Turning 2015’s Frustrations Into 2016 Opportunities

2015 was a tough year for me in terms of my love/hate relationship in my career as a Search Marketing Consultant. At least once a month I was so frustrated with either a client or our industry that I wanted to move on to something more rewarding. That being said, it was also an amazing year. I received both the Search Consultant of the Year as well as a Lifetime Achievement award which was a tremendous honor. It is also the reason I plan to start writing again and try to give back to the industry that has allowed me to have a great living over the past 20 years.

Over the holiday break I had time to relax and to think about those things that really pissed me off and what I planned to do about fixing them, avoiding them and more importantly, making money from them.  I also found nearly 100 articles in various degrees of completion that I will try to finish and get posted.

In a typical year, I work on 2 or 3 large scale projects and another 2 to 3 “crisis” projects where I am called to solve problems that are either large scale or unique.  It gives me insight into a number of areas from agency relations, best practices, workflow etc.

#1 Frustration – Lack of Appreciation for Keywords and Keyword Modeling

For the past 5 years I have been working on various tools to aggregate and model keywords and mine them for opportunities.   My tool, which I now call DataPrizm, allows you to store and mine keywords any numbers of ways.   I have had a lot of success using it in my consulting practice but have not had much adoption from companies and especially not agencies.

Ironically, every test and pilot of the tool has resulted in some amazing findings and incremental opportunities.

Unfortunately, this also scared the crap out of a lot of people.  I had a couple that actually told me using the tool would cost them their job.  The vast majority told me that they either did not have time to use it or it did not match their workflow.   For all the talk about content marketing and data mining I am amazed at how few people actually look at the gold mine they have.  I have written a number of articles on this and have a few clients that use the tool to maximize opportunities but the few are even willing to try.

Most people store words in Excel or some small internal database of in their SEO tool like Bright Edge or Conductor. Few actually mine the data and even fewer look at paid and organic together.

Up until this year I just got frustrated and did not push the issues but in 2016 I will be much more vocal on this wasted opportunity and do more to showcase some of the amazing findings we have had in the tools.

#2 Frustration – “Dynamic and Hip Websites and Content Marketing Mumbo Jumbo”

2015 was the year of the Content Marketing hype and move to infinite scroll and other non-functional web designs. Based on cook frameworks like AngularJS.   They make the developers life easier but without prior thought are deadly to your SEO performance.

One of the frustrating things I encounter a lot from creative agencies is building sites because they were “cool” and “hip and modern” or another is :it s like AirBNB” and a s far from search friendly as you can get. Once I get called in to do the review before launch I point out simple things like robots.txt blocking the site, no titles tags or a single page infinite scroll with no workaround for search.   When we bring it up to the agency the first answer is “SEO Friendly was not in scope” or “Getting the site launched was critical” or other bullshit.

I had one project that was going to be the poster child of SEO integrated design. The agency met 98% of the criteria for SEO. However, the Friday before launch, the compliant site was swapped out for one the creative director thought was “more cool and hip” that was a single page inflate scroll.   The brand team accepted it. Within a week 100% of the rankings and organic traffic disappeared. A month later we went back to the original design trying to recover traffic.

I am dealing with a case now where a top tier creative agency with a large search agency build the client a new online store and built it in AngularJS. The store launched and everyone was telling them it would take time for Google to reindex the site. There were no provisions for redirects, resubmission or monitoring indexing just a simple statement – it will take time. A few months passed and no traffic from SEO, only 10 pages indexed and millions in lost revenue. Since the site was built in AngularJS it was 100% invisible to search engines. Ironic that this framework was developed at Google! Once I explained the problem to them they did not want to double the overhead using a rendering service as it would “double the server load” and are now rolling back the previous build of the site.

First, I have added to my review of potential clients their willingness to comply with SEO best practices.   In addition, I hope to prevent this in 2016 by rolling out a set of comprehensive SEO rebuild/relaunch requirements that I developed for one company.   These requirements must be accepted by the development team or agency during the pitch briefing process, in the final contract, during the kick off meetings and then again as part of the final site acceptance testing checklist. While we have had a bit of success for this client, there are still a few agencies developing sites for the portfolio that were far from search friendly.

#3 Frustration – SEO is Critical for Traffic but….

