What the Wire Can Teach Us About SEM - Part 1 of 2

The Wire is everyone's favorite show for a reason. A deep well of characters, a sprawling narrative that felt intimate and alive, a searing critique of the drug war and a top to bottom post-mortem on the heart of a once-great city. It could only be described as, well, "Dickensian." Sorry, Gus! The Wire was one of those shows that kept you on the hook with long-developing plot lines (investigations, mergers, a series of major news reports) that typically extended over an entire season. It also delivered incredible quotes and moments of drama and comedy on a weekly basis - sometimes both in the same scene. It's what gave the show its weekly entertainment punch to go along with its historical level of sophistication and "reporting."

Here at Delegator we're big fans, and we even started using some of those quotes around the office to reference some of the things we were doing for clients related to AdWords, SEO, Analytics, and more. With a recent upswing in attention on the show (thanks Grantland!) we thought now might be a good time to share with our clients and readers what we've been talking about for years. Search Engine Marketing - As Explained by the Cast of The Wire. Sheeeeeeee...

“When you take a shot at the King, you best not miss.” - Omar Little

Omar Little

Taking aim at the number one Google ranking is a formidable task. That’s especially true when you happen to be going up against another entity that a) has a clearly more relevant relationship to the keyword than you do or b) can spend you under the table. Unfortunately for most companies, it’s not a realistic goal.

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn't try, or shouldn’t at least set it as your goal. Sometimes toppling the king is easier than you thought (just ask Marlo). But more often than not, as Wee-Bey found out, you end up eating chicken salad across from Bunk and McNulty. What is realistic for most companies is getting a few corners of their own - corners the big boys  might not know about. The way to do this in SEO is by investigating and then investing in long tail keywords. Maybe Huge Company X has the market cornered on "The Wire Posters," but you could get a real foothold in "Michael K. Williams Posters," "Omar Little Wire Posters," or "Omar Little Season 5 Posters." You won't get quite as much traffic as you would for a generic term, but the traffic you do get will be specific, and motivated to convert.

The only way to achieve a ranking like that for a competitive keyword is perfect preparation, determination in the form of time and money, and luck.

“Look the part, be the part.” - Proposition Joe

Proposition Joe

Joe came in for some ridicule from Avon when he showed up to the annual East/West showdown in full “Pat Riley” suit and tie regalia, but his commitment to looking like a “real” basketball coach helped him coach with more authority and confidence. In other words, getting the look right helped him get the job right. That, and a hired ringer. This is a lesson that can be easily applied to SEM.

Everything starts with your site design. A newcomer to your site should immediately be able to understand what you’re about and trust that you can deliver the goods. Building that initial trust element and creating a homepage that effectively funnels users to the pages you want them to hit is a complicated, multi-faceted process, but it’s a time and design investment well worth making. When you look like a “real” site, you’ll see yourself start to perform like one.

“Our job is to report the news, not manufacture it!” - Gus Haynes

Gus Haynes and Scott Templeton Season 5 of The Wire was about the breakdown of professional ethics within the main character, Detective Jimmy McNulty, as well as the august offices of the Baltimore Sun (where series creator David Simon began his career as a journalist). McNulty, frustrated with the lack of institutional support for his wire investigations, (SPOILER ALERT) fakes the presence of a serial killer by “adjusting” bodies post mortem. Scott Templeton, a hotshot up and comer at the Sun, began his career making up innocuous stories about wheelchair bound children going to Orioles games, but he eventually begins to stretch the truth about the serial killer case - he is the only reporter the “killer” ever contacts.

In the end McNulty loses his badge and Templeton wins a Pulitzer.

When you go with “black hat” SEO - SEO that attempts to get around Google standards and practices through any one of a dozen illicit strategies - you’re taking the same chance. Maybe it will work, you won’t get caught, and your business will go up, up, up. But maybe you’ll get caught, blacklisted, and penalized indefinitely in the organic results, crippling and even killing your business. Is that really a chance you want to take?

At Delegator we only do “white hat” SEO. Be very careful before getting in bed with any firm that doesn’t, and make sure that if you’re running your own SEO operation you don’t cross the line. It’s not worth risking your entire business.

“If Snotboogie always stole the money, then why did you let him play?”

“Got to. This America, man.” - McNulty and Man on Stoop

Anybody can play the AdWords game. Doesn’t matter if they don’t understand it, try to cheat it, or run their accounts into the ground. Because it depends on the quality of your site much less than the value of your dollar, it’s as open as it gets in the land of SEM. The only thing you need to play is money - Google allows you to set up your account and start spending faster than you can run down to your neighborhood game of bones (though your ROI is likely to be higher with Google). You will almost certainly need an expert to guide you through the weeds with no pain and plenty of profit.

Active AdWords management is the best way to navigate the choppy waters of paid search. Active management means going in every day and making changes, re-organizing, raising and lowering bids, and identifying and exploiting new best practices. That's the only proven way to consistently stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the wide open AdWords game.

Come back for more Wire action next week!

Part 2 of 2.