Q&A With Content Strategist/Search Marketing Expert Marshall Jones
When Did You Start In SEO?
The first “dot-com” I worked for was an educational website in 2000. I had worked for newspapers that had websites for a few years before that. The job was “high tech” in that I was writing copy solely intended for online publication, but I was also tasked with making sure our video-embedded online education modules showed up in directories like Yahoo and DMOZ. We came up with something we called “SOPS” (“Search Optimized Pages”) that were intended to get us noticed on the Internet.
One day, my boss called a meeting and said we were going to start working to “rank” our courses in this new search engine we’d been hearing about called Google.
You may recall those were the days when “SEO” and “quality content” were, to a great extent, mutually exclusive. Coming from a journalism background, I wasn’t happy to see keyword-stuffed nonsense outranking good writing, so I went back to writing for magazines and newspapers and (later) digital publications.
While copywriting and editing here and there, I started a couple of bands, worked in a few of Austin’s coolest restaurants, and was the least cool barista in South Austin for a minute. Twitter and Facebook were getting huge, but I knew social media wasn’t my next step.
I was looking for a way to get back into presenting information to a receptive audience.
By 2012 or so, a lot of the “tricks” that worked for ranking business websites weren’t working any more. Google was starting to learn to recognize (and reward) better content instead of black-hat silliness. I saw my chance to get back into marketing, picked up where I left off, and SEO and content marketing have been my main focus for the last few years.
How many clients do you work with at one time?
At my last agency job, I had 23 monthly SEO clients at once! All of them were content marketing/SEO clients. Others also had social media, PPC and email marketing campaigns rolled into their monthly service.
My experience in SEO is varied and integrated horizontally with other marketing efforts, which is why I tell prospective clients they shouldn’t hire an SEO—they should hire a full-stack marketer who can look at their overall messaging and branding strategies, as well as (of course), their primary business objectives. All the site traffic in the world won’t do you any good if we ignore those strategies and objectives. And if your sales team isn’t ready for the phone to ring, all the phone alls in the world aren’t going to grow your sales. That’s why I want to work on your brand message and your sales funnel before we (blindly) write tons of blogs and get hundreds of links from random websites.
That’s the smart approach. I could work with 23 clients per month again, but today I work with a LOT fewer. The high-volume approach doesn’t let me be smart or strategic or have any real understanding of my clients’ goals. That’s why I rarely work with more than 10 clients at a time these days. And I never work with two local SEO clients in the same geographical market.
How long will it take to see results?
Repeat after me: No one in SEO can “guarantee” a result within a given time frame. Period. If someone calling themselves an SEO or digital marketer tells you otherwise, run in the other direction.
Understanding the nuances of ranking a business website means understanding that you can implement today’s best practices—especially the ones that will make a difference to your business—within a given timeframe, but setting hard deadlines for specific KPIs is a fool’s errand.
A long-distance runner can hire someone to plan an optimal meal schedule, ensure that she has the best running shoes available, and that she is training the exact way she should be training. Can the person she hires promise her that she will win next year’s Boston Marathon? Well, I suppose they can make a verbal promise—but they’re not being honest.
I promise to deliver what I say I’m going to deliver, on the schedule we agree to at the beginning of our relationship. I tell many new clients to allow six months to see significant improvement sin rankings, especially in competitive local industries. I usually see improvements at the 3 and 4-month mark. But I still say “six months” because I prefer to under-promise and over-deliver.
After you SEO my site, can I ‘set it and forget it’?
Think of SEO as running up a down escalator. It takes work to get to the top, but you can get there with hard work and diligence. But if you stop working on it you will slowly go back down the search results.
That said, with a typical campaign a lot of the technical SEO can be correctly established in the early weeks and months of the campaign, allowing us to focus more on content and link-building as the campaign matures.
Why should my business hire you to do SEO?
Don’t Hire an SEO, remember?
You can read every word on this page and we still won’t know if we’re a good match. Think of everything you’ve read as my dating profile. If you like it so far, great. Let’s go get a cup of coffee and talk about your business. After 30 minutes you or I might decide to just be friends. And that’s fine.
Don’t hire anyone who does not fully understand the challenges your business faces. Don’t hire anyone who doesn’t listen when you explain the frustration you felt when your last marketing efforts wasted your time and your money. Don’t hire anyone promising “solutions” that fail to align with your business objectives. Don’t keep working with a “ninja” or a “guru” or a “rock star” who consistently fails to deliver the performance you require.
I’ve worked “in-house” for a major ecommerce brand. I’ve worked as the SEO lead for a web development agency. I’ve produced the results I’m most proud of in an outsourced/consultancy capacity, helping businesses grow sales and site traffic in competitive industries and geographical markets.
Now let’s go get that cup of coffee.
What kind of qualitative performance metrics and goals would you provide for an SEO campaign?
That depends your answers to the questions I’ll ask in the discovery call. Typically, I set up conversion goals (such as phone calls and site form submissions) in Google Analytics and track the customer journey leading up to those actions. I test my sites and the optimizations I perform against user data to identify patterns that will give me actionable “next steps.”
I don’t take the first step in any marketing efforts without first analyzing my client’s industry landscape, customer profile, and competitive ecosystem.
No campaign can begin without understanding the industry we’re dealing with and the needs of the customer we’re attracting.