SEO will never die and here’s why

At this point in my career, I think I’m *starting* to get old enough to where I frequently begin see the same questions crop up, as in “is SEO dead?” and it’s many variations, every so often.

Lately, according to the data, SEO, at its core is rising in popularity:

Google Trends: Interest in “Search Engine Optimization” as a topic increasing over time.

Why? Well, one theory is that earned media (as SEO is also known) is more of a cost effective channel that’s worth investing in (especially in these types of economic times where costs are rising across the board.)

But, SEO is not free. It’s an investment.

If I may, I feel Search faces the same scrutiny as other enduring mediums, those of art or comedy. It got me thinking as, on this particular Sunday, I was watching John Stewart’s acceptance speech for the Mark Twain Prize at the Kennedy Center.

It struck me because, in a way, I could see many parallels between the medium he was referring to at the time (comedy) and that of SEO.

For context, here’s the full speech.

Jon Stewart acceptance speech 2022.

For the skeptics who keep asking “is SEO dead” let the record show Jon Stewart Googled it (the Mark Twain award), and he said, “it’s real. It’s a real award.”

He didn’t look it up on Snap, TikTok or Insta. He Googled. Google’s Search product is still very viable and likely will be for some time.

In that regard, I’ll leave you with a few quotes that resonated with me from his speech:

The first is personal.

“You’re not your circumstances. You are not what happens to you. You are what you make of it.”

Jon Stewart on his mother exemplifying work ethic

I love this so much. Get up. Pull yourself up as much as you can. Fight on. More than what you think is in your control.

And this one relates to my profession.

His entire acceptance speech about the art of comedy is endearing but the part that I feel pertains to what I’m talking about here, specifically about SEO, starts at minute 7:38.

Especially:

“What we do is an iterative business. It’s a grind. It’s work. The best amongst us just keep at it. “

Jon Stewart

I did a lot of informational interviews coming up to learn where I should go and how I should spend my time. In that interview process, someone once told me about himself in the industry, “I’m in the right ballpark but I haven’t found my seat yet.”

In a dynamic industry like SEO, you will always feel like you’ve never reached the top; you’re never really an expert. That’s a good and bad thing. Good because the pursuit of knowledge is needed in an ever changing discipline, but bad (not helpful mentally) in the sense that what you do or know is never enough.

“When you’re a comic. you look in a room and 200 seats are facing one way. And there’s one stool and it has a light shining on it. And you walk into that room and go, “That’s gonna be my chair. I’m gonna sit in that one. And you spend the rest of your career trying to earn that stool.”

Jon Stewart

<<and a min epiphany goes off in my head>>

Since SEO is AKA earned traffic, we as professionals tweak things on a website from technical to content and wait to see if Google likes it and rewards it with higher rankings.

You spend your career trying to earn the spotlight, the stool Jon is talking about in comedy. For SEO’s it’s earning the preverbal top positions 1-3 of Google’s organic listings that get the most visibility and subsequent clicks.

Jon goes on to say,

“Some nights, you don’t even belong in the club…but you get back at it because, there isn’t any fixed point in comedy where you make it or you don’t make it. It’s the journey with the greatest friends I could ever possibly have made”

Jon Stewart

That resonated too. I probably know a handful of the OG’s in the SEO industry. But it’s also the type of industry to where, if you reach out to someone openly, you’re apt to get a genuine response and/or piece of advice from those that have gone before.

Here’s why I believe SEO will never die (READ: everywhere Jon says “comedy” replace it with “SEO”):

“and there’s a lot of talk right now about what’s gonna happen to comedy…’is comedy going to survive in this new moment?’
Now, I’ve got news for you, comedy survives every moment.”

Jon Stewart

And so will SEO. Because just like we all need an outlet, humans are naturally curious. They’re going to search for answers, insights, entertainment or whatever – you name it – on whatever platform suits them at the time. The only question is (as a business), do you want them to find you there?

If so, you need SEO.

In closing, I leave you with my interpretation of Jon’s closing thoughts:

“….it’s a reminder to us all that what we have is is fragile, and precious. And the way to guard against it isn’t to change how audiences think, it’s to change how leaders lead.”

Jon Stewart

Think about that: How leaders lead.

What that means to me is that every SEO Manager or leader in an organization or individual consultant role has an obligation to try to reach the upper echelons of leadership to inform and educate them as to what SEO does and is.

It’s a marketing channel that needs to be nurtured, continuously, over time, in order to deliver dividends over the long term.

If you are someone who has a voice in SEO or is developing your own voice, I hope you will continue that message.

Lastly, as you climb, don’t forget those under you who support you or lead in to your introduction.

What I Learned As a Product Manager Launching A UGC Campaign

What an incredible opportunity! Where do I even start?

That’s 90% of what I said to myself as I sat back down at my desk inside the 14 story building in downtown San Francisco as the SEO Product Manager at Macy’s Technology after having been given the assignment from the new VP of Product to “relaunch and reimagine our user generated content experience (UGC)”…on the Macys.com homepage no less. No pressure 😉

Let’s backup a bit. It was 2019. I was just hired onto the Macy’s Tech team in the Product organization. Let that just sink in for a moment: Macy’s. The company that has produced the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade we grew up watching every year, the iconic staple of American fashion with department stores all across America – little digital me now gets to contribute to the brand’s success online.

