This Interview With the Experts series highlights Amanda Watlington, an incredible resource with over 10 years of web marketing experience. Amanda runs her own consulting business, Searching for Profit, which you can read more about here .
We'd like to sincerely thank Amanda  for her time and support throughout WordStream's brief history.
You’ve been involved in web marketing for 10 years now. What would you say is the biggest change the industry has seen over the last decade?
The biggest change has been its growth from after thought to mainstream within marketing. Web marketing has always seemed to me an artificial construct at least as it was construed in the early days.
Some of the other big changes have really been related to the growth. Search has grown into a huge marketing force and who knew that we would be talking with enthusiasm about social networks and referring to something other than the bulletin boards and forums of yesteryear.
Reflecting on the changes you’ve seen so far, how do you think search marketing will change in the future?
Search marketing was very different years ago in that the focus was on gaining rankings on a variety of engines each of which could be optimized for. Most of these engines have been sent off to the proverbial digital attic. No one I know speaks of Excite, HotBot, Direct Hit,or even AltaVista with anything but nostalgia.
The focus now has moved to where it should have been in the first place – to the user. It is all about the searcher and what the searcher wants. This does not seem alien to me since when I used to teach marketing and business, one of the first exercises that I always did was to draw on the black board a stick figure with a large crown on its head. I would label the figure “consumer” and tell students to always remember that the consumer is king. By the end of the semester, all I would have to do is start drawing a figure on the board and the students knew the answer. It rests with the consumer.
This shift in focus to the consumer from the engine is logical and will require search marketing to move from a heavily technical discipline – the early days – to a true marketing discipline. Yes! I do know that we often use “search marketing” to refer to PPC advertising as opposed to organic search. Someday we may in fact clean up our diction. I like to think of search marketing in its totality as keyword marketing since that encompasses both organic and paid search.
You’ve been asked to speak at various conferences and strategy sessions. Does one stick out as your favorite?
Now you are asking me to play favorites, and that is difficult. I have attended and spoken at numerous conferences. Each has its own focus, attendees and is different in so many ways that I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite.
What’s your biggest frustration with search marketing?
I still find that what we do is so often misunderstood. There is also still a lack of general understanding that organic search marketers are not all spammers. The so-called “black hats” still get way too much attention and are a distraction at best from the large and growing number of ethical search marketers.
You started Searching For Profit in 2004. What has that experience been like?
My experience has been the typical small business owner. Searching for Profit is a boutique agency. As a boutique consultancy, we do not have a huge stable of clients and our work is strategic as opposed to focused on tactical implementation. That being said a considerable amount of time goes to training and knowledge transfer so that clients are able to implement the recommended strategies.
My best metaphor for my experience as a business owner is the roller coaster ride. You board the ride filled with expectation. There are highs and lows as you hurtle along at a blistering pace and moments of terror, and yet you would do it again and again given the chance.
What were your first impressions of search marketing? Is there something that really surprised, interested, or disappointed you as you became more and more involved in search marketing?
Since I came to search marketing before it was a space marked off with clear boundaries, I really had no expectations and my first impression was accurate ,we were all making it up as we went along. It was thrilling and heady times.
The surprises have been how fast it has grown. I am still more interested in search than in any other area of business that I have been involved in. It is compelling for my intellect and way that I work. I can still lose track of time and look up hours later when doing keyword research or analyzing a site’s performance. I often find myself still marveling at all of the things we can learn about human nature from the query in the search box.
What do you wish you had known about search when you first started? In other words, what advice would you give to someone who is just entering the search space?
I actually sort of knew the answer when I got started. If you are interested in search, you must be a lifelong learner and a quick study. It is a rich and dense discipline. There is a lot to learn. Even for those who know and understand the principles – the old adage about the devil in the details applies. I have known individuals who understand the principles but cannot effectively apply them.
Those who are just entering the space should be prepared to always be learning and should focus on flawless execution of the basis principles. It will carry a long way.
You and the WordStream founder, Larry Kim, got along well when you first met because of your enthusiasm for keyword organization and management. Can you give us a peak behind the curtain and tell us a little bit about what you two discussed?
Our discussion was far-reaching. It was a distinct pleasure to talk with someone who finds keywords as compelling as I do. Most people’s eyes glaze over or roll into the back of their heads when you talk about keywords, query intent, how to bucket keywords, tools for managing keywords, etc.
It was also a pleasure to talk with someone who recognizes that a lot of keyword research is sifting through haystacks looking for needles. WordStream is built on making this easier and more manageable – a real plus.
You’ve achieved a MBA, a PhD, your own business, dozens of articles, 2 books, and I hear you’re a killer fisherwoman. Is there anything you don’t do?
The list is very long of what I don’t do. I don’t skydive or climb mountains. My personal bucket list is still very long.