So, who’s this fellow behind the clever monicker?
I’m Harris Schachter, an internet marketing expert and all-around marketing geek. I have a Master’s in Internet Marketing, an undergrad degree in Psychology and am currently SEO channel owner at a large financial institution. I also consult for businesses of any size around the country in addition to SEO in Richmond. I don’t see it as work so much as a genuine passion. I’m interested and skilled in SEO, SEM, content strategy, web analytics, social media marketing, branding, public relations and other aspects of internet marketing. Although a truly effective marketing effort involves all channels, I am most drawn to the organic channel. Firstly, it produces the greatest amount of traffic and second, it’s basically FREE.
My career as an inbound marketer was the result of various interests and experiences during my education, which I had no idea would lead to this. In college, I studied Psychology simply because I found it interesting …why people do the things they do. Human factors was also a new concept to me- people doing studies about the design of a car’s dashboard or even the buttons on a stove to increase their ease of use. I had previously thought these things were designed the way they were by chance or because some CEO liked how it looked. I realized virtually anything can be turned into an experiment, as long as there are reliable and valid measurements. How long after eating can you go swimming? You can make a study out of it. What’s the correlation between drinking beer and getting high grades? You can make a study out of it. Which call to action on a webpage results in the greatest number of click-throughs? Exactly.
Anyway, while studying psychology, I was lucky enough to be assigned Dr. Jeanne Ryan as my advisor. As director of the North Country Regional Traumatic Brain Injury Center, she granted me a position as a research assistant, helping to collect data by working with TBI patients. She was even gracious enough to include her research assistants as co-authors of the published study. The study involved a classic paper-and-pencil test which is given to traumatic brain injury patients to assess damage and progress of their conditions. Developed in the 1950s, this assessment tool is used every day in virtually every hospital throughout the country.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Why not take a minute to grab a cup of coffee? I’ll be here when you return…
My job as a research assistant was to administer the test to participants- a responsibility which is given to doctors in “real-life”. The process was simple. I was to use a stopwatch in order to time the participant as they connected numbered and lettered circles on the test paper with a pencil. Once they reached the last circle, I stopped the watch, recorded the time, and scored the tests. Simple? Yes. Boring? Definitely.
During the data collection process, I couldn’t help but think how much easier it would be for both the participant and administrator, if the assessment was conducted on a computer instead of a piece of paper. If this were possible, two huge sources of error could be reduced. The first source of error came from the fact that the test administrator was required to use a stopwatch in order to time the participant. A stopwatch you say? How scientific is that? Exactly. And, since we’re people, you’ll never start/stop the watch exactly when the participant starts/finishes the test. Since time was the main metric used to judge the progress of a patient over time, accuracy is crucial. Another possible source of error came from the scoring of the tests by the administrator. There were a number of different types of errors possible, and it was up to the administrator to determine which type and how many there were. Since the test consisted of sequential numbers and letters, it was very easy for a weary doctor (or research assistant) to make a mistake during the scoring process. I thought to myself, how awesome would it be if a computer could automatically time the participant, score the tests, and virtually eliminate these sources of error? Shoot, at the very least it would be a lot less work than this…
After writing a brief proposal outlining my intentions, I received a grant for $3,500 to do the study. This bought me a tablet computer, my first copy of Adobe Flash, and all the Flash books I could carry. The tablet was the ideal digital counterpart to the paper test because it laid flat on the desk and used a stylus- the same administration style as the pencil and paper. Even more importantly, the flat screen was the exact same size as the paper test. Since my school’s graphic design teachers were still calling it Shockwave, I had to teach myself Flash & ActionScript 3.0 to build the application myself. At this time, I had no experience with web design, coding, or the like, whatsoever. But I was determined to replicate the study in a computerized version down to a T. Every circle, every line, everything about the computerized test was to be exactly the same as the traditional version, the only difference being a stylus and tablet replacing the pencil and paper. This was also the time when I discovered my love for energy drinks.
A few months later, and after working out all the bugs, it was ready to go. I received approval from my campus’ Human Subjects Research committee to administer the computerized version to about 30 students. I can’t even explain how great it felt to finally put my application to use. The computerized version automatically timed the participant from the moment they began the test, to the moment they reached the last circle. Additionally, error counts and types were collected in the background, and were displayed at the end of test. Needless to say, it was much easier copying down numbers off the screen than scoring and timing each by hand. I taught myself web design (HTML & CSS) in order to host the application online, so anyone, anywhere could take it (I didn’t use this data in the study because it was not completed on with the tablet format).
After crunching a whole lot of data, and learning confirmatory factor analysis from a PhD candidate, I found my computerized version was more reliable than the paper version! Basically, this meant the data it collected was more consistent when given over time under consistent conditions. I was ecstatic. Not only could this version be easier (and more fun) for patients to take, but would actually improve it’s usefulness for the neuropsychologists who used it. After writing the research paper, I submitted it to the International Neuropsychological Society and was invited to share my research poster at their annual conference, held in Boston that year. If you ever have trouble sleeping, I welcome you to read a version of my research paper. You can also play an example of it here. I followed this up with another study the next year doing the same computer replication with two other tests, and upped the sample size from 30 to over 150 participants.
So, there you have it. Computers, applications, data analysis, web design, it was all there. Without even realizing it, I was doing hardcore usability and user experience before I even knew what they were. I wondered how else could technology improve people’s lives and how else data could solve complex problems.
After freelancing for a year or so, I pursued a Master’s degree in Internet Marketing (yes- they have those now). I’ve been using Google Analytics longer than I’ve had a driver’s license, and worked with so much data it would make a statistician jealous. Call me cold, but I realized data is the secret sauce. No opinions, no gut feelings, and certainly no old wives tales. Conversion rate optimization is simply an ongoing experiment.
When I’m not geeking out on SEO, I’m thinking about it while running businesses, making music, listening to music, gawking at cars, growing organic vegetables, swimming in my record collection, and inventing new words. I’m constantly wondering what’s beyond the horizon, both in internet marketing and the world in general.
Feel free to get in touch with me, and check back every once in a while. I won’t be actively trying to get this site to rank for anything (so don’t waste your time trying to dismantle an SEO strategy). Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss anything.