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Detlev Johnson and Heather Lloyd Martin: Hot on the Trail of Search Engine Marketing

Like Lewis or Clark (and their significant other Sacagawea), the Northwest explorers whose search skills brought them to settle in the Pacific Northwest, Internet search specialists Detlev Johnson and Heather Lloyd Martin could be considered the Northwest’s, if not America’s, first couple to trailblaze the field of search engine marketing.

Together, the twosome ply their respective skills in implementing search engine strategies for E-commerce sites. Detlev operates on the technology side and Heather in search-optimized copywriting. Both provide clients with the hypermodern form of wilderness trail markings, helping to cut a path that will afford visitors easy passage to a company’s goods and services, a virtual shortcut to their new online trading post.

Speaking of posting, Detlev is also the moderator of one of the Internet’s leading Search Engine discussion groups, entitled i-Search, which claims more than twenty-thousand members. And Heather’s new about-to-be-released book, entitled “Successful Search Engine Copywriting,” will soon be posted for online consumption as well.

The two Northwest search party hosts are also frequent panelists at the Search Engine Strategies conferences (where they first met) organized by search engine pundit and Englishman Danny Sullivan. Their tour of duty has taken them around the world from Germany to last month’s convocation in Dallas, Texas, several hops on the Internet away from their digs in suburban Bellingham, Washington, where Heather attended college at Western. The fact that a couple of sought-after Internet gurus can reside in as exurban a locale as Bellingham is proof positive that when you work as a leading light on the World Wide Web, you can live virtually anywhere.

Seattle24x7: Detlev, you relocated to the Pacific Northwest from the Chicago area where you were working on search engine technologies?
Detlev: Yes, I was VP of Technology at PositionTech. They offer a lot of very cool tools under the brand name of PositionPro which were developed by founder Jim Stob. What’s very cool about PositionTech is what they’re doing with their crawler technology. They can crawl a large [database-driven] site and convert it into a form that can be submitted directly to the search engines. They’re also one of Inktomi’s largest resellers.

Seattle24x7: Heather, you were also associated with a search consulting firm, partnered with Jill Whelan (now of RankWrite). Is your living in Bellingham proof that you can telecommute to work from anywhere?
Heather: That’s exactly it. When I started SuccessWorks in ’98, I was actually living in Redmond at the time. I couldn’t stand it because of the traffic. I had gone to school up in Bellingham. Everybody said that once you live in Bellingham you always return back and that’s exactly what I did. I figured that if I was going to be self employed, I at least wanted to live in a place of my choosing. We’re so close to Seattle and Vancouver, it doesn’t hurt to be outside of the main city. The only time it’s a pain is if we’ve got to fly somewhere. We flew out of Vancouver to go to the Munich Search Engine Strategies show, but other than that Seattle is a more convenient airport. We find ourselves bopping down to Seattle all the time.

Seattle24x7: Tell us about your current company.
Detlev: The name of the company is SuccessWorks. Our latest Web site is searchenginewriting.com. It basically talks about where we’re taking search marketing. We’re placing a really strong emphasis on content development and also with my insight into technology, utilizing the best technology for content manipulation in order to maximize search marketing efforts.
Heather: SuccessWorks is the only search marketing firm that really focuses on the customer experience and conversion. Today, people realize that in order for them to rationalize even having a site, they have to have a return on investment. We offer expert copywriting, so not only will their pages be written in a way that they’ll get prime positioning, but those pages are written with a specific conversion focus so the users take the path on the Website that marketers want them to take.

Seattle24x7: Many search engine pundits have declared that the (Meta) “Keywords” tag is dead. Do you believe that’s the case?
Heather: This exact question came up at my “Writing for Search Engines” session in Dallas. My response was, How long does it take you to write the keywords meta tag? It takes you all of three seconds. It was never a silver bullet. Danny Sullivan is saying to get rid of it entirely. I’m saying why not do it? For certain situations [such as for misspelled versions of words, and for trusted feeds] it can be essentially useful, and again, why not?
Detlev: The same question came up in the search engine representatives panel which I moderated. Each one said, “Well, we don’t like it (I believe Teoma said, well, we still look at it, but we don’t really use it). And then there was the case in the i-Search digest, the [Seattle] Singingfish engine said, ‘Absolutely we use it.’ It’s important to them to get the meaningful data they can report and get search results for.

