BAMF. No, I’m not talking about the tape company. That’s BASF. Even though this little bitty blog of mine is open to all comments and all forms of expression, when I started to type out the words for one of my favorite acronyms, Mrs. Rumblepup gave me the stink-eye, and let me tell you, Mrs. Rumblepup’s stink-eye would send city devouring demons running and crying like little girls who just had their favorite Hello Kitty pocketbook ripped apart by a 7 foot crack fiend on steroids.
But I digress.
BAMF. That pretty much sums up the marketing Bad Ass (I did get the first two words in, neener, neener, neener) that is Mr. Brian Mark.
Brian Mark is a marketing animal. Well, you pretty much have to be a marketing animal when you run a show like http://www.toolbarn.com. Go ahead, check it out. I’ll wait.
Just a tool website you say?
Did you look at the PR?
Did you check out the backlinks?
That’s right. We’re talking about an Internet 500 company. What’s that, you say? Well, there’s the Fortune 500, and there’s the web equivalent of the Internet 500. Why is that impressive? Well, just imagine this; How many successful e-commerce sites do you know of? A whole bunch is an adequate statement. Heck, you might even run one. Ok, and the web consists of millions of web sites, of which, a great many are e-commerce or merchant sites. Somebody like Internet Retailer makes an exhausting search on the TOP 500 of these in terms of revenue, and the site Brian Mark runs is IN THERE with Abercrombie and Fitch, and Fossil.
Are you catching my drift here? Toolbarn.com is mentioned in the same company as Apple Computer and Target for darn sake. Just take a look at who is on the list of Top 500’s to see what I’m talking about. That takes some marketing know how, and Brian Mark is full of marketing know how.
I heard it leaks out of his ear on some occasions.
A regular speaker at SES, he’s known for great SEM and fantastic PPC marketing campaigns. PPC alone gives me hives to try to figure out, but he has figured them out.
He’s damn proud of his machines too. Whenever he gets a new box in the Computer Room, with childlike abandon, he plays with it, then runs and tells everybody the cool new toy he’s got. Sometimes he doesn’t even play with it first, just runs and tell the computer geeks amongst us about the cool new box they’re installing right now, just to make the pocket protector crowd heave a collective “whooooaaaa.”
I have a lot of respect for Brian, ‘cause we have similar backgrounds. Coming from an artistic background, he started out doing graphic design and computer graphics, and he up and decides to learn something simple, like UNIX, runs a few IT departments here and there, and then gets into web design and promotion.
See, just like me, except he’s good at it.
Word on the street is that if anybody knows the algo it’s him. I’ve even heard some rumors that he’s on a first name basis with the algo, and invites it over for cookies and beer all the time.
Running several successful blogs, several successful sites, speaking at SES, and joining the maverick team of Top SEO Consultants has made Brian Mark somewhat of a celebrity marketer amongst the “little train that could” crowd, and a respected professional amongst ALL CROWDS. I’ve had the pleasure of being called a numb-nut by him and then being taught a finer wisdom that he can drop on you like a ton of bricks.
So you know I had to ask him some rumblepup questions.
When I asked him if I could, he said yes. Then he gave me a cookie.
How did he know I wanted a cookie right there and then?
He’s a BAMF marketer, that’s why.
rumblepup – Hello señor!
Brian Mark – Howdy, Pup.
rumblepup – So, Mrs.Rumblepup thinks you’re a cute 18 year old and wonders how a kid your age became so important. (Check out Brian’s picture)
Brian Mark – Well, the picture is from when I was 18. I just don’t have too many that I like taken since then, and it’s sort of mocking all of the traditional media folk out there that think you need 20+ years experience to be any good at what you do. I’m actually in my 30’s now, but I used the pic anyway.
rumblepup – Hey, what’s the latest box have you guys loaded up? What got you interested in the hardware and IT aspect of the web business?
