NGM Blog                                                Cian Corbett, MMK

In February 2011, I took the opportunity to join 12 students and lecturers on the Next Generation Management trip to Banagalore, India. An integral part of the Next Generation Management trip to Bangalore involved the group attending the Search Marketing Summit on February 2nd and 3rd. An interesting fact about the Summit was that it was in aid of Akshaya Patra, an Indian Educational Charity which seeks to keep children in education by supplying them with a healthy meal every day. With their mantra being “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger” Akshaya Patra raises funds to feed 1 million Indian children every day with the mission to keep them in education. The startling fact given to the attendees, especially to me as a foreigner in India, was that 40% of the world’s malnourished children live in India.

Since much of the funds are raised online another aim of the conference was to raise the profile on Akshaya Patra on a global and specialised social media and SEO scale eventually leading to more brand awareness and online donations. This gave the conference a sense of honour and duty with every item of SEO and Social Media advice being linked back to the core message of building online awareness of Akshaya Patra and their mission to (twitter hashtag) #feedachild.

I felt attending this conference was a valuable step in expanding my knowledge in Search Engine Optimisation leading to a more rounded grasp of Digital Marketing. Studies reveal that SEO is an integral part of Marketing in the digital age. Dou et al. (2010) propose that SEO is an essential aspect of Brand Positioning by shaping attitude and building awareness. Similarly, Jay Gunlund (2010) considers SEO part of an integrated marketing programme that maximises the perceived benefit or quality of a product or service.

The first Keynote speaker of the conference was Social Media Strategist Eric Weaver of Antseyeview.com. Eric is credited as being one of the first ever digital marketers and so his presentation which included the phrase “You don’t need a social media strategy” may have surprised many attendees. Eric went on to clarify that a social media strategy is only effective in conjunction with other media in the pursuit of an engagement strategy. Eric noted many companies seemed to be jumping on the SMM bandwagon simply because the technology exists which is more of a focus on the tool rather than the message. The core aim of all marketing should be to Engage, Influence and Activate. Engage the consumer with the product, Influence a purchasing decision, Activate a purchasing decision. He preached the importance of realising the appropriateness of where the product fits into the life of the consumer and choosing an engagement strategy to fit that need. The example Eric chose was Heinz Beans. Yes it’s a staple product but would you follow Heinz Beans on Twitter? No, because there is little to be engaged by. Eric advised that marketers should know their organisations goals, their brand’s voice and mannerisms and they should speak in the appropriate social space.

Eric’s message resonated with me on a very practical level. Since we have begun the course there has been a huge emphasis on Digital Marketing and with almost blind faith I have completely bought into the concept that every company needs a Social Media Strategy. Regardless of the product my instinct has been to reach for the laptop to set up a Facebook page. Eric demonstrated the importance of getting the message right first, and then choosing the appropriate tools. Barwise and Meehan, 2010, agree with Weaver that getting the marketing message right is more important now than ever with social media, stating that while failing to keep up with SMM is a danger, being preoccupied with SMM and losing sight of the fundamentals is far more dangerous.

The next speaker was Gillian Muessig, President and Co-founder of SEOMOZ, an online SEO mentoring community. Gillian is an affable and engaging speaker who warmly greeted the NGM team personally before the conference. She is also the mother of SEO Mogul Rand Fishkin and thus proudly uses the moniker “SEO Mom”. A testament to her knowledge and presentation skills is the fact she has been invited to speak at DCU on 7th March 2011. Gillian reinforced the importance of efficient SEO with the statistic that 90% of ‘Click Through’s’ are organic searches and 10% of ‘Click Through’s’ are for paid search (Google Adwords take note). Therefore, companies can earn a higher ROI by investing in SEO rather than paid search advertising.

Gillian applied her SEO recommendations to Akshaya Patra’s website and recommended they first aim for the low hanging fruit: Don’t block robots, utilise the webmaster tools available from Google and Bing and carefully choose Meta Descriptions. Gillian was later joined by a panel of other speakers Suresh Babu, Mani Karthik and Ashwin Ramesh to discuss the most effective way of raising the SEO of http://www.AkshayaPatra.org through link building. Gillian lead the discussion by stating that links should be considered as votes or endorsements in SEO terms. The panel agreed that the foundation should strive to build links with the use of badges: a symbol on a website or blog which proudly pronounces that this person/ organisation has made a donation to Akshaya Patra. These badges would act an endorsement and link to the charity’s website boosting its Search Engine ranking. Again, I was impressed by the practical applications of SEO which I had not considered before. I had accepted widgets and badges as social media declarations of support and personalisation of a page without considering the SEO implications of Link Building which has now changed my view of reviewing websites.

The next speaker was Mani Karthik who spoke about Social Media and its influence on Search Engines. In my opinion when compared to the other engaging speakers I didn’t feel Mani offered any insight into SMM that I hadn’t encountered in DCU already. While his points were valid they were not revelatory: His proclamations included “Social Media is a revolutionary form of communication, social media gives power to the user, social media is growing fast”. I felt Mani was falling victim to what Eric Weaver was describing when he talked about the rush to hurry a social media strategy, enacting Barwin and Meehan’s “Turning Hype into Hyperventilation”. Unlike the other speakers which offered practical tips which I could incorporate into future projects I felt Mani’s talk was more a cultural observation than expert advice.

