Episode Overview: Engaging with SEO may feel like opening a mystery box full of unknowns. It’s no surprise many chief marketing officers opt for more transparent performance marketing strategies, but in doing so often lose a fundamental marketing strategy in the process. Join Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ Chief Marketing Officer Doug Bell for CMO Week to debunk the myths CMOs believe about SEO and how to form a better understanding of it.


  • Common misconceptions CMOs hold about SEO is that it provides untrackable revenue and is unpredictable.
  • The source of these misconceptions often comes from misunderstanding the true scope of SEO.
  • The key to understanding SEO begins with thinking about user empathy and understanding what they’re looking for from a content standpoint, what they like to read, etc.
  • Once user standpoints on content are analyzed, the SEO aspect begins with deciding whether your content meets the needs of users and prospects in the moment and if they derive value from it.


Ben:                 Welcome to SEO for CMOs week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day covering what the head of your marketing department needs to know about SEO. Joining us for SEO for CMO week is Doug Bell who is the chief marketing officer at Searchmetrics, which is an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. And today Doug and I are going to talk about the myths CMOs believe about SEO. Okay. Here’s the first installment of SEO for CMOs week with Doug Bell from Searchmetrics.

Ben:                 Doug, welcome to SEO for CMO week on the Voices of Search podcast.

Doug:               Hi Ben. Thanks for having me.

Ben:                 It’s exciting to have you on the show. This might actually be the first time you’re on the podcast that you’ve basically been supporting for the last year and a half. Have you been on the Voices of Search podcast before?

Doug:               It takes a village, Ben.

Ben:                 So, for context, everybody that’s listening, Doug green-lighted, this podcast from day one and it’s been his marketing budget that paid for the development of the Voices of Search podcast. We finally got him on the show to talk about what CMOs need to know about SEO. Doug, you were recently named the global CMO of Searchmetrics. You’ve been working essentially in that capacity for I don’t know, what feels like 10 years. Jordan and I talked about how excited we were that you were finally getting the recognition that you deserve, but now you’re officially sitting in the head seat at the marketing table. Talk to us a little bit about now that you are a CMO, what you understand about the perspective other CMOs have about where SEO fits into the marketing mix.

Doug:               That’s interesting, Ben, so I’ve been acting COO now for a bit here, so it’s nice to get the recognition.

Ben:                 Forever.

Doug:               Yeah, I know forever, but it’s also nice to get the recognition, you know, it’s a matter of perspective and I think that I share a lot of the perspective of the CMOs that we market to and I think you described it well when we were talking about what we were hoping to get from the session, which was effectively a lot of CMOs view SEO as a black box and that needn’t be the case. I think there are some ways that we can help guide CMOs without becoming experts in SEO to having a much better understanding. But I think to get things going really to talk about those myths, we need to embrace them and understand them before we can help people move forward.

Ben:                 So, Doug, internally here at Searchmetrics and I are notorious for our disagreements in a respectful of friendly and loving way. I disagree with you, I think you’re wrong. I think that you have a much better perspective of the importance of SEO and where it fits into the marketing mix of the average CMO. I think that you obviously, because you work here at Searchmetrics, prioritize and understand how SEO really works. Most CMOs don’t. You mentioned they think of it as a black box.

Ben:                 Talk to me about how you think the average CMO actually sees SEO relative to performance marketing, public relations, right. There’s a host of other marketing tactics that the average CMO probably relies on before they really think about optimizing their search efforts. Where does SEO fit into the overall landscape for the average CMO and why?

Doug:               So, I think Ben, we’re going to use a continuum scale here, right? We’re going to say that on the far left, meaning the most demonstrative, the channel that produces the most predictable results, we’re going to say that’s performance marketing, or we’re going to call that paid search, right? That collection of activities and then the least predictable, the lowest ability to measure ROI, let’s say on the far right that’s going to be, let’s call it PR and brand. Is that fair? Do we have the right scale.

Ben:                 Yeah. I think that there’s the untrackable we’re going to put our name on a billboard and hope people drive by it. Very difficult to track, not impossible, and then obviously your performance marketing, whether that be Facebook, Google, what have you, right. You’re getting down to the, “I know the ROI of each dollar in each click,” right? That’s the spectrum.

Doug:               So, I would say Ben, and this is based on a combination of anecdotal and then lots of data that we have selling to CMOs and selling out really into this global market where the CMOs perception can vary depending on company and country and sophistication. But generally what you find is that CMOs, I think have moved from the right to the left. And let’s say if there’s the center point, it’s just a little bit to the right of the center point of where performance marketing is. In other words, I think CMOs still view it in the same bucket of unpredictable, maybe not as measurable results as say, investing in PR, investing in brand, but as they’ve become a little bit more sophisticated, it’s getting a little bit closer to performance marketing. So there’s progress, but there’s still a ton of myths out there that I think are preventing CMOs really making that next step.

