SEO Interview: Bob Tripathi

Bob Tripathi is Discover's in-house Search & Social Marketing Strategist. Bob manages enterprise wide SEO and PPC campaigns. Bob also sets SEO strategy and provides education to build SEO best practices into the workflow of numerous business groups across Discover Financial Services.


WM: Traditionally, search marketing does not come naturally to a financial services organization compared to lets say a technology organization. How do you drive this behavior change and get them to build an in-house search marketing expertise?

BT: Yes search marketing do not come naturally to a financial services company compared to lets say a technology focused company. At the same time "search marketing" does not even come naturally to many technology companies too. In non-technology companies search is actually a hard sell not just in terms of budget allocation but to establish an In-house search marketing practice. I have been very lucky that my management believed in me and my passion for search and most importantly they believe in search marketing. As such when you get your executive buy-in your job is half done. Search is a whole different world for people outside our search industry and when I talk to them everyday I realize that most of the times search marketers end up talking a different language. So for in-house search marketers it is important to start educating your internal stakeholders in a simple language that is very easy to understand. I spend lot of time just educating different groups about search and I am a strong believer that as an in-house person education is the best investment you can make. Every company operating in this 2.0 world should leverage search and it is amazing what search and social marketing in general can do for businesses irrespective of the industry.

WM: In what way is the team structured? Do some focus on search analytics, others on PPC, and others engaging in social media?

BT: Organizations have to structure their teams in a way that is appropriate with their business. Brand centric companies for example do not have to structure their team the same way a B2C company does. I have tried to position the team on a center of excellence model where we are the thought leaders on search marketing and consult different business units on search marketing best practices; educating, ensuring search is engraved in the overall project management process. The advantage to this center of excellence model is that each team continues to meet their individual business unit goals. The other important consideration is very few people are needed to handle enterprise wide projects and does not require you to hire an army of SEO/SEM. I have seen companies hiring an army of SEM's and then becoming an agency in itself.

WM: Is there ever an instance when certain SEO/SEM functions need to be outsourced?

BT: Absolutely! Since I do not have an army of SEO/SEM's at my disposal it is essential that certain functions get outsourced. I follow a hybrid model of search where we manage all SEO in-house and outsource certain bid management functionality to agency for paid search. I had the opportunity to speak at SMX West on In-house issues panel and this is exactly what I spoke on as far as what areas of search to bring in-house. If you are a in-house marketer thinking of transitioning from agency to in-house I would suggest to bring parts of it in-house as opposed to bringing everything in-house at once. SEO can be the first function that you can bring in-house as lot of different factors goes into SEO. Paid Search on the other hand requires keeping up with bids, creative copy, and so in that sense it makes perfect sense to manage it along with a external agency. That being said, different models would work for different companies.

WM: How do you measure success as a company for SEO/SEM efforts within your organization?

BT: You know at the end of the day how much revenues your SEO/SEM programs generate is always going to be the Holy Grail. That being said there are many intangibles like educating your internal stakeholders, getting search marketing a place on the table, getting search inserted into the process and the list goes on. There are also numerous architecture issues that SEO can be of great value like domain migration, internal search, business planning, marketing budget allocation to name a few. In all, SEO efforts should be viewed in totality and not just by rankings. Same is true with Paid Search. Even though you may have outsourced paid search to an external vendor you simply cannot let agency run the program at its will. There are numerous instances where you can save your organization some money simply by helping manage it well.

WM: What unique challenges has Discover Card faced as a larger enterprise that you do not feel you would face if you were in a less competitive industry?

BT: Well, large enterprises always have its own challenges and as a company grows in size the nimbleness of a start-up is lost. A good analogy is that of the elephant that grows into size but loses flexibility.Larger enterprises have processes and multiple stakeholders and as such each stakeholder has to approve any new or change request. I guess that is where the fun also lies and that is to work through the system. It has its own joys. As far as the industry goes when the stakes are higher the competition naturally builds up. With search marketing, size does not matter a lot and as such the playing field is leveled for the big and the small players alike. Sure there are advantages related to a certain brand. After all in PPC it takes only $5 to start competing, right? In the credit card market, there are many affiliates who are fighting for the same spot as the credit card issuers so it has become a great battleground. Do all of them provide value to the visitor? It depends. As far as the industry goes yes financial services is one of the fiercest fought online mainly due to the stakes involved.