One late summer day, as I was furiously working on fragging a freaky looking head crab zombie in Half-Life 2, a site owner calls me up and nonchalantly asks me “How do I get to number 1 in the search engines for the keyword ‘processed cheese food’?”
After picking myself up off the floor, I asked the site owner “Why?”
“We sell sandwiches” he tells me; wherein I have to pick myself up off the floor again.
“Can you hold one moment please?” I ask him, and run and grab the beautiful Mrs. Rumblepup so she can get a load of this. Turns out Mr. Site Owner owns a freeze dried gourmet style sandwich business that he wants to take online. So I do a quick search on the term (you know, to make sure I’m not going crazy) and what do I get?
I got a list of sites that describe the stuff, like Velveeta, and Kraft, and Cheese Whiz, but no sandwiches, or anything that resembles sandwiches, let alone gourmet sandwiches. In fact, I don’t think anybody using that keyword phrase as a search term is interested in gourmet sandwiches.
Nachos, maybe, but not sandwiches.
Personally, I didn’t think that processed cheese food was a keyword phrase that he should be targeting, but that’s just me.
Keywords and keyword targeting in relation to online businesses are often times a thing of wide speculation. I say wide because there are educated expert opinions, and crazy-in-the-head opinions. I try to find the expert opinions myself, because the crazy-in-the-head folks often are laughed at when they go to parties. There’s the ever important “competitive keywords,” the often misunderstood “secondary keywords,” and the WTF category of “non-competitive keywords.” The whole keyword targeting thing can get on a rumblepup’s nerves.
But guess what? That’s how people search the web, using keywords. An obvious “No Duh” statement if you’ve ever heard of one, I’m sure, but you have to really understand what that means in both the technical and the marketing sense to fully understand the implications to online business. You think you know, but you’d be surprised at what you don’t.
In comes Ken Jurina and his firm Epiar, a 6 year old SEM firm in Canada that merges website marketing, design and SEO practices that drives qualified traffic through search, most notably, what keywords are actually being searched, and how to optimize business sites for those terms.
Unlike many SEM’s Epiar’s focus is on the organic or natural search rankings which is where an estimated 90% of people who use search engine click. Epiar offers their premium keyword research and strategic SEO through the use of their suite of proprietary applications that they actually developed in house. Their applications are so innovative that they have actually qualified for R&D funding through the government of CanadKen J:
Recently Epiar ranked as the 11’th fastest growing company in it’s local province of Alberta which is more known for oil and gas and not SEO, so this was quite an accomplishment. They have also won an award for “Entrepreneurial Innovation” and Ken himself has been nominated as Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the year for two consecutive years.
In other words, Ken & his expert staff at Epiar know keyword research and SEO. They know what people are searching for and why. They know the search terms that web surfers use for research, and they know search terms that elicit sales. Ken is a top of his game, SEO/ SEM, marketing animal extraordinaire that gets results for his clients. No wonder. He’s co-chair on the marketing committee of SEMPO for the past 3 years, has co-founded SEMPO Canada, presents internationally, speaks and lectures at SES’s, as well as numerous Business and Corporate seminars. His articles, presentations and research appear in everything from Web Master Radio to Web Pro News and his knowledge of design and SEO has made his clients some of the happiest people online. Over 90% of Epiar’s clients boast top 10 rankings for over 75% or more of their key phrases that Epiar has optimized their website for. That’s a pretty incredible track record.
So, of course, I had to ask him rumblepup questions. To make it up to him, I’ll send him a cheese log.
rumblepup: Hello señor!
Ken J: Ola rumblepup and mucho gracias for the interview. By the way, I have yet to receive my cheese log.
rumblepup: Damn that US Postal Service. Here I am trying to improve the US/ Canadian relations and they go eat the fine cheese log that I send to a famous foreign Search Marketer. Don’t worry Ken, I’ll contact the local Canadian Embassy and get the Mounties to track that log down. Then those mounties will beat up those darn US Postal Service hooligans who ate the cheese log, make them cough up the dough for a new one, and we’ll all sit down to a cheese log and case of Coors….
