The linkbait conversation at SEOmoz got me thinking about how to encourage the shift in the SEM industry from rankings (GUARANTEED TOP TENS) to positioning (overall web presence success goals).
The fact that SERPs as they stand now are likely to undergo radical change in the coming year(s) and the migration of search across devices and types of content indexed indicates to me that this conversation is VITAL to keeping the organic side of search marketing relevant to the art and science of achieving business goals.
So. Linkbaiting. From an SEM perspective we're talking about content that's created in the interest of generating organic links.
From a public relations perspective linkbait is: content, consistent with company brand, that shows engagement, participation and thought leadership with key, influential publics.
What might this look like?
1) Identification of key publics.
2) Identification of key publics' conversations (where they're happening and their nature).
3) Strategic conversation participation to reach measurable goals.
4) Measure, refine.
Here's scenario one:
Your firm identifies that a client's key public's participating in Second Life. Your job now is to understand how to best engage in Second Life conversations. Is it Using Second Life As Your Showroom? Is it a Trends Lecture In Second Life?
Think of the job here as understanding how groups interact with each other and bringing clients into the conversation in meaningful ways that benefit the community as a whole.
How does this specific example relate to search marketing?
I'm not entirely certain - I haven't yet investigated Second Life to understand how information spreads there and - more importantly - how it flows OUT. Is there search in Second Life? I'm not sure. Could Second Life user data come to influence a search algorithm's relevance? OF COURSE IT COULD. That would be called community search.
(ooh ooh Imagine Second Life players hooked into PreFound's network of SERPs-tagging researchers.)
Here's scenario two:
Your firm identifies that a client's key public's participating in MySpace. Your job now is to understand how best to engage this public. This could be by creating a fake band like Ford did and creating a fan page, complete with music and concert video footage (and a page on the band's site inviting visitors to "win our ford!"). This could be by creating a profile the way Kanye West's firm did. This could be by creating profiles of hot chicks to help market your porn site (NOT :P). This could be in the form of a college Library's MySpace page to better reach and serve its public (my sister's library :).
How does this relate to search marketing?
It doesn't. Yet.
But it will, as community sites increasingly understand how to add community-based relevance into their search results. At that point online community participation will be a crucial part of search marketing and... at this point are we really talking about search marketing anymore?
Imagine PreFound's SERPs taggers sharing their researched information through MySpace. What if MySpace can get it together and learn how to include its social network data in relevance algorithms?
That's how we as search marketers have to be thinking.
Here's scenario three:
Google shifts from a snippets-based method of displaying results to a more visual conceptual-zoom SERPs display format. Snippet-based rankings as we've known them are contextualized, erasing our careful copy writing into an algorithmic editor's decision regarding how our pages fit in to a given concept.
Searchers have the option to overlay community data. Conceptual, answer-based SERPs fit well on mobile devices.
How does this relate to search marketing?
In this scenario it's clear that concept relevance will come to reign over link data. How do we generate concept relevance for a site? Through creating content that's conceptually relevant to the searches our clients' key publics are performing.
Many SEMs are doing this already, but there's still a disconnect in what we're calling this service.
Because the ability to identify key publics, key participation points and the strategy to reach business goals through these conversation channels goes FAR beyond rankings, FAR beyond search.
It certainly includes search engines, and in a significant way, but if you limit your measures of client success to rankings then you just lost.
New Media Public Relations vs. Organic Search Marketing:
In SEM terms it's about recognizing that mainstream algorithmic relevance as we've known it and optimized for it is likely to shift considerably. We will see this happen first on the outskirts of search as companies like PreFound, Wink, MySpace(?) and Yahoo learn how to apply community factors to relevance. And as Google (et al) come to apply more cluster-type technologies to their SERPs the line between SEMs and Public Relations firms will blur further.
Optimize for Community Rank and Concept Rank instead.
Want to continue this conversation? Broaden my view? Argue my face off? Call 919-433-3139.
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
Garrett French is the co-founder of Ontolo, Inc., and co-creator of the Ontolo Link Building Toolset, which uses your target keywords to find and grade link prospects. The Link Building Toolset reduces link prospecting and qualification time, letting you focus on the most important part of link building: relationships.
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