Internet Marketing is Like Talking to Children

The basics of Internet marketing may be easy to learn, given all the articles and sites available to everyone. But to become a truly good Web marketer, you need a little more.

I was chatting with two of my nieces using Gchat the other day. One is 6 years old, and the other is 12 — two very distinct sets of vocabulary and points of reference. Halfway through the conversations, as I was changing what words to use and choosing cultural references, I realized that this is also what I do when marketing online.

Many sites, especially those in niche areas, tend to use industry terms and jargon. Hey, they want to show they’re experts on top of the game.

This is one of the first areas I tackle with new clients. Many people forget they’re trying to attract new clients who are novices or new to the space. They look for sites that are accessible and easy to understand.

True, there’s also a need to attract more sophisticated visitors. So, like my conversations with my young nieces, you have to separate the messages.

Always include both elements on the page and let them go onto different paths within your site. Your home page and your main category pages should always have varying levels of information, so the visitor can make the selection to the “conversation level” of their choice. The extra benefit of this is the additional content it provides, and the more opportunities for appearances in the search results.

This analogy also applies to the “cultural differences” between countries and even regions within a country. You can see many differences if you look at sites from different parts of the world. Some countries produce serious, somber sites, as a reflection of their country’s perspective. But many sites in Japan are bright and crammed with activity.

If you plan on doing international marketing, be aware of these differences. Creating a site with one set of templates that you drop in different languages will have some success, but to be in front of the game you should make them appropriate to their culture.

Also be aware of your customers. Know your demographic and geographical market and you have a starting point. If you’re looking to appeal to everyone, you often lose more than you think you’ll gain.

The same is true of keyword selection. They are part of the conversation. While we may see the words we know work and convert them profitably, many others are forgotten if we don’t think again about who’s doing the searching.

A good example of this is the use of the term “currency exchange rates” — it’s the basis of the forex industry, and surprisingly, generates a very large number of leads. The problem is the leads rarely convert.

Many years ago, before there was a way to marry online marketing to offline conversion, I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on that term. When we finally developed the ability to see what terms converted to real accounts, everyone was surprised that one of our biggest lead generators was losing us a lot of money.

We were too close and were thinking from the perspective of an educated trader; the people who were clicking on the keyword phrase were not — they were just looking to find a way to sell their leftover currency or learn what their country’s money was worth in relation to the country they would be visiting.

We can learn a lot from conversations with children. Plus, I always enjoy the time I get to communicate with my nieces, watching them develop into their own unique people. I also enjoy watching Web sites develop the same way — but not to the same level.

Chris Boggs Fires Back

Frank, I love the analogies you bring to our table. You don’t mention the tough parts of parenting, such as when they misbehave (enter into a $99 link deal, for example) or plain don’t listen (such as when they forget to consult with you on newly updated content a week after you asked to be kept in the loop).

You bring up very valid points when it comes to targeting your message toward different segments. Everyone can guess the main differences between a 6- and a 12-year-old, but what about when you have 30 to 40 distinct types of children to work with? Often in consulting, we have to provide distinct messages for marketing and IT executives, which is no different than what we’re talking about.

To be clear, the point here isn’t to compare clients or executives to children, but rather to take an occasional parenting experience and transfer the learning towards evangelizing business value.

One last thing: more people, including Matt Cutts from Google, have recently said that a variety of thematic content is important to the algorithm. Simply repeating the same thing may work as well with search engines as it does with certain children I know. Using a variety of messaging helps not only speak to different segments, but also increases the semantic relevance of your content.

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