In our Search History series, we speak to the leading lights of search marketing to celebrate 20 years of Search. Delving into key decision makers’ personal and professional relationships with Search, we explore how things have changed over the past two decades, and what the future has in store.
Introducing two men at opposite ends of the experience spectrum. The executive chair of PPC agency Brainlabs and self-styled Godfather of Search, Jim Brigden has been in search marketing longer than anyone outside the US. The company’s CEO, Dan Gilbert, is the self-proclaimed Superhero of PPC, with some justification: he was ranked PPC Hero’s Most Influential PPC Expert in the World in 2018.
Can you remember your first experiences of Search?
Jim: I built a website selling online stock photography in 1998. It struck me that we should be trying to get e-commerce traffic, so I got us listed in search engines and starting buying clicks. It was like getting hooked on drugs. Every click mattered.
Dan: I think my first ever search was “what is the internet?”. I’d gone on a search engine because one of my friends told me that it was cool, but I didn’t really know what it was about.
What kind of thing would you look for back then?
Dan: I was a teenage boy, so you probably don’t want to know.
Jim: I looked for anything I was interested in, which hasn’t really changed that much.
“Once upon a time you almost had to be a programmer to make sure that the search engine understood you. Not any more.”
- Dan Gilbert, CEO, Brainlabs
How has the way you use Search professionally and personally changed?
Jim: Lots of businesses started building WAP-enabled sites and it was a miserable consumer experience. Everything changed when it went on to a handheld computer; I barely look at a laptop any more. I think that’s a truth with a lot of consumers.
Dan: I look at the ads before the organic search results. I used to deliberately avoid ads but actually now I find that they are hyper-local, hyper-relevant, based on searches through your data that different companies have about you.
What would you say the biggest changes in the past year have been?
Jim: Every client now understands how Search works and how important it is to their business. They might not know all the tools and levers, but they know what good looks like and they know what bad looks like.
Dan: There’s now an expectation that I’ll find what I’m looking for. Once upon a time you almost had to be a programmer to make sure that the search engine understood you. Not any more.
What’s the biggest new development you think we’ll see in the next three years?
Dan: For me, assistants are quite interesting. How Google Assistant can make results truly personalised. As it currently stands, you don’t really have personalised search, a search engine that understands you and your specific requirements. That’s where I expect things to go over the next few years.
How do you explain to friends what Search agencies do?
Jim: An agency will do something that a client can’t do themselves. It gets clients listed in search engines and dramatically changes their business performance.
Dan: I’m not friends with anyone who doesn’t understand search engines. Except people like my grandma, and I just tell her that I invented the internet.
Have you ever used Search to cheat at a pub quiz?
Jim: Of course not. My team wins the parents’ pub quiz every year without fail, so it would be suicide to admit to cheating.
What are the pros and cons of Search for ordinary consumers?
Dan: I can’t really think of any cons. I don’t buy into the whole “you don’t use your brain any more.” You just have to use your brain in smarter ways.
Jim: Yeah, I agree with that, but if people are gaming the search system, you might end up with non-factual sites putting out an agenda that isn’t true. We need to check what the sources are. Google knows that if the results aren’t relevant and fast and accurate, people might leave it, so I think it’s are already addressing the quality of truth in Search. The pros are that the world’s information is at your fingertips and you can pull it out very, very quickly.
“A Search agency will do something that a client can’t do themselves. It gets clients listed in search engines and dramatically changes their business performance.”
- Jim Brigden, executive chair, Brainlabs
Do you have an amazing fact that you’ve found using Google Search?
Dan: I can’t remember the precise numbers, but it was something along the lines of “Once you’ve left home, you’ve already spent 95% of your face-to-face time with your parents.” The first thing I did was ring up my mum and tell her I loved her.
Jim: The population of London now is the same as it was in 1939 and the population of London has doubled since I was at university in the late ’80s.
OK, time to be honest. What are the last five things you searched for?
Dan: That’s confidential.
Jim: I checked the facts about population. I checked some of my clients’ Search results. I checked out a golf course I was thinking about playing, and I checked the league position and I was horrified to see Arsenal above Spurs for the first time in many years.
What would your life – personally and professionally – be like without Search?
Dan: Very lonely.
Jim: I was one of the founders of search-engine advertising in the UK and I couldn’t imagine my life without it. It is who I am.