Don’t Do What I Tell You To Do

As a mom, it pains me to say that. I’m constantly harping on my teenage twins to do what I tell them to do – and half the time, they do the opposite, thus frustrating the heck out of my husband and me.

So how can I bring myself to tell you, PPC friends, not to do what I tell you?

This week was a busy one in the SEM world with Pubcon Vegas, which wrapped up yesterday. Twitter was alive with Pubcon tweets – so much so that it was hard to keep up.

But there was one Twitter gem from Pubcon that stood out in my mind: “When a speaker says ‘do this’ you should hear ‘test this’.” Tweeted by Ryan Jones and attributed to my friend Brad Geddes, the wisdom stuck with me.

PPC is a smorgasbord of testing goodness – a veritable paradise for a numbers geek like me. Attendees at search conferences will come back with pages of notes full of new ideas to implement in their PPC campaigns. PPC newbies, especially, will be tempted to take the word of the “experts” as the law of the land. Heck, I’m one of the experts that will be speaking at SES Chicago next week, imparting wisdom upon PPC rookies.

Admittedly, there are some basic rules every PPC manager needs to follow. But in general, don’t blindly do what we tell you to do! What works great for one campaign may be a huge flop in another. Nearly everything that’s worth doing in PPC is worth testing first. That’s what I love about PPC – the ability to test just about anything and learn from it.

So next week at SES, when a speaker says “do this,” make sure you hear “test this.”

(Hey, maybe that’s what my kids are doing – testing it for themselves….)

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Top 3 Takeaways from SMX Advanced, aka Homecoming for SEMs

Last week, I attended my 4th SMX Advanced in Seattle. It’s probably my favorite SEM conference of all because there are no beginner sessions. Every session covers advanced ways to improve your SEM and social media campaigns.

As usual, there was a ton of great info shared – I have 15 pages of notes from just the sessions I attended! Here are the top takeaways from this year’s conference.

Quality Score is Complicated.

OK, we all probably knew that. The Quality Score session was top-notch, though – I consider myself pretty knowledgeable on this subject, but I learned a TON. I especially enjoyed my friend Joe Kerschbaum’s talk on quality score for adCenter. Turns out, landing page relevance does count in adCenter – it’s one of their key factors. (I believe it’s a significant factor in Adwords, too, but that’s another post.)

Quality Score is so complicated that there’s a new book out about it – and it costs a whopping $149. Are you kidding me?!? Craig, I have a ton of respect for you, but the book is like 75 pages! That’s nearly $2 per page. Really??

Anyway.

Tweeting and Facebook are SEO.

There was a session on Twitter SEO and another on Facebook SEO. I attended the Twitter session and took copious notes. I’m not an SEO, but I do oversee the entire search marketing program at Fluency Media, so I try to learn as much as I can about SEO.

Incorporating both good social tactics (create quality, shareable content; engage with people, etc.) and good SEO tactics (make content relevant, use good keywords, link to deep pages, etc.) makes it very possible for your Twitter content to show up in search results pages. With both Google Panda and Bing, social signals are becoming more and more a part of the SEO algorithm – so it makes sense to optimize your social content as well as your website content.

Link Building is Almost Impossible.

I’m really trying to get my head around link building. And I’ll admit: I’m struggling. It just seems to take tons of time for very little payoff.

But I was optimistic: there are some really good link builders out there, and they were at SMX. So I sat at a link building Birds of a Feather table, and also attended a link building session.

The big takeaway? Link building is really hard, and often is just luck. On top of that, it’s nearly impossible for an agency to do link building for clients. It just doesn’t scale well. This is what I suspected all along, but had hoped I was wrong. Oh well.

PPC People are Awesome.

This year, I saw so many friends from the PPC industry that I joked about it being like homecoming for SEMs. I realize that I’m an old-time PPC’er, and I’ve been going to conferences since 2003, so I’ve met a ton of folks over the years. But I’m continually thrilled with how friendly and open everyone is. People freely share give-it-up style secrets, test ideas, tips, and tricks – it’s such a welcoming and collaborative community.

This year, about 10 participants in the weekly Twitter PPCChat met for dinner in Seattle on Monday night, the night before the first day of the show. Even though I’d only met a couple of the attendees before, it was like we were all fast friends. And indeed we were, because we knew each other on Twitter!

Anyway, the dinner was great, and the PPCChat group ended up hanging out throughout the whole conference. Even though SMX is smaller than most SEM conferences, it can still be hard to navigate the dynamics of a group of several hundred people. But as with homecoming, it’s a lot of fun if you hang out with a smaller group of friends – and that’s just what we did.

