How Crowdsourcing Can Be a Powerful SEO Weapon (or Potentially Damage Your Brand Reputation)

The Golden Rule of SEO

“Think like your customer.” If your company has even the faintest working knowledge of SEO and its best practices, then you have probably heard this statement a thousand times before — and justly so. The key to breaking through to quality rankings in Google SERPs involves thinking like the customers do when they conduct a basic Internet search.

But sometimes thinking like the customer can be a difficult task, especially for those deeply involved in the business. While you may think it’s possible to rid yourself of any recollection of your business, sometimes you might not even be sure what your customers know and don’t know about your products or services. This can make customer engagement a challenging task and make it a lot more difficult to improve your SEO efforts. There are a number of things businesses can do in terms of influencing customer engagement for SEO purposes, but crowdsourcing can be a fun and exciting way to tap into the minds of your target market.

Enter: Crowdsourcing

A fairly new concept in the online marketing world, crowdsourcing is the term to describe the act of reaching out to members of the Internet community to contribute to a campaign or project. Crowdsourcing involves appealing to a wider community whose advice and opinions matter most, and it is usually up to the party in question as to whether or not the consumer input is rewarded. Campaigns can take the form of a themed post, a custom landing page, a discussion board or any type of unique, shareable content that fosters a sense of community within the brand.

If this concept is still not ringing a bell, “My Starbucks Idea” is a great example of how crowdsourcing consumer information has produced an interesting marketing campaign.

In 2008, My Starbucks Idea started out as a community website intended to collect suggestions and product feedback from customers, but evolved into something much bigger than that. Unlike most crowdsourcing campaigns that are centered towards improving the business’s products and services, Starbucks created a campaign that instead focuses on the entire customer experience. Ideas have stretched way past the development of better products and entered into the realm of establishing and maintaining Starbucks’ corporate social responsibility. Users are heavily involved in the voting process and have put many well-known ideas into action. That plastic reusable cup you drink your frappe from once originated as a My Starbucks Idea back in 2008.

The power of the crowd is already being utilized by many businesses and is serving as an initiative to replace current customer service models. Crowdsourcing taps right into the core line of support and information for a business’s model: its market. The information can be perceived as honest and invaluable in terms of consumer engagement on a more personal level. And what can be better than getting feedback from the decision makers in your industry?

Okay, So What About SEO?

A recent SEO case study conducted by a photo identification products vendor, ID Wholesaler, took a glimpse into the world of crowdsourcing by creating a unique campaign intended to increase customer engagement for the B2B retailer. Their efforts didn’t stop there; the campaign also aimed at improving various SEO tasks that the company had yet to target including increasing their inbound links and Google SERP rankings.

So what did they do? A lanyard design contest prompted a niche target market (graphic artists, fashion designers, etc.) to submit design entries to a custom landing page that served as the central hub of the campaign efforts. Much like My Starbucks Idea, visitors could submit, view and vote for their favorite entries until a winning design was selected. ID Wholesaler received over 80 entries, 7,000 votes, and nearly 1,000 Facebook “likes” following the campaign launch.


Lanyard Design Contest Custom Landing Page – Source SEO Moz

Although they chose to pay the winning designer, the campaign proved to be well worth the investment. Because the campaign required some initial outreach, the company was able to dig deeper into social networking, an area of online marketing that proved to be an ongoing challenge for the B2B retailer. The campaign spurred a large volume of blog articles written about the contest, as well as a spike in social mentions and inbound links. Crowdsourcing has the potential to turn your online “focus group” into a great source of links back to your site.

Crowdsourcing campaigns can also help your website show an increase in non-paid traffic and rankings, which can be traced through Google Analytics. For ID Solutions, their results were quite eye opening and provided them with fresh information regarding keyword opportunities they were not previously targeting. Keyword variations for the term “lanyard” saw a 90% increase in non-paid traffic and the company jumped to the number 2 position in Google for the search term “ID badge lanyards.”

