What is SEO? Technology meets people.

SEO, Search Engine Optimization.I’m back in the SEO game lately. Well, I’ve never been away but it’s “trending” more than ever in my environment.

The general understanding of “SEO” strikes me though. It’s not a box full of technical tricks. It’s just some science, some art and a portion of gut feeling.

But it’s mainly about the way technology works in combination with the way humans behave. Hence the questions that provide an answer to “what is SEO” are:

  • How do people search?
  • How do search engines work?

.

I could write a book or give you a presentation to answer the above questions. In fact I would be happy to do so.

Most important to know however is that both are dynamic or evolutionary – changing over time. Another striking similarity is the fact that both phenomena can never be completely understood by anyone. Whatever somebody states, he doesn’t fully know the algorithm by which e.g. Google scans, indexes and ranks web pages. And that’s equally true for the other aspect: you cannot fully understand how people search information digitally.

SEO: the intersection of technology and people

Overlooking the above vision on SEO, one could easily derive the best SEO advice ever:

What seems a good thing on your webpage for a human being

will be good for your ranking in search engines (= your SEO efforts).

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The power of ecosystems? On Google+

Google Plus

Google Plus

Do you still remember the day Google launched Google+? This much awaited and highly anticipated social networking platform was launched about a half a year ago. “Social media gurus” immediately announced the death of Facebook. At that point, I was convinced those people understood the phenomenon wrong. So to put things in perspective, I wrote a blog post called “Why Facebook wins the Social Network Battle. On Flirting, Sex, Porn and Mr Rogers.” As from last week, I believe we entered a new stage in this debate. After all, Google plans to implement an updated version of its search algorithms that will change how the web works. This time it was up to the “SEO gurus” to have their say on Google+.

I don’t know what type of guru I am – I believe none at all – but it felt like time for my take on Google Plus. And let’s start with the hottest topic these days: SEO and Google+.

Google’s announcement on G+ integration

Regardless of the fact that Google Plus looked like “a Facebook” at launch, Google always insisted that it concerned a “project of bigger scale”. How big that scale is became clear with the announcement made by Google at the beginning of January 2012.

Simply stated: Google plans to integrate information from Google Plus to personalize search results. For SEO gurus it was a signal to jump into action. Suddenly SEO drastically changed: it’s no longer about how to get sites ranked high in search results but about having content on Google Plus. This not rarely resulted in advice similar to “you need to be on Google Plus.” As a result, brand pages flourished like mushrooms.

Of course, I cannot have anything against enterprises and brands being on Plus, but I can object the proposed tactic by the gurus. I believe the “New SEO” is more about getting real people post information about a business or brand on Google+. That’s something completely different from merely broadcasting marketing messages through a brand page, no?

However, there’s more at stake than just the impact on search. As one observer cleverly noted: “Google has a lot of other products that contain personally relevant information. Google Docs has documents, Gmail has contacts and calendar entries, Google Music has playlist information, and so on.”

Google as an integrated online collaboration platform. Google+ as social layer.

Google as an integrated online collaboration platform. Google+ as social layer.

Google+: social layer on top of collaborative cloud ecosystem by Google

Have you ever looked at Google’s navigation bar in detail? You should. I believe it’s not a coincidence that Google Plus is integrated into this bar. Google Plus is a part of a wider ecosystem. That ecosystem is neatly designed through a navigation bar. It contains multiple collaborative cloud solutions, amongst:

Google's collaborative cloud solutions as an ecosystem

Google's collaborative cloud solutions as an ecosystem

  • Gmail
  • Docs
  • Translate
  • Calendar
  • Search

I have a feeling this ecosystem will pay off. Not in the way that it’ll outperform Facebook or whatever other social network but in an unprecedented position within the organizations of the future it might take.

The organization of the future: fluid networks of interconnected freelance workers

Based upon a study by SD Worx on “the Future of Work”, I’ve deducted 3 core principles about the organization of the future:

  • Organization based upon strength individuals
  • Individuals work autonomous
  • Collaboration between individual people is more than the sum of all individual co-workers

The above means that organizations will form themselves organically between engaged people who connect. This connection can occur online and offline. However, as the strength of the individual becomes key to an organization, they’ll look for the best individuals. During this search process they won’t take geographic borders into account. In order for those talented people to collaborate effectively in a remote manner, they need collaborative tools that are available 24/7. And what exactly is available 24/7? Right: the worldwide web.

