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Posts I have written about online marketing. As I have matured as a marketer content has gone beyond SEO to holistic online marketing, involving email, social, and content especially. Once these powerful tools and disciplines are combined, the magic starts to happen.

Last October, as many of you know, I made the move from search marketing agency Distilled to become the Online Marketing Manager at hotpads.com, the nationwide rentals brand of the Zillow Rental Network. I’ve been at the job for four months now, and a recent conversation with Jonathon Colman (another Bay Area transplant) has made me take some time to reflect on the difference between agency and inhouse life.

Here are the main differences I see between agency and inhouse life.

Access to Decision Makers

In an agency, you are constantly viewed as an external member of the team, or in my least favorite term ever, an external “solution”. Even in agencies that pride themselves on getting close to their clients and working to affect change (two terms used constantly internally at Distilled, and I love them), you are still not able to build the close relationships through serendipitous conversations and lunches that happen when inhouse.

Inhouse, you have much more access to those who are able to make decisions. Even if you are a fairly junior member of the team, you will likely still have access, within one or two steps, to the top of the chain in your business unit. The marketing team at HotPads (which has four people including me, and growing) has direct access to Zillow’s CMO, who is my boss. If they wanted, they could directly email her and ask questions (though they normally will go through me and we will approach together). But that access is (usually) much tougher to come by in an agency.

Now that I’m inhouse, I’ve found that I spend less time trying to simply reach the right people, and more time actually building relationships with the right people and getting things done internally.

Accountability To Results

Agencies are often brought in to fill a gap or to help out the inhouse team when a problem is out of their ability level or the team is too busy to come up with new ideas. The agency will usually be the one to think big and come up with ideas, and then the inhouse team is left to execute most often (and in my experience, agencies are most successful when their client has a strong inhouse team). Because of this, the agency is often not held to achieving results quickly because of the added steps of delivering work to the client, interpreting it for them, and then relying on the inhouse team to implement.

results

Working inhouse, this is not true at all. If I went to my boss and said that it will be at least 6 months before we see a positive impact through my and my team’s work, I’d be laughed at. When inhouse, you are responsible for the results, not just delivering work. You could argue that agencies will not be kept onboard if they are not getting results, but in my experience an agency is rarely let go because of a failure to deliver results.

Kill Your Pet Projects

I’ve always championed content, especially writing. I’ve recommended that clients create and invest in blogs to drive traffic. I’ve executed on large content pieces and outreach. All of this is well and good when you’re an agency hired for these purposes, and longterm I still believe that they work and I will continue to invest in them.

But when I moved to HotPads and soon found myself owning the inbound channels, building out a team, and researching online opportunities for other businesses, I quickly realized that I had to focus on what moves the needle now, while still looking to the future.

I wrote a number of posts on the HotPads blog, but after a month or so I realized that the three or more hours I spent writing a blog post that might get 400 visitors was probably better spent diagnosing a technical SEO issue that would get us an extra 100,000 visitors. The trade-off was easy to make.

At heart, I’m not a specialist. I know a lot about SEO and am very good at it, but I’ve never been the type to be a specialist. It’s a specialist’s job to focus on one area and grow that. It’s a strategist’s job to see the opportunity and figure out how to get there. Inhouse I’m a mix of the two. At Distilled I was a strategist. Depending on your level at the agency or inhouse, this could be true for you as well.

Ways of thinking change when you’re accountable instead of a third party vendor, and if what you’re doing is not getting the desired results then your inhouse career will likely be short-lived.

Depth Not Breadth

Mike Tekula wrote a great post on the Distilled blog in December 2012 about a t-shaped skillset. He illustrated it thus:

mike-tek

I think this is a really helpful way for agency marketers to think about building their skillset, but the inhouse life is slightly different if you are not a head/director/VP level. As an inhouse marketer joining above an entry level position, you are already expected to know your job (and continue growing in your abilities) and continue to go deeper in their area of expertise. Unless you’re a director/VP level, the expectation is that you will be the subject matter expert in your area that the higher-ups can lean on for solid advice.

Work/Life Balance

Agencies are known for less of a work/life balance than an inhouse job, and in my experience this is true. Most of my agency friends work at least 60-70 hours per week. I had weeks at Distilled where I worked 80+ regularly, and probably did that at least once per month during my whole time there.

Inhouse life has afforded me more of a work/life balance in my new home of San Francisco. While some of this may be attributed to moving from the 9-8 New York workstyle to the 9-5 San Francisco style, I still see my agency friends in San Francisco working (at times many) more hours than I do.

I’ve credited a lot of this with the difference in how a day at my inhouse gig is from a day at an agency. When managing multiple clients plus team members, the interruptions come fast and furious in an agency. According this Gallup poll from 2006 (http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/23146/too-many-interruptions-work.aspx#2), it takes over 20 minutes to get back on track after an interruption.

Working inhouse, I find I have better planned days, fewer frantic moments of diagnosing issues, and thus I am able to concentrate and get my work done quicker than in an agency. Because of that, I work fewer hours and have more time in my evenings.

This isn’t to say that inhouse life is any less busy. In any given day I’ll be helping other team members with their job, communicating with internal stakeholders, giving SEO recommendations, and chatting with other managers about the office and teams. The difference lies in how frantic the day is and if you could be called upon any second with an issue. That happened all the time in an agency. Inhouse, this happens way less.

So What’s Better, Agency or Inhouse?

