“Crotchety, Old Sullivan’s Island Resident Trying to Figure Out Way to Keep Pesky Kids Off His Beaches”
In my line of work, it’s not uncommon for me to have clients, friends, etc reach out to me for advice on digital marketing vendors. These range from PPC to SEO to PR to Social Media, and I have seen all types across the spectrum (to say the least). Recently, I’ve noticed a few vendors that are pitching their amazing PPC services, and I’d like to address a problem I have noticed…something that irritates me to no end: Managing PPC campaigns to clicks!
Conversions? Where we’re going we don’t need Conversions!
Hopefully you know the quote/gif above, but if not, here’s the quick story:
In Back To The Future II, Doc Brown has come back from the future to take Marty into the future so he can save the family (and ultimately the world). Doc’s car needs to hit 88 mph in order to achieve time travel. As they are heading out, Marty is concerned that they don’t have enough road to reach 88 mph, to which Doc exclaims “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” He then fires up the DeLorean, which suddenly lifts into the air and flies off to 88 mph and the future.
The point here is that in the future, cars fly, thus they don’t need roads to get where they’re going anymore. They can take a short-cut, if you will. Well, my friends, while this may be awesome, it’s a movie. It’s fiction.
Truth Is Better Than Fiction
If you know me, you know I love to help out the SMB that is getting duped by shady digital vendors, and I am seeing too many PPC vendors out there that are still selling their clients on campaigns managed to clicks. I just saw this PPC vendor that was selling their services, with nice little charts showing how they increased clicks over time.
Wow, awesome!!! Wait, didn’t you just tell me how you were going to increase my profits? Well, I don’t even see conversions listed as an option on your graphs!!! For all I know, clicks increased because you got more money from me.
Now in an ideal world, this PPC vendor is actually increasing click-thru rates, increasing quality scores, etc, and thus lowering your CPC which delivers more clicks for your budget. I can’t speak to whether these guys are doing this or not, so I don’t want to speculate further. But the point is that they’re selling you on one thing and what they’re showing you is not what they’re selling.
The thing about roads…
Merriam-Webster defines “road” as a route or way to an end, conclusion, or circumstance.
That’s the thing about roads: they take you somewhere. But, getting there is also part of the experience. For example, when it comes to getting to or from work, then getting there is the part of the process that you want to minimize as much as possible. Thus you optimize the route. But you can’t optimize the route unless you know where you’re going, the destination. So you have to have an end goal, or destination, in mind in order to figure out the best roads to take to minimize the travel time.
Websites designed for ecommerce or lead generation should be hyper-focused on minimizing this route to the goal/destination. And, this route to the goal actually starts, for the most part, on a search engine. So optimizing your route by only looking at the clicks, actually does nothing in regards to reaching your goal. That would be like starting your trip, hitting traffic, turning around and starting over and over and over again without any real regard for actually getting somewhere.
You have to assess the roads that lead to the destination, ie the path that the you’d like the consumer to take on your website in order to get there. You do this by starting with a clear goal in mind, and working you way back from there to the original click, keyword, etc. Then you optimize this process until you’ve found the route that gets you to the destination fastest. This includes bid adjustments, keyword adjustments, negative keyword additions, ad copy testing, landing page testing, CTA adjustments, etc. And these ALL are still focused on one thing: the goal/destination.
So when a vendor is only managing your PPC campaign to clicks, then they’re leaving off the most important part: the goal, the destination. The vendor has no way to optimize your account to what really matters, because there is no insight into where the campaign needs to go. Thus, the most efficient path to get there (which starts with the search engines) cannot be mapped.
Wake Up Call:
Clicks are fiction. CONVERSIONS are truth. Why are you buying PPC if not to get business? So any PPC vendor that isn’t managing your budget to a conversion, whether it’s a sale or a lead capture, is taking the “no roads” approach. And remember, that’s a movie, fiction, fantasy. The truth lies in the conversion, the sale, the lead.
Clicks & Web Visitors don’t mean squat. Conversions tell the truth. Conversions need roads. The no-roads approach is tantamount to cutting corners, and cutting corners always costs you more money in the end.
So until we have flying cars, it’s probably best to stick to the roads.
Disclaimer: I realize that some websites are built for advertising models. Thus, traffic is what they’re going for. In that case, then clicks usually are the end goal for a PPC vendor. However, for 99% of the SMB world, I am willing to bet that this isn’t the case. Just sayin…
Disclaimer: I’m using the new pizza joint, Crust, on James Island as a springboard for a quick rant on the state of digital thinking in the SMB world. Bear with me please. The pizza was the bomb, btw.
