Expert Interview with SEO and SEJ Contributor Ben Oren

ben-orenWith over 10 years of experience handling SEO at the highest levels, Ben Oren has seen it all and done it all, twice. He has worked in medium and large agencies managing the internet marketing strategy for super brands like WSOP, Babylon and more, which he now combines with consulting and strategy for various medium and large clients after co-founding an internet marketing agency. Ben has also tackled marketing under start-up conditions, as he is the co-founder and CEO of an innovative e-commerce app.

Ben has truly tackled online marketing from every angle – conversion, SEO, PPC, E-mail, UX, content, and more – and the insights he’s accumulated have made him a regular contributor at leading industry publication Search Engine Journal.

Q: Over the years, you’ve worn many ‘hats’ and fulfilled different functions for different clients: in-house, agency, consultant, auditor. How do you feel that has contributed to your professional development?

A: I believe anyone interested in ascending to the top of their field today can’t settle for only one type of working experience, be it in-house, agency, consultant or other.

Personally, this variation in work type has greatly contributed to my professional development, and particularly, enhanced my ability to adopt a broad perspective when assessing problems and ways to tackle them.

There are usually two main variables to consider when faced with a business dilemma: the first is the industry itself, which in our case is internet marketing. It’s dynamic by nature and constantly evolving, meaning that there are countless solutions to every problem.

The second variable is the client’s niche, and everything having to do with their positioning within it – company size, marketing budget, online readiness, online state (penalties, priors, filters, etc).

Every single stakeholder has their own interests, limitations and special considerations when facing a business decision, and having an in-depth understanding of these can only help communicate and strategize better to reach an optimal solution.

Q: As an experienced marketer and entrepreneur, what is the greatest misconception you’ve come across among start-ups trying to use social media in order to ‘break’?


A: I can actually think of two basic assumptions which are misconceptions that lead start-up heads to choose social media marketing.

The first wrong assumption is that it’s free, and if we invest efforts into building a large audience then it’ll be free to advertise to said audience whenever we’d like to push our product and company. The second wrong assumption is that building a large, loyal follower base is relatively easy.

To address the first assumption, social media marketing is far from free, both when considering (1) the cost of producing high quality content by a dedicated content professional, and (2) the drastic downsizing of organic post reach in favor of paid advertising, carried out by social networks such as Facebook.

The current trend is to move towards a paid model, whether it’s by impressions or clicks – meaning that posts on a business page will only reach a very small percentage of that page’s followers unless you pay – ending up in a miniscule chance for a positive ROI.

As to the second assumption, a truly engaged, sizable, real audience that’s interested in a product or service rather than only having followed in exchange for a one-time offer, is challenging to achieve. Community growth takes time, resources, clear strategy and long term commitment towards gaining potential customers through social media, and retaining existing customers through social media. It necessitates a level of social media presence that not every start up realizes: real time response, professional outputs and engaging storytelling.

Unfortunately, time and again I see start-ups entrust no-one with the task of maintaining social accounts, ending up with deserted business pages that never took off and serve as a sad, outdated reminder. In the worst examples, the page is also flooded with questions and complaints that go unanswered, several damaging reputation.

In short, my recommendation to any start up interested in using social media is to build a sustainable strategy and be realistic about what it entails in terms of budget and man-power. Social media is a tremendous, powerful vehicle with many advantages, but for those to materialize it takes serious performance, patience and persistence.

Q: In your early days in the online marketing industry, you mainly handled SEO, but now you’ve branched out into content, user experience, conversion and a well-rounded understanding of marketing for large organizations. Do you believe that SEO’s future is questionable, and is that why you’ve distanced yourself from it?

A: I didn’t leave or distance myself from SEO. SEO is here to stay and will be around for a very long time; it’s just changing and developing, requiring us to adapt our methods and practices accordingly.

In my career development, I chose to expand my knowledge by tackling different aspects of online marketing, never neglecting SEO. I don’t think the future of SEO is questionable, but I don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate for any business.

SEO has undergone a transformation both in the way it’s performed and in the way it’s perceived. It is no longer regarded as a stand-alone channel, but rather as an integral part of a holistic marketing strategy. As a result, an SEO professional needs to be considerably knowledgeable about content strategy and social media, otherwise effectiveness will be hard to assess or measure.

