The Role of World-Building in Digital Marketing, with Ian Lurie

July 3, 2020
PRODUCED BY POLLY YAKOVICH

Ian Lurie is a digital marketer with a twenty-five-year intolerance of trendy concepts and nonsense. Someone told him not to say bull3h!t, so he’s trying really hard not to.

Ian uses both sides of his brain as a content creator, search engine optimization nerd, and data addict. He speaks at conferences worldwide, including MozCon, SearchLove, Retail Global, and Learn Inbound. He writes everywhere. Seriously, do a search.

Ian founded Portent, a digital marketing agency, in 1995, and sold it to Clearlink in 2017. He’s now on his own, consulting for brands he loves and speaking at conferences that provide Diet Coke. He’s also trying to become a professional Dungeons & Dragons player, but it hasn’t panned out.

You can find him pedaling his bike up Seattle's ridiculous hills, or send him a note on Twitter (@ianlurie) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/ianlurie/).

He has a TikTok profile, but his kids are embarrassed by it, so we’ll leave that out.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How Ian started working in SEO in the 90s, and how he’s continuously adapted his skills  and approach to its ever-changing nature
  • Why great, high-quality content trumps quantity every time, and how that content needs to deliver unique value to ensure that you don't lose your place in SEO rankings as algorithms change
  • What key tips and methods Ian recommends for getting external links, the north star of SEO efforts
  • How and why he developed his "world-building" framework, which provides multiple paths for prospective buyers to follow and multiple options for interaction with your brand as they make buying decisions
  • How Ian's hobby and interest in Dungeons & Dragons mirrors his feelings toward creating open choices that lead to the same destination
  • Why identifying emerging marketing trends is especially challenging during the ongoing global pandemic, and how we should adjust how we talk about present issues
  • Why the biggest adjustment marketers need to make is to clarify and strengthen their communication through every available channel

Additional resources:  

 

Show Transcription: 

Intro:

Welcome to A Brave New Podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host, Polly Yakovich.

Polly Yakovich:

Welcome back to A Brave New Podcast. I'm really excited about my guest today who is way smarter than I am. He's pretty amazing. Actually, I have Ian Lurie with me today, and I'm so thrilled that he agreed to come talk with me today and share some amazingly deep knowledge with all of you. I'm going to pass it over to Ian to introduce yourself. Your bio right now says that you've been in digital marketing since 1995, and a nerd since 1968. I would love for you to give us a few of the highlights of both of those categories, and tell us what you're up to.

Ian Lurie:

Sure, but really smarter than, I don't think so.

Polly Yakovich:

Oh my goodness.

Ian Lurie:

Anyway ...

Polly Yakovich:

Maybe if you actually lined our IQ is up side by side, it's like a 30 point difference.

Ian Lurie:

See, I think maybe if you lined our ages up side by side, it's the 30 point difference. I have experience, let's let's say it nicely, but ...

Polly Yakovich:

It always trumps.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. The quick bio. Nerd since 1968, and it's actually an important part of my career path. Both my parents are PhD scientists. When I born in ...

Polly Yakovich:

See, point ended.

Ian Lurie:

Well, so when I was born in 1968, we already had basic ... My parents were already working on basic computers. By the time I was 10, we had a computer in the house. Understand, this is when you're saving "your work" on a tape cassette recorder. Basically, you would listen for the little chirp and then you would hit record and hope you got it right.

Polly Yakovich:

That is amazing.

Ian Lurie:

And save your little basic program. That is how I grew up, and was a history major and went to law school. But in the end, when the internet came around, I was just comfortable enough around computers and loved writing enough that it just made sense for me to go into digital marketing. It was the coolest thing ever. You could help people grow their businesses using computers and getting the message out using the internet. It was made for me. It couldn't have been more perfect. I started Portent in '95, and grew it steadily. Well, obviously you can figure out the big bumps, right? 2000, 2001, 2008, and then ... Well, 2012 was my own personal mistake. We had those big bumps along the way, but that's my bio, I guess in a nutshell.

Polly Yakovich:

That's amazing. You sold Portent recently.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

And have, since, moved on to your own consultancy.

Ian Lurie:

Yes. Yes, I have.

Polly Yakovich:

I want to talk more about that, but you recently sold Portent after how many years? 20 plus?

Ian Lurie:

25 years. Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

Amazing. We talk about this a lot, when you own an agency, you get to do a lot of cool fun work and then you also have to do all the not cool fun work of managing the business. What are you excited to have the freedom to do now that you're not glued to your desk and payroll, and all of those other fun things?

