Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tech Tuesday: Data-Driven Marketer Jon Thralow Talks About eCommerce, SEO and What's New @ Google

I've been reading Walter Isaacson's The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, a thoroughly researched history of the men and women whose ideas and energy created the Internet and all the other manifold technologies that have become so embedded in our lives, from video games to A.I. and self-driving cars. Imagine a world without Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook.

One of the beneficiaries of all this innovation has been Jon Thralow, a geek programmer who evolved into a data-driven marketer with his fingers on the pulse of emerging trends and the application of new technologies. When I interviewed him in 2009 I asked what were the two or three most important things internet entrepreneurs needed to know. He replied, "First, set up tracking mechanisms to measure every marketing penny that you spend. Second, find your niche and don't deviate; stay focused. Third, use the scientific method so that you can test for the outcome. This ensures that you do not make the same mistake twice."

His article at the end of this interview will show you how he's not deviated from this path and, in fact, has only become more sophisticated at it.

EN: You've been doing eCommerce now for almost two decades. What are some of areas that have been of special interest to you during this time?

Jon Thralow: My first love was programming viral SaaS software. It was fun to see a creative take on a life of its own and grow, but I did not have the time to develop the infrastructure on the program and, eventually, it grew to a point that was unsustainable. I then found SEO and hacking Google's algorithm became a passion of mine. I was getting anything to the top positions and it was easy. Then Google got a lot smarter and the workload to get a site listed on the first page became too time-consuming so I shifted to paid search. Paid search is about the only thing that I do today.

EN: Google has certainly emerged to be a very big gorilla in cyberspace. How did this happen from your point of view. They began simply as a fast, reliable search engine, right?

JT: There was a race to be the most accurate search engine. In 1998 I was trying to get our site listed on about 50 different search engines. All of them had a chance to be the most used after the shakeup, but in 2000 Google came along. It was a research project from Stanford so it did not have the money-hungry feel. It felt like a service and it gave great results. It quickly grew and took the number 1 spot where people found things on the internet.

EN: Online success is more than good Search Engine Optimization, but don't the rules for good SEO keep changing? How does a business stay current?

JT: Today it is more work than ever to be a top ranked site. Google has started ranking profitable sites below content sites making SEO almost impossible to win if you are a business. Google knows that sites that make money can pay for the paid placements so that is what they are trying to do. If you want to make money with search today you will most likely have to pay for it or create amazing content that is published in major news outlets.

EN: Even before the Internet I always said, "You can't manage what you don't measure." Since the Internet, analytics has been taken to a new level. How do you stay current on what's going on in the realm of online analytics?

Thralow is ever on the lookout for
new horizons to explore.
JT: Most of my day is spent measuring. My favorite class in college was statistics and I found a place where I can use that logic for my real-world job. I am at the point now where I am incredibly frustrated by holes in Google Analytics. Most marketers take Google Analytics as cut and dry data, but there is so much bad data that can be misunderstood that sometimes I forget that marketers of 20 years ago had to often rely on gut feeling.

EN: You mentioned that the next step in analytics will be the ability to actually tie in-store sales to Google adwords on mobile devices. Is this really possible and when is it coming?

JT: This is being worked on today and it's being beta tested with some large retail businesses. I have worked on their beta program with Red Wing Shoes and we are seeing some great results. We have recently started uploading our point of sale data to Google and are starting to tie our online and offline sales to online ads.

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Related Links
Learn to Measure AdWords for In-Store Conversions
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

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