Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, made many interesting points about how search is a response to “choice” in society at large busting at the seems. It used to be you could only buy food from your corner grocery store. Now, you can buy perishables from all over the country (and world, if not for import laws).
For example, if you were to make a menu of every food available in the world, you would hardly be able to fit every item on a menu. Menus would be the size of phone-books, and many foods would have to be listed under multiple categories. This is why the science of categorizing things into neat little boxes (ontology) is switching over to a meta-tagging model, where items can be in multiple categories. Paper catalogs in this model would be one sample “output layer” from a much richer and robust back end database.
This is why you almost never hear of the Yahoo human edited directory anymore, but “googling” is a daily occurrence in many peoples’ lives.
Reaching the point where old categorizing systems bust at the seams is information overload, and is a big part of what’s fueling the keyword search movement. Say, you try to keep the theoretical ever-growing-menu of the world’s food in use. There reaches a point where there’s just so much information and variations in there, that it’s easier to just type a few words into a box, and hit search than to deal with the phonebook-sized paper menu. This overload, and corresponding laziness (path of least resistance) is what’s ensuring that search has a critical role in our information navigating future.
This also lays the foundation for the greatest game of our time: the competition over natural search hits. We will be living in a Top-10 world for some time. And the battle to be one of those 10 listings on any given keyword phrase is the glorious battle of our time. Desperation to get on that page the easy way has fueled the Google AdWords search marketing phenomenon. But as marketers get more savvy, they’re going to realize that an investment in better information organizational technologies will future-proof their natural search endeavors.
All I’m saying is that what we know today as SEO is a better investment than pure advertising, because it overall improves your company. It actually is possible to do SEO work correctly, so that the results will benefit you long into the future. It’s possible to steer very clear of the occasional snake oil salesmen and charlatans that occupy this space (not everyone!!!), and focus rather on an “information science-y” approach that lets you manipulate and leverage your information assets en masse. It’s like moving icebergs from your fingertips. There’s a lot of data transformations and stylizing involved.
The way this works is far too much for a blog post. Suffice to say, ensuring that enough data and relationships exists in your back-end database is a big part, as is ensuring that you have more than one way to publish this data. Your publishing method should have LOTS of flexibility. We call the process of leveraging your back end database in innovative new ways “Slice and Dice”.
In fact, we call Connors Communications‘ ability to output from almost anyone’s back end database with pages perfectly well optimized for search, as the Slice and Dice Presentation Layer (SDPL).
And yes, this is coming from a public relations firm.
And yes, we realize we have gone so far beyond other public relations firms, and even search engine optimization firms, that we have to come up with a new name for what we do. “Public relations” most accurately encompasses “relationships between people”, which is what even SEO is about when you think about it. It’s everything that’s not under the “paid advertising” umbrella. So, public relations is essentially every unorthodox form of marketing, where you’re garnering publicity without outright paying the person who owns the first touch with the potential customer (typically, “the media”, but increasingly Google).
Are we search engine relations? Nope, too techie. Are we customer relationship management (CRM)? Perhaps, but already taken by a category of software. I don’t have the answer yet. Maybe the terms SEO or PR can still be pulled out of the fire. Or maybe the term is so obvious and right in front of all of our faces, that we just can’t see it.