Rankable Ep.5 – Paid Search & SEO: What Should Brands Prioritize

In this Rankable segement, we are joined by Matt Caramenico, Head of SEO at Advance Auto Parts, to discuss, "Paid Search & SEO: What should Brands Prioritize.

iPullRank Rankable Live - Paid Search & SEO: What should Brands Prioritize

In this Rankable segment, iPullRank’s Senior Account Executive, Jarrett Thomas, is joined by  Matt Caramenico, Head of SEO @ Advance Auto Parts, to discuss the topic, “Paid Search & SEO: What Should Brands Prioritize.”

This is a very informative segment as we dive deep into why brands might need to reevaluate their paid and organic search strategies in order to perform better in search. 

Video Transcription

Jarrett Thomas:

Hey, good afternoon everyone. Happy Friday. I hope everyone is doing well. Thank you for joining our Rankable podcast presented by iPullRank. I’ll be your host today, Jarrett Thomas, senior account executive at iPR and I’m joined by a good friend of mine, my buddy Matt Caramenico.

Well, how’s it going brother? Thank you for joining us, man. I’m so excited about it. Thank you for having us. Hi. How’s everything going on your end? How’s Friday treating you?

Matt Caramenico:

Hey, Friday’s going pretty well. I really appreciate you guys reaching out and having me on here. This is going to be a great discussion today. I’m looking forward to kicking off the weekend right.

Jarrett Thomas:

Yeah, man. There you go. And any plans for the weekend?

Matt Caramenico:

Um, actually, we’re going to be taking it easy. Yeah. Nothing crazy. You know, we’re in quarantine, so it’s going to be a little bit of a quiet weekend, but we’ve gotten used to it,  fiance and I, we enjoy it, we enjoy each other. Obviously, you know, do you have anything planned for this weekend?

Jarrett Thomas:

Nah man, I’m probably going to catch up with some Netflix stuff. I sent you some titles on LinkedIn. Go and check on some of those, like the Jeffrey Epstein one and a couple of other ones. But, I’m grateful to say the family is blessed, man and everybody’s doing well, health wise. I’m grateful. We’re fortunate. We’re super blessed. 

How about you guys? I’m curious about how since you know, the pandemic started, how have you guys shifted from the work from home, you know, what are some of the things that Advance Auto Parts put in place to make sure you guys are settled in and continue to let the ship float?

Matt Caramenico:

Yeah, so I’m actually proud of the team as a whole. The organization has really rolled into the work from home capability pretty well. I mean we did a couple tests, dry runs before the quarantine actually went into effect and our it department and net sec was able to just really get everything buttoned up and I think there’s some departments that weren’t historically ready for this kind of capability or it wasn’t built into the way that they work. 

SEO as a whole, you know, e-comm as a whole, like that’s kind of our bread and butter, you know, mobile and rolling with the punches. But, yeah, it’s really been nice to see everybody come together and align on this being a capability, this being our reality right now. And going from there and trying to really put our customers at the number one spot and be there when they need us. 

Jarrett Thomas:

Yeah, absolutely. Man. And I’m curious, we actually brought this topic up when we first did our Rankable, but I’m curious which one do you prefer? Do you prefer the work from home? Or do you prefer the office life?

Matt Caramenico:

I think I’m pretty much set in the middle. There’s definitely a great vibe when you go into an office and you’re around your team and everything. And the in person meetings, I do miss those. Especially on some of the more juicier topics, the ones that you need really get into the weeds on. But at the same time, I’m also a big fan of work from home, being able to hunker down and kind of wall off and get some work done. So it’s been easy for me, I should say, to have this time. 

Jarrett Thomas:

Absolutely, man. I’m kind of in the same boat. We’re lucky and fortunate, we actually started working from home the last week of February, so during our last couple of weeks in New York city started getting a little crazy. You start to see people are starting to have on masks. And luckily, you know, Mike was on top of things and we started working from home, I think my last day was like the end of February, like 28 or something like that. Yeah. And then they shut down the city maybe the week or two after. So, you know, we’re super fortunate from that and just seeing what the team has been doing. Man, we’ve been really leveling up our game and very proud of the team being a part of iPR.

Like I said, just been really cool and appreciative of Michael. And we’ll begin our topic for everybody else, now. Today’s topics we’re going to be talking about PPC and SEO and what brands should prioritize right now given the current climate. So I was super excited to have you on Matt, and we went over some topics and I’d love to start it off. Why do you think there should be more collaboration between PPC and SEO teams? So what are your initial thoughts?

