Just before his keynote presentation at the Search Engine Strategies conference in Toronto the other week, Search Engine Watch executive editor Kevin Heisler caught up with FutureNow co-founder Bryan Eisenberg to chat about website optimization, split-testing, word-of-mouth marketing, social commerce, personas, and his forthcoming book. With Kevin’s kind permission, we’ve reprinted the interview below. Enjoy!
Kevin Heisler: Tell us about your new book, Always Be Testing.
Bryan Eisenberg: A little over a year ago Google offered everyone a free A/B and multivariate testing tool called Google Website Optimizer. Adoption has been great, but people are still experiencing challenges understanding what to test and how to get an ROI out of testing. Always Be Testing is the answer to that issue. To quote one of the early reviewers, John Jantsch, “I’m a big fan of GO, but this is the first thing I’ve read that really makes it seem practical and simple.” The book is expected to launch at Search Engine Strategies San Jose.
KH: That’s a brilliant title. It’s got that whole “David Mamet-Glengarry Glen Ross-A/B split” thing going for it. Can you do a good Alec Baldwin imitation?
BE: A is for always. B is for be. T is for testing! Who gets the steak knives? Who wants third prize?
KH: So in conversion marketing, who gets the good leads?
BE: The person who best understands the personas of their prospective customers and will spend the time to continuously improve their marketing by refining the alignment between those personas, their campaigns, and their messaging.
KH: Who comes up with your book titles? Waiting For Your Cat to Bark? — that’s genius.
BE: It’s always a team effort. I’m lucky to work with some very creative people.
KH: How many books do you think you sold because people thought they were getting the new Cesar Milan Dog Whisperer book?
BE: I hope not too many. But maybe a handful of people out there who ignore marketing might also ignore book covers.
KH: Did you ever consider any other animals for the title, or was it always a cat?
BE: Both Jeffrey and I are dog owners, but it was Lisa Davis’ cat-like ways that won out.
KH: When’s the sequel, Waiting For Your Dog to Meow, coming out?
BE: Please, one book at a time. This is hard! We’re hoping that this book answers a critical question that people are facing today: how do we get a better return of our search marketing efforts?
KH: Why doesn’t anyone have the nickname “The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Whisperer”? Seems like a natural to me.
BE: I would nominate my friend Andy Sernovitz, but I doubt anyone would feel comfortable calling him a whisperer.
KH: Another one of your bestsellers is Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results. Hundreds of thousands of people have read that book or attended one of your Call to Action seminars. So is it time to change the title? Like, maybe, Call to Action: Famous Formulas to Improve Online Results That Everyone Knows But You?
BE: Thank you for the compliment. Certainly a lot of people have read the books and used it to improve their web marketing. I wish it were more people. I still think that we have a long way to go until these concepts are universally applied.
I think Always Be Testing is going to be helpful in reinforcing those concepts presented in Call to Action and making them even more actionable.
KH: On a serious note, how would you define advanced search marketing? What makes any search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM) tactic advanced?
BE: I think it is really a question of scale. Good SEO and SEM are about creating ways to grab your potential visitors’ attention, creating content that is relevant to them, and providing a great experience for every keyword campaign and for every step, from the first click to conversion. Truly advanced SEM would have a better balance between driving traffic and converting that traffic.
KH: Your FutureNow blog, GrokDotCom, lists the top 10 retail sites for conversion rates each month. Those numbers aren’t real, are they? Office Depot, for example — 20.9 percent. How’s that possible?
BE: The numbers are measuring real people visiting these sites and completing purchases. They aren’t indicative of the website’s overall conversion rate — just conversions of those on the Nielsen Online panel.
KH: How do you win the paid search game? Is it a zero-sum game?
BE: Just like for every pot there is a lid, for every search term you need an incredibly persuasive and relevant landing page. You can’t afford to be generic. Too many marketers focus on the ad’s click-through rate (CTR). That’s important. However, the marketers focused on conversion rate can always outbid the marketers with lower conversion rates. It’s simple math: the more you convert, the lower your cost.
KH: You also spoke at the Bazaarvoice Social Commerce Summit. How would you define socialommerce?
BE: According to my good friend, Sam Decker, CMO of Bazaarvoice, “Social commerce is a term for the strategy of connecting customers to customers online and leveraging those connections for commercial purpose.” In simplest terms, it’s people sharing with people their commercial experiences without marketers polluting the stream.
KH: What’s the future of search? A point-and-click barcode reader GPS iPhone linked to inventory management systems?
BE: I tend to think the future of search is related to the mobile device, not computers. I can see it working in several ways based on the pieces I see Google working on. First, I can imagine a widget that sits on your mobile phone; when you click, it calls 800-411-Goog. You tell it what you’re looking for, and it provides results (and probably some audio ads). Voice is a much easier interface than typing. You’ll also be able to take a picture of a product barcode or UPC symbol, and it will bring you back results of where you can purchase the item locally or online.
Whatever the future is, it will bring more complexity for the search engines and for the people who want to be found, and it will be seamless and friction free for the end customer.
KH: What’s the future of SEO as a profession?
BE: The search engines are definitely getting better and indexing all kinds of content and technologies. Every day they continue to refine their algorithms so they are less influenced by artificial methods and influenced more by the massive amounts of data they’re collecting.
I’m hoping marketers will get past the old world view that marketing is about driving traffic and begin to understand that today’s marketing is about providing customers, from initial awareness to purchase and hopefully to becoming evangelists. This requires careful planning of the customer journey and experience at a click-by-click level. I don’t see it going there yet, but I’m hopeful more people will read Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?
KH: You guys are kind of like the Weinstein Brothers (Miramax guys) of Internet marketing. So which one are you, Bob or Harvey?
BE: That’s the first time I’ve heard that comparison. Usually it’s the “Car Talk” guys that people compare Jeffrey and me with.
KH: Tell us about your sibling rivalry. Growing up, was it kind of like Cain and Abel?
BE: Growing up and being four and a half years apart meant Jeffrey and I didn’t really have much of a relationship. It was a little over 13 years ago that Jeffrey and I started working together, and we have been business partners and the best of friends since.
KH: What did you want to be when you grew up?
BE: Both Jeffrey and I share one passion: understanding why people do the things they do. It manifested in me becoming a social worker and counselor for years and Jeffrey becoming an investment banker. He figured out how to take that passion and his business skills and turn them into the business known as FutureNow.
KH: You spoke at webcom Montreal 2008 in May in a session entitled, “The Golden Rule of Interactive Marketing.” What would that be? Market unto others as you would have them market unto you?
BE: That’s the way most people would think about it, but that’s the old model of marketing. We explain this concept in detail in Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? The golden rule is a two-parter: He who has the gold rules. And, do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.
KH: The Brits and Europeans were wowed by your panels at SES London. What can Canadians [at SES Toronto] expect to learn from a guy from Brooklyn?
BE: Unfortunately, Brooklyn pizza doesn’t travel well, or I’d share some of that. We did manage to take a few Canadians, including SES Toronto chair Andrew Goodman, on a pizza tour of Brooklyn during SES New York. I promise to share something else that also has a good scent!
Editor’s Note: We can’t make the book come out any sooner, but we would like to invite you to join Bryan on Wednesday, July 9th for a free landing page optimization webinar; the first in our “Always Be Testing” webinar series, brought to you by FutureNow and the Google Website Optimizer team. Space is limited, so sign up today!