Q&A with Bill Hunt: Secrets from a Search Marketing Veteran

bill-huntRegarded as one of the leading thought leaders on global search engine marketing, Bill Hunt began working in the industry in 1994. Since then, he’s been chief executive (CEO) of two of the largest global search marketing firms – Global Strategies and Outrider – growing both companies and overseeing global expansion. Hunt, who currently serves as president of Back Azimuth Consulting, has also provided strategic search marketing services for such companies such as Adobe, Cisco, IBM and Procter & Gamble.

Hunt is also a best-selling author and will be opening SES Atlanta tomorrow with his keynote entitled, “5 Epiphanies from 20 Years of Search Marketing.”

Search Engine Watch (SEW): Tell us about about your company Back Azimuth Consulting and your role as president.

Bill Hunt (BH): My role is to grow the company, build detailed “voice of the consumer models,” and help companies implement global search marketing strategies. The name Back Azimuth comes from compass navigation and counter sniping, and means “the reverse direction,” but I interpret it as “the way back to the consumer.”

SEW: How has your philosophy and approach to search marketing evolved over the past 20 years?

BH: I don’t think my core philosophy of search has ever changed. I’ve always focused on what generates revenue and doing it as efficiently as possible. I started in search marketing with my own retail company, back when we could just add more keywords to Meta keywords tag and rank well. Many people jammed non-relevant phrases to get traffic, but obviously only a few converted. My focus was always on how I attract, engage and retain customers using the rich targeting capabilities of search marketing.

My evolution in search marketing has come from a few key “epiphanies” that have radically transformed my approach. One of the biggest was at IBM, where I submitted a number of SEO changes. I had this woman come and yell at me for asking the team to deviate from IBM’s style guide. She dropped a huge binder on my desk and told me to review it before I submit any further revisions. The light bulb went off and since that day, I leverage what I call “Corporate Judo” to force as many SEO-friendly changes to the style guide as possible.

My second major epiphany came while I was working at my second agency. There was a migration from doing the work at the agency to working with a strategist on-site with the client. They became “part of the team” and not “from the agency,” allowing us to deploy change from the inside out.

SEW: What are some of the common search marketing mistakes you see marketers making, and what can they do to avoid them?

BH: In SEO, marketers are often chasing algorithms and trying to implement everything they read on someone’s blog, even though they may not be applicable to their own projects.

Paid search is the single best marketing tactic available to any marketer. It gives a level of laser precision that is unmatched, but many marketers seldom realize this golden opportunity. Sometimes it is laziness or incompetence, but oftentimes, it’s due to a simple lack of resources or budget for creative expansion and landing page refinement.

Lack of integration of paid and organic search is another common mistake I see marketers making. There should be communication between departments to ensure your 20 most expensive keywords in paid search are at least on the SEO action list.

SEW: What advice can you give search marketers so they can achieve greater levels of success? Where should they focus their efforts to maximize for search greatness?

BH: My advice for search marketers is to focus on making the company money with incremental changes that yield big results, such as snippet optimization and showcase gains in periodic reporting.

I just worked with a company where my number one recommendation for them was to fix a search result snippet for a number two-ranking keyword. They felt underwhelmed with the recommendation, but once they made the change and had a 40 percent increase in revenue, they realized that it is not the sexy or super-secret techniques, but the simple and effective that wins every day.

Today’s search marketer must deal with a workflow that is extremely fractured and far more complex than in the past. To be successful, you must become a seamless part of the broader content and advertising ecosystem, which puts a significant knowledge burden on the search marketer. Those up for the challenge will be in a much better position as a leader.

SEW: How do you envision the industry evolving? What do you see as the biggest trend in the next year?

BH: I think we are getting more siloed and there is not enough integration into the overall marketing ecosystem. I see too many people trying to repurpose SEO as content marketing and churning out keyword-rich content that is not solving the prospects problems.

Also, we need better alignment with social media so we can leverage our keyword data to improve their conversational mining. This approach will give amazing insights, bind our alignment and exponentially improve content marketing efforts.

The most encouraging trend is, work around the intersection of searcher intent, location and device type. With the exponential growth of mobile search understanding the nuances of a query based on device they are using and their location can yield some amazing results. Showing them the same ad or snippet as you always have will not cut it in the future.

SEW: What will the key takeaways be from your keynote presentation at SES Atlanta?

BH: There will be something for everyone in this talk, no matter what you do in search or where you do it. I will talk about how to fast-track some of the most important search elements, and how to develop a longer and sustainable program that effectively integrates search into the content development workflow. I will give examples of how I have motivated management to expand their search programs, both willingly and unwillingly. For the agency people attending, I will talk about growing and selling an agency, as well as acquiring and maintaining great talent. And for those wanting to break out and start their own agency, I will share some things to consider before you make the leap that can help you be as successful as possible.

Get your ticket to SES Atlanta by registering here! Limited passes remain.

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