Sherweb is committed to helping its partners succeed. One way we accomplish this is by sharing our marketing expertise, assisting partners in bolstering their brand awareness and digital reach in order to grow their business. We also try to lead by example, practicing what we preach by focusing on our own digital marketing efforts through SEO optimization, search engine marketing and content creation, among other activities.
Brigitte Roy, director of marketing, strategy and innovation at Sherweb discussed her insights on marketing success and related topics on Microsoft’s Partner Marketing Pros podcast. Keep reading for a transcript of the interview, or listen to the podcast here.
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Hi. I’m Jennifer Tomlinson, Global Channel Marketing Lead at Microsoft. Welcome to the Partner Marketing Pros podcast where we have candid conversations with Microsoft partners all over the world who have achieved strong customer acquisition and retention from their excellence in marketing.
In this podcast series, our partners are going to share marketing experiences, secrets and best practices as well as practical advice and resources that can help you improve your marketing results and drive growth.
I’m excited to introduce you to your host today, Sharka Chobot, Chief Transformation Officer at Neural Impact. She is a professor of marketing and behavioral science at leading universities in Canada, passionate neural marketer and a 30-year technology industry veteran who has worked with many Microsoft partners around the world to help transform their customer acquisition to reflect the needs of the new cloud buyer.
In this episode, we will explore the digital marketing basics required to get found online. Our featured guest partner who will share experiences regarding best practices in search engine optimization and search engine marketing is Sherweb — a multi award-winning CSP supporting over 40,000 businesses with premium cloud services through a network of thousands of partners in over 100 countries. This is a Microsoft Partner who really invests in marketing and in differentiating their offers for their partners.
Calling in from Montreal, Canada is Brigitte Roy, Director of Marketing, Strategy and Innovation at Sherweb.
Brigitte, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Search engine optimization, search engine marketing, these are things that many partners are struggling to figure out and optimize and leverage to try and get found and get more leads and customers. And I know Sherweb has had a real focus on this area. You’ve invested a lot of resources and time into content and you’ve been driving lots of conversion behavior, so I’m really looking forward to our conversation today and hearing your insights and learnings.
Thank you, Sharka. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m really delighted to be here today especially just to help partners gain more insights into digital marketing to help them grow their business.
Now, Brigitte, the new buyer — the cloud 2.0 buyer — really wants to have control of the buying cycle. We’ve seen them do a lot of research online. They’re self-educating. And by the time they reach out to us, they’re pretty much, I think the research says, about 57% of their way through the buying cycle.
The information they want to collect is very specific and they don’t want us to bug them with a phone call or anything like that. So content is really important. We have to change sort of from outbound marketing to focusing it on inbound marketing.
And I know that at Sherweb, this is something that your organization has prioritized and really invested in. Can you tell me what you’ve done from a marketing perspective to increase the number of prospects who find you and how you get found?
Yeah, sure. So as you mentioned, absolutely, the customers are increasingly looking to third parties like consultants, evaluators, experts, colleagues, even other customers and sources to help them guide them into their purchase decisions. And what this does is that it delays the engagement with sales.
So that’s where the content and digital marketing come into play and really help us reach and teach our customers and reset that purchase criteria.
So when we’re looking at the purchase decision-making process, they’re more than 50% through the process itself — and it takes longer to just contact a sales person. So that’s where the content and digital marketing comes into play and really helps us reach and teach our customers and reset that purchase criteria.
So we engage customers wherever we can when it makes sense for them. And most importantly, we need to get their permission rather than interrupt, and I think that’s an important element to look into.
So when we look at the process itself, the search process starts with search engines. So it starts by building an online presence that’s strong with a website that is technically-sound, and more importantly, that is built in a search engine-friendly way.
What does that mean? It means that it’s mobile-responsive, that the way that you’ve built it, the code that you’ve used, it’s complete. So it’s got a heading, footer and it also follows your SEO best practices. And you also have to look at what you do on-page as well as off-page.
And one element, too, to consider is that it uploads really fast. You don’t want to be waiting. People are very impatient. So you need to keep that speed of upload in mind.
So Brigitte, you mentioned “On-Page” and “Off-Page.” For our listeners, can you expand a bit more on that concept?
Yeah, sure. So, just when looking at on-page, what we’ve worked on at Sherweb when looking at those elements was mostly looking at the keywords. So you want to make sure that your keyword research has been done, that you know about the competition of these keywords and which ones you’re best ranking on.
So we have done a lot of optimization on meta titles. We’ve used some search tools such as Search Console, looked at the reporting and how we ranked on with the meta titles and optimize based on the outputs and the findings.
We also focused a lot on click-through rates. We wanted to drive more visits on a monthly basis and we’ve done a lot of optimization on that.
