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The Future of SEO Campaigns with Jon Henshaw & Taylor Pratt from Raven

26 Jan

Raven SEO Interview.

Here is the audio if you’d prefer to listen :)

Play File (mp3 link)

Eric: All right, this is Eric over here at SEO Book and today I’m fortunate enough to be joined by Taylor Pratt and Jon Henshaw from Raven SEO Tools, thanks for joining us today guys.

Taylor Pratt: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, good to see ya!

Eric: All right, so we just have some questions here that I think our readers will appreciate and some of our members have been interested to know about as well.

So, without further ado I’ll jump right in here.

Obviously you guys are essentially the creators of an all-in-one SEO tool set which has kind of morphed into a Web marketing tool set now with all of the different things that you’ve added and certainly have a vested interest in being on the right side of forecasting the future of what will be important to search marketers here in the short and long-term and certainly there’s a lot of changes going on at the moment especially in the social area.

So, I’d just like to get your thoughts on where you guys see search going with respect to what’s going to be important for us as search marketers to track, study and report on the clients; things like rankings, analytics, social signals?

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, I mean I think I’ll go first. This is Jon and as you said we kind of started out with just SEO and over time we have become more of that full-fledged internet marketing suite. And I would say that that was actually one of the first steps in sort of forecasting where things are going in the industry.

And at first while that was like our main focus what we started to see was sort of the merging of all of these different practices under one roof and so you saw a lot of people who just did SEO’s, a lot of people who just did paid and they started to do both. And then social kind of came into that mix, that’s the most recent thing, and so now you’re seeing a lot of agencies doing all three and on top of that they’re doing email marketing and that type of thing and so that was sort of our first step in saying SEO is not going to be enough; what we think is going to happen is most of these companies doing these sort of individual components of marketing are going to be doing them all.

So then the second thing which is really what we’re dealing with now is so where is it going now? What is it that people need and I would say we’re just sticking to how we approached it all along which is we’re basically talking to the people who are doing the work out there. We’re talking to the agencies, the individuals, the experts and we’re asking them, what are your problems? Like, what are the problems that are still not being solved even just on the most practical level?

And so we take that information and we look at what we built and we go, okay, so how can we solve that problem with Raven? And that contributes a whole lot to at least our own roadmap. Taylor might want to talk more about sort of the future of things.

Taylor Pratt:Yeah and building off of what Jon’s saying, when it comes to figuring out what I should be studying or reporting on I think we’re seeing, especially like Jon said with social getting more into search, people having to turn to pay-for-click to get more data, having to study all disciplines of online marketing you can’t just make the right call just by looking at what you can see in your analytics from an SEO perspective.

And so I think what we’re seeing with people are that they’re realizing, hey, I could be doing a lot better if I don’t just look at my own stuff. I want to see what keywords are performing at the highest level on the pay-per-click side. I want to see what our audience is talking about on our fan page and on our Twitter account so that I know what topics I should be writing about that’s going to get the most engagement.

And so I think we’re moving towards a full landscape of online marketing and services and it’s forcing SEO’s to try and become more knowledgeable in those others fields as well.

And, as a result, you know, that’s really what we were trying to do with Raven which was bringing together all that data so that you can be looking at it easily. Maybe I don’t actually have to do the work when it comes to pay-per-click but I need to understand it and I need to know what I can take from that to improve my own SEO campaign.

And so really when it comes to reporting and actually managing that process we need people to be a lot more versatile in their skills, they can’t just be focused on one niche anymore.

Eric: Those are all great points. I think too you guys must run into stuff like I think you could probably take ten people who are knowledgeable or successful with SEO that have been doing it for a while and they probably get four or five different opinions on what exactly SEO is. Is it…does it stop at rankings or does it stop at, you know, rankings plus traffic plus conversions plus leveraging all of the other data that you talked about. So that must be quite at challenge because I’m sure you guys have experience in the industry obviously and talking with some of the folks that you talk about, you must get a lot of different opinions on what exactly SEO is.

Jon Henshaw: Definitely. And you mentioned ranking which has been traditionally sort of a core component of what people think of when they’re doing SEO and what they’re actually reporting on to their clients.

