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What’s trending in Digital Marketing?

An Interview with Jeff Irvine

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood talks about the latest digital marketing trends with Jeff Irvine, founder of InnoVision, a digital marketing agency. Jeff shares his opinions and thoughts about how the SEO business has evolved, how to monitor the ROI on your marketing efforts, how agencies can use LinkedIn for marketing and lead generations and how businesses are changing their marketing strategies during COVID 19 and more.
Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of e-coffee.

If we’re getting to the top of the page and getting the traffic but it’s not converting, it’s irrelevant at that point. So content really comes down to not only what we need to put on a page to get that placement, but also what do we need to have on that page that’s going to convert that traffic into a lead or a sale.

Jeff Irvine, Founder
InnoVision
Hello everyone, how are you today!Today we have with us, Jeff Irvine, President of InnoVision, a performance-based digital agency.Jeff, before we start diving deep into the discussion, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and your company for our viewers.

So, my name’s Jeff Irvine and I started InnoVision in early 2013 after working for a digital marketing company. I’ve been in this industry for fifteen years now. One of the reasons I started InnoVision is I wanted it to be not only a complete marketing solution for local and regional businesses but also offer an affordable SEO solution that was going to get those results.

In this industry, you see things in terms of pricing and just service. It’s all over the place. And I felt that I could do a better job that’s focused on the customer and the results but also make it affordable for local businesses.

So, my goal has always been to put the customer first, get the results and make it affordable for anyone.

Earlier in your career at NGM you worked with local and regional businesses and helped them combine traditional and online marketing, how was that experience?

So, that was my first experience of getting into digital marketing, I’ve always been in sales. I had never really been in the marketing or web development game.

Back then, we were traveling and working with media companies such as radio, television and print stations all over the nation. It was a fascinating time in my life where I really got to see the entire US.
So we’ve got to do a lot of travel, see a lot of people and also learn quite a bit about not only how traditional media works but how you use traditional media, online media and web development and have it work as one. And the results you can actually generate for businesses.

Looking at the current situation, I believe marketing has changed. And even if we come out of the pandemic, the rest of the year we will see change in the market and consumer behavior. So what are your tips on marketing during 2020 as a business?

You know for the situation we’re in right now it’s a trying time, especially in the US. Here, every state, every county is a little bit different. Some are much more locked down than others. Regardless, most places consumers can’t get out and go do their normal day-to-day activities.

A lot of businesses are shut down, so you need to be focusing on right now with marketing is the ability to brand yourself and continue to keep your name out there.

Get creative with your marketing! People are bored, just sitting at home. Social media is where they’re at, so you really need to entertain people. You need to relate to them and relate to their situations.

So use content ideas, use video, use imagery and messages that are going to relate to their current situation.

I think what we’re going to end up seeing is as these restrictions are lifted you’re still going to find hesitation. Some industries are going to be hit hard and they may not come back for six to twelve months to the full capacity of where they were at. Some will bounce back immediately. So based on whatever industry a business is in, you know they’re gonna have to adapt one way or another.

I think people are going to hold on to money more than they were. People were spending and spending and spending. We had a good economy, there was money coming in, there was money going out and then when this hit everyone was forced to pull back. So, I think that’s going to have some ramifications with business going forward.

As an agency, when you are planning a marketing strategy for a business or a client, how do you budget across platforms? SEO versus PPC?

Before we even get started, we have a very frank conversation with the client about what their goals are, what they are looking to do and how we are gonna help them get there.

There are many times when clients come to me and say okay I want this, this and this but in reality that’s not where they need. They need to be spending the money based on whatever their short-term and long-term goals are. Are they looking for lead generation or looking for brand building? What are those goals and where we best allocate those dollars.

What does your SEO process look like?

Our SEO process is pretty straightforward- it’s data-driven. We look at not only historical metrics, if they’ve worked with an SEO company in the past, but it’s really a one-on-one conversation that we have with our clients.

I’m talking with our clients about strategies and really what their goals are, what are they trying to achieve.

