Clients lose that naive trust and faith fast, if it was ever there to begin with. However, as SEO becomes more widely adapted as a need-to-have in any online campaign strategy, there are those who will be dealing with SEO, and possibly online/search marketing for the first time. It won’t be long before they’re jaded; there are a lot of hucksters out there, and they’ll have perceived the experience as been taken for a ride in some way, shape, or form. This is the exact person we’re NOT dealing with in this post.
There is a difference between being a disillusioned client and a jaded client. In that the disillusioned client has seen successes with SEO; whereas, a jaded client is usually in a place too far gone, in a place where they’ll have to resolve some scar tissue and mental healing before they step back into the ring with SEO.
Disillusion is Good For Clients Too
Trust. It’s what every search and online marketer needs from clients. So, you might be puzzled why I’m suggesting a loss of trust is a good thing for clients to have, and why it would benefit the marketer? It’s blind trust we’re aiming to shed. It’s the client Texas Hold Em’ equivalent to “all in”. The big push to double-up and stay solvent in the game. It’s this blind faith that pins SEO as their first and last hope to a) build more revenue from online lead gen b) recover lost market share from competition that’s been kicking the snot out of them on the web, and c) create more brand-visibility/equity to usher in new streams of consumers.
It’s the client’s blind trust and faith in SEO that leads to train-wrecks, unreal expectations, and potentially being worse off when they started. Disillusion is good for clients and marketers. The trust you earn with a client that has been burned before is real trust. It’s a level of trust that’s broken through cynicism/BS/magic barrier, and, therefore, is a trust that’s been earned through quality work and repeated, measurable results. That is no small feat.
All-in Clients Don’t Want Honest Expectations
For an SEO, honesty is about setting the expectations. It’s something that I alluded to in Nick LeRoy’s excellent post last week. Expectations can only be set when real objectives are present and known. Otherwise, every client under the sun wants: “more leads”, “more online revenue generation”, “more qualified traffic”, etc, and that’s the only objective. MORE.
It’s true, SEO can do that, but an SEO has to help the client see what it is they really want. Not three months from now, but twelve months from now. If SEO can’t pull that information out of them, and the client can’t envision it and clarify it, then there isn’t an expectation on the planet that can cover that.
That fact of the matter is “all in” clients don’t want your honesty. Clients don’t want to think about systemic issues; they want 180 degree help now.They want the online and search marketing life preserver. Not long after this, a disillusioned client.
Why Disillusioned Clients Are More Mature Clients, Better Clients
Just like a once disillusioned SEO is a better marketer, so too is a disillusioned client a better client. It’s not that a client puts less pressure for results or is more apt to give trust from the onset; the pressure remains a constant and trust still has to be earned, and frankly harder to earn, but the expectations are adjusted.
Going from an all-in position as a client looking for miracle marketing, to a more mature online/search marketing client, not only helps naturally set more realistic expectations and, with a little sleuth work from the SEM, can surface the real objectives, but allows the SEO to be more honest about the what his/her skill set can help and what it can’t help. Disillusioned clients rarely go back to all-in positions once they’ve been there. Call it gun-shy, call it risk-averse, they’ll never again bundle everything in a single strategy again. When’s the last time you got torched and then made the exact same mistake?
When you’ve got a disillusioned client that’s looking to diversify online strategy, and you’ve got a disillusioned SEO with diverse knowledge of online and search marketing and the skill set to match, it’s a 1:1. Everyone comes to the table with their palms face-up and sleeves rolled (ideally) because no one’s got time mask their intentions. Questions and answers. More questions, more answers, and real objectives are discovered. Real, meaningful, multi-pronged strategies are built.
Sometimes we must all participate in “Dog and Pony” shows. If you’ve been in business more than year or two, then you’re intimately familiar with the term because you’ve participated in them too. For those looking for a definition, Urban Dictionary has done a great job defining the term:
[dog and pony show]…an elaborately staged activity, performance, presentation, or event designed to sway or convince people (from a derisive term for a small circus)
To be frank, these passé traditions of business showmanship are more of resource-drain than they are valuable. Especially to established companies. At that point, it’s more of a formality than it is a get-to-know-you and make certain you’d be the “right fit” for them. But, if you’re a new(ish) company, these can be invaluable to you. It was invaluable to me refining and redefining my circle.
Are Your Left and Right Hand Communicating?
We think that what we put down in proposals, what we put down on our company sites, is exactly what our business is. And, that if we were to ever explain what our business is, those are the words we would use to describe what we do and how we do it.
The reality is, at least for me, my site and proposals were only telling half the story. And, that exposes a huge flaw with the web; you can ramble on and on without really saying anything at all. You can compose pages and pages of exposé on your site, detailing out the most minute things and never get to the heart of the matter. We never deliver the punchline.
At some point someone is going to ask you a very simple question: what does your company do and what does it do best? It’s a precarious situation because you can’t deliver a long-winded answer and you can’t give a one word answer. It’s that question that Dog and Pony shows ask best: what does your company do and what does it do best?
The Great Gap in Stories
When I was asked that question, it gave me pause. Besides being a experienced and professional search marketing company, what did my company do? Furthermore, what did we do best? What was our big advantage in the market place; what separated us from Company X, Company Y, and Company Z whom all offer the same services?
It’s a tremendous void, like the moment before thunder fills the collapse of burnt air left by lightening. I realized what I had on paper didn’t emulate what I told people in boardrooms. That the real advantages I had were not on the company website. That the best story I had wasn’t being told to the public, that I was being selfish and keeping it to myself. All the advantages, all the separation factors between me and the field, weren’t on display.
