Interview with Gabriella Sannino from Level343
There are some people online that excel in character and the work that they deliver, and truly an inspiration and leaders for others. One of them is truly Gabriella from Level343. I had an opportunity to catch up and ask Gabriella a few questions related to SEO, Social Media and internet marketing.
Gabriella, tell us a bit about yourself and you background, also how did you get into the online industry and being a partner at Level343.
My background… that’s a long story (I’ll make it short), but it’s drenched in marketing and hospitality.
I studied in New York for Industrial Psychology. While I was there, I worked as a bartender. It didn’t take me long to realize I was a good sales person; I was social when social still had an eye-to-eye contact format.
The West Coast kept calling out to me, so I gave the classes up for real life experience. I arrived in San Francisco, ready for the dot.com era. Eventually, I started B Studios, which became Level343. I changed partners twice, but have held the torch in order to pass it on to deserving women in the industry. My company has always been, and always will be, women -run and -owned.
One thing I admire about you, is that you’re so active on Socail Media, how do you do it and get the time to keep up with everything, and what’s the reason behind it?
I took this juggling course in high school… Kidding.
I have a strong team behind me, and I make sure to surround myself with people I trust in the industry. Time management helps, and so does outlining your goals, schedules and so on. More often than not, I use tools (such as Hootsuite) that allow me to take care of Facebook and Twitter (I hear they’re adding Google+). The rest is keeping a strong practice of communicating with everyone involved in projects.
As for the reason behind it, it’s simple to me. You have a business, and that’s face-paced enough; when you add the speed-of-light transitions of the Internet, though, you have to be able to move. So… I move.
3. You have a lot of things happening at once, your business, blogging, Socail media, and of course personal and Socail time. What’s your average day like?..ah and any time management tips me & the readers :).
To sum it up in one word, my average day is “busy”. Keep in mind, though, that blogging and social media are a part of the business activities rather than separate things. It’s all a part of running the company. It’s an important distinction to make because your mentality – how you look at things – is the biggest part of running any business, but especially one online. I check in with myself on a regular basis to make sure I’m still looking at the business in the right frame of mind.
As far as time management tips, my biggest tips are 1) use lists and 2) take time to take stock.
I spend an hour a day creating a TDL and prioritizing, which saves me hours of trying to figure out what to do next. I spend another hour or two each morning with social, and then visit periodically throughout the day. I have time set aside every Monday to take stock of where the business is at and discuss with my team what the following week should hold – this usually takes another hour.
So – three hours each morning and four hours every Monday saves me days of struggle.
When you see a website, what do you look out for or what stands out to you the most, that it makes you say, Yes this is a good website, or Dam something’s wrong here?
Interesting question; the answer depends on why I’m looking at the website. If I happen on it because of search, I don’t pay much attention; it has to be pretty bad for me to notice when I’m on the hunt for information.
As a general user, I’d say that content stands out to me the most, in terms of deciding whether it’s a good site or not. For example, if I come across a site that obviously doesn’t care enough to make sure their content doesn’t have strange characters or odd formatting, I’ll look elsewhere.
If, on the other hand, someone asks me a specific question like, “can you tell me why I’m not converting or getting traffic,” I’ll look for certain “red flags” first. Content, calls to action, title tags, and meta descriptions are just a few areas I look at. I surf their site to see how accessible things are and test their user interface. Clarity is key; confusion or overpowering graphics, ads, and so on, are huge red flags.
In your words, how can an online business be unique and stand out, and what should online business aim for?
Before you can have a unique online business, you have to have clarity. You have to have a very clear sense of who you are, what your company stands for, and what your brand message is. Once you have that, it translates into everything you do.
The great content you put out has to meet the specific goals (we hashed and rehashed the topic of goals last year). Those goals have to be in line with the above. Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum; everything you do promotes yourself, your business and your brand. Keeping to this philosophy, in and of itself, will make a company stand out.
What should an online business aim for? Creating a website that is more than a business card. It has to do SOMETHING. Whether you’re gathering names for an email list or selling a widget to promote security doesn’t matter; what matters is how you achieve those goals. To this end, take a little time to browse current website technologies and find out what would work with your company. For example, mobile is big; are you doing anything with it?
What SEO advice would you give to new start-up business?
Start-ups normally have more time than money, so hiring an SEO company is usually something for the future. However, whether you can afford an optimization firm or not, I’d suggest the same thing when first starting out.
Learn the standards first. You’ll quickly come to understand why organic SEO is such a powerful thing. There are a lot of in depth things you can study, such as coding, microformats and analytics, but you have to know the basics (at least) to make informed contractual decisions and get started on your own until you can afford to hire the pros (or become one).
Having said all that, at the end of the day you’ll find that content is extremely important. This industry (i.e. anything online) is driven by words. Communication is the new currency; make sure you’re putting out gold!
