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Agile marketing blocked: “Taking a guess can get me fired!”

I teach a lot of online classes at various universities, constantly explaining the Do It Wrong Quickly (now being called agile marketing) approach to the digital marketing world. In one of my classes, on search marketing, a student lamented that my coaching to experiment, to try things, to take a guess and then see what happens before doing something else wouldn’t work at all in her organization. In fact, she told me point blank, “Taking a guess can get me fired!” First off, if guessing at Internet marketing can get you fired, you might be working for the wrong person. But assuming that you can actually reason with your boss, or that you can quit before he says “You’re Fired!” and go someplace else, here are the things you need to keep in mind as to why agile marketing is so important, especially for search marketing.

It is absolutely critical that you guess at search marketing because not doing so allows you to do some very bad things:

  • Choose keywords that make no sense. Being forced to look at the right landing pages, rankings, and guessing at improvements caused you to realize that you have big problems to address, starting with the right keywords. The worst thing you can do in search marketing is to target the wrong keywords. If you are forced to tell people that you know what you are doing, then you are likely to stick with the wrong plan just to show that you weren’t an idiot without ever trying what is right.
  • Stick with dumb paid search ads. Similar to keywords, if you decide to plan out what you are going to do and stick with it, you’ll never discover the best ad, because it is never the one that you try first. Only by experimenting can you figure out what to do.
  • Assume things are OK when they are not. This is actually the worst of all of the problems, and it can happen in any kind of digital marketing, not just search. If you don’t take a guess at what improvement you will make, you have nothing to compare your actual results to, which prevents you from realizing that your improvements efforts might not be working.

The direct marketing principles underlying digital marketing are based on the idea that you project what you expect your results to be before doing anything, and then check to see whether it happened before deciding what to do next. Taking an educated guess is crucial to making the whole process work.

I know that it might feel that taking a guess is bad because you want to do something more accurate than taking a guess. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything more accurate. So, the real alternative to taking a guess is not to have any goal at all, which leads to the bad outcomes I outlined above.

I appreciate that guessing is uncomfortable, but it is more comfortable than failing–really failing in your search marketing program. None of us wants to be wrong, but accepting that we mostly get things wrong will help us to eventually get them right. The right answer will only be found by actually doing the guessing for your sites, making changes, guessing again, and seeing how you do.

Think about it this way. When you first stepped up to a bowling alley, you had no idea how to hurl the bowling ball or where to aim it. You took a guess, probably a really bad one the first time. After a while, if you kept at it, you got better at it, until you felt as though you were doing more than just taking a guess–you had an idea of where to aim and where the ball was going. You could have taken all the online courses and read all the books in the world on bowling, but you were never going to succeed by just studying–you had to do it. And it probably wasn’t very comfortable to throw the first ball–you probably felt a bit embarrassed at how badly you did it–but it was the only way to really learn to bowl.

I am making you throw the ball in search marketing. And search marketing is even harder than bowling because the ball changes shape, you can’t see the pins, and they move. And you don’t know what a strike or a spare is, so you need to predict what you expect to happen ahead of time to see whether you are doing a good job or not.

It’s very uncomfortable and very difficult. But not doing it means you are guaranteed not to win and not to improve.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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