By Li Evans
We're up to week 17 in this series that highlights the accomplishments of women within the search marketing industry. It's really become a wonderful thing for me, as a writer, to get to learn about each of these women. I hope for you as a reader, you enjoy reading these interviews just as much as I enjoy writing them.
This week I bring your two women I got to meet in New York at the Search Engine Strategies conference. Both of these women attending the luncheon, which afforded me the opportunity to make the contact to be able to bring them to you tonight. Let me introduce to you Stacy Williams and Laurie Petersen.
I got to meet Stacy in New York this year at SES. I attended the session she spoke at about web analytics and measuring the success of your websites. I really came away totally impressed with Stacy's complete and in-depth knowledge of this segment of our industry. Stacy really set herself apart from everyone else on that panel, which included a Q&A panel of vendors who were all men.
Stacy is the managing partner of Prominent Placement in Atlanta, Georgia. Along with her partner and husband, Matt, Stacy runs a successful team of search marketers who strive to give their clients top notch service and results. In 2006, Stacy was a finalist for the Georgia Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Stacy, what brought you into the Search Marketing Industry?
I was working for an ad agency in their interactive division in the late 90’s, and one day we realized that we had to actually drive traffic to all these websites we were building. So in 1998 I took a 6-hour search engine optimization course from Robin Nobles – this was back when you could learn everything you needed to know in 6 hours! There were, of course, no pay-per-click listings back then. I remember I changed the title tag of the agency’s website to “Atlanta advertising agency” and within a day or two we were #1 on AltaVista (which was THE engine back then). It was the most exciting thing ever! Until Wordtracker came out shortly thereafter and I did keyword research for the first time and realized that something like 7 people a month were searching for “Atlanta advertising agency.” What a buzzkill.
What’s the major difference between working at an ad agency and what you do now?
No visual creative! I was never very good at the creative part of advertising – judging whether layout “A” was prettier than layout “B”. I could always tell if it was on target strategically, but I couldn’t tell you which piece of creative was “better”. I love the fact that the only creative we need to work with is copy, which to me is much more straightforward and less subjective.
What do you consider to be your most successful industry accomplishment?
Not to sound immodest, but I can think of two things. First, when I started this business in 2001, I intended to be a one-woman show. If you had told me then that I’d have built an 8-person company, I don’t think I would have believed you! So just being able to contribute to our clients’ success, which in turn has fueled our success, is very gratifying. I like to think that my husband Matt (who is also my business partner) and I are good role models for our daughters at least – instead of playing house, they play office. They constantly talk about what kinds of businesses they want to start – not just in the future, but now!
Second, five or six years ago, there weren’t many search marketers in Atlanta. Whenever I’d meet one, I’d glom onto them – it was so refreshing to have someone to talk shop with! Pretty soon I was introducing them to each other and we were all having lunch together regularly. With the help of some of my local colleagues, that informal group has evolved into an official nonprofit organization that’s really supporting our industry here in Atlanta. I like to feel that I contributed to bringing Atlanta search marketers together to benefit our industry as a whole.
Why do you love this industry?
I feel so blessed to be a part of this industry. I find what we do so exciting – I really have a passion for it and have since day one! Part of it is the satisfaction of doing something that’s so measurable – where we “work our magic” and we can watch the numbers (rankings, site traffic, conversions, sales, revenue) increase month after month. It’s so fun to have happy clients and to know that we’re really contributing to their businesses. But I have to say, what I really love about this industry is its collegiality. That is, everyone’s so open and willing to share experiences and compare notes and support each other.
You’re a speaker on the web analytics panel at SES, analytics seems to be highly dominated by men, what makes analytics so interesting to you?
It probably has something to do with coming from the advertising world, where success is measured either through market research studies (for memorability or likelihood to buy) or general sales trends. It’s really difficult to tie results directly back to your efforts. I just love the fact that so much of what we do is measurable – and we can take credit for it! There really is nothing more gratifying than being able to show a client how our efforts have put more money in their pockets.
You manage a team of women who mostly work from home, how challenging is this compared to an “in office team”?
