SEO is simple, but not easy

Yes, yes, I know. Your customers are far too busy and intelligent to use social media and, even if they do, they do not use it for business-related activity. That’s an inaccurate belief. More than two-thirds of the population of North America and Europe are actively involved in social media on a daily basis, which means it is highly likely that your customer base does use at least one medium every day.

Two bits of information came out in some conversations today regarding how to optimize search for your website. Most of the conversations were around a report on Search Engine Land where Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, confirmed what the Google algorithms look for in search engine rankings. Here are the two most important activities you can do, based on my understanding:

  1. Engaging content is the most important thing for SEO

  2. Links back to your site

The first activity is all under your control. You identify and create the content on your site and if it is self-serving, bloated and sales focused, you are probably not going to see a lot of traffic coming to your site; probably not going to see that content shared or commented on; probably not going to see customers spend much time reading it; probably going to drive people away from the site before the time spent on the site can give you any value. So invest in good content that your customers want to consume.

The second activity is mostly out of your control because it requires people to add links to your content, and you can;t make them do that… unless your content is interesting. But there is something you can do: start using social media.

Yes, yes, I know. Your customers are far too busy and intelligent to use social media and, even if they do, they do not use it for business-related activity. That’s an inaccurate belief. More than two-thirds of the population of North America and Europe are actively involved in social media on a daily basis, which means it is highly likely that your customer base does use at least one medium every day.

Even if a significant number of your customer base doesn’t use social media, however, your active presence in social media is the second most importing thing for SEO because it provides multiple links back to your site. Every time you share an article, even if it is a crappy piece of marketing dreck it represents a link back to your site. If a good customer decides to click that link, share it (most don’t read the content on the link), or comment on it, it registers with the algorithm. 

Now, the second activity could be even more crucial for you if you insist on producing marketing dreck for content because at least it adds links back to your site. But if you invest in good content, the social media presence will make it even more valuable.

So keep it in mind: Your content and your social media activity are the most important activities for boosting SEO. Everything else is a waste of time without them.


A brief history on the rise and demise of SEO

Google took the issued of keywords and shoved its priority to the very bottom of SEO and pushed paid search to a specific box on their search page. Suddenly a new group of sits were climbing rapidly to the top of the search engine… traditional media sites. Newspapers, broadcast organizations and bloggers. How could that be? Because Google had changed the algorithm priorities.

 Google has always kept the lid on the secrets of their search algorithm, but since the beginnings of online search, the secrets have leaked out and been discovered by very smart people. These people make up the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry.

There are multiple points of SEO, but from the start, key words were the most important. At first, putting the words in the header of websites was the major starting point so the SEO experts, mostly web designers, made that the primary focus of their counsel to clients. Finding what the most important words were became the definer of the successful site design.

Then Google saw how much money designers were making with this understanding and started selling key words and the designers went wild buying up key words like they were candy and using them for their own resale opportunities. The problem was that you could put ANY key words in the header, even if they had nothing to do with your company.

So Google changed the algorithm to say that for the key word to be valid, it also had to be used in the viewable content. That made it tough for designers to use the key word “President Obama” in a website about boner pills. So designers started grafting in content from other sites and scattered it through websites just to meet that requirement and people using search got pissed off that they were getting links to sites that had absolutely nothing to do with their own search. And the designers were making even more money. 

So Google instituted paid search making companies that wanted to be first in searches pay for the right to bee seen first. That was the first step in killing the importance of key words and the value of traditional SEO.

But searchers didn’t want to be slapped with dozens of ads when they did search and the resulting backlash served as a boon to social media. For the first time, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin started taking searchers away from Google, Bing and Yahoo. Something had to be done. 

Google took the issued of keywords and shoved its priority to the very bottom of SEO and pushed paid search to a specific box on their search page. Suddenly a new group of sits were climbing rapidly to the top of the search engine… traditional media sites. Newspapers, broadcast organizations and bloggers. How could that be? Because Google had changed the algorithm priorities. There are actually dozens of priorities but for our purpose, we just need to concentrate on the following six.

  1. Amount of time spent on the content

  2. Degree of comments (no comments first, one comment second … 57 comments big time)

  3. Amount of shares, likes

  4. Number of views

  5. Paid key words

  6. Unpaid key words

At present, when you talk to web designers and SEO experts, you will find they fall into two categories:

  1. Off-shore click factories that build quick and dirty websites from half a dozen templates and still focus only on key words for SEO. They are dirt cheap, promise the world and prey on small businesses. They send out massive email blasts and fill your Linkedin box with requests to connect because they “saw your profile and believe they can help your company.”  They are to be avoided at all costs.