Matt Caramenico:

Yeah. So I think in some people’s perspective, SEO and PPC can sit at a little bit of a contentious juxtaposition there. It doesn’t benefit the company as a whole when that kind of a little bit of a rivalry, you know, healthy rivalry is fine, but you know, being opposed, one against another, it’s not beneficial for anybody, mainly the organization and there’s a lot of data sets coming out of PPC given by the platforms that they’re purchasing traffic on that enable better decisions on the organic side. 

So it’s both really beneficial to one another. And if you’re not looking at the data as a whole from every outlet that you have the capability to access, you’re doing your organization a disservice and really any barrier that’s there, it definitely shouldn’t be. The ultimate goal is to increase traffic at the highest conversion rate possible. So It’s easy for both teams to align at the end of the day.

Jarrett Thomas:

Yeah. I think it’s very peculiar that most organizations don’t set up their teams in that way, right? Because when you think of PPC and SEO, they both have the same end goal, right? So how do we get customers through the door? How do we get them to engage with us? How do we get at the end goal? How do we get that sale? So the fact that the data sharing process for most teams isn’t like that, it’s really shocking. But given this time right now, given the changes in the consumer search behaviors and the way we’re consuming content nowadays with this COVID-19 situation, it’s very important to have that collaboration, right? 

You have to know on the paid side, how do we lower our costs. And from an organic side, how do we make sure we’re ranking, have those positions and what kind of content can we create that is really valuable for our viewers, their intent, right? Understands what they’re looking for.

Matt Caramenico:

I think the scenario that really keeps these two teams apart, you know, PPC and SEO is the fact that there’s a pretty neat nice bucket that you can put PPC into. Every organization has a performance marketing team and it’s a very easy transaction to understand with direct attribution lines and you know, it runs off of a budget. There’s no quickly perceived value and then an easy funnel into attribution in terms of conversion on whatever you’re trying to convert with, whether that’s straight up dollars or you know, sign ups or whatever, downloads, et cetera. 

The scenario for SEO, it’s a little different. So, you know, it doesn’t fit into that performance marketing box as neatly as, you know, email or PPC or display or et cetera. It’s at the intersection of a lot of different organizations and it needs to have visibility to the larger organization, not just one specific team. Cause there’s a lot that impacts your ability to get traffic as a domain. So that’s probably what tends to keep them in my mind separate. 

Jarrett Thomas:

yeah, I totally agree with that. I think there’s a ton of factors with that and I just think it’s the long term play, so to speak, for SEO. I think that’s why they keep them, right? Cause if you’re not familiar with it, PPC, look at that as a really bottom funnel thing. So how do we get traffic right in the door right now without having to wait the three to six months that would take for us to properly optimize and just organically, right? You’d have to make sure, how do we, how do we take the SERP real estate, right? 

So it’s definitely important for you to have both strategies in line with each other. Like you said, that strategy, that collaboration, lowering your CTR, what is your conversion, whether it be the newsletter sign ups and those things. And then just monitoring those metrics, optimize it effectively. 

Matt Caramenico:

Absolutely.

Jarrett Thomas:

Yeah. And I’m curious about something and I love to hear from you, from somebody who’s in-house. How do you prove the value of SEO to your higher ups? So what are some of the things that they look at so you can say, Hey, this is what I’m doing. And they really show the impact across the organization.

Matt Caramenico:

So at some organizations, I would say that’s an easier end goal than others. You know there are companies that are technology first, you know, like they were built and you know, in the last 10 years or the last 20 years. And this capability, this understanding of organic traffic being a main revenue driver for a lot of organizations, it’s built into their first days on the internet. 

There are other organizations that are a little bit older and they’re grounded in brick and mortar transactions. And as they evolved, they eventually emerged on the internet as well and saw that as a viable opportunity. It’s definitely an education process, the best SEO teams are able to evangelize their needs and spread the value, but also the reasoning behind making the moves that are beneficial for the team.

So how exactly do you do that? I think it comes from improving personal communication skills. Like honestly, it’s about digesting these complex topics that are foreign to a lot of users of the internet and saying like, Hey, this is why it makes sense. Boiling it down into things that are a little bit more bite size and just serving it up and then continually reiterating, don’t change the story. Say it the same way continually. And if you’re going to get traction there, it’s going to eventually happen.

Jarrett Thomas:

Yeah, for sure. For sure. Totally agree with you. And Mike, thanks for dropping the link too. We also have a blog there too, if anybody likes to check it out. We’re looking at the balance for paid organic and search and awake of COVID-19. And I think that’s a good segue to my next question. I’m curious in terms of SEOs, who aresome of your go tos, and how did you get involved with SEO? Who are some of your go to’s and what are some emerging trends that you’re seeing given the COVID-19 situations?

