Harte-Hanks search honcho offers best practice advice

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Search isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of direct marketing company Harte-Hanks. However, Harte-Hanks actually boasts dozens of clients for both organic and paid search marketing services. Harte-Hanks is also a founding member of the Direct Marketing Association's Search Engine Marketing council, and dedicates a Web site to search at

BtoB spoke with the company’s search expert, Jeannette Kocsis, VP-digital marketing for Harte-Hanks, about how to get the most out of search marketing efforts, as well as the need to keep up on the latest trends in search.

BtoB: A recent American Advertising Federation study found paid search was the most effective online marketing method in terms of ROI, besting e-mail, rich media and banner ads. What is your theory as to why that is so?

Kocsis: Search in general works better because people are actually looking for what you are advertising. That's a big differentiator. In terms of ROI, search is also very cost-effective. Some terms will be more expensive than others, but search marketers have learned to target specific phrases people use rather than simple, one-word terms. Marketers are getting better at it.

BtoB: What can a marketer do to ensure they are getting the most out of their search marketing efforts?

Kocsis: A couple of things. First, do your research—specifically, keyword research. You need to make sure to use the terms your customers use. From a technical standpoint, you need to make sure to track search engine spiders on the site and find roadblocks. In other words, make sure your site is fully "spider-able."

Finally, you have to have relevant content. You need make sure your content contains the keywords you need, but that it's also relevant to users and that they find it helpful. In other words don't write for the search engine; write for your users.

BtoB: What is the biggest challenge to doing search marketing well?

Kocsis: I think a lot of it is keeping up with the trends while still managing the day to day. Keeping an eye on the search industry is challenging; it changes almost daily. There's constant flux, and there are always new things coming out we need to keep on top of. For example, I need to keep on top of what is going on in social search right now, because my clients are asking what, if anything, they should be doing in terms of social search.

BtoB: Speaking of trends, what do you see on the horizon in search marketing?

Kocsis: Social search is certainly one of them. Tagging is one aspect of social search that I see as being very important going forward. It's the same concept as social networking. Think of it as "community search." Users are identifying what they find to be helpful and creating their own preferences through the use of tools like delicious.

The role of blogs in search has also become extremely important. People, when they blog, tend to use keywords whether they know it or not. Blogs have become a powerful mechanism of search because of link popularity. Are marketers talking advantage of it? That's debatable. But blogs could be a powerful factor in optimizing search.

BtoB: Finally, should marketers in- or outsource their search marketing efforts?

Kocsis: People who do search marketing internally are usually looking for greater control or more cost-efficiency. However, search marketing agencies have the edge in getting better results because we're always out there.

It is easier to find people who have all of the characteristics and traits of a good search marketer within agencies. They understand technology and they understand human behavior. Agencies specialize in this and they work for multiple clients. There are a lot of lessons we learn in agencies because we work across industries and verticals that we can apply to our clients' search strategies. You may be focused on your company's internal strategy and that may be too narrow a focus to gain the perspective you need.

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