April 5, 2024

Privacy Laws, First-Party Data, Google On-Page Results… Oh My!

From new privacy laws to AI-influenced Google search algorithms, there’s been a massive shift in the world of B2B paid media.

In response, CMO Huddles has tapped Josh Muskin of WebMechanix and Mike Ulanski of thunder::tech, experts in cutting-edge targeting and data utilization, to shed light on how B2B marketers can refine their strategies for today’s challenges.

From leveraging first-party data in ad campaigns to executing precise ABM on LinkedIn, our guests reveal how a data-centric approach can significantly boost engagement with niche B2B audiences. Plus, they share insider tips on optimizing SEO and content to stand out on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), which are increasingly influenced by AI algorithms.

This episode is packed with use cases, best practices, and innovative strategies, offering businesses the insights needed to navigate the intricate realm of B2B marketing and capitalize on the latest technologies. Tune in if you’re looking to enhance lead quality and market presence in a digital-first economy.

What You’ll Learn

  • How to pivot your targeting and media buy strategy
  • How to optimize media spend (and where to spend it)
  • How AI is changing what shows up in Google search

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 391 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned


  • [3:56] Targeting has become more vague
  • [5:24] Rethinking targeting and media buys
  • [10:29] Use case: From $3,000 per qualified lead to $300
  • [13:57] Use case: LinkedIn ads + full funnel attribution
  • [20:24] Optimizing for landing pages
  • [22:54] Sales needs to play ball
  • [24:53] Ad variants to find top pain point
  • [25:59] Find the right platform for your ads
  • [29:15] Audio search, GPT, Google On-Page, Oh My!
  • [32:00] How to increase site traffic again
  • [37:38] GenAI and a #1 ranking?
  • [40:22] Why hire an SEO agency?
  • [42:55] How to optimize digital media spend
  • [46:44] How critical are response times?

Highlighted Quotes

“It used to be that we had to write content about all the keywords people might search about us. Now, we have to cover all the different conversational angles that somebody could have about our product or service.” — Josh Muskin

“Do not be afraid to go against the grain when it comes to recommendations from any of the platforms you might be putting media buys on. Despite what they may say, nobody knows your user better than you.” — Mike Ulanski

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Josh Muskin & Mike Ulanski


Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. I’m excited that you’re here to listen to another episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. This show is brought to you by CMO Huddles, the only marketing community dedicated to inspiring B2B greatness, and that donates 1% of revenue to the Global Penguin Society. Wait, what? Well, it turns out that B2B CMOs and penguins have more in common than you think. Both are highly curious and remarkable problem solvers. Both prevail in harsh environments by working together with peers. And just as a group of penguins is called a Huddle, over 352 B2B CMOs come together and support each other via CMO Huddles. If you’re a B2B marketer who could share, care, and dare with the best of them, do yourself a favor and dive into CMO Huddles. We even have a free starter program, and of course, our robust Leader Program, neither of which requires a penguin’s hat. Thank goodness, join us. And before we get to the episode, let me do a quick shout out to the professionals that share your genius. We started working with them over a year ago to make this show even better and have been blown away by their strategic and executional prowess. If you’re thinking about starting a podcast or want to turbocharge your current show, be sure to talk to Rachel Downey at shareyourgenius.com and tell her Drew sent you.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand, and just plain cut through, proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade, Drew Neisser.

Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers! Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, the top-rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals. Alrighty folks, you’re about to listen to a Bonus Huddle, a specially curated Huddle that we run once a month with experts sharing their insights into the topics that are most important to our CMO community. We call them Huddlers. At this particular Huddle, we were joined by digital media experts Josh Mushkin, VP of Sales and Marketing at Webmechanix, and Mike Ulanski, Performance Marketing Manager at thunder::tech, they joined us to discuss paid B2B media optimization. Let’s get to it. Hello, Huddlers. As you all know, the pressure to optimize your ad spending has never been greater, “make more with less” is a dominant refrain among CFOs. And it’s almost to the point when which CMOs are being asked to make more with nothing. So yeah, it’s kind of crazy out there. And so we thought this was the moment to bring in two digital media experts to focus on optimization. We’ll start with one-on-ones with each, and then bring them together to answer more of my questions and your questions. So first up, Josh Mushkin, VP of Sales and Marketing at Webmechanix. With 12 years in B2B marketing, Josh has advised hundreds of marketing leaders from startups to Fortune 500s, he’s also a husband, father, likes to run a lot. Currently is working on breaking his personal record of solving a Rubik’s Cube in less than 38 seconds, and we’re gonna hold him to that good. Bring it. We’re going to have that contest later, maybe after the moment. Okay, so welcome, Josh. How are you? And where are you this fine day?

Josh: I’m great. I’m calling in from just outside of Baltimore.