Ben:                 I think there’s also a spectrum of maturity of a business when you start to move from your performance marketing reliance into less directly revenue attributable marketing efforts, right? As your business starts to scale, what I’ve seen is that, Hey, I’m in early stage startup, I need to put a dollar into marketing and I need to rationalize that to my investors. So everything I’m going to do is in direct response and performance marketing. And as a business matures, there is a ceiling on how much you can invest into your performance marketing channels, where you’re actually getting positive ROI.

Ben:                 And at some point you need to start doing these more awareness driven or up the funnel type marketing activities. And I think that SEO and content marketing are seen as kind of the hybrid between, I need to do something to help develop the brand, but I do want it to be trackable and I do want to be able to have a sense of ROI. So we’re going to start doing content marketing to enhance our performance marketing efforts. Do you see it the same way?

Doug:               I do. I also would say that that presupposes it’s the same COO who taking the company from cradle to grave, if you will, or to this point of maturity. And typically there are multiple different handoffs, right? And CMOs also tend to grow through those roles and you know, more progression and more progression. And what do they take away from those lessons? Well they take away this idea that performance marketing is predictable and therefore it should be not the center, but it should be really, if you will, a cornerstone of how you approach things. I think those biases tend to exist over time for very good reason. So yes, I think the maturity thing is there and you’re looking to be less dependent on performance marketing. You’re looking kind of, sometimes fairly scattershot ways of getting there. In other words, you mentioned adding content marketing to the mix, but for the most part I think there’s still a strong bias towards performance for good reason.

Ben:                 So, let’s talk a little bit about the myths that CMOs believe about SEO. It can be tracked on some level, but you’re not able to optimize for ROI the same way that you would with your performance marketing channels. That seems to be myth number one. Hey, SEO is kind of untrackable when you’re talking about revenue. Am I right?

Doug:               Yeah, I think it’s a good one, Ben, and I think that’s what we run into quite a bit when describing really some of the perspectives that CMOs have. I would say for me, there really are three things that we’re constantly trying to deal with. You just named one. I think the other is this perception that SEO is somehow magical, right? And finally, the results aren’t predictable. So you talked about the ROI being fuzzy. I would argue that it’s a matter of really predictability and I would say that ROI is about scope, whereas this idea of SEO being magical, it’s just about understanding if you will.

Ben:                 So, let’s talk a little bit about the Hocus Pocus and the magic of SEO. Why do CMOs think that SEO is this mysterious black box? It’s the geek in the corner that’s just doing voodoo to make their website better.

Doug:               Yeah, I think it’s a combination of things, right? The first is a misunderstanding of what SEO is and the scope of SEO. And I have to say, Ben, as somebody who’s listened to just about every episode of the podcast. There are far more qualified people than me to say and define SEO for an SEO. But for a CMO, I can take a crack at it, right? Which is to say that as a CMO, if you’re listening to this podcast, think about this scope and that is how is your website performing, how is your content performing? And then how are you at how the Google search algorithm is processing those two things. Your site, it’s structure, it’s speed, navigability and then ultimately the content and the quality of the content doesn’t meet needs.

Doug:               And what typically people think is that SEO is just a set of tactics to try to measure and deal with the Google algorithm and its changes. But it’s really all three things. So it’s not magical, it’s just, it’s a larger scope than I think we’re used to comprehending for our channels. So for performance marketing as an example, it’s fairly easy to describe it as being, you pay for it and therefore you get a return on investment that might be spread across multiple different channels and multiple different tactics. But at the end of the day, that’s very, very specific. And it’s very easy to understand. And really that’s about one discipline, which is your ability to place things appropriately and to bid and spend appropriately based on your goals.

Doug:               So, SEO appears to be magical but just really represents somebody’s ability to manage three disciplines well and quite often that SEO doesn’t have control over all three aspects of SEO. And I think it’s why it’s perceived as being magical.

Ben:                 I think it’s magical in the same way that your CEO thinks about marketing being magical.

Doug:               Yes.

Ben:                 Right. They don’t quite understand the combination of brand building, performance marketing, conversion rate optimization, all those things blended together. It seems like, I don’t know, my marketing team just does some stuff, here’s what I see and at the end I get dollars out of it. Great. But they don’t quite understand how the machine works. I think one of the biggest myths for me is that, and maybe it’s just the difference between SEO and content marketing. You know, most CMOs think of SEO being a purely technical exercise where it is, like I said, the geek in the corner tapping on his keyboard until magic numbers appear.

Ben:                 And on the flip side there is an art and a science that goes into the combination of optimizing content and understanding how to optimize content, so Google recognizes it and then also writing content that resonates with your audience. Talk to me a little bit about the blend of art and science when it comes to SEO for CMOs.

Doug:               Yeah, I think it’s extremely well put, Ben. You must have some experience with an SEO podcast. You seem to have nailed this topic, but I think that all kidding aside, I think that what you’re looking at is if I run into a fellow CMO at a cocktail party, tell them what to do, what I typically start with is not the black box or that SEO is magical. What I tend to start with is what I call user empathy and think about all the things that you would do from a content standpoint and all the type of content you like to read and you would approach it from the standpoint of am I offering up content that meets the need of my prospect or customer in that moment and is it content that they take value from? Is it content they enjoy reading? Right?

