John: I think your background is interesting because when we first met, you were focused on copy writing. You've always been a writer, but over recent years, you’ve moved more towards online marketing, search, affiliate marketing and more. How much is writing and content still at the core of what you do in digital marketing?
Paul: Writing has always been the basis for my interest in marketing. Understanding how to convey a story that both sparks curiosity in your subject, and makes you consider an actionable event is extremely motivating. I started out as a music writer, doing music reviews and interviews with DJs and Music Producers from all over the world. As my writing expanded to include product reviews, I began to see the power of subtle promotion and advocating for a product by showing its real world uses. This has carried over to all aspects of my current online marketing background.
John: How has search, and organic search changed your style of writing, and how you conduct research when writing content or preparing a creative brief for vendors?
Paul: I am excited by the current state of search engines and how their ranking algorithms have finally matured to the place where good writing is equal parts sound optimization and useful content. I was never comfortable taking a subject that I know well and writing something that was forced and uncomfortable simply for the sake of meeting a particular keyword density figure. Reiterating the same phrase, often one that was in the wrong tense or didn’t make grammatical sense, always felt forced to me.
Of course it is still vital to stay on top of your industry and what keywords people are actually searching for. But composing articles that are grounded in good writing with a logical flow vs. pieces that are completely informed by keyword density is a move in the right direction.
John: What is the importance of PPC in the world of search and content marketing?
Paul: With increased competitive and less people clicking on PPC ads, many companies are turning their back on this previously successful marketing channel. However savvy marketers know there is still a lot of opportunity for those willing to do their homework and understand that ad writing and optimization is an ongoing process. Many people write their ads, find which return better results, and then just let them run – over and over. Much like ads on television, the more often an ad is served – the less effective it proves to be. Staying on top of your paid offerings by testing and tweaking ads and keywords on an ongoing basis is vital to the success of any paid campaign.
John: Affiliate marketing is old for the web, and something of a mystery to even most online marketers. What's involved in that side of the business?
Paul: Affiliate marketing is another aspect of the online mix that has reached the saturation point in my eyes. Companies are becoming savvier in their marketing of discount programs – often offering reductions directly to their own customers through in-house lists and promotions. There still are many respected and well run affiliate sites, but like PPC, you need to exhibit more discretion in choose which sites you work with. Simply flooding the marketing with discounts is no longer a viable strategy.
John: How much do metrics drive business decisions in digital marketing?Paul: Metrics are a vital measure of how any marketing campaign is performing, but I think there are levels of importance and you need to have an understanding of your goals and end game when examining analytical data. A certain percentage of your marketing is meant to simply driving visitors to your site and hopefully helping them to convert. The question of what constitutes an actual conversion and what the lifetime value of a customer is where I find a fair bit of confusion and disagreement. While it would be best to have a person visit your site today, see what they want, and make a purchase during that same session, there are lots of other ways to declare their non converting visit a success. Metrics are important, but metrics without the benefit of logical analysis can do more harm than good.
John: Can you think of any good case studies on using social media for online merchants?
Paul: Social Media is something that is very misunderstood, and frankly I haven’t seen many companies do it well. In the places where it works, companies add a personal touch to their campaigns, often breaking down the walls and showing the human face of their business. A couple of sites that come to mind are the Southwest Airlines blog – which has a number of guest contributors (including a “mommy blogger” – who writes and records videos with helpful travel tips for moms and families), and the United Linen blog where you get a real insight into the actual people that work for this small, uniform supplier. If you can add something unique and positive to the discourse, I think you have a successful social media strategy.
John: What's next for you in your career path? What do you bring to the table?
Paul: Online marketing is a very exciting field and I find new challenges every day. As I stated earlier, I like the direction it is going in terms of good content being king and web results being more and more focused more on quality wring, than optimization for the sake of gaming the system. I also think that social media and search engines being able to index video and other emerging technologies, will further improve the democratization of the web. This means that people with good ideas and good sound marketing principals will continue to rise to the top. I am hoping to find a job soon with a company that understands the value of a diversified marketing mix – and how using every tool at your disposal is even more vital in difficult economic times. This is the time to market more online, not less.
For me personally, I am enrolled in the MBA program at Boston University, working my way towards a business degree at night and on the weekends – and continuing to promote my consulting business, as well as look for new full time opportunities.
John: Thanks Paul for the great insights, and good luck with your continuing exploration of the online marketing industry, here's Paul's profile on LinkedIn.