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Live on 65

Live On 65 – Meet Simon Heseltine

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SIMON_290-x-175ROBLO65-1It’s an all Brit line up for this little chat session. Whooshing up the 65th floor is longtime pal, Simon Heseltine. Yes, many people have noticed that this little video “featurette” known as Live On 65, could in fact be AKA “Mike Grehan chats to his pals before tipping out of the Empire State Building into the bar across the street.” Has a certain ring to it!

Fact remains, my guests to date have all made their own mark in the industry, one way or another. Simon followed his heart (make that his girlfriend from University in the UK) all the way to American shores 24 years ago. And far from being arrested for stalking her, they cozied up in Virginia.

Currently Senior Director of Audience Development with AOL, Simon came into the industry via the technical coding side. During the time he’s been working in search and social he’s been on both the agency and client side. A popular speaker, educator and recognized industry expert, he’s built up a solid following in the community.

So, it’s time to play the theme music, get out the orange Acronym coffee mugs and say “welcome to Live On 65, Simon Heseltine!”

Don’t have time to watch the video? Read the transcript here.

Meet Simon Heseltine Transcript – Pt. 2

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Mike Grehan:              How do you think now, do you think more like an SEO, or more like a publisher, or both?

Simon Heseltine:         For the brands that I’m working with, given that my team now is too, I’m thinking more as the SEO. I’m more of…I’m working with certain brands, not necessarily as in depth as I would like to, because there’s quite a number of brands. Ginger, who’s the other person on my team, she’s embedded within a couple of teams, so she’s really in there working with the content on a daily basis helping those guys out.

Mike Grehan:              That’s where I was going when I mentioned being both publisher and SEO. With SEO you tend to think of people coming afterwards to the content, and optimizing it, whereas with a publisher mindset, you’re always thinking about creating the content. All right. So I want to talk about some of the challenges that you have working with so many brands. We’re going to take a short break. I’ll be back with Simon Heseltine from AOL in just a minute from now. And welcome back, it’s Live on 65. I’ve got Simon Heseltine from AOL, fellow Brit. I mentioned a couple of times when we’ve been introducing Live on 65 that there’s a theme that goes on that I always end up saying, “We’ve known each other for a long time.” You and I have been hanging out for a long time, it’s got to be like seven, eight, nine, I don’t know how many years since we met in L.A.

Simon Heseltine:         Well actually, I met you at conferences before that, but the first time we really hung out was in June of 2007 at a training we both attended.

Mike Grehan:              I remember us being at a bar. I’m sure there was some training that was going on.

Simon Heseltine:         We were in a bar for a while, yes. Yeah.

Mike Grehan:              We were just talking about this mighty task that you’ve got, there’s you and one other guy and you’ve got all of these brands. Talk about some of the major challenges that you have in a day to day basis.

Simon Heseltine:         There’s lots of different challenges depending on the brand, and we’ve been working with these brands now for a number of years, so we know the individual brands, we know who the players are. With some brands they may be a little bit more reticent on the editorial side to listen to us than on the deaf side, which works quite happily with us. Or the brands, just again, voraciously want whatever we can provide them. They’re happy for any kind of assistance they can get, any kind of help they can get. Some brands turn things around in 24 hours. You ask them to put something on the pages, it’s there the next day. Other brands, maybe a year goes by, and something changes. It’s different priorities that different brands have, and they’re all coming at it from different areas. They all report into different execs, and they’ve all got their different priorities that they’re trying to accomplish.

Mike Grehan:              I came into the industry…I’ve been online since 1995 and I’ve been doing search since 1997, 1998, and I’ve seen some fairly dramatic changes and I’ve got my own opinions on the way that SEO has changed. But in the period that you’ve been doing it, this is a two-part question. What are the major changes that you’ve seen since you started doing this as your occupation? Where do you think SEO is going?

Simon Heseltine:         Well SEO is dead. We all know that.

Mike Grehan:              Yes, absolutely. Walking around like a corpse looking for somewhere to lie down.

Simon Heseltine:         I teach a class at Georgetown on digital marketing every year, and every year I have brand new examples of people publishing how SEO is dead, it’s been buried, it’s gone, and it isn’t. It’s still out there. SEO just evolves as we move through time. We’ve seen all the Google updates that have happened over…the first big one was what, 2003?

Mike Grehan:              That was Florida.

Simon Heseltine:         Florida, yeah, that was the first real big one. We see these happening all the time. We see lately it’s all the ponders, the penguins, the pirates, the pigeons…

Mike Grehan:              I’m writing a column about this at the moment, to be honest. I’ve been accused of saying SEO is dead over the years, those words have appeared in columns that I’ve written, but I’ve never actually pronounced SEO dead.

Simon Heseltine:         Oh, I have a screenshot of yours, yes.

Mike Grehan:              I am beginning to wonder, the column that I’m writing is actually called, “SEO is Said,” Because people say that they do SEO, but I think what we need to do in this occupation is so entirely different to what I was explaining earlier on when SEO first started, when it was mainly a technical base thing. I think people who are involved in content, or analytics, and they’ll still say SEO. I’m wondering if it’s not the term SEO that’s dead, not the function, if you know what I mean.

Simon Heseltine:         Well, as you said before, I’m the senior director of audience development. I’m not the senior director of SEO. My role has changed.

Mike Grehan:              Well that concludes our interview for today. That’s the end of that.

Simon Heseltine:         My role has changed over the years. I’ve taken on some social, taken on newsletters, and a lot of different things across the organization. A huge part of what I do it training. Making sure that those editorial staff know what they need to be doing. It’s also working with the CMS teams, making sure we have everything in place so that the actual editorial teams can do what they need to do as they go through it, and everything’s there for them. We work with several different CMS’s, including some home built ones. It’s troubleshooting whenever something happens, because there’s always something strange going to happen.

There’s always some Google penalty that gets sent out that is not correct, it’s not ridiculous, or like a DMCA notice for… We had a DMCA notice for one of our sites last week because they thought that we were live streaming a movie when actually we had a watch now button, but the watch now button linked to Amazon and Netflix so you could watch the movie on Amazon or Netflix if you paid them. We weren’t giving it away for free, but they DMCA requested it and had that page taken out. We’ve now had it put back in again.

