Podcast Description

Podcast Title: Growth Marketing Today

Host: Ramli John

Guest: Geoff Atkinson


In this episode Geoff really digs deep into technical SEO. Geoff breaks down structured data markup, covering what it is, why it matters, how it works and how to implement it. Geoff tells Ramli about Huckabuy, and how we're helping businesses big and small grow their organic search channel with the technical software solutions we provide.

What You'll Learn in This Episode

Time Stamped Highlights

[3:30] How An SVP of Marketing Started a Technical SEO Company

Ramli: Can you share a little bit about your story and how you started Huckabuy?

Geoff: Yes so my background I started at Overstock right out of college, and eventually worked my way up to be their SVP over marketing and SEO is a great sort of story there we went from a channel of zero to a channel of 300 million. And so I really got to experience what it was like to be on the front lines of that kind of growth in the SEO space, and what it took to really move the needle and what didn't. And one of the things I found was that we had, at one point, a team of over 40 people working on SEO, and over half of those were developers. 

I always have envisioned SEO as really a technical problem, but it's a problem that's addressed by the $75 billion services industry, meaning a lot of agencies and a lot of consultants. And I identified this technical gap where most companies trying to grow in terms of SEO just didn't have the expertise, or even really like access to the website to make big technological changes. And so that's really what Huckabuy’s built to do, is to track Google very closely where they're at, where they're going, and make sure that our customers' websites align with Google, from a technical perspective. When that happens, really significant growth occurs. So Huckabuy’s a software platform and now we have some great customers like Salesforce and SAP and it's been a really cool run about two and a half years. We actually started as a B2C site and then pivoted into a SaaS company which was a great idea. And so it's been about two and a half years under the SaaS model. And, yeah, we're doing really well. We just finished at the end of December our seed round of financing and we're off and running here in 2020 so it's an exciting time.

Ramli: Wow, you have some big shot names there that you're just one of your customers. I am going to definitely chat about that. But one of the things that I noticed you said already was that you became SVP of Marketing at Overstock and I'm curious what kind of SEO lessons you took from that experience that you brought to Huckabuy?

Geoff: Yeah, probably the first one would just be that technical aspect that a website needs to be able to communicate with a search engine, and a lot of that has to do with this language that they created called structured data markup. Google has like a preferred language that they like to speak, and if you speak their language to them — it's sort of a complicated language — they just understand a lot more. Then kind of I learned the importance of site architecture and how well your sort of navigation and things describe what you do. I think a lot about demand-driven navigation and product names. So, instead of calling products and services what you want to call them internally, call them actually what people search for and then have your navigation laid out that way. It not only affects navigation sometimes, but we see it actually affects businesses. They will define these great keywords that have high volume but low competition scores, and they'll start building products around them. We did that a lot at Overstock and the way that Overstock became a home and garden company versus starting this electronics and jewelry company was all based on SEO keyword research, where we found there was just tons of volume and low competition so we moved into that space and now they are known as a home and garden company. So, man I learned a lot of lessons. I learned what SEO was — I’d never heard of it before. From there, all the way into, you know, the more really in-depth stuff such as how to make really fast page speed and how to optimize navigation structured data. Yeah, so it was a great, great learning experience and I’m happy to share as much as you'd like

[7:52] Why More B2B Companies Need To Leverage Their Organic Search Channel

Ramli: Yeah, no, I definitely want to talk about all that. One of the things that you mentioned is that some of your customers are mainly B2B and when I think about SEO, or a lot of folks think about SEO, is typically a no-brainer for B2C because a lot of people are searching. Why do you find like a lot of B2B companies arrive at SEO, solely? What can B2B companies really stand to benefit from SEO because a lot of B2B companies usually start off with a sales-driven approach, where the website is just kind of a brochure and not really more of an acquisition channel.

Geoff: Yeah, that's a great question. It's strange how B2B companies always arrive at SEO a little bit later — if they ever arrive at SEO. I mean even like a Salesforce you'd be amazed. They're getting 65% of their business or something through SEO and yet they have so few people working on it and they have hundreds of thousands of employees. Whereas, like, if you're an e-commerce company and you're not doing SEO you barely can survive. And so, I think the reason is one, when you're in the B2C space, you think about search sort of right away, because it typically is the most powerful new customer acquisition channel so you think a lot about paid search, and then a little bit about SEO and they realize that SEO is actually a lot higher ROI, and cheaper, and you see really successful e-commerce companies — whether they're, Amazon, eBay, Overstock — they get SEO right away. 

In the B2B world, I think they don't think of it as an important channel originally. They think about building a sales team, and doing outbound email efforts and sales calls, usually B2B companies are very sales driven so that part of the company is where the investments happen. The other piece is that the margins are so much bigger, so that you can spend a lot more to acquire a customer and it still makes sense, because if you get one Salesforce deal, and you've spent 500 bucks for paid search to get that deal, it doesn't really matter it still makes sense. So it does arrive later, but if you think about the value of an organic search lead for a B2B company versus a B2C company, it's worth actually a ton more. You know, we have one customer, a big B2B player, and they estimate like each organic search visitor — not ones that convert into leads or anything, just each visitor — is worth $250, which, in the B2C space, I think our revenue per visitor in organic search is like $2.50 or something. It's actually worth a lot more and so really successful B2B companies do figure it out, and they realize that it's one the most reliable channels. 