Do you think Google+ will be able to win the social landscape in the coming years?
I guess that depends on what you mean by “win”. Look – is every network in competition with every other? Not really; each has their niche. Some just have bigger niches. Take Ning and Netvibes for example. They have a busy user base; you just don’t hear about them much because every time Google, Facebook or Twitter sneezes, someone’s writing about it.
Like most active networks, I’m sure Google+ will have a piece of the pie. They’ve built a nice, clean, easy to use interface. They made it fun to use. –BUT, the people using G+ on the whole seem to be more the pros in the online marketing business. If we were B2C instead of B2B, it probably wouldn’t be a place we’d use to reach out to clients.
In the end, I honestly believe that G+ will find its niche (if it hasn’t already). Some will move from Facebook; others will become “cross platformers”. However, I would wager that most people using Facebook for business will think twice about moving everything over to Google.
What are your views regarding the social and search integration?
On a professional level, that’s a long, involved question. So I’ll answer on a personal one:
If I want to know what someone I know thinks about site A or product B, I’ll call or email them and ask. If I want to know whether a company provides a good experience, I’ll call references or check reviews. However, with rare exceptions, I don’t click on links just because someone in my social circles +1’d them. It’s too easy to game the system with false clicks, and I don’t know most of those in my circles on a personal basis.
Do you think social signals in search will be able to determine trust and authority factors effectively and negate the ill effects of the PageRank Technology to a certain extent?
Have you seen all the patents Google has been hiding? They’ve been working on that aspect for a long time now. Take a look at what Google has been doing lately, such as putting G+ updates in organic search results…
The thing to really remember with questions like these is that Google will always watch out for Google’s best interests. They’re in the business to make money. They make money by advertising space. Advertisers want that space because of the sheer traffic volume on the search engine, Gmail and other Google properties. That traffic volume will drop if Google’s quality drops.
Anything they can do to better the algorithms for more accurate trust and authority factors is something you can bet they’re looking into (and will, in my opinion, eventually succeed). However, it takes a lot of tweaking to get there; in the meantime, anyone who optimizes will be stuck riding the waves of algo changes. Because of this, I highly suggest making sure your site is as tight as possible, content as strong as it can be, and then don’t stress to much the next time Google twitches.
I find many business under a mindset, that they will pay hundreds if not thousands for a website, but when it comes to SEO and marketing that website, they are not willing to pay a dime, as they feel it can be done by them self’s, or an employee or a family member can do this. Have you experienced this, and how have you overcome this objection in educating your clients, the importance of hiring a professional.
We’ve experienced this and still do, although not as much as we used to. One reason, I think, is our level of transparency. You see, anyone really can optimize a website. It’s completely possible, and we don’t hide that fact. On our blog, you can find extensive articles covering the basics and several going in depth into one aspect or another. What is readily apparent, however, is the time involved.
It’s not just finding the time to optimize, though. It’s finding the time to absorb and learn the sheer amount of information needed to do the job right. We’re not talking hours; we’re talking thousands of hours. We’re not the professionals because we’re better, smarter or prettier than anyone else; we’re the professionals because we’ve dedicated our working lives to learning, testing, implementing, and tracking.
Once we came to this realization, our attitude changed, and with it, our client base. Now, we insist clients take the time to fill out a discovery before we work with them. If they aren’t interesting in taking the time to do this first, crucial step, they aren’t truly interested in marketing their business.
You recently wrote an article about a bad experience you had with a local business. From a business point of view it takes years to build a reputation, and minutes to destroy. How can other business build a strong reputation online, of course fixing in-house issues first and ensuring their products and services up to scratch.
How do you build a strong online reputation? All it takes is one, simple thing, which is often overlooked. Customer service. When you show the customer that they’re an important part of your business, they talk about it. When you show them that they’re just a dollar sign, they talk about it. If you wrap your mind around this, and then get a clear picture of what you WANT your customers to say, it gets a lot easier.
What would you like to see generally in 2012 for online business, from an internet marketing point of view.
Three things: Less customization in search, less government control in SOPA or Pippa, more open source
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you since you joined the industry?
Craziest? Humm too many to list. But I guess if I had to pick just one it’s meeting these people at a conference. After chatting and working with them on various projects, finally meeting them always assures me that I’m in the right industry. There’s a lot of passion and creativity that has yet to be untapped.
In couple of words, if you were to meet a new online start-up business, that’s not very tech savvy, or familiar with the internet, what would be one piece of internet marketing advise you would give for them to take away which they can implement straight away with ease.
Fill out a discovery, even if you aren’t going to hire a company. The questions covered in a discovery can really help you clarify your online presence. Glaring gaps in activity show up that you might not have seen otherwise. Even if you know nothing about SEO, this goes a long way to helping you create an active marketing plan moving forward.
Connect With Gabriella
Once again thank you Gabriella, for taking time out for the interview. 🙂