Search Marketing & Fear

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Every now and then I come across a dar­ing mar­ket­ing arti­cle title that just draws me in. Search Engine Journal’s “This 10 Year Old Girl Would Make a Bet­ter SEO Than You” recently did just that. The arti­cle opens with the tale of 10-year-old Zia, who despite being scared out of her gourd, is about to make her first ski jump. The author, Hous­ton Barnett-Gearhart, com­pares Zia’s fear to those that often moti­vate search mar­ket­ing deci­sions. If he wasn’t using a psy­cho­log­i­cal study per­formed on chil­dren in the 1960s as the basis for his the­ory, I may be more will­ing to admit that I agree.

The gist of Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist John Atkinson’s study posited that in reward-based sce­nar­ios chil­dren can gen­er­ally be bro­ken down into two cat­e­gories: those with a need for achieve­ment and those who focus on their inevitable fail­ure. In the world of SEO, the reward-based sce­nario often boils down to devel­op­ing suc­cess­ful strate­gies that max­i­mize ROI. The fear of inevitable fail­ure changes from mar­keter to mar­keter, whether it is a good old case of FOG, or fear of Google, that moti­vates deci­sion mak­ing or more main­stream fears of not being able to inter­pret or con­sol­i­date data effectively.

I know from hav­ing man­aged sites that get tens of mil­lions of vis­its from search per month that fear is a good thing and serves as a reminder that SEO is as much about play­ing offense as it is play­ing defense. One of the basic rules of thumb for nav­i­gat­ing through fear is to under­stand that we are inher­ently wired to make cog­ni­tive errors regard­less of the actual deci­sions we make. We sim­ply need to rec­og­nize what it is that we are afraid of and embrace it with this under­stand­ing in mind. The No. 1 thing search mar­keters should fear most is fear itself.

Lead­ers also need to rec­og­nize that what moti­vates employ­ees most is not salary, but auton­omy. Yet, in order for employ­ees or search mar­keters to be more autonomous, they need to know that if they fail, they are safe. They also need to not be micro­man­aged, which really tends to reflect a leader’s fear that they are not involved enough. Once this fear-based dynamic is clearly under­stood by lead­ers and their direct reports, every­one is hap­pier for it. And the results will show.

When­ever you find your­self in a sit­u­a­tion where you believe a change may neg­a­tively impact search per­for­mance, turn to the data to seek answers. If fear pre­vents you from doing some­thing, data is often the solu­tion. Per­haps this is why I enjoy work­ing at Adobe, a place where we have lots of data and loads of auton­omy too.

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