Kahena Interview XIII – Brad Geddes
When it comes to SEO, PPC, and Internet advertising, Brad Geddes is one of the foremost experts out there. His book, Advanced Google AdWords is the bible as far as AdWords goes. Brad is also the founder of CertifiedKnowledge.org. It is our privilege to be able to speak to him.
What are your pet peeves about SEO/SEM?
That’s a pretty long list. I think there are two items that are probably my biggest.
The first is that there are two few large players in the field (Bing, Facebook, Google) so you sometimes live at the whim of companies who don’t always understand the implications of their decisions.
The second is people who focus so much on the little details they just miss the big picture. SEO/SEM generates traffic. That’s it. They don’t make sales. They don’t retain customers. They just bring in traffic. I’ll see companies who obsess over Quality Score to a degree where they miss the fact that their email upsell rate is terrible, and if they were to work on their email data, then their traffic drivers will become more profitable. Obviously, everyone has their own areas of a company where they are accountable for results, but I don’t see as much inter-department collaboration, information sharing, and big picture viewpoints as you’d think we’d have by 2012.
What are your indulgences?
My biggest one is taking off work to go play with my 3 year old; in fact, I often take her and my wife with during my travels. My daughter has already been as far west as Maui and as far East as Munich.
Another one is my addiction to Netflix over lunch. I think this helps keep me sane as well. Everyday (when I’m working in the office and not on the road) I take a solid hour for lunch with no cell phone or computer and just relax with some TV and let my mind relax until its time to get back to work.
I do enjoy traveling, kayaking, good wine, etc – but relaxing with the family is by far my biggest indulgence.
Where do you think the industry will be in 2 years time?
I’m not sure it’ll be too far from where it is today. Two years isn’t that long, so I think we’ll still be playing in a Google, Bing, and Facebook world, but we’ll have more tools to do it with, and even more targeting options to utilize.
I keep hoping we’ll see analytics software and business intelligence tools that will revolutionize how small to medium size businesses analyze data and make decisions. Maybe in two years we’ll finally see some that are usable, but the SMB data world has been really slow to evolve in favor of data companies catering to enterprise customers.
Has anything in the evolution of SEO/SEM surprised you?
In many ways the lack of evolution has surprised me. I started teaching AdWords with Google’s approval in 2006. Of the 16 hours worth of presentation material I created, if you ignore screenshot updates and just making the decks look better, about 90% of the presentation materials are still applicable today.
Yes, there are more features such as retargeting that have evolved, and Google’s change to shopping and PLAs are going to affect ecommerce sites, but the core aspects of SEM have not changed that much in the past 6 years. Someone can point to all the little changes and say that’s not true – but when you boil SEM down to the fundamentals – they are almost the same today as they were in 2006.
In 2003, one of the most disruptive updates Google launched was Florida. In 2011, Google rolled out a disruptive update called Panda. While the factors that go into the updates have changed, the world of: build a site, get traffic, watch Google update their algo, discern what happened, update site, etc is still the same cycle today as it was a decade ago.
Today more people are talking about creating brands through SEM/SEO and not just traffic acquisition strategies. That is a good trend that I hope will continue.
What has been your biggest mistake to date and what did you learn from it?
That’s tough, I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years. One of my big early mistakes was not truly understanding the value of what people would pay. I remember a day in 2001 when I was just swamped with work, and yet another company called to engage my agency. I didn’t want the job due to lack of time so on a whim, I just doubled my rates on the phone, and the person agreed. I raise them again the next week, and I didn’t lose any new work. It was then I started to realize how much you can charge for expertise, assuming you deliver on the results.
Another mistake was being a total perfectionist. I like to plan, create, and execute to perfection. Sometimes the last 5-10% of a plan can cause the entire plan to take twice as long or cost 25% more. I’ve gotten better at incremental improvement assessments, so I can launch a less than perfect plan (but its still good – I’d never launch something not good) and then use rapid update schedules for fixes or analytics for data assessment before putting the perfect touches (or just letting it live in less than a perfect state) on a plan. I’m such a perfectionist that this has been hard at times, but I’ve learned to live with it Smile
Does Google have too much power?
It’s not that they don’t deserve the power they’ve have – they worked and earned it. It’s that they have so much power they often take the ‘we’re smarter than you so we’ll do it our way’ attitude; and with a lack of competition, it makes it so you have no choice but to deal with it.
In many of these cases, I’m not really talking about just PPC & SEO. Some of these issues extend into their product decisions such as Google apps, Google+, etc. Because many of Google’s products are free, and Google might just shut them down at will, where I use to use a lot of Google products such as Notebook, iGoogle, etc – I now shy away from using a free Google product that might not be here tomorrow or randomly changed by Google and instead will opt to pay for someone else’s product that I know will actually be supported in the future.
You can invite any 8 people (living, dead, fictional) to a dinner party – who do you invite?
That’s a really hard question for me. There are some people I’ve always wanted to meet such as Robert Heinlein (one of my favorite authors ) and Oscar Wilde (another favorite author); but I’ve also lived in so many places that I’d like to just catch up on people who use to be integral to my life. So, maybe I’d just throw a party and invite a combination of my old favorite friends and their heroes so we can all enjoy an interesting evening together.