  2. Experienced web designers/SEO companies that continue to make a good living off of small to large company management who think they know how everything works. These service providers know what the story is, but they follow the philosophy that the customer is always right so they will deliver only what is expected. Their costs range from reasonable to very high and they can be directed, grudgingly, to do the right thing if you know what to tell them.

Footwasher Media won’t work with the first because we know the way only leads to pain and suffering. We will work with the second as long as they realize that we are not going to be taking the easy way. The recalcitrant providers are not on our list, nor are customers who insist on letting them do what they want. 

Keep in mind, however, that neither group are content strategists or providers. They take only the content provided them by the customer. That’s you. If you know how to create engaging content that delivers results, you are on your way to greatness.

If you’re not, contact us.

The AHA! Moment

Almost every company describes themselves to the customer base almost exactly the same way. Customers are left to make up their own minds and without any differentiation they make the same choices: the one they know that costs the least.

Every company is unique.  Every company has something that sets them apart from all the others.  Products and services have been developed with care and dedication.  But almost every company describes themselves to the customer base almost exactly the same way.  The same phrases, same buzzwords, same claims, same features, same keywords.  Customers are left to make up their own minds and without any differentiation they make the same choices: the one they know that costs the least.

The companies believe their products and services are their differentiators, and they would be right… from their perspective.  The customers, however, have no idea what it is that sets those products apart because they are described the same. Differentiated-red-apple

A company may decide to invest in marketing and technology to grab the attention of a significant portion of the market, raising their visibility to the level of the market leaders, but they will still fill that communication pipeline with the same phrases, same buzzwords, same claims, same features, same keywords as those leaders. The customers have only the option of price to differentiate.

How do you break the cycle?

First, find an uncrowded, interactive communication pipeline to grab attention.  For example, everyone uses Youtube, or Vimeo or Brightcove to disseminate video, but all of the most used video platforms are crowded, minimally interactive, and filled with a lot of repetitive information.  They deliver basic information about viewers, but very little, truly valuable information… like who the heck are these people and how can you contact them.  There are technologies that will give you significant information about each viewer and their preferences; allow you to create a conversation with your most likely customer and find out what they need to know that sets you apart from the crowd, demonstrate your true value and minimize popularity and cost from the decision process.

Second, find out what makes you different… AND THEN SAY IT!  Here’s how you figure that out: Grampy-A-Ha-320

Your customers don’t care about your technology and that you adhere to the same standards as everyone else.  Knowing your technology doesn’t help them.  What makes you different is that you solve their problem.  Show that you actually understand their problem because you spent some time listening to them.  When you find them, ask them questions.  Get a clear idea what they are facing.  Remember, everyone is different, so offering them a solution based on what you assume is everyone’s problem says you don’t think they are unique.  In fact, they may not be, but you have to make them think they are.  What comes out of that conversation will be a story that will resonate will many potential customers; customers who will say, “Hey, this company gets it.  Let’s find out more.”

That is the AHA! moment you need, the thing that differentiates you and makes you into the rarest of all companies: The customer-focused company.  

More to come.

(Are you ready to create the moment for your customers.  Ask for a free consultation here.)

Is content driving your media strategy or dragging it down?

Lots of journalists have a hard time distinguishing what is good content (in other words, stuff that people will read and watch) and what they actually produce.

Facebook recently announced it would be "punishing" users with bad content by driving it out of friends and followers news feeds. Reports are coming in that most marketers have no idea if their content is actually effective.  More experts are saying there is an extreme disconnect between "best practice" SEO and good content.

And it goes beyond marketing.  Lots of journalists have a hard time distinguishing what is good content (in other words, stuff that people will read and watch) and what they actually produce.  A couple of weeks ago the president of a large media company told me in frustation that his advertisers what to tell one story and his journalists want to tell another.  But the readers are asking for something altogether different and he can't get his team or sponsors to understand that.

Joe Basques and I just finished a Hangout where we take a look at the problem.  Questions and comments welcome.


Your customers aren't searching for you: An Interview with Douglas Alexander

The content that matters is not about you. It's about the problems your customers are trying to solve.

