Connecting Customers to Your Content, Part 1

Customers have a lot of different information sources to select from, and a lot of different tools and methods to find and access content. Some people will go directly to a familiar site, others prefer to have content come to them through RSS feeds, and many discover new content sources via referrals from colleagues and search engines. Because many methods are available to users, you must ensure that you’re best positioned to reach as many customers as possible in ways most convenient to them.

To encourage current customers to keep returning to read your content and to reach new customers, you must create many doorways to that content. “Connections,” then, represent the second of my 12 Cs framework for thriving in the digital world.

There are many different approaches you can take. I’ve listed some connection points here and will discuss additional ones, such as widgets and content aggregators, next time.

Organic Search Results

Getting your content and Web site ranked high in a search engine’s organic results using SEO (define) is obviously a major doorway to your assets. If you already rank high in search engine results, congratulations. But remember that search engines change their page ranking algorithms regularly to deliver more relevant results. You may be on top one day and on the bottom the next.

Outside forces may inadvertently cause your ranking to drop. Also, your competitors are constantly improving their SEO efforts. Therefore, even if your site and pages rank highly, you need to stay on top of your SEO efforts to stay there.

If you’re trying to get to the top, make sure you understand the key elements that can help you get to the top.

In addition to Google, Yahoo, and MSN Live Search, there are other search engines that people use that can be included in your strategy.

You can handle your SEO initiatives with in-house specialists, outside consultants, or a combination of both. Either way, it’s part art and part science, with no guarantees.

Vertical Search

Vertical search engines are built specifically to serve a particular industry. To increase search results’ relevancy, many vertical search engines are based on whitelists — a list of Web sites and blogs that cover that specific industry and have been selected by editors. The vertical search engines then index the editorially selected sites and blogs on the whitelist. Make sure your site is on the whitelist of the vertical search engines that serve your industry.

An example of a vertical search engine is Nielsen Business Media’s “Kitchen and Bath Vertical Search,” which services a multibillion-dollar market.

If you’re feeling entrepreneurial and see a market opportunity, create a vertical search for your industry. Build it yourself or consider vertical search vendors like SearchChannel and Convera.

Social Bookmarking and Sharing

Social bookmarking allows users to store and organize bookmarks of Web sites and pages they find useful and would like to visit again. These bookmarks can be shared with the public or with individuals. Del.icio.us is a leading social bookmarking service and StumbleUpon is extremely popular.

To increase traffic and spread your content, you should enable users to easily add your articles to their favorite social bookmarking and sharing services by embedding the appropriate buttons on your page. AddThis allows you to add social bookmarking buttons to your pages within minutes. It also enables users to e-mail the article and provides reporting on how your content is being shared. Social Marker is another popular service.

Social News Sites

Social news sites can be a very good doorway for growing traffic, gaining attention, and increasing links to your site. In these communities, users submit stories and multimedia assets they think their community is interested in. Then users vote on them to help determine priority.

Digg, Reddit, and Propeller are three of the most popular social news sites, but there is an increasing number of them, many targeted on niches and may be perfect for you.

AddThis and Social Marker also allow you to easily add social news sites buttons to your site.

Directories, Lists, and Reference Sites

Lists are popular doorways that people use to find new sources of information. So ensure your site is included in online directories that service your market, industry association sites, and blog rolls. For example, “I Want Media” is popular site for the media industry and has a good directory page. Also, ensure that information about your site is up to date on Wikipedia and other encyclopedia-type Web sites.

Keep in mind: as customers come through your doorway, you need to capitalize on their visit. Some site visitors will go to your home page, while others will be deep-linked to a specific article page. To help convert those who are new to your site into regular visitors, adopt an “every page is a home page” philosophy and quickly deliver your value proposition, so you entice drive-by visitors into coming back.

Measure the success and impact of these doorways. By looking at your traffic stats and reports from vendors, you’ll be able to see the contributions that each doorway is making and be able to respond accordingly.

In part two, I’ll discuss more doorways including widgets, content aggregators, and contests.

Best,

Lee Huang

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