The Expert Interview: Chad Harwood-Jones, Ad Rank
Chad founded Ad Rank as a guest posting service out of his spare room in London in 2011. Soon he was offering a range of services including SEO, content marketing and digital PR, and today Ad Rank has a team of 11 split between offices in London and Norwich. They’ve produced work for the likes of TUI, Expedia, Club Med and New Look to name a few, and even won prestigious UK Search and Drum Search Awards for their 2016 campaign with CruiseDeals.co.uk.
You cover content marketing, SEO, digital PR and native advertising - in a nutshell, what are the key differences between the three?
SEO can be very technical, but it naturally leads into content because content does fuel SEO, more than ever, alongside social, which endorses your content. Content marketing is then how you promote your content - it’s one thing writing content for a search engine, but you need people to engage with it and share it. That’s where digital PR will come into play. For example our award-winning campaign for CruiseDeal.co.uk - we did a story comparing cost of living in London compared to living on a cruise ship, basically showing how it was cheaper to live on a cruise ship. It was a very simple idea but very pertinent, so it was picked up heavily by the media. That naturally links back to SEO - we generated over 150 backlinks from that, which is still a major ranking factor for Google.
With native advertising you have to create content that may not have an SEO purpose, it’s created purely to connect with an audience. We’ve just done a piece on ‘shockingly bling cars’. That works well for native because people see the headline and they want to see what people with more money than sense buy. So the client might sell alloys, for example, and with strong calls to action on that content you can generate some good click throughs. Would a piece like that help organic traffic through SEO? No, because it doesn't have that purpose. Content isn't just about SEO, it has many different roles depending on your objectives.
How can businesses track their marketing ROI better?
First of all you need to work out what success looks like at the beginning and make sure the key stakeholders agree on that. Success can mean lots of different things so it’s very important you establish that at the beginning. In terms of measurement, you need to understand the parameters and the goals across the different platforms, allocate budget for each channel and then tie that back. With advancements in tracking technology everyone is able to see what’s going on. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ tool. We use so many tools but combined together we get a good picture. Marketing metrics such as clicks and shares are all well and good but we are in the business of generating revenue for our clients and have to demonstrate a positive ROI.
When marketing budgets are limited, where should businesses focus their energies?
There are so many social channels now, there’s such a big impetus on content, that it’s really hard to know where to start. You have to choose your battles and identify where you can make progress. There’s no point saying I’ll get an Instagram account and a Pinterest account and this, that and the other, if you just can’t cover all that ground. There’s no point pushing automated buttons for the sake of it. Focus your energy, do one thing well, and get really successful at that. Don’t try and be all things to all people.
For brands on a tight budget they need to consider how they can make more noise, potentially by being more liberal and adventurous. The more you do this, the more return you’re likely to get from a limited budget. We’re always suggesting ideas that will turn people’s heads. In the world of social media that’s what’s going to get the most engagement and a significant return. Just have a look at Blendec’s Will It Blend campaign as a great example of what can be achieved.
What are the biggest mistakes you see people make when it comes to SEO?
I think the biggest mistake is people not understanding that it’s a long game and you have to continually invest in it. You can’t hand over money and say, “I want results now.” Another mistake is not understand the effort that goes into it. It’s not just the technical wizardry, although that’s where your lay the foundations. You have to publish content that people can relate to, that draws on emotion and inspires action.
What three things can business owners do today to improve their SEO?
Firstly, make sure that the technical aspects, the architecture of your website, is all organised and structured - and that goes for mobile too. Second, make sure your content is optimised for both people and search. Then get as many endorsements, links and social shares of your website as possible. That means taking more of a PR-led approach - creating stories that people want to share is ultimately how you will build links and social signals. And to do that, if you're on a limited budget, you have to have quite an open mind about how you gain some cut through. You need to disrupt.