How does someone become an SEO expert? How does someone found a successful SEO consultancy firm? For Paul Teitelman, his road to SEO mastery and independence started by admitting he knew nothing about the industry.
Beginning in the late noughties, following his graduation in Marketing Management from Dalhousie University, Teitelman went to an Interactive Advertising Bureau job fair, pitched himself to his soon-to-be boss, and replied, “No! But I’m your man. I’ll learn it all,” when asked if he knew anything about SEO.
Thus began his tenure at Search Engine People, one of Canada’s first Search Engine Marketing companies. Here he entered as a Link Ninja and learned the trade by implementing SEO campaigns for both Fortune 100 and 500 companies as well as for local businesses. From this, he advanced to a managerial position, in which he led teams of SEO specialists who were responsible for ensuring clients would appear at the top of Google search pages. And then, in 2011, Teitelman left Search Engine People to make his own way, becoming the CEO and founder of his self-titled, Toronto-based SEO consultancy firm.
How did the move to independence pan out? Well, as of June 2019 he has hired his 25th employee, his team is kept busy servicing the needs of clients, and he experiments with pioneering SEO strategies and theories within his own blog network. Claiming that his firm offers “the best of both worlds” as a result of him having worked on both ends of the SEO spectrum, Teitelman explains that clients benefit from his offering of the transparency, promptness, and directness that are inherent with small firms; and that he reaps the reward of an agency price tag, a perk that comes with producing consistently successful SEO work.
When asked about how others could follow in his footsteps, he said, regardless of the industry, whether you’re an SEO expert or broker, that “you can’t stay static.” Emphasizing the necessity of having foresight when you leave your old job, Teitelman notes that entrepreneurs need to stay ahead of the curve of trends, be that an update to Google’s search result algorithm or a niche opening in the alternative finance market. As well as this, Teitelman highlighted the importance of being secure in that knowledge that when you leave to make it independently you will have a list of clients to take with you, who’ll keep you from leaving yourself high and dry.
And much like how the merchant cash advance scene in Canada has seen an increase in both interest and product knowledge amongst customers over recent years, as has SEO. Subject to myth-making and conjecture as a result of its technical lingo and specialized nature, SEO has long been the victim of misunderstanding according to Teitelman, who says those who are curious about the service “shouldn’t believe everything they read on the internet.”
Going on to say that “the more education customers get, the more exciting the industry becomes,” it’s clear that Teitelman is looking forward to the future of SEO. Time will tell if his offer back in 2008 will be matched by interested industries, curious about the possibilities that SEO promises and willing to “learn it all.”
Paul Teitelman is also speaking on a sales and marketing strategies panel at deBanked CONNECT Toronto on July 25th alongside Smarter Loans President Vlad Sherbatov and SharpShooter Funding Managing Partner Paul Pitcher.
Whether it’s marketing to ISOs or for direct leads, funders have different marketing techniques that suit their size and business philosophy.
Credibly, a New York-based company of 160 employees, works with LendingTree and uses Google and Facebook for leads. But Director of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships Jeffrey Bumbales said that advertising on large pay-per-click channels may not be the right move every funder.
“If you’re unsure as to whether [Google or Facebook] are worth pursuing, lead generators are a great benchmark. If your average cost per lead is more expensive than the market price, you’re better off allocating your spend towards the lead generators and other channels.”
Credibly has used LinkedIn for marketing, but Bumbales acknowledged that the platform can be very expensive. They have used Sponsored InMail, which sends direct messages to targeted business owners. Bumbales said this can be very effective, but it requires you to have at least one person managing the responses, which can be very time intensive.
Bumbales also emphasized the importance of diversifying lead sources such that you never have more than one-third of your marketing spend devoted to one source.
Heather Francis, CEO of Elevate Funding, never devotes more than one-third of her marketing in any one area. That’s because she doesn’t really do any marketing. Yup. Elevate, a funder of about 20 employees in Gainesville, FL, gets by just fine without marketing.
“It’s all word of mouth and networking,” Francis said.
Francis says she loves it when an ISO will say “I keep seeing your [company] name on merchant bank statements,” meaning that when files get circulated, the ISO keeps seeing that merchants are being debited by Elevate.
Francis has taken the approach of letting others approach her company. Kind of like dating.
“We want to work with people who want to work with us,” Francis said. “And in this business, everything is reputational based.”
If there’s anyone who knows anything about marketing, it’s Jennie Villano, Vice President Of Business Development at Kalamata Capital Group.
Villano uses LinkedIn to market to ISOs, posting friendly videos of herself speaking directly to the ISO community on an almost daily basis.