I learned so much at this year’s SMX, as usual. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Stretch Your Marketing Dollars – My SES Chicago Presentation Recap

Last week, at SES Chicago, I was honored to be part of the panel on the “Stretch Your Marketing Dollars” session. I presented a case study on one of our Fluency Media clients, where we used PPC to inform SEO.

I love the challenge of working within a small budget. It forces me to get really creative as a PPC manager and make sure I’m spending every cent in the best way possible. In many ways, it’s easier to work with an unlimited budget than with a small, limited one – and it’s more rewarding to see huge results from a relatively small spend.

SES Chicago is somewhat unique in that it tends to attract more in-house SEMs, as well as a lot of newcomers to search. The Stretch Your Marketing Dollars session was no exception – when I polled the audience to find out how many in-house vs. agency folks we had in the room, at least 2/3 of them were in-house SEMs.

I got a lot of great feedback after the session – one person even told me they took pages of notes! I hope the information in the presentation helps you too.

Have you had to work with a small budget? What did you do? What were the results?

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The 3 Biggest Takeaways from SES New York

Yesterday, I returned home after a couple of days at SES New York. It had been years since I attended the East Coast version of SES – in fact, SES was my first search conference way back in 2003 in Boston, before they moved the show to New York. While I didn’t attend the whole show this year, I was there long enough to see a lot of friends and catch the buzz. So, here are my top 3 takeaways from the show.

1. The Bing announcement that wasn’t. The audience was buzzing about Thursday’s keynote by Yusuf Mehdi from Microsoft. Rumor had it that he was going to be making some big announcements about Bing. The room was packed, everyone waiting with baited breath. What were the big announcements? Maps. Lots of maps. Oh, and a partnership with Foursquare. Sorry, but this wasn’t news to me. I know a lot of people get into Foursquare, but I just don’t see the business value. In fact, I asked that question during the keynote: where is the business value in all of this? The answer? Businesses have more information about intent with these lovely features. I don’t know about you, but I won’t be rushing to Bing to put my clients’ ads on their Foursquare map.

2. Social media is where it’s at. There were entire tracks at SES New York on Social Media, and every session I attended was packed. People clearly want to learn about social media and how to make it work for them. I found, though, that most of the sessions were unfocused and didn’t stay on topic. For instance, the session on Social and the Marketing Mix was billed as a session on integrating social media with your other marketing – something that, in my opinion, is key to social media success. But the only speaker who talked about integration was Beth Harte. The other speakers talked about how to start a social media program, measuring results, claiming your name on social channels (hello??), and a bunch of other random things that had nothing to do with integration. That said, it’s obvious to me that social media is hot, hot, hot.

Side note: Call me old-fashioned, but I was really surprised at the number of snarky Tweets from the show. I’m sure some of them were deserved, but many just went beyond the pale – there was a series of tweets ridiculing someone for their outfit. I agree she looked, well, out of place – but this isn’t high school, this is a search conference. And tweeting about someone’s long nails on their laptop keyboard or the BO of the person in front of you isn’t really useful, either.

3. People still want and need to know the basics of PPC and SEO. I was shocked at how many people I *didn’t* know at this SES – in fact, the only people I recognized were the other speakers. (Quick detour: I remember being at SES Chicago about 5 years ago and accidentally sitting at lunch with a bunch of the speakers. I felt totally out of place and embarrassed. This time, it was the exact opposite – I ended up having lunch in the speaker room because there were no seats in the Grand Ballroom, and I didn’t know anyone there anyway. I don’t know if that means I’ve arrived, or if the audience has really changed. Anyway…) The Fundamentals sessions were very well attended. My good friend Matt Van Wagner told me that his Paid Search 101 session was packed. He started out with the real basics: what PPC is, how it works, etc. I asked him if that was too basic, and he said, “No. I told the audience to let me know if it was too basic, and they told me that it was just what they were looking for.” I had a similar experience in my Paid Search Site Clinic – several of the attendees weren’t even doing PPC yet – they wanted to know how to get started. Maybe this shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.

Well, there you have it – my 3 top takeaways from SES New York. I actually have a fourth: food poisoning. Yes, this makes the 3rd time I’ve come home from the East Coast with food poisoning – not sure what that’s all about…. Alas. What are your biggest takeaways from the show?

