How do the advances in SEO and Pay Per click in the UK stand up against those in the U.S.? Are there differences in approach or technology?
Essentially, the technologies that we as a search marketing company are working to influence (i.e. the search engines) are largely the same on both sides of the pond. I do think that you need to be more aggressive in the US because the quantity of competitors is higher by virtue of the US simply being a bigger country, which make SEM more of a challenge. That said, a larger population means more customers, so there’s often an upswing in the results compared to the effort.
Language and product trends are the biggest difference when it comes to search engine marketing between the UK & US. There are differences in the way the US and UK population refer to the same products: “mobile” (UK) versus “wireless” (US) in reference to cellular phones, for example. In terms of products, the “plasma” TV revolution in the States is maturing, whereas in the UK it didn’t quite make it to a peak before being surpassed in demand by ‘LCD’, which by comparison is quite low for the US. Knowing these nuances can give a campaign a serious advantage, and this all boils down to research and planning before you leap into a campaign, for us it is core to what we do.
What comes as perhaps an unsurprising disappointment is the comparative spread of incompetence amongst SEO firms. There are some great UK firms but also there are a lot which are very poor at what they do, who continue to use outdated techniques, let their clients down, fail to deliver, over sell, over promise, and all round don’t deliver much. I was expecting better competition in the States, but so far I’m finding dollar for dollar, pound for pound that there are just as many cowboys on the US side of the pond. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great SEM firms in the States, but it’s a problem for the industry as a whole, and one I think that organizations like SEMPO in the US, and the SMA in Europe are trying hard to clean up.
With your time spent at Espotting Media, Origin Consulting and Inktomi Partner, what have you learned from your experience with Greenlight so far?
It’s still tough to sell a great thing, and until everyone’s accepted search as a vital part of the marketing tool kit, education is key to getting people to adopt new techniques. When we started at Espotting, it was the first pay per click engine in the UK; Yahoo, formerly Overture, formerly GoTo, was still in the States; and Google hadn’t yet launched Adwords. People thought the whole thing was stark raving bonkers. I kid you not; you couldn’t give search marketing away. “What? Pay for every click?” they’d say …usually before laughing, abusing us, or unceremoniously putting down the phone while we were halfway through our pitch.
Only with consistent education, explanation, comparison and perhaps the occasional free trial was it possible to wear down the resistance to what is now evidently a no-brainer.
What’s the most common question you get asked by the audience when you do presentations and speeches at industry conferences? How do you respond?
I think the one that comes up most often is: “What’s the single most important thing I have to do in order to get a good ranking?” To which I often initially reply: “More than the next guy.”
Hints, tips and pointers are in abundance, but people often don’t realize that, really, they’re competing in an environment with hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of other sites. And winning is not about checking things off and doing the right thing; it’s about making sure you do the right thing better than the guy you want to beat. This makes research and benchmarking the most important things about search marketing. It’s like warfare. Know your enemy, and then work out how to beat him. More to the point: work out if beating him is even possible before you pile in.
A lot of SEO gets undertaken by people just following the steps in the manual, without any real though about where their business goals and what actually needs to be done to achieve them efficiently and effectively. And then when stellar rankings don’t materialize, people wonder what they’ve done wrong. It’s not they’ve done anything right or wrong, they just haven’t done enough — with enough strategic thought or effort.
What plans do you have for the future of Greenlight? Any big changes afoot?
Nothing too dramatic beyond accelerating our growth curve. Our performance based work is really taking off, and our training courses are becoming very popular too. We’ve started offering our training courses worldwide, for as I’ve mentioned earlier, education is key for the development of a profitable search marketing program. We see sharing our knowledge and developing the general population’s SEM skill set becoming just as big a part of Greenlight as the agency-client relationship.
What do you personally hope to accomplish moving ahead in your online career?
Hmm, that’s a tough one, that. It’s a bit hard to separate my “career” from Greenlight at the moment, as they’re kind of one and the same. My ambition is Greenlight’s ambition, and I like to think it’ll continue that way.