MarTech Interview with Matt Colebourne, CEO at Searchmetrics

With search and SEO practices becoming more complex, it is important for B2B marketers to know what needs to be strengthened continuously and how; Matt Colebourne, CEO at Searchmetrics has a few thoughts:

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Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Matt, tell us more about your current role as CEO at Searchmetrics and your journey through the years…

Being CEO at Searchmetrics is a great job. As we are relatively small the role encompasses the operational and strategic. So sometimes I’ll be focusing on making the case for Organic Search to be a much larger part of the digital marketing mix and other times I’ll be working directly with clients and prospects to make sure we are satisfying their needs.

Personally, I’m a computer scientist and sales exec by training and since the late 90s I’ve almost exclusively worked in adtech and martech. I joined DoubleClick (display adtech market leader) early. I then moved from display adtech to Paid Search and was responsible for the turnaround and sale of the last big European pay-per-click network. Along the way my roles at different organizations have allowed me to cover mobile, video, and, increasingly, data-driven digital marketing offerings. My view is that, as everyone knows, digital marketing is now so diverse and complex that it’s incredibly important to focus back on the basics; awareness, consideration, engagement, conversion and sale. It’s obvious to say (but so easy to lose sight of) that no one channel is going to satisfy all of your marketing needs. That means it’s now more essential than ever that we, and others, are able to talk in a common language that enables marketers to manage their marketing mix for the best overall outcome.

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When it comes to search and SEO tactics, in what ways do you feel today’s digital marketers need to strengthen their focus and processes and why?

First, they need to understand that SEO is no longer a ‘dark art’ that relies on technical tricks to manipulate where your brand or content appears in search results – Google’s many algorithm updates and use of ever more sophisticated AI and other technologies, means those tactics no longer work. Instead, achieving a high ranking is now much more about better understanding the searcher’s needs and then providing content that best meets them.

The point is that when people search, they are making an expression of demand – whether it’s a product they eventually hope to buy or just finding information about something they want to know more about. Clearly reacting to this with the right content can improve your rankings, but analyzing search demand like this has the potential to deliver so much more. Essentially, I think marketers need to look earlier and more strategically at SEO if they want to deliver a step change in ROI. For example, analyzing searches can help marketers to better understand their market, how it’s evolving and pick up trends in consumer behavior and seasonality much earlier.

Providing this business intelligence is something that search data is, I believe, uniquely good at. For example, people tend to use search to research the type of products and product features they’re interested in – often way before those trends are commercialized. That means that a smart marketer can be ahead of the game and have the right product, the right offer and the right messaging in place to benefit from a coming wave, rather than trying to play catch up. To take an example from the pandemic, the volume of searches for 2,000 piece jigsaws for grown-ups shot up dramatically because bored adults were trying to find ways to while away their time during lockdown. If your company sold puzzles, spotting and acting on that type of intelligence could dramatically increase sales and revenues.

How can marketers today use search data to drive their business intelligence on the whole?

There are billions of searches made every day across search engines like Google, social media such as Facebook and eCommerce sites like Amazon. And searches are also getting more complex, moving away from single keywords to precise phrases that reveal more detail about the searchers’ intent. So that’s an enormous, continually updated source of strategic market information, providing insights on market size, trends, seasonality, competition and customer behavior.

It’s rarely properly exploited, however, because it’s difficult to collect and make usable. With the billions of keywords involved, the key thing is to be able to corral that mass of search data into key metrics that represent market segments, product taxonomies and geographies. Then you can ask questions such as “what’s the seasonality of skiwear purchases?” or “when do people buy new cars by country and does it differ for used cars?” or, more basically, “where am I in the total market?”. By making it usable, search specialists and data scientists can extract a wealth of insights from this huge, accessible, constantly updated data set which avoids the unconscious bias that comes with other research techniques such as consumer surveys.

Why in your view should CMOs be attuned to how SEO and search operations works while using these tactics at a more strategic level?

