I love the movie, There Will Be Blood, and watched it again a few days ago. The story is set in California, early in the 20th century. The American oil boom was on, and by 1903 California had become the leading oil producing state. Derricks as far as the eye could see — hastily erected out of wood — dotted the landscape. The strategy was simple: drill a bunch of holes and hope one hit. Many would-be oil men went bust, while a few lucky ones struck it rich, bringing in one gusher after another.
In the 1920's, the oil industry discovered directional drilling. Instead of punching holes all across the landscape of the lease, on a whim and a prayer, and erecting fields of derricks; the new breed of driller worked closely with a geologist to carefully target oil deposits. Directional drilling provided the ability to accurately steer the well in directions and angles that departed from the vertical.
The location of the drill site was determined by geological research. Drill samples were collected and analyzed every few hours and corrections to the path of the drill were made as required. Drilling for oil had become far less hit and miss, and a single tilt-up steel rig began to replace the former wooden derricks.
Even with a far more scientific approach, not every well hit. Short of funds, many small oil companies lost the faith and would revert to the old ways, replacing geologists with carpenters. Instead of drilling deep and singularly focused, the old approach was all over the map and fairly shallow. If the new approach was a sniper rifle with a high velocity shell, the old way was a blunderbuss.
The Internet has seen its own boom, with a dot-com speculative bubble that lasted from 1997 through 2000. Many venture companies would invest in dozens of start-ups, hoping one would come in. And, like the oil industry, all online marketers now have knowledgeable advisers and sophisticated tools available to them, to minimize wasted effort and maximize resources.
A targeted approach, with course corrections along the way, makes sense on the white board. Many small business owners will secure quality advice, and with the help of a SEO/content marketing/social media professional, study their target market, create customer personas, determine the best keywords and topics, map out a strategy to reach their audience, and forge ahead with considerable enthusiasm. But if they don't hit a gusher in two or three months, they're ready to cancel the analytics service, kill the content creation and social media budget, and fire their adviser, proclaiming, "This new content marketing stuff doesn't work!"
Predictably, they'll go back to the old ways. They may get their new "more flexible and obedient" SEO to buy a bunch of links or send out an email blast. "Hell, those used to work like a hot damn." Instead of focusing their content, so Google can determine a subject for their website, they'll try to "cover all the bases" by adding pages and posts for a broader range of topics.
Website owners stop creating extremely valuable content and revert to pounding out product offers through their blog and social posts. It's pure spam, but it used to get an occasional reply. Instead of increasing focus and relevance they dilute themselves in an effort to become all things to all people.
If they're an ecommerce site, instead of pruning all the obscure products that don't fit in the primary theme, they'll begin feverishly adding new categories. Going wide, lest any potential customer or reader be missed, seems to make sense to a frightened business owner, tired of waiting for traffic to build more organically. If distilling their marketing focus didn't bring results quickly enough, dilution must surely be the way to go.
In frustration, organic search on Google, Bing and Yahoo! may be abandoned entirely in favor of just buying dozens of pay per click ads, and targeting a very broad range of keywords. Blogging and social media may be ditched, or take a very different direction. Instead of "attracting" visitors to the site, with helpful content, old school aggressive sales offers tend to appear again in every post.
Going back to the familiar can be comforting. It's just like comfort food. It calms the anxiety on the short term, but is generally very unhealthy, and wholly unsustainable over the long term.
Learning new and more effective ways of doing things involves a learning curve. There's time and money involved. Results may come slower than with the old methods you were familiar with, at least initially. When you don't see immediate results, it may even occur to you that the thousands of authoritative writers on the web, promoting content marketing and social media, may be lying, and that they may have a sinister profit agenda. Change can be scary and emotionally painful. You will have to trust and commit to a strategy you have not proven personally. There may be new people and companies to trust. And it's essentially impossible to micromanage a process you don't fully understand.
The only constant is constant change. Once a better way has been demonstrated, it's not usually possible to go back in time. Covering dozens of acres with wooden derricks had ceased to be the way things were done. Lease holders weren't going to allow their properties to be torn up that way any more, considering the alternative. In the same way, Google isn't going to be rolling back to a pre-Panda/Penguin era any time soon. What worked back in 2010, is never going to work again. Mobile devices are also here to stay, and we need to design our websites and develop marketing strategies to take advantage of that trend, not fight it. We either evolve, or we perish.
Do you find yourself hesitant to get fully behind content marketing, blogging or social media? Do you mistrust that line of advice? Is it confusing? Do you have a success story to share? I welcome your questions and comments below.
Cole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.