Search Lessons From The Sausage Prince

Meet Gil Mandler, son of Ronnie Mandler, owner of Mandler's--The Original Sausage Co. When I first met Gil, I was his customer, ordering a beef sausage and zucchini fries at his restaurant on 17th Street near Manhattan's Union Square. The second time I met him, it was to discuss search engine marketing. Gil, the son of the founder of an aspiring franchise, shared insight into the challenges of building a brand from scratch and attracting a targeted audience online, and he welcomed me sharing it all with you.

That night I first met Gil, as I ordered, I placed the book I was reading, David Vise's The Google Story, on the counter. Gil, then eponymous to me, asked if the book was any good (it was so-so; John Battelle's The Search is much meatier). I mentioned I was reading it because it was relevant to my job. He asked what I did, so, avoiding any jargon, I told him my company helped other companies advertise through search engines.

He replied, "You mean SEO and SEM?"



I was floored. It turns out that Gil, when not filling in at the restaurant and scouring for franchisees, also serves as Webmaster and IT manager. In other words, he helps run a small business; the smaller it is, the more hats you wear.

Following our brief exchange, Gil and I met up for lunch to continue the conversation. Gil is better versed in search engine marketing than many professionals working in the interactive industry. During our lunch, we discussed mobile search, branding, the major search engines, linking strategies, click fraud, blogging, and strategies for best assessing the return on investment.

Gil's main goal for is to attract franchisees. There's currently just the one Mandler's restaurant, but the company has ambitious plans for rapid expansion. While I think the best way to convince someone to open a Mandler's franchise is to have them try a piping hot 9.5" piece of meat slathered with sauerkraut and horseradish mustard, Gil is more interested in entrepreneurs than gourmands. He's already enlisting search engine optimization and paid search strategies to find his target audience.

Though Gil is convinced that online marketing is the best possible channel (Mandler's also advertises in newspapers and elsewhere), he has yet to see the returns from it that he knows are attainable. He enumerated a number of obstacles and issues he encountered while developing a search and online marketing program in-house. Here are some of the most pressing search marketing challenges Gil faces:

  • Ranking atop natural search results. Gil doesn't want to just rank high for sausage restaurant or even New York franchises. He wants to rank atop the listings for "franchise," so that anyone seeking a franchise opportunity will find Mandler's. One catch: there are 142 million listings for "franchise" in Google and 75 million in Yahoo.

  • Optimization strategies. Gil's wrestling with whether to outsource search engine optimization. He's comfortable with his own knowledge of technical site fixes, linking strategies, and building content, so he wonders what else a specialist can really do for him.

  • ROI. With natural search, he wonders how well the investment of time will pay off in attracting his target audience. With paid search, the conversions aren't yet coming though, and he must ensure that the clicks he's paying for are worth it.

  • Managing paid search. Gil is currently using nearly 1,000 keywords, including misspellings of his targets. He needs to be able to quickly optimize his campaign in line with his evolving strategy. He fears targeting too narrowly--Mandler's ambitious expansion plans will soon make it a national brand if successful--but he's also concerned about the costs for broad terms.

  • Click fraud. Gil already discovered a blatant case of click fraud on a second-tier engine, with a major spike in clicks coming from the same IP addresses one day. The engine denied the problem, so Gil pulled his campaign immediately. I'd heard that happening before with that engine, but regarding a major national advertiser. The difference is that for Gil and his peers, it can entirely wipe out their marketing budgets.

Those challenges aside, Gil is optimistic for what he can do with online marketing. He's planning on launching a blog about franchising to help boost the site's natural search rankings, though he wants to ensure the blog won't overshadow the main site.

Gil's done his homework, and he's juggling several strategies to see what's most effective. He also senses an opportunity, as he sees that most franchises are not fully capitalizing on the online channel. Given how many things he's already doing right, I'd expect that before long, the connections he establishes through search engine marketing will help Mandler's come to your city, wherever you are.

Be sure to save room for the zucchini fries.

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