But I see I’ve digressed again.
So, uhm, what’s your favorite sandwich?
Ken J: I’m a club house kind of guy. Sometimes I’ll be crazy and remove the third slice. Though a good grilled cheese sandwich is always nice.
rumblepup: How was SES Chicago?
Ken J: SES Chicago was great. It’s always fun and interesting to network and mind meld with thousands of industry peers and we’re invited that we have been invited to present at all the major North American SES’s for the last three years. The two presentations we did went very well and we have been asked to present at two new sessions at the upcoming SES NYC in April’07. My presentation was on “Business Issues for the SEM Shop” and my employee Curtis Dueck’s presentation was on “Working Keyword Research into the Traditional Marketing Mix”. Both sessions were well received and scored but we were particularly interested in the response from Curtis’s presentation where he showed off a small portion of the keyword research capabilities Epiar offers, much of which is posted on our Internet market research blog. He was “rushed” by conference patrons after his session and over the 4 day conference many inquired on whether Epiar was for sale by even Microsoft themselves.
rumblepup: Your firm has some pretty unique and interesting methodologies for researching keywords in relation to online business and services. What is it about keyword search terms that cause confusion to site owners? It seems that what most online businesses consider “obvious” competitive keywords might actually be wrong? How does your firm help?
Ken J: This is where one of our proprietary applications we fondly call “Epiar MarketView” comes in. In about 4 weeks time the MarketView data mines and analysis typically between 20,000 to 100,000 phrases and their annual search frequency as well as the number of competing websites per phrase. The online keyword research is specifically tailored around our client’s business goals, industry, products and services. Using MarketView we then isolate the specific keywords most likely to bring and convert the select target market our clients are trying to reach and position their website in front of.
The twist is that our application does most of the heavy lifting and phrase categorization with little human involvement. Whereas competitors typically analyze hundreds of phrases possibly monthly which are obtained usually from the client themselves of through brainstorming or mining of logfiles, Epiar on the other hand offers a way to eliminate the “guess work” out of key phrase research. As we have found out, there are typically tens of thousands of ways a potential visitor to your website could describe their needs, wants, product benefits and so forth. There is no way any business owner, no matter how many years in business, would know the exact way a potential client would string together words to search online or even the misspellings that regularly happen.
Anyone in the business of effective SEO knows that if you fail in isolating the proper keyphrases to optimize your website on the rest of your SEO efforts may be in vein. Who wants to rank #1 on a phrase not being searched, even is it does result in 10,000,000 competing websites? That doesn’t mean your customer is using that exact phrase to search for your company with.
It’s remarkable how often we find companies optimizing their website for the most common 2 or possibly 3 word phrases which are “best guess” and most often competed on when in fact the best converting phrases are usually long tail phrases with 3 or more terms that often have just as many annual searches but with a faction of competing websites.
I know I’d rather have my website rank where my clients are and competitors aren’t and Epiar’s clients typically agree with that logic : )
rumblepup: As a marketer, would you suggest that targeting keyword searches is a type of branding?
Ken J: Yes I would. Research has shown that clients expect “brands” to rank in the search results for phrases they are using to search for them. Often these phrase are generic and don’t mention the brand name, but the expectation is that if a company is a real player Google or other search engines will rank them high in the results. If you’re looking to increase your brand recognition and obtain a higher percent of market share ranking directly in front of your potential target market sure helps. We have clients competing with ITunes, Chapters, Walmart and so forth yet they are consistently outranking them in the search results on phrases we know are being searched. The lift on brand awareness and goodwill brought to those client’s companies is priceless.
rumblepup: PPC has of late become a rather large and agreeably important marketing tactic, but if I’m correct, you have noted that 85% percent of regular traffic comes from organic search. Is that true across the big three (Google, Yahoo! and MSN) or have you noted any difference in paid vs. organic? Is this important? Do you think that organic SERP’s are enough to be a successful online business?