Like anything else, it has its pluses and minuses. Of course, we think the pluses way outweigh the minuses or we wouldn’t be doing it this way! Having a virtual office means we keep our overhead low and can afford to invest more in people and training. Our people are happier, since they don’t have to dress up every day and commute to work, and they have flexible schedules that allow them to have a work-life balance. The poaching problem in this industry is incredible, and we have to worry about that a whole lot less than our competitor friends do. I would say the main drawback is that you can’t pull someone over to your desk to show them something on your screen. But we have enough technology in place to make all our communication go as smoothly as possible.
What advice would you give for other women starting out in this industry, based on your own experience?
It’s a great industry for anyone to start out in, regardless of gender! It seems like the demand for our services just continues to increase. I think my two biggest pieces of advice would be (a) don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth (not to generalize, but I think some women tend to have a harder time with that than men), and (b) don’t be afraid to turn down business. The last thing you want to do is take on so many clients that you give them bad service. And the more experience you get, the more you’ll realize which kinds of clients are a good fit for you – don’t hesitate to refer anyone who’s not a fit elsewhere. The one regret I have is that I haven’t always trusted my gut in terms of which clients to take on – so if there’s a little red flag popping up in your head, even if you can’t figure out why, listen to it!
What’s a typical day like for you at Prominent Placement?
I start out by catching up on industry newsletters and touching base with our five account managers to see if they want to discuss any client issues or want me to review anything they’re working on. I might have a meeting with Matt to talk about some marketing, operational or strategic issue. Lately I’ve had quite a few new business pitches during the day. Or I might meet a colleague from an interactive shop or marketing firm for coffee, or attend an industry networking lunch. In the afternoon, I’m usually responding to emails and voicemails received while I was out (in between running kids to soccer practice and art lessons!). Often, I’m back on the computer after the kids are in bed, but that’s a habit I’m trying to break.
How does your educational background work its way into your everyday work?
While I’m one of the few people I know who’s actually working in the field they studied (BS degree in Business/Marketing, MA degree in Communications Management), I can’t say that what I learned in school really applies directly to my everyday work. That’s probably because search marketing is still so new. I’m going to date myself, but when I was in graduate school for communications, the big thing everyone was buzzing about was video conferencing – meaning people drove to a conference center where there were cameras and screens set up. It’s pretty laughable by today’s standards. I do remember people talking about the “information superhighway” that was coming, but no one really understood what that meant.
Who’s your favorite blogger to read?
At the risk of offending some of my other SES buddies…the three bloggers that I think are “must reads” are Lee Odden, Gord Hotchkiss, and Debra Mastaler. I think Lee is a genius at creating content, particularly with his written and video interviews of other SEMs. Everything Gord writes is brilliant – he has a way of connecting lots of disparate ideas together in a way that makes you really think. And we love Debra – she’s our linking partner and really helps keep us on top of what’s happening in that world.
Paid Links – necessary, overrated, or doesn’t matter?
I think paid links can be quite helpful (not necessary, but important), and the debate about them is overrated.
Now for some fun with Stacy!!
Danny Sullivan or Chris Sherman?
How can you ask me to choose between them? They’re both awesome at what they do! That said, I do feel I owe my career and business to Danny. It was at one of the first SES conferences in 2000 that I listened to him speak and had a light bulb go off in my head and realized I could start a search marketing firm of my very own. He has been so generous with his knowledge through his writing, sites and speaking that he has allowed thousands of us to make a living and support our families while being challenged and stimulated every day.
Best dressed Search Professional at conferences?
I was tempted to write Mikkel deMib Svendsen, but I think both his orange and gold suits have been covered ad nauseum. So instead, keeping in the theme of this article, I will turn to two of my favorite women friends in the industry, both of whom are brilliant and gorgeous and I could just hate them if they weren’t both so nice – Nan Dawkins of Red Boots Consulting and Patricia Hursh of SmartSearch Marketing. I’m hoping no one notices that last year Patricia wore a suede jacket when she spoke on a panel with me and then for the next show I had to go out and buy a suede jacket because I thought it looked so good on her.
Craziest thing you’ve ever had happen to you?
