In a world that literally runs on technology (there is pretty much no area of your life that is not connected to some tech device and chill, you’re not the only one going to the bathroom with your phone. 75% of Americans do too), your online presence is more important than ever. From how (or whether at all) your clients find you and perceive your company to your relations with business partners and investors, everything is closely related to how and where you are on the internet.
Up the ante
Over the past 25 years we went from « A website? I don’t need that, my clients know where to find me » to companies’ spending on digital marketing nearing the $100 billion mark last year. It might seem like a long time but as an industry digital marketing is still very young and at the same time very dynamic. The fact that you can reach millions, even billions of people with a single click changed the way we do business forever. Quickly the quantity of information online made it very hard to make yourself noticed and even more so - for the right target audience. Search engines and social media came to the rescue allowing the masses to easily locate content and connect with their likes, be it family and friends or brands they love and trust. Giants rising and falling fighting for market share and peoples’ attention (…and data). MySpace? What was that? Friendster? You’re probably not that old to know. Not even gonna go into Orkut, Google Buzz (that went to rebrand as Google+ and is scheduled to « die » on the 2nd April 2019), Yahoo’s Mash, Meme, did they have more? You get it.
So it is clearly important, even vital, to be online as much as it is hard to figure out how to navigate that space whilst making sure you are not pouring your time, effort, cash and most importantly - hard earned customer loyalty - into something that can just change overnight or even worse - disappear altogether.
There is a simple answer. Your domain name.
Your domain name is your address online. The « home » of your business. Just days ago Tesla announced it will be closing its physical stores and moving completely online. And we all remember the sad story of Toys ‘R’ Us, a 70 years old company who failed to recognise that as many stores as you have on the ground you can not beat online (by the way they will apparently try to revive the brand). Remember Blockbuster? In 2000 they declined an offer to buy Netflix for $50 Million saying it is a « very small niche business ». Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Netflix passed $15 Billion in revenue in 2018. Both Tesla and Netflix are very strong brands. Both have a good presence on all major social media and pay attention to SEO. But if you want a Tesla or you want to watch a movie on Netflix where do you go? Do you type « cars » or « movies » in a search engine? On social media? No, you don’t. You go to their website. You login. And there they are - your custom Tesla, your custom list of movies and suggestions based on those. And this is how it’s done right. Social media and search engines are great to reach people. But then you should lead them to your « home » and keep them there. Why? For the simple fact that you have control over it.
Relying on third parties means following their terms of service, like it or not.
If you want to build your brand to last, you have to move. And you have to move fast. Sure, social media giants (Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Medium, etc.) are powerful tools for marketers, but spending money to draw your audience to social media channels you don’t own (and can’t control) without any long-term plan is not a great idea. Your $$$ spent each year to raise awareness, foster trust and engage followers on social media channels can all go down the drain wiped by a change of algorithm (they have done it before, and they will do it again) or just the next network shutdown (just ask anyone who spent money and time on Google+).
The house edge
Have you noticed casinos don’t have windows and clocks? It’s so you don’t have a concept of time. Everything in a casino, from the light, smell, interior design, music to the rules of the games is designed to get your money. Sure you can win sometimes. But no matter what you choose to play, the odds of the casino winning are greater than the odds of you winning the casino's money. Now let’s not get fanatic about all search engines and social media are evil - absolutely not. But same as with the casino, you need to know what you came for and know when to stop. You want to play luck and keep rolling the dice - go ahead. Yey, you made it to the first page! You got 300 likes, where’s the champagne! Keep your fingers crossed that will work tomorrow as well. You think it’s not like rolling dice? Think again.
