Behind Every Search, There's A Story

This week, I was reminded why I got into this business. The timing was good, because to be honest, after being involved in too many discussions revolving around search budgets and cross-channel attribution models, I had lost touch with what I’d found so magical about online marketing in the first place. But Tim and Daniel reminded me. It’s a story worth repeating.

About a week ago, I was sitting in a boardroom trying to find an “apples-to-apples” comparison for a CMO of a huge company to help validate moving money from traditional brand-building channels into search. We had run dozens of models, compiled multiple spreadsheets, and put together at least six different slide decks. In the process we did our level best to suck all the life out of the exercise, reducing it to a colorless discussion based solely on numbers. We were trying to find that elusive formula that would allow us to compare the impact of a dollar spent on search vs. a dollar spent on TV.



This was a variation of a conversation that I’m sure we’ve all had multiple times in the last year. I guess it was a sign that digital has come of age. We were trying to subject it to the same BS that had propped up TV and print for decades.

However, in the process, we were missing something critical. And I found that something critical on the streets of San Francisco.

When I started in search, I used to get a kick from the fact that thanks to what we did, a small Mustang after-market parts retailer could outrank Ford for keywords like “Mustang parts” and increase its online business by 10 times in under a year, eventually outstripping its traditional brick- and-mortar business, which had been around for decades. Or that a small boat manufacturer in Kelowna, B.C. could rank No. 1 for “boats” and suddenly start getting inquiries from around the world. Online made things possible that had never been possible before. And that was pretty cool.

Those stories are still happening and being talked about. It’s just that they’re not happening at the boardroom tables where I’ve been hanging out lately. But then I ran into Tim and Daniel, and their story restored my faith in online marketing.

Tim and Daniel are just a couple of guys who happen to love their city (San Francisco) and wanted to find a way to afford their sky-rocketing rent so they could continue to live there.  A little over a year ago, they started a bike tour company that takes tourists through the streets of San Francisco, pointing out the little nooks and crannies that give the city its color. They’re both pretty personable guys and the tours benefit from their obvious passion for their subject. They can bring Haight-Ashbury or the Castro to life in a way that no tour book or bus tour ever could. They reduce San Francisco to a street-level, intimate love affair, exactly the way the city should be seen.

Now, as cool as that is, the story wouldn’t be worth telling unless people actually discovered the tour, allowing Tim and Daniel to keep their jobs as guides.

And that’s where the Internet comes in. Right now, their tour is the No. 1 ranked tour on Trip Advisor, with 145 reviews, all of them “excellent.” And so, because of this feedback, they top a very long list of things to do in San Francisco. They probably won’t get rich, but they will keep the business rolling and keep paying the rent. And that’s not a bad outcome for being able to do the thing you love.

I asked Daniel what the impact of the positive ranking on Trip Advisor had been, and he was positive but realistic, “It’s been pretty awesome, but as I keep telling my mom, it’s an algorithm and it might be gone tomorrow. But we’re enjoying it while we can.”

Excellent advice. Enjoy it while you can. And when the big business of search seems to suck all the fun out of life, remember that guys like Tim and Daniel are still stoked about what it can do for them.

That’s why I got into the biz.

2 comments about "Behind Every Search, There's A Story".
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  1. Joe Bencharsky from WebTraction, February 23, 2012 at 12:50 p.m.

    Hi Gord, Yes, every search has a story, and I was thinking from the perspective of the searcher not the searchee. If you can adapt your marketing message by getting inside the story of the people initiating search, then your success rate increases.

    But to speak to your point, it still amazes me that so many marketing professional still do not understand the relatively small expenses of search marketing and other digital advertising options that generate a measurable return, vs. traditional media.

    Traditional media tends to be pricier and does not give 1:1 correlations on results. And yet because managers have familiarity the the medium and the accompanying elaborate statistics that have evolved to justify traditional media, they feel comfortable with them and easier to justify decisions.

    We are almost 20 years into the internet revolutions and the marketing mind-sets are still in the broadcast/print realm. That is a huge lag time. Imagine what TV would be today if it were not generally until the 70's instead of the 50's.

  2. Kenneth Hittel from Ken Hittel, February 26, 2012 at 12:49 p.m.

    "We were trying to find that elusive formula that would allow us to compare the impact of a dollar spent on search vs. a dollar spent on TV."

    Maybe the difficulty here is that after all this time there is no number to put on the right side of the ledger -- the impact of a dollar spent on TV...

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