Several months ago must have been the last time Ammon Johns, the 'Technical Director' of Propellernet Search Engine Marketing and an Admin at the Cre8asite Forums, and I have chatted over the phone. Ammon and I touched based Thursday night to just catch up and, of course, talk search engine marketing. One of the best parts of writing at the Search Engine Roundtable is having these opportunities, to talk with the leading SEM experts in the world.
Ammon was gracious enough to give me a call, all the way from his home town, Hove, in East Sussex, on the South coast of the UK. We must have talked for over an hour but of course it felt much less. I asked Ammon after our call was over, if it would be alright if I shared some of our conversation with the public, he kindly accepted. I write this entry three days after our conversation, so I hope I do honor to the detail of our discussion.Integrity Comes with Honesty: One of the key points we discussed is our experience with prospects and customers, interested in search engine optimization services. We both would say a large majority of the phone calls we get, asking about SEO services end with the prospect and customer saying something to the effect of "Wow, you really opened my eyes. So SEO is not some black art." Of course, that quote is just to make a point, but its point is key. A large majority of those phone calls lead to the prospect understand the basics of search engine optimization, allowing the prospect to make an informed decision about their overall Web strategy.
How often do you get a phone call or email from a company offering "top search engine rankings"? They do not tell you why SEO works, or how they will deploy it. Most of those companies put up doorway pages, take your money, and then your rankings drop off. Why? Since the links are pointed to the doorway pages and not your main site, once you stop paying, the company pulls the doorway page and your traffic drops off.
Ammon and I take the opposite approach, we explain what SEO is, how it works, what it can do for you and then ensure to empower the customer to make decisions and take actions that will make a difference. I am sure most of the people reading this right now have the same approach. We put honesty first, and that brings integrity.
Empowering the Customer: This topic is dear to Ammon and myself, we both believe in teaching the customer the fundamentals and the "why do" of SEO/SEM. A lot of Ammon's services and revenue comes from training. Me personally, I need to start monetizing that aspect of my business. Ammon and I like to take that one step further; we give our customers the tools that enable them to take control. We are not only talking about analytics tools and access to their overture and adwords accounts, but more so. We build tools, in house, that enable our customers to put up landing pages that target specific keyword phrases without having to call the Webmaster. We enable our customers to build an unlimited number of highly targeted content, in order to increase visibility, depth of user and ultimately conversions. You know what I am talking about, easy to use, search engine friendly content management system. With training on keyword research, conversion studies and an easy to use CMS system, the customer can make informed decisions and act on those decisions in a matter of a few minutes. Give the keys to your customer, but make sure to guide them through training and web tools.
Hijacking the Sandbox: Where are my PhDs? No, we do not have an answer as to why there is a sandbox with new sites but we did discuss that topic, as well as the 301 hijacking disaster. Ammon said that 95% of his cliental all have existing sites, because most of them are well-established businesses. Since 95% of his sites are a year or older, he has had no first-hand experience, whatsoever with the Google Sandbox. That does not mean that he does not believe in the phenomenon, he has seen evidence of it. Ammon told me that it is frustrating to him not to have a single site that he manages affected by the sandbox. He said if he did, he would be able to look into it deeper.
The 301/302 server-side redirect bug, Ammon refers to it as one of Google's biggest and 'badest' Google bugs ever. Ammon has been around, not just for three or four years, but actually starting with the Web in 1995 and then specializing in Internet Marketing as far back as 1997. He has seen many search engine bugs, and many bugs delivered by Google. He has never seen Google react so slowly to a bug that is this detrimental to its index and reputation. Normally, Ammon said, Google is on top of these issues lighting quick. That leads us to believe that this bug (1) hurt Google's index pretty badly and/or (2) Google is too busy with new innovations, and sees this as a lower priority on its resources than other matters.
Ammon then said something interesting, which is common knowledge, but when spoken out loud makes a lot of sense. He said Google in 2001 had about 50 PhDs, now they have about the same number of PhDs but their company, product range, their index, the search base has all grown exponentially. How can the same number of PhDs support the much larger Google? They can't, and this might be a reason for the slow reaction to the hijacking issue. Google might be slipping. Is it easy finding these PhDs? Yahoo!, MSN, Teoma are major competitors to Google, all trying to find the brightest and smartest PhDs to make their engines superior. Now that Google has so major cash reserves, lets see where Google puts those extra resources.
MSN Takes Over Search: We both hope not. Ammon won't say that he does or does not predict that MSN will take over the search market. He does feel that they will be a major player in the industry. In addition, he believes MSN has a long way to go to get to that point. To be honest, I forgot most of this part of the conversation, but I bet you can go to Cre8asite Forums and ask Ammon yourself, he goes under the alias of Black_Knight.
Forum Politics: I am happy to report that we did not discuss any forum politics. I spend too much time involved in such politics, and so does Ammon. Ammon was one of those individuals that helped get this site off the ground by trusting me with some past forum diplomatic issues. In addition, Ammon provided guidance and behind the scenes support to help make the Search Engine Roundtable possible. We did discuss the number of hours he and I put into moderating at forums. Believe it or not, there is a lot behind the scenes work spent every day by moderators and administrators at a forum. I believe Ammon said he puts in four or more hours of forum related work on some days, and certainly he must average at least 10 hours per week. Why does he do it? I believe it has to do with the "Integrity comes with Honesty" section above.
Behind the Mask: You have those that register at forums under their real names, some that register under their company names and then others that register under symbolic names. Ammon, early on, selected to go under the name Black_Knight. As I write this, I wonder why he selected that name but I did not ask that question. Instead, Ammon told me that for years, no one really knew his name. He was known only as Black_Knight. It was just relatively recently where Black_Knight unmasked himself to the public.
For me, I go under the name rustybrick (lowercase of course) at the forums. At first, I did not give out my real name, there was something taboo about revealing your true identity to any one who has Internet access. However, soon after, as many of you, I was left with no choice but to give up my identity as Barry Schwartz. Still to this day, I get phone calls from people asking to speak with Mr. Rusty Brick, Mr. Brick, or just plain old Rusty. I always find that funny, but so you know, it is not at all insulting.
SEM-UK: Ammon, along with Mike Grehan, Barry Lloyd and other well-known and respected SEMs in the European landscape have started a new organization named SEM-UK. Ammon explains to me that SEM-UK differs from SEMPO by its one most important principle, democracy in the foundations. SEM-UK has been set up in an open manner that allows for those interested to set up a similar group in any region, whether or not they will wish to be affiliated. I hear there are plans to set up an SEM-NA, North American division.
Ammon explained that he has no interest in actually running the organization, although he is very interested in setting up an organization that can run through democratic principles. I am very interested in seeing SEM-UK succeed and I wish the organization the best.
Coming to America: For Ammon, not so likely. I will have to visit Ammon at the next SES London show. I was hoping to convince him to make it over here, but it seems like his clients, company and partners will not let Ammon leave England for the extended period of time that would be required. Ammon says that if he will travel to the states, he will want to stay for a minimum six-week period. There are just so many folks he's promised to look up, and so many others who'd insist he came to visit, that no less time than that could ever do. But his company/clients will not readily allow that. One day, hopefully before Ammon retires, he hopes to do some traveling, like some of his SEM buddies that take off for a three-month period and travel the world. Until then, I plan on going to London to visit Ammon and the other European SEM experts that don't make it to the West.
That pretty much recaps all that I remember from our conversation. Ammon is one of those individuals in this industry that I have deep respect towards. Besides for his experience, years of service and leadership roles in the industry, Ammon has proven to be an honest, modest and high-class individual. Oh, I don't want to forget, I hear he can drink many under the table.