And the thing is, is that what ranking was a few years ago, it’s not the same as it is today. And I think we know why which is the search engines, particularly Google, it just depends on who you are, if you’re logged in with your account, where you are, now obviously who you’re connected with with G+ and because of all of those things who knows what results you’re going to get..who knows what the results are going to be that you’re going to get.

And so what’s happening in sort of the rank checking world is it’s getting really just unpredictable. I mean, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You have people at one end, and one of the biggest frustrations that I know rank checkers have, and I know this because we used to check them ourselves and now we, of course, use Authority Labs but I think all of them have the difficulty of that customer saying, well, this isn’t what I’m seeing!

And so I think it’s going to get worse and worse. And so I think what’s changed with ranking is that ranking has become, or should be becoming, less important of a metric. And, instead the focus should be on organic referrals because that’s really the most reliable thing that you can look at and report on.

So, in other words, if I were an agency or just even an individual SEO guy who was doing work for a customer I would make the metric be, am I increasing your organic traffic instead of where do I rank for your pet term? You know, and I think that’s the biggest change. That’s what I’ve seen over the past few years. There’s still a lot of resistance to that just because they don’t want it to be true but I think the reality is, is that rank checking is still going to be important because it still gives you an indication of health and gives you some idea of sort of how you’re performing even if it’s going to get to a point where it could never be 100% accurate.

So it’ll still play a role and we’re still going to keep having that data in our system but the big, big factor is going to be actually what Google Analytics is providing and whatever stacks package you use.

And to be able to say that we increased your organic traffic by 100% and on top of that your conversions went up. I think that’s becoming more important.

Eric: Right, yeah. Do you guys have any plans to integrate that stuff? You do work with Authority Labs. Do they do a lot of stuff with their incorporating universal results that you guys might be able to do because I know some of the software tools do that? That could be helpful

I think especially on the agency side of things you find that people tend to lead their value add with rankings, right? I mean, you can but that’s a big mistake. If anything, if you’re going to have conversations about rankings you have to attach an element of conversion optimization to that too you can’t just leave it at the door.

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, and that’s something that we’re talking to Authority Labs with right now and they actually do provide universal results with the data and they’re trying to update the API that we’re using so we can actually present that.

So as soon as we can present that we’re going to and then on top of that as far as where we’re taking things in the future, we’re going to be supporting the ability to edit your ranking results, the ability to import ranking results from other third parties. So, yeah, so we’re working on that, it’s not available right now, but that is something that we know people have been asking for, for quite a while.

Eric: Okay. So, we talked about all of these things with how the sort of element of ranking being less and less of a flagship sort of metric to report, at least on client sites or even on sites that SEO’s might run themselves, affiliate sites, or sites where revenue is driven by AdSense or something to that affect.

But I think what a lot of people would be interested to know, and I love getting opinions on this from a bunch of people all across the industry, that if you were starting in an SEO company today how would you approach the key elements of the business, you know, what are the core competencies that you think not only that are effective, but I think there’s something a disconnect between what is actually or what should be a core competency for an SEO firm, you know, link outreach, all of these things, but some of those things are hard to quantify to a client.

You know, we’ve reached out to 400 sites and we obtained two links. Well, that can be a bit difficult to report on but with things like link outreach or just good old fashioned PR, social development, community building, rankings, conversions, all of those things, what would you promote to your clients as the value add that your agency or your company would bring to the table?

Taylor Pratt: You know, if it were me back in my agency days what we tried to focus on was… we all say that we want to focus on conversions but I think getting even more specific than that, having specific interaction goals for different aspects of your organic traffic. So what I’d probably do is talk about how we look at both branded and non-branded traffic and we separate them. I want to have specific goals for my branded traffic that I expect them to be able to complete if they came to us organically.

And then from a non-branded standpoint, I want to be able to do the exact same things. And building off of what we talked about earlier I think going into those meetings now and telling them, hey, you know, looking at releases like when Google announced the whole not provided thing, as an agency I need to be prepared to say to my client, well, you know what, we have a work around for that. We have a pay-per-click campaign that’s going so we can still get the traffic insight behind each keyword so we know which ones we should be focusing on the most.

