Is It Possible for SEO to Be Too Targeted?

traditional marketing methods


Digital marketers and SEO experts have long touted the benefits of targeted advertising in the digital space. Through basic strategies like keyword research and data tracking, digital marketers are confident that they can zero-in on a target audience with incredible specificity. Furthermore, they can make the marketing experience a lot more personal for consumers. But to what end? Is it possible for SEO to be too targeted?

That is one of the suppositions put forth by a recent article published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). For the record, the article discusses seven reasons marketers are starting to turn their attentions back to traditional marketing methods. The last reason on the list is related to this post’s topic.

Authors Christine Moorman, Megan Ryan, and Nader Tavassoli point to scientific research suggesting two potential problems with over targeting: chasing customers away and encouraging reactance. Each warrants a bit more discussion in the attempt to understand whether SEO can be too targeted.

Chasing Customers Away

The idea of chasing away customers was explored in an ecommerce study published by Chinese researchers in 2020. That study showed that consumers were less likely to revisit an abandon shopping cart if they received an ecommerce retargeting (ECR) email too soon after abandonment. Not only that, but the researchers also observed a causal link between the time an ECR follow-up was sent and the likelihood of a consumer purchase.

In short, the more quickly consumers were retargeted, the less likely they were to purchase. The more slowly they were targeted, the more likely they were to purchase. If this holds true in ecommerce, commonsense would dictate it holds true across the entire SEO and digital marketing spectrum.

The SEO experts at Salt Lake City’s Webtek Digital Marketing says the Chinese study could suggest that over targeting consumers with marketing messages could be the digital equivalent of pestering. Do it too often and you risk chasing customers away.

Encouraging Reactance

The other potential downside of too much SEO targeting is encouraging reactance. The concept of reactance was first proposed by psychologists in late 1950s. What is known as reactance theory stipulates that people who feel constrained or manipulated to behave a certain way will purposely avoid that behavior entirely.

Applying the concept to marketing proposes that people will avoid making purchase decisions if they believe they are being manipulated into those decisions by marketers. We have all heard the jokes about Google and Facebook listening to our conversations through our phones and then targeting advertisements and posts accordingly. The truth of such jokes aside, consumers seriously wonder how their online experiences can be so targeted.

A natural reaction is to avoid the companies targeting them. That is exactly what happens according to yet another Chinese study. This study’s data indicated that over targeting could make consumers feel like marketers are telling them what they must buy rather than offering suggestions of what they could buy. Reactance is the inevitable response.

Time for a Rethink

The two studies in question raise legitimate concerns about SEO and digital marketing being too targeted. If the two study’s conclusions prove true across the board, digital marketing might not actually be returning the results we think it is. In fact, being too targeted could actually be hurting our digital marketing efforts.

Perhaps it is time for a rethink. Maybe targeting with such detailed specificity is going too far. Marketers may be badgering people to their own detriment, chasing away customers and encouraging reactance rather than delivering paying customers. Then again, the studies may be completely wrong.

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