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How to win Agency of the Year: Interview with a judge

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Did you and your team have a stellar year collaborating on win after win for your clients? Did you find ways to streamline processes, gain efficiencies with automation or get more creative than ever to drive your clients’ strategies forward?

If so, we want to know about it, and we want to honor you with a 2020 Search Engine Land Award for Agency of the Year. First, however, check out the interview below I did with 5x Search Engine Land Awards Judge, SMX conference moderator and President of paid search agency FindMeFaster, the ultra-knowledgable and downright funny Matt VanWagner.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Matt! Let’s just start out with a quick question: What is your background in the search industry and how long have you judged the Search Engine Land awards?

MVW: I’ve been in digital marketing for about 20 years now. As far as the Awards go, I was one of the first judges back when it started.

The Agency of the Year is one of the only categories we have that’s judged by the entire judging team; both the SEOs and the paid search folks. In order to win, you have to impress quite a lot of people. For you personally though, what has impressed you the most in the past? Which aspects do you personally rank the highest?

MVW: Well, we look for excellence. Overall excellence for paid search, for servicing clients, we look at everything that someone does. We’re not looking for an agency that did one interesting thing and had one good success.

We’re looking for someone who showed a really exacting performance, in all the low-level detail work — and there are so many low-level details — as well as some really creative solutions to the strategic level of things. So we’re looking for people that can express great creativity, energy and really good execution in the campaign at the deepest level.

Three trends to watch for 2020

To build on that point just a little bit, is there anything you’re kind of hoping to see somebody talk about specifically that they did with their team when you go over the entries in 2020?

MVW: Every year it’s a blank slate, because every year there’s sort of a big challenge of the year. I think some of the big challenges this year have been some of the tectonic changes to the way Google and Microsoft are doing targeting at the keyword level in particular; that’s required a lot of real manipulation inside campaigns.

Those tectonic changes will be a big thing. The successful integration or just successful experimentation of automation is going to be huge. I think we’re going to see a lot of people showing where the automation really moved the needle for them. So that’d be a second big trend.

And the third thing is, as we start to have problems with real attribution as cookie policies change and, as you know, the ability to actually measure specific things online gets more and more challenging, is how are agencies dealing with this, both from a measuring performance, overall performance and as well as communicating that to their clients.

I think those might be three big issues this year. And well, that might be 100% wrong. The fascinating part about judging is that we’ll find out that the leaders in this industry may have been killing with some other types of really fascinating issues that will blow us away too.

So, not to be a Debbie Downer here, but I have to assume you’ve seen a couple of rough submissions along the way. What makes Matt Van Wagner cringe when reading an entry for Agency of the Year?

MVW: Oh, I see rainbows and lollipops and everything is great! But you know, when there’s nothing but sort of PR-type writing, that annoys me. We also like to see that — even though a lot of our entrants can’t give us the actual data — we want to have enough detail as to the nature of the change so that someone doesn’t take some low data point and say they increased it by 200%, which may be true — but the change went from, say, 10 to 20.

We don’t want anyone that sort of cherry-picks the most spectacular data and shows it to us. What we want to see is people that are really showing authenticity in their data, so what really annoys us is when we see nothing but “50,000 percent increase in ROI!” Yeah, sure. Okay. Whatever that means.

Marks of a winning entry

So nothing wrong with admitting challenges and struggles and how they overcame them?

MVW: No, no sir. In fact, overcoming a preconceived idea or finding out that you were completely going the wrong way on something is a fascinating thing for an award. Because that’s typical for agencies to do that, to number one say “We thought we had this right.” An example of that is, we’ve been reading a lot about this in the news where some of our major brands are finding that they over-focused on the lowest cost stuff. They weren’t building their brand recognition, they weren’t really expanding their brand. They were just basically getting the cheapest orders they could for the lowest price. Their brand identity and their brand strength actually suffered in that.

That’s a great point. Speaking of the creativity and the honesty in an entry, can you tell me about one that you’ve seen that really just knocked your socks off?

MVW: I think some of the most impressive submissions we’ve seen have gone the extra yard to do incredibly detailed work. Stuff in your campaign that says, “…If I do this, it’s going to mean a lot more work, but I think we’re going to get this done.” Those things are really amazing. Some of the best ones I’ve seen pull together display, search, and show some good experimentation.

The ones that I remember that talked about the business as a whole, not just their campaigns, but they talked about the impacts of what they were doing on other parts of that business. Some of the ones that really stood out were when it was clear that the search teams were fully integrated and contributing members of the entire marketing team of a company. Everyone was sharing, and even though they were all in their own areas of expertise, they weren’t being protective of silos, what they were doing, but were being open to making the top line for the company the best, not just their particular silo. Those ones we really, really like.

That’s a great example. What, what advice would you give to the smaller boutique style agencies that might feel a little intimidated about against competing against the larger, multinational agencies?