There we are: the Google web tools listed above are a great solution for future organizations. A lot of people will work through the Google Docs platform, use Gmail, translate through Google Translate, etc. Added to that is a tool that allows you to easily message, share, video call,…: Google Plus.
What else do you need to effectively execute your job as a knowledge worker? Almost nothing?

Google Plus a social layer for the future enterprise, not a Facebook killer.

Do you see the power of ecosystems at work?
Do you know other products designed with an ecosystem in mind apart from Apple’s app store?

HTML5 & SEO impact.

SEO - Search Engine Optimization

SEO - Search Engine Optimization

I’m lucky. I managed to create a compelling info-sphere through Twitter. But compelling doesn’t always mean it guides towards striking insights. Sometimes the content I run up to is a bit blinkered – though useful. It should not come as a surprise then that I want to have my say from time to time on a specific topic. Just to put things in a perspective.

The info-sphere on HTML5 and its impact on SEO.

I struggled before with the questions arising around “web”, “internet”, “app” and “HTML5” – so I digged a little deeper into that. While doing so, the info-sphere pin-pointed an article that discussed the impact of “html5 on SEO”. Curiosity arouse. I clicked the link. Read the article. Frowned. Here’s why.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a term that describes a bunch of tactics by which your webpages rank well in search engines for a specific keyword. It results in visitors that are interested in your topic. After all, they looked for the content themselves, they were not pushed the messages on to them.

SEO tactics respond to the way search engine’s algorithms function. The only goal is to be easily found and to attract website visitors. Once those visitors are on your page, it’s not SEO that’ll turn them into a prospect or lead. SEO however is a start to get a “pool of convertible people”.

What is HTML5? Does it kill the “app economy”?

So what exactly is HTML5? What is its impact on the “world of the web”?

HTML5, as successor to previous HTML languages, adds many new syntactical features. These features are designed to make it easy to include and handle multimedia and graphical content on the web without having to resort to proprietary plugins and APIs. Other new elements are designed to enrich the semantic content of documents. New attributes have been introduced for the same purpose, while some elements and attributes have been removed. Some elements have been changed, redefined or standardised. The APIs and DOM are no longer afterthoughts, but are fundamental parts of the HTML5 specification.

The above makes clear there are some new “metadata” which can be used by SEO-marketers so to improve their find-ability in a new “era of the web”.

More important however from my point of view, is the fact that HTML5 is a markup language fitted for several OS. This basically means that iOS developers and Android developers don’t have to code a separate app for the different platforms. Develop your application in HTML5 and its ready to go to market in all OS. Just great, right? Yes, so why do people believe the “web” will be replaced by “apps” then?

HTML5

HTML5

As demonstrated, HTML5 is a great solution for your mobile web activities. It could save you a lot of money because you don’t need to develop for specific proprietary platforms (as Android, iOS, RIM, …).

Nevertheless, you want to be found on smartphones too. This takes us back to the mobile web and – of course – mobile SEO.

The Mobile Web: HTML5 vs Apps

So to answer the questions “what is mobile SEO”, one needs to first answer the question “what is the mobile web”. The mobile web is a collection of web pages that can be accessed through a smart phone. If we narrow this down a little, one could say: “the mobile web are pages optimized for viewing and interaction on a mobile phone”. Those pages typically get an URL that has the following format: m.website.com. If you visit these pages, you can be pretty sure they’ve done their best to optimize their web pages for the “mobile web”.

As we all know, we often make use of the mobile web through apps. These are in fact software functionalities to reach a specific goal. Let’s say you’re on the go (mobile) and you want to know which train to catch. You probably have an app for that. So you check that app and get the best train for your journey.

What’s truly at stake here, is that mobile people consult the web for a specific purpose. They know what they are after and need the information quickly. Today, OS-dependent apps are the best and fastest way to fulfill that need. HTML5 could also do the trick. So you basically don’t need to develop an app per se. I’m sorry, I know it’s trendy to build one.

What is mobile SEO?

Mobile Search

Mobile Search

Mobile Search is about “people on the go (mobile) in need and searching for specific information urgently”. As a result, I believe your mobile SEO content should address the following questions:

  • What information do people want to know when on the go?
  • Can they easily find that on our web?
  • Can they easily take on action once they found it?
  • What can we do to improve this? What traditional SEO tactics are valid?

It’s the principle. Not the technology.

On the oil spill: BP to deploy SEM techniques for reputation management

BP deploys SEM techniques for reputation management

BP deploys SEM techniques for reputation management

BP: attack on nature and mankind?

