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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.

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)


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 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.


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.


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:


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:


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):


With the pink and yellow again, we see this:


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:


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:


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):


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.

*Note from John: Today’s guest post comes from Ryan McLaughlin, who is the Director of Marketing at Clarity Ventures. He lives in Austin, TX and can be found on Twitter @recalibrate.

Back in the spring of 2011 I decided to step away from the boutique internet marketing agency that I co-founded, move to Austin, and join the core team of a growing software company named Clarity Ventures to lead its marketing initiatives. That time represented a lot of changes for me professionally, but one of the biggest adjustments I had to make was moving from a book of small business clients to one full of Fortune 500s, funded startups, and prominent mid-sized businesses.

I quickly realized that client relationships as I knew them were going to be much different, and I was playing an entirely different ballgame. Continue Reading…

Who or what is the most recognizable face in your company or startup? This is an important question to ask yourself because often it can betray how others view your company.

I talk with many early stage startups (everyone in New York City is building an app) who tell me “If I just create a great product, users will come and love it.” Sound familiar? If you’re in marketing it should, because it’s the old “Build it and they will come” fallacy which we all know is not true. Dan Martell talked about this in my interview with him

While building a great product is incredibly important (and you should read Zach Holman’s take on it here), it’s not enough. Great marketing is the key to a great product taking off, but not necessarily typical marketing. For a great product, often marketing like influencer marketing is the best way to go, where you connect with influential users of your product and make them feel special, therefore endearing them to your brand so that they became a brand advocate and will talk about, link, and refer more users, sometimes in droves, to your product.

But a problem arises here. People don’t connect with brands. They connect with personality, which a brand in and of itself does not have. For instance, check out this stat about people interacting with businesses online (source):

16% of customers use Facebook, Twitter and the other major social networks to interact with businesses

At first glance, that seems like a strong metric, but that’s only 1 in 6! I would wager that brand engagement is even lower than that, meaning the percentage of followers that engage with a brand versus the percentage that engage with a person (not including people begging for RTs and follows from celebrities).

This is why, I believe, your brand needs a face, a person or mascot that users can connect and identify with. They say “Yes, I identify with that person or mascot’s personality/way of being.”

As a marketer, and more specifically a search marketer, leveraging a personality as a brand builder is a great way to build buzz and links, often very strong links, back to your website. Services like Onboardly, which is essentially a founder PR agency, or your SEO firm (if you allow them) can get placements for interviews and thought leadership pieces which then naturally link back to that brand face’s biography or About page.

Set Yourself Up For Success

Let’s face it – people love CEOs and want to be around CEOs. Even if you’re well known yourself, you probably still get giddy when you get to talk to someone that you respect in business or life. Therefore, I think every startup should have a founder that is amiable and outgoing, willing to be in the public eye to help build their startup’s name outside of their direct circle of contacts.

In order to do this:

  • Leverage your network for interviews (and links) with the CEO
  • Use PR to get their name out
  • Encourage them to blog, use social media, and let it be known that they are willing to talk to others
  • Have a page on your site that talks about them, including their biography. For a great example, check out Rand Fishkin’s on SEOmoz.


I could reference a few well-known SEO brands, like SEOmoz or Hubspot, who have well-known founders (Rand Fishkin and Dharmesh Shah respectively), but those examples are played out in marketing circles. Instead, let’s talk about a few different examples.

Neil Blumenthal – Warby Parker

By now, many of you have heard of Warby Parker, an eyeglasses startup that has disrupted the eyeglasses world by cutting out the middle men and making fashionable designer eyewear accessible for only $99. They also have a “Get a pair give a pair” program that gives eyeglasses to children in need. Basically, think of Warby Parker as the eyeglasses version of TOMS shoes.

Warby Parker Do Good Campaign

Neil Blumenthal, one of the founders, is in the public eye. If you check out OpenSiteExplorer for the About The Founders page, you will see that the page has 13 links back to it that have his name. David Gilboa, the other founder, has 7 domains linking with his name.

Their public facing manner has also gotten them great press:

Neil Blumenthal on NY Times
Forbes on Influencing People

Dan Martell – Clarity.fm

I interviewed Dan a few months ago here on my site because I was contacted by Onboardly. Dan’s name accounts for about 8% of the total links to Clarity at this point, and many of the experts on Clarity have come from Dan encouraging them to be on the site. He also has a popular blog and good Twitter following.

Dan Martell

Jennifer Hyman – Rent The Runway

One of my favorite examples is Jennifer Hyman, who runs the fashion rental startup Rent The Runway. Jen has attracted a good number of links to the team page (OSE page here. She has done many interviews to build the brand of Rent The Runway and tell their story, such as this interview on Grovo’s Expert Series and this mention in CNN Money.

Loading the player…

See more of this Expert Series

Michelle Rhee – Students First

Michelle Rhee is the Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, which calls themselves a “movement to transform public education”. Michelle has done many interviews and her about page has attracted links from sites like Forbes, Huffington Post, NPR, and many more (OSE here).


I hope this post has given you some ideas of how to leverage your outgoing founders for press and links. These are some of the easiest links you will ever get and have returns well beyond just links, but also branding and word of mouth loyalty.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I have interviewed a few well-regarded entrepreneurs in the past couple of months, and out of those have come the common vein of “Is the problem you are solving worth your life?”

Entrepreneurs are ideas people. We think a lot, we try to optimize our lives to find better ways of being. We are known for being eccentric, disciplined, and sometimes a bit unsatisfied with life. This way of being has very real challenges and benefits.

One challenge is that we can set out to build something that will potentially make us money, but at the end of the day we are not passionate about it and therefore are almost destined to fail from the beginning.