MVW: There’s no doubt that the largest players have access to generally more mature IT systems and technology databases. They have so many more options available to them. I would basically say what smaller agencies should do is use their size as an advantage and tell that David versus Goliath story. Tell how even though they are only X number of people, they were able to get the types of returns that someone would expect to spend a lot more money and have a lot more people on. So I would just tell the David and Goliath story in a way that’s authentic.

I wouldn’t shy away from the fact that they’re a small agency. I would say they should show the efficiencies they gained without the advantage of an ultra-large budget. Think of this like karate or wrestling or boxing. The lightweights are never going to beat the heavyweights, but they’re going to be faster, quicker on their feet, and more nimble, and pound-for-pound a very good chance they’re the better fighter.

As far as the in-person experience goes when we actually do the awards, what’s your favorite part? And you can’t say the open bar!

MVW: I’d have to say that it is true and enjoyable to be there with the clear leaders in this industry. So one of the things is that although we don’t talk all the business, it’s great to meet the faces behind great campaigns.

Oftentimes we’ll only read about things. It’s often very surprising to me when we see a team that comes up, and they’re clearly just over the moon about winning this award, and they look like every Tom, Dick and Harry you’ve ever seen don’t look like super-geniuses, they look like regular folks that are really just proud that that number one, they’ve done something cool, and number two, they’ve been recognized by industry leaders. Watching people get the awards actually really quite fun.

Any last words of wisdom?

MVW: I would say that if you think you’ve done something that’s really great this year, don’t worry about whether you think that it will measure up — tell your own story. We can only have one winner, but, the fact that you take the time to review and tell a really great story has all sorts of other dividends for your team. Your team will love to review a great success, and that can be a benefit in your local community; it could be a benefit to your team building, to your recruiting.

So I think if there were a tip, while I’d say the winning is great and we hope everyone wins (even though that can’t happen) what we really think is that it’s important that you take the time and actually celebrate yourself for a really good job on something you did and that you’re proud enough to put out there.


About The Author

Katie Jordan is Search Engine Land’s Marketing Coordinator and has been a member of the Search Engine Land / Third Door Media team since 2013, first joining as a Community Intern and later joining the marketing team full time in 2016. Katie coordinates the annual Search Engine Land Awards, works with our Editorial Team to generate the Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, and MarTech Today Daily Brief newsletters, and works with the marketing team on the many projects across Third Door Media brands.



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Google Search Console now lets you export more data

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Search Console users can now download complete information (instead of just specific table views) from almost all reports, Google announced Wednesday. Data can be exported as a Google Sheet, Excel or .CSV file.

Source: Google.

Why we care

Being able to export your Google Search Console reports makes it easier to analyze and manipulate the data using other tools. It also provides you with the option to join datasets, perform more advanced analyses or just visualize the data a different way.

More on the news

  • Downloaded Enhancement reports include the list of issues and their affected pages, a daily breakdown of your pages, their status and impressions from Google search. When downloading a specific drill-down view, details describing the view are also included in the exported file.
  • All Performance data tabs (Queries, Pages, Countries, Devices, Search appearances and Dates) can now be downloaded with one click. The data will include an extra “Filters” tab that shows which filters were applied when you exported the file.

About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.



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Google Images to replace dimensions overlay on image thumbnails

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Google Images will soon replace the dimensions information you see in the image search results, as you overlay your mouse cursor over a specific image thumbnail. Google will replace the dimensions information with product, recipe, video, and soon, licensable labels based on the query.

What is changing? Here is a screenshot highlighting the dimensions section of the image thumbnail in Google Image search:

By the end of this week, a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land, the image size dimensions will be replaced with product, recipe, video, and soon, licensable labels.

Google was unable to share a screenshot of the new change. We will update this story when we see the new labels show up in Google Image Search.

Why the change? Google said this will help searchers find visual ideas and get more done directly from the image thumbnail. Images that are licensable, will likely show the license label in that overlay. Images that come from videos, will show a video label. Recipe photos will show the recipe label and so on.

Why we care. If this does indeed work as Google expects, more engaged searchers will help increase clicks on your images and hopefully traffic to your web site. This gives us even more reason to make sure to add the various markups to our images when applicable.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.



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What happens if you stop doing SEO?

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Often, businesses want to stop and start SEO. 

Some feel that taking a break won’t cause any issues. 

But when a client suggests taking a break, you can explain the details of what will happen.

If you stop posting content correctly 

When you stop publishing content, the following things happen:

  1. You stop targeting new terms consistently. This results in fewer new keyword rankings and new traffic. 
  2. You stop creating new pages that can be linked to, and the number of links you earn goes down.
  3. You stop capturing new visitors to add to your remarketing audiences, email list and push notification list.
  4. You stop generating content that can be used to create hub pages, which are master pages that link to all other pages on the topic. These often rank very well.
  5. You stop generating content that gets shared on social media, and thus, generates social media shares and traffic.
  6. You stop encouraging people to return to your website for new posts. This reduces your branded searches, which are an indicator of quality to Google.