In many ways working there was a whirlwind and toned down version of the movie The Devil Wears Prada except slightly less stylish as I typically opted for practical office attire (i.e. jeans, a blazer and riding boots) to balance my Bay Area commute and daily meetings with cross functional partners across engineering, legal, finance, merchandising, to site operations.

This particular assignment was to harness the power of the Macy’s brand UGC. Simply put, it meant tapping into the opportunities when people would upload a picture of themselves to social media platforms and tag official Macy’s handles in the post. The idea behind the campaign was to create new excitement and brand awareness around user generated content specifically through a sweepstakes component where 5 monthly winners were awarded a Macy’s Gift Card.

What I learned as a Product Manager launching a UGC campaign for Macy’s

tl;dr below are my learnings as a new Product Manager in an enterprise organization

  1. Define the product early on, asking, “what problem is this solving? Who is it for?”
  2. Always define an MVP (b/c that may be the only version you release).
  3. Once it’s live, be ready to pivot and adapt to the feedback inputs from your audience (we learned that unfortunately, people don’t read. Directions that we thought were perfectly clear were still misinterpreted).
  4. Even big brands need advertising to help educate and excite customers to action (esp. when launching a new product).
  5. Confluence is your friend (it helps keep all stakeholders informed).
  6. You’ll never get everything you want (don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good).

My goal in documenting some of the on-the-job experience I’ve been through as a Product Manager is that it helps others evaluate if product management is right for them. In many ways, Product is like SEO; the best way to learn about it is by doing it. Through experience, reflection and cultivating relationships with great mentors in your career along the way.

In this scenario, I was a Product Manager operating in more like a project manager capacity for a few reasons:

  1. This initiative came directly from leadership and was time sensitive (it was a 6 month pilot where an MVP needed to be live before the major holiday shopping season. I got the assignment in July).
  2. The build and launch process was very condensed and highly unconventional which meant that success largely meant quickly wrangling resources and hammering out operational efficiencies to support this feature.
  3. Since it was Q3, this initiative wasn’t on anyone’s roadmap so we had to be very resourceful acquiring internal resources. There was no reliance on the broader engineering or design teams. Broadly speaking, the path to launch was to use an existing third party widget and inject it onto the homepage.

So, with a very small but effective team, we found a way. I hope my journey helps others develop their own courage to always find a way through the challenges every PM faces on the road to delivering customer-facing features.

Here’s a snapshot of the concept brief

Product brief for the #MacysLove challenge, 2019

This is basically all of the information you get as the designated Product leader responsible for bringing a concept on paper to life digitally (I guess, when it comes to a product for Millennials, who better to lead the charge than a Millennial herself?). In a nutshell, the most exciting part about being a Product Manager is that you get to collaborate with a team and build something together that solves problems and/or delights real people.

Throughout this process, it was clear to me that what we were able to accomplish together meant that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

Insight #1: What problem is this solving?

It’s nuanced but in reading the brief, you can see how those words led to this product launch being positioned as a contest. Well, come to find out, there is a definable difference between “contest” and, we learned, a more inclusive definition of “sweepstakes.” At the time, internally, we thought a contest would be the best way to create awareness and excite brand advocates to participate. It was also just the term used when giving the elevator pitch about what this product launch was all about.

Looking back, I am so glad I was able to work with an existing vendor that was experienced and patient with me. Their SOW involved drafting the sweepstakes rules and regulations and hosting the page itself. They advised me that most fashion brands fundamentally steer clear of hosting “contests” and instead opt for “sweepstakes” because that structure means the brand doesn’t have to formally define what a quality submission means.

It also allowed us to more quickly define the entry rules in three basic steps:

  1. Put an outfit together using clothes in a Macy’s store reflecting your take on that month’s theme (no purchase necessary).
  2. Take a picture of yourself in the outfit.
  3. Upload it to social media and use these two hashtags X and X.

At a fundamental level, the shift to a sweepstakes structure helped to open up the judging criteria to become more inclusive. Meaning the brand could court digitally savvy, Millennial shoppers without getting stuck in defining what was and was not a quality entry.

Insight #2: Always define a feature MVP

That’s Minimum Viable Product. Why? Because, pro tip, there are always numerous external factors at play for any business and, as a result, the MVP of your feature may be the only version you have time to get launched.

One of the aspects you learn as a Product Manager navigating inside of a large organization is how much time it can take to build, iterate, A/B test, launch and refine a customer-facing feature. Especially when the stakes are high and it’s basically your job to get it right.

You also learn that a lot can change during the course of a year in enterprise orgs that impacts your team’s ability deliver. There can be leadership changes, teammates that resign or new ones that come on board etc. So, one of the things you learn when you’re leading a big product release that spans multiple months is to break it into stages, starting with an MVP.

It’s especially important to do this if your development teams are operating on a holiday e-commerce cycle that includes a code-freeze period whereupon nothing is released into production (the live site) during the major holiday shopping period between November and December. Plan to be able to launch prior to this dark period.

At the very least, if you can release the MVP of your product, you get a chance to “test and learn” to see how your product performs in the wild. More specifically, you get actual performance data on how consumers interact with your product. It is invaluable information that can inform the next phase of improvements that get released.