Over the past few weeks I'm mentioned the changes in search technology from Google (Hummingbird) and how it will affect both B2B media and marketing.  I've also touched on google's concept of the Zero Moment of Decision (ZMOD), the moment when a customer actually decides to Google a company or product to make a purchase decision (which is actually long after the decision has been made).

Today, however, I sat down with a good friend by the name of Douglas Alexander, who told me a very interesting story about his product search and selection process.  You may recognize Douglas's name from reading EBN, Electronic Purchasing Strategies or any number of component engineering and design publications.  He's currently writing what may become the definitive educational book on component engineering.

I published the audio from the discussion on my Spreaker page, linked below, but let me give you a brief overview:

Douglas rarely goes to a company website or does a Google search for companies or products.  His purchase decision has very little to do with SEO and everything to do with concepts and questions.  This is not a new way of doing things.  If you are a marketer in the technology field, you need to understand that all the marketing collateral, white papers and web advertising is doing very little for your company to gain new customers. The content that matters is not about you.  It's about the problems your customers are trying to solve.  

Google's Hummingbird is giving SEO GERD

Have you noticed that your web traffic seems to have fallen in the past month?  If not, you're lucky.  If so, don't blame Google's major overhaul of it's search algorithm, "Hummingbird." Blame your content instead.  And if you're and SEO expert, this might help.

 As I've said about previous upgrades, Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird is less concerned with keywords as it is with context.  But the first two are focused on the engagement searchers have with content.  Hummingbird is all about context.

(I find this remarkably coincidental that The Age of Context, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel came out this month in time for this announcement from Google.  Well Played guys.) 

So what does "all this context stuff" have to do with you?  Here's a brief explanation from Danny Sullivan at

"Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that “iPhone 5s” is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.

In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words."

Now, when you are talking about iPhones and big consumer issues, it might be easier to find information, right?  If we're talking about something like CAE design tools, it's a different story, right? Nope.

This morning I decided to do a search using the new capabilities.  I cleared the history and cookies in Chrome.  Then I initiated voice search on my computer and asked, "What are the best tools for designing microprocessors?"  After I got the results I asked a second question. "Where can I find the best tools for designing microprocessors."

What do you think the answers were?  Did it come up with links to the number one design automation vendor Synopsys?  Nope? How about any of the other top five vendors? Nope.

Number one was, a magazine.  Number two was ARM, Ltd.  That was followed by a couple of academic sites, and then Texas Instruments.  To find the first reference to a design tool vendor I had to go to the second page (Synopsys) and gave up looking after the 4th page (Atmel was the only company mentioned there).

Do you see the problem? 

Keywords have virtually no value in modern search, unless, of course, you are ready to use them in advertising programs that you pay Google for.  Customers that deal with you regularly might find you in searches, but customers who don't are never going to see you.

Dr. Dobbs Journal shows up first because the content it has is the best source of answers to the question I asked.  ARM comes in second (and good for them) because it's also a place to go to answer that question.  For you to make the best use of search technology, you have to be darn sure of what kind of questions your customers are asking, and then have the right answers for them.  How do you do that? Find someone who isn't drinking your Kool-aid to research and write content that will show up in the searches.

Call us at Footwasher Media.  That's what we do. 

Why we need a better measurement than SEO

Many companies tell us wondrous numbers about how many hits they get on their site, all produced by their amazing SEO program.  But when I ask how many of those hits are real people and how many are spiderbots and how many are RSS reads, they have no idea what I'm talking about.  All they know is their site gets a lot of traffic.  That is not necessarily a good thing

There is a minor skirmish in the media metric world over search engine optimization (SEO), mostly between SEO and content marketing experts (I generally fall in the latter area). Yesterday I found a story in the obviously slanted Content Marketing Institute that actually explained where the lack is.

When you need to sell a bunch of products to a bunch of people.  SEO is your number one web tool.  You need to reach a lot of people and making it easier for them to find you on the web is a great idea.  But if your business is selling a few products and services to a small number of companies, those customers are not going to base their decision on how high up you show on a web search.  It's not even likely that those customers will do a search at all unless they are looking specifically for your company.  They are going to make the inquiry based on what thought leaders say about you and your business.

That won't be affected by SEO.  As the article states, that is all about the content.

