ADOTAS – Perched on every table, the orbs glow the same neon green as the light that pouring down the walls of the conference room, making me ponder if I’m having that “trapped in the Matrix” dream again. They’re not creepy in the least bit — my inner shoplifting teenager tempts me to swipe one, but I defer as I’m in plain sight of Conductor CEO Seth Besmertnik.
“The orbs are pretty cool,” he comments. Connected via wireless to Conductor’s Searchlight SEO management system, they change color depending on the brand’s SEO performance. Though Searchlight has only been in trials with 30 Fortune 500 customers for nine months, Besmertnik has heard many stories of CMOs striking up conversations about SEO with natural search teams after noticing the globe.
However, the color changes once a week, not constantly, he points out. If they changed with every little SEO blip I can imagine them becoming Poe/Kafka-esque machinations of madness — Besmertnik looks a little shocked when I suggest that. I give him my best “I’m just a snarky Internet writer, don’t listen to me” smile, but he still seems a bit tense.
I was wondering if I missed a memo about “SEO Week” — a day after I’d chatted with the folks at BrightEdge about their SEO Platform software, I found myself at Conductor’s of its Searchlight SEO SaaS. In addition to classy hors d’oeuvres and booze, the event also included a surprisingly witty set of informational sketches — my favorite touch was a burned-out SEO manager reading “The Anarchist’s Cookbook” while on vacation.
The paid search market is maxed out, Besmertnik says, so CMOs are quite interested in SEO. Several representatives from prominent companies are mingling by the bar as we speak.
“We didn’t beg these people to come,” he notes. “People are hungry for SEO… Three out of four of these people are working on a big brand…. When you do a search on Google and you don’t find your company as number one in the space, that’s a problem. It’s a problem for the user and the company that’s not there.”
Yet, while the majority of conversions come from natural search, the majority of the spend goes toward paid search. But paid search is highly measurable and ROI is easy to track, while SEO is “a bit of a black box.”
Certainly it’s a different beast than paid search — it’s not something a single employee can do in a basement with a credit card, Besmertnik says. A culture needs to be developed.
“SEO is not about gaming Google,” he points out. “You have all these assets: your videos, your pages, etc. How do you optimize those assets and feed the search engines the way that they want to see them? If you don’t tell a search engine that an image is about a certain person, it doesn’t know.”
The ability to do that consistently at scale is highly complex — Besmertnik notes that some companies in attendance have teams of 10 SEO people. Some companies will hire multiple people to simply use Searchlight all day long, something that amazes him this early in the product’s maturity
Founded in 2005, Conductor’s aim has been to build the equivalent of Salesforce.com for SEO and enable companies to scale and manage natural search like any other channel.
“In every major channel in online marketing — email, display, etc. — there’s material technology there to help you,” Besmertnik laments. “But when people come to natural search, there’s no real technology.”
While such technology wasn’t really feasible in 2005, the proliferation of cloud computing provided the necessary tech leap by bypassing the need for a $100 million data center. In addition, numerous Google engineers have split the search giant and brought their expertise to search startups like Conductor.
After two years of development, Searchlight has emerged with an an easy-to-use dashboard offering views into a brand’s SEO status as well as its competitors, a “SIPE” score that measures SEO success over time and gives real-time updates as well as a recommendation engine.
The most important feature, Besmertnik says, is the granularity in terms of reporting. Searchlight allows CMOs to see global performance from a high level — the amount being spent vs. revenue coming from SEO — while offering different details for various members of the SEO team.
“It’s like one big onion,” he says. “You can see it on the outside then keep peeling it back and peeling it back and all the information has continuity.”
In addition, the software offers predictive indicators and hot keywords, as well as alerts sent via RSS or email concerning de-optimized pages, keyword or rank dips in search results and competitor actions. Instead of CMOs and execs panicking when they notice rankings have dropped, the SEO team can send data upstream to paint a clearer picture of the situation.
On top of that, you get a neon green orb that lets you know how your SEO is doing. Plus it can be used as a nightlight. Cool? Oh yes — I want one. Whose SEO team can I join?