Google CEO Eric Schmidt called the Internet a “Cesspool” Wednesday in reference to the quality of content and the amount of false information residing on it. This according to AdAge is a subject he spoke about with an audience of magazine executives at Google’s campus, where an annual industry conference was taking place.
Schmidt stressed that “Brands are the solution, not the problem…Brands are how you sort out the Cesspool.”
I couldn’t agree more.
In response to an inquiry for advice about appearing more popular on Google, Schmidt told the magazine publishers, “We don’t actually want you to be successful…the fundamental way to increase your rank is to increase your relevance.”
Branding and relevance. Hmm. Could it be that proving your content to be relevant could increase the credibility of your brand, or “the authority” perhaps? Would it be safe to say that reader engagement is a reflection of relevancy as well? If more people become involved in a discussion, is that not a sign that it is more relevant? This sounds familiar.
OK, I’ll come right out and say it (yes, I’m going to bring up Bankaholic yet again). Take Bankaholic, the financial blog that was just sold to Bankrate for $15 million. Part of the reason Bankrate bought it was because it ranked well in search engines for hot key words the company was going after.
Johns Wu, the guy that sold the blog has acknowledged that user engagement was a huge factor in its success. It’s obviously relevant if it’s creating a good amount of discussion. And it’s ranking well. The name Bankaholic works as a pretty solid brand as well (some have speculated that this was also another factor of the purchase).
Schmidt is absolutely right. The Internet is a Cesspool of garbage, and relevancy and brands are the way to filter out what’s good. It’s no different than it’s ever been. Think about classic print publications. You’ve got trusted magazines and sleazy tabloids. You were always taught not to believe everything you read. The same principle applies online, it’s just that the amount of content is much greater (on both sides of the spectrum).
When discussion is taking place, relevancy is easier to pick out, and brands represent authority. Authority and engagement. Those are the keys to success, and that is the reason why new media is still a legitimate source of information despite people gaming the system to try and take advantage of it in unethical ways.
It Doesn’t Stop with Content Sites
Let’s look at the concept from a broader business standpoint, because these principles don’t only apply to content sites. They also apply to eCommerce businesses or even the web portion of traditional brick and mortar businesses. I don’t care if your site leads to selling products on eBay or Amazon. You need to have ways of showing your authority, which establishes trust. A blog or even “expert articles” that give tips and advice can be a good way to do this. The more a customer sees the people running a site know what they’re talking about, the more likely they are to purchase products from that site.
When it comes to getting users involved, blogs are again an obvious choice, but you can also integrate web 2.0-type apps. Look at what Best Buy is doing now. They’re launching an “enterprise-Twitter”-style application called Mix. While presently, this is more intended for employees, it still represents an authoritative way of conducting business, and you could just as well open up a similar tool to customers. Anything that can help you develop a dialogue with your potential customers is going to help inspire trust. At that point, customers can see that there are real people behind your business, and when they can humanize who they’re buying from, they’ll feel a lot more comfortable in trusting you with they’re money.
A recent survey found that 81% of consumers don’t trust small online businesses. Authority and engagement are ways to overcome this. For more on earning customer trust online, see my seven steps for small businesses. How do you earn trust from your customers? What methods do employ to engage users? How do you show your authority in your niche? Share your ideas with the rest of us. Engage.