To be or not to be… known

As I look to grow out this new business, I thought it would be interesting to build out a list of people who are influential in the MarTech space (Thank you Little Bird for the help!).

So I created a MarTech twitter list to help me follow these thought leaders and the very first tweet that caught my attention was this tweet from Mark Schaefer:

And while Mark doesn’t lead with the punchline in his article, I’ll give it away here: the only thing that matters in online influence is being known

And he gives more than a few ideas on how you can help yourself become “known”:

  • Write a book
  • Establish a speaking career
  • Become a consultant
  • Be named to a prestigious board
  • Stay relevant in your field for many years
  • Build a helpful personal network
  • Be recognized by your industry peers
  • Obtain a teaching position at a university some day
  • Be seen as a leader in my industry
  • Put yourself in a position for a promotion outside your current company

However, I’d argue that many of the strategies that Mark mentions are really the “result” of being known, not necessarily a strategy to become known.

Let me explain.

During my time at Dun & Bradstreet, I had a unique opportunity to jump-start a project that was designed to help the in-house industry experts get more recognition as thought leaders in their space.

Our team took on a number of initiatives including suggesting social updates, building out podcasts, ghost writing monthly content, getting content placed/featured and a ton more. (The LinkedIn team did a pretty good job describing some of the methods and results in this case study they prepared on our program).

The result of these efforts were that many of the execs, who were often extremely knowledgeably in their field, were able to get recognized (or “known”) for their industry expertise.

The result of the hard work of engaging with thought leaders in a meaningful way online was that many of them were able to:

  • Get additional speaking gigs…
  • Join prestigious boards
  • Write books
  • Stay relevant
  • etc.

For example, one of my favorite executives who was part of this program, Anthony Scriffignano, just won an award this week as the Chief Data Officer of the year at the CDO Summit.

In addition to being an all around awesome guy, I think it’s safe to say that the hard work that Anthony and his team have put in to helping him “be known” is one of the reasons that he’s often recognized in such awesome ways.

The point that is worth highlighting is that Mark Schaefer does a great job talking about the benefits of being known, but I’d guess the strategies he used to become known are so intuitive to him that he didn’t see the need to articulate them.

A Proven Strategy to “Become Known”

When you’re ready to be known, here’s how I break down the four key steps:

1) Identify the key thought leaders who are active in your space

  • These could be speakers, academics, authors, journalists, vendors, partners, executives, event organizers, etc.
  • The key is that they’re active online and willing to engage with you
  • The list can be small. Especially in the B2B space, it’s often enough to have 15 to 20 people who can seriously move the needle in raising your awareness if they were to start actively engaging and promoting your content

2) Create regular social content that interacts with these thought leaders

  • One post a day where you tag the thought leader is often enough

3) Have some piece of keystone content that you regularly publish

  • Could be a podcast, a quarterly report a book… or even a regular event. Most important is that you have something valuable that you’re adding to the conversation on a regular basis
  • Getting your content placed on third party publications can be huge here. Do you have a connection to a trade magazine that will feature your content? I have some decent connections to some LinkedIn Editors who would regularly “feature” content from D&B execs often adding thousands of additional engagements

4) Create a digital home that summarizes all the work that you do well

  • It’s totally okay if this is just a landing page…
  • What’s most important is that this page as an easy and obvious call-to-action (CTA) that helps you build up your database. Without a CTA, you end up starting from scratch each time you create a new piece of content and that’s just painful!

In other words, if you want the results that Mark mentions in his article about online influence, the best place to start with baby steps that have you effective engage with the other thought leaders in the space and then start adding value. Once you have an audience and have developed a  message that resonates with people, then you’ll be ready to start reaping the benefits of being a recognized thought leader in your industry.

And obviously, if you have any questions, thoughts, critiques, I love this stuff and more than welcome the dialog!

Are you building an acquisition website while running a referral business?

Let’s start with the punchline:

Way too many marketers who work for wonderful referral-based businesses in the offline world, fail when they try to drive new customer businesses online.

What do I mean by this?

