You Aren't Average

Do you ever think that SEO is "obvious"? "Common knowledge"? "Pretty easy, really"?

Watch this:

In this video, "Scott" from Google asked 50 people on the street if they knew what a browser was.

Less than 8% of people surveyed did.

Many people confused a browser with a search engine. Google Chome - or Google "Crown" as one woman put it - was unheard of.

I bet you're feeling smarter than you did before you watched that video! Fact is, if you're reading this site, you're already waaaay ahead of most people in terms of internet knowledge and how it all hangs together. Pat yourself on the back.

There is a downside, however.

The Distorted Lens Of Familiarity

We see the internet through our own lens, a lens that has been honed over the years by focusing on a specific thing. We study search engines, we experiment with algorithms, we hang on Matt Cutts every word - they should have asked the people if they knew who Matt Cutts was - "Matt Coutts?", we upload sites, we research keywords, we study user behavior, we build links, and more.

Such attention to detail can provide clarity, but can also distort our view.

We need to keep in mind that most people don't see the internet as we do. Most people don't know what a browser is. Most people cannot tell a paid search result from a non-paid one. People certainly do not understand that the site they are seeing in first position may only be there because some smart SEO has helped ensure that happens.

What is "spam" to the trained SEO eye may be perfectly acceptable to the end user, so long as the user gets the answer they want.

normal people can't tell the difference between AdSense style ads and all the other links on most web sites. And almost the same number don't know what "sponsored results" on the Search Results Page are either. It's just a page of links to them. They click the ones that look like they'll get them what they want. It's that simple

Beyond the tiny web-savvy crowd, these people are your market. So it pays to put yourself in their shoes, especially when making decisions about how your site functions and displays information.

According to research conducted by the Nielsen company, the average internet user now spends 68 hours online per month. That may sound like a lot, but it only comes out to an average of about two and a quarter hours a day

You have a tiny window of opportunity. There are so many other activities, and web sites, demanding a visitors attention. The fact someone has even arrived at your site should be seen as something special.

Here a few points I've found to be true.

1. When Designing A Site, Make It Stupidly Easy To Use

Internet users spend less than one minute per page while surfing. You have roughly four seconds to get their attention. The average time spent on a page is falling, indicating that if people don't find what they want immediately, they will go elsewhere, and they can, because the supply of websites is endless. Ignore design rules predicated on the notion of information scarcity.

A user won't wrestle with your site. Web design, particularly navigation, is not the place to get clever. Web design should be no more complicated than book design. You might notice every book shares the exact same user interface. As do cars. As do bicycles. I have no idea how my car works. People have explained the workings of the internal combustion engine to me, and I nod sagely, but really, I don't have a clue. Nor do I need to know. I just turn the key and hit the pedal.

Your website design should ask nothing more of the user than a car does. Assume nothing, other than the user will point and click something obvious.

2. Make The Thing You Do Obvious

Once a person decides your page is roughly what they are looking for, you have a further four seconds to direct them to desired action or get them to continue reading. On the average web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

If you make your money via Adsense, then place Adsense prominently on your pages. If you make money selling subscriptions, make a huge button that says "sign up for a subscription here". Place it where everyone can see it on their first - and possibly only - visit. If you want people to donate to your charity, make the donate button big and bold and place it prominently on every page.

Pretty obvious, right.

But it's amazing how many sites bury what they want a user to do.

So, decide what is the one thing you want users to do, and relegate - or remove - all other distractions. The exception is a site to which users return to time and again. Make more features available to power users, but ensure there is always a clear, simple path for the first time user.

Language can also get in the way of conversions. Assuming people know everything that you do (including acronyms and industry jargon) is an easy way to passively lose sales every day. ;)

3. SEO - You Don't Need to Sweat The Small Stuff

There are people who spend their life finding and exploiting gaps in the algorithms, gaps that often exist only temporarily. I'm not one of those people. Neither is Aaron.

I think SEO is most effective when approached holistically i.e understanding how the different stages of attracting the visitor then converting them to desired action relate to one and other.

Identify the target market - keyword research and visitor profiling - and work backwards from there.

When the visitor who - and lets remember, s/he most likely doesn't know what a browser is - searches for "lemon law" - what do they really want to achieve? Do they want to find information about this topic? Do they want to buy something? Do they want to compare one service provider with another? What's really on their mind?

Sift through a list of related keywords until you can determine intent. Once you've figured out the intent, give the people the content they desire. Publish crawlable pages addressing that topic and intent, get the pages linked from other pages related to that topic and intent, and advertise your pages anywhere where your target market resides, either by buying space on high ranking sites or publishing your views, and links, on those sites. Read this.

That's SEO in a nutshell. Leave the minutiae to the hackers, unless you are one!

4. The Most Successful Stuff Replicates Something The User Already Does

Email is a killer app because it enables a user to do something they already do more easily - write letters to people.