The Macy’s Love landing page

Insight #3: Once it’s live, be ready to pivot

I can’t tell you how many times we reviewed the copy on the landing page for grammatical errors, design, brand alignment etc. But once the page was live on the site it also never ceased to amaze me how many photo submissions we received that were against the Ts&Cs (terms and conditions).

We saw plenty of entries we simply couldn’t approve: group shots, ones with under age kids, or people leaving off the second hashtag (which was literally part of the criteria for consideration). Other submissions even had another brand visible in the picture. At one point it felt like no one bothered to click the link and read the rules.

As a team, this was a customer input where we continued to refine the copy on the landing page towards the desired result.

Another lesson learned as we rapidly approached the “now it’s live, now what” phase was defining and securing commitments from the appropriate cross functional teams to support the feature and its upkeep. At the time, we were very much building the plane while flying it which meant Product & Site Ops temporarily owned and operated the feature until a more formal BAU (business as usual) operating plan and owners were defined post holiday season.

March 2020 Macy’s Love landing page

Insight #4: Even when you’re a big brand, advertising dollars help drive awareness

This is especially when you’re launching a new product. Hindsight is 20/20 and my documentation of my journey will hopefully help secure more resources and budget for another Product Manager overseeing a similar campaign.

At the time, we had no flashy, expensive ad campaign to promote the product launch. In fact, it was launching amidst the busiest time in e-commerce, the 4th quarter, holiday shopping season.

Try as I might, all budgets across social media, marketing teams etc. were either spent or committed. I think the most I was able to get was a few organic posts from the social media team (like, 1 post per month). That’s not nearly enough volume to generate any kind of awareness for a brand like Macy’s, let alone at scale.

Here’s my point, don’t be fooled that just because you’re a big brand your customers know exactly how to participate with your campaigns. It’s also a fallacy that big brands have all this money and resources to support every initiative assigned to a Product lead. The reality is, my Product pretties, sometimes we are asked to be scrappy and resourceful.

Brand terms can drives thousands of organic visits but, a campaign that’s overly reliant on brand searches alone will not succeed without the help of supporting marketing channels to educate the consumer on how to participate. The bottom line from SEO is, search is not a demand creation channel. It harnesses and captures existing demand.

Google Trends data comparing search terms: brand “Macys” vs. the new modifier, “macys love”

Organic traffic alone doth not a successful campaign make.

No alternative text description for this image
Every SEO PM needs this book: Product-Led SEO by Eli Schwartz

If I were a Product Manager that didn’t know about SEO, I might have really tanked on delivering KPIs like visits and engagement because, as I mentioned this feature was being resourced, built and released in Q3 which means there was no supporting marketing messaging to direct customers to our sweepstakes landing page.

But as an experienced SEO professional, I figured I should at least leverage the basics of internal linking to improve our circumstances. Our feature was not linked to from the main, drop-down menu (global navigation) which meant the primary link was from the macys.com homepage that received roughly 40M/yearly unique visitors. Even though data showed customer engagement decreased the farther down the page one scrolled, a link from the homepage carried a lot of search equity in the absence of advertising.

I cannot discount the help and advocacy of my VP of Product at the time here; she was instrumental in negotiating with other internal stakeholders for placement on the homepage across all devices. The initial ATF (above the fold) placement lasted for about 10 days. After that, our widget moved to the bottom of the page, BTF (below the fold). In many ways, being able to secure actual real estate on the Macys.com homepage was tantamount to ad dollars for this campaign.

Now, that, in and of itself, was by no means a wholistic SEO strategy but, in a pinch, it was an opportunity for our little landing page to receive an incredible amount of link equity because of the mechanics of how website architecture works. The alternative would have meant that the sweepstakes page would have been an orphan page because it wasn’t properly linked to from any, more authoritative pages within the site. In SEO speak, orphan pages mean no one can actually find the URL unless they navigate to it directly or the link is in another marketing channel (i.e. an email confirmation or social media post).

Had we we continued to run the campaign, I would have had to advocate for other, stronger Category pages to be internal link advocates to the campaign landing page. This would help flow link juice to the sweepstakes page that was otherwise not well linked to from an overall taxonomy perspective and also was not architected to contain SEO optimized content that could have enabled it to rank well organically.

Again, SEO, the art of being found online meets Product Management, the art of getting things shipped. 🙂

Insight #6: A Confluence page is your best friend

A well maintained Confluence page will help you keep all of your stakeholders informed anytime they want to see or know the project status. It’s also an invaluable time saver because its your curated repository when you need to report out on monthly performance.

When the project concluded, as a PDF, it was 20+ pages long! It was built out over the course of the project. Below is a rundown of what the Confluence page included for this feature (tip: it can be a template for others):

  • Project overview, table of contents (before launch the hypothesis statement was also here. After launch and we had user data it moved to the bottom portion)
  • Action items & Next Steps
  • Current creative/mock ups & hyperlinks to relevant pages in production
  • Action items – MM/YYYY (tip: make this a grid so that each team is represented)
  • A separate grid for any issues you’re running down on the technology/vendor side
  • Key contacts (Title, Role, Name, Email)
  • Product operating guidelines
  • Bottom portion: What did we learn, Top-line KPIs, Monthly callouts, ROI/Estimated financial benefit (6 months & 1 year projection), creative/design versions.

