The following interview was conducted by Chris Hede of ENFIN for their Moteurzine search engine industry newsletter. ENFIN is a highly regarded search engine industry resource site located in France. Our thanks go to ENFIN for allowing us to carry this interview for our readers.

 

Moteurzine -- Bonjour Robert. First of all, can you present yourself to our readers and explain us how you managed to work in the Internet industry?

Robert Clough -- I started out in late 1995 working for a company that ran a public Bulletin Board System (BBS) as a side venture. My favorite magazine at the time was BoardWatch, and there were often articles about connecting a BBS to the Internet. I didn't really understand what it was all about, other than the fact that I thought it would be great to allow our visitors to be able to exchange email with people outside our system. I got everything hooked up and we then moved on to set up our first web site. Not long after that, the owner of the company decided he didn't want to continue with the BBS, so I purchased the computer and modems and set everything up at home.

Once I became more familiar with the Internet, I shut down the BBS and set up a Web server. I had built one Web site for a customer and I started submitting the site for inclusion in as many search engines and directories that I could find. I took the list I had compiled and made it available on my own Web site. Not being very good at Web design and not really being interested in the Web hosting business, I contacted some development and hosting companies and offered to promote their customers' sites for a fee. Quite a few hired me and this brought in enough money to keep things going.

 

Moteurzine -- Can you tell us how everything started with Search Engine Guide?

Robert Clough -- The list of search engines I had compiled slowly grew as well as the number of people visiting my site. I think it was July of 1998 that I registered the domain name searchengineguide.com so that I could transfer my list of search engines there and set up a separate site for it. It wasn't until April of 1999 that I actually did this. I did very little with the site until September of 1999 when I decided to stop providing marketing services for other companies because I wanted to focus on building Search Engine Guide.

 

Moteurzine -- Search Engine Guide is both a site and a daily newsletter. Can you present both of them to us?

Robert Clough -- Search Engine Guide is a site that is meant to guide people to quality sources of information about search engines. Whether the visitor's interest is in search engine marketing or finding a new search tool, the goal is to help them find resources that will address their needs.

The Search Engine Guide newsletter is a daily digest of articles that has the same goal - help people find sources of information about search engines. The newsletter is broken down into eight categories:

-Search Engine Marketing News
-Search Engine Tools & Technology News
-Search Engine Industry News
-Search Engine Discussion Threads of the Day
-Worth A Look
-From The Archives...
-Search Engine Industry Jobs
-Upcoming Search Engine Conferences & Workshops

The daily newsletter is for people that need to stay current with all the various happenings in the search engine universe.

 

Moteurzine -- Right now, you are releasing daily a newsletter about search engines and a weekly one about search engine marketing. And what about the pay-per-click and the optimisation newsletters?

Robert Clough -- Instead of publishing a variety of newsletters on many sub-topics, I'm focusing on publishing just two for now. The daily newsletter for people that need to stay current on a variety of search engine topics and the weekly newsletter for those just interested in search engine marketing.

A large number of the subscribers to the daily newsletter either work for a search engine company or are directly involved in some other aspect of the industry. The subscribers to the weekly newsletter are primarily Webmasters and Web site owners that want to stay informed about marketing their sites through the search engines.

 

Moteurzine -- Are you full-time working on Search Engine Guide or is it just a "hobby"? If it is just a "hobby", do you have another job?

Robert Clough -- I do have another job, but I consider Search Engine Guide to be much more than a hobby. My plan is to ultimately be able to quit my job and work solely on Search Engine Guide. I have two small children, so I won't give up my job until Search Engine Guide generates enough revenue and I have a large enough cushion built up.

 

Moteurzine -- How many people are involved in Search Engine Guide? How many hours each day do you spend working on Search Engine Guide (the site and the newsletters)?

Robert Clough -- I'm actually the only person who works directly on Search Engine Guide. But, there are lots of great people that contribute to it. My wife, who always provides great feedback and ideas about the site, the writers that contribute their articles, the people that alert me to news items and new search engine resources, the advertisers that help support it, etc. All of these people are very important and I appreciate the contributions of all of them. I'm just the guy that runs the site and puts out the newsletters. They are the ones that make it what it is.

It's hard for me to say how many hours I work on it. I work nights at my job and care for my children during the day while my wife is at work. My computer is in my living room so every spare moment that I have I work on Search Engine Guide.

 

Moteurzine -- Which sites do you consider as your competitors?

Robert Clough -- I don't think of other sites covering search engines as competitors. Search Engine Guide is meant to be a tool that helps people find the best search engine resources that will help them accomplish a task. Whether the visitor needs to learn how to promote their site, perform research, or get the latest news, Search Engine Guide will show them the best resources. I think of it as introducing our visitors to the experts of the search engine industry.

 

Moteurzine -- What do you think about the actual situation of the search engines world (Google which owns more than 50% of the market,...)?

Robert Clough -- I consider myself an industry observer, perhaps even a bit of an archivist, so I don't get terribly concerned with what is happening, so long as something is happening. The daily activity in the industry is what I find exciting.

Google is great because loads of articles and (often heated) discussions are generated about it. I do wish there was more activity concerning other search tools. It's more fun when my daily reading covers a variety of search tools.

