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Interview with Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim

Posted on Dec 18th, 2006
Written by Lee Odden
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    Spotlight on Search: Interview with Andy Beal

    andy-beal.jpg I’ve known Andy Beal via blogging and search marketing conferences for a while now and had the privilege of speaking with him on a SEO Blogger and Reporter panel at the last WebmasterWorld Pubcon in Las Vegas.

    While I had great respect for Andy’s accomplishments at building search marketing companies and developing top notch blogs, his performance during the panel was genuinely impressive. His grasp of the big picture and business aspects of search marketing were/are very insightful. My public relations firm has even hired Andy for some consulting on reputation management and I am happy to recommend him.

    Andy started in the search marketing business with KeywordRanking and also the blog, Search Engine Lowdown. He moved on and started another company, Fortune Interactive and a new blog, Marketing Pilgrim and then moved on to becoming an independent consultant which he continues to do today.

    In this interview Andy talks about his background in search marketing from corporate guy to independent consultant, he offers some valuable insight into search marketing agency management issues, a response to the Dave Pasternack SEO silliness, tips on business blogging, partnerships and his British/Southern accent. Enjoy!

    Please describe your background and how did you get involved with search marketing?

    I mostly just fell into search marketing. Before I moved to the U.S., I worked as a paralegal, financial planner and mortgage broker. However, I’ve always had a passion for computers and have technically been online since 1987 – the pre-WWW days – so, when I moved here, I decided it was a good time to make my hobby a career.

    You’re worked for a large SEO company, started your own SEO company with VC funding and now you’re and independent consultant. Which do you prefer? What do you like best about your current situation?

    Well, there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to each. I wouldn’t change anything I have done, as each role has been a great experience and has helped develop my expertise in some way. I will say that I am having a lot of fun being an independent consultant.

    In the past year you’ve done quite a bit of public speaking on the topic of reputation management. How can companies tie proper online brand monitoring and reputation management to the bottom line?

    I think there’s a lot of ways that monitoring and managing a corporate reputation can have a positive effect on the bottom line. You need look no further than Kryptonite locks to learn that not monitoring your online reputation can have a negative effect on your business – they lost over $10 million due to a flaw with their locks. You can also benefit from gaining insight on your market and customers by listening to conversations that are going on each day. By listening to the community, you can learn about their needs, what products they like, and what your competitors are doing to please them.

    You’ve done some organizational development consulting for several prominent SEO firms this year. What are 2-3 tips you can share with small SEO companies in terms of organization and management issues?

    When I switched to consulting, I didn’t expect that my experience and knowledge would be in demand by other search marketing firms. Fortunately, business coaching for other firms is very interesting and has allowed me to gain insight on the common problems marketing agencies face. When I meet with clients, I typically discover common areas that they need assistance with.

    The first is that many small firms rely on the expertise of the owner or some senior executive. This works when the company is very small and has just a handful of clients, but as the company grows, it is limited by the amount of time that person has available. I help companies learn to share that expertise among other employees, freeing up the time of the executive and allowing the company to grow.

    Another common mistake I see is that many firms simply don’t know the best way to promote themselves. They rely heavily on referrals from existing clients or business partners and don’t really pay attention to other ways to grow their business. This reliance is fine when you are smaller, but as you grow your business, you need to put in place other channels to bring in new revenue to sustain your growth.

    The winds of change are strong right now in the search marketing industry. What do you think things will look like this time next year in terms of conferences and SEO/SEM media?

    Wow, good question. I’ve tried playing the prediction game before, but the industry is so fast moving, it’s hard to predict beyond the next three months. I definitely believe that search marketers will become a lot more integrated with their client’s other marketing channels. I also feel that social media marketing is going to become a very important skill set. I’m not talking about simple “linkbait” tactics, but strategic marketing that identifies social networks and utilizes word of mouth and viral techniques to attract clients and increase brand-awareness.

    What is your advice for companies that are thinking about starting a blog? Can you give 2-3 tips or best practices for corporate blogging?

    Whenever I meet with a company looking to start a blog, I always try to get to the root of their motivation for having one. Often, companies don’t have a good reason for starting a corporate blog, but feel pressure to have one, because other businesses do. So, my first tip is to don’t feel compelled to jump into the blogosphere, if you don’t have the passion or a clue about what you’ll put on the blog, you’ll likely fail.

    For those that do want to start a company blog, I advise that they should have a two-way conversation with readers, otherwise it’s not so much a blog but a public relations web site. For a company blog to build a following and become a success, it needs to be committed to engaging its audience, even when it becomes a little uncomfortable to do so – such as when your customers start criticizing your business.

    You have a marketing partnership of sorts with Converseon. Can you describe the nature of that relationship and how valuable is it to partner with other companies?

    I consult with Converseon on a number of different topics including reputation monitoring, blogging and search engine optimization. They are a great group and I enjoy the opportunity to assist them with client campaigns.

    In the past, I have found partnerships to be hit and miss. Some relationships work out well for both sides, while others never really amount to much for either party. I think it’s a good idea for firms to partner with companies that provide complimentary services – don’t try to specialize in everything – but I’m never afraid to ditch a partnership that’s not benefiting my company. I think that’s key for any small marketing firm – partner with companies that fill the gaps in your own service, but remember that they don’t have to be long term relationships if they become fruitless.

    Competition is increasing in the search marketing industry and despite some questionable analysis (Marketing Sherpa) and characterizations (Dave Pasternack) what are some of the most significant opportunities for companies that still have not yet embraced SEO into their marketing budgets?

    Well, I’ve never heard of Dave Pasternack but I see he’s the co-founder of Two things spring to mind. First, it’s no wonder that Kevin Lee is the public face of the company, with comments like this coming from Pasternack! Second, is it any surprise that a paid search company is writing negative things about SEO?

    While SEO may not be “rocket science”, as Pasternack puts it, it’s certainly a lot more effort than a paid search campaign. SEO is going to evolve, becoming a mixture of optimization, viral marketing, buzz generation and public relations. Pay-per-click, on the other hand, will become easier to manage, with better tools being provided by the search engines (look at Yahoo’s Panama), so anyone can manage a campaign without the need for outside assistance.

    SEO may not be rocket science, but the coming year will see PPC becoming as easy as putting together a child’s Lego set.

    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?

    I definitely believe that Google’s Webmaster Central is a big step in the right direction. As the search engines become better at pinpointing spam, they appear to be a little more relaxed when it comes to communicating with search engine optimizers.

    I think we certainly need better guidance from the search engines, so we can understand what they like and what they don’t like. We’re already seeing isolated cases of better communication – Matt Cutts appears to be leading the charge in that regard – but I think the search engines can take further steps to share information.

    Since you’re from the UK but living in North Carolina, I am curious if you speak with a British accent or a southern drawl at home? 🙂

    My accent is now at the point where it’s somewhere over the mid-Atlantic trying to figure out which direction to go. I think my wife misses the days when I sounded more like Hugh Grant instead of Andy Griffith, but I’m afraid the drawl will continue in its quest for domination. In the meantime, “Tally Ho, Y’all!”

    Tally Ho to you too Andy and thanks!