Another component that’s constantly changing is Google’s algorithm, growing more and more sophisticated with every passing day. Links don’t behave as they used to, relevance is no longer measured the way it was, and engagement level holds greater weight, leading to the marginalization of spammy practices. If one fails to keep up regularly with all of these changes, it can be impossible to move forward and understand exactly what works and how.

Q: You’ve started and managed a start-up; do you have any tips to share from your experience, particularly regarding marketing a start-up?

A: Co-founding and managing my start-up, I encountered three main limitations:

  1. having a limited budget
  2. limited man-power
  3. limited time
On one hand, you’re constantly feeling like you’re behind and that, any moment now, you’ll stumble on an article about an unknown competitor doing exactly what you’re trying to do, but better. On the other hand, you lack the budget and financial justification to recruit more personnel in order to accelerate development. These two lead to a shortage in time – there’s never enough time when working on a start-up!

This is shared by all start-ups I know, and it often leads to the irresponsible misplacement of valuable funds in dubious marketing shortcuts publicized in who-knows-where. The combination of lacking real marketing know-how and not investing in expert guidance, is a sure way to throw time and money down the drain without any results to speak of. Therefore, my best recommendation is to hire a marketing consultant – someone with rich, varied experience and results under his/her belt – to guide the existing team on the best uses for their time and money.

Marketing efforts will still be carried out by the existing team members; however, they’ll be monitored by a professional and form part of a strategy that’s been tailored to the start-up’s niche, state, budget and competitors. Sure, it’s an expense, but it yields results and, more importantly, it can be thought of as an investment: empowering the existing team to handle marketing and slowly decrease dependency on external consultants and agencies.

Q: Outside of your experience with start-ups and small businesses, you’ve handled online marketing endeavors for enormous, international corporations such as WSOP, Caesar’s Entertainment, Babylon, Bouclair Home and more. Please highlight the professional methodological and executional differences when working with both types of companies.

A: Methodologically, surprisingly enough, there isn’t much of a difference. The difference lies in the ability to execute more advanced methods, and the subsequent quality of said execution. Larger companies have a clear advantage thanks to their budgets and recognizability, lending them greater possibilities that small and medium businesses don’t have access to.

For instance, if a large, leading corporation is interested in a partnership with a well known figure, its clout and deep pockets mean it’s likely it will come to fruition as long as there’s agreement between both sides. Small and medium businesses often don’t have the means or access necessary to even garner initial interest.

On the other hand, small businesses benefit greatly from a shorter decision process and a quicker, more efficient turnaround time. Corporations often struggle with miscommunication between different departments, sometimes yielding mediocre execution for otherwise brilliant campaigns. For example, the content and marketing department may not have direct, ongoing communication with the sales department, ending with a marketing campaign that isn’t optimally geared towards the company’s actual end clients.

5 SEO Tips For Boosting Your Local Rankings With Perfect Mentions

This recent online marketing technique is the ultimate solution to almost 90% of local business owners who are seeking ways to brand their businesses in the local market and enhance local SEO results without violating any search engine protocols.

Simply put, local citations refer to online mentions of your business name alone or with your address and phone number on local directories, classifieds, blogs, email newsletters, or websites.

These mentions may or may not have any links. If performed strategically and diligently, local citations can add immense value to any business.

Why are local citations powerful?

Several reports and surveys show that local citations play a major role in determining the local SEO ranking of any online site, accounting for a 25% boost in the ranking of most websites.

Types of Local Citations

There are two types of local references – structured and unstructured. Structured local mentions are those that are added to business listing sites, such as local classifieds, review sites, and yellow pages.

Unstructured local references are those which are added to blogs, websites, and government sites. Both structured and unstructured local citations play an essential role in improving your local business rankings in the search engines.

The more times your business gets mentioned, the higher it will rank. You can analyze the patterns with a local citation analysis tool to help you create powerful mentions for optimal results.

1. Know the difference between links and citations

One common mistakes most business owners do is confuse local citations with links. These two are different – citations are basically intended for branding, while links are for conversions.

