One of the more misunderstood parts about the Web environment today is just how much the user is in control. This is a big shift from the world we lived in 10 years ago. All is not lost. Search marketers who embrace this new reality can reap huge rewards.
This week I'll illustrate how the world has changed and problems search marketers must now tackle. Next week we'll talk about how search marketers (and all Web marketers) can capitalize on this new age of marketing.
This shift in control to the consumer has happened for many reasons. Here are three of the most important ones:
1. Consumers Have Much More Choice
We live in a world where there are hundreds of different types of water, or where you need a dictionary to decipher someone's coffee order.
What makes this particularly interesting on the Web is consumers can comparison shop without getting out of their chair. Comparison shopping that involves driving from store to store is hard, and can take a lot of time. Some people will do it, but many others won't.
On the Web, the effort expended to comparison shop is trivial. If you're searching for consumer electronics, many shopping comparison sites will present all your options on a single screen. Since it's so much easier to comparison shop on the Web, more people will do it.
2. Consumers Can Find Reviews Online
Not only can you find product information and comparison shop, you can also find reviews online. Sites like Amazon embed user reviews directly on the pages for each product. You get ratings right there on the same screen as the "click to order" button for the product.
You can also use Microsoft Live Search to get summaries of product reviews directly in your search results. For example, try searching on Sony Digital Camera, and then click on Sony Cyber-shot DSC-100.
You'll notice on the left of the screen a whole set of summaries of user reviews broken out by about 20 different categories -- such as features, price, speed, brand, construction, appearance, battery life, etc. Detailed user reviews are shown in the center column.
Using tools like these make the process of finding out about other people's experiences with a particular product really easy.
3. Consumers Can Find an Audience
Not only can consumers find out what others think, they can let the world know about their experiences. Here's an example -- a video of a Comcast technician sleeping on a customer's couch.
The general notion of a tech sleeping on the couch is troublesome for Comcast, as are the consumer's other negative opinions about Comcast's product and service in the video. More bad news for Comcast: this video has been viewed 1,120,430 times, according to YouTube.
Changing How You Think
It's more critical than ever to understand your customers in great detail. Here are some quick dos and don'ts to guide your thinking:
- You can run, but you can't hide. Poor customer service or an inferior product will get exposed for all to see.
- You need to be transparent. The new consumer is increasingly unhappy with companies that provide only some of the story, regardless of the reason.
- You have to un-bundle. Bundling of products used to be a great way to unload stuff that was hard to sell otherwise, and still get some incremental dollars for it. Unfortunately, this approach isn't going to fly any more.
Impact on Search Marketing
For example, over-optimized Web sites will draw more criticism than ever before. Capitalizing on some hidden text? Someone will find it and expose it.
Implementing a link building campaign with just a thin veneer of quality content? People will figure this out. Running an affiliate site using the content supplied by the vendor? Very tough to get rankings for those types of sites these days.
Ultimately, search marketers need to understand the bigger marketing picture of the Web and how search engine marketing fits in. Search can no longer be treated as if it exists in a vacuum.