Guest blog: Mr. Search goes to Washington

Rob Snell wrote the book on starting a Yahoo! store

(Yesterday’s item about the a House subcommittee hearing, “The Impact of Online Advertising on Small Firms,” drew a comment from invited witness Rob Snell, who sent me a link to the prepared testimony he will deliver today about the promise and pitfalls of using search marketing and search engine optimization. I have condensed his message and named the other invited witnesses below.)

As Snell will testify, in 1997 he and his brother were running a family business, Gun Dog Supply, in Starkville, Mississippi, and getting clobbered by a nearby chain store. They tried mail order and lost money, then started a five-page web site that they expanded over time.

For my family, selling on the Internet has literally changed our world. We went from a retail company doing $400,000 a year and struggling to pay the bills to a multi-million dollar retailer in a few short years, he will tell the subcommittee.

Snell noticed that “keywords were important. People were buying the things they were searching for.” He explains how to get higher search rankings by using keywords as well as internal and external links. His firm did well in free search by repurposing its catalog text. Snell talks about when to bid for the paid search ads that appear next to (or inside) the free listings. He urged caution, saying the rising price of words and click fraud are making paid search a tougher game. As he says:

More retailers lose money than make money on pay-per-click ad campaigns (in my experience).

Snell says a Yahoo! lobbyist brought him to the subcommittee’s attention as a potential witness. He was interviewed by Bill Maguire, counsel for technology policy for the Committee on Small Business. Snell was told that, in addition to his how-to testimony, he should:

expect questions about pricing issues and models, the Yahoo/Google deal, fallout from the Yahoo/Microsoft non-deal, click fraud and any other potential concerns of advertisers.

Please refer back to Snell’s original posting for more on the how-to of getting a small business noticed. I did not have any witness names when I wrote my prior item on the hearings (I assume Snell had filter that alerted him to the keywords in my blog). After I published yesterday’s item the subcommittee chaired by Texas Democrat Charlie Gonzalez released the following list of invited witnesses: