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Mike Grehan |  Mike Grehan | SEW & ClickZ Publisher, SES Producer, Incisive Media This week Andy Betts had an opportunity to catch up with the multi-talented Mike Grehan, publisher of Search Engine Watch and ClickZ and producer of the SES international conference series. Mike shared his thoughts on the successful SES Chicago conference, the CMO agenda, the role of reputed digital marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik at SES, the importance of social, authorship and integrated marketing, and, of course, DJing!  

SES Chicago – The Hidden Diamond

Andy: First of all, Mike thanks for taking the time to talk today. How was SES Chicago?

Mike: Absolutely fantastic. The great thing about SES Chicago is that it’s a hidden diamond. In the US, everybody seems to know what they call the larger shows, which are New York and San Francisco as it is now, San Jose previously. I think people have had this tendency to think of Chicago as being the smaller show with anywhere between 1,500 & 3,500 people. It’s sometimes easier to network and work with people at a show this size than it is at New York or San Francisco, where you might even be talking about 6,000 people. Certainly the networking, the content and feedback has been fabulous.

Andy: Any common theme that you managed to pick out there?

Mike: We’ve been working with Avinash Kaushik, a major industry blogger, a bestselling author and, more notably, Google’s digital marketing evangelist. He’s the keynote speaker for the first time ever doing the whole series globally, and he changes the presentation often. He’s spoken about mobile, local and, in Chicago, he had a heavy focus on Facebook. This was interesting because we also had a session on the new Facebook Exchange as well. So, there was great content around, ‘How do we do better marketing with Facebook’?

From Search To Social

Andy: Social’s definitely a hot topic. You’ve got a new book coming out soon called “From Search To Social: Marketing To The Connected Consumer”. Is that where you see the market heading? Away from search and into social or is it more a convergence of search and social?

Mike: It is more about the convergence. I’m not really saying that you either do search or you do social. I don’t believe that anybody actually wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I’ll go and do some searching.” Everybody’s task oriented. Sure, we’ve gone to places like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or Bing to look for answers, and it’s been a little bit of a solitary thing. But it’s becoming much more of a group event more than anything else, and there’s a lot more research that goes on. People tend to tap into their own networks first of all, and these are the kind of networks where people feel confident because they are friends and the information is much more verifiable. It’s probably easier for them to ask a bunch of people that they know about the best pizza place In New York than it is to look at ten blue links in a search engine and try to figure out themselves. So, I think search is always going to be in there. It’s just going to be a different kind of search. I think it’s more about social search. The title as I say, it’s not meant to be misleading, but it’s how we’ve moved and progressed or evolved from using a search engine into what you would call social search now.  

Optimize For Humans, Not Machines

Andy: Another question that I’ve got which is more about the big picture. We talk about SEO, social and full on digital market integration, which is very internal-focused. What about the notion of connected marketing, looking at the consumer before marketing techniques? Do you think, in 2013, we will look at not what online discipline that we use and, instead, focus on optimizing for the consumer, not a search engine?

Mike: I believe that we’ve moved a long way from working in silos. I’ve been known as an online marketer but, frankly, I don’t know whether I am online marketer, digital marketer, web marketer. Maybe we’ll come up with a terminology one day.

Andy: We are what the client wants us to be!

Mike: Exactly. I’ve been online for 18 years. When I started my online marketing consultancy, email was the killer app. So, we were all email marketers and then search, which had been geeky, became the big deal. For that ten-year period, the reason that everybody went to Google to do marketing, and SEO and paid search became so big is that’s where the audience was. Because the audience would wake up and they’d say, I want to find stuff online and Google was the answer. Now you can go to Facebook, you can go to Twitter, you can go to LinkedIn. You can do some search over at Google or at Bing. The opportunities are much greater in terms of the way we kind of interact. Just going back to what we said before, the whole notion of social media didn’t exist before. When you think about it we spend a lot of time optimizing web pages. I always thought that SEO was a very strange term, Search Engine Optimization. I’ve never met anybody who’s optimized a search engine! So, we optimize web pages and we’ve been doing that to get beyond some technical barriers that search engines had with crawlers back in the early day. And I think that was like the coolest thing to do to be the SEO. Now, search engines have become a lot smarter. Content management systems are a lot easier to work with than they used to before. I think we start thinking now about how do we optimize for human beings, and not for search engines. How do we develop something that’s beyond even just talking about content? How do you create an experience for the user? We should be thinking about how can we create a great experience for the end user as opposed to how do we just throw some content at them.  

Online Is Not Different – Just Bigger, Faster, Better!

Mike: We talk about online marketing as if it was something so remote and something entirely different from offline and yet it’s not - it’s the same human beings that we’re getting to. So, everything that we did offline before whether it was personal selling, public relations, advertising, trade show, outdoor advertising or PR- they all exist online. We’re doing basically the same thing. We may be able to do it bigger, better and faster, but it’s basically the same thing. I think what we were talking about just a few seconds ago about SEO and doing search and being an expert in that field, you do have to broaden it out and become much more of a marketing expert. Before I came online, I was working for advertising agencies and mainly buying press, radio, and television. If I’d sat down with one of our clients and said, “Right, we’re going to do PR and that’s it,” they would have been saying, “Well, what about advertising and what about sales promotions and those kind of things.” That’s why I think we’re moving away from people just being an expert at one thing. We have to become kind of multi-talented.  

