Four Questions for WebmasterWorld's Brett Tabke

Late last August, I was coordinating with WebmasterWorld's Brett Tabke to speak to the Dallas Ft. Worth Search Engine Marketing Association when some interesting news began to break.  Longtime Search Engine Strategies (SES) host Danny Sullivan made a surprise announcement that he would be leaving the conference (and also Search Engine Watch) when his contract was up in December.  Not long after, there was an additional announcement that Sullivan would keynote Tabke's November show, PubCon, just a few weeks before the SES Chicago show.  The most recent trade show news broke yesterday, with Incisive Media (SES) selling to Apax partners.

With so much of the search conference world in flux, PubCon is emerging as one of the top interactive conferences in the country, gaining in attendance and media attention from optimizers and interactive media professionals alike. Tabke was kind enough to share a few thoughts on search and search conferences for "Search Insider" readers.



Search Insider: For the readers who have never been to the WebmasterWorld site, could you describe the content and volume of readers?

Brett Tabke: We have been called the Switzerland of the Web. From Google to even techie topics like PHP, we touch on just about everything related to the operation of a site.  Our original claim to fame is that we host many search engine reps from Google, MSN, Yahoo and their sister sites.  We have been able to do this because we are not advertiser-supported. We use a voluntary subscription model as our only means of site support. We do a brisk business of seven-figure page views and six-figure unique page views on our better days.

Search Insider: What do you the think the interactive marketing trade show landscape will look like one year from now?

Tabke: The real news in conferences and trade shows are the "it's not a conference conference." Gatherings such as Barcamp, Foocamp, Texas Camp, and a hundred other "weekend wonders" are quickly changing the conference landscape. Conferences must listen to what is going on with these weekenders and start to adjust the more formal conferences to get these people back into the process.

 Search Insider: Many years ago you made a brand decision to go with the name Webmasterworld instead of SearchEngineWorld. Do you think that 'search' is a transitory description of the industry? 

Tabke: Search engines are the current big muscle on the block. But they have one major weakness: they can't exist without Web sites to feed them, but Web sites can exist just fine without search engines. Search is just about another form of traffic for Webmasters. It is but one aspect of the bigger picture.

I do think search is a bit transitory, but that does not mean it is without current killer application status.  It is what the Internet needs at this point.  The path that search engines are currently following is the same path that databases have been on for 20 years. It is no longer about keywords, but relationships between stuff.  I do think we will get to that day when search is about spatial navigation around bubbles of like-minded data. I think we will see a day when a search service realizes that Aunt Sally's phone number relates to a date notification of her birthday in such a way that it should send you to ProFlowers to buy Aunt Sally a birthday card.

 Search Insider: Which three issues in search are you most concerned about right now?

Tabke: Web site and search engine relations are strained. The engines are in a pull-back phase as the industry matures.  Google has had their fingers so burnt by issues like the Chinese censorship debate, that staying engaged in the market discussion is becoming harder and harder for Google to do.

Organic search results are difficult for the average Web site to attain today. Organic optimization is becoming for professionals only. There is a strong feeling in the general Web site community that you have the paid results on the right and the organically paid optimization on the left. I think this fact is the reason sites such as Digg and some of the RSS feed engines have found a niche. Because of their entrepreneurial nature, Webmasters and independents want to color outside the lines.

The last issue facing site owners is the state of hyper-competition.  There are loads of quality off-the-shelf software tools today that even allow a rookie teenager to throw up a site that looks and acts great in a matter of an hour.  Those Webmasters that are going to continue to succeed are those that keep up with current events and stay engaged with their communities. It is no longer a technological arms race; it is now a business-versus-business race.

Brett Tabke will speak at the Dallas Ft. Worth Search Engine Marketing Association on Oct. 16 at 6:30 PM, in Richardson, Texas.

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