And the structure of the page is also very important because you want to make sure that when the crawlers are crawling your site that they could read it easily.
So given that content strategy is very important, we decided to kind of shift the focus more on creation of blogging through articles and content there and kind of slim down our website content for it to be a lot more easy to navigate — always thinking of that user-experience and the navigation journey in mind.
Right. You know, Brigitte, we’ve conducted a number of website audits for partners around emotional engagement and one of the metrics I’ve been tracking is how many pages visitors will view on average. And the number right now based on all the audits we’ve done is about 2.2 pages.
So the partners are requiring customers to click too many times to get to the core content, I think, that they’re searching for so that just kind of reinforces your message around optimizing the customer-experience in the journey and not making them have to work so hard to go find some of the good content like case studies and value articles and things like that.
Absolutely, the architecture is really important. And to your point, you don’t want to have too many steps.
And you also need to think about mobile responsiveness. I think that’s another point to iterate because search process now is so heavily driven by smart devices that you need to think about how that page comes out from a resolution standpoint on those mobile devices. So information that can be nicely depicted on a desktop format is not at all the same when you’re looking at mobile or smart devices. So that also is something really important to consider.
Now what about measurements and objectives? How do you kind of define that for your strategy?
Organic content and the organic side of our digital marketing strategy is also heavily integrated to our page because we use that basin to remarket.
Well what we look into is we want to be looking, basically, as to the traffic that we are getting for the property. We look at our website as well as our blog because the blog is such a big element of that, the reason being for lead generation. So we have about half of our leads that we are driving through organic content which is pretty big.
Organic content and the organic side of our digital marketing strategy is also heavily integrated to our page because we use that basin to remarket. So if our performance of organic kind of falls, we hinder our ability on the paid side.
So those two are very tightly linked being a big lead generation and also a big component of overall just generating awareness on Sherweb in helping us build brand, trust and credibility with our future partners and our existing partners.
So tell me a bit more about your paid advertising.
Absolutely. So one thing that’s really important to know when you’re talking about paid advertising is the persona. So you want to make sure of who you are targeting, if you want to be maximizing that click-through rate and also, I’d say maximizing your budget because you want to make sure you’ve got the right people that are clicking on your ads than being on search such as Google, Bing or on the social media paid sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook, that you target accurately. So what we’ve done at Sherweb is that we go for our true audience which are MSPs.
And where we are focusing a lot of our budget, actually, is through LinkedIn. We do have a diversified portfolio but we focus a lot on LinkedIn because we know a fair amount about our, I would say, day-to-day activities over MSPs but not as much in terms of their nightly activities or what they do after work which would be more catered to type of information that we would find on Facebook in terms of the targeting abilities. So because we operate in a world of B2B2B, it’s important to keep our partners in mind but also their end customers in mind.
We find that LinkedIn is really a great platform for us to use for our social paid. We do complement that with remarketing on Facebook which we found is a really great way to combine both and take advantage of that to the fullest.
And we also have the opportunity to do these things internally. We focus a lot on in-house abilities. And by doing this media by function in-house, we don’t necessarily, I would say, depend on tools to optimize for us. So it is a little bit more demanding from a time standpoint. We do about, I would say on average, eight hours a week of optimization.
But we really get a good sense of how all of our paid ads are doing real-time. And we work a lot with A/B testing. So fail-fast is something that we work with on a day-to-day basis.
We also try to be very agile in our marketing execution. So if something doesn’t work well, we just stop investing. We shift the budget on something else. And by having our nose in this on a day-to-day basis, we increase the results of our paid advertising strategy.
At the end of the day, what is important is what our persona, what the MSP actually thinks and what is more relevant and appealing to them — so playing with your call to actions, to your point, playing with the headers, with the footers, with the body of a text. You’ve got different ad formats as well today. You’ve got now dynamic content, carousel ads, videos. You’ve got so many different formats at the disposal that it is just healthy practice to test.
So that actually kind of leads into my next question which is around, “How do you see SEO changing in the future?” So I think one of the things that I think about is, “How will video and imagery start to play out?” I think a lot of the search engines whether it’s Bing or Google is starting to use AI and natural search languages, queries and things like that, to try and develop that further.
Well it’s hard to answer this because who only knows what changes Google is planning on making in the near future. But another element that I could think about is also voice search. So we need to consider search habits — how people are looking for information, and the voice activated search is a big component of it.
So this will definitely be something that we at Sherweb will need to be taking into consideration when we are planning the ad formats and how we want to be laying out our search engine ads to capitalize on these new ways of searching for information.
So those are some really great, I think, things to think about in the future. And I know you’ve been investing in your content strategy heavily. You have probably the biggest marketing team, I think, I have seen in the ecosystem around the world. Can you tell us a bit more about resources and people and budgets?