Unfortunately, determining if you have thought leadership is hard to measure in web analytics.  it can be, but you have to look for it and then you have to optimize your analytics to give you the data.  One way is time spend on site and time spent on page.  Most tools I've encountered give you that data if you dig but it's not easy to get. And when you do, you generally have to do the calculations yourself.

Most companies I've talked to, though, don't make that effort.  In fact, when I do an initial consultation with them, their eyes glass over when I ask how much time to people spend on their site and content.  So let me say here, especially if you are thinking about getting one of our free consultations, you might want to have that data available before we get there. It's incredibly important if you are concerned about thought leadership.

If you get a hit from, say, googlebot, that means you got pulled up in a general search for a term.  That doesn't mean you actually got a human being to your site.  If it comes from a specific URL with 0:00 minutes of time on the site, that means you probably got picked up in an RSS feed, but it doesn't mean it got read.  If it shows that the eyeball spent a few seconds, that was a scan-and-go.  But if it says they spent a minute or more on the page, that meant they actually spent some time reading or viewing the content.  The latter one is the only thing that matters when it comes to thought leadership.

That's what most people don't measure.  It is possibly more important for you than SEO.

At Footwasher Media, we spend a lot of time studying that number.  It determines what we write about hear in Communications Basics, and at New Tech Press, and on the Footwasher Media corporate site.  in many cases, we can trace it back to a specific audience member, or at least the department they are in.  for example, we know that someone in the executive suite at Newscorp reads this blog regularly (Hi, Rupert!).

Thought leadership can be measured by the number of Facebook "Likes" or Linkedin connections, or Twitter "follows" but none of those measurements really determine if you are leading thought.  The time spent on the content, however, is enormously important.  You can determine more about your audience and what they really want, need and value easily.

The problem is that number is infintesimal compared to the number of hits and RSS links, which means your marketing and web teams are going to want to avoid talking about it.  It's not as impressive to the undeducated.  So that's why I thought it would be a good time to do some education.  As I've said before, the value of social media is not whether you reach a lot of people.  The value is in reaching the right people.

Here's Google's Matt Cutts on how to increase that time-on stat.



The back door to online success is good content.

I was listening to an NPR program last weekend about the success of sharing sites, like Buzzfeed.  It opened up with the statement that "it used to be the key to success online was success in search..."  Going forward the program succinctly laid out how important of search in modern internet communications strategies.

Not very.

The program went on to talk about how sharing, or even "borrowing" content is the new key to success... even if it wasn't quite honest.  Point taken.  However, the discussion brought to mind something I've said over and over (and that seems to be making progress in the minds of some) that real, honest, sharable content is what will bring people to your website and do business with you.

Page rankings are important to companies that are selling iPhone aftermarket accessories and boner pills.  They are also important to large corporations who want to make sure that no one sees links to the lower tier competitors.  In the latter case, the larger companies spend a lot on SEO to keep the competition at bay.  Take for example, Xilinx and Altera, both of which spend a lot more money on SEO efforts than does a company like Lattice, which spends relatively little.  In the end for SEO, that's all it takes: Money.  If you have it you win.  But that does not mean you get more business, necessarily.  It just means the search spiders will find you more often and push companies with less investment down.

If your goal, however, is to actually create connections with willing customers, improve the quality of your content.  That's why sites like Buzzfeed and Reddit are going gang busters.  They find out what people like to read, watch and listen to and they get that stuff up.  That's also why most firms in the semiconductor world are generally disappointed in what their web programs produce.  They make no effort to pay attention to what their customers are paying attention to.

There have been many websites that have tried to put together a successful program rehashing the marketing content of the industry they serve with limited amounts of success.  Amazingly enough, the sites that continue to thrive are those who maintain a certain level of separation from the companies they cover.  EDN's relaunch recently is a good example of a company listening to what the readers want.  Conversely, it looks like their parent company, UBM, has also figured out how to make money off of giving the companies what they want in the new "Community in a Box" program.  We'll have to wait and see which does better.

 In our own back yard, however, we've seen first hand what creating sharable content can do for a corporate website (boosts it every time) and what happens when they switch back to product announcements (crash and burn).  I'm happy to say that the more companies we talk to the more they are realizing that putting most of their eggs into boosting marketing content and SEO is not creating the business they were hoping for.

If you are among those companies starting to get it, drop us a line.