Away from work, how do you like to relax?
I mentioned earlier Netflix and spending time with my daughter. I do enjoy my xbox for some escapism. I also take at least two vacations a year where I have little or no internet access. I find that I have to unplug on occasion, and I usually go somewhere where at best I might be using maps for walking or driving directions, and at worst – I have no cell signal at all.
What does a typical day of yours look like?
I really have two typical days – one that’s in town and one that’s traveling. As days traveling can really be all over the place in terms of why I’m traveling (speaking, consulting, training, etc), I’ll focus on the days when I’m at the office.
I’m one of those people who really doesn’t need a lot of sleep, usually about 4-5 hours per night. I never set an alarm when I’m at home; but I’m still usually up by 4:30-5:30am. I find that never setting an alarm makes it so I always get enough sleep so I can face the day in a manner where I’ll be productive. In the morning, I read my news, have too much coffee, and wait for something to inspire me. If something inspires me, then I start working in that direction. If it doesn’t, then I spend about 30-60 minutes with email in the morning and that usually takes me to about 7am.
Then I have a rule: No meetings until after lunch. Rarely will I touch email from about 7am to right before lunch. This is the time to get something done. Everyday we have a rule in the company: get something done before lunch, and the answer can’t be email. This way you feel productive, accomplished, and the company keeps moving forward.
Then I have lunch off the computer with Netflix or a friend.
As most people are less productive after lunch, and I’m no exception, the afternoon is for meetings, phone calls, etc. These are tasks you must do, but do not require you to be at full brain capacity to effectively accomplish.
I’m a big believer in the Maker vs Manager schedule; and since most of us at the company are both, this is the compromise to both get work done, and have time for external conversations. Usually between 3:30 and 5:30 I hit ‘the wall’ where I might be able to work, but its either not satisfying or I’m being less productive than I want to be, so that’s when its time to leave work and spend time with the family and friends.
Given the demands of your position, how do you achieve the balance between personal and business?
I have strict limits for work and personal life. At work, I’m very organized and live inside my project management systems for what needs to be accomplished. But I really do have my own work and life balance, so I almost always leave work by 5:30pm; and often much earlier. Everyday when I’m in town, I always have dinner with the family and read the baby stories before she goes to bed.
When I was younger, I didn’t have this balance, and it was OK. I didn’t have a baby, it was early in my career, and I was happy to work 12-15 hour days. I think everyone needs to find their own balance for happiness, and then put some limits around their work and personal life so they can find their own balance.
Who are your favorite heroes in fiction and real life?
I’ve never really had heroes. I’ve had people that I respect a great deal and will listen to their opinion, but I’ve always taken that advice and put it into my own life context before acting upon their information. Like many people on the web feel, Bill Gates, Tim Burners Lee, and Vincent Cerf are people I highly respect for what they’ve accomplished and given us in the web. Of course, Bill Gates created the largest philanthropy organization in history.
In what circumstances wouldn’t you work with a client or cease working with one?
One of the most empowering things you can let an analyst do is fire a client. It sends a signal to the employees that their work environment and their welfare are more important than just money; and I have fired some clients in my time.
I want to work with people who ‘get it’; and willing to learn and act upon that information, don’t let their egos get in the way, and treat others with respect. If a client or employee fits that criteria, then I’m usually willing to overlook a few other quirks. However, if someone (a client or employee) is not willing to follow those few simple rules, then I probably won’t work with them. To me, not treating people with respect or having a huge ego are such turnoffs, that I’ll fire or refuse to work with someone pretty fast when either of those items show themselves regardless of the money involved.
What is your favorite bit about ‘The Wisdom of Crowds? How does what’s written in the book influence your work?
I found the book interesting, and even had the opportunity to talk to James Surowiecki at a Google event a few years ago about the concept and where it applies versus might not apply.
I find the concept works well in a fully collaborative environment when all parties are working from a similar knowledge base or inspiration starting place. I find it works well in a group-think capacity to predict outcomes; essentially, the idea of the law of large numbers comes into play and the group is correct .
I find that it doesn’t work so well in a start-up environment or one where you are trying to innovate past where people have currently spent time thinking. If you’re trying to use existing tools in new ways or creating new products that have never before existed, then the Wisdom of Crowds can hamper innovation. Like with all concepts, I use it where I think it makes sense, but might not use it in all aspects of work.
A lot of people in the industry look up to you – who are the people you look up to?
One person, and I don’t know him that well but I respect what he’s doing and his vision is Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. While I think CRM and project management integration is broken for small businesses and there’s some new system that needs to be invented, I respect that he’s trying to bring many pieces together to be a multi-fix solution for businesses. He has a vision, and he’s followed it to great success.
It’s not hard to be a point player solution. What is hard is to integrate multiple items together to make business run easier. Its easy to make something complex. It’s hard to make something simple. And I respect the companies who have visions that cross over between being a simple solution, to being a holistic solution as they are going to bring technology to us in the future that we actually use and move innovation forward.
Point players are necessary, they often start the innovation cycle. However, they might not get a lot of adoption and make a true revolution until the technology can be integration into other solutions so all your technology plays well together.