Mike Grehan says...

Random musings about search marketing, flying around the planet, networking and people watching.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Barry [RustyBrick] Shwartz.

I always look forward to bumping into Barry Schwartz [AKA Rusty Brick] when I'm in NYC. But we never ever get a chance to do dinner and catch-up.

However, this time I made a point of inviting him and Yisha, his beautiful wife-to-be for an intimate dinner. It would be me and Rebecca and him and Yisha. Anyway, I arrived at the restaurant with 18 people in tow, as usual. And what a night it was.

Here's Barry and Yisha [Awwwww, so romantic!

It turns out that it was Kim Krause's husbands birthday [Eric] and also Christine Churchill's and Matt Bailey's too (he couldn't make it though).

I asked the restaurant manager if he could throw together something that looked like a birthday cake for them.

Here's Kim and Eric.

And here's Eric and Christine after a little "happy birthday to you" from the waiters.

Looking up the table you can see Jill Whalen and Kim and Kevin Newcomb and... the backs of various people's heads!

Jim Banks pointed out that as I'm always behind the camera I'm rarely seen in these types of shots. So, here I am sitting next to my editor at ClickZ, Erin Brenner, who I met for the very first time last night (she's nowhere near as scary at dinner as when she's hunting me down for copy!

Meanwhile, back at the hotel we did partake in a little extra "one for the road. A surprisingly sober Bill Slawski looked as though he was ready to do the New York marathon.

And Chris Sherman listened very attentively to my sparkling conversation.

Back at Cafe Des Artistes.

I love my boss, Rebecca Lieb, at ClickZ. She's a very close friend and we have a kind of traditional thing where we get together for brunch on Sundays at Cafe Des Artistes, just off Central Park. This time Joe and Kim were still around so they joined, as did my friend Anne Kennedy from Beyond Ink and my long time New York pal, Larry Chase.

The waiter took this shot, but I forgot to put the red eye filter on, so Rebecca and Larry look like they're auditioning for a Steven King movie!

Chicken Tikka Massala.

There's a story about me and Joe Morin drinking a London bar dry of it's entire stock of ingredients for Mojitos. And then moving on to a wonderful Indian restaurant where Joe partook of his first Chicken Tikka Massala. Unfortunately, at some point during the proceedings he picked up a live green chile which was used as a little garnish decoration and popped it in his mouth. I never saw so much steam come from anyone's ears in my life. And the sight of those bloodshot eyes will live with me forever.

Last Saturday night, I took us out to a wonderful Indian restaurant I know in Manhattan. Here's me with Joe, Jim and Kim.
Blogging from my sick bed!

I've been carrying a porta-studio with me recently. My new audio blog is due to start soon. I have a huge number of interviews lined up for this week. But, I brought the most horrendous cold with me from the UK to New York, last week. I thought that, by the time the conference starts, it should be gone.

However, here I am in bed feeling like shit. And my first session is today. So I'll drag myself downstairs for it later, wheezing, sneezing, coughing and spluttering.

The studio in my hotel room will have to remain empty today, I think.

I flew to the States with my great friend and colleague, Jim Banks. He and I will be working a lot together this year. His company is being acquired by mine, which gives us a great new base in London. Not only that, Jim spent 20 years working in Hong Kong, so he knows the territory pretty well there. We'll be opening our China base in Hong Kong later this year.

At the weekend we did some touristy things as Jim doesn't get into New York as often as I do. And we also got caught up with friends and colleagues.

I took him down to the South Street Seaport area. I love it down there. My pal Larry Chase used to live down there, so we'd hang quite a lot in that area. Here's Jim at Pier 17 with Wall Street behind him.

And here at Ben Benson's steak house with the biggest cut of prime rib I've ever seen. There were hoof marks on the plate!

And finally, Jim in Times Square. Because Jim doesn't have his own blog, I let him borrow mine for this post!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Speaking and repeating at SES

Marshall (AKA WebMetricsGuru) posted a comment relating to the BMW story here.

