An Interview With Ken Walker and Victoria Edwards of Linkshare
This week we had the pleasure of interviewing both Ken Walker and Victoria Edwards of Linkshare. Victoria works at Linkshare as an SEO/Internet Marketing Specialist and Ken is the Web Producer and Dean of LinkShare University.
How did both of you get started in the Internet Marketing industry?
Ken: I bought a book on HTML 1.0 for $14 in 1995. With it I co-founded a website development company out of my apartment. We started partnering with several advertising agencies, becoming their outsourced web team. We started adding SEO and other marketing services and within a few years grew to become one of the premier Internet Marketing firms in the Tampa Bay area and serviced both top national and international companies. I came to LinkShare through a chain of acquisitions.
Victoria: In 2006 I was hired by a custom fixture company to assist with their marketing efforts. Realizing they had a website, but no real valuable content or ease of navigation, I decided to take it upon myself and redesign the site. Not knowing how to redesign a site, I began doing research and stumbled across HubSpot, which had a great CMS which was easy for the non coder to work with. I redesigned the site and through HubSpot’s methodology, began learning SEO and social media.
Realizing SEO and especially social media was my passion; I began researching it on my own after work hours. Knowing I needed to be in the industry in order to learn more and to succeed with what I loved to do, I found LinkShare, one of few companies in Tampa who had Internet Marketing as a position.
What are the benefits of using an agency for Internet Marketing, versus doing it in-house?
Ken: Agencies build teams with advanced skills and specific expertise. They can leverage these teams for clients who often do not have the resources to build them in-house.
I’ve always believed companies should focus on their core competencies. Their marketing departments should be looking at crafting and maintaining the company brand and maximizing their customer’s positive experience with that brand. By leveraging the expertise of outside agencies to assist in strategy and implementation, they get the benefit of advanced industry experiences while still focusing on the customer.
For example, when we work with companies in areas such as social media, we provide the strategy, guidance and expertise but we always involve the company in the implementation. Social media requires ongoing customer contact. I believe it’s important for companies to maintain ownership of that customer interaction. It’s the single most important thing any company can do.
Victoria: Hiring an agency will be of great benefit because SEO and Social Media require a lot of time and effort. While agencies should not be the voice of the company they’re working for, they should be able to provide the appropriate key performance indicators and education. Being in the Internet Marketing industry, the top item one has to consider is time management. We feel we are able to properly assist with prioritizing what is the low hanging fruit for the client and then build up from there. Without proper time management and organization, a client can become overwhelmed with what is a priority and end up wasting a lot of time on something that will be of little benefit.
What kind of challenges do larger companies face when they do their marketing in-house?
Ken: Tolerance for failure.
Our industry changes quickly. Because agencies work with many clients they are on the cutting edge of these changes, often driving them. A large part of their resources are put into understanding the industry and experimenting with new techniques and strategies. In-house departments often don’t have the latitude or resources to try out-of-the-box ideas. Failure is usually not seen as a growth strategy. Good agencies dedicate time and resources to this kind of failure. They can then help use this experience to develop winning strategies for their clients.
Victoria: Not staying current in ever changing trends.
This industry is a fast one and without staying current it will be hard to adjust efforts. An company which does its Internet Marketing in-house would tend to have a non-peripheral view and at times will achieve ‘analysis paralysis,’ unable to see the light at the tunnel because they are so hyper focused on their industry, rather than their industry and Internet Marketing perspective.
What qualities should a company look for in an SEO agency?
Ken: Do they listen? I’ve sat in on so many agency pitches where they spend all this time outlining what they are going to do for the client and they have never even asked a single question. I’ve also seen the other end where the client has specific objectives, spends the time to outline them in detail and the agency gives their standard pitch that doesn’t address their goals at all. They forget the “service” part of customer service.
SEO is not a one size fits all solution. Agencies need to take the time to understand what your company is specifically trying to accomplish with an SEO campaign. Yes, everyone wants rankings, but a good agency will spend the time to find out more specific, actionable and measurable goals as well.
