Matt McGowan and Eric Enge Discuss SES and the Search Industry

Published: March 3, 2008

Matt McGowan Picture

Matt McGowan, VP of Marketing for Incisive Media Plc, oversees all marketing activities for the ClickZ Network and SearchEngineWatch.com in addition to their respective trade show series, ClickZ Specifics and Search Engine Strategies.

Prior to joining Incisive, Matt was a Vice President at PropertyRoom.com, where he oversaw all Sales, Marketing and Operations for the Southern California based Auction Services Company. Earlier in his career in San Francisco, CA, Matt developed an e-business strategy for the multinational publishing house, Pearson Plc, and prior to that Matt worked as an Institutional Sales Trader for Schwab Capital Markets and Trading a division of Charles Schwab Inc, in New York, NY and San Francisco, CA.

Matt is a graduate of Lafayette College (BA) and the University of Oxford (MBA).

Interview Transcript

Eric Enge: There have been some changes to SES, and I know you have been doing a lot of evaluation. Can you talk about what you have learned during the evaluations?

Matt McGowan: That's an interesting question, and I think you've noticed those changes primarily because you are an industry insider, and you keep a close eye on our events and websites. The changes we have made to the business at Search Engine Strategies, ClickZ.com and SearchEngineWatch.com, were made to keep each property more aligned with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Digital Industries, which have continued to evolve throughout the course of the year.

SES is the largest SEM event series globally and ClickZ.com and SearchEngineWatch.com are some of the largest online platforms online where industry thought leaders can speak to and communicate with the market.

We have gotten very positive reception from the market. One of the most successful changes we made last year, which we are going to continue to grow this year, is the addition of the search marketing training days at our flagship events. We have added a 5th day to each of our flagship conference and expositions in New York, San Jose, Chicago, London and Toronto. In addition, this year we are adding four standalone training events, we held one a few weeks ago in San Francisco, which will be followed in the next few months by training days in Denver, possibly Austin, and possibly even Arizona later this year. SEM is becoming more and more mainstream and CEO's and their executive teams need to have a firm understanding of the marketing channel, so there has been a call for more intimate classroom style training sessions where you can really get into the nuts and bolts and the tactics of what works and what doesn't.

Another change, introduced by Kevin Ryan last year, relates to our non-US events. We've dedicated a lot of resources in the last year and a half or so to our international events, and we have a flagship one that is quite established now in London, which now attracts over 2000 search engine marketers, executive and web developer a year.

We have branded our events in Paris, Hamburg, Milan and Tokyo Search Engine Strategies Forums and removed the exposition hall from them. The rationale here is that because they are smaller, more intimate events, we want the concentration to be on classroom education and not large conference expositions. There are still fantastic opportunities for sponsorships around networking receptions, conference handbooks, table tops and such. These opportunities are limited however and are distributed on a first come first serve basis. The delegate and sponsorship feedback so far has been fantastic.

We finished up the SES Paris Forum this January, it received a ton of positive press, and we are looking forward to executing on the SES Hamburg Forum and the SES Milan Forum which are only a few months away.

Other changes include the launch of a job boards on ClickZ.com and SearchEngineWatch.com. Located at http://jobs.SearchEngineWatch.com and http://jobs.ClickZ.com I do believe they will become one of the largest resources online for digital and SEM jobs. This launch is a simple example of how our subscribers and customers ask for something as we deliver it.

We also introduced the Webcast/Webinar series. So far, we've done webcasts with Seth Godin, Jack Myers and Nick Carr, in addition to a few others. Seth Godin attracted almost 5,000 digital marketers.

Eric Enge: I noticed in New York you have a segment which is all sponsored sessions? That's new too, isn't it?

Matt McGowan: That is new. We have played around with this in the past. I actually moderated the first sponsored session which was held at SES Chicago 2006. Offering a full track of sponsored sessions is definitely a first for us however. It's something our sponsors and exhibitors have asked for, primarily, I think, because we work hard to keep the sales pitch out of our regular sessions. Again, feedback from both the sponsors and the delegates has been positive.

Eric Enge: What about the Orion Sessions?

