Online Marketing and Social Media: Thinking Beyond the Web Browser

Until recently, when online marketers spoke about optimizing content, they discussed optimizing things that users can see on Web pages. Whether it was a static or dynamic HTML page, a video, a photo, or even a podcast, the marketing and optimizing of those digital assets was focused on delivery through a Web browser such as Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, or Google’s Chrome. As technology progresses, users will access content less through Web browsers, and more through applications built specifically to deliver the user an optimal view on his particular device.

So what does that mean for the future of marketing online? Marketing teams have to think beyond the Web browser and realize that consumers are searching through many other means. As phones become smaller and more powerful – they’re basically a mini computer – applications are being designed for smartphones that don’t use a Web browser frame work. These applications have their own search features and don’t rely on Google, Yahoo, or Bing to drive traffic to their applications.

I once posed the question to a panel of experts: “If more users are moving away from the Web browser, is it still the search engine optimizer’s job to make sure our clients’ content is found in these other forms?” I was a bit taken aback when the one panelist, a rather well-known industry expert, said, “No, I don’t think it is.”

I completely disagree. I think it is absolutely the SEO’s or the online marketer’s responsibility to make sure that our clients’ (external or internal) content is found, regardless of platform.

A search engine isn’t defined as Google, Yahoo, Bing, or Ask. The definition of a search engine by is “a software program that searches a database and gathers and reports information that contains or is related to specified terms.”

Search engines are programs that aren’t bound to Web pages, although for the past 15 years or so, the primary way to pose a query and get a display of results was through a Web page. As technology progresses, there are many ways for questions to be asked and for results to be displayed.

As social media becomes more ingrained into our everyday lives, people increasingly want to stay connected to their communities. They’re doing that just as often from their mobile phones (BlackBerrys, iPhones, Androids) as they are from their home computers. They’re also using smartphones to find answers to questions a lot more quickly than breaking out their laptops to find a restaurant or to plow the driveway after a snowstorm. People are accessing specially-made applications for their phones, such as Yelp, Foursquare, and OpenTable to find immediate answers to their questions. The question is, are you planning these types of sites and applications into your marketing plan? You should be.

Depending on your industry, different social sites or applications are becoming increasingly important to any company’s marketing efforts. Being where people are looking for answers or information has become critical to making sure your company is at least considered in the user’s final decision.

It’s no longer enough to just have a Web site. It’s no longer enough to have that Web site optimized for the search engines. Take for example a restaurant. It’s great to have a Web site that displays your menus, photos of your interior, and links to all those great restaurant critic reviews. It’s even better now that your site’s content is optimized and you appear in the top five for restaurants in your city.

But what good will that to do your business if people are accessing OpenTable, Yelp, or Urbanspoon to find a restaurant in your city? Your Web page won’t come up as a result for people using those applications to find a restaurant. Those links on your Web site to the critics’ reviews about how great your food is won’t mean anything to the people using these types of applications. The reviews from the communities on those applications matter a lot more.

When planning your online marketing strategies, you now have to account for optimizing not just Web pages, but your content that sits on social sites for users to find it. It won’t do you any good to simply have a page on a social site and hope people know your name and find you. Most users won’t know your name; they’re searching just as they do on Google, Yahoo, or Bing – for concepts, like “Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.”

Just like with a Web page, your content on social sites – whether it’s your profile, photos, videos, or any other piece of digital content you share with the community – needs to be optimized for what people are looking for. That is part of the job of your online marketing team. The expertise of an “SEO” who optimizes Web sites can be transferred into optimizing your content for these other search engines. If your SEO claims optimizing anything else but a Web page isn’t their responsibility, it just might be time to look for someone else who understands that both search and social have moved beyond the Web browser.

This column originally appeared in the March 2010 edition of SES Magazine.

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