Ian Lurie:

Well, part of it is getting to do the work because I really didn't get to do that for a long time. Part of it though, I'll tell you, is not what I get to do now. It's what I no longer am responsible for. Making payroll, and I love it teaching the team that. I miss that and will always miss that until I'm doing it somewhere else. The responsibility of making sure people got paid and that they had rewarding jobs and that they were developing their careers, and to whatever extent you should, and you just want to make sure that everyone's getting along and that culture is strong. Those are bigger responsibilities. There's some joy in it, but after 25 years of it, you want to change your job. I had the same job for 25 years. I think that's the big change. That's the biggest positive change for me is no longer having that responsibility. Maybe I'll take it on again someday, but right now, not having it is a relief.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. I would say for us, obviously we're newer in this game than you because A Brave New is, what? Six years old, but the weight of that responsibility is heavy, and especially, you mentioned some of the crisis as you weathered. Weathering our first major sort of external crisis, it's a big weight. It is something that's always there.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. It's part of it too, and that was fun too. I wouldn't feel as relieved now if I hadn't left the agency in such good hands, which I did. Someone who literally started at Portent as an intern seven or eight years ago, now runs the agency.

Polly Yakovich:

That's amazing.

Ian Lurie:

And then, does it so much better than I did. It's a little shocking, but those challenges, those crises, it's like training really hard for an endurance sport. It's not actually fun when you're in the middle of it. It's the feeling at the end that's pretty amazing. Navigating those things and weathering them and helping everyone else do it, it's hard, but it's obviously part of what you're letting yourself in for. You've learned this already. If you don't get some kind of sense of reward out of getting through those things and navigating them, you need to think about what you're doing.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. 100%. We were chatting a little bit about this. You talk a lot, well, you speak a lot all over the place, and you a lot about the components of digital marketing. I think that you are most well known for being an SEO person. I don't want to be dismissive, but you really are, in some ways, the father of SEO and SEO strategy, particularly in this area. What would you say you like the best about digital marketing, and what are you the best at? How do the components work together for you? What's most important?

Ian Lurie:

Just as a correction, in case either of them are listening to this, I am definitely not the father of SEO. There's a couple of other people out there who I think, excuse me ... Allergies are terrible.

Polly Yakovich:

They are so bad. We will be sneezing.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. My voice sounds like I've been smoking for 10 years, and I never did.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, same.

Ian Lurie:

I do love SEO. It's a lot of fun. It's kind of a game, and I take it very seriously for my clients, but it's such a joy to flip a couple hours and see things do that much better. But as Google gets more sophisticated, as Bing gets more sophisticated, there's a lot more levers, and you don't just flip one and see dramatic growth unless someone really screwed something up. The thing I've always really enjoyed and continue to talk a lot about is, it's not just about SEO, and you really have to understand that it's not just about SEO. If you build your business around high rankings, at some point, Google take it away, you're going to take the hit. You can rank really well and perform well in SEO forever, but if your business is based on organic rankings, what I find is people get more and more afraid of change and more and more focused on, how do I keep what I have? What are my competitors doing to have high rankings? Every time, that's when you screw up your business.

Ian Lurie:

What I speak about the most, and honestly, it's why I think I get fewer gigs right now is how, yeah, there's this SEO thing, but you better take care of the rest of your house, and that's content, and paid channels, and own channels and other earned channels. Yeah. Those are all things you need to think about. I don't know if I just took us totally a field by answering that the way I did.

Polly Yakovich:

No, it's great. What would you say, if we are going to talk about ... I want to talk about broader things, but if we're going to talk about SEO for a moment, talk us through modern SEO. I think there's your side where people are obsessively slaving over their rankings. Then I think also, for some of us, who more dabble in SEO and it doesn't drive our business strategy, we're not sure what matters so much because we were taught to be so keyword dependent, and then we were told like, oh, semantic search doesn't matter anymore. What are the basics of modern SEO?

Ian Lurie:

It's interesting, and what I ended up actually doing a lot of is the technical side, technical SEO has not only not changed that much, maybe that's the wrong way to put it. SEO really divides up into three things. Visibility, relevance, and authority. Visibility is technical. Relevance is having the right words and the right concepts, and making sure that search engines understand what you're about, but authority is about links. Visibility, that first part, that's technical SEO. It's making sure that Google and Bing can crawl your site and index everything. That does not change. As technology, as web technology gets more and more complex, it's easier and easier to break visibility. Just making sure that your site is basically visible when Google comes and looks at it, that technical side, that's a huge component of SEO now.

