It was the look that did it, that slight closing of the eyes and that half shake of the head, when I dared to suggest to the marketing man that Google is not God, it does not need to be worshipped so ardently and it is already showing signs of having to change its ways to fit in with the real world.*
The only thing missing from his gesture was a “tsk-tsk” and a patronising hand on my shoulder. The fact that he’d made reference to me struggling to keep up with the brave new digital world was bad enough – although I contend that I interface digitally in so many more ways than he does and he is at least 10 to 15 years my junior – but when he then confirmed that his mindset was still stuck in 2010 it filled me with despair and hope at the same time.
Despair was there because it was such a shame to see someone supposedly at the sharp-end of digital communications shackled by an outmoded way of thinking. Hope was there because it proved to me that I was not the digital dinosaur that he was hinting at. Far from it, in fact.
We all know about keywords and SEO and social media et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum. We all know that it isn’t rocket science – proven by the fact that many companies’ social media departments are staffed by apprentices and/or graduates with barely any training – but my thinking has always been outside those constraints and, it would seem, the Google tail that has been wagging the comms dog for so long is finally coming into line with those thoughts.
For example, let us consider what a web developer told me when I was populating an online portal with content (in other words, writing stuff for a website):
• You must always get the keyword(s) in the headline and the intro – nonsense, of course, since the keywords could be ‘left-handed hosepipes’ and while you could attempt to bury these in every intro you would seriously run the risk of making your website look ridiculous if you put those words in every headline. The actual keywords at the time were ‘public sector’, so when you ran the headline ‘Prime Minister resigns’ you would be expected to write ‘Prime Minister resigns from public sector’. Seriously. When I was told that this was just how it had to be done, I dared to suggest that this was idiocy and Google had got it wrong. Cue awkward silence and furtive glances of “Who is this guy?”
• You mustn’t duplicate content, Google doesn’t like it – okay, we get that putting the same blog in 10 different places is frowned upon and original content is ‘rewarded’ but I asked what happens if the Prime Minister resigns and makes a 6,000-word farewell speech. Every news ‘portal’ in the world is going to run that story and, more importantly, millions of them will run the speech verbatim. Those 6,000 words could be duplicated thousands upon thousands of times around the world. However, I was told that such duplication would get Google sweating and be heavily penalised. If that is seriously the case, I said, Google has got that wrong too. (“Gasp! Google wrong?!?”]. More glances, giggles, then going on Google to check my date of birth
Then let us consider the plethora of ‘tips’ we are given for making blogs fly and having click-throughs soar through the stratosphere. There are now many people helpfully listing the most popular headings so that you can copy their style and get yourself lots of likes, retweets, impressions, page visits… whatever’s most important this week. Indeed, it is now recognised that listing someone else’s list will be good for you too!
Consider how sad some of the most popular genuine ones are:
• [URGENT] You’ve got ONE DAY to watch this…
• You’ll never believe these email marketing mistakes!
• Are You a Sales Pro Who Wants to Close More Deals?
• Don’t Blog Unless You Use These 11 Tools
• Ends Today: [whatever]
• The Reason No One Comments on Your Blog Posts
• 18 Tools for Better Content Creation
We are told that we can soar in the digital sky if we write supposedly killer headings like this for our blogs or LinkedIn postings. Let’s have a bit of fun making some up now and then we will see how utterly asinine the concept is:
• Your top 10 tips to a better career
• 14 mistakes you must not make at interviews
• Undisputable proof that you are wasting your time on Facebook
• Six surefire ways to bag that job
• This is your last chance – you DARE NOT miss this
… and so on.
There are thousands of people – most of them very poorly paid – whose sole purpose is to produce this kind of nonsense because that’s what makes people hit the mouse button and land on their site. Never mind that the content is bland rubbish that gives you tips you already know. Among the mistakes you mustn’t make at interviews, for example, might be going in unshaven, wearing a torn jacket, wearing odd shoes, aiming a seemingly funny personal insult at the interviewer, chewing your inner lip and shaking your leg, having a completely tattooed face, puffing on your e-cig, having your phone switched on, saying “What?!?” to one of the interviewer’s questions etc etc. In other words, you are not much better informed after you’ve clicked through but that doesn’t matter, the stat is there, you have now been counted, so job done. Do we want you to come back? Not really, because in the digital 21st century first impressions really are the ones that count. Next…!
All of this flies in the face of what the business owner – the website owner – actually wants. They want people to click through to their website and stay there for a while, to see what they have to offer and hopefully come back time and time again. At an exhibition, do you want 6,000 people flitting on to your stand for a couple of seconds or do you want 200 genuinely interested people stay for a while so they’re able to learn how you can help them? I’m sorry, but I don’t want 6,000 people visiting my website for mere seconds then moving on, presumably to my competitor. I want stickability on my site and that comes about because people are interested in what you have to say (and how it can benefit them).
Volume should definitely not be the driving force and it is a mistake to be impressed – or fooled – by the size of the numbers. I once worked with some people who were so proud that they had reached 6,000 people with their scattergun message every year but when I asked how many of them became customers the answer was around six. My own approach was to reach about 200 people with a closely targeted message and generate around 20 decent enquiries, most of whom became customers. A much better return and much less time-wasting for all concerned.
So what am I saying, that Google is dead? (Note to self: maybe putting that sentiment in a heading would attract hundreds of clickers). No. But I am saying – and I will carry on until someone will listen – that the Google behemoth is wrong to trample everything underfoot with its demands and expectations. And when you question the wisdom of Google you are not a digital Luddite who deserves a withering squint and a headshake.
Google’s algorithms are tools that you can use to your own end, that’s all they are. Use them, abuse them if necessary, but remember the only thing that counts. Your existing and future customers need to be impressed by YOU, they don’t need to be impressed by how well you are sucking up to the voracious Google deity. Believe it or not, one day Google will be no more and your organisation will have to dance to a different master. By then, you may have taken your eye off the really crucial ball – your customers, and without them no amount of keywords, retweets and shares will pay your bills or keep your staff in employment.
The customer and the bottom line have always been kings and always will be. If Google and the like help you meet your obligations, that’s great. But don’t make the mistake of being Google-blinkered and don’t give patronising looks to anyone who dares to question the omnipotent Google.
* Google fitting in with the real world? Yes (well, they’re trying to), and they’ve given it a name, as Google does – E-A-T. This means that website content must now reflect ‘expertise’ and be ‘authoritative’ and ‘trustworthy’. That means no more bland garbage peppered with the keywords of the day. As this guy says, “be sure to create the type of content that will satisfy the questions your customers are asking”. Er, that’s what I’ve been saying for years.