More SEO and PPC. We must save the General!

George Washington

Washington engraving from $1 bill.

They called the procedure venesection – puncturing a vein to remove blood from the body. From the time of the ancient Greeks, physicians had prescribed bloodletting as treatment to “balance the body’s four humors.”

It was December 14, 1799. General Washington had come down with a sore throat. He called for his estate overseer, Mr. Albin Rawlins and asked for venesection as treatment for his distress. Washington accepted as fact the conventional wisdom that bloodletting was the cure for most physical ailments. After all, he’d seen it cure various maladies of his Negro slaves.

Rawlins estimated that only a small amount of blood need be removed to cure Washington’s sore throat, and took half a pint (8 ounces) of Washington’s blood.

When the General didn’t show signs of improvement, doctors were summoned.

Dr. James Craik was Washington’s personal physician. Arriving to to attend the General, and noting the sore throat had not improved, he performed another venesection, this time, 20 ounces.

When the General didn’t show improvement, he performed a third venesection, removing another 20 ounces.

Hours passed, and the sore throat persisted. Assuming that Washington’s humors were much farther out of balance than he had imagined, Dr. Craik removed 40 more ounces of the General’s blood in the forth venesection.

Dr Elisha Dick, a prominent physician from Alexandria arrived, confirmed with Dr. Craik, and took the only reasonable action. He removed another 32 ounces of blood from the General’s forearm.

Roughly 90 minutes later, having been drained of 130 ounces (seven units) of whole blood, the Father of His Country lay dead.

The Treatment Isn’t Working. We Need More Treatment.

They called the procedure Search Engine Optimization – using choices of specific words to help the pages being “optimized” to rank higher in organic search. From the time of Google’s launch, Internet experts have prescribed SEO, and its step-sister, Pay-Per-Click advertising to “increase traffic to your website.”

In January of 2010 Robert Smith developed a software product which standardized a procedure he called “Diversified Thinking.” Robert built a website to make the software accessible, and offered memberships to his site.

Robert’s brother-in-law was “getting into SEO.” Like many entry-level business people, Robert accepted the conventional knowledge that “more traffic” is the cure to nearly every marketing problem. After all, he’d seen before and after screenshots of successful SEO’d pages.

Robert’s brother-in-law charged only $800 (family discount) for the work necessary to SEO Robert’s site. The brother-in-law optimized the pages on Robert’s site to rank well for the key phrase “Diversified Thinking.”

Other than the odd, unpredictable response from random visitors to his site, Robert’s website wasn’t selling memberships. The brother-in-law suggested Robert consult an expert in pay-per-click advertising.

PPC Experts, Ltd. agreed to handle an Adwords campaign for Robert, charging him $2,000 for their service. Robert waited patiently for two weeks, then called PPC Experts and told them he still wasn’t selling any memberships to his website.

PPC Experts explained that they had purchased keyword phrases involving the phrase “Diversified Thinking.” They suggested that additional related phrases were likely to change public response. Unfortunately, Robert’s retainer had been spent, and they needed another $2,000 to implement those changes. Robert sighed, and wrote the check. Another week went by.

Robert called PPC Experts. They examined the analytics program, and told him the traffic to his website appeared to be increasing. Robert demanded to know when the increased traffic was going to turn into sales. PPC Experts concluded that Robert was poised on the cusp of success. They recommended that he invest another $4,000 in PPC advertising to push past the last market resistance and to protect the investments he’d already made. Robert took a deep breath and gave them his Visa number. PPC Experts charged $4,000 to Robert’s account.

Another ten days went by before Robert fired PPC Experts.

He called the head instructor at the local IT School, and asked for their opinion. The professor looked over Robert’s site, looked at his PPC campaigns, examined the analytics, and concluded that the original SEO was too narrow. He said it should have included secondary phrasing beyond “Diversified Thinking.” The Professor offered to turn Robert’s site into a hands-on experience for his SEO students, and to personally supervise the changes, for only $3,200.

