Canada, It’s Time to Clue into Search!

First published June 14, 2007 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

I’ve never hid the fact that I’m Canadian. I’m fervently proud of that fact, and more than willing to take the good-natured ribbing I often get on the road from my American friends. I usually bear the brunt of some Canadian joke on a panel (often, I’m the one telling it) and I’m more than happy to act as a one-person tourism bureau. But this week, at SES Toronto, I’ve got to say that when it comes to search marketing, Canadian advertisers have their heads up their ass.

Being a Canadian, I’ve pondered long and hard about whether to soften that comment. After all, heaven forbid it comes off sounding rude. Saying someone, anyone, especially your fellow countrymen, have their heads up their ass sounds so, well, American. It’s unequivocal, to the point, in your face, aggressive: everything that Canadians generally aren’t. We’ve had it bred and/or frozen out of us.

But after looking at the facts, I couldn’t come to any other conclusion. The irony is that Canadians (I hope myself included) have played a major role in shaping the North American search industry. People like Barbara Coll, Todd Friesen, Andrew Goodman, Ian McAnerin, Ken Jurina and Jim Hedger are considered world-class in the game. But most of us are shaping the industry working with American clients. It’s because Canadian advertisers haven’t woken up to search yet, and there’s just no excuse for that, because Canadian customers are light years ahead of them.

Canada’s wired!

Canadians use the Internet more than anyone else in the world. According to comScore (responsible for all the stats in this paragraph), we spend more time online, have more wired households, are more sophisticated in our online behavior, do more searches. Pick your metric, Canada is ahead of the pack when it comes to online usage. For example, when we look at average hours spent online per month, Canadians are top with 40 hours, followed by Israel with 37.4 and South Korea with 34. The U.S. is in 8th place with 29.4. Canada also leads the pack in online reach, with 70% of households wired. This time, the U.S. comes in second with 59%. Average pages viewed per visitor? Canada comes in tops with 3800. The U.K. is second with 3300 and the U.S. clicks in with 2500.

See a pattern emerging? We spend a hell of a lot of time online up here. And much of that time is looking for something to buy. Canadians are the world’s best shoppers. We research every purchase down to the nitty-gritty detail. The Internet was created for shoppers just like us.

But what about the advertisers?

I’m writing this at SES Toronto. By common consensus with most Canadian search marketers I’ve talked to, Toronto seems to be the epicenter of the orifice that Canadian advertisers have lodged their collective heads in. The city doesn’t get it, the province doesn’t get it, the country doesn’t get it. When it comes to search, Canada (with a few exceptions) is clueless.

I remember my first SES in Toronto. I had been attending the U.S. shows for a few years previously, and it was with more than a hint of nationalistic pride that I attended the first Canadian show. But my jaw soon dropped at the questions I was fielding from the audience. This group was at least three years behind the U.S. market. That was four years ago. Since then, the U.S. has dramatically outpaced Canadian growth in search savviness. And if you look elsewhere, almost every market I’m familiar with, including the U.K, France, Italy, Germany and even China is rapidly gaining on the U.S. But Canada still seems to be blundering its way forward, overlooking the fact that Canadians spend a huge amount of time online using search engines. It’s to the point where it’s unforgivable.

Show us the money!

Here are just a few of the stats I pulled from comScore, Yahoo Canada and other sources:

  • Canadians spend $28.05 in online advertising per Internet user. The US spends $71.43.
  • 21% of Canadians media usage is online, but it gets 6% of the budget.
  • In contrast, newspapers and magazines get a 7% share of total media usage, but capture 42% of Canadian ad budgets,
  • The U.S. spends almost twice as Canada per capita on search marketing.

I did a few searches from my hotel in Toronto to see if the big brands show for common searches. They don’t. The quality of sponsored ads up here is abysmal. If you were planning a vacation in Ontario, don’t expect to see the official tourism site for the Ontario government in the top sponsored ads. They don’t do search. If there’s anything our research has shown, it’s that you need relevance in top sponsored to encourage interaction with this real estate. Until you get quality advertisers, sponsored is No Man’s Land.

So, in an atypical move for a Canadian, I’m railing against the cluelessness of our advertising community. Next time I come to Toronto, you’d better have your act together. Canadian shoppers get it, why don’t you?

By the way, sorry if this sounds harsh. Must be all the time I’m spending out of the country. Hopefully my passport won’t get revoked.

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