Blueliner Marketing: Changes and Evolution of the Digital Marketing Landscape
On today’s fjorgecast, Tim talks to Conor Dalton of Blueliner Marketing. Tim and Conor discuss various evolutions within the industry – localization of SEO, changes in digital marketing, and more. Conor brings an interesting perspective to this episode as he’s worked in multiple continents, within both agency and client-side environments.
Tim: Thanks for joining us on the fjorgecast, I’m Tim Barsness, founder of the fjorge development team. Today on our show, we will be talking with Conor Dalton about digital marketing agency Blueliner Marketing. Welcome to the show Conor.
Conor: Thanks for having me, Tim.
Tim: We’re happy you’re here. Can you tell us a little bit about Blueliner Marketing?
Conor: Sure, sure. We are based in New York City and we have offices on Madison Avenue. We’re kind of– in keeping with the whole madman type of thing. Digital is our focus. We’ve been in the digital game for over 15 years now as a company, which is quite mature for a digital agency. We’ve seen lots of changes from search getting more comprehensive and Ad Tech evolving. We work on a boutique basis with clients across a wide range of industries primarily healthcare, financial services and other interesting areas like hardware too.
Basically, we’re here to partner with companies to help them achieve their business objectives through best-in-class marketing. We really see our clients as partners and we get right down there in the trenches with them, help them identify exactly what they need to reach their most ideal audiences and help them grow their business.
Tim: When did you join the team?
Conor: I joined in July 2015 shortly after moving over from Europe, from Ireland more specifically. It’s been about two years now, just over two years. In that time, I’ve gone from being a project manager to moving into my role now which is marketing director.
Tim: Let’s get into Conor a little bit. Tell us about the path you took to become marketing director of Blueliner Marketing. How did you get your start in marketing?
Conor: Sure. In college I did commerce which is essentially a general business degree in University College Cork. I was always very into music growing up and continue to play music right away through college. It was the end of my bachelor’s degree. I noted that marketing was an area where I could merge the creative elements of what I was into with the kind of more business-based things that were really tickling my fancy around that time. It it seemed the perfect marriage really between that creative side and the business side.
Coming towards the end of my undergraduate, I sought out a master’s in marketing that allowed me to take on an internship where I was actually working with a big company but also getting my masters at the same time. When I reached that juncture of, “Oh, do I keep studying or do I go working”, it was a nice combo of the two. From there, I was kept on with our company which was a professional services company and ESP International which was an engineering company. Then, I made the transition into social media marketing for Allied Irish banks which is the biggest banking group in Ireland.
I got a bit of an itch to play in the big leagues I guess. I’ve always loved the New York, so I sought out to make the move over here. I got in touch with Arman Rousta who was the CEO of Blueliner and had a really good relationship with him off the bat. From there, moved into working agency-side here and then it was just a case of climbing the ladder over the two years and really, really enjoying the work I was doing and getting great results. In a nutshell that’s how it all happens.
Tim: Got it. You made the move from Ireland over to here, at least from Europe over to here, can you compare making that move I guess at the same time you also made a transition from client-side to working in an agency right?
Tim: All right. Let’s talk about moving across the pond first then we’ll get into client-side agency.
Conor: Sure. There’s a range of trivial things that you wouldn’t think of, such as some dispelling things even when you [inaudible 00:04:18] to even, look in the right way when you cross the road. All in all, I think it has been a smooth transition because we’re so influenced by obviously American culture is nearly global at this stage and even New York, you see it in all the movies, you see it on the TV. It’s quite easy to assimilate into that but I think it was much easier than I thought it would be.
Tim: Sure, very cool. Do you find it surreal to live in the city that you see in all the movies?
Conor: I think if you thought about it too much, you definitely would find it surreal but I’ve always said sooner or later it doesn’t matter if you’re making that 10-minute walk to work or get into subway for half an hour. Routine makes everything normal in a sense.
Tim: That’s true, that’s a good point. Can you compare working client-side versus working at an agency?