There is no “better” in my mind. Rather, I’d encourage you to think along the lines of “what’s best for me at this point?” I think everyone should work both at an agency and inhouse during their career,because you learn different skillsets that will help you out down the road. Without my years at Distilled, I would not have been prepared for the challenges of working inhouse, and vice versa when I went from inhouse to Distilled in the first place.

Have you worked both inhouse and in an agency? What do you find to be the main differences?

I recently had to go through the challenge of finding an apartment across the country, while also in the midst of starting a new job and the holidays. I couldn’t have done it without UBER and AirBNB.

For those of you not familiar with them, UBER is “Everyone’s private car service”, an on-demend car service that you use to call a personal car. It’s a much better experience than trying to hail a taxi, which is easy(ish) in New York except on rainy days and less easy, yet doable, in San Francisco. Uber costs a bit more than a regular cab usually, except for eco-friendly Pruis-driving UberX vehicles.

AirBNB, of course, is the epitome of the “sharing economy” mindset where people put their own apartments up for rent for a nightly or weekly fee. While it is a controversial service, I have met many who use AirBNB and love it, both hosts and guests. I think of AirBNB as a premium CouchSurfing experience, since you find interesting places and people to stay with wherever you may be traveling.

Loyalty, not Habit

Both UBER and AirBNB have zeroed in on the convenience factor of business. Some businesses, like Snapchat, are what one of my favorite books, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, calls a “fad.” These are a flash in the pan that peaks early, often because of so-called “viral growth”, and then trails off and in the Internet world eventually dies. The Internet is littered with them too – Turntable.fm, Groupon, SocialCam, (insert Facebook app here). Check out Socialcam’s search volumes in Google Trends:

socialcam

I’d even argue that right now Snapchat and Pinterest are both fads, and we will see over time if they can become trends.

pinterest-snapchat-fad

When building for the longhaul (a “hundred year business”, as the Evernote CEO likes to say), you set out to engineer something that builds loyalty, not just habit. A product or company that builds loyalty can still see “viral” growth, in that they grow very quickly and people use them often (aka habitually), but their focus on experience is what sets them apart. Then they become a trend, like Zillow:

zillow-trend

Then they go and make you feel special, such as sending you a gift card for a similar service:

Both UBER and AirBNB have built loyalty with myself and many others I know (given, I’ve been living in NYC and am moving to SF). When moving out of my apartment in Park Slope, I used UBER when I was moving the last of my boxes. I knew that I could load up the app on my phone, and within 5-10 minutes I would have a black SUV at my door to help me out with taking my boxes, and I knew that I would get a great experience. I could have called a cab, but I didn’t.

Similar with AirBNB. I have become loyal to them, to the point where I asked special permission from my boss at Zillow to stay in AirBNBs in SF instead of hotels downtown. I was able to get to know both the Mission and the Castro because of staying in them for a week at a time in an actual apartment instead of a hotel.

Both services also know who I am, which as I’ll cover in the third section makes them even more valuable.

Local-based Knowledge

Check out the list of UBER Twitter accounts that I found on a recent Followerwonk search:

They have a Twitter account for every major city. When I’ve left a note about a driver or let them know about a bad experience, they’ve been quick to get back to me on email or Twitter. This lets me trust that the person behind the account knows approximately where I am and what is going on in that area. They can’t immediately give me a better route to the airport, but they can make me feel better that I’m being listened to.

AirBNB is in another category. They’ve invested years of time, effort, and money to produce their local guides. AirBNB isn’t just a housing site – they’re a travel site invested in getting you familiar with the city you are visiting so that you can make the best decision possible about where to stay. Check out their beautiful Park Slope page -

I actually used AirBNB while checking out neighborhoods for where to live in San Francisco. Not the typical use case, but that’s indicative of a trend not a habit as well – you figure out new ways to use the service to enhance your life.

Personal

Finally, they’re personal. UBER knows who I am because I use the service. I have a profile (complete with a star rating) that the driver sees when I request a car, and I see theirs. Apparently, if my star rating gets below 4.5 stars, I won’t be allowed to use UBER. Wow. This makes sure that both the person and the driver are accountable, and serves to make UBER a trend instead of a fad.

The customer support people at UBER know who I am as well because of my profile on the site. Everyone gets personal attention, also adding to the overall experience and making you “feel like a badass”, as the UBER founders describe how they wanted to feel when founding the company.

AirBNB goes as far as displaying your profile online for all to see. Here is mine:

Not only do you review where you stay, but they review you as well and the reviews are made public at least to potential hosts. Not only does this build in accountability (just like UBER), but also serves to personalize the service to you. AirBNB is becoming my canonical travel profile online (which is what Foursquare really should be) and I love them for it.

The Future of the Sharing and On-Demand Economies

Look at a few of the characteristics I’ve covered:

  • Personalization
  • Transparency
  • Extendability
  • Platform-ability

These characteristics can and should be taken to other verticals as well. Zillow and HotPads, for example, do this for you when you are logged into the site or mobile app. I am consistently surprised how few sites actually do this and I think it’s the next step for both the sharing and on-demand economies.

I love new businesses. I love technology that connects the world. I also hate seeing companies who change the world languish and not reach their full potential. FourSquare is one of those businesses for me.

I’ve thought for a while now about what I would do if I was Head of Online Marketing for Foursquare. No, I’m not looking for a new job, because I just started my new job at apartment site HotPads, but if I was I’d write this about Foursquare. If you’re the marketer at Foursquare, listen up. And if you know that person, you should forward this to them.

