Larry Kim founded WordStream, an online marketing company, at a Watertown Panera in 2007 because it offered free Wi-Fi. Today, the Boston company, which sells software that helps businesses market themselves on Google and Facebook, has about 200 employees, 10,000 customers, and $500 million in revenues. Kim is an expert on pay-per-click advertising — where advertisers pay a fee each time their online ad gets clicked on by a user. He spoke about what sells on the Internet, how to get attention online, and his passion for drones, photography, and "crazy hacks."
1. Kim graduated with honors from the University of Waterloo in Canada with a degree in electrical engineering and moved to Boston to take a job in software development. A year after he launched WordStream, he stepped down as chief executive to become the company's chief technology officer and focus solely on marketing and product management.
"Online advertising is very quantitative, and very mathematical. There's costs per click and conversion rates," he said. "It's more scientifically minded work. WordStream makes the process like TurboTax. It just tells you what to do."
2. Google and Facebook will charge advertisers varying amounts for words that are searched. For example, a lawyer who can find someone with mesothelioma, a rare former of cancer often linked to workplace exposure, will pay $900 to advertise on the same page as a search for the word "mesothelioma." Search terms for credit card applications will fetch $43 per click from banks. Life insurance searches command about $70 a click from insurers. The word "T-shirt" might garner 10 cents a click or less.
"We've had campaigns where a small amount of spend ($50) generated thousands of clicks, or tens of thousands of clicks, and all sorts of opportunities, like being on TV or radio," he said. "There's a viral effect you can generate, a tremendous response from a very small spend."
3. Kim said his greatest life skill is an ability to look at software systems and figure out the loopholes, tricks, or strategies that can spur interest.
"There's little tricks you can use. Say, if you want more people to engage with tweets, use emojis. I put those dumb pizza emojis in all my tweets and it dramatically increases my engagement rates. I did a test with tweets that had emojis and ones that didn't, and the ones with emojis were about 30 percent higher."
4. Kim is a prolific blogger and presence on social media. The WordStream blog gets more than 1 million visitors a month; Kim said that's because of the ideas and tips he shares. For example, one recent post discussed a new search function on Facebook that yields results based on 200 factors, including users' profile information and what they previously "Liked."
"People want to know the secrets. There are certain ways to influence people. That's marketing — getting people to fall in love with your brand."
5. Kim lives with his wife and 1-year-old baby in Inman Square in Cambridge. His hobby is photography using a drone that's about the size of a bird. He has more than 100 flights under his belt, noting that he has never crashed it nor injured anyone.
"It's the greatest hobby ever. You get to see the world in a way you wouldn't otherwise. From a completely different view."