I recently had the chance to talk to Chris Keating, VP of SEO and Conversion Optimization at Performics.  Keating has been with the company for 7 years.  They do SEO for a couple of dozen “blue-chip” brands, including HP, Kohl’s, Verizon Wireless, and RedBox.  A few years ago, Performics, a part of the ad service company DoubleClick, was acquired by Google (of course, this ignited some controversy).  Anyway, I got to ask Chris some questions relating to SEO practices that which brands can utilize and utilize better, and their different outlook on SEO.

Frontier Opportunities Lie in Concentric Circles Around SEO

ReelSEO: In what ways can companies better optimize their SEO in which they may not be aware?

Chris Keating, VP of SEO and Conversion Optimization at Performics

Chris Keating: The two biggest areas right now that there is less awareness around, are a little more uncharted–one is content marketing and how that connects to SEO. The basic idea there is that if you’re a big brand you probably optimize the content that you have right now, but there is so much more content that you probably haven’t created that you could, or that you could surface, that just isn’t available right now. You can only get so far with SEO with what you’ve got, so it’s creating more to be able to optimize off of.

Then the second part would be, “How do you connect in your social practices to benefit SEO?” Search engines have been incorporating social signals for at least 2 or 3 years now.  Obviously they don’t publish their algorithms.  We don’t know completely which elements that a social media campaign or ongoing practice will impact the most, but there is a clear correlation there. It’s really just linking the two together. And some brands just put them in silos and never think about how they should connect.

So the next frontier, or the next kind of concentric circles around traditional SEO, is in content and social

RS: Can you elaborate on your definition of content marketing?

Keating: An example of content marketing would be to take something I like to call “content surfacing.”  To take something you already have, for instance: investor relations material or newsletters, stuff that’s really offline content that’s distributed either through traditional mail or at company events and just putting it online. If you want to put content marketing in the biggest possible box that you can, content is what connects you, the brand, to your participants, your consumers. How they get to it, the device, screen, channel, is a whole different question. There has to be something there that gets your brand messages across. It’s just thinking bigger about the different ways we can do that. What forms and shapes can content take to achieve that goal?

Online Video Advertising & SEO – Opportunities and Challenges

RS: How strongly is online video being considered by brands today?  Is it more a supplement to their advertising strategy, or is it becoming more and more important to their overall advertising strategy?

Keating: I think a lot of our clients and a lot of brands in general are struggling with this question.  They’re putting it in the silos. Traditional advertising still lives in its own traditional turf, and it’s sometimes completely disconnected from online video. But when you think about it, they shouldn’t be separated. Content is content. TV advertising is video, and online video could just as well be put on TV. Those are really false differences.

There should be a more holistic strategy around, “What are the video-based messages we’re going to try to send out, regardless of whether it’s television or online?” The channels are converging: you can watch TV on your computer, you can plug in your TV to watch the internet. Everything is kind of merging together. Most people skip the ads.  They either leave the room or they have it DVR’d or Tivo’d and they skip through it that way. You just sort of see that the old models aren’t working anymore. I think that’s what really needs to happen is a kind of breakthrough in mindset, to rethink video completely.

RS: Is there some sort of fear into putting money into this?  With all the metrics, do brands still not know who they’re reaching and if they’re reaching the right people?

Keating: There’s always that, “How are you going to prove ROI around online video, what is a video view worth?” The irony to me is that, in many cases you can get better tracking and better metrics online than you can get through traditional television. Yeah, we’ve got Nielsen Ratings, but even if you accept that that’s a good sampling, you don’t know what the people are doing once they saw the ad or if they really looked at it. You don’t know if they needed what you are providing them.

Depending on where and when and how someone got to an online video, they may be very receptive to it. If it’s the result of a search: I search, “How to remove stains from a cabinet,” and I get a video about that, I’m paying attention to that. If I get that same video when I didn’t have a cabinet stain, I wouldn’t care. So I think you get a much better sense from the web metrics on the level of engagement you’re getting out of online video. I’m not knocking traditional advertising on television because it’s very powerful and it has an important place, but you don’t know what happens next. You don’t know the state of mind of the person when they saw it.

RS: So is it just a matter of changing how people think?

Keating: Yeah, I think there needs to be a shift in mindset. Again, I’m not saying TV ads should go away or anything like that. It’s just that they don’t necessarily have to be preeminent. You can have a more holistic strategy, out of which is born your TV advertising strategy and your online video strategy together, taking both into account for what they are.

RS: If a video doesn’t connect to the desired audience, what is blamed the most?