Matt Caramenico:

Yeah, so shout out to Mike King. He’s been a go to for me for a little while, since around 2013. Um, and then, Will Reynolds,he’s on the top of my list. Bill Sebald as well. The guys up at stone temple, they just got acquired, but they were doing some great work as well up in Boston. Man, there’s a lot of quality people in the industry that I’ve learned from. I want to give a shout out to one local in Raleigh that I’ve learned a lot from named Jenny house and she’s great as well. 

In terms of how I got into SEO, it’s been a little bit of a different journey. I shouldn’t say that because I think the majority of people that are in SEO, everybody that’s in SEO, nobody went to school for it. I should say that. But you know, we’ve all had an interesting pathway. And I think the main thing that it boils down to is curiosity and probably the love of learning. So I went to school for biology and chemistry. I worked at Johnson Matthey, a large chemical engineering company right out of the gate.

So I did that for two and a half years-ish, doing chemical characterization on physical and liquid products, analyzing how much heavy metal was in those products and I went to school for it. So there, once I was in the lab doing those analysis, it wasn’t scratching my itch in the love of learning spectrum. You know, I’ve been in school for how many years? And at the same time, I envisioned my job really providing that value, where I was going to be learning cutting edge stuff and all the time.

And it actually, it ended up being kinda monotonous. And so I dug into HTML, CSS, JavaScript. And really at that point 2013, I ended up figuring out that I was late to the game. I’ll admit this, but I ended up figuring out that Hey yeah, you can impact the way a domain ranks on a search engine and that hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve been online since 1994. I sent my grandma an email, so that’s like crazy to think about, but I didn’t really understand how search engines operated. I didn’t understand how the internet itself was working, how domains work, how networking was a thing. And I was starting from I guess square one and it just progressed pretty heavily from there. You know, somebody else that I want to shout out is Mark Kennedy at SEOM interactive.

He gave me my first shot at SEO. It’s a small shop outside of Philadelphia. And I was really able to cut my teeth there and after, yeah, I said 2015. So 2013 to 2015 was learning 2015 to the middle of 2017. I was really growing and you know, uh, ended up getting a job with, with advance doing local SEO specifically. And then mid 2018, I rolled into a more leadership role for the team as a whole. So yeah it’s been a rapid journey and one that keeps me on my toes and that’s ultimately why I love being an SEO, it’s the ability to never stop learning.

Jarrett Thomas:

Absolutely. I think that’s one of the things I love as well. I think the fact that it changes so much and you have to be on top of your game and I think something that stood out to with it is the fact that everybody has a different approach, right? Or it depends on how you utilize your resources. How quickly you’re doing it too and implementing it goes a long way. And we also have, we have a question from Matt (live audience).

Matt Caramenico:

Oh Hey. Yeah, I actually know. I actually know Matt.

Jarrett Thomas:

There you go. Perfect. Perfect. He’s got a really great question. I would love to hear your response. He asked, how do you respond to a client who focuses on $10 billion in uptight companies, does B2B services and says SEO and PPC isn’t going to generate leads. Which service would you focus on if budget wasn’t a question? SEO or PPC? It’s a great question.

Matt Caramenico:

How do you focus on $10 billion, a B2B business that focuses on 10 billion and up, I’m sorry.

Jarrett Thomas:

B2B companies that focus on businesses of $10 billion and up and they say SEO and PPC isn’t going to generate leads. What would you recommend? What would you focus on if budget wasn’t a question? So SEO or PPC?

Matt Caramenico:

Yeah, I think that it’s a combination of both. Absolutely. You’re going to have to start a pretty large scale content strategy around meeting your end customer where they’re at currently. So it’s about positioning them as the leader in the space and if they’re not making content about that already, they’re losing out on their ability to provide awareness for their organization on the search engine. So yeah, I mean whether you’re B2C focused or B2B focused, you’re going to search engines to find out about your industry and changes within the industry. 

And I think a pretty aligned, fully bought in robust content strategy from the organization would be pretty powerful. And then you’re blasting that out through your ability to, you know, direct links on PPC and your optimized pages. 

Jarrett Thomas:

I totally agree. Now I would just piggyback off of that and say it depends what the goal is that a marketing campaign is, right? So we’re looking to degenerate leads really quickly. And what are your KPIs for that quarter necessarily? Then you would want to do a mix, you might want to put more bought dollars into PPC depending on your short term goals. But I would do the long term SEO play and like I said content, understanding who my users are, who is my active audience, who are people that I can get from a competitor, right? 

