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Marketing Shortcuts to Avoid in the Semantic Web

ImageThe definition of a shortcut in marketing is any practice that will deliver a desirable outcome at a considerably smaller investment in time and effort than any other format of the same practice.  

It is human nature to seek shortcuts and in the world of SEO and search marketing search was synonymous with shortcuts regardless if they were so called “white” or “black” hat techniques. It was a given that the moment we understood how something as technical as searched worked, we could put that knowledge to use to find us a shorter route to the top of search rankings.

This is no longer true, or rather it is no longer quite as true as it used to be. Semantic search is nuanced, multi-layered, governed by the four Big Data vectors of Volume, Velocity, Variety and Veracity and hard to game. At the very heart of its complexity lies a simple fact: what you do online now matters. It helps to establish your credentials as an authority on your subject or area of expertise. It establishes trust and it builds your reputation.

In the offline world we instinctively know that any ‘shortcuts’ in our behavior come with risks that usually do not justify them. The same is true now of the online world. Semantic search (and in particular Google’s version of semantic search) rewards those who are in for the long haul and deprecates any online profile that engages in suspect activity. The end result is that while you may be trying to game search, you are losing all your online influence rendering your online profile useless.

Because semantic search, like every iteration of search, is governed by specific technical requirements that are now gaining some attention it’s important to note the shift that’s taken place between the search of the past and the search of the present. In the past search engines responded to technicalities, regardless. A massive number of links, keyword stuffing, clever use of keywords in URLs and headers and regular content creation using latent semantic indexing (LSI) to keyword enrich the writing, worked even if your content was junk.  

This is no longer the case. The technicalities of search are now aids to indexing that must be backed by solid quality of content. Do it right and they work in your favor. Implement them blindly and you end up losing time, effort and money.

Here are three easy pitfalls to avoid:

1. Google Authorship is not a ranking signal. Implementing Google Authorship hoping that it is one of the ‘personalisation signals’ Google uses in its ranking does not work. At the PubCon 2013 conference Matt Cutts specifically mentioned that not only this does not happen but Google will also begin to show the thumbnail picture of the content’s author, in search, only when the website content is of sufficiently high quality.

2, Semantic Mark Up is a ranking shortcut. Following Google’s Hummingbird update much has been made of Google-approved implementing semantic mark up than can be used to render a website’s snippets in search as Rich Snippets that provide a lot more information and interactivity than normal snippets in search. Using PubCon 2013 as a podium Matt Cutts announced that implementation of semantic mark up was no guarantee of Rich Snippets appearing in Google search unless the website was of sufficiently high quality.

3. Link Dumping in Social Networks Provides a Search Advantage. The traditional marketing rationale behind this is that by spreading links far and wide you create a ‘strong’ social footprint that provides a social signal search engines can see and follow back to your website. That was true in pre-semantic search days. Now link dumping does nothing because it fails to produce engagement. The value of a social footprint for a website is found in the level of engagement its content generates and the degree of resharing that takes place as part of the online conversation. Link dumping fails to do anything other than alert Google of the practice.

The three pitfalls above also provide the blueprint for a semantic search fix: Create quality content, engage with your target audience in social networks and join the conversation, helping to drive it. All of this presupposes something important. That you know what your business does, what makes it unique and what sort of ‘voice’ it needs to have in which case you also have a clear idea of who your target audience is and where to find it. And that leads us back to, well, quality.

If you need to know more about semantic search check out some of the most common questions asked about it.

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