What they need to be attuned to is what they are getting and where, when it comes to the different elements of the marketing mix they use. To do this, I think they need to consider the unique attributes of each channel. So, for example, Paid Search is great for getting results quickly. Organic Search gives better Return on Investment and lasts longer but takes time to get working. Social is a fantastic source of upcoming trends but converts to sale poorly by itself. Knowing these key attributes then allows you to manage at a strategic level as a CMO. I would say though that the one thing I’d really like all CMOs to be aware of is the strategic value of understanding customer and market demand and how it’s evolving – and that’s something that search can shed a lot of light on as I’ve already explained. Having this level of business intelligence from analyzing searches within your market, enables you to take a proactive, longer-term view – you are able to spot opportunities that competitors will not, and plan campaigns that really meet customer needs.

A few predictions you’d like to talk about when it comes to the future of search and SEO marketing?

I think we’re going to run into a skilled resource crunch fairly soon. Because as marketers begin to appreciate the value that SEO and search brings, there aren’t necessarily going to be enough people out there with deep SEO knowledge and skills required. This means brands won’t have the human resources that they need to exploit all the opportunities fully.

Obviously, they can invest in training and upskilling people, but most of all I think we’ll see a move to more comprehensive, easy to use offerings by platform and services companies to plug the gap. We, the platform providers, will focus on building more and more intelligence into platforms so that rather than simply providing the data which then requires a lot of human resource to apply, we can to some degree automate outcomes and actions. In other words, technology providers will need to make it easier and simpler for those with less specialist skills to access and get value from search insights. I think we’ll see single-channel marketing service providers having to become multi-channel – and enable their performance to become comparable across channels by using the same key measurement metrics.

A few top martech and associated tools you feel marketing teams need to use to strengthen their SEO processes?

Tools need to balance being powerful with matching the needs and skill level of users – who may not be specialists in particular areas, such as SEO. My personal view is also that what is absolutely essential is that marketing teams now have a single, unified and consistent set of metrics against which they can measure and manage all digital marketing channels. I’m not going to recommend specific tools, since we work with all the major suppliers and, in fact, since we are an API first technology, it’s easy to connect into even the most esoteric ones. However, for me, the holy grail of marketing now is tools that allow you to manage your entire digital marketing mix at an appropriate level from one place. Marketers increasingly don’t want to have to sign-in to different tools which provide varying ways of calculating and presenting performance metrics and insights for individual channels. And they want to be able to make like-for-like comparisons across channels.

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Some last thoughts, takeaways, digital marketing and martech tips and best practices before we wrap up!

How long do I have? There’s a lot I’d like to cover but I think my key takeaway for marketers is to say, “don’t get lost in the weeds”. There are so many providers, channels and means of reaching your target audience these days that it’s easy to dive in too deep and miss the big movements. A good CMO should know what each digital marketing channel can do for them in terms of relative strengths and weaknesses and, ideally, how they interact with each other (e.g., Fix your technical site SEO issues and this will also improve the conversion of your paid traffic).

When it comes to measurement across channels, be ruthless; don’t accept anyone saying, “but you can’t compare x with y” for different channels and demand that they find a way to compare “x with x”. There’s an old saying; “measure what’s important, don’t make important what you can measure”. I think a lot of people have benefitted by pushing different metrics for different channels and thus prevented meaningful comparisons from being made. Long term, however, for the health of digital marketing, we have to go back to the basic marketing measurements and force everyone to work to them across all channels.

Searchmetrics

Searchmetrics is a global provider of search data, software and consulting solutions. Its innovative approach ensures household names like AXA, Lowes and McKinsey & Company thrive in the hyper-competitive search landscape.

Matt Colebourne is the CEO of Searchmetrics. Internationally minded, with experience of working in Europe, USA and Asia, Matt has extensive experience within the digital marketing sector. He was European VP International for DoubleClick (part of the team responsible for growing the business prior to its sale to Google), and has held senior leadership positions at paid search company, eSpotting, video marketing platform, Innovid and Trinity Mirror Group. Searchmetrics is a global provider of search data, software and consulting solutions. Its innovative approach ensures household names like AXA, Lowe’s and McKinsey & Company thrive in the hyper-competitive search landscape.

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