Strategic words are out. Personal search is in. This week, the Kauffman Foundation held a seminar on “Online Branding for Startups” with help from Mark Traphagen of Virante, a SEO marketing firm out of Durham, N.C. I learned a number of things in the hours we discussed branding with entrepreneurs and Kauffman associates, but here are my top four takeaways.
Social media and interaction are great branding tools today, but they’ve also become very common. Everyone has access to them and is likely sharing, liking and linking just as much as you are. You have to stand out amongst the rest of the noise. How do you do this? As Mark told us, “people trust perceived authority”. People gravitate towards trusted sources and thought leaders in any given topic. This is why the books on Oprah’s book list receive such high sales number, or why Steve Blank has 79,000 Twitter followers. People trust those people who are authorities in a certain subject area, and therefore, are more likely to buy the products they suggest or follow the advice they provide. Establishing that you have some specialty knowledge in your topic can help you stand out from the white noise of bland retweets and iterations of others’ comments and quotes. Creating a rapport with your audience of trust shows them that you’re reliable, and someone who’s advice is to be trusted. If they follow your tip, procedure, etc, things will be okay.
Dawning of the Dead: Google+ is Very Much Alive
Google+, remember that thing? It’s probably the social platform that usually falls to the bottom of your Update To-Do List. Well, start paying attention because it is very much a part of your online branding. Turns out personal Google+ profiles have page rank. Duh, it’s Google. Did we really think the king of search would create something that wasn’t integrated into their algorithms? Creating a personal page, or a community page on Google for your favorite topic or a brand page has an effect on your search rankings. Having a presence on Google+ allows Google to track more data on your content, as well as who and how many people are sharing it. Witness the personalization of search. The bigger your network on Google+, the more they pump up your stuff. This is also where Google Authorship comes in. Linking your Google+ page to your created content allows Google Authorship to post your picture and byline in the search listing. It can also help you understand how your content appears in search with analytics around your authorship.
Panda and Penguin Rule
Google has a bit of a love affair with naming their algorithms after cuddly animals that start with the letter “P”. Panda, created in 2011, and Penguin, created in 2012, are the names of Google’s algorithms that sought to cut down on SEO ninjas. Panda aimed to lower the rank of low quality sites where content was thin or weak. Penguin then decreased the search rankings for sites that violated SEO techniques with keyword stuffing, link stuffing and duplicate content. People that were just throwing a bunch of keywords into their sites or code into the backend to increase search, were shown who’s boss with Google’s improved algorithms. What this mean, is that site with quality content are naturally becoming better ranked sites with Google’s increasing precision in their calculations. Still, for the SEO tricks that you are using in your sites, be aware of Google’s constantly changing algorithms and adjust accordingly. Or Google’s next “Puffin” (let's say for fun sake) could mean defeat for your online presence.
Attention is the New Currency
Mark told us “you have an average of eight seconds to retain an audience,” and in reading this sentence you just lost half of that. Keywords themselves are not enough anymore. You need strong taglines that draw in an audience, and you need strong content to maintain their attention longer than it takes a bull to knock off a cowboy. Mark says this requires:
1) Authoritative content
2) Natural links (These are inbound links site owners didn't create as part of their “link building” campaign.)
3) Active social engagement
Create good content. Be earnest in sharing this content, and engaging with your audience. Ultimately, there is no single secret that makes you top dog in search (unless maybe you’re Larry Page’s best friend), but consistent content and insight in your specific topic can help your online branding. Mark reminded us through the day “it’s not the brand name or logo that ultimately draws people, it’s who the people, content creators and thought leaders are who hold authority that draw an audience.