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Strategies to Improve Google Keyword Ranking

An interview with Larry Gurreri

For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, we have  Larry Gurreri, founder and CEO of Sosemo, an award-winning strategic media planning, buying, and campaign management agency. Matt Fraser got Larry to decode his strategy to increase visibility by 50%, efficiently allocate budget, and drive results for clients. Watch now.

The best thing about SEO is that if you are willing to put in work, you can compete with or outrank the biggest brands out there.

Larry Gurreri
Founder and CEO of Sosemo
Hello everyone, welcome to E-coffee with experts. I'm your host Matt Fraser and on this episode, I have with me a very special guest Larry Gurreri. Larry is the founder and CEO of Sosemo, an award-winning strategic media planning, buying, and campaign management agency that specializes in marketing brands across the digital landscape. As a sought-after pundit in media search, marketing, and social media, he had recognized an industry-wide gap between traditional marketing and its latest innovations. In 2012 he founded Sosemo to offer brands, superior services, and expertise in areas where their traditional agencies of record usually have little depth. In his spare time, Larry enjoys jogging, finding inspiration at art galleries globe-trotting, and cheering on the New York Yankees. He also works occasionally as a film actor in small roles as he has appeared in the Steven Spielberg directed film, The Post, and the Martin Scorsese directed films, the Irishman and the Joker. Larry, it is a pleasure to have you here with us.

Glad to be here. 

So that's pretty exciting. How did you get involved in movies? That's amazing.

It’s become a big part of our culture here at Sosemo. A few years ago, they were filming right in front of our office, The Post which had Tom Hanks. It was a Spielberg production. And we were interested in what was going on outside our office, and we called the number on the lot, and basically, we found out what they were filming, and I volunteered to be an extra. I let the folks know that we would shut down our office and would love to be on that production. And they took a few of us. And since then I’ve been listed with a casting agency. And whenever they’re looking for somebody with longer hair, it’s like the 70s and 80s films I’m called. So I was in the Joker. I was in the Irishman and it’s become a big part of our culture.

I saw that picture of you with the Joker makeup. What was that, were you an extra for the movie, or were you just playing around?

Like eight days on the set of The Joker. That was one of the clown-face protesters. It was a lot of fun.

I saw that movie. That was a real dark movie. Larry, you started your agency in 2012. How did that come about?

There are a lot of reasons for starting Sosemo. I had been at a larger agency just before then. And in all honesty, I was kind of burnt out on just being stretched across so many different businesses and having four different bosses. So I was just looking to recalibrate. I was interested in something a little bit more intimate. And I dabbled with starting an app-based company. Along the way, my old colleagues were reaching out to me to see if I’d be interested in some freelance work. And at first, I was just focused on my app, but at some point, I took on some freelance business. I realized that I had to decide between trying to raise funding for the app business or dialing up an agency quickly. It was unquestionable that there was a lot of demand for specialized marketing services. So I went with the agency, and there is the story.

Yeah, that was 10 years ago now. What is one of the hardest things about starting your agency? What are some of the challenges you have had starting your agency from then to now?

Getting off the ground was a bit of a challenge. I didn’t do a whole lot early on. A lot of my old colleagues were reaching out to me and looking for freelance work, which essentially just kind of spun into an agency. I reached out to my network a little bit, but it was just about doing really good work. And that just led to additional business.  Nowadays, it’s about getting talent. And talent is hard to come by. We do pretty much everything that we can to add to the culture, add to benefits, and so forth to attract the best talent that we can.

Yeah, it seems to be across the board. Finding engaging people. But finding people not only in our industry, like marketing agencies and digital marketing skills, but even having trouble finding plumbers, and tradespeople in other areas is that correct?

Every year we do an annual town hall meeting, we share a lot of those figures and marketing is one of the bigger areas with the shortage of labor. So it was like that before all this happened with the pandemic. I always had to do everything possible to make this an attractive place for people to want to work.

So what do you do then to attract talent to your agency to get them to come work for you?