Insight #7: you’ll never get everything you want (don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good)

Here’s the thing; none of this was perfect. But the feature was launched on time (and, I daresay, near perfect because it didn’t have to be rolled back!). Along the way we figured out how to dial in the analytics aspect and ongoing ownership within the social media team.

In the case of a condensed timeline, we measured baseline KPIs like Direct and Associated Visits & Revenue.

In a perfect world we’d have a wholistic picture of the customer journey from arrival to cart to checkout. You can’t improve what you can’t measure but, in this case, I had to prioritize a bias towards action of our MVP.

Sidebar, your Honor, may I approach the bench?

To those leaders fearful of UGC,

It’s probably a good time to remember that real people are not models. Yes, product imagery should always try maintain a high brand standard, but it is, after all, a UGC campaign. User Generated Content. Which means the content comes from the very people who love and buy our products. It’s not a glossy magazine ad free of imperfections. It’s raw and real.

Our real customer deserves to see him/herself when they choose to shop with us.

I think there’ still a lot to unpack here but my hope, as I continue on the product path, is to help brands to embrace digital technology and create more places for UGC to thrive because billboard models do influence our aspirational perceptions but not everyone looks like a runway model. Retail stores are not filled with beautiful models buying the clothes on the rack. IT’S FULL OF REAL. PEOPLE. With all body types and sizes.

UGC is its own beast. I understand it can be a scary space for brands because they’ve worked so hard to cultivate the right brand positioning in the customer’s heart and mind. But, I say build a great experience on your .com site where customers can share their experience and let the true fans embrace the brand. People love when they can take something that resonates with them and make it their own.

Mobile experience – Macy’s Love Sweepstakes

In conclusion if I could do it over again…

Everyone always wants more resources. Be it time, money or teammates. I would’t change the team I worked with (I’d only add more helping hands). In terms of time, I would have loved to have been able to plan ahead and allocate at least 3-5 months of planning time to align internally with the proper stakeholders (maybe target a soft launch?) and refine everything leading up to the campaign launch. If it were up to me, I’d allocate marketing dollars (at least $5-15K/month for 6 mo.) to advertise the campaign across promotional channels to build awareness using email, social media, print, radio and streaming TV.

In a way, no matter how many more resources I might have had, UGC can be a big pill for any established brand to swallow. Yet it should not be ignored. I hope this post has illustrated how much of a bear it is to define, launch and manage this type of feature but there is a lot of power and opportunity in leveraging content from users because it’s basically a steady stream of authentic, creative attributed to a brand.

No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of authentic, online signals pointing to a brand’s O&O (owned & operated) domain.

Any brand that wants to keep a pulse on what its users truly want should tap into their UGC, invest in it, and reward it from time to time because consumers are the lifeblood of any business.

Unless businesses start accepting chickens or bitcoin (!?) as alternate forms of payment, I’m fairly certain customers will continue to vote with their wallet$.


If you read this far, you get a treat: data! I’ll share what KPIs I can. The below data is for the 6 month (Aug-Jan) UGC pilot where there were roughly 11M visits to the Macys.com homepage where this feature lived BTF:

  • ~16K total Visits to the product landing page
  • At a 2% average conversion rate
  • Contributed to ~400 orders (where AOV was estimated at $107.00)
  • Revenue benefit to the business for this feature was est. $1.8M (annualized at just over ~$2M).

Thanks for reading my post! I’d love to know what from my experience resonated with you. Tweet to me @millertime_baby

The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a previous representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.

Super Bowl LVI 2022 – Advertising Roundup

Let’s be honest, without Tom Brady, we’re all really just here for the commercials. 😀

It’s one of the biggest days in sports. I’m always fascinated by the brands that advertise during one of the most expensive televised events and the marketer in me enjoys watching for the mix of supporting digital channels (i.e. social media) during the game time.

Some quick audience stats:

  • More than 184 million US adults plan to tune in to the game, per the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics. 
  • When asked why they tune in, 21% of consumers said that the commercials are the most important part, according to the NRF. The game is most important to 40% of viewers, and the halftime show comes in at 18%.
  • According to NBC, multiple 30-second commercials were sold for $7 million this year, up from the $5.5 million CBS sold for the same amount of ad time in 2021. NBC noted that rates are up 20% since 2018 and that 40% of the game’s advertisers are new this year.
  • Brands looking to advertise during the game should be mindful of generational differences in viewing, said Margaret Johnson, a partner at GS&P, told the Los Angeles Times. “You’ve got your boomers and Gen X, who are definitely locked in and watching the commercials as they are running live on TV. But then you’ve got millennials and Gen Z viewers, who are a little more distracted. They’re multitasking. They’re on their phones. So you need something for everyone.”

More than 30 advertisers will be making their Super Bowl debut this year.

eMarketer article, “Super Bowl ad spending shows event remains crucial for brands”

“Industries that struggled during the first year of the pandemic are making a big return. Automakers such as General Motors, consumer packaged goods manufacturers like Procter & Gamble, and travel agencies including Kayak have all bought ads for the game” (eMarketer).

IMHO, these were the best Super Bowl ad spots of 2022

Coinbase

I award full creative points to the early ad spot by Coinbase for this gem. Yes, I was one of those people who took out her phone and scanned the QR code, why not? I wanted to see what they had to offer. The landing page was nothing to write home about. I learned later, the technique was so popular that the app itself crashed. That’s probably a good reminder to all product teams load or stress test your app especially when you know it’s going to be accessible to 184M eyeballs and mobile phones at a given time.