The second reason is great for B2B is it's the most scalable channel. There's no maxed out; you can max out your PPC spend, and almost take it into the red, which a lot of companies do. But with SEO it can scale and scale and scale. For example, Concur, a really big software company that's a customer of ours, gets over 75% of their sales pipeline through organic search, and that's beating like 450 sales reps. So, it can be a really powerful channel for B2B and I encourage b2b companies to think about it much earlier in their lifecycle, just because they're going to grow way faster leveraging SEO than any sort of paid channel that they could use. It is sort of a weird phenomenon, but when B2B companies get it right, it becomes so incredibly profitable, because the margins are so high, and the deal sizes are so big that you can really grow, once you get SEO figured out.

[12:00] Which B2B Companies Benefit the Most from SEO?

Ramli: Do you think that any kind of B2B company can benefit from SEO? Is it just, you know, ones that are targeting small to medium businesses, or you mentioned some enterprise companies there, they can also benefit from SEO, right?

Geoff: Yeah, I think only the only time I've ever seen a company that really wasn't interested is when they know all the potential buyers, so like if you're like Boeing, right? You know, everybody that's buying airplanes, especially at that size, like, they're going to get quotes from Boeing, and so SEO is less important. I do still argue it's important, because there's awareness and there's, there's a lot of branding that goes along with number one search rankings, there's a lot of trust that's given to whoever owns the number one ranking, so it helps with conversion. But yeah, from small to large enterprises, a big part of our business is obviously with Salesforce and SAP. Then there's sort of the times where they've gone through their series A, their series B, their series C and they have like a lot of funding but they have these really lofty growth goals, because now they're on the hook with these venture capitalists to get to a certain size and SEO is just really important at that stage for them to really get to where they want to go. So, we find it works. Anybody that wants increases in revenue, typically wants a good organic search channel.

[13:31] New To SEO? Here Are Some Tips To Get Started

Ramli: That totally makes sense, you talk a little bit about it earlier already, about how companies can get SEO right. What would be your suggestion on maybe a company that hasn't really put a lot of effort into SEO. And then, it's time to put invest resources in SEO where should they start investing resources?

Geoff: Well my obvious answer is going to be Huckabuy, but one of the wild things about and about SEO space is that the typical agency relationships so the $75 billion services market. As a general overall net promoter score of zero — which is sort of mind boggling — so you'd rather go to your dentist and deal with your SEO agency, and so it's sort of not effective. So we find the best combination is an internal SEO resource (or resources) that really knows the company and knows how to write. Always internal resources can write better content than external resources because we inherently know the company better — someone that knows the sort of architecture and content strategy, that's always our best partner. And then Huckabuy, honestly, we check an enormous box when it comes to SEO and that technical aspect. Our average customer growth,  after 12 months of being on our software is 62% growth, which is kind of crazy growth. So we encourage an internal team. Typically, in some cases we have agencies that we really like and recommend, iff they just don't know where to even get started, but we recommend a combination of Huckabuy software and internal resources.

[15:24] What’s Structured Data and Why is it Important?

Ramli: You talked a little bit about it also earlier about structured data, and that's how Google can kind of read your website. For marketers who don't know what that is, can you explain what that is and why is it important? 

Geoff: For years and years, and still today for 95% of the internet, the way that Google understands websites is by crawling HTML. Now that's even getting harder because a lot of HTML is being replaced by dynamic content that's driven by JavaScript, which they can crawl but it's different — they can't just crawl it they actually put it in what they call a render queue and render it just like you would have a page in your Chrome browser. 

Years ago, even when it was just HTML, HTML is really complex and kind of confusing. People spend all this money on the user interface and the user experience, and I argue the most important visitor, on any given day, is actually this little Google bot. Their user experience is kind of terrible and it's not talked about that much. And so years ago, basically search engines got together with academics and said “There's got to be a better way for us to be able to communicate with a site.” And so they invented this language called structured data markup — the open source movement, if you want to read about it, is called — and almost anything that can be represented on a page can be communicated to a search engine using structured data. And the reason that it's powerful is that it's the same across every site, if it's done correctly. The most used structured data on the internet is product. So, you know, it’s saying, “This is a pair of sneakers. They're made by Nike. Here's the name. Here's the description. Here's the price. Here's the reviews. Here's an offer.” There are all these required fields. And then there's all sorts of structured data that can really represent almost anything so event structure data is very popular. So if you search for movie times, and the movie times just show up, that's all being powered by structured data. You can use structured data to represent a person, a medical condition or legal word. Almost anything that's visible on a page can be communicated using this language. 