I never shortchanged benefits, we do a lot. Our benefits are very, very good. Essentially, we have the best benefits that we could offer. And there’s a lot culturally that we do as well. You mentioned the movies within the film festivals. Even during the pandemic, we rented a movie theater and had a virtual screening at the New York Film Festival. And it’s kind of funny,  the firm that owns that movie studio has become a partner of ours. It was a movie production company in New York City, and I got to talk to the owner, he had been telling me about the movies he’s directed and Hathaway and so forth. So we partnered with them now. We’re promoting their latest film. It’s something that we’re interested in. We have baseball games and all kinds of team-building activities. All that stuff’s really important to us.

So I guess that's also how you keep your talent then by making them a part of a community, it sounds like?

 That’s a big part of it. There are a lot of other things. We’ve got several different bonuses that I think are very innovative. We have this called variable added comp, which is a unique bonus structure that essentially I think distinguishes us. Last year with how busy and overcapacity we were, our team was earning overtime, which I thought was pretty critical. I think the agency that wasn’t doing that had a lot more issues delivering.

Yeah, that's pretty interesting. Um, how did you pick the name of your agency?

 I was starting a company and I was trying to find a name that was available on GoDaddy for that with three syllables. And there wasn’t much so I spent probably days just kind of combing through the different options. So I came up with the word Sosemo which is essentially an acronym for Social Search in mobile. If you look at the bracket around our logo, that’s intended to communicate that we have an integrated approach across those channels.

So social search in mobile. That's pretty ingenious, to be frank with you. Taking your domain name for a business nowadays is pretty darn hard to find something that's available. And then not only do you have to find that, but you also have to find if social media handles are available. And it's got to be less than 15 characters. Otherwise, you're not getting on Twitter. Or you got to be creative.

Lots of meetup posts these days, for sure. Yep.

What is your favorite part about running a digital marketing agency?

For me, it’s about personal connections. It’s about getting to know my clients and getting to know my co-workers and just kind of caring about buddies and helping them to succeed. So for me, it’s just personal connections.

I find that too, as well, just connecting and helping people. Now you specialize in certain areas of marketing services I saw on your website, for instance, you have a health division and a media division. Has it contributed to the success of your agency specializing in a niche or industry such as health services?

Yeah. Health is a specialty. When you talk to health care marketers, they are people that don’t specialize, so it is a very unique specialty there.

So, therefore, it gives you a distinction to do that. I know what you're talking about because I used to work for car dealers. So I know that that takes a special skill set too as well. It's not something everybody can do. You mentioned looking for new talent and acquiring new talent. What are some of the things you look for in an interview, that are either going to qualify or disqualify someone from joining your team or even being considered for your team? Maybe it's a tip that you could share with someone else we'll be watching.

I mean, it’s tough. We have our interview screening questions. It’s just about being passionate and coming across that way, that you have done some research on our clients and us. So that’s really what matters.  It doesn’t take much to research a company and research their clients, to have a meaningful conversation with an employer. But it’s funny that most people don’t. Most people submit their resumes and that’s about it. They give you a very generic cover letter and hope for the best. 

Thank goodness, that's interesting. So have tips for people out there, and research the company you're applying for. That's interesting. Do you think company culture is something that can be created, or does it happen naturally?

It evolves, that’s for sure. There are a lot of things here that have become baked over the years. But we had to work at it. I still have individual lunch meetings with everybody on our team. And one of the questions I’ve always asked is what else can we do to make us a better workplace? How can we have more fun? And at this point, I’m not getting a lot of new answers. So as I said we’ve got a pretty big culture. So I think it’s something that you work at, but I think it does kind of stabilize over time.

It Sounds like you've created a place that gets things done, but it's a fun place to come and work. I saw the bobbleheads on your or your desk, and I guess your team got one custom one made for you?

There was one made of me. Yes.

How did that come about? How did that come about? I don't know if you can order them?

Well, going to the Yankees games is important to us. And there are bobblehead days at Yankee Stadium where you get some kind of unique bobblehead. There are not that many. There are only 20,000 bobbleheads and Yankee Stadium, is a lot bigger. So we always go and get the June BeanSuite on bobblehead day, because there’s a special entrance where we can go in and get out. We make sure everybody gets their bobbleheads. So I think everybody’s got the bobbleheads. And I think they know that I’m proud of them and I always care about bobblehead day. So they had that made, I think on Amazon somehow. It was a national boss’s day, they gave that to me. 

