Customer Paradigm CEO Jeff Finkelstein interviewed with Grant Hall of PrivicayCrisis.com to talk about everything from the value of data, to where you draw the line between privacy and good marketing, to the current state of affairs of SEO and affiliate marketing.
Grant Hall: Hello. Thank you for communicating with me by e-mail. I am interested in learning more about your company. Please tell me about your business and your role in it.
Jeff Finkelstein: Thanks, Grant! I founded Customer Paradigm in 2002, and since then, we’ve completed more than 11,300 projects in the website development, marketing, and privacy space. I have a particular focus on Web privacy, and worked at a $47 million venture funded company focused on privacy, prior to forming Customer Paradigm. We focus quite a bit on eCommerce, and keeping information secure and private.
Grant Hall: We sell privacy books and services at PrivacyCrisis.com and I requested this interview because our website visitors, customers, and clients often inquire about privacy issues related to their businesses as well as marketing services available, particularly related to internet sales, marketing, and search engine optimization services. Would you comment on your company’s services available to businesses and website companies? How can individuals and businesses preserve privacy in the face of hackers and identity thieves?
Jeff Finkelstein: Sure. Data is valuable. It’s valuable for a company – it allows an organization to reach back out and hopefully get a past customer to buy from them again. With a lot of data, you can create a more personalized approach, and really make marketing to the end user even more compelling.
I’ve created marketing campaigns for organizations that connect a real person to other real people, and is compelling and engaging. And when that real person who received a personalized email message shows up at an event or conference, they truly feel they have a pre-existing relationship with the person sending them a message.
We did all of the early email marketing for the Howard Dean for America campaign, way back in 2003. Although he didn’t win, we showed their team how to use email in a compelling, personalized way. They set records for raising money online, and it was fun to help teach their candidate how to better engage with voters.
Fast forward 14 years to the present. We work on a lot of eCommerce sites that collect payment information, address information and other data from end users. We also work with companies with more basic, informational websites as well. But those sites often have payment pages, or contact forms.
A hacker looking to steal data is usually motivated to get credit card information. They either want to use that credit card information to make purchases on other sites (perhaps to convert it into more untraceable funds). Or, they’ll try to sell it.
If the site is an eCommerce site, the attackers will often attack the specific files that capture the credit card information during the purchasing process, and then send these details to a remote server. In some cases, we’ve seen hackers binary encode information like credit card numbers into what looks and acts like a normal jpg graphic; they retrieve the credit card details by simply downloading the file.
Fortunately, there’s ways to keep an eye out for attacks such as this. Businesses should do automated scans of their sites, and keep up-to-date on security patches.
Grant Hall: Is there a conflict between good marketing and privacy protection? For instance, a consultant or manager of an e-commerce website will want to be available to communicate with prospective customers while at the same time he/she may have strong reservations concerning the security of the website and providing personal information to those who seek goods and services, but only have an internet presence.
Jeff Finkelstein: I think that the trend that we see is that companies that focus on security and privacy are doing quite well in the marketplace. Yes, a marketer is always going to want to reach back out to talk to past customers and entice them to buy again.
We’ve found that companies that treat end users with respect and use good judgment are successful. If you are selling products or services online, you do need a way to deliver a physical or virtual product to the end user. If the product is good, most end users don’t mind a thoughtful contact from the company to help them learn more.
Grant Hall: Your business provides search engine optimization services according to your website, www.customerparadigm.com. Is SEO an ongoing service that requires continuous involvement by the SEO expert in order to keep organic traffic flowing to the business website? How can a business manager budget for these costs while marketing a few products? Why are more companies providing SEO services and other internet marketing services not amenable to providing services in exchange for a percentage of sales? This lack of interest in working on a “commission” appears to be incongruent to other industries and personnel such as the insurance business, real estate agents, stock brokerage and portfolio management financial service industries, and other business sectors and industry groups that require the industry professional to prove his/her abilities by producing sales prior to being paid?
Jeff Finkelstein: Yes, this is a great question. SEO for a site is kind of like working out. In order to stay healthy and fit, you need to work out a few times (or more) each week. You can’t just do one massive workout on January 1st and then you’re good to go for the year.
