SEO is broken – giving way to social search Stephen Waddington @wadds
Searching for Stephen Waddington Source: http://img.yaboon.com/person/frame/27757/1.jpg
Searching for Stephen Waddington My name is Stephen Waddington. If you stick my name into Google here’s an image that comes back. It’s not me of course. My name also finds an actor, the director of the housing department for York Council, and a fund manager. There is lots of content online about each of these people. And, without more specific information you’ll struggle to find the Stephen Waddington that you’re after.
Overview SEO Networks Community Opportunity for brands Social search
Overview In the last five to ten years digital marketing has reached a place where keywords and inbound links assume more importance on a web site than the actual content and audience. But I believe that a slow subtle shift is taking place, as media consumption and buying habits are turning to social media. Here, reputation is built and products and services sold through word of mouth.
Buy your way into search results Or earn your place in search results The rise of SEO
The rise of SEO Search engine optimisation is the craft of optimising your web site so that it appeals to search engines. You can buy your way in through paid ads or attract links by manipulating the content that you post on your site.
And the rise of web spam Web spam is the issue. We’ve become so obsessed with SEO that we’ve filled the web with useless content in a bid to game search engines. This is a screen shot of the backend interface that we use to manage a network of blogs on the Speed web site. It’s a modest web site that attracts approximately 8,000 to 10,000 unique visitors per month. There’s clearly plenty of search engine marketing and web masters keen to get links, because we receive around 1,500 spam comments a week.
We’ve forgotten about the audience Search engine optimisation has become mechanised to such a point that we’ve boiled down our audience to keyword terms. And in this world, the company with the largest search budget and the smartest agency wins. We’re in danger of taking our eye off the audience and forgetting that its great content rather than keywords and links that build engagement and trust. Best practice is smart but filling the internet with low value content isn’t.
In search of Karen Barber I think in time we’ll come to see the floatation of Demand Media in January with a valuation of $1.5 billion as the high water mark of search marketing. It generates 7,000 articles a day and has a simple formula: create lots niche content targeted at search engines and generate revenue through ads. Here’s an example in practice that is focused on higher value content to demonstrate the point. If you search for Karen Barber the Olympic skater the three of the top results are in the Daily Mail.
In search of Karen Barber Have a look at the Daily Mail’s web site for yourself. Two-thirds of the site is based on news content that might normally appear in the newspaper. But the right hand side is where you’ll find content about the most newsworthy celebrities of the day. It’s a strategy that clearly works. The site gets more than three million unique visitors per day and more than 53 million visitors a month, and is turning the Daily Mail into an international media property.
The importance of search We’ve seen that a major source of the problem is the element of the SEO industry that has developed to game search engines, producing content that appeals to search algorithms, but that when clicked on has little value. If you want more evidence, look no further than the results from an informational search rather than a commercial search. If you search for information on a topic such prostate cancer, the results from a search engine will be incredibly useful. But commercial searches are almost always polluted and the site with the biggest budget rises to the top.
Diminishing search returns Search for car insurance as I’ve done here, holidays in South Africa or coffee machines and you’ll see what’s happening for yourself: highly competitive markets for PPC and millions of natural results packed with web spam. So paid for search has become more sophisticated and you can become more selective about where you place your ads, but for organic search we’re surely close to game over.
Search gives way to networks My view is that search will give way to networks as a means of discovery. It’s already happening. In the last five years we’ve seen the rise of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. But there are lots of others focused on niche communities. These are built from trusted friends; friends who understand my personal motivations.
Changing habits There’s lots of evidence to support our enthusiasm for social networks over any other form of media. The fragmentation of media and decline in print media are part of this story. But that’s a lazy cliché. Sure print is declining, but some forms of media are growing. Broadcast is an example. It’s more convenient that ever to watch television. And social networks are complementing other forms of media. When I’m watching BBC Question Time or X Factor I can take part in the back channel conversation on Twitter using hash tags.
Personal discovery I believe that we’re entering a new era of digital media: the discovery of brands and products through the recommendation of friends in our networks who share links. Already brands are reporting that they are receiving more traffic via Facebook and Twitter, than via search.
Networked media Social networks are the new media. If you’re under 30 years old you’re more likely to get your local news from your Facebook newsfeed than your local regional paper. Companies such as Flipboard are developing this concept of curated media where your network is the editor. Content that people in your network have posted in messages or tweeted is automatically formatted in the style of a newspaper.
A return to community You build reputation and sell in this market through word of mouth. That means you need to have a deep understanding of your audience. And create compelling content that gets their attention. We’re reverting to community life. If the pub provides a lousy meal and bad service, everyone in the villages know about. But in the contemporary analogy, thanks to the web, the village is now your network on Facebook or Twitter.
Building a presence in the conversation Your organisation needs to have a presence where your audience is – and where conversations are taking place about your organisation and your peers. Here’s one of my favourite brands. You’ll struggle to find a web site for Talisker whisky owned by Diageo. In fact I’m not even sure one exists. But the whisky from Skye has a Facebook page with images and tasting notes – and lots of engaged customers. But please don’t rush in and get every flavour of social media site available. Start your engagement where your customers are.
ASOS ASOS is a fashion retailer that has no physical shops. It’ll never work they said. Returns kill margins for mail order and online retailers. Yet it has grown into an incredibly successful business. There are a number of reasons for its success but the top of the list is its use of social networks to promote content, share and manage their engagement with customers. Products are presented on Flickr and YouTube. Facebook is used for promotion. The ASOS web site has a community where individuals interact. And its use of Twitter is one of the best you’ll find for customer service.
mmm I’m including this example to show that no matter whether your business is big or small you can use social media to engage with your customers. mmm is a small deli in Newcastle. It’s that most precious of things; a fantastic food shop with a mission to connect local food producers with customers. Twitter has added thousands of pounds to the business in direct sales, mentions, and recommendations. It has a network of 2,500 followers most of which are locally based.
Social search We’re yet to see the real power of social media. That will come when our personal networks are overlaid on today search results. It’s early days. And so far, searching for things on Twitter isn’t very inspiring. Here are results from a social search on Bing on the search term Wikileaks. Its completely unsatisfactory. A timeline of scrolling tweets, riddled with spam, isn’t really that helpful.
Social search But what about if you overlaid your own network on this set of results. And those results were filtered based on the authority of the people you trusted? Bing is incorporating Facebook ‘like’ into its search algorithms. In future when I search for a film or restaurant results will be prioritised according to the opinions of people in my network. Facebook Instant Personalisation was launched in the US in October. You’ll find the Facebook like button on more than two million web sites. And at the last count there were more than 500 million people on Facebook including 30 million in the UK. That’s a lot of data.
Earning influence I believe this is the future of search and have no doubt that social recommendation and search is set to kick start a new wave of start-up activity. A shift is taking place as media consumption and buying habits are turning to social media. Here, reputation is built and products and services sold through word of mouth. That means you need to have a deep understanding of your audience and create compelling content that grabs its attention and inspires it to share. As I a PR man, I’d argue that this is public relations. Identifying an audience and working out what editorially will get its attention. And then inspiring people to talk and share your brand.
Future of search Social media types talk of the death of SEO. That’s an overly dramatic stance. Online search isn’t going anywhere. But the balance of power will start to shift from SEO to social media optimisation. Exploring its potential I believe will be the next wave for digital marketing.