Man. That is so cool. Being a digital marketing agency, there are various things that one can specialize in or do. I noticed that one of those things you do is SEO. What's your favorite thing about search engine optimization?

I’ve been doing SEO for about 20 years now. So it’s a fairly level playing field. If you are willing to put in the work, I do feel that you can compete or outrank the biggest brands out there. So that would be why I like SEO.

What is a commonly held belief about SEO that you passionately disagree with?

 I mean, we’ve got our unique philosophies here. Regarding all the channels that we work in. I would say that more content and more keywords are always better. I feel like that’s a common belief that we don’t necessarily agree with.

Okay, so more content and keywords are always better. Some people don't think it is.

 I don’t think it is. 

Can you give me an example of when that is?

I think generally, like most marketers their approach to SEO is to have a content strategy. So like producing more and more content, and just kind of stuffing more and more keywords in that content is their approach. That feels more like throwing darts at a dartboard and just kind of hoping for the best results. We have a more strategic approach to that.

Are there any campaigns you can share, like in generality, you don't have to share specific details of a client's strategy. But are there any examples you can share that you've used in that approach?

 Let me talk a little bit about our approach. So there’s something that we call a keyword listening study. And that’s the intelligence that we use to inform our SEO optimization recommendations. So surely they think about it. Everybody knows about Google’s algorithms and what they have and how complex they are. In layman’s terms, I think about the search engine algorithms because the engines will set aside a limited number of points for key locations on a web page. So, for example, let’s just say the title of a page. Google will say, okay, there are 10 points for all keywords in the title. If you decide to put 10 keywords in the title, each keyword would get one point. Alternatively, you could have one keyword in the title, and that one keyword would get all 10 points. So to me, the main aspect of SEO is that you can either go after a shortlist of very competitive keywords or a longer list of less competitive keywords. So for us, the way we do that is we do this keyword listening study where we essentially map keywords along the consumer journey, and then we’ll look for search volume and marry that up against the competition. And our goal then is to find highly searched keywords that have less competition, and therefore, it’s like good shelf space that we can own by developing and optimizing content. So for me, it’s about quality over quantity. We try to make sure that whatever content we’re producing actually has really good odds of ranking in the search results. And that’s how we do it. And I mean, I’ve seen tremendous results from this. I’ve been using this strategy for many years. We see anything from like 30, 40, 50% increase in visibility when we implement the strategy.

Wow. How did you learn that strategy?

Well, it ties back to our health experience if you want to know. So when you work in pharmaceutical marketing, there’s a process called, it’s got a lot of different names, but essentially, it’s meant legal review. So everything that is going to be on the market has to go through a very detailed review process. So one of the unique things about working in healthcare, specifically pharma, is that whatever you put in the market will stick there for a while. You don’t have the opportunity to tweak content over time. So I think in many industries, the approach to SEO is to put something out there and tweak it based on analytics. In healthcare, we don’t have that opportunity as much because everything needs to be rerouted through med-legal. So when we produce content, we need to make sure that it will perform out of the gate. So years ago, when I was starting in pharmaceutical marketing, what we realized was that we had to do the upfront planning and analysis to make sure that that content was going to perform because once it was on the market, we were kind of stuck with it for several months. So as it turns out, I feel like it is the better approach to be more proactive about your optimizations than reactive based on analytics. So it does come from the health speciality.

What tools do you use to figure out what content to write, for instance, I'm pretty sure we're both familiar with tools like surfer SEO and page optimizer Pro, do you take that approach or do you just take a look at the different sites that are already there?

Yeah, we have all those tools.

So you take a look at those and then use your approach that you developed from doing healthcare marketing, which is very interesting.

Thanks.

You take a three-pronged approach to marketing, which I read about on your website. And one of the things you talked about was using PPC to get traffic as well. Can you tell me about a strategy that worked surprisingly that you used in PPC to get client results?

We’re a boutique agency. I feel like we’ve got an approach to every channel that we work with. So definitely, paid search is one of the core channels we work with. For us, it’s about, again, upfront planning, similar to SEO, but we do a comprehensive inventory assessment. And strategic budget allocation recommendation is the key to our special sauce when it comes to paid search.

Can you expand on that a little bit? Let's say there's a $5,000 budget. How do you decide which percentage goes where?

