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.
Before you get to the end of this post, one of two things will happen: you will curse me (most likely out loud), close this post, and likely never speak/read me again. Or, you will disagree but understand the place this comes from. I’m old enough now that giving a shit about public opinion are of bygone days. To quote one my favorite lines, “It’s not show friends, it’s show business”.
Everyone has something to say about the JCPenny situation and the most recent one at Forbes.com about “black hat SEOs”. I am not going to comment on it. What more is there to say? What I will comment on is necessary clean up of SEO.
What’s Really Best for the SEO Industry
What’s really best for SEOs is a cataclysmic self-implosion of the industry. That’s right, I said it. A full-on collapse from the inside-out. The good SEOs as well as the Pretenders will fall. We’ve put on weight, we’re out of shape hermits that feign individualism when it’s anything but. And if it keeps going this way, the collapse is imminent. Or the industry standardizes. And, no one, including myself, thinks that is a good idea. Creative solutions to incredibly complex situations cannot exist within standardization. Read David Harry’s post on Situational SEO and you’ll quickly see how standards just can’t be applied.
There’s only so much high-powered negative press an industry can handle. We’re not talking about Wired, that serves a demographic that swirls around what we do, we’re talking about the New York Times and Forbes. A lot of potential clients read those publications. A lot. And, a lot of people that have either never heard of our 3-letter profession or are vaguely familiar. Either way, what they’ve read most likely left a sour taste in their mouth, made them more gun-shy than they already were.
Why Realease the SEO Kraken?
As the Tree of Liberty must be refreshed against tyranny, so to must the Tree of SEO. Don’t believe the dime-store novel version of the industry, we weren’t spammers. In fact, I can honestly say, there is way more spam now than in the old days of KW stuffing. And, all of this before there were any guidelines anywhere! Somewhere along the way I wanted my profession to be less about gaming and more about building lasting websites that rank well because they have loaded with great, useful content. Because solidity is something to stand on. Because if everyone games, the web is a much less useful place.
And, I’m of the mindset now, that Kraken must be released by the general public. By the sheer virtue of growth of the industry, like many other industries where evil has seeped into the bloodstream through tremendous expansion, a contraction of providers is coming. Infinite expansion is an impossibility, even in the universe, in our economy, where expansion and contraction constantly happen. Why should the SEO industry be an exception to the rule? It isn’t.
Non-affiliate SEO has become, and has been, big money for a few years now. Cues to tell you that: Search and SEM conferences are sprouting left and right with premium prices. SMBs and Big Corporate are in fully in the game (whether they want it done right is another question). It’s not unheard of for SEOs to be charging lawyer-like prices for work. So it is time to let the house burn to the ground.
From the Ashes
Good people will go down. However, good people will survive too. And, I’m not foolish enough to believe that just because the house burnt down means all the turds will be wiped out. They are most certainly included in people. Probabilities suggest that a larger percentage of the turds will go underground, leave, or be crushed by the weight of the house. But, nonetheless, expunging them. This leaves a golden opportunity.
It leaves those that survive to teach, guide, and mentor those brave enough to stick their toes in the water after the collapse. And, when the situation reaches a fever-pitch again, and it will, we’ll go through this all again.
I was in error saying, “SEO began as gaming the engines[...]“. It simply isn’t the case, as Terry Van Horne pointed out to me. And, because being correct rather than foolish is always a priority, I’d like to update that section as to how it should read: