The internet has changed everything.

There is not a business or industry today that has not been impacted by a disruption caused by the internet. The internet allows us to do things we have never been able to do before. We don’t need a fleet of cars to start our own cab company (Uber). Nor do we need to build or rent a work space (shared offices) to launch our business.

But the internet allows us to hide.

Opened and closed paper takeout containers with a pair of chopsticks, used in Chinese and Asian fast food restaurants.

We can hide behind email, website content, or things we say online because we never have to look someone in the eye while we are doing it. We also don’t know how someone reacts to our website or content we share when trying to find new customers.

At Marketing CoPilot we have been studying the patterns of content and content marketing that have slowly started to build since Google changed their algorithms roughly 24 months ago to act in favour of the human being – not the machine – with respect to search engine rankings. Things should have gotten much better for human beings because favour was being given to good content. Sadly, I don’t see many businesses rising up to meet this new opportunity. There are still a lot of bad websites with bad content that do not help a potential customer through the buyer journey.

Who is to blame? Man or machine?

My whole family had a good laugh recently when I attempted to order Chinese food over the holidays. I dutifully went online to search restaurants in my neighbourhood that would deliver to my house. I used the words, “chinese food – delivery – Unionville” to capture search results close to home. The first three results I was offered did not have helpful or easily understood websites. They were PDFs of menus, many were not in English and not one included delivery times or payment terms in a helpful way. These small businesses were clearly communicating a message to me as a consumer: “We don’t want your business.”

The fourth website I came across was well laid out, easy to navigate and had a very nice mobile interface. The content was friendly and there was a definite personality to the location offering the food and the service. It was easy to understand prices, choices and delivery times. I quickly called and placed my order with a very friendly person on the other end of the phone.

Here’s the problem with the internet…

What I had failed to figure out was that the location I called to place my order was in Unionville, Connecticut, They politely called me back 15 minutes later and explained that although it would be a scenic drive, their delivery area could not accommodate an 8 hour drive to Canada which they discovered when they looked up my address. You saw my search terms above and given that I was sitting at a browser located in Toronto, Ontario, this should have been a slam dunk. How could a website from the United States beat out websites located three blocks from my house?

Man versus Machine Logic

People hate change. It is so much easier to print a brochure or menu than it is to take the time and consider who your customer is and the journey they go on to buy a product or service. It’s hard work to figure out their actions. If I hand you a brochure, I gauge your reaction. If you are online, there is a high likelihood I am not reviewing Google Analytics, website content trends or even asking when you call me about whether my web content was useful and if it helped you. It’s easier to spend no time or effort on this stuff and hope customers don’t notice.

When I go to a website with bad content and navigation, I feel it’s screaming at me, “WE DON’T WANT YOUR BUSINESS!”

It’s time to open the container and dive in…

Here are three things we have learned to be true in the last 10 projects we have worked on with clients. They haven’t always loved this but they would all agree it’s true:

  1. Good content is hard to create because you have to figure out the other person (your customer) and not rely on your personal view of the world.
  2. You have to do the work. Understanding your customer can’t be outsourced. You need to own it.
  3. You need a process and framework from which to develop good content. You can’t make it up.

The real problem with the internet…

It has become the most important tool in our world as consumers and business people, yet we are still trying to apply old tactics to a new concept. We are stuck in a paradigm where we’d rather spend $400,000/year hiring four sales people that can network and make phone calls than spend $100,000/year investing and testing in-bound content marketing to improve the journey of the person looking us up online. Because after all, if the sales person doesn’t sell anything, we can always blame them. If the internet doesn’t work out, we have no one to blame but ourselves (or maybe the web designer who tried to deliver a new design).

The real problem with the internet is that it forces us to think differently about what we do and how we use that story to engage customers. It forces us to be easy, honest and transparent in our online conversation. It forces us to think differently about the vision for our company and what we need to say about it to an audience we can’t look in the eye.

I have often joked with clients, “Do you think that internet thing will take off?” They think I’m a bit of jokester for saying it but from the looks of most web content, lack of content marketing and the websites people are posting on behalf of their business, it’s not a stupid question. For many businesses, it won’t take off because they aren’t willing to do the work and shift their thinking.