Conor: Yes, I think when you’re on client-side, you become so familiar with everything and everything that’s wrapped around your different marketing objectives, while new challenges do occur, it’s essentially like I liken it to playing in an orchestra. If you’re playing in the string section you can switch around between which string instrument you’re playing but you’ll always be playing in the string section. I think sometimes when you’re in an agency you got to get used to switching between the woodwinds and the brass and the strings.
It can be a little bit more complex. You’re going to get comfortable with your objectives changing depending on the clients and also to tactic is you’re used in changing. You don’t have to be an expert in everything but you need to know when, so certain tactic is called for and when you do need to reach out to someone who may be far more talented than you are in that particular area.
Tim: Tell more about that. How do you recognize when there’s a need, either that you can’t fill or it might be better fit for someone else?
Conor: Let me think of an example for you. Well, we would have certain projects that would be our bread and butter, like local SEO projects here in New York would be one of our very– we’re Blueliner, be one of our strong suits but if there was a case where someone might say need a specific app developed, right now we work with a lot of surgeons and we have one particular client to use developing quite an interesting app for the particular function of that population he works with.
While we would know certainly who to get in touch with to build the best-in-class mobile app, we don’t have anyone on direct staff that would be able to code themselves. I think that’s indicative of the newer agency model too, where you can expand and contract certain pillars of your production line as they’re needed.
Tim: Got it, totally. If I read between the lines there a little bit, would you say it’s more challenging to work at an agency than work client-side?
Conor: I think it keeps you on your toes. I would do challenging but fun I think. I said there’s certainly no two days are the same and that could be quite liberating too. You don’t get stuck. It means steak is great but if you have steak every day you get sick of it so it’s nice to switch it up. Have your comfort levels but also indulge in other things that you might want to upskill it.
Tim: What things in the space are you passionate about? Maybe new things that are coming up?
Conor: I really, really am totally obsessed with search right now and how it’s evolving from being this very technical clunky old-school SEO type of thing, moving towards just really giving users. We’re all users in this sense. We all use our mobile devices every day to look up information to deliver the best possible experience for those users. That’s really what’s exciting at the moment and that on the organic end married into how Ad Tech isn’t there helping us reach the exact people we want to reach for our clients in real time.
Things like programmatic advertising and data-driven and data-targeted social ads and everything in that automation space tying those two things together. The way tech is evolving and the way tech is driving the link between that evolution and actually delivering value to people, is really, really what gets me excited at the moment.
Tim: Got it. I believe you said your title or your position was director of marketing. What does that mean in an agency?
Conor: For an agency, I do actually work on some of the bigger accounts. I really like sitting down in the trenches and really hammering asset projects but in an agency, it can be a variety of things primarily within Blueliner, its setting out of the high-level the exact tactics and strategies were going to be using for clients as we take on new clients.
Also assessing how we’re delivering against our KPIs on a month-to-month basis for our current clients, ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to smash through those and ensuring that our clients are getting the best ROI from our spend and also that we’re getting the best results from all of our vendors for what we’re choosing to do bring success for them. It’s really at a high-level overseeing that we’re doing all we can to help our clients achieve all they want to achieve.
Tim: Absolutely. Now I want to get a little more into Blueliner. What is it that the agency does so well?
Conor: Local SEO and Web Design would really be two of our strong suits. I have those two actually married together. We practice a methodology called The 7 Pillars of Digital Marketing, it was created by our CEO and the key element of that is that everything is interconnected. If you’ve got a fantastic looking website but your searches is not where it needs to be, no one’s going to see that lovely website. If you’ve got a million social followers on Instagram but you’re not delivering them high-quality content, it’s not really closing the loop. Blueliner really prides ourselves on our local SEO and our SEO in general and top end web design.
Tim: Pop quiz. What are the seven pillars?
Conor: Cool. The seven pillars are content, design, SEO, media, CRM, social and mobile.
Tim: Of those seven, where do you see the most opportunity with, say, a mid-sized business?