If you have had a business online over the past couple of decades there is absolutely no way you haven’t worked with search engines. You did it yourself, you paid someone, you got some SEO gurus to « do everything right », you got some blackhat SEO gurus to do whatever it takes to get you results, you finally gave up and just paid for adverts but then that kept changing and costing a fortune, you thought « let’s go back to basics, after all just good fresh content should do the trick » and spent another fortune on good content, you paid for PBNs too because backlinks make algorithms happy. Have you seen Google search results page recently? The organic results are shrinking, no? There is the featured content snippet, the sponsored content snippet, the Google places, the adwords, the top stories, the People also ask, the images, the videos…then usually priority is given to directory listing sites. And we all know the world ends after page 3 on Google. If you don’t make it there forget about it. What’s worse is even if you do manage to make it it can change in a second. Check out some swings in traffic and hope you get lucky when the next algorithm update rolls out (pun intended).
Since Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 announcement that the Facebook algorithm will prioritize “meaningful interactions” from friends and family over content from brands, the social media giant has received a fair amount of criticism. And for a good reason. Thanks to Facebook’s algorithms, if you run a Facebook business page, your content will be shown to a tiny fraction of people who have explicitly subscribed, and then ask for cash to show it to anyone else. If you can’t reach even those who have liked your page and repeatedly engaged with your content, what’s the point?
Twitter’s timeline algorithm follows the same trend. Released in February 2016, it places relevant tweets first based on your interaction history with the accounts you follow. Deepak Rao, the product manager of the Twitter timeline, said, “Our algorithm changes on an almost daily to weekly basis”. As the Twitter timeline algorithm has helped to increase Twitter’s key metrics, it’s likely that Twitter will continue to test new ideas with its timeline.
YouTube’s algorithm shows users what they want (or at least what the algorithm “thinks” they want). It will decide which results visitors will see when they search on the site, but it also determines which ones they’ll be shown in other sections of the site.
On Instagram, simply posting on a regular basis with the right hashtags won't necessarily guarantee that your content will always reach its intended audience. Timeliness refers to the date and time at which an image or video is posted. It’s unlikely that a regular user will see something posted more than a few days ago.
As of March 2018, LinkedIn’s Feed algorithm focuses on understanding your individual preferences to give you relevant updates per visit. Your content is essentially being served up to a small group of people who you're connected to as a test and if those people engage, it is then passed along to Editors (real people) to determine whether it should continue to be shown to the masses. You don’t like it? Well, LinkedIn has created a number of advertising options. And again, you have to pay to play. See a chart from Brandwatch.
Instead of the end user determining the worth of information so that they could decide what to intake and what not to, we got the algorithms. So even if you have the cash to spend investing in ads, once you stop paying, you loose your traffic and engagement. You are stuck with buying more and more ads to promote yourself because simply creating content and attempting to share it on the news feed for free no longer works as it once did.
How to rise above this? Bad news. You can’t. Because you’re not « at home », you are not in control and you must abide by the rules. You can only use third party applications according to the Terms of Service issued by each platform, so don’t put all your eggs into those baskets. All those platforms are great and can and should be used for what they are - make connections, build up relationships but your main goal must always be to drive all that to the hub for all of your online marketing efforts - your domain name, your site, your brand. That’s the only place where your customers won't be lost when the next giant decides to slam the door in your face.
Learn from the best
A client acquired through your domain name is yours. That direct traffic is yours and going nowhere with any algorithm change or site going down (ahm unless it is your own so make sure you get decent hosting and put your domain on automatic renewal:)). Online marketing and online advertising are mixed up way too often and that costs you money. Online advertising is when you produce content and spend money to promote it online in order to get people to buy from you. That has no end and works as long as you have the cash to throw at it with results proportionate to the cash thrown. Online marketing is a well thought through and defined strategy of how you present and build your brand online. It takes all your assets - your brand, your domain name, your website - and focuses on how to build those up, how to drive traffic, how to create and retain customers that keep coming back to you *without* passing through a third party. Why? Because every visit you get directly to your site costs you nothing and you compete with nobody for it. The irony is that if you look for examples of who does that well you need to look no further than the biggest social media platforms and search engines themselves. So pull out a Whitney Huston and « learn from the best », differentiate between your own assets and all the tools around to build your brand and your authority and use them as such - tools, not your home. It is not only worth it in the long run, there is no long run without it.