Matt McGowan: When Kevin Ryan joined the business we did a review of what has worked for us in the past and what we needed to change. Just because 95% of all delegates who come to Search Engine Strategies respond positively to their experience, citing it as the best learning opportunity available for their money, does not mean we can sit idly and bask in our success.

One of the criticisms was that while Search Engine Strategies was great at delivering tactical and tip based information there wasn't much overall strategy delivered. We took this to heart and are now reaching out to high-level thought leaders in our space and giving them a forum to discuss what is most pressing today in the search. We have branded these forums Orion Sessions.

So yes, the Orion Sessions are new as were rolled out at SES Chicago 2007; they have gotten a lot of positive feedback as well.

Eric Enge: Right, that sounds great. What about other changes that you would anticipate making or things that you are really thinking about doing?

Matt McGowan: We are looking at ways to bring SES and the valuable content that shows delivers to our customers directly, so they don't have to spend a lot of money on travel. Our events draw a very local audience, so there are markets we are not serving.

We are also looking to grow our events internationally. We had a great January in Paris, and are looking forward to a successful April in Hamburg. But, we are also looking at other markets globally.

Eric Enge: Yes, indeed. I wanted to ask you about social media, because there didn't seem to be that much of it at SES, Chicago. But, it looks like on Wednesday at SES, New York you've got an end to end track focused specifically on social media.

Matt McGowan: These sessions will provide very insightful learning opportunities for marketers helping them understand the social media space. I have spent a lot of time marketing our events throughout the LinkedIn's and Facebook's of the world, and found a lot of success in garnering support as well as getting feedback from our customers through these social mechanisms.

SES and SearchEngineWatch.com have a sister over at ClickZ.com. We rekindled the ClickZ events a few years back, a very demanding 200 to 500 person event series that takes place in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago primarily. These events have covered Social Media, in addition to E-Mail Marketing, Advertising in Online Video, Web Metrics and most recently something we are calling Emerging Marketing Solutions, an intensive one-day event geared to keep executives up-to-the-minute with the most important new strategies, processes, products, services, and providers in interactive marketing.

Social media is also well-covered on ClickZ.com.

Eric Enge: It's my belief that you just can't think of search in a vacuum anymore. Social media may not be search engine marketing per se, but there is so much overlap. If you are trying to help someone grow traffic to their site, you have to at least consider social media in the mix. There are other elements that play into that too, such as widgets.

Matt McGowan: When I look at the analytics and asses the refer traffic to our sites, I always see sites such as Digg, Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon in the top 50 or so. Whether or not the traffic is valuable it is another question altogether, and I think, no matter who you ask you get a different answer.

The ways in which we measure traffic to determine it's value is how long do those customers stay on our site, pageviews, and whether or not they decide to sign up for our newsletters, RSS feeds and events. The fact that they are driving loads of traffic doesn't necessarily mean that it's something one should concentrate on.

Eric Enge: That's a whole another aspect to the social media science, which is you don't do it just for the sake of doing it, or just to get traffic. You do it because it fits your business strategy in some grander way, and the traffic or the links you get from it is relevant to growing the results for your business.

Matt McGowan: Right, exactly. One of the most valuable tools it offers us is feedback. On Facebook, there are hundreds of search marketers who have joined our group, almost a thousand on LinkedIn. These members freely write their thoughts, concerns and complements as comments, discussions and answers to questions and it's my job as a marketer to listen and participate where fit.

I can scan these comments and make sure we are addressing our customers concerns. The much more formal process of sending an email to a customer service person, or to a marketing person, just doesn't work as well. Our customers tend to be a little bit more liberal with their thoughts when they are not talking to me directly but to a group or on their blog; this is very valuable information.

Eric Enge: What's been the biggest struggle with the overseas shows?

Matt McGowan: In the US, we have 9 years, soon to be 10 as of SES San Jose, of experience; ten years of brand equity. Oversees, in Asia we have 2, in continental Europe we have 3 years and in Britain we have 9 years. The biggest struggle is getting our message across over there, growing our brand.

This has also been one of what I find to be the most interesting opportunities. It's allowed us to introduce some new ideas. There really are a number of amazing people who are executing their business plans and establishing their businesses in Europe. It's like a few years back here in the State; I am not saying that's not still happening here, but what I was saying is that there are a lot of businesses that matured in conjunction with Search Engine Strategies Conference and Exposition series.