Google Pixel 6

Google Pixel 6 Super Bowl commercial

This one aired during the 3rd quarter of the game and really caught my eye. The creative agencies for Google are top notch. This commercial advertised a feature of the device that is both relevant and relatable to consumers.

Toyota – Keeping Up with “The Joneses”

A fun and memorable way to market an established car brand especially to this type of broad viewing audience.

BMW – electric car

Another known car brand, I loved this commercial too but noticed how it was much more targeted to an older demographic.

Rocket Mortgage & Homes

A tip of the cap to the creative minds behind this commercial, with the housing market on fire this past year due to the Pandemic, I think this ad resonated with a lot of folks out there.

Amazon Alexa – Mind Reader

It always helps to have one or multiple recognizable celebrities in your ad to make viewers more interested in watching. This one was fun because both Colin and Scarlet had recently gotten married and it’s way more interesting to get to see what an overly attentive listening device would be like for these newlyweds.

Doritos & Cheetos – Flaming hot

This has a couple key classics: cute animals, a whimsical situation, it’s set to a memorable piece of music, and features tasty products a lot of people are likely consuming right now!

Lays – Stay Golden

Let’s just keep riding the snack train. Lays dropped a really fun ad for their product using celebrities and a hilarious scenario reminding us to Stay Golden.

Jurassic World Dominion – Theatrical Trailer

I mean, who ISN’T excited to see this (final?) installment of Jurassic World?

Hellmann’s – Food Waste

I thought this one was kind of random but I ended up liking it as it progressed. Again, celebs, especially one’s in the current spotlight are a key ingredient for a highly watchable ad during a time when attention spans are very short.

Budweiser – A Clydesdale’s Journey

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for horses and dogs (especially golden labs and retrievers). I love that Bud kept the theme of their stars having an unspoken connection (it’s also brilliant because the story is very easy to follow especially if you’re at one of those loud Super Bowl parties where you can’t hear the commercials). If you remember, in previous years, their Super Bowl ad spot featured a Clydesdale horse and a puppy. In a way, since they first aired this duo in their campaign of “Best Buds” in 2014, the puppy has grown up. The Budweiser commercials have always been on the heartwarming side and message that came across to me in this particular ad was encouraging and inspiring: we’re all always on a journey and even if/when we’re down, we’re not out of the game. With time, rest and support from those in your corner you will get back up again.


That was fun! Let’s do it again next year!

Brand building in the digital era

The following is a recap of my responses to questions that were provided for a Twitter chat I participated in with Wrk.

As marketers we know there are no “quick wins” when it comes to marketing in the digital age. Trends and best practices are changing every single day. This makes building and differentiating your brand even more difficult.

Overcoming marketing challenges in the digital era

Question 1: In the digital age, how would you say our role has changed and transformed overall from merely promoting and selling products when it comes to building a brand? 

As a marketer, when you’re promoting or selling products, you’re solving a need or customer pain point. A product is something your customers own. But a brand is bigger than that, it’s intangible ownership; it’s an outlook or lifestyle that your fans and followers are a part of.

Fundamentally, selling is different from brand building activities because building is by nature inclusive; you’re finding like minded people and creating a space for them to come together and a collective identity (your brand) to rally behind.

From an operations standpoint, it largely depends on where you “sit” within the org & whether or not you’re part of a marketing team. Are you a brand builder focused on awareness and activation activities in the market? Or are you on the product team focusing on delivering a great user experience when customers are shopping on your site or app?

Question 2: In today’s digital era, what are some of the biggest challenges that marketing professionals face today that they’ve never had to overcome before? 

I don’t think the obstacles have changed that much as much as the focus has shifted to place more prominence on the message being delivered. 

I heard this at the AdWorld conference recently by Ryan Deiss (and I’m paraphrasing)  the marketers mantra has been: right message, right time, right person. But today, the effort should be placed on the message. Meaning: the message itself has now become more important than the medium because brands can basically leverage any medium they want to reach their audience. It’s the message that needs to stand on its own.

I think today consumers expect a lot more from brands they spend money with. I’m part of the Millennial group – and we especially – expect the brands we back with our dollars to give back in a meaningful & measurable way, to demonstrate actions to eliminate things like climate change, or to to act more sustainably. Consumers expect brands to use their resources to make a difference for current and future generations.

Question 3: There is an old saying in the industry: “The medium is the message,” which means the forms of communication (or media) used to deliver information significantly impact the message. Does this still ring true today in the digital era? Why or why not? 

I think that’s flipped now: the message is now the most important component because mediums are largely a commodity.

There is so much opportunity to reach the right audience(s) with things like automation and paid search but if the message itself doesn’t resonate, it will get lost in the noise.  

Question 4: Technologies are advancing at break-neck speed, and while it can be a challenge to keep up, there are also unquestionable benefits for #marketers everywhere. What types of tools are helping you build your brand digitally today? 

I’m a search marketer at heart so I like any tool that can tell me what people are searching for, what time of year they’re searching for it, and what words or questions they’re using to find what they want.

