Search-marketing Insights from Connect Search Engine Watch Conference

I recently attended the Connect Search Engine Watch Conference in Miami. The conference covered two tracks — “Engage with Organic” and “Innovate with Paid” — over two days. I spent my time on the organic track the first day and the paid track the second.

In this article, I’ll share my observations from the conference.

1. Local search optimization is strongly influenced by Google My Business, as Google Plus sunsets into Photos and Stream. Other key factors in local search optimization are as follows.

  • User behavior that indicates positive or negative engagement. A negative behavior is “pogo-sticking,” where users click on a search result, view the page, and quickly return to the search results.
  • External local referrals.
  • Social interaction — not the number of followers or fans, but how are they engaging.
  • Mobile-optimized: Responsive design is not the only answer.
  • On-page personalization.
  • Hierarchy, page organization, and URL pathways.
  • Site index size: how many pages rank vs. how many pages are indexed.
  • Page speed — i.e., load times.

2. SEO diagnostics and tracking important. SEO diagnostics need to be investigative, reactive (to negative changes) and proactive. Investigative focuses on technical — on-page and off.

3. Search result cards are a huge opportunity to dominate organic search results, as less and less organic space is available, especially on mobile devices. Search result cards can be knowledge-based, event-based, local-business based, and product-based. For example, the search query “how do i drive on icy roads?” produced a card with eight tips on driving in these conditions, pointing to a page from KSL Broadcasting in Salt Lake City.

4. Develop SEO to help searchers complete a task, to be most relevant in the searcher’s journey. For example, building a knowledge page to answer the question “how to hardwire under cabinet LED lighting” could provide useful information for people thinking about this type of project. But you could also provide promotions and coupons for manufacturers and LED lighting products.

5. All search is local search. One of the most insightful presentations was from BrightEdge, the SEO platform. The speaker stressed that every search is a local search, as competition is now even fiercer with just a “three pack” of organic local results showing — down from seven. However, since the search results shows websites, reviews, and directions, there are much better interactions if you are one of the top three.

6. “Near me.” Develop pages to answer queries that end in “…near me”. Google is increasingly autocompleting queries that could be applicable to local searches with the words “near me”, as in, “movie theaters near me,” or “oil changes near me.”

7. Monitor local citations. Website owners must constantly monitor their local-listing citations for NAP — Name, Address, Phone — consistency. Claim listings from leading directories — such as Yelp, Foursquare, Dex, Superpages, YP — to clean up data, remove duplications, and add content, such as photos and videos.

8. Avinash Kaushik, digital marketing evangelist for Google, was the keynote speaker.
I’m a huge fan of Kauskik. His speaking at this conference was one of my primary reasons for attending. I could write an entire article about his groundbreaking insights intomeasuring social media effectiveness by stressing conversion, amplification, applause rate, and economic value. I’ve addressed it here, too, at “Social Engagement for Ecommerce: How to Build, Measure, Improve.”

To summarize Kaushik’s presentation, demographic and psychographic data is much less relevant in the face of digital data, which reveals intent. In fact, once we do away with demographic modeling and marketing funnels, we can approach consumer engagement in an entirely different way.

Kaushik’s new model for determining consumers’ intent is See – Think – Do – Care.

Kaushik's model for determining consumers' purchase intent is See – Think – Do – Care.

Kaushik’s model for determining consumers’ purchase intent is See – Think – Do – Care.

  • “See” is the largest addressable, quantifiable audience. This is the awareness portion of your engagement with shoppers, the earliest point in their journey.
  • “Think” is weak intent, where the shopper may be considering your option, or competitors’ options, or other ways to complete their journey.
  • “Do” is strong intent, and where ecommerce tends to focus (the conversion). Merchants are typically good at optimizing for conversion, but not the early-stage engagement in the “See” and “Think” stages.
  • “Care” is the outreach to customers who have bought from you two or more times. This is the greatest opportunity for merchants to build meaningful and relevant relationships with their brand ambassadors.

Kaushik emphasized that each point in the customer journey requires a different kind of outreach. He dispelled the traditional marketing funnel that shoves all potential customers into one pathway and attempts to convert them through the small end of the funnel.

His approach is a different way to look at customer engagement, whereby merchants should develop content to address intent rather than an artificial demographic or persona. Advertising and outreach efforts are then aligned with each segment of this journey. Merchants should then evolve how to measure success, aligning their metrics with intent, as well as the desired business outcome.

9. Cross-device attribution. The speaker from IgnitionOne, a digital marketing suite, stressed cross-device attribution as one of the most important metrics in deciding how to arrange and optimize content. Last touch attribution is now woefully inadequate in the digital landscape of multiple devices, apps, and platforms.

