To celebrate the Christmas spirit, we’ve gone all Disney and pumped out our very own Christmas Carol. Apologies to Dickens, but this one doesn’t stick too close to the original. Instead, we’ve taken his seminal story and made it a parable for the past, present and future of online marketing. You’ll be entertained, you’ll be informed, and you’ll see where online marketing has come from, and perhaps, where it’s going. This post is 100% endorsed by Santa, so be a good boy or girl, and read the tale of Ebenezer Stooge.
1. The Night before Christmas
The sun had set and Ebenezer Stooge sat in front of his computer screen, clenching his fists. Outside, Christmas carols floated by, carried by the cool evening wind. Ebenezer paid them no attention. Oblivious to the coming of Christmas, he sat glued to real time Google Analytics, cursing under his breath and wiping Dorito crumbs from his paunch.
“What’s happening?” he muttered to himself. “The rankings are way down. Some aren’t even appearing in the index. What!? Some clients have even been banned completely. Gotta work this out before the clients see it. Damn it!”
Sitting in the dark room lit only by the glow of the screen, he did not notice the door behind him open slowly. A man dressed in a tattered, dirty overcoat, ripped jeans and old sandals walked silently into the room.
“You’re still doing old school black hat SEO, Eb,” the man said.
Ebenezer leapt from his chair, knocking his bowl of stale Doritos onto the floor.
“Who the hell are you?” he screamed, his voice wobbling.
“You’ve been staring at those ranking reports too long. Don’t you remember your old boss? I taught you everything you know about SEO.”
“Blake Hack! Is that you?” he said. “I haven’t seen you in ages.” Ebenezer cast his eyes over his former employer’s clothes. “What’s with the outfit, Blake? It’s a bit late for Halloween, isn’t it?”
Hack laughed loudly in the small room. “I know it’s Christmas, you idiot. This, I’m afraid, is all me. I’ve come here to warn you – it could be you, too. I was successful once. I had click through rates through the roof. Champagne dinners. The works. Now my rankings have vaporised and I sleep on a park bench. On the upside, I get to stargaze every night.”
“Are you drunk?” Ebenezer asked, backing slowly away.
“Not yet,” Hack said, tapping his pocket, knocking against a hip flask hidden beneath the fabric. “But I can get drunk anytime. The park bench isn’t going to argue. Right now I’ve got to get some lessons through your noggin. I know how you’re doing. You’re one of those suckers that got hit in the guts. I’ve seen you pulling your hair out. The same thing happened to me…”
“How do you know how I’m doing if you live on the street?” Ebenezer interrupted. “Don’t you need a computer?”
“Internet cafes aren’t just for sending emails, Eb. It’s happening everywhere. People all around the world are throwing in the towel. Now shut up and listen to what I have to say, otherwise you’ll be sharing the park bench with me. I’m going to take you on a journey tonight. You’re going to the past, the present and the future.”
“Have you got a DeLorean parked outside?”
“Don’t be a wise guy. I taught you black hat SEO, and I was damn good. I made you damn good, too. But those days are over. You’ve got to change. Now get ready.”
Ebenezer flinched as Hack stepped towards him and grabbed him by the shoulder. The room began to spin…
2. The Ghost of Online Marketing Past
Ebenezer looked around. He was sitting on the ground, a green shag carpet plush beneath him. Hack stood above him, smiling.
“Get up. We’re now in the past.”
He got awkwardly to his feet and looked at the room around him. It was dark, with one centre of light emanating from a large computer screen. The man at the desk sat back in his computer typing sporadically. Fast food containers, empty cups, and scraps of paper filled the space on his desk.
“Don’t worry, he can’t see us,” Blake said. “We’re incognito, as it were.”
Slowly, Ebenezer walked closer to the man. When he got within a metre, he yelled in his face. The man did not move.
“This is too weird. I need some answers,” Ebenezer said, panic rising. “How’d we get here? How come he can’t see us? If you can travel through time, why are you living on the street? Why…”
“Quit asking so many questions. This scenario is flimsy enough. In fact, it’s a lot like your SEO techniques. Have a look at what this guy is doing.”
They walked behind the man sitting at the desk. He sat slumped in his chair, cycling between windows on his screen: Overture; the CMS for howtomakemoney.com; an email to a copy-spinner in India, the first sentence reading, ‘I don’t care what you write, just stuff this puppy with as many keywords as you can’; and ezine articles.
Hack looked at Ebenezer. “You see what he’s doing?” he said, arching his eyebrows.
“Yeah,” Ebenezer chuckled, “Using Netscape Navigator. I haven’t seen that in years.”
“You laugh, but apart from browsers, there’s not a lot different between you and him. Maybe you don’t do article spinning anymore, but like him, all you’re concerned about is getting maximum traffic with minimum effort. You stuff pages with keywords like they were a thanksgiving turkey.”
“What’s wrong with that? That’s what works,” Ebenezer said, incredulously.
“Is it? How are those rankings going? Your clients happy with their ROI? You’ve got to face it, Eb, it’s not the old days anymore – search engines are getting smarter. People want more. Come with me. It’s time to get back to the present.”
Once again, Hack grabbed Ebenezer by the shoulder and the room began to fade.