I use a variety of tools that show me metrics like search volume and/or trends over time. Some of the paid tools are Google Keyword Planner (Google Ads) and SEMRush. The best free tools are Google Trends, in particular because it shows Search Interest over time for keywords or topics, and KW Finder that can be added to your Internet browser as an extension. Other tools I love and use are AnswerThePublic.com, which tells you what people search for and the words they use. For audience insights, I like SparkToro. I use Glimpse for discovering trends before they take off.  

Question 5: Now more than ever, it’s vital that marketers unite online to share insights and ideas. What are some digital channels that you use to stay connected?

I think marketers should dabble in lots of different digital channels to stay up with what’s going on and to learn what others are doing and to see where people are spending time. I pop in and out listening to topics in Clubhouse or on Twitter Spaces.

I subscribe to a handful of newsletters. My rule of thumb is that information you consume as a marketer should help you get a read on things in 3 ways: what’s going on internally for your industry, what’s happening externally and a high level view of the trends in the broader marketplace.  Here’s what I mean: in the SEO industry, I subscribe to a handful of newsletters like #SEOFOMO and Marie Haynes Consulting – Search News You Can Use, a few external sources are DTC newsletter and Ann Handley’s newsletter, and sources that are going to help me get a broader marketplace perspective (my go-to currently is CNN’s 5 Things daily newsletter).

What sources help you stay connected? Tweet to me at @millertime_baby.

What I learned from improving a website’s header navigation: the road to page 1

This post is a short case study on an in-house initiative I began with my new team in January implementing recommendations from our agency to increase the number of URLs in our header navigation. I’m fortunate, as the acting SEO Manager, to benefit from the previous SEOs who have overseen the site and laid the foundation for growth.

For additional context, below are a few business stats:

  • The business does about $1M in revenue and there are roughly 2 million product SKUs (and growing) in the appliance parts vertical.
  • The Clicks & Impressions trend (over 6 months between Oct-March) is approximately 9M Clicks and 140M Impressions.
  • Even though it’s an e-commerce site, peak seasonality is more closely aligned to the spring and summer months as opposed to the typical Q4 retail holiday season. In any case, I’ll keep this one short because it’s more about sharing the findings and observations in the 3 months since implementation.

I can’t take full credit for this; in my current in-house role I’m working with a very strong technical SEO agency, Merkle, and this project had been part of their recommendations for our site. I will, however, take credit for shepherding the initiative and driving the implementation and launch with our cross functional teams. This project was one of the early stage technical initiatives on our SEO Roadmap because it’s the kind of SEO investment that has early stage results and pays off in the long run.

It’s the best of both worlds and I’m excited to be able to share the early results.

SEO product feature statement:

The issue was there were no links in the header for Googlebot and users to easily discover our best pages.
If we increase the number of links from 32 to 140,
then, we will increase the number of unique target links to pages with a high Search Volume making them more visibly accessible to our users and discoverable for Googlebot.

Implementation timeline

Sorry to disappoint, but I’m going to skip over how many sprints it took to implement the updated header nav across devices because, in reality, each team and its respective resources is different. Suffice it to say things always tend to take a bit longer than you’d like, so plan accordingly and communicate often to leadership as well. Pro tip, try not to release any big feature going into the weekend (especially a long holiday weekend); release it on your typical cadence (ideally mid-week) because that allows you to have the core team available during the work week to revert any changes or fixes that were missed and slipped through the QA cracks.

Ok, let’s FF (fast forward) to the results.

Early Results & KPIs


We did it! Now what?

This is what I like to call the “the hurry up and wait” part of SEO. In this scenario, we launched the feature in late January. Our SEO project KPIs were to…

  1. Increase the URL Rankings of these pages.
  2. Increase Traffic (Visits) to the site.
  3. And yes, as an e-com business, also impact Conversions (Sales).

SEO Rankings

As a best practice, the industry standard is to allow at least 90 days before seeing SEO results because you need to allow for Googlebot to come back to your site to crawl and index your site to discover (and subsequently begin to rank your pages) after the changes. As of April, we’re about 70 days in and here’s what we’re seeing:

You’ll notice in the charts below it was pretty exciting to see within the first few weeks the anchor text keywords and associated URLs began gaining rankings on page 1 of the Google SERP.

I’m most excited about this chart since it tracks the progress of our top selling products:

Check out the fluctuation the week of March 1st! Phantom gains?!

This chart highlights the top brand names we carry (based on demand AKA Search Volume):

This section fluctuated the most: the pages themselves resemble a collection of products for a category like “cookware.” In this group there were roughly 9 URLs that just never gained traction.

SEO Traffic

In terms of traffic (Visits) to the site, typically I like to should show a pre/post level of Traffic on each URL so that we can compare apples to apples. But in this scenario, I can share the Traffic results as such:

Post launch, roughly 70 days until now (the early part of April), the new URLs in the header nav are contributing 35% of site Visits. This excludes items that existed in our header nav that we intend to maintain (staple links like “Your Account” and “Orders”). None of the new URLs were previously in the header nav so that’s an additional 35% of traffic on top of the URLs that were contributing, on their own, roughly 56% of Visits. Not a bad return.

What didn’t work

As mentioned earlier there were 9 URLS within a general accessories type of category that seemingly never picked up any traction in terms of rankings. Internally, we drew up a few ideas and hypotheses about what might be occurring but in the end it came down to a business decision to remove the links due to the upcoming seasonality.