Polly Yakovich:

What are some mistakes you see people making there common mistakes there. What are common mistakes?

Ian Lurie:

Well, there's obvious ones, like just breaking things, right? Having your robust TXT set to tell Google don't crawl this site. But the biggest ones I see, and people argue about this incessantly, and I'm just so tired of the argument, is they'll use JavaScript frameworks that populate content and build sites in the browser as opposed to on the server. I'm just going hammer the nail in right here.

Polly Yakovich:

Go for it.

Ian Lurie:

Do not do that. [crosstalk 00:10:22]. There is no upside, there's no reason to do it. The only time you should do it is when you're trying to deliver an application, or an app like experience. Something where, when someone interacts with the page, the page changes very rapidly. If you're sure delivering pages of content, I am sorry. There is no reason to do it. You're making life so much harder on yourself. Every JavaScript library out there provides a way to generate content on the server. You do not have to deliver at client side. Every single client I've worked with since I left Portent has had an issue where they are generating their size client side. As soon as we change that, their traffic goes up.

Polly Yakovich:

Amazing.

Ian Lurie:

If you want empirical data because engineers ... and I was raised by an engineer, so I'm not dinging engineers here, but every engineer I talk to who says, "I need evidence of this," I just point back. As soon as they see it, they're on it, and they fix it, and then they're like," Oh, okay. Yeah." But persuading some teams to change is sometimes a little bit of an effort, particularly because Google's running around saying, "Oh yeah, we can handle that just fine" what Google usually means when they say that is, we can handle it, you're going to rank lower.

Polly Yakovich:

Yes, exactly.

Ian Lurie:

You may not show up in the search rankings, but we can handle it just fine. Anyway, that's the single biggest thing. People have to understand, if you go to a website with JavaScript turned off and you cannot see the content on that site, you are not going to rank as well, period. That is a lot of what I do.

Polly Yakovich:

On the nontechnical side, can you give us a little bit of a primer, like what should we be caring about?

Ian Lurie:

One of the biggest things on the non, and I have nothing controversial to say anymore, So I hope you're good.

Polly Yakovich:

Oh, I do not believe that for one second.

Ian Lurie:

Nontechnical, it's actually relevance, plus authority, and internal linking. The way you structure your site internally is really important. What people need to realize is the bigger a site gets, the more internal links matter. External links are important. Everybody talks about getting links, acquiring links. That's important. But internally linking content appropriately. If you have a page about a certain product and you want to rank for that product, and you have 15 other pages on your site that mentioned the product, or are somehow related in some way, if you link all those back to that central product page, to that one product, it is going to have an easier time ranking higher, because you're telling Google, this page is more important. The bigger your site, the more control you have over your destiny.

Ian Lurie:

The other thing is when it comes to content, are you have to understand Google is very sophisticated about duplication. They're not just looking for absolute duplicates. If you're asking yourself whether something is unique enough, then it's not, because Google is very good at figuring out how similar two pieces of content are. Your content doesn't have to be completely dissimilar to every other piece of content on the internet, it does need to deliver some kind of unique value. If it doesn't, then at some point, one of these Google updates will probably hammer you out of the rankings. I've worked with two clients now where that's been one of their issues. They have these large sites where they've written a lot on topics just to promote products and do things like that. A lot of their competition have written similar things about their products.

Ian Lurie:

What happens is Google is looking at all this content and eventually just says, you know what? All this stuff is kind of the same. We're just going to pick this one over here, because it's got a little more authority, or the site technical framework is better, or whatever, and then you're just gone, and recovering from that's very difficult. Relevance wise, those are the big things. Unique, useful content, which I know is something Google engineers love to just go out and say in a very annoying, generic way, and then internal structure. But when you're talking about unique and useful, you really need to be able to look at a piece of content and say there's nothing out there like this.

Polly Yakovich:

That's tough.

Ian Lurie:

Well, it is tough, and there's a lot of stuff out there. But you can always take something that someone else wrote and just do it a lot better. There's a lot of trash out there, let's be honest. I've written a lot of it, and we've all written a lot of it just to keep up the word count. If you're doing that, that's trouble. You need to be able to look and say, this is the best piece out there on topic.

Polly Yakovich:

Well, I think it sort of echoes most of us who had success in content marketing at first, like the quantity was enough, but it just isn't anymore. In fact, I would rather you do a third of the quantity and have it be really high quality for those reasons.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. One of our first SEO clients ever, what we literally did is crank out a blog post today.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, so hard to do that now.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah, and they were ranking number one for incredibly competitive keywords within a month. You just can't do that anymore. It just doesn't work.

