Or, The Most Important Martial Arts Business Article You’ll Read All Year…
In the first two installments of this three-part martial arts business article series, I made you aware of several online marketing trends of note for 2014. And if you haven’t yet, I suggest you go back and scan through Part I and Part II of this series to catch up.
Entropy And The Art Of Martial Arts Marketing
Now, if you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s an underlying theme to be found amidst all the trends and tips I’ve shared thus far in this article series. And, that theme is “disruption” – or, to be more specific, the disruptive nature of online marketing.
To better illustrate this, I’m going to get slightly philosophical and science-ish on you (but only briefly and to illustrate a point – so don’t tune out on me or you’ll miss something big).
In nature, and in any ecosystem really, the one thing you can count on is entropy.
Without getting too technical, entropy is the tendency of a system to degrade to such a point that the system reaches a state of equilibrium. (That’s a very simplified explanation, but it will do for the purposes of this discussion – speak to a physicist or an economist if you want the long and boring version.)
Entropy represents chaos + degradation – the epitome of a disruptive force. It always seeks to disrupt the status quo of an ecosystem, and it’s a natural process. “Natural” meaning “inevitable”, which is the key concept I want you to grasp.
So what does this have to do with marketing our martial art schools? Everything.
The Number One Marketing Trend of 2014
Whether anyone likes it or not, Google pretty much runs the internet universe at this stage of the very short history of the thing. And, regardless of whether you wear tinfoil hats and think they’re secretly building Skynet (they are), you must accept the fact that (outside of internet users themselves) they are the major disruptive force online.
And, nothing could possibly illustrate that better than what happened following Google’s Hummingbird search algorithm update in late 2013. Now for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, a search algorithm is a mathematical formula that determines what shows up in the search listings (what “results” you get) based on what you search for – in other words, it’s the math that runs the results for you.
So, when you type “martial arts classes” into Google, their massive array of Cray supercomputers (sort of) crunches the numbers based on an extremely complex mathematical formula their engineers cooked up one night while high on Red Bull and Twinkies (not really). Then, it spits out results in the form of a number of websites that might possibly be close to what you were looking for, ranked by relevance.
Now, relevance is the unicorn the good folks at Google have been trying to slay and trophy mount since Larry Page and Sergey Brin first developed an advanced computer program to search the web for pictures of naked ladies back in their dorm room at Stanford (not really, either). Relevance is a veritable watchword at Google, and it guides practically everything they do. Serving up relevant search results is not just their mission, it’s part and parcel of the entire culture of the company.
Which brings us back to Hummingbird. For years, Google had been trying to rid its search results of spammy websites, which are the result of certain enterprising and entirely amoral people attempting to game the search results so “YourViagraStore639.com” shows up at the top of the page when you type in “dating sites”.
And although Google didn’t start the whole SEO (search engine optimization) thing, they have encouraged it – much in the same way Reagan encouraged cocaine trafficking, all under-the-table-we-don’t-like-it-but-we’ll-ignore-it-for-now-because-it-serves-our-purposes-at-the-moment-so-we’re-pretending-that-we-don’t-approve-but-we-kind-of-do.
So, they sort of created their own mess. And then they had to fix it.
How Hummingbird Is Jacking Up Your Business
You can choose to hate Google all you want after you read this, but eventually I’m going to explain why this is a good thing – so don’t freak out too badly.
For years, Google trained people to search for “stuff” by typing in short sentences and query strings, which became affectionately and synonymously known as keywords and/or search terms. And, for years Google allowed website owners (and inclusively, small business owners) to believe that it would be okey-fine to optimize their wittle-ole’ websites so that they’d show up on the first page of Google for specific search terms and keyword strings.
According to Google, the problem with that arrangement was that they never really meant it to happen like that, and they’re really sorry we all thought we could try to do what they were telling us to do and expect a positive result. (Okay, I’m embellishing here. Really, they just got tired of people gaming their system.)
So, they completely replaced their search algorithm in October of last year, and pretty much wiped easy SEO off the map.
Now when you type “martial arts classes” into the Google search engine, instead of getting the exact same search results as everyone else, you get an entirely unique set of search results, based on your:
- search term
- search history
- web browsing history (I know – now we’re really getting Orwellian)
- and obviously, browser privacy settings
And, unsurprisingly, results culled from Google’s own line of products dominate the top of the search results they return for a query. At the top of the results you’ll find the paid results, which are ad spots that businesses bid on and purchase using the Google Adwords program. And directly below that, you’ll typically find the top four or five Google Maps results, also known as Google Business Pages, also known as Google + Business (because Google is the most ambiguous company on the planet).