Mike Grehan:              Certainly there’s still those kind of quirks, but I think the kind of assistance I guess it is that you get from Google, because when I first started they wouldn’t even acknowledge that SEO existed. Now you’ve got webmaster tools, the crawler is much smarter. I think even CMS systems are becoming much more search friendly if that’s it, so maybe it’s just the term SEO is limiting what the role actually is. Like I say, maybe it’s the term that’s dead and not the actual function, you know?

Simon Heseltine:         A great example of that, I think it was about a year and a half ago we got a UGC notice, a UGC penalty for Huffington Post. That was all it said. Huffington Post had…how many comments, I think we had 700 million comments, no 300 million comments. 300 million comments at that time.

Mike Grehan:              Wow.

Simon Heseltine:         How do you find the one that they didn’t like in 300 million comments? We did find them, I reached out to somebody at Google and got a response from them to let me know the error they were seeing. We actually found a couple more instances and just cleared the whole thing out. Then we just took care of it problematically from that point forward. Now they do at least give you indications of which of the pages they have a problem with. They are at least listening.

Mike Grehan:              There is that communication that you didn’t have before.

Simon Heseltine:         Yeah. Yeah, well I mean that’s why you had Mozilla, the BBC, and all these other ones get outed for having a penalty notice, because they got that, and were like, “We don’t know what to do so let’s post it in a forum and see if someone else does.”

Mike Grehan:              Let’s see if somebody else can help out.

Simon Heseltine:         Yeah.

Mike Grehan:              Where’s it all going. This is where we wrap up. You can see where the industry is now. What do you think in further development, the evolution of what we’ve referred to as SEO.

Simon Heseltine:         It’s just the complexity. Mobile is taking over. That’s no secret.

Mike Grehan:              Mobile is going to be big, apparently.

Simon Heseltine:         It’s going to be the year of mobile. In 2007, 8, 9, 20, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

Mike Grehan:              Exactly. Video’s going to be big as well.

Simon Heseltine:         Video is the next one as well, yeah. At AOL we’ve done a huge play on video. We’ve bought several video companies, we bought another one a couple weeks ago, Vivify is the name. We’re obviously making a big play on video. The Huff Post, whenever they do a post, very frequently they’ll put the videos in there as well to spread that out. We have a brand called AOL On. We’re doing original programming on there. We have Steve Buscemi doing an interview show. We have Nicole Richie doing a show. We have James Franco.

Mike Grehan:              It’s about content, about original content. AOL is, and obviously Yahoo is looking at this as well, at doing original content. I think that whole Netflix idea of, “We don’t need to rely on the networks anymore when we can just create our own content.”

Simon Heseltine:         That’s why Yahoo got Katie Couric, in isn’t it?

Mike Grehan:              Yeah, yeah. Anyway, that’s the future of search. Simon, thank you very much for coming in. Great to see you.

Simon Heseltine:         Sure. Thanks for having me.

Meet Simon Heseltine Transcript – Pt. 1

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Mike Grehan:              Hi and welcome once again to Live on 65, coming to you directly from the 65th floor of the Empire State Building at Acronym’s global headquarters. This is where I get to sit down and speak to the great, the good, and people who had nothing else to do this afternoon in the industry. With me today from AOL is Simon Heseltine.

Simon Heseltine:         Hi mate, thanks for having me.

Mike Grehan:              Hey there Simon. Simon, is there … Oh, look you got a round of applause eventually.

Simon Heseltine:         Oh, there we go.

Mike Grehan:              Is there something wrong with your microphone?

Simon Heseltine:         Well it is making me sound like I have an English accent, but I think yours has the same problem.

Mike Grehan:              We had to do that, that’s just a little in joke between Simon and I about the problem with our microphone giving us both British accents, and if you’d like to get the gist of that you need to come and see either one of us speaking live at a conference. Anyway Simon, great to have another Brit along with us. Let me just see if I get your title right here, you are now senior director of audience development with AOL, yes?

Simon Heseltine:         That sounds about right, yeah.

Mike Grehan:              Good, because I just read it on your business card. You’re a long way from home. Let’s just do the usual thing. I like to get a bit of background on people who have been in the industry for a while. Obviously you’re a Brit.

Simon Heseltine:         Yup.

Mike Grehan:              Where did you start in the U.K. and how did you end up in the U.S?

Simon Heseltine:         Basically I went to college in the U.K., met a girl and followed her over here in ’92. I’ve been here now 24 years.

Mike Grehan:              She didn’t have you arrested for…

Simon Heseltine:         No, no, no, no. My first career over here was actually in programming. I was a small talk developer, became a Java developer, and then started working for a company that was taking the print Yellow Pages, putting them on CD for print reduction, and the next logical step was, “Let’s put these on the web.” We put them up there, and we found this thing called an analytics package. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them.

Mike Grehan:              Only just.

Simon Heseltine:         We put it on the site, and we looked at the traffic, and the traffic was going like that. The next question was, “How do we get it to go like that?” The CEO said, “I’ve heard of this thing called SEO. Why don’t you look into it, Simon?” So I did, and that’s…

Mike Grehan:              You came into the industry from the technical side.

Simon Heseltine:         Yeah.

Mike Grehan:              I find it very interesting when I’m talking to people who are involved in SEO, and they come from various different backgrounds. Some come in from marketing. One of the conversations that I was having recently about SEO was about how it started. When SEO actually started, it was much more of a technical process. You did have to understand HTML and how the code worked, and a lot of it was about helping this primitive crawler as it was back in the day. So is that what you found most of the time, that was technical stuff that you were doing, yeah?

Simon Heseltine:         Well for me, yeah, but the team that I had when I first started at AOL was a really interesting mix of backgrounds. It was almost eclectic. We had librarians, we had a pastry chef.

Mike Grehan:              You need one of those.

Simon Heseltine:         Absolutely fantastic content. Robin Aguilar, or Robin Francis as she is now.

Mike Grehan:              Yes.

Simon Heseltine:         Fantastic content person, just really digging deep into that. The librarians, very good analytical minds. The developers, we know to come at it from that technical perspective, and getting a nice mix on your team I think can really help you to uncover lots of different things from different perspectives. There’s lots of ways to skin a cat.

