Managing complexity in online marketing has never been more important.
Part of our job is to help clients to better understand the challenges they face and for many, one of the biggest challenges of all is to see their company in the way their customers do.
It can be terribly disappointing for a new client to learn that their website is not ranking as highly as they thought for a particular search term. The conversation can go like this;
New Client: “I’m pretty pleased that I’m already in 2nd place on Google for <awesome keyword>.”
Us: “Sadly you’re in 2nd place on Google on your browser, on your computer. Google knows you visit your website a lot, so it helpfully shows you your site high up on the search engine results page.”
New Client: “What? So where do I really rank for <awesome keyword>?”
Us: “Well, that sort of depends what you mean by ‘I’…but if we take the most neutral view possible by using clever tools, you’re 4th…”
New Client: “That’s not too bad.”
Us: “…you’re 4th on page 5.”
New Client: “Oh. Bum.”
Us: “Unless you’re using a mobile. Then you’re on page 9.”
New Client: “What?!? Why’s it doing that?”
Us: “Well, Google answers every query differently, depending on all sorts of factors. We’ll explain….”
But that explanation can be a long and sometimes dispiriting one.
While it has never been more simple and straightforward for customers to use search engines and seamlessly buy online, the complexity of using these platforms to present your products has only increased.
This means that users, some of whom are our clients, are often unaware of the true complexity we navigate on their behalf.
They rely on our SEO, PPC or social marketing expertise. They trust us to know how the technology works, and apply our knowledge to deliver marketing ROI.
But there’s a bit of a problem…
Google doesn’t tell us how it works.
Actually that’s not fair (he said, remembering our treasured Google Premier Partner status).
It would be more accurate to say that Google doesn’t give us a manual; Google advises us what is likely to please it, and what transgressions might anger its almighty algorithms but it’s not their job to make life easy for us, or you as a business.
Who are search engines and social media platforms for?
The priority of search engines, advertising tools and social media platforms is to make life easy for their end-users, and deliver a great customer experience.
Where shopping feeds, search results or social media chit chat becomes contaminated with poor results or commercial targeting that ruins the core experience, audiences switch to a new platform (See: Myspace, Friendster, AOL, Yahoo…) and that’s not good business.
So. The online platforms that you and we use to connect with customers, advertise and communicate are all focused on retaining value in the eyes of users, and are therefore purposefully obscure in some ways when it comes to marketing.
That said, we add to the guidance they DO provide with what we learn from our own research efforts and what our peers have learned and shared.
What we do know is that if we behave well, then our work will (probably) be looked upon favourably. Exactly how favourably is the partial mystery we only discover by trial, and sometimes error.
Managing online complexity
The implications of failing to heed the advice of search engines are well known. Poor technical website development, underwhelming content, dubious link profiles or numerous other transgressions will see your website suffer lower search engine rankings or even a penalty that renders your website practically invisible to users.
Working in digital media we are lucky to have insight into the technology underpinning the ways we experience the digital world, and established ways of measuring and managing strategies for SEO as well as advertising, social and more.
One of the most important things we do is help our clients understand the complexity that faces them as they try to communicate to their customers.
One Google, multiple truths
Recently, a new client was surprised to learn that we saw different results when we carried out the same online search, with a variety of factors in play that influence Google to show one result for me and another for her.
My client had seen Google as some digital phonebook or encyclopaedia, a big index for the Internet that would have one constant – true – response for whatever was asked of it.
As we talked, she began to realise the degree of imperceptible personalisation that happens around her, and every other online user.
Google had one truth for me, and another for her.
The Serendipity Engine
As long ago as 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was talking about building a “serendipity engine”.
The goal was to deliver the information that you didn’t realise you were about to look for, the thing you hadn’t known you needed until you saw it.
Ecommerce websites offer a watered-down echo of this approach when they present us with options based on the behaviour of other customers; “people like you bought this other thing as well, so you probably want it too”.
Likewise, programmatic advertising and the myriad automated and behavioural targeting options for social media and native adverting ads is on the rise.
What this means is that across pretty much all online marketing channels, the ability to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and factor their experience into your marketing strategy is vital.
So too is the technical knowledge required to measure, manage and optimise integrated campaigns in this rapidly developing world.
One of the things that makes digital marketing interesting for so many clever and creative people is that we don’t have a manual.
We have to deal with each surprising Google update, explore what new technical approaches make possible. We are always learning. We get to work stuff out, to have ideas and to create solutions.
Then we work out how to explain them simply. That’s not always quite so easy…