Drew: Alrighty, love Baltimore. So you mentioned in a prep call that some pretty big macro issues are negatively affecting digital media performance. Can you walk us through those real quick?

Josh: Sure, the biggest one we’ve seen over the last – what’s coming up on four or five years now is right before COVID, all the major ad platforms, mainly Google, Meta, and to an extent LinkedIn, they all lost significant privacy lawsuits to the tune of several billion dollars. And they lost them because it became too easy to target a very, very narrow subset of people, males, 35, who liked football, have one dog, two kids and live in this zip code, like people didn’t like that. And so that’s why they were losing and the reaction is twofold. One, they make 90% of all their money from ads, right? So they have to keep that, but they don’t want to get sued again. So they have started to make targeting significantly more vague and more difficult to get to. And the way that you see this coming true is people are saying, “Hey, my search ads don’t work anymore, like they did in 2018 or 2019. We have to go find a new platform. We haven’t changed the targeting. We haven’t changed the keywords,” you know, as an example. And if you use Google as an example, well, they used to have a way to target exactly a phrase, an exact match keyword, you type these three words, and in this order, in this spelling, and now they’re like, “Well, if they kind of meant that, or they spelled it wrong, or it’s pretty related, like, we’ll serve an ad to them too.” Facebook and others have their own version of this. So the targeting that used to be very acute is becoming much more broad and is putting a lot more emphasis on things like data and creative to make the difference and stuff.

Drew: And so, I mean, the whole magic of Google was targeting, right? That was why, and search engine, SEM used to be the most reliable, and it’s like you keep spending at SEM until you can’t spend another dollar cost effectively, right? So I’m imagining two things. One, either spending has gone down, or clever folks have figured out workarounds. So how should marketers be rethinking their targeting and media buys?

Josh: There’s a significant emphasis now more so than ever on really the data or the data meaning like, what events are you telling Google to go get you more of. Historically, people would say, “Hey, someone filled out my demo form, please go find more people to fill out my demo form.” And to an extent, that’s largely still true. But there is added importance to say, hey, if you have a campaign on Google, for example, that you want people to fill out a demo form, it should only be looking at people that have filled out a demo form before, it’s not people that have filled out ebooks and white papers and webinars. And similar if you’re doing content marketing, it should be targeting only events that are people downloading white papers, ebooks from webinars, kind of matching the event to the intention of the campaign. More importantly, is better defining what those events are, adding layers of qualification, adding things that maybe used to be available to you in targeting but are not anymore, but that you can ask on the form or through the user’s experience, “What industry and how much revenue do you have?” Regular business qualifiers and making it so that the data you’re asking Google and Meta to go find more people for you, it’s very acutely targeted to a smaller group than it previously was.

Drew: And this is sort of all in this bucket of it’s using your first-party data, right, to sort of help Google help you. I want to make sure that I understand this, because the big challenge for folks on all of this is downstream, you know, we what are we optimizing for? So demos is a great example where optimizing for folks who had requested demo, that seems like a good thing and so go find those people that look like this person, right? But what else can you do at that point? Because we know that, but I guess I’m trying to forget this optimization challenge that you must face all the time with your customers, which is, “I got one thing, I got a form fill here. I can optimize for that. But those people don’t close.” So how is that changing, evolving, getting better?

Josh: So when someone gets on the phone with the salesperson, that person more often than not is asking you a standard list of qualification questions, think BANT, what have you. And every business has several things to really make someone qualified. But there’s usually one thing that is the most binary, “We can work with you, we can’t work with you.” Hence, for some people, that’s a particular tech stack, for some people, it’s a revenue size or geography. And it’s usually the first thing that salesperson will ask to qualify and say, “Should I continue the rest of this call? Or should I not?” One of the things to do is to take that question, and functionally put it on either the form or the page experience before they get to the sales and ask it there. Because you can be as dramatic as say, if they answer that question wrong, don’t do anything, just give them a big page that says we cannot help you, please go somewhere else. Or you can give them a self-serve model. But Google doesn’t know how people are answering those questions on the phone after they’ve submitted it. So in order to give that information, you have to say, hey, this user filled out my form and they answered correctly, that they have a tech stack we can work with. Now go find more people with that combination of data points more likely to have. So it’s finding that one really key question that is as yes or no as it can be, pulling it forward and using that as a part of a filter to say they filled out this form and they meet this criteria. That is now the data point we’re going after versus everyone who fills out the form where only 50% of them will answer the sales call correctly.

Drew: Given all the privacy issues and the difficulty in targeting today. Is there anything else in terms of steps that in general, CMOs should know about to be able to ask the right questions of their digital buying team, in terms of other things that they can do to sort of help make their targeting more effective?