Search is a killer app because people have always looked for information, and search makes that process more efficient.

The computer games industry is huge because people have always played games.

Facebook and Twitter are huge because they are essentially txt messaging in another format. Txt messaging is a replacement for calling people on the phone.

Skype. Amazon. Ebay. All the big, successful internet plays took an everyday task the user already undertakes, and puts that task in an online context.

These services don't ask the user to do something genuinely new. Most applications that ask users to do something genuinely new - a lot of Web 2.0 applications, for example - fail miserably for this reason. Most users don't want to do anything genuinely new.

The people who do - radical early adopters - are highly unlikely to be your target market.

Try to frame whatever you do in terms of a task a visitor already knows well. Demonstrate, quickly and clearly, how you make that task easier or more efficient.

5. Even Google Users Are Not Typical

Studies suggest that Google users tend to be wealthier than average, and have more experience with the internet than users of MSN and Yahoo. The longer people have been using the Internet, the more likely it is that Google will be their search engine of choice, are more likely to have household incomes above US$60,000 than people who use competing search engines.

Whilst these numbers are probably getting more mainstream as Google grows their market share, it pays to remember that your target market may not be using Google at all! One of the secrets of search marketing is that the conversion rates from MSN and Yahoo can blow Google conversion rates out of the water, especially if you're in the market of providing goods and services to the average punter.

A good example of this was when Aaron recently shared ad click-through rates per visitor for some large sites...with Bing in the clear lead...nearing double the rate of Google users.


In summary, the key to internet marketing is to know your audience. Really know them. It is not that people are stupid, it is that they are likely to be unfamiliar.

And remember that the average internet user is not you :)

Published: October 28, 2009 by A Reader in marketing


October 28, 2009 - 11:42am

You are so right about people not knowing how search results are ranked. A friend of mine, who's a pretty smart guy really, thought that it was an alphabetical thing! I tried not to laugh... really I did!

October 28, 2009 - 2:42pm

"It is not that people are stupid"
Blissfully ignorant, the lambs march off to slaughter. Lemmings follow each other from the cliff.
And MSN searchers click like crazy on anything shiny.
Solid post, Peter...thanks for the perspective.

October 28, 2009 - 3:26pm

When you work as an internet marketer or anything related to the online world, you sometimes forget that not everyone is on the same page. This video and post reminds me that you have to be painfully clear when dealing with any age group on an internet marketing project. If this is what people said in the city, imagine people in the middle of nowhere. Jeez.

Thanks for the fun content and interesting insight.

October 28, 2009 - 3:48pm

You put in words what has been on my mind the last year or so! It started when I was talking with an intelligent relative on the phone about the job market in Spokane, WA. The conversation went like this:

Relative: "you should come here, I see job openings that pay $250,000 a year with no internet experience and you're really good with internet stuff!"

Me: "Really, can you send me the link to this company?"

Relative: "Oh, it's easy just Google 'internet jobs in Spokane' and you'll see all kinds of them listed on Google!"

Here is an excellent FREE link bait idea...make a cartoon out of that conversation. I can visualize it, but am not an artist.

Seriously, how many of us have had to convince a business owner that they can't just pay Google to be in the number one position. One business owner, my employer at the time, challenged me on fact he BET me that he could pay a fee to get to the top of Google. He called one of those companies that sends the fax spam guaranteeing it (PPC of course!) He came to me the next week and said "Pay up, I'm at the top!" He later gave me my money back when he realized he was paying $150,000 per month to an amateur ppc manager for the number one spots on all single word keywords linked to directly to the home page.

Tom McCracken
October 28, 2009 - 5:41pm

Kind of a wake up call, thanks. =)

October 30, 2009 - 5:33am

Its easy to get lost in our own little world. Thanks for putting it back into perspective.

November 4, 2009 - 3:16pm

I like your approach, it's very true, we tend to forget that not all are familiar with the Internet. Yes, perhaps they use the Internet in their every day lives but mostly for research, gaming and downloading.

"In summary, the key to internet marketing is to know your audience. Really know them. It is not that people are stupid, it is that they are likely to be unfamiliar. "


Goran Giertz - ...
November 4, 2009 - 9:00pm

I dont think I have laughed this much for a while. Its so true, we just thought that it was people this side of the world (third world country and all), but its not its everywhere.

We often tell clients browser and they have no clue, brilliant.

November 8, 2009 - 3:05am

Very interesting!

Once I was done watching the video, I actually asked some of my friends the question:

"Which one is a better browser: Google, Yahoo or MSN?"

Apparently they all agreed that Google was the best "browser" since everyone is using Google.

It can be amazing how much people do not know about.

December 3, 2009 - 1:56pm

Interesting news that is,its true that many of common user are not familiar with internet.People are not stupid but they are lacking in knowledge

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