Search Marketing Standard: The Future of Print & SEO – Interview

Search Marketing Standard issue with Avinash Kaushik - a young man of Indian descent - on the cover.

The Search Marketing Standard is not only the oldest search marketing print publication I know of. It’s also the most focused and probably most popular one.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed reading numerous issues of the magazine.

One day I had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with Frances Mary Krug, associate editor of Search Marketing Standard magazine about

  • the past, present and future of SMS
  • print publications
  • SEO and search marketing.

I have added emphasis on some passages in the replies I personally think are important.

Tad of SEO 2.0: Hello Frances, it’s almost two years since Search Marketing Standard (SMS from now on) has been acquired in summer 2008.

You are still here so it seems to have worked out. Tell us a bit more about how your magazine has developed since then.

Frances Mary Krug: It’s certainly been an interesting last two years. Moving from a small office in New York to being part of a much larger business was a big step.

We had some turnover in staff, including our editor-in-chief, who completed his college degree and left to pursue other goals.

But we’ve managed to make the transition successfully, even in the midst of a huge, continuing economic crisis.

SEO 2.0: It seems everybody out there is bemoaning year after year the agony of print journalism.

SMS started out as a print magazine in the middle of the ongoing print crisis and it seems to fare quite well, what’s your secret? Are the subscriber numbers stable, rising or rather stagnating?

Frances: It’s kind of funny, actually. Right after the acquisition, we decided to transition from an advertising-based model to a paid subscription base, which certainly turned out to be the right move given the general collapse of print advertising through 2009.

It has enabled us to get by even though advertisers choose to increasingly put their ad dollars into online.

As far as our subscriber numbers, we are moving away from the “free subscription” model to the “paid model”, which entails some flux in the subscriber count.

Our paid subscriptions are growing steadily, which is an encouraging sign when you see print magazines failing daily.

Giving away magazines is a lot easier that charging for them, but paid subscribers provide a better picture of what’s really important to readers, since they are willing to pay for the content.

That’s helped SMS focus on what’s really important to readers in the industry.

SEO 2.0: I’ve noticed a significant change in the last issue of SMS. For the first time I remember you have a “cover girl” or rather boy.

It’s analytics guru Avinash Kaushik. How come? Do you plan to focus more on people than tools and techniques?

Frances: The change in design for the cover page isn’t meant to indicate a shift in focus of the magazine content.

Though we do want to recognize key industry contributors by providing attribution on the cover of our magazine.

We’ve even had non-subscribers who are fans of Avinash purchase individual copies of the Summer issue of the magazine to add to their collection of Avinash material.

SEO 2.0: You told me beforehand that there are some changes to come up in the near future at SMS. What are they?

Have you already introduced them in the current issue? My impression is that you don’t focus on one topic anymore as much as you did in the past.

Frances: One of the biggest changes will be the debut of a digital edition of the magazine with our upcoming Fall issue.

Even though our primary purpose and selling point is the fact that we are a print magazine.

There is no doubt that digitization of the magazine format is inevitable.

We still believe, however, that a print version will remain as a preferred format for a significant group of people, and we intend to continue offering a print edition.

A digital edition will also help mitigate the increasing problems we’ve seen with mail delivery to some international destinations, which are a large part of our subscription base.

We can’t speed up delivery of the mail, but we can offer an alternate way to access the magazine if an issue goes astray or is continually chewed up by the machinery.

Another big change is a redesign of our website.

The main goal of the redesign is to organize and present our content in a more logical fashion that better reflects the topics and subject areas that our readers are interested in.

For example, if you are interested in seeing all the posts written by a specific author, you will quickly and easily be able to get to a listing.

The past few issues have had a more generalized approach in content.

What we want to avoid is having readers glance at the cover of their issue, see that everything seems to be focused on one general topic (be it

  • International Search
  • Mobile Search
  • Social Media

etc.) and feel that there is nothing in the issue to interest them if they have no wish to read about that topic.

In reality, even in issues where we have focused on one topic, we still have articles and columns about other topics, and we don’t want to give the impression that it is otherwise.

