North Star

Episode 8: The Digital Strategist In The Shadow Of Google – A Conversation With Scott Ensign

Scott EnsignScott Ensign is VP of Search Marketing at DAC Group,  one of the largest independent digital performance agencies around, and in full disclosure, my employer. In this capacity, he has built a sizeable team of search marketers on both the paid and organic side and is heavily involved in recruiting and developing the skills and careers of these folks. He joins us this episode from New York to discuss the opportunity and the challenges that come with being a strategist in the shadow of Google. You can hear his perspective in the podcast in iTunesStitcher or Soundcloud or below now.

Scott believes that while it is challenging in any kind of a marketing space when dealing with a dominant player like Google, the opportunities to be strategic exist like never before. These opportunities are being driven by a couple of trends. The first is the trend within search towards automation. This trend allows team members to spend less time with functions that used to be manual and more time stepping back to ask themselves how they can use search to solve client problems. This is important since there is a tendency to treat search very tactically since it is a very attractive channel from an ROI perspective.

But according to Scott the focus on the last click conversion and ROI is just part of the story. The way to be strategic is to understand that search plays a part throughout the consumer journey; all the way from awareness, through consideration, direction and action. Understanding how to interact and get in front of that user is where the strategic opportunities lie now and will continue to be in the future. The way to be strategic in search is to ‘fulfill user expectations and experience as the North Star and ladder up your efforts against that’. When this is done, then the role of the strategist in the search space is ‘very rich today’.

He does admit though that it is hard to keep people thinking strategically in search. The people drawn to this space tend to be analytical and as such tend to look to the data for the answer rather than the consumer. But that is why there is opportunity within an agency environment to be strategic, as opposed to being on the client side in this function. Working in an integrated agency allows for access to resources like strategy, web development and marketing science teams. It gives the search analyst the opportunity to sit among these people every day and fosters cross channel interaction. It also helps remind the team that there is more beyond the last click attribution model. Further, working within a single channel makes you predisposed to fighting for that channel, and that’s a real trap. It is much better for everyone to be an objective third party to the client and to only put efforts into search to the degree to which it makes sense. This will be ‘different for a B2B client versus a B2C client versus a retail client versus a home services client. The mix is going to change based on category and consumer behaviour’. Working in an environment where you can look across these channels allows you to be dispassionately strategic. This is a great type of place for a young practitioner to start.

Scott is committed to this idea of looking across channels and says that he ‘honestly doesn’t care if in 5 years we aren’t doing any search at all. I care that we are on the leading edge of the digital marketing space, which increasingly is just the marketing space’. This is because it’s going to change. His advice to people starting their careers in the space is to not plan to work within a single channel for the rest of their careers. ‘The most important thing is to join an organization that is going to give you the room to explore a multitude of different things so you can become a well rounded marketer’.

This need for room to explore is particularly necessary in search engine optimization (SEO) which is becoming a much more strategic function. According to Scott, this remains a murky practice area because it is a discipline that has previously been cast as one designed to game the system. He reminds us that if we think of user experience and expectations as the North Star, then while the technical elements of SEO are still important, the disciple increasingly becomes about providing useful, meaningful, relevant content and building sticky web properties that fulfil what users are looking for. This means focusing on creating something much larger from both content and user experience perspectives. In his opinion, the role of the SEO specialist will become that of a content specialist with technical development skills who is tasked with the role of looking at a strategic vision of how clients need to build and maintain web properties.

Tying these elements together, Scott sees the need for people starting in the industry to explore a variety of disciplines within marketing. This is reflected in the tendency among young practitioners moving from role to role today. Scott is not too concerned by this tendency because he sees it as a function of the second major trend driving opportunities to be strategic in the search space, namely the trend towards ‘the democratization of information’. He believes this is a positive trend because it gives those that are just getting into the space the opportunity to access information like never before by reading blogs, watching videos and online presentations, or if in an agency environment to talk with those from other disciplines. The opportunities to learn are now simply ‘limited by peoples aptitude and appetite for learning’. He urges those starting out to really take the opportunity to learn and to have an open mind in approaching a career in this space, since the incredible rate of change makes it extremely difficult to plan out a career path.

Next week on octopus, we will explore the role of the the role of the blog in digital strategy with our next guest. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

Access the podcast in iTunesStitcher or Soundcloud or listen below now.

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