Absolutely. So first, our content marketing strategy as I was telling a little bit before, we have shifted a lot of efforts into building our blog. One of the objectives was to capitalize on this rich content asset for SEO ranking capabilities. One of the objectives that we set ourselves was that when people are looking for content on a specific product, we’re going to be part of the top three. And it’s not an easy task given that we are competing on keywords with huge players such as Google, Amazon or Microsoft in a very fast-paced changing industry.
And one of the elements as well to take into consideration is that blogging is really an effective way to attract your potential customers to the site. Just a couple of stats that I find interesting to share, the average company that blogs will be generating 55% more visits to their website, 97% more backlinks and 434% more indexed pages on search engines — so it is really a neat way of increasing the traffic from search engines.
An easy way also, to just be kind of reutilizing some of this content and adapting it to social posts and then kind of from that, you spin off your social media strategy.
We need to keep in mind as well in terms of the content strategy that you write for humans and not for a Google search engine. They pick up on that. So at the end of the day, it’s all about writing relevant content in a clear crisp fashion that drives the message home and showcases your value proposition and how you differentiate from others. So that’s what we’ve been focusing a lot on.
And over, I would say about a year and a half, we were able to shift from the visits in the… We started from about 20,000 monthly visits to over 100 with a peak of 150,000 monthly visits.
That’s really amazing.
Yeah, it’s pretty interesting when you focus your energies on that. And you could tie it into your PR strategy. We’ve recently seen a couple of our blog articles boom. We just recently re-launched Office 365 by bundling some other components such as Office Protect, QuickHelp and also our online backup product in there for the same price, so it’s just basically offering more value to our partners.
And we wrote some blogs on that and they went viral. It was really interesting to see they got picked up by other sources. And that’s a great way of reaching backlinks.
So you can really have a lot of fun with your content strategy. You just need to always keep that target audience in mind and do an effective keyword research because you want to be playing in the spaces that belong to you…
Right, good point.
…and spaces where you’re going to be able to differentiate. So not focusing on too broad, too general. There’s too much competition there. So just picking what’s right for your business because it’s how you differentiate and then you just write on that.
So that’s really helpful. And I really liked your other comment about writing for humans and thinking about, “What is it that the customer wants to know? What are they learning? What information are they looking for?”
So Brigitte, a lot of partners are just starting out. They might have done a little bit of SEO or search engine optimization. They might not know about SEM or how best to approach that. Do you have any guidance or suggestions on getting quickly started?
Yes. So it really depends on what you’ve got in terms of business objectives, timelines and budgets. So thinking SEO is more of a long-term play because it’s all about content.
Good content takes a little while to produce as well as from a search engine standpoint, content needs to be crawled. It takes about a good three to six months to start getting some decent results whereas pay-per-click is more immediate if you want to start driving immediate traffic to your website. It’s one thing to have an online presence but you definitely want to be found. Pay-per-click is a great way to drive that immediately through some search ads as well as a social media play from a paid advertising standpoint.
I’d say though that, the best is to have a combination of both because SEO takes a little bit longer to kick in and pay-per-click could become pretty expensive. You want to be playing the two in harmony. And that’s where that integration between the organic and the paid really becomes important. And what fuses both worlds is your content marketing strategy. So content is the key. It is the most important piece.
And if I was to also recommend, if you’re starting up and you don’t have a lot of people in the marketing team, it’s just a team of one, outsourcing is probably the best way of going — taking advantage of third party in terms of the experience there, working with a small agency.
As soon as you’ve got the ability to maybe hire, I would suggest hiring in-house the content person — having a writer, someone that will be able to design the content marketing strategy because no one knows the product and the value proposition better than the organization itself.
Okay, great. I think this has been really helpful and I think our partners listening in today will have some things to think about in terms of structuring their content, their resources, where to focus their energies. Any last tips or mistakes to avoid?
I would say my only tip would be focusing on content. As I mentioned, content is key. And SEO could be tricky, so if you are to outsource, do your research first because given that it’s such a long-term play, you could be spending on something that doesn’t work through a third party. So just being cautious of that — doing your kind of your investigation on those third parties, looking for references and maybe people that have used them before, talking to them directly, because you could be taken down a path of no results pretty quickly and it becomes costly.
So that would be my advice — just to be weary of third parties from an SEO standpoint, doing that research upfront first.
We encourage you now to listen to the companion webinar which will go into further detail on all of the things that you heard here. It is located within Smart Partner Marketing at aka.ms/smartmarketing.
This is just one of a nine-part series that is designed to help you accelerate your marketing efforts to engage buyers and propel your business growth.