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March 06, 2012

The End Of Trickery

March 06, 2012

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, tricks ruled web marketing. People would buy keyword rich urls (i.e. IndianapolisDoctors.com), throw up some junk content, install Google AdSense or a similar ad system, maybe sell placement (often at a premium) to local companies who badly wanted to win that search, create some links on equally junky websites, win their keyword and watch the leads/revenue come in. I have been pitched some variation of this idea many times. A few years ago it felt a little like a gold rush with everyone wanting in. Hey, it worked! Does it still work? Somewhat, but it's clearly fading.

Web marketing trickery is mostly based on exploiting inefficiencies. This often includes Google's algorithm. Finding holes to create an advantage. Some would argue an unfair advantage. These exploitations often result in having an inferior brand win over the superior one that didn't use that same exploit. This can leave the user feeling cheated, losing trust. Google doesn't want to lose your trust. These inefficiencies have also rewarded aggressive, new brands and punished some older, rigid brands. Not an altogether bad thing, It's a hard call to pick winners- global, national, local and categorical winners- but it's also the core business of search engines.

But the window of opportunity is closing. Search updates like Google's Panda, enabled by increased computing power, as well as socially connected (and, frankly, no longer naive) users has made these kinds of tricks harder and harder to pull off. But some business owners are still looking for their digital silver bullet. They still hold out hope that some "guru" can pull some magic internet levers and...voila! Money would flow like water. Sorry, but it ain't gonna happen.

Where does this leave us? For better or worse, it means doing it right, no more tricks. Ok, what's that? It means building and maintaining your company's brand ecosystem. This ecosystem usually has your website as the hub with social, email, mobile, search and yes, traditional media surrounding it. Also, it means interesting content and meaningful conversations across all platforms. Don't forget continual measurement and refinement. Like taking care of your body- you are never done. Doing it right still requires, and rewards, hustle.

This new reality is forcing another change, a cultural one. The time when companies can hide behind an artificial brand is passing. Social Media is pulling back the curtain and exposing the fakes. The erosion of brand control is a scary thing when it comes to marketing. The fact that a company's brand is based on its culture is just beginning to sink in. This realization will change the way companies are run, much the way it has changed the way countries are run- see the Arab Spring. Companies that embrace this new reality will thrive. Companies that deny it will decline and die. So...

Don't base your marketing strategy on exploiting inefficiencies. It won't work in the long run. Computers will only get more intelligent which means fewer holes. Modern marketing starts in HR, put your focus on your team and go from there. Let them tell your story. Good stories are platform agnostic.

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