Brad Hill has worked in the online field since 1992 and was a recognized authority on search engines long before two now-famous Stanford graduate students started tinkering with what would eventually become Google.
His popular books, among them Google For Dummies, Yahoo! For Dummies, and Internet Searching For Dummies, share a knack for taking what are often highly technical concepts and presenting them in ways that are immediately useful to the average reader. His latest book, Building Your Business with Google For Dummies, was released June 14.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Brad some questions about his background, his take on the current and future search engine landscape, and his latest book.
SB: Your new book, Building Your Business with Google For Dummies, was recently released. Please give us a brief overview of the book and the topics covered.
BH: The book covers principles of site optimization (for Google in particular), the basics of search engine marketing, and goes into substantial detail about AdWords and AdSense. The AdSense part (three chapters) is probably the most detailed tutorial in existence for optimizing AdSense code. The AdWords section, of course, is meaty. I had to force myself not to turn the whole book over to AdWords. I'm glad to give readers a grounding in SEO and SEM.
SB: Your interest in search engines is apparent from your publication history. How did your fascination with the world of search begin?
BH: I remember when Gopher was introduced to the Internet, before the Web was invented. Gopher was revelatory to those days, because it offered the first coherent way to search for Internet content. Later, when the Web came along, search was not an immediate priority. Yahoo! had great impact on the early Web—but as a directory, not a global search engine. My first For Dummies book was about search engines, vintage 1995. AltaVista was huge, Deja News was becoming important, and Boolean operators were advanced material.
SB: Your publisher says that your latest book was written “in cooperation with Google, which will help support the book.” What is your relationship with Google, and how will they help to support the book?
BH: Google sells my Google For Dummies in its online store, and I think it will carry the new book. I didn't need very much consultation for the first book, but Google definitely wanted to be involved with the second one. I've traded emails with Eric Schmidt (who went to school in Princeton, where I live), and he's a fan of the first book, but obviously he didn't get involved in reading manuscript pages!
Somebody at Google did read the manuscript to Building Your Business... for trademark issues and technical correctness. Several other individuals from various departments made themselves available to me for questions despite intensely busy schedules, for which I'm grateful. Ana Yang (who, incidentally, launched Gmail), coordinated Google's assistance on my behalf.
SB: Tell us a bit about your writing process. Is a project like this broken into distinct phases? How long does a typical project take?
BH: The editorial process for a For Dummies book is unique in publishing. The entire process is paperless. I email chapters as I complete them to my editor, who distributes them to a technical editor and various developmental and copy editors. My acquisitions editor (who brings the project through contract signing) stays involved, too, and probably reads along.
Eventually the chapters come back to me with comments and queries from all the editors, each person using a distinct font color. I respond to every query and make changes (or decline to make them) on the screen. When I send these finalized chapters back to my editor, there are rainbows of queries and responses mixed in with the text. Normally, a For Dummies book is written in six to eight weeks, and reaches stores six to eight weeks after that. No other publisher is as fast.
SB: How does a typical day of writing work in the Hill household?
BH: A day of writing usually starts with blogging, which defrags my brain and gets my verbal juices flowing. My house is blanketed wirelessly, so I can write anywhere, but I'm usually in my office at a desktop. I can listen to instrumental music as I write, but not songs. I use Princeton University's library as an office away from home when I feel like it. I often must work on more than one book at a time, and when my writing is in a high-volume phase I pace myself with daily word quotas. 5,000 words is a solidly productive day.
SB: Apart from your books, where would you suggest people turn for more information on Google or search engines in general? How do you keep your finger on the pulse of this ever-changing industry?
BH: I subscribe voraciously to RSS feeds. At Bloglines, my SEM folder includes feeds from Seth Godin's Weblog, Topix.net, Adverblog, John Battelle, Search Engine Lowdown, Rugles, Search Engine Roundtable, various SEO blogs, and others. I regularly check the forums: WebmasterWorld and the new SearchEngineWatch Forums in particular. My browser bookmarks include SearchEngineWatch (of course), SEO Today, WebProWorld, SEO Chat, ClickZ, MarketingProfs, Search Engine Guide, SiteProNews, and dozens of others. For intensive expertise, I've read most of the standard books and e books—Andrew Goodman and others. Of course, I work with AdWords and AdSense, and stay current with those programs by using them.
SB: How often will this book need to be updated to stay current? Do you update your past books consistently?
BH: The decision to publish second and third editions is both an editorial and business matter. At least a third (preferably half) of the book's content should be in need of update, and the current edition should be making money. It is not my decision, though I can push for it. Usually it is the publisher doing the pushing, and I have written second editions six months after publication of the first.
Google is currently making content changes at a more rapid pace than ever in its history. Building Your Business with Google For Dummies is current on all points except for image ads in AdWords. It covers AdSense channel reporting in detail.
SB: There has been a lot of press recently dedicated to the “search wars” (primarily involving Yahoo!, Google, and MSN) and upcoming technologies (such as personalized results and private search networks). What is your take on the future of search?
BH: Search has been reborn as an industry, thanks to Google, and is now in its second infancy. Local search is a frontier that must be explored. Desktop searching is a battleground clearly marked out, with political difficulties for everyone. Extending the topography of the search landscape to the local hard drive is an approach familiar to enterprises but alien to consumers.
Time will tell whether consumers will tolerate destroying the wall between machine and network. But Overture and Google have succeeded to a fair degree in eliminating the wall between paid and organic listings, without damaging credibility, so perhaps anything is possible.
Right now, Yahoo! and Google wrestle every day, with AskJeeves, Vivisimo, Teoma, and others chipping in from the sidelines. Microsoft has barely gotten started. Things are going to get much more interesting. As we all know, consumer search is just half the equation. Google is preeminent because it understands it is not just a consumer service, or a business enabler. Google is a keyword processing company.
The elemental keyword catalyzes that golden match of seeker and knowledge, buyer and seller, editorial content and commercial content. This understanding and the utter objectivity with which it is pursued constitute Google's best advantage. But extending its dominance outside the US will be difficult, and defending its market share against Yahoo!'s R&D portfolio and Microsoft's access to the desktop will become increasingly challenging.
SB: I'm told that several industry experts provided valuable contributions to Building Your Business with Google For Dummies. Of these, who was your favorite?
BH: Aha! A trick question! I was dumbfounded and deeply impressed by the generosity and effort that poured into the book from you and several others. I initially queried several SEO and SEM experts with the hope of harvesting enough pithy quotes to spice up my chapters a bit. I received a tidal wave of original writing and article permissions that bowled me over. Scott, you sent me a document that would have made a good chapter by itself. It was with difficulty and regret that I was forced to cut the submitted material way, way down to fit.
I expect everyone to be unhappy with what I left out, but there was nothing else to do. Even so, I revised the book's structure to accommodate a full chapter of expertise written by you and others, presented as a sort of written roundtable discussion.
I attribute the experience to sheer generosity and enthusiasm for the business. I only hope that all the work you and others did is rewarded by some good exposure. Royalties aside, the best reason for this book to do well would be to benefit the generous pros who contributed to it.
SB: What is next for Brad Hill?
BH: My SEM Weblog at Weblogs, Inc. (sem.weblogsinc.com) is a growing venture that I take great pleasure in operating. We are introducing two advertisers in July, and it's an exciting experiment in professional blogging. In the book realm, I am completing an encyclopedic volume about American classical music.
My wife and I just bought a new home, and as I write this I am surrounded by unpacked boxes. So my work is cut out for me!