John Doerr of KPCB calls it “SoLoMo“. Others call it by different names. I see it as the holy grail of our digital marketing future.
I’m talking about Social – Local – Mobile SEO/search marketing… the exciting golden triangle of unification and synergy created by billions of people armed with mobile computing devices who are seeking and finding instant gratification, wherever they are and wherever they go.
The business case for this evolution is clear. The writing is on the wall. And unless you, as a business owner, adapt quickly to this change, you’ll be leaving money on the table!
Mobile SEO that is focused locally and integrated socially will drive relevant, quality traffic that converts far better than any other option – and the volume of this traffic is set to grow exponentially in coming years.
Mobile Search Is Not About Technology
Mobile Internet devices have crossed 10 billion in 2010, with over 5 billion cellphones in use, 1.08 billion of them smartphones.
Expert predictions are that in 2014, mobile Internet usage will overtake desktop usage. Even today, over 50% of all online search activity happens from a mobile device. But…
It’s not enough to have a “sniffer” script detect your visitor’s Web browser and serve up a mobile version of your website. Mobile optimization is not just about presentation. It is about understanding the psychology of a visitor who discovers your site from a search performed on a mobile device.
This isn’t something new. Your prospect still wants pretty much the same things. What has changed is the tool or medium she now uses to find those solutions to a problem. And the behavior is reinforced by the ease with which she can not only find it, but also have it validated by her peers through the power of mobile social networking!
Imagine a young man who searches for a fancy gadget and finds an electronics shop nearby that stocks it.
Not only can he now step into the showroom, inspect the instrument, and test it out – he can also pick up his mobile phone and shoot out a question or comment about it to his mates on Facebook, Twitter or Google+and have their feedback on it instantly.
He can point his mobile phone’s camera as he tries out the gadget, and at the click of a button, have the video posted to YouTube – where others can comment, opine or advise him on what to do.
Collaborative decision-making, with expert and peer validation of a buying choice, has never been so instantly, globally and inexpensively available ever before.
Businesses that don’t understand this paradigm shift in buying behavior are at risk of being decimated by agile, social-savvy competitors.
When you know how mobile device users will interact with search engines to find what they are looking for, you’ll be able to design landing pages that engage and draw in your prospects by meeting them where they are, give them what they want, and (by intelligently analyzing the intent behind their keywords) push the appropriate psychological triggers that close a sale and boost your profits.
Ideally, optimized mobile landing pages will answer the unspoken questions inside your prospect’s mind as they surf the Web in search of solutions!
Focus On Intelligence, Not Technology
Only few online businesses are correctly making this shift. The vast majority are obsessed with investing millions into marketing methods and technologies that are doomed to deliver abysmal results.
Smart SEO strategies to exploit the “social-local-mobile” revolution is more about gaining better intelligence than focusing on cutting-edge technology.
Specifically, you need better keyword intel. Long-tail keywords used in mobile search can provide priceless information about ‘buyer intent‘. They leave clues about what you should provide them with on the landing page.
If a search phrase contains a generic word (like “hotel”) combined with a location name (like “Oslo”) then you’ll know what the searcher needs, the expectations from your site, and what hook will convince him/her to take the desired action.
Or if a searcher looks for an item of clothing (sweater, jeans, etc.) in a physical store, you can tell if they not only want to read about the product online, but also want to try it on for size – so you can then try and satisfy this desire promptly.
The hardest lesson to learn as a business owner is this. You don’t have control. You can’t demand that your customers act in a certain way. But you can watch, listen, and act.
That way, you can influence and persuade prospects to take the desired action (buying, signing up to your list, recommending you to others, sending referrals etc.). A flashy new “mobile store” won’t help with your conversion rate in the same way that “keyword intelligence” will.
Watching businesses neglect the importance of data driven marketing is painful (and bizarre). It is so simple and obvious to take a close look at what’s working and do more of it – while cutting down on what doesn’t work!
Yet why don’t more businesses cut out wasteful marketing? Why does search marketing get only a small fraction of the overall marketing budgets? Why do businesses slap on SEO at the end, rather than integrating it right from the beginning?
It’s almost as if business owners enjoy sabotaging their own chances of success, by constructing the edifice that’s their marketing strategy on a foundation of quicksand… where it will slowly but surely sink and die.
This is a good reason to have your SEO strategist involved right from the planning phase, and deeply engaged in structural and content based decisions about your Web presence.
Any winning SEO strategy today will incorporate local search, mobile and social marketing. If it doesn’t, you need a new strategy. SoLoMo is the future – at least for another 5 years. And on the Web, 5 years is an eternity!
Tools, Technology Or People?
What exactly does mobile and social optimization mean? Is it putting together a pixel-perfect website that loads fast and looks pretty? Not really.
Your role is to understand the needs of your prospects and visitors. To figure out their problems that your product or service can solve. To telegraph this message as soon as they hit your landing page.