And I think presenting it to the client as you being able to adapt to the changing market and you not focusing just on one individual aspect is really going to be what shows them that they should be going with you over somebody else.

Eric: Right, yeah, and I think those are good points. Because I see it too, sometimes people are starting an agency, they look for things that they can…you know, like rankings are still such a big thing and I know there was some press last year about how rankings are dead. I know Jon wrote a post kind of countering that and I did as well. I don’t think that’s the case either but I think it seems like people are still, or in some cases, leading with rankings. But the problem is it takes X amount of months to get there for some terms and then you find out that the traffic isn’t there in the first place really if you’re relying on keyword tools.

So, that’s interesting because I think right now we have a lot of people that read this blog and in the community that sort of run their own sites a little bit and then you’ve got people who are doing some client work. Are you seeing more of an increase in folks who maybe in the past where just sort of individual SEO’s that are now filtering over to taking on some more client stuff?

Taylor Pratt: Yeah, you know, I can speak for myself personally. I’m starting to take over Raven’s pay-per-click work and going into it I knew enough just pretty much what any SEO would know, pretty much what any SEO would know about pay-per-click.

I wouldn’t know enough to run a campaign from start to finish so starting to ramp up on that. And it’s interesting that over the last couple of months, really since not provided or at least have seen, a lot more articles around pay-per-click showing up on industry blogs. It’s starting to get a lot more coverage and I think people are starting to realize that, hey, I could pretty much get more concrete results out of my SEO program if I would just focus a little bit more time in these other areas.

Because, like you said around figuring out that, hey, if I’m targeting one keyword and a couple of months down the line once I start ranking for it, I’m not getting the traffic I expected, well, we could have identified that if we just ran a traditional test just to see.

I mean, you can run pay-per-click tests without even getting clicks. I just want to see how many impressions I can get so I can estimate how much traffic I could potentially get if I was ranking for that keyword.

So trying to get a better fit or a better feel for those numbers, there’s a lot that you could be doing with that.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. The pay-per-click is absolutely the best keyword keyword research tool. So when you think of all of the time you spend digging through the AdWords keywords tool and then digging through like Wordtracker or other competitive research tools, if you took a few hundred bucks and threw it at PPC just for accidental clicks right and you threw a pay-per-click campaign up with all the keywords that you’re looking at you’d be much better off.

Jon Henshaw: And, I was going to throw out that of course Google has done an excellent job of positioning it as one of your best options.

Eric: Yeah, yeah (laugh). And they’re certainly not shy about throwing out those coupons either.

Taylor Pratt: No, they play me like a fiddle, that’s for sure!

Eric: Yeah. I think the big thing, you know, in addition to on the SEO side of things with all of the stuff that Google’s been doing and continues to do especially with the Plus 1 sort of approach, is the evolution of link building where a lot of times it’s just been basic. Where we have all of these sort of tactics that have been working for a long time that I think it can be effective but I think if you’re looking mid to long-term on trying to build out, if you run your own sites or even clients that you need to see that it is almost evolving into like a sales and PR type of role.

Do you think it’s become a little bit less about pure link metrics like page rank or some of the other stuff that’s out there like the (MAS) rank, (MAS) trust follow versus no follow or somewhere in the middle but I think it’s definitely evolved towards being more of a relationship type of approach and a PR type of approach. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say about that.

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, I totally agree. If you look back on even the very early days of link building it was basically build a link anywhere you can get it. I mean, it didn’t even matter what site it was, it didn’t matter where it was on the page, then as that evolved Google evolved with that. It ended up becoming, well, you may not want it on the footer or you may want it in a different place or you might want to have it on a relevant page. There’s still many industries, many site types that I would say even up to today, because I still hear stories from some pretty hardcore people out there that are like, oh yeah, footer links are still well alive for my particular thing.

But I think for the most part, for most people, you hit the nail on the head with it’s about relationships. And so that’s basically where we talk about predicting where things are going, well, we’re seeing it as it’s already there and it’s only going to increase as far as what’s important in link building is going to be building relationships with site owners, with editors, it will also be extremely important to build relationships socially so that you’re connected with people who have some degree of influence socially. And so with that one of the things that you said is, is it important to care about (MAS) rank or page rank or any of these other things? And I think it still is important. So, and the way I approach it, which I think is a fairly practical way, is it’s important to have as many pieces of data and metrics as possible.

