One of the original big data and SEO pros explains how he Didit

May 31, 2016

Kevin Lee and Danny Pasternak founded the Long Island digital marketing agency Didit in 1996, a very long time ago in web years. Following the digital world professionally for 20 years has instilled a healthy skepticism and a focus on customers as individuals, not on fleeting trends.

"We’ve always been skeptical about the somewhat grandiose rhetoric accompanying the great web revolution, and weren’t particularly surprised when much of the industry wiped out shortly after Y2K," Pasternak said. "Because we regard our duty to our clients as a fiduciary one, we feel obligated to practice channel agnosticism, which means whatever channels—digital, analog, online, or offline—will work in a given business case is the one we’re going to be in favor of."

What began as one of the original SEO/SEM operations now offers services including big data, social media, PR, traditional marketing, and even direct mail. To cover such a broad spectrum requires a broad perspective. In that regard, Didit is uniquely privileged.

A brief history of Didit (and a briefer history of SEO)

In 1996, big data wasn't so big yet, and search engine marketing was in its early infancy. According to technologist Danny Sullivan, the term "SEO" wasn't coined until a year later. Google did not yet exist, and "webmasters," (as they were then called) submitted links to Altavista, Webcrawler, Hotbot, and other primitive search engines competing for dominance.

Lee and Pasternak had been computer buffs since the '80s and had observed the rise of search with keen interest. They noticed that webmasters often encountered frustrations in their attempts to get listed and built some software to automate the process. They called their product Submit It and came up with a tagline: "When they ask you if you submitted it, just say you did it." With that, Didit was born. Didit Detective, a companion product, checked in to make sure submitted links were actually added to the search engines of the day.

By 1997, the pair had introduced Didit Plus, one of the first SEO products. When (later renamed Overture and acquired by Yahoo!) opened the first Pay Per Click (PPC) marketplace, Didit developed automation tools that allowed PPC advertisers to bid on high search placement.

Their gamble began to pay off handsomely as Google rose to dominance. Didit Plus, now known as Maestro, was adapted for Google's buzzing PPC marketplace and is in its fourth iteration.

In 2007, Inc. named Didit the 16th fastest growing marketing company in the United States. It expanded its scope through a series of acquisitions, including the SEO firm Inceptor in 2012 and the traditional marketing outfit HLD in 2013.

Today, the agency employs a diverse group of talent, including Pasternak's 92-year-old mother Selma. It prides itself on a thoughtful, unpretentious office culture that serves as a bulwark against the high-speed trends and competition that can throw internet marketers off balance.

Digital marketing and the Socratic Method

Didit has managed its growth, in part, through philosophical consistency.

"At the core, we’re pragmatists." said Pasternak. "If something works, you should use it. If it doesn’t, drop it. Don’t become enamored of some new marketing tactic just because it’s new. Don’t get wedded to a platform, a technology, an agency, or a method. Set things up so that you can measure every significant variable and tune it so that it’s as near perfect as you can get it."

Didit's personalized approach confounds some stereotypes about search—that it is algorithmic, standardized, and designed for an audience of robots. Pasternak believes that big data and SEO/SEM have created a new medium for storytelling.

"Every business has a story to tell, and needs to find a way to reach an audience worth telling it to," he said. "This is where the kind of thinking that goes into SEM can help the business."

What keywords tell a client's story? How can the best audience for this story be reached? How can results be tested, refined, and improved?

"Unless you do all of this, the chance of your unique, individual story surfacing and being appreciated aren’t very good in this hyper-competitive information market," Pasternak said. "Why do you want to do social media? For what purpose? With what goals? In service of what strategy? We don’t pretend to have the answer to every marketing problem, but if one’s questions are intelligent enough, really intelligent answers are more likely to surface, and we love this process of inquiry."

Big data and what Didit does with it

The phenomenon now known as big data has always been part of search marketing. The data has just gotten exponentially bigger. Paid search campaigns run on information, and there is a lot more information available all the time.

"Online conversion patterns vary by day of the week, by the hour, by geography, and other patterns that sometimes only emerge when you analyze large data sets," Pasternak said. "So big data is highly relevant to what we do; we've employed data scientists and statisticians; and we're always working to find, in all this flowing data, actionable hypothesis we can test and, when the results flow back, use to refine our campaigns." 

In other words, big data may be a buzzword, but it's not a passing fad.

For predictive value regarding converted sales, volume is key. Didit collects and archives enormous amounts of data, looking for any variable that results in conversions or even 'micro-conversions' resulting in eventual sales.

"We also design experiments that validate that the conclusions we are drawing from the data make sense," said Pasternak.

"We even use data as an asset in our digital direct mail campaigns for clients. Mass personalization of messaging isn’t only possible online these days. Offline direct mail has gone digital."

Sometimes you find the digital world. Other times the digital world finds you.

Pasternak sympathizes with traditional marketers and clients who have found themselves burned by hot new digital trends that went up in smoke without yielding any ROI.

"Every business is different, and many traditional marketers have eschewed digital marketing for reasons that are neither stupid nor luddite," he said. "When you sit down with some of these people, and they tell you about how they faithfully followed the recommendations of digital zealots, agencies, or some other party to throw money at Google, Facebook, or into their websites, and got zilch in return, you’ve got to wonder if the problem is with them, or with digital media. There’s often plenty of blame on both sides."

Didit remains anchored in its "Socratic as well as pragmatic" core principles, but Pasternak acknowledge that his field rapidly changes as technology increasingly impacts the world at large.

"Sometimes you find the digital world. Other times the digital world finds you," he said. "And I think the next few years you’re going to find the digital world finding traditional marketers in ways that really work for them. And I hope that Didit is a part of the solutions that come up as a result of these new developments."

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