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Sometimes I can tell just by the way they sidle up to me at a conference. They look around to make sure no one is watching, and then they half-whisper to me out of the side of their mouths, "Just between you and me, what is the trick to search marketing?"

Now, you are all reading this column because you think I am some kind of high-fallutin' book writing, Twittering, blogging search marketing expert, so I have decided, for the first time, to publicly reveal the all-time top-secret search marketing trick.

Just promise that you won't tell anyone else. (Or at least look both ways and half-whisper out of the side of your mouth if you do.)

The all-time top-secret trick to search marketing is to have what your customer wants.

You need to have the right information to answer their questions. You must have the right arguments to overcome their objections. You must have the right offer to fit into their budget. You must have the right offering to solve their problems.

Whew! Aren't you glad you asked?

You see, search marketing is more about marketing than about search. The same things that make marketers successful in any other form make search marketers successful. But we so wish that wasn't so.

We tell ourselves stories about how this TV commercial worked so well to sell that lame product. We regale our colleagues with tales of how marketers have changed the course of so many unsuccessful products.

And, once in a while, that does happen. Sometimes a brilliant marketing message can save an otherwise unremarkable offering. But that's not the way to bet.

Instead, try to place yourselves in the searcher's shoes. What are they looking for? How can you help them? What problems do they have? How can you solve them?

The beauty of search, and of the Web in general, is that you have an unlimited amount of space and time to help your customer. You can approach your customer's problem from every possible angle. You can use as many different words and examples as possible. You can put so much information on your site that they are bound, not just to find you, but to be persuaded by you.

When you do that, suddenly you'll find that you have content written for all the possible keywords your customers use. You'll have information so compelling that it will attract links. And it will be passed along in social media. Basically, everything that you need to do to rank well in search will start to happen, not because you forced it, but because your helpfulness attracted it.

So, that's the secret. Don't tell anyone, OK?

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September 30, 2009

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


a useless blog post with a catchy headline. you got me there.

I'm sorry that you felt I wasted your time, Remi. It wasn't my intent. I don't think that drawing you into something with a catchy headline that turns out to be useless to you is a success--it's a failure, because I want you to be helped by what I do, just as I explained in the post.

I am concerned that so many people look at successful search marketing like it is some kind of parlor trick instead of good old-fashioned hard-working marketing, which it unfortunately is. If you think that this post was nothing more than link bait to attract more people to come, then I definitely failed with it. Unless you were helped by what I wrote, it doesn't pay off for either one of us.

Wow. Your article said everything I have been looking for. 1. Have what the customer wants. 2. Answer their questions with the right information. 3. Develop the right logic for their objections. 4. Have a solution in their budget range. 5. Know what they are looking for by knowing what problems they have. 6. Solidly present how my product helps solve their problems.
The Web gives me space, time, and delivery technologies to lay out all these components in varied styles, so that my message of help attracts those who need it.
Thanks for painting the picture. It said a thousand words.

Thanks, Tamlynn. I'm glad that it helped you. The good news is that it's straightforward. The not-so-good news is that it's a lot of work. But from working with small business owners, the one thing I know they are not afraid of is hard work. They just need some advice about what to work on.

Hi Mike!

You are quite correct in having "what your customer wants." It's an even better scenario if you have what your customer "needs" since a need is tied much closer to emotions (the primitive brain). Pressing the emotional "button" in a prospect's mind can be a really powerful catalyst to encouraging them to take action.

Thank you for the great reminder!

I totally agree a total waste of time. The old switch and bait. Bait with catchy headline, switch to superficial nonsense. Also, like the FAKE testimonials such as from Tamlynn Laurence. Yeah, this worhless post really deserves a "WOW!". Nice try Mike (or Tamlynn Laurence).

I hope you didn't hurt yourself with this ground breaking revelation "The all-time top-secret trick to search marketing is to have what your customer wants"

Sorry but this is a very wishy-washy article just sprouting what kids get taught in a high-school business class. You could have simply written "write targeted, useful content that includes your relevant keywords" instead of fluffing it out into ten useless paragraphs.

This website usually has GREAT articles but this is not of the usual standard sorry.

And please do not use the word TRICK in a headline; it suckers-in the internet newbies and you know this.

My favorite part - pointing out that on the Web you have unlimited space to make your case from every conceivable angle. And what I'd like to add to that is that most companies already have all the necessary info to tell their full story, but it's locked up in non-Web formats. What these businesses need to do is lay out that story from beginning to end and from all major angles with existing materials, then hire a good Web content writer/editor to weave it all together in a (Web) user-friendly format! Tell your full story on the Web - now you can AND doing so will help even more folks find you and take the time to learn more about your offering.

Sorry that it disappointed you, GJ. I intentionally used the word "trick" in the headline so that I would attract the very people that need to hear that there are no tricks.

