We are a full four weeks into the HitTailing soft beta launch, and have learned quite a lot. First of all, we achieved our main goal: keeping pace with the demand, and delivering on exactly what we promise.
Some folks have instantly embraced HitTailing in the way we intended. A few have embraced it in ways we never anticipated for its value in improving pay-per-click campaign performance. Others are on the fence, reserving judgment until they give it a try. While still others have written it off as useless–either not seeing the value, or claiming they’ve been doing it for years (two distinct groups).
For those that instantly embrace it, we’ve got a lot of folks who have been mining their log files, or attempting to do so, for years and appreciate the time-saving aspect of HitTailing. It is mostly a way of de-tech-ifying a previously techie process. Probably our biggest fan and advocate here has been Duane Forrester, a.k.a SportsGuy, from my old alma mater, Search Engine Forums (SEF)–the first SEO forum, where I was an active participant circa 1999-2001. In addition to time-savings, our special formula that goes into deriving the suggestions is most valuable. It’s the equivalent of what PageRank was in its day. He totally “gets it” the way we’d hoped.
FlyingRose, also from SEF, was the first to identify the value of HitTailing in PPC campaigns. Another seasoned SEO veteran who has PPC in his toolbox, Gary Beal, a.k.a. TheScubaGuy, unbeknownst to us plowed the keyword lists from HitTailing into his million-dollar AdWord campaigns, and had the click-through rates double, lowering his campaign cost by around $100,000. He’s been one of our biggest advocates, mostly in the impressive SEO Chat form, of fame for being the first SEO forum sites to have a PageRank checker. Gary’s feedback has been so exciting to us, that we’ve made his feature requests our top priority.
For those on the fence, we seem to get the vibe that our pitch is just a little too off the beaten track to be blindly embraced. And we respect that! One of our biggest challenges has been explaining what the heck HitTailing is. Even though I personally have been engaged in the practice since 1999, and many of my peers in the SEO field have been doing the same, it hasn’t been until Wired Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson started promoting the long tail concept that we had a convenient way to frame the discussion. It’s counter intuitive to say that keywords ALREADY leading to your site are your BEST source of competitive intelligence (as detractors like to point out). It’s also counter-intuitive to say that focusing on these terms are your surest gains in the SERPs, will attract NEW people, and will be worth it. For these folks, all we can say is give it a try. It doesn’t cost you anything, and you just may learn something.
Moving on to those who don’t see the value at all, they break down into two distinct categories. First, you’ve got folks who dismiss every point we make with a perfect counter-point. They’re good counter-points, and we’ve certainly learned that HitTailing isn’t for everyone. Some sites simply don’t produce suggestions. We suspect that these are sites that are hyper-optimized for single-word or two-word combinations. These are highly SEO’d sites with perfectly optimized pages, with just the right tags, just the right keyword densities, and just the right inbound links. These sites apparently don’t prime the pump for suggestions. And taking the steps necessary to prime the suggestion pump is too radically different from this SEO approach, that there’s no convincing them. And that’s fine. HitTailing is just one flavor of SEO–one more appropriate for people who are never going to measure their keyword densities or SEO their site much further than making a few tweaks to their blog template. HitTailing is about resilient cross-site SEO that doesn’t get hung up on hyper-optimization details–just right for the mainstream marketing world.
Of the second category of people who don’t see the value, you tend to have the other category of SEO Pro’s. These are folks who have been mining their log files for years, or extracting their full keyword lists from analytics software capable of doing that. They have their own methods of evaluating these keyword lists and deciding which to target. We say, Kudos to this group. They dismiss HitTail because they’re a very advanced group of MoFo’s with some powerful MoJo (kindred spirits). Dismissing HitTail is perfectly appropriate for this group. When we DO try to evangelize them, it’s basically on the time-saving front. We’ve developed something very akin to PageRank. Where PageRank measures the relevancy of particular pages based on “citations” (inbound links), we’ve discovered the magical criteria for evaluating keyword lists and pulling out the right ones for the suggestions tab. And over time, we’ll be refining and improving these algorithms taking more discreet, unexpected, and effective factors into account. If we play our cards right, we will win over this crowd in time through the sheer delight of the smarts represented in the suggestions that come up under the suggestion tab, and hopefully save them a little time in the process.
Finally, you have a group of SEOs who react to HitTailing like it’s a threat–as if we’re saying the need to SEO a site is over. We’re not! We’re taking advantage of the fact that blogging software does so much right for SEO that it defers the greater SEO discussion. But in delaying the broader SEO discussion, we’re also preconditioning the marketing departments of the world to be more receptive to the value of SEO as a way of “fixing” their main website content. HitTailing as Connors prescribes it only works on sites that are already optimized per the rules as we know them. And the only way to make that work is to use blogging software in the short term. But in the long term, we should be setting the stage for much more mainstream treatment of the SEO profession worldwide. It’s designed to make people start saying: “That magic that happens with HitTailing, make it happen with the rest of our site.”
So, everyone wins!
From Duane, we learned that even seasoned SEO Pros appreciate a little saved time.
From Gary, we learned that HitTailing is going to co-exist with the PPC/SEM field much more comfortably than we had anticipated… and become a main feature of HitTailing?
From Connie of ihelpyou, we learned that certain approaches to SEO were inherently incompatible with HitTailing, which just doesn’t produce suggestions on some sites, and therefore appears useless. We’re cool with that.
From Donna of SEO-Scoop and Savvy1 of ihelpyou, we learned that the pragmatic “wait and see” attitude will eventually win seasoned SEO’s over as HitTailers.
From a variety of folks, we learned that HitTailing doesn’t “feel” like anything new, because they’ve been mining their logfiles for years already, and that’s cool.
And from sites like osCommerce, DigitalPoint, and SmallBusinessBrief, we’re discovering that the appeal of HitTailing extends beyond the relatively small & close-knit SEO family–something that is necessary as we mainstream this puppy.
Collectively, with the SEO forum sites, we’ve learned that we’ve chosen the perfect fire in which to forge the HitTailing tool. A tough, hot crowd heats the iron so each hammer strike takes us that much closer to perfection. Happily, most refinements have been in the area of “positioning and messaging” because we got the basics of the tool nearly perfect. There have been almost no bugs, and amazing performance for the first 4 weeks of a soft beta launch… and in a tool that was developed by a PR firm, at that! Thanks, SEO community! You’re awesome.