For digital marketers based in Canada, one of the top conference hotspots has got to be Toronto. That’s no surprise, given this is the country’s largest city by population, but with a slew of marketing conferences happening here every year, you have to wonder if we really need any more.
But Inbound Con, which is returning for its second year on Sept. 18, aims to be different from its counterparts, says Dev Basu, one of the conference organizers. He is also the CEO and founder of Powered By Search Inc., a Toronto-based digital marketing agency.
“A lot of the digital marketing conferences that happen … The typical type of feedback is that attendees walk away wanting more. Wanting more actionable things they can do when they get back to the office,” Basu says.
“They have trouble separating the actionable tips from much of the theory or the philosophical aspects of marketing that they learn …[And] there really is very little thought leadership relating to inbound marketing in Canada.”
As ITBusiness.ca will be heading down to cover Inbound Con, we caught up with Basu to get his thoughts on the current state of search engine optimization (SEO) marketing, how it aligns with the other pieces of the marketing puzzle, and where it’s headed in the future.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Candice So: So you founded Powered By Search back in 2009. Why did you want to found a marketing agency that does other things, but concentrates on SEO?
Dev Basu: It goes back eight years to when I was working at Microsoft, where we had contracted a creative agency. At that point in time, I didn’t really know what an SEO agency was, and they were supposed to be helping us with what was essentially search engine optimization for one of our web properties. And it turned out to be an experience that didn’t go too well. And as I started investigating other brands and their experiences with agencies, I think what I really found was that it was an area of expertise that digital agencies didn’t really possess. And that enticed me to learn more about the industry and delve deeper into it.
So I started Powered By Search after graduating from school, and I had already been in the industry for four or five years prior to that … Why SEO? A good question as well. There are many marketing channels on the web, but search engine optimization, or what we typically call “earned media” essentially is probably the best of them because it has the most amount of attention in terms of audience … People love to buy, but they don’t like being sold, and there are multiple studies that have shown that audiences trust organic search results that are earned rather than paid for.
So: How are inbound marketing and SEO linked together?
Basu: SEO would be a subset of what you need to get right in terms of being able to adopt best practices in terms of inbound marketing. How SEO has really changed over the years is that it’s grown from being a technical practice that is very much driven around code quality and keyword research, for example, to becoming much more of a content play, as well as a public relations play as well.
Ideally, the goal of what Google wants to do is, it wants to serve up the best possible content to its users, because by doing that, you get the best possible user experience. So what marketers who practice SEO are doing today, if you’re doing it the right way, is to start creating content that a brand, consumers, or customers want, and then trying to promote that content so it naturally earns attention … So SEO has basically grown in terms of the overall practice.
Inbound marketing is focusing on all of the different strategies that lead a customer to a brand, and then once you’ve led them to the brand – this is where SEO is really important – how do you make them convert to try to start trusting a particular brand, making sure that particular brand can cater to their needs, and then at that point in time, they choose to get in touch.
Part of inbound marketing is not just creating any content, but very purposeful content, like for a local business, for example … SEO is how you get the user to your website, and inbound marketing, including content marketing and marketing automation, can help nurture that user until they’re ready to start contacting you in a more meaningful way.
So: What are some of the most common SEO mistakes that you see, among marketers trying to cater to search engines?
Basu: One of the more obvious mistakes that I see pretty often is marketers who aren’t up to date with current SEO listing advice on the web, and employing strategies that will get them into trouble with the search engines. The search engines have policies where essentially, they don’t want to be deceived or manipulated in any way to rank content that’s not deserving … That would get [marketers’] websites penalized by Google.
The second one would be websites and content that are built with the marketer’s or brand’s perspective, rather than the customer’s perspective. Often marketers end up getting tunnel vision, and they start building the content or the website the way they see the brand, as opposed to catering to their customer’s or client’s needs.
The third one would be not doing your keyword research. That’s super important, being able to understand what it is your end user is searching for and then developing your entire strategy around that. There are too many times when marketers will guess what it is a user will search for, or they’ll use something that’s industry jargon or lingo.
An example would be an employment lawyer. Let’s say you are at work, you have some trouble with your employer, and you feel like your employment contract says one thing, and what you’re being asked to do is a different thing … An employment lawyer might call that a constructive dismissal.
But a regular employee may not even know what that actually is. They might type in something entirely different in Google, like “I’ve been wrongfully dismissed.” There’s a disconnect between what the user looks for and what the legal industry calls this particular instance … That’s just an example of the tunnel vision marketers often get by being too intrinsically involved in their own industry, and they don’t take into account the way the end user looks for the same service in their own words.
So: What kinds of changes have you noticed in SEO in the last few years, compared to when you started your business in 2009?
Basu: By and large, the biggest one is mobile. In 2009, mobile adoption was growing but really not at the exponential pace it’s growing at now. The search engines, like Google and Bing, have really adopted mobile in a big way. They’ve started now implementing ranking factors in the search engine that reward factors like marketers who have better mobile websites, or responsive websites.
And the second thing they’re looking at is speed. One of the key factors in user experience is how fast the page actually loads. And everybody hates slow websites that are cumbersome.
So: Looking forward, what kind of changes do you think we’ll see in SEO in the next five years?
Basu: I think five years from today, even if you look at the popularity of terms like content marketing, or inbound marketing, versus SEO, the number of people who call themselves the search engine optimizer, or SEO, is on the decline. And the reason that’s happening is that most professionals who have SEO as part of their job title are realizing that they’re actually doing more than what the technical definition of that field was five years ago. So they’re evolving their titles and their roles and responsibilities.
In five years’ time, digital is going to be such a core part of an integrated marketing strategy that there won’t be defined lines between offline marketing and online marketing. As analytics solutions get better as well, marketers will get a better picture of how all their marketing efforts, whether online or offline, work together towards achieving business goals. So SEO will become almost fundamental in how you build websites and experiences … but also in how you do any marketing, really. But it won’t be a standalone channel … in all the online marketing that ends up happening.