London’s Calling for Better SEM: Greenlight CEO Warren Cowan Brings English Class to Search


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 There are some great UK firms but also there are a lot which are very poor at what they do, who continue to use outdated techniques, let their clients down, fail to deliver, over sell, over promise, and all round don’t deliver much.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.


  1. Mr. Warren Cowan has hit the proverbial “nail on the head,” in his dissertation regarding several key-points within this article; first and foremost Mr. Cowan is absolutely right-on with regard to education as key to the SEM industry. Cowan however, is being overly polite suggesting SEMPO is working to correct incompetence amongst SEO firms; SEMPO continually dodges the basic issues surrounding industry Standards — and without Standards I think we can all agree; the problem will continue to plague the industry as a whole.

    Secondly, Mr. Cowan is again right-on when he says “a search engine project is multidisciplinary.” I was laughing in my chair with his comments about the slightly unreasonable IT executive. I would have labeled the IT guy an ignorant fool; it is exactly this type of hierarchical pompous attitude that prevents a business from achieving its online business goals. Such individuals should be removed from the front line.

    Lastly, I have to say this article was very refreshing. Professional SEM sharing valuable information in a very positive manner; and no self-promotion. This article is much more refreshing than the typical boring SEM rhetoric we get day-after-day here in the States.

    Congrats to Jaime Gottlieb, Associate Editor ADOTAS and Mr. Cowan — an excellent article – Great job!

  2. Ms.Jaime Gottlieb, excellent article.
    Mr. Warren Cowan, excellent insight.
    Mr. Paul J. Bruemmer, excellent comment.

    As a small business new-comer, potential client to search engine marketing, this morning’s read is a bit of sunshine amongst the cloudy phenomena of search engine marketing or more nicely put, $@&$ing.

    Mr. Cowan is definitely one to watch.

    Education is #1. Standards is #1.

    The SEO phenomena, as practiced today, belongs on SERP 9,999,999,999. All of it until sem can talk straight and intelligently, making sem digestible by small-small businesses (there are 24 miilion of them in the States, alone).

    Do these sem realize that 99.9% of sem (their) web pages are not valid, do not follow web standards?

    Is this a good, professional impression to leave with potential clients? To me, this is a RED FLAG (or $@&$ing). SEM, clean yourselves up before you come knocking on my door!

    The search engine marketing industry needs leadership and direction, eliminating the hodge-podge of seo served up by the likes of Google, blogs, forums, press releases, many (most) of which are $@&$ing.

    I agree with Mr. Breummer. Sempo and its likes belongs on serp 9×10(10), non-existent. It appears that Mr. Cowan can chew them up over morning tea.

    SEM focus on the big box big buck businesses, whereas much has been written about the W.W.W. being an equal playing field for us small-small businesses. Poppycock~! (Or $@&$ing~!)

    How can the client be educated when the sem, him/herself, is not?? Clients can smell the bull before the bull hits. Sem get their shorts in a pinch over this.

    Do these sem realize that there are TWO major, critical components to search? One being the search engine itself, the other being the web pages, themselves.

    How often do these sem contact Page, Semel, and Gates and coordinate good search indexing? Daily?

    Do these sem realize that there are web sites that are NOT business web sites that also critically require good indexing by the search engines?

    The BEST SEM information made available today appears on Google’s webmaster help pages; SEO = RED FLAG! And, the keyword for pay per click = FRAUD.

    Much GOOD information has come from the UK and AU (as compared to the States) in my reads since September 2005. Now, someone in the sem industry needs to take a leadership roll and organize this GOOD INFORMATION for us $@&$ing small-small businesses!

    Kind Regards and I thank all above for the bit of sunshine,
    Vladimir A. Toman

  3. Enough of the SEO hype! Let’s focus on the customer. No matter how a bot ranks you in the end it’s the human response to your site that matters.
    Or does a high rank also assure you of great sales?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here