Savvy diners know that restaurants are going to have growing pains. For the most part, people who actually are understanding human beings are accepting of the fact that brand new restaurants are going to be a little rough around the edges. Only in perhaps the most extreme fine dining examples is this not going to be the norm, but I’d venture to say that at a price point below the $20 per plate range, there’s always an acceptable period of “forgiveness” for a new restaurant.
Examples of these are:
- Longer than usual wait times for food.
- Wait staff being less than fully acquainted with the menu choices.
- Orders being incorrect or not cooked exactly right.
- Waiting on a liquor license.
- Having a limited beer or wine selection.
Restaurants make good on these shortcomings by giving extra glasses of wine, comp’ing portions of meals, or bringing some free dessert. They know that there are going to be these types of issues at the start, have baked them into their operating costs and go the extra mile to ensure that the diners leave with an overall positive impression of their dining experience (despite any shortcomings during the meal).
As a person who worked for 10+ years in the food & beverage industry, from dishes to bar tending to waiting tables to bouncing to cooking, I am a very understanding diner. I am also a very good tipper for what it’s worth, but that’s a rant for another time. My overall rant here actually has nothing to do with the dining experience, as the food was fantastic. Granted, the meal took a while and they were still waiting on their liquor license and they didn’t have all the beers advertised on the taps yet. All this is beside the point, per everything I mentioned above. What I’d like to expand upon here are the things that are unacceptable for a new restaurant (or any business for that matter).
We can worry about that later…
You see Crust had me frustrated before I even got to the restaurant. I knew that it had opened because I read about it in the local paper, and because it was a mile from my house. So naturally I went online to check out their hours, their menu, etc. And let’s be frank here, I didn’t do this because I am one of those digital marketing geeks (which I am). No, I did this because I am a human living in 2013. It’s normal, natural and completely expected to go online to search for restaurants.
What did I find? Nothing, barring a lonely Facebook page that lacked hours or a menu.
So what areas did they fail in:
- No website. Not even a coming soon splash site with hours, location and a phone number.
- No menu listed anywhere online. So despite having a Facebook business page, it was still a fail because it left me wanting more.
- No listing on Yelp (or any other normal place to search for restaurant information, reviews, etc).
Sure a soft launch is a pretty standard procedure for a new restaurant. I have zero problem with that, and as I said above, am a very understanding diner. My issue lies in the fact that they didn’t take their business seriously enough to provide the basic ingredients for online success. Everything I listed above is also completely FREE. You don’t have to spend tons of money on a website, at least to stand something up that says “we’re coming soon, and here’s a little info about us”. Social media is free. Yelp, YellowPages…free. Hell, snap a picture of your menu with an iPhone, and post it to your Facebook page if you have to.
This story serves as a very simple analog for the overall SMB understanding of what it takes to survive in today’s digital economy. Having a website and social presence are not just something that you should have, they are the very things that allow people to find you…period. These should be considered with just as much importance as the menu, the wine list, the location and the hours. Your digital presence is a direct representation of who you are and what you do.
I put out feelers to my network on Facebook to see if anyone else had found information about Crust. I received the same feedback from all of them: they were frustrated by a lack of information available online. I’d venture to say that Crust has lost out on valuable visitors during a critical launch period because people aren’t willing to just drive over to check something out anymore. They want to know the menu, the ambiance, the chef(s) and the pricing. There’s just too much clutter out there to sift through, and today’s savvy consumer doesn’t have time anymore. Luckily, I live close by, took a chance and ultimately enjoyed a really delicious meal.
The Bottom Line:
If you forget the digital piece to your business, you most likely won’t even get the chance to be forgotten, because people won’t know you’re there to impress.
Update: I’ve since eaten at Crust 3 times, and it’s been consistently very good! Still no website though…
A little more info:
In the past year, I have found myself working tirelessly to educate my clients and the larger real estate community about the wonders of inbound marketing. The problem is that this group of professionals has a very distorted understanding of what SEO is (was) because they’ve been educated by the reigning charlatans (coined by Brian Boero) of the digital marketing space: the $500, all-in-one, guaranteed #1 ranking, “trust me I’m an expert”, no report providing, Easter European link building, blog comment spamming, fake profile creating, directory submitting…SEO vendor.
