While I've always found Neil Patel's insight into the Social Media landscape to be pretty insightful, I think his latest Search Engine Land article about social media landing pages completely misses the mark. While Neil's proposed social media style landing pages may go a long way toward making social media visitors happy, I have to ask... at what cost to your business?

Social media is one of the hottest online marketing trends these days and it's no secret that everyone is trying to find ways to utilize it more effectively. After all, getting your product, service or web site into the mix of existing conversation is a great way to reach new audiences that might not be doing business with you.

The problem is that marketing via social media requires a business to walk the very fine line between getting the word out and not stepping on anyone's toes. After all, social media marketing is sort of like walking into someone's party and hocking your wares. Generally, it doesn't go over very well. That's why it takes a special kind of skill and finesse to market through this new medium.

While Neil is right on the money in terms of the need to understand the things that motivate social media traffic, he misses the mark by sacrificing too much on the alter of "making the visitor happy."

But before I dive into a point by point rebuttal of his article, I want to share two valuable lessons that I've learned in life.

1.) Be Yourself. This one is a general life lesson that spills over into online marketing. Whether it's in your personal life or your professional life, this old adage rings true time and time again. Trying to hide any or all of who you are to make someone else happy rarely leads to positive outcomes.

2.) The types of people that want everything for free do not buy your products. As both a marketing consultant and as a business woman, I'm reminded of all the campaigns and customer interactions I've had over the years. The types of people that get upset if you don't give them something "for free" and on "their terms?" Well...they're generally not the types of customers that you want to attract.

Neil starts by pointing out that marketers are big on using landing pages for things like paid search campaigns and other types of advertising campaigns and asks why social media marketers aren't doing the same. It's a good question. When I started reading the article I found myself thinking "oh, this should be good stuff!" After all, it's a proven fact that paid search campaigns with relevant landing pages tend to convert at MUCH higher rates than paid search campaigns that lead to the front page of a web site.

The problem comes when Neil starts to outline the changes that he would make, using Search Engine Land as an example.

First, Neil suggests that site owners remove all advertising.

Visitors from social media sites generally hate advertisements. They usually aren't going to click on them either, so there is no point in having them unless you have CPM-based advertisements. By not showing ads to social media visitors, it will also seem like you aren't making money, which is usually good, because many of these visitors don't like websites making money off of "their" traffic.

Well, there are several issues here. First, many sites DO run CPM-based advertisements. In fact, even some sites that run AdSense are selling their advertising on a CPM basis. Sure, social media users dislike advertisements...but then, the last time I checked, pretty much everyone dislikes advertisements. However, most people also like getting information for free.

I'd expect that anyone that might be more than a flash-in-the-pan visitor to a content based site will recognize that both businesses and their employees do need to pay bills. That means content sites need to rely on either advertising, or subscription-based models to survive. Now there's no arguing the fact that advertising needs to be carefully integrated into the site so that it doesn't detract from the quality of the content, but the idea that you should remove advertising to make a small group of your visitors happy? Well, it seems pretty short sighted to me. In fact, both Digg and reddit have advertising on their site and yet...the users keep returning.

Next, Neil suggests removing the navigation.

All the items in the sidebar should be removed because it can cause users to navigate your whole site or other sites that you link to. The last thing you want these visitors to do is navigate your site and possibly find something they don't like, which would decrease the chances of your site doing well on social sites.

In terms of traditional landing pages for paid search campaigns, I'd actually agree with him. After all, when there is a clear conversion opportunity that you are pushing the visitor toward, the general idea is to avoid anything that may side track the visitor.

In terms of social media however, there's almost never a direct conversion on the page being linked to. Yes, there will be the rare instance where your sign-up page or a product sales page could score big on a social media site, but those types of links are the exception. With most visitors coming in to read content, there's less worry about losing "the conversion" by retaining the navigation.

In fact, I'd argue that navigation is absolutely essential to a good social media landing page. From a marketing perspective, social media traffic gives you a great chance to introduce your site to a new audience via a single piece of content. By hiding your navigation you create MORE work for the users that like what they read and want to find out more of what it is you have to offer. I'd argue that these users are the most valuable social media visitors to get and hiding your navigation from them is more than a little self-defeating.

Next, Neil suggests removing any social media buttons.

There is nothing wrong with placing social media buttons on your site so your visitors vote for your stories, but you don't want to show them off to visitors that come to your site from a social site.

While I don't necessarily disagree with him on this one (not being a big fan of those buttons) I also think he's not thinking this one through.

First, it would be a little naive to think that social media users don't recognize that there are other social bookmarking and social networking sites out there. In fact, many people have accounts and post at more than one site. If gaining votes is your goal, then giving visitors from one site (that may also be members of another) quick link access to voting for the content at other sites makes good sense.

Now I will agree that avoiding a long list of images or text links is a good idea, but that's easily remedied by selecting a few key properties to promote and/or by using a drop down box for quick access that takes up less screen space.

In his next point, Neil talks about "sponsored links."

Paid text links are usually affiliated with SEO and some social media visitors may feel your site supports Internet spam.

Generally, these links are a form of advertising, so if properly integrated into the site, all of my points above about the removal of advertising apply here as well.

Finally, after stripping out most of the non-content areas of the site, Neil suggests filling the space with something tailored to social media visitors.

I added one more element, marked 6, and outlined in red.

This element has pictures of the Macintosh and Firefox logos because many social site users love these products and services. By adding them, you are appealing to them, which may cause them to vote on your story.

What he includes are a large Firefox logo and a "Made on a Mac" logo. Apparently, these two images are the key to making all social media users happy. (Ok, not really...I don't think even Neil means to imply that.)

The point though, is that after advocating the removal of all things that might be beneficial to the site owner, Neil suggests that the space be used to yell out "like us, like us! we're cool, honest!" (Though these days "cool" probably isn't cool, is it?)

Now again, I understand what Neil is trying to say here, but I think he's missing the forest for the trees.

You see, there are two primary goals for marketing through social media. The first is to gain links and traffic. The second is to build branding and sell products.

Now if your goal is purely to gain links and traffic, then Neil's suggestions may be good ones. I have no doubt that his suggestions would result in more positive reviews, more positive votes and ultimately, more visits from social media networks. I simply question what the value of those links and that traffic actually is.

If you're aiming to build branding and sell products, then you put yourself at serious risk by changing your site's appearance so dramatically for a user's first visit. If those visitors decide that they like what you have to say and want to hunt down more of your content they'll not only have trouble finding it (since you've hidden the navigation) but they may also be shocked to find advertising on the rest of your pages.

In other words, a fantastically trendy store front may draw a lot of walk-in traffic, but if it doesn't match what you're selling inside, you're unlikely to end up making any money. (Plus, you'll significantly raise your cleaning bill from the stampede that has exited as quickly as they came in.)

Neil has one thing right. You need to make sure that you learn about the audiences at each of the major social networking and social bookmarking sites and take what you learn into consideration before launching a campaign. I'd simply caution that if you spend too much time trying to impress the "cool kids" you might find yourself missing out on the customer relationships that really matter.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

May 23, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > A Rebuttal to Neil Patel's Social Media Landing Page Article