This frustration drives me insane. Following the ecommerce store and AngularJS fiasco, companies that live primarily off of search traffic need to have better controls.

I had one client that gets 88% of all traffic from organic search and yet the Web Development team and Creative Agency do everything humanly possible to prevent organic search traffic. The SEO Manager tried to get another resource and was told there was no budget.   They came back from vacation to be introduced to 15 new social media team members. Social Media contributes less than 1% of the traffic and zero direct revenue. I was asked to help build a business case to justify the cost for a single headcount for SEO team.

I has another project I turned down from a global company wanting help setting up redirects from some of their campaigns sites to Facebook.  They were going to do a major effort there and wanted the current web traffic to go to Facebook as well.  I tried to explain that it was the web content that was bringing the traffic and if that moved to Facebook that would all go away.  They were convinced by their agency that the paid media they would get from Facebook would outweigh that loss.

#4 Frustration – Paid Search Waste

I will say it again, Paid Search is the single greatest advertising tactic available to brands today. There is nothing that matches the laser precision it offers to target consumers at the very moment of interest.   However the way many of these programs are managed is criminal.

I often get access to paid campaign when I import the data into my DataPrizm Keyword Management tool. As I have written before, the paid search teams are the #1 reason companies do not adopt my tool.

In the past year I have not seen a single paid search campaign that was remotely managed to its potential.   These range from budgets of $5,000 to over $100 million and a gamete of agencies and they are all horribly wasteful and no one really cares.

In mid-November I was asked to review a couple of holiday or year end paid search projects for one of the brands where we had a strong repository of historical information. I was asked to give my recommendations on how they were structured and confirm all the information shared was leveraged by the new agency. Nearly all were set to broad match, one or two pieces of creative and one with 10,000 words had only 5 ad groups. When challenged the agency said they would optimize over time. I am all for test and learn approach but when you have 4 years of historical data and best practices from the 6 previous agencies test and learn there are some things you don’t need to test.

Some of the worst findings are campaigns that are not updated. I had one F100 company that was spending upwards of $50 million with a large agency. I looked at the campaign history and they had not made a single change for 5 months. They tried to convince the client that their bid management tool did all the changes and based on their “financial model based algorithms” did not require human intervention. They had changed a single creative or added any negatives. They were fired that week. Unfortunately the new agency is not much better.

The opportunity for 2016 is to refine my audit program and expand my agency scorecards but find a way to get clients to actually use them! Also, to further expand the use of negative and underperforming word detection in DataPrizm to help flag these words quicker.

#5 Frustration – Clients Demanding to Rank for Something Not Relevant

Following up on my recent rant about the silliness around content marketing and especially those clients that want to leverage lifestyle marketing for traffic. One brand wanted to rank #1 for Coachella. They only have 2 articles on the topic that are a year old. As one of the event sponsors, they assumed that that would get them top rankings.

Just like companies wanting to rank for something they should not, I have others that only want to perform for branded phases.   In September I turned down a six figure-consulting project for a large luxury brand company. The brief sounded like a dream project. – to mine keyword opportunities and help them find niche content targets and mine search data for incremental gains. A former client suggested me to them that I had completed a similar project last year. Soon after sending my initial questions to the client the agency lead told me that all future questions would be to them and that I would not have any direct access to the client.

They went on to tell me that while there was a scope of work I was only participating due to the client’s mandate.     Most of the brief was smoke and mirrors. Apparently the plan was to only have them perform for the brand + product category words.   It was such a wasted opportunity.

#6 Frustration – Celebrity SEO Said….

I could go on for days about this one. I attend a lot of conferences and hear a lot of search experts speak. There are a number that I call “Celebrity SEO’s as they have a huge base of followers that follow every word they utter and their job is to write and drive awareness of themselves or their agency.   People follow them blindly no matter what they say even if it is wrong, or misinterpreted.  I have to spend more time than I want debunking some of their nonsense to clients.

One of the big ones was a person in their keynote told the audience that the H1 tag is dead. They referenced various “ranking factors studies” that showed it was no longer working. We had a web team in India that removed the H1 from the pages.  First, if is not “being scored” there is no reason you would be penalized so why remove it until a future build? The developers assumed since it is not working it should not be in the page. Within a few weeks rankings tanked they had lost nearly $15 million in revenue. Below I describe how we found the problem but we immediately rolled back the change, got the rankings back and recovered the loss revenue.  Just because it was said at a conference or maybe works on small sites does not mean you should implement without discussing with your own team or testing it on a sample.