I’m not really the type of person that has much craziness in my life, for better or for worse. But when I was in high school, I did have a job working backstage during concerts at the San Diego sports arena. Lots of craziness there! I was the one who picked the brown M&Ms out of Van Halen’s big bowl of M&Ms (they requested that for every concert, and if they’d find just one brown M&M, they’d trash the dressing room). I also found a rolled up $100 bill in Duran Duran’s dressing room (this was the ‘80’s, after all), fetched margarita mix for Christie Brinkley when she was on tour with Billy Joel, spied on Tina Turner talking to her son, served Ozzie Osbourne dinner, bonded with John Denver (who I listened to a lot as a kid), got Billy Idol’s autograph, and snuck my Judas Priest backstage pass to a friend who was a huge fan. Pretty heady stuff for a teenager!
OK, as a gal who loves Billy Idol, I'm jealous! Something tells me that if I'd known Stacy back when I was in school, she's the one I'd be hanging out with. :)
Next up is Laurie Petersen of Media Post Publications.
Laurie's been in the industry probably longer than anyone I've met, yet. Although not technically the internet as we know it today, there was still search, very rudimentary back in the 80's. Laurie explained, "I first went online in 1982, doing videotex for CBS. Yes, there was even a rudimentary form of search."
Now, Laurie is the Executive Editor of MediaPost, and the Editor of Online Media Daily both of which can be found at Media Post Publications. These are great publications that can become a great asset for any search marketer whether you are a beginner or an industry veteran. I always find great gems of knowledge from the Media Post sites. I also agree whole heartedly when Laurie related to me "I couldn't live without search."
Laurie, can you tell us what brought you into reporting about the Search Marketing Industry?
I've gone back and forth between covering the industry and being an operator in the industry. I got clued in to search in a major way as an editorial director at Barnes & Noble.com, because knowing how people searched for things influenced how we merchandised books. I spent five years doing M&A research, which drove me back to the editorial world covering it. I love the behavioral aspects of search and what it says about what people are thinking and consumer trends.
What do you consider as your most successful industry accomplishment?
Probably the launch of MediaCentral.com in 1995. This was the first real Web portal for media and marketing professionals.
Why do you really love about search marketing?
It's fast. It tells you what works and what doesn't and you can change things on the fly. It gives a tremendous window into consumer thinking. I'm also an information junkie, and I just love that I can find out just about anything and track down nearly anyone in next to no time.
What aggravates you most about this industry?
People who think they're reinventing the wheel, but are just capitalizing on what the technology is finally making possible. What I love about speed is also what I hate about speed. You can work all the time if you let yourself.
What kind of changes have you seen take place in the last couple of years in this industry?
I think the biggest changes are in the market. The audience and technology are finally here for broadband, which has shifted things from more of a direct marketing approach to an entertainment approach. I also think kids will revolutionize online again in the coming years.
What advice would you give for other women who want to write about Search Marketing?
What's a typical day like for you at Media Post?
I usually check my email from home while my daughter is eating breakfast to see that our newsletters went out OK and to look for any big breaking news. Then I go into the city and have morning meetings outside the office or head in and start lobbing out assignments. I get TONS of email and am reviewing it all the time. In the afternoon I'm usually reporting, writing, editing and anything. I go home to pick up my daughter and generally wrap up my editing from home.
Who are some of your favorite bloggers to read?
Now it's Laurie's turn to get to be a little silly!
David Temple or Jim Hedger?
Have you ever Googled/Yahoo'd/Asked/Lived yourself and been surprised by the results?
I have an obnoxious misquote from an article someone wrote about women in the technology business three or four years ago, and I hate that it lives on in perpetuity.
Who throws the best conference parties?
I don't get to many. I have a kid!
Ms. Dewey or Jeeves?
Laurie, I am with you there, Jeeves was just great. Although I wouldn't say that in front of Ms. Dewey, she kind of looks like she'd burn me to ashes in the spot I stood with that glare of her's!
Thank you to both Stacy and Laurie for making this round of interviews truly enjoyable! Stop back next week for edition #18. I'm working on a special sort of edition for next week, so make sure to stop back. Until then, read up on our many other women in this industry by checking out the Women of Internet Marketing section here on Search Marketing Gurus.