Josh: I think it’s going to be a little less of what they’re asking of the team. It really forces the sales leaders to integrate more with marketing to say, these are the types of people we want, here’s how we can extract that information from them on the site. Privacy, in many cases, is taken care of by what the platform allows you to do and not, you know, when you’re sharing this data with them, you’re not giving them that it’s John Doe, they live at this address, whatever. It’s this anonymous user ID completed this anonymous user action. And it’s really using things like your own intuition and knowledge of what makes a good lead and technology like Tag Manager to say if this and that, then send data back. So if anything CMOs need to make sure that their marketing teams are really well aware of what question sales is asking. Which ones are easy to pull forward, which ones are very binary qualifications, so that they’re matching the Q and the SQL that their sales team would be really happy with, but the Q and the MQL, that they’re more often not responsible for driving.

Drew: Got it. Okay, so let’s make this real. Give us an example of what this looks like in action.

Josh: We have a client that previously were called Widen, they’re now called Acquia, they were bought and merged together. They had qualifications by industry, it was a combination of both industry and technology that they would use. And there were certain combinations they would happily work with. And certain combinations they could do nothing with. They were in a position where the budget that they got awarded, theirs were awarded quarterly when we were working with them, it was actually less than the previous quarter. But as things are, their lead goals were higher. And they had to do effectively more with less, but it was more about an SQL number than it was leads. And so what we had to do was basically make sure that binary things they had to ask were available in the form of our landing pages. And we wrote a bunch of effectively if-then statements, if this combination, send data to Google, if this combination, do nothing, never tell Google about those people. And through that they went from about a $3,000 cost per qualified lead to about a $300 cost per qualified lead, mainly because we just took Google’s eyes and they were looking over here at people – the data helped shift them to the other. So they were in a situation where the budget didn’t change, and went down actually about 5%. And their total number of qualified leads went up about 60 or 70%. With that one main change, certainly your day-to-day activities helped add testing, what have you, that was really the core difference between those two datasets.

Drew: Wow. So just by feeding back more precise information to Google, I mean sounds like a 5x, or more improvement and optimization of that. And in theory, what that means is you may not have as many leads, well, actually, because the budget, it costs so much less you have more leads, but the quality of those captured leads are better.

Josh: Yeah, it’s the shift of, if we used to get 100 and we were happy if 30 of them were good. Now we’re getting maybe 90, but 60 of them are good.

Drew: So we’re just getting better quality, which should in theory, make everybody happy because you’re not sorting through and having to get rid of as many as you as you might have,

Josh: As a sales team doesn’t shake its fist at marketing.

Drew: So what we’re talking about here is what we call better demand capture, we sort of distinguished and we talked about this a lot in Huddles where there’s demand creation, which is the 95% of the people who are probably not in the market today. But we do things that would help them think about us when they are in the market. And then there’s capture. And what this all sounds like, is you are getting the folks that are in the market for your product right now, making it easy for them to engage with you and enable them through the purchase process. Is that sort of a fair characterization of what we’ve been talking about so far?

Josh: I would say so. 

Drew: Well. With that. It is time to bring on, Mike. Thanks, Josh. We’ll be back. But let’s spend some time with Mike Ulanski. As thunder::tech’s Performance Marketing Manager, Mike ensures their clients and content are optimized for top search engines to get more traffic to their sites. Mike isn’t afraid to tell you something isn’t working. Because odds are he knows how to fix it. It is time off. Mike likes to bike, golf, and cook. Hey, Mike, welcome, and how are you? And where are you this fine day?

Mike: I am doing very well coming to you live from surprisingly sunny Cleveland, Ohio, and our office is actually in an old torpedo warehouse. So if you hear some dinging, that is our old vents, it just started after we joined this call.

Drew: Not a problem. All right, let’s dive in. Let’s just start with a mini case history. Let’s get to one of your B2B clients and set the stage with their marketing and their media challenges. Yeah,

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. So we work with one of the largest chemical distributors in the United States. They have I’d say thousands of different products in tens, twenties different verticals, right? So very wide product offering, a lot of nuances to all of their products because they are specialty chemicals, right? What we found is that your average chemist or your average procurement specialist isn’t going on to Google and typing in “industrial lubricants for XYZ application,” right? So the traditional digital methods of reaching these target customers was a little bit of a mystery to the organization. So as far as their challenges, it is how do we reach this customer who is not in a place that your average digital means would reach this customer? How do we know that our advertising is effective? How do we know that we’re reaching the right people? You can set up a campaign targeting some audience that may seem very, very much related to the person that you’re going after. If I go on to one of our platforms, and I find an audience, that is someone in the chemical industry, 80% of that audience could be a customer service representative, or it could be a salesperson who isn’t the end user, the end buyer of our product. So there is a lot of unknowns in this particular client’s landscape. And it is very, very difficult to get to that specific niche person that we want to reach. It’s finding a needle in a very, very large haystack.