Polly Yakovich:

Right. Most of our clients and a lot of people listen, we really specialize in high value B2B products. We're HubSpot partners, we talk about that. For us, do you think the strategy, obviously we don't product pages, but the strategy of content clusters and pillar pages and being very smart about linking within those, does that work well for that or are there problems with that approach?

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. No. That's the internal architecture. If you're talking about HubSpot in particular, if you have one feature of HubSpot, it's been a year since I used it, but if you're talking about lead processing or the sales side, CRM, and you write the definitive guide to HubSpot CRM, and there's, maybe 15 posts that are part of this definitive guide, and then there's one pillar page or one central page that links out to, and has links back from all of these pieces of content so that people can go to one central place and learn everything they need to know about HubSpot CRM. Then you're creating content. That's truly useful to people. I tell a lot of clients to go to Quora and look at the most asked questions. Go to HubSpot, look at the most asked questions, and then see if people have gotten satisfactory answers, and then make that part of your guide.

Polly Yakovich:

That's great. What about external linking? Clients are always like, "Oh, I need more external links," but it's so hard to do.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. Yes, everyone needs external links. No, you can't go out and acquire them by buying them or sending them emails to 10,000 sites. What you can do is offer some of that uniquely valuable content to "real publishers" and "real sites." You can't submit guest posts to sites that are 90% second rate guest posts. Google has figured that out. If we're smart enough to figure it out, they probably are too. Of course, as soon as I say that, someone's going to point out all the examples where Google was too dumb to figure it out, because part of Google's purpose is to make SEOs look stupid, unconvinced. They have a team somewhere that's like to make SEOs look stupid team, but I'm probably oversharing here.

Polly Yakovich:

Never.

Ian Lurie:

No?

Polly Yakovich:

You're on your own now.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah, exactly. That's right.

Polly Yakovich:

You're a respected wild canon.

Ian Lurie:

That's right. HR cannot call me.

Polly Yakovich:

No disciplinary measures are possible.

Ian Lurie:

That's right. I think you have to get external links the same way that you're creating this amazing content. Now, you can definitely go and tell people. What I'll recommend to clients a lot is, if they have an old ... if someone wrote a best of 2015 guide and they haven't updated it, and this website still links to that, create the new one and then contact that site and say, "Hey, you have this best of 2015, I now have the best of 2020. Feel free to link to it. Here's a summary you can use everything." That's the kind of thing you want to do, is provide that asset, and understand that the first few times you email someone, they're probably not going to answer you, and also understand that the form email is not going to work. You've got to do something really tailored.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. We hear it from clients all the time. It's like, get me external links, but people don't want to pay for it, but it's a one to one time consuming, relationship-based effort.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. It is one of the toughest things. Well, it's just like PR. Good PR is one of the toughest things you're going to do. The other thing I'll tell folks to do is try to capitalize on the news cycle a little bit. The sort of second tier and third tier blogs, and I'm not saying that in a disparaging way. Blogs that are being run by one person or two people and relatively small, some of those are continuously reviewed by folks at major publishers because they don't necessarily have time to go out and find all this stuff. If you look and do your research really carefully, you can write and submit and publish and get links on those, and eventually, that will trickle its way upwards and you'll get some really good links. But no, it's not easy. It's really hard.

Polly Yakovich:

I'd say also, one of the news cycle things, this is sort of a gimme, but it's easy to talk about now, is, if you had a really great post on remote working at the beginning of this pandemic, that you could shop around to outlets or be like, oh, Hey, you can link to my ... those are great things for people to pick up.

Ian Lurie:

Well, and again, look at what everyone else is writing, which is kind of those general things, and then look at one tool or two tools. Like Zoom, two months ago, no one knew how to use Zoom, right?

Polly Yakovich:

Except for us.

Ian Lurie:

Well, that's right because we're using it all the time. Write the consumer guide to Zoom, write how to host a virtual happy hour on Zoom, and then find every other video conferencing tool and do the same. Then look at the security issues at Zoom, and so on. I'm not giving it all away. Someone has to hire us to do this stuff.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, exactly, and we are expensive.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. Same here. No, I'm ruinously expensive. People laugh at me all the time.

Polly Yakovich:

You're like, it's vacation or you, so it has to be one.

Ian Lurie:

That's right. Exactly. Exactly.

Polly Yakovich:

You also do a lot of content production. Talk to me about your process and what you like the best. Do you prefer writing or do you prefer getting in there and diving into technical SEO?

