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Lee Odden

Lowdown with Brett Tabke of WebmasterWorld

By Lee Odden     Marketing Industry News, Online Marketing, Pubcon, Spotlight on Search

Spotlight on Search Interview with Brett Tabke of WebmasterWorld.

Recently I had the opportunity get the scoop from WebmasterWorld and Pubcon Search Engine Marketing conference owner, Brett Tabke. In this interview, Brett gives an interesting perspective on RSS, insight into how web services can be the next “golden goose” of revenue and the good news that Pubcon is kicking things up a notch in terms of advanced content.

The upcoming Pubcon in Boston has some really impressive speakers lined up. Personally, I think it’s smart of you not to have a search engine specific keynote speaker; there are only so many of those. What made you decide to pick Malcolm Gladwell as a keynote?

Tipping Point is the modern black book of marketing. It takes the complex and “double talk” nature of marketing language and boils it down into common sense concepts that everyone can understand. Between Gladwells Blink and Tipping Point, you get a window into all marketing and not just seo/sem. Search marketing is a good main stay of marketing to day, but in the grand scheme of website design, building, operation, maintenance, marketing, search is but one part of that picture.

There have been quite a few changes in the search engine world, as is typical, in the past year. MSN was making a play for increased market share and never really quite did it. Yahoo seemed to be making some improvement, but not really. Now it looks like only Google and Ask.com are making any headway. Is Google destined to “own” the search engine marketplace forever?

“Own” is too strong of a word I think. The web is in constant flux. MySpace has made enormous strides over the last year. They came out of nowhere with a model that no one paid any attention too. Google themselves popped up when everyone thought search was just a side show and the big portals with their massive email systems (eg: Yahoo and Hotmail/msn) were going to dominate the web.

There are 2 coming waves in the next 12-24 months and they will be the most impactfull items in the history of the web. First, we have acceleration of the wave of web services that is growing. Second, the release of the long awaited Vista Operating system from Microsoft. These two events will dictate the future of the web for the next 10 years to come.

Currently we have sites such as SalesForce.com and others that are providing web based collaboration service tools. Other sites and services are slowly coming online. The difficulty is a tech issue for programmers. The are still learning to effectively to work with in the shackles of the browser interface. In that sense, we are almost in a throw back era of programming design where – even after 10 years of web browser usage – programmers are still wrestling with it as an interface. Even though we have killer examples such as Google Maps, programmers on the whole are still in a learning phase with technologies such as AJAX.

The growth of broadband, the modernization of browsers, and the maturation of browser programming is leading the way in the quiet revolution of web services. That trend is clearly going to accelerate over the next 24 months. We are just starting up a step and fast bell curve of change in that respect. That acceleration is being – and is going to be lead – by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Web services locks people into those services for almost on a lifetime basis. Recurring long term billing and revenue streams are the stuff empires are made of. One need only look at the death grip HotMail has on many peoples email accounts to understand how web services can be the next golden goose of revenue. The big three (MSN, Yahoo, and Google) are going to play in the web services field with r&d money we haven’t seen since the hay day of the web. Nothing short of dominance of the web is a stake. The title fight we have been thinking was coming in search was just a warmup bout for the “Web is Platform/Web Services” main event. The big three all want it to be *their* platform.

The second wave will be the release of Microsofts next pc operating system – Vista. While we were already gearing up for it to be this fall, it now looks like it will be a year away. Even though I have seen the beta, I am unsure how this is going to effect the web as a whole. It is going to take some further study to see the impact. New hardware features, new software features, and new ways of working will mean it will invade everything we do. How that shakes out is yet to be seen. I can only imagine that it is going to help MSN in a multitude of ways.

Being so close to the key players in the search engine industry as well as search marketers, what do you see as the more important upcoming trends that search marketers should be paying most attention to?

At this point we are fairly stable in search. The only big change on the horizon over the next year will be Microsoft with it’s 2nd or 3rd launch of Search.MSN. Google and Yahoo look pretty stable and status quo. Ask.com – I won’t be surprised to see them sold again and/or fold entirely in the next 12 months. Gigablast is everyones favorite dark horse and with some influx of money over the last year, they appear to be quietly expanding and getting better.

Can they get this information from conferences like Pubcon and SES?

Trend setting stuff is mostly talked about in the networking opportunities. The sessions themselves tend to focus on what is known and educational materials.

You’ve decided to put up a blog in a very interesting way using a robots.txt file to publish the “Bot Blog“. What’s the story behind that?

We had a serious problem last fall with rogue spiders and bots. We are the largest “flat” file structure site on the web (now even larger than the open directory). That lead to large volumes of unwanted and expensive bot traffic. It was clearly getting in the way of members using the site. We are on the scale of millions of bot views a day. So, while reprogramming the robots.txt, I started making simple little notes to myself in the robots.txt. At one point, I wrote a small note to a bot runner that I knew was reading the robots.txt. It grew from there.

Why not use a blog CMS?

We do – it’s call WebmasterWorld ;-)

While you don’t post all that often, there’s some great stuff in there, especially your recent post about “newbieness”. Do you think you’ll ever move your blog over to a regular blog? How about an RSS feed?

I am toying with the idea of removing all RSS feeds everywhere I program. I believe that RSS might now be counter productive to many sites. Yes, there is traffic there, but if you have a site such as WebmasterWorld, then traffic for traffic sake isn’t important – committed visitors are important.

People tend to see the web as this big pool of information. Some feel that it should be available to them free and spoon fed 24x7x365. I think the quality of material can be raised if one stays out of that pool of “drive by” visitors. As a forum, we want good active involved members that use the site to get answers as well as contribute to the good of the community. That takes a commitment higher than just watching for the latest story to pop up on their rss news reader and clicking a “drive by” comment into the fray. That philosophy carries over to the columns I write in the robots.txt.

The last time I interviewed you, I asked about the disparity in budgets allocated towards SEO and Paid Search. You mentioned that while a growing shift is inevitable it will not go towards SEO, but towards alternative advertising. Do you still feel that is the case and can you elaborate on what you mean by “alternative advertising”?

Yes, I think SEM is top heavy today and people are proactively searching out alternative advertising methods. There are some blogs and journal sites in SEO right now that are making 20k a month of simple blogging. They are doing that with direct advertising.

So you’re in new offices now and you have more full time staff and you’ve added more conference dates to the schedule. What’s next for Pubcon?

After Boston – we have some great things planned for our Vegas conference in November. It is already shaping up to be our largest event ever. We are going to continue to expand the conferences slowly – but keep our unique content and experience along the way.

For WebmasterWorld?

There will be some continued expansion of the forums and a few new services here/there. One of the main attractions of WebmasterWorld is the fact it doesn’t change to much. People have come to count on it to be there when they need it. In fact, when we try to do too much changing, we hear about it a great deal. So, we try to live up to that heritage and I expect it will be nearly the same in 10 years as it is today.

What trends are you seeing in terms of audience and attendance?

The audience has grown enormously in caliber and education. Two years ago, we had many complaints that the conference sessions were too advanced. We literally had people from SEM firms complaining that they couldn’t understand are PPC sessions because they were too advanced. Last year, we met the attendees in the middle and there was a awesome mix of new user and pro-level materials. This year, we are pushing the panelists to bring their most advanced presentations yet – as the audience can take it and understand it now.

Thanks Brett!

Be sure to check out the next Pubcon Search Marketing Conference in Boston April 18 – 20.


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