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Are You Minivan Racing?
When is the last time you flipped over to ESPN on race day and saw a Honda Odyssey taking corners at high speed? It doesn’t happen because minivan racing is stupid. But in our web businesses, we do it every day. We pile 9 or so whining people [who act like 8 year olds] into the car, obsess over the cupholders, and enter ourselves in the furious death race of competitive business.
In a race, you are judged in one way: how did you finish?
If you hit higher speeds, avoid crashes, navigate the twists in the road, and stick to a good plan, you significantly improve the chances of crossing the finish line first. The same goes for our websites. Good planning and research, along with good execution, means we will hugely improve our chances of winning the race.
But as we all know from our own lives, planning can be a mess, we see turns coming and people choose to ignore them, UX and IT are screaming and fighting in the back seat, each of the 4 tires are made from different manufacturers, and our engine runs on a liquid form of fear and threat of job loss or public humiliation.
The problem is that as SEOs and paid search marketers (or whatever role you play), you are all judged by the outcome of the race. But in reality, you are a passenger on the site (the site will really dictate how successful your search marketing is once people land where you send them), but you’ve been given very little opportunity to actually drive.
Search marketers need to play one of the most prominent strategic roles (perhaps more like a crew chief than the driver) when it comes to how the site is designed because they have incredible insight into why people are coming to the site, what they expect, and where the site fails to deliver on their good efforts.
But the reality is that while you’re able to adjust the position of your seat, you often have little to no real influence on site design or architecture.
How To Operate Like A Race Team
1. Plan for the curves in the road. Don’t let your research go to waste. Understand the landscape. Understand the search opportunities. Understand the competition. But most importantly, understand the vehicle you are in. A minivan can’t take a turn the same way a race car can, so plan for an appropriate path for your business.
Your conversion rate, even for a completely utopian search campaign, can only be as good as your site. Make sure that everyone is on the same page and agrees on the best approach. If people criticize your conservative approach, clearly outline the limitations of your particular ride and ask them if they want to help upgrade the business.
2. Choose a driver. You need to figure out who is going to actually have their hands on the wheel. This person has the final say on the site, and the outcomes ride on their shoulders. And everyone needs to know who this person is. In the post-mortem of each campaign/month/year, you can analyze the results and decide who else on the team could have improved their performance, but during the race, trust your driver.
3. Get your butt out of the car, unless you are the driver. You can have radio contact and pass helpful information, but your job is to prepare the driver, not freak them out and act like your mom did when you first started driving, grabbing onto parts of the car and screaming when she thought you were going to crash.
Get out of the car, stop freaking everyone out, provide helpful and accurate information in time for the driver to react, and then trust them. And if your driver is an idiot, ignoring good advice and feedback, it should be very easy to show that.
Most SEOs, for example, know all too well that the decision of whether SEO is really done on the site is ultimately not theirs. When we try to grab the wheel, all we do is frustrate the driver, frustrate ourselves, and take the car off the road.
This urge to grab the wheel is why we see the radical swings in the “most important thing we’ve ever done” all the time: Flash, cool shiny buttons, social media kamikaze, landing page obsession (while the rest of the site doesn’t look anything like them); these are all signs that someone jerked the car toward a shiny object. We just can’t do that and still be a nimble, reactive business (you never see companies like Apple, Amazon, Zappos, etc. do these types of things – they plan and execute).
If you feel like you aren’t getting the driver’s attention, the nice thing is we have all of the data we could ever want to prove that them ignoring you costs the company a lot of money. Show the missed opportunity. But please, just don’t try to steer the car from the back seat, and we should ask everyone else to do the same.
4. Get a better car. Once you have all of the extra baggage out of your car, you’ll start to realize that slow, bulky, lurking business can get a lot better. Of course, when everyone was in the car, it was impossible to use a race car. But now that you have a single driver, take advantage of the new agility and upgrade your business process so you can be more aggressive, quicker to react, more decisive, and more efficient.
We are asked to perform miracles in our minivans. It’s time that we took a step back and realized how limiting our vehicle itself is. Once we start fixing that problem, we can out-iterate, out-idea, out-maneuver, out-react, and out-perform our competition, and make it look easy.
The pivotal factor is that a lot of people can’t all be clamoring for control. It just won’t work. Use good analysis to identify the right plan, execute, analyze, and execute again. And trust that you will get the credit you deserve.
So go for it, call the minivan ugly, slow, and stupid. Make a plan to fix your site and its operations, play your critical role in the process of planning and execution, and leave them all in your dust.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.