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There are so many folks selling “search engine” services these days. And a lot of that is “snake oil” –– especially when you talk about “search engine optimization” or SEO. And this no doubt bleeds over into the SEM – or “search engine marketing” field too. Today Ryan unpacks just exactly why SEM is so hard to do yourself.
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There are so many folks selling search engine services these days, and that is a lot of snake oil out there. Especially when you start talking about search engine optimization or SEO, this no doubt bleeds over to SEM, or search engine marketing field, as well. The challenge that I see here with SEM is similar to what often happens in my world with conversion rate optimization. There are a ton of free resources out there, checklists, how-to articles, online trainings and certifications, and most of them are too high level and broad to actually be helpful with the e-commerce site. In my view, this really makes SEM very hard to do yourself, especially if you’re an e-comm owner.
Ryan, today I’m really interested in your thoughts about search engine marketing and why and what makes it so difficult to do it yourself? I really can’t wait to get schooled by you once again. Ryan, let’s start maybe with what your definition of search engine marketing is.
It’s not complicated, for me. Search engine marketing involves making sure that you are showing up when people are searching for your product or service. As long as there’s an intent or a search around that and an active process of putting something in, whether that’s voice or typing, texting, it’s … they are searching for it. For me, the biggest ones are obviously Google. Bing, which is now Microsoft Ads. And then I consider Amazon Ads search engine marketing. Yahoo’s in there but they usually just get powered by Google and Microsoft Ads themselves. In all of those platforms they are searching for it, and you can design a specific ad in that system to attract that searcher.
That’s interesting. I just heard something that brought up an interesting point for me. I’ve always thought about search engine marketing just being on search engines, but there’s so many things out there that are search engines right now. YouTube is the number two search engine. Would you consider showing up in results and marketing around YouTube part of this?
I guess ancillary, to a degree, yes. It’s part of Google. Google owns YouTube and you advertise on YouTube through the Google Ads platform. When you’re capturing searches on Google looking for your particular product, you can also have YouTube ads, as far as remarketing.
The difference I see on YouTube versus general search engine platforms is that a not a lot of people go to YouTube to find the product to buy. They may be doing some higher level research on looking for reviews. If I’m looking to buy a Bluetooth speaker, my dad just bought one for his neighbor, he had to do some research and figure out which one was going to be easiest because she’s 80 years old. You can go on YouTube and find some reviews about ease of use or older people using Bluetooth speakers, and see which one’s easiest. It’s a research process, more, on YouTube, then it’ll be, “I need a Bluetooth speaker now. I’m going to go to YouTube and buy one.”
Generally that’s not how people are trying to transact yet. They can transact with Google or go to the website and buy it, or they go to Amazon and buy from the Amazon platform.
That definitely makes sense. It’s ancillary there but it’s not the main way you would define it. You’re thinking Google, Bing, those type of search engines at this point?
Yeah. They’re actually searching for the product or service. That, for me, is the big key. In the paid realm, it involves a lot of things outside of a search engine. You can pay for display ads that are prospecting, they’re not searching for you yet, or you’re remarketing through those ads that can happen across the internet. You have social ads where you’re marketing to followers of your brand or trying to find new followers and get your products in front of them for them to try, but they’re not actively searching for that product. You’re trying to get them to search for that product. So search, generally, I see further down the funnel.
[Crosstalk 00:04:18] a cut when people are not searching for it.
That definitely makes sense to me then.
I know this is a high level question but it is the topic of the episode today. Let’s just dive in. What makes SEM so difficult to do it yourself?
Jon, that is a great question because it crosses the mind of almost every business owner as they’re looking through a [PNL 00:04:38] and see the charge for an agency or an individual that’s managing their marketing, like, “Well, why can’t I just save this money, put that in my pocket, or develop something else with that extra money monthly or annually?”