How are they engaging with their content and what are their niches and how could we fit into that? So your content strategy definitely helps with that in terms of SEO and making sure you’re ranking and also your PPC, brand awareness. So I think a lot of things with B2B companies, content is going to be a big thing. But I think people don’t necessarily execute or brands don’t execute it as well as they should be on the B2B side. It’s just so professional, and depending on the topic, it could be super boring. You know, if you’re doing computer engineering or something like that, how do you make that stand out for the average user?

Matt Caramenico:

Well, you know, at that point I think the average user isn’t your target. I think it depends on your goal. Do you want to become a household name brand or are you looking to actually capture quality users? You know, like it’s not about the traffic that you’re going to be getting. It’s about what the traffic does once they get to your platform. And if they’re interested in your topic and it has the value that they’re looking for, they’re going to then think of you as a valuable option for that B2B relationship. You know, if you’re out there on your pedestal saying, Hey, I know this industry, I am a great option for your needs. What would be a barrier to you getting that sale?

I mean, I think there’s a misconception that B2B doesn’t really play well online. Like, at the end of the day, it’s, it is, it’s the same thing. It’s relationship building. It’s brand awareness, and setting the organization up for success takes time and it takes a lot of digging into.

Jarrett Thomas:

And I’m curious with that being that we’re on this topic, so for that same B2B company, how would that person formulate, how would you approach that content strategy? Like how would you formulate the ideas for that, the keyword research? What are some of the things that you’d go into?

Matt Caramenico:

Yeah. So I think you’re going to be leveraging your knowledge experts inside of your organization pretty heavily to say, Hey, your clients that are actually using our product, what are the things that they’re worried about? What keeps them up at night? You know, what are the roadblocks that you see to implementation or the barriers to purchase, et cetera. And then building your content off of keyword strategies. Dug into those specific bottomless pits if you will. 

You’re going to be able to continue to drill down. You have to know your customer. I guess that it rolls back to that. If you don’t really have a clear understanding of who your user is, who your customer is, who your decision makers are in that pipeline, then you’re probably not selling too much outside of online space either. Like let’s be honest about that.

Jarrett Thomas:

Yeah. And I think another thing too is what barriers, you nailed it. What barriers are there when they actually do click cause they actually get there is a big part of it, right? What is the experience when I get here answering my question, am I engaged with this content, is there more information I could get from this person to how do I become the trusted voice? If you’re a brand, that should be the main thing. How do I become the trusted voice? How do I let the top middle bottom funnel and how do I ultimately get them to love our brand? Use our products and champion them.

Right. And are there any other questions? It was a great question, Matt. I really appreciate you. We only have about eight minutes here from anybody else. If there are other questions. We also had a question for Bailey Jensen. Here we can kind of dive into now. She asks, can you talk about the cannabis market and how it being not legal on a federal level may inhibit the ability to use PPC as a resource to funnel traffic? And that’s a really, really good question. I know we’re going to have a Rankable segment next week with Weedmaps and Drizly speaking about things similar to that. But I love to hear your take on that though, being in-house.

Matt Caramenico:

So, my take on that, full disclosure, I’m not in the weed industry. That’s a great industry though. That’s pretty cool. Definitely a nice emerging market. But what I will say is this goes all the way back to something that you and I have discussed privately. It’s the fundamental idea that SEO is a capability. It’s a capability that enterprises need to understand fully at the intersection of every organization, every department within the organization.

And that ends up looking like a direct connection to legal. Hey, is this even allowed or do we need to refocus our campaign strategy within PPC on specific regions where this is legal to consume at a state level because you can target, as drilled in as you want to with a PPC campaign. And then it’s up to you probably to present a wall for users to self classify as being able to consume your content that you’re putting out. 

I mean, obviously reading about weed isn’t illegal. But you know, shopping for weed online isn’t legal everywhere. And yeah, you’re not going to be gaining users by their IP. You’re going to be gaining users by, Hey, I’ve self classified as being in a state that allows me to view and then potentially purchase. And then at your end point you’re going to handle the, can we actually ship to you or is it you know, there’s going to be the barrier of are they going to even be able to like visit our brick and mortar location, that kind of thing. 

So within PPC you have plenty of opportunity to isolate your users and direct them to your product through the platforms that are already at play. Are you able to do that with the weed industry currently? I don’t know the answer to that question. And that’s something that you’re getting really need to, you’re going to need to like button up with your legal department for sure.

