Defining Success

by Frank on February 3, 2010

When I was a freshman in college, I had to take a standard “Intro to US History” class.   I was one of about 300 other freshmen sitting in a large auditorium at 8am.  Down front, armed with his treasured file of outlines typed on overhead sheets, was possibly the most boring history prof I’ve ever encountered.

Now, if you know me, you know I’m a history nerd. This is a fact that thankfully was not totally apparent to Kristin until after we got married. The yellow pie in a Trivial Pursuit game? All mine. You get the idea. So you can imagine it bothered me to listen to a guy make history so boring. To me, history is drama. It’s average people doing heroic things, it’s a struggle between good and evil for the fate of humanity. It’s desperate battles and political intrigue, and a lot of accidents while the “history makers” were looking the other way.  History is a collection of stories that happened at particular places and times. And this guy was skipping the story as if the names and dates were the sum total of American History.

The prof had spent a ton of money and a ton of time getting a lot of knowledge (not to mention a few very expensive pieces of paper on his wall) and yet he was failing to do the one thing he was hired to do: pass on the historical knowledge he’d become an expert in.  He was failing because he was defining success in terms of “how many students can correctly identify the causes of the Civil War on a multiple choice scantron,” when a better metric would probably have been, “how can I make my students see why the complex causes of the Civil War matter?”

After a week of this, I walked out of class and walked into the Academic building to change my major. To me, it was tragic that American History was being so mishandled, and I suspected this particular prof was not the only one doing it badly.  So I was going to become a history prof, if only to ensure that at least some college students would graduate with at least a basic understanding of how interesting history truly is.

Of course, someone wisely suggested that I check out how much a tenured professor at a public university made after almost 10 years of higher learning, and, well, now I do internet marketing instead.

I tell you all that to explain why I’m writing this blog. I’m not writing because there aren’t already a ton of smart guys out there already writing stuff on internet marketing.  There are a lot of them, many are better than me, and I read a lot of their stuff hoping some of their awesomeness will rub off on me. I’m writing because despite the large number of awesome guys out there, the good guys are still too few in number or influence because there are still a ton of Marketing guys still have no clue what they’re doing.

An example from SEOmoz

Rand Fishkin – not usually given to venting – comments appropriately:

As a CEO, an SEO, a web marketer and a participant in social media, this drives me absolutely crazy. The very last item on the list is “conversions, ROI, etc.” If your pulse isn’t pounding, you might need to cut back on the pharmaceuticals.

He’s right – “conversion rate, ROI, etc.” are dead last in importance, while “time spent on site” is #1?  Are you kidding me?  This is the same kind of unaccountable marketing that keeps billboards cluttering up the highway.  “Hey, 20,000 people drove past my billboard (and 117 other billboards, too) on their way to work today.  That means it worked, right?

Wrong.  If you get a million page views in a month, or if your click-thru-rate on your pay-per-click ads tops 20%, that’s great!  But if that traffic doesn’t ultimately do anything but drive by your content, then the cost to build and maintain that awesome site (to say nothing of the marketing needed to drive traffic to it) is almost a complete waste.  If the traffic doesn’t “convert” (i.e. buy something, fill out a lead-gen form, interact with you in some way or take some other desired action), then your website is just another overpriced billboard on the information superhighway.

And that’s why I’m writing: too many senior marketers are spending a lot of hours away from their families and a lot of their company’s money trying to make their companies successful – and they apparently have no idea how to define success.

  • The best teacher I ever had was my high school US history teacher. He simply showed up and started telling stories, and we all loved it. We spent a week on the Barnum & Bailey circus. It was awesome, and I learned more with him than any other class I’ve ever been in.

    The worst professor I ever had was my Ancient History prof at DBU. It was the most boring thing I’d ever experienced. Cuz, you know, ancient Egypt and the Sumerians are SOOO boring. I skipped more classes than I went to, and I even overslept on the day of the final.

    To expand on your point, there are lots of people out there who know lots of stuff. But there’s only a handful worth listening to. Here’s to working our way to the latter.

    bd
    @bdunc1

  • The best teacher I ever had was my high school US history teacher. He simply showed up and started telling stories, and we all loved it. We spent a week on the Barnum & Bailey circus. It was awesome, and I learned more with him than any other class I’ve ever been in.

    The worst professor I ever had was my Ancient History prof at DBU. It was the most boring thing I’d ever experienced. Cuz, you know, ancient Egypt and the Sumerians are SOOO boring. I skipped more classes than I went to, and I even overslept on the day of the final.

    To expand on your point, there are lots of people out there who know lots of stuff. But there’s only a handful worth listening to. Here’s to working our way to the latter.

    bd
    @bdunc1

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