Search Across the Pond

My background in global marketing is perhaps what makes my fascination with international search so keen. The branding and marketing issues when messages face cultural and linguistic barriers are enormous. In a purely text-based channel like search, they only become more so.

Search Engine Strategies (SES) London has grown into a bridge of sorts, on which marketers come together to thrash out these problems. Certainly there are plenty of Brits in attendance, but so too search marketers from across Scandinavia and other parts of Europe and even farther afield, along with the usual complement of American search experts.

Following, some takeaways from this year’s event.

Regional Species of the Tail

“You have to work harder in German to get deeper into the tail because there’s more of it,” said Andy Atkins-Krüger, Web Certain‘s managing director. Not something I’d ever considered, but it makes sense. The longest tails on the Web are in English and German. Given there are more Mandarin and Hindi speakers than English, this could well change. The shortest tails are in the Romance languages.

Food for thought, as well as for strategy. Atkins-Krüger also raised other international issues that can rankle continental marketers, such as the one who raised this alarm: “Google thinks we’re Norwegian.” His U.K. site happens to be hosted in Norway.

Booming Business

“The U.K. is two years behind the U.S. in search,” is something you used to hear a lot of over here. No more, not with four out of five people on the planet searching, per Nielsen data. Search is sophisticated, brand advertisers are interested, and British SEO (define) professionals are every bit as busy as their American counterparts. I had drinks with a U.K. SEO professional who set up his own shop last month. Within three weeks, he’d landed four major clients (one with a nine-country reach), all before his new business cards were even printed.

The SEO community here is a tightly knit one, rife with cooperation. Some shops are reluctant to bid against certain others they’re friendly with, and there’s quite a bit of cooperative outsourcing and subcontracting between ostensibly competitive organizations.

SEO’s Next Generation

Reams have been written over the past couple years about the dearth of SEO talent. Cutthroat recruiting practices and poaching abound. It’s sweet (and kind of makes you feel old) to meet search optimizer 2.0s: kids going into the family business. SEO PR founder Greg Jarboe is training his son, Brendan, in optimization. Similarly, XSEO‘s Matt Paines was at the event with his son, Chris, who’s gone into his dad’s business.

Who knows? The next long-term hiring strategy in the search industry might prove to be a combination of love, romance, and fertility. Considering SES fell over Valentine’s Day, the prognosis may be favorable.

Training, Sharing, Learning

If you’re unable to wait 18-20 years for grow-your-own SEO talent, you may be more in luck than your counterparts in other interactive marketing disciplines. The talent dearth is an industry-wide cause of lament, but search is really doing something about it. Virtually all search marketers here say they spend some 20 hours per week educating themselves to keep abreast of developments in the discipline. SES-run training sessions were well attended, as were separate sessions run by Google and Yahoo. SEMPO has also started offering courses.

Meanwhile, I hear interactive ad agencies griping about the talent shortage and bemoaning the fact colleges and universities aren’t teaching marketing and advertising students the skills they need to get into the business. Take a page from the search professionals, guys. They’re investing in the future, not just complaining about it.

Matt Cutts Is a Really Nice Guy

Finally, one of the highlights of these events is the opportunity to meet people in person you’ve “known” for years. It was a treat meeting Google’s highly personable überblogger Matt Cutts. Cutts gave the keynote this year, discussing how he spends his days combating search and e-mail spam for Google. Spam, says he, is noise, and “noise is what you don’t want for your signal.”

Cutts also looked into what promises to be an interesting — and challenging — future. “Personalization is going to be another sea change in how sites get ranked…. You can’t rank number one for everybody anymore. It’s going to be a big win for SEOs. You just have to sit down and figure out the niches.”

Those niches won’t necessarily be related to Web sites alone. “Don’t just target Web search,” Matt advised, “Think about the whole portfolio of things you can show up on.” He went on to cite local search. Mobile search. Gmail. Image, desktop, video, book and code search.”Five years ago, Google was pretty much only Web search,” he observed, “But look at our mission statement. There’s no mention of search engines in there.”

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