Lance Doesn’t Like to Play by the Rules
Lance Armstrong doesn’t play by the rules. Or at least that’s what he told Oprah. I am personally upset, not surprised, and impressed by Lance Armstrong.
I am upset, because like other people. I like to look up to heroes, underdogs, and those who succeed despite terrific odds. Lance Armstrong has one of the most impressive hero narratives of modern times. Not only was he a champion cyclist, winning the Tour de France a consecutive 7 times between 1999 and 2005, more interesting to me is how, prior to his cycling success, he battled and defeated advanced cancer.
I am not surprised by his confession to Oprah, admitting he cheated during his cycling career. I don’t believe he came clean because of any sense of guilt or remorse. In fact, I believe that the only reason that he performed, and I believe it was a performance, was in an attempt to manipulate public opinion into his favor before the US government and others take him to court. I doubt that he would have been honest without the threat of punishment. Lance’s sole goal was to save his own skin and mitigate the upcoming legal battle and claw-back law suits.
I am impressed by his ruthless pursuit of personal success. His world-class ability to believe his own B.S., while focusing on achieving only one thing; to be perceived as the best cyclist in the world at any cost. not so surprisingly are the similarities between Lance Armstrong, Black Hat SEOs, and apparently Psychopaths.
Like Lance Armstrong, a black hat SEO has a single goal. To be ranked number one in Google and other SERPs, despite any cost to their reputation or their client’s business. The thing that disgusts me with regards to black hat SEO is the lack of regard for the real costs that clients can pay due to an SEO’s negligence.
For example, someone who had a successful law practice hired an SEO because he didn’t think his ranking was high enough on Google. He hired someone that was working with hundreds of law firms, and had some good designs. I am not sure if the SEO explained the risks associated with the black hat tactics being used to promote this firm. Eventually the firm was caught by Google, penalized, and an otherwise healthy thriving law practice was forced to consider laying off staff. Because of actions taken on behalf of the firm by their trusted marketing adviser. The cost is too damn high. We are talking about people’s families, college funds and dinner on the table. With that said, what is the alternative to cheating?
Can you win by playing by the rules?
I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine who was visiting Chicago from out of town. It centered on SEO and Google’s new apparent preference for Brands and discounting of exact match domain names. He felt due to his companies drop in ranking, with an exact match domain name. He thought that because of the apparent preference for brands in his industry that Google had decided that it was no longer profitable to support the little guy. And had found favoring brands with large marketing budgets more profitable, that it’s placing de facto barriers to entry on small businesses. Allowing only the wealthy and successful brands to reach the coveted top rankings. Finally he said that “…look at sports, Lance Armstrong, the Baseball Hall of Fame lock out, you can’t win by playing by the rules.”
This got me thinking, being familiar with their website and marketing strategies. I didn’t buy it. I can understand their frustration. However, their business is lacking a distinct identity. I also that their ranking in the top ten results with still enough traffic to support a small business is more than generous of Google, however is probably due to their online business existing since before Google. I believe that they are positioned to do much better if they realize that all Google is asking, is for firms to do real marketing sh*t. The answer is yes. You can win by playing by the rules.
“Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day”
So what can a small business do to combat the big brands?
The first thing that both an existing business, and a new business just starting out should do is to ask for an independent review of their brand and customer experience. Google is on the brand band wagon, not because they want large corporations like Target & J.C. Penney’s to own their rankings like they do real estate. Google is simply following the path the charted in 1998 of attempting to offer the most relevant and useful search results to their users. This is something that they must do to remain relevant and maintain market share. What might surprise internet entrepreneurs is that marketing and advertising existed before the Internet. Wil Reynolds’s gives a great presentation regarding Real Company Stuff that goes into greater detail than I will.
Branding is part of human nature. We want the best for ourselves and our families. In Chicago, ask someone on the street where to find the best Chicago Dog? I would bet that with 90% accuracy that one of two places would be recommended Hot Doug’s or Portillo’s. Why wouldn’t Chicagoans recommend the place down the street? Because it doesn’t have the same salience of brand recognition, additionally, its cheaper for a brand to market online using their trademark as competition would be limited for “Hot Doug’s” or “Portillos”. I personally prefer Hot Doug’s, where else can you find French fries that were deep fried in duck fat?
The reason that brands exist is to differentiate from their competition to make it easy to distinguish their quality for the consumer, and to build a customer loyalty and return business. Google has moved towards rewarding organizations that have built a brand. Brands have human like character and personality that allow them to transcend products and services. If a company’s brand is perceived as unprofessional or lacking its own unique voice in the competitive environment it will not survive. Google has simply allowed the rules of the real world to apply online. Doing real company marketing is hard. That doesn’t make it impossible.
Without real value a brand is just an idea. Providing real value is the name of the game. Real value means, unique products or services. You do not want to just be another retailer of widgets. You want to be unique and different and provide a special experience that competitively you cannot get anywhere else.
The Bottom Line
It’s hard to play by the rules. However, real gains and improvements of your company brand are difficult to be taken away by a competitor. Rome wasn’t built in a day. However, it gets easier if your start building your brand and company the right way from the ground up. And yes, it is easier to cheat to get to the top; however who knows what the cost is down the road. In my experience, there is no free lunch and cheaters always get caught and end up with nothing at the end. So play by the rules, put in your sweat, blood and tears into your business. Do it right and get started without any regrets about taking a shortcut. A solid SEO campaign can take about 12 months depending on your budget and where you’re starting from.