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


Just because the U.S. has been at the forefront of search marketing and technologies, doesn’t mean our friends across the pond have been sitting on their hands. Not by a long shot. With over 7 years of search experience and a resume that includes such names as Espotting Media, Warren Cowan, CEO/founder of UK-based SEM agency Greenlight, brings a lot of experience and a bit of English class to industry. Today, ADOTAS Conversations points the spotlight on Cowan, Greenlight and all the red lights on the way.

First, tell me a little bit about Greenlight.

We’re a 6-year old search engine marketing agency that improves its clients’ ROI on paid search, and optimizes their website so it appears in organic search results, too. With offices in New York and London and over 25 dedicated search staff, Greenlight handles the search engine marketing for many FTSE, NASDAQ and NYSE firms.

What makes your company stand out above the rest?

Well, we have a great list of clients that I’m pleased to say continues to grow, including companies like Microsoft,, Pricerunner, Monarch Airlines, HMV, etc. I can say we have them as clients because we’re good at what we do; we deliver huge improvements in ROI, which would take a much larger investment through traditional marketing channels. I’m sure clients like ours wouldn’t stick around long if that wasn’t the case.

We’ve also overcome some huge technical and organizational obstacles that have broken the wills of some of our competitors. I think it’s the powerful and all too rare combination of technical, marketing and general business expertise that our people bring to the projects, in addition to their extensive search expertise, that allows us to always find a way to make these really complex projects achieve fantastic results. I think working at the deep end on every project really teaches you to swim, and that’s where we’ve spent our existence thus far.

We’ve also developed some industry firsts, such as our structured SEO methodology, and ADAPT, which is a pay per click tool that allows product- and inventory-based advertisers to control their paid search campaigns and to work better with Google’s latest quality based bidding method.

What are some of the challenges you see in SEO and what changes need to be made (with technology or otherwise) to overcome them?

As I think I hinted above, organizational challenges are some of the most complex. The SEO flag-waving generally starts with the marketers, who by and large have the customer remit within the company, and who need to generate public awareness of the company and its products or services.

The common perception is that it’s easy to get to be Number One in Google — or any of the other search engines. However, the reality is quite different — and that’s part of the educational challenge search marketing companies like Greenlight face, as well as delivering tangible results. Daring to be ambitious enough to be top on Google, it quickly becomes evident to them that to rank on Page 1 there’s a whole world of variables that need to be controlled and adjusted to achieve this lofty goal. The hard bit is that often a number of those variables are under other departments’ control, outside of Marketing’s jurisdiction, and these other departments often have no incentive to buy into the project — corporate websites are a prime example.

As one rather disgruntled (and in IMHO slightly unreasonable) IT executive told us, “We’re not about to change our $@&$ing architecture just for some goddamn SEO company”. Now that’s probably an extreme response, but it does happen, and this type of attitude can slow down projects and often bring them to a halt. So it’s important to understand that a search engine project is multidisciplinary: it involves coordinating hundreds of variables across a company’s web development, editorial, content and marketing strategy. The keys to fine-tuning that coordination are often held by others in the organization, so getting them all to play ball is often the linchpin of the project.


  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?

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