Digital Marketing: How To Get Off Track in 90 Days
Steve Wolgemuth | Jun 30, 2015
You’re lost. You hired an SEO company 6 months ago and subsequently fired them. You engaged a talented intern to post for you, and a professional social media strategist. You’ve updated some pages on your website, and you’ve personally written a dozen blog posts. Nothing is coming from it. Meanwhile, you ran some paid ads on Google that generated a few good leads. Seems like that may be the way to go. Nothing else is working for your business.
You’re about to sabotage your business’s future by making two mistakes. You are overestimating what you might accomplish in the short term, and you are assuming that digital marketing efforts should bring results in the short term. Get help now or you may be about to take your organization off the path to being an “alpha” brand that dominates with your marketing. You’re about to get off track.
Last summer, I sat across the table from a tight-lipped CEO who listened disapprovingly to our explanation of how important it is for his nonprofit’s website to actually have accurate information and to have alignment with his objectives (they wanted to forge relationships with the business community, but the site did nothing to encourage that). We explained that even though his organization had been around for quite a long time and was generally cared for by the community, they weren’t leveraging those connections well on social platforms. We also explained how his organization had far too little online visibility with the “local web,” including local directories, community boards, and among local social influencers. Good will toward their organization was abounding within the community, and with some hard work and strategic investment, his organization could leverage that positive energy and see some very impressive results in time.
But his organization will never arrive at its “preferred future.” I became sure of it the moment the CEO asked, “Could we try a little bit of this for a few months? If we get a return on investment, we might be willing to do some more.” I wanted to cry. This man believed that we could dip our toe in content creation and social media in the short term and this would justify long-term value.
I know what he wanted. If I’d graph it, we’d see dollars spent on the y axis, and donations received on the x axis. So you write 6 blog posts, change up some page content, add 200 fans to your main social platform, and set up your email newsletter sign-up form. Now the site has moved from page 5 to page 2 on Google, you have your first 25 blog readers, and 15 people have signed up to get your newsletter in the first week. Donation increases after 90 days from this? $200. It’s basically a flat line and the CEO is ready to fire you. He was expecting an upward trajectory early on to justify future investment.
Trajectory thinking assumes that if something works well for 3 months, it is worth investing in for a year. If it brings a verifiable and worthwhile return on investment in 1 year, then it justifies further investment. Trajectory planning suggests that the way to know if something is worth doing for a year is to try it for a short period of time, then measure the value of the results.
Leaders need to understand how long to wait before making changes in strategy, approach, or personnel. If you think it’s easy to know whether or not an approach is worthwhile in 90 days or less, you might be a trajectory thinker. Failure to recognize this weakness in your analysis could cause you to build a marketing system that is volatile. Worse, you’ll likely miss out on large-scale marketing successes that are typically achieved with long-term strategies.
Trajectory planning only works well when applied to testing specific tactics. Specific paid search campaigns are a good example because conversions can be tracked and measured immediately. Information is gathered early on, and longer-term successful campaigns could be developed from early wins. But using this approach as your guide may not be wise. For most businesses today, using paid search alone simply doesn’t work. Consumers trust organic search results MUCH more than paid search results. A company’s website and the user experience it creates is extremely important, but takes years to create, refine, and steadily improve.
Smart Internet marketers use a blend of tactics, mixing short-term with long-term strategies (tweet this)
Content strategies that produce original articles, white papers, blog posts, press releases, and online videos almost never bring short-term benefits that justify the work they require. A content strategy typically aims to build a larger audience, and develop celebrity or authority/trust around a person, company, or product. Early results are almost always discouraging and don’t show any worthwhile upward trajectory if you graph their success metrics. What leader in their right mind would continue down that expensive and time-consuming road?
A wise one.
Because building trust, authority, and popularity for a brand is a success multiplier almost beyond measure. For a brand to build celebrity, or even alpha status in its market, is an exponential benefit. But you can’t try it for a few months, or even for a year, and predict its future success.
Content strategies rarely show promise at first (tweet this)
Take Michael Hyatt’s success timeline for example. Michael is one of the most popular bloggers in the world. In 2004, 170 people were reading his work after a year of effort. While he may not have imagined at the time just how popular he would become, he didn’t allow the initial flat-lined trajectory to stop him from pressing on when he still had only 700 readers in 2007 after 3 more years of hard work. Then, in 2008 the graph began looking like a hockey stick and Michael had 20,000 readers, then 43,000 in 2009, 59,000 in 2010, then 347,000 in 2013.
The Internet marketing strategies that put your brand in a defensible, alpha-type position relative to others in your industry are not built using trajectory thinking. In fact, the graph of success for most content strategies usually plays out quite differently. You work and invest day after day, then after years of work, you see an “overnight” success. Early indicators are relatively useless for most content strategies. If you’re addicted to trajectory thinking, you are disqualifying your organization from gaining and holding the online alpha position for your industry over time.
Trajectory Thinking Is Bad for SEO
Business leaders who demand specific, short-term results drive their SEO companies to find ways to get them. There’s a word for that type of SEO approach: black hat. But SEO practitioners feel pressure to perform. Comparing reputable SEO companies’ short-term results with their black hat competitors is like comparing an honest businessman’s short-term profits to a bank robber’s pile of stolen cash. If you’re a trajectory thinker, you’re likely to hire the bank-robber type. The initial success trajectory looks good! However, the long-term results might bury your website’s pages on page 10 in search results after your site gets hit with a Google penalty. While it is fair to expect “movement” in the first 60 days from engaging in SEO, it isn’t wise to use trajectory thinking for your return on investment. That’s why trajectory thinkers make bad SEO managers.
There are two reasons for this. One is that you really don’t know why you’re not ranking better. It may be from a Google penalty for aggressive SEO in your past, or it may be because you’re in a very competitive industry and your competition has far out-invested you for a lot longer. You might be looking at a hockey stick if you graph your future return on investment in search optimization.
Another reason is that early on, SEO may not be terribly valuable. If you’re on the 8th page of Google for important search terms, what value is it to move you to page 3, even if it takes months and thousands of dollars? Search engine results only bring a significant return on investment at a certain point — when your important search terms reach page 1 of Google, and they start climbing from there. On mobile the stakes are even higher. You need to be at the top of page 1 to get the majority of clicks from search results. The success graph and the ROI graph don’t typically follow an upward trajectory from the beginning of the campaign. Like content strategies, it usually draws a hockey stick, the length of which depends on where you are when you start, and many other competitive factors.
A Trusted Marketing Partner Will Squash Trajectory Thinking
If you’re the type of leader who likes to “dip your toe” into the pool before diving in, realize that short-term results won’t provide the assurance your CFO is asking for. As with other business decisions, you’ll have to take a long-term view, at least for portions of your Internet marketing plan.
I suggest that you get help from an experienced Internet marketing company that you trust. If they have “packages” that they’d like to sell you, find another company. You need an Internet marketing partner, not a vendor with an agenda. Ask your Internet marketing company or your in-house team to help you create different timelines and expectations for your organizations’s different segmented activities and campaigns. This will help create realistic expectations for the various segments of your marketing investments.
Determined business leaders tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in 1 year, and underestimate where they could be in 3 to 5 years. Many leaders never come close to their potential in the online market because they grow soft in their resolve due to trajectory thinking. Effective digital marketers understand that a portion of their marketing efforts needs to be channeled toward long-term goals that may produce few early rewards.