I’ve been fielding a lot of questions lately about what good SEO looks like and how to make sure organizations are doing all they can to connect with their audience within the proper context. The SEO waters are more muddled than ever now that many aspects of social media have begun creeping into the SEO discussion. This overlap has made some people uncomfortable, given that the two areas seem to be founded on divergent principals. I mean, social is such an open, user empowering medium, while SEO is often approached in a very manipulative and even coercive manner. Here are three basic steps to reconcile these polarities while putting the customer’s needs at the top of your priority list.
1- It’s not about chasing algorithms
Fundamentally, SEO is about understanding the user; from their mindset and brand perceptions, to their habits, behaviors, and biases. Good SEO is an extension of good UX and design in that it understands and anticipates, it delivers value to both the consumer and the company, and it carries an honesty and transparency that garners the trust of the audience (and the industry as a whole). Good SEO starts with the right content, which includes the right product set, as well as focused and perceptive copy that describes the relevant F&Bs that will appeal to the consumer. The products, and the content that describes them, should then be presented in a way that connects with the online community through the customary channels of keyword indexing, cross linking, social networking, paid advertising, and a number of off line and near line touch points. The most important point to remember is that chasing alchemic search engine formulas is a waste of time and bad for the brand…it’s about having what the customers want, connecting it to the world, and making it accessible. Any actions that do not directly create content for the customer’s consumptions are detrimental… we should all be wearing nice white hats.
2- It IS about crafting the right message
The right message is a relevant message that carries the appropriate context necesary to make a purchase decision. Mapping out these contexts across the internal site, related affiliate sites, social blogs and Facebook/Myspace pages will have a huge impact on cross linking content. Done properly this will increase search engine rankings, but more importantly, it will create a sense of confidence in the brand and result in higher conversion numbers. What stage of the buying cycle are they in and how does our keywording and messaging support that? How critical is price vs quality, and how do our search results reflect this context? Make the content reflect the right context, and direct the user down the appropriate funnel.
3- All you need is love
Social networking can offset a reliance on paid search in many instances, but the path to monetization is not a necessarily a direct one. The first step in the social sphere is to get the user to identify with the brand…internalize it and making it a part of who they are. Social networks are the ultimate “self-expression operating system”. They offer a growing array of tools that allow people to express who they are, what they represent, and what they believe in. SNs are NOT the same thing as an MCI Friends and Family program where people can be coerced into becoming a conduit for a product or service just because they get a little extra discount. We need to meet them where they live, in discussions that matter to them. Once we’ve got a dialog going, the traffic and ultimate conversion will be organic and steady, like a well performing annuity. These relationships will be deep, and they will assist us not only in sales and revenue, but in deep customer insights that are both reliable and affordable.