It’s Just My Website…
So, as you can imagine, it can be very difficult explaining how old form SEO is dying and how inbound marketing based on doing “real company shit” is the only way to move forward. The real estate community (for the most part) is stuck in a world of rankings, keywords, link building and spamming. They have very little patience for the long-term commitment that inbound marketing takes. They desire: traffic now! leads now! sales now! links now! But this is exactly the problem: most real estate professionals do not view digital marketing through the same lens that they view the other aspects of their business.
Would you expect to open a new brokerage and immediately start selling or listing homes? Would you expect to move to a new town, set up shop and immediately start getting leads? Would you cut corners by hiring, working alongside or recommending cut-rate cheap lenders, home inspectors, title guys, appraisers, staging experts or photographers?
I would hope the answer is a resounding: NO WAY!!! Why? Because you know that these are integral pieces of your overall business: Tangential service providers that all feed off of the services and leads that you provide. They live off the business that you generate, and you live off of their strong services. The quality of the service they provide and their reputation is a direct reflection on you, because you recommend them. Essentially, their business is your business, so you don’t dare cut corners.
Digital Marketing Vendors Are People Too…
Then why would you hire a cut-rate digital marketing vendor? The answer is in the first paragraph of this post. Real estate professionals have been trained to expect digital to be cheap, quick and low touch. Well, these days are numbered. Your website IS your first impression now, and your digital footprint needs to be rock solid. Consumers are savvy, and only getting savvier. All of those other vendors that you work with and that depend upon you to generate business won’t mean a thing when the consumers migrate to the brokers and agents that “get it”. The ones with beautiful clean websites, intuitive property searching, responsive design, well-written blogs about real things (ie not written for search engines), stunning photography and video, and integrated social media (if that’s your thing).
…Pay Them As Such
Honestly, there’s a part of me that would like for you to continue to contract these lowlife SEO vendors, because it’s going to ensure that my clients will out perform you. However, I know that’s not the right way to look at things. I challenge each of you to take a step back and consider the reasons why you are not holding your digital vendors, namely SEO & website builders, to the same levels of accountability as the rest of your partners. These people hold the keys to your customers’ first impression. If you’re not getting serious about creating an amazing, real and multi-device digital experience, that first impression will certainly be their last.
The Bottom Line: Quit thinking about “real estate SEO” and start getting real. It’s time to wake up to the new reality: if you’re doing kick-ass stuff in the real world, but cutting corners on the digital representation of “YOU” online, then you’d better start planning for the long slow decline into obscurity. FYI, “long slow decline” in digital years would be sometime around the end of 2014, if you’re lucky.
For a good overview of how hiring cheap SEO vendors will end up costing you more in the long run, I highly recommend reading this great post from Jordan Kasteler: The Hidden Cost Of Cheap SEO & Social Media Labor.
You get what you pay for…
This past week I went to see a concert, which isn’t something I get to do all that much these days (especially on a Tuesday night). And, let’s just say I was pretty happy that doors were at 7pm, showtime at 8. In other words, I’m not 21 anymore…
The guy playing was Jeff Mangum, famous from his days in the legendary band Neutral Milk Hotel. If you don’t know this band, and if you care about music at all in a real way, then you owe it to yourself to listen to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. This is truly one of the seminal records of the 1990’s, and a landmark record for the Athens, GA music scene during the latter part of the decade.
You see Mangum is the quintessential enigmatic indie musician. And I mean a real Indie musician…as in a 1990’s era musician that shaped an entire sound and DIY mentality. Others I’d include here would be Pavement, Silkworm, early Modest Mouse, Built To Spill Guided By Voices, and any of the Elephant 6 collective…just to name a few. These are not what kids of today call “Indie” and I just want to be clear on terminology here. There was no defining swoop haircut with these guys, I’ll put it that way.
Basically it goes like this: Neutral Milk Hotel releases their sophomore record. The record is a cohesive masterpiece, borderline concept album and borderline
chaos. Bursting with undertones of heartache (real heartache) yearning, pathos, boyish optimism, Anne Frank and a spiritual longing that screams for the desire to actually know something with conviction. At least that’s what it meant to me at the time, and still does today. The album quickly rose to critical acclaim because it was just that good. Undeniable.
So here you have a ragtag bunch of musicians from Athens, GA with only the desire to make amazing music suddenly thrust into the indie spotlight. And keep in mind there’s no internet music scene, so mainly just the magazines of the time, live shows, CD’s and word of mouth. Things didn’t move as fast then, and these guys managed to capture the spotlight by doing something very real, without YouTube or Spotify or iTunes or Kickstarter or any other “get there fast” machine of today. Not knocking these modern luxuries, just want to hammer the point home. We were still on dail-up, ok?!?
