In-House Team Building & Training – Pubcon Vegas 2013

The second session I participated in during Pubcon Vegas 2013 was the In-House Team Building & Training panel. I was joined this year by Victoria Edwards and Andrew Nevelos. Here are the notes I took …

The second session I participated in during Pubcon Vegas 2013 was the In-House Team Building & Training panel. I was joined this year by Victoria Edwards and Andrew Nevelos. Here are the notes I took:

How to Hire & Train The Right People to Get Stuff Done by Victoria Edwards, Digital Content Specialist at Florida Blue

  • Make sure you analyze your marketing strategy. Do you have clearly defined roles?
  • When looking to add to your team, make sure to train your HR department in basic SEO lingo.
    • Tell them where the talent lives so they can find quality people.
    • Teach them some buzzwords that indicate high- and low-quality prospects
  • Consider using Klout when looking for people.  Don’t neglect LinkedIn
  • When writing job descriptions, don’t ask for everything. Be specific!
  • Don’t forget to optimize job descriptions – they will be online
  • Content writers and anyone else who touches a site should have a basic knowledge of SEO
  • Ask for case studies from prospects. That will help you gauge what kind of talent they have. Also ask about current SEO topics
  • When you get good talent …
    • make sure they have to tools they need
    • invest in their training
  • If you have an Intranet, build up the content so everyone can learn what’s going on
  • Build relationships internally – especially with the IT Department (or whoever does the changes on your website)
  • Looking for content? Get people in-house to contribute content pieces in their areas of expertise

Crowdsourcing SEO by Andrew Nevelos, SEO Manager at Turner Broadcasting

  • Consider crowd-sourcing SEO – find those who are interested in SEO and get them to pitch into the effort
  • Get people who are part of brand and have a vested interest in success help with the ownership of SEO
  • Get people at all levels of the organization to buy into SEO – Start at the top. Executive buy-in can help get the whole organization to follow
  • In order to get others to align with your goals, find out what their goals are can help align all sides in a common effort
  • This especially applies to your web development team
    • Conduct regular training with your dev team(s)
    • Bribe them with food
    • Identify your “SEO Superstars” from the people who show a lot of interest in SEO and do some one-on-one training with them
  • You also need to conduct training with your content creators
  • Try to get SEO as a requirement into new projects – this keeps from have to redo a lot of website work after the fact
  • See you can find a way to meld SEO into the way people already work

I’ll share my part of the presentation later.

In-House SEO – PubCon Regional Conference Austin

The In-House SEO session at the PubCon Regional event in Austin was moderated by Joe Laratro and featured me along with Peter Leshaw and Tron Jordheim. Of course, I didn’t take any notes during my presentation (obviously), but I did jot down a few thoughts from the others …

The In-House SEO session at the PubCon Regional event in Austin was moderated by Joe Laratro, President of Tandem Interactive and featured me along with Peter Leshaw and Tron Jordheim. Of course, I didn’t take any notes during my presentation (obviously), but I did jot down a few thoughts from the others:

Peter Leshaw – Chief Strategist, iCanOptimize.com

Practical Ways of Leading Your SEO Team

  •  Build your case and tell your story. Dashboards are great for illustrating data [Note: This was a central theme throughout the day. Melanie brought it up in her keynote, I mentioned it in my presentation as did many others. Gone are the days when you can just talk about traffic stats – you have to find a way to tie SEO back into revenue.]
  • Build your team  – Personal Growth through Networking
    • Help them to understand the industry and what it’s about. Not just SEO industry, but the industries you’re working in/with
    • Provide them with tools to expand their knowledge
    • Things change all the time – it’s important to keep on top of new techniques and strategies
    • Give the team time to read blogs and such to help them learn and bring knowledge back to the team.
    • Pro-bono work can help build skills as well as help worthy causes.
    • Watch those who work outside the company. Don’t forbid, but keep track.