Gee, Joe, I can see that some people definitely did not appreciate the article, and I apologize to anyone who was disappointed. I'll see if I can raise my game next week. I hope you can think a little more of me than to accuse me of a fake testimonial. I can take it, but it's kind of insulting to the real Tamlynn, who is just as entitled to her opinion as you are. Having said that, I do appreciate your feedback and I will do my best not to disappoint you in the future.

The Internet is full of secret formulas and card tricks to dazzle dupes into parting with their money.

I think this article is something we all need to hear. We're all so caught up with technology and technique that we forget what marketing is all about: an exchange of goods and services. A trade.

When we stop looking to fulfill the needs of consumers and just look for the next SEO magic trick to snare people into buying, we're no longer exchanging or trading. We're just playing search engine Three-card Monte.

John Carlton was an assistant to grand master copywriter Gary Halbert. Carlton tells how Halbert kept asking him to rewrite a sales letter... to show more empathy. for the customer. That's the real all time secret trick. To learn to care about your customers!

Thank you

Mike - you had to say it.

Trick or not, any examination of most of the commercial websites out there tells me that a great many don't obey the rules - sell what your customer wants or needs, and present the offer in such a way as to leave no reasonable question unanswered.

You're absolutely right to say this is more marketing than search. Perhaps some of the folks who read your posts about search aren't concerned about the whole business of marketing - right product or service delivered to the right customer profitably. Some of us are, though, and the message still bears repeating!

I appreciate the support from the folks who appreciated what I was trying to do. I also appreciate the feedback of those that found the article to be too basic or some kind of trick in itself. Thanks to everyone for letting me know what they think so that I can improve what I write in the future.

Thanks for a great read and a reminder of the messages I'm trying to get across to my customer's. Thanks again and please keep up the great work!

Hi Mike,
This post is a great reminder to focus on the needs of the Web user and customer. It's easy to become focused on the mechanics of SEO and forget that a website needs to be easy to read and navigate and provide useful information.
Thanks again, Paul

Very practical advice for SEM. Sometimes we focus so much on finding the right keywords or doing SEO that we forget that we're selling to people. Thanks for putting things back into perspective for me.

This post just reminded me that Search Marketing and listening to our customers go together. Your right Mike, there are no parlor tricks involved in Search Marketing. What it takes is hard work. And those who do not fear hard work can apply your principles.

Keep it up!

In my experience working with small businesses, they ABSOLUTELY need help with these very basic things. They often have no idea just how detailed and targeted their website needs to be, because their entire marketing plan is just a half baked disorganized mess. They can't begin to build a site correctly, because they never build their own marketing correctly.

Maybe the people who come here to read don't want to hear about the basics, but it's basic marketing which I have to pound into my clients over and over. I don't think it hurts us to be reminded of these things.

Thanks Mike for being very honest and bringing a lot of us back to "earth" to reality. Sometimes we tend to get so caught up with SEO and ranking high in the search engines that we totally forget all about what our prospective customers really want or need to make their lives better or easier.

Excellent post Mike.

The only thing missing was a picture of Curly from City Slickers holding up his index finger - you know, "The One Thing" :)

Aside from being a great reminder, your post shined a light on something I think many marketers struggle with - that some products are complicated and it can be tough to find a balance between hitting the high points and getting their message across while still giving all of the details that many prospects require.

Your post provides a solution to this dilemma and it reminds us that we can (and should) produce more content.

And why wouldn't we? As you said, the web offers unlimited space to do it.

Thanks for the insights.

Utter tosh.

Having for sale things that (potential) customers want is not marketing. Telling people about it - that is partly marketing but is so obvious it's not worth a mention in here.

What is the trick is having for sale things that customers did not know that they wanted, or potentially even actively did not want, and making the sale anyway through a persuasive site, competent marketing and decent cross- or up- selling.

Agree with other comments here - not up to the usual standard, 'tricksy' headline etc... Smacks a bit of 'OMG a deadline is approaching and I haven't written anything yet, I'd better switch to overdribble mode...'
Grade report: C- Must do better.

Having owned a web site for 5 years and for the first three of which I tried all sorts of SEO products, multiple search engine submissions etc, and achieved very little.

Then I gave up and just wrote stuff for my own interest around the subject. That's when it all happened and now I am number one, and have been for the last two years on Google on my own main keyword and a lot more besides!

This is so true, and gets truer as the search engines get cleverer in understanding how to send the right traffic to you.

Great article, fantastic approach. I loved your " Everything that you need to do to rank well in search will start to happen, not because you forced it, but because your helpfulness attracted it."

I wanted to point out one thing to all the nay sayers on this article:

The number one rule of marketing is: You must have a good product.

No tricks, misdirection, sizzling steaks or flashy ad campaigns will ever make up for a shoddy product. Mike Moran, you have very succinctly and eloquently reminded us all of that base truth and I really appreciate it.

Don't apologize - you've nailed it.


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