Search Engine Marketing Perception

Dec. 29

Anyone who’s ever worked on my team knows that I live by the following statement: "Perception is reality." When you take a step back and really think about it, my affinity for this line makes total sense in the context of PPC. Pay per click search engine marketing is a very new industry. At many companies, the executive team will not understand exactly what you’re working on each and every day. I can’t blame them! PPC is complex and moreover it’s a moving target. This can become a bit problematic, however, when you’re trying to gain visibility, prestige, and ultimately promotion within your organization.

Let me cut right to the punch line: As part of your daily routine, it’s your absolute duty to educate and set everyone’s perception (and therefore reality). It’s precisely when you’re delivering results and setting perception flawlessly that you’re on the fast track to career promotion. Today, I’m excited to share some of my favorite ways to make sure perception is set perfectly and you receive full credit for all of your hard work!

Tip 1: Leverage Your Company’s Task Manager Consistently

Spotlight on PPC

During the course of any random workday, it’s absolutely amazing how much stuff I get done! At the end of the week, I’ll often have difficultly remembering all of the projects I completed. However, to set perception amongst my organization, I want to take credit for every single project I completed. So, what’s the easiest way to do this?

It’s very simple: Record every single project that takes more than one hour in your company’s task manager (such as SharePoint). Even if you’ve completed the project already, create a new task and then close it out immediately. I’m very serious here and if you only take away one thing from this post, please follow this tip. From my experience, the leverage here is plentiful:

  1. When performance reviews come around, you now have an instantaneous way to pull a list of all completed projects for your self-review. No completed project will ever slip through the cracks!
  2. This centralized repository of your tasks creates a very simple way for your manager (and the executive team) to immediately tap into your projects. The more impressive your project list, the more impressed management will be.
  3. During your weekly team meetings, you now have a very easy way to recall all of your projects from the past week and take full credit for all of them as you summarize your initiatives.
Tip 2: Take Your Sweet Time Presenting Your Pay Per Click Initiatives

The next time you’re in a team meeting, focus closely on presentation. As everyone goes around the table to discuss projects, successes, and failures, pay close attention to the good presenters and the not so good ones. What are the main differences?

From my experience, there are two. First and foremost, the good presenters take their sweet time. They have a lot to say and aren’t going to stop until they’ve exhausted their speaking points. Second, the good presenters are confident and project very clearly. My advice to you: This is your time to shine, take it seriously! Print out your completed tasks from Tip 1 and don’t hesitate to go through all of them. This is your time to not only take credit for all of your hard work, but also to stand up as a leader amongst your organization and inspire greatness. Aside from Tip 1, this is just about the easiest way to set everyone’s perception around your strong work ethic and limitless determination.

Tip 3: Invest Time Managing Pay Per Click Success Upward

This one makes perfect sense. If you think you’re busy, just think about how busy your boss must be! It’s easy for your successes to slip through the cracks if you don’t proactively manage upward. My advice is quite simple: Each time you have a major success, spend some extra time emailing it to your manager. Moreover, make a point of actively mentioning your successes when you meet with your manager.

It is possible for this strategy to backfire, however, if you don’t take your time and fully think through all of the possible questions your manager may ask. My advice: Anything you send to your manager needs to be bulletproof. Think through all of the possible questions and anticipate them. Include relevant metrics and fully explain yourself. Keep things simple, your manager doesn’t have all day to sift through thousands of words. Consider allocating around 5% of your time proactively pushing your paid search successes upwards, you won’t regret it.

Tip 4: Print Your SEM Analysis Out

Here’s a fun one that ties into all of the other PPC perception tips just highlighted. Consider printing out all of your team’s major SEM analysis and compile them into an organized binder. While I don’t invest as much time doing this anymore, it really worked wonders for me during my first gig. Aside from being a really powerful symbol of my dedication, this strategy allowed me to immediately quote any analysis at a moment’s notice, gaining full recognition for both myself and my SEM team. (SEM people managers, please remember to never take credit for your team’s work. You need to celebrate and honor their success. You get to take full credit for training and empowering your team to reach such heights.)