Conor: Well, I think it’s search and media. Our media, we define as all types of advertising online, are the two. For medium-sized clients who, let’s assume they have a good sized budget, you can take a two-tiering approach. You can take the medium terms strategy with your search to get you visible to the most appropriate audience of the medium term. It’s anywhere between three to six months and then if you used that in time, it would have very robust ads strategy.
You can get that instant hit where you’re being seen on Facebook or Instagram or get into the top of the searches through paid means to begin with until the search comes at rounds at that strategy in a medium-term which creates more of that sustained advantage. I think a marriage of those two can always really deliver nice value for a medium-sized clients.
Tim: Can you tell me how SEO’s evolving, maybe where it’s going?
Conor: Yes. In somewhere like, say in Manhattan or New York, it’s getting super, super localized. We’ve got a range of say, acupuncture clients at the moment and it’s really important to them to rank for Acupuncture Columbus Circle versus Acupuncture Soho, that really makes a difference. As all these individual search engines are becoming more robust. Until things that feed into that can be voice searched, the word accuracy now is far higher than it was.
People are more used to asking Siri or asking Alexa or whatever when they’re driving or even walking. Evolving your strategy to become more in line with those longer, more precise kind of searches is very important. Mobile speed is huge, so we’re really encouraging that any of our clients set up a very robust contents strategy that, you’ve got to have your pages app-enabled because it really has a strong effect on your rankings and your click-throughs. Then tied into that, if you’re in the local market too, you really got to be offering a dedicated mobile UX.
Reviews are also important. We’re at an age now where everyone is making a transition between what may have been an old site into a newer site, trying to meet some of those dedicated mobile UX and site migrations are huge now. We really are overseeing a lot of successful site migrations to our clients, making sure there’s no missteps with the redirects or changing your URLs unnecessarily; that switch to https doesn’t necessarily almost break out if it’s done properly. It’s an evolving landscape as you said and there’s a lot of things look out for.
Tim: Got it. Let’s go back to that Columbus Circle Acupuncture search you’re talking about. If I’m looking for acupuncture, do I need to specify Columbus Circle or does it already know that’s where I’m looking?
Conor: Well, the mobile device will use the location of where you’re at or if you are moving around it will be– sorry I’d like to restate that.
Tim: Yes, 10 seconds pause.
Conor: Cool. I really think it does matter because it can track the location in your mobile device which will feed into that search. Also, if you’re pre-planning from, say, your home environment that you know, this is a rank, where you go to work say for example. I think it is very important to specify because obviously, we can’t do all the best practices within our knowledge to achieve those goals but Google around to see hold [inaudible 00:15:06] that secret sauce into a certain extent. We’re really just doing all we can to achieve those kinds of results but that’s something– Specifying like that is something we’ve seen to be very effective.
Keeping consistencies across your Google business listing and then coming up with your long tail keywords and having the location in it is definitely something we’ve seen that has driven up click-through rates. Obviously, what matters the most is the conversions that the clients sees at the end of that. That’s something we’ve seen to be very effective in terms of demand of bookings that certain clients are getting.
Tim: Sure, got it. One of the things I heard you say was that because not everything is transparent, you’re just being as thorough as you can to make sure that you’re ranking in the way that you like.
Conor: Yes, that’s true. If everyone knew exactly how to do it, people could manipulate it to the point where– Google would lose control over trying to deliver what they deem to be the most beneficial user experience to the searcher. That’s always been my approach to SEO really is, you know the best practices you should be following and you do those and see which one in this instant has the most impact and then you can put your best foot forward from there.
Tim: Totally. What in your opinion are the most exciting developments in digital marketing?
Conor: Cool, great question. I think the evolution of ad tech is a huge one. The move from a quite basic kind of Google Adwords or Google display searches to now, really what programmatic advertising can really help people achieve. Anything from DSPs allows you to really get in touch with the exact audience you’re looking to reach with your product or service without them having to say, “Come to your site”, and for you to remarket to them.
