Customer-Centricity: The New SEO

SEO

Content and customer-centricity is key to effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/briansolis/

According to a recent Forrester Research report, as many as one-third of U.S. companies surveyed were dissatisfied with their social marketing results. The report also pointed out that only 38% of those surveyed directly targeted their followers or fans on social channels. Bear in mind, search engines also consider blogs,  communities and other platforms as social channels, so we are not talking just Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc. here.

Big brands, with all the resources available to them, still seem out of sorts when it comes to online media. It makes one wonder whether the people responsible for these decisions are marketers from the ancient world who landed digital marketing roles only to find themselves out of their depths, compromising the effectiveness of the brand they represent in the process. Digital Marketing is not everyone’s cup of tea, the flux the industry is constantly in makes it extremely hard for those not familiar with its dynamics.

The Magic Word

Here’s my advice on what a digital marketer’s primary focus should be:

It’s not about keyword-stuffed content. It’s not about how many social media channels you are on. It’s not about the number of likes your page has managed to accumulate.

It’s about ENGAGEMENT. Yes, that is the magic word.

My view on the SEO industry is quite radical, so I won’t delve into that here to not lose sight of the purpose of this blog post. However, I’ll briefly touch upon it as I think it’s the biggest gaffe most marketers are guilty of.

Search engines offer a service, which is to direct a user to the most relevant information for their query, and therefore it’s the responsibility of the likes of Google to make sure they provide the service they promise. It should not be left to marketers to fight for SERP rankings. To cut the story short, the better search engine algorithms are able to weed out irrelevant content, the better it will be for marketers.

Google’s primary source of revenue is Adwords and therefore I think there’s an inherent conflict there. Simply put, on one hand you encourage marketers to use Adwords (read keywords) and on the other hand advice all and sundry to use keywords ‘judiciously’! Makes little sense!  Thankfully though Google and other search engines have been slowly but steadily cracking down on black hatters and promoting websites which focus on quality content. Going forward, we can expect new updates to Google’s algorithms to further rein in SEO cowboys who are experts in devious methods to influence SERP listings.

The Power of Social Media

Metrics such as engagement, sentiment, citations, shares and interactions are being now used to measure of a company’s worth and relevance. That’s great news for digital marketers as they can now focus on doing what they should be doing – engaging with their customers.

This is also where social media comes into the picture and it’s no surprise social media is increasingly shaping the dynamics of search. Social Media has changed things forever and will continue to affect search results, but the companies which will come out on top are the ones which understand the value of high quality regular, personalised interactions; building trust and transparency; generating interesting content; and providing great customer service.

Yes, it requires effort, but it’s effort in the right direction – effort that directly impacts customers. If one thinks about it, shouldn’t that be a marketer’s primary focus anyway? The only thing that has changed is how a company connects with its customers. Unlike traditional marketing, social media provides brands an opportunity to personalise the conversations they have with their customers. Also, it’s a more direct, immediate, public ( more transparent) way of communication. That said, the results will still depend on the time and effort one puts into digital marketing. It’s not easy. It requires commitment, patience and genuine interest.

Is SEO, as we know it, Dead or Dying?

I believe the answer to that question is yes.  Whilst it’s still important to have a site with a good navigational structure and one that’s free of glitches which would affect the way search engine algorithms identify the content on it, this is a relatively simple job. For digital marketers (if their website was not set-up by a hack) these basics should already be in place along with a user-friendly Content Management System (CMS).  For all other essential purposes, SEO ”expertise” will be consumed by improved search engine algorithms and related web technologies (eg. platform-neutral CMS) and the way social is redefining search and the emergence of social search (eg. FB search).

Digital marketers can look forward to shedding the “optimisation baggage” that’s been plaguing them for so long and has led to much of the mess search engines are struggling to clean up. The SEO obsession is giving way to quality engagement and content is now the biggest item on a marketer’s worry plate.

The reason many of these companies have not been as effective as they should be is because those at the helm still don’t understand this massive shift the industry is going through or perhaps the problem lies in execution. In many ways this shift is heartening and a just reward for customer-centric companies.

Remember, successful companies are successful because they don’t lose sight of why they are in business in the first place – their customers.

 

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