One of the more common questions we get from clients is how-to, specifically, rank well in search engines. Even as we see the industry mature these past few years, marketing online still seems rooted in the offline marketing paradigm, at least in many business owner’s minds. Of course, if there was a blueprint on impressions, ranking, etc., companies would mainly outspend each other for that first page ranking or social posting. However, the decentralized and open nature of the internet requires a different way of thinking. The single most important consideration as an online business, therefore, is relevancy. And if this isn’t your primary concern, then you are doing it wrong.

It feels a bit pedantic to sit here at the start of 2013 and point out how the sharing of links to one’s content is important, but so often the difficulty of managing a strategy around relevancy (and this is inclusive of “link building” and its well worn tactics) foments a subconscious fear in the idea. Therefore decision makers end up falling back on quantifiable and scheduled “events” upon which to send PRs or arrange a sale and so forth. This isn’t to say those aren’t important and effective business marketing techniques, but it still isn’t in alignment with the way the web environment operates. Those who are successful online care the most about content creation, customer interaction (and in public!), and education/support more than selling products and targeting demographics.

I understand that to many entrenched in the previous business models this sounds quite wishy-washy and not very concrete. They are right…it is hard to budget and plan for a Facebook campaign or viral marketing event. But this is itself the problem, seeing the web as a channel to leverage with budgets and planning and all the nice quantifiable ways we organize our work. We here at Ikusa are guilty of this too as we love our project management tools and approved estimates. But to be successful online requires focusing on the conversation as it develops. It requires visiting third-party forums to answer questions not posed in your site’s forums. It requires addressing customer complaints publicly so that your other customers see how you treat them. It requires an enormously magnanimous attitude about the sharing of information; going so far as to offer free advice or education on your site.

When you run a business like this, you will find almost automatically that you are relevant. Giving away free Youtube lessons on ways to use your product? People will share your links with their friends. Answering a problem (including a link back to your site) of a non-customer on a support forum? This builds your brand image as a problem-solver in front of every other user (and don’t forget to answer before your competition does). Cracking jokes with your customer in informal language on Twitter? People will retweet that like crazy. Because when you teach, when you help, and when you give of yourself without expectation of return, you suddenly are the most relevant to that customer. And believe me, they’ll do the one thing the web was designed for, they will share what you have given them. Your customers become your marketing. That’s the most powerful marketing I can think of.