If there’s ever money to be made, people will try to game the system. One of the most asked questions I hear from new clients is how to get traffic to their new site. Very often, the focus isn’t as much about what benefit a website can offer a customer or what the experience may be, it’s about how to get them there. It’s a simple solution, but one that looks to short term gain rather than building a robust business model. The equation goes something like this:
That’s why everyone is jumping on board the social networking sites. That’s why everyone is looking for the next big super trend. That’s why everyone is trying to game the system. And that’s why everyone is wrong.
To put it in perspective, I’ll compare building a website to opening up a brick and mortar business. While the old adage “Location, Location, Location” rings true, the recent shift in our economy showed us how people are staying in business: the best customer service, shopping or dining experience, and/or value for the buck keep businesses alive. This shouldn’t be new to anyone reading this. However, we all have that wonderfully located restaurant in our neighborhood where the food tastes like it came out of a diaper. You know, the one that changed owners 10 times in the past 7 years. That’s exactly the kind of place that simply wants to be FOUND, not a business that is looking for people to SEEK IT OUT.
“Stumbling upon” a location is not the solution to keep people coming back. Sure it will get new business coming in. Sure it will keep you alive in the short term. But the ultimate goal should be to have people buzzing about your company. They should be referring you to their friends. They should love the experience. Finding your business is simply ONE factor – not THE factor.
Design of a website or corporate identity can be one of the most significant factors in determining how your company is perceived. It is essential in creating a positive user experience. A company can spend a great deal of time and money getting people to their site. Often enough, they budget much less to create a pleasurable experience once they are there. Good, purposeful design helps to draw people in, interact with your product, and keep them coming back for more.
My last newsletter talked about how taking advantage of social networking might do unbelievable things for your company, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of traditional marketing and business development strategies. Since then, Twitter exploded beyond belief. Facebook numbers are way up, of course, but many say it’s starting to lose it’s luster. And don’t get me going about MySpace.
In that brief timeframe, I started to see a major problem develop with social networks. Trust is the key factor in making them the ultra-next-super-big-thing. But trust is being lost at an alarming rate. People taking the easy way have now scammed the system. The fresh paint is slowly chipping off.
Twitter Super Traffic – Recently, a webhosting company tried to capture free traffic by developing a campaign where they gave away free laptops to people that “Tweeted” their offer. Within a few hours, this campaign (and of course this company) shot to #1 on Twitter’s “Trending Topics.” So what happened next? Your friendly neighborhood spammers all jumped on board, created fake users, and offered fake free laptops. So now, this company has a mixed reputation. On the one hand, they are brilliant marketers creating a whole lot of buzz for minimal cost. On the other, they took another chunk out of the usefulness of social networking. Anytime this kind of exploitation occurs, the value of tools like Twitter is diminished. The reputation of a company is tarnished perhaps without merit. And what do you make of the people you are “following” on Twitter that voluntarily perpetuated this campaign?
Google nuclear bombs – “Blanket hates the light.” “Corey Feldman is hurting.” How about “Why won’t my parakeet eat my diarrhea?“ These phrases were #1 Google Trends this last week. Is the economy really so bad people are looking at new ways to feed their pet birds? What does that even mean? Turns out two of these phrases were a concoction a nationally syndicated radio show. Because of their ability to summon their audience to search Google for a particular phrase, what’s known as a “Google Bomb“, they were able to influence the trending on the #1 search engine. This caused people from all over the world to investigate the meaning of these phrases and led them back to the radio show. A great form of promotion for the show (of course) but if a radio show is able to alter topics the world’s news outlets use for sourcing, what’s to say more powerful companies can’t do the same? How real is the content you are viewing?
Reviews and the News You Don’t Want to Use – You know that fantastic review you read online about that movie that just came out? Or the fantastic experience someone had at that new restaurant? Or even that brutal bashing someone gave to a camera you were thinking of buying? Did that review convince you not to buy it? Well, hate to break it to you, but many of those are are fake. From PR agencies to interns, there is a HUGE market now in creating fake experiences in order to gain trust in a company. Or kill trust in someone’s competitor. The reason they do it is because it works. But it doesn’t make it right. And when people wise up to this fact, it could deal a fatal blow to the trust people have in online social media. If you have ever contributed a comment or a review to a website, you should find this particularly disturbing – the value of your opinion is becoming less and less relevant.
We can all agree that what we see on the web – and all the fun social stuff along with it – may not be truthful. We can also agree that there’s no guarantee that any of this will even stay relevant. But the inherent value of good design transcends current web trends. It is independent of search engines and lives outside of social networks. The value of design expands into every aspect of your company. So think twice about your budget if a solid design solution is left out. The trust you build with your clients may be the only thing that keeps you afloat in this economy – design can help you develop that foundation. I’m not sure your old MySpace profile can do the same.