Last year, Villano started a cooking show video series on her LinkedIn page called “Cooking with Kalamata,” in reference to her company’s name. In each video, she invites a different guest to cook something with her in an informal home kitchen setting.
“Cooking has nothing to do with lending, but it doesn’t matter,” Villano told the audience on a marketing panel at last year’s Broker Fair.
The cooking shows allow potential clients to see her in a casual, non-business environment so that even if she hasn’t met many of her LinkedIn contacts, they feel like she’s a personal friend.
“And people want to do business with their friends,” she said.
Sending out an email campaign? Here are some helpful guidelines we’ve put together from experience:
1. Choose a well-crafted subject line. If your subject line doesn’t speak directly to your audience and entice them, they won’t open your email and nothing else will matter. Assume your recipient gets hundreds or thousands of emails per day so even if they recognize the sender and subscribed to them, they might not feel compelled to open the email unless they’re convinced they should. Assume that they also receive a lot of spam so something like the subject line “Best deal of the year” could be glossed over by the ever-distracted eye that can’t tell if the email is about Black Friday shopping discounts or their funder’s newest commission structure.
Try to be as specific as possible in as few enticing words as possible. “ISOs, best deal of the year” tells the recipient this is a deal for ISOs, not a deal for footwear at Macy’s.
Consider also: You have to do it in a way that won’t trip spam filters. Even if the recipient’s mail server regularly gets email from the sender, a subject line in all capital letters or lots of dollar signs could send that email to the spam folder anyway. Lines like “Make lots of money” or “Get rich” have a lower chance of making it to the destination. Mail servers remember email they don’t like so one poorly worded subject line today could convince mail servers that your future emails, no matter how mundane, should go there too. So be careful.
2. Draft your campaign in HTML. A standalone image might look really cool but that presents two problems.
- If the recipient has images in emails blocked by default they will just receive a blank email. NOT GOOD.
- Spam filters may suspect you are trying to hide your message in a photo rather than in text where the content can be analyzed. As a result, your email and future ones may go right to the spam folder.
Consider also: That HTML comes in many versions that is interpreted in various ways by different mail clients. Stick to HTML 4 (do not use HTML5) and use TABLE tags instead of DIV tags (DIVs are ignored by some email clients).
3. Cap the maximum width to 700 pixels. Remember that your recipient may be reading your email on a mobile device or not have their email client window fully extended on their screen. To prevent loss of readability, think narrow, not wide.
4. Use still images, not animations. Use of images in emails are great, but bear in mind that unfriendly email clients like Microsoft Outlook will not animate an animated .gif file. Instead, it will only display the first frame of the animation as a still image. So if you use animations, make sure the first frame is something you can live with if your recipient is viewing it using Microsoft Outlook.
5. Don’t use huge image files. The perfectly crisp high resolution image might look fantastic but if it’s multiple megabytes, mobile phone users not connected to WIFI may close your email before it even loads. So keep your images to 72 dpi and as little memory as possible.
6. Cross-compatibility. Email looks great on Gmail? That’s a start, but you’re not done. Email clients interpret design cues and HTML differently. Every email campaign needs to be checked in Gmail, Apple Mail, Microsoft Outlook, and mobile devices.
7. Email design programs. Some design programs do a decent job of producing HTML-based email-ready campaigns. Others might seemingly look okay but place thousands of unnecessary lines of junk code in your campaign’s HTML that either cause cross-compatibility problems, or worse, exhaust the email client. Gmail, for example, will just stop reading the code if it’s too long and hide the lower part of your campaign design from your recipient’s view. You definitely don’t want that to happen.
8. Be careful what you say. Spam filters are analyzing more than just subject lines. They want to know what you’re emailing about. Terms like Loan, Cash Advance, Money, Get Paid, might make complete sense in your everyday business marketing but spam filters hate these words even if they trust the sender. So limit your usage of them or come up with other terms.
9. Be work-appropriate. They say sex sells, but not here, do not incorporate sexually suggestive phrases or imagery into your campaign.
10. Be legal. Consider that a government regulator could one day get ahold of your email campaigns. Is your campaign truthful? Is what you’re saying and offering legal? If your email isn’t regulator-ready, it’s time to revisit.
11. Allow time for testing, suggestions, and corrections. Always have your campaign fully completed at least two business days in advance of its scheduled delivery. That will allow enough time for testing and to apply changes as needed.
12. Place BIG and obvious calls to action. Your email was perfect and the recipient is ready to communicate with you, but their ever-distracted eye did not see the tiny little text hidden at the bottom that said “email us.” As a result, they closed the email and forgot all about you. Oops!
Every campaign must have a clear actionable.
