Commentary

My Journey From Search Insider To Search Outsider

I’ve been a digital marketer for the past decade and search has always been my bread and butter. Over the years I’ve led search teams at various agencies and was part of the in-house team at Target. Working with some of the brightest minds in the industry (and religiously reading this newsletter) helped me become a true Search Insider.

Any good Search Insider would tell you data is the key to success. Data helps you understand the market opportunity. Data helps you set realistic goals. Data helps you continuously improve performance through test-and-learn scenarios. And most importantly, data helps you prove success. These are the insights that conspired to turn me into a Search Outsider.

Indeed, I have left the search world to start my own e-commerce business selling Marine Vinyl Fabric. Why would anyone leave Target and its thousands of fabulous products to focus on just one admittedly pretty boring one? It’s all in the data!

Here’s how I used my experience in search to turn a career as a Search Insider into an entrepreneurial Search Outsider.

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Starting a business is not unlike launching a new search program. First you need to fully understand your market, product and competitive set. What are consumers looking for? What can you offer that’s a good match? How can you create a compelling value proposition that stands out from the crowd? From there you work to identify all the opportunities available to improve performance. I used a similar approach while trying to identify what product to sell.

My excel skills came in handy when creating estimates that calculated the cost of goods sold, shipping costs, advertising costs, the competitive landscape, and most importantly, estimated margins. Once I had narrowed down my product selection from a few dozen options I layered in other data points like available domain names, Google trends data and keyword research to zero in on the product that would drive the highest margin and would be the easiest to steal away market share.

Once I identified that Marine Vinyl was going to drive the strongest return, I needed to set goals for my business. Just like with search campaigns, you need to know at what point you expect to be profitable. If you fall short of that goal at any point in your timeline you need to be able to call it quits to ensure that you don’t add fuel to your fire. You also need to be able to set realistic goals. In the search world, many marketers set impossibly high goals or goals with little connection to business results like impressions or position. It’s crucial to understand that metrics are different from goals and that goals must be tangible for your bottom line.

My next step was to start building my business. Just as in search, it’s important to diversify your presence across properties to reach your prospective customers. I set up a shop on eBay, Amazon and built my own Web site. Again here, my test-and-learn strategies from search paid off. I used keyword research to identify my target keywords and incorporated them into my eBay/Amazon listing and on my Web site. For eBay, my listing jumped to the first page after only two months of adjusting my product details, product titles, calls to action and imagery. It took time to isolate the factors that caused the listing to jump, but a systematic testing approach was the key to success.

As I continue to build my brand, my Web site is the hub that pulls all my equity (and links) into one place. SEO is the name of the game and I have my plan in hand. I’ve laid out my content strategies and created an editorial calendar to keep me on schedule. Now I’m aggressively doing link building and using tools like Moz, Ahrefs and Google Analytics to help me sail my business forward.

It’s still early in this journey, but the road from Search Insider to Search Outsider is pretty familiar. Search will always be at my core and data will always drive my thinking. Yes, I miss spending millions of dollars in advertising and being first in line for all the cool betas, but for better or worse, spending my own money makes everything a bit more real. Indeed, you can take the insider out of search but you can’t take search out of the insider. I guess I’m just an Entrepreneurial Insider now. And that’s a title I’m good with. Hopefully my journey will inspire you to find new and interesting ways to apply your search skills in 2016 and beyond. 

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