Why Steve Ballmer’s SMX Keynote Is So Important

It’s remarkable really. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will take the stage for a “Fireside Chat” with Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of SearchEngineLand.com and conference co-chair, to kick off SMX West on March 2, 2010 in Santa Clara.  In his inaugural address speaking directly to the inner-search marketing community, Mr. Ballmer will discuss Microsoft’s evolution in search and his vision of the future.

Given the Microsoft/Yahoo search deal, his appearance is a notable gesture. But does this keynote by Microsoft’s highest-ranking officer, arguably one of the most powerful businesspeople in the world, signal a commitment to outperform Google in algorithmic transparency and support for SEOs?

Just think about the timing. Microsoft’s CEO is personally reaching out to the our  community, via one of the SEM industry’s most visible conference channels, just as the Yahoo to MicroHoo search metamorphosis begins in earnest. When complete “MicroHoo’s” share of searches could be as high as 30% (comScore January 2010 U.S. Search Engine Rankings).

Though Google sported a whopping 65.7% in January, the MS/Yahoo search partnership-percentage will amount to a gigantic piece of the pie—controlled by Mr. Ballmer.  Microsoft has always been a search engine “also-ran.” No longer.

Steve Ballmer, born to immigrants in Farmington Hills, Michigan is not easily impressed. Rightfully so…He went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard, became one of the world’s 50 richest people, and earn a spot on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2008 (detailed bio here).

He started his working life at Proctor & Gamble and later became Microsoft’s 24th employee as business manager, pretty prestigious considering MS now employs over 88,000 worldwide.  Twenty years later during Y2K, he took over the vaunted Microsoft helm from Founder Bill Gates.  MS is one of the most recognizable brands in the world and Ballmer its online executive shepherd.  What will the Yahoo deal mean for the future of search and chances for another engine to realistically compete with Google? One thing for sure, this guy doesn’t stand still waiting.

“In this industry, I actually the great companies either move forward or become less relevant. I actually don’t think there’s an option called, do one thing, do the same thing for a hundred years, never broaden your footprint…”  (Open Q&A session with venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki at Microsft’s MIX08 conference in Las Vegas)

In Contrast to Google
Many of us want to know if Steve Ballmer’s appearance is a cool gesture, or whether Microsoft will truly partner with the professional SEO community.  Google has sent us signals that we’re persona non-gratis when it comes to any search marketing activity other than AdWords.

In the blink of an eye the Google Maps team removed SEOs from the local One Pack in search results.   They had previously removed Web Designers.   Dude…even Duluth’s local waste processing firms get Google Map One Packs. The reality, much deeper than these semi-superfluous clues, is inescapable. The commerce of human shit is a more important enterprise to Google than the SEOs and Web Design business.  Will Mr. Ballmer signal something deeper, better? Perhaps he’s coming to send a message.

Google Quality Team outreach has disturbing cloak and dagger deep-spin elements.  There are non-words, like Google “penalties” are not called “penalties.”  They’re “adjustments” in response to TOS violations and other reasons, which *hush* may even be political. Will MicroHoo tell us what’s what…straight up?

Sometimes Google even directs us to do things one way and then tries to make us feel bad when they clumsily announce major shifts in public without discussing the announcement sound bytes with their PR department in advance.  Can we count on MicroHoo to partner for the greater good with the search community, even after MS controls a much greater search share as a result of the Yahoo deal?

See Ya’ At SMX West
It’s significant in beautifully unpredictable ways that Microsoft’s CEO, more accustomed to keynoting massive conferences like the iconic Consumer Electronics Show, will appear at SMX West. One thing is for sure: this keynote will be packed with a veritable who’s-who in search and tremendously exciting. Mr. Ballmer is coming to speak directly to the center of the search marketing universe, just as his megacompany greatly increases their power to influence the future course of search. We’re looking forward to hearing what he says.

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