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Episode Overview

Increasingly, SEO has become an important topic for executives to address during earnings calls. It’s also becoming a barometer for investors as they evaluate company success. Renowned SEO strategist Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics, and Ben Shapiro discuss how executives should prepare to present search findings when talking to the street.

We cover:

  • Understanding the difference in how to discuss SEO within your company and how to present that information to Wall Street and the public
  • How can SEO KPIs help you to better understand the volatility of a company and the predictability of their growth
  • How to be prepared for the Q&A session when investors might be asking questions on your company’s search profile
  • How KPIs like Gross Merchandise Bought (GMB) can be moved by SEO

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Ben Shapiro:                 Welcome to the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and starting today as we near the end of Q1, we’re going to take a minute to help you SEOs gain favor with your CEO by helping you help them understand how SEO should be addressed on earnings calls. Joining us for today is Jordan Koene who’s both a world-renowned SEO strategist, and the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. But before we get started talking about earnings calls, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics.

Ben Shapiro:                 We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence, and make data driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content, and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to SearchMetrics.com/diagnostic. Okay, here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan welcome back to The Voices of Search Podcast.

Jordan Koene:               Hey Ben, it’s been a long time. I’m ready, I’m ready to jump back in.

Ben Shapiro:                 It’s been a while. I’m excited. And this is a little bit of an impromptu emergency podcast for us as we get close to the end of Q1. You’ve been writing an article about how executives should handle their earnings calls as it relates to talking about SEO, and we realized that, hey we need to talk to the SEO community about how they can prepare their executives. So, first of let’s talk a little bit about the article that you’re writing, where it’s going to be, where it’s published and, it’s getting a, basically an advanced preview of what we’re going to talk about.

Jordan Koene:               Yeah. So, we have an article on, published on the topic of earnings calls. And although not all companies, not all publicly traded companies address the topic of SEO, there are many that do. And- it’s been a growing topic both for executives to address, but also for investors to use SEO as kind of a barometer for- for success. So how well is a company performing using SEO as kind of the indicator of performance?

Ben Shapiro:                 So we basically sat down and said, “Hey there’s an opportunity here to support the SEO community to help them get in front of the executive team to get them prepared.” So let’s start off by talking a little bit about how do you prepare to present search findings when it comes to talking to the street, not talking to people that are internal members of your company? Not talking to your executive team.

Jordan Koene              That’s a great place to start. And so, the reality is that the way you communicate about SEO in your company is not the way your executives are going to present that information to the street. So, you have to be really mindful about what is important for the street to understand, what are your investors trying to understand, or growth KPIs, or your awareness KPIs that you might have as a business. So to boil this down, one of the first places to start is go listen to one of the other earnings calls.

Jordan Koene             It’s going to give you a great indication of how your executive team is presenting facts, presenting data about the business, and then it’s also going to give you a few clues, especially if there’s a Q&A session on how sort of investors might be asking questions. You might even be able to look at different forms and different areas, different community areas where investors are talking about your company. And you can get some good ideas as to how you may want to address, the market around SEO.

Ben Shapiro:                 So give me a sense of what are some of the common topics that the street is interested as it relates to SEO and, what are the right topics that you need to address?

Jordan Koene:               So more often than not SEO will get bundled into a bigger dataset. Right? So it’ll get bundled into the aggregate traffic growth of a business, or it’ll be bundled into the user acquisition that’s happening for a company. And so that bundled KPI can be connected to SEO and, for a lot of businesses, especially like the big ones out there. Right? Like the, the eBay’s of the world and other companies that highly depend on SEO as a primary source of traffic. SEO becomes the biggest driver. So, a slight variation in traffic will then also have a trickle-down effect to say the number of users that are acquired, or the number of conversions that occur. And so understanding what that KPI is that your CFO or CEO is presenting to the street, and how you connect to it is the most important thing you can do in the preparation phase.

Ben Shapiro:                Yeah. I think, one of the things that you can do is go back and listen to previous investor calls or earnings calls that your company has published. And if you hear the KPIs that the street is asking about, you know how to interpret what is happening in SEO and translate it into those KPIs. For example, Jordan when you and I were working together at eBay, the customer registration KPI is something called an ACRU, Active Confirmed Registered User. And so when eBay would report the number of new users, they were reporting the number of ACRUs and so if you’re talking about search visibility, organic growth, or visibility and you’re saying that those are the figures that you need to respond to the street, the street doesn’t know how to interpret those. They’re used to specific KPIs like eBay uses their ACRUs.