Ken J: Depending on the industry it’s typically 85% to 90% click through rate on organic search results with exception to travel which is about 50% organic and 50% PPC. This trend is the same for all major search engines. Gord Hotchkiss from Enquiro has done some great eye tracking studies that back these stats up.
I certainly do believe that organic SERP’s alone are enough to run not only a successful but thriving business, be it in offering products or services for B2B or B2C and we have a long list of clients who would agree. A number of prospective clients have come to us with a large PPC budget, some as high as $80K per day, and we have dramatically reduced or eliminated the need for the PPC spend all together because their organic rankings have been so successful. That’s not to say there isn’t a fit for both PPC and organic but I do believe that a large percent of companies could severely cut back on their PPC spend if they only invested in proper search engine optimization to return long term rankings versus having to continually increase their PPC spend because of rising PPC prices.
rumblepup: Obviously, we’ve been talking about on page factors, but off page link marketing is a factor in SERP’s as well. When considering IBL’s and anchor text, what are your suggestions? Should a site owner try to mirror on-page factors like anchor text and content when obtaining links?
Ken J: It is our belief and recommendation that a site owner incorporate keywords in the anchor text links in IBLs to their site and specifically direct that IBL, when possible, to the specific page on their website optimized for those same key phrases and related content. We apply this same theory to OBLs as well and believe that search engines place value on not only who links to you but who you linked to off of your website as well. It all comes down to being transparent to a site visitor and improving the visitor experience. While we believe this helps to give further proof and verification to search engines on what a particular web page’s content is based and optimized on it also results in better visitor experience. While some search engines may not be including this IBL factor in their algorithm presently they certainly may in the future. In the end if it only results in a better visitor experience and has no effect on SERP’s then it is still serves a valuable purpose.
rumblepup: Search is ever evolving, and what was true yesterday, might not be true today. New terms such as Semantic Web, Folksonomy, Metadata and RDF are often cited as future or existing technologies that will affect search. Where are we going with this? Will tagging and social bookmarking affect search? Will semantic data models be a future consideration? What the hell is going on? What’s next?
Ken J: Yes is the simple answer. Each will play a role in validating the relevance of a site for search engines while also serve the purpose of collecting pools of potentially targeted traffic which you can drive to your website if you capitalize on the opportunities social bookmarking and similar technologies offer. As search algorithms get smarter and smarter the will continue to add or replace variables to improve on the search result. They continually are testing and defining what the best search experience may be and as a result may choose to show results be they local, news topics, maps and more which will appear above organic search results and push them lower on the page.
The reality is that search engines will continue to work towards whatever is going to result in a better search experience in order for them to hold on to and ultimately grow their percent of the search market share. As a result smart SEM’s have to be able to adapt to incorporate the benefits these new technologies offer and move with the ever-changing tide that is SEM or they will drown. The constant state of the Internet is in is exciting and fosters new opportunities for Epiar. We feed off of it and take advantage of the competitive edge it offers us as we continually focus full time man hours towards R&D to be at the bleeding edge of technology. It’s a costly but necessary investment unless you want to be a “me too” SEM which Epiar certainly is not.
rumblepup: You started your design business back in 1993. When did you first get into design for the web?
Ken J: My print and web design/development firm, Top Draw, opened its doors in 1993 and Epiar 6 years ago in 2001 when it first began its R&D on our applications. Top Draw got heavily into website development in 1997 when the Internet was still very young and people didn’t even know if they wanted a website let along for it to be optimized. Surprisingly some of that still happens today. Now the bulk of our employees at Top Draw are website designers or programmers and our list of web solutions and services have dramatically increased over the years. As Epiar does not do website development themselves we often work with third party firms, including Top Draw, to implement Epiar SEO techniques for clients’ websites. Epiar is more like the architect and Top Draw or another 3rd party firm is the construction company that builds the online property that we have meticulously planned out.
rumblepup: Do you remember the first website you made? What was it?
Ken J: That’s over 10 years ago now, but it was probably the Top Draw website. Which funny enough we are redeveloping as we speak to improve its SEO and content. As they say “the shoe maker’s son goes without any shoes”. It’s embarrassing as the site really hasn’t been properly updated for almost 3 years now.
rumblepup: How was it that you progressed to SEM?