10. Relevance to customers. Another way to rethink the funnel is in terms of your company’s relevance to your customer: You are successful if you get your content shared with your audience’s audience. I have addressed social sharing platforms, by the way.

11. Engage for the moment. The last speaker of the conference, from Fospha, a profiling and optimization platform, appropriately closed with comments about optimizing customer value by understanding engagement at that moment. Sophisticated digital platforms are now incorporating content engagement, real-time intent prediction, and “journey stitching” to create that moment.

These modeling platforms emphasize key engagement points:

  • Looking at behavior from the perspective of one silo makes sense until you look at the entire customer journey, which can change predictive behavior dramatically;
  • Model after the customer mindset;
  • Model across the entire customer journey;
  • Deliver real-time triggers for real-time intent prediction;
  • Start simple with your predictive modeling.

The recurring theme of modeling content and measuring for consumers’ engagement across their entire purchase journey was, for me, the biggest take-away from this worthwhile conference.


4 Fundamental Keys To Success For New Entrepreneurs


How many different articles have been written on being a successful entrepreneur?


If you’re reading this post, you are probably an entrepreneur who is serious about starting and growing your business. You’re well aware of the fact that it’s not easy to start a business. You may even be just starting out and you’re still trying to figure this whole “entrepreneurship thing” out.

It’s not easy, is it? It can feel like you’re trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle using pieces that have been scattered all around a huge room! Gathering these pieces and figuring out where they fit can be a challenge.

Figuring out where to get started can be an issue.

There are many things you will need to learn in the years to come as you grow your business. However, for the purposes of this post, the issue isn’t digesting every single little entrepreneurial lesson you can learn. The issue is learning some of the most important fundamentals to successful entrepreneurship.

When you read this post, consider how you might begin applying these principles in your own life. When you do this, you will see and understand how much easier it can be to build your business.


Perseverance is arguably the most important skill an entrepreneur can have. Without perseverance, no other skill or quality will matter.


Because perseverance will push you to keep moving forward no matter what challenges and obstacles you face. It’s absolutely crucial to your success.

Unfortunately, this quality is often neglected. People think it’s more important to possess smarts, experience and business acumen. Of course, these qualities are important. You have to have them in order to succeed. but the issue isn’t becoming a super entrepreneur. The issue is knowing how to push forward no matter what happens.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t know how to handle obstacles, all of your other skills won’t matter because you’re going to continually give up when things get rough. How many people have you heard of who have accomplished great things without going through numerous challenges?


When you learn how to persevere, you find that you are able to use your obstacles to propel you forward. You will see how tough you have become when you look back over the obstacles you have conquered. When you have grit, you experience greater success and more satisfaction.

Manage Your Cash Flow

You decided to become an entrepreneur, which means you want to build a thriving enterprise. Chances are, one of the main reasons you’re embarking on your entrepreneurial journey is because you want to create and build wealth.

However, when you’re building a business, it’s not only about making more money, it’s about building wealth by learning how to handle your cash flow. Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, what’s the point of making a ton of money if you just end up losing it?

There are oodles of tips and strategies for learning how to build and manage wealth. You could spend hour upon hour studying this subject (and you probably will).

But one of the things you will need to understand is where you currently are in your quest for greater wealth. When you identify the stage you are in on your way to earning more, you will see what you need to do to get to the next level.

You don’t want to ignore this part. If you’re not great at understanding the financial part of running your business, it’s best to hire a professional who can give you the guidance you need.

Become A Better Influencer

Yes, I know this is my favorite subject. If you read most of my other pieces, you will find that I’m passionate about the subject of influence.

There’s a reason for that.

I consider influence to be important because most of your life as an entrepreneur will be spent trying to get others to do what you want. It’s a reality you must embrace in order to accomplish your objectives. When you realize how important influence is, it can help you overcome most obstacles that stand in the way of your success.

Simply put, you can’t succeed if you don’t know how to move others to action. While this is true in every profession, it’s especially critical if you’re an entrepreneur.

You will need to convince prospects to become paying customers. You have to know how to motivate your team by persuading them to buy into your vision. You need to become better at negotiations with other parties. You may also have to know how to get investors to fund your business.

Here’s the good news. Influence is not a quality that one is automatically born with. Many people believe the myth that you have to be a “natural salesperson” in order to be great at persuading others.

I agree that there are certain personality traits that lend themselves well to the art of sales. I’d even argue that there are people who have these traits without even knowing it.