That’s how SEO consultants can turn a 1% conversion rate into 20% or higher. If 98 out of 100 visitors to your site don’t do what you want them to, then obviously you don’t understand your audience’s needs.
At the very least, you’re not offering them a viable solution. That’s why they’re off to buy something from your competitor!
How can you keep them with you, convince them of the value you provide, and entice them into spending money with your business? It’s simple. Tap into the conversation that’s going on inside their head. Correctly identify what they want. And then provide them with it.
Say you’re an online newspaper, and one of your key performance indicators (KPI) is to get more page views. By analysis and observation of your audience’s behavior, you’ll be able to tell what they expect to find on your site.
Adding relevant content along the same lines, publishing related stories, and inviting readers to check them out, can drive more page views. Anything that detracts from this goal should be removed. It’s just “noise”. Clear it up.
A confused prospect rarely buys. By giving visitors too many choices, you may end up confusing them too much, so they’ll simply leave.
Here’s where Web analytics data and conversion rate optimization come in. They’ll show you why even targeted traffic is not delivering on your KPIs – and point out the ‘leaks’ for you to plug.
This is not a one-time operation. It’s an ongoing task that involves constantly listening, learning and optimizing for incremental gains. No single tool or script or service can manage all of this out of the box.
Listen To Real Experts
Whenever a new shift happens in the marketing playground, you’ll hear the chatter grow louder as ‘pseudo-experts’ sprout like weeds in an untended garden, recommending that you implement the shiny new thing in your business.
It’s happening with local-mobile-social search also. Thousands, if not millions, have studied the “Top 10 Mobile Internet Trends” report from February 2011, and the earlier “Mobile Internet Report” (2,3 mb .pdf) from Morgan Stanley, and jumped to similar conclusions.
Their logic is simple. Everyone else is doing it. So you should too. After all, you can’t go wrong following the wisdom of the crowds (and if it doesn’t work, no one will blame you anyway!) That’s defensive obfuscation at its useless worst!
CMS vendors, called in by clients in the marketing and IT departments, rush to add a “optimized for SEO” or “mobile friendly” tag to their software platform – and it satisfies buyers who don’t want to buy “non-SEO friendly solutions” any more.
But the perception created by these vendors that SEO is a cookie-cutter solution is flawed and false. SEO is not a one-time install. While code and graphics do play an important role in overall SEO, just buying a specific CMS will not meet your needs, no matter how ‘optimized’ or ‘friendly’ it may be.
Similarly, CMS solutions that sniff user agents to deliver appropriate versions of your website to mobile devices doesn’t cover more than the basics of mobile SEO.
Now, it may seem that I’m against SEO-friendly CMS and mobile-friendly site design. That’s not true. Mobile friendly solutions are important.
What, however, is critical is what happens before the website is even presented to a viewer. And every expert SEO strategist is aware of this – while most (if not all) CMS vendors don’t even have a clue about it!
- Can your ideal prospect even find your website in the first place?
- If not, what value did the fancy mobile-friendly solution add to your business?
- When your offer doesn’t match their need, how useful are social sharing buttons?
That’s why you’re better off consulting with your SEO strategist before buying any new solution. SEO has grown incredibly complex, and components are interwoven in such an intricate fashion that everything impacts everything else – and a trivial twist that you thought was irrelevant may significantly impact your KPIs adversely.
It’s why SEO, social media marketing and communications departments need to collaborate and talk together before implementing changes… ideally even while conceptualizing your online presence.
Real SEO experts can make a big difference to your level of success. SEO is a specialized field. It is different from programming, Web design, Web analytics, and PR – though it’s a bit of them all, a hybrid version that ‘connects the dots’.
The biggest difficulty with effective SEO is that it is not formulaic. There is no “one size fits all” blueprint. It must be uniquely and individually customized for each and every business, depending upon the overall strategy. And it cannot be ‘set and forget’, but must be constantly tinkered with and tweaked.
SEO Strategists See Through The Smoke & Mirrors
Loud hype proclaims what’s happening as the ‘next coming’. But while the entrance path and the medium of consumption may be different, shifting from desktop personal computers to the mobile phone or tablet device, users’ “attitudes and actions” haven’t changed.
People still research before they buy. They flock to the ultimate resource of all information – the mighty search engines. They seek peer and expert feedback and recommendations before buying. That happens on social networks.
What is different?
There are minor variations. Search engines are constantly evolving, and keep on modifying their algorithms to distinguish the most relevant results for each keyword being searched by their users. They are using “social signals” as one such indicator.
Rich snippets are influencing search results. SEO strategists understand how this influences searchers, and can suggest constructive modifications that will leverage this shift to a business’ advantage.
Sure, you could save a little money by having a friend or cousin install an SEO friendly CMS. But without a deeper understanding of the psychology behind social-mobile-local search, this will create bigger problems for your business later on.
