Niches, Verticals and Local Search: The End of the Gold Rush Years Is In Sight

Though the majority of my time is focused on growing 2ndSite, I still keep up with what is going on in search marketing. It is always interested me and we do a lot of search marketing at 2ndSite.

A week ago Thursday, I taught a course at the Learning Annex. It is that “how-to” course which explains how to make your web site more visible in search engines.

You can tell search marketing is growing in popularity because the fact that 40 people paid for and attended this relatively unadvertised lecture. As I doled out the first two minutes of introduction to the topic, and explained the context of Search Marketing today, I was struck by a vision of “the future” of search, and caught a glimpse of the end of easy opportunities for niche and local search players.

Today, the opportunities for niche players and local businesses are enormous – the Gold Rush is quite literally still on. And in two years, I doubt that things will still be that way. Competition is intensifying already and a growing number of small businesses are realizing that to not leverage the Internet, is to forgo opportunities.

What do I mean? Here’s an example. Anicon has a client who does massage and laser therapy, and offers a range of other holistic health services. They are located in uptown Toronto. In late 2003, Anicon built a very simple “portfolio” site for them. The site was built – as Anicon builds all the sites – to ensure the design is search engine friendly. Included in the package were a handful of directory listings and the whole cost was less than $2500 (if memory serves). The results?

Today this business has earned over 50 new clients thanks to their web site (I know this because they keep good records on referrals and they shared them with me). Over time have they learned that their average client is worth $400 – and that does not include any referrals by word of mouth come from new clients. So 50 clients, at $400 each is $20,000 in revenue – so far! That is over 700% return on investment. Not bad.

These numbers are small, but there are literally millions of similar opportunities out there for local service providers who can achieve the same kinds of results. This is the low hanging fruit in search now and I’m predicting these kind of results will be harder to achieve in two years time. In the meantime, if you are local service provider or operate in each business, I would give a company like Anicon a call and get your site built right. Your average web designers DOES NOT have the “know how” you need to get these kinds of results. I’m also predicting this will be changing over the next two years….

Does PageRank Matter?

In the field of Internet marketing, especially Search Engine Optimization (SEO), there has [at times] been a great emphasis placed upon PageRank. PageRank is Google’s representation of link popularity. [Go here to learn a little more about PageRank and link popularity from Anicon’s point of view].

Because the SEO “pundits” started hanging their hats on PageRank, Google stopped calculating it in a timely manner. As a result, PageRank scores today can be misleading and out of date and many of the most high-minded SEO’s around recommend uninstalling the Google toolbar and no longer paying attention to PageRank measurements. Fair enough I say. But here is why PageRank matters to me: conversions.

The endgame for almost any web site is conversions. When I visit a web site I’ve never been to before, I look at the “PageRank” of the web site. To me PageRank is more of a credibility index than anything. For example, I would feel more confident making a purchase or requesting a service from a web site with a PageRank of seven than I would from a web site with the PageRank of three. Therefore I more likely to convert (try, buy, or recommend) a product, article or service from web site with a high PageRank. Because of this, I believe PageRank matters. Furthermore, it is more commonly advanced internet users like myself who use toolbars which display PageRank. More advanced users are commonly thought leaders who influence others. If PageRank matters to us, and we (as influences) matter to you because we may tell others about your products and services and/or recommend you, PageRank has significance. Therefore, PageRank still matters.

When to Take a Holiday

I just got back from vacation on Monday. I took one week to do virtually nothing – working hardest to keep myself from thinking about work. Why take a holiday? Mental health is a one good reason. Another is your cannot get anything done (at least in Toronto) in July or August. Why? All the stakeholders for any significant decision are away. I have an old friend who has been at Well’s Fargo for the past six years. He worked in San Francisco and Chicago and he has recently returned to Toronto. He mentioned that there is no noticeable slowdown to the pace when working in the states during July and August. I found it hard to believe, especially in Chicago. In San Francisco however, the weather is nice (relative to the Canadian Winter) all year round, so it’s understandable that people would take time off throughout the year. In Toronto, July and August draw everyone out of their holes and the heat drives them out of the city.

So why bother with this post? Where is the strategy? Here it is: if you are running a start-up you have to choose your vacations strategically. 2ndSite being my second start-up, and the first one currently running more successfully than ever, I’ve always had to carefully consider when to take a break, sometimes IF I take a break. In a nutshell the strategy is this: take you time when the greatest number of decision makers are also taking their time.  So, here is when I take vacations and why.

March => By this point the weather has been so dismal for so long in Toronto that Torontonians are just dragging themselves around. Many decision makers go away with their kids because of March Break so I take advantage of the number of absentees to get a break if I feel like it.

July and August => Take two weeks in here if you can. NOTHING HAPPENS at this time in Toronto anyway, in the business world so you might as well.

September/October/November => Don’t even think about it.  In my books these are the fastest moving months of the year as Torontonians hunker down after summer slowness. And as the days get shorter, here is the rule as I see it: the less daylight you see, the harder you work. You have to keep yourself entertained!

December Holiday Season => I don’t believe in working Dec. 25 – Jan 1st. Anyone who goes into the office during this period just goes there to clean up their desk and talk about holiday parties with the other “slackers” who don’t want to use their vacation days up in this period.  That’s somewhat harsh, but it’s true.  My two cents is that all businesses should close during this period.