Search Marketing & the Fine Art of Nexting
This article by Howie Jacobson was originally posted on Search Engine Watch.
In “Stumbling on Happiness”, Daniel Gilbert talks a lot about the concept of “nexting.” By this, he means our subconscious habit of predicting what is just about to happen. Without this habit, he points out, we could never experience surprise or disappointment. The unexpected makes sense only if there is an “expected” for contrast.
According to research, our brains are hard-wired for nexting. We’re always making predictions about the immediate future. You, for example, already have an expectation that this sentence won’t end with a pineapple guava. Surprise! It did!
As search marketers, we must anticipate the nexting impulse in our prospects. It plays out particularly in landing page design.
Our prospects already have an idea of what our landing page will look like, based on the promise of the ad they clicked. If we disappoint or confuse them, they’ll run back to the safety of the search results page before they even give us a chance to make our case.
Try This at Home
Check out these three ads, all of which displayed when I searched Google for “self-defense.”
For each ad, notice how your brain “nexts” by imagining what the landing page will look like. When you’ve nexted all three, keep reading.
Three Landing Pages – How Well Did They Do?
1. Self-Defense Superstore
When I nexted, I saw a blue-gray design with lots of product pictures and categories, a left-side menu of product categories, and a bunch of trust symbols in the top right.
The landing page was just about exactly what I expected. The only thing that surprised me were the police officers (in the left header and the body top right), because I thought that self-defense and home security folks might not trust or appreciate government-paid law enforcement personnel.
Did you agree? Were you surprised by the landing page, or confirmed in your nexting?
2. R.E.A.L. Self Defense
Self-defense for women – I pictured a softer page, with rounded edges and perhaps a pastel or cream color scheme. With a video or photos of women taking martial arts classes, or throwing an attacker, or sticking their fingers into some bad guy’s eyes or throat. And I was expecting a professional design, neat and modern, to inspire confidence.
I was disappointed in the landing page. The design is clunky and amateurish, the background graphic looks like something that would fit on a cardboard supply store, and the word “ladies” reminded me of a finishing school. The photo was surprisingly disempowering, showing a young woman who could just as easily have been pleading as standing up for herself.
Do you agree or disagree? Did this page meet your expectations for self-defense for women?
Remember, this exercise isn’t about me or you being “right.” Our prospects are neither right nor wrong in their expectations. They just are. And as search marketers, it’s our job to calibrate to the expectations as they exist, rather than try to change them on a landing page.
3. Lethal Self Defense | The Self Defense Co.
The word “lethal” immediately triggered expectations of extremely masculine, mixed martial arts type language imagery. I saw in my mind a lot of red and black, with white text.
The page would be emotionally “hot,” triggering aggression and giving me lots of inspiration to develop “lethal” skills.
This landing page anticipated my nexting almost perfectly. The Youtube video of a Time Square street fight recorded on a phone camera surprised me, but the truncated title (“Fiance Drops 3 Disrespectful Fools Who Assaulte…”) got me curious enough to start watching.
The video itself, in its violent and gritty realism, definitely stoked some version of my own “inner warrior” (your results may vary). I suspect that many visitors to this scroll down to the sales letter in a much more open and impressionable frame of mind after watching the video.
How about you? Did this page connect with your nexting, or contradict it?
How to Anticipate Your Prospects’ Nexting
I hope you enjoyed this game – it’s one I play almost daily as I search for things online. And it’s one I recommend for all search marketers, as a way to reinforce the idea that your ads have already conditioned your prospects to a particular landing page experience. (Parker Brothers, I’m open for offers.)
So how do you go about creating “nexting-friendly” landing pages? I find it helpful to think of the ad as the façade of your business, and the landing page as the foyer, the first thing someone sees when they step inside.
You wouldn’t decorate a funeral parlor like the outside of a Hard Rock Café, or vice versa. So your façade and interior must match to reinforce your prospect’s conviction that they’ve come to the right place.
Here are two questions that can help you get this right:
- What are the most powerful words in your ad?
- What kind of feelings and experiences do those words promise the prospect?
The powerful words in the ads we looked at earlier clearly telegraph some expectations. The superstore ad is all about, well, a superstore: 700 items, the price of the lowest cost item, the return policy, the warranty, and a Better Business Bureau rating. While the items for sale may be guns and tasers and pepper spray, the experience is still shopping at an online store. The primary promise is a full store and a good user experience of shopping.
The ladies’ self-defense power words are “realistic, effective, and lifesaving.” They promise a no-nonsense, no-frills approach devoid of excessive machismo. They telegraph a clean, professional site that focuses on why this stuff works, and why just about any woman can learn the skills to protect herself.
The first power word in the lethal ad is clearly “lethal.” This goes beyond defense, into offense. The next powerful set of words is the story of the description lines: “Make your opponent wish they never messed with you!”
This goes far beyond effectiveness, into revenge. It promises a good dose of outrage (if not simple rage), and echoes the archetypal story of the weakling redeemed (think of the scrawny guy getting sand kicked in his face in the Charles Atlas ads, or the plot of Captain America, or just about any comic book hero’s origins as a victim).
Seldom does an exclamation point feel appropriate in an ad (“Free shipping!” “Order now!” “Get soft, shiny hair like nature intended with Herbal Essences!”). It does here. And the landing page amplifies that exclamation point with a gritty video and challenging, fear-based sales letter.
Your prospects are always nexting. When you keep this in mind, you can always stay a step ahead, ready to give them the feelings and experiences you’ve promised.