What This Means To You
Last year around the time that Google replaced the old algorithm with the Hummingbird update, I started hearing grumbling and rumbling coming from school owners around the country.
- “Things are just really slow right now.”
- “Worst back-to-school season, ever.”
- “Our numbers are off from this quarter last year.”
And so on. But what the majority of you didn’t know was that it really wasn’t the economy. Combine that with the fact that around the same time Facebook also decided to change how it served up your posts to friends, fans, and followers, and suddenly you saw your business slowing considerably, but you had no idea why.
Why “FREE!” Marketing Is Not A Long-Term Growth Strategy For Your Business
And this, my friends, is why you cannot rely on “free” marketing methods as a viable long-term growth strategy for your business. “Free marketing” (shameless plug, I’m mentioned in that book) is merely a stepping stone to use when you’re broke to start building revenue, so you can reinvest that revenue back into doing paid marketing.
Why paid marketing? Because free marketing methods tend to be disrupted at a rapid pace in the new information economy. And, quite frankly, free marketing has always been a bust, even before the internet came along. (Honestly, how many times have you been chased off from Wal-Mart for flyering cars? Oh, stop denying it; you know and I both know it really happened.)
Well, let me rephrase that… easy free and cheap marketing methods have always been a bust. “Easy” in business is always a scam – always. Just get that through your head. Anyone trying to sell you on a trick or a way to game the system that’s supposed to put easy money in your pocket (there’s that word again) is a huckster, a con artist, a scammer.
And, pray tell, just how was SEO sold to you over these past few years? That’s right – easy and free marketing (but not by me – I’ve been telling you to focus on content for years). And you can see how that turned out.
So, Why Is This A Good Thing?
One word: “strategery.”
The Hummingbird update, and all the rest of the disruptive events in online marketing (and offline for that matter, which has been occurring since the invention of the printing press) have made it necessary for you to be strategic in your marketing efforts.
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh crap, now I have to have a strategy?”
Yes, indeed you do. And in fact, you always did. If you thought you didn’t need a viable and effective marketing strategy, then it’s because you chose to believe a very comforting and misleading fairy tale about your marketing.
You chose to believe “free + easy” could be true. So, now you can stop thinking that, and start focusing on developing a real marketing plan for your business. And, that’s a very good thing.
How To Adapt Your Marketing To The Disruptive World Of Search And Social Media
Okay, great – now that the intervention is over, how do you adapt your online marketing to the rapidly changing world of search and social media?
Well, you have to be (again) more strategic in your approach to marketing. Remember, search isn’t dead, not anymore than SEO is dead (contrary to popular belief). In fact, it’s more alive than ever. But what you need to remember is, it’s a much more complicated game than it once was.
So, you have to take a multi-pronged approach (and be willing to spend some money on your marketing for once, you cheapskate) in order to keep your business in leads. Here’s a quick shakedown of the approach you need to take:
- First, accept that you have to spend money on your online marketing. Start with traffic. That means setting aside a budget for paid traffic, with the majority of that money going to paid ads on Google and Facebook (and I’m leaning more toward Facebook these days).
- Then, focus on conversions. That means paying someone who knows marketing from marzipan who can turn your sad little website into a conversion machine. Meaning, an uncluttered design and powerful sales copy (see below – as a side note, I’ve seen what you guys are paying good money for in your websites, and most of you are wasting your money on fancy graphics when you should be spending it on tightening up your sales message).
- Hire an expert to clarify and focus your marketing message. The first person you should hire is not a rent-a-site company – it’s a good direct response copywriter. You need the right message for the right audience, and a heck of a good offer to convert site visitors to leads. Be honest with yourself if you have no clue how to make that happen, and hire someone who does have a clue to help you. You cannot skip this part if you want to succeed in your marketing.
- Use offline methods to drive traffic to your website. Stop thinking that the only way you can drive traffic to a website is using online methods. Once you’ve made that puppy into a conversion machine (think “amazing offer” + “effective sales copy”), you have every justification in the world for sending people to it using paid offline methods. Again, stop being such a cheapskate and spend some stinkin’ money on getting more customers.
- And, once it’s working – KEEP DOING IT. For goodness sakes, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone get fantastic results from their marketing, and then they stop because they’re flush with leads and sales. When I have a client who does that, I seriously want to strangle them. With both hands. So, if you want to help me avoid assault charges, by all means keep your marketing momentum going. Marketing isn’t a “nice-to-do”, it’s a “must-do”, just like paying your rent. In fact, it’s what allows you to pay your rent. So, keep it going.
That’s it for this week’s article. This may very well be the most important martial arts business article you’ll read all year long. So, why don’t you do your friends a favor and share this article, hmmm? And, be sure to post your comments and questions below.