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.
This 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...
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
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
It'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.
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.
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