An Interview with Matt McGee on SBM

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Monday, November 19, 2007

An Interview with Matt McGee on Small BusinessesToday I'll be talking shop with my good friend Matt McGee who is the author of the Small Business SEM blog. Matt writes on search engine marketing and specifically the do's and don'ts of small business marketing. Matt is SEO Manager at Marchex, and has guided successful projects for clients of all sizes and budgets, with special emphasis on traffic acquisition via organic rankings.

An Interview with Matt McGee on Small Businesses

Matt McGee is SEO Manager at Marchex, a local search advertising and publishing company in Seattle. He's guided successful projects for clients of all sizes and budgets, with special emphasis on traffic acquisition via organic rankings. Matt is a speaker on the Search Engine Strategies and Search Marketing Expo conference circuits, and a frequent contributor to several SEO/SEM forums. He writes about search marketing at

Today I'll be talking shop with my good friend Matt McGee who is the author of the Small Business SEM blog. Matt writes on search engine marketing and specifically the do's and don'ts of small business marketing. He and I first met at SMX Advanced Seattle back in June, but we've known each other on the web since well before that. I am very excited to interview Matt as he will no doubt provide a lot of value to my small business readers.

Interview with Matt McGee

Hi Matt... welcome to my blog! Sit back, relax, and let's talk a little shop, shall we?

Hi Karl, let's do this! :)

For those readers not familiar with you and your blog, please share with us a little bi about yourself. How did you first become involved with search marketing, and more so small business marketing on the web?

Excellent question! I worked for nine years in a small web development shop where our entire clientele was small businesses. That started in 1997, and somewhere around 1999 or 2000, our clients started realizing design was only half the equation - you had to market what you designed. Search was in its infancy at that point, but I found Search Engine Watch and became fascinated by the potential for acquiring traffic from search engine users.

And, how about the blog? What first inspired you to begin writing a blog on small business marketing?

Todd Malicoat made me do it! Well, that's mostly true, but a little background might help:

At my previous job, I wrote a weekly newsletter that our clients loved, but it never really got much traction in the wider search industry. Meanwhile, blogs were becoming the main tool for people to establish themselves as authorities and get clients and/or new jobs. That last part was important to me because, as much as I loved my then-current job, it was about 25% search marketing and 75% web design. I wasn't a great web designer, and wanted to do search marketing 100% of the time.

I was kinda friendly with Todd via the forums, and emailed him about SEO careers and my SEO/web design dilemma, and he just laid it out for me. He gave me a great pep talk about having to get over my dislike for networking, about how some self-promotion is necessary to advance in any industry, and how I had to leave my comfort zone. It changed my life. I started Small Business SEM right after that. I wrote a Guide to Local Search that Rand Fishkin featured on SEOmoz, and that led to my first speaking gig at SES San Jose 2006. And having the blog helped me get my current job, which I love. Needless to say, I think a blog is a powerful tool.

When I started the blog, I was still at my previous job, so writing for small business owners made sense because that's what I knew. And it was also pretty obvious that very few other search bloggers were specifically addressing SEO and PPC for small business owners. I was just trying to fill a niche that seemed open.

Very interesting indeed. Looking back to those early days in 1997, how have you personally progressed as a small business marketer?

The main thing is that I'm much better about recognizing what needs to be done and communicating that to a client. There's no replacement for experience in our industry. The more projects you work on and the greater variety of clients you work with, the more you learn about what works. So, at this point in my development, once I learn the client's current situation and future goals, it's easier to create a plan. I'm sure other search marketers would say the same thing. Progression happens by just getting out there and doing it.

That said, I still have a long way to go on the technical side of things. I've never been a programmer, never been a system admin-type person, so I still need to get smarter about things like implementing redirects, IP targeting, and so forth. There's always more to learn.

I couldn't agree with you more... experience is everything in our industry. With your years of experience in the search marketing field, what do you feel are some of the biggest misconceptions floating around today?

Wow, we could probably go for an hour on that question. :) With small businesses, I think there's a general lack of good information, and unfamiliarity about where to get good information. A small business owner that manages to find Search Engine Land or Search Engine Watch is lucky. I think a lot of small biz owners get their SEO information from unsolicited emails, from friends and relatives that do web design, and so forth. So it's easy to have their heads filled with misconceptions.

Examples would be the obvious stuff: misconceptions about what PageRank is, about the value of trading links, about how search engines work, and so forth.

Matt you bring up some very good points. Much of search engine marketing is simply knowing where to get your information from. Places like SEL and SEW are ideal. In regards to SEO techniques and strategies, there are obviously many that one can implement into their SEO efforts. Which would you recommend as being the most important for small business owners?

Whether it's a small client or a larger company, I always recommend picking the low-hanging fruit first. In some cases, rewriting on-page copy or changing a Page Title can have an almost immediate and dramatic impact on rankings and traffic. And then, especially with small business owners, once you can show them some results, it's easier to get them to buy-in on some of the more challenging aspects of search marketing - like social media, blogging, etc.

Beyond that, obviously local search is incredibly important for most small businesses. And there's so much opportunity there right now, but it's also incredibly time-consuming because you have so many local search sites where your business listing needs to be added and monitored.

Which do you feel is least important?

I don't know if a blanket statement is possible on that question. There are probably a lot of small businesses that don't need to devote months to crafting some amazing piece of linkbait - a smaller link-building effort might be all they need, depending on how competitive their industry is. Likewise, I think it's probably a waste of time for most small businesses to spend six months playing on Digg, trying to create a "power user" profile. It's all about getting most bang for the buck - and the buck can be measured in either time or money.