SEO: it should be about who, not how many

What's missing from most company websites, or at least what is craftfully hidden, is that very reason for being. Companies hire SEO consultants who have absolutely no understanding of the market for the companies' products and just jam the web traffic with random hits from spiders, which makes everyone feel good until you look at the sales figures for the year.

This week I've been getting bombarded with SEO consultants wanting to link their sites to New Tech Press.  I've dutifully gone to their sites to see what they are all about and have been thoroughly disappointed in what I see.  They are filled with poorly written, unconnected, bland content that provides absolutely no value to their audiences.  They are designed only to drive search traffic.

What makes it all the worse is some of these sites are for well-known corporations.  And, no, I won't tell you who.

I understand the value of good SEO.  It's important to give people making random searches on the interwebs a chance to hit on your site, regardless of its value to the searcher.  That's how lots of marketing people justify their investment in the web.  And when your objective is to gain new customers without concern to the needs of those customers, getting 100,000 hits is more likely to turn into one real customers than getting 100 hits.

But what if you could get 100 real customers instead?  It's possible if you actually care about the customers.  

It is hard to find companies that actually do care.  In the decades I've been doing this 90 percent of the comments marketing and sales people make about their customers is not very complimentary.  I completely understand the feeling.  Sometimes their obstinancy and budget decisions are enough to drive you crazy.  And their willingness to go with an inferior choice because it is cheaper is similarly maddening. But whatever business you are in, you initially chose to go in this direction because you thought you could solve some poor schmuck's problem. 

What's missing from most company websites, or at least what is craftfully hidden, is that very reason for being.  Companies hire SEO consultants who have absolutely no understanding of the market for the companies' products and just jam the web traffic with random hits from spiders, which makes everyone feel good until you look at the sales figures for the year.

I have yet to hear a pitch from an SEO consultant that says, "We aren't going to increase your web traffic.  We are going to bring you customers."  Why is that? Because most people are still stuck in the 20th century of mass marketing.  A 1 percent return is acceptable.  It's like seine net fishing but no dolphins are killed in the process.

Does that mean SEO is a useless enterprise?  No, it is a part of your marketing process, although one that is getting less and less important.  What is increasingly more important is finding the right audience for your message and keeping them coming back to your site, getting them to promote your business and treating them like you actually care about them.

There are lots of consulting companies doing this, like Badgeville, Shoutlet and CrowdFactory but before you call them, be prepared.  They speak a much different language from most marketers.  It's focused on meeting your customers' needs, not your president's ego.  And you may have to cut into your SEO budget to get them to work for you.

There's Media, then there's media, part 4

 We come now to a discussion of earned media, which we will attack in two parts.  Today were going to look at search results as earned media.

 We've touched on this in earlier discussions.  Not all search results are earned media, especially if you've paid for placement, but they can be considered earned if you've put the effort into making your content accessible through proper SEO practices.  

 One of the main ingredients in proper earned media is effort.  Earned media takes more effort to get than paid or owned media, but is an order of magnitude more valuable than the others because people tend to trust it.  As I've said earlier, the aspects of search that can be paid for (keywords, SEO gaming and outright pay for placement) have lessened the value, but if done right, it can be very beneficial to your communications program.

 For now.

 A few months ago, Google announced that it was changing the way in approached search and while a few people have made pronouncements of doom, few people who have actual responsibility over search have expressed any concern.  Which tells me they are clueless or just ignoring the problem.

 In short, Google has realized that search as they created it has been gamed out of its value.  They are revamping the way they do it to diminish the importance of keywords in search and increasing the importance of what people do with information on the net.  That will include what they consume, what they buy, who they are friends with, who they share with and what they share.  In other words, social media is going to be the key.

 I don't want to get into whether this is good or bad.  It just is.  And combined with the next point in this post, it will take SEO search out of the realm of earned media almost completely. Now, point two.

 We've recently survived what could be the death of a free internet in the US over the PIPA and SOPA legislation that died in Congress last week, in no small part to the widespread online protests.  But even if those kind of laws never come back to haunt us, we still have the virtually unknown ACTA that has snuck in on us internationally.

 In short, ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is currently before the Senate and EU for ratification and is essentially the same as the PIPA and SOPA laws... only we don't get a say in how it is enforced.  It gives international governments the right to shut down websites for the alleged theft of intellectual property.  That means all someone has to do is level a charge of theft against you.  That means trouble for a lot of sites that feature contributed articles.