 

Moteurzine -- Everybody is saying that the traffic from thematic and local search engines will be more and more important in the coming months. But, everybody has been saying this for the past 2 or 3 years. So, can we expect something from them?

Robert Clough -- I think we are already seeing results from thematic, local and even the smaller general search engines and directories. The problem is, people tend to judge the results against the traffic that a search engine like Google produces. If site owners take the time to dig through their log files, they may be surprised to find a smaller search site sending one or two visitors a day. This may seem trivial, but instead of comparing this flow of traffic to the likes of Google, let's look at it from a different perspective. Each visitor delivered is an opportunity to make a sale, or establish a relationship and create a repeat visitor. If a site owner is really focused on providing great content or a great service, then these visitors will return and they will often tell others about the site. And those that they've told will tell others, etc. So, instead of viewing those one or two visitors as unimportant, think about the impact they may have on your site over a five or ten year period. Looking at it this way, the true value of the traffic delivered by these smaller search engines is revealed.

Another point to keep in mind is the fact that these smaller search engines and directories may some day become very large or very important. The Open Directory is a great example. I remember when it first launched, many dismissed it as unimportant, not worth the time to submit to, etc., because it didn't compare to the likes of Yahoo!. The Open Directory has since grown into a wonderful resource that is considered very important - thanks to the work of volunteers.

So, instead of just blowing off smaller search tools such as GoGuides, or Gigablast, or SearchHippo, consider the potential long-term value of a listing in these sites. Besides, the time it takes to submit your site is trivial.

 

Moteurzine -- Do you think that a search engine such as Teoma or Gigablast or Wisenut or ... has a chance to become a major search engine and compete with the big ones? What do they need, except many visitors, to be a leading search engine?

Robert Clough -- Yes, they all have a chance. History is full of examples of small players working harder and smarter and breaking ahead of the big established competitors.

What I find exciting about all of the smaller players is that the people working on them really believe they have a chance to become a major player. They are all innovating and working hard to provide a better search tool. Many will fade away and most won't become major players. But, success can be defined in ways other than reaching the prominence of a site like Google.

 

Moteurzine -- Every week, and even some times every day, we are talking about Google in the news. How do you explain this "Google-mania"? What makes this search engine so interesting for the Internet users?

Robert Clough -- For the typical Internet user, it's a case of Google just doing its job very well. The typical user knows very little about our industry. They use what works best for them. Google has worked hard, stayed focused, and they give people what they want.

The mania aspect in our industry is an issue of Web site owners craving the traffic Google can generate. There are thousands of small site owners working incredibly hard to make a living. They naturally have an interest in learning as much as they can about any resource that can deliver visitors and potential customers to their sites.

 

Moteurzine -- Can you imagine a "Teoma-mania" or a new "Altavista-mania"?

Robert Clough -- Absolutely. But, it is up to them to create a reason for the mania. They've got to give visitors what they want.

 

Moteurzine -- In Europe, there are 3 major pay-per-click companies: Google, Overture and Espotting, which is an English company. Can you tell us the situation in the USA?

Robert Clough -- It's not much different here. There is Google, Overture, and everyone else. I'd caution that it is not wise to just dismiss everyone else. There are smaller PPC search engines and thematic PPC search engines that some site owners are using as an advertising vehicle with great results. Before taking this route, site owners need to invest time investigating these other options and testing them. Most of the smaller PPC search engines will be a complete waste of money. But, depending on the industry and the site owner's ability to convert visitors into customers, there are lots of opportunities to succeed using some of the smaller or thematic PPC engines.

 

Moteurzine -- And what do you think about it? For a small business, is it worth the money you put in it?

Robert Clough -- Yes, if approached wisely. As I mentioned, site owners need to do their homework and test the results. Don't just sign up with any PPC search engine you can find. In addition to the majors, look for the "second-tier" or thematic search engines and run some tests. If a site does a good job converting visitors into customers, it could be well worth the money even on a small volume of visitors delivered.

 

Moteurzine -- What is the meaning of SEO? How do you call someone who is working in a SEO company? What can you tell about the SEO market in the USA?

Robert Clough -- I often think that if you ask ten different people for the precise definition of SEO, you'll get ten different answers. But this is often a matter of focusing too much on the differing styles or techniques employed.

When I think of SEO, I think of a process of making a site more accessible to search engines AND to the visitors that arrive from the search engines.

In my mind, the best SEO providers are educators first. They take the time to inform their client of the different approaches available and work with them to develop a solution that is best suited to the client's site.

I'd also like to say that site owners have a responsibility to educate themselves as well. Before making a decision on which SEO provider to choose, or which SEO techniques to use with their sites, they should spend a great deal of time researching their options, learning about what works, what the potential risks are, etc.

Site owners should visit the forums that are available, visit the resource sites, subscribe to newsletters, etc. Expecting to make the right decisions on whom to choose or what techniques to employ after a day of looking around is foolish.

The good news is, with the investment of some time, it is quite easy for site owners to find the information they need to make educated decisions. The SEO industry is full of people that are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. As an observer of the SEO industry, I find it very encouraging how many articles, newsletters, and forum posts are produced. The SEO industry as a whole is very open and has embraced the idea that helping others is good for business.

