Tuesday, October 21, 2008

WebInTravel conference: I hate that we have to choose between the customer and Google (organic search)

Today at WebInTravel Phillip Wolf and Ram Badrinathan of PhoCusWright had a round table discussion on a number of industry issues.

The first statement Phillip posed to us was
“What is best for a consumer in a website’s design and functionality is not the same as what is best for generating the best search engine results”
My answer is that this is true. When a product/marketing team for an online travel company sit a room talking about future plans (as a purist) you would want the number one thought to be “what will be best for our customer”. Unfortunately the pressure of search drives us instead to ask “what does Google need for the best organic results".

A consumer focused proposition is around choice, service, trust, price, interaction and answers. A search based proposition is around links, content , indexing, technical format and my favourite word “uniqueness”. These are no in absolute conflict but there are not the same and require a different mindset. I worry that the second mindset (search focus) is overwhelming the first (consumer focus). This pushes us to grey and (near) black hat activities harming and distracting us from the consumer experience.

I am being naïve to think that marketing and product teams will read this post and refocus away from search to the consumer. Search is just too important for that to happen. Throughout time companies have had to adjust their products away from consumer need to the marketing and distribution environment. Witness continued DVD distribution of movies over fears of download encryption and piracy. Going further back look to the victory of VHS over Beta-max despite the acknowledged technical superiority of Beta-max. It is only natural therefore that search would dominate our thinking. But it worries me. I am a consumer purist and am concerned about the unstoppable trend to design products around search compliance and maximisation rather than consumer maximisation.

What do you think? Are targeting for search and targeting for consumers incompatible?

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