Ever notice how when someone finds a solution to a problem they're having, it suddenly becomes the solution to everyone else's problem as well? People who love their chiropractor tell you how much seeing one would help your sore back/sinus problem/shin splints/etc. People who have lost and kept weight off with a specific diet suggest how well it will work for you. People who experience success trying a marketing tactic tell you what a difference it will make for your company if you do it too.

j0427673.jpgThis is fine and dandy. It's called word of mouth and it's a very effective way to influence decisions. The problem comes when the love of the solution supersedes the common sense needed to apply it properly. That chiropractor likely isn't going to fix your blocked heart valve and that special diet probably won't heal your broken ankle. In the same way, we need to remember as search engine marketers that just because something can help search results doesn't make it a good mainstream marketing strategy.

Debra Mastaler pinged me this morning to point out a post that's a good demonstration of a strategic search marketing ideas being pushed past the point of common sense. In a post over at SEOMoz, Rand Fishkin encourages marketers to replace the standard "visit us at domain.com" with "search for "company name" on Google" in their offline ads. His reasoning is that personalized search has now become the default option on engines like Google and driving consumers to the engine to search for and click on your listing is a good way to increase your relevancy in Google's eyes so you'll stand a better chance of ranking for other searches later.

Here's how it would work...

  1. Superbowl Ad - A big company, let's say Coke runs a Superbowl ad and closes it with "visit www.google.com and search for "Coke," instead of simply giving consumers the company's URL.

  2. Consumer Action - Joe Soda drinks the kool-aid...er, I mean cola...and heads to Google after the game. He searches for Coke, which will clearly pop up www.coke.com as a top result, clicks it and visits the site.

  3. Search Engine Action - Google makes note that Joe Soda clicked through to the coke.com domain and increases the relevancy of that domain for Joe Soda's future searches.

  4. Consumer Action - Joe Soda is thirsty, but he's tired of all those calories. He heads back to Google to find a new alternative and searches for "no calorie cola made with Splenda." The hope here is that the past search will increase the relevancy for Coke.com enough to increase it's chances of ranking well for that related search.

Now that's fine and dandy in theory and I don't doubt at all that there may be some positive impact by getting a bunch of people to search for and click on your domain name.

But Here's the Big Gaping Hole in this Theory

j0405652.jpgYou've just increased the barrier for your consumer and you've done it to benefit your own search rankings.

What I mean by that is you've made the consumer take an extra step to find your site and your product. You could have simply told them to visit you at www.coke.com but no, you got greedy. You knew it would be a benefit to your company's search rankings to make them take that extra step to actually FIND you. It has nothing to do with what's best or easy or convenient for the consumer, it has everything to do with your search engine optimization efforts.

Now let's take a little detour into conversion optimization 101.

Less steps = more success.

It's a very simple equation. Let's look at it again...

Less steps = more success.

That's right folks, the LESS things you ask a customer to do, the more likely they are to do it.

Now clearly we live in an enlightened enough world that most people can guess www.coke.com even if Coke is brazen enough to hide that info and direct users to go run a search instead. But what if you aren't a big brand name like Coke? What if you're a little beauty salon called Curl Up and Dye in Wisconsin? Are you really going to tell your customers to go and search for you in your TV, radio and newspaper ads? Heck no, you're going to give them your URL and phone number to make it as easy as possible for them to find you. Otherwise, they're going to go find someone else.

Optimize Your Own Dang Site

j0409094.jpgIt's not the job of consumers to optimize our web sites. It's not their job to take on MORE work in their daily activities so we stand a better chance of showing up for related searches down the road. Now I'm not saying there aren't innovative ways to impact these things. A great example of this is a comment on the original post saying they've sent out direct mail pieces with specific instructions to search for a discount. This gives the customer something of value in exchange for their extra work and still offers the benefits of the original idea.

The problem I see repeatedly is a severe case of cranial rectal inversion. Our industry spends so much time talking algorithms and social sites and deep links and site wide links and blah blah blah that we forget to see things from the perspective of the everyday consumer. The average American watching the Superbowl doesn't have the Google toolbar installed. They have no idea what Google Chrome or Google Wave are and they don't know personalized search results are even being delivered to them. They just want to get to the information they want and need the fastest way possible. They don't know, nor do they care, about the inner workings or latest and greatest features offered in the world of search.

So whether you're part of the industry or you're a small business owner, I'd ask you to remember to place common sense at the top of your marketing strategy arsenal. Stop thinking about what will benefit you or your rankings and start asking yourself in all honesty if this approach is going to benefit your users. If the answer is no, you need to move on to a new idea.

