Jessica Bowman of SeoInHouse.com sent this series of questions to Thomas Ballantyne of Bulwark Exterminating prior to an attempted interview online. The interwebs did not align that day, the recording failed. Not able to find time to do it again Thomas asked Jessica’s permission to take her questions and answer them by blog. Here is the virtual interview conducted by Jessica Bowman and the Pest Control Guy.
Imagine…. Its 8am, Monday morning and you arrive at work to find that SEO traffic has plummeted. What are the first places you would look to begin diagnosing the problem?
I’d start at my local listings. My business is local search driven. I’d check to see if they were up and running. Then I’d look at my website. Look for errors. Look for bad script. Look at the .htacces, robot permissions, website logs. If that doesn’t solve it, then I’d retrace recent updates to our website. Any glaring mistakes would be fixed immediately. If nothing is glaring then I’d check twitter for SEO chatter on updates.
There are a number of things that can cause your website traffic to drop, or seem to drop. Things like the simple error of removing analytics code, to bigger errors like adding a “NOINDEX” to all of a sites pages. Trace your steps, and the activity of anyone that has access to your site. Look at your own activity and logs before screaming and ranting at the “SEO Demons”.
If you were to guide an enterprise-level SEO on their budget, what would you suggest be in it?
Money. =) … Everything would really depend on the budget and the company. Are they a location based service? Are they a brand that wants an online shopping cart? Do they want more “branding”? You always have to start with an understanding of where they are now and where they want to be. I’d then look at where they are strongest. What service or product are they best at, or best known for? I’d look at what customers most talk about online, both the good and the bad. Then I’d follow with what service or product gives them the best margins. Lastly I’d compare that data to what is easiest to achieve success for online. For example, Nike is best known for shoes. Hypothetically, their Elin Woods Golf Clubs are getting rave reviews. Where do they rank for shoes? Where do they rank for Golf Clubs? Which needle can we get to move the most with the least effort? How much does the effort cost and what is the potential gain?
To put that in a budget bullet point:
- Online Listening
- Website Performance Tracking
- Site Maintenance/Upgrades
- Content Creation
- Content Promotion
- Paid Search
The amount for each of these will vary based on the sophistication of the site and company. Enterprise companies may also have silos between SEO and Paid Search. Break that down. That data needs to be shared. Paid search is an SEO data mine for the digging. The SEO team and website maintenance may also exist in different departments. Restructure that. If the company is not running all of these areas in sync then add that reformation to my budget.
What SEO metrics do you report on to upper management that other in-house SEOs should use as well?
My CEO and I have a close relationship. It really helps to have a CEO understand the value of SEO. That understanding is actually the burden of the SEO, more so than the CEO. Learn to speak in numbers and dollars then your CEO will understand your SEO.
I report on internet marketing costs and how the cost is trending.
I report on the cost per acquisition.
I report on the trending cost per acquisition.
I report on if internet sales are above or below our target cost per acquisition.
I report on total sales marked as “internet” this month compared to like month of the past year.
What metrics do you follow within the SEO team that every enterprise-level in-house SEO should monitor?
Total cost for the team. Total revenues generated by the team. Is it profitable?
Here is the real meat and potatoes, no matter what your boss says is your budget, you won’t have a job if your budget does not produce profits. Granted you have to please the boss. Some bosses aren’t willing to share, or don’t really know. Figure it out. If your average online sale is $10 and it takes $10 to produce that sale you are loosing. If it takes $1 to produce that sale but the margin is only 10% then you are likely loosing.
The other trends are nice to know (website traffic, time on site, pages indexed, bounce rates) but they are all secondary to the big question of “Are we profitable?” That is the real number to know. That is the only number that ultimately counts. “Are your efforts profitable?” You must know this number. You live or die by this number. If you choose to ignore this or if you run from this number then you are running from your job. Tie all of your efforts as closely as possible to profits.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started as an in-house SEO that would have propelled your SEO program to the next level faster?
Make friends and keep learning. Early on in one’s SEO career it is easy to find a single way to win. There are so many ways to win. But believing just because you are winning now that you’ve got it down is a mistake of arrogant ignorance. Humble down a bit and realize that there are others that are winning and in ways you have not yet discovered. Make friends. Keep learning. Keep winning.
What is some of the great advice you learned from other in-housers? How important is it to interact with other in-house SEOs?
I don’t know that I can name any one particular thing that I have learned, there have been so many along the way. Each specific to challenges from different SEO eras. But here goes…
Keep secrets. I personally try keep all the good stuff to myself and I don’t ever share my golden nuggets… STOP. I’m Kidding…like a pest control guy has golden nuggets…
But really, share golden advice in confidence. I can share what I have experienced at Bulwark Exterminating, but I won’t share my friends enlightenment on what Shopzilla, Ebay, or Home Depot experiences. So know who you can trust, and make yourself trustworthy. Because of this, it’s hard to pinpoint some of those golden nuggets that I’ve pick up. Actually they may not even be nuggets they may be gold flakes. But collect enough gold flakes in the friend stream and you can be richer than the guy looking for a gold bar in the public stream.
So yes, sharing with other in-house SEOs is priceless. Tthe ability to reach out and get a general consensus from your SEO peers is a great asset. The collective knowledge of who you know and who you share with is by far one of the best sources of info you will ever find. I rely more on those insiders than I do on any given SEO blog.
(…if any of my SEO friends read this, Thank You. Sincerly, I thank you for yet another great year)
What is one site you envy and would put in the SEO Hall of Fame? Why?
Facebook. Because they beat the SEO game the day they said “screw you” to the search engines. Any website that can learn to exist without search traffic has won the SEO game. In fact, that is my next game.
Perhaps that is a dodge on that question. There are a lot of great websites out there that win at SEO. I don’t know that I have a particular favorite. Usually the ones that I notice or watch are the ones that I see winning in new ways. I thoroughly enjoy picking through any website that is consistently beating the machines. I learn a lot by simply paying attention as I surf the web.
And I should give credit to Mat Siltala with Avalaunchmedia.com. He has opened my eyes to the possibilities of referral traffic and social media. Having shared with me the percentage of traffic his site gets from search versus social and referral. I am indeed awed on how well diversified his traffic is. It truly is my goal to be able to exist online without search traffic.
About Thos003 —
Director of Marketing for Bulwark Exterminating
Follow me on Twitter —> @Thos003
Thomas Ballantyne works with Bulwark Exterminating. He developed their first site and has moved Bulwark from ranking as a small Phoenix Pest Control company to competing nationally for pest control. He’s spoken at both SMX and Pubcon conferences, as well as other smaller SEO events. He’s also a fan of Avalaunch Media and has used them for some pesty infographics.