Predatory Thinking for SEOs

I was fortunate enough to attend BrightonSEO a couple of weeks ago – big love to Kelvin and the team for organising another fantastic event. For me the stand out presentation of the day came from Dave Trott on Predatory Thinking.

Don't panic, this is not Dave Trott.

Dave Trott is the Executive Creative Director for CSTTG. He trained on Madison Avenue at the end of the Mad Men era, when the three-martini lunch and golf course advertising was for dinosaurs, and the creative revolution was just starting. After 4 years, to avoid getting drafted for Vietnam, Dave came back to London. Some of the advertising he worked on included: Ernie the Milkman for Unigate; Aristonandonandonandon (quoted in a speech by Margaret Thatcher); Red Rock Cider with Leslie Nielsen; the Holsten Pils campaign featuring Griff Rhys Jones and dead Hollywood film stars; and a controversial multi-media campaign, made entirely for free, that helped get the Third World Debt discussed by the world s governments.

There are a whole bunch of round ups you can read for further info on Dave’s talk and the conference in general, but I wanted to focus this post purely on predatory thinking, and what that might look like for SEOs.

Dave talked a lot about creativity, achieving impact, standing out, targeting opinion formers – which, incidentally I concur with whole-heartedly, but the story that resonated most with me was this -

AMV.BBDO were being asked to pitch a TV campaign for Sainsbury’s. The metric for success was simple – they had to drive an additional £3 billion in revenue over a two year period.

Pretty tall order, huh?

How the hell do you go about delivering £3 billion in revenue? Get new customers? How? Ideas were being thrown around, criticised and rejected – the pressure was on. Then a planner piped up…

“I’ve been doing some calculations. We don’t need new customers at all. If we get every existing customer to spend an additional £1.85 every time they visit, then we’ll hit our revenue target.”

Instantly the messaging changed. Instead of focusing on attracting new customers the focus was brought back to existing ones – which are let’s face it, far easier to influence.  They recognised that most supermarket customers were stuck in a rut or ‘sleep shopping’ – buying the same things week in week out (and of course therefore – eating the same food week in week out).

They hooked up the chubby-tongued mockney and the ‘try something new today’ campaign was born.

They delivered the increased revenue in one year, rather than two.

Now, had they elected to go down the ‘new customer’ route – chances are they would have failed. Trying to directly influence where people shop is hard. You might be able to entice a new customer to visit you once, but if their nearest store is your competitor’s, you’re unlikely to be able to continue attracting them back. Food shopping is a chore – you want to get it over and done with as quickly as possible, which often times will mean that the store nearest you will win over.

However, customers who are already used to visiting your store week on week are much easier to influence. The biggest hurdle – i.e. getting them through the door, is already cleared. Persuasive messaging around eating more interesting food and learning about new types of food is something they’ll likely be receptive to.


What is predatory thinking?

Dave says it’s about changing a problem you can’t solve into one you can.

Wait, what? That sounds hard.

It’s actually easier to explain with examples – he shared several more stories on this theme:


Stopping children from littering…

In a small village, they had a litter problem. After school the local kids would buy sweets and crisps from the local shop, then go and hang out at the playing fields. Despite there being bins there, the kids would drop their litter. Nagging the kids about littering didn’t work so eventually the local shop owner decided to try a different approach. She wrote the name of the child who’d purchased the sweets or crisps directly on the wrapper. As the owner of the litter could be readily identified the kids realised they couldn’t drop litter without being caught so used the bins instead.


Don Revie the Football (or Soccer for our US friends) Manager who knew how to get the referee onside…

Traditionally in Football, the manager will make their players study their opponents in order to try to understand how they play, their tactics, their strengths and weaknesses etc. But Don (Leeds Manager) didn’t care too much about the opposing team – he cared more about the Referee. He reasoned that if his players could get the Ref onside they would get more decisions in their favour. So rather than study the opposition, Don made his players study the Referee instead. His players knew the Ref’s name, his wife’s name, the name of their kids – everything. In one season as a result of this tactic his team received 80% of the referee’s decisions in their favour. Pretty impressive given that during that time, their overly physical style of play earned them the nickname ‘dirty Leeds’.