Drew: And so talk a little bit about the process that you went through and how you got to these hard-to-reach people.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. So given the situation with let’s call it non-standard way of reaching these people, right, they’re not on Google, they’re not looking for education, because they are already leaders in our field, we looked to LinkedIn and taking a very, very targeted Account-Based Marketing approach. With LinkedIn. When it comes to B2B advertising, I often recommend LinkedIn the most to the many clients that we work with. One for its effectiveness of reaching B2B professionals. But for me, I think more importantly, is the data that I get back from a LinkedIn campaign. So you can set up a LinkedIn campaign targeting specific industries, targeting specific job titles, targeting a list of 250 companies that are in your industry. And while that is all good, and well, top level, what I really like to see is who and where, and why are those people clicking and engaging with our ads. If I set up a campaign within LinkedIn, and I’m targeting 50, companies at a top level, right, these are the 50 companies that sales gave us that are good prospects, I run a small test campaign on LinkedIn and I find out that at that high level, that audience that engaged with our ads, or at least got impressions, 80% of that is those customer service representatives, or the salespeople that we’re not looking to reach. So that leads me to take a very iterative approach with our LinkedIn advertising, because one by one, I can start peeling out these different members of this cohort who, again, high level may have seemed good on paper, but at the end of the day, aren’t the people that are ultimately converting. So with all of that, we had, I believe, three or four iterations of this campaign, peeling back all of those different elements and those factors, getting down to the chemists, getting down to the procurement specialist, tying that all together. And when you’re talking about a company that has maybe a six to 12-month sales cycle, in a very what I would call unsexy industry like chemicals, being able to tie an actual completed offer all the way back up to a single LinkedIn ad, we probably run 16 different variations at a time so that we know what is working with messaging, what is working with creative. To me, getting that full-funnel attribution as a result of that iterative approach really makes the campaign a success.

Drew: Cool and great overview and I want to break it down into a lot of different pieces here. The first thing that I heard was that you start out with this large pool you test yourself all the way down to the folks that seem to be exactly the bullseye for you. And you can get there through testing. One of the experiences that we’ve had is that as you narrow your LinkedIn audience, the costs go up. And so obviously, in theory, that’s because they’re more valuable, and it’s just a smaller audience. I’m imagining that is the case for you, right, that the cost per whatever, however you do it, and I want to get to that, but so first just confirm that the costs go up, right? 

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. And that is, I think, when it comes to this type of approach, in this type of advertising, one of the biggest things that a client is quick to point out, “well our cost went up.” Well, yes, you’re targeting a much more refined pool than your larger group. And I think one thing that I would tell all these clients is that if you’re just looking at costs going up or down, there’s way more to the story. And that context is extremely important for that cost. Yes, your costs are going up but you’re actually getting more leads for less in the long run, because you are reaching more of the right people than wasting money on reaching people who would never convert in the first place.

Drew: And so yeah, it’s a big emphasis on quality. I think this sort of next question is, you know, there are a lot of different options with LinkedIn, you know, there’s form fills right there, you know, and you can buy based on reach, you can buy by click through, there’s a lot of options. In this particular case, what were you optimizing for?

Mike: So we were optimizing for landing page conversions. You mentioned the on LinkedIn form fill. And we did try that out for a while. I think the biggest problem we found with that is when a user clicks an ad on LinkedIn, and they get a form right on LinkedIn, you are not able to really control the narrative. There’s a lot more information and education that is needed in this type of conversion. And when you are not able to send users to a landing page and provide that information to them, they are very hard-pressed to immediately give you their information on a form on LinkedIn.

Drew: Okay, so we’re optimizing for a landing page. I’m imagining you can test – you’re also optimizing the landing page itself, right? Let’s face it, we all hate gated pages. And you also see this sort of inverse relationship between the more you ask for, the less people fill out, the less likely you capture people. Just for a second, when we talk about optimizing form fills, how did you get it to sort of that sweet Goldilocks moment?

Mike: I think there are a lot of different ways to approach that. And kind of piggybacking off of what Josh said, it’s taking a look at the data. We tried a lot of different variations of messaging. And that messaging relates specifically to a pain point, right? For these particular products in this campaign, a lot of different problems that this product solves were cost, availability, and sourcing, a variety of different things. And in combination with the creative, the messaging in the ad, creative messaging copy on the landing page, we came to a consensus that of all the users who clicked on these ads and displayed some form of interest, their number one pain point was pricing. So once you can get to that golden nugget of information, if that’s our number one thing that our customers care about, that then becomes the focal point of all of your efforts, the landing page, the offer, and then going back up to the top with the creative and the messaging.