In any other scenario where those pages were valuable to the business but were underperforming, I’d recommend a test and learn approach. Especially if those pages drive some amount of business revenue. In our case, the business cycles in and out of its seasonally relevant products.

Conclusion

Because it takes time to realize and see SEO results, it’s important to prioritize the foundational improvements that can have the biggest impact (improving things like site architecture, internal linking etc). You’ll need those early wins to build credibility with internal teams and within the organization to demonstrate that Natural Search traffic, among the other marketing channels, is a viable contributor to the business bottom line.

It reminds me of a line from the movie Moneyball between characters played by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. In one scene, Hill says, “your goal should be to buy wins.” Well, fellow digital marketers, we cannot buy the SEO equivalent of wins which one could argue are page 1 rankings, but we can invest in doing the right things, consistently. In the movie, the duo hedge their bets on building a team of players that “get[s] on base.”

That, my dear marketer, is why I wrote this small snapshot of our project as an SEO case study. To show you that you can “get on base.”

A small professional confession

I had some pretty bad imposter syndrome writing this and deciding whether or not to publish it because there are some very smart and talented SEOs that could probably get a better or faster outcome than I did. But here’s the thing, (“you know nothing, John Snow.”) every team and company or client has its own dependencies from internal resources, tech stack, legacy site issues, internal process & communication, to technical implementation etc.

Under my watch, I’m proud to say we launched it and we’re seeing early positive results that will inform future iterations of this project.

Now over to you: What are your thoughts or what have you done differently that produced different results? Tweet me or leave a comment below.

The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.

How to win friends and influence people online

3 Tips to not shoot your brand in the foot doing Influencer Outreach

I don’t need or want to spend too much time on this but I began noticing a pattern of bad influencer outreach emails and wanted to give my perspective to brands on how not to mess up your outreach.

Tip #1: Don’t automate outreach emails

I received an email inquiring about a sponsorship collaboration with an international e-comm brand. It wasn’t something I was interested in at the time but this was their subsequent reply:

It made me wonder who I could have been doing business with. So I took a quick look at their website. In particular, their company return and refund policy. Wow.

I’m pretty sure someone copy/pasted this from another website. I don’t know many e-comm brands that sell VHS tapes but it’s a safe bet this one does not and will not make a profit from VHS tapes.

Tip #2 Have a reasonable, upfront return policy

Why? Let’s get some data in here to illustrate.

A study by eMarketer found the reason why 60% of internet users hesitate when shopping online: poor customer service.

“Nearly 3 in 5 internet users worldwide are concerned with bad customer service when deciding to make an online purchase from a brand,” that’s a lot of opportunity to show the customer their business is valuable to your brand.

Tip #3: Establish a clear influencer FAQ page or affiliate program

We can’t all be Amazon but we can take a page from their Associates page. Your brand should take the time to outline clear expectations and compensation terms for participation as an online influencer, ambassador or affiliate. Ground rules are always appreciated.

When Googling “instagram influencer template” you’ll find the SERP is full of outreach templates, obviously, but my point here is, templated “collaborations” are an oversaturated approach to growing your brand.

If a brand wants to build a meaningful group of real people who in-turn deliver real revenue and growth to the brand the approach needs to be authentic.

Otherwise, in the words of Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” brands are making a “big mistake. Big. Huge.”


The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Women In Product 2019 – Conference Recap

This is the second product conference I’ve been able to attend this year. In particular, the Women In Product conference (WIP) is unique because it brings together women in leadership positions across many different verticals who are doing or leading product initiatives and provides a relatable perspective to other females navigating their career as product leaders.

I feel it’s important to have a conference that’s focused on females in product management because not many young girls think about becoming a leader when they’re young. They’re much more prone to thinking about how to fit in.

Women In Product conference sponsored by Intuit and Macy's

Snapshot of Women In Product 2019 

This one-day conference was primarily for females whose jobs title is product manager. Though there were a few male attendees as well. What follows are insights, tips and inspiration that will help any individual in a product manager role.

Who: Women In Product (Twitter: @womenpm)
What: More than 2,000 product leaders gathered to celebrate the role and contributions of women product managers in the field.
Where: Hilton Union Square
When: Tuesday November 12, 2019

Why: it was an opportunity to connect with other female product leaders, learn from and inspire each other.
How: the day was structured around morning keynote speakers, afternoon breakout sessions and concluded with an evening mixer. Food and beverages were provided throughout the day.

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 5.20.27 PM.png

Product Manager Skills – Top 10 Tactics & Wisdom

  1. Speak up for yourself & ask for what you need for your You may not always get what you want but you will start an important conversation.
  2. Think about the customer journey. Always keep in mind the end-to-end journey you’re solving for. It will help you solve for the right things. Ask yourself: Is there a simpler way?
  3. We’re builders who can change the world; use what “sucks” about a situation you personally have experienced once to inform how to make things better.
  4. Have empathy for the non-normal user; in their world, the small things that drive you crazy can really add up.
  5. Diversity in teams & companies is essential because there is value in having different perspectives that reflect the unique makeup of markets and cultures across the globe.
  6. The concept of giving people honest feedback (straight talk) should come from a place of good intention and caring about their professional development.
    1. Even if it’s a difficult conversation, we owe it to those we lead to give context and feedback that can help make someone better.
  7. Everyone has a super power. Step 1: find yours. Step 2: Tap into it.
    1. “Often, the thing that’s yours is what’s easiest for you.” Lucinda Newcomb Walmart VP of Discovery.
    2. She suggested you can find out what it is by asking other people.
  8. “You can adapt your roadmap to reality. You cannot adapt reality to your roadmap.” Lucinda Newcomb, Walmart VP of Discovery.
  9. A good PM knows the market, the goal of your users, defines target user, defines what needs to be built to achieve company goals (Amanda Richardson, EIR at Goodwater Capital).
  10. Career advancement: leading product like a GM is great experience for becoming a CEO (Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty).
    1. Think on behalf of the company. Get in front of what customers need from your product; think about where their world is going?