Citations do not have to carry any link, although links may be added to them, and they are used primarily for increasing online prominence. On the other hand, links are particularly intended for cross-linking other websites with yours.

If you want to fully understand the basics of internet marketing, you can sign up for SEO Training.

local-citations

2. Make sure all information are correct and use a consistent format

It is important that your SEO citations contain accurate information about your company and that they appear in the same format in all the different business listing sites.

Seeing consistency on your local citations in popular sites will give your target audience an impression of professionalism and committed approach.

3. Avoid duplicate listings

Focus on building identical citations for your business across different listing sites. Remove any duplicate listings of your business on other sites. Having more than one citation showing different addresses, phone numbers, or names can cause uncertainty and affect the credibility of your business.

Perform regular follow ups with the listing sites and update your listing with accurate information or delete duplicate listings to ensure better user experience.

4. Choose the right categories

The key to success for any business is in selecting relevant citations that will lead target customers searching for your products or services straight to your business.

When you incorrectly tag your services or products under the wrong categories, your rankings get hurt. Instead of being visible to people who are searching for your products or services, your target audience only sees your competition.

5. Integrate key information

Incorporate key information such as images, videos, and special offers, to add interest and motivate potential customers to your business. Adding these to your listing brings in more value to your business and creates trust among your target customers.

Online Marketing Services: Why You Should Consider Charging by Task

I am sure a lot of our readers and members provide some sorts of online marketing services and thus they are facing with the well-known dilemma: How to measure and charge for the service? How to make your pricing competitive and clear while not under-pricing yourself.

[There’s also a follow up to this article on how to manage your own time more effectively]

With these questions we came to some of companies:


David Leonhardt from THGM Writing Services


“…estimate how much effort is involved and charge by the project”

First, let us draw a distinction between time-management and client billing.

For time management, that being my own work and work for clients combined, as well as any personal/family/household chores to get done, I work from a to-do list. I try to get the most important things done first, then I usually panic because the list is not shrinking very fast, so I turn my attention to quick things that I can tick off… then, being able to breathe more easily, I turn my attention to whatever is most important among what is left.

When it comes to client work, I estimate how much effort is involved and charge by the project. I really don’t want to watch the clock, and a lot of client work cannot be done in a single block of time, but rather needs to be interspersed with other work.


Tat Apostolova from Mum in search


“Charging for tasks keeps me motivated”

Back in the corporate world, when I was working in a job that paid for time spent in the office, I always felt undervalued. I’m a hard worker and I loved my job, so I was putting my heart into it when other people around me would just do the bare minimum and get paid a similar wage.

It just didn’t seem fair. I was a lot happier when I switched to a commission based job (in fact, this is exactly the reason I switched to a commission based job – I wanted to be paid fairly for my effort). Now that I’m running my own business from home, I charge for tasks. It keeps me motivated to work more productively.


Ashley Faulkes from Mad Lemmings


The future of work is task based

When pricing and measuring my work I try, or am still trying, to bring the cost of a service to task based. Basing your work and ultimately your value on a commodity is old fashioned and not useful. And after seeing many a worker waste time in the office and still get paid, I am sure is a pointless system.

One of the biggest issues with this idea is that people still see many services as commodities. So it is hard to sell, for instance, a website when there are so many competitors undercutting your services. Even if you are delivering a better product. So you have to sell your service based on a result, rather than on a service which can be evaluated on the number of hours you work.

One way to do this is to add things others cannot offer in the same service. Even if these things are not time intensive. That is where in my area marketing combined with web design comes together. Most people cannot do both well. Most web designers barely know SEO and cannot write at all. So by offering customers expertise that is not a commodity, you are able to sell a value based package.

I am not saying it is simple to achieve, but it is the future and we should all work towards it. Otherwise, we are doomed to work 9-5, only perhaps at home instead of in an office!


Andrew Isidoro


Task based + Pomodoro

I’m a big fan of task based tracking. Not only does it focus you on getting one thing completed but it also puts halt to the temptation to multitask which has been proved to reduce productivity. I’ve used task based tracking for a while now for my freelance business and I’ve found that it works particularly well with the Pomodoro technique to keep you focused and productive.

What are your tips for measuring your work and charging for it? Please share below!