This post on SEO Moz: R0n Paul is the Snakes on a Plane of 2008 got me thinking about the goals of blog buzz and also the goals of SEO. I think there is an assumption out there that all links are good links and all blog buzz will help your product or strategy. And when I say “out there” I am talking about marketing and PR people who think that if you get enough buzz going with blog mentions or with links on traditional Web sites — what I like to call the “static” web as compared to the “dynamic” web 2.0 web — then you have succeeded in your marketing campaign.
I did not follow the snakes on a plane market outcome too close. I enjoyed the parodies and saying “snakes on a plane” is still pretty funny. I assumed that the buzz did lead to movie ticket sales. It did not. Or at least, considering the hype, it did not do as well as expected for that level of exposure. I didn’t see it in the theater, but I did Netflix it.
I agree with the analysis in the post, and want to add that the audience that actually experienced this viral marketing was probably very small. The target audience for all the snakes on a plane spoofs and discussions was most likely people like me — people who are online all work day and online after work just for fun. And for a movie to make the required huge box office numbers, you have to get more than just the geeks going to see the movie. It is an interesting exercise in viral marketing, but essentially, it did not lead to the desired user action. This action being, 100s of millions of people going to the theater to see the movie.
But I also have another takeaway from an SEO perspective — all links are not good links if they do not lead the user to take the desired action. Listings for your site in the Google SERPS are not always worth it for the link juice alone. Being #1 for a one word keyword is not more important than being number #2 for a long-tail multiple keyword query.
But none of this can be quantified as easily as the snakes on a plane viral marketing example. And part of this is because SEO is mostly about Web sites and bringing in visitors. High rankings bring in more pageviews — that is true. But is the goal of a Web site pageviews? Not for all of them. In many cases, the goal is to get the user to buy a product. And in many cases, getting a #1 listing in Google brings in pageviews, but does not lead the user to the desired action.
The goal of SEO is not to get a #1 listing, it is to lead the user to your site, so that you can offer the searcher what he or she is looking for. If the searcher is looking for something more basic than what you are offering, then a #1 listing on a basic keyword query is not going to help you reach your goal or the user reach his or her goal. So you will be wasting SEO time and bandwidth and the searcher not only is dissatisfied with the link, but perhaps even leaves the site and returns to Google with a bad opinion of your site. It’s like reverse branding.
I do still believe a viral campaign is a very powerful thing and I love links (from Google and other web sites). But I think both should be invested in prudently and efficiently to serve both you (the SEO, Web site owner, and/or marketer) and the searcher.