Alex Cohen
— in some circles, better known as @digitalalex— is an accomplished online marketer, blogger and increasingly familiar face on search conference speaker lists. In an industry often (rightly?) stereotyped by caricatures of farsighted bespeckled computer-geeks, it can be quite a feat to stand out in a crowd of fellow search marketers. But with trademark black-frame specks, towering ten feet over everyone else (hey, to a 5’4 chick, 6’2 seems giant), you can’t help but notice when he’s in the room. That’s how I felt, anyway, when I met him at my very first Search Engine Strategies (more specifically, a swank aimClear & Clix Schmoozefest).

Senior Marketing Manager for ClickEquations, Alex hails from Philly– just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Big Apple. Good thing, too– makes his trip there for #SESNYC relatively painless. He’ll be there next month to discuss, among other things,  “the Dawn of Paid Search Without Keywords” with the audience. I shared a casual Q&A with Alex, with topics ranging from PPC platform evolutions to personal branding. Read on for the full show.

| aimClear: Thanks for your time today, Alex. As a professional player in online marketing realm, you’ve no doubt noticed the changing face of popular PPC platforms and features for advertisers over the past few years. What about the changes have excited you? Anything down-right piss you off?

AC: Overall, I’m excited by the constant change in the industry. In traditional media, there can be a huge barrier for businesses and young professionals to make a mark and move up. That’s not true in interactive marketing. There’s a much more level playing field for anyone willing to learn enough and work hard enough. You’re a good example of this!

I think the most exciting changes, and I mean that not necessarily in a good way, are certainly the new ad formats, in particular, Product Listing Ads. It’s the first time that we’ve seen display ads on the search engine results. Google reported these ad types get twice as many clicks as traditional text ads in those locations. They’re bought without keywords, there is no text ad and some are sold on a CPA basis. It’s an incredible change.

I’m always pleased by changes in the platforms that offer more transparency and control. I believe that we as advertisers need to be aggressive in asking for data and tools that allow us to advertise in the marketplace that both we and Google profit from. In that vein, I think the broad match modifier is a big step forward.

| aimClear: Nice points. #SESNY (yes, I speak in hashtags…) is coming up in just about a month. On Day 2,  you’re set to speak on the PPC Beyond Search: New Ad Formats, Display & Social panel. Any hints on what juicy brain-nuggets you’ll be sharing with the crowd?

AC: I’m going to talk about The Dawn of Paid Search Without Keywords, incidentally, my first column of the year for Search Engine Watch. Over the past year and a half, advertising on Google has evolved with new ad formats, calls-to-action, buying/monetization models, display targeting options and advertising automation. I believe all of these trends are going to come together and change how we buy ads on the SERPs. Instead of just keywords, we will be able to target by intent, audience, business type, product, and behavior.

| aimClear: Very interesting… I’ll be in the audience for that one. Speaking of search conference sessions, I’ve seen your name on conf agendas quite frequently over recent few years. What facet of online marketing is your absolute favorite to discuss with an audience?

AC: I have to give a lot of credit to the search conference organizers who are very fair in giving opportunity to new speakers. I really enjoy talking about optimization, whether that means analytics, paid search or conversion rates. I think it’s because I like fixing problems and giving advice. The marketing community is very generous and we all have too little time and not enough budget. If I can save someone a little bit of either, then that’s exciting!

| aimClear: Do you ever find people at conferences coming up and addressing you as “@DigitalAlex!”? People do that to me sometimes as @beebow. I must say, your handle is considerably more professional than my own…

AC: People have totally walked up to me and said “Oh, you’re DigitalAlex!”. I spent a lot of time thinking about my handle before I launched my blog. I was aiming for something that would easily connect me with non-traditional marketing, but flexible enough if I changed industries. But, I think they also recognize the glasses. Better than a bow tie, I suppose…

| aimClear: Very cool. So clearly you’re not just an online marketer, you’re an avid blogger– in between ClickEquations, SEW, and your personal blog, Blogger to blogger, what do you love about writing in this industry? What about it do you find challenging?

AC: I write so slowly! I just can’t plow through articles the way some people do. I also have a real brevity problem, because I find my writing unsatisfying unless I give people meaningful insight and actionable tips. That leads to a lot of 2,000+ word posts…

What I love about writing is the opportunity to create a unique viewpoint. Instead of talking about news or “how tos”, I try to connect trends and identify what I see as shifts in the industry that are worth debate. People are free to disagree, and they often do, but at least I’m advancing the discussion with some really smart people I might normally never meet.

Here I owe thanks to two people. Avinash Kaushik is an adviser to ClickEquations and he came to our company and said, “If you want to be great at web analytics, you have to start a blog and start an eCommerce website.” I got at least one of those down and it has made a big difference in my career. I am also grateful to Li Evans, who gave me my first blogging spot at SearchMarketingGurus.

| aimClear: Look into your heart, head, or crystal ball and tell us… PPC predictions for 2011?

In SEW article, I made two predictions for 2011:
  • Impression Based Retargeting – Retargeting was a huge step forward for Google in display last year. But they’re leaving the fast majority of the opportunity on the table. If your average click-through rate is 5% (which would be generous for some), then 95% percent of the people who were served your ad aren’t even eligible to be retargeted to. But,what if you could target someone who searches, say, “organic dog food” with a banner ad on the Display Network? It opens ups a world of possibilities and budgets.
  • Automated Inventory Based Product Ads – I always think it’s interesting that Google created an umbrella category for Product Listing Ads and Product Extensions called Product Ads. With retail being a significant vertical in paid search with large, constantly changing inventory, I expect Google will continue their push to use Google Merchant Center. For example, we could easily see automated retargeting or regular banner ads filled with products you viewed or searched for, just like Criteo is doing today with Zappos.
Those are more on the display side. I believe we’ll see a roll out of Google Boost for local search. With the recent change that allows advertisers to put their first description line next to the title in text ads, I also think it’s possible we’ll see a third description line offered.

| aimClear: Right on. Thanks for sharing your two cents with us, Alex! See ya at #SESNY 🙂