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Interview: Amanda Watlington on Second Life and Blogs

Posted on Jan 8th, 2007
Written by Lee Odden
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    Spotlight on Search – Interview with Amanda G. Watlington, Ph.D., APR of Searching for Profit

    Photo by Jeremy Zawodny

    I first bumped into Amanda Watlington via AIM, (Association for Interactive Marketing) and then in person at a WebmasterWorld Pubcon conference several years ago. Further collaboration occurred through involvement with the next iteration of AIM, the Direct Marketing Association’s Search Engine Marketing Council, of which Amanda was a past chair.

    Amanda is famous for her in-depth knowledge of blogs, RSS and podcasting and she has one of the first popular books on the subject. However, this long time marketer’s roots are in public relations and she also has an extensive background with search marketing.

    In this interview, Amanda talks about getting involved with search marketing, her appreciation for being hands on with the work, her thoughts on marketing via Second Life, the DMA Search Engine Marketing Certification program, tips on business blogging and the power of networking.

    Please describe your background and how did you get involved with search marketing? What are your areas of focus today?

    As I blogged recently, I have been involved in search marketing since 1995. I got involved when I was working in public relations, and we were discussing doing a fax newsletter for a client. I suggested that we dispense with that idea and build a site instead. Since we were in the business of relevant readership, search marketing was a direct outgrowth. Since our clients wanted accountability for such projects, I developed an early interest in Web metrics. This in turn led to a call for improved results, and I think the continuation of the cycle is pretty obvious.

    Today my practice is really still gaining visibility in search for online assets. These are no longer just Web pages. They cover the length and breadth of the types of information that we consume on the Web – blogs, audio, video as well as more traditional Web pages. Most of my clients are the new type of search marketing client – very knowledgeable, yet looking for strategic and tactical advice.

    I’ve found that my practice blends strategy with tactical recommendations. I am often called upon to interpret the technical requirements for the Web development teams that support my marketing clients. Although I do not write code myself, I have over 25 years of experience in information technology. I am fluent in geek and marketing – so to speak.

    You’ve worked with a large SEO/SEM agency and you’ve run your own consulting practice. Which do you prefer? What are some of the pros and cons for each?

    During the early 1990s worked for a major search marketing firm, where I had the opportunity to develop a lot of cutting-edge methodologies. The early days were very heady fun. SEO was new, and all of us, the early practitioners, were learning and developing what are today the best practices. An axiom that I have found in business though is that the higher you go in an organization, the less your contact is with the work itself.

    When you are the head of a small consultancy, you are deep in the work. I enjoy search marketing. It still fascinates me. When you run your own consultancy you are also deep in the marketing and promotion and management of the business. It is a different kind of balancing act.

    Getting to choose my own projects and managing my own future has enormous appeal to me. I like being able to take on work that interests and challenges me. I also very much enjoy charting my own course. With this freedom comes the inherent risk and concerns over business prosperity.

    As someone who is active with the Second Life communities, do you feel there is a genuine and significant marketing opportunity there?

    As if there are not enough opportunities for all of us marketers in first life, now we should be looking toward Second Life. My interest in Second Life and online worlds is not something new. In the mid-1990s I was teaching college, and a group of us (digital experimenters) wanted to build a Palace environment for teaching online. I had done some experimenting with the MUDs and MOOs and found the graphical interface of The Palace environment very attractive. The problem was getting through the firewall. It is the same issue that some users of Second Life encounter.

    Just as I saw a teaching application for The Palace, I see lots of opportunity for marketing both in world (on Second Life) and for promoting products that may exist in either or both worlds. It is really only a matter of what the imagination will create. Who knows what the future holds?

    What do you think are some of the biggest mistakes marketers have made so far in Second Life and what do you think marketing on Second Life will look like in 3 years?

    The biggest mistake that marketers can make and are making is of trying to jump in without understanding the social mores of Second Life. It is a community and success is based on networking and building credibility. Just because a business is well accepted in the real world, it is a false assumption to expect it to transcend to Second Life. Join the community and take part in its life before launching a business effort. We’ve been active in Second Life for sometime now, and we are just moving forward with a business/marketing effort that is directed at this community. Go slowly to go fast.