Very sound advice... thank you for that. Matt, I'm glad you mentioned the idea of using Digg as a marketing tool. You are very active on social networking sites, and so I think your opinion on the subject would be extremely valued. Do you feel that social media optimization strategies are worth venturing into, or do you feel the benefits are limited and therefore not worth the effort?

I'm a big believer that small businesses can and should use social media as part of their online marketing arsenal. But, you have to be smart about it. I think most small businesses would benefit mightily from a blog, and that's a great way to get your foot in the door of social media. Once you're blogging, then you can take advantage of StumbleUpon and other bookmarking sites as traffic sources. I've written a lot about Flickr and Yahoo Answers, which are pretty high on my list of social sites that might work for a small business. These are all things that can be implemented fairly quickly. Even producing videos for YouTube can be effective without requiring a heavy investment of time and money.

Well said, Matt. What other advice would you offer them in regards to jump-starting a small business online? What about tools and resources? What are some of those that you use religiously that you would recommend to others?

For the D-I-Y folks, I always recommend reading one or all of these books:

  • SEO Book by Aaron Wall
  • Small Business Guide to Search Engine Marketing by Jennifer Laycock
  • SEO: An Hour a Day by Gradiva Couzin and Jennifer Grappone

I think you also need to set aside some time every day, or maybe every couple days, to reading the top search blogs. If you're really pressed for time, there's probably no better way to keep up than by reading SearchCap.

And for tools, I hope you'll let me take the easy way out: I wrote a post not long ago called "A Beginner's SEO Toolbox" because I was always giving out this list to clients, and figured it would be easier to have a post to send people to each time.

Your "Beginners SEO Toolbox" post is a fantastic read. I encourage readers to check it out. Moving forward, there is no question that search marketing is a forever fast-moving industry with elements often at times going well beyond the search engines themselves. I believe social media optimization is a testament to that. In your opinion, where do you see the search engine marketing industry being 5 years down the road?

First, search engines are moving toward becoming "answer engines." All of the search engines now offer answers and information right in the SERPs. Just look at Universal Search where you get the video right in Google listings or you get the map and directions without having to visit the business' site. Yahoo has its "shortcuts" and also provides some great information right in its own SERPs. This is great news for searchers but maybe not for business owners. If I'm the owner of an information-based site, I'd be concerned about this trend.

Second, the number of "information points" in the bridge between a customer and a business will continue to grow. Traditionally, the bridge has always been simple:

Customer --> uses search engine --> finds business website

But now, thanks to social media and local/social sites, it's becoming more like this:

Customer --> uses search engine --> finds business listings on Site X --> reads customer reviews --> maybe visits business web site (maybe not)

Your "findability" will happen in a lot more places. So it won't be enough to just have a great web site on your own domain; you're going to have to manage all these additional information points. So, for a business owner, this means "SEO" will need to happen in a lot more places - it's not just about your site and the search engine.

Wow... you bring up a really great point. With Google's Universal Search, we're starting to see where being listed elsewhere on the Internet, for instance on YouTube or in a Google local listing, is helping companies to outrank well-optimized / relevant websites. In your opinion, what are some of those local / social sites that small businesses should become active with?

David Wallace wrote a great article a little while back about using social and local sites to own your business name and reputation, and I'm a big fan of that idea. The more times you get your own page / listing appearing in someone's search results, the better off you are. So I encourage clients to, at minimum, sign up for all the appropriate sites, fill out the account profile, and at least have that page in your control. For example, my personal Flickr photo page is now a PageRank=5. We all know PR isn't the be-all, end-all, but that's a nice little bullet to have in my pocket.

Beyond that, what you want to do is try to piggyback on some of these successful local / social sites. For example, your industry and location may make it difficult to outrank sites like CitySearch, Superpages, or Yelp for your primary terms. But if you're active on those sites with an updated listing, you have a chance to get some of their traffic when people find them in the SERPs and then see your listing (or advertisement) on the local / social page they click through to.

Going back to my previous question of where we might see the search marketing industry being in 5 years... where do you see search marketing for small businesses being in 5 years time? How do you think they'll adapt to the ideas of Google's Universal Search and other similar changes in search?

For the most part, I think it's going to be a lot more difficult. Fortunately, for small businesses with a geographic target audience, I think local search marketing will improve dramatically between now and then, and that aspect of search marketing will be very heavily embraced.

Geographic targeting and local search do seem to improving much these days, especially with the latest push in mobile searching. With the recent success of the Apple iPhone, in addition to other popular Internet-ready mobile phones and devices, how do you think mobile searching will ultimately affect how small businesses market themselves online?

I've never been a fan of mobile search because trying to use the Internet on the phones I've owned has been like drawing blood from a stone. And then the iPhone came out, with web browsing that looks and acts just like what we're all used to, only smaller.

I still think it's too early to say anything really intelligent about mobile search, though. If the iPhone becomes the dominant device, or if other phones adopt the same user experience as the iPhone, then mobile search won't be all that different from regular search. The one exception would be on the impact side, where mobile search can and should really speed up adoption of local search marketing.

I have to agree with you there. I wasn't much for mobile search until I was introduced to the Apple iPhone. Personally, I love the idea of having Google Maps right there at my finger tips. Well, Matt, that's all the questions I have for you today. You are officially off of the hot seat and free to go. But, before you do I'd like to take a second and thank you for your time and for sharing with us all your insights into the world of small business marketing. For those of you who enjoyed Matt's thoughts on small business marketing, believe me when I say that he offers much more quality advice over on his Small Business SEM blog. If you haven't already, be sure to check it out. Thanks Matt.

Thanks for the great questions, Karl. My pleasure.

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  1. Excellent interview!
    By Anonymous Anonymous on November 21, 2007

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