Tip 5: Celebrate Search Engine Marketing Success

I’ve talked about this subject over and over and it’s a strategy very core to my personal management style. It’s powerful and simple yet often overlooked. Please check out my post all about celebrating SEM success.

Conclusion: It’s All About The Numbers, Not Projects

It’s a battlefield out there. Each and every day things are hectic and it’s very simple for your analysis and successes to get lost in the shuffle. For that reason alone, I truly believe in the power of investing in perception. Perception is reality after all, and you want to make sure reality credits your hard work.

However, as a closing point I really want to highlight that numbers are everything. All the stuff in this post is great and all, but it means a lot less if your numbers are not at their maximum potential. First and foremost, never forget about your commitment to the numbers. Now, if you’re maximizing your numbers and creating the proper perception of your work, there is no limit to your upside in the pay per click industry.

Image of Man With Spotlight © iStockPhoto – mevans

Managing Remote India SEM Teams

Dec. 26

My career in search engine marketing has progressed like a rocket ship. I owe my success to many factors. One of the greatest ingredients in my early on success was a tremendous manager, someone who saw a lot of potential in PPC Ian and pushed me into the people management track from day one. (Side note: To this day, I’m inspired to be the best people manager ever as a way of celebrating the legacy this manager started.) So how did I get started in the fascinating and rewarding world of people management? During my first year in SEM I had the unique privilege of managing a remote India SEM team!

I learned many lessons through my management of this India SEM team. Whether you’re managing an SEM team in India, China, or another country, there are unique challenges and benefits that arise out of remote SEM people management. Today, I’m looking forward to highlighting a few of my personal remote people management strategies. Moreover, I’m excited to celebrate the global nature of the search marketing industry. I truly embrace this industry because it has no boundaries and I’ve had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with talented individuals all around the globe.

Strategy 1: Schedule Regular Phone and Videoconference Meetings

Digital Earth

What’s the most important characteristic of a great SEM people manager? There are many but the willingness to drop anything and everything at a moment’s notice to help out a team member in need ranks towards the top of my list. I’m serious here. When someone on my team has a question, I’m ready to assist immediately. It all goes back to leverage. My goal: Zero roadblocks in my team’s path towards success. Moreover, it goes back to your duty as a people manager. You’re there to ensure your team’s success, period.

Now, let’s consider the time zone differences between the US and India. Unless your India team is working the night shift, their workday is most likely during your downtime (if you are in the US). To make up for the fact that you won’t be able to answer questions that come up during the course of the workday, always make sure to schedule regular phone and videoconference meetings with your India team. You’re going to have to stay at the office late and also work late into the evening hours at home. Make sure you do it, hold yourself to high standards! After all, it’s your duty and responsibility as a good people manager.

Strategy 2: Appoint India Search Marketing Team Leads

My second suggestion ties directly into the first one. As your hire and build out your India search marketing team, try to get a few individuals started early before you build out the entire team. These early employees have the benefit of really stepping up and learning before the rest of the team joins. Because of their head start, they will naturally fall into the team lead role. If someone has a question and you’re not available, direct your team to ask the team lead. I like this strategy because it’s practical (questions get answered quickly, removing roadblocks that may come up) and also because it empowers leadership and growth.

As a people manager at heart, there’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing my team progress, grow, and achieve their dreams. One team lead that I appointed in my early days managing my remote India team got promoted from the SEM role to a technical QA role, how awesome!

Strategy 3: Leverage The Time Difference For 24/7 SEM Management

When people ask me what I do for a living, I often draw analogies to Wall Street. One key difference between PPC and Wall Street, however, is the 24/7 trading happening on Google, Yahoo, and Bing (versus Wall Street having fixed trading hours). Sure, volume slows down at night, but swift competitors can still make very interesting moves during these low volume times. Moreover, campaigns and sites can still break during the middle of the night, creating a real headache for you in the morning if they’re not fixed right away.