February 8, 2010

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.


umm.. did we forget.. pontiac?


No, I remember them doing that. In fact, that's an example giving in the original post.

I'm just saying, I don't think it's a practical idea in the grand scheme of things. I think the downside to the consumer outweighs the benefits to the brand.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Excellent post. It's remarkable to me how rarely the question "does this make it easier for the consumer?" gets asked, and it will become an increasingly important question as our web experience becomes more and more app-driven.

There are probably a few cases where "Google X" is a better advertising message, but they'd be highly conditional. Also with that in mind, personalized search is going to have a long-term impact on how sites become and stay visible in the engines, but that shouldn't make anybody lose sight of the fact that SEO is just a tool and not the MacGuffin in and of itself.

Excellent piece. My take on the "Visit Us" vs. the "Search For" question is simple - one sends you to my site where I'll have the first crack at introducing you to my product/service - the other has the potential to introduce you to my competitors and any bad reviews that have been indexed - immediately. Ummm... I choose Visit Us...

Back in the late 90s, everyone was coming out of the woodwork to push craptastic hype based web products that sounded like they offered real solutions yet in fact were just riding the short-term wave. Investors gleefully poured tens of millions into those companies while completely disregarding intelligent and proven investment decision methods. We all know quite well how that turned out.

The asshat "solutions" coming out these days regarding SEO fit that exact same model. It's all about keyword stuffing. It's all about keyword density. It's all about inbound links. It's all about page sculpting. It's all about social media. It's all about luring visitors to Google to prove your site's important. Blah. Blah. Blah. Anyone who goes down this latest path is a sucker.

Or they're so greedy that honestly, I have no respect for them as a human being. And they're just going to jump on the next new thing that pedestal poised Ponzi-esque "industry leaders" are going to come up with after this one pans out.

"What I mean by that is you've made the consumer take an extra step to find your site and your product."

This would be true if every "normal" web user used the address bar to visit every website of their choosing. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen perfectly sane, intellignet people type a full web address into the google search box and click the first result. There is a HUGE chunk of the internet using public that see search engines as THE doorways to the internet and never ever use the address bar.

(Ask Yell.com how many referrals they get from Google with the search term "yell.com"!)

An address bar is a hero or zero situation; either you get it right or you don't. This makes address bars a mirror to inadequate or lazy typing or spelling skills; address bars don't correct spelling as readily as search engines so it is too easy to visit a spam-riddle site or get a empty page by making a small typo in an address bar.

People don't like using features that make them feel dumb or ignorant.

In contrast search engines are clever and easy to use and they require minimal input from the user to find what they need. They correct spelling; they order content by some measured ranking system; they offer a wider breadth of content on the same subject (the list goes on). For the normal internet user search engines offer a far more frictionless means to reach internet content and so through repeated use become THE defacto means to find ANY internet content, including full urls.

I don't think Rand is suggesting anything that is actually at odds to what constitutes normal search practice for many millions of web users around the world. There are certainly other reasons to disagree with the practice but not in my opinion with the argument that it creates friction to search and find.

Jennifer, I agree with you. Personalized search is bad in the long run because it over values a short term pattern in searches, and entirely ignores the existence of shared computers. After a few rounds of searches finding things becomes more difficult based on affinities and past behaviors. Personalized search is anathema to real research on search engines.

But, ultimately, the shortcomings of personalized search are Google's fault, and responsibility to fix. I hope that more people will leverage the weaknesses in the personalized search implementation so Google will be forced to fix it. Until it gets fixed we will probably be seeing more big brands trying to take advantage of the system

Great post. I have been a firm believer for years now that less is more when it comes to clicks. Make the consumer click the least amount to get to what they are looking for.

I think this goes beyond the algorithm of personalized search, and the proper branding of the product. Why in the world would you tell someone to Google your brand instead of just visiting your brand online? Because of an SEO advantage? Back-asswards, at best. Consumers/searchers are not stupid, they will find you - via Google, Bing, Twitter, directly entering a domain, wherever. Jennifer you are spot on - don't make it hard for the consumer. Would you make your site bot-friendly and not consumer-friendly? I would hope not.

Whilst I would agree that creating any barrier for search is not necessarily a good idea, this call for search process has been used effectively in the UK by Govt agencies etc to increase awareness for issues such as climate change.

Whilst the Govt site has been optimised for the particular phrase, persuading people to search on green and environmental terms has brought self-selecting people (i.e. they moved from the TV to their browser to search on that term) into contact with the wealth of information on the Net which they might not have accessed otherwise.