Ken J: Top Draw was sick and tired of their clients’ websites not ranking in the SERPs and 6+ years ago we knew we had to do something about it before our client’s started asking questions and demanding better returns on the advertising investments. We knew there had to be something more we could do to drive more qualified traffic to our clients’ websites beyond simply increasing a clients traditional marketing spend and plastering their website address everywhere. We knew we needed to capitalize on what was likely an untapped market of people already online searching for our clients. There were few solutions that we could and more theories and numerous contradictions of how to properly rank in the search results. It was at that fortuitous moment I happened to run across my now business partner in Epiar, Bob Vaasjo, who had some innovative ideas and theories about SEO. IT was then that we really pioneered in this industry breaking new ground and going through a lot of hell and heartaches in development that even resulted in employees quitting who didn’t subscribe to our new philosophy of how optimized websites needed to be built. At that time there were many web developers, and still are, who only wanted to design 100% flash websites or weren’t taught, and still aren’t today, about how to develop a website that was search engine optimized. It was a very tough time but we forged ahead against the odds and many naysayers and now are starting to really reap the rewards, but the fight and battle is far from over.
rumblepup: When you need a little help, what do you do? What forums do you visit? Whose blogs do you frequent?
Ken J: We do a lot of testing and rely upon ourselves to find a solution on many occasions but it’s always nice to call on our SEM friends who we’ve met over the years, many of which are from the relationships we have built at SES conferences. There are too many great forums and blogs to mention but I’ll list off a few. I’m often at Rand Fishkin’s blog at www.seomoz.org, Danny Sullivan’s at http://www.searchengineland.com, Brett’s popular webmaster forum http://www.webmasterworld.com/ , Barry Schwartz’s report on the most interesting threads taking place in the SEO forums at http://www.seroundtable.com/ and John Battelle’s thoughts on the intersection of search, media, technology, and more at http://battellemedia.com/. These are but a few but there are incredible resources of knowledge and I hold each of these gentlemen in the highest regard.
rumblepup: So, talking about cheese, I heard you sat on some.
(ROFL, OMG, now that’s comedy)
Ken J: Ah yes, that cheese. It was a cold day in Chicago and the SEO Fan Girl author of the popular Men of SEO Blog was treating some of us to some true Chicago deep dish pizza. Let’s just say our mode of transportation fell through and we took the subway instead. I happened to find myself sitting on a piece of processed cheese that somehow was on my seat. Well that cheese ended up joining us for the remainder of the evening and made its way around. Now I see SEO Fan Girl has made things even “cheesier” by having a contest to see whose butt the cheese is on. Feel free to take a look and vote at http://menofseo.blogspot.com/ as to which bottom you think is mine. There are a number of famous ones there.
rumblepup: SES sounds both fun and informative. What can someone like rumblepup experience there?
Ken J: Pretty much everything SEM. Great people, invaluable information and some rare insight into the future of SEM you can get only after a couple of libations with key people. The parties are a riot, talk about social networking. I can highly recommend the SES conferences as well as Danny’s new Expos at http://searchmarketingexpo.com/ of which he has three of so far this year. I know they will be a success and we plan to be at them.
rumblepup: This has been a long and challenging debate in some very serious circles. As a web and search expert, I really need your opinion on this. Who was the greatest historical figure in the 20th century?
Curly or Shemp?
Ken J: No doubt about it Curly. His logic was without flaw.
rumblepup: I certainly agree. In fact, I’m writing a treatise on the cultural and philosophical influences of “Nyuck, Nyuck” and “Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo” on the national and international political arena.
See, saw, see? Soitenly! Yaadadeeee, Yaadeda.
(And for the culturally devoid of life, look it up here)
Thank you Ken.
Ken J: My pleasure rumblepup! And if you could send that cheeselog without any nuts on the outside I would appreciate it.
rumblepup: Jeez, the things I gotta do to get a guy to do an interview.