Why most companies will lose the search engine war

Screen shot 2010-09-01 at 5.04.49 PM Everyone talks about being on that elusive first page of Google.

It's the pinnacle of success and companies spend thousands of dollars to try and outspend their competitors.

But in the end, it won't be your competitors who trump you.  It will be your consumers.

Today, if you Google one of the 20 largest brands, over 25% of the search results will be links to consumer generated content.

Why does that matter to you? Let's look at these truths:

  1. Social media is in its infancy and the volume of content is just going to grow.
  2. Websites that welcome consumer feedback and ratings are beginning to go mainstream, which means every Tom, Dick and Harry will be sharing their opinions about every product, service and store pretty soon.
  3. Study after study shows that consumers are ranking the reviews, opinions and recommendations of the average Joe blogger or reviewer above those of "official sites."
In other words, your customers — be they happy, amused, annoyed or so mad they could spit — are talking about you and the entire world is listening.  Including Google.
What do you do about it?  Several things, including:

Create a listening/monitoring plan for your company.  You need to not only know what's being said about you — you need to know when/how to respond to it.  If you can react quickly to problems aired in public, you can quiet the rumble and also demonstrate your customer service style.

Create content.  The only way you are going to outperform user generated content is to create content of your own.  There are a ton of ways to do that effectively from online video, e-books, blogging, an article bank on your website, etc.  If they're the only ones talking…guess who is going to be relevant.

Share and connect.  Don't count on just your own efforts when you think about creating and distributing your content.  By creating alliances and collaborations, you build an online network that will help you introduce your efforts to the world.  Think of it as social media compound interest!

If you want to win the search engine battle, you have to actually get into the game. Check out this post on by Joe Pulizzi called 15 Content Marketing Keys to Success.

Hopefully, it will fire you up to jump in. Otherwise, you're going to be the spectator — watching what the marketplace has to say.

Note:  The visual above is one of the slides from my "Small Business, I'd Like to Introduce You to Social Media" presentation.

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13 comments on “Why most companies will lose the search engine war

  1. Mike Sansone says:

    Over 25% of results from consumer generated pages. Wow. And that’s for the big brands. Small business, rural business probably might see an even higher percentage, hmm?

    Your 3 action items are on-the-money. Listen, Produce, Connect.

  2. Joe Winn says:

    On the contrary, Mike, smaller businesses will see a significantly smaller percentage – like zero. Why? Because who else is likely talking about a small business other than that small business owner? No one.

    Brands like Nike and Apple, on the other hand, have legions of fans that are tens of millions strong. And these aren’t just fans – they’re genuine freaky fanatics generating loads of content. There are any number of highly profitable blogs written by people covering brands they love, and, in many cases, it’s a specific product or line the company offers.

    For instance, there are blogs that exclusively cover special edition designer Nikes. They don’t cover EVERY pair of Nike shoes, only this small specialized category. So if you search for Nike Basketball shoes, that blog won’t show up anywhere in the top maybe 1,000 results. However, it might very well rank No. 1 for “limited edition Nikes.”

    And that’s the underlying point of this whole discussion. If you don’t rank for your own company name, it’s not the end of the world. those people searching for you specifically will find you, whether you rank No. 1 or No. 50. What’s more important is ranking for targeted keyword phrases that will introduce you to new readers/customers who don’t already know you…Take Drew for example. What do you think would be more valuable: ranking No. 1 for “Drew’s Marketing Minute” or “Marketing Blog” or “Marketing Blog on Branding.”

    Therein lies the point.

  3. Mike Sansone says:

    Great points on the bigger brands, but with local search being important (and the example of Drew is also a great one). I’ve always said that getting found on a search for your company name isn’t reason for celbration.

    However … if I’m hungry and in podunk, I might search for: pizza podunk. Who will I find? Sally’s pizza (no blog) or Honey Smith’s good/bad experience on her quilting blog?

    Try Pittsburgh cannoli in a search. Aldo Coffee is 20 minutes outside of Three Rivers. Yet…

    I’ve seen rural business outranked by personal blogs too many times. And it’s not always a pleasing review.

  4. Hi..!!
    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    James William……
    Online Advertising

  5. Jack says:

    I totally disagree, after all – it is not in Google’s interest to let the first page of Google be full on consumer generated content for brand names, because if I type in ‘Coca Cola’ in Google I (the user) want the coke website, information about coke and not a heap of bloggers saying they prefer Pepsi – if Google didn’t react then it would reduce the quality of the index and people would switch over to something like Bing.

    So no, as a professional in this field and somewhat of an insider to this information it is not true – UGC will be important and Google will incorporate more ‘rich snippets’ in listings to help with the review process.

    I emplify with the following Pool tables company, type in their brand name and you see profile listing, despite the amount of noise online around the brand name.

  6. Joe & Jack,

    Thanks for jumping into the conversation. And considering your business — I would expect you both to disagree. I don’t think it is an either or. I think it’s a both.

    For small businesses like a local pizza place, they don’t have a content machine like a Coke. So…the only ones out there talking about them are consumers. They have to figure out a way to strike a balance. Content creation is a key way, in my opinion.


  7. Fraser says:

    From what I have heard, google are trying to make things a bit fairer. Little companies like mine benefit greatly from being on the first page of google, I would be fighting a losing battle. Google places has been a big benefit for me also, narrowing the local search so I’m seen.

    Big companies like you have mentioned need to be careful, I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I can’t see blogs etc ruling the public interest.

  8. Sarah Moore says:

    I guess the major issue I would have with the fact that consumer opinions may be ranking above my own content is the fact that the vast majority of people will only write about something when they want to complain. It’s a sad fact of life that people are quicker to write negative comments than they are positive… this means that any content about your site, products or services that ranks above your own pages is highly likely to contain negative thoughts and criticism.

  9. Guy Redmill says:

    The idea of a listening plan is absolutely key I think. Just keeping an ear open is such a valuable activity and so easy to do with TweetDeck, Alerts and so on. Sure, it can take up a lot of time but it opens up so many opportunities to interact with customers.

  10. Sarah,

    That’s sort of my point. If you want a more balanced story on page 1 — you need to create some content as well.

    Grumpy people are much more likely to post something on line than one of your fans, unfortunately.


  11. Jason,

    A blog is certainly one of the most effective ways to both connect with your core audiences and have an impact on the search engines as well.

    I think blogs that are written just for SEO purposes have a tough time to draw readers long term. You have to start with the right end in mind.


  12. Guy,

    Agreed — the tools are in place. We just have to take advantage of those short cuts. As in every type of marketing — it starts with listening!


  13. Shahid,

    Actually I have seen it work — both good and bad for the smallest of local companies. I do find it ironic that everyone who disagrees with this post sells SEO work.



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