By Jonathan Lawoyin, eWayDirect
There are two major challenges for every marketer, regardless of the industry or product involved. One is getting more people to know about your brand (increasing brand awareness), and the other is keeping your brand at the top of mind of those who already know about it (brand loyalty).
The nature of these challenges is such that the job of a marketer is never done. There will always be people who do not know about your brand, and for those that have been your customers in the past, there is no guarantee that they will remain so. But with that in mind, how can search marketing and social media help the ongoing process of customer acquisition and customer retention?
Search marketing is rightly viewed as an acquisition tool, while social media is viewed as a tool for engaging your current customers and brand enthusiasts. But a powerful web presence, fueled by effective search and social media strategies, can absolutely take a brand to the next level by maximizing your reach and maintaining positive sentiment around your brand. Businesses dedicated to both search and social media excellence tend to see a synergistic effect, in which the combined effect of search and social media is greater than the sum of these two parts. With the widespread use of search engines and social media websites by consumers, it only makes sense to aim to reach them through both channels.
The idea of web presence optimization involves not only maximizing your reach to your target audience online, but also maximizing the value of interaction with your brand.
As a search engine optimization strategist, one of the things that has always struck me is the level of success that businesses have with SEO when their brand is well represented on the web. By "well represented," I mean a comprehensive social media presence, a flourishing blog, relevant content disseminated throughout the web, engagement on forums and message boards, and more. These businesses consistently thrive in the world of SEO, achieving and maintaining high rankings on keywords that the competition spends all day trying to rank on.
The key to their success is simple. SEO has always been about signals. Signals to search engines of a webpage's importance and relevance on a certain subject; and now more than ever, search engines are paying attention to signals from places other than the website trying to rank on a given keyword.
Search is primarily a customer-acquisition tool. This powerful system in which customers actively searching for information on products and services are matched with businesses looking to reach such individuals is indeed remarkable. The search channel, which involves paid search advertising and organic search optimization, is an absolutely crucial component of any marketer's arsenal. For this channel to be effective, however, it must be viewed from the right perspective.
The search dynamic begins with a user typing in a search query, receiving information in the form of listings from search engines, and acting upon that information. This may sound mundane, but some businesses don't really understand the importance of this process and the effect it should have on strategy. Optimal success with the search channel begins with the understanding that the playing field is not SEO or PPC but the search engine results pages (SERPs). When users conduct searches, they arrive at a page: not an organic page, or a paid page, but a results page.
This means that the goal of businesses should be to maximize share-of-voice on the search results pages for the search terms most important to their business at the lowest cost possible. This holistic view is what helps marketers understand that you don't cut down on your PPC spend just because your organic rankings are higher and driving more sales. You want to ensure that you are maximizing your effective ROI, and because customers click on both paid and organic listings, it's important to maintain a presence in both.
The search channel is not just important for generating new sales and leads, but also for protecting your brand. Over the past few years, marketers have begun to realize that online reputation management around a brand is just as important as offline PR efforts. This has led to the birth of reputation management services (usually offered with SEO), digital PR agencies, and social media monitoring and management agencies. These reputation management efforts don't just apply to existing customers; they also apply to people who may be finding your brand for the first time.
I recently had the opportunity to work on a digital PR campaign for a nationally recognized brand. This brand was looking to increase organic rankings for certain high-value terms, and while we recognized this as a priority, we also realized that there were three or four negative news reports coming up on the first page of Google when the brand's name was searched. These negative reports were not a result of illegal or scamming behavior on the brand's part, they were more around a subject that the brand had no control over.
In this case, we proposed a reputation management campaign along with the campaign targeting non-brand terms. You can't have users finding your brand only to run a search on that brand later and find negative information!
Social media is the "in" thing these days, and rightly so. It is the mechanism for facilitating engagement with brands, and touches just about every aspect of the online experience. These days, just about every business, organization, athlete or artist has a social media presence, and is making some attempt to engage their audience and fans in this medium. But usually when it comes down to it, many businesses confess that while they have put up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, they are not exactly sure what to do with social media.
As mentioned earlier, the goal of web presence optimization is to maximize reach as well as the value of every interaction with your brand; and the second part of that statement probably applies more to social media than does the first part. There are four ways in which social media affects your web presence:
1. It allows you to take the pulse of your customers and target audience. By monitoring social media activity around your brand, whether it be on your Facebook page or Twitter account, or on sites out of control, you gain valuable insights into the mind of your customer. This information is extremely useful in driving effective engagement with your target audience through social media and other channels.
2. It allows you to engage in conversations with your target audience - And it does so in a way that we have never seen before. It also enables you to find individuals who have had less-than-great experiences with your competition and reach out to them.
3. It can help make your brand go viral. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have made and broken many brands. The ease with which content can be shared these days presents a significant opportunity to the savvy marketer. The deliberate, strategic development of a social media presence combined with interesting campaigns and tactics can lead to your brand's content going viral and exponentially boosting brand awareness.
4. It can improve your search presence. Google and Bing have indicated that social media signals such as shares and tweets around a brand now affect organic rankings. It's no wonder that brands that have made a significant investment of resources into social media strategy are enjoying strong organic rankings. Not only does social media affect organic rankings directly, but it can also result in placement via videos or Tweets which we now routinely find intermixed with our more "traditional" listings on the search engines.
What businesses need is a focus on their web presence, not just search rankings or Facebook likes or Twitter followers. Ultimately, businesses are looking to make money, and the best way to do that with search and social media is to look at these channels in terms of how they impact business goals, and in my opinion, this means looking at their effect on your overall web presence.
About the author: Jonathan Lawoyin is the director of search engine marketing and social media at eWayDirect, Inc. Jonathan has been involved in the online marketing and social media space for many years, with agency-side experience working with Fortune-500 clients. He is co-founder of Rotomania.com, an online community for fantasy sports fans.