HOSTSEARCH: Hartland, excellent of you to take time out like this to talk to us... Perhaps you can kick off by letting people who didn't catch the first interview a bit about yourself and your company.
HARTLAND ROSS: I could describe what we do and of course you can go to our site however I think that it might be better explained with a typical client's feedback which might go something like this: "As a CEO of a mid sized web hosting company, my life is much easier now that I can spend my time on what I'm good at and consequently our business has grown in sales while simultaneously lowering our marketing costs. I'm now more efficient since my time is being better spent in other areas.
It wasn't always the case. I used to spend hours searching the Internet for media channels and waste thousands of dollars testing what turned out to be completely unproductive channels and keywords".
HOSTSEARCH: I see there has been a name change since the last time we spoke. What is the story behind that?
HARTLAND ROSS: The company has grown considerably since we last spoke and inherent with this growth comes change - change in the name reflects our current services and the support team behind these services. The word eBridge can mean many things but we are essentially a link "bridge" or vehicle to connect your business to sales growth whether this be through marketing, value added services or through mergers and acquistions.
HOSTSEARCH: It seems like such a short time ago I read your interview on HostSearch.com, but there would also seem to have been A LOT of water under the bridge since then. How has your business changed and what have been the biggest changes?
HARTLAND ROSS: Yes, our business has changed considerably since we last spoke. Much has changed in the industry and of course we have had to track and respond to these changes in technology, demands of consumers and businesses and of course changes to the way marketing is done online. As a result and in response to client requests, we have expanded our services to include areas beyond just media buying and planning. We now offer a much more comprehensive suite of services such as SEO, paid search management, copy writing and design and development as well as our M&A service for the hosting industry. These services address the multi-faceted components to a hosting company's marketing and growth strategy.
HOSTSEARCH: I think it is safe to say that in 2005 social networking was still finding its feet while in 2007 it is a force to be reckoned with. With the rise and rise of social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and social media sites like Digg.com and StumbleUpon.com, does the latter-day marketing plan come complete with strategies to leverage social networking and media trends?
HARTLAND ROSS: To be honest I believe too few hosts are truly leveraging the tools such as those you mention available in a Web 2.0 world. Some of the more progressive hosts are using sites like Digg.com however very few hosts have a blog and fewer still are using audio or video on their sites. In most cases this is not due to at least a lack of basic awareness but rather to a lack of resources and attention. Servers get the attention first and everything else follows. I hope I have a different story to write the next time we get to connect because I think there is a lot of opportunity here.
HOSTSEARCH: Without giving all your classified secrets away, how should a web host use social networking and media sites, and Web 2.0 approaches, for their benefit?
HARTLAND ROSS: Social Networking is a fresh way for companies to bring an "out of the box" marketing campaign to the table. Content is still king, so utilize the different social networks and data tagging type sites to get articles that wouldn't necessarily pertain exactly to an offering, but may explain something helpful encouraging people to actually read it. Hopefully, they will come back to the site at some point. This is also a great way to build upon brand recognition.
Video is also growing rapidly so if hosts have something that is already created, why not get it online and working for them. I would just caution that they don't get caught up in the whole "Web 2.0" and "Social Networking" advertising since not all of them are right for every business and can lead to money and time being wasted.
Try to find a social networks or media that is targeted to their specific customers. For example, they should be finding areas where computer savvy people are since they will be more inclined to buy, click, sign up etc. Many of the social networks are free, so why not join them and give them a shot. Just remember that free doesn't always mean no cost since time and effort count.
Blogging is of course one of the old staples of the Web 2.0 scene so it is always good to support other efforts with a company blog.
Video content is popular, but the prizes are becoming larger and larger so it's more difficult to keep up: http://onlinevideocontests.com/
Remember that Social Advertising isn't always profitable, but can bring plenty of eyes.
Whatever they are doing, they should put some type of incentive/discount/coupon to the ad. These ads should lead to landing pages, which will help raise conversions as the page is much more targeted and gives fewer immediate options. Track everything like they would anything else to ensure their time and/or money is well spent.
HOSTSEARCH: Your job is working with web hosts and other technology businesses and this must give you a solid overview of the industry. Is web hosting in a better place than it used to be? What can we expect in the short- and long-term future?
HARTLAND ROSS: Well, I'm not sure it's in a better position or a worse position but different certainly. Better or worse depends on whose perspective you take. For the smaller hosts, competition is fierce and getting a share of voice on the search engines for well-searched keywords is virtually impossible. Even if the plan / offer is the same as a larger host, an unrecognized brand will almost always lose to the big names. These changes have come from consolidation as well as the emergence of so many smaller hosts who are generally resellers. From the perspective of the consumer, there is a lot choice and prices are very competitive with each host vying to become the "solution provider" of choice by providing additional value added services. The sign of price competition shows that industry is maturing which is a natural process that every industry goes through. This process will continue and I believe there will be much more consolidation in the years ahead. The large and medium sized companies will, over time, continue to be either bought out or enter mergers as we have seen recently with the ipowerweb and Endurance merger.
HOSTSEARCH: I think it is true to say - and a number of reports back me up on this - that, for want of a better word, there is a genuine 'commoditization' process taking place in web hosting. If you accept that as being true, doesn't that make your life as a marketing guru difficult?
HARTLAND ROSS: This directly relates to your last question and yes I agree there has been and will continue to be. Yes it has made it harder for us to help the smaller hosts however our larger clients still continue to do well. With our smaller clients, we must be creative and look for alternative channels and tactics. There is more to marketing than Google and banners though. It is these types of opportunities that we would look at to help make our smaller hosts successful also.
HOSTSEARCH: I keep asking this question, but it keeps being relevant to everyone we interview. What are the most important rules in real estate? Location, location, location... What are the most important rules in web hosting? I have heard it so many times now... customer service, customer service, customer service. It is clearly not that simple these days - there are countless web hosts out there with excellent customer service. So, if not that, how do you differentiate your clients?
HARTLAND ROSS: It has definitely become more difficult and hosts need to ensure that all systems are running at peak performance. Customer service is obviously extremely important however it's almost a given that this is needed. Those offering only email sales and support I think will struggle - even if this support is good. Saving a few dollars by sacrificing service isn't a strong value proposition for hosts to be in and won't go very far in the mind of consumers. What people are looking for these days is one company that can RELIABLY handle all of the requirements of a web based business from hosting to shopping carts to design and development to marketing and other supporting applications (SaaS). This reduces overlap through differentiation and allows a host to specialize, ultimately making life easier for the client and strengthening client relationships.
HOSTSEARCH: Canada conjures images of a healthy outdoor life - is that the case or are you like me, strapped to a computer 15 hours a day? What do you do to relax when you finally break free?
HARTLAND ROSS: Canada does have the image of being an outdoorsy place, however, Vancouver, on the west coast takes this to an all-new level due to our more moderate climate. In the summer, I'm a downhill mountain biker - one of those crazy sports that gives me the shots of adrenaline I crave - an avid fisherman and fly fisher as well as camper and hiker. In the winter, I change my focus to skiing, snowboarding and going to the gym regularly. This year for the first time, I'm starting to play hockey, which is going to take some getting used to.