He mentioned it may be a good topic to touch on at SES in New York in a couple of weeks. I think it's an excellent subject, actually (big brand spam, that is).

I know that Detlev has been championing the cause, but I do have my own ideas on the subject matter too. And boy, wouldn't it make a change from talking for another 90 minutes about the san... sand... no, I can't spit it out!

Marshall also mentions that he's seen me speak a couple of times at SES and it was basically just a repeat. This topic seems to come around from time-to-time when people, I presume, start coming to the conferences regularly.

So, for the sake of any second-timers at the upcoming SES in New York, I have a message.

***Don't come back to the link basics session if you saw it at your first show***

This really is important as I don't want anyone to waste time that could be otherwise better spent elsewhere.

The link basics session, is just that: basic. When you've seen it, you should never have to go back again.

Unless you didn't get it first time. And I have to say, out of the zillions of times I've done that session with the "Moses" of link building, Eric Ward and the wonderfully eloquent Debra Mastaler, I'd find it hard to believe that you couldn't get a firm, basic grasp of what linking is all about from that one session.

It's kind of like Danny's basics session. I know it gets updated, but generally it's a primer for the rest of the show. And it's very comprehensive so you really only need to see it once and then get stuck into the nitty-gritty. It doesn't really change from show-to-show.

The whole point of those types of sessions, is that, the presentation remains the same, it's the audience that changes.

As for any other sessions I do at SES, such as the organics session, they're pure audience driven. And because that old san... sand... sandb... Nah, can't get it out. Anyway, you know what I mean... Because that notion doesn't seem likely to go away too soon, it's the audience repeating - not me!

I'll be adding the final additions to my speaking schedule at the end of this week. I think, for the first time, I'll be heading down-under to meet up with some of my Australian buddies this year. I'll let you know when the date is fixed.
Buonjourno Milano!

And so it was, that I met my wife at the airport on Friday afternoon and discovered that my birthday present was a new pair of shoes! I just had to go to Milan, Italy, to get them.

Oh yes, we'd be having the special birthday dinner too. But up in the mountains of northern Italy, at beautiful (and oh so romantic) Lake Como.

And for a February weekend, we couldn't have had better weather. It was like Spring already.

About two weeks ago I mentioned to my wife that a favourite old pair of shoes of mine, had gone to meet the great cobbler in the sky. She has always believed that Italian footwear is the best in the world. And so she hatched the plot to take me to Milan, one of the style capitals of the world, to buy a new pair of shoes.

Now style is almost a middle name for my wife. In her heyday, very much a catwalk type. So how she managed to end up with someone more of a duck walk type, I'll never know. Style is not something ever associated with me in the sartorial sense. For a person who has been wearing Levi's and a T shirt since I was able to dress myself, practical/casual is closer to the mark. But, stylish? Nope!

And as my BCB (business-class belly) as my wife fondly refers to it, continues to grow, to the point where the only thing that fit me snugly in those Milan designer stores, was the actual cubicle in the changing room... Style and I grow ever further apart.

So, we had been recommended by a friend to visit a very fashionable shoe emporium in the Via Brera shopping area. It was shoe heaven. Nothing less.

I tried on a few pairs and eventually decided which I preferred. My final question, of course, being: "how much?"

It didn't take me long to break this figure down to the unit price i.e. a pair of shoes being two units. With each unit at about $450 each, this was about the price I had been thinking of paying for two units. And much as I liked the shoes, the idea of wearing just one with two thick socks on my other foot, also seemed less than sartorially appealing.

I left the shop a little disappointed. But even I believe that $450 for a single shoe is expensive. After all, I'm not Fredrick Marckini!

So, my wife, being the top-to-toe kind of person she is, suggested that while in Milan, I should visit a top Italian crimper and have a change from my usual birds-nest look.

After just under 45 minutes of snipping with his renowned golden scissors, he looked at me in the mirror and raised an eyebrow waiting for a look of approval. It's very nice, I said, not knowing, in all honesty, quite what to think.

