By Mark Daoust
There is a vicious rumor circulating among website owners that search engine optimization (SEO) is the single most powerful fÃ¶rm of marketing on the web. I have my suspicions that this rumor was started by professional search engine optimizers, but I have not yet received my mail-in Nancy Drew kit to reach a definitive conclusion. All the same, it might be best to not share this information with any professional SEO who is trying to win your business.
The truth, however, must be told â€“ SEO is not the best marketing for your website. To those of you who are professional marketers, this will not come as a surprise, but SEO takes a backseat to the real king of marketing. Unfortunately the mystique of Google, complete with their daily updates and rumors (I heard that Larry Page has been parting his hair on the other side this week – a pagerank update must be near!), has gotten so many website owners Googley-eyed that they are missing the real marketing gem that we should all be aiming for.
Buzzing Over Your Website
Marketers know that there is one thing that will bring more salÃ«s for a website than a well-optimized site could ever bring: buzz. This has also been called viral marketing or passive marketing, but unfortunately both of those phrases have been used so much that they lack their own buzz-power, and as a result we often look away when someone mentions viral marketing.
There is no real secrÃ«t to viral marketing â€“ the secrÃ«t is to do just what the name says: create a buzz. You want people to talk about your website, to let others in on their secrÃ«t which is your website. You want those that learn about you to have a sense of excitement, a sense of privilege, a sense that only you can offÃ«r what they are seeing. You do not want to resort to calculating CPM rates, optimizing PPC campaigns, or working tirelessly on optimizing your website for some algorithm that is likely to change in a month – you want others to market your website for you.
And that is just what viral marketing is – it is the process of getting others to market your website for you.
Examples of Successful Viral Marketing Campaigns
Fortunately there are several examples of viral marketing campaigns which we can look at for inspiration. Some of these may be unrealistic for our unique needs, but we can take away principles from these campaigns which will teach us more about viral marketing.
When Microsoft released the Xbox 360 in November of 2005, they attempted to do their first world-wide distribution rather than staggering the distribution to help supply keep up with the demand for the new gaming console. Their worldwide distribution, however, fell far short of their goal of getting an Xbox to everyone in the world that wanted one. The result was that the new units quickly sold out in most stores even while hundreds of people waited to get their own gaming box.
The perceived scarcity created a buzz that fueled eBay auctions and news stories about the new Microsoft product. Most eBay auctions sold at a tidy profÃt, and sold quickly.
The news died down once the intial wave of scarcity passed, but while there was a perceived scarcity in the product, and while hundreds of people waited in line for their Xbox, the Xbox was news. People, who may not have had any desire to buy the product, talked about it, became familiar with it, and shared their opinions on the issue.
From this scarcity â€“ and the extreme demand for this product, buzz was born.
Admittedly, anytime Google so much as moves a corporate pinky, they create buzz. But of all the examples of viral marketing I have seen in the past several years, none seem to match up to the buzz that Gmail created when it was released.
Gmail was released just as the SEO industry was ramping up for what was being dubbed as the ‘search engine wars’. Yahoo had recently announced that they were ditching their Google results in favor of the newly acquired Inktomi indexing engine, and MSN also threw in their hat with an announcement that they would become rivals of the rising Google.
In what was perceived to be a response, Google released Gmail. Gmail had buzz written all over it. The timing of the release appeared to be a direct jab at Yahoo. The record breaking disk space offered with each account was itself newsworthy, and the fact that you could not get it unless you were offered a special invitation all worked together in a way to make Gmail one of the most desirable invitations on the web.
And this was a key point â€“ Google gave people the opportunÃty to feel special. Those who had the first invitations were in a special club â€“ a club that affirmed their place of importance in the world of Google. They were the first adopters, the first people to accept a hot product from a hot company.
A development in the past few years as Internet connection speeds have increased is the advent of viral videos. We have all seen viral videos â€“ Brokeback to the Future, Why Macs Suck, Russian Climbing (wait until the second minute of this video before it gets good), Japanese T-Shirt Folding, or even a cool commercial for a Honda, viral videos have a tendency to get passed around.
