TopRank Online Marketing
Lee Odden

Max Kalehoff on Social Media Advertising, Blogging & the Future of Paid Search

By Lee Odden     Blogging, Interviews, Online Marketing, Search Marketing, Spotlight on Search

One of the most insightful voices in the online marketing industry when it comes to advertising is Max Kalehoff of Clickable. I was introduced to Max at a Search Insider Summit conference several years ago with very high regard by David Berkowitz, another intelligent voice in the industry, so I knew immediately he was someone to pay attention to.

Max’s company recently announced the addition of Facebook Advertising to their PPC management platform and he was very kind to take the time to answer several detailed questions about social media advertising on the Clickable platform, the future of the online advertising industry, slimy SEO middlemen, how he stays current and blogging about his Weber grill. :)

1. You have impressive credentials in the interactive marketing industry with your experience working at Jupiter, comScore and Nielsen. How did you come to work with Clickable?

It’s mostly luck. I’ve been fortunate to work with a series of successful startup teams and entrepreneurs that played a key role in shaping the Internet. I came to Clickable from Nielsen, which bought our last startup, BuzzMetrics, the pioneer in social media measurement and research. I admire Nielsen and have many close friends there, but I wanted to build things and innovate again in a startup environment. Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures, a Clickable investor, introduced me to David Kidder and Munish Gandhi, Clickable’s co-founders. I shared their vision for helping businesses succeed by simplifying online advertising. We quickly became friends and colleagues and the rest is history.

What’s behind your passion for building early stage companies?

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been passionate about building things, solving creative problems and exploring new territory. I’ve always tried to live out those passions through education, work, hobbies and family life. With work, entrepreneurial ventures are the best outlets for those passions.

When I was in college, I started two summer businesses. The first was sailboat charter business, and the second was a Web development consultancy. Post college, I spent a few years in the marketing agency business but soon threw myself into technology and Web startup life. There’s nothing more invigorating than working closely with a group of like-minded, passionate people trying to change the world. Big companies have their purpose, but nimble upstarts attract smart people who crave abstract problems, peer-to-peer learning, mastery, self-imposed discipline and persistence. Upstarts also require a lot of risk-taking, serendipity and authentic discovery.

To me, that’s the only way to live. And given the mess our world is in, we need more of these minds and ventures to invent our way to a better future.

For the uninitiated, what is Clickable and what types of companies should be using it?

Clickable is a software-as-a-service platform that makes online advertising simple, instant and profitable. Our tools empower beginners to professionals, and companies of all sizes, to maximize their advertising investment. We have three core products: Our flagship Pro tool is a simple dashboard that empowers marketers to manage online advertising with transformational return on investment. Clickable Pro activates instantly with an intuitive experience that makes it easy to manage performance across all major advertising networks, like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and, now, Facebook.

Clickable Pro is complemented by Clickable Assist, a managed service that delivers agile assistance to maximize online advertising success. Finally, Clickable Platform is a white-label solution for big services companies to rapidly deploy large-scale online advertising programs to their local business customers under their own brands.

We have a simple purpose that ties everything together: to help businesses survive and thrive by simplifying online advertising success. We pursue that purpose by living up to three core values that comprise our DNA:

  • 7:1 – The 7:1 ratio of good to bad acknowledges we’re not perfect. This is a powerful admission that enables us to listen better and constantly improve. This underlies transparency, trust and collaboration with each other and our customers.
  • Simplicity – Our complex world is desperate for simplicity. Simplicity is difficult, yet it creates value, differentiation and opportunity. That’s why we make everything simple and beautiful.
  • And – We are multidimensional. We innovate constantly to perfect our product-to-market fit … And we are a competitive sales culture that closes business. We celebrate both.

Recently the Clickable ad management platform announced the incorporation of Facebook ads.  Being able to track Facebook and search marketing PPC programs side by side seems a significant opportunity for all.  What should advertisers, especially small and medium sized businesses that you serve, expect from social media advertising? What kind of advice do you give to temper expectations? Or do you even need to?

We first removed the complexity that prevented marketers from expanding into search networks besides Google AdWords, by introducing a simple interface that marketers could use to manage all of their search marketing campaigns. It’s become clear that the next place where marketers want a simple, effective solution is on the world’s largest social network: Facebook.

With over 400 million members, Facebook introduces a new way to advertise that complements search marketing. Using extensive demographic targeting criteria, advertisers on Facebook can get out ahead of their customers and create demand that they can later capture with their search campaigns. Marketers can also use Facebook to promote their brands and drive direct sales. Indeed, this is new territory for everyone. We look forward to experimenting with our advertisers to surface best practices and customer profiles that achieve success.

In the course of doing business with many SMBs in conjunction with TopRankSMB, a surprising number of marketers mention having “tried PPC and it didn’t work”.  In most cases it’s due to a lack of knowledge, tools and time to gain the knowledge to run a successful search marketing ad campaign. What advice do you find yourself or your company giving SMBs most often in regard to online advertising? What tips can you give to those just starting out?

Indeed, we found that up to 50% of SMBs that try online advertising don’t succeed, primarily because of complexity. Similarly, a recent study we conducted on SMBs indicated that roughly half don’t properly track conversions. Knowing conversions is the first step in how an advertiser defines success, whether it’s generating a lead, having someone fill in a form or making a sale. Tracking conversions is important in directing your ad investment to the keywords that will drive the greatest return on investment. There’s a lot of talk about efficiency of click-throughs and cost-per-click, but in the end what really matters is the return on your ad spend, and the profitability of your business.