Brian Mark – The latest box is a second google mini. Before that, a pair of dual processor, dual-core Opterons with 4 gigs of RAM and SCSI mirrors for database servers. Yes, I know my hardware inside and out (other than the Google stuff, since they don’t allow you to open them without voiding any warranty. What a shame.) I got into hardware while selling computers – first at Radio Shack, then at Nebraska Furniture Mart (I remember selling computers to Warren Buffett so he could play chess online will Bill Gates, and Chip Davis so he could make his next album), and when I started working as an SCO Unix admin after taking a Unix 1 course at a local community college, well, SCO required very specific stuff at the time for hardware. So when I got into web stuff, the hardware and IT side of things just sort of tagged along.
Brian Mark – Well, yes and no. I was at the SEMPO.org booth in the exhibition hall at SES in Chicago – December 2004 if I’m not mistaken – and Matt Van Wagner talked me into approaching Danny about speaking because of our success. I talked to Danny briefly that time, and he took my card and emailed me a confirmation not too long after I got back home to speak at New York a few months later. Since then, Allan Dick from Vintage Tub and Bath has taken over the retailer track and he wants me to speak there every time, regardless of the fact that I’m not a great public speaker. I just know what I’m doing on both the technical and marketing sides enough that Allan thinks the sessions are better with me in there, especially for the Q&A portion. I’m one of the few hand-on guys in most of the sessions I speak at. Most seem to have a team back home that they’re representing.
rumblepup – When did you first discover the web?
Brian Mark – I think that would be while I was going to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in ’93 or ’94. Of course, it wasn’t the same on an old VAX machine, but when you’re studying Chemical Engineering that’s all they give you to play with. When I got a PC for my room, I got onto some chatboards that had IRC and I thought that was the greatest thing ever. If you knew how, you could even get lynx up on the system and browse the web, so I did some research from my room that way.
rumblepup – How did you get into the web business?
Brian Mark – I started with ToolBarn.com in 1999. In between the SCO Unix job and the ToolBarn gig, I worked at a company that made video slot machines. I got to do the graphics, which was as far from SCO Unix Administratoin as I could imagine. I made some great contacts there that I still bounce ideas off of. Basically, I enjoyed the UNIX job and wanted to keep some creativity, so a web job seemed like a great blend.
rumblepup – When did you first discover SEM and SEO? How did it change your perspective on running a website?
Brian Mark – Really, I discovered it in mid 2000. I was doing it more by accident then. I had created ToolBarn so it was easy to navigate, and I followed good page design basics – title tags that were descriptive, meta tags on all the pages, description of what was on the page (same as the title) listed on the page. I didn’t know it was called SEO, but when this strange site started sending lots of referrals, I took a look at what this “Google” thing was and figured out it was a search engine pretty quick, and for whatever reason it liked us. So then I started figuring out how to make it like us more. That’s when I decided I needed to investigate this further, even though I still didn’t know what “SEO” meant. We also had an account on goto.com pretty early on, and the lack of decent analytics at the time made it too tough to tell what was working and what wasn’t, so we really limited our spend for a while and then quit that all together until we got our analytics up to speed.
rumblepup – SEO, and especially SEM, is a little mysterious. Sometimes you just don’t know if placing a particular link or a particular ad, or placement within a directory is going to work. How do you rank marketing effectiveness? What can you learn from using the right metrics?
Brian Mark – The marketing effectiveness online is pretty much impossible to figure out. If you have a number of visitors from a keyword and you gain a link to that page, then the difference between your current and your previous traffic for that phrase is from that link. But no, it’s more complicated. That link coming in on one page may lift all the pages it links to, which could affect the pages those link to, and you get this waterfall effect. There are also fluctuations in ranking without making any changes.
What I end up doing is just doing a bunch of things and not worrying about the effect of each change, but rather what was the overall effect to our website. Trying to figure out any more than that makes my head start to hurt. Adding in decent metrics allows you to see not only the traffic from a phrase, but also how many dollars that accounted for. After all, 2 million people to your site that don’t buy anything is worth less than 1 person to your site that makes a purchase.
rumblepup – Web 2.0 (Gosh I hate that term) technologies, especially the ones that promote user generated content, is quickly on the rise. What are your thoughts on it? How will it change the web? Will it change ecommerce? Is it the people powered web that pundits have been talking about for the past few years?