Overall, if you stop creating content, it says to Google that your website is no longer as active as it was and thus beginning the process of dying a slow death.

If you don’t watch for technical issues 

Those without web experience often don’t understand that from a technical perspective, things often break for no real reason.

I’ve never seen a website that did not have at least a handful of technical SEO issues.

If you don’t monitor the technical aspects of your site, issues such as the following could arise:

  1. You block your website with robots.txt.
  2. You generate duplicate content.
  3. You accidentally push your development site into the index. 

You can read more about common technical issues here.

When you don’t monitor these things and fix them consistently, they start to add up. Think of it as a garden – it takes maintenance, or it starts to become overgrown.

It is incredibly important to stay technically correct, especially with new developments such as mobile usability, page speed, AMP and more.

If you don’t, you are sure to have an error at some point that will cost you down the line. Similarly, your tech stack will become so out of date that you can no longer compete in the market.

If you stop refreshing pages

When you refresh a page correctly, traffic will generally increase to that page 10% to 30%, sometimes more.

The reason for this is because Google sees the new text and the value it provides and wants to rank it higher.

Now, there are many ways to go about doing refreshes. Some of those include:

  1. Adding FAQs to the page
  2. Adding links to other articles
  3. Updating facts
  4. Updating dates 
  5. Making the text longer 
  6. Adding schema
  7. Changing a page template 
  8. Etc.

Lately, the most important thing to look for when refreshing a page is whether or not it matches search intent, and if the page in question is better than the #1 ranking page.

My process includes doing a search, categorizing the query based on intent, analyzing the top pages, creating a new strategy for the page we are trying to get ranked, and refreshing as a result of that.

If you stop building new pages 

Building new pages are harder for some industries than others.

For example, when I worked with a few firms in the outsources accounting space, the lower funnel terms were minimal. If you compare that to a large e-commerce site like Amazon, its terms are endless.

While that is the case, I believe websites should always be targeting new terms and organizing them by segment. Those segments should be prioritized based on business goals and tracked in a dashboard.

But if you stop building new pages, you’ll lose keyword growth momentum.

I highly recommend creating these pages for SEO, but additionally, these new pages can be excellent landing pages for paid search and paid media, in general.

As a website grows, it’s a great idea to create more landing pages that target specific keywords and audiences. This will improve quality score on the page side and conversion rates all around.

If you stop this process, you’ll lose your competitive advantage. The people who win in the future of the web will be the ones converting traffic for less.  

If you stop watching out for bad links

If you stop doing SEO, your backlink profile can get out of control.

Lately, spammy links are worse than ever before.

When you watch your backlinks, you will see the following happen:

  1. People scrape your website content and keep the links in by accident. 
  2. You get Google alerts from sites hacked by malware. 
  3. Competitors try to do negative SEO on your site.

If you don’t update your disavow file once a month, you are putting your website rankings at risk. Lately, we have been doing it weekly for clients in competitive spaces.

If you stop watching out for stolen content 

Go to your top landing page on your website right now.

Copy a block of text about three sentences long.

Put that text in quotes and search for it in Google. What do you see?

I’ll bet some of you will see other websites coming up for that content. Some might have even stolen from your website.

Now, think about the impact that can have if it happens across multiple pages on your site. Honestly, it can be devastating. Many times we find others have wholly duplicated a website, stolen key pages, or taken individual sections of a page.

When this happens, you need to address it.

  1. Rewrite the content on your site.
  2. Ask the other site to take it down. 
  3. File a DMCA on them if needed.
  4. Consider sending them a cease and desist.
  5. Sometimes, you can contact the hosting company and ask them to remove the site.

Regardless, if you stop watching for stolen content, it could have an extremely negative effect on your business and rankings. This is something you need to catch right away.

Bottom line: Why you should not stop doing SEO

Obviously, you’re not going to stop doing SEO. We all know it is an amazing asset to improve search ranking and help your business grow. The work you do to create and update content along with the technical issues that are easily solved if they’re on your radar, all improve your bottom line. But you also need to ensure you are compliant with privacy regulations if you wish to remain on top.

The ugly truth is that it’s hard to reverse momentum once a website starts going in the wrong direction. I am a firm believer that all things online should be scaled as the business grows, SEO included.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

John Lincoln is CEO of Ignite Visibility, a digital marketing agency and an Inc. 5000 company. Lincoln is consistently named one of the top marketing experts in the industry. He has been a recipient of the Search Engine Land “Search Marketer of the Year” award, named the #1 SEO consultant in the US by Clutch.co, most admired CEO and 40 under 40. Lincoln has written two books (The Forecaster Method and Digital Influencer) and made two movies (SEO: The Movie and Social Media Marketing: The Movie) on digital marketing.



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