SEM Trick-or-Treat

Getting our kids ready for Halloween this year, I was struck by how some of the classic trick-or-treat archetypes reflect (define) industry personalities. Dressing up your site is very much like dressing up yourself for Halloween. It’s easy for people (and algorithms) to quickly spot how much of your appearance is based on genuine effort and how much is simply glitter.

Today’s column takes a look at how kids, search engine marketers, and their clients can both charm and scare each other — and the best way to end up with the most candy.

Just Precious!

Often, it’s their first Halloween as toddlers. They’re finally walking for themselves, and Mom and Dad have come through with the most expensive, ornate costume imaginable, leaving little Emma or Daniel looking like a diminutive Queen Victoria or Thomas the Tank Engine. But you can tell the kids just aren’t into it. They don’t get trick-or-treating, and they’d probably rather be home terrorizing the dog.

Costumes like this remind me of big-brand missteps in launching product-based microsites or a social media presence. They evidently spared no expense in creating the interface and look. What’s missing, however, is a solid connection with me, the client. I want something built around my ability to solve a problem (not to mention something completely crawlable!), not a showcase for the latest UI (define) technology.

Teenagers With Pillowcases

You’ve seen them time and again. Disaffected, antiestablishment (yet significantly pro-candy), and bored with the whole thing. They know the sun is setting on this free-candy thing and they don’t want to be left out. You open the door and they just stand there with bags open, in torn jeans and Hollister hoodies. Extra points apply when they at least acknowledge their lameness by saying something creative like, “I’m dressed as a slacker suburban teenager.”

These entitlement-driven kids represent one of the worst potential clients showing up on SEM shops’ doorsteps: clients who expect significant results but who are unwilling to take even the most elementary steps toward earning that candy:

  • “Edit body copy? That will take far too long, and legal won’t approve.”
  • “Change our architecture? You’re kidding, right? OK, I’ll try to set up a ticket.”
  • “You want access to analytics? Even I don’t have access to analytics.”
  • “But why hasn’t traffic improved?”

Hardcore, Über-Costumers

They start planning next year’s costume on November 1. They use a voice coach or maybe invent a new electronic voice-altering machine to make their Karloff impeccable. They don’t use ketchup for blood because they know it looks fake and attracts bees. They use blood for blood; it’s harder to come by, but it gets results.

If you’re an off-the-shelf costume buyer, the over-the-toppers can be really annoying, what with that community feedback, buzz generation, and all that other nonsense. Yet they’re the ones who get talked about, referred to, and consulted every year.

Tough-Love Do-Gooders

If you went trick-or-treating as a child, your memory of the worst type of treat may be similar to mine: the little bag of self-improvement, featuring an apple, a toothbrush, and dental floss. (“Are they kidding? Floss?!”) This sort of tough love is similar to the same sort of bad news that many SEM shops deliver on a regular basis:

  • “Yes, you have a blog. But a blog typically performs better when you post more than twice a year.”
  • “Yes, you have a Twitter account. But its efficacy in corporate reputation management really starts to kick in after the ‘Hasn’t updated yet!’ disappears. Oh, and you really shouldn’t protect that feed.”
  • “Yes, you sell debt consolidation services. But so do about 60 million other people. And you’ve made no serious effort at explaining to anyone why you deserve the link any more than the guy right next to you in the Yahoo Directory.”

Nobody likes this messenger very much, but the message is accurate.


It’s not just me. The ability to compare everyday people and events to online marketing phenomena is a condition with which every ClickZ columnist is afflicted. Look for me this Halloween. I’ll be riding in a broken shopping cart, begging spiders to come visit me.

Join us for a Search Engine Marketing Training in Boston, November 6 at the Hilton Boston Back Bay. Not only will you walk away with the knowledge and skills to be a successful search engine marketer, you’ll also jumpstart your career and enhance your professional know-how.

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