The online space never stands still – keep raising the bar
The great thing about online marketing is that it never sit stills it’s constantly evolving, constantly shifting. Today’s billy big bollox is often tommorrows has been. Sites that don’t step up are often swept away in whatever algorithmic or quality rater review so happens to contribute to their demise.
The simple thing is this – “If you want to succeed online, then you have to make a good site” it really is that simple – add value and you’ll stand the test of time, fail to do that and you’ll perish.
I wrote a strategy document for a client about 9 months or so ago. The client happened to have a site that was related to travel. They were for all intents and purposes, a bit of a thin affiliate. To be honest at the time, I groaned about this client, in fact I sighed deeply, as I’d been there before in a past life. I’d built many a thin affiliate site adding limited value and been a little naive to think they’d all last forever.
I guess looking back, as painful as it was to see my little spam babies die a death, it taught me an important lesson about search and marketing and what’s required to keep something alive online in 2008.
I was the archetypal technology driven code solutionist, the challenge of ranking in SERPs was and still is in lots of ways all about creating the write kinds of signal, be they on the page on the domain or off the domain. My view or approach was by and large relatively simple. Create a domain and attack the aspects of the search engine systems that decided what sites lived and what sites died. The methodology was simple, look at who is there in the space and do what they do, albeit better.
Of course, that’s a simplistic overview to what is a multifaced problem – companies invest thousands of pounds paying people like me to win in the SERPs. Winning in the SERPs today on the face of it, may still appear to be a simplistic route of change the code on page and get a few links, yet when you get under the hood you realise that of course, it’s a little more sophisticated than that.
You need a site that is technically competent, that also engages your audience, without an audience you have no base, no visitors, no sales.
Create conversations get people talking
Here’s a big secret no-one knew ;0) …online marketing today is very similar to offline marketing!
You want to create a product that people want to both buy in to, and that people will keep coming back to too. You want to have products that are recognised for the value they add to the space and that stimulate debate and conversations.You want to be known in the marketplace as a leader in that field, recognised for what you give to those who buy into you.
Advertising agencies use traditional old style media to tap into our emotions and stimulate conversations and help us identify when we are out shopping in stores. Billboards, posters, leaflets all help re-enforce that familiarity created by that image of the sexy female pouting or husky hunk posing to some chilled tune in an idyllic setting using that laptop or driving that car or lounging on that new leather 3 piece suite. The idea is that we want to be those people, and that by buying those products we can. It is of course a symptom of a fucked up existence that a lot of us feel the need to do this, but it’s how it is. It’s the way society works, it drives consumerism and helps keep things ticking over – heck, why shouldn’t people get to live out their dreams, what’s wrong with a little artificially induced self actualisation, be anyone you want to be right? A huge topic in itself, yet like it or not, it’s a part of this conversation, people talk about things that are good or cool or interesting, people want to be associated with these and as a result will talk about them, be it over coffee, over a pint, at home, on the phone, the list could of course go on.
Online, it isn’t too dissimilar. Search engines are organisations run and administered by? Bingo, you got it – people. The old school way of SEO was simply about get your onsite code right and you’d rank. It then changed a little and required lots of links from wherever you could get them. It changed again and was reliant upon the quality and type of links, today it’s evolving further still.
Do search engines want to mirror societies needs and wishes?
Search engines have access to lots of metrics that tell them different things – toolbars, analytics, clickthrough rates on ads, ISP data, link graphs, bounce rates etc all contribute in one shape or form to how a search engine see’s a domain. It’s fair to conclude that a search engineer would be far more inclined to find ways to rank good content that was more difficult for SEO’s to get in and meddle with or manipulate. Only a fool would ignore the fact that search engines have accessed billions of documents and have performed numerous studies into what is a natural link graph versus what isn’t.
Whitelisting aside, you’d be a fool not to try and develop a site so that it has a natural link profile rather than one that is overtly manufactured, yet you’d be a fool if you tried to manufacture it especially when you don’t need to!
It’s not a contradictory thing, it’s simply a case of there being an effective way and a not so effective way. One way is just about links and links and links, whereas the other is about the right types of links generated in the right types of places in the right kinds of ways.