A lot of businesses were launched and a lot of businesses have flourished, because of the leanings and networking available at our events. One of our challenges is to create that incubation environment overseas.

Another challenge has to deal with the fragmentation of the markets in Europe and language barriers. Each European market is unique. There maybe a large market in China, but the actual amount of commerce that takes place in China online is very small because most people do not have credit. The challenges are abundant.

We have done very well in light of these challenges, and our outlook for the future in our meeting and in our conversations with our clients is very positive. I was in Hamburg at the end of January meeting with the players in the German market, in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, and other cities. Everyone kept on bringing up the story of Starbucks and how Starbucks entered Germany and failed miserably, because they didn't take into account any local customs.

Based on their failure, there are three or four other coffee lines now in Germany that look just like Starbucks. People took over the stores that they had spent money getting in place, and leveraged their failure for their local business success. I think we are smarter than that. We are not instilling the US SES culture, brand on them over there, but hopefully creating unique brands in each local market.

SES to a German may mean something a little bit different then SES to a Frenchman. That said, we are sticking by our main principles that content can't be sold, and it must be educational in value, and the sale does not belong in the sessions.

Eric Enge: How do SEO, and SEM, and SMO, vary from country to country?

Matt McGowan: I was told by a wise man not too long ago that Google is a dominant search engine in pretty much all countries that have red, white, and blue in their flags. Once you get to countries where other colors are more prominent, the players tend to change. For example, China is dominated by a player that doesn't really exist over here, Baidu.

Google definitely has a hold on the European market, though Yahoo has a hold on the European mobile space, which is interesting. Baidu has a hold on the Chinese market, but if you go to Japan, you are back with Google again. Baidu is looking to enter Japan, but hasn't really has been successful there yet. Also, just because you rank number one for something on Google.com doesn't mean you rank under default Google.fr or the Google.de when you are in France or Germany.

We have spent time working at the local level, making sure that our event pages and the content that populates them are relevant to the local markets and ranks well for the keywords that apply. You can't just concentrate on Google.com.

Eric Enge: Right. So, there are different optimization techniques that are needed, specific to the country version. And, it's probably not because of the basics of the Google algorithm, but more because of how they look at the link map differently for example.

Eric Enge: Are you seeing a difference on the social media side of things internationally as well?

Matt McGowan: LinkedIn was founded by an Oxonian, and has a massive presence in the UK. On Facebook, there are slight differences. But, if you move into the Middle East and such, I believe the networks do change there. For example Orkut is big in South America and part of the Middle East.

Eric Enge: Right. Let's talk a little bit about how search is progressing in terms of integrating into traditional marketing?

Matt McGowan: Right. I would argue that it has made massive inroads. That said there is much integration still to be done. Interesting question that comes up when we do speak about this, is traditional marketing dead? I am not saying no, it's not. I think it's not dead, but I think the metrics that we are applying to digital and search marketing will start to be applied to the traditional space, where possible.

Eric Enge: To the degree that they can; there is only so much you can do with a TV ad, right?

Matt McGowan: To the degree that they can, exactly. But, spending money on advertising and justifying it as branding will get harder to pull off. What executives want to see is the bottom line. What we have seen over the years is a massive percentage increase in advertising spend online, and over the long term this will continue. Online advertising spend will continue to beat out, in percentage growth terms, traditional spend.

Eric Enge: Right. You could say that TV, and radio, and print advertising is about creating demand. Search's role is to convert demand; except the problem is that if someone goes to the search engine first, and they type in your product name or product category your product is in, there is lot of brand value being the first one that comes up.

Matt McGowan: A lot of brand value, but one of the things that is very interesting is the use of search to capture TV generated demand. More and more consumers are watching TV with their laptop in front of them. As things happen on TV, certain things get remembered, be it taglines or types of products which then get entered into the Search box and queried.

Chris Boggs did an interesting piece on SearchEngineWatch.com recently on converting your Super Bowl TV ad spend. You could spend all kinds of money a thirty second spot, but if you are not capturing the queries that it is generating online, be certain that your competitors are.