The real answer is because the search engines are constantly changing. What is currently happening on Google or what you currently see on your phone or your desktop when you do a search, is not the way it’s going to look in a couple months, six months down the road. That constant change means that you need somebody or something to keep on top of all of those changes constantly. Just from the Google algorithm of ranking organic results, I think there’s 500 to 600 changes every single year to that algorithm alone. If you’ve been in e-comm long enough, you’ve seen a huge change around the paid side of things. You had Frugal 12 years ago, 10 years ago, where all of your clicks and shopping were free. Then it changed into PLAs, then the Google officially called it Google Shopping and then there was Smart Shopping.
In between those big shifts, there was all these little changes. Constantly new ad sets, new placements. We now have ads that show in Google images. We have Google Shopping showing all over the place and being able to dissect and see which ad types are working versus not working. It’s crazy how much development we have to do internally to keep on it, and we have 700 people at the company constantly researching, studying. And then we have that group think kind of thing going on. But that amount of change is astronomical, and I’ve been in the industry for 10 years.
My general thought is, I’ve been studying to be an expert for over a decade now, and I’m still, by no means, the smartest person in e-comm marketing. There’s people like [Frederic Filloux 00:06:19] whose brains are … I’ll probably never catch him, but if you’re a business owner or a marketer and you’ve not been studying specifically how to be the best possible expert in paid search, for example, you’re going to beat … get beat by somebody that’s been studying it to survive or as a career path, or because they’re super passionate just about paid search.
I think understanding that dynamic, it makes it difficult to say, “Oh, yeah, I probably should DIY this to either save some money or because I think I can really do it well.” I think about it as, you’re going to be in a fight with somebody, because that’s kind of what paid search is. It’s your money versus theirs, your ad versus theirs, for the consumer at the end of it all. You could be a decent fighter, but if you’re not a professional, you’re not going to jump into the octagon and try to take on somebody that does this for a living and eat, sleeps, trains, and breathes ultimate fighting. It’s not going to happen.
We don’t need to get kicked in the face because you have not been training, right?
Let’s break that down then. There’s two possible options if you are going to work with an expert. There’s the contractor and there’s agencies. What’s the difference between hiring that really passionate individual versus hiring that agency with 600 employees?
This is a good one. There are some highly talented contractors in the world. Very, very good. Some of the best people at an agency will go off on their own and take one or two clients and just operate those clients. Nothing bad with it, it happens regularly in our industry. The problem is for the majority of contractors, their life’s going to evolve. If you get a contractor, let’s say when they’re 25, it’s just them, they’re traveling around, enjoying life, managing a couple of clients. Great lifestyle for them. Let’s say they decide to take steps and have a family where maybe income needs to increase. Well, if your company is not providing enough income for them, they need to have more clients.
Generally in America, you want your business to increase in value or you want your work to increase or your income to increase. Most contractors are good for a little while and then they want to scale. They want to get bigger. That means they have to also look at acquiring and so they’re stepping away from just managing your account and figuring about, “How can I get another account?” or, “How do I insulate myself if this client canceled so that I don’t have a huge income hit and starve for a few months until I find another client?” There’s always going to be this dynamic with a contractor of growth versus taking care of what they have versus how do they protect themselves or insulate themselves from clients that eventually will cancel? That’s part of it.
The other part, I would say, is when somebody is doing nothing but working on your account they will know your account intimately, but are they going to be able to see other things coming down the road or learn new techniques from an account that they wouldn’t be managing because they’re a contractor, but they can learn from the person sitting next to them in an agency? I’ve seen a lot of group think that’s helped. We’ve, at least at our agency, have repurposed a lot of things that Google intended one way, completely different way, and it worked phenomenally well.
For example, this beta, we did one that was intended for the travel industry. They were showing these big, beautiful images when you search this destination. We’re like, “Wow, that is just awesome.” We didn’t have a tremendous dearth of travel clients at the time but we’re like, “That’s really cool beta.” We’re like, “I wonder if we could get one of our e-comm clients to show product images in there when somebody searches for a product.” So we went to our Google team and was like, “We think this has some validity with this client here. Do you think we can get him in the beta?” They’re like, “Let’s get him in the beta.”
Worked phenomenally well. They crushed it. I think they had it for four months and then Google sunset the beta because it didn’t actually work as they intended it for travel, but it worked phenomenally well for e-commerce. So we had an eCommerce client using something in a different purpose, that if we didn’t have a breadth of clientele, we wouldn’t have even heard about that beta and seen that. Also, Google does have some teams that help agencies that they may not be at the same level or even can have the resources to help aid just a contractor. Sometimes it can but most of the time you’re going to have additional resources that Google throws at an agency because it scales Google better.
They’re more of a partnership there.
I also worry about the bus. If your contractor gets hit by the bus, what happens? If they’re stuck at a hospital, you don’t even know because they didn’t have to notify their client when they got stuck in the hospital. I like having backups in place.
That’s a good point.
Ryan, let’s dive one step deeper on this then. You were at a small agency previously before you were brought into Logical Position. Now you’re with a large agency with over 6,000 clients. What should people be thinking about between a small agency versus a larger agency?
Having seen both sides, I do have a little bit of a unique perspective. When I was at a small agency, I really liked being small and nimble and being able to pivot. As a CEO of that agency, it was great to have all of these options. If I saw something I wanted, I was like, “Yeah, let’s go do that. That sounds like fun.” At a larger agency, there may be a little bit more red tape when I want to just go do something. We have to get some people aligned and make sure it’s not going to impact other parts of the business.
From a client, I get some clients that have said, “No.” They don’t want to work with us at Logical Position because they don’t want to get lost inside a large agency. They want to be more important to the agency that they’re working with which, I can see that. As a business owner myself, I’m like, [inaudible 00:11:40] my vendors to care about me and pay attention to me. So some of them are like the big fish, small pond.
There’s some good things about that. I think most agencies in the U.S. are not as big as us and so most agencies I would consider small. They can be hyper-focused on industries so there’s some ability, if you have clients that operate locally … I know there’s a really big agency, actually, that focuses just on flooring. Most flooring contractors and suppliers operate locally and so they’re able to just be very, very good at saying, “We know how to market flooring. We’re going to do it in Dallas for this company and this company in this area of Dallas,” because there’s not as much overlap. In the e-comm space, generally we’re all competing with everybody in the U.S. for eyeballs, for clicks, and for sales.
I personally want the absolute best for my marketing, whether it’s big or small. That part becomes, if everything else is equal, I generally like more resources in my vendors. They are more insulated. They’re more protected against employee turnover. They’re more protected against a power outage and one office can be compensated for in another office. Generally more security measures in place at larger organizations. This is obviously generally speaking.
That’s just a personal preference of mine. I’ve seen the difference at a larger organization. That group think is just expounded upon if the agency is run well. We have people dedicated to strategy. We have omnichannel strategy team that our clients don’t pay for but they rotate through all of the clients and help their clients understand omnichannel strategies and maybe things they weren’t normally thinking about in their paid search conversations that has to do with, “Your social strategy, maybe you need to look at this,” or, “Your wholesale or direct to consumer through brick and mortar, maybe we need to talk about this,” or, “Here’s some partners that we have over here that may be appropriate.”
I think it’s the overall resources we can allocate because of scale, it’s pretty impressive. I didn’t dislike boutique, but, man, our clients have so many more resources now under the Logical Position banner than they had beforehand. I think our skillset and optimization strategies have evolved at a much quicker pace with all the people involved in hiring new people and new blood to give us fresh eyeballs. We may be doing things one way and somebody else comes in and like, “Well, you could really change this and do it that way.” And we’re like, “You know what? We never even thought about that because we’ve been doing it this way for three years.” Now we have another set of eyes that’s fresh and they’re like, “That could be done better.”
