Without search, the Internet is a chaotic mob – just a huge herd of people standing around, with only limited ways of getting to know each other. Search engines like Google make a point of connecting people, and they do so by mingling throughout the mob, asking questions, getting to know the people, and keeping track of who’s into what. As Google meets people, it offers introductions to other people, and the mob quickly becomes a party where Google (the one who knows everybody, knows what’s going on, and can offer suggestions about how to have the best time) is the de facto host.
Google’s credibility as matchmaker and party host is determined completely by the quality of the connections it makes between people. Google doesn’t own the Internet, but when it comes to matchmaking and facilitating mingling in the world of search, it’s critical to learn that Google owns the relationships it has with the people it knows. It’s the same dynamic as a dinner party. The host invites people and makes introductions by communicating relevant information about people to help launch new relationships. And the more interesting or valuable or fun the connections the host creates, the more people will value the host’s invitations to future gatherings. Because the matchmaker is only as good as the matches they make, and because you could always turn to one of the other matchmakers in the digital world, Google has to be aggressive about protecting the relationships it owns.
After all, Google has met liars along the way, and the liars are not the sort of people you’d be grateful to meet. People who claim to be something they’re not. People who exaggerate their credentials. Pickpockets in the crowd. Google doesn’t want to ruin its credibility with you by introducing you to liars. So, for the sake of protecting its relationship with you, and to combat the misinformation from liars, Google checks everybody’s references (their links and practices) to see who vouches for each person at the party.
Sometimes the liars work together, making deals to support each other’s claims. Sometimes the liars work in networks where they don’t even know each other – their reputation is for sale, and their word means nothing. Sadly, there are a lot of people in the liars’ network. So many, in fact, that the party gets spoiled for some people. Others fall in with the wrong friends and their reputations suffer.
To the liars, it’s just a game – a way to trick Google into lending its endorsement to the liars and introducing them to you. There’s nothing illegal about what the lairs do, but let’s face it, there are some people you’d rather not see at a party.
How To Be A Good Citizen in the Digital World
There are a lot of people with questions and concerns about their digital presence – especially their SEO efforts – in light of where JC Penney’s friends led the brand this week. But what happened with JC Penney is only bad news for people who choose to be bad citizens in the digital world.
Think about it from Google’s perspective. There is only one guiding principle that drives the evolution of search: deliver the result that best fits the customer’s need. If Google fails to do this, Google becomes irrelevant. If your marketing efforts are an attempt to manipulate this organizing principle, you are a threat and an enemy to Google.
Note: In general, it’s a bad idea to be Google’s enemy.
So, the first rule is to actually be a great solution to your customer’s needs. If you don’t have that part squared away, you don’t deserve to have a trusted matchmaker like Google lend its credibility to your efforts by making introductions on your behalf.
Once you deserve to be introduced to your potential customers, there are five core elements of digital relevance for you to consider. The better you balance these elements, the more you align yourself and your brand with Google’s efforts.
Note: In general, it’s a good idea to be allied with Google’s best interests.
Slingshot SEO is a search engine optimization practice that focuses on serving enterprise-caliber clients and prominent digital brands. Slingshot’s delivery model, and the key to SEO success and good citizenship for clients, is all about CLASS – an acronym that stands for Content, Links, Architecture, Social, and Strategy.
Content. This is the text, video, audio and other material you bring to the conversation. Think dinner party again – do you tell a good story? Do you know interesting things? What does a person encounter when they encounter you?
Links. Who likes you, what do they say about you, and how valued are their opinions? Do people retell your stories – making your content their own? When Google asks who Google should meet next, do other people point to you because you’ve earned the attention?
Architecture. How approachable are you? In technical terms, this deals with how search friendly your online presence is – its internal linking structure, what descriptions and page titles you use, and host of other factors. Do you seem to know you’re at a party?
Social. Where links have to do with people adopting your content and pointing to you, social signals show Google where you’re the one around whom people gather. Where you are the subject other people are enjoying, exploring, cheering, watching, or discussing with eachother?
Strategy. The CLASS approach is more of a balance than a linear formula. Emphasis in one area creates responses in others. Strategy consists of tracking and adjusting the entire effort to make sure content, links, architecture, and social signals complement and amplify each other – always remembering that the objective is to be as delightful and valuable a guest in the digital dinnerparty scene as possible.
The Internet is a gathering of people, each with something they offer and each with things they want. Search is the core organizing force serving this gathering of people, and search will always rely on the conversations and referrals of people to connect other people with what’s going on. It’s a social setting – and like all social settings, the rewards go to the people who make themselves known, who get other people talking, and who add something both to the conversation and to the lives of people who look to search to meet their needs.
The lesson for brands to learn from JC Penney is the same one we all learned as kids: being a prominent citizen is great, and the system is set up to reward you for contributing value to the world. But as JC Penney is learning this week, falling in with people who lead you to lie, manipulate, and behave in generally obnoxious ways sucks.
The goals and social implications of search are truly noble – they reward excellence with visibility, merit with opportunity, and service with new relationships. This is a great time to be a digital company of character (and an important time to learn to be one if you’re not already).