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Highly recommended reading by author
Calvin Helin

Native Web Markets

Old Attitudes Get In Way of New Technology 
by Paul Barnsley
Windspeaker Staff Writer

Erland Campbell's presentation on Internet marketing
and search engine optimization at the Aboriginal tourism conference in Quebec City in March was well attended and covered in the local media. But he did not gain a single customer afterwards. He believes a shift in attitudes could make a huge difference in First Nation economic development.

Erland Campbell is more than a little frustrated. After spending the last several years trying to interest Aboriginal entrepreneurs in Internet based marketing, he's getting very few takers.

The 49-year-old lives in Montreal but, thanks to the Internet, the world is his workplace. He has educated himself on the fine points of creating Web sites that get noticed by the major search engines and sees it as an inexpensive way for residents of remote communities to create and promote profitable businesses.

"I've been learning on my own for the past six years from the top Internet marketers, copywriters, and salespeople on the Web. I'm learning from these top-notch people around the world," he said.

But there seems to be a lot of reluctance when it comes to taking a chance on relatively new technology.

"I keep hearing the word 'funding.' It's sort of a mentality based on funding. You know, 'I've got to go check with the band office.' You don't have to go that way because a domain name cost $8.88 US for a year. A server space, the one I use, I pay a dollar a month. So for, let's say $25 a year, you've got a domain name and server space," he said.

"A couple of digital photos and some written material describing your product or service and you're open for business. You could do all that yourself for very little cost. I do the keyword research and say 'add that to your copy at a certain density.'"

That's where Campbell's specialty, Web site optimization, makes the difference. Search engine algorithms, called "robots" or "spiders", are computer programs that rapidly comb through massive amounts of data to meet the requirements of the search engine users. When you optimize your Web site, you are simply making sure that the words used on your Web page attract the attention of these programs and give your page a high rank, that is, show your page ahead of others.

It's a quick and relatively inexpensive way to set up a profitable business no matter where you are located, Campbell added. But government agencies and First Nation economic development organizations seem to be stuck in a rut and haven't yet fully embraced this opportunity, he said.

"I don't know what it is but what I noticed about the Aboriginal tourism conference in Quebec City this past March was everybody had boxes of brochures, pamphlets, pens and all kinds of other marketing paraphernalia. I never really saw anything about using the Internet to market products. Not one speaker was talking about using the Internet. And I thought, 'Something's wrong here.'"

His business, EC Web Marketing, has several non-Native success stories. One client, a non-Native lawyer in Montreal, has used Internet search engine optimization to get contracts from across Canada and beyond for a legal translation (English to French and vice-versa) sideline business. One contract was with a company in Japan.

Campbell recently ran into a former employer who owns a moving company. That man pays $7,000 a month for advertising for his business. Campbell said he could cut that cost significantly by setting up a Web site. And it's a trend that will only get more pronounced over the next few years, he added.

"I told him you've got to use the Internet. People are not using the Yellow Pages anymore. People just don't have time. They'll go to a search engine and type in what they need and there it is," he said.

He'd like to see more of his own people taking advantage of this technology. While remoteness has been considered a problem for First Nation businesses, with a presence on the Internet remote First Nation businesses can make money because they are far from the mass markets of large cities in the south or the United States or any other international location, Campbell added.

"A lot of these First Nations, they're sitting on gold," he said. "Dig a hole, call it campsite number one, have the customers canoe up. There are beautiful places I've been to across Canada. Hunting, fishing, cultural tourism, beautiful beaches everywhere. People are looking for these things on the Internet. It's such a powerful tool at our fingertips that can reach the world. I'm just not seeing enough Aboriginal tourism businesses embracing it."

While business has been slow, he's made enough money to keep going as an actor. He plays Bob Antone, a Mohawk negotiator, in the newly released Indian Summer: The Oka Crisis directed by Gil Cardinal and produced by Claudio Luca, who also produced The Boys of St. Vincent in 1992.And if there's no opportunity north of the 49th parallel, he'll look south. He's been invited to speak at the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association annual conference in Ocean Shores, Washington near the city of Olympia this fall.

"The American Indians are more pro-active. They think like Americans. They're always on the go. They get it done. If they see potential for success, for sales, they're in there right away," he said. "Up here, people want to talk about funding."

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