Drew: So that insight of pricing being their most important priority meant, okay, so the landing page is going to deliver on that pricing information or speak to that, then there’s this question of what are we optimizing for? This came up in a Huddle the other day as well, it was landing page optimization, because you can optimize for form fill, but that may not be the same as the person who ultimately buys, right? And you know, if that’s a 12-month sales cycle, you got to wait a long time to see if this one particular type of person who filled out this form is in fact, ultimately a customer. How do you deal with that?

Mike: I think one of the biggest challenges we faced with this particular client, and it is one that is far too common in organizations where there’s a disconnect between marketing and sales. You can do everything you can possibly do as a marketer at the top level to generate the most qualified lead in the world, you can send that to sales and sales can close that lead and generate revenue. But if you have disparate systems along the way, or if you don’t have the buy-in of sales to say, “Hey, you need to take this closed opportunity and enter all of the applicable information into our CRM, so that our marketing team has access to it and can use it in the future,” that is going to be one of the biggest challenges in getting that full funnel attribution. In this particular case, we identified that problem very early on, and we were able to work with the marketing department at this client. And they very emphatically beat the drum for their sales team to say, “Hey, we’re investing dollars into this initiative, we are going to be generating leads for you. You need to play ball and complete every step along the way, and get all that data back up to the top people who were using it.”

Drew: Got it. Okay. We had a question for the audience about the pricing being an insight. Was there something during the buying process here that helps you deliver that insight, or was that something that came out other ways?

Mike: Yeah, so that was heavily determined by our testing with our ad variants. So I had mentioned that at any given time, we’re running 10 to 16 different variants because we had four or five different criteria, pain points that these products solve, we had all those. So one ad heavily focused on price, one ad heavily focused on availability. And at the end of the day, the highest engagement with that creative and messaging came down to pricing.

Drew: Right. And then ultimately, I’m imagining that the ads that got them engaged, which is number one, because if they don’t engage with the ads, game over with pricing, you go to the landing page that spoke to pricing, and then at some point down the road, you closed those folks, right? And were able to connect the dots. So there’s a certain amount of patience involved in all of this. We did have another question about LinkedIn. And a lot of folks have experienced this, that you can still target pretty well. It’s more expensive. And often folks see that and say, it’s not as efficient as Facebook or Google’s. And I’m just wondering if you are finding good results with LinkedIn? What’s your experience with that?

Mike: Yeah, I 100% think that there is merit to the efficacy of LinkedIn, right? This particular case study that we just discussed, we found a lot of success with it, because we could not find success in these other channels. On the other hand, I have other clients who we’ve run LinkedIn campaigns for that have produced abysmal results. And it didn’t matter what we did, from an optimization perspective, it didn’t matter what we did from a targeting perspective, LinkedIn just was not the platform for that particular account. So I think overall, people can be very quick to dismiss LinkedIn because it is expensive. But I think that goes back to connecting all the dots, like you had said, right? If you can prove out that you spent XYZ dollars on LinkedIn, and it generated 50% less efficiency in terms of your overall closing rate than comparable channels like Google Ads and Facebook, then yes, absolutely. Don’t invest any more time into LinkedIn. But if it’s something that you haven’t tried, because you’ve heard that it is expensive, and it doesn’t get results, I’d say if possible, certainly dip your toes into the water and see what you can do with it.

Drew: So I’m imagining it, again, if this is a new CMO, when they’re coming on is that they’re doing a side by side comparison test between these three platforms, and are looking to see which one is sort of the fastest to an SQO, you know, sales call qualified opportunity, and which looks like pipeline. And so that is something that you could probably figure out in two to three months, right?

Mike: In some cases, yes. And I do think it certainly comes down to your sales cycle. But more importantly, it comes down to what stage of intent are your users at when they are engaging with that channel. If you were to say that LinkedIn had a higher cost and wasn’t effective, and Google’s delivering a much, much higher rate of conversion at a higher ROI, at ground level sure, that makes sense, but the user who is potentially seeing an ad on LinkedIn could very well still be in the awareness stage, versus someone on Google is at the baby stage ready to buy, right? So naturally, your Google Ads are going to look like they are doing better. But that’s because the users in that platform are at a different stage in the cycle.

Drew: Okay, let’s bring Josh back. It’s funny, we started talking about SEO in general, before folks came on. And there’s a lot going on with SEO. I got hashtagged “Okay, boomer” on my question about audio. But let’s just talk about that for a second. And Josh, weigh in a little bit on how is audio search different from regular search. And is it something that folks in this audience need to be thinking about?