Building Incubators that can be easily Maintained in Developing Countries…

An international development charity raised money to provide a incubators for premature babies in developing countries. Problem was they quickly broke and no one knew how to fix them. They knew they needed to approach the problem differently – someone noticed that every village seemingly had an old, clapped out 4×4 vehicle which against all odds still seemed to function just fine. Clearly the expertise was there on hand to fix up and maintain old 4x4s. So, they built incubators out of 4×4 parts so the people there would be able to maintain and fix the incubators themselves.


What might predatory thinking for SEOs look like?

It occurs to me, that the one problem us SEOs can’t solve, is Google.

Google are a commercial organisation, and they’ve already started to hit a few sectors pretty aggressively. Pre-internet, if you wanted to find a local plumber (or whatever) you’d probably head straight for the Yellow Pages (y’know when they were paper pages, not web pages). We all moved online and Yellow Pages did too. Dandy.

Then big G decided to launch Local (now Places); this must’ve hurt Yellow Pages, and other businesses like them right?

Google are moving into a lot of verticals – credit cards, insurance, flights – what’s next? Is Winter coming?


Well, that’s a problem we can’t solve. What should we focus on instead?

I was chatting a potential new client last week and he said this:

I see Google as a parasite that does it’s damnedest to get between my customers and my website…

Yep. That’s exactly it.

So what do you do?

I think you should focus your efforts on increasing branded traffic.

Branded traffic is the one thing (I think) Google are unlikely to start messing with.

They can kill the long tail. They can stick their own proprietary products at the top of the SERPs and kill your head terms. But if people are searching for your brand? They’ll be hard pushed to justify showing anything other than your own site right at the top of the organic listings.

How do you increase branded traffic?

You’re going to need to build a brand.

You’re going to need an integrated strategy – search, social, email, direct mail, press advertising, TV advertising, sponsorship, PR. You’re going to need to create content, build permission assets.


What do you think? Predatory thinking? Or ramblings of a mad woman? Hit up those comments and let me know.


 Image Credit: Predator

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18 Responses to “Predatory Thinking for SEOs”

  1. Brilliant thinking!

    We need more of these kinds of posts in the SEO blog World.

    It makes perfect sense and is what a few Strategists have said over the years, if the odds are stacked against you in battle, simply chose the battlefield where the odds are in your favour.

    Marketing a brand rather than marketing a website is surely the way to go these days.

  2. Hannah Smith says:

    Thank you Lyndon :)

    I was a little worried that some might think this is another ‘SEO is dead’ post – which I don’t think at all. I do think that things are changing though, and particularly in some sectors such as the ones I’ve highlighted above, we’ll need to adapt.

  3. Google will certainly start becoming a bigger problem for “middle-man” companies such as price comparison sites, and you can see why they would move into these verticals, where customers are searching for “price comparison sites” only to then perform their main search on a different site.

    In this instance I completely agree that the branding approach is the way forward, and companies that are successful in this, such as everyone’s favourite meerkat site, won’t feel the pinch as much when Google decides to compete.

    In these niches, relying on generic search could become very tricky in the not too distant future.

  4. Wow love this article – I was one of those feeling sorry for myself “woe is me with the big bad G” people but this is a MUCH better way of looking at it, changing the perception and way in which we work. Fantastic post thanks – I’d say this is one of the most future-proof strategies we can offer clients nowadays in this industry, building up their brand and reputation.

  5. Great article Hannah as always – and it was a fantastic speech and thinking session for me personally at brightonseo.

    I think predatory thinking is the go to route for a TRUE strategist. Strategy as a word is overused and miss-understood and I think Dave encapsulated it within a single speech perfectly.

