'Build it and they will come' is not a marketing strategy

By Andreas Pouros | 08 Oct 2007

I was watching an episode of 'Frisky Dingo', an Adult Swim animation, earlier this week where the key character, a skull-faced, deathly-white villain with a British accent named Killface, had built a $20 billion contraption called the Annihilatrix, a large rocket with a million gigatons of thrust, to propel the Earth into the Sun. He had spent all his money on this Annihilatrix and was talking to Brent and Valerie (Film Directors kidnapped to shoot his promotional video) about what he could do to let the world know about their impending annihilation. They told him, quivering with fear, that there wasn't really any budget left to let the world know about his 'instrument of your doom':

Killface: [At the Annihilatrix] "The fusion chamber alone cost nine billion. The- The- The thrusters another four. You think there's just heaps of money left over for - What did you call it!?"
Brent: "Uh- Uh- Media buy".
Killface: "Media buy!?"
Valerie: "Please don't kill us!"
Killface: "Please don't make it so appealing!"

When you're building something so awesome, surely you don't need to market it?

The analogy with New Media is an obvious one and something that we see at Greenlight all the time. A prospective client builds a website using the greatest creative minds money can buy, commissions a CMS system that costs six or seven figures, spends thousands on beautiful flash animation and super-fast database retrieval, but then the site launches and nobody new visits. Inevitably, this is the point at which the site's marketers call us, hoping that we can bring in millions of new visitors at the lowest cost-per-visitor of any medium, but with no budget to allocate to the task.

This problem seems to stem from two major fallacies.

Firstly, many marketers seem to think of SEO as something that you buy that ticks a box, at which point you can then move on and never think about SEO again, in the same way as you'd approach DDA compliance. Several SEO agencies in the UK have fuelled that perception by creating one-size-fits all SEO services that are really just about 'compliance', with commensurately poor results. Compliance is cheap - but it doesn't give you any competitive advantages and certainly doesn't give you preferential rankings. But thinking of SEO as compliance does mean you can set aside a small amount of money for some post-build SEO and think you've 'done SEO'. In reality, and assuming you've placed SEO in the hands of a respectable agency, the more you spend the more you'll get back in visitor numbers, conversions, and revenue. SEO is not a commodity; it's a highly scalable and measurable activity and should be budgeted for.

Secondly, many marketers still think of SEO as something that happens following design and build, when in reality it should be a part of both processes. Designing and building a site with SEO in mind ensures that the site will launch with the ability to tap into a vast searching audience. It also ensures that the costs of implementing differing magnitudes of SEO are known before the design and build gets underway, i.e. whilst the budget is still available for allocation. Much of enterprise-level SEO is concerned with data and site architecture and is clearly something harder to impact on following a multi-million pound flash site launch, particularly when there's no money left.

These two problems are compounded further by web development agencies and internal developers who claim to know how to optimise sites after reading a few forum threads and the odd SEO guide, only to wonder why the new site launch has not only failed to deliver new rankings, but has for some reason resulted in fewer rankings and visitors in comparison to the old site. We get lots of calls from companies in this predicament, at which point reversing much of what the web development agency or internal developers have done costs far more than if we were used as a sounding board during the initial design and development phase. Forward planning and a sensible allocation of budget to Search during design and build with people who do it for a living not only makes you money, but saves money too.

Ultimately, 'build it and they will come' is not a marketing strategy.

So, what happened to Killface and his instrument of doom? Well, he had a really great and unique product (you can't knock one million gigatons), but only had enough budget for a direct mailing campaign that went to ten thousand people. He had to get the DM agency to rush out the campaign and it went out, as with most things quick and dirty, weak and unimpressive.

Killface: "Why does it say Welcome to you are 'doom'? What does that even mean and why for God's sake is doom in quotes?
Valerie: "I don't know"
Killface: "Is this some sort of ironic doom? Is the wink implied?"
Valerie: "You know, I don't know."
Killface: "No, it isn't! So please tell me how and why I'm suddenly a laughing stock!"
Valerie: "Umm...Because you signed off on the proofs."

The Annihilatrix, with its $4bn thrusters and its $9bn fusion chamber, and its promise of 'doom' never did get its audience. With Search it's a lot easier - there's a captive searching audience just waiting for you to reach out and grab them, but you'll need to allocate an SEO budget equal to the task and make sure you don't spend it all on your very own Annihilatrix because, just like Killface, you'll only know when it's too late.

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