• Feeds are in our future
• Platforms beat web sites
Most ScentTrail Marketing readers have heard of Real Simple Syndication (RSS). RSS feeds are easy to generate from blogs, web sites and other content rich sources. Load ScentTrail’s RSS Feed feed into a reader and you get pinged when there is new content on ScentTrail.
RSS hasn’t reached its promise, but feeds are in our future. Feeds are in you future if you manage any web site. Feeds are in our future because Google wants authority. Authority comes from “curating” your information space (whatever it is). Curation is nondenominational and isn’t proprietary. This idea is a throwback to the web’s sharing roots. The web’s raison d’être was to share academic research to solve the world’s problems faster together.
You can see this original Utopian idea in many of Google’s positions. First Google said selling something without content is not as good as selling with content. This edict launched a million content marketing ships. Next Google values key tenets of Web 2.0 such as constantly refreshing user generated content (UGC). Finally Google rewards Amazon’s, Facebook’s and Etsy’s inclusive platform approach because they create “authority”, and “authority” equals a relevant place for Google to move lots and lots of traffic.
FORD(Yes or No)
Sell with content
Yes but only proprietary content
UGC easy to provide
Yes on Twitter, not nearly enough
Not by half
Ford.com is not listed for “cars” in Google. If I were the SEO manager at Ford I might say “cars” is too broad a term, so broad Ford.com doesn’t want it. There are a few problems with this logic:
- “Cars” receives 2x the monthly searches as “Ford” (Google Adwords)
- Ford isn’t an authority on cars, their authority ends with “Ford Cars”
- Platforms beat websites and REALLY beat manufacturer web sites
Could Ford rank on Google page one for the term “cars”? The answer to that question is always yes. Will Ford rank on page one for “cars”? Not likely. Ford needs an unlikely and very radical Internet marketing thinking shift to even get close.
Ford thinks they sell sculpted metal with a handful of features (very few of which are unique), or so it seems from their minor web site (any site with less than 10,000 pages in Google is minor). I think Ford.com and every other automobile manufacturer’s web site should sell the idea of cars, the story of cars. This is a strange lesson to teach people who’ve always pitched their products as answers to our dreams. Cars have never been treated as sculpted metal on TV or in print ads. Cars are the key to the American dream of rugged individual freedom. Cars are creativity and courage embodied in sculpted steel – at least this is the presentation in the incredibly expensive ads car companies keep hitting us over the head with. There is a big problem. We believe what the web and Google tells us to believe. Ford's skimpy, proprietary presence online says Ford doesn't get it. Every expensive commercial just hammers the idea Ford Doesn't Get It further into our Internet focused heads. BTW, Toyota.com has 143,000 pages in Google, not bad but still no home run.
Please don’t misunderstand this post. I’m not, nor would I ever, suggest car companies should turn advertising off. I’m suggesting the opposite. I’m suggesting car companies plow the same fields online they are already work in their ads. Why car companies think they should become stingy, proprietary and small online when they are so expansive and far reaching on TV and in print is a strange mystery. Yes Ford could rank for “cars” if they hired a few of my SEO specialist friends to do the next two things.
Cars.com isn’t the holy grail of web sites. They’ve been around a long time with most of that time on Google page one for “cars”. Cars.com and every other site on Google page one for “cars” could be on page 5 before they know it. No current “cars” Google page one site understands curation as a business idea and model. Google, on the other hand, understands curation, wants curation and rewards curators. Amazon.com is a curator. Etsy.com is a curator and Facebook is a curator.
Curators think broadly. If you are an art curator you might specialize in Jackson Pollack’s lyrical abstraction or Thomas Hart Benton’s realistic (if a tad depressing) Americana, but you NEVER eliminate all other art. In order to be a Pollack or Benton expert you must be an authority on Abstract Expressionism or depression era American painters. If you are a Pollack expert you know Jackson studied with and copied Benton early in his career long before “Jack the dripper”. Curators think expansively looking for influence across art, economics (can you say WPA?), culture, influence and history (World War II for example). You are an authority on art when you can walk and talk it from almost any dimension.
The idea of curation as a business model is hard for business to understand. Business often thinks in proprietary ways. We win by their losing right? Zero sum isn’t want Google wants because it narrows relevancy. Google wants platforms that cover every angle of cars not web sites with fewer than 10,000 pages that only talk about one kind of cars.
