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I’ve just been reading a post over on Damien Mulley’s blog on some of the things that make him trust an online business more, and others that make him trust them less.
I’m going to commit a cardinal sin here and block-quote Damien’s lists (one of the “Trust Less” items) in the interest of clarity. Hopefully I’ll get away with it by adding more than one line of commentary ;-).
First Damien’s “Trust More” list:
- Companies that have personalities and a team that adds humanity to their business both online and offline.
- Companies who care enough to monitor what blogs are saying and react, even when people have negative issues.
- Companies who contribute to online discussions and mailing lists without pimping their solutions and help even when the topic matter isn’t in-synch with their business area.
- Companies that ask for help, contributions, feedback
I wholeheartedly agree with all of the above… it’s about adding real value and contributing to the discussion. As with all human connections (and that’s what online marketing is all about today) the more you give, the more you get back in return. It’s just unfortunate that so few businesses actually “get” this… it’s a dialogue, a conversation, and if you want to engage with your audience you have to do at least as much “listening” as you do “talking”. Stop preaching… start connecting!
Now for Damien’s “Trust Less” list:
- Businesses that use domain names to describe what they do instead of using a company name.
- Business people that leave comments on blog posts with their keywordladen website name and not their name and surname.
- Businesses that write blog posts and internally link to their services in every blog post, again laden with keywords.
- Businesses that write blog posts that are neither interesting nor useful but instead are dressed up brochures.
- Businesses that write blog posts that do nothing more than block quote someone else’s blog post and then add one line of commentary.
- Businesses that use Adwords on their business blogs.
- Businesses that don’t name who they are on their About page.
I agree with most of these, but can also see the motivation behind them… however misconceived. Businesses simply don’t understand, and are often acting on poor advice.
First, I actually don’t have a problem with businesses using keyword-related domain names that describe what their sites do rather than their company name — as long as it makes it clear to users what to expect. For example, as a web-surfer I’d probably find something like www.officeapps.com a lot more useful than, say, www.ZOHO.com in terms of knowing what a site is about before visiting. But then of course you lose some of the branding potential. It all depends what you want to achieve – but it should be driven by usability rather than search-engine rankings.
And there’s the rub. Most of the items in the “Trust Less” list are motivated purely by SEO. They’re strategies aimed at one thing, and one thing only: getting higher Search Engine Rankings for particular keyword phrases. Often these decisions stem from poor SEO advice (and God knows there’s plenty of that around), and a lack of appreciation that traffic, without effective content/conversion, does nothing but consume valuable bandwidth.
Neglecting users in an attempt to impress/fool the search engines is always a bad idea. But most businesses are sold on the concept that driving traffic is the primary objective, over and above the quality of the user experience. Which is of course complete tosh!
Effective SEO is about looking after your users first, and then aligning that with what the search engines are looking for. Search engines want to deliver the very best, most relevant results to their users. It’s what their reputation, their audience, and ultimately their revenue model, is built on. The way they analyse that relevance and quality at the moment means that they sometimes get it wrong… but they’re getting better at it all the time.
So you need to make sure your site delivers for users first, but that it’s also structured /optimised to make it easy for search engines to understand what your content is all about. Aligning those two things can be tricky… and the real problem is that many businesses are persuaded, erroneously, to skew the balance in favour of search engines for short term traffic results.
For businesses looking to build a solid online reputation, sustainable search engine rankings and long-term online relationships that’s a huge mistake.