We all know that the claims of traditional SEO death are about 50% bull. The question is which 50%, and what does it mean for your company’s opportunities to make money through the internet?

While I’ve got some strong opinions on the subject, it’s not always been easy to explain things to clients and prospects. That changed a couple days ago, when our fearless leader exposed us to The Naked Brand, a nice little video from Questus about the future of marketing.

SEO – It’s All About Transparency

Since the internet came about, proponents and apologists have had a fairly similar message– the internet puts the power in the hands of the people.

While I disagree a bit with The Naked Brand’s narrative of power shift, one thing they get 100% right in the film is that companies simply cannot continue to hide behind clever ad campaigns. Sure, they can use clever ad campaigns to get attention. But if their company sucks, the world is going to know it. All it takes is a single tweet to let the entire world see deep into your company.

As Alex Bogusky says in The Naked Brand, transparency can either happen with you or to you.

What’s this mean for SEO?

Google’s growing up. Google’s getting harder to fool. Google is going to find out if your company website or online marketing sucks. It doesn’t matter how much money you’re spending on those crappy links, or how big your brand is. If you’re doing something shady, Google’s going to find out. All it takes is a single crawl or data refresh.

In addition, Google is looking really, really hard at what everyone else is saying about you. And it’s adjusting rankings according to these signals.

So the SEO lesson isn’t new, but it’s pressing. Your company needs to have great products and great customer service. And you need to have honest content to back it all up.

Transparency is vital for your company’s continued success on the web.

Advertising, Marketing, and SEM Are Changing

The Questus folks are overly Utopian when they talk about how advertising and marketing are becoming antiquated. On the other hand, they’re right about one thing– advertising and marketing are changing.

And the biggest change is the focus on customer experience.

The Naked Brand uses some powerful examples to show how spending moderate amounts of money to improve experiences can reap huge benefits. Two of the most notable are Virgin airlines and Zappo’s.

You might expect the airline arm of a huge, multi-national conglomerate to subscribe to traditional views of marketing and advertising. But Virgin didn’t spend as much time on advertising as you might guess from their notoriety and success. Rather, the company spent a great deal of time and effort in designing check-in centers and interiors that make their customers feel good.

And, of course, there’s Zappo’s. If you haven’t heard already, Zappo’s has spent almost nothing on advertising and traditional marketing. Instead, they’ve spent money on making a company that makes customers feel like friends. The long-term, sustainable growth and success of that company is impossible to ignore.

So what’s this mean for search engine marketing?

Traditional forms of advertising– banner ads, text ads, etc.– probably won’t go away. They’ll continue to be valuable. But they’re going to shrink in importance.

In fact, I think most online marketing companies will probably begin to encourage clients to reduce their PPC ad spend over the next couple of years.

But they’re not going to pull out all together. Smart search engine marketers will invest that money in relationship-building campaigns.

But these campaigns won’t just focus on relationships with customers and prospects. Smart SEMs will be building relationships with product development and customer service teams.

Smart SEMs are going to tell their clients when their baby is ugly (whether it’s their website or their product). Smart SEMs are going to train customer service teams on the right way to deal with negative reviews and comments. Smart SEMs are going to have great relationships outside of the marketing department.

Don’t Get Stuck With Crappy SEO

If you continue to silo your marketing, customer service, advertising, and ‘internet’ folks, you’re going to lag behind all the smart companies that are integrating departments.

If your SEO team is myopically focused on ranking #1 for a handful of long tail keywords, your customers will soon be leaving you for someone else.

Don’t get stuck. Embrace transparency. Make customer experiences better. Succeed.

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