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



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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Tips and tools to combine content marketing and PPC



30-second summary:

  • Many businesses opt for content marketing because organic traffic is free. But, this strategy makes them miss a great opportunity to grow fast because combining SEO-optimized content with PPC speeds up the lead generation process.
  • Online businesses need to know specific use cases for content marketing and PPC to assess the value of the strategy.
  • Less than half of small businesses (45%) invest in PPC.
  • PPC and SEO content marketing can bring in more leads by capturing more quality traffic with more effective keyword optimization of blog content, lead magnets, and landing pages.
  • To get the most value from content marketing and PPC, businesses need to master keyword research, searcher intent, and the consistency between the landing page and ad optimization.

As someone who primarily engaged in SEO and content writing for small businesses, I didn’t really care about PPC advertising.  

Maybe because of people like me, only 45% of small businesses invest in PPC 

I thought that the best way to bring high-quality leads was with super optimized content, so paid advertising was the realm of bigger companies. That’s the mindset of many small business owners. With teeny tiny marketing budgets, they have to choose between SEO/content and PPC. 

SEO/content often becomes their choice, especially of those with interest in content creation and a lack of real marketing experience.  

SEO was my preferred choice, too, and I saw PPC as something secondary. 

Boy, was I wrong about this!

After a couple of projects involving PPC promotion, my view of the strategy completely changed. No, they didn’t change how I thought about SEO, but they showed how amazing the results could be if you combine the power of both strategies. 

To all SEO specialists still not using PPC and the other way around, here’s what you’re missing.  

1. More effective content thanks to PPC-tested keywords

Developing a content strategy is one of the most complex and important tasks for any SEO specialist. They use keyword research tools, PPC tools, Google Search Console results, and other methods to find those precious keywords used by customers.  

When they find the keywords they think are good for targeting SEO/content marketing, they begin a slow process of creating content. I wrote oh-so-many blog articles, eBooks, checklists, reports, and other content to find out the keywords that attracted the most conversions.  

All of this takes a lot of time.  

In fact, to write a super effective blog post, you need more than six hours 

Time required to invest per blog postSource: OrbitMedia 

When you’re done with writing the draft, there’s also proofreading, editing, making visuals, and keyword optimization. To cut a long story short, you might need a few days to complete a good article that can bring quality organic traffic.  

But that’s not the end of that road.  

Google, too, needs some time to index the article and rank it. In fact, it might take between two and six months to rank in the top 10.  

That’s a bit much, agree? 

To top it all off, the keywords you’ve chosen for your content might not the best ones to target. If you make this mistake, you’ll have to learn your mistakes and start all over again (welcome to the world of SEO content writing, folks). 

Is there a way to speed this time-consuming process up? Yes. It’s PPC.  

It can get you in front of the audience and allow you to test your keyword ideas much faster. If you have content to test, use PPC ads, and equip them with the keywords.  

Get them out there and see what people respond to best. You can have some great results as early as a few days, which is pretty much impossible with SEO/content marketing.  

Another great news is that you can run A/B testing. This means running ads featuring different keywords for the same content piece. If one performs much better than the other, update the content with the more popular keywords.  

So, the takeaway here is that running PPC campaigns for content is a much faster way to test keywords. Start by finding keywords with research tools and make some ads, and you’ll be more likely to discover how your customers look for businesses like yours.  


2. More leads from lead magnets

In content SEO, we often create lead magnets 

They are content pieces like reports, white papers, eBooks, webinars, videos, and other valuable content that people need to sign up to access.  

You’ve seen tons of them before. A common example is a banner promoting an industry report with an irresistible CTA on a blog. It says that you need to provide your email address and name to access it instantly.  

Click on that CTA, and you’ll go to a landing page with the lead capture form.  

Like this “The Ultimate Agency Guide to Video Marketing” landing page, where everyone can download a guide with helpful tips on video marketing.

Example of lead magnets landing pages

As you can see, the content is offered in exchange for some data. Not a bad deal of a guide packed with useful instructions for businesses.  

Unsurprisingly, many content producers often turn to lead magnets for quick lead generation.  