You might have heard about it: there’s an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. BP – held responsible for this disaster – is doing everything within its reach to solve the issue as soon as possible. Instead of discussing the engineering operations by which the company is trying to stop the leak, I want to say a word or two about the marketing (public relations) aspects that come into play.

Reputation at risk.

Needless to say that a natural disaster can seriously harm the reputation of a company – resulting in fewer “likers” (cfr: the Facebook like hype on external websites…) or even less people willing to fill up their car at a BP service station. For BP this is as much a disaster as is the oil for the nature and our planet. BP can’t afford to have a decrease in revenue – the cost of the oil spill is already sufficiently high.

Reputation management: what is the reputation?

One could think of BP as a “money-making machine while destroying our planet”. One could think that is correct – but it’s not. In the past – as well as today – BP has been glorified for its environmentally responsible business model. Yes, BP is not just about oil. BP is about: oil, natural gas, wind, solar, biofuels, efficiency, energy security, energy diversity, …

SEM techniques as a means for reputation management

SEM stands for search engine marketing. It is the “art” of positioning website pages in the Google query result pages. One can pay Google to be on the result pages. You’ll end up in the “sponsored links” and pay each time somebody clicks your link. This type of search engine marketing  is called SEA: search engine advertising. An other approach is to build your website in such a way that it organically (without paying Google) lists well in the search results. This type of SEM is called SEO: search engine optimization. The latter is more sustainable than the first, but takes more time to prove its efficiency.

In order to understand the point, one needs to know a bit more about “the psychology of Google result pages”.

  • people usually look no further than the results displayed on page 1
  • people believe that they receive good information via this technology – and they actually do !
  • people believe the “best” companies are  at the top of the list
  • Google has become the number 1 source for people to obtain information.

Is SEM a powerful reputation management technique?

SEM, both SEA and SEO, are valid reputation management techniques. As a matter of fact, companies should consider thinking about this aspect not only when dealing with so-called crisis communication.
SEO: long-term reputation management?

What if the first Google result page of your company’s brand name is entirely filled with webpages that you own or that you have relations with? Well, then you would control your reputation when people search for you. How to handle that? Well, just think on the following set-up: index your company (product) specific website in Google, make a Facebook page as well, set up a blog, deploy a twitter account, etc. You’ll note that after a while when people browse your company or product they see pages in Google that are managed by yourself. The reputation that develops in people’s minds is completely under your control.

Why BP ran an SEA campaign

As stated above, SEA is a means to appear in the listing with a finger flick while SEO takes time to have impact. For this reason BP had to run an SEA campaign on the keywords ‘Oil Spill’. Is it wrong to do so? Actually no, it’s not because they paid for inclusion that it is immoral to do so. As a matter of fact, nobody would have questioned BP buying a newspaper page in order to put an ad for e.g. apologies about the oil spill (they might even have done so).

Finally, a word about BP.

Looking at the BP case, we have to admit that they are quite committed to the environment. We see that the engineering operations are doing everything to get the leak fixed as soon as possible. This is also what they want to make clear to the general public. However, if they had deployed a more extensive reputation management strategy before the disaster… it would have been more powerful and people wouldn’t have questioned the adwords campaign that much. Nevertheless: BP is environmentally responsible. They just had a little bad luck with their operations on the Gulf of Mexico…

Special reputation management pages on BP.com

Special reputation management pages on BP.com

Live stream of operations at Gulf of Mexico

Live stream of operations at Gulf of Mexico

BP's environmentally responsible business program - not specifically related to the leak!

BP's environmentally responsible business program - not specifically related to the leak!

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Search engine optimization as a PR tool

Search engine optimization

SEO is about tricks to put web pages on top of Google’s search results. It has proven to be a fruitful marketing technique in order to attract more visitors to your website. Another nice feature about Google manipulation is the way it has changed the PR game.

SEO for PR

The thing is: journalists are human beings as well and try to obtain the maximum result with a minimum of efforts. In their “search for news” they also rely on the internet. And most of the time they just “Google” for news. You suppose they would double-check that information. But due to lack in time, they often do not.

Means-end-chain: SEO for Thought-leadership

One of the great PR goals in today’s society is being the “thought leader” within the sector or industry. Studies have shown that being on the number 1 Google result page evokes the psychological effect of “the best, the biggest, etc.” For PR people today SEO could be a means to the end of thought-leadership.

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