Are You Listening?

It happened again the other day. At a conference, I asked a room full of marketers for a show of hands: Had any of them ever searched for their companies or brands on the major search engines?

Unless I’m at a search conference, those hands tend to remain in laps. Yet there can’t be a marketer out there who hasn’t heard it a million times: the Web is about two-way communication and listening. It’s high time everyone learned how.

So herewith, a list of the simplest (and free) ways to monitor the chatter out there. What people are saying may be good, bad, or indifferent. But ignorance isn’t bliss. You can’t react if you don’t know what customers, prospects, the media, and bloggers are saying about your company, products, brands, and executives.

Don’t you at least want to know who’s linking to you?

And don’t forget — you can use all these tactics to keep up with your industry or vertical as a whole or even with your competitors. If you’re one of the majority of marketers who aren’t listening, chances are your competition isn’t, either.

Start With Search

The best way to start listening is to start searching. Keywords and keyword phrases to search for include company name, brand names, company executives’ names, your URLs, and the slogans or taglines you use in marketing efforts. (You do know you can search for exact names or phrases by putting your query in quotation marks, don’t you?)

Do this on all the major search engines every day. No excuses about being too pressed for time allowed. Just set up e-mail alerts on Google, Yahoo, and MSN; sit back; and wait for results to roll in. Go wild — and broad — with your terms. Don’t forget to update them from time to time when news or seasonality dictates a change may be in order.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Another tip: Add common misspellings to those queries. I searched the most common misspelling of my name the other day, and the sheer quantity of results was staggering. All of it was talk I’d been completely unaware of.

Revisit the search engines from time to time to conduct these searches directly from the sites. That way, you can keep an eye on paid search ads running against your keywords — or trademarks.

Who Links to You?

It’s easy to discover who’s linking to your site, blog, or content. Just enter (or .net, etc.) in the search box, and you’ve got it. This works domain-wide, but you can also enter the URL of a specific page to find out what sites link to it. A visit to the referring page or site will throw the link into context.

And don’t forget, this technique works just as well for other pages as it does for your own. If there’s talk about your company or brand on the Web, it wouldn’t hurt to find out who links to the pages that are talking.

Blog Watching

Tracking what’s said on blogs is as important as monitoring Web and news sites, if not more so. It’s also even easier to do, particularly if you use an RSS reader (define).

There are a bunch of blog search engines out there. Google’s is here. Technorati is by far the most popular, so it’s the one I’ll use for the purpose of illustration.

Create a free account. Then, add the same terms and URLs you used on the search engines to your watchlist. Every time you return to the watchlist, you’ll see the latest results for those words and phrases.

Of course, we’re all too busy to return to Technorati multiple times a day — or even daily — so let the site do the work for you. Under the results, a link says “View in RSS format.” Just click that, then copy the URL in your browser’s address field into your feed reader. Voilà! Keep an eye on the feeds, and you’ll know within minutes when something that matters to your brand or business makes an appearance in the blogosphere.

Now, proceed to Feedster and PubSub. Repeat the procedure.

Finally, Steve Rubel made a good point this week when he advised companies to keep an eye on Wikipedia articles, as they tend to show up in search results.

It’s all part of the long tail and hardly limited to Wikipedia. It’s a lesson companies like Kryptonite learned the hard way. It was revealed over two years ago its locks could be hacked with a Bic pen, but you’d never know that much time had passed from this search results page, would you? By the same token, you should consider monitoring tags, too. Just take a look at “dell hell” if you’re wondering why.

This is all very basic stuff. Many of you will read this column and say, “Duh.”

It’s not intended for you. It’s for the rest of you.

Meet Rebecca at E-Mail Marketing, the first in the new ClickZ Specifics conference series, October 24-25 in New York City.

Related reading