It’s no longer just about being number one, number two, on Google. It’s really centered around the product services and procedures that they’re trying to attract consumers for.

So, it’s working with them, and it can be anything from content marketing to PR to link building to traditional SEO strategies, which one of those is going to get the best results that they’re looking for.

As an agency how do you calculate the ROI from your SEO efforts?

Calculating ROI is always going to be a challenge with SEO depending on how big of a campaign you’re going to be running. We want to be looking at key metrics based on the goals that we’ve set out initially and figure out what are those metrics that are going to help gauge what’s going to work best.

Oftentimes we’re finding that while we’re doing SEO, we’re also doing other things that are going to help generate organic traffic. Through display advertising or social media marketing, we’re helping build a brand. So as people are seeing that brand organically, that’s increasing the Click Through Ratio.

It’s no longer just having this work over here and this work over here, they’re all working together as one. Marketing really has become a full spectrum of using different mediums, that’s going to help SEO. The brand awareness from traditional advertising and display advertising helps your Click Through Ratios in an organic set up.

As we talked about, even in SEO the content on the page matters a lot. So when you're planning content for a particular page, how do you go about it? What all elements do you include and what is your strategy? Do you look at the top 10 pages ranking for that keyword?

Yeah, one of the first steps I always do is you look at the competitive analysis to see who is already ranking up there, what are they doing and what are the elements they have in place that are already giving them an advantage.

And then we take a look at the kind of strategy and implementation of conversions. Just being found on number one or on page one isn’t enough.

If we’re getting to the top of the page and getting the traffic but it’s not converting, it’s irrelevant at that point.

So it really comes down to not only what we need to put on a page to get that placement, but also what do we need to have on that page that’s going to convert that traffic into a lead or a sale.

Do you use any tools to plan the content or look at the competitors?

Not necessarily. I’ve been in this industry for fifteen years now, so a lot of it is based on experience from what I’ve seen and what we’ve done. So there are no tools that we use for the actual layout or analyzing a page. We have internal structures and templates that we use. They are based on the elements that we need to have on a page, whether it’s a content page or a landing page, that’s going to help create that conversion for us.

You're talking about conversions, what does your CRO strategy look like?

It’s looking at data, that’s kind of the first step. I always go back to data. Taking a look at what type of results we are getting and then seeing if those percentages are in line with the industry or they’re in line with past campaigns and strategies. So we’re looking at that type of data and then we’re applying that and making adjustments to increase the conversion ratio.

A lot of traffic comes through the blog pages now and blog content is very important for any website. How do you structure, plan and promote the blog for traffic? What are your best practices for creating a successful strategy and editorial calendar?

For a blog, the big thing is really taking a look at what we are trying to achieve with this blog. There are so many different things that you can do with a blog, are you looking at it as an informational piece or a PR piece or is it helping someone in some way. So, whatever the objective is for that blog is really going to dictate what that layout is. We have to take an aesthetic approach to anything we’re doing when it comes to a blog or a content. Reason being, we need it to be engaging and we need it to convert and lead people and visitors to that overall objective.

During these times a lot of agencies are experiencing clients pausing campaigns or even canceling. So when it comes to SEO, we know that this is a time when you actually do not have to stop doing SEO if you have the cash. How are you communicating that importance to the clients and trying to retain them?

So we’ve had that conversation with a lot of clients. I have a number of clients who have been with me for a long time and we’ve had to decrease what we were doing for them. It’s more about just maintenance and not losing the placement that you have. But let’s not focus so much on gaining all that ground right now.

Because again, if they’re shut down or for example, I have clients in Ophthalmology that can only see emergency patients right now, so their revenue is down 80 percent. We’re doing things that’s going to help maintain the placement they have now and not lose it but not be as aggressive as we typically are each month.

The importance, obviously, of this situation versus a traditional recession is that we know we’re going to come back, we know this is going to bounce back, we know that we’re gonna be able to start seeing our customers again even in limited capacity but that’s gonna happen within the next couple months.

