What Would D-Mac Do


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thoughts on 2010

As I'm wrapping things up for 2009 and thinking about my own goals for 2010, a few themes seem to be recurring (I speak for myself only, I don't make an assertions about the industry in general). These aren't like, SMART or anything. I list these in no order of importance:

-Do more speaking/education: I actually found myself burnt out in this realm of the business in the past few years. Quite frankly, there's only so many times you can listen to people ponder out loud about whether or not "this is truly the year of mobile" or "how (insert new-fangled social media platform) is going to "change the game"". Those conversations are boring to me. I've been around on this mortal coil long enough to see that I'm essentially doing the exact same things socially on the web as I was in 1995. All this was certainly possible in the "good 'ol days". Facebook and Twitter are transient creatures with a lifecycle like everything else. Ultimately, they peak, and then the masses move on to another product. But ultimately, the fundamental internet, with its blogs and forums never actually change. Likewise at a tactical level, people still argue about paid links, integrating social media (oh boy) and on and on. To be quite honest, I have like, things to do and stuff. However, we revamped some of our internal training for new-hires in the last quarter for SEO at Resolution and it sort of re-ignited an interest myself. Rather than treat SEO like this big data dump wherein all new hires had to understand the fundamentals of a webpage so they'd know an un-optimized page when they see it, we shifted the focus on the business case behind content optimization. Now granted, it obviously behooves any internet marketer to be on top of what emerging technologies may occur, but if you're constantly chasing those, and not focusing on the actual need the internet fulfills for people, I don't think you can fully embrace those technologies and their various (yet ironically similar) capabilities. I feel like I have something to add to the SEO-community's conversation here. Basically, I got burnt out on the tactical conversations being had in our industry by being so tactical in my own work. So in 2010, I feel like it's fair to step up in that regard (this blog stands as testament to at least hanging my shingle out). If anything, I'll be happy to dole out the neck punch the first person to mention the "dawning of Web 4.0" will so aptly deserve.

-Diminish emphasis on specific keywords and queries and increase emphasis on concepts: This is actually something that began with the idea of a semantic web for me. Udi Manber mentioned a couple years ago that 25% of all queries are ones Google has never seen before. With the advent of personalized search, real time results and the fundamental integration of social media into people's web activity, I find the game of optimizing to particular keywords to be a game of whack-a-mole that ultimate fails to actually capture an audience. I want to use more sentiment tools like Radian 6 as an integral part of our processes for content optimization as a whole and less of a "Well here's this thing we use to make sure people on Twitter don't think you're bad people" sense. I don't know exactly where this thinking will take us over the course of the year, but I do hope that next year at this time, SEO will be more about optimizing towards a concept and less about a particular keyword (at least if I'm in charge of the internets by next year).

-Redefine the competitive set: A few years ago, I created an online competitive analysis which took a bunch of characteristics around websites that ranked for a given keyword and measured them against our client. It worked great for awhile. It was an awesome forcing mechanism because, as anyone knows, the best motivator in business is to show how the guy down the street has something you don't. But as personalized search, universal one-boxes and their ilk emerged, this analysis became less and and less relevant. I won't go as far as Greg Jarboe's missive about the death of 10 blue links (somewhat out of context, but you get the idea), but I do believe we need to understand the context in which people view our content. Query intent analysis has been something I've paid attention to at least since 2005, but this is like...on steriods or something because engines (well Google and Yahoo) are especially hip to it. We do a good job of telling of pointing out to clients things like "You're competitor's aren't other hotels, they are travel sites", but I feel like there's even more we can do with that. I want to factor sentiment, mediums (videos, images, offline, mobile) into our competitive analysis and really understand where we (the editorial we man!) compete with, where we take a bath, and where we don't really do much of anything. I subscribe to the true fan principle as described here in this post for indie rock for Fortune 500 companies in the social realm. We're just better equipped to understand our users than some hipster rock band who's primary concern is what T-shirt best reflects their inner irony.

Become more persona oriented in my communication: I've learned a lot about persona studies in the past year and a half or so. My background is more tech in nature, so some of these offline tactics eluded me early on. Sure it's sort of fluffy market-speak bullshit to put names to faces and all that, but ultimately it's a fantastic way to illustrate some very powerful information. Most of our clients are doing this stuff, but more often than not, they never actually make there way to the folks who are studying search behavior. However, a client (who I'm probably not at liberty to disclose) provided us with a persona study they had done with, like, actual focus groups and panels like the He-Men did in times of myth in this last quarter. It was absolutely brilliant. We parlayed that into search behavior and were able to drop some serious science on the content development of the website. The effects on the overall productivity of the copywriters and the nature of how the products/services were discussed were more than evident. Now obviously, this client had millions of dollars and lots of time to kill, and I realize that those two things aren't exactly at my disposal day in and day out. But fundamentally, I do believe we can take those offline principles and apply them quite effectively to how we analyze and quantify all this sentiment, web-analytics and search data.

Those are just thoughts in my stream-of-consciousness mode I'm in right now (don't ask...I'm in a Zappa phase lately). Any other particular goals people have?

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