Search Engine Expert Witness – Toronto, Canada

Disclaimer: this post concludes on a moral note. Apologies in advance it that is not your thing.

I got an interesting call on Monday from a lawyer looking for an expert witness on the topic of search engines. It’s not the first time I have been asked.  I turned down the last request due to other commitments.  That said, when I get these requests, it is hard to say if I would have been a good fit for the job. I have been in the industry for 6 years and that is pretty much the lifetime of the industry.  Also, since I teach Search Marketing at Humber College and for other organizations, and consult on it, I am probably appropriate for the majority of cases.

To be honest, I am not sure how many people in all of Canada can really qualify for the “search engine expert witness” title.  As I say, I can’t be sure I do either.  I asked Kathy (who manages Anicon now) to call back and learn a little more about the case to see if I was a suitable expert in this instance.  Kathy is well on her way to becoming a Canadian search engine expert herself, but you never know what knowledge will be relevant in a case.  For certain either of us could testify about the principles and best practices surrounding ranking a website, but if the case demanded someone who would be willing to comment on the intricate changes in search engine algorithms, that is not something we could do beyond speaking in general terms.  The fact is only those who work within the walls of the Googleplex or at Microsoft or Yahoo! can really speak to those kinds of specific changes, and I’ll bet you they are legally bound to keep their mouths shut.  Therefore, Kathy, I or Jeff (also an Anicon team member and search expert) are as likely to be certified as anyone to be an expert search engine witness.

But the point of all of this is that when Kathy called to find out more information on my behalf, this is what the lawyer said:

“I only want to go through this once.  I am a lawyer.  I don’t have time for this.”

That was just plain rude – and she clearly did not know who she was talking to (i.e. a very qualified person).  Guess what?  Kathy does not have time for you anymore, and I’ll back her up on that one.  I feel sorry for the client of this lawyer because her lawyer does not have a winning attitude and does not appear to be on track to build a team for a successful defence.  Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes.  What else is true?  We’re all tight on time and you catch more flies with honey.  It’s important not to forget these things…

Marketing Web Applications From the Bottom Up

One more thing Yung Wu mentioned when he spoke was to challenge the conventional wisdom.  One area where I find myself doing this a lot lately is in the marketing of emerging/distruptive technologies – in particular Web applications.  While ruminating on the subject I came across this article:

“Ross Mayfield, chief executive of Socialtext, calls this ”bottom up” adoption, where rank-and-file workers discover software that makes their jobs easier, and that software eventually spreads throughout the company. ”All great productivity applications — e-mail, instant messaging, spreadsheets — have not been brought into the enterprise from the top down,” Mayfield says. ”They’ve done it from the bottom up.” 

* pilfered from here.

Tools, toys and apps are being passed from the bottom-up.  Fostering community and turning over controls to your users are the drivers in this process.

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.