. To emphasize what the topic is, it’s OK to bold the first couple of times used on the page
7. Use the topic keyword liberally throughout the content but don’t saturate the page with it.
8. When linking to this page, use the topic keyword in the anchor text
I decided to test what I was reading. I purchased a domain name and dedicated it to search engine optimization. I followed these 8 simple rules, and you know what? I got my site ranked. Within weeks I was in the top 50 for search engine optimization, a few weeks later I was in the top 10 and for a brief period lasting perhaps a week or so I WAS the top 10 on Yahoo! for the term “search engine optimization” until the person I bumped out of the spot replaced me.
I knew how to optimize websites to get found by search engines, but no one seemed ready for SEO yet. It was 1997 and websites were still rare and search really hadn’t become a consideration yet. I kept my search skills honed through the years on personal sites, usually dedicated to SEO and used them while I was the webmaster for Visual Convergence to drive traffic to our site.
When I launched Videozine.ca in 2005 to publish Visual Convergence and to provide video production services I used my search marketing expertise to successfully get my consumer facing B2C site promoting consumer video services such as VHS to DVD transfers, home movie to DVD conversions, slide shows for parties, etc. ranked quite well. Following the same basic principles I used in 1997 I successfully ranked videozine.ca # 1 for VHS to DVD transfers in Toronto and kept it there for many years as an html site and later as a WordPress site.
I continued to keep up with what was going on with the search industry and started to blog about it as newmediaMike. For a period that’s all I blogged and tweeted about was online marketing and SEO. I expanded my original 8 rules and began calling them SEO Best Practices. I even ranked #1 for the term SEO Best Practices for quite a while. I was building an online reputation as a search marketing expert.
Search Marketing Expert
When I was downsized in 2008 the first thing I did was hang out my “shingle” as a self declared search marketing expert. Between my online reputation and experience as a side-lancer I was able to land a search marketing expert position with Direct Energy as a contract in-house SEO. My lack of in house experience nearly cost me the position though, until I pointed out in a free audit I conducted of the directenergy.com site some limitations Sharepoint was imposing and a way to work around them. While on contract with DE I expanded my knowledge base beyond basic on page SEO and incorporated paid search and more importantly detailed analytics including sales funnels into my skill set.
When my contract with DE expired I started an online marketing agency with my business partner called digitalmediaToronto or dmTO. We based the business on my reputation as a search marketing expert. We worked with several small and medium sized businesses on their search and basic analytics. We also conducted paid search campaigns. This was also around the time social media marketing began to take hold. I lumped social media in with paid and organic search and blogging as part of dmTO’s four corner holistic online marketing eco-system. Which lead to marketing my skills as a WordPress trainer. Being a small shop I wore many hats besides search marketing expert!
In March of 2011 I started with Sapient Nitro as a Sr. Associate, Search Marketing with the Marketing Strategy & Analysis team in Toronto. I joined Sapient as a search marketing expert because our philosophy on search meshed nicely. Matching consumer intent with search, it seems so basic yet not many still grasp it. I remember during my interview we discussed holistic online marketing and I was asked if I knew what it was. I told the interviewer it was not only the cornerstone of my online marketing philosophy but I owned the domain name holistic-online-marketing.com (since lapsed, I really went nuts buying exact match by hyphen domain names thinking it helped with search. It doesn’t anymore.).
Having been agency side for the last 18 months I’ve had to narrow my focus away from the eco-system and become a subject matter expert in my area of search. Lately I have been sharing my findings as simple re-tweets, but with all the changes going on with the search industry, it’s time for newmediaMike to return to his roots as a search marketing expert.