Sensing the pressure of the music industry machine, Mangum and crew disband after this record knowing that whatever had been so amazing on Aeroplane was beyond special. So basically he quit at his peak, and who cares if the peak was just the beginning. Can you fault a writer and his band for getting it right straight from the start? They saw the writing on the wall. Look what happened to Nirvana for crying out loud. And look what happened to a band like Pavement for trying to actually “make it”. You can’t help but feel an element of “we didn’t quite make it” in their last album, Terror Twilight, and that’s a real shame for us fans. Granted, maybe Malkmus was just over Pavement by then, which is a story for another time. (Great record nonetheless)
So Mangum knew when to quit, if you will, and pretty much disappeared from everywhere for a decade. In doing so, he created his enigmatic persona without really doing anything or trying. He just wanted to do his thing, make his music and be. He left us all wondering, speculating, dreaming and longing. All the while, his story lived on and continued to grow into the levels of myth, of legend. Granted, he’s never been mainstream and never will be (but probably could have been close if he had chosen that path).
In a world where too many musicians, and even the real artists desperately cling to whatever it is that they believe they are and need to continue to produce, I challenge you to know when it’s time to hang it up. If your songs are amazing, then you may just be able to disappear for 10 years and do a solo acoustic tour to sold out rooms and have entire audiences singing every word somewhere down the line. In the meantime, is it too much to be content with just being a person that lives?
For what it’s worth, the show was brilliant in it’s simplicity. Stark, honest, brutally sincere. I had the amazing opportunity to see NMH in Berlin in 1998, and seeing Mangum this week again brought it all back home again. Hats off to you good sir for a killer Tuesday night!
If you’re interested in the concept of knowing when to quit, Seth Godin writes about eloquently in his book The Dip, and I highly recommend reading it. This isn’t an exact analog to Mangum’s quitting, but conceptually there is value in quitting without guilt and knowing that your energy and time will be better spent elsewhere, pursing other endeavors.
ps: Perhaps the Berlin story will show up here down the road…it’s a doozy.
I got the flu shot, wash my hands religiously, carry hand sanitizer, wear a germ mask (ok I don’t do that)…but you get the point. I did everything right and still got the flu! I knew that heading to Inman Real Estate Connect this year was sending me into the lion’s den of the flu, but weighed the pro’s & con’s and knew I had to proceed! Sometimes getting sick is the price of doing battle and fighting the good fight to bring the latest and greatest cutting edge ideas to my clients. I do this for you BoomTown clients of the world!
Ok, all joking aside, something occurred to me yesterday as I lay in bed battling the chills and itching from the drank I was prescribed: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But you got the flu, Rivers??? Aha, yes, you’re right, but let me explain.
Yes, I did everything I was supposed to (minus getting enough sleep probably) and still got the flu. This is the part where I attempt to make this post into a brief analogy about digital marketing. Being prepared is never going to protect you 100%, but it goes a long way. You see, two other members of my travel party also got the flu. However, they have literally been crippled by it, while I’m merely knocked on my butt. The nurses told me that because I got the flu shot, my symptoms would be less severe. They did not get the shot. So how does all this related to digital marketing, already?!?
An Ounce Of Prevention
PPC: Search engines reward history and consistency. By maintaining a steady PPC campaign, you protect yourself from fluctuations in the marketplace. You protect yourself from all those Yahoo’s out there (pun intended) who come in and out of the auctions when they have money, and drive up CPC’s because they have no clue as to what they’re doing. Your budgets go a lot further because you’re being rewarded with lower CPC’s and higher quality scores. When your budget goes farther, you get more business, which means you can spend more money, which goes even farther. It’s a cycle that rewards you for being consistent. Brands are built on consistency!
SEO & Inbound Marketing: Search engines and people both reward you for having a clean website, an engaging user experience, “reasonable surfing” and delivering what they’re looking for. You protect yourself from algorithmic changes by avoiding black hat crap and giving up the battle against Google PhD’s. You protect yourself by earning your links instead of buying them and farming them. You protect yourself by doing real company shit.
You’re never going to be completely immune to the changing landscape of digital marketing. The ounce of prevention is focusing on the consumer, rather than the search engines. Your symptoms are going to be much less severe when you’re reacting to shifts in consumer behavior than when your algorithm-chasing strategy falls flat on its face.
ps: I waited until early January to get my flu shot. If I’d listened to my wife and gotten it when I should have, like in October or November, then I probably wouldn’t have gotten sick at all. Think about it.