Sites that rank well are ones that have content that is actively added and curated. Otherwise, the site becomes more of a static time capsule. I don’t think that you need to adjust title tags each day or week, but working on your site is always an ongoing process.
Second, most people don’t want to do SEO on a percentage of sales perspective, because there are a lot of factors beyond their control. Things like price, reputation, other companies and how competitive the space might be.
If you are trying to do SEO in a highly competitive space, you’re going to have to spend tremendous energy to make a small dent in your rankings. There are some industries where people will spend $100,000+ per month in SEO to rank well. Spending 5 hours a month is just not going to make a difference. Most reputable firms will not work on a percentage of sales for SEO.
Grant Hall: On the surface, it would appear many website owners/managers would be open to sharing sales in exchange for services, thus creating a win-win business plan for both sides. This appears to be especially attractive to website companies who have developed a product but lack website development and SEO skills as well as other marketing skills. How do you feel about a service plan with a commission structure in place as payment for SEO and marketing services for selling internet products and services?
Jeff Finkelstein: With rare exceptions, I always pass on these types of projects. It usually means that the business owner is strapped for cash, and that all of the risk is on the web development firm or SEO company to produce results. Again, there’s a lot of factors outside our control. Perhaps their product sucks. Perhaps the pricing is too expensive. Perhaps their delivery times, customer service or documentation is lacking.
To me, a structure like this means that we as an SEO company do all of the work, and then if it’s successful we’ll get 10% as a commission. If I believe that much in a product, I’d rather buy it wholesale and do all of that myself.
Grant Hall: I am aware of certain website owners and managers who have hired website marketing businesses that charged substantial fees for taking on a customer as well as large maintenance fees for a period of time. Sometimes a contract is required for a period of time. Furthermore, I am aware that sales did not increase to justify these marketing expenses. If one is considering a company for internet marketing services, do you believe that company under consideration should be a proven website marketing winner that manages their own in-house websites that produce sales and make these websites profitable? What other criteria should a manager use to evaluate a marketing firm’s potential and credibility prior to hiring the company?
Jeff Finkelstein: Any website – short of a static HTML vintage 1994 site – should be a living, breathing entity. One that has content, products and information added to it each week. Security patches come out all the time, and need to be implemented. Those patches or software upgrades can break existing features, so someone needs to help out. Or, you might need someone to add more complex content or change the design of the site. That’s more of a function of running a business that has an active website. Those are often what maintenance fees can cover.
For our clients, we always offer ongoing support and maintenance, but it’s not required. We don’t lock people into a long term contract.
As far as criteria a manager should use to evaluate a marketing firm’s potential, I’d look at what they’ve done in the past, and what kind of strategic and tactical plan they can offer to help you solve your business needs.
Many of the people on our team have run Websites in the past, and seen solid success with it.
If you’re looking at a company to help out with SEO, you can ask them what types of keyword terms their site ranks for. That said, trying to rank broadly for SEO is a highly competitive game. Instead, ask what tools they use, and how they evaluate success.
And avoid anyone with an SEO performance guarantee. I can guarantee that you’ll rank #1 for some obscure keyword that nobody ever searches on. It’s a lot more difficult to rank highly for a keyword that is highly competitive.
Grant Hall: Can you comment on affiliate marketing and do you assist companies with attracting and recruiting affiliates at your company?
Jeff Finkelstein: We will often help people integrate affiliate marketing tracking systems into their site, and suggest that this can be a great way to drive additional traffic to a site. If done really well (and you have big margins you can entice affiliates with), this can be a great channel. That said, this is not something that we usually manage for our clients, as it does require a very active role and day-to-day management.
Grant Hall: Please tell us anything thing else you would like for us to know about your business and feel free to expand into any areas we have not covered thus far. And point our readers to any links on your website that you believe would be helpful and educational for business people interested in your services.
Jeff Finkelstein: Most of what we focus on these days are helping eCommerce sites that use the Magento platform stay secure, as well as implement new designs, features and functionality. More information can be found on our site here: http://www.CustomerParadigm.com.
Grant Hall: Thank you for the interview. We will post it on our site PrivacyCrisis.com and you are welcome to post in on your website as well.