June 30, 2011

How to become a super-node in the attention era

To turn up in organic search, you need to play three-dimensional chess

Chris AbrahamI try to read through my RSS feeds every day. Today I stumbled upon an article by my friend Christopher S Penn, entitled Social media now directly influences search rankings.

It shows that Google is playing Tri-D chess in a world where most companies are mastering checkers:

If you’re marketing something, there’s now a direct incentive to build your network as large as possible among your prospective customers. Size matters.

Long story short: every search you make on Google returns results that are weighted heavily to favor people in your social network, especially those people and brands to have a lot of friends, likes, and followers.

In other words, you can access top organic search engine results for your company, brand, products and services by really diving into social media marketing and eveloping connections, followers, likes, and lists–getting people to like your brand on Facebook or follow your brand on Twitter hasn’t ever just been about brand awareness, it has also become an essential secret weapon for search engine ranking.

You should read Chris’ article for sure, but I have my own example to show how personally-tailored Google search has become

A few days ago a journalist friend of mine popped me a note to ask me if I knew the Rosetta Stone CEO.  I didn’t, however, he thought I must because my name came up twice when he searched for ‘Rosetta Stone” on Google.

See, I blogged for Rosetta Stone for a while and have used their products for years. When I did the same search, I didn’t show on the first page at all. Online, my friend’s world is heavily colored by me.

I showed up because he and I are connected via LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Talk, Gmail, Twitter, and who knows where else.

His search reality isn’t objective at all.  It is being heavily adjusted by the connections he has and will make to other people and brands online. In real time, immediately, to order, based on dozens of tacit connections.

Google isn’t stupid. I won’t show up in all of his web searches–only those that are relevant to what he wants. However, if I have ever written and published anything online that is, in fact, relevant, there’s an excellent chance I will turn up on page one, possibly even if he’s logged out of Gmail.

With the multitude of social network profiles that I possess and maintain, the nearly five-thousand friends I have on Facebook (including the high-caste of many of my friends), the 38,000 followers I have on Twitter, and my 12-year-old blog, my 2,200 contacts on LinkedIn, 3,400 folks on FourSquare, subscribers on FeedBurner, all my content on YouTube, and others, means that Google generally tries to include me in other people’s searches of the Internet, gaming serendipity to the point that I come up as a few of the search results on such a competed-for search term like Rosetta Stone in the Manhattan offices of one of the top global newspapers.

I chose to use this example because I have invested myself so heavily towards building these connections shamelessly. People wonder why I would engage in promiscuous “follow back” on Twitter and maintain the maximum friends on Facebook? Surely I am not special. I, like anyone else, cannot maintain close friendships in excess of Dunbar’s Number of 150 friends.

I have been doing this for myself, for my company, and for my clients, using myself as the most shameless example to prove the concept that having the “right” friends online, following the few “right” people and brands is not only wrong but dangerous.

Shoot for quantity plus quality followers

The more people you touch via social media and social network connections, the greater the chance that you will turn up as a top result in search results.

Yes, get the right followers, but also get as many followers as possible. In a world where people get their search results based on who their friends are and what they’re looking at or doing, you’re going to want to become connected to as many as humanly possible, possibly indiscriminately but certainly promiscuously. The more people you touch via social media and social network connections, the greater the chance that you will always be a top result whenever they do a search in your general direction.

Sure, my level of social media populism is not for everyone because it does take a lot of work, and pursuing the Cluetrain long tail of everyone can surely scare away some of your elite contacts and friends, which it has done, personally, because I do create a lot of content and “noise” to someone who only has 150 friends on LinkedIn, on MySpace, Friendster, and Twitter. I have surely driven them away and hear, “I had to unfollow you because you were the only person I ever saw on my
Facebook wall.” Fair enough. No worries.

While this example is personal, all of these map across to brand beautifully. I am co-founder and president of Abraham Harrison and Google knows that. It is on my Google Profile (you really need to look at this and set this up and try to get all your employees to set their profiles up as well). Google met me halfway when it came to the profile, too, as it was mostly already sorted out for me when I arrived. I just made sure they didn’t miss anything.

This might all seem like Mickey Mouse child’s play but the net effect is that the experience of daily search for tens of thousands of people online tends towards returning content that I have liked, dugg, retweeted, blogged, stumbled upon, thumbed up, shared, starred, emailed, and recommended, including a mainstream media highest-caste global newspaper journalist, and others. Their search reality is strangely influenced by my Internet behavior. That’s powerful. In the attention data game, I am considered a super-node.

In terms of an SEO strategy, this means–and has meant for a while–that simply nailing your site’s information architecture, naming convention, keyword-rich URLs and titles, content, keywords, ALT tags, and link strategy is not nearly enough.

The new secret weapon for Search Engine Optimization is digital Public Relations and Social Media Marketing.

Even more info on this strategy over on Steve Rubel and SEOmoz. Via Mike Moran’s Biznology blog.

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Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.