Eric Enge: Right. There are still commercials where they didn't put up a website address.

Matt McGowan: That's what I find interesting. Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser was one that didn't put up a web address. Odd isn't it?

Eric Enge: What are the big issues in terms of getting integration to go further?

Matt McGowan: Communication is key. For Executives, the people who are who are making the budgetary decisions at large companies, search is just one piece of a very large pie where they spend money. I think as search marketers we need to spend time communicating the ROI upward.

Another major hurdle is cross channel measurement. Agencies these days are just not structured to take advantage of integration, each channel still operations very much in its own silo.

Eric Enge: Right. One of the big problems is cross channel measurement. There is no simple way to measure how your TV ad converted into a sale online, Did some one see your TV ad, and then go online and buy something. Another common scenario is if someone shops for clothes online, but they want to go see it and touch it before they buy it. They do all their preparation to figure out what is that they want, and then they go to the store to make the purchase.

Matt McGowan: One old, yet interesting idea is a cross channel cookie.

Eric Enge: One thing you can do on a TV ad, is tell the user to use a special code to get an x percent discount. That will tell you if TV drove the sale.

Matt McGowan: We do that type of thing when we execute more traditional campaigns, like direct mail. It's not an exact science, but it does begin to help solve their problem.

Eric Enge: Any sense as to what percentage is the people who convert as a result of the mailer use the access code versus those that don't?

Matt McGowan: I'd probably say it's close to 10%.

Eric Enge: 10% use it?

Matt McGowan: Yes. We send targeted mailings of hundreds of thousands of digital marketers, executives and web developers. The day that mail hits their office, their desk so to speak, and for a few days after we receive massive traffic and registration spikes. These spikes are much bigger than the count of the discount codes would indicate. There is a big unknown quotient, and so you have to take what's given to you which is the people who use the code, and then do some subjective analysis.

Eric Enge: That's a pretty interesting marketing data point on just how effective those kinds of things are, because they really are one of the better attempts at solutions for this problem.

Matt McGowan: The other thing we do is to use unique landing pages. We do a lot of that especially with our paid search campaigns, with branded versus unbranded terms, sending people to different pages; because obviously there are different levels of understanding about the brand. It's not an exact science though there is still definitely value in the traditional space.

There is nothing like getting a letter and having it on your desk as opposed to a thousand emails, it stands out. There is nothing like getting that phone call from a telemarketer, if they are selling the right product to you. Whether you are online or offline being relevant is critical; if you are not relevant, you may as well move on.

Eric Enge: Right, exactly. Any other interesting aspects of how search and traditional marketing interact that we should talk about?

Matt McGowan: I think they go hand in hand. We are an interactive event about search engine marketing; we are an event that talks all about what's going on online yet we use traditional marketing to couple that with our digital marketing or search marketing to fill the seats. I think you still need to be executing in both channels, both fields at this time.

With interactive opportunities you don't have to make as much of an investment to see a return. For the price of an ad in the Wall Street Journal, you can run a pretty large paid search campaign. So, as a marketer I still execute campaigns in both spaces. I don't think I will be leaving the traditional space anytime soon, but I do very much appreciate the analysis and the results and the feedback, and the ROI calculations I can pull from my online campaigns. It makes me feel much better about spending the money.

Eric Enge: Thanks Matt!

Matt McGowan: Yes, thank you for the opportunity Eric.

Have comments or want to discuss? You can comment on the Matt McGowan interview here.

Other Recent Interviews

  1. Avinash Kaushik - February 18, 2008
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  3. Google's Adam Lasnik - February 4, 2008
  4. comScore's James Lamberti - January 28, 2008
  5. Incisive's Kevin Ryan - January 28, 2008
  6. Eurekster's Grant Ryan - January 14, 2008
  7. Eurekster's Steven Marder - January 7, 2008
  8. Google's Sep Kamvar - December 17, 2007
  9. Microsoft's Grad Conn - December 10, 2007
  10. Seth Godin - November 26, 2007
  11. Microsoft's Ramez Naam - November 12, 2007
  12. Google's Matt Cutts - October 8, 2007

About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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