I have four three things you should do to see a bump in traffic.

Build A Web Presence

Note: I wrote this, and they rolled out their new site before I could publish. Well done guys.

Foursquare is one of the few startups that I can think of (Instagram and Snapchat come to mind) that has been able to build a mobile-first experience and company. Of course, Foursquare did this in competition with Dowalla. They ended up winning that fight and were the first movers in the check-in space, so they received good growth from the start.

While I agree and accept that the world is moving to mobile, and there are even countries skipping the desktop and moving to mobile, desktop and mobile search can still drive amazing traffic. Look at sites like Yelp and even OpenTable. These sites rank very well for restaurant names and have been able to monetize it. Even if you monetize with traffic, at least you’re monetizing. Foursquare is struggling to monetize, so this could be a nice stopgap while they figure out their mobile revenue streams.

So build a web presence. Offer something different than Yelp.

Oh wait, you have that. You have how popular a restaurant is. You have even how popular an airline at a specific airport is. You should harness that to not only show popularity, but also to make it a point of pride for restaurants and users. And you can use this data for awesome, because you know the types of places I go after other places (thanks to 4SQDAY):

checkins

But for the love of pete, allow me to embed them. Also, do more of this and this. Data = awesome. Tell us stories.

Email (or Text!) Me Recommendations

Foursquare, I’ve been a member of yours for over two years. I thought we were friends. I’ve given you a lot of time. I’ve played with you when I was bored. I’ve ignored other friends for you. I’ve given you free information. You even know where people go:

people-go-after

But never once have you recommended a restaurant to me. Or told me where I should take my girlfriend on a date because others have taken their girlfriends there and they had a great time.

You should get in touch more often. I give you permission to do so, and I bet a lot of other people will too.

Another bonus to this: you have nationwide and worldwide coverage. My friend tells me you are immensely popular in Turkey. This gives you a huge power, because now when I check in at another airport in another state while traveling, you can recommend me places to eat or see there. You know where I am. Leverage that. Don’t underestimate the power of the connections you have drawn for people too.

Be More Aggressive About Reviews/Tips

The most useful part of Yelp is their star ratings system. If I see a restaurant with less than 4 stars, I’m a bit reluctant to go there.

But you offer tips, and that is the center of your experience. You should take the different tips people leave and surface them as search filters. But you should also ask me more often to leave tips about the place. I know you’re trying to gather information about credit cards and pricing through the app right now, but do more than ask me yes/no questions. Also ask me what I would recommend people get or what I enjoyed the most.

ask-for-tips

Curate Awesome Content

Finally, you are in the position to be the place people go when they are trying to find out what’s happening at the Met or where they should stay on a business trip to Atlanta. You have data on everything.

I have always wanted a service that will recommend places for me to go on Saturday night based on other places I’ve been or bands I’ve seen. I’ve managed to cobble together a decent workflow for finding good new restaurants or when my favorite band is coming to town (Wednesday, by the way), but you should be doing that for. I shouldn’t have to use BandsInTown on Facebook and Thriliist for restaurants. You know what I like. Curate that for me and I’ll love you forever, especially as I move to San Francisco.

Conclusion

I love you, Foursquare. Build a decent web experience and send me communications, and I’ll love you even more.

Love,

John

Why I Write on Medium

John Doherty —  October 15, 2013

Hi my name is John and I write on Medium, and I like it.

Before I start this post I feel the need to make that confession. Medium, if you don’t know, is the current darling of writing online. It’s the brain child of Evan Williams, the man behind Blogger and Twitter. Medium is currently invite-only, though it’s easy to get access to write if you edit someone else’s post (#protip).

I’ve been surprised by the number of professional marketers I know who have been asking “Why write on Medium? Aren’t you just building someone else’s platform?” I expected this from certain groups online, but not from the professional marketers that I know. Hence, I think it necessary to respond here, as I did over on Inbound.org about why I personally write on Medium, what I’ve seen from it, and how I plan to leverage it in the future.

Why Write?

I think of writing on Medium as thought leadership content. If you’re a company owner or an expert in a field, would you jump at the chance to write on Forbes (well, the Forbes of old maybe) or Time.com? Would you pose the same question of “but why write on there?” if you had those chances? What about the chance to write on Mashable (even if you don’t like it) or TechCrunch (once again, whether you like their content or not)? Of course you would jump at that chance and of course you wouldn’t ask me that question.

So why ask it about Medium?

I write on Medium for the following reasons:

  • To access a new (and tuned-in) audience
  • Try different types of writing that I don’t want to put here yet
  • Drive traffic to sites I care about (content strategy anyone)?

Access A New Audience

The Medium audience is an Internet savvy bunch. They’re writers, designers, marketers, brand people, product people, and even some quite influential characters like Gary V and Evan Williams (founder) hang out on there. In short, it’s the perfect target audience for startups and people involved in that industry, even tangentially.

Think back to marketing at its base. Marketing, especially in our day and age, involves meeting your target customers where they are. This is the ultimate goal because these are the people that are going to pay you, which then pays your rent and for your food. But to reach your customers by getting in front of them where they are, you have two choices (that are not mutually exclusive):

  • You write and get content placed that refers people back to your site/business
  • Others reference/recommend your business in content that they write.