When you talk with the owners/founders/executives at many great companies, they will eagerly tell you that their best business comes from the networks that they’ve built up over the years. I’d argue that these include the majority of B2B businesses, including most financial institutions, legal firms, real estate brokerages, etc.

These people at these companies know that they live by referral business.

But for whatever reason, when they start doing online marketing, the let their marketers go into data-driven analytical mode with a laser-like focus on attracting their next client (“acquisition marketing”) instead of using their website/content/social to appeal to the people who are already inclined to work with them (“referral marketing”).

Luxury Real Estate Example

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a presentation in Miami to some of the top luxury real estate brokers in the world on how they should be using social media. The 50+ brokers who attended are regularly helping billionaires and other extremely high-worth clients buy properties in excess of $10M in places like Malibu, Beverly Hills, the Hamptons, Manhattan, Monaco and Miami.

In putting together the presentation, I took the chance to review every one of their websites and social presence and the thing that stuck out for me was how so many of the sites were focused on driving inbound leads through SEO.

Almost all of the brokers who had websites included:

  • CTAs (Call-to-actions) all over the site
  • Landing pages for every neighborhood in their service area
  • Big beautiful homes featured along site home search functionality

All best practices for real estate agents in today’s hyper competitive world, right?


Except I asked how many of the luxury brokers in the audience were happy with the leads that came through their website and almost nobody raised their hand.

Of course, almost none of the luxury brokers were happy with the results from their websites.

And why should the be. People who register for a  home search in Malibu or Miami are already always lookie loos. They’re just noise. They’re a nuisance for these brokers who want to deal exclusively with high net worth individuals.

High net worth individuals are rarely, if ever, googling “miami real estate broker” to find their agent. Instead, they’re asking friends, lawyers, business partners, etc. who they would recommend.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

Those same high wealth individuals are using google. Once they have a recommendation, I’d argue that the vast majority will Google the broker’s name to see if that person really is credible.

In other words, the luxury broker’s website has an AWESOME opportunity to convert the exact kind of clients they want. Done right, their website should ooze credibility.

Essentially, their website should scream:

“I am the dominant luxury broker in this market. If you’re a high-worth clients looking to buy a luxury home, you’ll be safe working with me. Even better, I have access to exclusive information, reports, pocket listings, etc. and a top-notch team that mean you simply won’t be able to get our level of service from anyone else in the market.”

Instead, the vast majority of the luxury agent websites were:

  • Featured the same content (property listings and lots of landing pages for every neighborhood in the area) that any agent with access to the MLS could replicate
  • Often only gave lip-service to the broker since, presumably, they’ve been told that people are only interested in home search and they need to get them there quickly.

What if instead of trying to attract leads, the agents homepage was designed to give confirmation to the high net worth client that they were working with the right person?

That’s the assumption I made when putting together this presentation for that Miami event:

In summary, the great luxury real estate agents drive their business from referrals and they know it…. and yet, when they market online, they inevitably become convinced they need to adopt new customer acquisition strategies that often don’t even have a place in their business model.

Crazy… and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Air Cover for Sales

However, far from being exclusive to luxury real estate, I’ve seen this assumption from startup founders and enterprise executives who will readily admit that the majority of their business comes from referral sources, but put all their online marketing efforts into driving inbound leads.

The example I used in the presentation to illustrate this was from the financial services space by comparing the websites of Goldman Sachs and e-trade.

  • E-trade is loaded with CTAs and clearly looking for every lead they can get
  • Goldman Sachs has no lead capture form (at least none I could find)

Goldman Sachs uses their website to build credibility with people who are already inclined to work with them.

In other words, the Goldman Sachs website is being used to provide air cover for sales and this is a super important role. The people doing marketing at Goldman Sachs know someone who is thinking of doing business with them is going to look at their website… The people are going to be comparing working with them vs working with another large financial institution. They want that business, so they have ever incentive to show that they are the dominant  player in the space and the best choice for exclusive clients.

I love the example Goldman Sachs because it’s so obvious that they don’t even want online leads.

Are you aware of other companies that use their website to build credibility with potential referral partners instead of trying to drive leads? 

Optimize for inbound links or on-site SEO?

