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Search Optimization: First Do No Harm

Facebook Fan Page - Shut Up I'm TalkingAdvertising Age ran a story last week about “How This Author Got 674,716 Facebook Fans (Worth, Uh, $92 Million!).”  Justin Levey was a New York law student who applied for an internship with the Israeli consulate but ended up “in Jerusalem writing speeches for Ariel Sharon during one of the most turbulent times in Israeli history.” He accumulated more than 674,000 fans largely due to misinterpreting the book’s title for a new Facebook meme – Shut Up, I’m Talking. His fans were liking his page because they were making a statement, not necessarily identifying themselves with his book.

The article discussed the obvious questions this situation begs: How much is a follower worth? How much do people really pay attention in social networks? In Levey’s case, this situation has very little downside. However, if you’re a business or non-profit the wrong follower demographic can actually be doing you a disservice.

Negative Optimization

Search engine optimization is the process of maximizing your web site’s visibility to search engines in order to obtain the highest possible organic search ranking. While there are lots of things you can do to have a positive impact on SEO, there are also plenty of actions that can hurt. One example is inadvertently emphasizing keywords that you don’t necessarily want associated with your site.

“Shut Up, I’m Talking” exemplifies a different type of negative optimization; guilt by association. Social search differs from web search because it relies on the demographics of your fan base to determine relevancy. In Levy’s case, his audience demographics don’t differ all that much from Justin Beiber’s. That particular audience probably isn’t heavily weighted by people interested in reading about Middle Eastern foreign policy.

Marketing Takeaway

Levey’s fan page is an extreme case and many could make a reasonable argument that it’s a good problem to have. However, the risk isn’t really that your fan page or website will have and abundance of the wrong kind of attention. The risk is that, on a smaller scale than this example, your website will optimize for the wrong keywords or your fan page will appeal to the wrong demographics and cost you traffic. Search engine optimization must be deliberate and involves examining every aspect of your presence, including the title of your Facebook fan page. You do have a Facebook fan page, right?

Like the Hippocratic Oath, the first rule in search optimization is “Do no harm.”

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