 I've been involved in developing contributed articles for corporations for many years and realized how deep the problem was when an article I wrote for one corporation showed up in a major electronics trade publication under the byline of an executive of another corporation, who never worked for my client, 10 years later.  Doing an internet search I found the same article three times attributed to three different authors.  PIPA, SOPA and ACTA mean an end to that practice.  Companies will have to create original content for their sites or face having their websites shut down.

 A hallmark of a successful social media strategy is sharable content.  If you fill your sites with plagiarized material you not only face the possibility of being shut down, but you end up with a site that no one will share with others.  Original, interesting and focused material keeps you safe from copyright infringement but starts you on a path to creating real earned media.

 Stay tuned.


Total unique visitors: Who cares?

Been having some interesting discussions with web managers for b2b companies.  All of them start talking about their web traffic and SEO results.  I always step into the discussion with a series of questions that ends up stumping all of them.

"So.  Who are all of those people visiting your site?"

They stare at me blankly for a few seconds and then respond, "Why they're our customers, of course."

"Like who?"

"Well, we don't know who they are specifically..."

"Then how do you know they are your customers?  Maybe they're your competitors."

"They might be..."

Then the stumper:  "So if you really don't know who it is visiting your site, why does it matter how many there are?"

It is possible to determine if the right people are visiting your site, but the problem is that most marketing managers never ask that question and so most web site managers never take the time to dig deeper into the numbers.  They just say how many unique visitors and how many referrals the site got and everyone is happey... except when they look at the sales numbers.

This is not to say that unique visitors and referrals aren't important numbers... if you are an online media company.  After all, a media company is in the business of getting as many eyeballs as possible on the site to make sure they can justify their advertising rates.  But if you are a b2b company the volume on those numbers is meaningless unless you are driving current and potential customers to engage with you.  That's why it is more important to know that the one customer you really want visits your site than the hundreds of thousands of people that found your site through a search.

SEO is not your concern, Part 3

OK, I’m a little behind it wrapping up this discussion.  Things are really getting crazy around here. 

A couple of weeks ago I started talking about how SEO is not your biggest concern with your website and then followed up with how social networks followed that up with creating target audiences.  My premise is that both of the automated egalitarian technologies are being gamed by companies and building a basic distrust within their audiences.  I wrapped up my last post with:

“So we are entering into another cycle; one that will be difficult for the current players to understand.  It is a cycle that will be based on ethics and trust and it is something that cannot be generated by an algorithm.”

We’re going to build on that today.

Trust is at the core of all genuine communication.  Once that goes out the window so does the communication.  That’s why search worked for a while because it wasn’t in the hands of the marketing department... until they figure that out.  That’s why social media (beginning with Friendster and Myspace) engendered trust because recommendations came from people you trusted... until the marketers figured that out, too. 

The problem with modern marketing is that there is an inherent imperative to “capture” market attention with communication media and hold it.  That’s the purpose of sophisticated SEO, website design, and social media strategy.  Everyone who truly understands media knows that is an impossible task, especially in the age of internet communication, and yet companies hold onto the paradigm.  Even media companies fall into the trap trying to find ways to make their audience at least bookmark their page.

The impossibility of that effort is due to the fact that there is absolutely no way to wall your audience off.  There are too many holes in the infrastructure.  Keeping your audience is like trying to eat warm jello with a fork.

So if you can’t entice your audience to stay with you with technology and you can’t make them only loyal to your Facebook page or website, how do you stay in front of your audience as much as possible so they don’t forget you or learn to mistrust you?

Ethics and sharing.  It’s that simple.

Social media works not because it is controllable but because it isn’t.  People will follow and engage with individuals on Facebook even if they don’t agree with them as long as you are sharing valuable content and demonstrating that you can be trusted.  That’s what services like Klout are all about.  If all you share is about how wonderful your company is, they know you are a shill and will either filter you out or “defriend” you.  But if you provide valuable information that may or may not be related to what you do, even if it basically disagrees with your positions, then you become a trusted source.

Moreover, the people in your network will start to share your content, regardless of what they think of your opinion, which increases your influence beyond those you already know.  Growth happens organically.

And that is what is about to happen in a relatively small segment of the tech industry very soon.  This organization is going to start creating and sharing content that has been vetted outside of the marketing department.  The sharing will not just be on their website or social media pages, but in partnership with traditional media.  In turn, they will provide connection to those media partners within their own online presence.  What is about to happen is the socialization of a corporate entity.

