As teenagers in Truro, NS, Peter Sickles and Rob Swick – partners of Nova Scotia’s AlphaSearch Internet Marketing Inc. – liked to play games of strategy.
“We always had a passion for that kind of strategic planning, figuring out tactics, figuring out how things worked,” Sickles says.
Today, the longtime friends bring this same passion to AlphaSearch, which opened in 2004. “What we do fundamentally is make websites better,” Sickles says. “Whether it be building a website or altering an existing one, we make websites better.”
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is at the heart of AlphaSearch. As Sickles explains, SEO concerns “either building or modifying a website so that it’s found at the top of the search engines when somebody does a keyword search for words pertinent to its business.”
Through the web, AlphaSearch is connected to the world. Sickles and Swick operate from virtual offices in Nova Scotia and also have a virtual office presence in Philadelphia and in Montreal. Sickles estimates that 40 per cent of AlphaSearch’s business comes through Internet searches.
“A CEO or a marketing director is sitting in their office and they’ve heard about this SEO thing and they feel their site could be doing better, and so they go do a little search for SEO Canada. We get tons of work that way,” he says.
Naturally, AlphaSearch uses SEO to ensure it gets top rankings. “This is crucial for us because this is what we do,” Sickles says. “If we can’t put ourselves on top, how can we put you on top?”
The 40 per cent of AlphaSearch’s clients who come from outside Nova Scotia are primarily from Quebec, Ontario and the United States. The company has also worked with clients from Britain and the Middle East.
AlphaSearch’s clientele includes retail and manufacturing companies, government and tourism. “One of the things that I find so fascinating about the web and particularly search engine optimization is that it impacts everybody,” Sickles says. “Anybody that’s doing business on the web could be our clients.”
One client is Mont Blanc Ski Resort in Quebec. As general manager Joanne Alford explains, Mont Blanc is working to be seen as more of a year-round resort.
Following search engine optimization work by AlphaSearch, the resort’s summer reservation projection in 2008 was 80 per cent over the same time the year before. “They definitely produce,” Alford says. “We get the results through our website.”
Results are also front and centre in comments from Lynn Curtis-Williams, practice coordinator for Matt Napier, a personal injury lawyer and partner with Boyne Clarke in Dartmouth, NS. She says that when Napier was putting together a website focused on the personal injury practice, he was looking to optimize searches.
“Peter delivered all that he promised and we saw an increase in traffic to the site following the work that he did for us,” says Curtis-Williams. “We have received new clients directly resulting from the work he did.”
AlphaSearch’s success was recognized in 2007 when the company received the New Business of the Year award from the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.
Sickles was surprised and pleased that they won. “It was very nice to be rewarded for hard work,” he says. “I like to think we’re an innovative company. The clients that we deal with who have a regional, national or international operation or market have really profited by the work that we’ve done and I feel very good about that.”
Resourcefulness and innovation are just two of the elements that AlphaSearch draws upon in its work. They are necessities in an industry, which, by its nature, is innovative.
One of the challenges they must meet is a rapid rate of change. “The way Google does things today, I guarantee you that two months from now they’re not going to be doing everything the same way,” Sickles says.
Fundamental to AlphaSearch’s approach is to “think like a search engine.” Sickles says that “search engines want sites that are relevant to what the user just searched for, sites that are helpful to the user.”
While there is obviously proprietary information, Sickles says in the Internet marketing industry there is a spirit of community and an openness to sharing ideas.
AlphaSearch has fostered collaboration through the creation of the Atlantic Internet Marketing Conference. Established in 2007, the annual conference has attracted involvement from such companies as Yahoo! Canada, eBay.ca and Sympatico/MSN. AlphaSearch is also the initiator of the Atlantic Canada Internet Marketing Association.
“Everybody now has started to shift toward the web, or at least getting involved in the web if not shifting completely,” Sickles says. “We just feel that to build the credibility of our industry it’s important that we get together, that we learn about it, that we share our knowledge….Because it’s new, it’s brand new. We’re inventing it as we go along.”
And AlphaSearch is doing it from Nova Scotia. “We really believe that what we do is a huge part of the future. I like to think that we’re on the cutting edge of the way the world is going. It’s pretty exciting. I love what I do, obviously. And I love that I can do it here.”
Sickles describes himself as “a passionate Nova Scotian who wouldn’t live anyplace in the world but here.” He speaks highly of the people in Nova Scotia, its temperate climate, and the fact that even in rush hour, people will let you into the line of traffic.
“I love it. I love the pace of life, I love that there’s so much to do here, the people are so great,” he says. “I can hop in my car and be at the ocean in 15 minutes on a beach. I can walk out my back door and be swimming on Lake Banook in two minutes.”
Yes, for Sickles, when it comes to finding a lifestyle he loves, there’s no need to search. Nova Scotia is at the top of his rankings.