How do you do both - not let this noise take your attention away from the business and stay in control of your organization's search marketing? Apparently, it's pretty easy when you know what laid the groundwork for any successful journey online. David Amerland wrote a book called Google Semantic Search that became the inspiration for this blog post. Below is my review of the book on Amazon. Another source of inspiration for this blog post are the 10 Things Google Found to Be True about search. So let’s see how these simple principles guide the entire search marketing industry today and will also apply tomorrow.
Amerland cites transparency, honesty, accountability and authenticity as the key principles leading to success in semantic web and semantic search. One of the reasons I found his book so useful is because David's thinking resonates so much with ours. By following these principles any company can become more open with their clients and fans and greatly succeed online.
For an offline business, a sustainable business model would be to make great product, find the perfect audience for it, market it, sell it and care about their clients by continuously improving the product. All else would follow in the form of endless referral business.
Today, internet, social media and search engines make no business left behind, in the darkness of the offline. Nevertheless, the fundamentals stay the same. Online, your entire internet presence is a part of your product. To succeed online, you need to continuously improve this online aspects of your business. Make your website visually appealing and easy to navigate, become social and engage, care about what your clients have to say on- and off-line and make it easy for people to make educated purchasing decisions.
In other words, radiate trustworthiness. When users demonstrate signals of trust to organization online, search engines reward your business with better rankings and wider reach. Here David Amerland explains how principles of the past guide the search technology of today:
“In the village of the past, the village square, ringed with stalls guided our purchasing choices along the lines of trust, reputation and knowledge. We bought from trusted sources. We found out about new tradesmen from trusted sources. We bought from new people when their reputation preceded them. We chose how to buy based on the knowledge of what we wanted and what they offered, and if we did not know, we asked someone who did.
It was a model that worked extremely well in the confines of the village square. But as the small-scale, bucolic world was left behind in the exponential scaling of markets, populations, and production processes that was the Industrial Revolution, its inability to successfully scale created the problem that modern marketing was created to address. The beauty of semantic search and the Knowledge Graph is that it uses technology to make the world small again. In a global village, where our “here” can have us standing on the opposite sides of the globe within 24 hours, our village square has been replaced by an ever changing location populated by choices that are assembled by the same criteria of trust, reputation, and value that we used in our bucolic past to make purchasing decisions.”
Being a great brand online will hopefully get you into the top 10 of search results. But when it comes to being #1 in search, it really is about being the best company online within your niche.
At the end of every chapter of his book, David Amerland provides actionables to help you be the best. The amount of work to be done, however, can get easily overwhelming. This is where another Google’s principle comes in handy:
“It’s best to do one thing really, really well.”
The central part of your business online is your website. Start with it. Make it highly appealing and user-friendly on both desktop and mobile. Be sure to understand the goals of your audience and to make them achievable on your website. Eventually, perfecting your website will expose the need to produce uber-useful content. This in turn, will get you to market your content through social media and possibly even paid advertisement. And so on …
At every stage, add just one thing to your daily task-list and do it better than others in your niche. That’s how you make your website to rank #1 anywhere anytime.
Firstly, your website must be fast, and speed is rewarded. See how fast your website is on both mobile and desktop according to Google. On the same page, you can find recommendations from Google on how to improve your website's performance. Also, you can see on this page how your website looks on mobile devices. I am sure there are things you need to work on.
Secondly, make it very easy for the user to do on your website what they were hoping to achieve online - find specific information, place an order, send a request or get an answer. Even go as far as to making it easy for your website visitors to shop around.
The scope of this principle reaches far beyond your website and applies to your entire internet presence. For example, make it easy for people to connect with your business, and even your clients, through other channels - such as social media and directories. Make information available through other reputable websites through guest blogging. Partner with others.
So how is this about search marketing? From the ranking perspective, search engines reward long clicks - when clients click through to your website from search results and never come back to do the search again. From the convertability point of view, making it easy for your potential clients to achieve their goals online, you can improve your own conversion rates online and offline. Thus, even if your rankings aren’t improving in the short term, you get so much more out of your internet presence.