I don’t think this point needs to be made too much â€“ if you watch these videos, chances are pretty good that you will forward one on to your friends, family, or associates if you have not yet seen it. These videos are funny, amazing, useful, or simply awe-inspiring enough that we want to share them with others.
Anatomy of Viral Marketing
There is no shortage of examples of viral marketing in action â€“ any time you learn about a website by word of mouth, through a blog entry, or through a genuine link on another website, you are participating in viral marketing. With all these examples of viral marketing, it becomes fairly easy to breakdown several aspects that seem to make web pages ‘buzz-worthy’.
Buzz-worthy Sites Stroke People’s Egos
Everyone likes to be ‘in the know’, to be a first adopter of a product that everyone eventually comes to love. If you know some of the first adopters of Apple’s iTunes system, you know what it is like to know a first adopter and how much pride they take in being able to spot a wÃnner before anyone else.
Buzz-worthy sites, like Google’s Gmail, create an exclusive club that both affirms its members and creates a stronger demand. They create news, create conversations, and create envy on the part of those who are not so beneficial to be a part of the first adopters.
Being one of the first to discover something that everyone will enjoy or find useful, or being one of the first to be invited to an invitation-only club, is an honor. It strokes our ego, and if you want to get people interested in you, stroking their ego is a great start.
Buzz-worthy Sites Promise to Amaze
If you want to create an initial buzz about your website, you need to get people excited enough to talk about your website. The only way you can do this is to promise real amazement, real insight, real controversy, real humor, or any mix of these attributes. The Xbox 360 was touted to be the first in the line of several releases of the next generation of game boxes. Gmail was promised to be an email system like none we had ever seen (and with more space than ever offered). Viral videos promise to show you something that you have nevÃ«r seen before, and that will either make you laugh, cringe, or shake your head in amazement.
Buzz worthy sites need to stand out from the crowd of competing sites. There are millÃons of websites all asking for our attention, but those that get the attention are able to create a message that is unique, useful, appealing, and attractive.
Buzz-worthy Sites are Original
In order to be buzz-worthy, you must first create something that people are going to feel as if they ‘discovered’. No one is going to talk about something which has already been discovered or which everyone knows about. People talk about things which they have nevÃ«r seen before, things which are particularly useful, particularly funny, or particularly insightful.
The Xbox 360 is the first of the new gaming consoles. Gmail was the first to offÃ«r a full gigabyte of disk space.
Buzz requires that people see something for the first time, are promised amazement, are amazed, and get the ego-stroking feeling that they have just discovered something great.
Considering Buzz for Your Business
Practically applying buzz to your website is not easy. Although viral marketing is by far the most powerful fÃ¶rm of marketing available to website owners, it is not an easy thing to create. Even if you devise the most buzz-worthy creation, you may find that in practice it just does not seem to resonate with the general public.
You may also decide that viral marketing is not the best thing for your business. Viral marketing, unlike other marketing which is fairly easy to control, can quickly grow out of control. If you happen to be successful with viral marketing, you may find that you are not able to meet the new demand that you see for your products or services. Viral marketing, once released, becomes its own beast outside of your control.
Those concerns aside, most businesses would love to have a viral aspect to their website. Consider today what you could create that would create a buzz in your industry. Is there a tool that you could offÃ«r for frÃ«e that no one else is offering? Is there an opinion that you have that is original and insightful? Is there a free service that you are willing to offÃ«r?
Viral marketing is, ultimately, the greatest fÃ¶rm of marketing. Not only does it produce incredible results, it is also an affirmation that what you are doing is worthy of praise â€“ enough praise that people are willing to talk about you to others.
About The Author
Mark Daoust is the former owner of Site-Reference.com. This article was originally published at www.site-reference.com/articles/Internet-Marketing/Marketing-More-Powerful-Than-SEO.html