This isn’t something that’s going to last years, so I think working with clients that really are looking towards the future is going to help with SEO and the overall placement. They want to make sure when they come out of this that they’re ahead of the game. There are a lot of businesses that have cut all advertising completely.

I’m advising clients to do what you can to maintain what you have.

I have some clients that are still doing well. We’ve shifted the budget. Maybe we’ve taken some money from SEO and moved it into social media or we’ve taken our search ad spend (which is considerably down and just in terms of number of searches nowadays) and moved it to a brand building campaign.

Keeping that name out there, whether it’s through maintaining SEO or pivoting and working with different mediums right now, the whole goal is just to continue to keep that brand out in front of people.

We’re doing a lot more content marketing and email marketing. And the reason being is we just need to engage and keep the brand alive in consumers minds.

Talking about the importance of content, you know quality content creation requires time and investment. So what are your thoughts on refreshing an existing old page versus creating an entirely new one?

You want to do both. There’s authority and there’s value with older pages. You can be reusing that content by freshening those pages up. And then you always want to be creating new content, that’s just good practice.

Whether it’s content pages or it’s blog articles, you want to have content that’s continuing to be fresh and updated for your consumers. You want your website to become a resource to people.

The only way it’s going to become a resource is if it’s not stale.

In your opinion, are press releases a great way to build SEO?

Press releases have really lost the authority that they used to have. And just like everything in SEO that has changed over the last 15-20 years, once Google sees that you start abusing something they’ll downgrade it. The value of it won’t be as much. I think that’s one of the things you saw with press releases is that it was overly abused, specific to SEO, and you know they downgraded the value of that.

I still think there is value in press releases, if they’re done correctly and if the content warrants a press release. Just throwing a press release out there I don’t think is effective as it once was because it’s not gonna be as engaging. So, if you have something that is happening with your business throwing a press release out there can provide value with SEO.

What does your link building strategy look like?

Our link building strategy is twofold. It’s based on where the client is, the competition that they have and what needs to be done. With obviously the clear separation between Google My Business and organic rankings, there are two different strategies. We have the citations, local directories, social sites, profiles and forums that we’re definitely using for Google My Business. That link building does help with the organic search. There are press releases, guest posting on blogs and those types of links I think are still valuable as long as the quality is there.

The big thing for us is making sure that there’s a relation between our client and where that link is. If it’s irrelevant or if that website’s not relevant in any way to the domain that we’re building a link for, it’s a waste of time. We need to make sure that it’s relevant to what we’re trying to go after.

What about nofollow links? How important is the ratio between follow and nofollow links?

You know being in SEO, well you could go to any form, any blog, any source, and the percentage is gonna be across the board. I think that there’s always been a healthy nofollow link policy out there. Having those nofollow links certainly does make your links and your link portfolio look much more organic than having just only follow links. So there’s not a set percentage that we go after.

When we’re doing a link analysis and monitoring links for an ongoing SEO campaign, we’re looking at the nofollow versus the follow. If we feel that domain name has enough nofollows then we won’t focus much on that. If we feel they’re very thin then yes, we will include nofollow links in that link building strategy. It’s a case-by-case basis, it’s not set that every 10 we have to build one nofollow or two follows. Because if someone has a lot of nofollow links, why would I be building more?

At the end of the day, it's all about making it look very natural because you can't just go out there and bombard a brand new website with do follows on all money keywords. It’ll just raise a red flag. I think common sense is very important these days in SEO as compared to the earlier days, where you could just spam with links and get rankings.

Yep. Absolutely, I’d agree.

Great. So Jeff, with so many years of experience in marketing what has your biggest challenge been so far?

Man, consumer habits. I’d say the biggest thing would be the consumer habits, where they start spending their time. You look at just social media, for example, years ago we could just spend time on Facebook, we would be great. Now, based on your demographics, Facebook might not even be the most viable option for you.

So, it really is consumer habits, where that person is and how you’re gonna reach them with the right message. What we could do is very limited in number of characters, for example with Twitter. It’s just the consumer habits are always going to be the challenge with marketing.

