All publicity can be good publicity

Today I’d like to bring you a fascinating tale, which does have a lesson for us all. The story is called For DecorMyEyes, Bad Publicity Is A Good Thing and it was published in the New York Times last week. If you want to read it (and I’d recommend doing so), make yourself a coffee first, because it’s an epic. Here’s the executive summary, however. A New York-based supplier of designer glasses has been building its business on allegedly being rude and threatening to customers, and seems to have done quite nicely out of it. How? It’s all about the links to your website.

The key to marketing success nowadays is increasingly being top in the Google searches for the products you sell. By all means spend millions on trade shows or on rooms of people cold-calling prospects, but nothing’s going to get you customers like a first-page position on Google. And you get a first-page position on Google either by using AdWords or by topping the “natural” search by having lots of links. Preferably links from well-regarded websites.

What the glasses supplier realised was that if you treat customers shoddily, what they do is to go online and complain. And boy, do they complain. They think they’re doing their bit to get their own back on your business. The problem is that when they write about you, inevitably they link to your website. What’s more, they link to your website from the complaints site, which in turn is held in high regard by Google, because of its wide user-generated content. Bingo! Your website gets a further boost in the Google rankings.

The owner of the business described in the New York Times story doesn’t appear to care about the deals that turn bad. The links put him right to the top of the Google results, and the sales have clearly been coming in very nicely. He’s quoted as saying: “When I fly to Las Vegas I look down and see all these houses. If someone in one of those houses buys from [me] and ends up hating the company, it doesn’t matter. All those other houses are filled with people, too, and they will come knocking.”

Now, Google would have been fully aware of this flaw in its system, but it took this story (and perhaps other publicity) to get them to introduce a workaround. In fact, perhaps in this case publicity can be bad publicity, because the gentleman concerned was arrested on Monday on charges of fraud and threatening behaviour, so he may have been better off keeping his head down. Expect people to develop ingenious ways of staying one step ahead of Google’s workarounds though. The lesson to learn is simply that getting people to write about you online should be a primary concern in marketing nowadays. Of course encouraging negative coverage isn’t a sensible strategy in industrial and scientific marketing, but investing time and effort in getting links most certainly is.

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