O Canada! An In-Depth Interview and Look into Canadian Search Marketing

SMX Toronto is right around the corner, kicking off April 28. I caught up with Andrea Hadley, SMX Toronto conference director, co-founder of organizations such as the Web Analytics Association and president of NetSetGo Marketing.

Andrea Hadley

In this interview, Andrea talks about the growth of digital marketing in Canada, which industries are going full force with online marketing and what tactics are trending, missed opportunities for Canadian businesses and Internet marketing, what Toronto can learn from Montreal and Vancouver with regards to search marketing and why this is Toronto’s time to shine.

Jessica Lee: How have you seen the Internet marketing industry grow in Canada in the past year?

Andrea Hadley: I’ve seen growth on several fronts: Canadian businesses may have been slow to invest in digital marketing, but today we’re starting to see some very good catch up as Canadian organizations across all categories – government, non-profit, private and public are starting to embrace search marketing, social media marketing, banner advertising and analytics.

This is specifically reflected in the growth in number of attendees to SMX Toronto, where we are trending 30 percent ahead of 2010.

At the same time we are seeing Canadians spend more online, as reported by eMarketer in its 2011 Canada retail e-commerce forecast, which reported that in 2010 consumers in Canada spent $16 billion for products and services (including travel) and forecast that spending will nearly double to 30.9 billion by 2015.

And we are seeing a maturing of digital marketing agencies, consultancies and networks with several agencies being acquired or choosing to merge in order to scale their offering. Most recently we saw a string of acquisitions by YPG and the launch of Mediative, now one of the largest digital marketing groups in Canada.

We also saw three leading Web analytics and search marketing agencies from Canada and the U.S. merge to form one group, positioning them as one of the largest and most experienced Web analytics and search marketing agencies in North America: PublicInsite out of Ottawa, VKI Studios out of Vancouver and WebShare in the U.S. partnering and becoming Cardinal Path.

How does Toronto compare to other cities in Canada in terms of search marketing?

Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area is where the majority of head offices are located in Canada, so naturally Toronto is marketing hub. Toronto is also the fifth largest city in North America, with 2.6 million residents and one-quarter of Canada’s population within 100 miles of the city.

In terms of overall marketing, Toronto is thriving. Toronto is also home to the IAB Canada and the Canadian Marketing Association, where both organizations play very important roles in fostering a vibrant digital community with committees and councils dedicated to conducting research, developing standards and delivering education in digital marketing.

That said, from a search marketing perspective, because Toronto is home to the vast majority of head offices and their established agencies, the city is not what cultural anthropologists refer to as a pioneering community, an ingredient which typically fuels entrepreneurs and the advancement of new technologies.

Historically we’ve seen far more search marketing agencies rise up out of Vancouver and Montreal, which in turn educated those communities on the benefits and value of search marketing.

So in many respects, today the Toronto business community is ripe for advancing its knowledge and investment in search marketing.

What are some of the trends/tactics in Internet marketing that Canadian businesses are embracing to market their business online?

Canada is a large and diversified country. It’s difficult to wrap us all up into one bucket and state explicitly these are the “Canadian” trends or tactics; instead, I can say that there are categories of business and regions in Canada where trends appear and more investment is made.

For example, the travel industry right across Canada is one of the most advanced and vibrant in the digital space; we are seeing constant investment in both paid and organic search marketing, integration of user generated content and reviews, as well as growing use of video across media and across platforms.


Similarly, health, financial services and education are all categories where there appears to be increased investment on many fronts, but I’m specifically noticing more investment in banner advertising and (okay I’m saying it) Web 2.0 technologies.

We are also seeing very good awareness and increased investment from government and non-profits in both search and social media marketing. However, the one category where I’m seeing the greatest shift is within media and broadcasting.

Media is going through an incredibly dynamic shift, largely because of changes in the way people are consuming content and participating with media across multiple screens and platforms. This is giving way to a new era in digital marketing and storytelling, offering enormous opportunity for digital marketers and entrepreneurs.

Are there any particular challenges or roadblocks you’ve experienced with businesses diving into certain aspects of Internet marketing? What is your experience in overcoming those challenges?

The biggest challenge I’m seeing across many categories of business and in many regions of Canada is the lack of investment in people – in developing educated, experienced in-house web marketing teams.

Alternatively, I’m seeing some very large companies with only one or two people carry the majority of responsibility for digital marketing, which is hindering success. This, in turn, produces more reliance on outsourcing, which, in turn, means those businesses are not developing an internal knowledge base. Nor are they developing internal processes and systems, which over time will limit their ability to efficiently compete.

The other big challenge I’m seeing is too much attention to the next big, shiny object, and jumping into the new and exciting without attending to the fundamentals.