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Search Marketing Goodness at SES Chicago

Search Engine Strategies Chicago just ended, and it was a great 3 days of search marketing knowledge sharing and networking. I thought today was the best day of the conference, with a lot of great takeaways and learnings.

This year’s conference featured a number of sessions on social media. I especially enjoyed the Serengeti session on Social Media Strategy and ROI Measurement. At Fluency Media, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the best way to measure social media metrics. The Serengeti session provided a checklist of places to monitor your brand in social media, including blogs, Twitter, brand searches, referrals from social media sites, etc. Social media is still new to many marketers, and it was helpful to get suggestions on measuring success.

My favorite session of the whole conference was today’s keynote by Dan Siroker, a former Googler who served as the Director of New Media for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. His inspiring presentation talked about how the Obama campaign turned social media visitors into evangelists by defining success metrics and taking advantage of circumstances as they were happening. I took 3 pages of notes during his session!

The most fun session was the last one of the day, Black Hat, White Hat, Does It Really Matter Any More? SEM luminaries Frank Watson, Rand Fishkin, Todd Friesen, Dave Naylor, Matt Bailey, and Bruce Clay took the stage to talk about black hat SEO, and whether it matters in this day and age. I’m not sure they came to a conclusion, but the session produced the best Twitter sound bites of the entire conference! You can check the Twitter hashtag #seschi for a sampling.

I had the honor of speaking on two panels this year. It was my first time speaking, and I had a blast. There are pictures of the sessions, if you’re interested. I’m grateful to the SES staff for allowing me this opportunity.

Finally, the networking at SES was fantastic, as usual. I can’t even begin to name all the great SEMs I chatted with at lunch, dinner, cocktail hour, between sessions, etc. This industry is full of super-smart people who are happy to share their ideas and knowledge. I saw many old friends, and made a lot of new ones as well. Special shout-outs go to my friends David Szetela, who is the original PPC Rockstar; and to Marty Weintraub, who is not only a Facebook Rockstar, but a “real” rockstar as well! I had a blast with the two of you!

As I pack my belongings for an early train back to Michigan tomorrow, I’m thankful for a great job in an even greater industry. My SEM friends are the best

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Speaking at SES Chicago

SES Chicago is happening in the Windy City December 7-11. I’ve been attending SES since 2003, and it’s always a fun and worthwhile conference.

This year, I’ll be speaking for the first time, and in two sessions to boot! Both are on Wednesday. The first is “Facebook Rockstars RoundTable: Marketing For the Other Internet,” with my good friend Marty Weintraub from aimClear. We’ll be discussing Facebook success stories, which should be a lot of fun.

The other session is the Pay-Per-Click Congruency Clinic, where we’ll take volunteers from the audience and make suggestions for aligning their keywords, ad copy, and landing pages. I’ve learned a lot from the SES Clinics, having “taken one for the team” more than once. I’m honored to be able to offer my expertise to others.

If you haven’t already done so, you can register and get the Early Bird rate before Nov. 20. There are also discount codes floating around out there, so be on the lookout for those to save even more.

Be sure to stop by and say hi – I love meeting my fellow SEMs! See you in Chicago!

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Headed to SMX Advanced

Soon I will be leaving for SMX Advanced 2008 in Seattle. I was lucky enough to attend last year, and I can’t wait for this year’s conference. Many SEM pros must agree with me, since the conference sold out 3 weeks in advance. I’ll try to post updates throughout the show, but either way, I know it’ll be a good one.

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What If SES and SMX Merged?

No, the two conferences aren’t really merging. But if they did….

Two of my coworkers attended the Shop.org Annual Summit in Vegas last week. By all accounts, it was a fruitful show, with informative sessions and a packed exhibit hall.

That’s where the SES / SMX mashup comes in. My coworker was filling me in on her experiences at the show: specifically her conversations with vendors at the expo. Talking with a rep from a search marketing firm, she asked him if he exhibited at other shows like, and I quote, “SEX or any of those?”

Alrighty then!

The best part of the story is, the guy she was talking to didn’t even notice the faux pas! He kept right on talking and never missed a beat. Our other coworker, who was standing by, looked on in horror as the two of them talked about “going to SEX.”

It’s not a bad acronym, when you think about it. Search Engine Xpo, anyone?

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SES “Paid Links Session Video”

This great piece of linkbait is all over the SEM blogosphere, but it’s so darn funny I have to post the link. It’s a “secret video” of the Paid Links session at SES San Jose.