Ozan Gobert, a senior content writer at Best Writers Online said, 

“Lead magnets work well for both B2B and B2C businesses aslong as they have some value for customers. You can generate some high-quality leads with them, as they typically attract those interested in insights and tips inside.” 

If a blog has thousands of visitors every week, then there might not be a need for PPC promoting lead magnets. But is that true for your blog? 

Many people think they can manage without the ads (I was one of them). Basically, it’s because they think that great content will “sell” itself. 

Despite what they might think, not so many blogs are that successful in attracting visitors. In fact, more than 90% of web pages don’t get any organic search traffic from Google.

Ahrefs stats on PPC and content marketing

As you can see, only about 1.3 percent of web pages out there get decent traffic. Just for that tiny share, promoting a lead magnet with PPC advertising might not be necessary every time. 

Obviously, the situation is very different for the rest.  

If your website doesn’t have a lot of visitors, too, then creating lead magnets might be pointless. They’ll just sit there only to be discovered by a few people per week.

Not good because you need more leads.  

If you wish that there was a way to get more people to pay attention to, there is actually a way.

And it’s PPC, of course. To get some emails, you need a well-crafted PPC campaign that leads people to the landing page where they can sign up to receive the content.  

You can try to bring people with keyword-based ads promoting the lead magnet. If you choose the right keywords, the ads have a much greater chance to attract leads than SEO alone.  

This is how it works: PPC does the job bringing in visitors, the content converts them into leads by having them complete the capture form.  

To increase the chance of people signing up, the value of content is critical. But, the visual appeal is also a major consideration. You need tools for creating visual content like images, graphics, and infographics to add to your lead magnets.  

3. Better marketing campaign performance thanks to a smart keyword use

Many businesses out there don’t realize they can bring much more quality traffic to their websites if they focus on best-performing keywords in both SEO, content marketing and PPC.  

Much more traffic.  

When an SEO/content marketing specialist and a PPC marketer share a list of relevant keywords, they can decide how to divide them to: 

  • Target the most promising keywords together to bring the most traffic 
  • Identify the keywords that are the most difficult for SEO and target them with PPC and the other way around
  • Define which search queries to focus on with each lead acquisition strategy

Ultimately, the cooperation between the PPC and SEO teams can result in a much more effective keyword strategy. In turn, this strategy could attract more traffic to your websites. 

Important note

To make content keyword optimization work, you need to master searcher intent or purchase intentPut simply, searcher intent is the reason behind a search query.  

For example, the query “Samsung a10 review” implies that the searcher is looking to do some research but has not made the decision yet. If they search Google for “buy Samsung a10 cheap”, then they might be ready to buy.  

Each intent defines how you should create content. It matters a lot for SEO because Google’s goal is to provide its users with the most relevant results.  

Dive Deeper: Tapping into Google’s Algorithm for Searcher Intent. 

4. Create landing pages that convert more visitors

A landing page is the heart of any PPC marketing.  

But, in many cases, PPC specialists aren’t the best persons to write the copy for it. By engaging content and SEO specialists and having them work with PPC folks, you can create a keyword optimized copy that also appeals to the readers.  

For example, PPC specialists can provide keywords and ideas for optimized headings and subheadings for attracting traffic. In turn, content writers contribute by creating a copy that’s easy to read and entices the visitors to act.  

So, the collaboration of PPC and SEO/content teams can result in campaign landing pages that generate clicks and converts.  

A good way to start doing PPC campaign landing pages is to create a checklist to cover all bases. This checklist can include images, copy, sign up options, etc. 

Know more: Studying the anatomy of a successful high-conversion landing page

SEO and PPC: Two are better than one

I’m not exaggerating when I say that SEO and PPC are a marriage made in heaven. I am positive that these points described in this article prove that.

Don’t make a mistake I made by neglecting the power of PPC advertising. Combined with SEO and quality content, you can greatly increase the quality of your traffic.

If you’d like to try them together, feel free to start by doing PPC ads for your best-performing blog articles. The results you’ll see will definitely impress and inspire you to try more. Thanks to this article, you’ll know your next steps.

Ana Mayer is a project manager with 3+ years of experience. She likes to read and create expert academic materials for the Online Writers Rating writing review website.