I’ve started many new domains over the years (,,, and come to mind, although I’m sure there are probably another dozen that didn’t last long to even come to mind). However, it’s been a few years and the last one I remember creating, which was… and that was only creating a subdomain on a high ranking site, so it’s definitely not a typical new site.

I say all this because I was a bit surprised when I noticed that this site started ranking in Google only days after adding the first two pages:

It seems obvious that the Google Sandbox is long gone!

And yet, I’m stuck in my ways and thought I’d start this new blog with a post on some SEO best practices that haven’t changed at all over the years.

And maybe my favorite example of this is from a blog post I write in Dec 2005

I remember at the time of writing this post, I would have these long conversations with people about the importance of driving inbound links and people would look at me like I had two heads. The people creating business websites back then, especially real estate websites, were so focused on creating “wonderful” user experiences, they that forgot to create content people would share (probably one of the reason the post hit a nerve and generated 137 comments!).

You’d think that over a decade later, everyone would agree that a blog should be used to drive inbound links… and yet… I’m pained to say that we went the other way. Way too many blog posts became “optimized” for google bots with unreadable and generic content that nobody would ever share.


I think most people did this with the  best of intentions. Creating content people want to share is hard while optimizing a blog post for keywords is easy.

However, the result is that I feel like I could write the same Linkation, Linkation, Linkation post in 2018 that I wrote in 2005.

So, what generated this little rant about the importance of driving inbound links? Earlier today, I tweeted that I was pleasantly surprised how quickly google let this site out of their sandbox, and a most wonderful Realtor named Laura Fangman asks a simple question: “Any tips?”

And so I shared with her my thoughts on the importance of creating structured content.

In a nutshell, at D&B, we knew we wanted to rank for business credit related terms, so we created a Business Credit Guide and then loaded it up with tons of content in a very structured way so that google would easily be able to understand how to prioritize the content.

Things near the base of the directory, like , were super relevant, while things that were much deeper, like our Veteran Supplier Diversity page: , were long-tail terms. The beauty is that the site structure was able to quickly teach google the most important content on the site.

Thanks to the fact that we were consolidating hundreds of pages and multiple sites, we were quickly able to build out a very robust guide and google has rewarded the site with highly targeted and free traffic for years.

However, the logical structure and comprehensive content were only one part of why the site ranked so well. We also made sure to have tons of content on the subdomain that was optimized for inbound links, including blog posts, podcast episodes, expert profiles, webinars, etc.

If I had to summarize some of the things I’ve learned over the years, it would be that a well-functioning business website should have:

  • A community section that’s optimized for driving inbound links. It could be a blog section, a message board, a podcast, etc. What’s most important is that that section is designed to drive inbound links from other blogs and social sites.
  • A section (I’ll call the “guide”) that’s optimized for driving onsite SEO value so that Google will send it’s most wonderful free traffic

As a bonus, when the guide is set up right, just about EVERY post that goes up in the community section should have a reason to link into the guide (internal linking at it’s best!)

(In addition to a community section and a guide, there’s a key third element that’s should be part of every business website… I’ll call the credibility-building section, but leave that for a different blog post!)

In this way, the community section is optimizing for SEO when it’s optimized to drive inbound links. I would happily argue that anything that distracts from driving inbound links is hurting SEO for this section.

  • Is there a pop-up on your blog posts that’s stops people from wanting to share your posts? Get rid of it!
  • Is the title so optimized for SEO that it looks spammy? Use a “real” title instead.
  • Is it loaded with CTAs so that nobody would ever tweet your blog post? Get rid of them!

Seriously, think of your blog as something optimized to get people to share the link. Anything that causes someone to hesitate to share the link should be removed.

In terms of the guide, this authoritative section of your site is where you should make sure to optimize your site for onsite SEO. This is where you really do want to make sure that the Google bots can easily understand the structure of your site. The content on every page here is important as it has potential to pay the bills for years to come.

Especially as this is the first blog post on a brand new blog, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Do you agree it makes the most sense to have a section of your site purely designed to drive inbound links? 
  • Do you have an interesting example of anyone else who’s created this kind of deep and structured content? (would love some more examples to point to!)