This all ties back to the India SEM team strategy. Leverage your India SEM team as your eyes and ears while you’re sleeping. Treat your PPC campaigns with the seriousness they deserve, true 24/7 monitoring. While it’s never pleasant getting woken up, I am extremely thankful for the times when my India team called me in the middle of the night to troubleshoot major campaign and site issues that would come up from time to time.

Tip 4: Become a Master of PPC Documentation (and Video)

Anyone who knows me well knows that I absolutely love PPC documentation. At my last gig, I became famous as the PPC guy writing 20 page documents about campaign process. This all ties back to the first tip. The main challenge managing an India SEM team is the simple fact that they can’t come to you instantaneously with questions. However, what you can do is proactively answer any question they could possibly come up with by writing extensive documentation. If you work at a larger organization that plans to hire many campaign managers, invest in building out documentation (an even training videos). The long term leverage you’ll receive is tremendous.

Tip 5: Focus On SEM Career Progression

I’m a huge fan of career progression, who isn’t? I thoroughly enjoy pushing my employees to their limits, holding regular career planning sessions, and making sure that dreams are realized. As an overall management philosophy, I live by the following statement: "There should never be any surprises during a performance review." Career planning should be such a regular discussion that your SEM team should know exactly what to expect.

Now, let’s put things into perspective. PPC is an operational position, one that’s often quite hectic. I always make time for career progression discussions, regardless of what’s going on. However, many managers don’t. When it comes to remote teams, even fewer managers make time for these discussions. My advice to you: Embrace this aspect of people management and make sure to carve out a career path for your remote PPC team. There may be some unique hurdles such as different job titles and organizational structure in your company’s India branch. Make sure to investigate the nuances with your HR department and develop a plan. Your team will thank you dearly and moreover you’ll boost overall productivity, results, morale, and employee retention.

Tip 6: Celebrate Your Remote Team’s Success Amongst US Executives

I’m closing out with a fun one. As you may already know, I’m very vocal about celebrating my team’s success. Now, I’d like to encourage you to be even more vocal about celebrating your remote PPC team’s success amongst US management. One of my favorite sayings in PPC: "Perception is reality." Make your team visible within the organization. Celebrate their success. Draw executive attention to what’s happening in India. The benefits are plentiful and you will form management’s perception of your India team. One thing is for sure: I’m just about the largest proponent there is of remote India search engine marketing teams and am thankful everyday for the global nature of the PPC game.

Image of Digital Earth © iStockPhoto – enot-poloskun

Paid Search Interview Questions

Dec. 24

Over the years I’ve conducted more pay per click interviews than I can count. Interviewing is extremely important in the world of search marketing, even more so than other roles. Just think about the extensive training you’re going to invest in your new employee. From my experience, it will take a good three to six months to get a strong positive yield out of your new hire, with the months increasing the more junior the candidate. Precisely because of the large "ramp up period" in paid search (even for candidates that already have experience), I place the highest possible importance on the interview process. Today, I’m excited to share with you some of my favorite interview techniques and questions in an effort to help you get the most out of your PPC interviews.

PPC Interview Strategy 1: Screen For Math Over The Phone

PPC Interview

Here’s a fun tip that will save you an immense amount of time: Ask the candidate math questions during your first phone call. In fact, I don’t even wait for my first phone call – I ask my recruiter to ask math questions during the first phone screen. PPC is both technical and creative. Unfortunately, many candidates are very creative but cannot perform mental math. Right from the beginning, ask some questions such as:

  • What’s 3% of 2,000,000?
  • What’s 9 * 350?
  • What is the sum of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5?

Some candidates will immediately ask if they can use a calculator. You’ll want to explain that the purpose of these exercises is to understand their mental math ability and that calculators are not allowed. Reassure the candidate and let them know there’s no rush and to think the questions through. (I’m not testing how well they can work under pressure here but am simply trying to the get to the bottom of their basic math abilities.)