For those of you who know me, I’ve never been shy about my feelings regarding digital media tracking and transparency from vendors who provide digital media services. However, I am still continuously blown away and angered by the amount of small business owner’s who continue to fall prey to shady vendors, namely those in the SEO space.
*For the purposes of this post, I am referring to pure SEO vendors, not full-on Inbound Marketing vendors. That’s a story for another time.
Let’s Break This Down Some
There really are no guarantees in life…period. Then why is it that some many SMB’s still hand over their hard-earned money to vendors that guarantee rankings on Google? Let me rephrase: SMB’s are paying people to steal their money, basically. Here’s an example of a typical conversation that I’ve had more times than I can count:
SMB: Oh yeah, I have a great SEO guy.
Me: What services do they provide?
SMB: Hmmm, not really sure, but he guaranteed me page one rankings.
Me: Are you getting the results you were promised?
SMB: Yes, my name is ranking #1 on Google!!!
Me: Oh brother…
(hint: EVERYONE ranks for their name, it’s quite easy)
This is just one example of how shady SEO’s are screwing the SMB community. In most cases, there simply aren’t results, ever. This leaves SMBs with a bad taste in their mouth for all the good guys in the SEO space. So imagine trying to justify why you need to charge a lot of money to do “proper” SEO, and even more to clean up what they have already paid someone else to muck up!
Ask The Right Questions
OK, so what now then??? You’re an SMB who knows your business, that’s why you need to hire and SEO professional. I get it, believe me. So here are some questions that you need to be asking anyone you’re contemplating hiring:
- Do you require a contract?
- If someone will do month-to-month SEO work, they’re not legit. It takes too much time and commitment to see results in a month, and most SMB’s bail because they’re expectations are not set accordingly.
- Can you please outline your process?
- Most SEO’s will say “Oh that’s proprietary”. Yes, some of their tactics may be, and that’s fine. But, a majority of them are not. Remember, SEO is just a process. It’s an ever-changing process, but it’s still only a process.
- If you’re working with an SEO who provides content:
- Do you write your own content or outsource?
- Either can be fine, just be mindful of outsourced content to non-English speakers. Yes, this is VERY common and produces bad content most of the time.
- Do you spin articles and use directories?
- Too much to go into in this post, but if they do, I’d say run.
- Do you write your own content or outsource?
- How do you build links?
- If they are buying links, link farming, blog comment spamming or creating profiles, then run! Links should be acquired naturally and willingly given!
- Can you please provide me with examples of successful campaigns you’ve run for other clients?
- If they won’t, run…duh.
- Can you please provide me with references for your services?
- How long have you been in business and/or doing SEO?
Oh yeah, and if an SEO comes knocking on your door, calls you repeatedly or emails you about how you’re “missing out on traffic” RUN!!! If they’re looking for business this way, they’re not who you want in my opinion.
Moral Of The Story
SEO takes time. It take money. There are no guarantees. BUT…it does work!!! If your expectations are set properly and your goals are understood by your vendors, then it will deliver what you’re wanting eventually. Please don’t let the past dictate your future. Yes you’ve been burned, but give the good guys a chance. It will be worth it in the end.
In keeping with my resolution to actually put my thoughts further out into the world (aka blog) in 2013, I figured that my trip to Inman’s Real Estate Connect is a perfect starting point. I am writing this as I sit in the Charleston airport waiting to board my flight to NYC to rub elbows with the best and brightest minds in the real estate industry. I can’t think of a more appropriate time to hold this conference, as we are all focused on what lies ahead this year.
The BoomTown team has attended Inman several times, in both NYC and San Francisco, and it’s always been stellar. But, this year I especially feel that the timing could not be better. After just launching our new completely redesigned WordPress websites, Inbound Marketing Services, Opportunity Wall & “Best Fit Leads” features, we certainly have a LOT going on at BoomTown!
Our CEO, Grier Allen, will also be speaking on a panel discussing Broker Best Practices on Thursday afternoon. Additionally, I am sure you’ll see us all tweeting, if you’re interested: Tim Wolf, Rivers Pearce, Grier Allen. You’ll also no doubt be able to find us participating in the hottest Lobbycon in the industry, as well as sipping a few pints with old friends and clients.
Looking forward to seeing you all in NYC and bringing back new ideas, thoughts, knowledge, insight and stories! Here’s to a great 2013!
Yes, it’s a resolution: to express my thoughts here.
Hold me accountable please.