Nina Hale says her Minneapolis search marketing agency aims to drive revenue for clients through search-engine optimization and pay-per-click ads.
Nina Hale likes puzzles and technology. She's fascinated by consumer behavior and how things go viral online. And she's got quite an eye for animal lamps too, reflected by the life-sized Herman the Horse lamp that overlooks her office space.
All of which helps explain why Hale specializes in the seemingly cryptic world of search-engine marketing.
"It's sort of like a combination between being a stalker and being a detective," Hale said of search marketing, which includes both optimizing websites, or designing their code and content to help them get top rankings in search engine results and pay-per-click advertising. "It's like you're constantly building this puzzle but the pieces are constantly falling off the outside. You're constantly amused and engaged and challenged."
The results of such efforts are fully measurable, so search marketing can offer insights into what gets online consumers to buy or take other actions, Hale said. It also presents opportunities to seek to improve results by making continuous, instant changes.
Hale, who has worked in Internet marketing for 12 years and also has experience in traditional advertising, founded her eponymous firm -- Nina Hale Inc. -- in 2005 and worked as a solo consultant until she started hiring and taking on additional clients in 2007.
Revenue at the agency, which now has 20 full-time and two part-time employees, was $3.1 million last year. The firm last year managed about $12 million in pay-per-click advertising, which accounts for about half its work. Clients include Room & Board, Renewal By Andersen, Stratasys and Harley-Davidson.
The agency has 11 employees certified in Google AdWords and 14 certified in Google Analytics, the search giant's sponsored-link advertising service and its website traffic and marketing measurement platform, respectively.
More leads, more sales
Search marketing is becoming critical to consumer and business-to-business companies as growing hordes of Internet users turn to search engines to make purchasing decisions. The industry was projected to grow to $19.3 billion last year, up 16 percent from 2010, according to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), a nonprofit industry association.
Hale said her agency typically produces more leads for its customers at a lower cost than other firms, results that she said kept Nina Hale Inc. growing despite the recession.
"More leads or more sales, that's the whole thing," said Hale, whose interest in technology dates to 1984, when she used a dial-up coupler modem to connect online with others on prototype social networks. "We drive revenue from online traffic."
Hale's agency enjoys an advantage because it was one of the first to concentrate on search, said Paul Sanders, a digital agency veteran who joined Hale a year ago as managing director.
"There weren't a lot of search agencies five years ago," Sanders said.
To keep employees happy, Hale said, she offers a better work-life balance with shorter hours and more predictable schedules than other agencies. To boost motivation, she encourages employees to pursue training and professional certification and to make presentations at the agency's weekly gatherings.
Hale now is aiming to generate more buzz for her agency. The effort includes staff blogs on search-related topics and opening up those weekly shared-education sessions to outsiders.
"Search-engine optimization is becoming very, very complex," said Hale, who has an MBA from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management and a bachelor's degree in American cultural studies from Brown University.
Jill Linville, communications director at Room & Board, said the company works closely with Hale to develop search goals, strategy and plans. Examples include an online branding campaign, seasonal category campaigns and product-specific campaigns. Hale also has helped Room & Board localize its campaigns through Google Maps in store markets.
"The Nina Hale team understands our business," Linville said. "We are not trying to reach everyone interested in furniture, but want to find people who are who are interested in modern furniture that is handcrafted and American made. Narrowing our focus is more effective both in conversions and costs."
The expert says: Scott Rader, adjunct marketing professor at the University of St. Thomas' Opus School of Business, said the Twin Cities are lucky to have an agency like Nina Hale Inc. that's focused on search-engine marketing.
"I think Nina knows how to build keywords that draw out that differentiation" for her clients, which can help lead to top search engine results, Rader said.
With search-engine optimization booming and many offering the service, "it's altogether different to find someone who has receive accolades from Google, who has a close relationship with Google," Rader said of the certifications Hale and many of her staff have received. "She's staying on top of her game," he said.