Victoria: Are you going to be able to speak with someone immediately in regards to your SEO and social media efforts? Is the client getting educated by the agency?
I feel I get the first inquiry often when speaking with people who are looking for SEO and or Social Media assistance. Certain companies have the tendency to just send a report with no real explanation and expect you to hand over the money. I am a big believer in educating the client while moving forward and like to work closely with the client. If the person at the other end understands what I am doing and why, they in turn to feel more in control and more educated.
In the life-cycle of a traditional SEO campaign, is it difficult to get everyone on board in terms of what needs to be done? i.e 301’s, design changes, changes in content, page titles etc.
Ken: Absolutely. When a client comes to us with an SEO initiative it rarely has complete buy-in from all the departments required to make the campaign successful. A big part of our initial engagement with clients is helping them navigate their corporate/political structure (and sometimes circumventing it) to get all the required teams on board and to build a sense of urgency. The key is building a solid process in advance, with input from each team. A strong process with key player contribution makes adoption much easier.
Victoria: YES YES YES!!!! Being in my position, I rarely am involved with the birth of a site, but rather am pulled in when the site looks like that spaghetti in the back of your TV…ya know where your DVD, cable box and receiver are all hooked up, but don’t go back there or you’re in trouble? Well that’s how I feel sometimes with a new client. Once our audit is complete we then go in and find out that items cannot be changed, so we then have to re-evaluate what can be done that will provide the most benefit. I almost feel that 301’s, design changes, changes in content and so on is in fact the MOST difficult for companies to change, but once again, I feel is a priority in order to get the best benefit in moving forward in regards to SEO.
What are the Key Performance Indicators you use for both SEO and Social Media to measure a campaign’s success?
Ken: We use a variety of KPIs to show progress in our SEO campaigns. Some of these include back links, content pages, pages optimized, page yield, and even keyword position for some clients. These show clients the work being put into their campaigns. At the end of the day it really boils down to visitors, conversions and ultimately, revenue. That’s where the rubber hits to road and we can really show our value.
As for Social Media, results KPIs are harder to quantify and will vary from client to client. We see social media as sharing the same strategy goals as those of branding and public relations with some key differences. Social Media allows you to “broadcast” your message but only to those who have actively engaged and allowed you to do so. Often our KPIs will include relationships created and brand name mentions. While these are important, what really sets Social Media apart from other branding exercises is its ability to create direct relationships with customers. Social Media, by its nature, provides companies a platform to engage their customers and potential customers one on one. Those engagements go a long way in building brand loyalty. KPIs centered on these engagements are vital.
Victoria: It really depends on what is involved and what the client’s goal is. Sometimes defining the goal is the hardest step. Do you want to increase brand awareness? Do you want to increase your fans across Social Media platforms? Once the goal is defined then it can be easier to find out what to use as KPI’s. At the end of the day it can be summed up with “are your visitors increasing and where are they coming from?”. Lastly, as Ken said, are you making money?
How do you utilize Raven Tools to assist you with your Internet Marketing campaigns?
Ken: Overall, managing client campaigns is easy. The research assistant, keyword manager, competitor manager and SERP tracker are all top notch. My favorite tool has to be the link manager. I haven’t found anything else that allows us to build and manage link building campaigns as easily and effectively as Raven Tools. That alone is worth the price of admission. As a manager it can be difficult to easily see what’s happening with all your campaign activities and where your team is or should be focusing. Raven Tools is great for tracking all activity and giving managers easy access to activity reports and actionable data. I won’t launch another campaign without it.
Victoria: I am primarily using Raven’s link manager because it lets me organize what type of links I have added, which ones I need to work further on and just overall assists with my organization efforts. I have been using the keyword manager and am looking more and more into the Social Media. My primary need for managing clients is staying on top of items and thus far with Raven Tools, I feel as though I am getting great use out of it.