If you’ve ever been to an SEM conference, you’ll love it – he has all these guys pegged. If you’ve never been to a conference, well, it’ll just seem weird. Personally, it was the best laugh I’ve had all week!

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10 Not-So-Secret Reasons To Attend Search Marketing Conferences

Lee Odden posted a tongue-in-cheek list of Secret Benefits of Attending SEM Conferences on Monday. It’s pretty funny, and yet it got me thinking about the real reasons I attend search marketing conferences.

10. Breaking news from the search engines – At almost every SES, and at the inaugural SMX, at least one search engine has made a major announcement about a new feature or offering. You can read about these in the SEM blog posts, but it’s always better to hear them first-hand at a search conference.

9. Opportunity to ask questions – Whether it’s questions about the aforementioned breaking news, questions about a presentation idea, or just general questions about SEM, a search conference is the place to do it. I always try to ask at least one question per session I attend; and if I don’t get satisfactory answers there, I hunt down speakers or session attendees to chat informally. You can do this on the various SEM forums, but a dynamic, face-to-face conversation is always better.

8. Have your site reviewed for free – Most SEM conferences have “site clinics” or “landing page clinics” or similar sessions, where you can volunteer your web site for review by experts – for free. We’ve done this a couple of times (we call it “taking one for the team”), and we’ve gotten great feedback on our SEO efforts, landing pages, shopping cart, and other aspects of our site that have translated into improved conversion and money on the bottom line. This alone can pay for your conference fees many times over.

7. Meet your search engine rep – If you’re heavily involved in PPC advertising, chances are you have a dedicated rep at the various search engines. SEM conferences give you an opportunity to meet your rep face-to-face to talk about your account. This isn’t always possible, since every rep doesn’t attend every show. However, I’ve been able to meet a couple of my reps, and it’s always been fruitful, if for no other reason than to put a face with the voice at the end of the phone (or the typist at the end of the email).

6. Meet current vendors to discuss issues – It’s a rare search marketer that doesn’t work with at least one or two SEM vendors. At the larger shows like SES, these vendors are on hand, often with managers and other high-level executives manning the booth. There have been times where I’ve had trouble resolving an issue with customer service over the phone, and one conversation with the booth rep at a show mysteriously resolves these issues in a flash.

5. Meet prospective new vendors – As SEM needs change and evolve, the need to seek out new vendors crops up. Instead of trolling the net and hunting them down, you merely need to stroll the floor at an SEM conference. You’ll come back with business cards and literature galore, along with key information to help decide if the services can help you. And, as Lee mentions, you can get some great swag too. I’ve gotten cool stocking stuffers at more than one SES Chicago.

4. Interview opportunities from DM press – As SEM becomes a bigger industry, I’ve noticed more press representatives at the conferences, which wasn’t the case in the early days. I’ve been interviewed by industry analysts and more than one direct marketing journalist. Usually these opportunities have stemmed from the questions I’ve asked during sessions (see #9 above).

3. Networking Benefit #1: Meet Your SEM Peers – Whether you’re agency, in-house, or something in between, a search conference is the place to chat it up with your industry peers. SES has Birds-Of-A-Feather seating at lunch, which is a great way to hook up with those who share your interests. I usually try to sit at the “Paid Search” or “In-House” table, and I’ve met tons of great people who do the same thing I do for a living.

2. Networking Benefit #2: Rub Elbows with the Big Hitters of SEM – Along with meeting peers, search conferences are the place to sidle up to the industry shooters. As much as the search industry has grown, it’s still a very friendly place. Speakers, A-list bloggers, and other VIPs can be found at lunch, in the halls, and at the parties and bars – and I have yet to meet one of them that wasn’t more than happy to talk openly to me about search. Where else can you find Matt Cutts, Tim Mayer, Danny Sullivan, Barry Schwartz, Rand Fishkin, and a host of others, all in one place? I’ve had the pleasure of having lunch with Andrew Goodman, David Szetela, and Matt Van Wagner, and we’ve shared some great stories about search, and become good friends along the way.

1. Opportunity to live and breathe search for a couple of days – As an in-house SEM, I’m the only one at my company who’s “doing” search day in and day out. While most of my co-workers have a basic understanding of what I do, they’re certainly not versed in the details of it all. At a search conference, you’re in a world where everyone speaks your language. It’s like coming home from a long stint in a foreign country – you can finally use all the jargon and acronyms and what-not without having to translate everything you say.

I have yet to go to a search conference that hasn’t paid for itself for these reasons. Yes, the conferences are a ton of fun, but they also have tremendous business value.

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