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January 17, 2008

Where’s Your Achilles heel?

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Well fine, I don’t actually mean yours. I mean your company’s.

Over at GigaOM, Sramana Mitra takes a look at Google and declares that its Achilles heel is its verticals. Sramana argues that Google rose to fame by creating a powerful horizontal search engine with an easy-to-use interface and (arguably) hasn’t done a great job of moving past that just yet. As a result, they’re allowing themselves to be dominated in many verticals by companies like SimplyHired, Dice and Indeed.com.

Sure, bad Google, but what about your own company? Where is it most vulnerable? Where are you losing out to competitors? Take this new year and plug up those holes. If Google can try to do it, you can too.

We all have flaws, and so do our sites. Stop painting over your mistakes and start tearing down the walls and start fresh. Sure it’s messy, but think about how pretty things will be when you’re finished!

Our Achilles heel can develop as a result of many causes. Often it’s because we haven’t been pro-active about keeping our company and services current and now we’re suddenly out of date. For example, if you’re a site selling puppies you may be surprised that users are now entering in search queries looking for information on hiring a nanny to watch their puppy while they’re at work. Of course, you have no information on your site about this because a few years ago puppy nannies didn’t even exit. And while I agree that the idea is borderline insane, if your customers are searching for it, you have to provide them with information. Otherwise your competitors will.

We actually see this phenomenon a lot inside the search engine optimization community. Some guy (or gal) knew a lot about optimizing Web sites and link building back in 1995 but now it’s 13 years later and they’re struggling to bring in clients or get renewals. Why? Because they haven’t updated their skill set or hired smart. If this is all sounding far too familiar, maybe it’s time to get your hands dirty again, to take some training courses and do some experimenting so you can reorient yourself in a brand new world. Or maybe you’ve done a good job of staying current and it’s your site design that still smells of mullet. Fix it. Either make a new hire to help you out, outsource it to someone else, or buy someone who’s making strides in the areas you’re lacking. You don’t have to build up the technology from scratch but you do have to resolve the problem.

But it’s not always your knowledge level or your site that’s holding you back. Sometimes the problems come from within. Are sales falling through due to internal communication problems? Or is there a bottleneck in your system because one department doesn’t know what the other is doing? Maybe it’s time to introduce some social computing and bring social media into the workplace. Encourage employees to use the company intranet to exchange ideas and let each other know what’s happening. Create internal client-focused blogs where each team member can let the other know what’s being done, where they’ve faced problems, and what the client is looking for.

I know at Bruce Clay we have a pretty active intranet discussion board where our SEO Analysts talk about problems, offer solutions and share old war stories. We also hold a monthly "think tank" where we get everyone together to discuss what everyone else is dealing with. It’s a great way to encourage communication and come up with new ways to help clients.

Speaking of, sometimes it’s the clients, and your inability to deal with them, that’s the Achilles heel in your operation. You haven’t trained your account managers to effectively handle the category of client we affectionately call "Crazy" and as a result it’s sucking valuable time and resources from your company. Re-train account managers on how to appease difficult clients and to diplomatically get out of sticky situations. It’s also important that sales people have been briefed on what every type of contract entails and that you’re setting realistic client expectations from the very beginning.

Every company has something that they could and should be doing better. You’re leaving money on the table by investing in search engine optimization and pay per click and yet not optimizing all the other aspects of your company. Don’t leave your Achilles heel showing. Patch it up and improve your Internet marketing strategy in the process.

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