Ian Lurie:

For content creation, most content creation I do, I do two kinds. One is calendar setting, an idea brainstorming, which I do for clients. Then I actually work directly with client content teams sometimes. The other is the stuff I do for myself. My favorite part of creating stuff of working with clients on it is just helping them produce the really good stuff and come up with the ideas, and then watching it perform. I think any consultant will say that, because who wouldn't. I hate seeing content perform when I do it for clients. You're not going to say that.

Polly Yakovich:

No.

Ian Lurie:

For myself, I'll say that coming up with new ideas has been very difficult lately probably because I don't want to just create the same stuff over and over. So I look and I'm like, the importance of response codes. Okay, everybody has written about that. What does marketing really accomplish? Everybody has written about that. A lot of it for me is breaking that log jam. Once I do, it's the writing. I like to do the writing and let the SEO fall where it needs to. I'm not going to do a lot of keyword research or anything like that.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. You used to talk a lot about world-building. Are you still talking about that?

Ian Lurie:

I don't talk about it much, but it's certainly something that I practice and work with clients on.

Polly Yakovich:

Talk about it as a framework. I think it's so exceptional, and I always have loved it so much. Can you give us like a primer?

Ian Lurie:

Yeah, and I should also point out, I would love to talk about it, but most conferences come in and say that they want advanced SEO tactics. The whole premise of world-building is ... marketing was always storytelling. When I first came into the business, before digital was really the thing, it was very much about push and TV and print and direct mail. If you were going to do that, you had to develop a really good story around the brand and push it at the clients, at the customers. You couldn't really give them a chance to shape it because you wouldn't know how they were responding and how they wanted a different ... What was the difference? What was the disconnect between what you're trying to say and what they actually want?

Ian Lurie:

The example I'm loving right now is X-ACTO, the X-ACTO knife. They went out and created this knife for surgeons, military field surgeons, because it's sharp and it works all the time. Then figured out, eventually, that consumers could use this too. They figured it out because someone at X-ACTO, this is the story, was using it to cut an ad for paste up in a print job. They saw it and they were like, "Huh, this works really well for this," and they kind of moved to that. Now world-building would be, you have your product, you put it out there, and then you watch how people talk about it online. So you built the world, you put the product out there, and you provide all the ways for them to connect to you, social media, organic search, your site, whatever.

Ian Lurie:

But then, they're really creating the story within that framework. I don't know if that makes sense or not, but the whole premise of world-building is that customers are not going to do a particular thing when you deliver a marketing message to them. So you have to provide them with multiple pathways back to your product.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. If you're setting the stage and building the world and providing them all these on ramps and off ramps and places to engage, how do you do something like prepare a buyer's journey, how do you realistically do that kind of work?

Ian Lurie:

Well, and this won't be popular, you don't. You do, because you have to create these general buyers' journey. You do that the way you've always done it, but you do that so that you have the discipline to make sure that each point of interest, each social media ad, each organic search ranking, each point of interest is first-class, and then people can move from one point of interest to another, however they want. They don't have to follow that one specific journey. You recognize that they may jump between different journeys, and then you watch carefully and you develop new ones based on how customers are responding.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. It reminds me a lot of, and you need a lot of data to do this, but Netflix talks about, you can only have a buyer's journey of one because each person is so unique. So, they use data to try and help them along, but it's always a choose your own adventure.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. I probably should have gone all the way back to the source of all this, the Genesis, which was ...

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, do it. Reveal your sources.

Ian Lurie:

Okay. Well, so here comes the really nerdy part. I play Dungeons and Dragons, and have for 30 plus years now. In that, the person developing the game and running it, creates this world, and they can put certain hooks in the world for stories. But in the end, when everyone sits down at the table, the players are the ones who decide where they are going to go. It's like an open world video game, which is only a new ... that's a new development in the last few years. You're truly open world where you can go in any direction you want. The real skill and Dungeons and dragons is letting people go in any they want, but still having them end up, at the end, at the desired end place.

Ian Lurie:

That's really what perfect world building is, and marketing as well, which is you construct these points of interest. Again, ads, paid earned and owned channels, all that stuff and content. Then, you let people navigate as they wish and you work really carefully to make sure they always end up at the desired ending, which is a purchase or a leader vote or whatever it might be.

Polly Yakovich:

What's the number one foundational element required for that? A strong brand?