If the paradata is huge now and with everyone using online more and more and more, that creates more and more chances for you to slot into evidently without any friction into their buying process or the research process or reached them at the exact time where they’re open to be persuaded. Which I think is nice. Advertising is all about persuasion and all about context and the developments in Ad Tech are really supercharging a lot, I feel.
Tim: I heard you say programmatic, is there anything else specific that you’re looking at?
Conor: Yes, we really have seen programmatic and automation in terms of how we share it to Needles which is a really, really far from advertising platform from we’ve been using on the social end. Whereas with Facebook, you obviously can reach [inaudible 00:18:07] people based on their interest. I think it’s in a stage where it’s great value for money.
Facebook is where Google Adwords was in the late 90’s I personally feel it’s really, really great value for money. What we have found is that when you use something like Needles on top of Facebook ads manager, it allows you to search based on queries and social comments and general social conversations, which is something that not even people asking for recommendations and everything. For example, we do a lot of healthcare marketing and for someone discussing a pain on the shoulder or someone who might be market for orthopedic surgery, we can really identify them through conversations they’re having on social.
With a platform like Needles, through automation, you can deliver them the most ideal headline, the most ideal image and the most powerful description as it relates them, it takes all those off the shelf and serves them the most ideal ad. It far surpasses anything you could do– well, do you easily do in terms of setting up your ad groups. It’s super powerful.
Tim: Totally. I heard you mentioned Needles, I’m curious. How do you deal with the constant barrage of tools coming out? That feeling needs to change tools on a regular basis, how do you keep up with all that?
Conor: Well, I think it’s important to recognize that nothing is going to come out and do everything you want to do. Even for SEO, we are strong believers on Bright Age, and obviously, once we’re in the side on the back end, where we use the premium version of the Yoast but those tools can only tell you so much. It’s really the human element of how you put those two tools to work in the case of SEO, which is really where the strength comes. The tools are only as good as how you use them, we take every opportunity to try out a new tool when it comes out, maybe get a demo and if we feel it might be beneficial and we have a small scale example where we could maybe put it to work and really keep the tires, we do that.
The good ones stay and the ones that we don’t feel deliver that much value, we probably won’t start it to use, we probably will have been able to rely on it before we actually start using them. But in the case of Needles, it was just a case of, it was brought to our attention, we tried it out with a very specific campaign for one of our bigger clients, we saw a great result so it was the classic case of, we brought it from one success and we saw where we could use that for a lot of our other clients. I guess trial by actual full campaign use let’s say, would probably the best way to describe that.
Tim: Got it, makes sense. Let’s get a couple new stories. Our first story today is from Search Engine Watch by Chris Camp, it’s titled, “What is voice search mean for your local SEO strategy?” You got into this a little bit Conor, but I’m curious what’s your take on what it means?
Conor: Well, I think it’s really cool to see and I think it’s somewhat not necessarily millennials but maybe the generation of both that where they love just talking to their phones. I think it’s kind of like this Knight Rider or Star Trek kind of thing, “Computer, tell me the–“, I think it’s maybe they’re little less subconscious than millennials are with it but it’s really taken off.
As it says in that article, it’s really like everyone who has adopted that now, the 60% of those people have started using it within the last year, so it’s growing exponentially. It’s got very practical applications too like when you’re driving, it’s a no-brainer, it makes total sense, it’s why they might start using it’s call, say call Jim but you kind of realize that if you’re on the road it’s so much safer to be doing it and now that the tech has actually caught up with the requirement and by that I mean, now that it actually understands what you’re saying and can deliver you a result. I think it’s only natural that people will start to use it more.
Tim: Totally. The number of times I’ve been driving down the road and I have to ask my navigator to work something out for me. It is really nice to be able to just ask your phone directly.
Conor: It is and the nicest part is that it actually works because I feel like there’s been a few examples of where they ask or the demand for something has sometimes come long before the actual solution. A good example is, remember back in the days of Limewire or when people were heavily using torrents, obviously that was piracy but really what it was the desire for people to be able to watch content on demand. Now, we’ve got several apps like Hulu, the HBO Go and Netflix are fulfilling that desire. People-
Tim: Yes, it’s not that they’re not willing to pay, it’s that they’re not willing to be cumbered by the old way of watching.