I asked for the bill, glanced at it, looked at the top Italian crimper and asked him: "Do you have a brother who runs a shoe shop?"

And so, we left the metropolis and headed up into the mountains and the calmness and beauty that is Lake Como.

This is such a pretty place. The famous funicular railway takes you high into the mountains where there are breathtaking view back down onto the lake.

It's a very steep ride and not for the feint hearted if you have a fear of heights. But the views of the snow-capped Alps was wonderful.

At the very base of the funicular is a restaurant aptly named Fenicular. Here we were able to sit outside on the piazza and enjoy the view over the lake with a wonderful lunch. The Salmon ravioli with saffron is a must.

I have to hand it to my wife, she certainly knows how to organize a surprise birthday trip.

So cheers and thanks, Tatjana!

Okay, that's another birthday over. And at the age of 51, I guess that probably makes me the oldest SEO around. So let's a have a little respect for one of the industry's elder statesmen... and be sure to buy me a belated birthday drink at SES New York in a couple of weeks :-)

Just quickly. I made a point of paying a visit to Milan's famous Duomo Cathedral, on Sunday morning. It is the biggest and greatest late Gothic architecture in Italy. My UK pal Brian Turner and I, swapped some email recently about architecture, in particular Byzantine and Romanesque. So, as a favour I thought I'd take a couple of shots for him to have a peek at. And would you believe it... It's completely hidden by scaffolding for maintenance work. No doubt to remove the 30 tons of crap that gets dropped on it every year by the local inhabitants (those are the Pigeons by the way - not the Italians).

Anyway, Brian, believe me when I tell you, it has a very much of a Gothic, Notre Dame, Paris, look about it.

And finally, one quick view of an unremarkable building with an absolutely remarkable history.

Standing behind that old fashioned tram is LaScala, one of the most famous opera venues in the world.

(Is it just me? Or has lunch-time now been replaced by blog-time?)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Happy birthday to me...

I fly thousands and thousands of miles every year. So the idea of taking a plane ride is pretty much just "work."

However, there is one flight I always look forward to. And that's the one that comes with my birthday. My wife has kind of tradition going where, each year, for my birthday, she takes me somewhere entirely different for dinner. But it's always a surprise.

I never know where we're going until we get to the airport check-in.

Last year, I ended up in beautiful Venice, Italy. It was fantastic because the carnival takes place in Venice at this time of the year. In fact, I took one of my favourite pics of last year when we were there. It's a shot of the Grand Canal taken from the famous Rialto Bridge.

So... I wonder where I'm off to today?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sometimes I find myself in the right place, at just the right time.

I had a special event to attend in London this morning with my ClickZ hat on. It was on behalf of corporate (Incisive Media, parent company of ClickZ and Search Engine Strategies).

It was a very high-powered business leaders meeting, held under the Chatham House rule. This means, effectively, it was private and confidential. All were able to speak freely and use the information received, but not to reveal the source (s).

So, I found myself face-to-face with the CEOs of some of the biggest financial services companies in Europe (in the world, in fact) who had gathered around the table to discuss (amongst other things) the challenges faced online (particularly in search marketing) for financial services, in the future.

It was one of the most fascinating meetings relating to the adoption of new technologies and marketing methods I've attended, in years. However, as it was private and confidential, I can't say much about it. But one thing is for sure: that's a sector where major change is coming.

I have to say, I'm a little unfair on dear old London sometimes. I think because I'm there so much, I do take it for granted and frequently find myself only seeing the negative side of this huge city. In fact, I'm the same way with New York.

Yet, today I have a more positive outlook. I've stayed at some wonderful hotels around the world. But I don't remember the last time I stayed at hotel where your own private Butler was part of the service! The meeting was held at the Lanesborough Hotel. More frequently you're likely to see Madonna or some Hollywood movie star wandering around the building. In fact, as it's owned by Starwood, you may even find the world famous Joe Mornin there. But today, it was...

I like good service, but I'm not much a guy for Butling, so I gave mine the night (and the day) off.