Ranking History – Source: SEOmoz

If creating a fresh campaign from scratch is too intimidating for you, crowdsourcing can also be as simple as creating an ongoing forum that could be promoted through social networks. A couple intriguing questions is all it takes for decision makers within your industry to want to respond, which can prompt relationship building with industry authority figures, a wider scope of input, more links, more site content and increased brand exposure. If you’re a small restaurateur, decision makers could include a food reviewer or even your local food distributor. Whatever the case, igniting the conversation within key influencers can set you up with the perfect opportunity to understand how viewers interact with your brand, and with a little testing, can point out flaws in your site’s usability and conversion data (Source: http://www.submitawebsite.com/blog/2010/03/crowdsourcing-websites-and-seo.html).

But Before You Go Crowdsourcing Crazy…

As with anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to crowdsourcing. I think this article from Mashable does a nice job of explaining some key tips for your next campaign, but here are the main things to be cautious of when it comes to crowdsourcing:

Understand that crowdsourcing campaigns involve some type of initial or post-investment.

    People want to be rewarded for good ideas. Don’t damage your brand reputation by just soliciting people for what you want – reward those ideas which you want to make use of!

Set Campaign Rules and Have Them Handy.

    Be very clear about what you’re looking for from your visitors, the time period of the campaign and how/when you will select winners. And make sure to have these rules posted on your site to prevent any disasters from occurring.

Keep It Professional.

    Some call crowdsourcing “a solicitation for free ideas.” However, if you keep your campaign professional and rules clear, there is no reason why your brand cannot foster some interesting conversations to produce a change for a mutual benefit. Your consumers are telling you what they want… what could be easier than that?

Has your company had any experience with a crowdsourcing, or have you participated in one? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Internet Blacklist Legislation: A Threat to the Economy and our Liberty

Image provided by Martin Willms

 

Over the past couple of years, the U.S. economy has been on a rollercoaster of turbulent, unpredictable times. In 2008, a global recession attacked our markets. Due to a rising volatility from securitization of subprime mortgages, explosive inflation and an unhindered commodity boom, our nation was left dreaming of the glamorous days of growth that we experienced in the 90’s. However, despite the losses being published across headlines, our nation had one glimmer of hope left in its arsenal. That spark of optimism came in the form of the tech industry, with the internet as the motor that could propel start-ups, innovation, and progress. While many other sectors were falling apart at the seams, the technology industry retained its ability to report growth.

But now, in what feels like mutiny from a democracy that has relied so much on the success of its tech figureheads, Congress has developed legislation that attempts to devalue its star player — a technology industry that has been a selfless contributor for freedom of speech, innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation.

This triumvirate of Bills, known as the SOPA/E-PARASITE/PROTECT IP, are being discussed by the House of Representatives and the Senate and propose to pass censorship power of the internet to the entertainment industry.

The new legislation provides room for heightened censorship and abuse of power. Here are the implications that it carries:

–  Private companies have the power to shut down unauthorized sites where we download movies, music, and TV shows.

–  Government can force internet providers to block infringing domain names. The effect of this power could mean the deglobalization of the internet, as domains outside the U.S. border will almost exclusively be blocked.

–  Any personal blog, site or forum with a link to one of these infringing domain names is liable to legal action taken by the government. So what may have been a simple recommendation to a site that could have provided other users a benefit may actually cost you time in court. Even worse, offenders could face being blacklisted as an infringing site and forever be blocked from internet users across America.

–  Eliminates jobs established by the entrepreneurship of the internet

–  Allows corporations and the government joint ability to cut any funds a site can earn by imposing that any payment service or advertiser cancel an account if they perceive a website to be infringing on these new laws.

–  Gives the power to large, already established corporations to sue any site that they feel is not filtering their content to match its standards. As a result, this will drastically inhibit new start-ups who could face becoming bankrupt due to overwhelming lawsuits from competitors. The crime lies in giving the power to corporations to eliminate almost all of their competition and stifle innovation as very few start-ups will be able to enter a competitive arena.

However, the worst implication revolves around the ability of the government to limit our constitutional rights for freedom of speech and individual expression.