Brian Mark – From an ecommerce perspective, I don’t think it’ll change things too much. Some companies will try it and forget that the #1 visitors to their site are those pesky bots, so it’ll be pretty useless at that point. Some of the places it’ll make a difference for ecommerce are in form validation and the checkout process, but any content on the site will still need to be in good ol’ fashioned (x)html. Bells and whistles don’t sell, good content on good products at a fair price is what sells. This whole “people powered web” is a bit too techie for the average user. I still don’t digg or use any of the other social bookmarking sites on a regular basis. To me, it’s too much of the geek perspective and it doesn’t factor in the average web visitor. Have you tried asking your spouse or your parents what their technorati rating is? They don’t care about these things, and until a huge number of actual web users do, it won’t make a dent for me. I’ve tried some searches on the social sites, but the results are always favoring the SEO and other geek websites. They don’t, in fact, list much of the web at this time. Until they’re comprehensive, which in a social site isn’t too likely unless everyone votes for themselves, they just don’t suit most users.
rumblepup – I first discovered the real power of the web around 1998. Can’t tell you exactly what it was about the web that brought me in, but I know that within the first few months of 1998, I learned HTML and created my first website. (I still remember the first time I saw Google) Or Mercedes Benz first butt ugly website. Since then, the changes in the web have been VAST. What, in your opinion, is next? Will e-commerce change? Will search change?
Brian Mark – The only thing that will be constant is change. Our site has changed a lot over the past few years. So has search. I believe Danny Sullivan when he says we’ll do a product search and see pictures and prices come up from Google one day, and we’ll look back and wonder why we ever wanted 10 blue links. It won’t happen today, not tomorrow, and not all at once. It’ll be phased in more and more – the beginnings are the “One box”, and eventually a product will exist in a unique index from general web information and we’ll all wonder why it wasn’t always that way. That will change ecommerce quite a bit.
rumblepup – You’ve recently been working on Validation for your websites. While I think that valid markup is important for a professional developer, I’ve always been of the mind that complete, standardista, 100% (x)html compliant web development is a GUIDE to good web page development, but not the end all, be all rule that you must adhere to or face the consequences.
Let’s put it this way. As far as the CSS/ XTML crowd goes, and the debates I’ve had, they think I should be strung up to a honey soaked pole and that red army ants should be allowed to have their way with me.
An XHTML and CSS valid webpage is a beautiful thing in concept, but the SE’s, as far as I can tell, DON’T SEEM TO CARE. This goes against the standardista mantra that valid (x)html performs better than regular, old fashioned, maybe a few errors in code; HTML, as far as crawling is concerned. It’s been my contention that the SE’s are not code police, their business is RESULTS.
Matt Cutt’s has said it in an interview:
I like the W3C a lot; if they didn’t exist, someone would have to invent them. 🙂 People sometimes ask whether Google should boost (or penalize) for valid (or invalid) HTML. There are plenty of clean, perfectly validating sites, but also lots of good information on sloppy, hand-coded pages that don’t validate. Google’s home page doesn’t validate and that’s mostly by design to save precious bytes. Will the world end because Google doesn’t put quotes around color attributes? No, and it makes the page load faster. 🙂 Eric Brewer wrote a page while at Inktomi that claimed 40% of HTML pages had syntax errors. We can’t throw out 40% of the web on the principle that sites should validate; we have to take the web as it is and try to make it useful to searchers, so Google’s index parsing is pretty forgiving.” http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2005-11-17-n52.html
And Jeffrey Zeldman said
“Web Standards” is not a set of immutable laws, but a path filled with options and decisions. In our view, people who insist on absolute purity in today’s browser and standards environment do as much harm to the mainstream adoption of web standards as those who have never heard of or are downright hostile toward structural markup and CSS.” http://www.zeldman.com/
And now, even Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has basically said that as much as they tried to promote valid markup as a “standard” the W3C is re-examining HTML because, basically, no one paid attention.
“Some things are clearer with hindsight of several years. It is necessary to evolve HTML incrementally. The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn’t work. The large HTML-generating public did not move, largely because the browsers didn’t complain. Some large communities did shift and are enjoying the fruits of well-formed systems, but not all. It is important to maintain HTML incrementally, as well as continuing a transition to well-formed world, and developing more power in that world.”
But, and this is a Big But, you, as a successful marketer, are making attempts to employ standards compliant websites, and I, as a student of what successful people do, am paying attention. Why am I paying attention? Why should I, and web owners, pay attention to valid markup?