    You’ve been charged as the architect for the DMA’s Search Engine Marketing Certification program. Please share your thoughts on the DMA’s motivations and the industry’s need for such a program.

    Search marketing has enjoyed explosive growth in the past five years. Today, there is an absolute need for marketers at all levels to know the principles and the best practices of search marketing. It has become a core marketing skill. There is a need for talent at the strategic and tactical levels, and this is the need that the DMA is addressing.

    Where can people turn to learn what they need to know about the discipline? How can they evaluate what has been learned? Yes! There are programs available or they can send staff to conferences with a list of sessions to attend, but there must be a framework to set the valuable tactics within. You don’t jump into a novel writing workshop if you have never written a paragraph.

    With its broad experience in direct marketing and large constituency of direct marketers, the DMA is a natural fit for developing training in search marketing.

    What do you think are some of the more promising marketing opportunities of the new media, web 2.0 and social media sort?

    I really must admit that I don’t mentally separate new media or Web 2.0, social media etc. out. They are morphs of their predecessors that require morphed thinking on behalf of marketers. Marketing in its purest form is facilitation of an exchange relationship. Of course, you can throw into the mix that marketing creates and expands the demand for products and services. The task of finding opportunities then becomes relatively simple. First, you must learn how the new media works and then begin a process of using it to move the agenda forward. It there are no current marketing examples for jump starting your thinking, revert to the definition and ask how it applies.

    Technorati is currently tracking about 59 million blogs and counting. Blogs have also begun to be used more commonly as marketing tools. How long before companies accept blogs as they do web sites as a normal tool for marketing? Or will they ever?

    Blogs are normal tools for marketing with different rules of engagement. I am finding it quite amusing the continuous mishaps and missteps that some of the biggest agencies are experiencing as they attempt to make the blogosphere conform to their view. Blogs are not regular Websites. The technology that underlies blogs can be used to power websites, but once you extend beyond the platform, the rules start to shift. The mores of the blogosphere are by now reasonably established. Two years ago I would not have said this, but today flogs are still reviled. Since the goal is readership, then the charge is to make something that is reader-worthy. We are all so challenged for time that our tolerance for disinteresting, badly written materials is limited. It invites the delete click.

    You speak at conferences quite often about blogs, RSS and podcasting. Can you share 2-3 of your most valuable tips for aspiring blogs or podcasters out there that want to get noticed?

    Here are three short tips:

    1) Create interesting content
    2) Apply the principles of SEO to all files – image, audio file, etc.
    3) Track your results

    What could search engines be doing better in terms of communicating with the SEO community? Are there tools for search marketers from the search engines that you would like to see?

    From my point of view, I am thrilled that they no longer view us as complete enemies. I still find the communication a bit opaque but that is slowly changing. That being said I would still do the same tactics if I had the so-called algo. on my desktop – since I look as SEO as marketing, not algo-chasing.

    The one tool that I would like to see is a less laborious way of reporting egregious spam. – a bulk upload feature so to speak.

    What advice can you give to those that are trying to stay ahead of the game on SEO and social media in terms of keeping up with industry information, strategy/tactics and best practices?

    Read broadly, there is a wealth of information available. Don’t scrimp on the time it takes. I read for several hours each day just to keep ahead, and this is with an RSS reader to assist. No! I am not a slow reader, but I am an avid link follower who wanders widely as I read and learn.

    The second bit of advice is to talk to others involved in the work, not just the usual suspects (your close friends). I speak at and attend a number of conferences and always find that I learn from everyone and everything that I take part in. The difficulty is taking the time to absorb the information and to think deeply on it. I call this noodling on an idea. Sometimes in the crush of getting the work done, we don’t spend enough time in reflective thinking. Blogging is great for prompting this type of reflection.

    Thanks Amanda! Find out more about Amanda Watlington on her blog, “Blogs and Feeds” or her company web site.