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Stop Ruining the Internet: Engage More, Advertise Less

Inbound Marketing

"Don't Be Evil. . . ?"

Fellow marketers, we need to talk. We've been using the Internet as a tool for evil. People are getting upset. Targeted ads are effing up everyone's user experience. Don't believe it? Let's do the numbers. ForeSee Results (on behalf of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, ACSI) recently released the latest customer satisfaction benchmarks by industry. . .things aren't looking great:

Notice that internet portals/search engines, internet news/information sites, and internet social media ranked among the lowest. ForeSee even breaks the results down by specific providers. Google, for example, received its lowest rating in the decade since the survey began--77 down from 82 on a 100 point scale. Trailing Google were Bing, Yahoo!, and MSN at 76 (down 6.2% from last year), 76 (down 2.6% from last year), and 74 (down 5.1% from last year) respectively, with AOL bringing up the rear at 71 (down 4.1% from last year).

The number one reason ForeSee cited for the decline in satisfaction:

“advertising is diminishing the customer experience, especially among search engines.”

And they're predicting a continuation of this downward trend. Does that mean marketers should end their display advertising efforts? Well, no, at least not completely. What the decline in satisfaction probably means is marketers are targeting potential customers sloppily, advertising too frequently, and engaging too little. The data is telling us that we've lost sight of the ways in which people are actually using these platforms. Search engines are massive indexes of the world's accumulated knowledge, and people use them as informational resources. In fact, 61% of people use internet search engines as a research tool when seeking information on products or services, which is probably why the average CTR for paid ads is around 2% or less. Most searchers may not be ready to buy and an ad probably seems like a money-grab to them. Social media, on the other hand is a place where individuals actively engage in conversation and open dialogue about trending media topics. 76% of Twitter users are active tweeters, rather than passive followers or consumers, which indicates that at this touch point users value conversation over conversion. On Facebook, people are generally more likely to follow brands that they're interested in, but as many as 56% of those polled responded that they either didn't pay attention to ads at all, or that ads actually interfered with their enjoyment of the site.

There's nothing surprising about the dissatisfaction people are feeling--ads by their very nature are intrusive. Especially on the web, where instant gratification is the norm. Think about your own experience. How often have you wanted to punch a hole in your computer's face when an ill-placed, irritatingly ugly ad suddenly popped up over a YouTube video you'd been watching? Or you had to scroll past the first 4-5 paid search results on Google to get to the information you were actually searching for in the first place? Or you had to wade through endless targeted ads on Facebook to see the updates you really cared about reading and responding to? Perhaps it's time we started to focus on delivering our marketing and branding messages based on user behaviors and expectations, or even our own sense of good taste. By being attentive to user expectations and employing engagement-centric marketing strategies we can make internet advertising feel less obtrusive, and we can actually more easily convert people into fully opted-in, content-aware brand advocates. Non-intrusive, two-way brand conversations are the conceptual cornerstones of 21st century advertising. Learning customers' "wheres", "whens", and "hows" will help us to counter poor or declining user satisfaction numbers like these:

Most people think internet marketers are blood-sucking leeches, shrewdly slurping the interwebs dry of its egalitarian charm for their own profit. In the words of the inimitable Mr. Daryl Hall, I can't go for that. Let's do better! Let's create magical inbound marketing experiences that delight and inspire users. The internet is a big, wacky, beautiful monster. What say we don't trash it up with tasteless display ads that do nothing for the viewer's experience. 



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