SEM in Canada: Conference Postponed & Insights into the Canadian Search Marketplace

We have notified & refunded our attendees, and chatted with the speakers. Now we can let everyone else know:

The SEM Canada Conference has been postponed until October of next year for the following reasons:

1. We are in final talks with a new corporate sponsor who will enable us to really make the SEM Canada series world-class. Details will be forthcoming within the next 6-8 weeks

2. We did not think anyone would necessarily want to come to a rescheduled conference in winter at -40’C – so that rules out everything until Spring

3. In Spring we hit the SES (Search Engine Strategies) New York & Toronto, and SMX (Search Marketing Expo) Advanced and other conferences, and we are not planning on competing for market share

4. In summer everyone is on holiday, or already going to SES San Jose

5.  …hence October 2009… It will come around a lot faster than you think. It feels like yesterday that I was at last year’s SES San Jose, and it’s nearly a year… I’m sayin’

By no means are we giving up on SEM in Canada, or on hosting a fantastic conference in Calgary!… But a few things have recently come up that are simply far too good for us to ignore. Basically, we would be total idiots if we did. We’ll have more news within the next 2 months for everyone.

I’m going to close this post with a copy of an article of mine that was published in the summer print issue of the fantastic search magazine ‘Search Marketing Standard’. If you don’t subscribe, I highly recommend you do.


Search marketing in Canada is not exactly booming. SEMPO Canada says that Canadian businesses simply “do not get search marketing”.

They conducted a survey in January asking Canadian search based businesses to provide their input in an attempt to understand why this is so. Three days before the survey closed, only 60 companies Canada-wide had responded.

This is very disillusioning as there are thousands of SEO/SEM companies throughout Canada, and even more agencies who offer search marketing as part of their service offering. Google alone returns over 170 results for the highly targeted search on ‘allinurl:seo company Toronto’.

The question is: Why the lack of interest?

STATISTICS: Canada’s Online Population

To further confound search marketers in Canada there’s the fact that 72% of Canadians are online compared to 71% in the US.

While I realize that 71% of the US equates to 10x as many people, there are two clear opportunities this data provides for companies doing business north of the border:

1. There are 24 million people online in Canada. This online population is a significant market when you consider that Toronto, the most populated Canadian city, has in comparison only 5 million people. The opportunities for increasing national market share, exposure, and sales/leads are real and viable.

2. 88% of Canadian households have high-speed internet access. This is currently the ninth highest level of broadband penetration by country in the world. People with broadband connectivity are usually internet savvy; they are more likely to bank online, research online, search online, and purchase online.

STATISTICS: Behavior of Canada’s Online Population and Insights

If we consider comScore’s February data on ‘Top Ranking Canadian Sites’ we can gain some interesting insights into the state of search from the consumer’s perspective:

• In February, 94% of online Canadians interacted with Google and Microsoft sites, while 67% visited Yahoo! sites. Canadians are searching online.

• Ebay, Amazon, and Yellow Pages all received visits from 33% of the online population or more. 33% of online Canadians visited electronics goods websites, 27% downloaded e-cards, 20% visited a gift/flower web sites. Canadians are looking to buy and are buying online.

PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that online ad-spend* will grow faster in Canada than anywhere else in the world over the next 5 years for two primary reasons:

1. high broadband penetration

2. lower online market saturation

*[It is important to note that while online ad spend figures traditionally include paid search data, they do not include spend on SEO].

Insights: The data consistently reiterates the massive opportunities within the Canadian online marketplace, and yet businesses in-country remain very slow to consider search engine marketing as a viable opportunity.


  • Only 8 % of private sector companies in Canada sell goods or services online

  • That 8% sold S58billion worth of goods and services online last year – that’s up 25% on 2006

Canada Remains Unconvinced. Why?

My opinion is that it simply boils down to a lack of commercial education. To further explore this point I’ll look briefly at both the US and the UK, and follow with a more targeted look at Canada:

• SEO is booming in the UK (61 million people on an island 3x smaller than Newfoundland, and smaller than the state of Michigan). Why? Competition is enormously fierce. Word of mouth and knowledge spread along with the need to be on the cusp of new technology and marketing, whatever that may mean, is of paramount importance to the success of businesses.

The UK has numerous advertising, marketing, search based, technology and other conferences throughout the year and it’s no big deal to get to one as nothing is more than a days drive away (depending on traffic congestion). It is also relatively cost effective, and not terribly time consuming, to nip over the channel for a day or two to attend the Madrid SMX show, or the Paris SES show, or numerous other European and Asian search marketing conferences.

• The US is the home of the search marketing conference. Between SMX, SES and Pubcon there are 12+ dedicated search marketing conferences alone in the US, to say nothing of the other marketing conferences that mention SEM regularly in their session lineups.

People know people, people meet people, the conferences are spread all around the US and the search community is growing constantly. Conference attendance and knowledge are increasing as both businesses and service agencies learn more from the experts. As a result these businesses and agencies (on behalf of their clients) are consistently and increasingly implementing search strategies effectively. They are seeing increases in exposure, conversion rates and ROI. The cycle continues to gain momentum, and search marketing continues to grow in stature and acceptance as a viable opportunity for channeling hard earned advertising dollars.

We’ve looked at the UK and the US; let’s take a peek at Canada:

• It is nearly 4 million square miles in size (42x the size of the UK and 460,000 square miles larger than the US).
• It has the equivalent of 10% of the population of the US, and 20% of the population of the UK.
• It has in the past had only one major search conference per annum – SES Toronto.

How Does This Data Affect Canadian Businesses?

If they are even aware of search marketing (which is less likely than either of the other two countries due to immense dilution over space and time) they have traditionally had only one significant educational seminar in one city in a massive country each year.

There does not appear to be any national push in the agency or marketing world towards gaining knowledge about SEM. As such, businesses have not yet felt the need to explore the field more thoroughly on their own behalf. It is a fact that many of the larger more competitive and thus benchmarking businesses are tied to agencies. While numerous agencies offer SEM services, they do not push them to the fore as the fires of interest on the client side have not yet been lit.

What Does It All Mean For Canadian SEM (SEO and Paid Search) Agencies and Providers?

Educate your clients. Join SEMPO and other search based driving forces to understand the state of the search marketing interest in Canada. Find out about all applicable search marketing conferences and go. Take your clients, blog about your attendance and learning’s, push SEM into to the forefront of online marketing

What is the Forecast for SEM in Canada?

It will gain momentum, and it is important that Canadian search providers start pushing their services before US based businesses take over the market landscape. There is no longer a financial disadvantage to outsourcing to the US, and US search agencies are already taking up market share.

I’ll end with a reference to an article by Gord Hotchkiss in June of last year entitled ‘Canada, It’s Time To Clue Into Search!’. This is not a new issue, it remains an issue, and the opportunity will be exploited. I can only hope that it will be Canadian businesses and providers who take up the slack and benefit.

The new ‘improved’ SEM Canada Conference in ’09 will hopefully go a long way to addressing this issue in-country.

Other articles in the Search Marketing Standard 2008 Summer Print Issue include:

  • Industry Analysis Articles including; ‘Convergence of Search and the Rise of the Marketing Technologist’
  • SEO Articles including; ‘Top Secret: Tactics for Online Competitor Analysis’
  • PPC Articles including; ‘Buying Brand: Why Trademarks Matter’
  • Interview: ‘Marketing on Facebook – and Interview with Rodney Rumford’
  • International: ‘Global Search: Rich Opportunity or Risky Proposition’
  • Jobs, Usability issues and more!
  • Find out more and subscribe!

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