Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Brand Loyalty & Organic SEO

Since beginning this blog last year, we've tried to make a simple case for organic SEO. Again and again, we've argued that the true practice of SEO is founded on the integrity of a website's brand. We believe SEO only works when a website is focused on quality: the best product and customer service and the best website and content to match.

Our blog's sponsor, Alex Stepman, often refuses to work with companies who do not have a clear offering. If a company does not have a good product to promote, organic SEO will not be nearly as effective. In these cases, Alex often makes suggestions for improving the company's offering before commencing an organic SEO campaign. In the end, SEO is all about the customer's experience, and his or her relationship with the brand.

For a website owner, then, the best way to think about the potential effectiveness of an SEO campaign is to first ask, "Who is my customer?"

Most SEO specialists optimize websites with Google in mind, but the purpose of SEO is to make your website, and by extension your brand, appealing to potential customers. Search engines themselves compete for customers, and the best way for Google, for example, to attract traffic is to deliver relevant search results. By delivering appealing websites, search engines cultivate repeat customers. This is why Google is so popular--its algorithm strives to  deliver only quality websites with quality products on the first page search results.

For more on Google's evolving changes, read "Google's New Algorithm: A New Crucial Question."

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The idea of a "brand" has become so prevalent as to seem like a cliche. Everyone from Apple, the world's most famous brand, to your next-door neighbor, Jim, is a brand. The expectation is that we're all branding ourselves at all times. Last year when I posted a picture of my daughter on Facebook, a close friend commented: "I love how you've incorporated your daughter so seamlessly with your personal brand."

Does a baby embellish your brand?

Taking my friend's bait for a moment, and admitting that my baby is a crucial part of my brand, I wonder: what about my presentation of my daughter inspired this comment? And how can I do more of it?

I actually asked my friend these questions in an email, and his reply feels relevant to today's discussion.

"It's how you present her," he wrote, "with well-composed pictures and thoughtful stories. Most people just throw any old picture on Facebook without any background. You create a story."

Regardless of the actual veracity of my friend's flattery--my brand is a doubtful product at best--his comments speak again to the purpose of organic SEO: the thoughtful presentation of a quality product. If you own an online business with a quality product and you truly believe that you deserve customers, well, then, you are a perfect match for SEO.

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But what if you're not selling a quality product?

Can SEO help you improve your offering?

Perhaps.

First, it's important to understand exactly how to inspire brand loyalty. And let's just say, nothing can be taken for granted.

James Surowiecki's recent article, "The End of Brand Loyalty" strikes an ominous tone for brands that have tried to "coast on past performance." In the past, when customers toiled in an "information poor environment...brands served as proxies for quality." But the Internet, Suroweicki notes, has changed everything:

"What’s really weakened the power of brands is the Internet, which has given ordinary consumers easy access to expert reviews, user reviews, and detailed product data, in an array of categories...The rise of social media has accelerated the trend to an astonishing degree: a dud product can become a laughingstock in a matter of hours. In the old days, you might buy a Sony television set because you’d owned one before, or because you trusted the brand. Today, such considerations matter much less than reviews on Amazon and Engadget and CNET."

Now, this might seem like bad news for stodgy (and rapidly failing brands) like Sears or J.C. Penney, but it's a boon for small business owners. As Suroweicki writes, "...upstarts now find it easier to compete with the big boys. If you build a better mousetrap, people will soon know about it."

Even more telling, however, especially for brands that do not currently offer the best product experience, is Suroweicki's comment at the end of his piece about Lululemon, a perennial brand favorite that has seen better times: "For brands like Lululemon, there’s only one consolation: make something really great and your past sins will be forgotten."

The lesson? Quality trumps all. And as we've said, this is the true goal of organic SEO: a quality customer experience engendered by a blazing fast website with relevant content. In short, the best everything. If a brand is founded and developed on the guiding principle of quality, and if quality is followed as a matter of integrity, success is inevitable. It's all about the customer experience. And SEO is all about making sure your website connects to your intended audience in a way that inspires a mutually beneficial relationship.

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