Mike Grehan:              It’s interesting because I’ve been going back over some of the early interviews that I did, particularly with the guys at Google, because obviously I was around, I guess you were, when Google was just getting off the ground. One of the analogies that they had was that they want their search engine to be like the little librarian at the library who knows where everything is, and able to point you in that direction. That’s where you started. Like I say, you’re with AOL now. How on earth did you end up there, how did that happen?

Simon Heseltine:         I went from that small company that was doing the Yellow Pages…I was there for seven and a half years. Then decided, “Let’s try the agency side.” I went to an agency for a couple years, and it was interesting. I worked with a lot of associations, worked with a few e-commerce companies, but I didn’t feel like I had the ownership that I wanted. We’d do these recommendations, we’d sit down with our clients, but we had no way to really push the stuff through. I missed that kind of ownership. I wanted to go back in house. A position opened up at AOL, which was not that far from where I lived, so I applied for it.

Mike Grehan:              That was very handy.

Simon Heseltine:         Yeah, yeah. I applied for it, and after a speedy six-month interview process, I got in. I’ve been there five and a half years now. My job’s changed a few times as we’ve bought different companies.

Mike Grehan:              So there have been some huge changes over at AOL. It’s changed the model. How advanced were they with SEO when you arrived there? Did they actually get it?

Simon Heseltine:         Back when I arrived there, we had something close to 200 different brands that we were working with. Some of them got it. Based on the size of the team that we had then, we had a team of ten at that point, so not every brand was getting the individual attention they needed. I was working with a sports site we had then, Fan House, and those guys, they voraciously attacked SEO. We just saw some really good numbers, some really great growth on the organic side. Over time, we bought Huffington Post. That was the big one.

Mike Grehan:              Yeah, I was going to ask, that Huffington Post must have been a huge audience driver for AOL, yeah?

Simon Heseltine:         Yeah we bought those guys in February 2011, and it just changed things overnight. I actually at one point reported into Huffington Post for about a year and a half. Those guys had a different perspective to how they would do things to how we were working with the other brands. Over time, we’ve all come to great agreements and understandings, and we’re all working towards that common goal of trying to get our brands as high as we can.

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Meet Rob Murray Transcript – Pt. 1

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Mike Grehan:              Hi and welcome to another edition of Live on 65, coming to you direct from the 65th floor of the Empire State Building, Acronym’s global headquarters here in New York City. If this is the first time you’ve joined us on Live on 65, it’s part of our Tech Marketing News publication’s video feature. We’re very fortunate to be smack bang in the middle of New York City so that when anybody of any interest in the industry comes in, we invite them to whoosh up to the 65th floor, come and have a chat with us. I’m very happy to say that today we have with us the President of Skyword, Rob Murray.

Rob Murray:                Hey Mike, thanks for having me.

Mike Grehan:              Good, glad you could make it. I have to stop just for a second, there’s a little theme that’s coming on here and you’ll see why. In 2015, I’ll celebrate 20 years in digital. That’s 20 years since I came online. Most of the people who I work with running around in short pants back then. Of course, when you’ve been in an industry for 20 years, you get to meet a lot of people. This is where the theme comes in. I’ve begun to discover, since we started doing this, most of my conversations start with the words, “We’ve known each other for a very long time,” or, “We go back a while.” Today’s no different.

Rob Murray:                Fifteen years.

Mike Grehan:              Yeah, about 15 years since you and I started working together when I joined iProspect.

Rob Murray:                Absolutely.

Mike Grehan:              Way back in the day, and do you know what I was thinking? When I joined iProspect, and I was racking my brains earlier on to think about this. iProspect had just re-branded. What was it called before it was…

Rob Murray:                Response Direct.

Mike Grehan:              Response Direct, that was it.

Rob Murray:                iProspect was a much better name.

Mike Grehan:              Well it sounded like a direct response company then.

Rob Murray:                That’s exactly right.

Mike Grehan:              Let’s just get a bit of your background, because you’ve had a really very successful career in digital, which started back then. You were a successful consultant in Boston.

Rob Murray:                Yes, with Bain and Company.

Mike Grehan:              Yep, and you meet Fredrick Marckini, and what happens from there?

Rob Murray:                Fredrick and I got introduced by a mutual colleague of ours, and this colleague was actually Frederick’s accountant. He said, “Hey I know this guy Frederick, he’s got this cool idea putting a board together, and he’s really like some different perspectives for advice.” I joined the board of iProspect in the beginning of 1999. I spent that first year while I was working at Bain on the board spending a lot of time advising Frederick on how to build service organizations, how to provide world class service.

Then after about a year, Fredrick was like, “You and I get along well, I like your advice. Why don’t you quit your really good paying job at Bain and come and join me?” After about a month or two of sort of noodling it, I said, “Yeah, what the hell, if I don’t do it now, I probably never will.” I never looked back.

Mike Grehan:              No, it turned out to be a great move for you. When you and Fredrick first started talking about this idea of joining the company, honestly, did you know what search engine optimization was?

Rob Murray:                Oh no, I was a digital native back in 1999. I’ve learned a lot in the last 16 years, but no. Everything was very new then. Back then, SEO, we used to be able to get 29 of the first 30 listings in Lycos for the term “car parts.” It was a different day and age back then as to what SEO was. It was a lot of meta tags, and that was about it. If you could just optimize the meta fields, you would actually do pretty well.

Mike Grehan:              I’m doing a bit more research on some stuff that I’m writing at the moment, and I actually went right back to the very first Search Engine Strategies conference, which was in 1999 in San Francisco. There was like less than 100 people there and Fredrick was there representing iProspect. His session was on how to create doorway pages. You get banned for that now.

Rob Murray:                Yeah, you would.

Mike Grehan:              You’ve joined this thriving startup, iProspect, and it was very exciting at the time. When I joined, already you were going international because I was manager and director of Europe. From that startup base, you managed it, Rob, and took it to what is now the largest search marketing company in the world.

Rob Murray:                It’s the largest global digital marketing agency in the world. We re-branded or re-focused around performance marketing, which encompassed a lot of RTB and digital media beyond search, but search was always the cohort, still is the number one way to reach your consumer. We took that from a five-person shop in a little tiny office, remember in the back of the bank there on Mass Ave on Route 60 in Arlington? To, last count when I left a year and a half ago, we were about 1,800 people in 70 offices in 55 countries around the world. We were Google’s largest customer globally. That was an amazing run. Quite an amazing run.