It’s the same reason why I think that rank checking will remain important to some extent. I think the same is true with these different metrics. It’s not going to be, nor should it be, the main thing that you focus on. The main thing that you should focus on, in my opinion, are relationships with people who are relevant to what you’re trying to market.

And that’s where what you just mentioned a second ago, that’s where PR comes in. It’s very PR-like. So that’s where I think it’s going and that’s what we’re going to be focusing on but we’re going to continue to include those other metrics just because I think they help you see the full picture so that, for example, when you’re doing research, trying to find sites or people that you want to connect with, that data really kind of helps round out your decision like, okay, this is all of the things that kind of get in here and even what I’m just looking at and making a judgment on, looks pretty good. I think I’m going to contact this person.

Eric: Like when I look for people that I might want to bring on board to do some link building for some sites it’s almost like you ignore, to a degree, SEO experience and what you’re focusing on is, is this person salesy? Are they good at PR? Where before it was more of a like hunker down and look for stuff I’ll reverse engineer this and that and pull this report, which is all still important certainly

Jon Henshaw: Right.

Eric: But for those really premium type links that I think competition can’t get you really ought to have folks like that going forward.

Jon Henshaw: And I think content should be thrown out there too which is..and I don’t mean as if you write good content you will rank type of thing but more along the lines of one of the best link building outreach methods is guest blogging. And if you can present yourself in a way that is one that’s not too salesy, but, two, can really, really benefit that site meaning you better have a good writer on staff or somebody hired on a contract basis, it’s altruistic in the sense that I can get you something really good.

In fact, I’m going to go out of my way and I’m going to spend over $15 dollars on something. I might spend $100 or $200 buck to have a really good article put on somebody else’s site with the idea that I’m going to have a decent link to my site. It’ll be on a relevant site. So that to me is a pretty important component and that’s something that we focused on too and we’re going to continue to focus on. So, for example, we’ve automated some of that which is you can go through Textbroker on Raven or you can have your own writers on staff or through contract and then they can log in and they can save the articles that they write and our content manager.

Eric: Yeah, definitely – content, yeah absolutely. That’s a great feature of Raven too. The example that I give sometimes in the forums when people ask about creating…how do we create a piece of content that’s time tested. Like, I always give the example of David Mihm who creates the local search ranking sites. You can do something like that for your industry, I mean, just think of things like that. Most industries you can come up with something that the competition isn’t doing and then you just… you almost don’t have to significantly promote it after the first couple of times. People just naturally look for it. So, yeah, that’s definitely a big piece there.

And I think, you know, like I said before, we have a lot of folks inside the forums and that read the blog that are different it’s such a hybrid of people who market their own sites and they monetize it in different ways. They’ve got clients and all of these other things. We always talk about how creating your own product, ultimately, you know, it typically ends up being the most rewarding in the long run, certainly other methods can significantly increase your companies revenue or an individual Web masters revenue. But, when we talk about long-term things and not relying on affiliate networks or AdSense serving or things like that we talk about products and I think, you know, Raven is a great case study in identifying a particular market, the need of a market, creating the product and then just marketing it.

Because, I think, sometimes people miss that. It’s such a multi-step approach, it’s not just find a market and exploit it with a great product. There’s another piece to it which is the marketing which I think Raven does an excellent job on. So, what I would like to hear from you guys is, can you give us some insight into how you sort of went from thinking about Raven to developing it to marketing it and keep improving on it because that’s the other piece too. It’s not just create a product and dump it in the market and hope people buy it and never touch it again. You know, just some of the biggest hurdles you face, pitfalls and best practices.

Jon Henshaw: Sure, I can talk from a marketing standpoint of Raven since that’s what my role is here. I joined Raven about two years ago and we had a pretty good idea with how we wanted to actually end up marketing the product and the first year that I was here, what we wanted to focus on was really cementing ourselves as a tool in the SEO industry. We wanted to let everyone know that these were powerful tools, they were things that they could rely on and we wanted to be known as an authority in that market. And last year what we really spent our time doing was focusing on becoming more of a workflow and collaboration tool. While we had these features before we needed to make it known that, hey, if you work with a team, if you want to collaborate on products with your clients or if you have a couple of contractors that you’re outsourcing stuff to, this is a tool that will make that easier and so that’s really our 2011 messaging was really focusing heavily on that.