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Five Google Trends charts that show the impact of COVID-19



30-second summary:

  • The world is now starting to open back up and we are marketers are adjusting to how we can be effective in this new reality.
  • Search data can help inform the strategic decisions around store locations, hours, payment methods and so much more so that your business can make smarter and more informed decisions on how to be successful.
  • As marketers struggle to grasp the magnitude of changes, Jason Tabeling highlights five Google Trends that can serve as immediate insights.

We all already know that the impact that COVID-19 is having on the world. We have all been under stay-at-home orders for about 90 days. The world is now starting to open back up and we are marketers are adjusting to how we can be effective in this new reality. It’s really hard to grasp the magnitude of changes that are occurring around us right now and it will take some time and perspective for us to truly understand. Search data is a powerful tool that can help us understand how consumers are feeling and reacting to situations. Here are five Google Trend charts that I think help us zoom out a bit and understand some trends that I believe will change the way we operate forever.

1. Retail vs Digital businesses

The world of traditional retail is changing forever. Here is a comparison between Instacart and Whole Foods. Now I know you can say Whole Foods is really Amazon and ecommerce, but that’s sort of the point. Every business is a digital business even if those particularly aren’t owned directly by Amazon. Quickly each business has had to move to a digital model and as you can see from this chart Instacart had a massive surge, has since tailed off, but has significantly closed the gap on Whole Foods. Instacart and other like businesses (Ex. Chewy or Doordash) now have a customer base that is much more comfortable in a digital world and won’t be going back.

Google Trends - Retail vs business

2. Store hours

If and when a store is open is a big deal during COVID-19. Many stores, restaurants, and other businesses were forced closed. Some were deemed essential, and as states re-open are deciding when they should open. This leaves consumers searching to find out how their favorite shops are responding.

For businesses and marketers, this makes keeping your Google My Business (GMB) and other Location Data Management sources (Facebook, Yelp, Apple Maps) up to date. Knowing consumers are seeking information and relying on this information to take action is key. Google has even created new tags like, “Temporarily Closed” to help businesses communicate with their customers easier. Making sure this data is accurate and up to date has always been important and is just magnified by the uncertainty this situation has created for all businesses and consumers.

Google Trends - Store Hours

3. “Contactless”

Check a Google Trends chart for anything “contactless” and you will see a very similar graph. The growth of all things contactless has spiked, delivery, payments, and pickup. This further accelerates the digital revolution. Cash has always been dirty, and in these times people are especially cautious. According to Times article paper money can transport a live flu virus for up to 17 days. This data point, plus all the CDC and WHO recommendations make anything contactless of interest for consumers.Google Trends - Contactless

4. “Curbside”

Curbside is very similar to “Contactless.” Both demonstrate the new ways consumers want to interact with brands. Having this type of pickup option allows consumers the ability to shop with their favorite brands, but not take the incremental risk of going inside the store. Consumers are looking for ways to continue with some sort of normal behavior, get out of their house, and not have to wait for shipping.

Best Buy for example had a curbside pickup at 100 stores in December and quickly accelerated to all 1,200 stores during the pandemic. Much like Contactless, curbside wasn’t even a term consumers were using until recently and we don’t expect it to go away any time soon.

Google Trends - Curbside pickup

5. Remote work

The way people approach their jobs has been forever changed. As you can see from the chart below remote work has been steadily growing since 2004, but has reached a peak over the last few months. This is especially interesting when comparing it to unemployment searches, which is a very sad side effect of the economy shut down. I’m hopeful that for those of us in digital marketing we can see this as a growth opportunity for talent across the country and world to work together to help make marketing stronger for these brands. To help them drive into a digital age that was a differentiator just 90 days ago, and has now been rushed into mandatory status for survival.


So much of our world has been changed forever. It is our job as marketers to help leverage the tools at our disposal. This is especially true for search engine marketing. Where we have the ability to understand how customers are thinking about our brands and the experiences they expect from us just be understanding how they search. This data is not only helpful for search campaigns but business strategy as well. Search data can help inform the strategic decisions around store locations, hours, payment methods and so much more so that your business can make smarter and more informed decisions on how to be successful.

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Voice input for Google mobile web search, paying for search analytics tools, more



SearchCap: Voice input for Google mobile web search, paying for search analytics tools, more

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