The Simplicity of Choice

Picked up the September issue of Harvard Business Review off a shelf in the office and sat back to read the cover story: The (surprisingly) Simple Rules of Strategy. I’ve always loved Harvard Business Journal for these types of pieces because it turns conventional wisdom on it’s head and I felt it really applied in the SEO space.

Which path will you choose?

The article begins with a review of traditional strategy, collecting as much data as we can and often with no thought for how that data can be leveraged or acted on to create a result. I was amused by this as I see it every day in our industry, be it search or design, collecting ALL data for the sake of collecting it. There are entire jobs created at some agencies for “Analytics Ninjas” and the like.

Data For The Sake of Data

I had a client recently request a weekly update on their Paid AdWords campaign. Typically we assemble a simple report after each month of service, but someone on the team had decided that they wanted this data delivered weekly. This I fear is where so many in my shoes just do what they’re told, and that winds up helping nobody. I raised the question of what the data would be used for, and they did not know.

See we are the only ones with access to change their campaign, so having a weekly report creates the illusion of control, or influence, and maybe it violates that whole “the customer is always right” adage but I walked them through the value of the information they were requesting and suggested that because they could not immediately act on the information, that they perhaps should not invest the time in reviewing this additional data point at such an increased frequency. That time could be better spent elsewhere.

I think it was Jason Falls who said it, that we never ask the right questions. It’s toxic to our marketing. I blame Google in part, for building this great tool that businesses can gain so much revenue from. By creating the tool but not offering much support outside of their Webmaster Central program to help businesses navigate these tools, you still need to be pretty tech savvy to truly understand it.

Don’t get me wrong, my business wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Google creating the opportunity, businesses need someone like me to act as their advocate to help them navigate the headache all these internet marketing options can present.

Sadly though, they’ve also created opportunity for shady marketers to sell “busy work” to these businesses instead of doing things that actually impact their bottom line. I was chatting with Chris Eh Young earlier on Twitter and he’d found some marketers using LinkedIn to leave recommendations for themselves with fake LinkedIn profiles, only in this case they didn’t even bother to use a different profile image.

Businesses take a huge risk when they trust their brand, their livelihood, in the hands of marketers who probably mean well, but are running off advice from a handful of HubSpot or SEOmoz guides and haven’t actually delivered on what they’re promising. You can always just fake it till you make it right?

Fake It Till You Make Me Kick Your Ass!

Having learned from business coaches myself, I’ve heard it too. “Fake it till you make it”, create the illusion that you’re successful, that you can do what you say you can do, and people will bite, people will buy. The theory is that you use this income to actually learn how to “make it” for real, and you can then stop faking it. That said, this is a complicated industry, not everyone is going to “get it” and those funds, sometimes funds the business could barely afford to invest, are now wasted on bad SEO, or maybe a bad website, or my favorite: a beautiful website that fails in every SEO or Conversion best practice.

This “fake it till you make it” mentality causes folks to do stupid things like write recommendations for themselves, like buying links because they can’t figure out how to earn their own, like buying Twitter followers, etc. This is reinforced by sites like Klout that say you’re only as good as your follower count, or in our SEO space some think that the quantity of links easily trumps the quality (spoiler: it doesn’t).

This is what I loved about this particular Harvard Business Review piece: it took no prisoners. Business owners are used to drowning themselves in data with this illusion in mind that they’re going to suddenly have that eureka moment and everything will change. The reality is much more boring, as reality usually is. The authors suggest that you determine a handful of options, even options that might seem crazy, and then evaluate the pros and cons of those options.

Only by forcing your team to look at all the angles, to look at actual decisions that you could make and not just at pools of data, you’re dealing in the real, you’re dealing in the actionable. Get quotes from multiple web developers, get quotes from multiple SEOs, don’t fall for a catchy sales pitch, do the research. Dave Ramsey has often said that millionares on average read a non-fiction book each month to keep learning more (perhaps start with Dave’s book EntreLeadership). Do. The. Reading.

I’m probably the last person to suggest this, as I was terrible in school, but if you wanted to succeed on your exams you had to do the reading, you had to do your homework. The same is true in business and the reward is a lot greater than acing our algebra final. Options must be vetted, we must evaluate our opportunities, and only then can we have the actual valuable data, the actionable data that’ll help us make the right step forward.

You’re Afraid To Be Boring. Stop it.

You don’t hear about us a lot in the newspaper. We haven’t changed our business model in almost four years, since our founding. We are advocates of proper marketing, we are advocates of common sense marketing. It’s boring. We haven’t had big shake ups or had to lay off our team to invest in some new model of doing things. We’re boring.

Don’t be afraid of doing things the boring way. “Do the reading”, keep it simple, and make educated decisions based on the information that actually matters. Don’t get so hung up in the data that you never make a choice, that is almost always fatal.

“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt