Search engine marketing consultant questions & answers
A: I am there for you. You e-mail, I reply. You call, we talk. I have a small group of long term clients and I don't take every job that comes my way. People who become my clients are tired of the run-around and are looking for someone to invest in, not waste money on. My focus is on businesses that rely on their Web sites to produce sales, leads or some other specific, valuable goal. I start with the goal, the business goal, and then develop a search marketing strategy around it. Marketing channels have to be developed and nurtured over time. I'm in this for the long run and so are my clients. Search engine marketing is my chosen profession, I do it well and I like doing it.
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Q: What is one thing you do better than others?
A: Testing and analysis. Testing is a big part of marketing. There's always one incremental thing you can do to increase sales or ROI. Analysis has always been a big part of my career; making sense of the data and developing real strategies based on them. Search engine marketing provides a wealth of data and good tracking abilities. To me, this is the true advantage of this channel: maximizing potential is possible if you know what the numbers mean and how to use them. My clients only spend money on the most productive traffic produced by paid search opportunities.
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Q: What is one aspect of search marketing that is under utilized?
A: Merchandising. Since you can't touch and feel a product online, it is up to the seller to really give the buyer a good idea of what he or she is buying. So many sites display poor quality photos and few of them, and little descriptive text that accurately describes features and benefits. The box a product comes in usually tells you far more about the product that the information found on most web sites. Merchandising can be the winning difference in a highly competitive category and I am often giving free hand to revise product page layouts and text. I even do my own high quality products shots when possible.
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Q: How do you help sites that need to produce results?
A: I help them reach a specific audience. Search marketing is a subset of direct marketing, which involves targeting and reaching prospects that have a high interest in their products or services. You could call search engine marketing active direct marketing because not only does it reach a targeted audience, it does it at the moment they are searching for a product or service.
I go further by using tracking tools and analysis to make sure overall traffic is as efficient as possible. When I find a vein that works I keep digging until I get as much volume as possible, then I refine for long term productivity. I employ a "portfolio management" style, meaning I don't judge every term by it's own ROI, but look at how a group of terms, i.e., Google ad group, adCenter category, etc., are performing as a whole. By doing so, I maximize sales while maintaining a targeted ROI level.
Another part I get involved in is the site design and content. My job isn't simply to increase traffic, it's to reach the goal. Often that means a sale, but if good search marketing brings people to an ineffective landing page or site, the goal will not be reached. Often it is simple refinements that can make a big difference. I can do a lot of the site tweaking myself, if the client lets me, or I can work with their technical and design team to move the site in the right direction.
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Q: What else do you add to the mix?
A: Experience. I've got a long, solid business background I chose to apply to search marketing a long time ago. My background and experience provides insight that allows me to track, analyze and then draw the correct conclusions for my clients. For SEO and paid programs, we keep constant watch on performance, test new ideas and then refine until the goals of the client are being met.
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Q: What are the main search engine marketing components and their strengths and weaknesses?
A: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the oldest forms of search marketing. People discovered long ago that if you target words and use them in certain ways when constructing a Web page, search engines will give them better positions in search results. Unfortunately, some search engine optimizers abuse different techniques and search engines have been battling them for years to try to control search results. My observation has been that for every action to trick a search engine there is an opposite and equal reaction.
SEO is still one of the most cost effective ways to get targeted traffic, if done right. Mariano Marketing uses proven SEO tactics that work with the search engines and produce long-term, effective rankings. The main limitations of SEO are a lack of flexibility in the terms or pages you target, no direct control over the page description displayed and ranking shifts because of competitors' efforts and the constantly changing formulas search engines use.
Over the years, paid search advertising has become a mainstay in many company's marketing budget. It is a controllable way to get your ad in front of people when they search for the term you want. Google Adwords and Microsoft adCenter are the top 2 providers, but there are also many others (which delivery questionable results). In addition to the ads you see when you do a search, content (the Display Network in Google) sites, notably blogs, also display ads not triggered by a search, but by what the page is about. These display ads can be a valuable and productive source of traffic for some categories. I work both channels equally for my clients. There are also effective opportunities for local ads and graphic ads.
Paid search lets you target many terms, you can test different ads, use different landing pages, they go online fast, you can turn them off and on and you can control your budget. The main drawbacks are sometimes people don't trust paid ads, you get a limited amount of text to display, which has to follow certain guidelines, they can be very expensive and you may have to keep close watch for highly competitive terms.
Q: Can't people just do this on their own? Why do they need you?
A: Search engine optimization can be a very time consuming process. There is plenty of free information on how to optimize a Web page, but that takes time to learn and a lot of experience to know what works best. There is also years of outdated or wrong information and bad advice floating around, making SEO strategy more confusing than it needs to be. You could easily be drawn into a fixation trying to figure out how to get your pages ranking higher. Even though I have been doing SEO since it started, I am still learning new techniques. My experience cuts to the chase so you can get a jump on gaining higher rankings.
With paid search it is very easy to loose your shirt. The recommendations Adwords and Microsoft give tell you how to get more traffic but it may cost more money than you expected and be unfocussed. But, they also provide advice and tools to help you optimize, which involves installing tracking code and accurately analyzing the data. That's where I come in. You need to fully understand the capabilities, subtleties and idiosyncrasies of each paid search provider, in addition to your client's company, products or services, and audience. I have the advanced understanding needed to quickly make these programs work.
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Q: What types of businesses are best for Mariano Marketing?
A: I really enjoy the variety of challenges presented to me, but search marketing is not ideally suited for every business. In order to take full advantage of SEO and paid search, you need to have a budget that is realistic in business terms. It will vary by industry, but an initial minimum monthly budget of $2,000 to $3,000 should not be viewed as out of line with the revenue or benefits the web site is expected to generate. The average sale and gross margin also need to be a certain level to support these programs.
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Q: Tell us a little about your background and experience.
A: I was graduated from Northeatern University cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing. I began my career in the magazine publishing business, working up from field sales rep to national sales director for major publishers, handling the retail sales (in supermarkets, drug stores, newsstands, etc.) of many well-known consumer magazines. I then worked for a major sports collectible company as national sales support manager. When the Internet started picking up I decided to change careers with a long term goal of search engine marketing (before it had a name). I worked for 2 high end corporate web developers in San Diego, one of which I was a founder/partner and is now a major national digital agency. Before starting Mariano Marketing I handled the web marketing for a now defunct online travel site. Mariano Marketing was started in June of 2002.
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