The CMO Cares About Search

Andy: Shifting gears - as we see the growth of search and as it becomes more visible in the CMO’s office, what are CMOs saying to you about search and the future of search? Is it on their agenda now?

Mike: It is strange that we have this discussion now - I was just talking about how 70-75% of the people that come into SES are actually new to search. That doesn’t mean they’re new marketers, but they’re actually new to digital or online. We see a lot more brands coming in now, big brands and a lot of the titles that we see have moved from being the SEO Consultant to the Marketing Manager or the Marketing Director. And those titles are very interesting because when we talk to them as they come into the conference, they’re only now beginning to take all of this very seriously. So, I think the mindset is changing from, “Yeah, we have our press. We have our radio. We have our TV over here so we’re doing our marketing and then over here we’ve also got the internet.”  

Panda, Penguin & Too Many Eggs In A Basket

Andy: One of the things, in the light of Panda and Penguin, I hear a lot is the move to content marketing now, something that should go beyond the SEO side into all traditional, digital, or offline channels as described in the article 'SEO – Content | Confusion | Clarity'. Content and authorship are two very important things for next year. Have you got any thoughts on that? Is that the new SEO?

Mike: Let’s tackle the SEO side of it first of all. I believe with whatever Matt Cutts talks about Panda or a Penguin should worry only those who are trying game Google. We also hear a lot of people saying well I got hit by Panda or I got hit by Penguin and I’m just an innocent guy. Nine times out of ten if you talk to that innocent guy, they’ve tried something that was beyond the guidelines. If marketers think way beyond that and go back to what we were saying before - think about creating a great end user experience and just do good marketing, the likelihood they’re not going to get penalized for that is high. Post-Penguin, I hear a lot of ‘how do we get rid of links?’ Previously it was about paying for links. If you stop thinking about links so much and instead think about doing great marketing, that’s probably more productive. Do you know what you’ll get from great marketing? As a byproduct you will get good quality links and you’ll get great business. The other thing is, and this is really, really important, that if you spend so much time worrying about Google and Panda, the likelihood is that your business is not geared correctly. And what I mean by that is that somebody else owns more of your business than you do. We talked to some of the people who are hit by Panda and Penguin and they say they’ve lost up to 80% of their traffic. I would never as a marketer allow anybody to own that much of my business. People should have a good balance. You need to think about traffic from Google, Facebook, Twitter, offline efforts and other channels.  

Authorship, not having 20K followers, matters

Mike: Getting back to authorship - I don’t think it’s actually to do with the guy who writes the piece and who has the most Twitter followers. I don’t think it’s about who is the number one writer in the industry or the number one blogger. I actually think it’s more about the source, which is the author. I read a paper years and years ago about information retrieval and citation analysis. After digging in deeper, it was apparent that the source of where a publication appeared is what really matters. I think that Search Engine Watch is the author, not the guy who wrote the piece. From an information retrieval point of view, Google or any of the search engine look at a source as being the author. We write some great stuff over at Search Engine Watch. You write some great stuff over at Search Engine Watch, and the audience approves in terms of page views, usually the number of people that read that. All of those signals are a big thing for Google to go to. Search Engine Watch is a resource location. That’s more about the authorship I think than like, “Well that guy should get number one because he’s got 20,000 Twitter followers.  

SES, ClickZ, Search Engine Watch

Andy: You’ve given us great insight here Mike. I’d like to talk now about the SES series, Click Z and Search Engine Watch. I always looked at Click Z as broader and more strategic. It looks at digital. It looks at news. Search Engine Watch is more focused on search and social and tactics. Are you seeing an overlap in these audiences now and is there going to be a convergence of some of that content down the line?

Mike: I think there’s a very strong overlap with the audience and to be quite frank, the name and domain Search Engine Watch is a blessing and a curse at the same time. It’s a problem area because we don’t write only about search as Search Engine Watch used to and we cover search, social and broader digital marketing now. The name indicates otherwise. I guess the best way to sum it up is - Click Z has always been much more geared towards the bigger picture. It’s always been more about strategy than anything else, and Search Engine Watch has always been quite tactical. So, if you look at Click Z, you will probably see that our relationships and our content is definitely more towards people who are building and working with brands and also with agencies who are working and managing those brands. That’s more the buy side. If Click Z was saying this is what you should be doing, Search Engine Watch talks about how you should do it. In all likelihood, SES will look a lot more like Click Z Live, in terms of content, with the broadening of the audience profile.  

Big Brands vs Small Brands

Andy: You mentioned brands a few times today. I am curious to know your take on the whole debate about Google favoring big brands.