Robert, looking shell shocked, pulled out his MasterCard, and paid the Professor.

On the first of the following month, his savings account and two credit cards having been drained of $13,000, Robert refused to put another dime into his project. His web host shut down his site for non-payment, and his dream of owning a home-based business lay dead.

Conventional, maybe, but not much wisdom.

Robert’s experience is common.

Ridiculous example number one: Lars and Sven purchase hay in Kansas at $2.00 per bale. They sell it in Nebraska at $2.00 per bale. When Lars notices that they don’t seem to be making any profit, Sven says, “I told you we needed a bigger truck.” 

Ridiculous example number two: Mr. Car Dealer throws a party with free hot dogs, free face painting for the kids, and the presence of a radio disc jockey, all of which are designed to get more people to his dealership. If enough of those people buy cars, the event is a success. If not, he concludes the radio station brought the wrong people.

Ridiculous example number three: Web site owners who believe the “secret” to making millions of dollars on the web is to tap into “more traffic,” “increased traffic,” or even better, “unlimited streams of free traffic.” They spend hundreds of dollars on the latest “marketing secret” and are left with nothing to show but fewer dollars in their bank account.

The problem with every one of these examples is pretty obvious. They suffer from the delusion that more of what isn’t working will fix their problem. Instead of searching for qualified buyers, they follow the conventional wisdom “more traffic” solution, and purchase more of what isn’t working.

Its human nature to want to believe anyone who promises instant results.

For hundreds of years people believed that the cure for nearly every physical ailment was bloodletting. (That belief was so pervasive that people didn’t feel the necessity of finding a surgeon** to perform the procedure. Anyone with a sharp instrument could open a vein). In the majority of cases*, venesection did no good, and likely harmed the patient.

In much the same way, convention wisdom calls for additional traffic to solve marketing problems. Sometimes business people get lucky. Most of the time they spend the money and have nothing to show for it.

A technique from direct marketing.

Direct response marketers choose their “lists” carefully. They will invest in prospect lists which are more likely than average to yield customers for what they’re selling. They know each list will be consistent.

If mailing to a particular prospect list returns 7 sales per 1,000 offer packages, it will return 70 sales when they mail 10,000 packages. However, direct response marketers NEVER project the sales from list one against list two. Direct marketers are very picky when it comes to lists.

Both retailers and Internet website owners would do better if they followed direct response examples. Your success isn’t defined by the number of people who pass through your store, and pass up your offering. Your success depends on your ability to narrow your offer from “more traffic” to qualified buyers.

More of what doesn’t work is a sign that there’s a serious flaw in your strategy.

Lest anyone think I’m opposed to either SEO or PPC, I use them both. However, I promise that they are tied directly to a plan to attract qualified buyers, and to a reasonable time frame.

One last thought.

Short-term strategies tend to focus on transactional shoppers. Long-term strategies tend to focus on relational shoppers. It only makes sense that it takes longer to build relationships.

So if your marketing professional tells you you need to invest more money and wait patiently, evaluate which shoppers you’re trying to attract. If you’re targeting transactional shoppers, and not getting response, the cure is never “more traffic.”
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* Side note: In a few isolated cases, there is evidence that bloodletting actually does some good. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is relieved by lowered blood volume. People at risk for cardiovascular disease may have, by virtue of lowered blood volume also lowering system iron content, suffered fewer heart attacks. Lowered iron content may also ward off staph infections. And there is anecdotal evidence that lowered blood pressure may aid in pain management.

** Second side note: the red and white striped barber pole hearkens back to the middle ages – an approximation of bloody bandages to let illiterate townspeople know the barber and his sharp razors were ready to bleed them for a fee.
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Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell. Questions about attracting qualified buyers may be directed to ChuckMcKay@ChuckMcKayOnLine.com, or call Chuck at 304-523-0163.
 

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