    TO produce a strategy is to understand the problem, and then formulate a way to solve that problem. The problem should be defined and the success translated into an objective. Once you have the goal and the problem you can then use predatory thinking to create a solution that fixes the problem, which then produces success. I think this is what strategy truly is…and not the bumfluff that gets passed around.

    And if you’ve not already read it – Daves book is available on amazon in kindle and normal paper form and its amazing!

    Thanks Guys

  6. James says:

    I agree that branding is the way to go. Even if Google does try to tinker with how brands are presented there’s always word of mouth which tends to carry greater weight in the consumers eye.

    Going forwards, I think Facebook could well be the company that reinvents personal search and gets it right. Rather than simply typing a query into the likes of Yahoo, Google or Bing, search results (and recommendations) would be tailored to your queries based on the feedback a product receives from fellow Facebook users. Obviously, the more quality there is in your brand the more recommendations you’ll get.

  7. Mike Essex says:

    Absolutely spot on Hannah, and I think that’s why sites like Compare the Market will survive the recent competition from Google in their vertical. Even on non branded terms like “compare car insurance” I’m more likely to pick a brand I know than some mystery new Google property, so the “brand effect” works in two ways.

    One thing to add is that “building a brand” scares people as it sounds expensive and something only a big company can do but it isn’t. Anyone can build a brand in any size company.

  8. Paul Norris says:

    Great piece Hannah. Building a brand is definitely the only way to really cement your position on the web. Chasing keywords, as we are already starting to see, will one day be a thing of the past.

    Businesses must focus their online efforts towards building their brand and becoming an authority in their field.

  9. dan barker says:

    Thanks for the post, Hannah. Very thought provoking & interesting to chat about on twitter.

    Here’s one interesting thing I think. These are the tactics presented in the post as the solution:

    1. search
    2. social
    3. email
    4. direct mail
    5. press advertising
    6. TV advertising
    7. sponsorship
    8. PR.
    9. create content.
    10. build permission assets.

    Going down that list, someone within a company would recognise half of the first 1 as SEO (the other half being PPC), but would not consider any of the others to be purely SEO.


    1. It’s unlikely they’d think to hire someone self-identifying as an ‘SEO’ to carry out much of that activity.
    2. If you’re an ‘SEO’ – particularly within an agency – and your strategy relies on your client carrying out lots of activity in other channels – you should probably badge yourself as something other than an SEO.

  10. Gareth says:

    Absolutely! Google’s moving away from being the medium between user intent & your website to becoming a full-on provider of everything, bypassing ‘websites’ and becoming the web itself. And most people will meekly go along with it because it’s a) easy and b) fine for them.
    As for badging ourselves as something other than SEOs, I’m fine with that. A client of mine just sent me a tonne of messages from so-called SEOs who have dirtied the name to such an extent that maybe we do need another name.
    Marketers, perhaps. ;)

  11. Julie Joyce says:

    Thanks for completely upping the bar on this blog…damn it Hannah. Seriously though, this is a fantastic post. Back in the day when I was a social worker (God help us all) we called this “solution-focused thinking.” If you had a client who had to walk 2 miles to the nearest bus stop, instead of buying her a load of bus passes and an umbrella, you’d just go get her. It’s very simple but people spend loads of time whining about problems and not actively looking for a way to fix them.

  12. Ben says:

    i am new to SEO, so i still have a LOT to learn and take in but this made a lot of sense and is more relevant i think than a lot of the other “SEO” blogs out there, i found it very useful! :)

  13. Butler says:

    “You’re going to need to build a brand.”

    “search (ppc), social, email, direct mail, press advertising, TV advertising, sponsorship, PR”

    So, your predatory thinking for SEO is “don’t do SEO”…

  14. “You’re going to need an integrated strategy – search, social, email, direct mail, press advertising, TV advertising, sponsorship, PR. You’re going to need to create content, build permission assets.”