However, the reality isn’t that you have to be born with the right personality to be great at influencing others. The reality is that influence is a skill that can be learned and mastered over time. What do you think will happen if you were to commit yourself to learning how to influence others?

When you take the time to train and hone the skills you need to become a better influencer, you will experience a much easier time getting others to do what you want. You will see how it enables you to have an incredible impact on those you interact with. You will be glad that you took the time to see how learning persuasion could benefit your business.

Don’t Do It Alone

One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is falling into the trap of doing everything themselves. They believe that the only way to achieve success is to wear themselves out by trying to wear as many hats as possible.

They want to do it all themselves. They try to do sales, marketing, finance, website design, procurement, IT, and many other functions.

Sounds pretty exhausting, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

Nobody can wear all of these hats over a long period of time while staying sane.

This may work for right now, but eventually, you will need to rely on others to get the work done for you. The time will come when you have hire others who can wear these hats for you.

You need a team.

One of the key points to remember about building a team is that you need to hire people who are strong where you are weak. After all, you can’t be great at everything, can you?

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, don’t we? So the smart thing to do is to get people who are able to perform the tasks that you either dislike, or have trouble with.

Another thing that is important to remember is that you need to make sure the people you hire have the right attitude. Many hugely successful leaders will tell you that they prefer a great attitude over great skill.


Because you can help people develop their skills, but you can’t get someone to change a horrible attitude. Figure out the type of culture you want to build and bring on people who reflect the values of your culture. You will see how much stress relief you will experience because you were smart enough to have a great team supporting your efforts.


As an entrepreneur, you desperately want to succeed. You want to build an enterprise that makes an impact on your customers. This means that you also want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to set yourself up for success.

By implementing these keys, you will find that you will have a much more rewarding entrepreneurial experience. You will come to understand how awesome life can be when you’re building a wildly successful enterprise.


Scale – Here’s Why You Need To Scale or Go Out of Business


You’ve worked hard to get your business where it is, and maybe you’re okay staying small.

But I encourage you to consider what your brand would look like if it did grow.

Maybe you could afford to hire more employees, taking a lot of the workload and stress off of your own back. Maybe you could offer more products or solutions to your customers. Maybe growing would help you establish yourself as a dominant leader in your industry.

Whatever goals you have for your business, growth is the fastest way to achieve them.

Why Scaling is a Solid Growth Strategy

Now, I’m not suggesting that tomorrow you go hire five sales reps and an assistant, sign a five-year office lease, or double your inventory. Instead, I recommend that you scale your growth over time.

Scaling means slowly and deliberately growing your brand. As it makes sense, ramp up your efforts and make smart investments.

Even if you don’t think you need to get bigger, consider that, depending on what industry you’re in, the “little guy down the street” that you’ve been competing with is getting gobbled up by large corporations, and now you have to work twice as hard to compete with the same “small business,” now that they’ve got serious marketing dollars behind them.

And if you’re on board with growing your business but unsure that scaling (slow and steady) is the best way to do it, consider how many businesses have fizzled out before they had a chance to fit their boots. They were buying $400 office chairs and promising orders 5x the size of what they could handle without having money in hand. Just look at any number of examples of the Oprah Effect gone wrong: tiny businesses like Greenberg Smoked Turkey who are simply not prepared for a flood of orders, technologically or inventory-wise.

If you want to be ready and waiting for the next big opportunity (and hey, I’m with you, hoping Oprah will call), you have to have a plan in place for that rapid growth.

Areas to Pay Attention to for Scaling Success

Just like you’d need a plan for any part of your business, scaling and growth requires its own strategy. You need to be able to answer questions like:

  • Can our website handle extreme loads of traffic?
  • How many products can we turn around in a day/week/month?
  • How fast can we train new employees to accommodate heavy orders?
  • What have we done wrong when order numbers have been high?
  • How can we train customer service to facilitate more calls coming in?
  • What sort of technology would we need to scale?

Having answers to these questions is the first part of your plan. If you will need to invest a large amount to get your company ready to grow, build a budget so that you spread those expenses out over time.

Start looking for technological solutions that will grow with you. If you’re using cloud storage and/or hosting (and you should be), make sure your company offers flexible pricing to let you get the power and speed you need should you get a flood of traffic to your site (after Oprah calls, right?).

Scaling successfully requires seeing the big picture and being patient in getting there. It’s your best way to grow your business over time without the growing pains.