No one wants to hang in a crappy neighbourhood
If your site is shit and you really believe that you can keyword stuff or shitty productise yourself to page one of a SERP through technology and guille alone, then you are a big nutter who is wasting not only your time, but the time of every other person who lands on your sorry arsed excuse for a site, stop, build something worthy of the people who you are trying to pull. No one likes you, you are Millwall, you may not care, but others do.
People like good haunts and will tell others
If you have a good site in a niche, then you are probably adding value to that space and are already on the road to creating a good user experience. You probably already have your social share buttons similar to those you’ll see at the bottom of this post, you might already have your facebook page, your myspace page, a Bebo page – maybe you’ve gone the micro blogging route and dipped your toe into the twitter, perhaps you have a seesmic or 12second thing going on, a youtube channel, a presence in the Google Universal search serps – maybe you podcast them and stick them on itunes…
Getting down with the masses and talking with your customers
If you haven’t then what are you waiting for? Why aren’t you out there engaging with your audience? Don’t you want them to talk about your product and what it is you do? Don’t you want to develop relationships with your consumers and have them come back to you time and time again? Do you really want to be reliant on Google and the ever escalating costs of PPC for ever and a day? No of course you don’t, you want these people to come back and tell their friends, which is why you should give them the tools to do so.
Less altruistically, some businesses have discovered that Twitter is an effective way of communicating with consumers. Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) says Twitter has produced $1 million in revenue over the past year and a half through sale alerts. People who sign up to follow Dell on Twitter receive messages when discounted products are available the company’s Home Outlet Store. They can click over to purchase the product or forward the information to others.
Tools like Radian 6 are used to identfiy pinch points and conversation nodes. Opinion formers are identifed and enaged with. If a problem with a new product is identified then rather than let it grow legs and become some uncontrollable monster the social graph of the web can be quickly identified.
Companies like Google use social media in similar ways. (They aren’t just about algorithms) Matt Cutts more commonly uses his blog but also uses his Twitter account as does a colleague of his John Mueller who on occassions has reached out to users of their product, engaging with people who are having issues.
Many companies experience reputation management issues on the web, these could so often have been nipped in the bud had the companies affected had a social media plan in place. Blogs, forums, social accounts all enable for engagement with ones online user base, I’d argue that they are fundamental for any orgnisation or individual doing business on the web today.
But back to search and seo and using these signals, what do search engines get from these and why are they important?
Search Engines Signals and Social
Very recently, Google introduced a search wiki element to it’s SERPS. Lots of people have moaned and groaned and theorised so I won’t do too much of that. The point is that people can (if they so wish) change aspects of their SERPs. Personalisation has been given one more additional option.
If people like a site, they can vote it up. If a site is voted up, it’s less susceptible to any algorithmic shifts (for that user) and will therefore (for that user) have a little more stability (for that query). It’s reasonable to suggest that enough people from a diverse enough set of ISP, IP, OS and Geographical variances vote up a site on a given query then maybe, just maybe that Google too might see this as an additional signal of quality and do the same in its non personalised results. Ignoring the fact that it seems odd that people would vote up a site in a result before they clicked it of course, and you begin to see how quality really can make a difference.
Taking all of this a little step further, we only have to see the power of some sites and their ability to rank to begin to appreciate the value of social in an algorithmic sense.
If people are talking about you (linking) on platforms that are regulary spidered, then if the engines so chose to, these could be interpreted as a powerful set of social signals. That is, real people talking about real products that offer real value or the obverse as the case may be. If sites are regulary cited in social spaces be it via making the front page of social bookmarking sites like digg, or appearing in hundreds of favoutited social profiles of stumbleupon users, or via a sudden flurry of tweets from hundreds of tweeters on twitter.com then you can pretty much bet that the site being referenced has stimulated something that is discussionworthy. be that good or bad is up for the engines to determine, however the important takeaway is that it’s a safer signal of something that hasn’t been artificially manipulated by some savvy SEO,and even if it has, then the effort required to do so, is a signal in itself that the people who decided to push it so hard, felt it relevant to the queries that the site will seek to target, and subsequently rank for.
Anyways, that’s enough – thanks to David for getting me thinking about this stuff , thanks for reading, maybe you learnt something.