An interesting aspect of the conference lay in the passionate criticism of Social Media competencies when compared to Search Engine Optimization. Mani’s advocacy of Social Media was refuted by SEO expert Ashwin Ramesh (CEO of OrganicApex) as Mani professed that Social Media is immediate while all other media is burdened with latency. Ashwin Ramesh suggested Social Media was merely a method of passing around information after it had already been broadcast on traditional media. Gillian Muessig interjected with the example of the publication of Michael Jackson’s death which was on TV in 1 hour, on Google in 20 minutes but on Twitter immediately proving Social Media is ahead of traditional media. Closer to home, this was also true with the news of Gerry Ryan’s death which spread rapidly on Twitter before any confirmation was released on traditional media. I found this argument interesting as previously I would have kept both concepts separate: Social Media Marketing for engaging an audience and Search Engine Optimization to manipulate a users search results. However, they are more closely linked than I had been aware of as Twitter is now judged to be the world’s fastest growing search engine, according to D. Idugboe, 2010. Spurred on by the empowerment of the user, Twitter is outgrowing its microblogging roots to become the next generation of search engine.

Interestingly, both SEO and SMM have grown closer together again as Google recently announced they are to make improvements to the Social Search they introduced in 2009 meaning social media posts will feature more prominently in their search rankings. In Google’s official blog (17/2/11) they stated that their searches are not only concerned with pages but will also reflect relationships. Twitter and blog input from Google users’ peers will now rank among the higher ranked web pages meaning peer to peer postings is suddenly now more valuable in the through an SEO lens. Curiously, Facebook input does not rank on Google but does on Bing showing some strategic initiative on Bing’s part.

An unexpected addition to the Search Marketing Summit was Erica Jones’s talk on Video Marketing. Erica, an American living in Bangalore for close to 12 months, spoke about the rise of video on the internet quoting a Cisco report that predicts that Video will make up 90% of all internet traffic by 2012. I felt a relevant inclusion in Erica’s talk in keeping with the Search Marketing Theme was that Google recognises and ranks video favourably. Erica proposed this is due to the optimization that is centred around the video’s description and tags. However, in my opinion, many of the tips Erica offered were a little cosmetic. I felt tips such as buying a good quality camera with a boom stand so you can video yourself while walking around was a little out of place in a room full of business owners and IT specialists debating SEO techniques.

Ian McAnerin of McAnerin International and John Barron of Gravity Free spoke about SEO and its relationship with Traditional Marketing. The main message I took away from their presentation was ‘just as business cannot occur in a vacuum, neither can SEO.’ They challenged the attendee’s to pose the following key questions:

  • Who is your market?
  • What are the trends?
  • What are your customers doing?
  • What are your competitors doing?

The answers to these questions should influence your choice of SEO Keywords. One very practical piece of advice given to an owner of a small business was to conduct Customer Keyword Research on Facebook where natural conversation is conducted. Rappaport 2010, concurs with Ian stating that keyword research using social media is becoming a dynamic listening and research tool for brands to stay current.

Conclusion:

Overall, I felt attending the Search Marketing Summit was a very worthwhile experience. It certainly drove home the point that SEO and SEM are not just specialised areas but a shared marketing obligation. As a marketer entering the working world it is my responsibility to get familiar and comfortable with SEM techniques as its importance is expected to continually rise. In 2005 SEM was valued at $5.75bn and was projected to rise beyond €11.1bn by 2010 (Song and Mela, 2008). I plan to build on this SEO experience and develop and exercise my SEM competencies during my practicum project in the coming weeks.

On a broader scale I believe I observed the practical application of Search Engine Marketing to solve real life problems. The audience was composed of small business owners, charity activists and IT specialists requesting specific information from international speakers that could make a significant impact to their business and their livelihood. The information shared at this summit could mean the difference between a business flourishing online or languishing at the foot of a search engine ranking.

References:

Dou, W, Lim, K, Su, C, Zhou, N, & Cui, N 2010, ‘BRAND POSITIONING STRATEGY USING SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING’, MIS Quarterly, 34, 2, pp. 261-A4, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 19 February 2011.

Gronlund, J 2010, ‘Doing more with less’, Marketing Health Services, 30, 1, pp. 18-21, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 19 February 2011.

Barwise, P, & Meehan, S 2010, ‘The One Thing You Must Get Right When Building a Brand’, Harvard Business Review, 88, 12, pp. 80-84, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 21 February 2011.

Idugboe (2010) ‘Twitter – World’s fastest growing search engine’, Smedio.com. 8 July. Available at http://smedio.com/2010/07/08/twitter-worlds-fastest-growing-search-engine/

Rappaport, SD 2010, ‘Listening Solutions’, Journal of Advertising Research, 50, 2, pp. 197-213, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 28 February 2011.

Song, Y, & Mela, C 2008, ‘Sponsored Search Auctions: Research Opportunities in Marketing’,Foundations & Trends in Marketing, 3, 2, pp. 75-126, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 23 February 2011.

Google (2011) ‘An Update to Google Social Search’ 2/17/2011 07:00:00 AM Available at: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/update-to-google-social-search.html (Accessed 1st March 2011)

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