The Herd Mentality of Search Engine Marketing

Gerard Tollefsen - November 9, 2009

According to Wikipedia, herd mentality describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items.  This phenomenon is obvious within the search engine marketing field just as much as everything else in our daily lives.  In fact, the top 3 search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing/MSN) all seem to perpetuate the herd mentality with how they pre-load search queries when you use their engines.  Below is a screenshot from Google, when I entered a search query for my first name:

Google Search

Google “auto-filled” search queries before I started typing my last name with popular searches.  I guess Google wants me to follow the herd and select one of their suggestions.  Yahoo and Bing have the same function built into their search engines.  Maybe they are simply providing the top search results relevant to my query to make it easy for me to find what I am looking for…but how do they know what I am looking for?  Obviously Google cannot read my mind (yet), but they are willing to apply the herd mentality to provide suggestions of what I will probably click on based on what everyone else has clicked on previously.

But does following the herd when creating a marketing plan hurt or help your chance of success?  Often when I speak to clients, they feel they must be seen for all the same keywords that their top competitors are bidding on, without any data to support whether those keywords will work for their site.  They completely buy into the herd mentality without any knowledge of how those keywords actually perform.  I would not presume to know the percentage of efficiently managed campaigns versus the “set it and forget it” strategy, but based on my experience, there are plenty of pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns that need a thorough overall.  Inefficient keywords, ad copy and landing pages are much more prevalent than efficient ones, and simply copying your competitors is no way to make that determination.  If you just copy your competitors you are almost assured to make the same mistakes they are already making.

Think outside the box, be creative and do your research before blindly following the herd of your competitors.  Instead of saying “what would my competitors do”, think about what your competitors are not doing.  If you’re not careful, that herd just may run you directly into a pack of metaphorical lions waiting to devour your budget and ruin your chance for survival within the online marketing space.

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