For example, SEO is a fundamental web marketing practice that is proven and provides some of the highest return on investment. Yet many marketers overlook SEO. Instead, they follow the hype and excitement associated with, for example, choosing to develop a mobile app before making sure their site is found in search engines and their content is vetted for gaps. Not to mention making sure tools are in place to measure activity and results.

The way I overcome these challenges is through education; that’s why I produce SMX Toronto.

That said, I also believe change will happen when there is no other choice, when the competitive environment is so hot, that a company’s ability to win will depend on its people, internal processes and systems.

What are some of the highlights of SMX Toronto this year, and why is the conversation moving in that direction for the Canadian business community?

SMX Toronto delivers both the fundamentals and advanced programs and training in SEO, paid search and Web analytics, delivered by some of the most proficient Web marketers in North America.

SMX Toronto

As importantly, SMX Toronto is host to many panel discussions focused on the leading edge, providing a vision for where online marketing is headed. This includes a greater focus on the social, mobile and local web.

The conversation isn’t moving in this direction for the Canadian business community (or for any regional business community), it’s moving in this direction because this is the direction digital marketing is moving globally. This is the direction Canadian marketers need to understand.

Thinking of heading to SMX Toronto? Use code BCT011 for 15 percent off SMX Toronto conference registration or the SMX/eMetrics combo pass. Don’t forget to catch Bruce Clay’s one-day SEO training while you’re there. Bruce will also be speaking “Industrial Strength SEO” on a panel with Vanessa Fox of Search Engine Land, Laura Callow-Mackenzie of Intuit and Guillaume Bouchard of NVI.

About Andrea Hadley

With a long history as a leading Canadian Web marketer, consultant and industry advocate, Andrea Hadley is also the founder of two professional associations. After shepherding the International Internet Marketing Association through its first five years, Andrea went on to become a founding director of the Web Analytics Association, where she continues to serve as facilitator of the Media Special Interest Group.

Today, Andrea’s commitment to knowledge sharing and the advancement of the Web marketing industry continues as she serves as conference director of events like SMX Toronto, and leads the advisory board for Rising Media in Canada, responsible for the planning, programming and logistics of Web-focused events across Canada. You can reach Andrea through her LinkedIn profile.

Jessica Lee is the founder and chief creative for bizbuzzcontent Inc., a marketing boutique that focuses on digital content strategy and professional writing services for businesses.

See Jessica's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (8)
Filed under: SEO
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent SEO posts is better than the last!
Bruce Clay on May 8, 2024
The Always Up-to-Date SEO Checklist
Bruce Clay on April 4, 2024
What Makes an SEO Program Successful?
Bruce Clay on April 3, 2024
How Can I Improve My Website Rankings Through SEO?

8 Replies to “O Canada! An In-Depth Interview and Look into Canadian Search Marketing”

Canada has the highest amount of internet users per capita in the world. With that said the opportunity for growth here is high. The difference between here and the US though is the scale of the businesses for the most part. Finding businesses over 200 employees in Canada is tough but in the US they’re a dime a dozen. Just like the US roughly 75% of businesses are small in Canada and given the size of our country 34MM people the number of businesses is relative to that of the state of California. However, with one of the largest countries in the world, vast amounts of commodities, and ironically 75% of our exports going to the US there’s lots of potential for us to expand our markets into foreign territory the world around.

I look forward to potentially seeing Bruce Clay Inc. again at Toronto SMX.

Adam! Great insight! Now I know where to turn if I need more perspective on a topic like this in the future. Say “Hi” to Bruce if you’re going to SMX Toronto. :) Thanks for the comment and have a great weekend.

Glad to see our neighbors to the north excelling! Have fun at the conference! I noticed more and more expos/events being held north of the border (BC to be precise).

Yes, the community seems active and passionate. It’s an exciting time. Thanks for the comment, Zac!

Happy that Bruce is joining us in the T-dot this year! Looks like this is going to be another awesome conference. If you’re in Canada or northeastern US (or anywhere, really) you should definitely think about coming.

Hi, Dawn! We’re excited to be there! You’ve obviously been to conferences past — what’s the most valuable aspect in your experience?

Well as a speaker myself, I find I don’t get a huge amount out of the sessions anymore. So for me, it’s definitely networking with other Canadians in the industry who don’t make it to the US shows. It’s nice to be able to share stories and strategy with those who have the same challenges as you.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Serving North America based in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Bruce Clay, Inc. | PO Box 1338 | Moorpark CA, 93020
Voice: 1-805-517-1900 | Toll Free: 1-866-517-1900 | Fax: 1-805-517-1919