As I write this, we have all let our breath out having learned the outcome of a presidential election and countless congressional races. Now that the task of getting elected is behind us, it is time to examine a bastion of political debate: bashing science.
Shawn Lawrence Otto writing in Scientific American (“America’s Science Problem,” November 2012) says that each of the political parties “…demands ideological conformity, even when contradicted by scientific evidence.”
I see evidence that we are doing the same in our online marketing organizations.
To an extent, the search engine marketers among us are the scientists of the Web. Ads are dismissed if they don’t generate clicks. Keywords are retired if they don’t generate searches. Campaigns are stopped if the cost of a click gets too high.
In short, decisions are made based on data.
In the online marketing world, however, things feel a bit more medieval. Myth, superstition, and the endless pursuit of cool seem to guide key online decisions. Despite the existence of amazing tools, there is an anti-science sentiment among marketers.
Like our political world, there is an attack on marketing science, and this is hurting our overall online productivity.
Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer
Fears about our products hurting us are born from a strong distrust of corporations. However, some simple high school physics will demonstrate why cell phones cannot cause cancer.
In marketing, these are the people who have a distrust of data. Many haven’t even put any measurement software on their websites. The thinking goes like this: if I don’t know the truth, I don’t have to deal with it.
These folks are falling away quickly as inexpensive analytics software is installed across the Web. However, they are being replaced by a new denialist that says, if I don’t understand it, I don’t have to deal with it.
These marketers have the tools installed, but they don’t use the information to their advantage. They distrust anything they don’t understand.
This is not a training issue as much as a confidence issue. Just because you’re not a statistics major doesn’t mean you can’t grasp analytics concepts. And if you are to believe smart people like Scott Brinker, marketers’ jobs will depend on their ability to use and apply marketing tech.
The Theory Of Creation
At the risk of insulting those of you with strong faith, I offer this view from the scientific community: there is no theory of creation that competes with the theory of evolution.
Likewise, the theory that a website is created by a single act of divine intervention is equally misguided. A website is created through evolution.
Every change is an experiment.
For each new ad group, for each new article, for each new design change — there are two important questions to ask:
- What effect will this have on my business?
- How will I know what impact it has had on my business?
The first question establishes a hypothesis. The second establishes a key performance indicator that can be tied to your analytics software.
These are the two key components of the scientific method applied to marketing. Applied over time, this process will guide the site to higher and higher performance. It will evolve to a higher and more profitable being.
Vaccines Cause Autism
When we rely on mean-spirited logic that tapes kick-me signs on the backs of cause and effect, we draw the wrong conclusions from the right information. In order to defeat laws requiring vaccinations, it was put forth that, “Some people who have autism were given vaccinations; therefore, everyone who gets a vaccination is at risk of getting autism.”
The error at the heart of this is that if A follows B, then B caused A.
A classic case of this is the assumption that the things our competitors are doing online are the things making them successful. This is often not the truth.
We don’t know if they tested their sites at all. We don’t know if their fancy new site increased or decreased sales. In short, we don’t know anything.
And if your competitors are anti-science, they don’t know anything, either.
Take your competitors’ best ideas as hypotheses, try them, and measure the results. Of course, this requires that you embrace science. But imagine finding out that something they are doing is working against them. Isn’t that juicy little secret worth a test or two?
Global Warming Is A Hoax
Perhaps the most nefarious of the denialists are those that actively campaign against the science because it doesn’t support their agenda. There is no longer any debate in the scientific community that global warming is happening. There is no debate about the role of the human race in advancing it. Yet, a campaign against it has allowed PR to trump scientific consensus.
In marketing, Avinash Kaushik labeled the person responsible for such a campaign the HiPPO, or the “Highest Paid Person in the Organization.” Decisions made for political gain, for expediency, or through raw ego, leave teams to implement marketing programs based on gut or instinct.
The stories used to ignore or debunk marketing data include:
- Everybody else is doing it.
- It’s not “on brand.”
- I wouldn’t respond to that!
- It’s not creative enough.
- Give visitors the facts and they’ll figure the rest out.
- We sell to everyone!
In short, data will not easily overcome these active campaigns of misinformation.
In some cases, you can say, “Great idea. We’ll add that to our test list.” That implies that you have a test list, which implies that you are testing, which implies that you are making decisions based on data and science.
And if you are, you may have wasted your time reading this.
Tell me in the comments about the anti-science beliefs have you seen. How did you overcome them?
Photo courtesy mindfreak
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.