Quick tangent: This is why I believe many companies are doing it wrong when they engage writers to create content to be placed on another website (like Medium). Often, the company will hire the writer to write the piece, then the company will do outreach to place it. Or, if they’re a little more savvy, they do outreach first in order to get the content idea secured and then they hire the content writer. But why stop there? If I was doing it (and I soon may), I’d hire a person who can do both the outreach and the writing. Of course, you need to qualify the places that the writers are putting content and make sure that they do it in a way that won’t get you into trouble (ie trying to “scale” the same content across many article directory websites), but I think the return would be there.

Different Types of Writing

I also write on Medium to try new content types. I have built a very marketing-focused site here. That makes sense – this is a marketing website. Building an audience focused around a topic lends itself to many challenges though, not the least being the fact that you can’t easily branch out into other types of writing. I’ve always been a writer and even still write fiction, but I don’t expose that here. I could do that on Medium, though.

If you look at the posts I’ve written on Medium, they’re about entrepreneurship, musings about life and fate, and lessons I’ve learned over the past couple of years. Not all of them have worked. Check out the stats.

As you can see, some did well and others not so much. That’s kind of the point though – I can experiment with other types of writing in a low-risk environment where I can see what resonates and what doesn’t (and build some strong links while I’m at it :-)

I was intrigued by a recent post over on Buffer where Belle, their main writer now, talked about how she and Leo decided that they would experiment with different content types *on the Buffer blog*. She even points out that one of the content types they tried – personal stories – did not do very well. I think there are a few reasons for this, namely:

  • It’s not the type of content the Buffer audience is used to
  • The audience was not primed for a different type of content
  • Maybe not the kind of audience the Buffer crowd wants

Do I think people should experiment? Absolutely. The issue here isn’t Belle’s writing though. She is a phenomenal writer, one of my favorites to read these days, but they missed the target audience. If I were her, I would have put that content on a different site with an audience (like Medium) to see how it’s received. Then, if it’s received well, start putting together a strategy for how you are going to incorporate that into your own site if you decide your site is the right place for that kind of content. You should be willing to recognize that your site might not be the best place for it at the end of the day.

It All Goes Back To Your Marketing Funnel

Remember your marketing funnel? In regards to content people talk about top, middle, and bottom of funnel (T/M/BOFU), but this doesn’t just apply to content. When we take a step back and look at it from a more meta level, these sections (and let’s not forget about the post-conversion funnel too) are:

  • Top of funnel – first few touches on the site with the goal of a micro-conversion such as an email list subscribe or social media following
  • Middle of funnel – the next touches where you increasingly take them from outside interest to becoming an advocate and getting closer to buying
  • Bottom of funnel – where the conversion happens.

Medium sits at the top of the funnel for me. I don’t cross-promote (often) my Medium content on my other sites. I’ll promote them via social media, for sure, and I always want the existing audience to be interested in what has been written. That doesn’t happen, though, which is fine. You learn and you change for the next time.

A Few Medium Strategies

Medium is an interesting platform in that it has two dynamics:

  • Logged-out users see the most popular content on the homepage
  • Logged-in users see content curated by them based on categories they follow

You see, Medium is organized into categories. Some of my favorites are Architecting A Life, What I Learned Building, and Today I Learned. I’ve followed these signed in, so when I go to Medium I see this:

personalized-medium-homepage

But when I’m signed out (or incognito), this is what I would see:

logged-out-medium-homepage

There are two main strategies to get your content found directly on Medium (meaning, outside of social media and external promotion):

  • Get enough people to recommend it that it hits the homepage for logged out visitors (honestly, it only takes 4-5 to make this happen right now)
  • Put it in the most relevant popular categories (I believe you can do 3 yourself) and get others to include it in other categories as well

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you how to find the most popular categories, though. Here is a living chart of the most popular categories on Medium as of time of publishing. If someone wants to help me write a script that updates daily, I’d love your help and will gladly link to you!

Why I Write On Medium

I write on Medium because I get to experiment with new content, build links back to my sites, drive targeted traffic to side projects like HireGun, and increase my portfolio of writing. I’m widening the top of the HireGun, and this site’s, conversion funnel and playing the long game.

Medium is a platform. Others have talked about why you shouldn’t put all of your content onto someone else’s platform, which I agree with. Don’t do it with Google+, don’t do it with Myspace or Facebook, and don’t do it with Medium. We can, however, learn how to use these platforms to connect with our potential audience and build our businesses that way.

I’d love your thoughts. Or if you want to start the conversation on Twitter, tweet me at @dohertyjf.

The past week in search marketing has given everyone a lot to talk about. 100% (not provided) for keywords. Hummingbird, the rewrite of the algorithm. It seems like it’s cool to talk about Hummingbird, Google’s latest name for their algorithm.

Here’s the unfortunate truth about Hummingbird and (not provided): none of us really know what is in Hummingbird, or what the motivations behind 100% secure search are. It could be to fight spam. It could be the NSA snooping on $GOOG’s data. It could be a seemingly evil (but smart) way to get people to buy more ads, which will probably work.

As Joel said in his post on the iAcquire blog this week, you can complain or you can get to work.

Allow me to input my perspective.

Hummingbird isn’t the end of SEO. Neither is secure search. Both of these change the game, but they don’t change what search marketers should be doing anyway – focusing on the channels that bring the most revenue to the business at the best cost.

Let’s not jump and scream about how Hummingbird will kill SEO. From my perspective, the effect is relatively small.

Hummingbird Affects Answer Sites

To start, let’s calm down for a minute and think about how people use the internet. They use it in many different ways -

  • To find basic information
  • To find real time information
  • To learn
  • To go indepth into a topic
  • To buy stuff

Hummingbird affects the first two. It means that sites like Yahoo Answers (already not a great resource), Wikihow and eHow (whatever traffic they have left), crappy sites like the cellphone number sites, and even Quora (which I once heard referenced as Yahoo Answers plus 50 IQ points) are going to see traffic drops.