Another keynote recently told the audience that keywords were dead. That you need to focus on content marketing and create content people want. Ironically in every case where he used examples of content marketing he used a keyword phrase to trigger the content. When challenged about his statement of keywords being dead he implied that individual words are dead and we need to think of clusters of words. Not to split hairs but are “clusters of words” a list of related phrases? I guess it did not sound as cool and I had 2 prospects for my tool decide not to use it since the “keynote” said it was no longer important.

In 2016 the opportunity will be to try to debunk some of these statements and try to be more vocal on some of the basics of search and data mining.

#7 Frustration – Still Optimizing Pages and Not Templates

It is now 2016 yet some SEO’s still do audits and optimization by the page or phrase.   I just had a friend ask me if $10k was a fair price for an audit of 50 of there words and pages. I was shocked that people still pitched it that way. I asked him how many page templates he had – did not know but we identified 5 core templates. The goal would be to optimize a template then all word types for that template would perform better. Yes, you may need to look at links etc. for specific words and pages but to many companies give me the same list of problems 20 times.

As I mentioned above with the loss due to removing the H1. We found this problem because we focus on templates. We looked at all the words that dropped in rank. We then pulled a PLP report from DataPrizm for those words and loaded them into Screaming Frog and looked for the template ID.   We found 2 pages – category page and the product page were 100% of the pages that had words drop in rankings. We reviewed the page and the only thing that changed was the removal of the H1. We rolled the pages back and in less than 10 days the rank was back as was the traffic.   It took less than 30 minutes to identify the core problem.

I see this problem a lot globally where agencies audit all the different country versions we end up with 10 to 20 of the exact same report.   For 2016 I will try to detail and global site audit process that will help reduce this waste.

I will try to rant less and put out some quality content so that I don’t piss off the readers.  Let me know what you would like to write about and I will try to dust off some of the half completed articles and get them posted.

Giving up Corporate America to be a Search Marketing Consultant

In 2015 I had at least 20 people come to me wanting to or needing to, due to a layoff, become a Search Marketing Consultant. For the most part I gave them all the same advice and wanted to share some of that advice with others not in my circle of friends. Note, most of these people I talk to are coming from corporate jobs and this post is tailored to my experiences with them. I will work on a second for agency people, as it is often a few other things they have to consider. There is the third category of people that I have talked to which are younger solo consultants, which are scrappy and want smaller projects to pay the bills and are not looking for larger scale projects.

Are you prepared financially?

This is the big one as t often has significant impact on the family. In many cases the layoffs come with a nice severance package so they have some money for a while. It is very hard to start making money in the first month.

Tools and Technology – All those tools the agency had you need to buy yourself. While you don’t need one of the Enterprise Search Tools you will need a handful of tools and a decent computer and that will cost you some money.

Corporate Payment Terms – The big problem for most is the payment terms. If you take a typical enterprise scenario they are typically Net60 and you can bill monthly. In some cases you can bill the first month immediately but that is still at least 60 days. In many cases you cannot invoice until the end of the month and with a Net60 that means not being paid for 90 days. This is if your lucky and you can get all the vendor details set up. Most likely you are waiting for 120 days or 4 months until that first check arrives.

Quarterly Tax Payments – This is what kills most consultants especially in the first year. In your corporate job you were getting a salary and that was taxed before you received it. Now you get the full amount from your client and you are required to pay “estimated taxes” on your expected income on a quarterly basis. If you don’t you will be hit with a penalty when you file. This is why I suggest below getting a great accountant to help manage this burden.

For example, if your lucky enough to get a consulting gig at $10k per month for the rest of the year, keeping the math easy of $100k for the year. If you are married and this is your only income your tax rate is 27% so each month you need to set aside $2,700. If you are single it is $31% or $3,100 of that $10k goes to taxes each month.

Liability Insurance – Nearly every project I work with requires liability insurance of at least $1 million dollars. This insurance with a umbrella costs around $2,700 annually.

How much money do you need to make?