Ian Lurie:

No, really good discipline around those points. Really first class execution. Good audience analysis, really good creative, well put together content so that when someone arrives at each of these points of interest, they're compelled to stay, respond and keep moving. If that means you have half as many, if you have one piece of content instead of four, which is a quarter as many, or you have one ad instead of two, then that's what you do because you want that one thing performing absolutely perfectly. Then you build out from there. This is something again, that people who play Dungeons and Dragons learn is, have that one ... The perfect tavern that everybody meets in, and then let the story proceed from there, build out from there, but make sure that one place, that one point of interest is absolutely flawless.

Polly Yakovich:

That's great. I love that. What is pissing you off right now about marketing? As you're consulting now and you're going into places, what things do you see people doing or what trends are emerging that you're like, this is absolutely worthless or taking us down the wrong path?

Ian Lurie:

Boy, am I going to get in trouble for this. I seriously am. Starting ads off with, in these uncertain times. Here's why, okay, I understand the premise, and I'm actually writing a piece about this right now.

Polly Yakovich:

So good.

Ian Lurie:

Companies want consumers to understand that they know that their audience is freaked out and they live in uncertain times, but everybody knows, at this point, that we live in uncertain times. You don't need to say it. Okay? Make it implicit. Make it implicit in the way you deliver your service. There's a bunch of car dealers around Seattle, and they all start with, in these uncertain times, and then they say, we support you by working on your card this way, setting away these specific practices. You could just start with, we support you by ... right? You demonstrate it. Because everybody, and I talk to people who aren't marketers now, and they're all rolling their eyes, and the message, it's losing its potency because everybody understands it. By the way, are you going to say this for the next two years? Because we're still going to be living in uncertain times.

Ian Lurie:

Anyway, that's what's bugging me the most about marketing right now. I don't know the motivation outside of folks wanting to make sure that they know you're not being insensitive in your marketing.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. It's that classic marketing mistake of trying to be like, "Hey, guys. We all our friends and we know each other, and I understand your x, y, z thing that makes me feel relevant to you so I can now pitch my product."

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. Empathy should be implicit in any good marketing. When you're doing your marketing, of course, you shouldn't come off as a crass salesperson, unless that's a thing, I guess. You want to show sensitivity and you want to be aware of what your audience is going through and what they're afraid of and what they love and what they want. What do they want? They want to live in less uncertain times, and can you help them with that? Right. The answer is, yes. So just tell them how you're going to help them.

Ian Lurie:

It's like starting with, I'll be brief, and then not being brief. Or saying, with all due respect, and not being respectful. Saying, in these uncertain times, it's just a piece of your message that should be implicit in the marketing. Not necessarily in the [crosstalk 00:30:54].

Polly Yakovich:

It's so funny. I have a fast company article up right now, and the title is, we have hit peak pandemic advertising, and now they're all just annoying.

Ian Lurie:

Yes. Yeah. Again, I empathize, I do, with the marketers, and I'm not saying that these brands have bad intent. I'm just saying, if you really want to help people, you need to change the way you're delivering that message. That is not the right way to deliver it.

Polly Yakovich:

And you need to be more thoughtful than just putting the like Pat sentence at the beginning of everything.

Ian Lurie:

Yes.

Polly Yakovich:

Stop and think, stop and live in their shoes for a minute.

Ian Lurie:

We've had so many times when we've done things. Now, I'm going to get in even more trouble, where people are saying, thank you, all you people who are on the front lines of this. Well, saying that is great, but saying, thank you, and we're donating 10% of our sales to making sure that your personal protective equipment, would probably be more impactful. I'm not being political. I seriously am not. I'm just saying, when you say something like, thank you, you need to follow through on that. If you're saying we support you, you need to really support them. It's just the same, when you say in these uncertain times, you need to prove it. You need to prove how you understand it and how you're supporting your customers.

Polly Yakovich:

Right. Your point is an interesting one too, about we're going to be living in uncertain times for the next foreseeable future, and not months, maybe years. I want to talk to you about marketing trends, but it feels like such an impossible subject broach right now, because it's like, who knows if everything that we thought was trending a couple months ago is going to continue, or the climate looks like.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. There are truly awful things happening in the world on a scale beyond what we normally witness, particularly our more comfortable living situations. I think you're going to be getting on half empty planes with half as many flights. I think there will be services that are more difficult to deliver to people, and somehow marketers have to adjust to that, as does anyone who talks about basic day-to-day life. I'm talking very slowly here because I'm trying to pick my words very, very carefully. If you are going to talk about how you're keeping people safe by closing schools, as an example, and I'm getting political here as opposed to, well, it's still a marketing thing, you need to include in that message how you are going to support people who depend on those schools to say, give their kids one meal a day, or give their kids someplace to be while they are working all day.