But now what we run into is, Raven does more than just SEO. We have social media tools, pay-per-click tools, email is integrated into there so how do we now market to everyone and convince them that we’re not just Raven SEO tools, we’re Raven internet marketing tools? And I think that’s really what our focus is going to be in 2012 is showing them that, one, you need to have a toolset that is flexible in all of those different areas and, two, that Raven actually fits those needs, we’re not just SEO tools anymore.

Jon Henshaw: I think from a product standpoint we really started off working with other agencies and, in fact, we launched it and took it back offline, in a sense into like a very private beta for about six to nine months and we worked just side-by-side with several agencies; some in the US and some in the UK and they really helped us refine how the link manager should work and the types of things that need to be reported on. And then from there it was….
Eric:I think we lost him.

Taylor Pratt:Oh no.

Eric: Just wait for him to sign back on here. Just to continue talking about the marketing side of things a little bit, do you find that once you’ve started the marketing initially it seems like that’s a good bit of work but it also seems like on the other end it’s almost just as much work after you sort of establish yourself in the industry you’ve got to keep, you know, pushing and going to all of these different events and all of these other things.

Jon Henshaw: (completely unaware of the drop off :D ): I won’t say because there are some secrets, you know. And so, you know, while Taylor and the marketing team, it’s there job to really let people understand what the product does. It’s our job, at least on the product side, to figure out is the product solving the problems that need to be solved in the market? And so if we’re trying to approach SEO and social and PPC and other areas, are we making..you know, they use our software, are we making it harder for them or are we making it easier for them? And of course we want to make it so that it’s a no-brainer. It’s, by then, simply using it and putting their team members on there they’re saving money.

Not only are they saving money they’re managing their data better and they’re able to report the information easier to themselves or to their client and so that’s sort of a high-level example without a whole lot of details. But, that’s really what we’re focused on is how can we make this easier, at the same time how can we make it more robust and do all of the things that people need it to do, how can we solve problems that are not being solved by anybody on the market right now? And that’s really what we’re focused on. And, of course, all of that includes trying to absorb all of the different feature requests which also gives us an idea of what people really need. It’s not just we don’t have to just sit there and guess or dream up something on our own in a bubble. The feature requests are something that’s extremely helpful and we have a lot of them. We have people who use the system intensely and everyday and they come up with some pretty amazing ideas.

Eric: I think we cut out there a little bit after the beta discussion. But I think the gist of it is when people talk about creating products it’s so much more involved than just develop, market and sell, right? I mean it’s obvious and I think we’re aware of that but I think when people hear the six to nine months that you took in beta and you were working with these other agencies, I think sometimes that’s the point that gets missed. Because you look at Raven and it’s like the interface is so clean, it’s so easy to use that people think, wow, that’s pretty simple right? I mean, I think its what Basecamp’s competitors have been thinking for such a long time. It’s so simple and easy, I could do that, right?

Jon Henshaw: I would say our biggest problem and the one that we’re looking to solve this year is while you are somebody who knows exactly what you’re doing, you know and when you get in there you know how to use the system, ah, that’s simple. This does this I understand the terminology and what’s going on here. It’s not for the novice and so it’s funny because there’s that weird dichotomy there. And so you have somebody else that comes in and says this is the most complicated thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

I mean, and that’s some of the cancellation messages that we get. It was like, what are you trying to do? And so our big or one of our big initiatives this year is to put education in place for those people and also for teams. We have a lot of agencies that are wanting the ability to say, hey, I really love what you’re doing here, I get it.

I want my team to be on here but I need training. And so those are things that we’re working on and then the other thing, on the product side, is incorporating more contextual help and so we’ve started to slowly roll out what we’re calling the help box and so it’s the first time that we’ve ever been to a tool in the system. You actually see this help box that pushes down everything else and that gives you a brief description, it gives you a really quick screen cast of what the tool does and then it also links you out to the knowledge base. So, those are things that as we grow and we sit back and kind of go, okay, where are we loosing people? Where are they getting confused? We know that that’s something that we really have to work on.

