by Theresa Lütge-Smith
guest blogger for Imaginet
Everyone wants higher search engine rankings; even many non-sales Web sites contain pertinent keywords and links to optimize the website and its visibility in search engines. Yet the more competitive the market the more complex the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics become. However, it’s important to first grow the grass roots in Search Engine Marketing (SEM). The way to generate social traction is to know your audience and cultivate interest and credibility for your brand through social networks and posting unique content. There are no shortcuts to building lasting traction with your online audience; for years social media gurus have affirmed the value of listening to and acting on customers’ questions, ideas and complaints. Having more relevant “newsworthy” content (both in wording and topics) is a real boost for your site’s rankings.
SEM is about communication and building relationships; it connects millions of people that drive a customer-led revolution. Audiences today are setting online conversation agendas, their persuasive insight sends a strong signal to your marketplace that your brand is in tune and responsive. Since the goal of every business should be to create more value for the customer, two questions that every company must answer are Who are our most important customers? and How do we inspire these customers to add to the company’s growth? Most companies habitually believe that the way you grow fast is by saying “yes” to as many customer segments as possible, thus validating the theory that “the customer is always right”. In fact, saying “no” to an exceedingly diverse customer segment is the new growth strategy; this radical shift in strategic assumption and leadership mindset requires you to think hard to identify who your best customers are and to pull out all the stops to exceed their expectations – even it means rejecting other groups of potential customers.
The rationale of adopting this new growth strategy, to be discerning when identifying your target markets, is because customers today are becoming increasingly demanding. There’s no way any company can serve more than five target groups “exceptionally” well, which means the best companies will need to exercise good judgment about who they want their customers to be. Once you’ve figured out who your noteworthy customers are, make it easy for them to want to partner with your company. Re-organize your company around customers’ needs and initiate conversations that motivate them to contribute sincere opinions, criticisms and proposals. Another crucial part of SEM is social media marketing to engage customers’ awareness that a company’s brand is valuable; the process is aimed at relevant traffic building (mainstream SEO) and achieving return on investment (ROI).
An effective way to gain intelligence from your audience is by using a social media-monitoring dashboard (e.g. HootSuite.com) to supervise conversation trends; also drill down into focused groups and conversations such as those that emerge around a hashtag on Twitter or chat on a forum or discussion group to identify key customer issues, desires and recurring questions. To develop your brand’s social graph (a diagram that illustrates interconnections among people, groups and organizations in a social network) you need to give people a plausible reason to follow or “like” your brand. Not only must your “brand message” capture their attention it must also interact with them on a personal level, and be sufficiently inspiring to maintain their interest.
It takes time and skill to develop a brand presence in the social media lives of your audience. The task of building your brand’s connection to your marketplace requires a dedicated team capable of representing the personality of your brand but also understands the value of constructive criticism, growing customer relationships, and exploiting positive feedback through “likes” or sharing and tweeting the message. Search engines notice when content is shared on social networks, an ideal opportunity to optimize search engine visibility; typical content placements include your website, press releases (submit to every search engine and relevant online editors), blog post, white paper, and a dedicated information-rich landing or product page. The aim is to publish content that people will share on social networks and that journalists and bloggers will cover.
The key to achieving a higher search engine ranking is to create a site that creates an environment where the viewer pays repeat visits to a webpage that has become an indispensable part of their habitual online lifestyle. The draw card is largely based on creating an environment for sharing and networking. Update your site on a weekly basis; returning visitors dislike out-of-date information. Bear in mind, first impressions count. Visitors coming to a Web site expect the site to portray a thorough impression of the company or business; they scrutinize its visual personality, design and page layout, ease of navigation, textual content, and even the fonts or consistency of style. Because the Internet is a very competitive forum viewers evaluate your site against many other similar offerings. They don’t want to laboriously dig through your site to get a clear impression of the services, products, or information on offer; it’s likely they’ll click away to the next URL on their search list. Most e-customers today are search-savvy and use quick-view options and interactive elements to accelerate their search.
The following pointers emphasize what visitors to a business site are looking for.
- Visitors expect the content to be applicable and constructive, and download promptly. A sure way to put a stop to return visits is to neglect a weekly update of fresh content and having dead links.
- Visitors want explicit directions and navigations. Where the visitor is uncertain of the result of clicking an icon or link on the site, a notion of unprofessional design and negligence is supposed.
- Visitors want to identify themselves only if they are thoroughly convinced of the security aspect of the site. Maintaining anonymity is a big factor with most people.
- Take care that product or service information is consistent. Most visitors to business sites like to compare product and service figures; consequently this data should be clear-cut to facilitate their decision-making process.
- Visitors need to instantly recognize what the site has to offer, with clear signposting (site map) and internal links. Visitors expect the initial navigational system to remain the same throughout the site.
- Visitors expect to view web content in manageable paragraphs; keep articles within a 500 word count. Excessive scrolling is frowned upon as a design element. Post the first 50 – 60 words of the article (with an appropriate image) to allow visitors the opportunity to establish whether they want to read more. A link takes the visitor to a landing page to read the full article.
- Bear in mind that good customer relationships play a critical role in e-commerce. Online customers expect the same high level of service and communication as would be the case in offline relationships.