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This chapter is from the book

How SEO Is Changing Business Practices

Because search engine optimization itself is changing, when applied correctly now it impacts many ways a business operates, changing it in the process. A concise look at what used to happen in the presemantic search days and how things are shaping up now helps quantify some of the changes you should be thinking about in your company or brand.

Here’s how SEO used to work in the past:

  • You bought links because they increased the ranking of your website in Google’s search.
  • You told your SEO company you wanted a list of keywords for your industry to rank on search, preferably on Google’s first page.
  • You hired someone to write thousands of words with the keywords you were targeting, and you posted the content on your website so it would become more visible in search and aid in its ranking.
  • You spammed social bookmarking sites with links to your keyword-rich content without any consideration for engagement or interaction.
  • You thought that a good commercial website was one with a shopping cart.
  • Your perception of a good customer experience was one that gave you a sale.

In the new SEO world the things that work and help a business take advantage of search and increase its ranking are

  • Good quality content that delivers value to the end-user.
  • Websites that offer an excellent online visitor experience in terms of ease of use, content, and navigability.
  • Businesses that are being talked about on the Web, on blogs, and social networks.
  • Businesses whose content is reshared on the Web across social networks.
  • Businesses with a strong social component that actually engages their prospective customer in a way similar to a person.
  • Businesses that stay current and generate consistently fresh content proving that they both have something to say and that they are part of the current online conversation.

Key to all this, driving all the activity, is content. Content marketing has become so vital to all aspects of search engine optimization in the semantic web that it underpins many of the activities that your business or brand needs to engage in. As a matter of fact in Chapter 6 we look in detail at the implications of this and the actionables associated with it.

To drive the point home let’s consider a conventional brick-and-mortar business that sells an everyday necessity, such as baked bread. If you are a savvy marketer who along with a bakery has a website (because you know you ought to), you will suddenly realize that your traditional business that sells baked bread now also needs to become a multimedia business that pumps out online content to sell baked bread.

From a certain perspective it seems to be antithetical with what a baked bread business needs to do and where it ought to be focusing its time and energy. After all, baking bread is not rocket science. The production algorithm (if we can call it that) requires flour, yeast, and water (at its most basic) and the judicious application of heat. The struggle is usually in keeping production costs low through control of wastage to maximize returns at the point of sale.

It’s hard to see where multimedia content is going to help in the sale of baked bread. So let’s look at the baked bread example a little more closely.

If our baker is any good at all as a businessperson he already knows that baked bread, alongside any other good you care to mention, has been commoditized. No matter how good you are at what you do there is always someone else who is either better, or nearer, or cheaper, or smaller, or bigger, or gives out lollypops with each baked bread loaf purchase.

This is the same virtually across the entire marketplace, and the point is that no matter what kind of business you are in these days you will have competition and a lot of it. If you are unable to differentiate yourself sufficiently from your competition, your business will go under. If you are unable to create an emotional connection with your customers, your business will fail.

That emotional connection online can only happen with the production of content—great quality content that communicates something important. The question for a modern business is not whether any of the above SEO steps should be followed but how they can all be followed consistently (and bear in mind that each of them is itself made up of a number of steps).

Marketing has changed from the twentieth century Jerome McCarthy model that gave us the 4Ps to guide us: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion to the twenty-first century digital world one expounded by global advertising and marketing firm Ogilvy & Mather as the 4Es: Experience, Exchange, Everyplace, and Evangelism.

In the digital marketplace Product now stands for Experience. Price has become Exchange, where the value of creating, packaging, and selling something is exchanged for the value of what it means to the customer to receive it, which also then determines the price. The notion of Place has been replaced by Everyplace because the potential market, as we have seen, is now fragmented. Promotion has been replaced by Evangelism. This reflects the changing relationship between businesses and their customers that enables both parties to profit from the relationship beyond the transactional value of the purchase price and the product bought.

In the baked bread example, if the entire experience of buying a loaf of baked bread from your particular bakery does not successfully engage my mind and reflect my lifestyle, I am unlikely to even consider it. If the exchange of value in buying the loaf of bread does not include how special you make me feel, how well you have communicated with me the artistry that goes into making the best baked bread in the world, and how my money helps keep an ancient tradition alive, then what I will most likely focus on is how much more expensive it is when compared to the sliced bread I buy from the grocery store.

If you cannot capture my attention as I go from my LinkedIn profile to Facebook then to Twitter then to some website and then to Google+, you are unlikely to benefit very long from my willingness to buy the more expensive baked bread you sell. I will forget to come to you, my attention will be diverted, the reason I buy baked bread will wane, and I will either buy from a competitor who simply happens to be nearer, or I will revert to the supermarket sliced loaf again.

What you will have succeeded in doing as a marketer then is either creating a customer by fostering the need in me to buy baked bread and then failing to capitalize on it as I went ahead and bought bread from any bakery or, worse, making me decide that baked bread is one of those luxuries I could forego because it is so much more expensive than supermarket bread.

Finally, if your baked bread does not fill me with a sense of wonder in the way it has been produced, how it has been presented, and the way it tastes, then I am unlikely to even remember to talk about it to my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. You will have invested all that effort in your relationship with me for the return of a sale of a single loaf of bread. Something that constitutes a totally losing proposition.

So selling something “simple” like freshly baked bread has now been transformed from an activity that entailed the production of a product and a place to sell it at a reasonable price to an activity that needs to engage the heart and mind of its target customer in such a way that the effort and attention that goes into creating a single sale begins to scale on its own, which is what provides decent returns.

Clearly this is a new way of doing business. It requires a change from selling a product to a customer to selling an experience to a customer with whom you now have a shared relationship. This is called the relationship economy, and guiding this transition to the relationship economy is the ultimate relationship machine: semantic search. The way it does this is what we look at next.

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