We’ve talked about what search engine marketing is. What’s the difference between working with a contractor versus doing it yourself versus hiring an agency of different sizes. What if somebody who decides, “I’m not at the point where I can pay somebody for this yet. I need to do search engine marketing to get started. I know it’s going to be difficult to do well myself, but I want to set myself up so that I can transition to that agency and get some help down the line,” what are some good ideas for how they should get started? What should they be thinking about as they’re diving into this?
I think people starting off, you need to start with the idea that you’re entering the marketplace and you haven’t been there yet. What I look at is there’s been homeostasis across the marketplace as it sits now, and you’re going to put a new competitor in there. That’s going to have an impact. As the new competitor that doesn’t have the data that the other competitors do, whether the other competitors use it or not, it doesn’t necessarily matter. They have some data if they want to use it, you’re coming in almost blind saying, “I think this is going to work. I want to pay for clicks and traffic to my site.” That disruption, you need to probably default to aggressive.
Aggression can mean many things in the e-commerce SEM space. When I say it, I’m meaning that you are willing to take less margin-per-order to capture market share and start collecting that data fast. If you’re going to compete nationwide, e-commerce in the paid search realm, you’re probably not going to compete well by spending 100 or 200 bucks a month. If that’s your budget, there’s probably better places to put it. I generally say, if you’re not going to start with at least 2,500 bucks, I think you could probably do better things with it. This is not a fast and true across all industries, all e-comm period, but as a general rule, do that. Then you also need to commit to it for at least three months. Basically you’re looking at 7,500 bucks of marketing to be able to get a good gauge. In a perfect world, you’re going to go at least six, but the shortest I would go would be three months to get this data.
What I’m hearing then, Ryan, is if you are going to dive into this, you likely should be looking at spending a decent amount of money. If you’re spending that much money though, then it does make sense to have someone manage it. It’s like, if you have a lot of finances personally, you should have someone helping you manage that because you can’t be looking at it every day, adjusting your investment. That’s kind of what’s needed here, right, is somebody to help look at that?
Oh, yeah. In fact, I actually tried to start up a domain called, Search Investors, because I wanted people to see us as investors where you’re putting money in, and our job is to make it do what you want it to do. It is complicated. Just like I don’t manage my own money, my investments. I don’t have the time to dedicate that somebody that knows the investment world and can prepare for ups and downs and get my money doing what it’s supposed to do. I’m not even passionate about it. It’s like, “Just go make it happen. I’m good at maybe bringing the money in and you’re going to be good at making it grow once it’s in.”
Yes, that is part of it, is once you’re going to spend 2,500 a month, it does make sense to have somebody that’s really, really good at this to give you the best shot at it. If you’re going to spend less than that, you can probably get a little more creative. There’s some areas you can probably be spending money. One of the great ways to start would, if you wanted to truly spend 500 bucks, put a gun to my head and say, “You have to come up with an idea for 500 bucks a month.” I would say, “We’re going to go onto Microsoft Ads because the competition is lower there, the search volume is lower. You can maybe test the waters a little easier. The platform itself is a little more difficult to work in, maybe, than Google, but it’s still generally the same thing. Track your sales and orders there through that process.”
Even then, I think 500 bucks a month could be spent more wisely at growing an e-comm brand. Maybe if you also sell on Amazon, Amazon Ads may be better. There could be a better place on social media to be spending 500 bucks on an influencer to drive some sales. Even doing some SEO at 500 bucks a month may be more valuable for your brand than $500 in paid search. Could be. Every situation is different. I don’t even do my own ads because I know there’s people better than me. I’m fairly good at the ad piece, but I know people that are so much better than me, I’m like, “All right.”
I’m playing this game to win. I’m not playing it for fun. My businesses aren’t … they are hobbies because I just enjoy them, I’m passionate about business. But at the end of the day, I want my businesses because I believe I’m the best at what I’m doing there, to be the biggest and the best because I’m going to be able to help more people. I use my resources and thoughts saying, “If I’m really good at the marketing piece, I’m going to capture a larger market share, I’m going to have more of the market, and there are going to be more people that know me and are happy with what’s going on versus my competitors, which maybe aren’t as good as I am.”
