Monday, February 24, 2014

A Sea of Content Nobody Can Find

king of spades card
"Content is king" has pretty much been the mantra for over a decade to those looking to influence search engine results. It has always been true too. In the old days not long ago, if you didn't have some content worth linking to then sometimes your website wouldn't even get indexed. Now there's a whole industry built around content creation that is generating tens of thousands of pages of new content every day. Much of it no one will ever see. Is it time for something new to deal with it all or is the rate of creation unsustainable?

As search engine optimization knowledge matured, getting good search listings was easy just by periodically writing some decent content and getting a few links to it. The time to get indexed shrunk from months, or never, down to just 4 - 6 weeks. It was not difficult to write an article or a guide of some kind that got a top 3 listing and stayed there for 2, 3, 4 years or more with just a small collection of 10 - 20 backlinks. That ease of entry and relatively short waiting period for validation is what fueled and sustained the growth of the web after the dot com bubble burst on wall street at the end of the 90's. For much of the next decade, big brands rested on their notoriety, their traditional marketing channels, and eventually PPC to attract visitors online.

Jump forward to today and the web is big business like never before. The mantra is the same, but the rules of the game have changed considerably. First, the time to get content indexed has dropped to just days and sometimes just hours. Google especially has put an emphasis on quality content creation in their guidelines for getting indexed regularly. The spread of web based applications and social media has made content generation easier and more available to anyone with the penchant to write.

Fuzzy Brand
Big companies with big budgets now recognize the value of organic search listings and are paying small armies of content creators to pump out content daily in an effort to monopolize the top listings for the brand search terms that matter to them. Adsense and affiliate marketing in general has given incentive to a whole new generation of independent writers looking to cash in with little investment.

So now we're at a point where the web is flooded on a daily basis with new content, and not because new content is necessarily needed, but because the business of content marketing demands it. This leads me to wonder, does search need to change to accommodate it all and make more of it readily accessible? Or, if that doesn't happen soon enough, will the industry of content creation shrink because the money that's fueling it is not getting enough return on investment?

Searchers rarely click past the first page of search results anymore. My teenage kids laugh whenever they see me do it. With the emphasis on quality being required of content now, we will presumably get to point where the difference in quality between the 1st search result and the 50th or 100th is marginal. Is it fair, or even healthy for the web in general, that only 10 of those results will get the majority of views?

To sustain the abundance of quality content and give it a chance to be seen by any audience, I believe the future of search has to include some level of random rotation of the top X percent of search results for any given search term. Without that, the incentive to create new content is eventually not going to be as strong as it is now.

This is not a new concept. Some people much smarter than myself proved in a paper published almost 10 years ago that randomization of search results would lead to significantly higher quality overall results. Of course, we could be seeing that research already in play now and just don't realize it due to the massive amount of new content being randomized in at a very low percentage rate. If that is the case then, in my opinion, we're not seeing enough of it. All too often when I do a search I get static results with the same big name players always at the top or very outdated results that are 2, 3, or as much as 6 years old included throughout the top 20 listings.

If randomization isn't the cure for better and broader search results to accommodate all the quality content being generated then maybe content classification categories would be a better answer. All relevant search results now currently are returned in a single list format and there's no indication that sorts fact from fiction or proof from opinion. It's clear that something needs to change since all search engines scored lower satisfaction ratings last year, with some getting their lowest scores ever.

Info Card Examples
Unfortunately, many experts think Google and other search engines may go in the exact opposite direction and offer up less results at a time instead of more. Mobile usage is on the rise. So are wearable devices and voice recognition. Embedded or implanted devices are the obvious next evolution beyond something you wear or carry. Lists of textual search results are difficult to use on tiny screens and so Google has been experimenting with alternative options known as info cards. Info cards are stacked and swiped through like the pages of a book. So in the near future, instead of getting a list of several results to choose from instantly you could get several stacked on individual info cards with only 1 result being the first thing you see. How many of those do you think future searchers will flip through before settling or giving up?

The lack of or slow pace of diversity in search for all this new content being generated is leading many producers into cultivating their own audience directly through social media. That makes a lot of sense, however a backlash has started to form against unwanted commercialization there. That is not likely to change the practice though. If anything, the expansion of social media and the development of direct audiences could fragment the web as we know it into networks of users who never venture outside of the primary social network of their choice. If all the information they ever want is available to them, or even spoon fed to them, through pushed notifications, regular status updates, and closed network searches then why bother ever going anywhere else?