At the end of the day, this strategy is invaluable because it will save you a huge amount of time. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten a candidate to the late stages of the interview pipeline only to then find out they cannot perform mental math.

Paid Search Interview Strategy 2: Don’t Delay The Long Case Question

During the SEM candidate’s first in person interview, I always like to start off with a long case study question, one that involves analytical ability, judgment, and of course math. Here’s what I’ve observed from some other interviewers: They either delay the case so much that there’s little time for it or they forget to ask the case altogether. In pay per click search engine marketing, you’re hiring someone to operate on the front lines of your business. The case question is everything, in my opinion!

For this reason alone, I always start with the case during the first in person interview and I allocate it a good half hour of more. Like the first tip, this one can save you a ton of time. Most candidates will pass all of the fuzzy, subjective questions. However, case studies are either right or wrong. Make your pay per click candidate pass all of the difficult hurdles first and save yourself and your organization time in the PPC interview process.

SEM Interview Tip 3: Everyone Needs To Interview The Candidate

PPC is like sales in that we’re directly driving revenue for our company each and every day. Like sales, we make the big bucks. Also like sales, the pressure is on! For this very reason, it’s absolutely essential everyone meets the PPC candidate before an offer is made.

I’ve seen it too many times: Everyone meets the candidate except the one person that is on vacation. Don’t make this mistake! Retaining your current employees is everything and this is not always easy in a high pressure environment. Before someone joins your PPC family, make sure everyone is on board. The last thing you want is to bring someone new on board who may not mesh well with the existing team. Moreover, you want to give your existing team the authority to have a say in the decision as an overall tool for empowering and growing your team.

Search Marketing Interview Tip 4: Assign Take Home Pay Per Click Exercises

Let’s face it: It’s impossible to ask every single question during your interview. Interviews fly by and there never seems to enough time. Moreover, some candidates are very skilled at interviewing and may be more "talk" than "skill". My solution: Assign in depth take home exercises after they pass the first round of in person interviews. I like to ask a variety of questions that test:

  • Understanding of the industry
  • Creative ad copy ability
  • Judgment and overall analytical ability
  • Attention to detail
  • Mathematical ability
  • Excel skills
  • Persistence and dedication to the process

On a rare occasion, I’ll assign a second round of take home questions if the first round is borderline and the read on the candidate is mixed. However, if you make the first round of questions extensive enough, it will be come readily apparent if the candidate is qualified or not. As with the mental math question and the in person case, I like to give these questions as soon as possible in the process to save everyone time if the pay per click candidate cannot pass the test.

PPC Interview Tip 5: Thoroughly Check References Yourself

I’d like to close out with an important one that’s often overlooked. It actually all goes back to what I touched on earlier: Some candidates are very skilled interviewers. They absolutely ace the interviews and are great and hiding their flaws. For this reason, I take pride in personally checking the candidate’s references (as opposed to outsourcing this duty to my recruiter). Take the time to really chat with the references and learn everything you can. Another positive benefit of the reference check: You get to build out your network and potentially find candidates for other positions that you’re hiring for in the future!

Image of Interview Candidates © iStockPhoto – brainmaster

PPC Ian’s 2010 Goals

Dec. 19

2010 is almost here. I’m extremely excited because I feel like my personal and professional growth has been compounding over the last few years. I recently got married, purchased my first home with my beautiful wife, and joined a large publicly traded company as their Director of Search Marketing. In sum, I’m on a roll.

I feel confident that 2010 will be one of my best years yet, personally and professionally, and wanted to take some time to write my goals down for two main reasons. First and foremost, I’m a big believer in the power of writing. When you write your goals down, they become tangible. When you write your goals down, you’re one step closer to making them a reality. Second, this will be a great way to share with all of you, my readers, what I’m thinking about and what’s on my mind as we head into 2010.

