Back in November I had a chat with one of our YoGrow Experts Col Skinner. With the seasonal peak I’ve only just got around to transcibing the interview (much harder than I had anticipated!).

We had a busy December putting the finishing touches on YoGrow our growth marketing platform for e-commerce stores. Be sure to sign up for early access.

I’ll let Col introduce himself in a moment. In the interview we talk about the state of online marketing for 2015 and 2016, common misconceptions and how to approach growth marketing.

I loved chatting to Col, because he doesn’t hold back and tells it how it is. What do you make of his advice? Let us know in the comments below. Enjoy!

ELLIOT: Hi Col, thanks for joining us. A quick first question: please introduce who you are and what you specialise in.

COL: I’m Col, I run a one man marketing consultant business. I have done this for almost two years now, after 7 years in agency and client side roles. I work with a variety of clients. I run a suite of services, including audits, reports, support, coaching, delivering data insights on attribution, strategy and so on.

The strategy service is essentially your planning with clients, trying to understand what strategy they have, what’s documented and what’s not. Creating a plan.

We run through what’s possible, how we can track indicators, and then the last is a delivery side where essentially it’s actually me delivering the setup monitoring, reporting and optimisation of campaigns based on pay-per-click advertising. Marketing display advertising and then social media advertising through Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

ELLIOT: Where are you based?

COL: I’m based in a co-working space in Manchester Center, UK.

ELLIOT: Oh, cool. I was recently up there for the Manchester WordCamp. Which one?

COL: It’s called the Assembly.

ELLIOT: So my first question is, when do you advise someone to do the marketing themselves, and when is it time to bring in an expert? At what stage should you get help?

COL: It’s good to get help at every stage, but the kind of help differs.

I work with clients who have internal resource, often general marketers or people who have multiple roles that aren’t marketing. When I encounter that, I provide a training element. We work together and I help train them on how they can use tools and processes. An additional perspective lends new insight.

Companies tend to bring resource in-house when they feel they’ve got someone with the skills. You’ll find startups will try to do as much they can themselves as well. I work with them in a similar role.

Then we have larger corps and b2b’s and so on. They have their own teams but then bring additional resources, as a third opinion. I have clients who have agencies and want a third party opinion too.

I think there’s always an opportunity to get a third party opinion. There’s always value in having someone who knows how to grow a business, looking at things from a different point of view.

Essentially it’s down to resource, budget, time, what you’re actually trying to achieve because certain marketing activity requires a lot of hours, planning, tools and if you don’t have those, then obviously getting someone in who has access and the time can be a good alternative.

ELLIOT: This is a question we get asked often and I know it sounds a bit… it might sound a bit strange but people say to us, which channel should I focus on first? Which is the most important channel? Everybody’s got an opinion, whether it be paid search, SEO, social, or other channels. What would you say when asked that?

COL: I always describe it as a phased strategy.

I often go down the route of using a one to three month PPC campaign as a test for data and then utilizing that data for any demographic information you can get from that. Social marketing also provides these insights.

So you’ll get details like age, gender, geographic location, who their interests are, who they follow, and you put that information together and then move forward with a longer term strategy. You then feed that keyword information and demographic information into your SEO campaign so you’ve got a long-term presence on natural, organic listing in the search engines.

And then eventually you kind of keep on re-visiting each element regularly to audit the information until you hone in on exactly who your target audience is.

So, it’s not just one channel, you use them all but in a strategic and phased manner.

ELLIOT: What are some marketing myths that frustrate you?

COL: Oh my gosh. So I spend most of my life, my working life, dealing with misconceptions and the smoke and mirrors of digital marketing. One is certainly the idea of putting all your eggs in the SEO basket. A lot of businesses comes to me saying “I want to rank number one for car insurance” or whatever they feel like.

And not only is that it’s not a financially viable business model because you’re competing with businesses that have been there a long time. We also don’t search like that anymore. It’s very personalized based on your geographic location, your IP address, your previous search history, your Gmail account, everything search engines can get on you, with other sites you’re clicking on.

So search engine optimization should be seen as a utility to be combined with pay-per-click, with outreach, with PR, with content marketing, a variety other marketing elements, not seen as one easy fix.