Jordan Koene              Correct. They use ACRUs or eBay uses KPIs like, GMB, Gross Merchandise Bought, both of these KPIs can be moved by SEO. And so, understanding how SEO connects to those KPIs is your primary preparation phase because no executive is going to come back to you and say, “How many more SEO clicks did you get me?” They need to understand the connection between those SEO clicks to say GMB or ACRU.

Ben Shapiro:                So let’s talk about the important topics that need to be addressed around search. One of the things that, we’ve already discussed is, you have to map what your search results are back to the KPIs that the street needs to talk to. But what are some other common topics that are addressed in earnings calls if somebody is going to ask specific questions around SEO?

Jordan Koene             That’s a fabulous deep dive because, sometimes this is a bit of a mystery for executives. And I think it often catches executives off guard when they get questions about SEO. And this is happening more and more often. Right? The traditional companies where SEO has been a topic are companies like eBay where we used to work, but also Trip Advisor, Expedia brands.

Ben Shapiro:                Content businesses?

Jordan Koene             Many of the content businesses absolutely. And then Yelp is also, this has been a hot topic for Yelp as well. But the summary is that the questions that often going to be asked are directional in nature. Right? So, what these investors are trying to understand is can we use SEO KPIs to better understand the volatility of this company? And the predictability of this companies growth. And so, for companies like, say like Booking.com, it was a blend of search. Right? Because it was very very very heavy in paid search in the beginning, and then very very very heavy in natural search towards the back half. And- and so for Booking.com it-

Ben Shapiro:                 The back half of what?

Jordan Koene:               Oh I’m sorry. The back half of the maturity of their business. So as Booking matured they started with a paid search strategy and then grew into a natural search strategy. And so it was all about search it just was paid search and natural search, not just one of them.

Ben Shapiro:                 In general what you’re saying is that the street is looking at search, not specifically just organic search, not natural search but search in being paid and organic combined in a lot of cases. Trying to understand what the relationship is, basically with Google to understand the predictability and health of the overall business. What’s the right level of depth an executive should go into when they’re talking to the street about their SEO performance?

Jordan Koene:               This is a topic that we spend a lot of time talking here at Searchmetrics. We actually, work with a variety of clients on this topic, and it’s a really challenging one. Because first and foremost the concept of just SEO by itself is a really hard thing for the street to understand. SEO by itself is somewhat complex, it can be a bit of a mystery in a sense because it’s unclear as to whether or not the business or the brand is at fault for a drop or is it a Google change that caused that drop. And so, the level of depth can become very murky for investors, and so what we advise clients to do and, the way we encourage companies to manage expectations is by being very direct but avoiding the depth of complexity.

Jordan Koene:             So if Google did in fact make an algorithmic change that impacted the brand, make the clear statement that Google has made a policy change or has made a- an algorithmic change that’s impacted the business. But avoid going any further than that. You don’t need to get into the minutia of what kind of a change is this? No person on the street cares about Panda or Penguin or any of these other algorithm changes. All they need to understand is that there was a change in Google and that had an impact on our business. And so, coaching through that and understand where the cutoff is absolutely critical. Especially if your business has been negatively impacted.

Ben Shapiro:                 So let’s talk about SEOs need to do to prepare their executives to be able to understand when it’s appropriate to talk about search, and what they should say. Do you give your executive a one pager leading into their earnings call just in case they get a question about SEO? Or, do you have to set up meetings? What’s the process here for making sure that your executives know what’s happening in search, what the impact was, and really when to talk about it, and when to just, punt?

Jordan Koene:              Punt. (laughs). Um, that’s a great way of putting it. So, it’s always a great idea to get your notes written down maybe in a one pager type format or PowerPoint presentation. Earlier in the episode we mentioned connecting the dots between your core KPIs, things like rankings and traffic to the way that your CFO or CEO are reporting to the street. Absolutely have to have that written down because that creates a lot of clarity for your executive team.

Jordan Koene:            The second key preparation step here is the triage part. So more often than not the SEO gets called in the room when either something miraculous has happened or something God awful has happened. And in either one of those situations you should have a clear set of notes around what is it that actually happened, what best data do you have to justify your predicament, and your predictions?

Jordan Koene:              So if you’re predicting that Google has made an algorithm change and that’s put you into a bad predicament, say you’ve lost traffic, you need to be able to back that up with data. And that is one of the key fundamentals to having a very successful conversation with your executive team because they are then going to take those notes and formulate a story that they bring to the street. It’s going to get summarized and pre-scripted because all these things are written in advance and they’re going to use that information to help them convey that story about the predicament that you’re in.

Ben Shapiro:                 I have two tips for SEOs.

Jordan Koene:               (laughs).

