If search engine optimization brings the wrong customers to the wrong pages then everybody loses.

A while ago I wanted to buy a desk phone. I searched for “desk phones” and one of the results that came up was Viking Direct. I clicked on the link, which brought me to the Viking homepage. Annoying. I then had to search on the Viking site for “desk phones” only to discover they didn’t have any. Very annoying. The exact same thing happened to me a couple of times more with Viking. The result? I now ignore their search results and buy from their competitor.

The Viking marketers treated me like traffic. I was just volume to them. Interesting what the web and illegal drugs have in common: users, traffic and HITS. It’s well known that HITS stands for “How Idiots Track Success,” and the Cult of Volume is alive and well in many organizations.

Imagine if an offline retailer said: “We want more traffic.” Okay. Let’s put a huge bin of sweets in the back of the store and advertise “FREE SWEETS!!!!” in all our shop windows. That’ll get us traffic. Let’s lie. Let’s advertise desk phones and loads of other products we don’t have. That’ll get us more traffic. And when people are in the store and have eaten the sweets and discovered we don’t have desk phones, they’ll buy … photocopiers!

I once worked with a website that gave funding to medical researchers. It was inundated with traffic it didn’t want. People were searching for diseases and finding its website and sending emails asking general medical questions and staff were very frustrated. They couldn’t trust the site statistics because they was so much of the wrong traffic. They couldn’t do their jobs properly because they were getting so many emails about things they weren’t able to help people with.

Learning Opportunities

The medical funding site ending up de-optimizing. They started only using the Latin words for medical terms and also hid many pages from the search engines. The result was that the researchers who needed them still could find them and the staff stopped getting questions they couldn’t answer.

The wrong traffic hurts. Everybody who arrives at your website and immediately realizes that you’re not where they wanted to go has the potential to think badly about you. They may avoid you in the future when they actually need you. People hate when their time is wasted.

Many web teams are blind to the make-up of the traffic that visits them. It’s just numbers. The human beings who visit are just users, traffic and HITS mixed in with artificial bots from search engines. It’s all the same. It’s all just traffic.

We have to start thinking about people instead of traffic. We have to focus on customer purpose and whether customers complete the tasks they came to our websites to complete. The higher the task failure the higher the dissatisfaction. Less traffic, more quality, more value.