It’s long term, it takes a lot of investment in, time and effort, a lot of elements.

If you’re building a websites, search engine optimization has to be part of it, but it has to be the traditional view where you’re helping search engines navigate, understand, cache, and index your website. Not this kind of magical formula where you rank number one for a term and you suddenly sprout traffic that’s likely to convert.

And just because you have good rankings doesn’t guarantee sales. It’s looking at how you can benefit your customer throughout the whole process rather than this kind of close-minded, one channel is going to be the source of your traffic. I’ve had businesses who in the past put all their eggs in search engine optimization. In 2011, 2012, one of the algorithm updates came in and they got burnt overnight, because all their traffic was coming through natural search..

Think of an overall strategy to hit all the touch points that your customers are likely to encounter rather than this one channel that can fix all your problems.

ELLIOT: Completely agree. I’ve seen it as well. I think attitudes are getting better. Unfortunately, more people have been burnt by these promises. I think the expectations are shifting in our favor, yeah.

COL: Hopefully, yeah.

ELLIOT: What are some of your best places to learn about digital marketing, performance marketing online that you’d recommend?

COL: So I actually did a post about this. 20 top digital blogs to get…

ELLIOT: Fantastic, I’ll link to that then. [LINK]

COL: By all means, link to that, but in general, if you wanted to learn about search engine optimization you’ve got Moz which have a load of training articles, search engine land, search engine journal, and Matt Cutts, who heads up Google’s Webspam team, has blogs and videos where he answers people’s questions. They’ll never say exactly what will make you number one or anything but that certainly helps.

They’ll never say exactly what will make you number one or anything but that certainly helps.

ELLIOT: Okay, two more questions. Today is the self-styled Cyber Monday. What has been the best promotion or some of the best promotions you’ve seen over the last couple of days for e-commerce?

COL: Oh god. We only just had Black Friday. I’m still getting used to that finishing and moving into another ridiculous, made-up day. I’ve not seen it, to be honest. I’ve not seen, if any, Cyber Monday promotions yet. I mean obviously Black Friday has just been, it’s probably easy to reference that.

ELLIOT: It kind of gets blurred into one, doesn’t it. Any excuse to have Black Friday all the way to Monday, I think.

COL: The brands are calling it black tag events, they go on for a week, a day or two days. Actually, it makes sense to drag something out if you can rather than using it as a one off day. The UK population that I’ve seen on social media got very fed up with the kind of I don’t know… these kind of sales days.

Last year’s Black Friday got lots of negative press for deals which caused mayhem in store. Interestingly, this year has been a lot more about calm as the sales have moved online.

I think that’s changed the dynamic. A lot of people have seen the mayhem. Both the brand and customers have realized that online serves a purpose. I’ve not seen… a great deal of clever digital marketing but I’ve seen a lot of tracking people using personalized information.

ELLIOT: The final question is, where do you see online marketing going in the next two years?

COL: Well, you’ll see a lot of articles will come out for the predictions in 2016, and 2017. I hate the term big data, but using big data will be more important. The massive amounts of demographic information we can glean from places like social networks will be used to personalize the user experience. I think personalization has been proven to work online and will be the big ticket in the coming years.

So they’ll get PPC ads followed by social media ads, tied into marketing ads, tied into the website itself. So when they land, they actually get personalized stream of adverts that’s tied into what we can find out about them. I think that’s going to be big.

ELLIOT: We’ll have to wait and see.

COL: I hope search engine optimization is going to continue down this route of not being this sole marketing activity for large businesses, small businesses, startups. I hope people realize that it’s the use of multiple channels, tested multiple times that creates success, not this idea of quick wins. There are no quick wins.

And if I had to choose a quick win, search engine optimization wouldn’t be it. I hope that with lots of great people in digital marketing doing conferences and posts daily, weekly, we will see people/businesses educated away from the misconceptions (we talked about earlier) before they jump into SEO. So better information is getting out there and attitudes are getting better and smarter. People are also educating themselves a little bit before going out and asking an agency and comparing their work to an outsourced worker based abroad with no credentials.

ELLIOT: Yeah. Fab, well, Col, thank you very much for going through those questions for me.

Col is an Expert at YoGrow – A growth marketplace for e-commerce stores. Sign up for your free trial