An Interview with Li Evans on SEM

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

An Interview with Li Evans on Social MediaToday I'll be talking shop with my friend and search marketing expert Liana Evans of Commerce360. Li is a well-respected veteran in our industry. She has been manipulating search engines as far back as 1996, and has plenty of great advice to offer in regards to developing and marketing websites via search engines and social media outlets.

An Interview with Li Evans on Social Media

Liana 'Li' Evans is the creator and main contributor to Search Marketing Gurus and has assembled a well rounded group of professional search marketing professionals to contribute to the blog. Li is also the search marketing manager at Commerce360, located just outside of Philadelphia, in Plymouth Meeting, PA.

Today I'll be talking shop with my friend and search marketing expert Liana Evans of Commerce360. Li is a well-respected veteran in our industry. She has been manipulating search engines as far back as 1996, and has plenty of great advice to offer in regards to developing and marketing websites via search engines and social media outlets.

I first met Li at this past December's Search Engine Strategies Conference in Chicago. I was walking through the hotel bar and happen to stop for a quick chat with some colleagues. Li came up and introduced herself and before I knew it I was wearing a joker hat on top of my signature FireFox cap - I had posed for Li's "HatBait" contest. Little did I know that I would later come to win that contest, become friends with Li, and begin writing for her SMG blog. Sometimes its funny how things come to play.

Interview with Li Evans

Hi Li! Welcome to my neck of the woods. I'm happy we're finally able to sit down and do this interview today. I appreciate your time!

It's been a world wind month! Packing, traveling, unpacking and making my apartment a place that I live in rather than just the place I moved too, has been time consuming. Thankfully that's mostly done and now I can actually fit two cars in my two car garage. I'm glad though you could work with my schedule to do this interview Karl, I'm glad to speak with you and your blog audience. :)

Let's start by having you share a little bit about yourself. What's your background, and how did you first became involved in search engine marketing?

When I decided to go back to school to attain my bachelor's degree, search was really starting to take off. I would be in the computer labs working on projects, I had a few odd ball pages ranking in Alta Vista and Lycos for odd things and trying to figure out why it did. My personality is very methodical & logical and the major portion of my background is highly technical - so I was driven to figure out how these "search engines" all worked, this was in '96/'97.

From there it just took off - I actually had professors coming up to me to ask me how I found what I did, or how I got things to rank.

Not too many people can say that they were able to get in on the ground floor of our industry. Can you share with us a little bit about Commerce360, and your position with the company?

Commerce360 is a full service online marketing firm. From strategy to analytics, paid search and natural search optimization, the goal of our firm is to drive quality traffic that converts and produces revenue for our clients.

My role as a Search Marketing Manager is to oversee all of the SEO work and other marketing channels that affect SEO. Those other marketing channels include Social Media and Blogging. I also work with the shopping comparison engines, figuring out which ones will work for our clients and helping to ensure that their feeds are optimized.

Online companies come in many different shapes and sizes, and sell just about everything there is to sell online. How would you describe the typical Commerce360 client?

I don't think we have one "typical" client, each and everyone of ours is unique, other than the main goal of wanting more revenue from their website. We have some clients where heavy word of mouth marketing is key to their success and paid search is just a drain on their resources. We have others where an affiliate marketing course of action works perfectly. And still we have others that a combination of both PPC and SEO is exactly what is needed to boost the qualified/converting traffic to the site. It's about analyzing each of our clients and understanding their market space - and then figuring out what works for them.

That's an excellent approach to this business. Offering a cookie-cutter solution, and expecting clients to fit the mold is certainly not the way to go. Let's talk about the SMG blog. I am a big fan of your "Search Marketing Gurus" blog and believe hat it is one of the better Blogs available. What is your overall goal with the blog?

Thanks Karl! It's always nice to hear people enjoy reading SMG! The overall goal of the blog is and continues to be to share with the community information, tips, ideas and news about Internet Marketing Strategies that can and do affect Search Marketing. We're not exactly a breaking news place like SE Roundtable, Search Engine Journal, or Search Engine Land, mostly because I've got a day job (that I love!) and do most of my blogging early in the morning, late at night and on the weekends.

The other writers help to expand in areas that I don't get nitty gritty into. Greg Meyers, who is also my coworker, really helps me round out the paid search and other areas that I might not delve into everyday. I've also added Michael Abolafia who is our resident expert in the Affiliate Marketing part of our industry, he's got some great insight that I certainly lack and is very willing to share with the audience. Then, of course, I've added you Karl!