When you think about it, though, this is an extremely small number of sites on the Internet. These sites, and a few others like ESPN (for real time scores) and weather.com (for weather) will have to come up with new ways to generate traffic and make their sites stickier and more useful to keep users coming back. This is a natural progression of business, and not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. The Internet gets more useful and google users are happier because they find their information faster.

(Not provided) Focuses Us On Pages

Let’s talk about secure search now. The marketing community has been all abuzz about this for the last week since someone noticed that Google is redirecting all search traffic through HTTPS, which means that organic search marketers now do not get any of the keywords driving traffic to their site through Google. Truth is, (not provided) has been spiking for weeks, since the Friday before Labor Day weekend. We’ve steadily been losing organic traffic and at a higher rate than usual in the past few weeks. Did people seriously not notice? I sure did.

Rand Fishkin, who I love and respect, did a wonderful emergency Whiteboard Tuesday on Moz with some awesome strategies for dealing with (not provided). I’ve embedded it below so you can watch for yourself:

I take issue with the view that has been espoused recently by the industry, though, that this is an existential crisis for SEO/marketing and that this will ultimately hurt SEO budgets.

I was an SEO consultant for almost three years, until last week actually. From my experience, the simplified version of how execs/CMOs/lead marketers think about SEO is flawed.

Most execs don’t care which keywords are driving traffic and converting best. They’re too busy to care about that. I know exactly one CEO of a company with > $10m in annual revenue who looks at individual keywords.

Most execs care about overall revenue coming from the organic, or any other, channel. They also care about their pet keywords, for better or for worse. Many of you reading this are probably very familiar with the frequent “Why are we not #1 for [keyword] yet?” question, even though that keyword may not drive great traffic or conversions.

We’ve lost keyword data. So how do we move forward? I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’m going back inhouse. Here is my current thinking about how I would report if I was still consulting, which is similar to how i would ideally report inhouse:

  • Pages driving conversions and the channel driving them, as opposed to individual keywords;
  • Buckets of pages driving traffic (ie category or product page) and that trended over time;
  • Efforts made and the direct effects of those actions (traffic and conversions, maybe even movements in specific rankings if that is needed for more buy in from above);
  • Biggest areas of potential to focus on next;
  • Plans for the future.

Not much has changed there. Marketers can still get data (which is the same data we’ve always had, albeit a source that we don’t really trust aka Google) we’ve always had upfront. Measuring it will be a bit harder, but now we can focus on the pages that traffic and come up with new ways to direct traffic there.

The Future is Bright

Hummingbird and secure search are here. There’s nothing to do about that. Google may give us organic keyword data back through GA premium, but I’m not holding my breath.

Hummingbird has bigger consequences than we know, that’s for sure. It incorporates the Knowledge Graph more than ever before and is starting to move search towards “things not strings” as many have said. Secure search hides important data, but we’re able to now report on other things that may even be better tied to business objectives than before.

During the fall of 2011 and the first half of 2012, I did a lot of freelance consulting. I did it because I was saving for trips abroad and knew that by doing consulting on the side of my day job at Distilled NYC I could save for it faster. So I took on some clients, some that I did penalty drop analysis for, and others where I built links and produced content for their sites. It was fun, but it was tiring as I worked an extra 10-15 hours per week in addition to 50-60 hours at Distilled plus blogging on this site twice weekly as well as Distilled and SEOmoz’s blogs almost once a month each.

It was a lot. So late last year, I stopped accepting new freelance clients and slowly phased out my old ones. While I had less money in my pocket, I also had a lot more free time to explore other projects that I was interested in.

Challenges of Freelance

Freelance consulting was a challenge for me because of the time factor. When I spent 50-60 hours a week at my day job, I then needed to relax on the weekends. I tried to only do freelance work every other weekend, but then that inevitably meant that I had to spend the two freelance weekends just doing work, or at least the afternoons and evenings of Saturday and Sunday. That was no fun and I missed out on a lot of opportunities in New York City. I also found that it took up a lot of my brain space on the weekends I was not working.

Freelancing can be very challenging for indisciplined folks. In order to succeed as a freelancer, I realized that you need to have the following in line:

  • Driven by money, or driven to make money for a certain larger goal
  • High enough of an hourly rate to make it worth your time
  • A non-demanding day job

I quite simply wasn’t driven by money enough to spend my extra time that I had outside of work doing more work. I needed some free time to stay active and sane after getting off work.

What Instead?

I’m a bad programmer (which is why I don’t do it for a living), but I can get around PHP, CSS, and JavaScript. But my talents come in identifying business models that work and then applying them to new problems.

A few months ago, I launched a service called HireGun. It’s a simple site now, but would you believe that it’s doing some decent revenue with about 10 hours worth of work per month? It’s a simple idea that I’ve launched and am working every day to improve the process and increase deal flow. I bet a number of you who read this, if you work in the inbound marketing industry in SEO, content marketing, or social media marketing, and especially if you run an agency, will be hearing from me soon enough.

So, I’m focusing on more scalable ventures that allow me to put what I know more into practice, make some money, and ultimately stop chasing the elusive algorithm and Google dance, and instead build something that I am proud of and that will provide me certain freedoms I desire.