Brian Mark – I got a tip late one night, long after the bars had closed and the alcohol had quit flowing, from one of my SEO idols. He told me that Slurp crawled valid HTML better. I laughed, nodded, and made note to test it out when I got home. We only had 7,000 pages in the Yahoo index at the time, and that had been bothering me. So I started validating pages, and pretty quick like we had 35,000 pages in the index. I repeated the process on our other site and I saw the same trend. So what was the effect? We now get 3 – 10x the traffic from Yahoo that we used to. This made me believe VERY MUCH in HTML validation.
rumblepup – Ok, enough debates. Jeez I’m a dumb jerk, but I love playing devil’s advocate. Here’s a hypothetical situation. You have a website with good content, good on page factors, and is SE friendly, but absolutely ZERO money for any kind of promotion, advertising, web directory placement or anything. What do you do? What’s the first thing you would do to market the site? What other things would you do that doesn’t involve paying for it?
Brian Mark – First thing I would do is get a loan.
rumblepup – Oh, you are such the wit. Did you spend all day thinking that one up? OOUUCCH, Damn first NeO, and now you hit me. I’m lodging a complaint with the union.
There is no blogging union, is there?
I’ll shut up now.
Brian Mark – Ok, now to be serious. Without money, I’d start participating in forums. You’ll come across some people with similar sites, and someone will see the value in the site and give you a link (not to mention all the signature links you’re getting). Once that starts getting you a few links and people agree that your site is a good resource, then you want to go and start getting some free directory links. Don’t concern yourself too much with PageRank or Alexa rankings on your site or on the directory. Sure, those are nice and all, but they don’t pay the bills. Just be consistent about participating in the forums and submitting to free directories and you’ll quickly gain some traffic. Once you start making a few sales, start doing some additional marketing with the proceeds and keep building things slowly over time. Nothing will defeat you quicker than lack of patience.
rumblepup – I know that you’ve created somewhat of an art form of PPC placement. How did you first get into it, and how long before you came up with a methodology for making it successful?
Brian Mark – I first got into it because we wanted more traffic. I think that’s every website owner’s dream, so if you can throw a little money at the problem and see results, great. I didn’t really get any sort of a system down until we got some decent analytics, by which I mean paid analytics. The free ones can get you started, but enterprise level analytics really pay for themselves quickly if you can understand them. I have our PPC campaigns down to enough of a highly targeted keyword list that I log in once a week to see how things are doing. I generally go by conversion rate, cost per acquisition, and spend. So long as those all seem in line, I log back out and call it good. Once every month or so I dig deeper, but most of the time it’s just a quick glance to make sure something odd isn’t going on. It took a lot of failure in PPC before I got it right.
rumblepup – What is the one piece of advice that you would give any website owner? In other words, a tried and true classic design, marketing or promotion technique which you feel not enough people take advantage of.
Brian Mark – Your users provide you with so much data every day by using your site search functions. Look closely at that and see how much you can improve those results through on-page factors, then try applying that to a broader scale. A search is a search in my eyes, regardless where it’s run. If you can’t serve relevant results to your users, then how do you expect any other search engine to do it for you? I probably learn more from looking at quality assessment on our internal search than most marketers learn from all of their metrics tools combined. After all, if you don’t check that you’ve got decent results internally, then what business do you have trying to serve customers through external search engines?
rumblepup – And what has to be the most important question of them all. Who’s hotter, Wilma or Betty?
Brian Mark – There’s just something about redheads… they scare me. But since this is an SEO blog, wouldn’t those characters be named Laura Thieme and Dana Todd? Well, Dana isn’t a natural redhead, so maybe not. In any case, I’ll have to go with Betty on this one.
rumblepup – OOOO, another Betty freak. I knew I liked you for a reason, he, he, he. Ooouuuchh! Now I’m getting titty twisters from Mrs. Rumblepup. Thanks a lot Brian. Tell us a joke to make it up to me.
Brian Mark – How did the black hat SEO get to the peak of Mount Everest? He spammed his way to the top.
rumblepup – And I’m the one that gets smacked around for telling dumb jokes.