Something has to give if this extremely high level of new content generation is to continue. The big money suppliers that are driving it want to see measurable results in terms of number of times a piece of content has been accessed and how many sales resulted from a certain piece of content. They track that kind of thing now, but over time, big money wants to see growth per unit of whatever they invest in. That's not going to happen as things stand today.

So if you're a content marketer, are you getting ready for the oncoming purge? Or are you planning ahead for the next evolution of search? Or are you counting on a dedicated following to develop to keep you viable and relevant for whatever comes next? The writing is on the wall that something different has to happen. The only question is will it come in time before the business of content marketing has it's financial plug pulled or not.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Web Industry Jargonauts Versus The Real World

The Internet has significantly changed the world. In a lot of ways it has made the world a smaller place by making it easy to communicate and share ideas openly and across vast distances like never before. However, there's a big disconnect between those of us who work the web and those who simply use it like an appliance or as an occasional stand-in for their TV and that disconnect may end up ruining the whole thing for everybody.

Take a minute and talk to the average Internet user about what they do online and most will say they use email, play games, chat on a social network, watch videos, shop, pay bills, or find information. Then ask them if they know how any of that stuff works. They'll say no and the truth is they don't care how it works. It just does and is relatively easy to use, so they use it.

glassholes
Now strike up a conversation with somebody who works in the web world. For example, a programmer, a data analyst, designer, content creator, search marketing optimizer, or network technician and ask them what they do online. They'll say they do all the same things the average user does, but they also do a lot more. These web professionals do care about how the things they do online work and they are almost constantly immersed in the technology behind the scenes. The conversation will include all kinds of technical details, acronyms, web slang, jargon, etc. To the average user, it all sounds like a foreign language.

This level of interest difference between the makers of the web and the users of the web is becoming a problem. But before getting into the details of that, lets consider some numbers for some perspective. The total estimated U.S. population at the end of 2011 was around 313 million and the estimated number of employed Americans at that time was about 154 million. According to a study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Harvard Business School done in 2012, just 5.1 million U.S. jobs could be traced directly or indirectly to the Internet in 2011.

There's no doubt those numbers are different today, but proportionally they are probably close to, if not still, the same and those proportions are probably mirrored around the world in other countries. The important thing to note is that there's a relatively small number of people in charge of producing what a much larger number of people like to do and consume online. The problem that is arising is that those relatively few are making the tools of the web more often for themselves and less so for the average user. The result is an increasing disinterest by most average users to ever be anything but that and a kind of elitist attitude by the technophiles of the world toward anyone not willing to engage at the same level that they do.

The playbook is always the same and we've seen it repeated several times now. A single visionary or small team of individuals solve a simple problem with a simple solution. Or they create a simple application to make life easier or more enjoyable in some way. Everybody loves it and it gets shared like wildfire and becomes a great success. Then over time, that small group doing simple things turns into a corporate juggernaut and whatever they do gets made less simple and less easy to use. It's updated and adapted to do more complex and complicated things because the tech heads can't just leave well enough alone. Eventually, that simple solution to a simple problem levels off and stagnates or disappears altogether because it's too complicated for the average person to use anymore. Or, even worse, it becomes a whole new problem in itself to a new generation of users who don't really want to deal with it, but because it's now a ubiquitous part of the web, they have no choice.

Joe The Plumber
This pattern is so common now that I find the average user more disinterested than ever. Sure they still use the web for all the same things, but therein lies the problem. They're not doing anything new. I actually know lots of people who check their email maybe once per week and pay their bills online and that's it. Don't we as web pros want the average user to get more deeply involved in some way? Shouldn't we be making the web and all the tools that make it work easier and more useful for everyone? I know you think you are, but here's a newsflash. You're not.

Let's look at search for instance. Yes, the search engines have gotten better at providing relevant results. But really, how much better? It's still not uncommon for someone looking for red shoes to get a search result that includes 8 out of 10 sites on the first page all selling the same pair of red shoes for exactly the same price. How helpful is that?

Or what about when you search for some kind of very specific information (ex. number of blue sedans sold in the U.S. 2012) and all you get is totally irrelevant results. You know that information is available somewhere. Why can't any search engine produce it? When the average user runs into results like these two examples, their disinterest only grows because there's no opportunity for them to contribute and make things better.

Pro web folks will argue that it is easier than ever for casual users to contribute and participate online now because of the rise of social media, youtube, and all the various do-it-yourself point and click blogging, website, and creative option outlets that are available. That is true, however, none of those options are worth anything to anyone if what gets created can't be found or doesn't get some level of recognition for who made it. Who is going to keep producing something if nobody ever sees it and the originator gets no benefit?