Google is killing what Robert Wright called “zero sumness” in his excellent and highly recommended book NonZero. Yes it is ironic that Google preaches authority and nonproprietary thinking with a 70% share, but let’s stay focused on what works best NOW. Google controls search traffic and search is an important dimension for any brand, so Ford must show up for “cars”. Ford will NEVER show up for “cars” as long as they build web sites instead of platforms and push content about their cars exclusively. Why doesn’t Ford.com discuss features, benefits and information about Toyotas, VWs and BMWs? I can hear a Ford brand manager screaming as I write this, and that is why Ford will never rank for “CARS”.
Platforms Beat Web Sites
Amazon.com isn’t a web site. Amazon is a user generated content marketing machine with over 305,000,0000 pages in Google (use site:www.Amazon.com to get a general number of pages in Google for a site). Amazon almost has one page in Google for every American. Fresh, keyword dense, intelligent content goes live on Amazon every second, every minute, every hour of every day. Ford.com has 5,000 pages in Google. In the SEM street fight that is organic search (organic is also called natural or non-paid search) who do you want to be? I want to be Amazon.com because platforms beat web sites and platforms smash proprietary manufacturer sites to bits.
My first insight into how badly platforms beat web sites came doing research in the gift space. I noticed Etsy.com had 50,000,000 pages in Google (now a little less than a year later they have 80,000,000) while RedEnvelope.com, one of my favorite gift sites, had less than 10,000. Who do you want to be in that war? Etsy.com understands platforms crush web sites. RedEnvelope.com will be lucky to make it through another holiday season.
If you don’t work in ecommerce you may be wondering what I mean by “platform”. Platforms are sites such as Amazon.com, Etsy.com, Facebook.com and Twitter.com built for search engines. Site architecture is flat and broad. You don’t have to tunnel into a platform site. They push as much content toward the surface as possible. Etsy.com is so rich in surface navigation they use email marketing to segment customers and bring them to favorite areas faster and with more “buzz” than native navigation.
In doing so, Etsy.com shows one platform liability. Pushing so much content up so high makes the environment noisy for people even as it is perfect for search engine spiders (spiders or crawlers are names used to describe the hunter-gatherer code search engines employ to index the web, to create some order out of the roughly 9 billion pages out there). Spiders vs. people is the design issue of our time. I should say it is the design issue of our time for the growing number of Internet marketers who understand how platforms crush web sites.
Ford.com isn’t being run by “in the SEM know” people. Ford thinks of its web site as supporting other marketing. Actually, and I bet a few smart marketers at Ford are starting to know something isn't right in River City. Marketing functions best the other way around. Your web site is your brand and everything else is in service to your site. Yeah but what about our showrooms, salespeople and test drives? Really, trust me car makers you don’t want to go there. Consumers of your cars will always and forever from about 1999 consume your cars more online than anywhere else. That is worth repeating and saying another way. If you don’t come up on Google page 1 for “cars” you and your hundred-year-old brand doesn’t exist.
I’m sorry to have to be so blunt, but Ford’s stock is trading at under $3.00 so being nice seems stupid. There were signs Ford was getting it. They did some cool Twitter stuff and, of all the car makers, they seemed to WANT to embrace change. This is a tough, tough change. Ford is rightfully proud of their brands. The problem is they are too proud. Their pride is causing a tremendous fall, a fall they don’t completely understand. Sitting in Detroit they must be wondering what secret, unseen bomb exploded. Google and Moore’s Law are the massive implosions that have changed Ford’s world in ways it is only beginning to understand.
Moore’s Law says computing power gets cheaper even as it becomes more powerful. Google harnessed this idea to rule the world. I understand how hard it is for Ford to be Beta to someone else’s powerful Alpha especially after ruling a kingdom for so long. The CFO at my last job was so angry at Google’s dominance and occasionally variable rules he said, “I want you to do something tomorrow.” “The only things I can make happen on Google tomorrow besides PPC are bad things,” was my apparently infuriating reply.
Time is an important part of Google’s algorithm. Once Google has your site’s update frequency and sources modeled any sudden moves and your site could be in the “spam blocks” (not a place you EVER want to be). This is why platforms are so magical. Users create great content 24/7/365. Amazon, Wikipedia and Etsy know another important user generated content fact – UGC is CHEAP. People who love you will write amazing stuff for as close to free as anything gets these days.
What Should Ford Do?
If I were on Ford's Internet marketing team, and I'm thankful I'm not, I would make these suggestions:
- Create a platform where car lovers can easily share the love
- Develop a system of social rewards
- Hand the site's keys over to a handful of trusted users (those earning the most social rewards)
- Curate a Scoop.it like mashup of feeds about cars (not just Fords)
- Listen, Listen and LISTEN some more
- When in doubt start at the top of this list and repeat every step
My first posts on saving the Ford Motor Company and Infinite Inventory, Moore's Law and Saving Ford