There are other companies trying to do this, but they are stuck in the paradigm that requires them to capture and hold audiences; that requires that the content stays “on message.”  It’s the paradigm that fails.

It’s what I’ve been talking about for 7 years.  It’s about to happen.

SEO is not your real concern right now, part 2

Last Friday I dropped a flash-bang into the room saying search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t what you should be concerned about.  I got one comment from a SEO person pointing out, very nicely, that I didn’t know what I was talking about because SEO is still very important.  I don’t disagree with that statement because SEO is important... especially if you’re selling ink cartridges and boner pills.  That still doesn’t take away from my original statement.  SEO is not what you should be concerned about, especially if your business is about anything other than commodities.

When Google got going in the mid double-oughts, search was THE thing.  People were still getting used to this interwebs thing and it was kinda fascinating being able to find all kinds of stuff that normally took a dozen phone books and a lot of shoe leather.  It also turned the garden hose of information in our lives into a viaduct.  People started applying subjective filters on where they got that information.  Some people chose Google as the start-up page, which became MyGoogle.  Other when to Yahoo.  Some chose the sites of traditional publications like the NY Times.  Then browsers started adding search widgets in the browsers themselves.  Then social networks appeared. That’s when SEO went from THE thing to ONE of the things you had to be concerned about.

Social networks changed the game because now the subjective filter was not a landing page, but what your friends and co-workers thought was important.  If your audience could find out about you from those they trusted, they would be more likely to buy stuff from you.  That is what has made Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and all the others successful... for now.  That is starting to go away. Users are starting to switch allegiances to social media platforms as often as they change phone service or cable providers, but the market, overall, has gone static, and for good reason.

The social platforms are starting to be gamed by marketers whose primary function is to boost sales by any means possible.  There are many who are adhering to basic decency and trying to use social media in a non-invasive manner, but there are even more who are using unscrupulous means to get into the head of the audience.  That is creating a not insignificant level of distrust in the platforms themselves, just as search is not suspect, hence the recent halt in the growth of the more popular platforms in the US.  Google is entering the fray late with yet the third incarnation of their social effort with Google+, but the issues of privacy and who owns what on the network is affecting usage.  Yes, they have had a lot of signups, but while the reviews are good, Facebook groups remains the active platform for now.

So we are entering into another cycle; one that will be difficult for the current players to understand.  It is a cycle that will be based on ethics and trust and it is something that cannot be generated by an algorithm.  This is going to take some work.  

And I will talk about that next week.


SEO: it isn't what you should be concerned about now

I've been considering and reading about all the changes in the data-eating industry that Google, Facebook, et al are enacting and one big theme is starting to arise in my head: Search and search engine optimization are virtually worthless now.  (That's gonna piss some people off.)

It used to be that people kept their browser start-up page on Google because they went on the interweb tubes to look for stuff; sometimes with a purpose but most of the time just to do it.  That's not the case anymore.  I know very few people that fire up their laptops, tablets and smart phones and immediately go to the browser.  now they got to Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, Flipboard or any other application that allows them to get input from their social circle.  I know I'm one of them.  My browers (I use several) are set to open on publication sites like The Economist, SFGate and Electronic Products.  That, too, is not unsual as I see many people reading news sites of traditional media like the NY Times and the WSJ.  You don't need to go to a search engine site to get started because every browser has a little search window.

Why do we do this now? Because the information we get from the apps, social circles and specific publications are trustworthy.  You can't trust what you find on Google or Yahoo or even Bing because you know that he who spends the most money on SEO gets to the top of those lists, so you find places you can trust.  SEO doesn't do that.  You may not agree with me but there are some very big players that do.  One of them is Google.

Google+ is the next big thing for Google and they are all in on this concept.  They know if they don't make this work they will be nothing in 20 years.  They know that the audiences don't trust the information they get from the vaunted Google search engine but the audience has ways of getting around the high-paid subterfuge of corporate SEO addicts.  They are using social media platforms that are eating into the Google influence sphere like a swarm of locusts through a wheat field.  Google+ says, "We know you don't trust us, so let us listen in as you talk to people you do trust.  Maybe we can figure something out."

This is a revolutionary moment in media that will drive us back to a time when media actually held the trust of the public.  And I'll explain that next week.