Searchfest 2009 Interview: Laura Lippay

Laura will be speaking about “SEO” at Searchfest 2009 which will be held March 10th in Portland, Oregon. Get your tickets now.

1) Please give me your background and tell us what you do for a living.

I graduated from AIPH with a 4.0 in their Multimedia program, where we learned a little bit of everything across the board from HTML, Flash and Javascript to video editing, sound editing and 3D animation. From there I jumped into a lot of Flash and website work.  I moved to San Francisco and was managing internet and multimedia projects at The Linus Group, a Bay Area marketing firm for a few years. I don’t remember exactly how I got involved with SEO there, but I’m fairly sure I heard the term somewhere, read an article or two about it and was immediately hooked.  And when I discover something new and interesting, I completely immerse myself.  I started doing SEO and usability projects on the side in addition to at work, and eventually decided I wanted to do this full time, so I left the company and went into consulting. 

I found out fairly quickly that I loathed working on my own, especially doing my own billing and my own self-marketing. I just wanted to focus on my projects and work with people I could brainstorm and bounce things off of, so less than a year later CNET called and asked me if I wouldn’t mind working at a place where a lot of the people have tattoos and piercings. A few days later I was their SEO Specialist. I worked with a small team there to build the foundation for their in-house SEO program (which I still check on regularly, as if it were a child I left behind). 

I got a voicemail at CNET one day from someone at Yahoo!, and I wrote the name and number down on a post-it that stayed stuck to my monitor for two weeks before I called back to find out that it was a Director of Business Intelligence calling to ask me if I was interested in a position to build an in-house SEO program there. I spent the next hour under a bridge in San Francisco on my cell phone talking out this opportunity with my potential new manager, and I decided I was capable of taking this on. A few days later I was at the fax machine in the copy room at CNET and one of my colleagues walked in, looked over my shoulder at the digital readout on the fax machine that was marqueeing "Sent to Yahoo!", and he said "Yahoo?! What are you sending to Yahoo?!"  I hadn’t mentioned the opportunity I was exploring to anyone yet. I resisted the urge to say, "Look over there!" and grab my papers and run. Instead, I just calmly said something like, "I’m an SEO – Yahoo is what I do".

It turned out Yahoo is what I would end up doing. I decided to take the offer and make the hour and a half round trip to Sunnyvale each day to dig in and get an in house SEO program started for Yahoo US.  I’ve been at it now for just a little over three years, starting with finding out who does what and what parts are where, and pulling all of those parts and people together little by little to build an underlying foundation to support long term search traffic implementation. I also work on leveraging search traffic acquisition and social media strategies in the Audience marketing mix, and I constantly attempt to educate everyone at the company who crosses my path. We’ve come a long way. I started off as an SEO Program Manager in Business Intelligence, and am now a Director of Technical Marketing in Audience Marketing, and the level of knowledge and implementation across the hundreds of people that I and my team work with in Yahoo Audience and around the globe has been improving visibly and through the data.  It’s a great feeling to know that our little team (along with the support of the international SEO managers – we have a great global SEO synergy at Yahoo), have been able to make a company-wide difference.

2) What’s the best way to achieve SEO buy-in from people who feel they have no vested interest in the process?

My first meeting at Yahoo was with a property manager for one of the largest and oldest properties at Yahoo, who said they had dome some SEO in late 2005 and it didn’t make a difference, so she wasn’t interested in SEO unless I had some way to change her mind.  I asked her what exactly she did, and how she knew it didn’t make any difference.  She told me they had done some minor code edits to various pages within the site and showed me a graph that showed unique visitors (from anywhere) at the property level.  So essentially, she was hoping that a couple of meta description and title changes in a few pages on their enormous millions-of-pages property would boost the uniques at the property level.  I saw that this was the case with many of the properties – they implemented code edits in some places, there was no search traffic strategy, and they didn’t have the proper data to measure search traffic success.  On top of that, we have a lot of people on the Yahoo network every day, and I soon learned that network traffic trumped the amount of traffic many properties were getting from search engines, so why focus on search traffic strategies and implementation when search drives such a small percentage of traffic to the site?

Enter Bill Hunt.  I saw Bill speak at a conference around the same time I was trying to figure out how to prove to Yahoos that search traffic was important.  Bill spoke directly to my issue, as if he had been sitting there in my Yahoo meetings with me hearing "Why SEO?", and I ran up to him and introduced myself.  He told me about the Opportunity Matrix he developed, and I went out and bought his book and studied his methods of persuasion. I had also seen Craig Hordlow present a similarly keyword-based matrix for balancing SEO and PPC recently, and I meshed both of those concepts into something that I could use here internally to get buy-in. You can check out some of the details from the writeups from when I presented it in detail for SMX Advanced 2008, but essentially this is what is at the core of getting buy in here:

1. Define your space: Create a keyword portfolio based on the space and demographics you’re going after.
2. Determine the Need: Gather search volume for those terms (a day worth of search volume could work, but I’d suggest getting as close to a year’s worth as possible).
3. Determine your Performance: Are you meeting the need? Meaning, are you getting a large amount of search traffic based on the search volume? Note: SERP CTR is important here – you can’t expect to get 100 referrals on a term with 100 searches.
4. What is it worth?: If you can, determine the amount of money you made from actual referrals vs how much money you could have made if you had ranked higher on average.
5. Find the Gaps & Opportunities: Gaps = terms with high search volume that you have content for but do not get sufficient search traffic. Opportunities = terms with high search volume that you do not have content for (but maybe you should).
6. Road Show: Make sure that once you find out your actual performance vs. your projected performance, you let key stakeholders know, and present a plan of action for them to take along with it.

You can also pull PPC vs Algo vs Paid Inclusion or any keyword portfolio based data you want, to show different stories for different needs. Dave Roth’s team here at Yahoo has taken this idea even farther creating tools to automate reports and tie competitive data and monetary values to it all for one of the most complete and useful measurement tools I’ve ever seen. I get giddy just thinking about it. But the crux of it for this buy-in conversation is the Opportunity Matrix part. When you go to an executive saying you made $X dollars last year but you could help them make $XX dollars on top of that this year, you’re more likely to garner interest, rather than just saying “SEO is important – you have to do it.”

3) Why does a search engine need to employ search marketing personnel?

I think I had the same question when Yahoo first called me, but it was apparent pretty quickly. Yahoo has a suite of content properties such as Yahoo! Sports, Finance, News, Real Estate, and dozens more. These properties, just like any other, include search traffic as part of their marketing strategies. And many of these properties are global, so what comes out of the original template needs to not only be translatable for other markets, but search-friendly as well.

Because Yahoo! Search is one of our company’s assets, that doesn’t mean we get to ask them for all of the secrets. We’re just like any other sites out there – we run PPC campaigns and we optimize our sites. If you think about it, it wouldn’t be fair for Yahoo Search to give Yahoo properties an algorithmic advantage. It would be bad for business, and we SEOs in the company understand and agree. Besides, it’s not really SEO if you’re not working for it – why would they need us? I created a 10 minute video on A Day in the Life of an In House SEO that shows the high level of what a typical day for a Yahoo SEO is like, based almost entirely on true events. Be prepared to be Rick-rolled, and enjoy!

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    Todd Mintz knows PPC...knows Social Media...knows SEO...knows Blogging...knows Domaining...and knows them all real well. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association. He is a Senior Account Manager for PPC Associates and is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association, and he can be found here on Google+.
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