Interview with Mike Moran Web Marketing Expert

Written by Nick Stamoulis

I recently sat down and had the pleasure of speaking with and interviewing the web marketing expert Mike Moran. Mike Moran is the author of the best selling web marketing book, “Do It Wrong Quickly” and the best seller, “Search Engine Marketing, Inc.”. Interview with Mike MoranMike Moran also led the search engine marketing efforts at IBM for 8 years and is an avid speaker at many SEO, SEM and web marketing industry conferences. Mike Moran also is the owner and publisher of the Biznology® newsletter and blog and currently serves as the Chief Strategist for the New York City based social media consultancy, Converseon.

Thanks again to Mike Moran for answering all of my questions! Enjoy the interview with Mike Moran! 🙂

When you were working with IBM on the first linguistic search engine, did you ever imagine that search engines would be like what they are today?

Answer from Mike Moran:
Yes, but I also imagined flying taxicabs. (We drank a lot back then.) But all seriousness aside, we were excited that we had a search engine that could find any word in an entire book—even the really long books! And it knew “mice” and “mouse” meant the same thing—and it could do it in 33 national languages. Why, did something happen with search engines after that?

As an engineer by trade, how much of SEO do you think is technical versus marketing oriented?

Answer from Mike Moran:
I was a Distinguished Engineer at IBM (my wife says now that I am an Extinguished Engineer), so I do appreciate the value of technology. But search marketing has always been way more about marketing than search, and it has become even more lopsided the last few years. If your search marketing doesn’t sell anything, it doesn’t matter. Technology is always valuable only in the service of business and search marketing is no exception.

Which search engine update do you think has changed SEO and search marketing the most?

Answer from Mike Moran:
I’m tempted to say that Google’s Panda update that brought human ratings and machine learning into the ranking algorithm, but that’s just because I love talking about text analytics. The truth is that the real game-changer was Google’s very first release in 1998, when they used link analysis to truly show the quality content—that made search marketing a hit with searchers. Number two was Google’s first introduction of paid search, when they introduced clickthrough rate into the ranking algorithm and invented the business of search.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced when managing IBM’s search marketing program?

Answer from Mike Moran:
The biggest challenge was convincing people there should be a search marketing program. It sounds silly today, but no one thought that there was any reason to do it—“You mean to tell me that our customers don’t know to type ‘’?” The second-biggest challenge was getting thousands of people across the whole company to do each small thing required to succeed in SEO. The techniques that I perfected there are still the organizational change tools that I use with clients today.

What’s your advice for a traditional marketer that is trying to get comfortable with your “Do It Wrong Quickly” motto?

Answer from Mike Moran:
You’re working on the wrong thing. We all get paid a lot of money to be uncomfortable. Stop looking for comfort and start making some money. I am not trying to get you to do things wrong—if you are anything like me, you can do that quite well without any instruction. What I am telling you is that most of what we do actually is wrong. It isn’t the best. It could be improved. So instead of trying to do it once and prove to everyone that it was good, instead you need to surrender to the idea that it can be improved and that you are going to quickly improve it, over and over again to make it better. If it sounds difficult, then you are getting the idea. But you know what it is easier than? Failing.

What are some of the best ways businesses can really listen to their customers online? How do they find the real insights in all the noise?

Answer from Mike Moran:
I think the two best ways are with search keyword research and social media listening. Keywords are a greatly overlooked listening mechanism—watching how the usage and the volume of different keywords fluctuate is a terrific form of market research. But my favorite is social media listening. I know that it seems like a cacophony of social conversation out there, but with the right text analytics and machine learning technology, computers can provide nearly the accuracy of human beings nowadays. The right technology used well can deliver insights you can’t get any other way—and much cheaper than traditional focus groups and surveys of old-time market research.

How much has search marketing changed since you first published “Search Engine Marketing, Inc.”? Did you expect the industry to evolve like it has?

Answer from Mike Moran:
Well, it’s now something that every company knows it must do, where Bill Hunt and I were evangelists back then. But a lot less has changed then you might think. Even then, we advised people to learn what their customers were looking for and to create high-quality content to provide it. So, no matter what else has changed, that’s still true. If you chase the ranking algorithm around the bend with every change, then search has changed a lot, but my clients are mostly large companies that can’t move fast enough for that to be a viable option. I think it’s hard for almost anyone, so I advise against it.

How can text analytics technology help shape a search marketing campaign?

