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Do you dream of getting your hands on a bunch of data about everyone who works in Internet marketing? Well, you’re in luck… SEOMoz is making it happen with their 2012 industry survey. They’re asking online marketers 54 questions, making the results public (win-win!), and it will only take you 20 minutes to contribute. You can jump right into the survey here!
Was that not the perfect segue into our interview with Jamie Steven, Vice President of Marketing at SEOMoz?
Jamie has 15 years of marketing experience in quite a few different industries (he thinks our industry is one of the friendliest :)). He also recently became an instructor at the University of Washington teaching — you guessed it — Internet marketing.
He’ll be speaking on the link building panel at BlueGlass LA. We asked him about link building, the challenges of marketing in this industry, and pros/cons of learning by experience…
Interview with Jamie Steven
1. You recently became an instructor for the Internet marketing certificate program at the University of Washington (very cool!). What do you think is the benefit of a formal education in online marketing versus “real world” experience? How does the curriculum for such a program overcome the constant changes in the industry?
Most of my own education has been through real world experience and I’ve benefited tremendously from that. I’m a big believer in learning by doing. But there were also so many things I didn’t know when I got started– the path to learning those things was through a lot of mistakes that cost time and more of my employer’s budget than was necessary (some of the mistake I made where gargantuanly huge!).
Formal education can help a new practitioner be more effective from the get go. There’s much to be learned from doing, but I’d rather someone learn optimization by doing, than the fundamentals (which are best taught early on). The other big benefit to formal education is exposure to topics one may not have the time or budget to be exposed to in their work.
The primary criticism I have of formal education is the inherent lag behind innovation in the marketing industry and educators teaching it. It’s difficult to learn the latest and greatest because it hasn’t been developed into pedagogy yet. It’s ever more effective to learn the leading edge by working on the leading edge.
2. In the online marketing industry where so many rely on others for knowledge through blogs and conferences, yet it’s so competitive, there’s a lot of false or misleading information out there. What responsibility do you think the industry has to keep misinformation at bay? What makes someone a trusted source, in your opinion?
Blog authors have always moved faster than traditional journalists, where thorough and deliberate fact checking is a standard operating procedure. As a result, blog authors are more prone to make mistakes, share incorrect information or make false conclusions. But the speed and breadth of the conversation afforded by online publishing far outweighs the risk of occasional mistakes.
I love that online publishing is an additive process—we’re empowered to read what others write, share our opinions and offer critiques where we disagree. This makes the process more authentic, self-correcting and ever more beneficial. In some cases, I’ve learned more from reading comments on a blog post than from the blog post itself.
But while this democratization of content is indeed empowering, it’s no excuse to be inauthentic. The sources I’ll trust are the ones with a proven commitment to authenticity. That’s borne through a record of publishing valuable and accurate information, a willingness to accept criticism and debate, and the humility and transparency to correct mistakes when they occur.
While that’s a noble vision, things aren’t always that simple. So it’s important that even when you trust an author or sources that you consider and test their ideas and approaches.
Just because a publisher is considered trustworthy doesn’t mean they’re incapable of mistakes or an invalid conclusion. A willingness to be inquisitive (and somewhat skeptical) is the best way to avoid falling into a trap of misinformation.
3. What do you think are the biggest challenges of marketing a company in this industry?
I’ve worked in several industries that aren’t as friendly or collaborative as this one, so I actually consider our industry to be delightful. :)
SEOmoz is fortunate to have good relationships with many of our competitors, and several are partners of ours. So, the challenge is less about competing than convincing people there are better ways to manage and optimize their marketing efforts.
I’d say that’s the biggest challenge we face: fighting the motivation of doing things manually (or not at all), and helping to educate marketers to be capable of using software to manage and optimize their efforts. The people who get it are easy; they’re going to derive a lot of benefit from using software, but for those who are new to the industry that’s much less so.
So, we spend a lot of time on educating people on how to be more strategic with their efforts and how software can help with that.
4. You’ll be speaking on the link building panel at BlueGlass LA. Let’s say I’m new to link building, what are the essential “prequalifiers” to look for before reaching out to a site?
Well, in my opinion, the essential prequalifier is ensuring that the link request will provide actual benefit to the person you’rerequesting the link from. I’m deadly serious here—I hear of far too many people who ask for links from prospects who would have absolutely no benefit to be derived from a providing a link.
What’s their incentive? If you can’t think of a legitimately beneficial reason why someone would provide a link, I’d say you should reconsider your link target. I also found that asking that simple question can help you devise the right way to approach an individual from a perspective that provides them benefit (and an incentive to link).
5. Links are much harder to acquire than they were a few years ago. What are your thoughts on outsourcing link building? When do you think this is, if ever, necessary?
Rather than outsourcing link building, I’d invest in activities and content that enable you to attract links organically, or at least permit you to build links more easily yourself. This is more difficult, but the dividends are much higher.
I came from a performance marketing background, so I often think a good link is one that sends a lot of traffic first and provides authority second. The primary links that send traffic are generally only links where the target is valuable or interesting content. (I occasionally like to debate what is more worthwhile: traffic or link juice—the truth is it really depends on the context and source.)
That said, if links are your objective, there are plenty of good firms that will help you devise a good strategy for your content, or a variety of other creative ideas that naturally build links. I actually consider PR, whether insourced or outsourced, to be an indirect method of link building. Ensuring that a few marquee online publications provide a link to do you can be just as beneficial as a score of middling links.
If I had budget to outsource a marketing effort, I’d consider hiring someone to devise a brilliant content strategy or an SEO aware PR firm who will can help build attention while also indirectly building high quality links.
Thank you for such thorough answers, Jamie :) A little birdie (or robot) tipped us off that SEOMoz is giving out a generous BlueGlass LA discount code to Pro members!