I was sitting with the manager of a boutique hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And she showed me the hotel's Web site. “We need to change that Web site”, she said, “but I'm afraid that we'll lose our place on Google. Who knows, maybe we'll go down in the ranking”.
And my answer was: “Why do you care about Google?”
It's my question to you as well: Why do you care about Google?
You care about Google (and all other search engines) because someone told you to care, right? But why does it matter? And how does it matter? In the case of the hotel it didn't matter at all. I'll tell you why of course. Think of what you do when you're visiting a place.
You go to Google (as a customer) and you type “Hotels Buenos Aires” or “Hotels San Francisco”. And guess what comes up? Yes a list of hotels do come up. And yes, those are those are those big shot hotels that most of us could never compete with. But wait there's something else.
It's something called Trip Advisor…
And like the average tourist, I completely and totally ignore those big shot hotels and head straight to the links on Trip Advisor. And of course, I look at the ratings. I do want my hotel to be comfortable, convenient, reasonable etc. And guess what? Those 35 million folks on Trip Advisor help me make up my mind.
Google didn't help at all. Trip Advisor did.
And no matter what I (as the hotel owner) do to shake Trip Advisor off its perch, I can't do a thing. It's right there at the top. And then those snooty hotels are above it. Now all I can do, is get to the top of Trip Advisor. Ah, now there's an idea. If my hotel is really good, then all I really have to do to get to the top of Trip Advisor is get a whole bunch of testimonials (800 are better than 20). I have to get a whole bunch of high-rated testimonials.
And I have to get the folks who stayed at the hotel to write their experience on Trip Advisor. And of course Trip Advisor is no dummy, but if your hotel is legit then guess what? You'll rise to the top of Trip Advisor.
So the customer goes to Trip Advisor (and then takes a small detour to your hotel's Web site)
The customer checks out the photos on Trip Advisor and often makes a trip to your Web site. They want to see more details, it seems. But where does your Google strategy come into all of this? It doesn't. And you shouldn't care. Because as long as you're at the top of Trip Advisor (and other travel Web sites such as Venere.com etc) you'll get a steady stream of traffic to your hotel.
In this case, the hotel was doing pretty well too
They had an occupancy rate of about 80%. But that means they were empty 20% of the time. It was a really small hotel (just seven rooms) but even that 20% was costing them over $60,000 in revenues a year.
They were so fussed over the whole Google thing that they were effectively walking away from $60,000 a year. And the biggest reason they were making this mistake is that they weren't visualising the journey of their customer.
So what's the journey of your customer?
It's more than possible that you get a lot of customers from Google and other search engines. But it's also possible that you pay too much homage to the search engine gods than you should. For example at Psychotactics.com (that's our site), we get a truckload of folks from Google.
But that's just traffic. And there's a difference between traffic and customers. And our best paying customers don't mostly come from Google. We have our own “Trip Advisor”: We call them strategic alliances.
They may send us more customers than Google, or even fewer customers than Google. And yet the majority of those customers buy our products, come to our courses and stay with us for many years (some have been around since 2002).
This game of tracking the customer's route should be your top priority
Let's say you're a consultant. Now you can play with search engines all year long—or you can write a book. Look around you and you'll see several dozen new names in the world of publishing. These folks were unknown a year or two ago.
Now with their books on Amazon (and other book stores) they get lucrative contracts, speaking engagements and a whole bunch of customers coming their way—from Amazon—not from the search engines.
Of course the skeptics may have their daggers out
Every author doesn't become famous. Every Web site can't always find alliances easily. Every hotel can't climb to the top 3 (or even the top 10) in their city. And yet, it's being done.
The tiny boutique hotel is sitting at #9 in city full of hundreds of hotels. Print on demand publishing (and traditional publishing) has made the average Joe Snow into a superhero. There are hundreds and thousands, even millions of businesses that directly benefit from Google's aura.
And there are just as many who don't.
The best strategy you can have is to:
1) Track where your best customers are coming from.
2) If you're unsure, try and work out how your customers find your competition.
3) Books, Alliances, Reports etc. They all work very, very well. You just haven't been paying attention.
Most of all step into the shoes of your customer for a change.
Think like they do. Act like they do. And find out where they're coming from. You may well be surprised. They may be coming from Google after all.
(Have a look before August 8, 2010)
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Dave Navarro says
Google’s important, but shouldn’t be your end-all be-all focus.
Serve people, and the customers will keep on coming.
Brandon R Allen says
Great reminder that it’s about digging deep and really understanding how and where you should be speaking to your customers.
I agree. Google is a tool ( a pretty big one) that you may or may not need to fix what’s broken.
Some people find this hard to believe but there are companies that do millions of dollars per year (on the web) that you won’t find in the first ten pages of organic search results.
They don’t rely on organic search results for their customers.
Like you they have strategic partners, or JV partners, or they use PPC, or space ads in industry periodicals, or any one of a number of different techniques to get customers which are not dependent on Google or the other search engines.
Great insight Sean. Not only have you given me food for thought for our clients, but you’ve also made me think about marketing for my own business.
The previous comments have focused on Google, but the more important takeaway here is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and track their route. That applies to more than just your website.
Sean D'Souza says
That’s good to hear, Terry. 😉
John Hyde says
There’s a big need to educate business owners. Ask 10 business owners how they are going to get better results online and 9 of them will give an answer involving “google” or “SEO”.
This article is helping with this education process – thanks.
Phil, B&B Normandy says
We spend nothing on promotion and fill our rooms almost entirely thanks to organic search results on Google.
We also happen to be top of the regional B&B listings on TripAdvisor but that accounts for a piddling amount of business compared to organic search results on Google and other search engines.
Bear in mind that only a handful of businesses can be top of a listing on TA – where does that leave the majority in a region with hundreds of competitors? They can’t all be at the top!
Even if someone finds you through TripAdvisor, they have to search for your business on Google etc in order to contact you unless you pay TA through the nose for a business listing with contact details.
As the overwhelming majority of businesses that appear on TripAdvisor prefer not to pay the octo-vampire that is TA for a business listing, they need to be visible on Google, too!
Sean D'Souza says
Phil: That’s very good that Google works well for you. I didn’t suggest it didn’t work. I just said that blind devotion to Google doesn’t need to be in place.
In the case of this hotel, Trip Advisor plays a massive role. When you search for results on Google for travel in some countries, Trip advisor doesn’t play such a big role (e.g. New Zealand where it doesn’t work too much at all).
As I said: it’s not about testing what works for you. Google works for us, but not as much as other stuff. The article was not at all aimed at taking a potshot at Google, but rather pointing out the blindspots in our own marketing.