Mike Grehan:              Interesting, because I actually, with all of the traveling that I do and have done it over the years, found myself sitting in the iProspect office in Beijing one day thinking, “Wow, I remember when this was a startup in Boston.”

Rob Murray:                Absolutely.

Mike Grehan:              What are the key moments that you remember? Obviously the acquisition of iProspect, which was a huge thing in the industry at the time.

Rob Murray:                I’ll tell you certain important milestones. Certainly the work we did with you and the first foray into Europe was a big milestone for us. I would say the acquisition was certainly a big catalyst for us. We were on a good growth path to begin with. We were only about the second or third truly search firm to get acquired.

Mike Grehan:              For the largest sum as well I think, yes? At that time?

Rob Murray:                Well yeah, for at the time it was quite a bit of money. What that gave us was the platform with a much bigger parent corporation to take what was primarily a U.S. brand and grow it out globally through organic growth, as well as through acquisition. Aegis was certainly a great partner and allowed us to take the iProspect masthead and make that its default performance marketing brand that it wanted to get behind globally. That was an exciting time, and I spent nine years as part of the network after the acquisition and most people were like, “Wow that’s a long time to stick around usually after you get acquired.” It was an exciting time, and we got to really build something special.

Click here to read Part 2

Meet Rob Murray Transcript – Pt. 2

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Mike Grehan:              There are lots of companies in different offshoots of the digital industry where, like you say, search is at the core of everything. That’s where people start anyway. Again, from a pure business point of view, again just thinking about those milestones, for anybody who’s starting and just growing a company right now, what do you think are the most important things to think about when you’re growing the company?

Rob Murray:                Well certainly you’ve got to have a great product, whatever it is, in a good category. If you don’t have the right people, you could have the best category in the world and you could just be an absolute under performer in that category. That’s the biggest thing right now, is to have the right people. Again, you want to have a great product and a great category, but if you hire great people, you can do great things.

Mike Grehan:              Getting the right people. That’s part one of the Rob Murray story, “how I conquered the world with iProspect.” Obviously as we can tell, you’ve moved on somewhat to a new brand.

Rob Murray:                Skyword.

Mike Grehan:              Absolutely, so we’re going to take a short break. Back in just a moment with Rob Murray. Welcome back to Live on 65. Our special guest today is Rob Murray. We just spent a little bit of time talking about this fantastic ride that you had with a startup in Boston taking it to the world’s largest search marketing company or performance company, whichever way you want to phrase it. You were just saying that you stayed a lot longer after the acquisition, but then you moved a couple of years ago. There must have been something in the air at that time, what prompted that? This is a little giveaway, by the way.

Rob Murray:                Yeah, this is a little giveaway. I actually fell in love with a little company in Boston, and Skyword is an SAS-based content marketing platform and solutions company that enables brands to become publishers of original quality content and scale. I instantly fell in love with the people, the product, and the space. It’s funny, some of the conversations we have now around content…because at the end of the day, content is what fuels your ability to succeed in search and social, and that’s still a way you reach your consumers. It’s funny, some of the conversations that I have today with brands feel like circa 2001.

Mike Grehan:              Exactly, it’s so strange because the first guest that we had on Live at 65 was Danny Sullivan.

Rob Murray:                I remember Danny.

Mike Grehan:              Of course Danny and I go way back, that’s my theme, as you know, but we were talking about a time before whatever we did with search engines was called SEO. We couldn’t even remember what it was called then, but it was all about content. If 2014 hasn’t been the heir of content, something could eat my hat. Seriously.

Rob Murray:                Absolutely.

Mike Grehan:              If you think about it, without content, you have an empty medium. There’s nothing there, that’s no use to anyone. There is this kind of thing, and see if you agree with me here, I’ve been thinking about this. That there was a time when in marketing media was scarce, and by that I mean you had press, radio, television, and that was it. You had to find some way of fitting in there. Now media is everywhere. Everybody’s a publisher. Like you say, if you have a Twitter account, you’re a publisher.

Rob Murray:                Absolutely.

Mike Grehan:              There’s a need for content, so what is it that Skyword is doing with content? How does it actually work? How does it help me become a publisher to create my own audience?

Rob Murray:                Well, and that is the key right there Mike, what we’re trying to enable people to do is, if you think back, back in the days of radio, TV and print, you had to inject yourself into that medium and get yourself in front of your audience. Well, technology today, people tune out what they don’t want to hear. You have to put yourself in front of them when they are receptive to your message and give them some reason to believe. What we’re trying to enable brands to do is to create their own audience by creating original quality content.

That could be an article, it could be a video, could be a graphic, but brands actually build their own audience around their own owned properties, and actually then become really their own publisher as opposed to relying on advertising media and other peoples’ audiences. You want to really speak to your audience, and create that environment that can really actually provide that real value and utility that you start that relationship.

Mike Grehan:              What’s at the core of Skyword, what powers it?

Rob Murray:                There’s two pieces to Skyword. Underpinning everything is the technology platform. We’ve built an end-to-end, world-class editorial workflow system. It starts with a database of contributors that you can recruit from, all the way through to a cloud-based editorial calendar. We have automated QA checks built into the system around readability, SEO score cards, duplicate content checks.

A roles-based editorial review process that’s all built into the system, with versioning and inline commenting. All the way to an ability to direct publish into a web environment, like Drupal, or WordPress, or Joomla. Then we’ll actually pay your freelancers, do your tax filings, and tag all the articles and give you analytics for everything that’s published. That’s the underlying technology asset that the company’s built upon.

Mike Grehan:              That’s great for me, I’m head of content marketing here. I can go take a break and you guys can do it for me.

Rob Murray:                Well, and that’s the second part of the equation. We have a lot of big publishing clients that actually just license our workflow because they have their own writers and their own editors. We actually have optional service layers for folks that don’t know how to find a writer, don’t know how to set an editorial calendar, don’t know how to pick topics, or do the editorials. We have optional service layers that actually people can self-select in if they don’t have those skill sets.