Since we are only a quarterly publication, a subscriber certainly wants to feel that in each and every issue there will be something of interest to them.

SEO 2.0: You have covered the search marketing landscape for a few years now. What are the most significant changes lately?

Frances: Wow, that’s a very tough question because there is so much that could fit into that category.

I think, however, that the changes to the Google SERPs are both a symptom of the ongoing change in the industry, as well as a factor in that change.

The days of being on the first page of Google results and ranking first for a keyword on Google are gone.

Universal search and so many different kinds of results (not just web pages) competing for the attention of searchers has led to an overcrowded, visually unappealing results page.

Real-time results, while providing relevancy, have the power to change the entire approach toward SEO. Another enormous factor, I think, is the local/mobile search powerhouse.

Technology has finally hit the nail on the head and although there will be winners and losers among app builders and developers, the real winners will be searchers.

The battlefield is going to be bloody, however, and even Google is realizing that if they provide a less-than-perfect solution for too long, a competitor may find something to exploit.

SEO 2.0: Do we still have standalone SEO these days or is it always part of the bigger picture as in “search marketing”?

Frances: I think it has to be part of a larger picture. It’s no longer enough to make sure the mechanics of a site are working and the necessary tags have been optimized.

Ranking on the first page of Google is no longer the gold standard in the same way as it used to be.

It used to be that we didn’t really consider it “search marketing” unless you were actively advertising online via AdWords or more traditional display advertising.

Now, however, in order to compete, you need to be involved in social media marketing, email marketing, etc.

We’re not just in the business of optimizing websites so that search engines can read them and judge relevancy to specific search queries – although that is certainly still a vital part of the business.

Now, we need to ensure that all parts of the equation are covered and tracked.

What will be interesting is to see how some SEOs adapt (or fail to adapt) to some of the skills needed to succeed in areas like social media.

SEO 2.0: How do you combine online and print efforts? Your business model is still selling the magazine isn’t it?

Does the website actually sell subscriptions? Or do you get new subscribers via the print issue itself?

Frances: Juggling online and print efforts is a huge challenge, especially with the general downturn in the economy through 2009 and the resultant advertising crisis.

Because of the subject matter of our magazine – the search marketing industry – we feel that our website cannot just be a place for people to manage their subscriptions.

We need to have a site that offers more than that – that’s why we have a number of contributors who write

  • informative blog posts
  • a twice-monthly newsletter
  • an extensive online events calendar

we have put together webinars, white papers, etc.

New subscribers come from all different sources.

We exhibit at some conferences and distribute free sample copies at others, which helps get the word out.

Others see the magazine on a coffee table at their web designer’s office or read commentary about an article in a current issue on a blog.

SEO 2.0: When will I be able to buy SMS at my newsstand along Newsweek and Wired here in Germany?

Frances: Tad, I’m sorry, but there are no plans to take SMS to the newsstands in Germany or any other country for that matter.

I think that would be a tough business model to sell in the current challenging market for print.

SEO 2.0: How would you define SEO 2.0? Does it mean something to you more than this blog’s name?

Frances: Well, it certainly IS a clever name for a blog, but SEO 2.0 is much more than that. It’s really the next logical step in the development of the industry.

SEO is no longer just a set of “rules” that you can follow and put in place and expect to see concrete results from.

SEO 2.0 is about optimizing Web 2.0 content, and as such, includes an emphasis on creativity and social behavior

and how to use the new tools available (such as Twitter) to optimize and boost visibility within search engines and other online destinations.

SEO 2.0: Thank you very much Frances for taking the time to inform the SEO 2.0

Frances: Tad, thanks for inviting me to speak and letting me share some of my thoughts about why the online marketing world needs a print publication!

SEO 2.0: As you see there is still a way to earn money with print publications in a quite small niche like ours. I’m very impressed.

Take note for full disclosure: I was both a contributor (once) and an affiliate of Search Marketing Standard some time ago.

What are your thoughts on the future of our industry and print media?