As David Haskell (interview coming next week) told me, “When you start a new venture, you are committed to it for at least 3 years usually. That can easily turn into a decade. We all have about four decades of work to our life. Is what you’re working on worth that?”

Continue Reading…

Tonight (March 20th) Distilled NYC is co-hosting a meetup in conjunction with iAcquire, another search agency here in New York City. The topic is Content Marketing vs Content Strategy.

My talk is on data driven content marketing. We believe that in order to know what content to create, you need to first know:

  • What content you have;
  • How that content is performing
  • What content your competitors have
  • How their content is performing

I will post the slidedeck this evening once the event has finished and I get back to my computer, but I built out a spreadsheet to give away to everyone. I figure I’ll give it away here and explain how to use both for the meetup goers as well as for all of you who read this post on its own.

Download the spreadsheet here.

Data-Driven Content Auditing

The first step before you do any work is to figure out what your goals are from the campaign. Why are you creating content and how are you going to get buy-in, and therefore budget, to create it once you have figured out what you need? Lucky for you I presented on this at SearchFest in February –

Your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) could be many things, including:

  • Links
  • Traffic
  • Leads
  • ??

Settling on what you will be measured on first is the key to a successful campaign, or future successful campaigns as you learn and do better campaigns each time.

Pull Data

Once you have your goals in mind, you know what kind of data you need to gather. I always recommend gathering:

  • URLs
  • Content type or category (ie “Infographic” or “Marketing”). This can give insight into the kinds of content they create that you do not, and if it works for them.
  • SEOmoz Metrics for the site/page (Domain Authority, Page Authority, possibly Trust)
  • Number of linking root domains
  • Social Metrics (Twitter, FB, Google+, etc)
  • Traffic (for your own content) from Analytics

This data will be gathered from a multitude of places, including but not limited to:

Graph and Action

To keep all the data in one place, I’ve provided a spreadsheet here that you can download and use to audit up to 3 competitors and their types of content. Also, please customize it as you need (as it is impossible to meet everyone’s needs) and share with the class what you have done if you think it will be useful.

Here is a preview of the sheet:



You’ll be given some charts as well to help you see visually what is working as well:


You can download the spreadsheet here.

Here is my presentation from the meetup:

I started doing SEO pretty hardcore back in the very beginning of 2010 when I was working as a book publisher from a small alpine town in Switzerland. When I discovered SEO, I had no clue where it would take me (literally and metaphorically), the people I would meet, or everything I would learn and what that would push me towards.

I started full time in Philadelphia, working with a couple of other awesome guys who mentored me, taught me the importance of hustle, and made me get insanely better at my job through data. We were a powerhouse team, and I still say that if I were to go back inhouse someday I would want both of them on the team with me.

That’s not the point of this post, though. You see, this past Friday (March 15th) was the final Linklove that Distilled plans to put on. We don’t believe that linkbuilding is dead or dying, but it has definitely changed and many of the old tactics and tricks that worked so well for so long (crap directories, aggressive anchor text, spun content, sidebar widgets en masse) have gone out the window and even become toxic. I wish I could tell you all about my adventures in the past months with link removal and the insanity of the cost both in terms of effort and impact to the business being affected.

But that’s also not the point of this point.

You see, two years ago today Linklove changed my life. Continue Reading…

I tweeted this about a month ago when I was frustrated at Google for still allowing sites in some verticals to rank off of bad content or links simply because they are a brand and “belong” in that search result. In fact, one could argue that users expect these companies to be there. After all, it makes sense for a company like John Deere to rank for [tractors], no?

Is this fair of me, though? Is it Google’s fault that SEOs have to scale their efforts of content creation and linkbuilding to become competitive in competitive verticals?

I’ve stewed on these thoughts for a bit of time and come to a few conclusions. Many of these might not come as a shock to you, but I think they’re worth stating.

Continue Reading…

If you’re reading this post, you should know the following ways to tag <a href=””></a> links on your website:

  • _blank – opens in new tab
  • _self – opens in same frame (default, can also just be left out)
  • _parent – opens link in new parent frame
  • _top – opens link in the full body of the window

One of the features (or lack thereof) that has irked me about HackerNews is that when I click on a link, it opens in the same window thus taking me away from HackerNews, which is where I went in the first place. Let’s say I click on the first link:


It takes me directly to the page (watch the tab at the top):


But then I have to hit the Back button. Who hits the back button on the Internet anymore, especially techies like myself who live off of keyboard shortcuts? Why make me go from using my keyboard to using my mouse or trackpad just to go back? No one uses the Delete key to go back, let’s be honest.

What HackerNews should do, though, is take you to a new tab, like so (notice the tabs at the top):



I propose a test. Dear admins of HackerNews, I would like you to implement a test for 24 hours.

Implement target=”_blank” on HackerNews
Track the time on site and number of votes over the course of that day
Report on it, and then make an informed decision.

It won’t be that hard to implement:

<a href=”http://on-advertising.tumblr.com/post/42994773187/maria-popova-have-you-made-1m-on-affiliate-ads-while“>Making $1 million from affiliate links on “Ad-Free” blog</a>


<a href=”http://on-advertising.tumblr.com/post/42994773187/maria-popova-have-you-made-1m-on-affiliate-ads-whiletarget=”_blank”>Making $1 million from affiliate links on “Ad-Free” blog</a>

This is how Inbound.org works:

<a href=”http://contentharmony.com/inbound-2012/” target=”_blank” id=”click-30712″>Inbound.org: 2012 By The Numbers</a>

Well HackerNews, what say you? I dare you to increase your traffic and engagement.