Chasing SEO and followers doesn’t equal digital marketing success – ETBrandEquity

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One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in digital marketing is having an unhealthy obsession with “cracking the platform” at the expense of what works for the user. While it’s true that the internet has opened up several avenues for brands, trying to shortcut one’s way to success has never worked.

The best piece of advice I’ve read about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) — that eternal quest to outwit Google rankings — is to “write for people, not search engines.” It’s brilliant because it pithily reminds us of where our focus should be while creating content. We can do all the keyword analysis and metadata optimisation we like, but it counts for naught if the reader finds it confusing. As Google itself is fond of reminding us, success in rankings is more about how users behave, rather than checking off a list.

Plastering posts

Let’s extrapolate this to that chief perpetrator of vacuous metrics, social media marketing. Every topical day, brands harangue their agencies to come up with a celebratory post which — let’s face it — excites nobody beyond the marketing community. We’ve all seen examples of brands that plaster their Instagram with sales content — with a little promotion and creative mathematics, the “impressions” number during the next review presentation will look impressive to continue the charade for another quarter.

Frankly, customers don’t care. You don’t need a fancy study for this — just ask yourselves which are the brands you follow (now subtract the ones you need to follow for competition) and why. I’m not saying metrics and content calendars are useless — but if they are what end up being chased, the larger picture of brand building, customer service and content all get side-lined.

This is all the more important now because people aren’t reliant on brands to entertain anymore. If anything, we live in an age of content surfeit, and people place more trust in neutral-seeming third parties. We have a natural aversion to being sold to, and our bullshit detectors are getting better with every passing ad-disguised-as-content we see.

So, what’s a brand to do?

Simple — focus on the customer/user/viewer, and what value can be added to their lives, rather than push product on them. When I say “add value”, I mean educate, entertain or service. Every company out there can do this in some shape or form — even those in the BFSI sector!

Putting it in perspective

SEO: People are searching about your category. Are you answering or addressing the question they have, or just selling? Do a simple Google search for “do I need home insurance”. You’ll get results of various insurance companies falling over each other trying to sell you a plan, rather than answering the question. This is simply lazy keyword marketing. I believe every category will benefit from thinking through what their potential customer might search for, and delivering content to them.

Social Media Marketing: People often browse Instagram to relax, unwind or seek inspiration. Does your content fit in with that? Zomato, often considered the Indian kings of social media, treat their page more like a celebration of food rather than a way to push the brand. Some other brands play into their customers’ passions rather than push product. Mumbai-based audio product retailer Headphone Zone focuses more on song recommendations and answering questions rather than push a new gadget. Be useful, be entertaining, be helpful, or go home.

YouTube: People are here to be entertained or learn about something. To illustrate the former, BlendTec’s zany videos made something as unsexy as blenders viral content. Fender’s guitar explainers and Nike’s workout videos are other great examples of how a brand can truly add value.

If the category isn’t as “exciting”, the choice of medium should be reconsidered. While a financial company might not have the greatest success on Instagram (unless they decide to go weird like Geico), having a series of focused webinars and podcasts would serve them better.

Again, it’s a matter of understanding the audience and what value can be added to their lives. This also leads to realistic expectations and perspective — not every brand can be a “viral success”, nor is it even needed for every business. If you step back for a minute away from all the marketing bluster and “must-haves”, you might even wonder why a mutual fund company needs to be on Instagram in the first place.

Platforms and approaches should not become ends unto themselves — I am reminded of the “follower rush” from a decade ago, when brands were falling over themselves to get to a vanity number, like a million fans on social media. The point is not if they reached a million or not, but what use that eventually served to the business or indeed, the customer. Any content strategy that focuses more on selling than the viewer is futile. Monies will be far better spent in simple, targeted performance advertising.

Similarly, as any aggrieved customer will know, a social media strategy that focuses more on celebrating the latest topic of the day than responding to customer queries might have a decent ‘engagement rate’, but is not going to help the brand.

One of my favourite quotes of all time is by Eric Toone, the former principal deputy director of the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, speaking of how they select new projects: “The first question is not ‘Is this going to work?’ but rather, ‘If it works, would it matter?’.” While energy projects might be an odd space for marketers to seek inspiration from, having that mindset in more brainstorms can help.

The direct-to-consumer business strategy isn’t all fun and games. D2C businesses take on considerably more responsibility for areas like logistics and cybersecurity by eliminating wholesalers, distributors, and retailers – yet they haven’t all been well equipped.

  1. What is SEO?
    SEO is the process of taking steps to help a website or piece of content rank higher on Google. The key difference between SEO and paid advertising is that SEO involves organic and unpaid ranking.
  1. What is SEO?
    SEO is the process of taking steps to help a website or piece of content rank higher on Google. The key difference between SEO and paid advertising is that SEO involves organic and unpaid ranking.
  2. What should brands keep in mind while using SEO?
    Simple — focus on the customer/user/viewer, and what value can be added to their lives, rather than push product on them. When I say “add value”, I mean educate, entertain or service. Every company out there can do this in some shape or form — even those in the BFSI sector!

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