Josh: I think it’s less about the format of it being audio or more about how the data is being presented? So if you think about audio search, it’s most commonly used with like a Google Home device or some comparative thing. How do I make this recipe? What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow? You get an answer, but you don’t get what you would get with traditional online search are options that you can choose from by which to drive your own answer. So when you think about audio, it’s less that people are going to be walking around and talking into their Apple watches all the time, and to some extent, people will. But if you look at how ChatGPT and how the search generative experience, or SGX from Google are starting to present answers in AI, they are answering them kind of in the same format that you would get from audio. It’s here’s the answer. Not here are ways to get your answer. And you can see this in many different places. You can also see in any search on Google right now, you see this like “People also ask” thing pop up to get a bunch of different questions, you can drop them all down. It’s Google training Bard and SGE for like, what answer do people like? What are we going to make the official thing? I think it’s less about people are just going to like, “Hey, who’s the best B2B marketing platform that I should use?” Like, that’s probably not where things are going to go for necessarily our audiences, but it’s more so if people are going to start adding levels of trust to ChatGPT and Bard to give them the answer versus expecting to do some research. That’s where there is some concern. How do you become the official answer to those is the new SEO?

Drew: Let’s talk about that. So I had seen it read that search traffic was down anywhere from five to 20%. Certainly, initially, when people were crazy over ChatGPT. It is having an impact. And I imagine, Mike, that you’re seeing that as well then in terms of even in the SEO, that your clients are noticing the impact?

Mike: Yeah, in a roundabout way. I would say that the SERP is a mess right now. So not only if you’re talking about organic specifically, are you competing with multiple ads? You’re competing with all of the features that Google has added over time. There’s a whole craze right now of the zero-click search result, right? So someone searches for something on Google, historically, you showed up number one, they’d come to your site, and they would get the answer. Now, they can get that answer just on the SERP because Google is crawling and pulling that information in and into their own form or their own little knowledge base icon. Right. So the competition and the necessity to be higher up on the SERP, I think, is at an all-time high right now.

Drew: Yeah, I’m just thinking about my own personal search, which is for a perfect holiday punch. And I noticed that instead of giving me top 10, they gave me a recipe for a perfect holiday punch. And again, that’s a very specific example of what’s going on there. And so all of those sites, whether it was Gourmet magazine, or whatever, just lost traffic. So that’s a big deal. And what are you advising your clients to do to fight this? Because if in fact, your content is even content that might have been ranked in, you know, certainly first-page content is no longer getting clicked? That’s a lot of site traffic and inbound that you lose. So what’s the answer here? Or what’s a band-aid?

Josh: There’s a broad answer that’s more strategic, and then a very tactical one. The broader one, I heard someone describe this the other day, and I really liked it. It used to be, we have to write content about all the keywords people might search about us. That was like the SEO content strategy, just cover a page for each. And now it’s we have to cover all the different conversational angles that somebody could have about our product or our service. And so in many cases, it’s similar, but it’s more of like, “Hey, if we were going to talk to someone about our software for 30 minutes, do we have content that answers all their questions?” Not that answers all the queries that they may have started with. So from a strategic standpoint, I think that’s a really interesting thought process to go through. And then at the tactical level, the thing that is very acutely obvious is the “People also ask” answers, the citations that are given within the SGX experience, even though it’s giving you an answer, will tell you generally where it came from. And answers we’ve gotten from ChatGPT about where it sources its information, it all rolls back to having schema associated with pages in a meaningful way. So having a lot more content organized as Q&A content or FAQ content, or at least within a page saying “this headline is a question, this paragraph is an answer,” starts to, give you access to some of the stuff that’s valuable in the SERP now. Some of those zero-click experiences Mike was talking about, the more traditional ways to get more opportunities to be clicked on in search. But it also – all the data and research we’ve done alludes to the fact that these platforms, Bard, ChatGPT, the SGE experience, they’re all going to start filtering content down to who has the schema that says they have an answer to a question. And then let’s sift through that content to pick the right one. When we get analytics, certainly we’ll learn mor, but if you’re not using schema or considering it in the content that you’re writing, yesterday is the time to start.

Mike: Yeah, I 100% agree with that. And in terms of using the SERP itself and almost reverse engineering it, if you are in a highly competitive or your pages that you’re trying to rank for are in a highly competitive niche, right. Google almost gives you the keys to the castle with the first 10 results. Anytime that I am doing keyword research, I am looking at results one through 10, and 99% of the time, each one of those results has some one piece of information that the other nine don’t have. So when you’re talking about how to show up above all 10 of those other results, I kind of like to use their information against them. If I can aggregate all of that information that Google has deemed valuable in separate destinations and put that into one place, I have seen that strategy win almost every time.

Drew: Interesting. Josh, we need to go back to what you mean by schema. And just be clear what that is.