Three benefits of using structured data:

It used to be that when searched something and you just get back the 10 blue links. Now, typically when you search for something you'll get back, sort of an altered experience so they're very much into just answering your question. So, if you type in a sport score, say, “What's the score of the patriots game?” Google just comes back with an answer. If you search for a recipe and the recipes just show up, or the movie ticket example, or you see these Q&A boxes, all of those enhancements are called rich enhancements. Those rich enhancements are all powered by structured data. Because it's in the same format and it's authoritative, meaning it's correct across all these sites, they can actually then use structured data to enhance their search results. So sometimes you can, once you capture one of those rich enhancements, you can almost own a search term — it's like you're the only answer that's coming back. 

The third benefit is as Voice Search becomes more popular. We search is actually powered by structured data. So, basically the way that voice search works is like say, you know, if you typed in how to make a margarita, and it lists the instructions like went today, that's powered by structured data, if you asked your Google device in your kitchen, “How to make a margarita,” it's actually just going to read back to you the steps, based on what's available on structured data. So not a lot of voice search is being used today. It's growing really quickly and I do think, once the user experience of voice search becomes equal to or better than typing it in, it'll be like the shift from desktop to mobile, it'll all happen like pretty quickly. The experience isn't good enough yet for it to be used as much, but it'll get there probably sometime in the next five years and you want to be prepared for that and structured data is how it's done.

[23:00] One Company Had 70% Growth in Organic Search Traffic in Six Months

Ramli: Thanks for sharing that. You were talking about generalized results but, can you give an example of a company or brand that implemented this and what kind of results did you saw just by implementing this?

Geoff: Yeah. I usually don't talk too much about this but I'll give you one. Concur’s a great one. They get 75% of their sales leads through organic search and I think they grew something like 70% in six months, so you can just imagine what that did to that revenue stream. The impact is outstanding. The reason it actually works best on B2B software is because if you think of e-commerce site, they are already structured in a way that makes it pretty easy for Google to understand. They’ll have really well described categories like Men’s Sneakers, and lo and behold, in that category is men's sneakers, and then the categories are all the same format so it's really easy for them to understand, and then they get to a product page and those are all the same format, with the product name, price, and description, and so it's relatively easy for them to crawl. Once you go to a B2B software company like say Salesforce, all that structure goes out the window. There's no longer product pages with prices and descriptions, it's just a massive content site, and the products are more complex and it's just really inherently hard for Google to understand, a B2B site like Google knows that Salesforce is really important — they domain authority through the roof — and so they want to know everything they can about Salesforce, they just have a hard time crawling the site and understanding it. So when you layer structured data on top, they're like, “Thank you. We finally now get what this company does,” and the results are incredible. So the B2B world benefits the most from structured data, even though they're like the last adopters.

[25:10] How To Begin Implementing Structured Data Internally and The Value of Outsourcing

Ramli: So I'm fully bought in. Let's talk about companies who are listening to this like “We need to do that right now.” What can you do to get started with structured data to really grow their organic traffic?

Geoff: I mean, my obvious answer is they should buy a subscription to Huckabuy, because they get world-class structured data in like a week, and they have it for the rest of their life. There are ways to do it internally. So if you have a savvy SEO dev team, they probably have the ability to add structured data throughout the site. Google has what they call a Markup Tool, which is sort of a manual tool that allows you to go in and add structured data manually to different pages, and we have some sort of low price offerings that can get someone up and running pretty quickly, and the barrier to entry isn't isn't all that high.

The reason to outsource structured data and use a software solution

 Google's investing so much in structured data right now. It's one of their top priorities and every algorithm change in the last seven years has added more and more structured data elements to it. And so, as they change requirements and add new things that can be marked up, your structured data can break up. If you outsource it to a company that specializes in that and tracks it and changes it in real time, that is really helpful.

[32:37] Advice to Marketers: SEO is Massively Underinvested In

Ramli: What would be your one piece of advice to marketers? When it does SEO or just in general?

Geoff: I would say, SEO is always massively under invested in. So when you look at where you're spending money across your marketing channels and what's the ROI on that spend, my guess is 99% out of 100 are under invested in SEO. And there's a lot of reasons for it. It's a technical problem versus like a paid problem. You don't get the immediacy of results. It takes time, but it almost always is up. If you actually do a proper you know ROI analysis of all the channels and where the money's going 99 times out of 100 you're under investing in it. So that's just a fact that we see happen over and over again. 

The other piece would be the, just the importance of your navigation so obviously with e commerce in sort of natural to have these well described categories but all these other businesses, especially in B2B, you know, Google doesn't know what “products” mean you know you're, you have a link that's like “about us-products-free trial,” they don't understand that. So, be more descriptive in your navigation because really the very first handshake that Google makes with a website is around their navigation to try to understand what the company does, and very rarely is it actually optimized. So that would be my other piece of advice.

Additional Resources