The hotel is magnificent inside and looks over London's famous Hyde Park. So even though I pay no attention whatsoever about my location when I'm there, I though at lunch time, I'd take a walk in the park. Adventurous for someone who usually only gets to walk up and down airplane aisles.

The weather was quite nice today, with a bit of sunshine. So I took the route adjacent to Park Lane and started off at Hyde Park Corner entrance.

I strolled past the fountain.

It reminded me of Central park in Manhattan a little. I've ignored that badly too. But now, I make a point of having lunch with my great friend (and boss) Rebecca Lieb and then taking a stroll through the park afterwards. Anyway, I ended up at Marble Arch.

I took a look back at my route and remembered something.

The last time I walked through this park, I fell asleep on a bench!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The BMW story.

I was told about the BMW post at Matt Cutts blog, yesterday.

But as I was travelling I didn't have time to give it much thought or put fingers to keyboard.

As I'm currently ensconced in my hotel overlooking London's wonderful Hyde Park, gazing out of the window, trying to ignore the PowerPoint presentation I'm supposed to be preparing for in the morning...

Judging from what I've seen, BMW's German site (www.bmw.de) has been removed because it was using a low-tech form of cloaking. I doubt very much that Google found that themselves. Much more a case of the spam team at Google getting an email, probably.

It's interesting that the BBC places so much emphasis on how much you can lose by this type of thing happening. But, correct me if I'm wrong, you couldn't buy cars directly from that site (nor any other as I'm aware) you have to go to a dealer. And if I was looking for a used car and ended up at a BMW corporate site, I don't think I'd feel that I'd come to the right place.

So if they only acted as their own electronic brochure and "dealership" search engine, they're hardly going to go bust over this.

Of course, it's not BMW in trouble, really. It's the pathetic SEOs who tried to turn a shiny corporate brochure into a second hand car lot. Which marketing genius had that idea?

A I say, if I was in Germany and did a search for "used cars", ended up at BMW and then it took me another 15 minutes to find an authorised dealership which may be able to sell a used a car, I wouldn't call that the best experience.

I'm sitting with 12 CEOs of major financial institutions tomorrow. And I guarantee none of them will know what this actually means to their businesses either (cloaked doorway pages). I can almost be certain that, if they don't have an SEO evangelist in-house reporting to the online marketing director, even he wouldn't know either.

I know this from practice. I worked with a huge corporation (five years ago) and had doorway pages on redirects all over the site. It was a necessity at that time because they had the crappiest CMS you could imagine. And there was no deceit as the pages did redirect to similar content.

When I explained what I was recommending, the CMO simply said "Mike, you're the expert, we'll take your guidance." So, I guess I could have told him that we also needed to sacrifice a few small animals as part of the program and maybe even got a free barbecue out of it too!

Of course I said there was a small risk. But the fact still remains, I was given the opportunity to implement anything I wanted because the organisation knew nothing at all about SEO.

You'd think that they would be a lot more educated at that level by now (CMO and Online Marketing Executives) but the truth of the matter is, manyare so confused by all of the jargon pitched at them, they don't know what to believe.

I did a lot of search marketing audits as an independent consultant before I sold to Websourced (MarketSmart Interactive Inc., as is). And the amount of spam I spotted was huge. For instance, the amount of invisible text for keywords and phrases that you'd have no hope of ranking on unless you had supreme linkage data, but there it was anyway.

I'd like to think that BMW vetted the company which did the work for them. Or had a list of keywords they were targeting. But it's most likely that they were more interested in how much traffic was being driven to the site (excuse the pun!). It's not a sales site, it's an eyeballs site. And if BMW were satisfied that the SEO company was doing its job because of the increase in traffic, it's likely they wouldn't question it. And let's face it there are probably a lot more searches for "used cars" (whether you sell them or not) when your job is to drive traffic, than there are for "low cost brand new BMW" :-)

Ignorance on behalf of the client at work here, I believe. Wool over the eyes by the vendor here, I believe. Just as bad for the SEO industry as it is for BMW, I believe.