Josh: I’m going to share in this chat, maybe the world’s ugliest website, this is like the official schema site that defines all the different code and the variables and the options. It’s effectively a coding script, usually in JSON format. There are many different categories where schema could apply, things like products, events; if you search for a concert, you’ll see results for like the event dates, and times and locations are listed beneath. It’s not HTML or CSS, but it’s an equivalent to tell Google and Bing and whoever that my content is in this format. I’m talking about a product, I’m talking about an event, I’m talking about a Q&A, I’m talking about an FAQ. And there is significant ease of using ChatGPT, for example, saying, “Hey, here’s my URL and all the content, please write the FAQ schema for me,” and it will. But it is a piece of code that has to be put either onto the page or in the backend of the website, there are plugins for WordPress, and others allow you to just kind of paste it in. So it’s slightly technical in nature, but it’s effectively a coding language that says, “this is my content, but this is what it’s formatted as.”

Drew: Power tip just today, you know, I imagine you’re going to put your URL into ChatGPT, and you’re going to say, “Tell me all the schemas I need for this website,” and it’s going to shoot something out. Is that right?

Josh: Yeah, I would take the queries as simple as pasting the content of the URL and saying, “Write schema for this URL,” and put that in there. And it will give you a coding blob in response.

Drew: Love it. Power tip, folks, that’s one. But it also just feels like it’s FAQ on steroids now that really that the mindset for at least some of your content, if not a lot of your content. And we’ve been talking about this for a while in various conversations where if you don’t answer the top 30 questions that your customers have on your website and make it easy for them to find them, that’s something that every website should be able to do right now, which is answer the top 30 questions and do that in a way that is easily discoverable. And, you know, I think that FAQs often don’t do that, in general. But I also heard you say, think about your content and make sure that a lot of it is just Q&A because that’s how this content is going to get digested. Now, there’s a lot of questions with SEO related to content in general. And you know, we did this human versus generative AI. But Mike, you shared in the pre-call that you got at least one example where someone did 100% Gen AI content, and they got number one ranking for it. 

Mike: It’s pretty wild. And it’s understandable why content writers are maybe fearing for their employment given the evolution of ChatGPT. And what I will say is that, yes, generative AI in any content, written by AI can be scary. And it certainly can be scary if you’re an organization. Anyone heard about Sports Illustrated, they had an entire article written in AI, and I believe their CMO or someone comparable resigned. So people think it’s something that you could just enter into ChatGPT, you’re gonna get a piece of content and rank number one, that is not the case. In reality, you need a intelligent strategist who understands what the end user is looking for, going back to the point of, its conversations, right? It’s any conversation that could be had around a particular query, right? And AI can write that information. But it’s up to the human to arrange that information in a way that makes sense to make sure that the page is formatted. I have a pretty standard SEO checklist that I use for any of the content that I write. FAQ is always one of them, table of contents, always one of them, all of those little things that AI is not necessarily going to do for you from scratch. That’s where the human element comes in. And when you combine the two, the human and the AI, that is how you can rank number one with, at its core, AI content. 

Drew: Yeah, as you’re talking, a power move number two out of this call is go on ChatGPT and say, “What are the top 30 questions that buyers in my industry are going to be asking me?” And then ask it to write the answers to those questions and then see how your website does in answering them. And you could even be more specific if you dare, which is “What are the top 30 questions that companies, you know, what are they asking your competitors?” What might they be asking you? But you can sort of get this land. I did hear this one thing that I do want to share: AI stands for “average intelligence.” And so be ready to recognize that. You’re getting the average of the internet of all knowledge. But I think that, again, if we’re rethinking how we think about our website content, and we’re thinking about conversations and Q&As, these tools can be unbelievably helpful when you’re doing this. So one of the things that we haven’t talked about at all, and I just want to sort of, since you’re both ad agencies and you can defend this case, and I know that a lot of CMOs in our community, they’ve got buying teams, and they do this stuff directly because certainly, Google and LinkedIn make it seem like it’s easy. Why should they hire an agency? Josh, why don’t you go first on this one?

Josh: For us, it’s two major categories: its breadth and width of knowledge. Like, you’re gonna get teams that have worked across 50, 60, or even hundreds of accounts, depending on how long they’ve been there. And so in many cases, there’s a trigger that “I’ve seen this before in a similar industry, similar client, here’s how we got out of it that time, but here’s how we took advantage of it that time.” You don’t always get that with one person who just knows what they know when you’re getting the mindshare of multiple people, multiple industries. The other is depth of knowledge and oftentimes, when we’ve worked with in-house teams, they’ve got one person responsible for all of the ad platforms. So one person responsible for all of demand gen, and you can only go so deep in that. Things are being released in each platform every day, every week. And oftentimes to take advantage of them, you need a good media buyer, a good creative, someone technical that understands the APIs that are available to them. That’s a very expensive thing to build in-house at a significant level of competency that a strong agency should have leaders in all those departments and know how those things should, can, and should work together and how to take advantage of them quickly.

Drew: Mike, any additional thoughts on that?