Goal 1: Set Myself Up For VP of Marketing

Reaching Goals

As you may already know, I’m the biggest proponent of the corporate pay per click search engine marketing career path out there. I’m passionate about corporate SEM. Corporate PPC has been extremely good to me and I’ve grown from Marketing Associate at a startup to Director of Search Marketing at a large publicly traded company in only 5 short years. As an ambitious guy, I’ve set my sites on the next level: Vice President of Marketing. I obviously don’t expect VP in 2010. As you progress up the corporate ladder, it’s very typical for each transition to take increasingly more time. Making the transition from Senior Manager to Director of Marketing, for example, took me about two and a half years. However, I really want to focus on the set up this year. My corporate SEM career is extremely important to me and I’m going to do whatever it takes to reach the VP level over time. Following is short list of the items I want to focus on this year:

  1. Exceed my goals: At the end of the day, numbers are everything and success is very measurable in PPC.
  2. Make my manager look good: I have been consistently rewarded in the past by always making my manager look good.
  3. Get more exposure to senior management: Spend more time celebrating my team’s successes to senior management and get more experience in general with my company’s management team.
  4. Expand my team: Hire more pay per click campaign managers and build out the best PPC team in the industry.
  5. 100% Employee retention and growth: My team means everything to me. I will continue to focus on employee retention, training, and growth. I will only feel successful at the end of the year if everyone on my team has grown significantly.
  6. Expand process: Continue to build out documentation, infrastructure, process, and technology to make our PPC an absolute machine. Listing this one last because this stuff is child’s play to me at this point.
Goal 2: Speak At One Major Search Marketing Event

This goal actually ties into my first goal very much. In terms of growing your career in search marketing, public speaking is a great lever. It’s a great way to build up your reputation as an excellent marketer while giving back to the community. I have found time and time again that the more you give, the more you receive.

Last year, I had the honor of speaking to several hundred Google engineers at Google’s client forum. I was told by several Googlers that I was the star of the panel, a definite boost to my ego. The event was an absolute rush and I’m shooting to increase my public speaking in 2010.

Goal 3: Attend At Least One Major Domaining Event

I’ve been a behind the scenes domain investor for a few years now. While I’m a domainer more from the "development with intent of learning new stuff that I can apply to my corporate career" side of things versus the "buying and selling" side, I really identify with the domaining community. Interestingly, I never really became part of the community until recently because I didn’t classify what I was doing as domaining (I more classified it as affiliate marketing). I’m glad I found the domaining community in 2009 and must say that I really identify with these guys.

In 2010, I’m considering attending the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference or another big event such as Domainfest. While these conferences don’t come cheap, I see them as a great investment in my education and networking. Additionally, I plan to make personal connections with more people in the domaining industry and plan to attend some of the Southern California Domainer MeetUps organized by As more of a stretch goal, I’m also pondering the idea of helping organize some Domainer MeetUps in the SF Bay Area.

Goal 4: Develop Six Domain Names

I’m a big believer in moonlighting to advance your corporate SEM career. There are only so many hours in the workday and it’s not possible to learn SEO, PR, and web development while doing the best possible job managing your company’s PPC campaigns. However, I have found all of this added knowledge is critical in advancing your career. How do you learn it all? Develop some web properties during your spare time. Currently, I have six live websites including this one. In 2010, I plan on doubling the number. How am I going to do this while working full time? I’m going to outsource 99% of the development and fund it through cash flow from my current sites. It will be a great exercise in delegation (skills that will directly help my corporate career) and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Goal 5: Six Pack Abs

My wife and I spent a lot of time with our personal trainer in 2009 and it has worked wonders for my energy. I’m now at the point where I can see some real progress and I want to take it to the next level in 2010. I can see the six pack abs happening and it will all come down to exercising regularly (at least 4 times per week) and eating right. I find that the healthier I am, the more energy I have to succeed.