BMW won't comment in full because they need their SEO company to explain in full. And then they'll shift the blame and it will become the fault of SEOs. Google will re-include BMW and look much better for having had a pop at one of the big boys and not just smaller firms trying too hard.

Then my pal Dave Naylor will compile a list as long as your arm of other huge brands spamming and Google will have to remove them all. And then the next time you do a search for "new BMW" or "new Mercedes" or "new Jaguar" - you'll get Chucks Second Hand Car Lot at number one... I don't think!

As I mentioned in another post (or somewhere) recently, nobody has any rights over Google to be in their database. You have more rights to be out (and that's a tough argument too). But as I always say, if I'm an end user looking for something at Google and don't find it... Best hope I don't get a better experience at Yahoo! or I'll stick with them until they let me down.

I wonder if anyone knows the SEO firm in question. And NO I'm not asking for them to be outed publicly. I'm sure BMW will do that if the story doesn't just die down and go away.

And I wonder if they were they actually ranking for the term "used cars"? I'm on the road and it's difficult to keep up with all of the postings on the subject.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A grand plan for SEO: Readers respond.

My ClickZ column wraps up the topic of SEO budgeting for small businesses. There was a huge response and as I mentioned in the article, no way I could squeeze it all in.

There were comments from right across the spectrum from solo work from home consultants to agencies with a staff of ten upwards. It's a topic I'd like to revisit again, maybe next year. I was fascinated at the way price levels fluctuated across the industry. And also fascinated at methods of pricing.

Some people charge by the hour. Some by project packages. And some on a retainer basis (and some that seemed to do all three along with variations!)

For those who did respond to the column and also happen to pop over here from time-to-time, thanks again for your input. It made fascinating reading.
Final words.

I had no idea what the SEO competition was, or who was organizing it. Nothing, in fact. The brutal truth of the matter is, I wasn't at all interested. And that's exactly how I remain.

Okay, perhaps I should have done a little homework before I agreed to throw a bit of cash in the pot. But it just didn't seem like a big deal to me.

Along the way I discovered a little part of the SEO community that I had no idea existed. And it's a little part of the community that I will happily live without again.

I'm going to send the cash to my buddies, Greg and Todd. They'll arrange for it to get to wherever it needs to go.

And that's it for me. As far as I'm concerned, I came up with the cash which is all that was expected of me.

I have no interest in the contest. I couldn't give a shit who wins it. But do have fun anyway.

And those are my final words.

Now could everyone just move on please.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Lucky seven.

Today is an unusual day. It's my seventh wedding anniversary today. And it's also the day that my son's attacker goes to trial. So, although I'm looking forward to our traditional anniversary Russian/Greek night out (we were married in Cyprus) , it's mixed with grim court proceedings today.

Of course our wedding on the seafront in such a beautiful place was something I'll treasure forever. But there's one thing which always stands out in my mind about our wedding. And that's a little story we were told during the ceremony. As a catholic marrying an atheist we didn't figure much on a particularly strong religious theme.

However, we were told a story from the Bible, about how Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. I was thinking to myself: "what the heck has people dying got to do with getting married?"

Anyway, the bemused look on my face disappeared when it was explained to us that, and I never knew this, after Lazarus was brought back, he died for the second (and last time), in Cyprus.

I think most people may have heard the story of Lazarus, but like me, perhaps, wondered what happened to him afterwards. Because there's a not a lot in the bible about him after that, as far as I remember. Anyway, he finished his life on the beautiful island of Cyprus and the church where he was buried, was just around the corner from where we were married.

There's a long story about how my wife and I met, which I've told many times. I sometimes think back and wonder how a guy from the Scottish Borders ended up marrying a woman from the Siberian border (in Cyprus, of all places)?

So, it's been seven years of absolutely wonderful times. And some absolutely horrendous times! But I think we're getting to know each other by now!

I'll save the story of how we met for around the dinner table, which is where it usually gets told. I'll simply post my favourite picture of my wife, Tatjana. And wish her happy anniversary.