Tron Jordheim – CMO of StorageMart

Tron had some very interesting thoughts about local SEO:

  • Self-Storage is really a “brick and mortar” operation, but things have changed and now there is a need to be more “e-commerce”
  • More than 55% of StorageMart’s business comes from online sources
  • Challenges:
    • Operating in 2 countries
    • Several language differences:
      • Spanish
      • English (U.S. and Canada)
      • Chinese
    • Competition is huge in the self-storage business
  • Everything in SEO
    • Back in the day, the Yellow Pages was the local search engine
    • Now there are tons of options to help people find what they’re looking for
    • For StorageMart, Organic search brings the most conversions when customers get to the website
    • Even though a lot of people come in online, the majority still call, and some drive down to their local place.  It’s important to tie phone and in-person conversion back to online where appropriate.
  • It’s good to simplify the process as much as possible – the challenge is to figure out what not to do.
    • Try to figure out where your customers are and be there, too.
    • Locations? Local is key. What directories serve where you have locations?
  • Sometimes when you’re too close to a situation, outside vendors can help you see things better.

That last point is very valid. Sometimes it does take another set of eyes to see through challenges to better solutions. Outsiders can also give you a fresh perspective on how you might be able to do things better.

Let me also take this opportunity to bring up the new SEO/SEM organization being formed in Austin: ATXSEM.org. You have an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what will surely be an excellent information-sharing and networking group!

I highly encourage you to attend the next PubCon event which will be held April 22-25, 2013 in New Orleans, LA. This one-day event was great, but the full 3-day PubCon is even better. I will be presenting in a couple of sessions, moderating another and participating in a live site review. It’s going to be great – click the link above for more details.

The Countdown: PubCon Regional Austin Day Conference 2013

It seems like just a couple weeks ago we were in Las Vegas at PubCon 2012 – and now it’s already time to get ready for the PubCon Regsion Austin Day Conference which will be held on February 21, 2013 at the AT&T Conference Center on the University of Texas Campus in Austin, Texas. This is going to be a great event filled with expert speakers …

It seems like just a couple weeks ago we were in Las Vegas at PubCon 2012 – and now it’s already time to get ready for the PubCon Regional Austin Day Conference which will be held on February 21, 2013 at the AT&T Conference Center which is located on the University of Texas Campus in Austin, Texas. This is going to be a great event filled with expert speakers – many from in and around Austin – from whom you can gather great knowledge to help you with your company’s or your clients’ online efforts.

I will be participating in two sessions:

Mark your calendars: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at the AT&T Conference Center, Austin Texas. Registration for this event is now open so register today.

If you can’t make it to Austin in February, maybe you can make it to New Orleans in April? I will also be presenting during PubCon South 2013 in New Orleans, April 22-25, 2013. Registration for that event is also open.

PS – You who are regular readers of The Crossing have (hopefully) noticed that new posts have been somewhat scarce lately. This is because I’ve been working some pretty long hours on a special project. This will be wrapping up soon and I’ll get back to posting on a more regular basis.

Don’t Stop Communicating – The Other Side of the Coin

I recently wrote a piece directed at marketers reminding them that it is important to keep their IT folks in the loop all the time. This is important so they can get the best advice, counsel and work the IT folks can offer. There is another side to the coin, as there usually is. The IT folks have to be willing to communicate as well.

I recently wrote a piece directed at marketers reminding them that it is important to keep their IT folks in the loop all the time. This is important so they can get the best advice, counsel and work the IT folks can offer. It’s a topic I talk and write about quite often.

Friends TalkingAs is usually the case, there is another side to the coin. The IT folks have to be willing to communicate as well.

As in any relationship, the one between Marketing and IT is a two-way street. Each side has to be willing to work with the other and offer the best they have to the relationship. Each side has abilities and strengths the other lacks. By combining skills, knowledge and efforts, the entire organization benefits.

It goes without saying that Marketing and IT have different missions within an organization. But, where those missions overlap, it is in each groups’ best interest to cooperate for the good of everyone. Sometimes this involves compromise and sacrifice. Isn’t that true in any relationship?

Here’s my challenge to my IT counterparts in 2012: Reach out to your Marketing colleagues and try to find meaningful ways you can help them succeed. Look at their business objectives and see if you can find ways to help meet them. Not only will you learn more and expand your horizons, you will help the whole business do better. And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

What say you? Are you in a corporate IT group and have a good relationship with your Marketing counterparts? What kinds of things help the relationship? Please feel free to share any tips in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: mikecogh

Tech Support Custom Code Cop Out

I hereby claim I coined the term “Tech Support Custom Code Cop Out.” This is described as a lame excuse used by some tech support people to avoid dealing with a difficult issue a customer has with software or a service they purchased.