I Have Availability from Sept 28-Oct 10

While I’m at it, I’m also offering people the opportunity to do pay-by-the-minute phone call consulting with me. The issue with a lot of agencies is that they work on retainer models (great for revenue, not so great for those in need of a bit of consulting) and therefore those who need an hour or two are left begging a few hours from someone in exchange for coffee or food. And if you’re dealing with people who have read posts like this, this will be hard to do.

So, I’ve become an expert on Dan Martell’s Clarity.fm. Through that service, you can request a phone call with me. As you can tell through my writings on this site, I hold nothing back and will seek to give as much valuable as possible in the time that you are paying for. It’ll be fun, so why not give me a call and we can chat some marketing?


Newsflash: a blog is not a content strategy.

Brands in 2013 and beyond are increasingly moving away from blogs to content on other parts of their website that will better drive conversions and traffic. In a phenomenal read over on Hubspot, the author talks about how marketers these days are increasingly buying into the age of context and realizing that content needs to be outside of just one section of the website (aka the blog) to drive longtail traffic and convert users. While B2B blogs are getting better at producing whitepapers, case studies, and more in-depth reports by mining their own data for inspiration, ideas, and support for these ideas, marketers such as myself (who started in SEO) are still stuck on simply putting content on the website alone to drive initial visitors. Once that’s accomplished, though, what do we do next? And, shouldn’t we look at other channels as potentially driving new traffic as well?

In this post, we’ll examine types of content to produce to not only drive new traffic, but also to generate awareness of your brand and to keep customers coming back to visit and buy again and again and again.

Email as Content

Email is the channel that interests me most these days. It’s a powerful channel because you’re putting content directly into the inboxes of people who have said that they want it (unless you bought an email list, in which case you’re going to face high unsubscribe rates and spam reports). While email is a powerful medium, a recent study by Mailchimp shows that open rates for email marketing messages have decreased from over 13% (except around big holidays when the noise-to-signal ratio is very high) to 12-12.5% on weekdays and as low as about 9.5% on weekends:

Gmail-open-drop

As with any channel of marketing, you have vanity metrics and actionable metrics. Email open rates are the former – they tell you nothing about whether or not people are actually buying from you. At best, they are an indicator that you’ve written a headline that gets people to click, but you have to go beyond this metric to see if people are actually buying anything from you.

The goal of email marketing, of course, is to get people to come back to your site. Opens matter a ton, though, because people will never click through to your site without opening it. With the new tabbed inbox in Gmail (and mobile, where half of opens occur), the goal is to make your emails so interesting to your user base that they feel compelled to open them.

Here are a few ideas for content to produce to make this happen:

Curation

One of the best ways to provide value to your users, and the flesh to many drip-marketing campaigns, is content curation. If you’re a large platform site like Pinterest, Houzz, or Zillow Digs, you can send your own content to people by curating it into interesting workflows and collections of good imagery or useful tips. For example, a Houzz email:

houzz-email

Grovo is also doing a phenomenal job of this with their lifecycle emails and subsequent dedicated landing pages of learning tracks (full disclosure: I’m an advisor):

grovo-email

Special content

Another type of content that can lead to people opening your emails even within the Promotions tab is special content that you deliver straight to their inbox from you personally. I rarely open an Orbitz email, because they send me the same thing every day, but I always open emails from Andrew Chen and Patrick McKenzie:

andrew-chen-emails

From Patrick:

patio11-email

You see, Patrick and Andrew send emails that they know will add value to their readers. They’re not just an RSS feed of content, but rather it’s curated special content that they’ve produced because they know who their audience is. They both target marketers. I’m a marketer. Therefore, I open their content, digest it all, and often share it with others.

Opt-In Information

Another way to guarantee that your emails will be opened is to ask permission to email people with updates to information they’re seeking. This works the following:

  • Have a product that people need to visit multiple times before they make a decision;
  • If their selection is not yet available, let them ask to be notified when it is;
  • Email them only when there are updates.

This can work especially well for sites like apartment rentals or outdoor clothing.

On BackCountry, for example, if I want the Stoic Stash Shell jacket but I’m not an extra large (I’m a medium usually), I should have the option to select my size from the dropdown or selection menu and input my email address to find out when my size is available. BackCountry doesn’t have this currently (sad face):

stoic-stash-shell

A product like HotPads (where I will be doing marketing starting mid-October) should give you options to be alerted via email when new options become available. Right now you can be alerted hourly, daily, monthly, or never. I’d add an option called “When it happens” to be alerted straight away. Time is money in renting an apartment in a competitive market:

hotpads-alerts

Special Offers

A final great piece of content to email to your subscribers is free stuff. Everyone loves free stuff, and this is a way to build brand advocates and prove to them the value of what you do. Eventually, if you’re emailing your own stuff to them for free, they’ll probably move towards purchasing something you offer.

Distilled (my current company) does a phenomenal job of this. Distilled runs conferences, and every month the marketing team sends a free video to everyone on the email list. It gets Distilled exposure, helps to sell conference tickets, and provides a ton of value to the community.

free-video-content

 

Conclusion

This is the first in a series of blog posts about non-SEO content marketing. Stay tuned for Social Media and PR to come.

Becoming A Better Marketer

John Doherty —  September 9, 2013

I’ve been in search for a few years now. I just realized recently that I graduated high school and started university a decade ago. While this seems like forever in some ways, in the perspective of life it’s not. After all, I don’t think people really figure out who they are and what they want out of life until they are in their mid to late 20s.