I’d love to talk through that. I think the biggest mistake that I see is paid search, and there are certain mistakes that I see in other channels. From a paid search perspective, what we see is that the mistake is to create a massive campaign, essentially, and just let the engine decide how to spend your budget. So I like to say that Google will spend your budget as efficiently as possible for Google, not your business?  So for me, it’s about really taking In steps to kind of control how the spending occurs. So the way that we do that is essentially, map keywords along the consumer journey. We will have different keyword groupings. And then we’ll use their planning tool, and will use the planning tool to forecast different share voice levels at different price points. So for us that would include taking some of the high volume, expensive terms, and putting them in a different keyword bucket as well as different groupings of all the more granular terms and they probably perform better. And then,  ultimately, we’ll have conversations with the clients and try to understand their goals. And base our decisions on the goals, but also the hidden value that we see. And while they have a plan, it’s like it looks like a mini media plan specifically for paid search. We may say something like, we may set budgets that are like 30%, Share of Voice on the high volume, expensive terms, and then try and shoot for 100%, on the more granular terms. So, for me, it’s about being aware of different SOV levels and of controlling the spending out of the gate.

That's a pretty interesting approach. Because you're right, a lot of marketers and agencies will take your money and do a broad match approach, see what works to get from there. I mean, like wasting money.

I see it all the time. It’s pretty obvious to spot. You look at these campaigns, and you see that 90% of the budget is being spent on free terms.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you've seen besides people setting up Google ad campaigns?

That’s the biggest one if you don’t have the intelligence. And what I mean by that is the research that you’ve done to know how to spend your capital, it’s not going to work out for you.

Do you see conversion tracking missing a lot from Google ad campaigns?

I’m not too much in a lot of campaigns. So we’re not taking over too many campaigns and restructuring.

I was just curious, from your perspective, you've seen other agencies and campaigns you've taken over? What has been one of the most successful SEM campaigns you've run that you could share?

We analysed an existing campaign for a Fortune 100 client one time. We’ve done this for many former companies as well, where we’ve kind of come in, audited an existing campaign, identified exactly what we just talked about, basically exhausting the entire budget, going through the process of coming up with an inventory assessment, and a more strategic recommendation for the budget. We had one particular very large campaign that we did this analysis for, and ultimately, we executed it, and it had like a 4x increase in all metrics. So it’s led to substantially more business for us.

Well, that's awesome. And I imagine the impact on that particular business was very good. Even without going into details. It must be very rewarding to see what you do have such a positive impact on the outcome? Because not only are you changing the business owners' life, but possibly you're impacting the people who are working there. They may need to hire more staff, and so on. Well, would that be a fair assumption?

We love seeing our clients succeed, but also, I can say that for a lot of the brands that we work with, we work in health care, it’s not working on T-shirts or bumper stickers. A lot of times, we’re helping to improve people’s lives. In some cases, with some of the brands that we work with, we are helping to extend people’s lives. So there’s a lot of satisfaction working in healthcare for that.

I'm glad you pointed that out. Because it's not like you're just selling widgets and helping people sell widgets, you're helping people make an impact and possibly extending people's lives. That must make you feel good at the end of the day?

I mean, ultimately, we facilitate conversations between patients and doctors.

So, how do you use social media paid campaigns? How does that fit in the mix?

 I like paid social. I think there’s still a lot of inventory out there. It’s lower cost and certainly one of the areas that we’re working in. We have a similar artisan approach to paid search into SEO, where we’ll do an inventory assessment, and kind of strategize the budget allocation across campaigns. And that’s what delivers results for us.

Social as you and I know is you more interest-based targeting and people-based targeting rather than keyword-based targeting. So how does your approach differ when you're implementing a paid social campaign versus SEO and PPC for Google ads or Bing Ads, or whichever the case, maybe?

