Most online marketing organizations are more siloed than a train ride through Kansas. Each silo – email, paid search, whatever – has a lead person that manages the people who get things done. These folks understand the technical platforms, workflows, and do the “heads-down” work necessary to get out emails, manage affiliates, run search campaigns, write for the website/blog/Facebook page, put up and manage data feeds, and so on.
In a nutshell, the current online marketing org looks like this:
At the top is the director or VP of online marketing, whose main job is to manage her lieutenants. Straightforward reporting, KPIs, and web analytics help evaluate each manager against goals and optimize each tactic.
Not every company has every silo, or every tactic, or every software platform, but the overall pattern holds true.
The good news? It works reasonably well, and has for a while now. To be honest, for about 10 years not much changed in the online marketing space. At least, not enough to warrant a major organization or strategic change.
The bad news? The nice, neat online marketing ecosystem that was pretty stable for years – complete with its analytics, roles, and responsibilities – has been blown to bits by mobile, social, and evolving user behavior and search algorithms.
Tectonic plates are shifting and the organization no longer matches the jobs that need to get done – and things are only going to get worse.
Illustrating the Problem – Search Engine Optimization
In search engine optimization (SEO), what used to be the bulk of SEO tactics are now only a small part of what is increasingly a cross-group exercise involving content marketing, social media work, API integration, and business development challenges. In fact, as many in the industry have pointed out, it’s better to think in terms of “inbound marketing” as an umbrella concept that includes but is not limited to SEO.
It has become clear that search ranking algorithms are becoming so complex that the holistic methods needed to influence them are becoming near-impossible for some brands to implement. SEO recommendations now go way beyond on-page content and meta data to address the impact of social, mobile apps, local results and review sites, and the Knowledge Graph or semantic web effort to define and standardize information into machine-readable ways. These types of recommendations are beyond the ability of clients to execute.
Another Perspective – Web Analytics
The other poor silo most impacted by the changes wrought by social, mobile, and local is web analytics. The so-called “no-referrer,” “no-keyword,” and “dark social traffic” problems continue to grow. Brands are getting web visits that don’t include much information about where they came from or what keyword they used. Visitors are coming from mobile apps, shortened URLs, and viral or social spaces that are non-media based and pass little information to the web analytics platform.
Adding to this is the common refrain that web analytics people face increasing complexity and role creep – they are being asked to do things they cannot or should not be doing: business analytics (BI/dashboards/predictive models), testing, marketing analytics, and competitive intelligence. That’s in addition to traditional web analytics tasks and adds to the headaches caused by dark traffic and missing referrer data from the mobile/social/local revolution.
Putting it all together, users are finding and interacting with brands in a much wider range of digital places, and these contexts are harder to understand and influence. Meanwhile, existing roles and silos are under strain to cope with current complexity, much less get ahead of the environmental changes.
Given these two examples, let’s assume the problem is real, it’s accelerating, and it needs attention. Now.
Breaking Down the Problem
Essentially there are two components to be solved for:
- The organizational issue related to reliance on the silo structure and tactic-driven roles.
- The change management issue related to dealing with the fact that emerging digital marketing tactics will continually challenge whatever organizational structure you settle on.
The Organizational Problem – Guiding Principles
First off, stop thinking silos and start thinking about keywords, content, and context. Think about whose job it is to live outside silos and think about ways of getting people to work together, to use emerging tactics, and to insure that content is optimized, keyword-focused, and wired or fed into every platform, application, and community.
In theory, the director of marketing might be expected to be doing this kind of thing, but they rarely do. They are too busy with budgeting, managing lieutenants, and getting major projects pushed through.
So the director of marketing needs help, and it needs to be from the right kind of person. But who? And what does this person do?
The Less-Screwed-Up Online Marketing Department Emerges
Call the new guy the “inbound marketing analyst” – the person who thinks of search, content, and social as a single process. In a perfect world, inbound marketing people are storytellers, content creators, and marketing manager types who understand the various silos and their platforms and love to work cross-group to make sure every keyword, campaign, post, event, and landing page is aligned, integrated, and search- and discovery-optimized.
If money is needed to “promote” content, then the inbound director works with the media team to get it done, but the focus is on holistic non-media (earned and owned) tactics that drive inbound results.
So the first step is to create an inbound analyst role – staff it up and give it resources and oversight over everything that’s non-media and acquisition-minded.
The inbound analyst works with the rest of the marketing org and their various platforms in this sort of fashion:
The Second Problem – Dealing With the Pace of Change
The second and harder part of the problem to solve involves dealing with the accelerating pace of change. An inbound analyst role must be inherently evolving, and should be held accountable for knowing, understanding, and having strategies and tactics for environmental changes affecting the marketing org. This is the kind of person who has the fire and passion for knowing the latest digital trends and seeing the potential of new technology and new user behaviors.
The inbound analyst must be a change agent. They must continually bug people (in a good way) and get them interested and excited about creating that new API or doing that inbound-link-driving real-world event or live in-store performance (driving to a digital landing page and email capture of course).
How to Get There From Here
Smaller companies are already acting along these lines. They have content marketing people who do more than just write for the blog – they know about SEO, they host real-world local events, they understand analytics, and they know when to ask for paid media support.
Look for people like this in your org. If you don’t have them, find them. Back in the day we used to have marketing managers who did it all – maybe we need to have them again. Groom these folks for senior roles; they will know everybody and know what tactics move the needle.
Don’t Lose Your Experts
I recommend you don’t pull people out of their existing silos and try to get them to do this new thing. Keep the experts where they are and find the right person who knows how to work cross-group, win friends, and influence people.
Big companies have management-training programs where high-potential people rotate through different roles to learn the business. This is the kind of person and professional development process marketing departments need to get going.
The Big Ending – Back at the Beginning
Now is the time to stop thinking SEO, media, content marketing, web analytics, and Facebook posts and start thinking holistically about inbound marketing that brings it all together.
Brands started simple – just a mark or a symbol that everyone could recognize. Then they got complex, and the job of managing them got complex along with them. Let’s get back to basics and start thinking of brands and marketing tactics as integrated, simple, and holistic. Users look at brands holistically. Search engines look at brands holistically. Let’s start managing them that way.
SEO and search marketing are a vital part of any marketing strategy, linking together channels like social media, content marketing and offline advertising.
There is of course a lot of discussion about content and what does and doesn't work online. Is long-form the key? Does short-form content have a role to play? Are there other factors at play?