Going to Washington, D.C. to represent our industry to Congress was a great honor and the highlight of my career as an online marketer. It happened so fast, I never really had time to think about it, and I’m glad I didn’t because I probably would have freaked out. We had fun, saw the sights, and we met some really smart people (all the Congressional and Committee staff). Makes me feel better about the folks getting things done in D.C. I met a couple of lobbyists, too.
I didn’t realize that lobbyists help Congress the way they do. I always had this vision of a cigar-chomping good ol’ boy buying round after round of drinks, but these folks weren’t like that at all. Funny thing is, lobbying looks an awful lot like search engine optimization.
As an SEO, you want to make sure a search engine knows what your site is about by marking up the page the right way and making sure your inbound links have the right anchor text, and all the while coloring inside the lines so you don’t get penalized (or even banned!). I think lobbyists work the same way, educating lawmakers and their staffs about their particular topic while playing by the rules (at least the white hat lobbyists).
In the end, I think the folks in Congress at this hearing “get search.” They understand how important Internet advertising is to small business folks like us. And while I think the jury is still out on the Google / Yahoo! deal from an anti-trust perspective, I think that search advertising specific regulation isn’t going to happen.
D.C. Travelog (Continued from Part 1)
Previously on Search Engine Land: Search Marketer Rob Snell got a phone call asking if he wanted to testify in front of Congress at a hearing of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Small Business, and less than a week later, he’s packed up and about to fly out to Washington to speak before Congress about the benefits of search marketing for small businesses.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. It was almost 4:30 in the morning, and I had just emailed Danny my Search Engine Land article from the Copy Cow (my copy shop). I locked the door to run home across the street to pack with 30 minutes to spare. I packed the car and picked up my girlfriend at 5:00 a.m to have plenty of time to get to the airport for our 6:15 flight. The scenery was ethereal. We drove east as the sun came up, watching the mist rise from the dozens of catfish ponds with almost no traffic for the 20-mile drive.
We checked in, checked our bags, and made our way through security. I got the customary pat-down search that seems to happen almost every time I fly through GTR. We made it to the gate. Thirty minutes later, Delta announced that our plane had a mechanical difficulty and the flight was canceled. I love living out in the country, but one of the downsides of living in rural Mississippi is our tiny little airport. I may joke about Uncle Earl running the cows off the runway so the plane can take off, but I’m not exaggerating that much.
After waiting in line for 45 minutes, we found out that all the other flights that day were fulls and the busted mechanical part would be in later that afternoon. I went back home for 9 hours to catch some zzz’s.
Later that day, I awoke to my phone buzzing with text messages. The Search Engine Land article was published, and all my SEO peeps were texting or emailing.
We hurried back to the airport, caught our flight, and made it to Atlanta. Our flight arrived at Washington-Dulles by midnight, and we made it to the JW Marriott by 1 a.m. thanks to our cab driver, the Jeff Gordon of Uzbekistan.
The next day, I slept like the dead. We got up pretty late and delivered 75 printed copies of my written testimony (pdf) to the Small Business Committee. LINK: http://www.house.gov/smbiz/. I felt like I was finally ready to testify. Afterwards, we played tourist for a while and walked around D.C. looking at landmarks and enjoying the great weather.
A buddy had a good friend who testified to Congress several times before. She called to give me pointers on what to expect, what to say, and, more importantly, what not to say. Most of it boiled down to “be yourself.” As an invited witness who didn’t have an agenda, I was pretty safe as long as I was polite. Other folks suggested to just say what I thought when Congress asked questions, and to just jump in if I wanted to get a word in the conversation.
The night before testifying, I kept going over my speech with my timer. I had five minutes to hit the highlights of my written testimony. Even though we had over an hour and a half on the schedule for Q&A, I wanted to make sure I covered several important points. I made a “big print” version of the third version of my “final” testimony and called it a night at about 1:00 a.m. And I was pretty excited. And nervous, too! I could barely sleep. I kept waking up every hour checking the time.
The day of the hearing
Architect Pierre L’Enfant did a spectacular job designing Washington, DC. The United States Capitol looks particularly intimidating when you’re riding down Pennsylvania Avenue about to testify to Congress.
To start the day, I had a 7:00 a.m. breakfast meeting with the Yahoo! who nominated me to testify to thank her and to grab a little oatmeal before heading to Congress. I made my way back to the Marriott to get my notes, and then we caught another cab who dropped us off at the Longworth House Office Building, right across the street from the Capitol. Security was tight.
Every official building we visited in DC had airport-like security with a bag x-ray and super-sensitive metal detectors. We cleared security, made our way to the hearing room, and waited for the hearing to start. My good friend, Andrea Harris of CarFax, showed up for moral support. I also fired up TWITTER on my iPhone and got some really cool attaboys from a few industry giants. I was pumped!
About 9:45 they opened up the hearing room. I introduced myself to the other panel members: Tim Carter of AsktheBuilder.com, Paul Sanar of SkyFacet, Randall Rothenberg of the IAB, and Richard Lent of AgencyNet.