This has a parallel to professional life as well. When you start in an industry, you’re trying to prove yourself. You’re hustling. In the Internet marketing industry this might mean:

  • Building a personal brand
  • Blogging all the time
  • Guest blogging
  • Tweeting everything
  • Going to as many conferences as possible
  • Learning how to set up sites and optimize for traffic
  • (Insert hustle here)

Start

My first job in SEO and online marketing full time was building links for an online education website owned by a marketing agency in Philadelphia. During this time, I was bottom of the heap, the new guy, doing what I was told. I was very fortunate to have a manager, who is still a trusted industry peer, who saw things similarly to myself and our other coworker.

I was very fortunate to have experience as a blogger and writer, and I could send a mean email and connect with bloggers in order to get links back to our site, which ended up working very well. Eventually, though, I realized that what I was being told to do and what was actually possible, and what didn’t violate my morals, was in constant tension and I needed to get out.

I was lucky enough to go to Distilled’s Linklove conference in London, which changed the course of my career. Within four weeks of returning from London, I had moved our main keyword, a 33k exact searches a month term, from 16 to 4. I had also accepted a job with Distilled in NYC and was preparing to move.

Embrace Changes in Yourself

Let me tell you – the first few years in an industry are FUN. I’ve had a blast with what I have been able to do in the past few years, including sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in our industry (Danny Sullivan, Michael Gray, Mike King, Rand Fishkin, Will Critchlow, and more).

I have to be honest with myself though – I’m the kind of person who has to constantly be moving forward. If I’m not deriving value from what I’m doing, I’m not happy. This is why I launched HireGun (besides the fact that I saw an opportunity) and why I constantly tinker with sites. It’s why I read everything I can and share it, so that I remember it.

This is also why I’m tired of the same old SEO games and industry drama. The figures debating it change from time to time, but the topics never change. Marketers asking me to prove that content is worthwhile? Asking me why you should stop buying links? I’d show you graphs of sites that have been rocked because of this, but that wouldn’t do any good. I get frustrated by people who just want a quick win and a silver bullet, and quite honestly I don’t want to fight those battles anymore.

The funny thing is that I used to enjoy all this. I used to enjoy the debates and the drama. I spent way too much time on it, expending my mental energy on it when I had bigger issues to tackle.

That’s brought me to where I am now.

Priorities change

I was recently chatting, at separate times, with Tom Critchlow and Ross Hudgens. Our paths have been very similar:

  • Hustle hustle
  • Write write
  • Burn out
  • Recover
  • Launch products instead of blog posts

Much like many things in life, the law of diminishing returns happens in professional lives. I used to get a lot out of publishing blog posts and driving traffic to this site. It was fun (and still is) to write a post that caused a stir and hit the front page of Hacker News. I enjoyed the rush, and the period served a purpose and I made a lot of awesome friends through it.

It also has taken me to where I am now. A few years of down-in-the-trenches hustling on my own site and for clients taught me a ton about marketing. I used to consider going back to school to get an MBA, but honestly the Internet has been my MBA. I have learned way more by working with actual businesses than I could ever learn in a business theory class, and I’ve made a lot of friends in the process.

Point blank – I’ve become bored and stagnated a bit. Some of you may have noticed this.

I could fill up my time again with freelance clients, but for what? An extra bit of money in my pocket each month that the government will take 1/3 of anyway? Nah. There are better ways to spend time.

But I cannot forget what I’ve learned up to this point:

  • How to drive traffic to a site
  • How to identify who wants which content
  • How to convert increasing numbers of the visitors you have
  • How to write good content
  • What types of marketing work when
  • Where risk is acceptable and where it is not

Where Things Go Now

Once you reach the point of saying “I’m bored with blogging” or “I’m bored with SEO” then comes the question “what next?” It’s a great question and one I’ve been thinking through a lot.

First, let me say that I’ll never completely stop blogging. I have cut back, like many before me have and many in the future will, but I will never fully quit. Writing is simply too fun for me. However, people like myself, Ross, and Tom have all cut back because of something else – a desire to do something bigger. I think of the shift this way.

tactics-strategy-ownership

Tactics are what you learn first. Tactics are how a strategy gets implemented. Without tactics, and tacticians, strategies fail. The best laid strategies fail without tacticians, and every great strategist or visionary starts with being a tactician first. Steve Jobs co-built the first Apple computer. Rand Fishkin used to hands-on build links for clients. Danny Sullivan built Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land off his own writing. Jack Dorsey coded Twitter.

Keeping with the metaphor, this is the blogger writing posts to get noticed and to teach (that’s incredibly important).

Sometimes, a tactician moves beyond tactics and begins to build strategies. They realize that they can leverage different areas of marketing, or whatever their skills of choice are, to get to something further such as money. This is the stage where you are able to see when different parts come into play and how to string them together, and measure the results, to achieve what you want to accomplish.

Finally, you grow into wanting to own something end to end. One marketing campaign after another is fun, sure. You learn with each campaign and keep moving. But for some of us, it’s not enough and you begin to stagnate. This is where I’ve come to, at least with clients where I cannot really control implementation and prioritisation. Now, I want to build something.

For more of my thoughts on managers, strategists, and contributers, read this post over on Medium.

Full Stack Marketing?

I’m both fond and not fond of the term “full stack marketer” but I don’t have a better way to explain it. It’s probably just a trendy word for a generalist, which is what I am. A full stack marketer understands:

  • Organic search
  • Paid search
  • Social
  • Content
  • Email marketing
  • Blogging
  • PR

Of course, you’re not a master of all of these but you’re able to talk about them intelligently, identify when someone doesn’t really know what they are talking about, and are able to incorporate each into a much larger strategy.