It’s funny, more brands and agencies tend to opt into those just because we have that expertise. A lot of people don’t have in-house editorial and things like that. That’s sort of the second piece of the equation. Truly the underlying value of the company really lies within the platform.

Mike Grehan:              Because of my background before I came into digital was in the old fashioned radio and TV, do you remember that time in that bar …

Rob Murray:                Which time? Which time, Mike?

Mike Grehan:              No, not that one. Where the guy in the bar thought that I was Davey Jones from The Monkeys.

Rob Murray:                That’s right, that’s right.

Mike Grehan:              He gave us free drinks all night.

Rob Murray:                That was brilliant. We didn’t tell him you weren’t.

Mike Grehan:              For me, coming from that background, that’s all I’ve ever thought. I always think content when I worked in radio, it’s what am I going to say next, what am I going to play next, which ad am I going to play next? In TV it’s the same kind of thing, so it makes me wonder why people talk so much about content now. If you have a publishing platform, what did you think you were going to do with it?

Rob Murray:                I know.

Mike Grehan:              Here’s the next thing. I think in the first phase of Skyword, usually when I talk to people about content and I ask what is content, people still talk about it’s got to be a great compelling copyrighting and headlines and things like that. Which generally speaking in the classic age of SEO, that’s what it was all about. I think, and I’m sure I’m right in saying this, 2015 is the year that Google.com becomes the number 2 search engine, and YouTube.com becomes the number 1 search engine. Video is so important, as you can see doing this. Anybody who’s coming into taking content seriously, what about video? That’s a different approach than sitting down and writing an article, do you know?

Rob Murray:                Well, it is. In fact, we actually made a acquisition of a New York based video editorial platform much like Skyword for the written form, called Vidaao. We made that acquisition in August and we’re actually in the process of integrating the two systems. Really, we can bring you any form of content you want, but at the end of the day this is not an SEO play, per se. We’re enabling people to become original storytellers, because you want to actually reach your audience with something that they find truly interesting and engaging, and something that they will opt into versus opt out of.

Mike Grehan:              That’s probably the other story about us in the bar, but we’ll leave that for another time. Rob, it was great of you to come in and see us.

Rob Murray:                Thank you for having me.

Mike Grehan:              Much appreciated. Thanks very much. Rob Murray from Skyword.

Rob Murray:                Thank you.

Live On 65 – Meet Skyword President Rob Murray

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290-x-175ROBLO65One thing is for sure, and that’s the guests who I have dropping by for Live On 65 genuinely are digital marketing pioneers, innovators, movers, shakers, and frequently close friends of mine. As I point out at the very beginning of this chat, there’s a theme that started with me introducing guests as people I’ve known for many years. And that’s because, again as I mention in the intro, this year I’m celebrating 20 years in digital marketing. And over a period of 20 years, you get to meet and know a lot of people in an industry.

Fifteen years ago I joined a red hot start up in Boston. Originally a confusingly named, five-man outfit in a back office trading as Response Direct. By the time I came on board, it was rapidly growing and, fortunately, renamed and rebranded as iProspect – The Original Search Marketing Firm.

The CEO and founder of the company, a true search marketing visionary named Fredrick Marckini, was keen to expand into the UK/Europe and we agreed to back my UK consultancy business into iProspect and set up shop together in London. Steering that little venture through was company president Rob Murray. It was the start of an adventurous expansion and long-term friendship.

Rob went on to steer iProspect though its own, somewhat larger acquisition in 2004, by Isobar for $50 million (quite the sum back then for a search marketing agency). From there, he and his team were instrumental in growing iProspect into the largest performance marketing agency in the world. At the time he left, Rob was Global CEO, iProspect was Google’s largest global customer and what started as a five-man outfit in a back room in Boston was now employing 1,800 people in 55 countries.

Safe to say, Rob can smell business success a mile away. So it’s no surprise, not to me anyway, that when he heard about another startup with the same kind of growth potential iProspect had back in the day, he couldn’t resist the offer to hop aboard. That company is Skyword. Known as experts in scalable, sustainable content marketing, the company has already made great headway. As more and more brands realize they need to learn to act like publishers, Skyword leads the way as vendor to major national and international companies.

Funny, Rob and I talked about “content being King” 15 years ago. And no, it hasn’t become “Kingier.” It’s just that more people seem to realize what that phrase actually means, more than ever before.

Enjoy as Rob and I chat about search, content…and a few bars we found ourselves in along the way!

Don’t have time to watch the video? Read the transcript here.

Live On 65 – Meet David Shen

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DavidLO65A lot of business was done. A lot of fun was had. Acronym’s mini Asia tour as sponsors of ClickZ Live took in Hong Kong, Bangkok and finished in Singapore. And what a convenient place to have the final Asia event, as Singapore is Acronym’s second home. It also provided a great opportunity for me to sit down with David Shen, who runs our Asia business, and discuss the various subtleties and differences of search marketing in Asia compared to the US market.

No time to watch the video? Read the transcript here.

Live Off 65 – Meet Daniel Wu

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WuWebThere’s definitely an Asia leaning in this edition of TMN. Having sponsored a number of conferences, including at venues in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore this year, Acronym also partnered with China’s leading digital agency, Gridsum.

Daniel Wu is a founding member of the Gridsum team, which launched in Beijing in 2005 with a strong focus on search and analytics (positioned as the leading bid management tool in China). Gridsum is recognized as a Five Star agency by Baidu, which is the leading search engine in China, and recently was appointed to represent Baidu as master agency in the US.

With 600 clients in 18 verticals (including huge brands such as Coca Cola and Nike) Gridsum has grown tremendously and now employs just over 200 people. I sat down with Daniel to find out how Gridusm started, all about their technology platform and the special relationship they have developed with digital marketing giant Baidu.

Meet David Shen Video Transcript

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Mike Grehan:              Hi, and welcome to what is frequently known as Live on 65, but every now and again—when I can’t get somebody to do my bidding and come and see me in New York—I have to go and see them and it becomes Live off 65. So here I am today with Acronym’s very own David Shen.

David Shen:                 Hello.

Mike Grehan:              David, great to see you.

David Shen:                 Great to see you, Mike.