3. The Ghost of Online Marketing Present.
When Ebenezer opened his eyes, he looked around the small office. Light filtered in from the windows, brightening the grey walls. Four people sat in front of their computers, occasionally chatting and chuckling.
He spotted Hack out of the corner of his eye and turned.
“What the hell are you doing in a Panda suit?” Ebenezer said, laughing hysterically. He raised his hand to smother his laughter, but promptly stopped. Looking down, he saw his hand was in the shape of a smooth wing, and was covered in felt. “What the hell am I doing in a Penguin suit?”
“Welcome to 2012,” said Hack, his arms outstretched. “This is what you’ve got to do if you want to succeed in online marketing.”
“What, dress up like a cute animal and mash my fingers on the keyboard?” Ebenezer said with a small sneer.
“Don’t get snotty, now. Google’s Penguin and Panda rollouts changed the game. You’ve got to embrace it to get ahead. Change has to happen, even for us SEO tragics. You’ve got to learn that now. These guys have.”
The two of them wandered from screen to screen, watching the employees working. A dark haired woman cycled between Google Adwords, a spread sheet, and a website, chatting to the small man sitting opposite her.
“I’ll have those keywords for you in a second, Bruce,” the woman said. “Then you can make some magic content.” The man smiled back.
“Just make sure it’s exciting,” a man on the other side of the room piped up. “Then I can go and earn some legit links.”
Hack turned to Ebenezer. “You see what they’re doing? They’re thinking about people, not just search engines.”
“I don’t just think about search engines,” Ebenezer pleaded.
“What else do you think about? Doritos?” Hack laughed. “Sorry, Eb, I don’t mean to be harsh. I mean, I taught you the stuff you’ve been doing. And you’re not the only one doing it. But Google’s on a mission to improve page quality and you’ve got to ride the wave.”
Ebenezer stared at the ground and then looked up. “I guess it is people that use the net…”
“Now you’re getting it,” Hack said, slapping him on the back. “Now let’s make like Marty and go back to the future.”
4. The Ghost of Online Marketing Future
Hack and Ebenezer materialised in a meeting room, the white walls dazzlingly bright. They both wobbled momentarily, unused to the hoverboards that had mysteriously appeared under their feet.
“I didn’t realise the future would be this cliché,” said Ebenezer sarcastically. “But I can’t deny it – hoverboards are pretty awesome.” He then looked himself over, relieved to be free from his penguin suit.
Around the room a team of men women sat around a large table, computer tablets in front of them streaked with fingerprints. A woman at the head of the table stood by a whiteboard, scribbling down ideas pouring forth from the people sitting at the table.
“What are they doing?” Ebenezer asked Hack.
“Real company sh!t,” Hack said. “See what it says up there on the whiteboard? Content Strategy. White Papers. Infographics. Podcasting. Blogging. I don’t need to list them all; you can read. They’re thinking long term, working out how to keep the clients at the top, how to get customers clicking through, and just as importantly, getting customers to come back again and again. They’re in the big leagues now, running marathons.”
“What’s with all the tablets?”
“We’re in the future now, Eb. What were you expecting? Holograms?” Hack smiled inscrutably.
“How’s this relevant to what I’m doing?” Ebenezer asked. “I don’t know if this is really me.”
“Of course it is. It’s a natural progression. The net is no longer just a piece of technology; it’s become part of our lives. People are so bound up in the internet; it’s only a matter of time before webpages have to start looking like they were created to help them. Brand loyalty is a thing of the past; you’ve got to create an experience they remember.”
“I guess,” Ebenezer muttered.
“Your job has always been getting the most out of the internet for your clients. That hasn’t changed. You’ve just got to look at the bigger picture now.”
Ebenezer looked around the white meeting room. He had to admit it was more attractive than what he was used to. He closed his eyes and imagined himself standing before a group of people, scribbling his horrible handwriting across a whiteboard.
5. Back to the present
When he opened his eyes he was sitting in his chair, the corn chips still strewn on the ground. There was no sign of Hack. Ebenezer scratched his head and yawned.
“I must’ve fallen asleep. What a weird dream…”
“It wasn’t a dream, you nimrod,” Hack stepped forward out of the shadows. “I just took you through time and you’re writing it off as a dream. That’s a bit weak, isn’t it?”
“So all that happened?” Ebenezer said, his eyes wide.
“More or less,” Hack answered. “So now I’ve shown you the way, let’s talk teamwork. You’ve got the hardware. I reckon we should team up. I can hardly run a business from an internet café.”
Ebenezer looked at Hack’s bedraggled appearance. “You’re gonna need a change of clothes if we’re meeting with clients about content strategy.”
Hack beamed at him. “Now you’re talking. Let’s make it happen. By the way – you going to eat those chips?”
You’ve reached the end? Good – no coal for you this year. In fact, you’ve got yourself an early Christmas present – a deeper understanding of online marketing. Just what you’ve always wanted.
To be serious for a moment, this story demonstrates what Kwasi Studios believe all inbound marketers should do. They should commit themselves to creating long-term strategies, producing content that resonates with people, and not doing things by shortcuts.
We’ll leave you with these final words of wisdom – Happy Holidays!