The days of the average user creating something online and it getting seen by a significant number of real people based on it's own merits are just about over. Yes, it still happens, but today when it does it is due to more luck than skill or merit. Only the pros have the time and the knowledge to hit all the right ratios of words, know the right signals to trigger, the right egos to stroke, and the right pockets to paper to consistently get their creations recognized. That may be good for some now, but it's not good for all in the long run.

We're at a crossroads now where an even smaller few have most of the influence over what gets found online due to changes in how search works. Big brands with deep pockets and tight-knit groups of savvy marketers, who only help each other out, control what gets found where. Social media is the new wild west, but that's only temporary as it is obvious that the big players are already learning how to manipulate that too.

big money tips the scales
What originally made the Internet great was the level playing field it made. The Mom & Pop shop could compete for space at the top of a search result just by following some simple, basic rules with a no-frills website that provided an appreciated service that people linked to. That's it. It was that simple. They didn't have to concern themselves with any kind of technical, behind the scenes stuff, or complicated formulas that nobody really knows the answer to. Then the pros started manipulating things and abusing that simplicity to try and "make things better". Now here we are 10 years later and search is not really all that much better, but the Mom & Pop shop has virtually no chance of getting to the top of the search results anymore without a lot of expense or hassle. It's so bad now that many of them don't even want try after hearing horror stories from their peers.

That possibility for that level of opportunity is what drove interest and adoption of the internet so quickly in the early years. Now that same level of interest is waning and the result is a vast user base that will never do anything more than just scratch the surface of what is currently possible. If we as web pros don't recognize that and start finding ways to simplify access to tangible benefits by average users who have better things to do than study algorithm theories all day then the web will be vulnerable to complacency and severe fragmentation. It will be all Pros and no average Joes. When that happens, we're all screwed because there's never going to be enough of just us to keep us all employed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Let It Go Until You’re Paid To Know

Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new. It mostly just happens naturally as I experience life. Because of that, on the go revelations can easily get lost and forgotten in the hustle and bustle of whatever else is going on at the time. So when I recognize an important learning moment, I like to name the lesson. But I don’t just give it any old boring name, oh no. I’m a marketing guy, so I try to give it a special name. Something catchy to make it more memorable. I’m going to share with you one of the most important lessons I have learned and the name I gave it is also the title of this post.

work juggler
Every business person I know is either born with or developed the ability to multi-task, both physically and mentally. Over time, the mental ability to multi-task tends to expand. It just becomes more natural and as a result you become more adept at juggling a lot of information in your mind. I don’t know about you, but when I don’t need to be laser focused on something specific, I can have anywhere from 5 - 15 different thoughts, ideas, plans, schedules, things to do, etc. rolling around in my head at any given moment. I believe having that ability is a big part of what has made me successful.

However, just like everything else, you have to manage that ability. By manage it I mean actively choose those multiple subjects you’re pondering. If you don’t do that and just let random thoughts pop in and out then it’s easy for unimportant things or things you have no control over to be a distraction and get in the way of productive thought.

As with most important lessons in life, I learned this one the hard way. My companies are all about helping other businesses with web design, branding, marketing, and various other services. We get a lot of leads and inquiries where several conversations typically need to occur with the business owner or manager before we ultimately get the job. After sending a proposal, I then personally call the client to see if they have any questions and, of course, try to close the deal.

I’m not a big fan of high-pressure sales tactics. So that phone call to the prospective client doesn’t always result in them accepting the proposal right away. However, in the past, that didn’t stop me from thinking about their project anyway. I enjoy my work. I enjoy the challenges and I enjoy the creative process it all requires. To be successful in just about all business endeavors you need to care about what you’re doing, who you’re doing it for, and why you’re doing it. Sometimes a project would be so interesting to me that I would care too much.

While waiting for the client to sign on, I would frequently start doing mental work for their project. Part of that mental multi-tasking ability I developed would be consumed with ideas for their website design or possible font styles for their new brand logo or tactics for their marketing plan. All of that is stuff that I enjoy and that’s why it would be taking up space in my mind even though the client hadn’t accepted our proposal yet.

exit sign
The wake up call that got me to stop doing that was a series of relatively minor mental lapses that led to disruptions in my life coupled with the feeling of foolishness after not getting a few of those jobs I spent so much time thinking about. One of those mental lapses caused me to miss my exit while driving to meet a long time, paying client and I didn’t realize it until I was almost 20 miles past it. I was very late and fortunately the guy didn’t hold it against me. Still it bothered me that I could have lost his business because of letting some other project I didn’t have yet distract me from the task at hand.