Mike Grehan:              You and I have been on a bit of an Asia tour this year.

David Shen:                 Yes, we have.

Mike Grehan:              Yeah, we’ve done Hong Kong, Bangkok, and now here we are at Acronym’s home in Asia here in Singapore.

David Shen:                 Absolutely.

Mike Grehan:              First of all, I guess what we need to do is establish … I like to do this in the first place, find out who is the person behind the man, about your background, and then we’ll talk about what it is exactly that Acronym does here in Asia.

David Shen:                 Sure.

Mike Grehan:              You live back here in Singapore now, but you did tell me that you’ve lived in various parts of the planet? Where did you live, and then how did you end up back in Singapore?

David Shen:                 I traveled around a little bit as a child. I grew up in what is now known as Chennai, back then Madras, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi. I’ve lived around Europe in Madrid and Vienna, but I’ve been back in Singapore, and Singapore has been my home for the last 15 years.

Mike Grehan:              Fifteen years.

David Shen:                 So it’s been a good ride.

Mike Grehan:              That’s because your father had to move around, yes?

David Shen:                 Exactly, for his work. Sure.

Mike Grehan:              Again, something else that you were telling me, which is fairly unusual … When I’m talking to people, and I’ve been in this industry for a long time, as you know, but usually when I’m talking to people about when they come into this industry, they’ve either come in from a technical background that they’ve had from some time or they’ve worked in advertising. You just went straight into digital, right?

David Shen:                 Exactly. Yeah.

Mike Grehan:              Tell me how that happened.

David Shen:                 Many of the people who we’ve worked with as well have jumped directly into digital in one form or another. It may have been from something as basic as copying out URLs manually back in the day or doing keyword research manually back in the day.

Mike Grehan:              As you had to.

David Shen:                 As we had to in the mid 2000s. Back then in the Singapore office, there were only two people from the search-engine side that we were working with, and today, seven years, eight years down the road, they’ve grown to 300, 400-sized teams.

Mike Grehan:              Wow.

David Shen:                 So we’ve seen tremendous growth in digital in Asia.

Mike Grehan:              I have to say, when I did my session yesterday, I mentioned to the audience that I’m celebrating 20 years. Next year, I’ll be celebrating 20 years in digital, so when I came online, David was probably running around in short pants (laughing). So was it search? For you, it was always going to be search? Yeah, that was the passion for you, yes?

David Shen:                 Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Grehan:              Did you do SEO, paid search first?

David Shen:                 I started off with paid search. We started off crawling websites to extract landing pages for paid search so we could match things exactly to the SKU numbers they were supposed to be, all the way down to SEO. I got involved in SEO pretty shortly into my career in search simply because it was something that was still pretty mystical in about 2005, 2006, and so it was definitely an area of growth and something very interesting, as well.

Mike Grehan:              Acronym’s been around for a long time, but the founder of Acronym started back in … He came online in 1995.

David Shen:                 Mm-hmm.

Mike Grehan:              I think Acronym has been around for about 16 years as a brand. When did Acronym start in Asia?

David Shen:                 Acronym started in 2006 with Farah. Farah Sadiq set up the office here. As you know, now she’s the GM of the Europe office.

Mike Grehan:              Yep.

David Shen:                 Yeah, so we started eight years ago, and at that point, it was one of the first few search agencies in Singapore in a growing market.

Mike Grehan:              What kind of clients were you working with then?

David Shen:                 Back then, because a lot of people ask, “Why Singapore? Why not China? Why not Hong Kong?” but back then in 2006, our policy had always been to go where your clients are, and our clients’ regional headquarters were based in Singapore at that time. As our clients’ headquarters shift or as our clients grow, then that’s how we structure our expansion organically around the region.

Mike Grehan:              That’s how you ended up in Singapore. Is there anything which is distinctly different about doing search in Asia than it would be back in the US, which is where the operation started?

David Shen:                 Well, I wouldn’t know where to start.

Mike Grehan:              Really?

David Shen:                 I mean, one of the key things in Asia is to remember how fragmented the market is and to remember that if you want to run a search campaign, for example, in Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia as a concept is … It means that you would need to localize languages for Thai, Vietnamese, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia.

Another interesting thing to understand is, as each of these countries came on board and adopted the Internet, they were at various stages of how content was perceived on the Internet. While in Singapore and Hong Kong we may be used to reading text, and if you look at the content consumption in Indonesia and Vietnam, when they came online, it was all video, so they’re most used to watching a video review of a hotel, for example, rather than reading something on OTA.

Mike Grehan:              I guess it’s kind of like when I first moved to the US and people used to say to me, “You guys in Europe,” and I had to say, “There isn’t a country called Europe,” and when they would talk to me about optimizing for Europe and I would be going, “Be that for Polish people or for Norwegian people or for Spanish people?” It’s pretty much the same kind of thing. I guess one of the target areas now, because it is becoming so popular, is China.

David Shen:                 Exactly.

Mike Grehan:              But again, when you talk about China, you can’t really talk about China as just being one place because that’s like a multitude of small countries inside of China, yeah?

David Shen:                 Yeah, and where we talk…even with regards to something as specific as search-engine marketing, like a PPC, a paid-search campaign, for example, the one interesting thing to know about China is, as opposed to having a major player like Google, Baidu’s market share is actually shared with many other search engines. So we don’t have a number-one player who takes up 80%, 90% market share. You have Baidu, and then you have the growth of the secondary engines like 360 Search, like Sogou, Soso in the rest of the regions.

The interesting thing is to look at the research and understand that the growth of market share of many of these secondary engines is actually fueled by what is termed the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. The Tier 1 cities, they’re classified by a various series of ranking factors. The Tier 1 cities tend to adopt Baidu. So when planning a digital campaign, our strategists take these into account. Is the audience growing from the Tier 1 cities? Are we targeting them? And there is a lot of wealth in Tier 2 and 3 cities. Are we targeting those cities instead? It’s a very interesting dynamic and balance that needs to be reached.

Mike Grehan:              Yeah. We don’t have to do that in the US. It’s Google or Bing. That’s about it, but when I came online, there were about 26 search engines that you could work with. So here we are. We’re live in Singapore. I’m with David Shen, who runs the operation for Acronym here. We’re going to take a short break, and then we can come back and talk about the kind of work that Acronym is doing with their clients here in Asia.