This is the big one. While you might be known in the industry from your corporate job you may not have any cred as a consultant. I see many people making six figure salaries that want the same as a consultant. It is possible but has some pain points. In the chart below it shows you need to bill accordingly. For example, if you want to take home the same $150k from your corporate job, keeping a similar work/life balance you need to be 100% billable 8 hours a day for the year (not including weekends and holidays) at $200 per hour. This is not factoring any expenses but you get the idea. To make more you either have to bill more hours and/or raise your hourly rate.


Time Management – The primary asset of a consultant is their time so make sure you manage it correctly.  Projects are $25 per hour takes as much work as projects at $400 per hour so try to focus on those that matter.  Most “starting your business” books tell you to do a lot of pro bono work to build a name and a client roster.  Reaching out to your network for projects can be far more valuable.  I am not suggesting that you don’t give back but watch those hours.

Can you do the work?

The ability to manage a search program at a Fortune 100 company does not mean you can do the work. I had one friend that has been running a large program for the past 5 years and has never actually audited a page or even looked at the actual Adwords management system and did not have time to try to learn everything so opted to not be a consultant. Fortunately many people currently do the work or have done the work so with a little review they are ready for business.

Are you leaving on Friendly Terms?

Don’t burn bridges on your way out. In nearly all the cases of layoffs, the person was eventually invited back as a consultant making more than they did as an employee. This is a great way to start building a book of business that may lead to other projects.

Reach out to Friends and Connections

This is critical that you network like crazy. Buy lunch for a few people in your network that can help you either make connections to other professionals but also give you suggestions on what they have done to maintain their business. Post questions on Linkedin or other channels. I find people in the search industry are generally willing to help you out with advice, referrals, introductions etc.

Find a Great Lawyer and Accountant

I often make this tip #1 as it is critical that you get your company set up correctly to maximize your legal protection as well as your tax protection. The accountant is critical as I have shown above, taxes are a bitch so you need to make sure you have a great plan. They can also help you set up your accounting structure and basic bookkeeping. You don’t need a big system so something simple like Freshbooks or Xero work fine. If you only have a few clients and minimal expenses a good Excel worksheet with a tab for each month can work well.

The lawyer is needed as I mentioned for setting up your company structure. Most can get by with a simple LLC. I typically do them myself as they are fairly straightforward in many states. However, in others they require filing in local papers as well as Articles of Formation or Incorporation. You can also use LegalZoom to help with this. You will need a set of contracts as well as samples of scopes of work. If you had a corporate job you may have samples of these already but if you don’t try asking friends in the industry for some.

Decide on a Niche

What do you do best or like to do? Do you have experience in a specific vertical or area of Search Marketing? Many of my projects come from referrals. This is because I specialize in a few areas such as enterprise, global and complex technical problems. These are things that typically don’t conflict with other consultants so they refer people to me. The more you can focus your efforts the easier it will be to stand out in a crowd.

Write about Obscure Problems and Topics

This is a great way to get people to find about about you. Also I call this “epiphany marketing” where you write an article that gives people that awareness they have a problem they did not realize they had. In the past few years I have written less but a few specific articles have generated significant referrals for me. They were articles or presentations at conferences that really made people think. The first was about organizing their search program, the second evaluating their agency’s performance and the third was about maximizing their performance across multiple portfolio brands.

Slowly Integrating into Consulting

Unless you have been laid off you can slowly work your way into consulting. If your current company allows it, start with some smaller projects on the side for friends and family. I have helped a few friends that wanted to move in using them to help with larger projects. This allows them to keep their day jobs while easing into the workflow and setting up their organization.

Importance of Try before you Buy

We would never imagine buying a car without a test drive but there are so many other purchases that we must make by reading product descriptions and reviews but I think companies can be more successful if they leverage a try before you buy model. My favorite Scotch is Arbourlor which came from a tasking in a duty free shop at the airport.

Last week I was in Roatan Honduras as part of a group of underwater photographers. We were there to dive and enhance our photo skills but also to try out a lot of new equipment.

My son had a problem with his mask. This is one of the most critical pieces of equipment for divers after their breathing source. I always bring an extra mask with me but I was using it since mine broke after a diver crushed it in rough seas. Bill went to the dive shop and tried a few on and found one he thought might fit. Given we are in a remote area with a smaller selection not sure he found the best one. While on land you can simulate the fit but until you dive you cannot be sure. IN 20 years of diving I have never been offered the opportunity to try a mask in water. Every dive shop where I have bought the mask required me to buy it. This dive shop let him take a sample mask diving that morning. After the two dives he loved it. The mask was so comfortable he not only bought one but bought two. Other than the cost of the “demo mask” there is no reason why others cannot do this.