Mike: Yeah, Josh had mentioned the depth of knowledge and the breadth of knowledge, right? I think, for us specifically, is the collective nature of that knowledge. Oftentimes, we will have clients who come to us and say, “Hey, what are you seeing with other clients who are engaged in a similar campaign like this, or what is or isn’t working for other clients in this industry, or in this category that you’re working with?” And having access to that information, having access to that data oftentimes is extremely valuable to the original client that you’re working with.

Drew: I think there’s another part of this one is, chances are you, if you’re doing it in-house, you may or may not be as efficient. You just don’t know what you don’t know. And so there’s that part of it. And two, you may be able to do it in-house, but it may just take you longer because you’re sort of figuring it out as you go along. And these companies out there, that the agencies do it, this is their business, this is what they do. So in theory, at least, they would be ultimately more cost-effective for you to do it that way. So alright, we’re talking about expertise and cost-effectiveness. Got it. I’m going to ask the two of you to give two tips for CMOs. I need to put on my penguin hat because that’s an important thing right now. We just announced that we’re donating 1% of revenue to the Global Penguin Society. So yay! Let’s start with Mike, please give two tips for CMOs on how they can optimize their digital media spending.

Mike: Tip number one, pretty short and simple: anywhere, any chance you can, one-to-one messaging, starting at the top level, making sure that your ad copy is aligned as much as possible to the user’s intent or the user’s pain point. After that, making sure the destination that they are going to after clicking an ad or engaging with your brand 100% matches the ad and the creative that promised them, taking it down the line, making sure that your offer on that landing page and the subsequent process after that is 100% aligned with that initial intent, understanding your user. Second part is somewhat of a segue from that. I would say do not be afraid to go against the grain when it comes to recommendations from any of the various platforms that you might be putting media buys on. Far too often, people are quick to accept a Google recommendation because they think because Google says that it’s going to make them more money. At the end of the day, Google’s trying to make themselves more money, right? And despite what they may say, nobody knows your user better than you. So if Google’s telling you something that doesn’t align with your user’s intent, don’t listen to it just because you think you have to.

Drew: I just want to emphasize and put a punctuation point on this: you’ve narrowed your target because you know these are the folks that look like your past buyers. You’ve really done a great job of targeting the thing, but where I often see it fall apart is that you haven’t brought it all the way through. And if you’re doing one-on-one messaging, you know, here’s the other thing: is you can use these tools, these generative AI tools to both look at your landing page and see if they’re optimized, but they can also help you generate them. So this one-on-one notion is really powerful. So thank you for that, Mike. Okay, Josh, your turn: two tips for CMOs on how they can optimize their digital media spending right now.

Josh: First one is to take the entire digital media program that you have and measure it from trafficking cost all the way through to revenue. If you don’t have that reporting set up or capable, make it so because the biggest leverage point we’ve seen for the last 18 months is the gap between either lead and qualified lead or MQL and SQL. That drop-off percentage is the single biggest opportunity that you have, more so than extra volume at the top, more so than ACD. Increasing that qualification is going to make everything easier and more valuable. The second one, which can often be uncomfortable, is shifting the measurement and holding accountable, both to the teams, the platforms, and the programs that you’re running to the cost per qualified thing, the SQL, the qualified lead. There’s too often that it’s like, “Yeah, we got all the MQLs, that’s awesome.” But then one sale, and then everyone’s generally upset about it. Shift everything from what the platforms look at, what you report on, to what your team reports back to you down a step in the funnel, and some of that MQL-SQL qualification challenge will solve itself.

Drew: I think that’s so important. We talk about this in Huddles all the time. I mean, some folks, they may be tracking MQLs, but they’re definitely not sharing them with anybody because it simply is a false sense of comfort. And what I really appreciate what you just said, Josh, was, we’re gonna measure everything on SQOs, or at least SQLs, whatever you want to call them, because that is pipeline. And that is what the organization is asking from certainly the CMOs in our community. Okay, before we wrap up, we have one last-second question, which is, how critical are response times for the leads you generate? And what is a good metric to strive for?

Josh: This is one of those where more is always better, faster is always better. I saw a data point yesterday: if you can reply to a lead in under three minutes, you have a 700% increase chance not only in getting them on the phone but moving them to the next step. Certainly, that’s not always possible with the size of teams. But if you can be under 30 minutes, that is significantly better than an hour or, god forbid, next day or next week.

Drew: Alright, faster the better. And I think all the studies prove that. Alright. Well, thank you, Josh Muskin from WebMechanix, and Mike Ulanski from thunder::tech, for your insights today. Thank you for being in the CMO Huddles Preferred Partner Program. You both rock!

If you’re a B2B CMO, and you want to hear more conversations like this one, find out if you qualify to join our community of sharing, caring, and daring CMOs at CMO huddles.com.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, Ishar Cuevas, and our B2B podcast partners Share Your Genius. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro Voice Over is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about B2B branding, CMO Huddles, or my CMO coaching service, check out renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!