It won’t be obvious, and you may miss it for a long time – but eventually, you’ll have to wake up to the harsh reality of missed opportunities and declining impact in a brutally competitive marketplace.
If that doesn’t scare you, it should.
Mediocre results are the natural consequence of mediocre and short-sighted thinking and planning. You reap what you sow.
So understand that SEO is not a cost, it is an investment. An investment that can deliver sky-high returns by attracting relevant traffic and buying customers to your business, year after year – with little additional effort or expense.
Build Your Business To Last
Don’t be led astray by the loud clamor that’s drowning out the rare words of sense and wisdom. As a business owner, you owe it to yourself and your clients to adopt a strategy that brings you the highest ROI for the present – and the future.
Isn’t it remarkable how little of any marketing budget is being allocated to search marketing, even after experience has proven beyond doubt that Google organic and paid search brings the highest revenue, and is the most cost effective marketing strategy? Businesses keep spending money on less effective methods. Why?
Why is your sales website the lowest paid “employee” in your company? It never stops working, never reports sick, never complains, always delivers value (quality leads and high conversion rates)… yet most businesses put their “best salesperson” into the closet, lock the door, and throw away the key! Isn’t that shocking?
I assume that it will take some time and intense education to bring about a change from the status quo. The sooner this happens, the better. Ignoring SEO can harm your business seriously.
In 2014, mobile Internet usage will overtake desktop internet usage. Already, more than 50% of all “local” searches are done from a mobile device. In the US, 9 in 10 people have a mobile phone.
A report from Infinite Research predicts that global Tablet shipments will increase from 16.1 million units in 2010 to 147.2 million units in 2015. Global mobile data traffic is expected to grow 26x over next 5 years. All of this means businesses are going to gear up for a massive boost in spending to attract this deluge of mobile search traffic.
Yet many are just investing in SEO (mobile, local) as an alibi – an excuse to show stakeholders that they’ve tried, rather than with a strategic plan to dominate their marketplace.
- Will stakeholders accept this for long?
- How soon will they start asking the leadership difficult questions?
- Why are business stewards leaving money on the table?
- When will the excuses stop working – and heads begin to roll?
Every marketing department should be aware of the critical role of SEO by now, and sales departments shouldn’t accept poor excuses, but instead focus on exploiting the rich potential with speed and energy.
Letting this window of opportunity slip away can be a costly mistake. You’ll not only miss out on sales, but also run the risk of not safeguarding your good name.
The Rising Star That Is Mobile + Social Search
As more and more searchers use Google and other services to locate businesses while they are on the move, an increasing percentage of your prospects will find you for the first time through mobile searches. This number is growing at an incredible rate.
About 70% of the world’s population now owns a mobile phone, with over 5 billion mobile subscribers globally. 3G subscriber penetration exceeded the “sweet spot” of 20% in 2010 and is expected to grow to over 40% by 2014. Much of this use is concentrated in developed nations (U.S. has overtaken Japan in 3G user base).
In addition, 91% of all mobile internet use is “social” related. 50% of the 200 million active Twitter users are on mobile devices, versus 25% last year. Some 200+ million (up from 50 million in 2009) access Facebook from a mobile device.
What’s great about this is that reviews and ratings that are available for many different services, products and business/brands.
The downside is that poor quality (or even an unintended bad experience) can get you voted down – and you’re not in control. Worse, there’s an inherent danger that unethical people could get you into trouble through ‘fake social voting’ and ‘manipulative reviews’.
With Google leaning towards social signals in weighting their organic search results, we’re seeing an impact from rich snippets, social mentions (+1s and Likes), and public ratings or reviews, all of which influence the decisions of a prospective buyer who is in pre-purchase research mode.
As with anything so powerful, there are opportunities here, as well as risks and dangerous minefields to navigate with caution.
But that alone isn’t what makes mobile search so exciting.
It’s also because:
- the individual is within a specific geographical area
- is using long tail keywords which are more likely to convert into sales
- the searcher’s intent is probably to seek instant gratification
All of this, combined with the massive social reach of mobile searchers, makes winning this race a high stakes battle for your customer’s mind. And there’s one way to stack the deck in your favor – know your visitor’s intent, understand their psychological drives, and give them exactly what they want!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the triad of ‘Social’, ‘Local’ and ‘Mobile’ search that’s all set to turn the ever-changing world of SEO topsy-turvy in the months to come.
What are you trying or doing in this space? How do you see it evolving? What are the dangers and the opportunities? Please share your ideas and suggestions in a comment.
- Mobile Internet Research Report Reveals Massive Growth
- Mobile Internet Report – Morgan Stanley
- Mobile Statistics, Stats & Facts 2011
- Top Mobile Internet Trends
Image Credits: iStockphoto, Crestock and Photodune, used under license.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.