Our Marketing (SEO/SEMO) story

By: Kenny Fok

Date: December 23, 2019

Background

At eSmart, we have noticed how difficult it can be for small businesses to expand their brand via marketing. Many of the marketing and business development firms often provide mixed results, or no results entirely. With a serious lack of results, eSmart has decided to take on the task into our own hands (i.e., eating our own dog food) and we are getting very positive cost-effective results — Here is our story.

When eSmart Tech was founded in 2015, eSmart had been focusing on developing our own technologies and platform for one of our founding companies. So, the marketing department at eSmart is pretty much non-existence. In 2nd half of 2017, I have decided to leverage our product design and product engineering experience to help our clients' take their idea from concept to market.

I am self-aware of my own weakness (especially in Business development and Marketing). However, with my experience at Qualcomm, I am confident that I "know" when I meet with a good business/marketing person(s). So, I started looking for business/marketing resources in the following:

  • Hiring
  • Outsourcing to Business Development/Marketing firm

For hiring routes, we went through over 20-30 interviews after filtering hundreds job applicants. I was not able to find the "right" one. It is very rare to find one person to do both Business Development and Marketing well. With small company, it is financially challenging to have a team of Business Development and Marketing.

Then, we focus to identify a firm with a team of the Business Development and Marketing for outsourcing. There are many of these firms in USA and we have engaged several of them between 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately, we have not seen any positive success in terms of new business opportunities. There are two main types of these firms: Business Development and Marketing — and here are our experiences:

Business Development

These firms focus on leads generation by cold call, cold email & Linkedin message. Most of their business models are fixed monthly cost without any concrete guarantees about number of leads. Some of them has a commission-based model in additions to the fixed cost. If they bring in a successful business, they will get a 5-20% commission.

I prefer the commission-based model because they have incentives to convert leads to a successful business. After engaging with 3 firms of Business development for almost a year, we had many introductory calls, but we have 0% of moving to the next stage, namely requirement discussion and establishing a proposed SOW.

My conclusion is that Business Development for small business is too costly and not effective. It makes sense for larger organization.

Marketing

These firms focus on setting up ads (Google, Bing, Linked, FB, Instagram, …etc). Most of their business models are fixed setup cost for each ads channel, and monthly on-going "maintenance" cost.

During the "maintenance" period, these firms present the analytics results and adjust the ads settings based on the result. For presenting the analytics results, we found that they are mostly just presenting whatever Google Analytics or Bing Analytics auto reporting are showing. For adjusting the ads, they are adjusting the "obvious" items such as landing page, and revising the bidding price on keywords. Most of these firms would tell you, digital marketing requires at least 3 months to see any concrete results.

After engaging with 3 firms for almost a year (at least 4 months for each), we were getting some site message and phone calls, but we have 0% conversion.

My conclusion is that most of these outsourcing marketing firms are not doing the proper "work" to maximize the marketing effectiveness. When questioning them about not having positive results, they often "shield" behind the 3 months "honeymoon". While they are comfortably getting at least 3 months of business, their small business clients are losing time and money. Having said that, I do think outsourcing marketing is the way to go for small business but identifying the "right" firm (in terms of cost and effectiveness) is the challenging task.

Eating our own dog food

After over a year of bad results from these firms, we decided to approach this as a typical Engineering problem (we are good at). We break it down into 4 phases (overlapping depends on the progress):

  • Research
  • Analysis the root cause of our Marketing issue
  • Come up with a solution
  • Verification

There are tons of digital marketing material on the Internet. First step for us is to filter out the low-quality material and focus on the high-quality ones. In summary, we have learned several key items:

  • Digital marketing can be categorized Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
  • SEO is for organic search (non-paid) and driven by the ranking of your website and digital footprints of your company from various search engines.
  • SEM is for paid ads. The effectiveness of your ads has many contributing factors such as bidding cost, keyword quality, landing page experience, SEO quality, Campaign setup, …etc. Just increasing the bidding cost is not the most cost-effective way especially for small business.
  • Must deep dive into analytics from multiple angles. Just looking at auto-generated report from Google/Bing analytics is pointless.
  • Don't hesitate to call search engine support (very painful progress, but is worth)

After analyzing our Marketing issues and all the lessons learned from our past engagements, the conclusion is that we have no detailed plan and process about our digital marketing from these outsourcing marketing firms.

We then spent several months to develop a marketing process for eSmart. During this period, we applied our typical engineering due-diligent process to enhance the process until I am showing my smile (seeing some positive results) in our daily SCRUM meeting. Like other Engineering tasks, I asked my team to generalize the process (not just for eSmart) and to formalize the process (with docs, and presentations). Then, I reached out several friends of mine and offered to help them on their small companies' branding effort (as part of our verification process).

Our Marketing (SEO/SEM) process

1. Focus on SEO such as:

  • Enhancing the web site to have at least 85% score from Google standard
    • Able to provide concrete measurable results within weeks!!
  • Adding web site into major search engine
  • Adding quality non-paid backlinks

2. Once SEO quality has reached certain level, start the SEM effort (paying ads without good quality of SEO is waste of money) such as:

  • Enhancing the keyword quality (must work with SEO in parallel)
    • Able to provide concrete measurable results within weeks!!
  • Updating web page to provide precise analytics (know exactly where the leads are coming from) while not impacting SEO performance

3. Review & Monitor Performance and have a "close loop" to refine SEO and SEM continuously.

Conclusion

With experiencing some success with our digital marketing process, we have decided to expand our services (as part of a new company, FoxTech Inc.) to help small businesses in their marketing needs.

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