Keating: We’ve had cases where there have been maybe, false expectations around the excitement that could be generated around the video. To me, even coming from an SEO viewpoint, the SEO tactics you should employ around video optimization are good, but they should have an amplifying effect on what’s already good content that somebody sees should they like it, get something out of it, want to share it. You can’t use SEO as pixie dust to turn something lousy into something great. It doesn’t improve the content, it just makes it more able to be found.

There are certainly plenty of examples of content that doesn’t meet everybody’s needs: it’s not entertaining, there’s no value exchanged, and that’s never going to get anywhere. But there’s also plenty of examples of really good video content that could get a lot of views, a lot of traffic, a lot of activity, and never reaches its audience.

The way I’d like to think about this: a lot of marketers, when they have their videos, and they think, “Wait, wait, wait…before I put it out I need a distribution strategy, how am I going to push this out?” Well, I think it actually goes the other way. I like to think you need an “attraction strategy.” Distribution sounds like the traditional marketing idea of “pushing,” you know, whatever we got we got to push it out to people. Well, maybe you need a strategy where you’re allowing people to get to it through their natural course of activity.

I was thinking about those Betty White commercials for Tide:

She has these funny commercials for Tide, and I was wondering how is Tide using that video? If you Google, “Tide,” the video doesn’t come up.  If you go to YouTube, and you search on Tide, it’s pretty far down in the rankings, and the word “tide” has a lot of meanings and contexts. But if you search “Betty White” in YouTube you still don’t get it. So this is a case where you could be using SEO tactics to attract based on keywords where if somebody searched either of those things, and they’re a Betty White fan or they want to learn more about their laundry detergent, they could find this.

I wouldn’t call that a video “failing,” it’s just a missed opportunity. This is what I’m talking about with content marketing: you’ve got content, you’ve got stuff that is entertaining or informative, you want to make it available to as much of an audience that can get something out of it as possible. So that to me is a miss. That’s another place where SEO can come in. SEO to me is much more than just optimizing your website. It’s taking all of your digital assets and connecting them with your audience, however they’re going about searching. Searching doesn’t have to mean through a traditional search engine–people search without going to a search engine–we’re all searching for content online, we don’t necessarily go to Google to do it. We don’t necessarily type in keywords to do it. Maybe I’m just changing the definition of SEO on the fly, but that’s how we think of it at Performics, for better or worse.

RS: Could Tide have done better with these Betty White videos as far as SEO is concerned?  What do you see that they could do?

Keating: This is where traditional keyword research comes into place. Just how you name things, metadata. It even comes down to things like, “What are you calling your user that is uploading this?” I think the user is “tidelaundry,” all in one word. So that’s a miss, because you could have had the two words or you could have been “Betty White loves Tide” or something like that. There’s that kind of blocking and tackling of SEO that you need to do. Also, without having analyzed Tide’s overall social media presence, did they use Twitter to promote that at all? Did they use their existing brand enthusiasts and followers to kind of “seed” the activity so that there would there be enough views and shares and re-tweets and likes to create a critical mass to where the social signals would be hitting the search engines?

Maybe to offer the counterargument: Maybe they didn’t think about that being worth the effort. I don’t know. That’s where it gets into a tricky thing: what’s the value to Tide of a person viewing a TV ad on YouTube? Is it worth the same amount as someone seeing it through traditional TV advertising? I would think it would be worth more, but still, what is that worth? And how much of that activity can you get? What would it result in? These are tough questions to answer. I think if you’re trying to decide how to spend your budget and you have things that are really murky in terms of what the return is you may decide to do something that is a little more measurable.

RS: What else should brands be looking at when they use online video that we haven’t discussed?

Keating: The idea of value exchange. This is another idea I try to talk with our brands about and that they should be aware of is getting away from the “push model.” Pushing advertising or video at someone. If you really want to get somebody’s attention, you have to meet some need of theirs. They have to get some value out of it. It just can’t be the advertising they’re forced to deal with while they are watching TV or trying to get at something they’d rather look at. The easiest way to do that is entertainment. There are plenty of examples of brands that intentionally entertain with their advertising or try to get their content into other forms.

We’re talking about advertising a lot but there are plenty of other forms of video that aren’t advertising but you can put advertising into whether overtly or covertly. There’s video games, movies, tons of product placement in different forms of production. So I think there might be a little bit more of a convergence happening there as well, where content and advertising and entertainment and information are getting muddled together.

We’d like to thank Chris Keating for his time!  And also Paul Pettas at Kwittken + Company for is great assistance with this article.