You’re at a conference. It’s day three. Your head is pounding from the crappy wine at last night’s mixer. Your lips are blue because some air conditioning fanatic set the thermostat to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. You’re in the back row by the electrical outlet, checking email. Then, you hear the words:
“Our correlation study shows Google ranks red websites higher.” The bolded words leap out. They wrap around your cerebrum. You look up. You start typing frantically: “Red websites rank higher. Talk to design team …”
Then, the bonus: The next speaker says: “Extensive research shows four-word headlines perform better on Facebook.” More frantic typing: “Keep headlines to four words.” Dang. Your boss is going to love you.
Two weeks later, half the internet breaks out in a red rash, and Facebook is infested with four-word headlines. Why? Because Google delivers rankings; Facebook delivers engagement. They do it using algorithms.
We have to know those algorithms. But we can’t know those algorithms. So we fake it. We turn websites red. We use four-word headlines. We can do better by applying an algorithm chased by Google, Facebook and everyone else: Distance From Perfect.
Distance From Perfect
Distance From Perfect isn’t new. It’s how we stayed safe when we were skulking around on the veldt, hiding from tigers. Did that grass move? Run! Anything wrong — anything off — triggers an immediate “whoa, hold on” response.
Try this: Picture your favorite food. Imagine what it smells like. What it tastes like. Yum. Now picture the same food, covered with white furry mold, gone mushy, smelling like a sewer. Gag. That’s Distance From Perfect in action. Furry food is pretty far from perfect.
How does it feel when a web page takes 30 seconds to load? Awful. When your browser loads a nasty “page not found” message? Lousy. If you read an ad with cringe-worthy typos? Grating.
Page speed and lousy proofreading aren’t life-threatening. But like the moldy food and the shifting grass, they increase Distance From Perfect. We recoil. We find an alternative.
It’s simple. It’s common-sense. It’s what every search engine, every Social Media site, every algorithm-driven resource on the internet tries to emulate. Optimize for Distance from Perfect, and you optimize for them, too.
Don’t Take My Word For It
Search engines match the user’s query to their indexed content. Their stock price depends on it. They favor sites that minimize Distance From Perfect: sites that use the right words, sites with quality writing, fast sites and sites with a great user experience.
But this is not just about search rankings. It’s also about paid search: Google and Bing Ads look at landing pages, ad copy and ad performance. Then, they apply a “quality score.” Lower Distance From Perfect means a higher quality score. A higher quality score means lower ad costs.
It’s also about Social Media: Facebook ads applies a Relevance Score based on audience response and ad quality. They measure Distance From Perfect. Every channel pursues Distance From Perfect.
There’s No Checklist
I can’t provide a checklist for Distance From Perfect. I can provide a simple test: Will this thing I am about to do reduce Distance From Perfect or increase it?
• Adding a relevant image of your product to a social post reduces Distance From Perfect.
• Rewriting product descriptions will reduce Distance From Perfect.
• Adding a carousel of two-word “Great Service!” reviews to your homepage won’t reduce Distance From Perfect.
• Using stock video as a background on your homepage won’t reduce Distance From Perfect.
Some things are less obvious:
• Title tags appear in search results. Clearer title tags tell the user what they’ll see before they click. That reduces Distance From Perfect.
• Precise audience targeting means people who need your product see it. Win.
• Broad audience targeting frustrates people by stuffing their feeds full of irrelevant garbage. Loss.
And so on.
Distance From Perfect is relative. What’s perfect for your audience may not be ideal for mine. You don’t have to be perfect. Just get closer than your competitor.
Distance From Perfect is also additive. Single-tactic marketing no longer works. Writing 1,000 blog posts won’t get you that No. 1 ranking anymore. Out-bidding your competitors on every term doesn’t guarantee position No. 1. Matching your competitors’ Facebook post frequency won’t help if you’ve got other problems. Your marketing has to be closer to perfect than your competitors across a range of tactics.
Perfect is deliberate. You get there by examining every tactic and asking the big question (see above).
Perfect reduces friction. Fixing a broken link, reducing site load speed, adding AMP to your site all reduce Distance From Perfect. Great ad creative, awesome product descriptions or anything else that adds clarity reduces friction, too.
Perfect is a win-win. You know you’re getting closer to perfect when you’re doing things that have multiple positive effects. A faster site improves rankings, increases conversion rate and engages visitors. Win-wins are always a great way to reduce Distance From Perfect. Make those changes first.
Perfect is a process. Don’t turn Distance From Perfect into a paralyzing toxin. You don’t have to do it all at once. Close it as much as possible. Launch your improvements. Then do it again. Work steadily at it over time.
Perfect makes sense. Tactics that close Distance From Perfect make sense. A red website is idiotic if we think it’s a magical improver of rankings. But what if red triggers action? Maybe.
Distance From Perfect: The Future (And Past) Of Marketing
Marketers won’t change. We’ll all keep chasing rankings, engagement, clicks and revenue. We’ll always depend on a delivery channel, whether it’s television, Google or whatever comes next. We’re at the mercy of each channel’s algorithm.
But every channel is at the mercy of our algorithm: Distance From Perfect. Use it. It’s future-proof. It helps us choose the right tactics. It keeps us ahead of machine algorithms by focusing on a human one.