Tuesday, June 1, 2010

does efficient = good?

I "attended" a very very interesting webinar today. Jason Baer was the host, and it was about how to integrate "Social and email." There was a lot of good information in there, and I came away from the event feeling like I had learned a lot and that I had spent my time well.

A few hours have passed though, and one thing is kind of bothering me.

In the beginning of the webinar, Baer talks about an experience he had with the Yellow Pages. He was looking for a place that could fix his eye glasses, but when he found the listing for glasses - eye, he was directed to a list of "see also" ideas. This did not accomplish his goal. From there, the webinar segued into talking about a company's "taxonomy" and how to integrate those keywords into everything you do.

Not always, but sometimes, we are looking for information and we are not in a hurry. We are kind of open to seeing what's floating around out there. In fact, we are hoping that our exploration takes us to a really good place that we hadn't expected. And it is for these scenarios, rare though they may be, that I am pondering the following question. Does efficiency always mean good?

Maybe it's the librarian in me

I earned a Master's in Library and Information Science back in 2001, just as the online world was really beginning to explode as a source of information. There were still card catalogs at my local library and at the university library, so my education was planted squarely in between traditional and new types of research. The thing that I always thought was neat about research is that it carries you to all kinds of places if you're patient enough. Sites like Amazon, StumbeUpon, Pandora, and others cater to this adventurous desire in people to see what is related to what they know they like. Maybe people view such sites as fun. Maybe when a person is searching for your company, they don't want to have fun. They're at work or they're looking for something very specific, like a person who can fix some eye glasses.

Let me ask you a question, though. Let's say, just hypothetically, that someone started out looking for a person who could repair eye glasses. You're a company who makes those little self-help eye glass repair kits. What if that person, in skimming through the first page of Google results, sees your company's listing and decides, "Hey, I think I'll try that!" That person didn't start out by searching for a repair kit, but with some patience on his or her end and with some good SEO work for your part, it could well be a match made in heaven. Now the case is harder to argue for a more static medium like the Yellow Pages, it's true, but then again, if there was a company listed under "glasses-eye" that sold repair kits, it would be the same end result.

It all depends on what optimization means

I worry sometimes that we are becoming very 2-dimensional as far as information goes. Our thoughts are at maximum thinned out to 420 characters for Facebook. Texts and Twitter offer us less leeway. Fast sound bytes for a fast-moving society. In this kind of environment, it's easy to approach SEO the way experts like Baer recommend. Look at your mission statement. Look at how your prospects talk about you. Look at how your customers talk about you. Use those words. A lot. In a lot of different ways.

But what if society doesn't stay so linear? What if "decision engines" like Bing end up shocking the world by encouraging people to think in new ways? What if a person looking for a new bathtub ends up finding a company that can remodel the entire bathroom?

For search engines, for now, keywords are still key. But if Social Media continues to dominate the marketing world, that is going to change, I believe. Conversational, word-of-mouth marketing is going to rule the roost, and people do not talk in a linear fashion. You will not see an exchange like this, for example.

Person 1: Gosh, I really wish I could find a good contractor. I need to work on my bathroom.

Person 2: I just noticed that the following companies' websites included the words "contractor" and "bathroom." Perhaps you could try those.

No, people talk about experiences. They joke, they whine, they boast, they complain, they get angry, they get excited. Do your keywords account for a conversation that leads to your doorstep? If you're an eye glass company, are you using words like "hipster" or "emo" or "Buddy Holly?" It might seem silly, but these are the kinds of non-linear, non-sensical words that are sharing space with your keywords. And that's happening now.

So what are we going to do about it?

Well, I don't have an answer for that one. As is so often the case when discussing the current marketing revolution, the answer would have to be revolutionary. But I have done enough research to realize that people are already searching based on Twitter keywords or Facebook status updates. I know that a search for an image of candy canes on Google can pull up some truly bizarre and unrelated results. I know that a video search for manufacturing keywords on YouTube can pull up videos by heavy metal bands. I think that part of the new taxonomy, to use Baer's terminology, is going to have to be words that you see come up again and again in the same context as your prized keywords. "Classy" along with bathroom. "Fashion" along with eye glasses. There isn't a way to buy these words on sites like Facebook and Twitter. You have to claim them through association. You have to build them into your branding and integrate them into your interwoven marketing efforts. And if you don't, someone else will, and it could very well be a customer or a competitor.

Maybe "surgeon" has nothing to do with wanting to get your glasses fixed. Maybe we are right to try to streamline how people can find us. But I think the world is going a different way. It's the long tail, it's the winding path. It might not be as easy to find exactly what we set out to find in the future, but it will be easier to find exactly what we need. Will you be there for your customers?

Image by Jenny Z. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ohinsanity


Jay Baer said...

Incredibly good post. Thanks for the kind words. I agree, linear seek and find has limits. And the "semantic web" will make it much less of the only game in town. But, until that happens, the straight taxonomy approach is the best way to match limited content creation resources with maximum chance of results. What you describe can indeed be a deeper, more interesting engagement, but it's so tough to do it in a methodical way. But perhaps that's your premise, that "method" is lesser.

Real Life Mad Man said...

Thank you so much!

Yes, I think it's going to become a matter of a new level of qualified leads. The people who reach your site through the more "traditional" keywords may be a higher quality lead. Maybe they know more about what you offer, or maybe they'll be able to appreciate what you offer more. But in terms of quantity, I think "conversational keywords" are going to become increasingly important, especially in the realm of Social Media.

Thanks for stopping by!