Legendary SEO Jim Hedger on Canadian SEO issues

We’re now literally only a few weeks away from SES Toronto, and I was able to land a huge special guest.  None other than legendary SEO, Jim Hedger!  As a fellow Canadian with years of experience it only makes sense that he moderates a panel entitled “SEO Then and Now: What’s the Same? What’s New?”  Always an entertaining and informative guest, Jim has agreed to share his unique perspective on Canadian-specific SEO issues on PPC-Advice.com.

Garry: Jim, good to meet up with you again, it’s always a pleasure.  To set the stage for SES Toronto: we’re coming off a terrible recession, but it seems as though Canada fared much better than the US.  Can you comment on any trends you’ve observed in SEO as a result?

Jim Hedger: Canada has fared better than the United States however many SEO providers in Canada are reliant on accounts from American clients. The US recession has led to a number of hardships for smaller Canadian SEO firms as American clients have a harder time paying their bills.

We have also seen unprecedented weakness in the value of the American dollar. For years until 2008, Canadian firms were able to offer the equivalent of a 15 – 20% discount to US based clients as the Canadian dollar was worth approximately $0.80 US.  Today, the two currencies are basically at par with each other. That’s a huge shift which has caused a rethinking of pricing and staffing levels for many SEO firms.

That said; the Canadian SEO sector has fared far better than our American counterparts. Most of us do not face the extraordinary financial and emotional pressures stemming from the bursting housing bubble and the domino effect on the economy. In January 2009, I moved to Florida for three months. That was near the beginning of the deflating housing market in South Florida and the rest of the nation. Seemingly overnight, businesses closed and you could feel the emotional upset throughout the community.

Canadian firms should not assume we are immune to American economic ills. Though Canada and Ontario’s economies are doing extremely well, our tech sector continues to rely primarily on business from the United States. There is still tremendous volatility in the American financial markets and it remains likely they will experience another downturn in the coming year. No matter what, the economic climate is shifting away from America. Canadian firms should look internationally for new business and lessen our reliance on American business. Europe, as economically ill as it is currently is the world’s largest economy. Asia is growing rapidly.

This city (Toronto) in particular is very well positioned to take advantage of the shift in economic power from the United States to Asian and Northern European markets. Toronto is considered the most multi-cultural city on Earth. It is also one of the most well educated cities in the world. There are dozens of smart firms in the GTA who are prepared to offer services in Asian and European languages.

Garry: Agreed, and in some ways, I believe Canadian companies have already made a significant impact on overseas markets, especially in the SEM space, great points.

Shifting focus a bit, it seems that the talk every year is, “this is the year for mobile”.  I’m inclined to believe that last year was probably the year for mobile, as popularity of smart phones and quasi-mobile devices like 3G connected netbooks really took off.  What are your thoughts on the mobile space?

Jim Hedger: 2009 might have been the year consumer demand pushed the transition towards mobile but 2010 is the watershed year in which mobile devices become the primary means of accessing and using the Internet. In many ways, our thinking about mobile search has far outpaced consumer adoption of mobile devices. That too is changing in 2010 as the consumer dictates how mobile technologies evolve.

Here are a few key words and phrases to watch for when thinking about the evolution of the mobile space.

-Social media
-Personal privacy
-Sherman Anti-Trust Act
-North American data rates
-Apple
-Facebook

All search is local search in mobile.

Garry: One I would consider also, “carrier charges” especially as they pertain to mobile commerce.

Shifting gears once again, Google just launched a redesign of their search engine and with it a new sidebar that promises more relevant results. In a way, they seem to be pulling back a bit on Universal Search Results.  What’s your take on the new approach to the SERPs?

Jim Hedger: I see Google trying to make it easier for it’s users to move between different types of results. I don’t know if the addition of the sidebar will necessarily generate more relevant results. There once was a search engine named Ask… sigh…

Garry: I hear ya… On the same vein, Personalized search: ripe opportunity or some scary sh!t?

Jim Hedger: I’m going to go with BOTH.

Personalized search is as much about mobile marketing as it is about presenting the best possible results for each individual’s query. Clearly, unless one has access to the information mobile phone providers or Facebook has, it will be very difficult to target individuals. That said there is a wealth of analytics drawn from site logs. It’s only a matter of time before someone like Richard Zwicky comes up with a method of identifying individuals visiting a web document.

When I think about Personalization, I start with regionalization and try to imagine honing in on individuals within that region. A twenty-five year old male in British Columbia is typically interested in “XYZ”. I will thus market specific documents to those people while marketing differently themed documents to others in the same region. I suspect we’ll have to come up with a few mashup terms to describe how we target such as “regional demographic profiles”.

Will this lead to even more marketing pollution? Probably.

Garry: Real time indexing of social, is there a point? Or is Google in a pissing match with Microsoft for most ridiculous widgets in the SERPs?

Jim Hedger: Again, I am going to go with a middle of the road answer… Both.

There is a place for real-time results. Think about the democratic uprising in Iran last summer. There would certainly have been a place in SERPs for messages coming from the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities. At the same time, if I want to plan an afternoon for my girlfriend and her kids and search, “ice cream parlor, Toronto Island”, I don’t want to read about how Ben and Jerry’s is helping someone get past a heartbreak but I might be interested in knowing the line-up at the ice cream stand runs from the ferry terminal to Hanlan’s Point.

As for ridiculous widgets, get used to it. Widgets are about mobile and what is ridiculous for one is precious to another.

Real-time results are not the holy grail of search mobile personalization represents.

Garry: Excellent points on the real-time SEO front.  As I mentioned before, you’re moderating “SEO Then & Now: What’s the same? What’s new?” Care to give us a sneak peek of that session?

Jim Hedger: The funny thing is, what is NOW today could be THEN by the opening of SES Toronto, two weeks from now. I think we’ll be covering everything from changes in the landscape to changes in technique. I am simply moderating the session so I can guarantee there will be a few good questions for the panelists along with an eloquent introduction for each. I can also guarantee it will be an interesting, fun and enlightening session. As it is the opening session of the conference, I’ll be happy to relax and enjoy the company of the Canadian search marketing community afterward.

Once again, I’d like to thank Jim for making time to speak with me on Canadian-specific SEO issues, some great insights here from a respected leader in our industry, and all-round good guy.

About Jim Hedger

Jim Hedger is an organic SEO and search marketing consultant. He is also a writer, WebmasterRadio.FM show host and interviewer.

Jim has been involved in the SEO field since the days of the dinosaurs. He felt like he lost a personal friend the day Disney went “ol’ Yeller” on Infoseek. Over the course of his career, Jim has shared drinks with Jeeves the Butler, tossed sticks to that sock-puppet dog from Pets.com and walked away from staring contest with Googlebot confidently declaring a tie. When not traveling between conferences, Jim lives with a perpetually annoyed cat named Hypertext and can often be seen riding around Toronto on a very fast red bike.

About Search Engine Strategies

Search Engine Strategies is the definitive digital event for marketers, corporate decision makers, webmasters and search engine marketers (SEMs), including pay per click (PPC) advertisers and search engine optimization (SEO) professionals. Attend SES Toronto, network with your peers, and learn the tips, tactics and strategies that will grow your business online.

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