Great! Well, I'd certainly recommend your blog to anyone serious about this industry. In fact, just recently you've started a Wednesday "Women of Search" interview series in which I enjoy tuning into each week. What gave you the idea to start such a series? What are you hoping to achieve with it?

Ironically enough I have Phillip Lenssen to thank for the inspiration, in a round about way. In a direct way, Kim Krause Berg was the other inspiration. Phillip wrote this article on Google Blogoscoped about popular blog posts and not one woman was featured. He claimed he did ask a woman, but she never replied (he also didn't name her).

Kim did a post about this, and when I went to look at the comments on it a lot of men were coming down on Shelley Powers for pointing out the lack of female representation. That's when I decided that someone needed to point out the great women in this industry and that they do indeed have blogs and are active marketers.

What I hope to achieve is to bring awareness that there are some really talented women in this field who are just as smart, just as talented and just as important as their male counterparts and shouldn't be left out because we are in the minority. And for the record, I'm not a "feminist"! LOL I just feel it's about time the women got some recognition. As Brandy Shapiro-Babbin says "I'm all about girl-power!"

Absolutely no arguments here. Lol. Well, in addition to SMG, what other things are you involved in to help share and spread SEO news and information?

I'm somewhat active in the forums and boards - you'll see me as "storyspinner" or "storyspinn" in those places. Mostly in HighRankings, but also occasionally in SEW, and once and a while WebMasterRadio (I'm LiEvans) for the Daily Search Cast. I find though I don't have as much time for it as I blog a lot these days.

Just about 2 weeks ago, my good friend Kim Krause Berg of Cre8asite Forums sent me off an email asking me if I'd like to be a moderator. I figured, what the heck, I love helping people and this was a great opportunity. I'm now the moderator of the SEO forum with Rand and Ron Carnell and the Social Media & Tagging forum with my good pal Chris Winfield of 10e20.

I'm also a speaker at Search Engine Strategies (SES) where I speak on the "Search and Regulated Industries" session, and the "Images & Search Engines" session. In fact, I just finished up speaking at London SES and now am slated to speak at NYC SES. Each one is unique and has a different audience, but both end up with people saying to me... "Wow, I didn't realize that, thanks for sharing that." That really makes your day when you know you've shared some piece of knowledge that can help someone else's job/life be a bit easier in the long run.

Speaking of SES, tell us a little bit about the "HatBait" project? It was certainly a big hit at this past December's SES Conference, and I think people really enjoyed themselves with it. I know I did! What were some of your goals for the project, and what do you think you've accomplished?

My goal was to meet people. This gave me an avenue I never had before, to do just that. I didn't want to pin anyone into saying they were a black hat or a white hat. I wanted people to have fun, and that we'd get to meet, that's why I had elf hats, cows, angels, and even a princess (yet another opportunity to plug for Princess Neil Patel). I also didn't want to exclude anyone and only go for the "A-Listers" (like Danny, Rand, Barry, Lee, etc) so to speak, that'd be so limiting! If I had done that, I would have never gotten to meet you, Karl!

Overall I think people finally were able to remember who I was and were glad to meet me (at least I hope they were), and they got to meet a few other people they might not have known before too.

It was a good time! Previously, you mentioned that you were now a "Social Media and Tagging" moderator. What are your exact thoughts on the subject? As a search marketer, do you feel that social media marketing strategies are worth venturing into, or do you feel the benefits are limited and therefore not worth the effort?

It all depends on your client. A nursing home probably has no need to been in Digg - its not their target market. But, the could have a blog aimed towards the children of their residents. Social Media is worth the effort, because it can drive highly targeted and relevant traffic to your site. It also can help to boost your website in the search engines.

The key really is, knowing which channel of Social Media will work the best for each of your clients.

Does Commerce360 offer or have plans to offer Social Media Optimization solutions? As the benefits of Social Media campaigns continue to grow... do you think more and more companies will begin to adopt SMO strategies?

We don't define Social Media as a "service" you can buy "ala cart" so to speak. We bundled that into the SEO offerings and look at it from a strategic point of view.

If it makes sense to offer it to our clients, we'll present it, but we don't go to every client and say "you've got to do SMO, it's the newest, greatest thing!" That's the entirely wrong approach for how we structure our relationships with our clients. It's a true understanding of what our clients business models are and how we can better enhance their bottom line with online marketing.