Under this new legislation, the internet’s most beloved sites are now subject to the control of our government. Sites like Tumblr, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter have become our largest method of self-expression and are subject to the rigors of the government’s new censorship program. Sites where everyday users share opinions, news and daily activity are highly vulnerable because their users also often share videos, TV snippets and copyrighted music. For instance, as a very frequent Facebook user, I am constantly sharing videos of my favorite TV show moments. But according to these new censorship laws, Facebook is required to either censor me or risk being shut down for they are liable for anything that their users post.

With the enacting of this legislation, individuals who even so much as post a video of themselves singing along to a Nicki Minaj song on YouTube could face up to 5 years in prison.

This has caused some of the internet’s biggest players like Tumblr to fight back. The blogging platform has replaced its user’s dashboards with censorship blocks and a link prompting it’s users to learn more about the law that could be censoring the internet.

American CensorshipAmerican CensorshipImage provided by Thomas L. Raukamp

Other companies have actively opposed these bills by addressing the issue on their homepage.  Among them is Reddit, an online community that largely relies on freedom of speech, and the renowned search engine, Firefox.

Congress aims to pass a bill with a transparent goal of eliminating piracy on the internet to make consumers buy more movies and TV shows. Therefore, our government is showing favoritism towards an industry, ranked 51st most lucrative in 2008 by CNN, at the expense of its 2nd most profitable industry, Internet Services (CNN Money).

With that in mind, can we rely on the government and private corporations not to abuse their power? Even if we can, other nations may adopt a similar approach to the internet and their governing bodies may not be as ethical in their decision against abuse of power. This domino effect would adversely affect the integrity of the internet, and the technology industry overall.

As a recent graduate and an employee at a company composed almost entirely of Millennials, I have personally witnessed the value that the technology sector provides our economy, in providing growth, and a future for graduates, who face an otherwise bleak job market.

The SOPA/E-PARASITE/PROTECT IP bills are fast-tracked to be approved by Senate for Christmas. Please help stop them by learning more about them at http://americancensorship.org/. Also, please do your part by spreading the word, and joining the cause. If you own a website, you can paste a small code on your site that helps people to write to congress.

This legislation presents disastrous implications for our own personal freedom of expression and insinuates a halt of innovation. It could do permanent damage to the American dream of success that our nation was founded upon. Jay Gatsby would hardly approve.
Please share your feelings by commenting, or if you’d like to continue the discussion, you can find me on Twitter at Shane Jones.

The Danger of Using The Web for Branding

Traditional advertising grew out of the old distribution model.

Companies made their product, sold it to stores where people buy the product, and those stores sold it to the consumer. This worked for everything from toothbrushes to televisions.

Then these huge companies wanted to increase sales of their product. Since all of the competition is right on the shelf, they needed to differentiate themselves from the other products.

One way was price: sell the lowest price product. But the better way, and a longer term solution, was branding.

The Workforce Creativity Index of Silicon Pasture

Creativity lives!

A couple of days ago I StumbledUpon an article by Richard Florida that explains why creative, independent thinkers leave cities like Pittsburgh.

Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, talks about a chat he had with a “young man with spiked multi-colored hair, full-body tattoos, and multiple piercings in his ears” on the campus of Carnegie Mellon. Instead of being the “obvious slacker” that Florida took him for, this student had just signed the highest-paying job of any graduating student in the history of his department.

And guess what? The job wasn’t in Pittsburgh.

His recruiters flew in from Austin, TX, wore T-shirts around campus, and inked the deal on the grass in front of an academic building.

According to Florida, certain cities are much more attractive to these types of independent, creative, “rock-star” employees. San Francisco and Austin top the list of large creative cities, while Memphis and Norfolk VA round out the bottom.

So how do Silicon Pasture cites Harrisburg and York rank?

hey-you

The internet is already super-good at pointing you towards information you’re looking for. That’s why around 90% of all web users visit Youtube, Google, Yahoo or MSN on a daily basis.

But the next generation of online information gathering is recommendation.

That is, advanced websites and programs designed to serve you content that you don’t know you want.

No two sites do this better than Stumbleupon and Pandora.