Moz CEO: Establishing Attribution Is About Building Businesses’ Trust

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Local business owners want to do everything they can to improve their online visibility, but they often face a daunting challenge of trying to figure out what methods actually work and which local marketing providers are most likely to be effective for them.

That uneasiness with local products and a lack of common standards has created some distrust in the marketplace, according to Moz CEO Sarah Bird, who will be a speaker at Street Fight Summit West next week in San Francisco. As a result, a lot of companies in local are trying to find new ways to establish online-to-offline attribution — so that business owners can know that the money they spend money on marketing actually results in sales.

Street Fight caught up with Bird recently to talk about why attribution has become such a hot issue in local, what the main challenges are in tying online to offline, and whether attribution can unlock some marketers who may be sitting on the sidelines.

Explain a bit about where Moz is these days. Is the focus still on location management, visibility and SEO?
Moz Local is one of our five products and all of those products have an emphasis on visibility, helping companies get found and being very top of the marketing funnel focused. Our main product has always been an SEO product and we think of our Moz local product as a cousin to that product — local SEO and local visibility. We as a company have always cared about companies getting found online and improving their visibility.

What are some of the big initiatives you’re working on this year?
This year we are obsessed with three major themes: accuracy of listing distribution, demonstrating impact and solving more enterprise pain points. There are a lot of competitors in the market now for listing management, but the quality is not the same across the board. This focus on accuracy is about proving we are able to show we are the best in the market for actually getting your rich accuracy info out there.

Demonstrated impact is this idea of how you actually prove the value of what you’re delivering. Another classic Moz trait we consider part of our job to educate our clients well about what makes a really rich listing and to get their accuracy the very best it can be across various aggregators and directories and if we do that well our customers should see results. We are focusing a lot of time this year on actually being able to show how we have improved your web presence through understanding your rankings of you and your competitor, your rankings both for mobile and obviously by geography. We are also showing you traffic, traffic sources, what directories are actually driving traffic and what aren’t. We are also making reviews very visible and hoping then you drive more engagement to your customers and create more great reviews to help improve your visibility which helps you get more reviews that helps improve your visibility. If we do our job well, this year – you can go to your boss or your client and say we spent this money and you can see the impact in our rankings, our traffic and our reviews right here. And we can take that mystery out of it.

The third thing we’re focusing on is solving more enterprise pain points — we care deeply about small business and the enterprise. Moz Local is very affordable for small businesses I love serving them because I believe we provide the best value out there, and also I just really want them to succeed. That said it is also true that the problem of listing management is so much more painful for very large enterprises and they need a lot of help. So there’s more value to unlock there. You’ll continue to see us this year improving our visibility, reporting and tools for enterprises and in particular we have a new feature up our sleeve, coming later this year that’s very focused on the enterprise pain point.

Why is online-to-offline attribution important and how are you guys addressing that?
As an industry we have to acknowledge some of our less glamorous history. There was a time in the mid 2000’s where small businesses were getting harassed on a nearly weekly basis by companies selling guaranteed SEO services for lots of money. Those companies often failed to deliver, creating a real bad taste in the mouths of small business owners.

Those of us in the market today, trying to provide really good value and have true impact, still are operating within the context of some business owners of prior practices and companies that created a lot of distrust in the market. Part of the vision of online to offline attribution is to overcome that snake oil effect and build trust so you can point to data to say, “I am delivering you these customers from this marketing technique.”

Sarah Bird
Moz CEO Sarah Bird

Why has it become such a big issue in local right now?
There’s a bigger industry shift making this current right now, it does seem this vision of a fully quantifiable world is arriving at an increasing rate. We have better hardware and we have more trained minds to apply to big data problems than ever before in history. People can taste it and piece together what this world will look like while, at the same time, we can confront our daily reality that it still hasn’t happened yet.

At Moz we think of listing distribution as a foundational step. It’s not just one particular marketing technique. It’s also foundational for interacting with a bunch of different kinds of marketing techniques. We try to focus on the things we know and control today. If you’re not findable here, you’re not going to be findable anywhere.

Do you think establishing attribution links will be able to activate more local advertisers who are currently sitting on the sidelines because they see online and mobile ads as too “risky?”
The best we’ll ever get is sampling across channels, which is fine because that will still give you enough trended data to increase confidence. Early movers get the most benefit from a new channel. When Facebook advertising first started, the people who first got in got the most benefit. It was a less crowded marketplace so it was cheaper for them to buy and they didn’t have to share eyeballs with other ads as much.

The more people that actually come in, the relative value goes down as it becomes more crowded and more competitive. In some ways, I think the current lack of attribution makes it very clear what the ROI is. It’s really good for those who can move into these new channels and really exploit them for maximum value in the early days, and less sophisticated businesses who miss out on those opportunities. The more you can prove how valuable it is over time, the more competitive it becomes.

What’s the main challenge with establishing attribution?
Shared standards. It’s not entirely clear that the networks have a huge incentive to establish those shared standards. Do they benefit more from uncertainty? It would take a huge effort to establish those shared standards and I’m not sure the motivation is strong enough to do that. Remember, attribution can show you when you are making money — and also show you when you are losing money.

Is attribution easier in some verticals than others (i.e. restaurants versus hair salons), or is it all the same?
My gut tells me (not having thought about it as deeply by vertical) is you run into all the same problems.

Marketing truly is complicated; you have many different channels. Even if you could say someone saw this restaurant on Yelp and then they came into the store – you could draw the wrong conclusion. You wouldn’t necessarily know because you don’t know all the other activities that may have actually driven them to that store. The system is so fragmented that unless you have shared standards, you could make the wrong causal analysis.

That’s what’s so interesting about marketing, there are many different ways consumers touch your brand before they even make a purchase. We make leaps of faith every day.

Liz Taurasi is a Street Fight contributor.

Hear more from Moz’s Sarah Bird next week at Street Fight Summit West on June 7th in San Francisco. Click on the icon below for tickets!