What about voice search, how do you see that becoming popular?

People have been talking about it now for a couple years that voice searching is here and you need to spend heavy attention on it. Honestly, I don’t think it’s there yet for local businesses. It’s definitely important to pay attention to and start implementing best practices for voice search. But you’re still not seeing a ton of people looking on a local level for businesses. The way people are using local search is definitely through brands that they’re already familiar with. Phone numbers, how to get there, how to get in contact with them- they’re asking a lot of questions. So, based on what your business is and information you provide, voice search can be viable but it’s not quite there yet for most local businesses.

I think even going forward if voice becomes popular, it will also depend on the kind of business you are in. If I have to go to a doctor, I’d want to do some research online beforehand. So, I think even if voice search becomes popular, like you said earlier, it depends what your customer is looking at and their behavior based on the business you are in.

You hit that right on the head. Especially in medicine, the thing you’ll find is that people are going to do a lot of their research before they’ll even make contact. So they’re not going to use a voice search just to contact someone they’re not familiar with.

Again, voice search is quite different because you don’t have as much access to be able to do that research as you do when you’re on a computer. You have a keyboard and a mouse and you can be quickly navigating from business to business to do that type of research. It’ll definitely vary based on the type of business that you’re trying to optimize for.

I'm a big fan of LinkedIn, I think even as an agency it is very good for marketing. Do you use LinkedIn and if yes, are there any best practices?

I did start just being more active with LinkedIn, I’d say in the middle of last year. One of the things that you’re seeing with LinkedIn is that they’re just starting to explode in terms of the usage and how people are interacting with it. LinkedIn is kind of one of those things that’s always been there. For some reason, I would say last year, maybe by the end of 2018 you started to see just more and more usage and interaction between premium users on LinkedIn.

I think LinkedIn is going to be a very viable advertising medium for this year and moving into 2021 I see it being a huge tool for lead generation for businesses that are B2B.

You have been in sales and you have been doing account management for a long time now. My last question to you would be that what do you think account managers normally get wrong while managing clients? And what would some of your tips be to the account managers out there? I'm mainly talking about the digital space.

I would say, and this is a lot from client feedback, when it comes to account management and managing multiple clients- take responsibility. You’re not always going to do things right but if you own up to it and you fix it, that goes a long way with the relationship you build with the clients.

Answer your phone. Too many people in the digital space just want to rely on text or email, and you know most people want to just have a talk, especially business owners. They want to talk with whoever is working on their projects.

Being accountable and being available is the biggest step. Everyone does SEO or marketing, not to say that I’m this much better than that person, but we are good at what we do. And one of the reasons customers stay with me is that I pick up the phone, I respond, and I take responsibility if something does go wrong.

I think being transparent and having that connection with your clients is very important because at the end of the day, when you are trying new stuff and even in SEO you can't always be right. But if you have tracked it well, if you are being transparent with your client, and you tell them that we know that this went wrong so now we are optimizing the strategy accordingly. They at least know where we stand, rather just waiting for six months or a year and then seeing nothing has happened and not knowing the reason behind it. I think that is one of the main reasons that clients in marketing cancel, because they were never aware of what was happening with their accounts.

Yeah, I would agree wholeheartedly with that. I mean I’ll give you a great example, when it comes to SEO and having that transparency. There were a number of major updates last year just with Google that really had strong implications in terms of negative rankings for people. Some had great ones when these changes came out, but we saw clients that did have drops and some had significant drops based on the algorithm updates. And being transparent and letting people know that we took a hit or maybe we lost a spot or maybe we lost four or maybe we went to page two. But letting them know that one, we’re on top of it, two, we’ll identify why that was and three, more importantly we’ll fix it.

And just having a frank conversation like that is appreciated by clients. If you can’t have a candid conversation, you shouldn’t be in account management. That’s kind of what it takes. You need to be able to take it on the chin, own up to it but more importantly fix it.

Well, thank you so much for your time today. It was lovely chatting with you.

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