Friday, December 12, 2008

Marketing Lessons from Google, a blog on search engine optimization, recently put out an article on "Marketing Lessons from Google." The full article is here:
A number of the "lessons," though, are applicable only to leaders of heartless multinationals -- few of whom, I imagine, are reading this blog. (Except for Steve Ballmer, of course. That guy will not leave me alone.*) There are also a fair number of "lessons" intended to prove how evil Google is (apparently the big G isn't too popular in the SEO world). For the rest of us, I've extracted three points that apply to smaller operations, interspersed with my own scintillating commentary. Shall we begin?
  • Offer a free version to make sure everyone who may want to has a chance to experience your product and/or service.
This is at the heart of a several-year argument I've had with a friend who founded a subscription-based content business. He has insistently argued that the lesson we all learned from the Web 1.0 bubble is that content isn't free, and only fools give it away for nothing. My response has always been two-fold: if you don't build an audience, a fair price will drive you out of business just as quickly as no price at all; and "the first taste is free" has been an excellent business model in the drug trade for decades now. Certainly it's true: if you never find a way to offset your operational costs, your business is doomed. But people today are accustomed to finding stuff for free online, and if the first thing they see when they come to your site is a hand out, asking for money, they'll leave. Give it to them for free long enough that they start to value what you offer, and then you have the chance to convert that value into coin.
  • Offer something that forces people to keep coming back to your website.
In Google's case, that's the search box enabled by default in Firefox (and now Chrome as well). The rest of us have to come up with other ways to spur repeat usage. One good idea is link journalism: leverage your expert status within the area of your site to provide visitors with a regularly-updated set of links to content on other sites. In short, you browse so that your vistors don't have to. Solve a problem for them, big or small, and they'll keep coming back as long as that problem persists.
  • Keep making small changes and talking about how important they are so you stay in the media.
I've noticed something about TechCrunch lately: many businesses covet that first post -- virtually a coming-out party for startups these days -- and the great bounce in traffic that comes with it. But TechCrunch also likes to report on significant updates to sites and services that they've already reported on. I could see where a smart business might think of those updates as part of a marketing plan (not just on Techcrunch, but also Webware and other like-minded blogs) that will keep the buzz flowing.

Does buzz flow?

* This is a joke. To my knowledge, I am not being stalked by Steve Ballmer. And Microsoft is in no ways a heartless multinational; bloodsucking vampires must have hearts, otherwise where would we hammer the wooden stakes?**

** Also a joke. Microsoft is not staffed with bloodsucking vampires. At least, I've never personally witnessed any bloodsucking, though I wouldn't put it past some of those marketing guys.