Here we are again with a special kind of in-house feature. It’s Live off 65. We’re in Asia in Singapore at Acronym’s headquarters with David Shen, who’s general manager here. David, you’ve just explained quite a lot about how dramatically different it is working in China, for instance, and looking at Asia and having to understand that it’s just like this series of different countries. There’s a lot that you have to take into account, and you can’t just say, “We’ll go and do business in Asia.”

David Shen:                 Exactly.

Mike Grehan:              It’s not as simple as that.

David Shen:                 Yeah.

Mike Grehan:              Tell me about the clients that we’re working with and where Acronym specializes in the various Asian markets that we’re in. Which clients are we working with, and where do we specialize?

David Shen:                 Sure. We have several specialties. We work with a lot of travel and hospitality clients. We work with a lot of hotel clients, and we also work with clients who are in financial services as well as in tech B-to-B. At a glance, people may not see a direct relationship between a hotel client and a tech B-to-B client, but one of the interesting things to note, especially in this region, is that the kind of initiatives that we run for these clients are similar to the extent that we are measured based on performance marketing, KPIs. So while our industry team for travel and our industry team for tech have specific knowledge of their own industries, where both come together is that these are all very performance driven, and all of it comes back down to the data. It comes back down to the numbers.

Mike Grehan:              And optimizing around that data. Again, from a search point of view more than anything else, you mentioned it is entirely different with major players in China, for instance. Is it different actually running an SEO campaign here? Is it different running a paid-search campaign than it would be in the West, for instance?

David Shen:                 Absolutely. It comes back down to the context of each of the countries in Southeast Asia. For example, many of the clients that we work with face significant challenges in running SEO initiatives in Asia simply because the production cost of creating in-language websites is so tremendously larger than creating a website in English and then adapting it for the various regions where the English changes with each region.

It’s very similar to the kind of campaigns that Acronym runs in Europe for search-engine optimization where the nuances of the language, even English, have to be accounted for when talking about localization. The process is also more challenging when running in-language SEO initiatives. First of all, we have to create a baseline and understand the product and then, after that, do the in-language research as opposed to simply a translation project.

Mike Grehan:              Exactly, exactly. Tell me a little about technology. Obviously, I know a lot about Acronym and the fact that Selina, who is the CEO, is also the resident kind of data scientist, but we do have this remarkable technology in Keyword Objects. Can you explain just a little bit about how you use that here in Asia with your clients and what makes it better?

David Shen:                 Of course. You know Mike, this is something that … a trend that we’re starting to see in the last two years especially. We’ve seen customers and clients ask us about our proprietary technology, the reporting solutions that we can provide, the forecasting solutions we can provide for a paid search, but really in the last one or two years, the Asian market has evolved to a point where it becomes worthwhile for clients to start investing in this technology.

So in the past year, we’ve seen a significant take-up rate of people who are using the Keyword Objects platform, and they are using this to answer questions within the organization, like simple questions that any marketer should know. Where are my customers coming from? What are my customers interested in? What are my customers doing once they reach my page? It really comes back down to intent marketing to present customers with the messaging and the right kind of content at that point in time.

Mike Grehan:              I was just going to say, I guess probably one of the differences also that I tend to notice, particularly when you’re working with a client like Four Seasons, for instance, where you’re working corporately with an organization, but you’re also working with the individual properties to give those properties an opportunity to be able to look at only the data that they’re interested in and, at the same time, to give corporate an opportunity to look across the entire enterprise and see exactly where they’re being successful.

David Shen:                 Exactly, and the level of customization that we can provide for the Keyword Objects platform is really the strength of the whole system because we can roll up data from various regions. We can slice it based on how we need to see it, and more importantly, we can slice it how our clients need to see it. For example, if they ask us, “I want to see only my China business,” and this is a dashboard solution we can present to them, and for each of the individual hotels in China, each of them can have a customized solution that is the most relevant to them at that point in time.

Mike Grehan:              Just give me a quick example now of the kind of clients that you’re working with, the brands that you’re working with right now.

David Shen:                 We work with Four Seasons, of course, in Asia. We work with Millennium and Copthorne, as well. The Fairmont/Raffles/Swissotel group.

Mike Grehan:              So hotels are a big thing here, yes?

David Shen:                 Of course.

Mike Grehan:              Yeah.

David Shen:                 We work with Trend Micro for tech B-to-B and video, as well. For financial services, we work with Aberdeen Asset Management as well as AIA Insurance.

Mike Grehan:              So there’s a fairly broad range of clients that you have here.

David Shen:                 Absolutely.

Mike Grehan:              That’s David Shen giving you a bit of an example of the kind of work that Acronym does in Asia. One thing that I can tell you, David knows the best restaurants in this city. He knows where to drink the best whiskey. He wants to do business with you, but first go out and have a few drinks. Have dinner with David. David, that was great. Thank you very much for introducing us to Acronym Asia.

David Shen:                 Thank you very much, Mike.

Jim Sterne Interview Transcript

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Pt 2

Mike:               So, here we are back again, live at eMetrics in Boston. Which is the 64th eMetrics and the series around the planet. With me is Jim Sterne. So, we touched on how this all came together, how eMetrics came together, Digital Analytics Association. I guess there was some conversation, in the early days, are we metrics or analytics, or … cause you had the whole thing going on then. What kind of impact initially has Digital Analytics Association had on the industry? I mean, does it make it more credible, is it?

Jim:                  Well… so, yes, because we have certification now. So, we’ve got several hundred certified web analysts. And that’s absolute… I mean, this is a very difficult test. It is… you have to have 3 years of experience before you’re allowed to take it. It has a 50% pass rate. So, we are, as an association, saying, “Yeah, the people who pass this test, they are qualified.” We stand behind that. So yes, it’s raised credibility. But, it’s also been the bringing together of the community to help each other learn more. So, we’re creating content, and we’ve got the member forum. We are member directed and volunteer powered. So it is the community of analysts who are helping the rest of us. The impact that we’ve had is … we’ve done some work on standards, we’ve got on-line training with over 1,000 people graduating from the University of British Columbia on-line course. Yeah, so it’s had huge effect on our ability to learn more beyond just what you can learn at a conference.

