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May 2011

Defining social media expertise

Posted in SEO, Social Media | 0 Comments

Today, I was reading through the usual batch of SEO, social media and small business news when I happened across a rather intriguing response on SEOmoz to the allegation that hiring a social media expert was a waste of time. Both the unintentional instigator of the debate and the individual who responded had a number of valid points. The instigator, one Peter Shankman, claimed that claiming someone was a ‘social media expert’ was akin to claiming they were able to remove bread from the fridge, but minus the ability to actually make the sandwich.

The individual refuting the statements made by Shankman was Rand Fishkin, SEOmoz CEO and co-founder. Interestingly, he went to the length of creating a chart detailing the expertise of social media specialists (a far more legitimate term, in my opinion), which I’ll post here for you (all credit goes to him, of course):

As you may be able to tell, it’s fairly comprehensive. However, I’ve got a few issues with his categorisation of certain slices of ‘web-knowledge,’ especially given that some of the skills he categorises as advanced are actually what he states social media expertise is not – ‘common sense.’ I believe in offering somebody the best service they can get, and I think it’s important to analyse his competent summary, given that the few flaws within it do point to an overall problem with the image of the ‘social media guru.’

First of all, the basic and intermediate skills are literally common sense, and are actions that people perform in their daily lives – people who don’t touch social media professionally. Shortening tweets, Google Analytics, Wikipedia, competitions with few requirements to enter – this isn’t anything new, and contesting that this is somehow specific to social media is awkward, especially given that some of it has nothing to do with social media. SEO, I can understand, but to purport something as vague as someone’s display picture as relevant solely to that sphere of expertise is a flawed argument, at best.

It’s all about what you’re willing to classify yourself as. No web expert wants to be a Jack-of-all-trades, and this is because you’re not actually seen as skilled at anything, only competent. But herding in a bunch of skills from disciplines separate to your own highlights that ‘competent’ characterisation of social media experts.

By no means am I contesting the relevance of social media experts – if I myself ran a company that worked with SEO, or even any business entity with an online presence, there’d be a full-time social media specialist on staff, because to ignore the importance of social media to marketing is ludicrous. However, the first commenter on Fishkin’s article made the most valid point of all: that most ‘experts’ on the web are usually self-proclaimed as such. ‘Ninjas’ is a personal pet peeve. You are not a ninja. Ninjas assassinate people and live by a code of honour. You actively seek to make friends, and employ no code of honour whatsoever, given that the most common phrase you’ll utter within any given online situation is ‘follow me and I’ll follow you back!’

Fishkin sells his expertise well – the advanced skills are really something to consider, but I feel he sells himself short by including basic knowledge in that chart. When defending any discipline, it is paramount that you state only what separates you from all the would-be experts, because giving the ‘common sense’ qualifications for the title in addition will inextricably mesh your field of expertise with theirs and make that distinction infinitely more difficult.

He then reveals his master-stroke; that Shankman himself is listed as a social media consultant in a featured listing on InvestinSocial. Priceless, and proof that if there’s one group of people you shouldn’t criticise unfairly on the web, it’s the people who’ve made it their stomping ground. Nothing is hidden, everything’s fair game. Now, where is my ‘social media ninja-pirate-alien-robot’ badge?

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May 2011

The small business value of SEO

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

Every so often, it becomes clear that small businesses are taking increasing steps to widen their knowledge of search engine optimisation. The SEO discipline is, when put to good use, a veritable goldmine of consumer attention, increased website traffic, and a boost in the industry’s awareness of your business.

BusinessWeek‘s Karen E. Klein states that SEO is especially important for “small businesses with limited brand recognition.” Promoting the brand should be any small business’s number one goal – without brand awareness, there is no foundation upon which to build a successful company. Encouraging not only awareness, but loyalty can ensure that your business meets its long-term goals in addition to boosting sales of its current product and service range.

Unfortunately, as Klein states, the SEO tutorial network is rife with “bad information.” There are countless so-called “SEO experts” who are nothing more than self-proclaimed industry figureheads whose Twitter follower numbers are unfortunately often only an indication of a large void in which to cast their ideas. SEO agencies, however, are a far more reliable source of guidance and assistance, and will allow you to take advantage of the countless benefits of good SEO whilst negating the risks of bad advice.

SEO is, by and large, a method of turning a search-engine’s algorithms to your advantage. If you find that you rarely appear in the first page or two of results for keywords that describe your what your business offers to the letter, than perhaps an enquiry to an agency may be a wise choice.

Klein recommends SEOMoz and other sites containing beginner’s guides, but it is imperative that you consider the sources of such information. Like the wave of traditional marketing “experts” before them, many SEO magicians can offer little more than parlour tricks, preferring to rely on vague allusions to “community branding” and “generating a positive consumer experience,” minus the useful examples required to put these positive-sounding first steps into practice.

As with any new discipline within marketing, however, SEO has often been branded hogwash by those who prefer a more traditional approach, but it is easy to highlight the ignorance of such remarks. Figures from Search Engine Land indicate that as many as eighty-eight billion searches per month were made via Google alone in 2010. Statistics like this are hard to ignore – with the potential to reach as little as 0.1% of these individuals, the traffic drawn to your site would be enough to fund every single aspect of your business model, provided you are capable of generating revenue through advertising.

If your intention is to school yourself in SEO, and there are sound resources that make this possible, consider that it is not a monetary investment, but one of time and effort outside the day-to-day running of your business. Consider if you can justify this against the cost of hiring an SEO agency – after all, if you are capable of spending ten hours a week working on your SEO skills, it is equally justifiable that those hours could have funded a day-long SEO briefing at any number of competent agency offices. The financial benefit of the latter, you will find, more than pays for the cost of a DIY approach.

Soon, the digital age will reach its pinnacle and traditional businesses will have to re-shape their approach to marketing their brand. But until then, those small businesses who choose to take swift advantage of the benefits of search-engine optimisation will find themselves rewarded, and ahead of the game when their competitors finally join the online sphere.

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