That’s the basis. Once you move into ownership, you start to understand product, positioning, branding, customer feedback loops, the psychology behind why people do what they do, revenue streams, and more.

Who knows where all this will end up. I’m working on HireGun pretty seriously and trying to learn product and market positioning. I’m learning more about lead generation and optimization and how to weigh priorities and ship features that I think will have the highest impact.

hiregun1

I’ve also written on Medium about Why I’m Not Coding Yet , yet I am also realizing the importance of UI and UX, removing roadblocks for both the service users and for myself. In the future some of this will be smart automation for trusted people while the rest will stay manual for a bit. I’m realizing, though, that scale necessitates automation, so automation it shall be.

Once again, these are the lessons I’m learning, and it feels good to learn once again.

Up and to the right.

Added after this post was finished: I’ve decided that joining HotPads is a way for me to keep moving forward. I’m stoked to contribute over there.

Marketers produce content. We produce a metric ton of content every day, actually. We’re told to create great content and to keep producing great content.

*cue the parody “Great content is killing me”*

Not only do we produce content on our own sites, we also produce content and put it on other sites (which some deem pretty insane). Let me get this straight – We’re creating high-quality content, that takes up our own creative energy and time, so that someone else can put it on their site. And we’re doing it for a freaking link??

If you’re just doing content for the sake of a link, let me say that you’re doing it wrong. Yes, I’ve worked in SEO for a while now. Yes, I know the value of a link. Yes, I can put the monetary value on a link, and I have. Yes, I still think about links first when I scan a piece of content.

BUT. What if I told you that you can still get all of this and more? Continue Reading…

I don’t often write blog posts blasting Google, nor do I often reference local SEO, but I am going to do both in this post. In fact, I’ve been blogging a lot less this year (for many different reasons), but I felt compelled to write this post. In my work at Distilled, I am lucky to work with thought leaders and brands in their spaces. Because of this, we’re able to target competitive terms.

The reality of the situation, though, is that Google has slowly, for the past 6-9 months especially, been slowly making changes to their SERP layout that are effectively (very effectively, mind you) stealing non-branded searches (which as we all know have a higher cost per click, or CPC, than branded searches) from everyone, small businesses and big brands alike.

What I want to do is lay out the landscape for you, specifically in the travel niche, of what we are seeing and then make some recommendations for how specifically to target organic traffic for your website, both small business and large brand.

The Situation

First, let’s take a look at what you can really see on a 15″ laptop screen, which for now is a relatively normal screen size (I use a Samsung Series 7 15″ screen), though according to this:

High resolution 21 to 24-inch widescreen monitors are now both commonplace and relatively cheap to pick up. Laptop displays range from 10 to 17-inches, and tablets 7 to 10-inches for the most part.

london-hotels-nonbranded-search

Other than an OLED TV, LCD TV, and Desktop monitor, a laptop is a typical size that most people use, with over 60% using a laptop or PC at home:

npd-display-search-display-size

As you can see (I’ve highlighted in pink what is Google and in yellow what is organic), everything about the fold is links to Google or a click that makes Google money on my laptop:

london-hotels-nonbranded-search-google

When I click on the Premier Inn link, it takes me to a branded search for Premier Inn that has 1 (count them), 1 organic link above the fold (which is PremierInn.com, luckily for them):

premier-inn-branded-london-search

With the pink and yellow again, we see this:

premier-inn-branded-london-search-google

Even without the organic listings being above the fold, this study recently came out with a CTR study on the local carousel showing where people are clicking, which is predominately on the local carousel and the map:

Screen-Shot-2013-06-25-at-9.53.57-AM-580x619

Of course, this isn’t a surprise since a study that came out recently (thanks Dennis)says that the first position gets 33% of clicks, while the Slingshot study from 2011 said 18%. So we can imagine that if Google puts a box up higher on the page, it’s going to be clicked more (and hence they’ll make more money).

And finally, AutoRevo came out with a post yesterday showing that the local carousel is actually further obfuscating non-branded search traffic, and essentially that sites in niches where the carousel is showing need to kiss a lot of their non-branded organic traffic goodbye:

impression-data

What’s A Company To Do?

Hopefully you are seeing now that this is a big deal for sites in niches where the carousel appears (mostly travel and restaurants right now). In fact, Conductor came out with a study recently (at the time of writing this post) that shows that while organic traffic accounts for anywhere between 53-56% of total visits, for travel it’s only 31% of total traffic (and that’s going to tank soon):

web-visit-channel-distribution-2

So what do you do? Google’s taking away non-branded organic traffic and making you pay for more traffic to make up for the difference (at a higher CPC than needed), so what can you do to gain back some traffic?

Well, here are some ideas:

  • Content to gain longtail traffic that converts to microtransactions that converts later;
  • Ensure that you rank for all your branded terms;
  • Drive branded searches through paid search, offline advertising, and social

At the end of the day, Google became tired of ranking crap affiliate websites for non-branded searches. It seems like now they are targeting spam from a couple of different directions:

  • Encouraging branded searches
  • Moving towards authorship
  • Ranking sites more off domain authority rather than individual page authority

In verticals like travel, especially hotels, your choice now is to go for longtail traffic or accept that your overall natural search traffic will be down. Google’s squeezing you out, so act accordingly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.