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Interview of Jason Lexell

September 23 , 2005

Jason Lexell was one of my first SEO clients. Later he became a great friend and has helped me many times on many fronts. He specializes a good bit in email marketing and media sales, which are not my strong points.

I asked him if I could interview him. He said sure. And so it goes...

Banner ads…are they dead? Is there a way to make them useful again?

It's funny you say that. I read once in a book about copy writing that many people thought that "print was dead." No it's not dead. I think people like to call things they don't know how to use effectively dead. An example are the google ads.

You might say,,, "but these are text ads in highly relevant positions... they aren't banners!" Well, then make your banners occupy more relevant positions and make them look more like text. I've got banners that consistantly pull 2-3%. Anyone will tell you that's 10 times the average.

Blending banners & AdSense or making ads stick out: what techniques have you found have helped you to get the highest CTR and earnings on your ads?

In sticking with the banner ads, I've found the best approach is to get rid of the flashing, blinking annoying garbage we've come to associate with banner ads... Give them a an offer that is HIGHLY relevant to the sites topic.

For example... if you wanted to sell your ebook on SEO book... You could do some involved blinking banner with many stages of animation (spend a lot in the process) or you could create an ad that said something like "Learn The Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid In Search Marketing..." [click here]

Peope are there to learn... so they would click... you would then deliver on your promise by talking about the mistakes people commonly make... and you'd then sequay into "if you'd like to learn more helpful tips like these... check out my affordaby-priced ebook."

You've made an offer... with a banner... but it the power was in the copy you used... using a banner gif allows you to track views/clicks and manage you inventory.

I remember when i first got in the business. People were buying banner impressions like crazy... essentially what you had were several well-funded companies who just got on the internet. they had kids just out of school doing the media planning in a media they had no experience with... nobody was measuring conversions.... It didn't matter, remember the old mentality? "Who cares about sales and revenues, it's the Internet! Yay!"

They would create goofy ads that got almost no clicks... but they didn't care... then one day the investors got tired of dumping money into these companies.... the bubble burst and the banner ad got a lot of blame.

Clean plain design or graphic intense design. Which works best in ad sales? When is one better than the other?

Simple design works best I've found. The more you can make it look like the rest of the site's copy the better. As soon as you start using lots of graphics etc.. you turn people off because it becomes obvious you are a banner.

Here are the two things people hate the most about banners...

  1. they are annoying (the way most people create them)
  2. they attempte to distract you and take you away from what you are looking for or learning.

part two is really an issue of positioning.

Where are the best places to position an ad?

Great question. I actually like the bottom of a page. I know that on longer pages you might get scewed numbers because it will get loaded, even though some people don't make it to the bottom of the page... but it's at the end of an article or something that i'm most susceptable to being taken somewhere else.

1/3 of the way down your screen in as close to your content is another hot spot. Most people make the mistake of positioning their ads at the very very top of a page. Positioning on the periphery is a dead give-away that you are an advertisement... plus you'll get scrolled off the screen when the user needs to make room for more content.

Earlier you talked abut the biggest mistakes others made with ads. What are the biggest mistakes you have made with them?

I've made many...I think you have to be conscious of tone. For example... if you are promoting a very conservative B2B company through an advertisement, you may want to be careful of writing your banner ad copy using a lot of hype. In the beginning I ignored this.

Also, you want the page you send your visitors to to actually deliver. It's easy to obsess about click through rate... remember it doesn't matter if you can trick someone into visiting your page by misleading them... anyone can learn to do that. You need to deliver so they take the action you desire.

Speaking of being conscience of tone…signing on publishing partners: how do you tell a person they could be making more money from their site without offending them? How do you find the right publishing partners? Do you have to have an IN inside the market? How do you break into a new market?

When you say publishing partners, do you mean locations for your ads?

I mean u sell ad space for Efunda (which was one of the sites profiled in the first Google AdSense webinar). Do u do that for many sites?

A few. We are focusing on growing that part of our business, but in order to get online advertising to work effectively you need to be highly consultative. This approach takes longer because you can't just sign up advertisers, you need to watch over their campaign and offer feedback on their creative when necessary.

I don't have an IN in the publishing market. I think it pays to focus on a market segment. Having a small group of sites in one market segment, can help you to attract other publishers and gives you a more compelling offering to advertisers. If they can trust your brand, they know that if you bring them a smaller website they might not have heard of... that it's got something going for it.

You never make any money on the first ad sale.

In order to really earn strong revenue you must make sure your advertisers are getting good results. chasing new advertisers all the time is no way to live. :)

Keeping the clients on board: …so they set up a campaign and it outright sucks. You do a few tweaks after they say they want to quit, and suddenly you are getting another Christmas card every year. What are the common mistakes people make in converting traffic into leads? How do you make them more open to suggestion?

It's not uncommon for the advertiser to be very skepticle of you when you begin working with them. Ad sales people in general promise the world. I work hard to show them i'm not like most other ad sales people by

  1. helping them with creative for free
  2. offering advice and feedback, for free. Sometimes i even give advertising for free.

See, ad inventory is like fruit. After it expires it's worth nothing. So if you have some unsold inventory, give it away to an advertiser that you think you can develop a relationship with and show them how you perform. They will compare you to the other publishers they are using and you let that do the talking... before you know it, you are in their marketing budget each quarter.

Lots of upfront work...