From that point on I decided that, during working hours, I was not going to let anything I wasn’t being paid to deal with creep into my multi-tasking stream of thoughts. No matter how interesting the project seemed or how much I cared about doing it, I was not going to give it any thought until the client signed the proposal agreement. I also made that a stated company policy at our next weekly production meeting because I knew that if I was doing it then surely others were doing it too.

But saying something and then actually doing it doesn’t always work out as easily you think it will. It’s hard to break long habits, especially mental ones. So I came up with this little saying, this little slogan to remember the lesson and help train myself and others around me to stop wasting brain power on work you don’t have yet.

Let It Go Until You’re Paid To Know        

It’s a surprisingly very effective slogan. Selectively blocking spontaneous thoughts preemptively is not possible, obviously. But you can train yourself to selectively wipe specific thoughts from  your conscious mind with repetition and word association if the words you use have an established meaning. When you find yourself thinking about something you shouldn’t, you simply zero in on the thought and repeat the words. You might have to say it out loud a few times to get it to stick. After a while it just becomes an internal thing. Almost like an eraser for your mental whiteboard.

hypnotic illusion
Let It Go Until You’re Paid To Know

After adopting this tactic I have found myself to be more productive and less forgetful of things that matter in the moment. The saying has also been adopted well around the office as a motivational tool to snap people out of stressing over things that are out of their control. It also rhymes so it’s fun to say. Who knows, after reading all of this you may somehow already be slightly conditioned to it. Give it a try.

Let It Go Until You’re Paid To Know

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Psychology is Marketing's Best Friend

psychological puppets
Think back to the last time you bought something. It doesn't matter what it was and it doesn't matter if you bought it because you needed it or if you just wanted it. You likely bought it because, on a sub-conscious level, you had to. There may have been other choices available, but they didn't really have a chance.

No, you weren't forced to buy something against your will. But you were psychologically influenced to buy what you did, even before you thought about buying it. Smart companies now use common psychological and emotional triggers that we all have when planning all elements of their marketing strategy to exert that kind of influence.

Everything from the company name to their logo to the product name to the colors, shape, packaging, weight, materials, texture, advertising message, fonts, models in the ads, background music, time of day, merchandising, store section, shelf space, shelf arrangement, price, and so on, and so on have been systematically evaluated and focus group tested in minute detail to determine what your perception and reaction will be, both consciously and sub-consciously, to all of those elements.

It isn't a 100% fool proof system of course. But the more of those elements that are set correctly, the higher the chance they will produce the desired mental response from the targeted customer and will then manipulate them into buying the company's product. We're going to leave aside the morals of doing that for another time.

Now, because the big companies do it does that mean you have to spend a ton of money doing your own research and testing to find all the right emotional triggers to most effectively sell your product? No, you don't. There's no need to re-invent the wheel when there's bound to be some mega corporation that already spent big bucks doing most of the testing and research for you. Just find a different type of product that is successfully being marketed to the same demographic audience you want to sell to and copy what the other company is doing to sell their product with your own version of the same marketing strategy.

Don't copy what is being done in exact detail obviously. Just do your best to be a similar, but subtle difference to that big money success. Then when your prospective customer sees your ad or your product, it will somehow feel already familiar to them in some way, even if they have never actually seen or heard anything about it before.

similar marketing
Following a similar marketing strategy gives you several benefits besides just saving you money. First is the psychological power of repetition. It's a known fact that the more someone sees something, the more likely they are to favor or trust in it. You won't get the full power of course because your product or brand and all its marketing elements can't be an exact copy of the big company's. But you can get some of it simply because your marketing is somehow familiar to the customer and they'll feel like they have seen it before. This is why generic brand breakfast cereals use packaging similar to the name brand ones they are a direct copy of. If it can work for them then it can work for you, even when your product is totally different.

Then there is the power of subliminal messaging. Subliminal means that you see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, or touch it but you're not consciously aware of it. If you've never had a conscious experience with a product or any of its marketing before and you happen upon it briefly in passing then you're not likely to even notice it, either consciously or sub-consciously. But if you have some level of familiarity with it previously and are exposed to the marketing or the product briefly in some way, then you're more likely to notice it and engage with it if you have an actual need or desire for the product.

Lastly, there is the power of persuasion. Products that are groundbreakingly new, meaning there's never been anything else like it, are typically shunned by all but the serial early adopter. However, if the product seems somehow familiar sub-consciously, even if it's actuality radically different than anything else like it, then more people will be less afraid to try it. This is generally why we tend to see the slow evolution of a product over time instead of significant and sudden changes.