Why was everyone so stuck up with links? Because in the ideal world Google imagined in the beginning, links were earned and not paid for. Links were supposed to be real votes of confidence online. “SEOs” almost ruined this idea by making link purchasing a cult. Well, this cult is now almost extinct as businesses are paying the new SEOs to undo what’s been paid for to get done in the first place.
So what’s now? Do links still matter? They absolutely do. Earned links now matter even more. But above all that, new trust signals - even more democratic in nature - emerged. Social signals are getting more and more powerful every day. This is where SEOs get excited about Author Rank (and in particular Mark Traphagen writes frequently about it) and Google agressively pushes Authorship. As David wrties:
“The Web is changing. The transition is loosely described as going from a web of websites to a web of people. Essentially this means that authority on the Web and the power to gain visibility in search are shifting from some-thing that happened exclusively through actions that had to take place on a web page to activities that now must be instigated through people, and by people, and they become the prime movers.”
Thus social aspects of the web is what brings meaning to the web and makes semantic search possible. So what do you do to get the votes? You, again, become the #1 brand online within your niche.
If there is one point in my blog post that should get you excited it’s this. Achieving results in search fast became once again possible. Legitimately. Go mobile.
In many instances (such as this) Google implied that mobile-optimized websites will rank better for mobile search since they provide better experience for mobile users. In other instances (such as this), Google recommends responsive web design as a preferred way to go mobile. Now there is one more reason why going mobile is urgent and hugely beneficial. How many competitor sites in your niche are mobile? How many of them are visually appealing and easy to navigate? Could be none. That means there is that potential for you to capture 100% of mobile searchers almost instanteniously through better rankings, and, more importantly, through better user experience achieved by serving a mobile website to a mobile searcher. To get even more excited about mobile, check Google Mobile Playbook - an inspiring guide to going mobile.
Not only you can, but also you should. In this democratic hyper-connected online economy with vast amount and potential of social capital, there is just no way evil practices will go unnoticed.
Google has been telling the same thing for a long time now: “Don’t game the search engines. Work for the user instead”. And if anything, emergence of the semantic web is making it really difficult to play any games. Bad links are punished by Google Penguin. Bad content is punished by Google Panda. Bad business practices are punished by the viral magic of social media. And above all, the laws and law enforcers are catching up too. Things like fake online reviews are dealt with just like any other crime.
“The route that has led search from a cat-and-mouse game of applying techniques that game Google only to have them deprecated and then have to discover and apply new ones, to this point has been powered by the need to rank high in search. The temptation to say that semantic search is impossible to game is high, but inaccurate. Like anything that has to do with machine learning, semantic search can also be gamed. What has changed, however, is that now the energy, time, and cost it would take to successfully game semantic search is high enough to make it impractical. Offered with no discernible shortcut, it makes sense to do things “properly” anyway and try to rank high in Google’s search based on merit rather than through technical shortcuts.”
Considering the above, if you need the results fast, AdWords can get you started while you build a better brand online and naturally get to rank higher in organic search.
Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Admittedly, organizing information that hides offline and isn’t available on the internet is hardly possible for Google. So what do Google and other search engines do to fix that? They reward it when businesses make new and unique information available on the internet. That’s why content-rich sites rank better provided their content is unique.
Making content available for the users isn’t only about your website . You make it available across all pieces of your internet presence - your website, your social pages, online magazines, popular blogs, news websites and etc. And believe me, it is all rewarded for as long as you follow Google’s Guidelines when producing your new content and making it available on the internet. As David correctly notes:
“One of the benefits of the semantic web seems to be that the transparency of connections between authors, content creators, content curators, and web-sites is making us all a little bit more honest.”
It becomes obvious that fundamentals of better search stayed the same. However, search works differently today and will differ even more tomorrow. Notably, Google’s Hummingbird Algorythm was the biggest update to how Google’s search works since probably 2002.
SEOs have also been busy lately with fixing old mistakes, implementing schema.org, OpenGraph, TwitterCards for search engines and social media sites, dealing with the “Not Provided”, talking about and preparing for Author Rank, getting to be more social and helping companies go local and mobile, working to get rich snippets and “image carousels for specific searches” working. There really has been a lot of things happening. And you quite possibly will also need to deal with it all.
However, before you get there, you will need to deal with things a lot more profound in their nature. Simply stated - become the #1 brand online and all else will follow.