Having worked in the Search Marketing field since 1999, what do you feel are some of the biggest misconceptions floating around today?

That the general public has figured out what Search Marketing really is. Inside our own "world" here, our fishbowl so to speak, we all know that Title Tags help. We all know a linking strategy is important - this is easy stuff for us. But ask your neighbor, or the small business that's a carpet installing service - they have no clue, and are only just realizing that the internet is likely more valuable to them than a yellow page ad.

Wow... I like that a lot. I've asked that same question a couple of times in my past interviews and have never liked an answer more. You hit the nail on the head! With regards to SEO strategies, there are obviously many that one can implement into their SEO efforts. Which do you feel is the most important?

I don't think there's "one" thing for every client. Each client of ours is in a diversely different market, so what works for one client, doesn't work for another. So with that in mind, the strategy I always employ is constant, in-depth thorough research for each client. Knowing the competitors and knowing the market space are critical in planning SEO strategies.

In general though, basic on-page optimization (title tags, bold, relevant content) in conjunction with an organic linking strategy are the best building blocks.

Which do you feel is least important?

Most of the Meta tags like "author" or "revisit". The meta keyword tag is "almost" useless, I utilize that for keyword misspellings I don't want in my content, which if it's not that competitive does help on occasion, but forget about it for competitive terms. The only meta tag that is of some value - and not even SEO-wise, is the description tag. Writing a description of your page is important in order to let the searcher know exactly what they are going to find on the page. When you tie that together with your title tag, you have a powerful way to get a marketing statement across (for free).

That's a great tip for my "do it yourself" readers and I certainly couldn't agree with you more. Utilizing your description tag to promote your company's marketing message is very beneficial in almost every way possible. What other general tips can you offer? What about tools and resources? What are some of those that you use religiously that you would recommend to others?

TRELLIAN!! I'm a big fan of their Keyword Discovery tool. David, Hilton, Larry, Becky & the rest of the team have such a great product. Anyone that asks me, it's the first words out of my mouth.

We also have some in-house tools that I've helped to improve or develop that we use in our research and strategy methods.

I also consider WebmasterRadio one of my biggest resources. What Brandy and Daron have created is a wonderful source of information, great ideas in a fun format to obtain. Plus I also love hearing Danny sigh, sing and rant all in a 20 minute span of time.

Trellian has a great keyword research tool, and I too consider WebmasterRadio and their shows to be very resourceful. With this industry being capable of growing very quickly and into places not yet foreseen, where do you see our industry being 5 years down the road?

Five years is a long time in this industry, so it's really tough to see that far in advance. Heck there was a time where "3 months = 1 year" on the Internet. Where I see things going though is to personalization and socialization. It's all about "me" and "what I belong to".

We can see the beginnings of it now. Most widgets appeal to the personalization and the displaying of "me" or "what I like" and sharing that with others. Just look at the MyBlogLog widget - it satisfies two "me's" - "Me" the blog owner (look who's been to my blog) and "Me" the reader (oh look there's my avatar in "lights").

Let's assume that the industry does move in a more personalization and socialization state. Where do you see yourself and your company being at that time?

I'll probably be still knee deep and hands dug into developing internet marketing strategies for our clients. I'm really a hands-on, type of person, I love to "do" and then "see" the results. Perhaps I'll oversee the implementation of the strategies developed for our clients.

As for Commerce360, I see us as a major player in the industry, but distinguishing ourselves by having a partnership with businesses, rather than just being seen as a resource they call when their rankings drop. My CEO, Lucinda Holt, is a true visionary and the plans for Commerce360's future are really amazing! I have every confidence that Lucinda's vision for C360 will come to fruition.

Very cool! Ok, one last question and then I'll let you get back to work. What can the search marketing industry expect to see from you and/or the SMG blog in the near future? Any major projects or happenings that you'll be involved in?

More "weekly" type columns. I'm hoping that maybe I can look at how all the politicians are utilizing Search Marketing to their advantage or disadvantage. Perhaps some more interviews, too! Projects wise, I've just taken on moderation duties at Cre8asite forum, for a new forum on Social Media & Tagging as well as their SEO Forum. I'm also going to give Barry a hand with blogging the session at SES NYC this year.

Great! Thanks, Li! I think we were able to put down a GREAT interview, and I want to thank you for sharing your search marketing insights with us. Your time is very much appreciated!

Thanks for taking the time to ask me all these questions Karl, it's probably been more beneficial to me than you know. It's been a pleasure chatting with you.

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