 

Moteurzine -- Do you think there is a different way to work as a SEO in the USA and in Europe?

Robert Clough -- I'm not an SEO, so it's difficult for me to answer this with specific examples.

But, if viewed in the broader sense of an SEO being an educator, they are the same. The good ones will educate the client on the options, work with the client to develop a plan best suited to their site, and help to improve the ultimate conversion rate of the visitors that arrive from the search engines.

 

Moteurzine -- Google released a few weeks (months) ago a message for all the webmasters and SEO companies. What do you think about it?

Robert Clough -- From the point of view of a consumer, I think it is very positive. It is a notice to site owners that they need to be careful and educate themselves about what is involved in SEO. Dig deeper, do some research, and don't just believe everything you are told.

 

Moteurzine -- For you, what should a webmaster do to improve his ranking in search engines?

Robert Clough -- Worry about your visitors first. Search engines are a wonderful source of traffic, but traffic is meaningless if a visitor isn't well served after arriving at a site.

Site owners should strive to be the absolute best at what they do. Always work to provide a better experience for the visitors. Think about ways to maximize the value of each visitor delivered by making it a place a visitor would want to visit often - and tell their friends about.

I think that by taking this approach, the natural result will be improved search engine rankings over time.

A site that is easily navigated by visitors, will generally be easily navigated by search engines. A site with loads of great content for visitors, provides loads of material for search engines to index. A site that really serves its visitors is a site that others will want to link to. This will improve link popularity. And on, and on, and on.

This approach should be taken along with applying the basics of making your site more accessible to the search engines. To learn the basics, utilize the many search engine resources that are available.

 

Moteurzine -- Which are the search engines and directories where a webmaster needs to submit his site, today?

Robert Clough -- Start by getting listed in directories such as the Open Directory, GoGuides, JoeAnt, etc. In time, the major search engines will spider these resources and find your site.

If you want to submit to the larger search engines such as Google, go ahead. But, if you get listed in the directories, the larger search engines will find your site.

Don't forget to look for the smaller quality resources such as thematic and local directories and search engines. They may not produce a great deal of traffic, but as I mentioned earlier, every visitor is important.

 

Moteurzine -- What do you think about the paying submission of Inktomi, Altavista, Fast, Teoma, Yahoo!, etc? Is it worth the money you put in it?

Robert Clough -- I've never used this type of service, but I think that if your budget allows for it, you should definitely test these options after doing some research. Go to the forums, look for others that have successfully used these options. Ask specific questions such as how well the visitors delivered from these sites have converted into customers for others in your industry. Don't be afraid to ask questions. In fact, be sure to ask detailed questions.

Often, its a matter of whether a site owner wants to wait to see if one of the search engines will index their site without paying. If it's November and you are planning to sell Christmas trees from your site, it may be worth the fee to not have to wait to be indexed.

This may also be an option worth exploring if important pages on your site aren't being indexed, or aren't being indexed frequently enough.

 

Moteurzine -- How do you imagine the evolution of the search engines market in the near future?

Robert Clough -- I really don't have any predictions. I'll leave that to people who are far smarter than I am.

As an observer, and for my own personal entertainment, I do hope there are more search engines launched, I hope new unexpected alliances are formed, I generally hope for events that will stir things up and increase competition in the industry. The more competition - the better the search engines will become. And, of course, this will result in exciting material for my newsletters. :-)

 

Moteurzine -- For this new year, what are your projects for Search Engine Guide?

Robert Clough -- There is so much that needs to be improved. I really have an interest in search engine news and the history of search engines. As such, I've just launched an archive of search engine news articles. Currently over 3,000 articles are listed, but I have thousands more that I need to get indexed. My goal is to create a really useful research tool that will help people get answers and make good decisions. I want to help people to educate themselves.

 

Moteurzine -- What search engine do you use? If you could make the "perfect" search engine, what would it be like?

Robert Clough -- I use all of the big ones, but I keep in mind the need to find new sources for information and research. A lot of my time is spent using the news-search features of the search engines.

The perfect search engine... hmmm... how about I give you a couple of points from my wish list instead?

Wish number one: I would like to have a quality local search engine.

Wish number two: I would like to be able to perform a search on a topic and designate the language of the sites the results are drawn from. I would then like the search results translated into my own language and have the sites I visit automatically translated into my own language.

For example, I'd like to search for articles about search engines that are written in Japanese. I'd like to see the search results translated into English. Then I'd like to visit the sites and have the pages automatically translated into English.

I can do this now to some degree, but it is very tedious, and requires many different tools. I'd love to have a search tool that could do all of this automatically.

 

Moteurzine -- What is your favorite site and why?

Robert Clough -- I love to read and I love books. So, for relaxation, I like to go to Amazon.com and just spend time hunting for books I haven't read, reading the reviews, and checking out recommendations. This is almost as much fun as going to one of my local used book stores.

 

Moteurzine -- Robert, thank you very much for answering to all these questions.

Robert Clough -- Thank you for the opportunity.

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