334/365 this is a phoooonne!!!I hereby claim I coined the term “Tech Support Custom Code Cop Out.” This is described as a lame excuse used by some tech support people to avoid dealing with a difficult issue a customer has with software or a service they purchased.

This has happened to me a few times – and it’s really annoying. I’m certainly not saying that tech support people should be expected to support someone else’s totally custom application. But, when just a couple of things are changed in a product which is customizable and the person calling for help has clearly documented the changes in their tech support request, this excuse becomes unacceptable.

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.

Once I was helping a friend who ran an online art gallery. He decided to go full on with an e-commerce site, adding a shopping cart while keeping some list pages organized in categories as he had on his straight HTML site. I recommended a new host for him which had a built-in shopping cart application he could rent. I figured there would be no problem recreating the look of his “old” site (which was working very well for him).  I’d merely put all the products into the shopping cart database with a category flag and then query up the data to put into his list pages.

No problem, that is, until I tried to find information on creating a connection string to the database on the host’s web site. I found nothing. No examples, not even a mention of it. Now keep in mind this is a major shopping cart host, not some rinky dink outfit.

So I went through the support forums. I saw lots of people asking the same question, but no answers. I found that strange, but I carried on with my task.

I eventually ended up emailing their support. My request went something like, “Please tell me how to do a connection string to my client’s data on your service. I have the database name, user name and password, I just need the server name  to connect to.”

A couple days later I got a reply, which went something like this: “We’re sorry, that’s custom code. We don’t support custom code.”

That made me go, ‘Hmm.” I replied to that message pointing out there was no custom code yet, because without a connection string I really couldn’t even get started writing the custom code. I didn’t need any help with the data queries or anything like that, I just needed to know how to connect to the database. A database which they, no doubt, already had connection strings for or my customer’s shopping cart wouldn’t work.

The answer back was exactly the same, “Sorry, that’s custom code. We don’t support custom code.”

I went back and forth three or four more times, always with the same answer. No help, no how. Needless to say, I do not recommend that host any more.

More recently, a work colleague and I were troubleshooting the administration piece of another shopping cart. (Coincidence?) My colleague did some major work on the CSS files for this product but just a couple small custom user controls were added to the code in order to display a little extra data on our products display pages.

We tested, and everything worked properly in our test environment. Once we moved the files to our production server, however, the admin piece started failing. We went through troubleshooting ourselves. When we couldn’t find a problem, she went into their help forums and found a couple of possible fixes, but nothing would get us past the error. Finally, when we could do no more ourselves, she opened a support ticket.

The first answer: “You did custom code on your site. We can’t support your installation because of this.”

My colleague replied that the customized parts were not in the admin section, but their reply was the same. She finally documented the changes she made, showing that they had nothing to do with the administrative portion of the software. Still, the reply was the same.

Good news: My colleague found a solution on her own. Still, it’s kind of sad she had to slog through their code for a couple of days before she found the problem. They, likely, could have found it much quicker. And it had nothing to do with any customization she did.

We Have To Do Better
Again, I’m not expecting  a software vendor to support a complete customization unless they wrote it all themselves. But in these two examples I don’t think the requests for support were unreasonable. It looked to me like the support folks were trying to close the tickets as quickly as possible, regardless of whether or not the customer was satisfied. Service after the sale is important – and this ain’t it.

Here’s another thought: If you’re a vendor, what if you had a couple of tech support people on staff who could help customers regardless of their customizations? Now that would be rock start support. Would you have to ask higher prices or perhaps a premium on your maintenance fees? Yes, but I’ll bet a lot of customers would find it worth the extra cost. That could be the one thing to differentiate you from your competitors.

What say you? Have you been a victim of the Tech Support Custom Code Cop Out? What do you think about it? Have you ever been on the other side? I’d love to hear from folks on the support of the issue. Please feel free to share in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Lazurite