Doug:               That’s a fundamental of content marketing. That’s a fundamental of marketing and frankly it’s foundational to SEO in general, if that makes some sense.

Ben:                 Yeah. I think that there’s a couple of different components that CMOs need to think about when they’re evaluating their content marketing efforts and really that’s what this gets into. You know, SEO is the practice with the optimization, that’s one piece. I think that when you break up SEO and content marketing, that whole topic into multiple pieces, there is, what are the content assets do you have? Do they meet the needs and that service the interests of your prospects and your customers, right? Do you have the right content assets and then you get into the technical stuff like how does Google interpret them and how do those fit into a competitive landscape? And the last piece is when someone actually sees those results, are they going to click and then what is their journey beyond that?

Ben:                 As you think about blending SEO into the entire marketing function, where does your SEO and content marketing fit next to performance marketing, conversion rate optimization, and all the brand building things that CMOs do?

Doug:               Yeah, there’s this giant Venn diagram of what we just described, Ben. I’d say that if you look at the things that are critical to SEO, you would find those things to be things that CMOs would easily talk about and believe to be true. So as an example, do I have a beautifully designed website that’s easy to navigate? Google is looking for that, right? They don’t want to offer up content that’s hard to comprehend and they certainly don’t want people to struggle to navigate a website. Well, that’s kind of a duh for CMOs, if you will. Right. We just talked about another piece which is have I recognize the buyer’s journey and am I offering up the right content depending on where the buyer is in the journey, and then can they get to it quickly, right?

Doug:               That’s site speed. That’s rendering a site that actually loads in a way that pleases the user. And by the way, users are incredibly demanding. If you have a slow site, you’re going to lose that user. That’s a signal to Google, you’re going to drop in the rankings. And so when I try and describe this and blow apart this myth of SEO is magic. What I try and do is point to the SEO really is just good foundational marketing. And so if we talk about that blend vis-à-vis, say performance marketing or brand marketing, they crossover quite a bit, right? So if I think about really great performance marketing, that’s a function of understanding what your keywords are, right? What type of topics you’re trying to cover and where in the funnel that’s occurring. Let’s not too far off from SEO. And the same with brand building and PR, if you will, right?

Doug:               Brand building and PR ultimately is about sending the best possible impression as early as possible for the prospect. As you overlap those two things, SEO sits in the middle of them, if you will.

Ben:                 So, Doug help me put a bow on this for CMOs, for the marketing executives, the people that are running the marketing department listen to this and they’re saying, I just still don’t understand how to evaluate where SEO should land in my entire marketing mix. I don’t have the core competence to be able to pull it off to really focus on it as a growth channel. Like I would performance marketing. But I do believe that there is some value in, it probably fits in my priorities before blanket brand marketing pops up on my radar. How do you rationalize all this? Where do you start? What should CMOs be doing?

Doug:               Okay, so I think we maybe should retitle the episode Ben, and call it splitting the baby, if you will. Right. So what I would say to them is this, if you look at SEO and you believe that it needs to be returning an investment within a three to six month timeframe, you’re ultimately going to struggle with it. So I think it’s a matter of perspective and it’s also a matter of understanding it that you’re not just investing in SEO, you’re looking at following just good solid marketing practices. So if I look at making recommendations, I would almost say, just be a really good marketer and layer the SEO tactics on top, if you will.

Doug:               So, where I would place it as to say, change your perspective, right? Performance marketing is critical. It’s a big part of how we’re scaling and growing here at Searchmetrics. It has its place, it has immediate return, but it has a point of diminishing returns and it’s going to hit rapidly and most CMOs frankly have hit that. To go alongside of that, then I think what you’re saying is great, that’s my initiative for the next year. How am I doing a better job over the next 18 months to two years in terms of my ability to market well? Right? And that should ultimately allow you to spend less on performance marketing. But ultimately you’re also going to find yourself in a position where your brand gets better, right? So it stays on that continuum scale.

Doug:               And so, what I would say to the average CMO is change your time perspective. Be looking at least 18 months out, and then just think of good marketing practices before you worry too much about whether or not you’ve got the beautiful SEO tactics in place.

Ben:                 I think that’s great advice. I think it’s also the things that CMOs and moreover their bosses, the CEOs have the hardest time understanding is that different marketing channels have different time to maturity and different tactics to make them successful. And we’re going to talk a little bit more about what some of the realities and pitfalls of SEO are for CMOs through the rest of this week.

Ben:                 So, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Doug Bell, CMO of Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Doug, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter, where his handle is marketadvocate, M, A, R, K, E, T, A, D, V, O, C, A, T, E, or you could visit his company’s website, which is searchmetrics.com.

Ben:                 Just one more link I’d like to tell you about in our show notes. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, just head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes and the contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter and my personal handle is BenJShap, B E N J S H A P.

Ben:                 And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, in addition to part two of our conversation with Doug Bell, when we’re going to talk about the realities of SEO for CMOs, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feet tomorrow. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

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