Ian Lurie:

We all have to adjust the way we speak about things, particularly in public discourse, and we cannot expect that to get better. Honestly, I don't think in my productive lifetime, like for the next 30 years, I suspect that we will be grappling with some component of this. We've just shed 20 million jobs, I think just in the US. I think we have to understand that we're going to be, at least ... this is going to be part of our conversation, part of public discourse for a long, long time. Coming back to marketing and just messaging, you have to adjust, and really stop, and really think, think very careful about how you're formulating messaging. I don't know if that answered the question right.

Polly Yakovich:

We're all working from home, companies that haven't strong digital programs are scrambling, what do you think we focus on for the next six to 12 months? What are things that we can do for our clients as marketers to help guide them, because with all of the other things that you just talked about, people do still need to sell products and stay in business.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. Some of it is going to be pricing. I am billing flexibility, and that's painful. It's painful for everybody, particularly in our business, but, it's that or never get paid, so we're going to have to do that. When it comes to working digitally, I'm always joking that I have a cat jumping on my desk every time I talk. We're all going to have to get more used to that and set the expectation with clients, and set it with them so that they feel better about it happening to them as well. I think that's a big adjustment. I think the places in which we do our work is going to change. I think getting much better at secure transfer of information, whether it's through Zoom or something else, just to understand that the temptation for some folks to try to get at content, as we try to transfer it using, say Zoom, or transfer it via email or something.

Ian Lurie:

The temptation is just going to get higher because maybe we used to all sit down in a room and go over a slide deck. We're not going to be doing that now. We have to get better and better at polishing those communications, which I think is the last thing, is we have to get much better at delivering communications to clients. Knowing that even if we get to present it to them, we're not going to be standing in front of a whiteboard and we have to adjust the way we're doing it.

Polly Yakovich:

What would you say to clients that are coming to you right now about how to audit and clean their houses as far as how they can market? Because, if you're losing all opportunities to be in person at all, is there anything that you need to adjust with your digital program, or are you saying that, like your world-building, those things should already be perfect? If you're going to spend the time to put it out there, you should be doing the best you can possibly can.

Ian Lurie:

Ah, okay.

Polly Yakovich:

You know what I mean?

Ian Lurie:

Yes, I do. Okay. Talking to clients and about how to execute on this stuff. They have to get better at it, and I've been coaching a lot of them through it and showing them tools. They have to understand that more communications happen asynchronously. If you're home, there's no way to avoid the fact that your dog is going to enter into a fight with your cat and you're going to have to go split it up. Whereas, maybe when you're working, when you're working in an office, you let that sort itself out and you put the peroxide on your dog when you get home. I'm only using that example because it just happened. But there are things that come up that you have to handle when you're at home, which means, you and your team, your client, your agency, they may not be jumping on things quite the same way. They might be working at seven o'clock at night where they didn't before, but they might not be working at noon, and you have to adjust the tools and the way you deliver information to conform to that.

Polly Yakovich:

How far does that extend to like customers? Customers aren't coming to your site or interacting with their content and thinking like, Oh, they probably have a hard situation at home where they were having to deal with their kid's homework at noon. Knowing what everyone's facing at home, how do you adjust how you're running your program and what you're putting out there to be customer facing? Or do what we were talking about earlier and sort of like reduce the content that you are producing, but make what you put out there very, very valuable and useful and helpful.

Ian Lurie:

So, two things there. One is, yeah. You have to execute even better than you used to. The other thing is, with customers, you can do more expectation setting. Whereas, me as a consultant, I go to a client and I say, I will deliver this audit by X date. I really have to do it. There's not a lot of flexibility there, no matter what. With your customers, you're not necessarily ... there are some cases where you're saying, the sale will kick off on this date, or we will be having this virtual summit on this date. But there are lots of times when you're not telling them about something until it happens. Like, that new piece of content, it's not going to go live until you're ready. Generally you don't go tell your customers, we're going to put up the ultimate guide to HubSpot next week.

Ian Lurie:

The thing to do there is to understand that what they're going to remember is how amazing that guide was. They're not going to remember whether it went live on Friday or Monday. You really have to think about that and really be careful. You also, on the flip side, have to take advantage when you can do stuff quicker. There are things you can do faster because you're doing them from home. So don't be afraid to jump on things pretty quickly where you can, because again, the customers don't know. You launched a piece of content a week early. You didn't tell them it was going to launch on Monday. So, if you launch it on the previous Wednesday, that's fine.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Switching gears a little bit, I'm so curious, personally, you had such a great content presence and a blog with thousands of posts, and a really successful email newsletter, how do you start all over with your personal thought leadership? Have you thought through what that looks like, or are you sort of just experimenting?

