What 'Doctor Who' Can Teach Search Marketers

doctor-who-daleksOn November 23, 1963, a day after the assassination of President Kennedy, a family television show aired its first episode on the BBC. "Doctor Who" was a program about a strange, crotchety old man and his granddaughter, who accidentally kidnapped a pair of teachers and took them on adventures throughout time and space in what appears to be a blue, wooden 1950s style police box.

So what could this possibly have to do with search marketing? Let me give you some examples.

Every Week is a New Adventure

Every week the Doctor and his companions would arrive on a new world or at some point in history on this planet, unaware of the dangers they faced until they encountered them.

The search industry is remarkably fast paced. There never seems to be much of a respite in terms of impactful changes by the major search engines and the major social networks.

Each week we open our laptops with the realization that anything could happen:

  • An algorithm shift could cause our traffic to plunge or spike.
  • A new search engine “feature” could take away real estate from our listings.
  • A new feature on a tool we use gives us a set of previously unknown insights.

But that’s what makes it a challenge, and ultimately what makes it fun. While it may not seem it at the time, when you discover a giant crab clawing at your foot, or a penguin pecking at your links, finding a solution to your problem is absolutely satisfying.

Some Things Can’t be Changed

There are fixed points throughout time where things must stay exactly the way they are – The Doctor, “Cold Blood”

So Vesuvius still destroys Pompeii, King Harold is defeated at the battle of Hastings, and the Doctor died in Utah last year, because they were fixed points in time and not even he could change them.

Just like we can’t change what the search engines do. Sure, we can sign online petitions about an update, or ask nicely to get keyword data back, but in all likelihood we’re not going to get the search engines to change course too dramatically, so we have to adapt and change our tactics to make sure that we’re delivering the best possible results for the sites that we’re working with.

Keep Your Content Fresh

doctor-who-cybermenIn 1966 the original actor that played the Doctor, William Hartnell, decided to leave the series. Rather than end this popular show, the producers decided that they may as well give the Doctor the ability to change his appearance, and hired a new actor to fill the role – Patrick Troughton.

The current Doctor is the 11th canonical doctor (there have been others in movies and one-off shows). Each actor has played the role of the Doctor in the same, yet different manner, rounding out the character while emphasizing different aspects of his personality. This (apart from the late ’80s when the show was cancelled for 17 years) kept the show fresh and vibrant, with the show now back to being one of the top rated shows in the UK

The analogy here should be pretty obvious. If you’re not putting out fresh content, your site is going to atrophy. From time to time think about changing your appearance, putting a fresh coat of paint on your site can really help to attract and retain visitors if done correctly. Think about emphasizing different sections of your site, but don’t stray too far from the core character of your site.

Use the Right Tools for the Job

Yes, it’s possible that a sonic screwdriver could be used to help you out in a lot of different situations, but it’s not a universal solve every problem tool. The Doctor frequently has to cobble together the right tool for the right job whether it’s trapping ghosts or inventing the VCR in 1953.

We have figure out what’s the right tool for what we’re trying to do, and if it doesn’t exist, figure out how to make it happen, whether that involves working with a tools vendor, or just building it yourself.

Always Have a Plan – But be Prepared to Adapt on the Fly

You should always have a roadmap for your site, an idea of where you intend to go, but sometimes outside sources will force you to have to change direction. Most sites impacted by Panda or Penguin had to change their plans, to carry on with what may well now have been a bad plan would have been sheer folly.

If the Budget Isn’t There, Make do With What You’ve Got

One of the common complaints about the original run of “Doctor Who” (1963-1989) was that alien planets typically all looked like the same gravel pit, and the monsters were clearly people in costumes. But as a show they made it work.

There will be times when the resources aren’t there to do absolutely everything that you need / want to do, so the best thing to do is to prioritize and get the most important things done and out of the way.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

The first two incarnations of the Doctor were on the run from his people - The Timelords. It was only when the Doctor encountered a renegade Timelord who had pulled people out of time that he realized that he had to ask for help from his people.

Sure, that ended with his companions having their minds wiped, the Doctor being forced to regenerate again, and then being exiled to 1970’s Earth for several years, but still, the original problem that he had was solved.

When you encounter something that you just can’t for the life of you figure out, take a step back and ask for help. Sometimes all it takes is to explain the problem to another person for you to figure out what’s wrong. Sometimes it takes a posting on a forum, or an email to a search engine rep to get your answer (the search engines occasionally make mistakes too).

Use Your Team Effectively to Solve Problems

Part of the reason that the doctor has companions is for exposition, enabling him to explain what’s going on to the audience through his companions, but another part is to have that second or third pair of eyes to examine the problem, to get different viewpoints, and to inject their experiences and skillsinto the process.

Sometimes You Need to Take a Banana to a Gun Fight

When people get worked up about drops in traffic or the potential effects of some vapor algorithm change that someone’s inferred based on a Matt Cutts tweet about his cat, don’t panic (Douglas Adams did write for Doctor Who back in the ’70s). Instead try to calm things down and disarm people with humor or just plain common sense.

Although, of course, there are times when you need to go in with all guns blazing to take advantage of something that could legitimately give you a competitive advantage.

About the author

Simon Heseltine is the Director in charge of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at AOL Inc. In this role Simon and his team are responsible for organic search and training across all AOL and Huffington Post Media Group properties. He has also visited the UK office on several occasions to consult and train the AOL-UK teams on SEO best practices.

In his previous position as Director of Search at a Washington, D.C., based agency, Simon was responsible for developing and implementing organic search and social media strategies for companies across several industries. He also developed and delivered training programs for clients, including a large U.S. media company, to enable them to best take advantage of the opportunities available to their companies through both organic search and social media.

Simon is a frequent speaker at conferences in the U.S. and UK on topics ranging from SEO to social search to reputation management. He also teaches SEO at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as part of their Digital Media Management program.

Simon has a BA (Hons) from the University of Humberside, and a Masters in IT from Virginia Tech.