Look, you could develop a search engine that only indexed the keyword tags and the URL. The problem, is it would be pretty spammy! The search engines look at the keywords tag. They report it. And FAST has announced the fact that they look at it, and in some cases, they look at it to detect spam. If a person is stuffing words in that keywords tag, then it’s a real indication that some of the rest of the stuff is going to be kind of stuffy too.

Seattle24x7: Detlev, as moderator of i-Search, can you tell us what has been the most popular question or issue discussed there?
Detlev: The keywords tag has been one of those interesting discussions. It started early on and people were wondering whether to use commas or not. And now it’s come to the point whether the keywords tag is dead or not. I, for one, plan to keep the discussion alive in i-Search.

Seattle24x7: Okay, we’ll bite. Should you use commas or not? And what about the plural form of keywords?
Detlev: Commas are part of the specification. They’re not crucial because the engines can index all of the words and terms and still provide matches, but it’s more well-formed if you put commas in there. We would default to plurals but it’s most important to match what’s on the page. Think of the keywords tag as a highlighting pen. When you look at Google’s cache and you see all your key terms highlighted there, think of it that way.

Seattle24x7: How would you compare search marketing to banner advertising or marketing via Email?
Heather: There’s new, breakout research coming from E-Marketer that’s now showing that search marketing is outperforming email advertising and banner advertising. The headline: “Search no Further than Google and Looksmart for an Advertising Vehicle Posting Consistent Quarterly Growth” was dated 12-3-02. They found that looking at search engines is the second most popular activity next to reading email.

Seattle24x7: Is it vital to measure search engine results to learn how people are finding you, as well as to determine CPA or CPO and ROI?
Heather: You need to be focused on cost-per-acquisition or cost-per-order which boils down to the same thing…converting. You just want to make the sale or you want your visitors to at least sign up for a newsletter or perform some behavior like that.
Detlev: It’s easy with tracking codes on a Website to find a user who comes in from a search listing whether it be with AdWords or something you paid for at Inktomi, or coming off of MSN. You track a user through the site and if they hit a “Thank You for Ordering” page you know you’ve got a conversion. That’s a simple metric to calculate that conversion. There are some sophisticated tools to help you analyze this stuff such as Maestro from Did-It!.com, one of those companies that can auto-change the bids on keywords as your CPO goes up or down in order to make sure you’re always making a profit with the search marketing campaign. Another company that’s focusing on cost-per-acquisition is Performics.

Seattle24x7:Paid inclusion” services have come a long way. Should P-I be part of the Web marketer’s arsenal?
Detlev: The way the movement began is that some of the largest sites that were dynamically driven sites were really difficult for Web crawlers to access. The search engines decided that rather than take on the expense of trying to crawl everything themselves, which is what Google is trying to do now, how about if we accept some monies to send out some different machines to crawl those sites specifically.

In other words, some of the engines can decide to accept cookies, fill out forms, and so on, in order to access content in a dynamically driven site. The key thing is that those services didn’t pan out that way. They still had to have a generalized crawler that fit most templates. So P-I works for those that have a complex site to engage the services from a vendor like PositionTech. There are other names as well, such as MarketLeap and Quigo who are also doing interesting things. The technology at Quigo is built on what’s known as a semantic network. It’s like a dictionary with weighting metrics applied to it like a score. MarketLeap is focusing on trying to develop tools and hands-on toolsets to be able to manipulate content. Did-It’s another company that’s doing really fascinating things with Trusted Feed, also in the PPC space with Google AdWords and Overture, measuring search traffic conversions.

Seattle24x7: Good luck to you both, and much search success here in the Northwest. [24×7]

Detlev and Heather have embraced search engine marketing with SuccessWorks.