Do As I Say. Not As I Do.
Maybe it has do with it being my baby, and that I’m protective of it. I didn’t want to think of my own baby as ugly as hell. The facts are that I call other’s people websites (babies) ugly and show them how to remove those blemishes for a living. It has a lot do with not pointing the finger at myself; my kid IS NOT ugly. But it was. It was a disjointed, unrefined ugly. Oodles of content that never made the point, never delivered a punchline. The boardroom meetings helped me see just how ugly it was.
As search marketers, how many of us take and apply our own advice to our sites? When we tell our clients how to build great, meaningful, and rich content, are we doing that ourselves? When tell our clients to write benefit-driven copy, distilling it down to in-your-face advantages, are we doing the same? In my case, I wasn’t. I thought it was inherent, that it peaked through tangle of words.
It didn’t. And it took a Dog and Pony show to help me point the finger at my own site. It helped me drop the rose-colored glasses and see what was really happening on my website.
Put Yourself on Parade
I still don’t like being on display in boardrooms, but I would recommend that every company do it. Why? Because it forces you define and distill what you do in a few short slides. You don’t have an entire site to explain yourself, your company’s mission, and your company’s market place advantages; you have 30 minutes to reveal your company’s advantages.
You’ll find out quickly if what you put on the slides is what shines through on your website. In my case, it wasn’t even close. They were two different stories. It also helped me realize I was a hypocrite, and that if I were my own client, what would I do to fix it? Moreover, it helps me empathize with clients.
It’s not easy being told your baby is ugly. It’s not easy finding out your copy is lumpy, direction-less, and statement-less. I venture to guess it’s how all our clients feel when we, hopefully gently, break the news. Put yourself on parade, even if you know you don’t want a particular piece of business, because there’s no better way to turn the magnifying glass on yourself.
There’s something about the allure of March Madness. A near-perfect tournament platform, no second chances, every achievement or failure highlighted and magnified. Powerhouses can be toppled in 40 minutes and the unknown can slingshot to stardom. I think that’s precisely why we, as a nation, love it so much; it’s what we want life to emulate. Where the only advantages you have is what you came with: preparation, talent, and the untamed will to win. There aren’t many places left where heroes are born from dust in single moment.
In many respects, SEO and Search Marketing are a lot like March Madness. Every one of us comes to the table with different backgrounds; some of us were teachers, some of us biochemical scientists, some of us soldiers, some of journalists, some of us lawyers, and the list goes on. But a majority come to the table with our experience, our talent(s), our will succeed, and our passion for search marketing. And some of us don’t.
Mediocrity as a Function of the Market
I’m thankful people like to make fast, quick money. I’m very thankful people glide on the hem of burgeoning industries and posture skills and knowledge. Sure, those people create PR problems (possibly big ones), but guess what else they leave in their wake? A swath of mediocrity. A trail of website miscues and gaffs so long and wide, professionals can drive a fleet of trucks through it.
Let’s be clear, mediocrity-fixing isn’t a 1-2-3 turnaround. Sometimes it can do irreparable damage if let go for long enough. But, mediocrity is an essential function of the capitalist market. Mediocrity establishes professional baselines for knowledge, skill-levels, and pricing scales. Think of it like this:
As search marketing and SEO have entered a new era where “nice to have” is no longer in a company’s marketing budget lexicon, and as companies become more educated (used very loosely) about SEO and SEM, it stands to reason, that professional SEOs and SEMs will do very well for themselves combating the aftershocks of mediocrity in the coming years.
Without mediocrity the capitalist market doesn’t function (in theory) if you ask Ayn Rand and her ilk. You’ve have to have been living in another dimension the last 60 odd years to see that mediocrity isn’t rewarded. That said, the system (in theory) makes allowances for this in order to create better, more knowledgeable, more profitable ways, which eventually become the mainstay. Until it isn’t. And, who knows, 3-5 years down the road we might be having this same discussion
Too Much Transparency Will Kill the SEO Market
There are only a handful of times I’m ever going to side with a multi-national corporation, and this is one of them. Everyone wants more transparency from Google (and the others, I guess), but mainly Google. I say keep that algorithm so well veiled that it’s practically impenetrable. Yep, I said it.
I said it for one reason: it will keep mediocrity flourishing. Like most, I think the “(not-so) invisible hand” of Google is troublesome on a variety of levels. But for the most part, it’s an evil I’m willing to accept. And, if you take a step back, Google gives away a good bit of information. Enough information to be dangerous. And, selfishly, it keeps what I do at a premium. It takes a lot of work, research, testing, reading, talking, and time to get good at what we do. Even a slightly-open book diminishes that.
Take some time out today to (silently or out loud) thank your mediocre competition. Because the end game, which mediocre care less about, is that their efforts are going to continually keep feeding your pipeline. The mediocre have a “bash and dash” mentality, unless they’ve deluded themselves, they want what they can get now. They aren’t mapping out long-wave strategies, they aren’t interested in creating partnerships, and they aren’t truly interested in making both parties better.
And, if you’ll indulge me for a few moments, I need to get personal. There aren’t many special times of the year for me (save holidays and family birthdays), but this one of them or was. As many of you may know, my brother, Steven, passed away from leukemia nearly 3 years ago now. And, for us, March Madness was a tradition. Not only is this how we celebrated his birthday (March 16th), but it was one of the rare occasions in our adult lives were we our teenage selves again, just for those fleeting hours. And, I just want to wish him a happy birthday. Love you.