Chairman Gonzales walked in at that point and introduced himself. He recognized me from either my caricature in the Snell Brothers logo and/or the photo on my biography. The testimony hadn’t yet started and here I was already familiar to the Chairman.
The members of the Subcommittee sat down at a long table across the back of the room. All five witnesses sat at another table facing the Congressmen and their aides. There were three microphones with speaker timers on the witness table. A huge flat-panel TV monitor hung on the wall to the right of the witnesses. Witnesses could see the monitor out of our peripheral vision, but the monitor was so the Congressmen could tell whether they were on TV or not.
Chairman Gonzales (D-TX) made an opening statement. Ranking member Westmoreland (R-GA) made his opening remarks. Next, the Chairman introduced the five witnesses and we gave five-minute oral summaries of our written testimony.
When practicing my testimony, I averaged about a minute per typed page of 18-point type. When I spoke at the hearing I was much slower. I was wrapping up page 2 and noticed the timer was at 3:15, so I had to summarize the rest off the cuff, editing while I was reading!
Here’s my last-last-last script for my oral presentation.
After the oral presentations, we got into the Q&A portion of the hearing. I’ll cover the entire hearing in detail in another article, probably after the official transcripts are posted later in July, but here are some of the points I covered in my portion of the Q&A session:
How do retailers deal with all these keywords?
- While a company like General Motors may buy millions of keywords, retailers who focus on a particular retail niche may still have thousands or even tens of thousands of keywords.
- I manage my keywords using my Indextools analytics software.
- Newer retailers without all this history can use online keyword tools. The paid search folks provide free keyword tools and there are some really good paid keyword research tools available (Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery).
Would I sell my keyword lists?
- No! My converting keywords are proprietary!
- I think competitors selling the exact same products usually have related but still very different keyword dictionaries, depending on what they sell and how they sell it..
How can small firms get into buying paid search ads?
- First, retailers can do paid search themselves.
- Later, they can hire consultants to help write ads, find more keywords and tune campaigns. These folks work on an hourly basis and perform audits for flat rates.
- Larger companies can outsource their paid search campaigns to agencies, many of which charge a minimum fee and a percentage of monthly ad spend like a traditional advertising agency would.
How easy is it to get online? And launch paid search ads?
- MYTH: Businesses think it’s hard to make SE-friendly web sites. 60% of small business folks think it’s difficult to get online, according to a survey. I thought that was a cop-out. Now more than ever there are more free or extremely affordable tools for the little guy. Yahoo! Store for e-commerce. WordPress for blogs. Free keyword tools. Google Website Optimizer.
- Example paid search ad: “Orange Dog Collars.” I spent maybe 5 minutes the night before to show how fast I could make and run an online ad. Cranked my bid up to $2 a click to get that #1 position on Google. Set my daily limit to $100 so I wouldn’t get hammered on clicks. Asked folks in the audience to play along at home, search to see my result in the free search results, and click on my ad to see my landing page.
Are you afraid of Google’s domination in the search engines?
- Nope. Google is under too much scrutiny from the government, the media, their advertisers and their publishers to get away with anything for too long.
- I advise retailers not to be solely dependent on search engines for their marketing — paid OR free. Email marketing is very powerful. Send postcards to your customer list. Sponsor web sites. There’s more to the Internet than Google, Yahoo! and MSN.
- I talked about how the anti-trust issues of the Google / Yahoo! deal were above my pay grade, but I liked the idea of having Google ads run on Yahoo! when Yahoo! didn’t have any ad inventory and/or Google ads converted better than Panama ads.
- I’m not worried about Google being on top forever. Google had Google Video, but still had to buy Youtube. The social sites have sprung up from nowhere in spite of Google and Yahoo having similar products. The game is always changing. These companies will either innovate or have to acquire those that do if they want to remain on top, and some folks don’t want to be bought out.
What are the differences in free search and paid search?
- Explained differences between SEO and PPC. Showed how a page one position is important because 90% free clicks come from the first page of results.
- Examined the anatomy of a search engine results page. Pointed out what parts are free and what parts are paid
- Looked at local search for local businesses. I suggested also looking at paid search ads targeted for broad keywords, but using geo-targeting and only running those ads in markets their brick and mortar stores served. Example was buying the keyword “books,” but only in San Antonio, TX, for a Texas book store in the district of Chairman Gonzales.
What did we think Congress should do? What should Congress not do?
We spent most of the day trying to convince them not to legislate something that was working just fine. My suggestion was for them to create a Small Business E-Commerce Czar with the job of getting the word out to let all small business folks know about all the different ways to sell and market online.
Long-time Yahoo! Store owner and developer Rob Snell of Snell Brothers blogs about Yahoo! Store, speaks at search conferences about Yahoo! Store, and is the author of the Yahoo! Store book: Starting a Yahoo! Business For Dummies.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.