You’re right, it’s a little bit different. Instead of keywords, you’re looking at basically user affinities. So for us to do it, your first step is you have to flush out the different target audiences. I think if there is a listening tool that you have use it. That’s what we use to flush out what the personas look like and to identify them.  From there,  we’ll use the planning tools within the various platforms of Facebook or LinkedIn, or what have you, by the audience sizes. And then based on sizes, we determine the budget needed for a certain amount of ad frequency that we would consider ideal. So for us,  when I mentioned how Google will spend your budget as efficiently for Google, the same kind of thing with LinkedIn, but instead of just spending it on clicks, they spend it on ad frequency. So for us, it is a point of diminishing return with AD frequency. It’s not productive to keep showing the ad over and over and over and over and over again, to the same audience. It can be counterproductive. So for us, it’s about setting the budget, that’s high enough that you’re getting enough ad frequency to break through, but not so much that it’s counterproductive and you’re adding to apathy. So strategy, and then making sure that you kind of rebalance your budget over time.

That's interesting. So how do you use all three of these marketing channels together to create a successful campaign for a client?

 These are the core channels that I think most clients should be running campaigns on. Long programmatic is the other one that we do a lot of. But for me, it’s all about frequency. We’re a media buying agency, so it’s about having the right amount of touchpoints and ad frequency across channels to break through and drive the actions you want.

Do you have any examples in general terms of successful campaigns that have utilized all three or four of these because you mentioned programmatically?

 I would say that most of our clients work with us for all these channels, and we have 90% retention with clients. So I would say that they’re all pretty much successful. 

I was just curious if there was one that stood out. If there was a client who only had a limited budget to exclude one of those channels, which one would you tell them to exclude?

I don’t know if I would exclude 100%. I  think you can certainly dial back in certain areas. We do this a lot. And we try to get the coverage that you need. I use all three of the channels, but,  we may dial back in certain areas.  So first, dial back from the awareness of upper-funnel terms and just focus on the branded terms, or we might use social for more awareness and so forth.

So for instance, let's take $1,000 because it's an easy number to or 10,000, whatever. Now, we're talking about four channels, there's, paid search, SEO, paid social, and programmatic. How do you decide what percentage of the budget goes where? Based on $10,000, it's a number that can divide easily by percentages. How do you divide the budget across the various channels? What is your approach?

There’s art and science there. For me,  we do a couple of different things. First off, having that inventory assessment helps. So we know basically, how much coverage is available or how much inventory at what cost is available that helps guide our recommendations. And then the second part is just kind of understanding the client goals and kind of where the product is in its lifecycle. If it’s a brand new product then we’re focusing on awareness. We may try and put a higher percentage towards awareness media. If it’s a product, that’s been a while, we might be just focused on a kind of lower funnel acquisition media. So we take that all into consideration when coming up with a budget allocation. I mean, for me, one of the key takeaways, I think that’s important for clients and this is something that I often have this conversation with regards to budget is that if you don’t have the budget to have enough frequency for a nationwide campaign. I think it’s better to geo-target. I think it’s better to go deep in a specific Geo, and have a frequency to break through and drive the actions that you want, versus spreading the campaign too thin nationwide. So that’s something that we often discuss.

That makes a lot of sense. Rather than spreading your budget across the country, limit your reach to a certain geographical area and use the revenue from that campaign. Have you seen a lot of campaigns do that, where they target city by city?

I wouldn’t say the majority of our clients, but for a new product launch, it makes sense.

Is there anything I have not asked that you wished I had?

 I think you did a great job.

Where can people find out more about you?

You can go to sosemo.com or add me on LinkedIn. I’ll connect with anybody.

So just look for you on LinkedIn. I'm just going to ask you 5 rapid-fire questions before we conclude the interview. What is one subject you would like to learn more about?

Movie Production. Love it.

Movie Production.

Actually, movie promotion. It’s something we are starting to do more of.

That makes sense considering you are in New York. They say movies get made in Hollywood, but lots are also going on in New York. What is your favorite movie?

 I would have to say the Godfather. Casa Blanca would be number two.

Who is your favorite Disney character?

I am not a huge Disney fan but can I say Ron Konobly.

He is now. They are now part of the Disney family. What is your favorite type of food? Unless I am not mistaken, I know you like to eat out or cook? I know you are foody.

Steak Tartare. I  love it.

I love to cook. I worked in restaurants for 14 years. I know exactly what you are talking about Steak tartare. What is your favorite season of the year? Spring, winter, summer, or fall?

Springtime.

I want to thank you so much for being on the show. It's such a pleasure to have you here. I want to say thanks for taking time out of your day.

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