I experience another “brilliant marketing moment” in Roatan with the demo gear. During the day you dive then each afternoon submit photos from the day to have them reviewed by the group and photo pros. On the second night one of the submissions was for one of the demo cameras. The Olympus TG4 This is one of the new Tough cameras that is waterproof to 50′ This one was in a housing with external strobes. The pictures looked great on the big screen. Berkly White the photo pro commented they were great for a compact point and shoot camera and this camera would make a great backup camera to the more complex and expensive rig. The next day we went into the demo room to try a new lens for a different Olympus camera and get on the list to try the TG4. We waited in line behind 5 people who wanted to try the TG4 camera. Carlos from Olympus, told them that the 4 he brought were already checked out. That is 10 people who were excited to try the camera the next morning. Not only did they see the photos, have an influencer make a comment but they would get a chance to try it. I tried the camera and it was great and it is not my backup!

For me I dive with the Canon 7D in an Aquatica housing. I have been loyal to Aquatica for 7 years – more than anything the service and support is um-matched. They make a great product. I wanted to upgrade to the Canon 5d but after my demo I have decided to go with the 7D Mk II which is an upgrade. I tried this camera in 4 different housings on at least 2 dives each. In the end I loved a different housing from Subal and pass my housing down to my son. It was more compact and easier to hold especially for macro shots. I tool it on 4additional dives and loved it placing and order on the spot.

The outcome of this try and buy event will be significant. Over 80 people saw the quality of the photos and at least 20 people tried the TG4 camera. Not sure how many went to buy it but once they do and people see it on the dive boats they will want it too. In rough estimates they should be able to sell at least 100 units from this event alone and that would be over $35,000 in revenue far more than the cost to have someone there to make it easy for people to try the product. The same is true with the other housings – many people want to move to the higher level of photography but would do so if they could actually try the equipment. Maybe larger dive-friendly locations like Roatan, Bonaire and Grand Cayman can create a rental program that would enable people to move beyond the point and shoot.

So why is try and buy a big deal – in the past some of the housing and camera makers did not attend this event and felt the opportunity was too small but they are not seeing the the power of influencers and social media expansion. I have shared my pictures with my network as have others that attended. I have seen a few posts of people asking what camera they used to do it. In the day of social media and even moderate influencers creating a situation where you can try and buy a product may be a great move for you.

Personalized Search and Keyword Research

Jeff Beale from The Marketology Group just posted the link to our recent PodCast interview on the topic of personalized search and keywords research. We talked for nearly an hour with Jeff asking some really interesting questions trying to understand hwo we need to rethink doing keyword research based on the personalized nature of search vs. traditional SEO.

As many of you know Search Engines return results based on a number of personalized factors rather than just returning the more relevant results. You now have to consider multiple variables such as intent, location, device and behavior. Jeff and I talk about the best way to approach to keyword research and content optimization and how you should set up a multi-tiered keyword research and content optimization plan.

Have a listen to the podcast and post any questions you might have here.

The Difference a Day Makes

In the past two days I have experienced the greed of hotels that are tying to exploit business travelers for events.

Last night a friend of mine was In NYC from India and he had a rate of over $400 a night for the same hotel I was staying at a rate of $199. I booked mine at the last minute the day before. When I checked to get him the rate it had jumped to over $500. That one is not too bad since there were two big events in town and I must have lucked upon a great rate.

Today however, I attempted to change my hotel for DMA in Chicago. I wanted to add an extra day since I am coming in a day earlier to participate in the Guru sessions. My original rate was $208 per night but when I added the extra day the day rate went from a reasonable $208 per night to an insane $1,299 per night for an Aloft hotel which is one of the budget line of Starwood.


There must clearly be some sort of data problem. I immediately cancelled the whole stay and booked at the Westin for slightly more than the original rate. But what if I were willing to pay that jacked up rate? Well clearly would not stay at the Aloft… for the price of the closet style room I could actually get a suite at the Four Seasons for about the same rate as the budget – would be a no brainer where I would stay.


These are the frustrating things that cost companies a lot of business.

Digital Marketing commentary from a global marketing road warrior.