My Fears

Bill Slawski, one of my favorites among the highest caliber SEO consultants wrote a great post about search engines using implicit and explicit user feedback to rank documents.

While reading what he wrote, and reviewing a paper he referenced, Improving Web Search Ranking by Incorporating  User Behavior Information, a kind of scary possibility occurred to me. I just wonder if by focusing on trying to infer user preference we will be turning search into a billboard top 40 where queries yield results based on the vast majority of users rather than the precision of the query in relation to documents published on the web.

I should probably provide some background for my particular bias (as recommended by the Bloggers Guide to SEO). I think that the Billboard Top 40 is reprehensible. I find it amazing that people who profess to love music don’t know about anything that happened outside of this list. Moreover, they ignore the centuries of music that came before, across all continents, in favor of what is en vogue. (Try to google en vogue – screwed if you’re looking for anything not top 40 like definition, etymology, common usage, etc.)

When I was young I hated the Top 40, and it happened to be the counterculture thing to do. Decades later I am pretty far from trying to be cool and I still hate the Top 40 – perhaps with less vitriol, but I just think that it is a function of a production engine and I prefer less popular more creative music.

If you search in certain databases all you will find is what appeals to the lowest common denominator. Being a fan of things around the fringes, anything that moves the web in that direction scares me a little bit.

Building Business With ‘Why’

I don’t know if you’ve seen this Ted Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why. He discusses a very interesting idea that is highly relevant to sales. People by ‘Why’ from you as much as they buy ‘What’. The idea that people buy based on emotion rather than logic is consistent with this notion that people buy “Why you are doing it” as much as “What you are doing”.

Compare that with the statement below: [more here]

If you want to reach your audience, you must have something significant to say that you are passionate about, genuine passion will attract attention and attention will lead to action.

Bringing this a little closer to home, when we sell I don’t know how much we talk about what we’re passionate about, and why we are passionate about it. I just don’t know if we have this. And if we don’t have this then there is a good chance that we are not holding their attention. And I believe that when we lose their attention their mind turns to price, or to what the competitor told them, or their (possibly incorrect) preconceived notion, or to what they want to eat for lunch.

If you have ‘Why’ then not only do you have it going into a sales presentation, but it is also plastered all over your website, collateral, stories, anecdotes, and emails.

The sad part is that we have the Why – It is evident in the quality of work, the fun that we have, the light heart and joy that we bring to the work. If we didn’t have the why we wouldn’t be able to cheerfully put in extra hours and go the extra mile to help the client understand what we are doing.

I think that part of the reason it is so difficult to see is that we are not the ones that are bored. We are all excited about the ‘What’ of our organization. It can be difficult to see it through the perspective of our audience. Nothing appears to be missing to us.


For us the ‘Why’ is not only that we passionately believe that we can drive more effective traffic to your website, that we know we can coach your organization through some of the nuances that can be challenging. It is also that we believe we can help you make a better web. We believe that moving one project forward in the right light can help many others who are touched by that project. And we believe that if your project is undertaken with a sound eye to the economics of the activities it makes the next successful project more likely.

Negotiation and Crafting Vision

Been studying up on negotiation and some time in the near future I’d like to put together a decent presentation about what I’ve learned. One thing that is interesting about negotiation is that it is difficult to teach or to give someone else advice because different things work for different people based on various factors (age, experience, style). It is kind of similar to kung fu. A kung fu master could tell you the most coveted secrets and it wouldn’t mean anything to you until years later you had ears to hear it.

Years ago I was taught that negotiation is a matter of providing the ‘opposing’ party with a positive vision of how your solution plays out. The idea seemed so obvious. Help the person to see your solution playing out in their mind’s eye. You could take it even further by adding some nlp ideas such as determining what modality the person favors, what key words are hot buttons in their mind, etc. but what counts is what they are seeing. It is what is in their mind that drives the negotiation.

This can include emphasis on pain points of not using your solution, or questions that help to create that vision. These questions help to create the vision of the problem:

  • What are the biggest challenges you are facing?
  • What have you done for SEO in the past?
  • What has kept you from working with someone?
  • What do you want to see happen here?
  • What system do you have in place that ensures that these websites make money?
  • What happens after you do all of this work on these sites and the orders remain flat?
  • What is the #1 rule that you’re going to follow while developing content for these sites?
[Edit: I found these questions in a book called Value Based Fees, by Alan Weiss] These questions help to create the vision of successful completion and the associated value:
  • What will be the difference in your organization and the conclusion of this project?
  • What if you did nothing?
  • What if this project failed?
  • Have projects like this failed before? What was that like?
  • What will you be able to do that you can’t do now?
  • What will be the effect on revenue? (sales, profits, market share, etc)
  • What will be the difference for your reputation?
  • What are the 3 greatest impacts of the results of this project’s success?
  • What will your boss’s reaction be to this success?
  • What will this mean to you personally?
  • What peripheral and secondary value do you see accruing to this project?
  • What will you be the proudest of at the conclusion of this project?
  • What will be the legacy of this project?
  • What will it mean to be on the leading edge, the thought leader in the field?

We Sell Hope

One of the most important things to understand is that decisions are made emotionally and then justified logically. As the chairman of Revlon said, “In the factory, we make hypo-allergenic pigments. In the stores, we sell hope.”

Poke the Box

I pre-ordered the audio book for the new Seth Godin book Poke the Box. Seth has written some books that have made a real difference in my thinking. Among my favorites are Permission Marketing and The Dip – we were able to see him when he was here in Atlanta and accepted the generous offer to have dinner with Seth and several of the people who work with him.

I’m really looking forward to watching the success of The Domino Project