Mike: I’ll take an example, which just flashed, through my mind. Some time ago, there was this big furore in the industry with SEOs because Eric Schmidt said that If you want to do well at Google, then stop and build a brand, that it was more about brands. Maybe he was talking about the trust there than anything else, but a lot of people in the SEO industry started to say ‘wow, they’re only for the big brands’. And that’s not specifically what he was saying, but they seem to be so anti-brand while most SEOs spend a lot of their time on social media networking sites trying to build their personal brands!

Andy: Yeah, they’re trying to build their brand. In a sense, over the years gone by, they’ve worked with these brands and taught these brands how to build their companies. And the brands are slowly taking over which is why we see a change in the shift in the way that people manage and approach SEO from a consultancy or an agency perspective. I saw a lot of that at BrightEdge Share12 - brands talking about their approach to search and social, and how it fits in with their big brand and all their other departments. It will be interesting to see in 2013 how that develops.

Mike: I think companies like BrightEdge are enabling large corporations, enabling companies who are not essentially necessarily doing anything from a technical point of view that hasn’t been done before but educating them on how to do it to make online marketing work, to make it effective and to make it accountable. I think there’s a lot of stuff about search that people are beginning to realize now. This is how you do it on an enterprise level and instead of the CMO looking at search as being something much further down the line, he or see sees it as being the middle of the marketing mix.

Andy: Exactly and I think that’s why the format at Share12 worked well. Jonathan Allen from Search Engine Watch moderated the keynote and was excellent, it was a great discussion about Google and the Black Box. What made it more insightful was the fusion of the brand and expert perspectives.  

Musings On Being An Author & DJ

Andy: Writing a book must be a pretty daunting task with so much content and information out there. Have you got any tips? So, how did you get started?

Mike: I thought about where am I going to put all this information in my head. A book is the obvious thing. It has a lot to do with my background way before I got into marketing, I was in broadcasting in the UK and I worked in radio and television for a long time. I was actually a radio DJ and a club DJ before that and it’s a similar kind of thing. Why did I become a DJ? I use to have all of this great music and I knew so much about these artists and this entire music trivia that I carried around inside my head. I used to think, ‘where am I going to put this?’ So, I become a DJ to put it out there. Likewise with books! I’ve been threatening to write another book since ‘Search Engine Marketing and the Essential Desk Practice Guide’, and I’ve talked to a lot of publishers, who all want me to write another search book. I keep saying, “No I’ve done that”. ‘From Search To Social: Marketing To The Connected Consumer‘ is different. It looks at network theory, the way we come together as human beings. It’s about how the end user is changing, how we have a trans-media phenomenon. We consume media in an entirely different way than the way that we use to. So, marketing is changing not so much because of the technology or the devices that people are connected with. It’s changing because the consumer is changing and we have to adapt to that greater need from the consumer.

Andy: If it weren’t search, would you carry on as a DJ? Mike: I never thought of it that way. I remember after working for ten years in radio and television, and I was sitting in a studio and there was a commercial break. I was thinking to myself, ‘Just as this commercial break finishes, I shall push the fade on this mixing disc, some music will start, and I will say something totally banal’. At that point I thought, ‘Grehan, get yourself a proper job!’ So, I came out of it and now you have no idea how much I miss just being able to sit in that studio, play that music and say something banal again.

Andy: You never know in the future. It could be Mike Graham radio show.

Mike: Follow the golden oldies, exactly. Look at my eighties hairdo back again.

Andy: You can watch the development of search over the last ten year with a soundtrack of your times. You could soundtrack to it.

Mike: The Google soundtrack. Very good.

Andy: Then, a sort of mashup of all these different channels. So, you will have to do a bit of mixing and stuff like that towards the end.

Mike: We’re doing a bit of that now with your talk radio show here.

Andy: Yes. Well thanks a lot Mike. That was a great chat!  

About Mike Grehan

Mike Grehan is publisher of Search Engine Watch and ClickZ and producer of the SES international conference series. He is the current president of global trade association SEMPO, having been elected to the board of directors in 2010. Formerly, Mike worked as a search marketing consultant with a number of international agencies, handling such global clients as SAP and Motorola. Recognized as a leading search marketing expert, Mike came online in 1995 and is author of numerous books and white papers on the subject. He is currently in the process of writing his new book “From Search To Social: Marketing To The Connected Consumer” to be published by Wiley in 2013.  

About Andy Betts

Andy Betts has 12 years marketing, digital media and search marketing based experience working with many of the industry’s leading agencies and brands working across key strategic and marketing growth functions. Andy has been part of some the industries largest acquisitions such as Latitude (5years) £50m – DoubleClick Performics (2 years) $3.1bn – Google – Publicis/Vivaki Andy has worked at VP/Director level with brands such as – Google, MSN, Apple, HP, HSBC, United Airlines, Lexis Nexis, Saxo Bank, Motorola, American Express, Fidelity and Fidelity International. Andy also consults for start-ups on marketing and digital strategy whilst writing for many of the industries leading publications. You can reach Andy on Twitter as@andybetts1 and on LinkedIn.