Picking up large clients: I noticed you worked for some companies like SolidWorks, ThomasNet, & MfgQuote. What are some winning strategies to get the lead? What are the keys to closing?

Step one: look for who is spending money on advertising. Visit sites similar in nature to the ones you are representing. Contact the company and introduce yourself.

You don't say... "hi i'm john doe, (stranger) from XYZ (corp you've never heard of...."

instead say "Hi my name is John and the reason I'm calling you is because i represent a large highly-targeted group of (insert demographic here). Is this a target you'd be interested in reaching?"

You don' need an in... you make that your in. Call back... email... follow up.

I do often offer free advertising when i can.

Nobody opens up my emails. Is email dead or how can I improve the open rates?

Ha. It's still possible to get people to open your emails. It really depends on the environment... is it a newsletter? a business proposition to another company?

Both. :) Can u run through each?

OK. Here's huge mistake i see newsletters make... it's why even though i sign up for them enthusiastically, i hardly ever read them...

Their subject lines are b-o-r-i-n-g...

Bait me! Don't just say "Billy's Business Tips Vol. 1 Issue 16." What the heck does that tell me?

I've got an overflowing inbox and all that tells me is that billy wrote another newsletter. It's probably good... I might eventually read it.... but then... i end up deleting it...

Instead tell me Billy, what are you talking about today and why should i care?

  • 7 Ways to Cut Your Business Costs Now.
  • Billy to Google: "Dance with me?"

You get the idea... I really can't stand those generic subject lines...

If you want to read compelling copy, go to a magazine stand at borders... There you see dozens (possibly hundreds) of mags competing for your attention. Same with newspapers, read the headlines. There must be an immediate benefit to me opening your email or forget it.

Now... I don't do a lot of emailing strangers. Most my business is sending an email to companies that I want to do business with on a one-by-one basis. Often they will not reply to the first email. So you send a second... You apologize for being a pest and let them know you know they're busy but that you really want to talk to them. See... spammers don't do that. They just hit you with the same garbage again and again making it easy to delete and ignore. A follow up message says "yes i'm for real."

Some of your industry specific sites are far more profitable than the rest of them. Why? What is the difference between them?

That is a great question. I know what their ad revenue is from us.. but knowing their profitability is something I can only guess. I would say though... that the real performers are very open to feedback and suggestion... they absorb it like sponges.

The ones that are stuck will respond, "yeah we know our site is confusing, but if the visitors really want the info they'll take the time to find it." No joke.

People tend to have a comfort zone for how much they want to know about something. It's like someone at a gym, some people will want to trim 10 pounds and be happy, others want to look like a body builder.. those that have a bigger vision continue to work out harder and grow... It's the same in business. Often in the case of these small businesses the owners limit the growth to what they are comfortable with in terms of income. When they reach that point, they stop learning. The massive super stars on the web are always learning and push through their limitations

I see many sites staying small because they are comfortable and happy being that way.

Profiting from a site… is it more important to have a ton of content or to be hyper targeted?

It's great to be both! Being hyper-targeted on the web is a huge asset. The jury is still out on whether it's better to have a few highly-targeted sites, or one mother of all sites. I think a few targeted sites is the strategy I tend to favor.

Nothing beats targeting on the web.

Most SEO related leads that I have seen are not sites worth working for. Qualifying leads: how do you ensure the leads you sell are leads worth buying?

People will naturally surf a site first to get what info they can about something. If they still contact you, I've found they are relatively targeted. But I also work in targeted areas... I wouldn't touch mortgage or gambling as areas. Too much competition...

So how do you get an overview of competion? Or is it more of a feeling thing?

I run some searches on the web to see who's bidding on keywords and what results are coming up. If it's dominated by slick looking sites doing a lot of things right... I move on to scout another market segment.

Pay per click advertising: what terms drive leads with value? What terms just drive cash out of the bank account?

It really depends. That's actually a book in itself. I would say... the more specific the term the better. I actually saw a graph at a seminar which correlated the length of the keyword phrase to the conversion success, meaning the more specific the better. Makes sense.

Some of the clicks you buy are in industries where others are paying $10 - $20 a click for similar terms that would not be targeted for your needs. How do grab that sub niche traffic cheaply with all the more expensive PPC traffic around it?

Well, i have some software clients where this is an issue...The idea is to buy on the periphery. I can't go into to much strategy detail here. Let's just say we have to get creative.

How often do you have to revisit your bid strategies on niche sites vs sites in competitive fields?

It really depends on the client or the site. Some clients want to be in the top 3 for certain words. If the activity is heavy... then you have to regularly log in and update your bids to keep them there. Now we're getting into your territory. If you've got a better way you can tell me.

Back to your territory...what is your favorite part about Florida's glorious humidity?

Well... you don't feel guilty about hybernating in doors all summer on the computer. :)

Other than in pools of sweat, do you swim much (in the ocean perhaps)? Have you ever been stung by a jellyfish?

No sir... and yes sir...

I hate jelly fish.

I used to like swimming in the ocean a lot more. As a grown up, I now listen too much to shark attack stories.

Pluggity plug plug plug… you wrote a few guides on landing pages, killer creatives, email subject lines, etc etc etc… What all topics did you cover & where can I find them?

Landing pages is almost finished. I'll have it posted at my site soon to be launched www.jasonlexell.com. You can find the others there too.

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Thanks for the interview Jason.

If you would like to learn more about Jason visit Jason Lexell.com.

- by Aaron Wall, owner of Search Marketing Info

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