Our most common advice? First, make sure you are tracking your results, and don’t do anything until your analytics are effectively in place. Second, embrace “goal-based advertising” — that is, make investments only toward very specific and realistic business goals. That requires determining the monetary value of your goals, and figuring out which of your services and products have enough potential to justify spend. Finally, invest the time to get educated in PPC and do it right, or hire sometime to do it for you. Otherwise, you will quickly become another statistic in the “tried PPC and it didn’t work” category. That’s a disadvantageous outcome for most businesses.

You really hit a nerve with, Brands: Beware Of Slimy SEO Middlemen Meddling Through Social Media.  The behavior of the SEO account exec you interacted with is strikingly similar to how many media relations people and start-up business owners behave when they pitch us to write about them on Online Marketing Blog. It’s often a bucket of fake suck-uppiness wrapped around a pitch for a single, short term outcome. It’s sad because something far more significant could be achieved if they looked past the one “placement”. Client demands drive a lot of this behavior and agencies of all types (SEO and PR) often comply. What’s your advice on creating a more meaningful connection with bloggers?

My advice for creating a more meaningful connection with bloggers is the same as my advice for success in life: Give more value than you take. If you provide unselfish value, then people will  become attracted to you and they will advocate you. Advocacy may result in links, testimonials, business referrals, constructive feedback, partnership, loyalty and friendship. But calculating relationships purely based on SEO objectives can quickly become a risk to your brand. It’s that simple.

I like that you can switch from “My New Weber Grill” to “Social and Search Advertising“.  As an accomplished and long time blogger, what advice do you have for other interactive and marketing types for blogging over the long haul? How has your own blog affected your career and work?  How satisfied are you with your corporate blogging efforts?

It’s important to acknowledge that despite all the experts and gurus, the Social Media and Interactive bible is far from completion. We’re only in the beginning of the first chapter, and we’re all students. With that in mind, I think more successful blogging and social media efforts have a defined purpose, goals and room for lots of experimentation.

My personal blog is very much me, reflecting the perpetual blur between my professional and home life. They are impossible to separate, and the tension between the two is what makes life interesting. My blog has created an online presence that’s delivered myriad opportunities. It’s led to new business, new friendships, introspection and (in some cases) breaktrhough ideas. I also believe a personal blog is the best laboratory to become fluent and personally vested in interactive technologies. The learning I gained from my personal blogging endeavors directly contributed to some of our more successful interactive marketing strategies at Clickable.

I know we’re already into Q2 but what predictions can you offer on the future of paid search for the rest of 2010?  What are your thoughts on: Microsoft and Yahoo, Mobile PPC, sponsored social content or what’s next for Google and it’s array of advertising opportunities?

Our Q1 2010 analysis of search spending among advertisers on the Clickable Platform reveals that budgets are significantly higher in Q1 versus year-ago, suggesting an economic and advertising rebound. We have seen 75% of our advertisers increase their budgets versus year-ago, while 25% maintained flat or slightly decreased budgets. Based on Q1, we forecast that 2010 full-year search budgets will increase anywhere between 10% and 30% versus 2009. Meanwhile, search budgets are diversifying in terms of network distribution. Microsoft/Bing seems to be gaining ground on Yahoo and Google. Last year, only 5% of customers were using Microsoft/Bing, while currently this percentage is at 9%.

We believe one of the big stories in 2010 will be gains in social-network advertising, particularly Facebook. Inefficiencies and behavioral friction have prevented serious experimental dollars to shift, especially among PPC marketers.  Social advertising will grow dramatically in 2010 as the major social networks surface in third-party management tools, as well as improve their own self-serve dashboards. A lot of advertisers are highly interested in seizing new opportunities to connect with customers. Mobile advertising is picking up speed, but won’t be terribly relevant for most advertisers in 2010.

You blog and write for MediaPost which I recommend people read. How do you stay current yourself? Do you have a short list of industry conferences, blogs, newsletters, Twitter handles or books that you’d recommend?

I read a mix of news aggregators and thinkers in strategy, venture capital, tech and media, including: TechMeme, John HagelFred Wilson, Umaire Haque, Jeff JarvisAll Things Digital, TechCrunchBusinessInsider, NYTimes Bits and (of course) TopRank’s Online Marketing Blog. While I write a weekly opinion column for MediaPost, I believe it’s one of the most thorough and ubiquitous sources of hard news in the interactive advertising industry.

I’m also blessed with a quirky list of friends whom I pay close attention to on Twitter, and they reward me with serendipity, personal tips and reading recommendations. I’ve not read any good business books in years, so I’ve abandoned them for fiction, history and poetry. The market is saturated with conferences and good ones are becoming rare; the best ones tend to be grass roots, niche and local, like many Meetups. We co-founded the New York SEMPO Search Meetup, which now has a passionate following of more than 1,000 members. We also founded and run Interesting Cafe, a discussion series that features some of the greatest living innovators in tech, media, culture and science. Small, passionate gatherings like these have the most profound and positive impact.

Thanks Max!

Max Kalehoff is vice president of marketing for Clickable, a platform that makes online advertising simple, instant and profitable. He also authors AttentionMax.


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