- EMAIL US HERE
- CALL NOW
- CLICK TO LEARN MORE
Some people are too shy to pick up the phone and others don’t have the hand energy to type out an email saying they’re interested without any promise of when they’ll hear back, so include as many actionables as possible and make them as VISIBLE as possible.
Consider that: Some users automatically assume the top image of an email will be actionable. Meaning if they click it, they expect something to happen like the loading of a landing page. Scrolling down requires work and effort so place as many actionables as high up as you can.
13. Landing page. If your actionable is going to direct the recipient to a website, try not to make it your home page. The best way to lose the user is to send them to a generic home page with a navigation they are not familiar with. If possible, create a simple page that uses language similar to your email campaign with a SHORT web form or highly visible listing of your phone # or email address.
14. Smarter. Not more. If you’re not satisfied with the results of your campaign, having more subscribers the next time around may not be the answer to your woes. Review the above the steps and make changes where appropriate and try again. 🙂
Jennie Villano, Vice President of Business Development at Kalamata Advisors, opened Broker Fair’s “Marketing Your Business” panel by stressing the importance of being personable on LinkedIn. She said that while LinkedIn is certainly a professional platform, warmth and congeniality go a long way. And so does thinking creatively by presenting yourself outside of your professional box.
For instance, about two months ago, Villano started a cooking show video series on her LinkedIn page called “Cooking with Kalamata,” in reference to her company’s name. In each video, she invites a different guest to cook something with her in an informal home kitchen setting.
Villano acknowledged that cooking has nothing to do with lending. But it doesn’t matter, she said. The cooking shows allow potential clients to see her in a casual, non-business environment so that even if she hasn’t met many of her LinkedIn contacts, they can feel like she’s a personal friend. And people want to do business with their friends, she said.
The “Cooking with Kalamata” video posts, which are two to four minutes long, have received thousands of views and Villano said that she has seen an increase in business in just the few months after she started making these videos.
Tom Gricka, founder and president of Bablyon Solutions, a marketing and technology company that services the alternative lending industry, spoke about the importance of communication among different teams within a company.
If a company has a bad month, Gricka said that often brokers will blame the marketing team for bad leads and the marketing team will blame the brokers for not selling well. Gricka said that usually neither party is correct. Instead, he said that brokers should be communicating with lead generators about what they’re hearing on the phone and what kinds of leads they would like to be getting more or less of. Likewise, marketers/lead generators need to listen to what the salespeople are saying so that they can produce more targeted leads.
Finally, CEO of Reliant Funding Adam Stettner spoke about the importance of testing marketing efforts online. And he said to make sure that you’re only testing one variable at the same time.
Reliant Funding started by using direct mail marketing, but Stettner said that if he had to do it over again, he would have started with online marketing. And he recommended starting out with online marketing particularly for companies or individuals with small budgets because online marketing is less expensive and can be more easily adjusted.
Abe Zeines, of former MCA infamy, is cooking up something new, according to a video that was posted on LinkedIn earlier today. The 2-and-a-half minute clip was produced by Jennie Villano, a top social media marketer who serves as the VP of Business Development at Kalamata Advisors.
Villano was spotlighted for her notable online marketing acumen in a deBanked story last December.
In this for-fun video, Zeines appears to put spaghetti noodles into an empty pot.
Did he win the cooking challenge?
Imagine you own a small donut shop in Arizona and receive an email saying, “Hello, I have heard your chocolate donuts are amazing and the most popular item. I work for XX, and we provide small business loans, do reach out to us if you’re looking to take it a step further.”
Getting yet another envelope in a deluge of mails with a bank-check-like promotional ad for a preposterous amount that startles you for a hot second before it ends up in the paper shredder.
One of these methods is free, personalized and subtle. And no points for guessing which one.
Gone should be the days where funders indiscriminately send out email blasts or cold call merchants offering working capital. But are they?
A year ago, a Wall Street Journal article said,
“A big reason online lenders make heavy use of mail, they said, is that it is still more effective than other types of direct marketing. Across all industries, the overall response rate for direct-mail overtures is 3.7%, compared with 0.1% for both email and social-media marketing campaigns, according to a recent report from the Direct Marketing Association, an industry group.”
Mintel Comperemedia, a database which tracks advertising data highlighted the use of technology as being the paramount shift in marketing for the financial services industry. But is the transition from analog to digital underway?
For some companies, it is. New York-based SOS Capital does not have a sales team and does all of its marketing on social media. The company sends no direct mailers, limits email blasts and instead scouts for small businesses on Facebook, LinkedIn and Yelp.