Taylor Pratt: And there’s an overlap with that with marketing too. I mean, we need to be teaching people how to use the tools. We’re trying to do that more on the blog. You know, we also have that stance that we’re not going to tell you how to do your job but we need to show you the benefits of using Raven when you are doing your job. And so like Jon said, that education, I think, is really going to be helpful for users who are still trying to figure out, all right, well, what’s the logic behind this? Why is it important that these two tools are working together and we’re trying to show that both within the tool itself but then outside too. So if you are just trying to evaluate it or you are looking for a tool and you’re not sure if Raven does that, hopefully we’ll be able to demonstrate that through our blog posts, our training Webinars what have you.

Eric: So, for 2012 are there any, you know, I’m sure no competitors are listening so feel free to just lay it all out there. For 2012, any product teases we can get? Anything you think that people might be interested in?

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, I’ll tell you a few things that I’ve publicly talked about and then I’ll hint towards one thing and then there are still several big things that I will not give a clue to that we’re working on.

Eric: Fair enough :)

Jon Henshaw: And I will say also, if you go to our blog I think maybe in January or December I wrote an open letter to Raven customers and there’s a really good rundown of all of the things that we did in 2011 and it’s huge. I was actually shocked when I wrote it. I was like, I had no idea that we did all of this. It was a good year!
Eric: Yeah.

Jon Henshaw: But the things that we’re going to be doing in 2012 I’m very confident is going to be a bigger year than 2011. And the other thing that makes me confident about that is we’ve been ramping up on developers. We are truly a software company now and we, I think, (this year) we’ve just had two developers start yesterday, I haven’t even seen them yet, but it’s something that we’re getting even more aggressive on so I’m excited about that. The things that I can easily tell you about that we’re going to be working on releasing soon is we have another major social update coming down the pipeline so when we launched our social stream, real time social streams, social monitoring, it didn’t have everything I wanted but we did want to release it by (unintelligible) 32.19 so we had sort of finishing up some really awesome features that didn’t quite make it in November will be coming out pretty soon.

We are actively working on the Chrome toolbar, that got delayed for several months but that is back on schedule. But you’re going to see a lot of improvements in the social area particularly with Facebook and Twitter and the (stream). We’re going to be doing more improvements on our AdWords management tool, so you’ll see a lot of nice new things coming down there. We should be adding G+ and LinkedIn this year, probably first half of the year and we’re also working on the ranking result importing which I mentioned earlier in the end of the year.

So, those are things that are more public. The one hint, the on thing that I will throw out there, just because it’s really relevant to the conversation we’ve been having is we are focusing on relationships in a way that we haven’t done in the system before. So there’s going to be something exciting coming down the pipeline in regards to that as far as helping people who do link building outreach and other areas. So that’s coming. I expect it in the first half of this year and that’s something I’m really excited about.

Eric: Yeah, that definitely sounds interesting, I’ll be watching for that. Well, it sounds like you’ve got a lot to do so I won’t keep you much longer. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you guys for hoping on today. I’m going to get this up on the blog here. We’ll put it in mp3 format so people can listen to it whenever they want, we’ll get all of the text up there. For all of you listening out there, certainly give Raven a shot. I think you guys are still running 30-day trials, right?

Taylor Pratt: Oh yeah.

Eric: Definitely work with it a little bit. I personally have gone back and forth. I think a lot of folks maybe who are used to using software and things like that it might take an adjustment or two but I can personally let folks listening know that I’m going to put a lot more of my stuff in there. I just think it really just cuts down on a lot of the manual work; these crazy spreadsheets and my Dropbox is exploding and it’s insane but definitely work with it and give it a shot.

It’s going to be new especially to folks I think that do a lot of stuff that I might be doing with the software and stuff but it’ll make your life a lot easier and the reporting is unreal. So, certainly give it a shot and, again, thanks to Jon and Taylor for hopping on with us today!

Taylor Pratt:Thanks for having us.

Jon Henshaw: Thanks for having us.

Eric: All right guys, take care.