Early-stage VC investors dominate CB Insights top 20

Rebecca Lynn, co-founder of Canvas Ventures, who is among CB Insights’s top 20 venture capitalists. Photo: Jason Henry/The New York TimesRebecca Lynn, co-founder of Canvas Ventures, who is among CB Insights’s top 20 venture capitalists. Photo: Jason Henry/The New York Times

For the last few years, the spotlight in start-up investing has largely shone on those who poured money into a company when it was already well along on a growth path. It turns out that spotlight may have been misdirected.

While some investors are throwing giant sums into more mature start-ups like Uber and Airbnb at soaring valuations, it is the venture capitalists who identify a promising company at its infancy and bet on its growth who often come out on top.

Known as early-stage investors, they dominate a list of the top 20 venture capitalists worldwide that was recently created by the research firm CB Insights. About three-quarters of the top 20 are investors who put money into start-ups during their early rounds of financing. Only a handful on the list are focused on investing at a later stage in a company’s life.

CB Insights generated the list using criteria such as how big a return an investor was able to produce when his or her investments went public or were acquired. CB Insights focused on the performance of investors since 2008 for the list.

The top 20 includes Peter Fenton of Benchmark, who invested in Twitter when the social media company had only 25 employees and was trying to fix its once-common service failures; the company went public in 2013. The list also includes Jim Goetz at Sequoia Capital, who was one of the few to invest in the messaging service WhatsApp before it was acquired by Facebook, and Jenny Lee of GGV Capital, who was among the earliest investors in 21Vianet, a Chinese data center services provider that has since gone public.

The idea that early-stage investors can generate much larger returns has long been a core principle of venture capital: Get in early and grab a bigger stake in a company, with more opportunity for a larger return later, the thinking goes.

Early-stage investments have accounted for the lion’s share of the venture industry’s gains since 1994, according to Cambridge Associates, a research firm that studied the quarterly financial reports of dozens of venture firms. Since the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, between two-thirds and three-quarters of the industry’s returns have been generated by early-stage investments in any given year.

But the value of investing in a company when it is still nascent has been somewhat obscured in recent years as hordes of non-traditional start-up investors—including mutual funds, hedge funds and sovereign wealth funds—have piled into private tech companies, often when those start-ups are already proven growth stories. When Uber raised around $2.1 billion in December, for example, one of its investors was Tiger Global Management, a New York investment firm with a hedge fund component.

Rebecca Lynn, a managing director and co-founder of Canvas Ventures who is on the CB Insights list, said early-stage investments generally pay off more because “investors can get more of an ownership stake and you’re also part of the team”.

Lynn, who invested early in the alternative lending platform Lending Club, which went public in 2014, added that “later-stage investing is more like a stock bet. You’re along for the ride”.

Yet there is more risk in early investing, since unproven start-ups can easily fail.

“There are so many unknowns, from what the core business is going to look like to what the team is going to look like,” said Danny Rimer, of Index Ventures. He is also on the top 20 list, partly because of an early bet on King Digital Entertainment, the maker of the game Candy Crush that went public before being acquired by Activision Blizzard. (Rimer also invests in firms in their later stages.)

Early-stage investing has changed in recent years. The top-returning venture-capital investments in any given year were once dominated by just a handful of brand-name, early-stage venture firms. That has shifted: During the last decade, new venture firms have contributed to an increasing share of the best investments, according to Cambridge Associates.

New players have been successful partly because they have been more willing to put money into companies outside Silicon Valley, especially in China, where start-up success stories have been abundant over the last decade, Cambridge Associates said in a report last fall.

That has benefited venture capitalists including Lee and Neil Shen of Sequoia Capital, who made names for themselves by investing early in Chinese start-ups that went public: Lee in the social network and Shen in the Internet security company Qihoo 360. Shen is also on CB Insights’ list of top 20 investors.

“The tech market has massively expanded, and tech is now far more accessible all around the world,” said Theresa Hajer, a managing director at Cambridge Associates.

As more venture firms have snagged pieces of the top deals, more have also taken pieces of the return pool, lowering the overall gains for the venture industry as a whole. Before the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, huge returns of 25 times the original investment amount were the norm for the top investments.

Since that period, it has been much rarer for the top investments in any given year to yield a 25-fold return, according to Cambridge Associates data.

For the foundations, endowments and pension funds that have poured billions into venture capital funds, finding the right early-stage investor remains a challenge. Scott C. Malpass, the chief investment officer at the University of Notre Dame, said he could count on two hands the number of venture investors who could successfully identify which young start-ups would make the transition to lasting companies.

“I just want to be in the top two to three companies, not the top 100, because that’s where the next Google or LinkedIn will be,” Malpass said about his philosophy of working with early-stage venture capitalists. “It’s still a home run game.”