Ben Shapiro:                 I think part of it is realizing, and I’m going to stereo type a little bit here, but the chief executive officer in your company who is the voice and face of the organization is responsible for everything from operations to marketing. The- the whole kit and caboodle. Often they’re looking at the SEO team as the geek sitting in the corner that do that thing that they don’t understand. And so, providing your CEO with a PowerPoint deck going into his earnings call, probably not going to get looked at, it’s too much.

Ben Shapiro:                 I think providing your executive with a note card that says, “If you get an SEO question here are the things that have happened. And here’s how SEO has trended or performed.” Assuming everything is relatively flat, what does SEO mean to the business? That’s probably as much as you need to do. I think that your CEOs would really appreciate that if you get an SEO here’s the cheat sheet that you need to refer to to answer those questions. That’s probably about the level of detail you need to go into in most cases. If you’ve had the experience where your business has miraculously picked up, or dramatically decreased, you know what I would do? I would go to the PR people in my organization and talk about how we want to message those changes, and how we can describe them and craft a story that is going to be appropriate for the street if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself.

Ben Shapiro:               At the end of the day the topic of SEO, when you’re communicating to the street is something that is complex, it’s seen as a little bit of a black box. And so, simplifying that down into the KPIs that they understand, like we use the example of eBay backing everything into SEO drove more ACRUs by X, Y, and Z percent or lost this many because of this Google change. That’s about as much detail you need to do. You basically just need to simplify things into the macro level that the investors need to know with the metrics that they understand. Back- back me up here. (laughs).

Jordan Koene:              I mean, yeah. That’s a perfect summary. And, I mean, there’s a lot to be said about how to simplify that topic. I love the idea of getting your investor relations and your PR team involved because this is a messaging exercise, often times much more so than it is about, an SEO education fest. And I think that’s where a lot of SEOs really struggle, and marketers in general when they’re talking to their executive team in preparation, especially when it’s about growth numbers. Everyone wants to really pound into their core domain space, their expertise and their knowledge. That’s not necessary in these situations.

Ben Shapiro:               No. This is not an educational exercise. This is about using simple words that everyone can understand because, the whole investor community is potentially watching when the spotlight is shined on your executive to talk about your field of expertise. So, like I said prepare a note card is everything is, up and to the right. So your executive knows how much up and to the right we’re talking about, and if you’re going way up or way down then it’s time to move in some other people and craft a story and figure out how to prepare your executive to be able to address some of the changes that you’ve seen.

Jordan Koene:              Yeah.

Ben Shapiro:               Jordan are there any other topics in the article that you’re writing that are going to be useful for the SEO community?

Jordan Koene:              Sure. There’s a lot more tips on how to structure your message and convey data to executives. You also are going to see a little bit more of a story behind how other companies have faced this. Right? This is a very public thing. Right? This is everything is on display when SEO becomes the centerpiece of conversation between investors and executives. And so, I’ve highlighted a couple of those examples and I think it’s a great … Especially for SEOs who are working at publicly traded companies to go and see what these other companies have done. You may learn things not to do. You may learn things to do, in the future.

Ben Shapiro:              The last comment that I’ll make is that if your chief executive officer starts talking about SEO on your earnings calls and you’re not a Searchmetrics customer, you can expect our sales team to be calling because that’s generally a sign that something needs to be addressed or it’s a priority for your business. So, when, the topic of SEO comes up on those earnings calls remember that it is something that is clearly visible to everyone, including vendors like us at Searchmetrics.

Jordan Koene:              Yeah. I mean, it’s a real indicator of the company’s future. Right? And dependence on search. Right. I mean, that’s, I think really where it comes down to is a lot of these companies are highly dependent on search. Often you hear, you hear these executives trying to deflect it by saying that they want to diversify their sources of traffic. But let’s all be honest; Google is still a behemoth.

Ben Shapiro:            It’s a big deal.

Jordan Koene:              And it- it’s a monopoly in some countries. So, you- you kind of need that traffic.

Ben Shapiro:               Yeah absolutely. We’d love to answer any questions you have about how to address this topic. And that wraps up this episode of The Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics.

Ben Shapiro:                 As I said we’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you can send him a tweet at JTKoene. If you have general marketing questions, or if you’d like to talk about this podcast you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can send me a tweet at BenJShap.

Ben Shapiro:               If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic or your online visibility, head over to SearchMetrics.com/diagnostic to connect with our digital strategies team. And if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed next week. Lastly if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, and you’re feeling generous we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes Store or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Okay. That’s it for today, until next time remember the answers are always in the data. (silence).

 

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