You Can’t Step in the Same Internet Twice
At my first marketing job, I was the liaison between the designers, third-party search marketing company, vendors… and my boss, a real estate marketing veteran. And many times, the paid consultants whom we hired would tell me that our design (usually using advanced OS Mac-friendly Flash that didn’t always play well on older personal computers), our ability to be searched (no metadata or keywords in the code), and our website speed DID NOT WORK.
Ever the peacemaker, I presented my boss with this dismal news, thinking we could tweak the sites so they would be more consumer-friendly. And my boss’s reaction was, “I’ve been doing marketing for twenty years, I know what works.” To which I would reply, “Yes, but I’ve been working in online marketing as long as you have. We’re in this together.”
My manager’s bias was to make things look “cool.” In 1980s real estate marketing, this approach was successful because it was a boom market. Style was perceived as substance, and the glitzier the building, the glossier the brochure. Or if the client offered efficiency apartments, a simple tri-fold indicating their value and floor plans sufficed.
But in the late 1990s, everybody was learning how to market the Internet together, leaving behind VAX email programs and static HTML pages for dynamic, evolving technology with ever-increasing capabilities. Also, we were no longer selling in a buyers’ market. We had a diverse range of clients with different needs in a competitive landscape.
Sometimes I could suggest—before we even designed a site—how we could incorporate the best practices to make the site work well. We could use keywords and coding to make our site appear prominently on Google and other search engines. We could design our site to load quickly across different computers and operating systems. We could provide shopping carts and contact information so users could act on their interest in our product. We could link to other sites to maintain interest and offer relevant material, so viewers would stay on our clients’ sites and eventually convert to buyers.
So what did we do as a company? We continued to offer design-rich, slow-loading sites with poor loading times and really cool Flash nobody could search for or see. We continued to pay consultants to tell us how to do it better and ignored their advice.
We made mistakes. We had a group of New York City bargain hotels with no Reservations phone number on the site landing page until the consultants and I fought for it. We had a regional tourism site with no outbound links to area attractions. We had real estate sites with no floor plans or maps. And simple things like “click here for more information” were often unanswered or led to errors.
After learning what I could from this agency, I knew I had to move on. I realized there was a whole world of search marketing and development that grew as the Internet evolved. There is no room for complacency in the swiftly changing world of digital media.
Digital marketers have to stay up on all the tools that are out there to meet customers where they live online. Although I had belonged to the initial batch of social media sites that grownups were using (sorry, MySpace), in the few short years that I spent starting my family, the field had changed again. I quickly got up to speed on Twitter, Google+, and the like, to get back in the game. I realized then that to be a real participant in online marketing, I couldn’t say, “Well, it’s worked for me for decades, why change it?” My instinct in my early career was correct. Now, I’m fully emerged in the evolving marketing tools again and know to keep swimming.