Long term success in any business venture has always been based on reputation and trust. You might get a quick win through fashion or novelty, but sustained success comes down to whether people trust you to deliver value and service. And in the future, the way we market ourselves on-line will be increasingly based on reputation, trust and authority. But what is authority, and how do we go about earning it?
Years ago, when our shopping horizons were limited by our local town or area, reputation and trust were clearly everything. People knew who the best supplier of whatever product or service they needed was, and if they didn’t know they asked. If you lost your reputation, you lost your business. Similarly, work hard at building a reputation for quality, value and service, and your business would thrive (assuming people actually want what you provide, of course).
Trust has value
Trust is a valuable commodity. It underpins the future of our business and it also allows us to sell what we do at a premium price. A Miele washing machine does basically the same job as a Beko but people with the means will happily pay more than twice the price because they trust the brand to work reliably fro more than twice as long.
You could argue that in recent years the world of on-line marketing has, to a degree, lost sight of this basic principle: of business success being dependent on trust and reputation. The battle for visibility in Google searches has, for a while, distorted our traditional marketing values and made people devote disproportionate energy to achieving page 1 rankings – sometimes at all costs.
The enduring value of reputation
Smart businesses, though, have continued to appreciate the value of reputation and trust. And they’ve learned how to publish content and use social networks to spread the word and grow their reputation with a much wider audience through the power of the internet.
And increasingly it is this on-line authority, influence and connection with a target audience that will determine success in search and all other aspects of on-line marketing.
How Google has changed
Think back a couple of years and you’ll see just how rapidly things are changing. Back then we were talking about how keyword-stuffing was a bad thing (I don’t think anyone still feels the need to even mention that). Blogging as a marketing tactic was starting to become more mainstream but was still sold partly as a way to offer Google ‘refreshed content’ rather than being a good thing in its own right. And we were just getting the hang of what social media could do.
Since then we’ve seen Google clamping down on aggressive and unnatural link-building as a way to trick its ranking algorithms. And with Hummingbird we’ve seen the first moves towards natural language searches and Google trying to understand the intent behind what we type into a search box rather than just trying to match the specific string of words we used.
The business of internet searches and digital marketing is fundamentally different from just 2 years ago. And most experts predict that the changes over the next couple of years will be just as radical. We probably won’t notice sudden shifts, but we’ll realise looking back just how much things have changed.
Back to reputation and trust
There is no big secret or hidden agenda about where we are heading. Ultimately, Google wants to deliver to each of us the results that we find most useful and appropriate, given the meaning behind our search and our personal preferences and interests. It wants to deliver answers not a page full of hyperlinks that might lead to answers.
Here’s what they said when they launched the Knowledge Graph back in 2012: “a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do”
Things not strings
It also wants to ensure that the results it serves up represent sources with genuine authority – that they have earned a good reputation and are trusted. And it also wants to ensure that the results answer our questions rather than just match a string of keywords.
The mechanism for doing this can get a bit technical but if you want to delve into it I can recommend David Amerland’s book Google Semantic Search. I’ll guarantee that you won’t look at your future on-line marketing in the same way afterwards.
If you want a bit more discussion on the extent to which modern marketing is being transformed and how it’s leading us down some counter-intuitive pathways, have a read of this article on the RSH Copywriting blog: 5 Counter Intuitive Habits of Modern Marketers
The simplest advice of all is to pay much less attention to trying to game Google’s algorithms and put more energy into researching the questions that your customers are trying to answer. You then need to become good at delivering expert content that answers those questions in a way that is easy and enjoyable to consume.
How to build authority
What businesses need to grasp, and soon, is the need to publish high quality content that answers the questions their potential customers are asking. And if you are serious about on-line marketing you need to be doing this now! Google is already building its databases of authoritative sources, even if it is not yet using them fully.
Businesses also need an integrated, well managed and authentic presence across the internet and they need to be cultivating the networks that will help their reputation and trust grow. Above all they need the sort of methodical approach to content creation that I discussed in this recent article. Churning out content without a purpose won’t achieve much and is a relic from SEO based on generating the maximum number of back-links.
The days when a clever SEO guru could save your bacon are over. We’re getting back to basics in the way that the success of our marketing efforts will be based on the trust, authority and reputation we have established – partly through the content we produce and partly by the experience of our existing customers. Speaking as a consumer this can’t happen soon enough.
Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger and Content Marketing Specialist
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