Becoming a Product Manager – These were some of the best stories

Theme #1: Let’s own our power & use it well

The fireside chat was with fashion designer and creator of the wrap dress, Dianne Von Furstenberg.

What I found interesting about her success was that it was accidental, but all the right ingredients came together. “When I created the wrap dress, all I wanted was to be a woman in charge” she said. “It’s almost always about function: ‘what if I had that? Or that?’” Essentially, her product was very practical and easy.

In spite of success, she remained humble. “Every successful person should feel like a loser at least twice a week. Only losers don’t feel like losers.” But this is a careful tightrope to walk. She also advised against berating yourself too much, “If I doubt my power, I give power to my doubts.”

When asked “who do you design for?” DVF said, “I design for the woman in charge.” She went on to elaborate on her manifesto of being #InCharge.

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 5.24.44 PM.png

She also generously offered attendees an EMAIL to send her ideas and feedback inCharge@dvf.com.

By sharing her own insecurities and challenges with things like imposter syndrome, DVF motivated us with her commitment to the 4 pillars of her manifesto: Connect, Expand, Inspire and Advocate.

“The only thing you have 100% control of is your character. You can lose your health, family, money, freedom, but you can always own your character. That is the core of your strength.” DVF

In “Advocate” she tapped into the essence of the super power within us all saying, “We all have a magic wand. The more you use your wand the more magical it becomes.” For Dianne, it means using her connections. She makes the first two emails of her morning about connecting two people.

Theme #2: Let’s turn our super power (of launching products) on ourselves

My second favorite story was from Jimena Almendares, VP Global Expansion at Intuit. She combined her insights from conversations with various mentees into a practical application of running our own lives as product roadmaps.

She published her talk “Run Your Live Like A Product Roadmap” on LinkedIn Pulse

While the titles of PM’s vary from company to company, what is consistent is the skill of planning and getting things done. Her basic premise, “if it works for the products you launch, it will work for you”.

Her three takeaways:

  1. Life roadmaps don’t follow linear development.
  2. Just like in business, your True North is what matters.
  3. It’s ok to launch, fail, learn and pivot.

 

Psychology of Product

Kristen Berman, co-founder of Irrational Labs, spoke on the concept of behavioral design. She laid out a simple illustration of what customers say one thing and do another. Some companies have over 90% of employees saving for retirement. How did they achieve this? The secret is the form employees fill out when they first get hired; they’re enrolled by default.

There are three types of questions org’s ask: The past, future and why.

  • People tend to underreport things done in the past. Why? We want to give socially acceptable answers. And, we just forget.
  • The future (what will you do): they’re imagining they’re ideal self.
  • Why: tend to be the most misleading questions (why do you save for retirement? b/c I want to save for my future. Reality: auto enroll)

If you can’t trust what people say, trust their actions.

Top Tactics for Product Managers

As a product manager, the role often sits at the intersection of business, technology and design and involves coordinating the efforts of teams across the organization in order to bring a product into the marketplace.

For most product managers, their background is varied. The path to becoming a product manager is developed and attained over time based on other skill sets acquired.

The most difficult part of the job can be deciding which idea to pursue out of a sea of great ideas. What’s needed is the skill of creating business cases and rigorous product review cycles to surface financially viable opportunities.

What follows is the tactical and practical applications to try. Requires understanding the exact environment and how a person could react. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

5 Areas to address in a product review

Anytime you get to talk about your product: do it. It’s good for your product & for your professional advancement. Below are the top 5 areas any product review should cover:

  1. Vision – describe the vision & the features
  2. Problem – address the problem we’re solving (use real customer examples that demonstrate the problem)
  3. Goals – what does winning mean or look like? What are the KPIs?
  4. Roadmap – identify what’s critical to execute first (list the MVP features delivered). Roadmaps need to be in partnership with tech delivery teams. Do not develop them in isolation.
  5. Input – be direct & clear with your manager about where you want feedback.

Lastly, here’s a practical exercise for getting perspective and seeing what you might be missing in the product you’re trying to bring to market: grab a trusted partner and actively try to disprove that we’re right. Often we’re so close to something that we don’t see the “gotchas” so actively taking time to figure out what you could be missing is a helpful exercise.

Working the booth

IMG_4416.JPG

I spent the first part of the day (ahem 7:30AM-9AM) on the exhibit hall floor at the Macy’s booth.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to represent the Product team and educate attendees about what “Macy’s tech” (the digital arm of macys.com) does operating out of the corporate digital offices in San Francisco.

 

The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.