Within the past year we’ve had this global pandemic. I’m wondering, how does that change some of what you’re thinking about here around these items?
I think it’s even more important to have experts that have lots of data behind what they’re doing. We’ve had global pandemics which are relatively new [inaudible 00:20:01] States, at least since we’ve been alive. The last big one we had, you can look back at the Spanish Flu of 1918, but there’s not a lot of people that have been alive that experienced both that one and then we’ve had the coronavirus going on.
Changes like that, I think, are going to become more common in the online space. It’s just going to shake things up and cause people to look at data differently or transact online differently. I think people with more data and more access to it are going to be able to see trends quicker and pivot clients quicker or test more things at the same time. It is, to a degree, another argument for maybe a larger agency, that when you have 6,000 clients that you’re talking to monthly that you’re seeing what they’re doing in the marketplace and you’re seeing, “This business owner tried this over here, look at how good that worked. Hey, we’ve got a bunch of other clients that can now try that or experiment with that in their business.” It’s almost like CRO across 6,000 clients, to a degree. Not necessarily CRO but you’re seeing all these various things happening and all these AB tests going on that we can look at our Google MCC and see, “What is causing that client to go crazy right now? Let’s dive into that.”
It’s, I think, more important to have somebody that just understands. As we get more and more experienced with these massive global hiccups, if you will, we’re going to know how to react better and better as a society. I think also, generally experts react even quicker to changes. You play a lot of basketball, and when they started shooting more three-pointers in Golden State, they had people that adapted very quickly to that. Then even just a couple of years later, the best basketball players in the planet weren’t able to do as much as they could have before against that offense or against the defenses they were setting in place.
The experts will evolve the quickest, and now you could probably still go into high school basketball and shoot three-pointers all day and that same exact Golden State offense will work really well at the high school game.
Now it’s changing, you have seven-footers shooting three-pointers.
Oh my gosh. Never would have thought before. Manute Bol when I was a kid [inaudible 00:22:01] shooting three-pointers.
Yeah, I wouldn’t have thought that.
This has been really insightful. As usual, it comes back to expertise. If you have expertise in this industry, you will do way better than if you’re just trying to do it yourself. Getting that expertise on your team is really going to drive the results for you. It’s just so hard to know what’s out there, what is all that data? It’s hard for you, within your own little world of just you and your company, versus having a partner who is seeing this across 6,000 clients and seeing the trends and data. That’s really interesting to me.
Any final thoughts here, Ryan, before we wrap up?
I would just say there’s very few scenarios in which I’d recommend a business owner or high level marketing executive doing in … being involved in the minutia of digital marketing. Even if you hire a small agency or large agency or contractor, that time alone can be better spent in other areas. If I come across a business owner that’s doing their own marketing on Google, I know there’s nothing happening on there. They may log in every day, but you see the changes they’re making, it doesn’t have anything to do with optimizing the account. Maybe a couple of negative keywords but that time spent working on the business would have way bigger dividends if you’d hired somebody to handle that piece and moved on to that. That’s what I try to do in my business is just, “Where could I find people that are smarter than I am?” And it’s most often in almost every area.
Yeah. I call that, best and highest use. What is your best and highest use? It’s probably not messing around in AdWords or Microsoft ads. It’s making sure that you spent the time to find somebody who is an expert to help you, and making that effective.
That’s a great point. We didn’t even talk about the return on investment today. I think that’s a really great point that people should be thinking about here.
Make more money on your time and money.
There we go.
Ryan, thank you so much for educating me once again. I’ve been schooled on what makes search engine marketing difficult, to do it yourself.
About the Author
Jon MacDonald is founder and President of The Good, a conversion rate optimization firm that has achieved results for some of the largest online brands including Adobe, Nike, Xerox, Verizon, Intel and more. Jon regularly contributes content on conversion optimization to publications like Entrepreneur and Inc. He knows how to get visitors to take action.