Mike:               So, the content for this conference, obviously I went through and had a look to see how much of it changed, and it has changed dramatically since the early shows. The one of the things in particular is the way that the tracks split out. And of them is the web track, which I was doing today. Talk a little about the difference that we have in looking at an audience now, which is multi-device. They wake up in the morning and look at an iPad, go and look at a monitor over here, look at an iPhone there, an X-Box here. I mean it is becoming, you know, different times of the day across different devices …

Jim:                  … for different purposes. And this is the primary challenge for all digital analysts. Is instead of how many pages and how many click-throughs, it’s what did the individual do? Well, that’s across omni-channel. So, it’s a mobile device, it’s a tablet, it’s a desktop, a laptop, it’s a kiosk, it’s my set top box on my television, it’s now my wrist watch … So, how do we follow somebody on what we used to call a customer journey toward purchase. Now it’s an always-on, always gathering information, and when they decide to buy us. We learned yesterday morning, when somebody decides to buy they already know what brand they want. So it’s not like, “I think I’ll go shopping.” I’m always shopping. And when I see the example of the one verbatim example was, “Well, there was this iPad case with a keyboard in it and it was a banner ad for $29. And I know that’s a $99 item, so I just bought it.” Because, she wasn’t shopping for that, she wasn’t going to buy it, but she’s so aware of what’s available, that she recognized it to be a good value and just said, “Yeah, well.. Amazon Prime. One click. Done.”

Mike:               Yes. That’s a bargain, I could do that. So, I think that we definitely take, or pay a lot more attention to this engagement. The opportunities that we have to have a conversation with the customer. And back in the day when e-mail was the major app, that was it, that was what we could do with that. There are so many ways, social media included, of being able to engage with the customer. And I was looking at … IBM had a conference last year in New York and they brought 90 CIOs and 90 CEOs to get CMOs together. And said get in to the room and duke it out guys, to see what comes out of that. And one of the things that was quite astounding is that, the guy who was the CMO with American Express was asked, “How many customers do you have?” And he said, “We have 100,000,000.” And the guy says, “That’s a lot of personal relationships to have.” So given that we talk about, I’m getting quite futuristic here, but given that we talk about this first engagement. And we re-market and re-target to people and we have marketing automation and it’s all supposed to fit together. Are we getting anywhere near closer to having that kind of direct relationship, or do you think we might be scaring the few customers off?

Jim:                  Yes, we scare people off if you do it wrong. The classic story is Target store. Who said, “Gee, people who, women who are expecting babies shop for these kinds of things. And we know that because they have told us. They’ve opted in to our I’m Expecting a Baby. Well, let’s look at women who buy those things who haven’t told us and then we’ll offer those things to them.” Did a direct mail piece, got a very upset father saying, “You’re sending baby stuff to my 16 year old daughter. That’s not proper.” They apologized. He came back the next day and said, “Well, actually, it turns out I’m going to be a granddad.” That was too far. That was creepy. So, what they learned is, back off, if they see that behavior in a woman who’s not announced that she’s pregnant, they put a few of those items in. Not a whole bunch, but just scattered among the lawn mowers and the picnic tables, and sales go up. So, so, yes. Be personal. But, you don’t have to get really pers… Be personalized, but don’t be personal. And creepy is … creepiness is in the eye of the creepy. So … I will opt in for anything. I’m happy to get the discount. I’m happy to get the free shipping. Other people will not put pictures of their babies on Facebook because that’s a privacy issue for them. So you have to know your audience.

Mike:               So, re-targeting … and I had this conversation with Abernash as well, and I guess everybody says the same thing if it’s done correctly. But, you know, the more I think about that, Jim, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody doing it correctly, because …

Jim:                  I agree.

Mike:               I do, I mean, I buy something and 3 days later they’re still sticking in front of me, you know?

Jim:                  But, the solution to that is so simple. I bought a camera from Amazon. Amazon. They’re the paragon of this stuff. For 3 weeks they’re trying to sell me the same camera. Guys, you know I bought it from you … Sell me accessories. I need a tripod. I need a carrying case. I need a flash. I need … there’s all kinds of stuff. I will buy and you know this … Because, people who bought this also bought that. Sell me that stuff. Why are you selling me the same thing I already bought. What are they thinking?

Mike:               I mean it has its … there’s pros and cons with everything, but I think that’s still kind of a fairly unrefined way of following up. There are other ways and means of doing it. So, let’s come back to the conference again. Here you are, 64th?

Jim:                  64.

Mike:               64th? What are the take-a-ways from the 64th eMetrics so far?

Jim:                  I’m seeing a tip toward, yes, we are doing integrated marketing, integrated data, from all of these channels and it’s extremely difficult. So, there’s less talk about, “How do I specifically analyze data from mobile or data from social?” Which is still there, that’s sort of the training side. But the thought leadership side is, “OK, that’s coming along, now how am I going to integrate it? So that I can derive insight from it.” Which leads us to a conversation about data governance, which is becoming an adult. Somebody has to be responsible for the data at the source. Somebody has to be responsible for its cleansing. There have to be policies in place. There are legal issues about how long you keep it. And this is now, has been a thing for a long time in business intelligence. But, we’re a young industry, 15 years old. We’re now realizing, that yeah, we need to get involved in that as well. So, more conversations about, how do I use this? How do I display an insight to a business decision maker rather than just throw them a spreadsheet or a pie chart. How do I use business terms rather than trying to explain to them what a click-through and a page-view and viewer or a visit, and about proxy-servers and cookie deletion and … don’t go there. Don’t tell me how the sausage is made, just tell me what the recommendation is. The data suggests that the probability is that we are more likely to achieve our goals if we try this. And here’s a test. And that works.

Mike:               And I think that’s the most important thing, as I said this morning. It’s about helping us make decisions. Smarter and faster.

Jim:                  Yes.

Mike:               Than we’ve been able to do it before. So, my guess is we’ll probably be doing this on the 128th eMetrics, if I add it up. But, I hope we have a chance to do it a few more times before then.

Jim:                  Here, here.

Mike:               Thanks for the taking the time to join us, Jim.

Jim:                  Thank you. It was fun.

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