27/03/2014

By Kath Dawson, Creative Director at Strategy Internet Marketing

What would life be like today without the World Wide Web?

Inconvenient might be one word to describe it. We can book our plane tickets and manage our finances online, keep up-to-date with world news in almost real time and with just a few clicks of the mouse we can have our shopping conveniently delivered to our door or a local store for collection.

The Web hasn’t only transformed the lives of consumers over the years. Businesses have thrived, many have been unable to keep up with the trend and some exist solely thanks to the Web. As an experienced digital marketer, I’m fortunate to say I’m part of the latter.

The early nineties brought a boom in the .com domain as more and more businesses realised that having a website wasn’t just a fancy add-on – it was becoming a must have.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) soon materialised shortly afterwards through what are now commonly perceived to be unsustainable and unethical tactics, but back then those tactics were considered perfectly legitimate in improving a website’s ranking.

Google was established in 1998 and completely revolutionised the way we used the Web whether as consumers, businesses or marketers. Furthermore, the explosion of social media from around 2004 to present has had an insurmountable impact on all aspects of life and society.

25 Years Ago

Digital marketers and businesses almost had free reign over what they could do to ‘cheat the system’ for want of a better phrase with methods – that are now commonly termed ‘black hat SEO’ – like keyword stuffing, duplicating content and blog spamming.

In the early nineties businesses weren’t really taking the Web into consideration in their strategic planning since it was all so new and different. Our business launched 17 years ago, two years before Google even existed, but Google was starting to make quite a stir in the industry. At the time, Alta Vista and Yahoo! were the big search engines and I remember when optimising a web site was the very simplest of things – putting some words in the keyword tag – but this simply could not be sustained as the Web grew larger.

I also created a website for the University of Exeter, School of English using Front Page in 1995! It was informational rather than commercial but I do remember our recently acquired Professor from Stamford shouting down the corridor, “How do you guys find anything out here? You need Google!”

Social Media’s Intervention

The role social media plays in a business’s expansion today is essential in creating a good brand image, building awareness and keeping in touch with the changing needs of the consumer. We see these icons everywhere today, from TV advertisements, posters and shops and even cereal boxes.

Few could have predicted social media’s integral role for businesses way back in 2003 when LinkedIn was launched, in 2004 when Facebook took off or 2006 when Twitter was introduced. Even Google has its own platform in Google+ which is becoming ever more prominent by the month for social media marketing.

Having a strong social presence – that is, lots of followers, lots of engagement with said followers and consistently supplying good content – is all fundamental in having favourable rankings in the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages) and making a brand a recognised and trusted source, not just for content but for whatever product/service it is selling.

The biggest thing social media has opened up to businesses is the provision of an invaluable source for customer engagement, PR opportunities, brand recognition and, arguably the most important of all, another method for customers to buy products/services.

The Present

Google has certainly raised the bar considerably and created a set of rules and regulations of sorts with their algorithms for searching content and web sites.

The goal posts have now been moved with an emphasis on quality over quantity, punishment for duplicate content and poor site navigation and a requirement for content that is fresh, original and of value to a searcher.

Nobody can deny that these things are for the better. They have created some semblance of order on the Web – often a chaotic world – and have brought more emphasis on creativity by placing the user/consumer first. It stands to reason that a website needs to be user-friendly; make navigational sense and that there are positive, well established websites linking to it.

While the Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird algorithm updates can have a debilitating effect on some businesses’ sites, they are essentially designed to monitor websites which don’t follow Google’s code of conduct (which changes as Google tries to eliminate spam techniques). A website that gets hit by these updates means it needs to change the way it’s doing things.

The Future?

The vibrant and rapidly evolving history of the Web indicates that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to forecast what developments the next 25 years may hold. A new social media site, for example, might be around the corner to alter the industry significantly – Google+ may well be on this path, but it is early days yet.

But who better to give their thoughts on the future of the Web though than the creator himself, Tim Berners-Lee;

What I think we are wired for is fresh air and green. We need to be in nature. We maintain our friendships through a screen where before we would have gone for a walk through a field with the person next to us. I think we are universally wired to need to see green stuff, to be in green space, to be in the open, and see the sun. We have to make sure technology doesn’t drive that out.

I love that the creator of the Web is essentially telling people to go outside and enjoy the fresh air but what, from a business perspective, can be taken from this?

I would say that it is so easy to get wrapped up in the complexities of the Web and lose sight of the reason for being there in the first place. Overall business strategies must be the focal point of any web-based marketing and be used to enhance – not substitute – other methods at a business’s disposal. If time is taken to know how to use the Web and social media to an advantage then the rewards will flow.

Kath Dawson — as well as being co-owner – heads up the creative team at Strategy Internet Marketing and has been instrumental in the company’s success. Through her work inspiring, developing and managing a talented team of creatives, writers and designers, it has grown to be the largest digital content agency in the South West.

Kath developed her first commercial website in 1997, and over the years has become highly skilled and experienced in integrated online marketing techniques particularly creative content, outreach, community development, search engine optimisation (SEO – in which she holds Advanced certification), conversion rate optimisation (CRO), usability and web analytics. Kath also offers SEO consultancy and will happily help anyone who wants to understand what SEO is all about — in plain English! She is also very active in the SEO community and keeps abreast of leading conferences (SMX, SearchLove, Mozcon) to ensure Strategy’s processes and procedures are at the cutting edge.