Conor: Exactly, exactly. I think this voice search is very much in keeping with that, it’s like people have the desire to use it for a long time but now that the effectiveness added is actually delivering the results that you want– we’re in the boom period of it now. When it comes to actually the SEO end, it means a bit of shift in strategy because it means you’ve got to be creating content and optimizing your pages for more natural language, which is great, that’s really great to be optimizing for that more human spoken word instead of trying to get that very rigid converse and keyword, almost crowbarred into a content. It’s worth from a natural. We’re seeing great results with FAQ pages for this. Number one tip for that is the FAQ pages because you can address those queries very naturally.
Conor: Yes and also as well, where you want to get here is maybe on the more desktop end but you want to be showing off for those quick answer things on Google.
Tim: If you go back to the visual world then, would that come up as a one box result, if you were doing a text-based search?
Conor: Yes, ideally.
Conor: If you can outrank your closest competitor on the page authority of your FAQ page, that would be the hope.
Tim: Got it. Our second story of the day is from Adweek titled “Do many more stringent measurement, some brand reasons their own viewability standards” ask by Lauren Johnson. I’m curious Conor what’s your take on the changing viewability standards that are going on on the web?
Conor: I think it’s really important that we obviously as digital marketers, we’re under the pressure of having to account for every dollar. It’s not the case where you can put that [inaudible 00:25:27] in our world, as supposed to putting the billboard up on the set of a highway, that’s only relevant to 10% of the people are going to see it.
When you’re putting a display out or video out there and you’re targeting to the degree to which we are able now, you’re under a lot of pressure for that to be effective. As with anything, it’s kind of the big dogs that can come in and negotiate change. Again, we’ve seen that in many different examples but here I think it’s a positive step for the publishers for pressure to be on them to say, “Okay, you can charge us but you can only charge us when it delivers the value that we needed to deliver.”
Tim: Do you think that you’re out of alignment with your publishers then if you’re putting the onus on them to get views to an ad? Shouldn’t it be on the person be creating the ad?
Conor: Yes, yes. The onus is definitely the person creating the ad but it’s also that you’re not being unnecessarily charged for something when it’s only viewed for a second or two minutes somebody clicks away, I’m sure there will be some sort of equilibrium that’s mesh. I take your point that maybe it’s too strong of pushback for now. I think it’s like anything, we shift at one way, we shift at another then we find the nice middle ground where everyone has acute understanding what’s going on and it’s beneficial to both sides.
Tim: Yes, I think that’s a good point, what we’re doing now just-
Conor: I really don’t think so. The biggest thing I took from that whole conversation with [inaudible 00:27:05] is at least they’re being conscious of it, particularly these big brands are being conscious about it because they have so much more data at their disposal than say, a medium-sized company. In the same way that the most successful companies right now are taking their customer data and using that to shape customer journeys and enhancement center totally user-focused.
I think the awareness of being in this area is the most progressive thing I feel to me, that they know have to get more out of the ad spending they’re using and it’s almost another evolution. It’s another evolution and awareness brought on to like, “Okay, who’s seeing these ads, why are they seeing it, why are we spending money for these people to see it”, and that they care about them being effective. Because some of these bigger brands, sometimes you wonder if they didn’t market, where will they really be? What impact those that are marketing have? I’m just really excited to see that they care, that their marketing has an impact on what they do.
Tim: Totally. We’re out of time. That’s it for today on fjorgecast. Thanks for joining us today Conor.
Conor: That’s awesome. My pleasure.
Tim: Pleasure is ours. You can reach Conor on LinkedIn or by email through firstname.lastname@example.org and thank you to our listeners for joining us. You can download episodes of the program by going to fjorgedigital.com/fjorgecast or subscribing in the show on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iHeartRadio.