When I started working at my first search engine marketing job, the CEO gave me very valuable advice. One day, I was working late with one of my co-workers and the CEO came by. We started talking and eventually asked him about his advice around success. His advice was very simple, yet powerful: Focus on the projects that nobody else wants to do. If you master the difficult, unattractive projects, your career will be incredibly successful. To this day, I follow this very advice and it has worked wonders for my career in search engine marketing. Today, I’m going to discuss a few ways I take advantage of unattractive SEM projects.
SEM Career Tip 1: Really Know Your Numbers
It goes without saying that you can’t be in search engine marketing without knowing your numbers. It’s an operational role, one where you’re responsible first hand for your company’s bottom line. However, there are varying levels of understanding that range from knowing that the numbers were down yesterday to knowing they were down specifically because conversion dropped 20% on x keyword and you’re working on y strategy to fix the problem with ETA z. Surprisingly, many people in SEM don’t know the numbers as well as they should and this creates a great opportunity for your career. I recommend always knowing the following numbers off the top of your head:
- Yesterday’s conversions by channel
- Yesterday’s CPA
- Today’s intra-day conversions
- How yesterday’s numbers compare to last week, two weeks ago, and the same day last year
- Specifically why yesterday’s numbers were up or down
- Your month to date run rate and how it compares to your targets (You have set targets for yourself and your team, right?)
- Specifically why you’re above or below your targets
- The same level of detail for any campaigns you might not be directly managing.
This may sound like a time consuming, excruciating level of detail and it is! However, that’s exactly why you should focus on this essential task in your effort to break away from the pack and embrace challenging projects. I promise, you will build intuition around your numbers over time and it will get easier. In the short run, take good notes and bring them with you so you’re always able to answer questions that may get asked of you.
SEM Career Tip 2: Spend 10-20% of Your Time Planning
I really enjoy this tip. While it’s super easy, nobody follows it, creating another great opportunity to set yourself apart from the pack. I can totally relate with those that don’t like planning. We’re on the front lines of operation and have infinite opportunities at our fingertips. We just want to get out there and execute. However, I can tell you from years of management experience that there is simply no substitute for good planning. Planning will make you (and your team) more efficient, improve communication with senior management, and yield improved results. Even though you’ll have 10-20% less time for the execution side of things, planning will set you up for success and will greatly improve the leverage senior management has over you (and your team) which is a huge benefit on its own.
SEM Career Tip 3: Volunteer Yourself
In search engine marketing, we all have more projects than we can handle. This relates not only to the infinite opportunities out there, but also the fact that SEM is typically understaffed in proportion to the value we drive. In light of this, most people in SEM are reluctant to sign up for more work. We’ve all been in the those meetings where action items start coming up and the meeting leader starts asking who will take them on. We’ve all been in the situation where we just want to look down and let someone else take it on. My advice to you: Fight your instincts and volunteer yourself! Of course, you can’t take on everything but leveraging this strategy at the right time can work wonders for your PPC career. Just think about it, everyone is stretched. Sure, some are stretched more than others, but at the end of the day everyone could use more time. If you step up and take on these projects in a team setting, you’re communicating that you’re an SEM leader. This goes a long way!
PPC Career Tip 4: Work Long Hours When It Makes Sense
I’m typically a proponent of working smarter and not harder. However, there are times when this simply breaks down, especially around deadlines. It’s easy in SEM to push a project off a day or so. However, if you push enough projects off enough days, you slow down the growth of your entire organization. My advice to you: Fight your bias to push deadlines out, no matter what. After you hit your deadline, then give yourself a break and get some rest.
PPC Career Tip 5: Focus Very Little Time On Beta Tests and 2nd Tiers
This is a classical PPC time trap. I haven’t met anyone in SEM who doesn’t like exploring new initiatives. There’s an affiliate marketer inside all of us who wants to uncover that jackpot. My advice to you: Focus on the big levers. Beta tests and 2nd tiers are rarely big levers. If you must try experimental stuff, try it on your off-time and consider SEM moonlighting to expand your knowledge base. I’m not alone on this, any seasoned Internet executive will tell you that they don’t want their SEM managers focused on this stuff and it will rarely reflect well on your career even though it’s super fun and appealing.
Condition Your Mind To Enjoy Difficult Search Engine Marketing Projects
While these are just five examples, I really want to highlight the recurring theme here: Consciously fight your instincts each and every day. Look objectively at the projects before you and understand if it’s a difficult or easy project. More often than not, the difficult projects are the ones with leverage. Condition your mind to enjoy the difficult challenges in SEM and you’ll quickly get promoted. I personally like to mix it up and include at least one or two easy, fun projects in my day to break up the difficult stuff. Moreover, I like to take breaks to move my work location to change my mindset. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you simply approach projects with the right mindset! After a while, you will start actually enjoying the difficult stuff and then you’ll be in a league of your own.
Image of Maze © iStockPhoto – chromatika
Most people tend to prefer ease than difficulty. This is the very reason few make it to the top. I reckon that you are already on top. 🙂
Walter, thanks so much for the comment! Focusing on difficult projects has definitely helped my career!