Walter Gross is Chief Executive Officer of The Technomax Group, an on-line company focused on helping small business owners integrate their corporate identity with the Internet and the World Wide Web. But you may know Wally better as the creator and guardian of the prestigious and world-renowned Surfers Choice Internet Awards, a long-standing and top-rated bastion of the search for web excellence. From his offices in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada Wally oversees a number of successful internet properties including Technomax. If you don't mind hearing from a 53 year old guy that still leaves warm milk and oatmeal cookies for Santa, please stick around. This interview was conducted in early March 2000.
This is your friendly interviewer, Jeff Clark, as he appeared in 1999. Time changes things.
[Internet Brothers] When not hanging out with that old geezer Don Chisholm, what do you like to do to relax and entertain yourself? Do you have any particular causes you support or institutions you champion? Read any good books lately?
[Wally Gross] Read a book lately? Are you pulling my head here Jeff? The only reflection in my eye has Eudora, Pegasus, a spinning "e" or falling stars as the feature attraction. While we're talking about books and Canadians, let me share this site with you. It's called the Business Source and it's owned by my not too distant neighbour Dan Pfister. Here you'll find book summaries of the most popular business related titles. I read the 21 Immutable Laws of Branding in about 5 minutes. Great concept and Dan is doing very well with it.
I enjoy golf; love our great Canadian pastime, hockey; enjoy movies, special times with friends and family, and music. Pretty much your typical crazy and hip 53 year old recycled teenager type. The Children's Miracle Network is one cause I have contributed to for about 14 years now. Both The Cancer Society and The Diabetes Foundation in recent times because these diseases have affected my family and me. I hope Surfers Choice can be one vehicle that can help these three great organizations.
[IB] Internet Brothers enjoys some nice search engine listings, but we get well over half our traffic from link and content partnerships. This simple "shaking hands" (a term Wally used to describe IB) community building aspect of site promotion has gained momentum. With the major search engines and directories switching their focus to portal gateways, has the worm turned? Are the niche portals going to be more prevalent in the future?
The first thing most newbies do is visit Yahoo! and start finding stuff. Has Yahoo! taken advantage of being first, and the concept of branding or what? To me it's still the number one place on the Net to have your site listed. Now, in no way do I want to downplay the importance of the top search engine services. It is important to be there. However, a site marketing campaign based strictly on high search engine rankings is well over-rated.
The last time I looked (about 5 minutes ago), Surfers Choice enjoyed a high ranking at Yahoo!, Infoseek and Alta Vista. Top 10 in all using "Internet Awards" as a search term. Why you ask? Well, to be frank, I recently started a series of articles on the search engines and how would it look if Surfers Choice didn't show up? Credibility means everything (well almost) doesn't it? Prior to that I had not spent even a second on my search engine marketing for several months.
Why you ask. Simple, didn't need to. We've had a prominent presence on Yahoo! for years. Where do our hits originate? About 30% from Yahoo!, another 15% from other search and portals, and 55% from you good people. From your question, the same seems to hold true for IB. By the way, I visit IB all the time and steal their stuff using fake IP headers — hehe — just kidding partner. When I wrote about the "shaking hands" philosophy in Internet Day over a year ago, I was amazed by the positive response. Heck, people actually read this thing. Why can't they read submissions standards laden with profound information?
“Sites that present good content will be indexed, others will need to polish the furniture or simply sink in the hot lava.” — Wally Gross
Link exchanging via this "one-to-one" method works wonders. Most of the content I find on the Web comes to me via links from sites I visit — albeit that visit may start at a search engine, it almost always proceeds from links within a site. I can also tell you that text links within site content are far and away the leader in getting clicks. Why some Webmasters have this aversion to providing outside links is something I really don't understand, especially when the evidence is so strong in favor of doing just that.
Consider this fact. At Surfers Choice we love conducting surveys — people get some cool prizes and we get some very pertinent data. Some time ago we asked, "What are the five top reasons you bookmark a site." The first reason by a landslide was good and useful content. Next was they felt comfortable at the site. The fourth was that the site provided links to other good content. In other words, if a site is good and provides other links, they will bookmark it. So linking to other good content increases a site's chances of being bookmarked and consequently re-visited. Imagine that!
Last year I had a conversation with Mel Strocen of the most excellent resource and directory, Jayde On-Line, during which we discussed the portal concept. I feel very strongly that the delivery of content is of prime importance on the Web. When I started Surfers Choice Awards in 1995, and the portal in 1996, my focus was on high quality content. It is a niche I liked, and I believe we constructed a somewhat recognizable brand in so doing. We also talked about the demise of the banner ad and the probability of fees for site submissions. This is happening as we speak. Search engines, directories and portals can no longer simply index everything in sight. The Web is growing far too fast, and the resources to keep pace are simply inadequate. Sites that present good content will be indexed, others will need to polish the furniture or simply sink in the hot lava.
Consider the recent introduction by Infoseek of its directory. All sites are reviewed by humans — yes, real people with eyes, ears and opinions. Their index spidering has also changed. Similar scenarios are cropping up all over the Web. At Surfers Choice we don't need to change a thing; it's been that way since day one.
Many of the so-called gurus stated that 2000 will be the year of death for the portal. Well folks, I am not a guru (self-proclaimed or otherwise), but I will suggest to you that portals will grow and flourish in this year, and certainly for a while to come. Either these pundits don't understand what a portal is, or they simply don't understand the heartbeat of the Web. These days people want content and service at prices that don't require budget meetings. More and more companies (and yes even those of Fortune 500 fame) are asking employees to work from home, at least part of the time. Information must be near at hand and its delivery must be quick and accurate.
Take a look at Yellowbrix, a new service introduced by a few former employees of Infoseek. Do you think they might just know something about the Web and it's demographics? Contextual portals are the new niche on the Web. The pundits may rename these sites with another label, but they will still be portals. A site that provides a doorway to highly focused and rich content is, and always will be a portal. Sharing of information will become a force on the Web. That's exactly where I am going to take TechnoMax, and I am absolutely certain of it. Successful internet sites will need to deliver content efficiently and accurately.
[IB] Obviously the makeup of a web site will determine its method of promotion. How should the business site act differently from the personal site, or from knowledge exchange sites? What about newsletters and other opt-in email programs? Will WAP turn everything upside down?
[WG] A business site should act very personal in it's content delivery. That may seem simple, but all too many are missing on this one. Think about the business sites that really impressed you. I'll bet they had a nice way of interacting and making you feel comfortable. When I am off hunting for information on the Web I am in a rush, isn't everyone, so when something reaches out and grabs me, I'm more likely to stick around. This applies mostly to sites that sell one, or a few services or products.
When I visit a directory or search site, I want to see the search form right off. Later I can delve into the other levels of the site. Search result pages are where many could improve — myself included. This is a place to deliver the site's personality. Well I guess there's always something to improve and change.
I think all sites, business and personal alike, should look at exchanging links. However, it must be an ordered and sensible approach. The days of getting volumes of hits to a site because we want to deliver ad impressions are over. We must look to getting qualified leads and interested visitors. Of course many sites have recognized this for quite some time now, but others are lagging behind. For example, if I sell widgets and you sell the bolt that holds them together, should we not be linking to each other's sites. I think so.
Proceed to part 4 of Internet Brothers interview with Wally Gross.
Return to part 2 of Internet Brothers interview with Wally Gross.