It can also be used by corporates, including SMEs, to position themselves neatly in people's minds for example with bizarre and intriguing phrases, often backed up by viral campaigns.

As has been said above, the majority of users are still hopeless at using the location bar so any help you can give them to find you is a good thing. I've been writing about this for over a decade, and it's why I got into this industry almost 14 years ago! http://www.clickthrough-marketing.com/internet-marketing-blog/seo/your-visitors-still-cant-search

I absolutely want to treat my site visitors the way I want to be treated, but they have to be site visitors first. I am in a niche market with a niche product line and I will grudgingly do what it takes to please the Google gods with the dream that one day the sites that are extremely consumer-friendly, easy to use, helpful to the consumer's life--just plain better--will consistently appear as the top 5 organic searches.

I agree that having people Google search your brand to find you on the web is a good approach to help battle the personalized search hurdles. At the same time you run the risk of driving people to a search query that may not guarantee they end up on your site. It could go both ways in my opinion.

"The average American watching the Superbowl doesn't have the Google toolbar installed."

This is exactly why Google is serving "personalized results" based off of your IP and previous search history. They are trying to gather any data they can that will help them rank relevant sites more effectively.

All about personalized search...and of course common sense!

Great to see you writing more!

Sorry for my just a little sarcastic comment. This discussion is retro. Does anyone look at or keep the coupons given you when you check out of the supermarket? Do you tear off a coupon from the back of the register tape. Personalization is nothing new. And if I did have money to place an ad in the Superbowl - than I can try anything I want with brand building and serving. As I see it, the example is for a b2c company that might have many dealers, distributors and they want to have as many of their 'branded' sites come up in a search as possible and eliminate the risk of a competitor being seen on a search. That is how and why I see the 'personalization' aspect. It is not really personal it is about grabbing real estate on the web - and a potentially good way to do it. Now, if I did not have money to buy a superbowl ad - supermarket coupons and online coupons work better - so try that strategy instead.

I have to agree with the devil's advocate above who points out that MANY web users NEVER use the address bar. Within the last year, I've pointed out the address bar to people who didn't realize they *could* type in it (and these are people who work at a computer 40 hours a week for their job).

Plus, it actually does take less effort to type "coke" and click 2x than to type "www.coke.com" and click 1x. It's also easier for people to remember "coke" than to remember "www.coke.com."

While the motivations behind the "search for coke" strategy might look greedy and/or misguided, my guess is that for a huge number of internet users, it actually IS both easier and more effective.

I tend to agree with Melissa, so often my analytics will point out that people actually search the domain.com. This really is an indication that many folk are searching and clicking instead of using the address bar. No doubt they have a particular search set as their homepage and subsequently assume that that IS the Internet.

I think I might still add my domain to offline material, but perhaps this is a bigger indication that many should move from keyword stuffed domains to one that people will actually use.

Use "coke" and not "supper-fizzy-sugar-soft-drink" as your domain name? If personalised search really does take off, then perhaps we'll see another "Florida"?

I think what steveplunkett is saying is that there are other reasons not to tell people to search for your name in addition to it being an extra step. In the Pontiac case, the competition was able to leverage Pontiac's strategy to gain traffic to their own site and sway opinion with Google Adwords ads by bidding on "pontiac" keywords. Then he also showed the organic case where Pontiac's site was outranked by a blog post furthering both of your points that it's a bad idea to include an extra step because it's an extra step and you give up control with that extra step.

This strategy is much better suited for smaller brands or local brands that are not the targets of the SEO mob in the first place, or are not being widely discussed on blogs and other social platforms. In my opinion, Coke and Pontiac are not the best examples here.

The strategy is also a big loser if your "brand name" is some generic version of your business category. For example, if you were smart enough to name your plumbing shop "Atlanta Plumbing and Heating" back in the days when Yellow Pages were relevant, you'd find yourself at the top of the listings. Search on that phrase today and you find every plumber in town. You'd be better off as "Puckleschwartz Plumbing" and promoting your name in off-line media by saying "google us at Puckleschwartz Atlanta". You won't need any SEO expert help to win on that phrase.

All that being said, I still believe that Puckleschwartz should optimize for other phrases related to his category, but the people who are searching for him by name will be much easier to convert.

BTW...Toot got it right on the address bar issue. For all but the biggest brands, most folks will go straight to the search box, not the address bar because they know that Google will help them spell "pukleswarts".

Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > The World Does Not Begin and End With SEO