Ian Lurie:

Boy, that's been hard. That is probably the hardest thing.

Polly Yakovich:

It's probably a little bit heartbreaking, isn't it?

Ian Lurie:

You know what, it's a little bit heartbreaking. There's all this stuff out there and it's all on another site, which is awesome. But having to come up with new ideas, completely new ideas from scratch, that's really ... I definitely grieved about that for a while.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Is it daunting or is it a fun challenge to start fresh?

Ian Lurie:

Both.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Ian Lurie:

It's a challenge, and challenge of course means it's daunting. I am experimenting. I'm writing different stuff. I have seen that the very tactical stuff has definitely performed better, the replatforming thing I wrote performed better than any other piece of content I've put up on the site, even though I don't think it's my best work. The super tactical stuff, I'll probably start there. Then the tough part is coming up with tactics, you can talk about that having been talked about a million times.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Ian Lurie:

Again, I'm coming back to that. It's like, oh, this is ... What the heck? I can't write about response codes because this Ian guy wrote about it two years ago. Oh, wait a second. I can't take my own stuff and just recycle it.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. That's hard. I think, well, all content creators should be data-driven, but you're so data-driven, to start fresh must be kind of a challenge. You're used to having all sorts of data at your fingertips for what's performed well over time.

Ian Lurie:

Well, and Portent is very good about ... obviously we're still friends. I still have a lot of information. The hardest thing about the data is that mostly what it tells you is it's all been done.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Ian Lurie:

So how do you find a new angle on it or just completely new stuff? Yeah, it's tactics and tools. I am trying to shape myself into a little bit more of a big picture guy, which means I have to find great ways to talk about that and still make it something you can work with and is generally useful.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. That's great. Are there any tools that you're particularly excited about right now, or that you've come across? I know that SparkToro recently launched, that was something that you were talking about.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. Full disclosure, I'm an investor. Of course, it's the best thing ever, but it does let me ...

Polly Yakovich:

That's a new tool.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah. It does. Let me do some things that I couldn't do with other tools. Because of that, it's been pretty great for me. Other tools are not necessarily new, but they've added some features. Ahrefs, they have some content tools built in now that I really like. I've been using [inaudible 00:43:31], which is a crawling tool that I hadn't used that much in the past. Then just some natural language stuff out there. There are some stuff that ... JR Oakes, he's another SEO that he wrote about ... that helps you look for duplication in content and partial duplication that I'm really kind of leaning on more and more. I'd say those are the big tools.

Polly Yakovich:

That's great. Last question, and I ask everyone this, and it's just a fun researcher question, but what would you say is he your super power? If you could name one thing.

Ian Lurie:

Anxiety. That sounds terrible. I know that sounds terrible, but I game out everything. I assess every scenario, and I'm doing it all the time. If there's one thing that made me at running an agency, if there's one good thing, one thing that makes me very good at doing SEO and stuff, I'm always gaming out the implications of something before I do it. I'm not a neurotic wreck, most of the time, but it drives a lot of what I do. If I can be totally immodest, it makes me good at it. It's what makes me good at it.

Polly Yakovich:

That's amazing. I love it so much. Where can people find you, follow you, you're prolific on Twitter? Give us all of the ...

Ian Lurie:

Twitter it's just Ian Lurie, and that's definitely a good place to connect. Then I have a website at ianlurie.com, where I talk about everything from my work to Dungeons and Dragons. You can start check it out there.

Polly Yakovich:

[inaudible 00:45:15] an email newsletter, can people sign up on your site?

Ian Lurie:

I'm going to restart it. I haven't done it yet, but I'm definitely going to start up a new email newsletter.

Polly Yakovich:

Great. Can people go to your site and give their email right now?

Ian Lurie:

They can actually just email me, if they want to. It's ian@ianlurie.com.

Polly Yakovich:

You should definitely do that. I loved Ian's newsletter previous, and I am very excited about the new one.

Ian Lurie:

Oh, cool. Well, see now I have incentive.

Polly Yakovich:

You see, there you go. Timeline. This clock is ticking.

Ian Lurie:

Yeah, exactly. No one will care if I launch it three days later.

Polly Yakovich:

That's true. Thank you so much for coming on. I've really appreciated our chat.

Ian Lurie:

Oh, thanks, Polly. This is great.

Outro:

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