Question: How did you find your way into search marketing?
Answer: I was working in the UK in 2000/2001, online ad sales for a financial website. That was fun – riding the wave up and back down, and then diversifying revenues into referral deals with banks and other financial institutions. I returned to Australia at the end of 2001, and thought I wanted to work for an analytics company – Red Sheriff, Neilsen or similar – but was introduced to a startup SEO/SEM company called Decide Interactive. Back then, search was still a blind media pitch – “would you like to buy 5000 clicks for $1 CPC”? We were selling Adwords in Australia before Google was even in the market. The market evolved and we were eventually acquired by 24/7 Real Media in 2004, bringing me to the US to run Search for them.
Question: You are coming up on your one-year anniversary as Chief Revenue Officer of The Search Agency. What has your experience been like thus far and what do you have planned for year two?
Answer: The experience so far has been great. I have seen two extremes of Search in past roles – the tech-heavy SEM with lots of automation and very light client service and strategy, and the big agency with lots of bodies but very light use of data and automation. I really believe TSA strikes a nice balance between the two – we have technology for the things which are well served by technology, and we have very strong service and process to take the data and do smart things with it. The role of technology as enabler is an excellent value proposition and one I think we do well.
We are emerging from a strong growth year, where we have been heavily focused on process and execution. We have a great product and a great story for the market. We need to continue to get that story to more and more marketers, both through marketing and direct selling. The next year will see accelerated growth through expanded products and services, and should be a very exciting year for both TSA and our clients. We have our eyes on some pretty aggressive goals 12-24 months out, and it should be an interesting ride.
Question: There has been a lot of talk about the iPad since its release this month and rumor has it that you own one. Could you describe your first impressions of the iPad? What role do you see it playing in your tech enhanced life?
Answer: I love the iPad, when I can get it away from my 5 year old son. It’s a totally unnecessary device in that an iPhone and a laptop give me access to the same media, but it is a perfect device for consuming particular types of media during particular segments of my lifestyle. Rishad Tobacowalla at Denuo summarizes it perfectly with a post about “Sit. Walk. Slouch” . The iPad is perfect for “Slouch” media consumption. On the couch, in bed, on the plane. Apple knows this – it’s no coincidence that the TVCs and billboards are of people kicking back on the couch or under a tree, consuming lifestyle media with their iPad.
If you’re like me, you think of things to look up constantly while you consume other media. The iPhone is too small to do much of that, and balancing a laptop on your chest while you type is not ideal. Grab an iPad, touch links, swipe pages, pinch images etc, and you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.
I also like the potential de-personalization of the computer and the movement of content into the cloud. In a couple of years, when you have 3 or 4 tablet devices in the house, lying around like magazines on the coffee table, checking your email doesn’t require finding “your computer”. Pick any one of them up and the email will be there. Want to listen to a particular song? You don’t need to find “your ipod”, Apple will have done something with LaLa by then and all your tunes will get plucked out of the air. Rhapsody is already doing a version of this, Apple will get there soon enough.
Question: Of course, the prevalent Apple related story for online marketers this month was Steve Jobs’ announcement of Apple’s new ad bidding platform iAd. What is your take on an online marketing ecology based on apps rather than search?
Answer: Desktop search does not work on mobile devices. Partly because the interface is not suited to it – screen too small, thumbs too fat. But more because you are in “Walk” mode with your mobile device. You want things Now, Nearby and Specific. Your phone has GPS, a camera and a microphone – much better ways to help you articulate a query. So a host of apps and services have filled the gap by providing niche vertical search experiences. Yelp, Aroundme, Flixster, Redlaser, Shopsavvy, Foursquare – these are all interfaces to databases of content, selecting and offering recommendations based on a combination of explicit or implicit user input and contextual information.
I like to say that the smartest thing Google did was figure out where to put the tollbooths – it became part of the plumbing. iAd could well be this for mobile, depending on platform marketshare in the future. Steve Jobs is betting that people will use his device, accessing data through Apps they have to buy through his store, and monetized by ads he sells targeted by data he owns. Not a bad plan and I would not be betting against it.
Question: What are your interests outside of online marketing?
Answer: I have three young kids so I don’t have a lot of time for interests, but I guess I would say that riding motorcycles consumes a disproportionate amount of my thinking for the small amount of time I spend doing it. I have a 2009 Harley-Davidson XL1200N (Nightster) which I wash more than I ride. But it’s a lot of fun.