With more small businesses ramping up their social media presence, discovering leads has not only become easier but also cheaper. “Small business presence on Facebook is growing every day and finding them there can save you a lot of money,” said David Obstfeld, CEO and co-founder of SOS Capital. “Facebook is not explored by most funders but we have had great success.” The company spent $6,500 marketing to SMBs on Facebook and had 120 conversions over a period of two months.
How does that compare with the conventional methods of direct mail campaigns, email blasts and phone calls?
According to Justin Benton, sales director at leads generation firm, Lenders Marketing, it could cost about $100,000 to send out a million emails to active, verified accounts and as much as a dollar for a nice direct mail, including printing and postage.
“Even though it’s cost prohibitive for some folks and some others think that it’s past its prime, direct mail still wins,” said Benton who urges his clients to consider social media marketing which he says can be “virtually free.”
Discovering companies on sites like LinkedIn and Yelp can offer insights into the business and target customers better. “Calling a lead once and saying the words, ‘business loans’ or ‘working capital loans’ does not work, you need to understand the business,” Benton added.
Digital marketing can also help one keep better track of leads and reinvest in the ones that work. “It’s important to have a leads scoring system,” Benton said. The opposite of that, to him, looks like “Making a gumbo from scratch but you have no idea how you did it and cannot recreate it.”
Competition among financial companies will eventually force them to get more creative with their marketing tactics. Like Partners Funding for example, an MCA funder that markets to ISOs, uses incentives as baits. “If the ISOs fund three deals over $50,000, we reward them with extra points or give them marketing dollars,” said Michael Jenssen, ISO sales manager at Partners Funding, which sticks to marketing through email blasts, calls and exhibiting at trade shows.
Ultimately, the road to a lasting relationship with clients is paved with effective marketing. And the line between pushing call to action and being pesky is quite fine. “Funders have been using the same marketing campaigns and it’s making the clients sick,” said Obstfeld. “There are only so many mailers one can receive. They have to be creative about marketing to people without annoying them.”
For Obstfeld, the value in pursuing businesses through channels like Facebook is having more control over deals and interacting with the merchants directly, without any interference from ISOs. “It’s not just about saving money but the control over the deal. When there is no ISO involved, there is no stacking involved.”
The transition to moving all marketing online might be slow but inevitable. Until then, using bank check imagery to promote big pre-approvals will be more than just gags.
Back in April, I presented the idea of trigger leads coming to the alternative lending industry. In subsequent discussions about that blog post, many folks particularly in merchant cash advance questioned whether such a concept could possibly exist or would even be legal.
For those not familiar, this is the methodology behind trigger leads using a hypothetical scenario:
- OnDeck runs the personal credit of a merchant using Experian.
- Experian sells the contact information of that merchant to OnDeck’s competitors immediately after credit is pulled.
- Competitors solicit that merchant and convince them to go with them instead.
Again, the reaction I get to the above scenario by most people is, “yeah, right. I don’t believe that could happen.” But if you look at the raw amount of ISOs complaining their deals got stolen, it’s evident that perhaps there is something else brewing than just the usual assortment of rogue underwriters and shady funders.
Most ISOs are convinced that if their client is working with them and only them, that a shady business dealing has taken place if that client is randomly called out of the blue with the knowledge that they’re pursuing funding. To them, the only conclusion is that their deal got backdoored.
And while backdooring does seem to happen out there from time to time, another culprit may very well be trigger leads. Credit bureaus and big data aggregators are selling credit pull data in real time. UCC-1 leads are leads after the funding has taken place. Trigger leads are leads before the funding has taken place. But do they really exist?
Elsewhere in alternative lending, trigger leads are the backbone for how companies tailor their direct mail campaigns. If a consumer’s credit was pulled today by a mortgage lender, companies like Lending Club and Prosper will make sure that consumer receives a mail ad for a home improvement loan tomorrow.
Today at the Apex Lending Exchange conference in New York City, Ron Suber, the president of Prosper, referred to this trigger methodology as “getting to the right borrowers at the right cost.” In their sector, trigger leads are marketing 101. In merchant cash advance, it’s perceived as a pipe dream. Odds are that whoever is taking advantage of trigger leads in this industry would want to keep all the other players in the dark about it.
As much as you might hate to believe it, all of the backdooring paranoia that’s been rampant lately might actually be caused by the credit bureaus, not the funders. The lesson here is that as soon as your merchant’s credit is pulled, the clock is ticking until your competitors find out even if that merchant talks to nobody else.
I know ISOs want to believe that their merchant is only theirs, but in the age of advanced technology and big data, your merchant belongs to the cloud. As soon as your relationship with the merchant interacts with technology, somebody else will find out about it. And that’s why your deal got stolen.