Jarrett Thomas:

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve actually worked with a couple at a prior company and a big resource for being that they have legality issues. They use social media for everything, right? So they use a lot, really building relationships and understanding where their target market customers are and how do they join that customer. How do they meet them, where they are, being that there aren’t many regulations on social and things of that nature. And I’ve seen that work really well. 

So I would definitely look at social listening platforms, understanding your target market, what are some things that they want to see from you and create content that’s geared towards that. And keep drawing them in. So that’s something definitely I’d look at. We also have a question from Robert. Thank you again Robert. So what’s been the biggest adjustment from an SEO standpoint when you shifted from a small, medium sized business to a giant like AAP and he’s a shout out from SEOM.

Matt Caramenico:

SEOM, yeah, yeah. I think I know who that is. I think it’s Robert Spinrad. I would say the biggest shift has been understanding that at scale there are certain tactics that aren’t going to work and  they’re not going to make as much of a move on your organic needle as they will for an SMB or a smaller business. If you have multiple million, I was just talking to somebody about this. If you have multiple millions of backlinks to your domain and different sub domains, first probably focus on consolidating your subdomain set up into one specific domain, that’s gonna provide a lot of power there. But if you don’t have that capability, you don’t have to focus on getting back links necessarily because one or a hundred backlinks isn’t going to really raise the sea depending on the quality of that domain that it’s coming from.

If you have 4 million, but if you have five and you get another 10 over a period of six months, that’s great. That’s insane growth, you know? So it’s situations like that where a lot of people talk about just content and backlinks. Well, as a national brand, you’re building content and it better be quality because if not you’re going to get slapped for it,by your users I’m saying and then, the quality will then be rewarded with the industry or people that love your brand, giving you backlinks for that content. What are you creating? That’s a scenario. So it’s not necessarily about focusing on backlinks or focusing on content. It’s a more holistic view of like how the website is structured?

You know, you’re going to be playing with a lot of larger departments than yourself and you’re not going to have as much access or free reign in a scenario where you’re in-house at a large organization as you might if you’re the SEO for an SMB that has potentially a 25 page WordPress website. I can get in there and lift the hood and like do everything that’s necessary. I’m not probably going to be allowed to do everything that I want to do inside of a larger organization cause they’ve got a hundred person IT team that handles everything. 

So it’s a difference of scale and then figuring out like, Hey, where are the levers when you’re, another thing that I would say is a focus on consolidation. There’s a large potential at large organizations that are e-commerce for duplication of content. There’s plenty of opportunity within consolidation to refocus your user’s journey through your website and then also provide a more well thought out pathway for a search engine user to roll through as well.

Jarrett Thomas:

Some great points. Great points, Matt, I’m curious too, I know you’re with AAP now and it sounds like basically there’s pros and cons to both. You know, obviously being a part of AAP is a huge thing. And me personally, if I was in-house I would be shocked or I’d do something like the LinkedIn thing where I DM or I’d be scared of something like that. You definitely have some more leeway when it comes to the smaller medium sized brands. So definitely sounds like there’s pros and cons in both. 

Matt Caramenico:

Definitely pros and cons of both.

Jarrett Thomas:

Yeah, definitely appreciate that. We have one more minute left. We could probably squeeze one more question in if anybody else has one. Right. If not, we’ll wrap this up and I just want to say thank you again Matt. It was a pleasure meeting you and to give people at home your contact, you know, we actually met on LinkedIn through content. 

And then we just ended up connecting and the next thing you know, me and Matt were sharing Netflix movies and stuff like that. So I just want to say I appreciate you Matt. You’re our second guest on rankable. I’m really appreciative, man. I really enjoyed the conversation and insights you provided and I hope to do this again sometime.

Matt Caramenico:

Yeah, this was awesome. Thank you so much, Jarrett. Really, really happy to be here and I, you know, it was great talking to you,

Jarrett Thomas:

My brother. I appreciate you. Thank you to everyone who was in attendance. Thank you for joining iPR rankable event. You could be anywhere in the world, but you’re here with us today, so we appreciate it. Thank you for the continued support. Next week we’ll have a great segment on emerging markets.

Matt Caramenico:

I’ll be there!

Jarrett Thomas:

And shout out to Mike King and Michael Dellon who’s going to be running those conversations.  And thank you all and I’ll also have these clips on LinkedIn if you guys want to check this out later. So, thank you all. Have a great weekend and see you guys soon. Have a great weekend. Everybody.

Matt Caramenico:

Take it easy.

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