Thinking Search from the outer left-coast

Monday, June 18, 2007
Posted by Jim Hedger @ 8:36 am

I am finally back in Victoria from SES Toronto. I’ve had a few days to contemplate the experience, (which was wonderful) and to think about the state of Canadian search marketing, (which isn’t). It feels odd writing the word “the state of” in relation to the search marketing sector in Canada. For the most part, the word up here is “provincial”.

That’s an awful thing to say about such brilliant, passionate and intelligent people, especially so since I am not really talking about SEO/SEM service providers themselves. I’m just trying to catch and describe the vibe. Like Mary Walsh, “I’m just foolin’ around is all. ”

Besides which, it’s not our fault that the corporate and small to medium sized business sector doesn’t get it? Is it? It’s not like we haven’t used the strength of American and international media to inform our home-grown business sector. We have a disproportionate number of world-renown search marketing talent in the country, many of which have appeared on CNN, BBC, FOX, NBC and msnbc. We’ve been there and done that eh? I’ve seen articles written by Canadian search marketers appear in Wired, the New York Times, DM News, and even in publications I couldn’t read because they were written in Cyrillic script, which is totally Greek to me. I also know for a fact that virtually every large online search marketing publication has published thousands of articles from Canadian writers that have served to define the search marketing industry.

All this outreach and so little of it seems to have taken root in the decision making consciousness of corporate Canada. Among the dimmer experiences I had at SES Toronto was the realization that there is no spark in the Canadian market. Other’s sensed it too. Gord Hotchkiss wrote a fine piece for Media Post that captured the spirit, (or lack thereof) Canadian SEO/SEM firms feel when looking at our own home market titled, “Canada, It’s Time to Clue Into Search!

That said, there are a few enormous stand-outs from corporate Canada who are making huge inroads in the world of search but they are few and far between.

In previous pieces (1) (2), I outlined why I think the Canadian market feels so provincial and I do think we, the search marketing sector, need to take a good measure of responsibility for our internal inaction. Here, I hope to outline what I think we should do about it.

#1. Start working together. Metamend has alliances with a couple of other Canadian SEM firms. We push business back and forth based on the expertise necessary to service specific clients. That’s a good idea that could be carried a step further.

I have watched hundreds of presentations at dozens of search marketing conferences over the years and I have yet to see allied firms work together on a presentation. One of my constant complaints about speaking at some search conferences is how some search speakers use the opportunity as an advitorial instead of an information-sharing exercise. If that is going to happen, for goodness sake’s related SEO and SEM firms should work together to offer the audience a wider range of collaborative ideas.

#2. Talk to your community about what it is you do. One of the neatest (and most expensive) things about being Canadian is the fact our sense of community tends to be continental in size. Many of us migrate from our home provinces to live in one of the twenty or so great urban areas spread primarily along the southern border. Interestingly, each of the major regions of Canada are demonstratively different socially, economically and (especially), politically from each other. With the only major search marketing conferences held in Toronto, the information-footprint tends to leave a soft imprint.

SEOs and SEMs in Canada should hook up with others in their communities and organize informal gatherings. Those informal gatherings might be the basis of civic or regional search marketing associations, my favourite example of which is the Internet Marketers of New York group. These folks are cool enough to use their collective strength and wealth to promote charity events at NYC based conferences. Good deeds breed good PR is that is good business for all.

Search marketers need to remember that, even if our internal market hasn’t adjusted to the monumental changes happening in media and advertising, our sector is part of the cutting edge of the new marketing environment. By the time advertisers and consumers catch-on up here, we are going to want industry associations.

#3. Confer. Though there are so many major search and Internet marketing conferences held around the world (almost one per week these days), very few of them are held in Canada. Why doesn’t the Canadian market know about search marketing? I think it is primarily because we the marketers haven’t done nearly enough to bring ideas associated with search marketing to the Canadian people.

I spoke with several Canadian search marketers last week in Toronto. Each said they would definitely attend or speak at a Canadian focused search marketing conference. I have a feeling one will be held in Victoria or Vancouver (hopefully Victoria) in the late winter of next year. (Trust me Rest of Canada, February is the time to be here. Particularly if you are from the other side of the mountains. We have cherry blossoms blooming while you have uncheery blizzards blowing.)

Gord is right. It is time for Canadian business to get serious about search. Thing is, it is a chicken and egg sort of situation. I am not sure what comes first, the spirit or the spark. If it is to be the spark, that spark has to come from the search marketing sector. The problem is, without a better internal ad-spend, that spark is doomed to wither before it finds a wick.

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