Once upon a time, search engine optimization and branding lived apart. They dined at separate tables. The SEO guys (and they were almost always guys) tooled away in a server room or a windowless closet, coming up with awkward twists of language like BEST COLLEGE STUDENT LOANS. The brand marketers and PR folks, meanwhile, were out pitching the shiny brand to anyone who would sit still long enough, with beautifully crafted tradeshow swag, coffee mugs with logos on them, and splashy signs and displays.
Then the world changed. Suddenly, brand became important to search engines like Google, which started to emphasize the power of brand in its search results as early as 2011. Suddenly, SEO became important to brand marketers, when marketing became quantified and the output of marketing was lead generation, not brochures.
The final nail in the coffin for the separation of brand and search happened on January 15, 2013, when Facebook announced its Graph Search product that allows you to discover new connections, new companies, and new brands based on what your friends like. Suddenly, the power of your brand (and the words people used to define it) became your search:
The loyalty of a customer is now as much defined by how they share you (the power of your brand) as how they do business with you, because your customer is your search marketing. Your customers who share you will define how people will find you. For example, I’m in the Boston area. If someone searches for a martial arts school near Boston who their friends like and I’m their friend, then the Boston Martial Arts Center should be prominent in the results, because of my engagement with that brand. If someone searches for a PR firm in San Francisco that their friends like, and I’m friends with them, then SHIFT Communications should be prominent in the results. I as the customer or advocate am providing the search results because of my network.
It isn’t just Facebook, either. Google has done this for some time with Search Plus Your World; Facebook just does this in a relationship-centric model, while Google still blends in plenty of content to its relationship search. Between the two, you must get your customers, fans, and advocates to share the heck out of you or risk permanent search obscurity.
The rules of the game have changed. It’s not just what you know. It’s not just who you know. It’s all that plus who knows and shares you.
Want 5 tips for how to prepare for Facebook Graph Search? My thoughts on graph search optimization are here.
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