Answer from Mike Moran:
That’s what my next book is about, but my co-author and I are not ready to start talking about that yet. I just don’t think you can keep a secret.

Why do you think people are so quick to blame the search engines for a bad website search experience when, as you point out, the technology is actually pretty good.

Answer from Mike Moran:
Do people do that? Oh wait, they do it all the time. I think it’s just human nature. Succeeding in site search is hard and some people will always look for excuses to avoid hard work. They would love to convince you that their search engine is a random web page generator, but usually technology is fine. I work with clients to improve site search all the time, and usually the answer is not a new search engine, but better content and configuration. If you are serious about site search, there are always ways to improve the experience.

What are some of the most common SEO/search marketing challenges that you’ve seen when working with larger websites?

Answer from Mike Moran:
The biggest challenge is not what to do—it’s how to get it done. Honestly, any search expert worth his salt can tell you what needs to be done to fix even a large company’s search problems. (I’m not sure what it means to be worth salt, but just stick with me here.) It’s easy to say that the titles need to be improved or that you need to optimize the call to action in your snippet. What’s harder is getting people in 92 countries across 50 product lines to do it every day. When you can tell me that the process is working for the web team in Botswana, then you know how to work with a large website. Most of what I do for large clients is more industrial engineering and process and governance improvement rather than any technical advice for search.

How can social media help connect B2B marketing and sales teams?

Answer from Mike Moran:
They can friend each other on Facebook. Oh you knew that already? I think social media is just the latest technique that smart digital marketers use to juice sales. Digital marketing is direct marketing, which does not separate marketing and sales, and social media is a great example. People think about social media as being at the top of the funnel, gaining awareness for a brand and funneling leads (we hope) to the sales force. But what’s overlooked is that the sales force must use social media to close the deal. Gone are the days when salespeople call on the phone and call on clients and sign deals. Now, your sales force has to be all over Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other means necessary to hold the attention of clients all the way to a sale. Marketing and sales must not only know how to use social media, but they need to work together to make sure what they do is complementary.

Of your six US patents, which one are you the most proud of?

Answer from Mike Moran:
I invented the flush toilet but IBM never sold that many. (I think they had bugs in the operating system.) Not sure if anyone uses flush toilets today, but I always thought they were a good idea. Some naysayers thought they were full of crap, though.

Do you think it’s more important to invest money or time if you want a successful search marketing campaign?

Answer from Mike Moran:
To me, they end up being the same thing. If you have no money, you invest time and if you have no time, you invest money, so I would just use whatever I’ve got. Now, if you don’t have any time or money, you need to become a consultant.

When it comes to measuring the performance of a website, which metrics do you think harm more than help? What metrics should marketers worry less about?

Answer from Mike Moran:
To me, the least important metric is search ranking. Too many people have been happy when they see they have a #3 result, for example, without thinking about what the keyword is, whether they are getting any traffic, and–most importantly—getting conversions. Now that search results are personalized, I see marketers fooled that their pages are ranking well when they are only ranking well for them personally. It’s not that rankings are unimportant, but sometimes they do more harm than good.

What kind of impact do you think search marketing has on brand awareness?

Answer from Mike Moran:
Brand awareness has always had a mystical allure for marketers, but I think it’s because traditionally marketing has been hard to measure in terms of sales, so we settled for measuring awareness. To me, it makes more sense to take a direct marketing approach to measure sales. If they buy from you, I kind of suspect that they must be aware of you.

What seems to be the biggest stumbling block for most sites, big or small, when it comes to SEO success?

Answer from Mike Moran:
I think the biggest stumbling block is attitude. So many people treat the search engines’ terms of service like they are a legal contract that you need to find the loophole in. Instead of creating great content that people want to spend time with, they want to know how to reverse engineer the algorithm to see how to fool Google to rank their content on top. If people spent as much time helping searchers find the right content that they spend trying to trick the search engines, they’d be much better off. If what you are doing helps all three parties in the search transaction—the searcher, the search engine, and you, the search marketer—then you can count on it being the right thing to do. On the other hand, Google has spent tons of money hiring engineers to stop tricky practices that benefit only the marketers themselves, so you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that fight.


This non-paid interview is designed to give the Brick Marketing audience insights and different perspectives of SEO, link building, social media and web marketing. Past expert interviews include: Ann Handley, Eric Ward, Mike Moran, Andy Beal, and Jordan Kasteler to name a few.

If you would like to be interviewed by the Brick Marketing team please contact Brick Marketing here:

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