Milind is the founder-CEO of eBrandz and has grown the company to more than 250 employees and profitability. Milind is currently on the Advisory Panel of Search Camp (This event is conducted by The Knowledge Foundation) and speaks frequently at SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) events.
Milind, I thank you for taking valuable time out of your busy schedule to interview with me at RickyAhuja.com - I know you have a lot going on so let's get started shall we.
Milind, we're seeing a lot of changes with Search and Social Media. Does that make things easier or more complicated for your firm?
In this industry change is the only constant. While other IT companies might have to train their employees every other year, we have to train our employees every other month! We have to be quick on our feet. It is definitely challenging, but the good part is, if we manage these changes successfully, we get a clear advantage over other traditional print and media agencies which have also started offering online marketing solutions to their clients.
What do you say to clients who are intimidated by taking their business online?
We do not have any clients who are not online. In fact all our clients find us once they have their website and realize that they need to market their website in order to get customers.
Is social media marketing something business owners should be trained to do, or should they hire someone to a new position?
I think no one understands a business better than the business owner. But they don't understand the nuances of Social Media or do not have time to promote themselves on Social Media. Similarly social media marketers understand the medium very well, but they are not the best people to talk about client's business. So I guess the solution lies in either business owners hiring someone who understands social media and asking them to work in close association with the business owner or getting an external Social Media Consultant and working with him to make sure that the message is accurate and is promoted in a way that is acceptable to social media audience.
When did you become active in the social media world, and how did your firm become an expert?
Before the term Social Media was coined, people used to interact on online forums. I was quite active on Internet Marketing forums like Webmaster World, Search Engine Forums etc. The whole social media phenomenon erupted in front of my eyes beginning in 2002. So I was present from the beginning. We realized that some social media sites were influential in search engine optimization and online reputation management so we started studying them . We came up with ways in which a business could leverage few of the social media sites and that is how we became quite active in Social Media World.
What are some common misperceptions about Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook? How can each be used effectively to promote a business?
There is a perception that Twitter is all about what people are eating for lunch, which airport they're stuck in, and so on. While this may be true, there are plenty of useful tweets if you know how to find them. Several organizations are already using Twitter to achieve business goals, and send tweets such as:
- Sorry you can't find the product. Please provide us product no and I'll check if it's in stock.
- Does anyone know how to work X?
- DM me your resume and I'll review
- Mention this tweet for 10% off
- Increase revenue
- Build brand or equity
- Decrease costs
There is this (mis)perception that Facebook is only useful for communicating with friends and family. Facebook started as a closed community for college students, and has been effective at highlighting the business page and advertising features. Facebook has very powerful and targeted demographic tools that help companies to hone in on their target market.
Another (mis)perception about Facebook is that it is only for college students. According to the Facebook Press Room page, there are more than 400 million active users on Facebook and a million new members are joining each week in the U.S. alone. More than two-thirds of Facebook users are not in college. More than 50% of Facebook's users in the U.S. are over the single biggest age demographic in the U.S. on Facebook is now between 35 and 44, and Facebook's fastest growing age group is 55 and older. They also reported that Facebook ranks as the top social networking site in the majority of European countries.
Some of the reasons why social networking sites like Facebook are increasingly being used by companies are because they provide businesses the opportunity to easily and efficiently communicate regularly with the people in their network. Networks can include people with whom they are currently doing business, people whom they would like to do business, vendors, and potential business partners.
LinkedIn is primarily for business professionals who like to network online. Inviting someone to connect is the proper way to strike up a conversation with someone you'd like to meet.
Social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are serving as an adjunct to, and in some cases, replacement for, traditional means of communication such as newsletters and direct mail. Facebook can be used to regularly announce or get feedback on new products, spotlight new employees or existing employees accomplishments or talents, reward customer loyalty, promote special events and special offers, as well as to create partnerships. Some companies have even reported that by using these online means of communication they have reduced their marketing budget while at the same time increasing sales.
But clearly one strategy does not fit all. A company should really evaluate its goals before creating any social media strategy and should then create strategies which would help them achieve this goal. Also do not use Social Media sites as a one way megaphone as nothing can be more irritating to users than to get bombarded by sales pitch on their social media accounts. Listen to the community and start genuine conversations.
What is the most common consulting question you receive?
How can I use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to increase our sales ?
What business mistake have you made that you will not repeat?
Being an optimist, I would not consider them as "mistakes" but treat them as "learning opportunities". There have been too many learning opportunities to list here.
Could you tell us a little about eBrandz and how it's different from others in the space?
As eBrandz itself is a small business, we understand the difficulties faced by most small businesses. One of the biggest problems small business owners face is that they do not get good customer service. And we constantly innovate to ensure that our clients get results. Hence our customer service, innovation and overall value for money sets us apart from others.
What marketing techniques have you found most effective? Are there any that you believe businesses are relying too heavily upon?
or are there some they are not looking at deeply enough?
I would say each marketing technique has its pros and cons. An effective marketing strategy is one which combines SEO, SEM, Social Media, Permission based email marketing, Webinars, Public Relations etc. Doing all this together would help a company create Brand Awareness. And once that happens, the lead or sales conversion increases. I think many companies are not looking deeply at Website conversion optimization.
Why spend more money on getting more traffic when you can spend little and improve your conversion rates ?
It seems to me that within that large number of SEM firms there are few that have strong brands. You seem to be one of the few in the space who get branding. Where did you learn about branding? What has helped you develop a strong brand?
Thanks. Many people have asked me this question. But to be honest, I have not learned about branding anywhere. It's based purely on our experience. As mentioned in one of the above questions, one of the reasons we have a strong brand is because we use a combination of SEO, SEM, Social Media etc to leverage our brand.
What can SEO firms do to build strong brands & strong credibility?
I think strong credibility helps creating a strong brand. But it cannot be done overnight and there is no silver bullet. Look at your strength and communicate it effectively within first 5 to 10 seconds to your website visitors. Spend money on online marketing. Don't use ROI as the only benchmark to measure effectiveness of your campaign.
What are some trends you are seeing in the PPC space? Social Media?
I see a lot of potential in Google Ad Extensions. Specially the phone and video extensions. Also many small businesses are experimenting with Facebook and LinkedIn Ads.
Before we wrap up, how about a tip for my readers? What are a couple of things you would do if you were a local accounting business who just got their first web site and are looking to get new customers from the web?
If I were a local Accounting business, I would make sure that I include my address on all pages (preferably bottom of all pages). I would include a google map of my office location in the contact us page. I would then go on and claim my business listing on all major data providers and internet yellow pages. While claiming my business listing, I would use my main keyword (accounting related) in the title of these business listing. I would then create incentives for my clients, to put up a review on these customer review websites :-
Google map itself
I would also try and get links from local business associations and chambers or other local businesses in my area. All this will ensure that my website comes up pretty high in local search listings on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other local search engines.
Thank you so much Milind for your time and insight and I look forward to talking again very soon. All the best!
eBrandz is a company that is one of the world leaders in SEO – a company winning on Global playing field.