Goal 6: Spend A Lot of Time With My Wife

Online marketing is absolutely great but it’s important to never lose sight of the bigger picture. I have so much fun with my wife when we go the movies, go out to eat, and enjoy vacations on the weekends. In 2010, I’m going to challenge myself to put down my computer and enjoy life with my wife.

On thing is for sure: I’m pumped about 2010! What are your goals for the new year? I highly encourage you to write them down. It’s amazing what can happen if you plan ahead and go for it! I wish you and your family all the success in the world as we head into the new year.

Image of Man Jumping © iStockPhoto – coloroftime

Online Marketing Diversification

Dec. 15

As an investor at heart, diversification is one of my favorite risk mitigation tactics. From day one, I quickly learned that diversification is your safety net when crafting a well-rounded portfolio of stocks. Today I wanted to highlight just a few exciting ways that diversification is directly relevant to your career in online marketing.

Diversify Your Campaigns Across Search Engines

Stocks and Bonds

I’ll start with the obvious one. In today’s search engine marketing landscape, it’s not uncommon to be dramatically over-weighted on Google. Just think about it: Google is the 800 pound Gorilla in the space. It’s only natural that search teams focus their efforts on Google first (it all goes back to leverage). However, once your Google campaigns are established, I’d like to argue that an incremental conversion from another search engine is worth disproportionately more to your company than an incremental conversion from Google.

It’s all about mitigating risk. What if Google changes their algorithm? What if Google gets too competitive? Anything can happen and I urge you to treat your paid search campaigns like stocks in a well-balanced portfolio. Diversify amongst all search engines including Yahoo, Bing, and second tiers – your employer will thank you for the added stability.

Diversify Your Team’s Skill Set

I’ve managed a multitude of search engine marketing teams over the years. There are two competing management philosophies that I’ve tested and experienced: Specialize and generalize. Under the specialize school of thought, each team member owns a particular task or search engine and acquires an immense amount of skill in that area. Under the generalize school of thought, each team member understands all of the search engines, campaigns, and skills, contributing across a broad array of projects.

You probably already know which one I’m going to recommend! Managers, please go the generalize route. Diversify each team member’s skill set. Every member of your team should understand all of the search engines, processes, and initiates. Going the diversified route keeps morale high (because it’s easier for everyone to learn new things) while mitigating risk in case someone leaves (you’ll have backups who understand all the details). We’re already in a specialized line of work and diversification keeps things interesting and leveraged.

Diversify Your Personal Skill Set

How do you rise quickly in pay per click search engine marketing? You become an absolute master of PPC while learning the other online marketing channels as well: SEO, display advertising, email, and PR. I’d actually go beyond this and also encourage you to learn sales as well, an incredibly valuable skill in getting to the Director level or above. There are rarely enough hours in the day to do this at work and I recommend starting your own small business on the side to acquire these diversified skills (check out my post on SEM moonlighting). Some other tips to diversify your skills and get on the fast track to promotion:

  1. Have regular lunches with people on other teams.
  2. Work on cross-functional projects that benefit both teams.
  3. Once you’ve been at a company long enough and have driven results, ask your boss for the favor of an "educational" week spent working on a completely different team for a completely different boss.
Diversify Your Private Company Investment Portfolio

Disclaimer: I’m not a licensed investment adviser and this is just for your entertainment. In my opinion, one of the largest benefits of working in our field is the ability to accumulate stock in rapidly growing private companies. I personally own shares in three private companies thanks to my 5 plus years in PPC. This strategy has already paid off quite handsomely. While it should never be your core reason for career transitions, this is a very important factor often overlooked. In my opinion, a well-diversified portfolio of fast growing private companies is every investor’s dream. SEM provides the perfect avenue to realize this diversification dream without having a million dollar bankroll to approach VC funds as an investor.

To close out, I encourage you to think each and every day what you can do to diversify. Diversification is a tremendous tool to mitigate risk while driving growth in your search marketing career.

Image of Stocks and Bonds © iStockPhoto – VisualField