Taking advantage of time-tested and proven psychological concepts like the ones above in your marketing efforts can easily make a big difference in the success of your business and/or the acceptance of your products. If there's any non-business field of study that has the highest potential for benefit to the average business owner or marketing professional then psychology surely has to be it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Secret Sauce is Called Obvious Marketing

frustrated business owner
You have a new business or an existing business and you want more customers and more sales. What do you do? There are lots of ways to advertise any business. As the business owner, figuring out what the best advertising options are seems like a piece of cake. Afterall, you know your business and you know your customers, so it's natural to believe that you can advertise your business effectively all by yourself.

Unfortunately, many business owners think that and then wonder where it all went wrong when all that new business they were expecting doesn't come rolling in. I see this same scenario play out all too often and it happens because sometimes, as the business owner, you can actually be too close to the problem. Your business is your baby. You care so much about it that it can be easy to see things as you want them to be instead of how they actually are.

Advertising a business here and there in a scatter-shot manner only works by chance. You may as well take your ad budget to Vegas and bet it all on black. You might get lucky and double your investment, but you're equally likely to just lose it all. That's no way to grow a business.

An easy fix is to just ask for someone else's opinion and/or guidance. That doesn't mean ask your employee or your significant other and definitely don't ask the guy who's trying to sell you ad space somewhere. Ask a professional marketing consultant to develop a custom marketing plan for your business.

marketing plan meeting
Having a marketing plan prepared is not expensive. It's basically an evaluation of your business model and a roadmap to guide you on where your best advertising opportunities are and how to structure your message to effectively reach your target audience.

A good marketing consultant can see things on your behalf from a different perspective than you can because they can be more objective. In most cases, better advertising options or tactics are more obvious to someone who is not so personally invested in the business. That's a skill I like to call Obvious Marketing.

Obvious Marketing happens quickly. Differences, errors or omissions in whatever is already in place are easily recognized when all efforts are evaluated as a package instead of as separate items. Is the message unified? Is branding consistent? Is the target audience being reached across multiple channels that cater to the same demographic? If the answer to any of those is no then why?

To an experienced professional marketing consultant, it's obvious what needs to happen next. There doesn't need to be a lot of thought or extensive research or planning. All of that comes later to discover new ways of fine tuning or expanding reach. Obvious Marketing kicks in first and, 9 times out of 10, improvement and success soon follow.

If you would like to try some of my secret sauce on your business, contact me and tell me all about it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why Is This a Blogger Blog?

You may be asking yourself, why does a guy who does web design use blogger for his website? The answer is easy. Simplicity.

Real Person Marketing is sort of an experiment. It's my real time laboratory to learn and test out concepts and theories regarding social media marketing as it pertains to SEO. That and I hope to pick up some additional business along the way.

Google is the 800lbs. gorilla of search, Google+ is gradually influencing search results more, and Blogger is owned by Google. It just makes sense to me to run all the parts through Google owned services and see how it all shakes out.

Besides that, I'm a big believer in simple design. I don't need an over-stylized, bloated website to accomplish my goals here.

It's been a long time since I ...

Ok, so I haven't been back for a awhile. As I said in my introduction, I have several other businesses. Right after starting this project I had some others pop up that needed my undivided attention. So I had to put my own party on the back-burner. No biggie. That's one of the benefits of working for yourself.

Some of those other projects were:

  • Developing a new marketing strategy for one of my other companies.
  • Negotiating, implementing, and launching that new strategy with a third party vendor.
  • Created a whole new website design for a client who has been with one of my other companies since 2004.
  • Developed, setup, and ran an ecommerce PPC marketing campaign for a client during the entire holiday season and did it with only 10 days notice. Client has been with me since 2003.
  • Developed, organized, and launched a sustained social media marketing strategy for one of my companies across Facebook, Twitter, and Google+
  • Developed a content strategy and procured content generation services from a third party to be used in a blog as part of the social media efforts listed above.
  • Redesigned and built a whole new responsive website for a client who has been with one of my companies since 2006.
  • Wrote numerous blog posts for one of my web design company sites.
  • Posted, shared, and interacted with lots of people as the company voice on Google+ for one of my businesses. Used a pseudonym for safety ;) 
  • Developed and launched a whole new responsive web design for one of my company sites.
  • Redesigned and updated a site to make it responsive for a client who has been with one of my companies since 2011.
That just all of what I can remember. In-between all of that I also responded to thousands of emails, phone calls, took a vacation, learned some new things, and survived the holiday season.

Hopefully, this year will be more of the same. But I will be spending more time here and on Google+ as myself.