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Search engine marketing has evolved significantly over the past years. Coupled with the major search engine’s ongoing battle against “shortcuts” such as buying links, the opportunity to target specific communities online – not only for their conversions but also for their “search engine juice” – has become a viable option for those in the know. The emergence of specialists such as 10e20 LLC., Pronet Advertising, and others that focus almost exclusively on social media should be a sign that the targeting of Internet communities has most certainly come of age.
The problem is that few true social media specialists exist, and others are potentially “ruining it” for many – much like the email spammers that gave a bad name to email marketing campaigns. Hopefully, the industry will weather this storm and, as the dust settles, communities will not become anti-SEO because of a few bad apples. Keep in mind that many recent surveys from MarketingSherpa, SEMPO, and others show that email campaigns are still the number-one preferred method of Internet marketing, outdistancing proven ROI-drivers such as paid search and SEO.
The reason for the longevity of email marketing, I would argue, is because there is enough expertise in the field to ensure that the comparatively small number of email campaigns that actually drive results are based on trust and opting-in. Social media users need to keep this in mind. As Charlene Li, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester outlined in her case study on Facebook presented in late 2007, “Facebook marketing requires communicating, not advertising.” Does this signal a coming of age? Does a marketing tactic that requires careful planning and attention to detail signal readiness for the big leagues? I would certainly argue so.
In 1898, Claude Hopkins wrote in his must-read marketing manifesto Scientific Advertising (hat-tip to David Szetela) that the “best ads ask no one to buy…They offer wanted information. They cite advantages to users.” Keeping this in mind when communicating in a social setting will likely go a long way in helping gain the respect of those within the specific community. A little respect from a small portion of traffic can mean lots of potential interest in a business. One of the first social sites, which according to Tom Tsinas coined the term “social bookmarking,” was Delicious (del.icio.us). In January 2008, it enjoys more traffic each day than it did in its entire first year!
Users of Digg, arguably the most widely known community beyond MySpace, and certainly the most manipulated from a search marketing perspective, have launched a “war” against search engine optimizers. Michael Gray (Graywolf’s SEO Blog) reported in February 2007 that, “Yes SEO’s: Digg Hates You, They Really Really Hate You.” He cited the “olive branch” post by Matt Inman of the SEOmoz blog, which offered some basic SEO advice to the owners of Digg. The blog post got “Dugg,” but inspired comments Graywolf reproduced, such as a joke along the lines of 100 dead SEOs being a “good start.” And silly me – I always thought that was lawyers, not SEOs.
Looking each day at the stories that get “Dugg,” one can understand the frustration within the community. Who the heck cares about most of the articles submitted by the new breed of social media spammers? Some might argue that we – as the search engine marketing industry – need to police our own. But the fact is that many of the “shady strip-mall SEOs” (as I once described them in my personal blog) aren’t about to listen to or care about what others might say, let alone be worth taking the time to contact. Part of coming of age means having respect for others. I suggest we try starting at that point and see how we can help social communities appreciate our stories, so in the future they no longer automatically discount them as commercially-driven spam.