    This is something I’ve discussed before, integrated marketing. I agree with Dan on this. SEO cannot be repurposed to mean something it’s not, but good SEO’s can move onto become great marketers. If I wanted help building a brand, and needed an integrated strategy. I would not approach an SEO firm to lead the project, but I would include them as part of the solution.

    It’s never been a function of SEO to increase brand traffic. It used to drive me nuts when I saw agencies report on all organic traffic and not split out brand vs non brand, taking credit for all other departments activities, which was driving up brand.

    I totally agree on building a brand, I just don’t see someone labeled as an “SEO” managing that anytime soon.

  15. Love this post. No matter what angle you’re coming from, whether it’s “pure SEO” or under some larger marketing umbrella, attacking the problem from a different perspective can make a huge difference. Love the grocery shopping example. Thanks for the kickin’ post.

  16. Hannah Smith says:

    Sorry for the delayed response guys – thanks so much for your comments :)

    @Alan – Agreed, it’s almost certainly ‘middle-men’ or price comparison sites that are most at risk right now. As you say, some are responding to this already.

    @Charlotte – Thanks, I definitely like the future-proofing aspect too.

    @Russell – Definitely ordering the book (yes paper version) – I’m an old-fashioned girl.

    @James – Facebook has the data to make the space interesting for sure – and the whispers would indicate they’re taking search seriously; time will tell, huh?

    @Mike – Great point re building a brand doesn’t necessarily equal big budget – Dollar Shave Club are a pretty good example of brand building on a budget.

    @Paul – Thank you! I’m not sure we’ll ever stop ‘chasing keywords’ in *all* niches, but nevertheless I like the direction brand building might take us in, in terms of tactics.

    @Dan – Great debate today on twitter :) Wanted to respond here re -

    1. It’s unlikely they’d think to hire someone self-identifying as an ‘SEO’ to carry out much of that activity.

    Agreed – an SEO probably wouldn’t ‘lead’ that, but I do think an SEO could offer a valuable contribution – particularly as the lines between SEO, Online PR and Social continue to blur.

    2. If you’re an ‘SEO’ – particularly within an agency – and your strategy relies on your client carrying out lots of activity in other channels – you should probably badge yourself as something other than an SEO.

    Again I don’t disagree with you… What we call ourselves is definitely a debate for another day though :)

    @Gareth – I like marketers too; but like I said probably a debate for another day :)

    @Julie – awwww, thanks lovely

    @Ben – glad you found it useful

    @Butler – I guess it depends on your point of view. I think that lots of what we do as SEOs isn’t *just* SEO. Many of us also do PR, social etc.

    Dollar Shave Club built a brand (largely) off the back of a YouTube video and some PR outreach. Google KW Tool shows 40k exact match searches a month for their brand. The brand didn’t exist 7 months ago.

    Did an SEO do this? Nope. But is it outside the realms of possibility that one could?

    @Kieran – thanks for your comment. As I said to Dan above, I do agree with you :) Right now a client wouldn’t come to an ‘SEO’ for this sort of solution.

    @Donna – thanks so much for stopping by and commenting :)

  17. Mad woman, definitely, but a damn smart mad woman! The litter problem and the referee were brilliant! Regarding with Google, I gotta be honest that I’m still in the PREY Thinking, abiding all of its wishes and the likes.

    So glad to have stumbled upon this site. I noticed there are few SEO blogs being ran by them female species. Nice one!

  18. Robin Moore says:

    Wow! I think the approach to thinking in a new way is brilliant…. I would not have immediately thought about the solution to the Google issue being to increase brand traffic – I’d have first looked at the generic term opportunity, the long-tail, etc.

    When I am doing SEO, I tend to think in SEO ways…. I must increase my client’s rank for for good KW terms. I’ve now been reminded that this is a ‘cog in a bigger machine’ view … you are the SEO so you do the best you can do in the SEO arena.

    Seems we all need to step back occasionally, re-define our client’s challenge and then re-focus. It is the wide-angle view that makes major changes for a client…. the way I think about SEO being ‘a’ channel in the big mix has clearly not helped.

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