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How to Engage Customers in Search Marketing

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Last week's column, "The New Age of Search Marketing," discussed the way relationships between businesses and customers are changing, and resultant pressures placed on businesses.

This week's column will focus on how to turn these new types of customer relationships into a weapon for your business. For search marketers, it's important to understand the changes that permeate every aspect of business today, especially online marketing.

Search marketing no longer can operate in a vacuum. It's just a part, although a major part, of the bigger marketing picture. Here are ways you can capitalize on this new environment.

Actively Engage With Customers Online

Historically, the process of engaging with customers has been viewed as an expense. Businesses focused on questions such as, "How can we lower the cost of customer service?"

Solutions included outsourcing support to India, or implementing complicated phone menu systems. Think instead of whether there's a low cost way to actively reach out to customers and engage them in a dialogue.

Find out where they're talking about your products or services on forums and blogs. See what they're saying. Openly respond to feedback and note you're a company representative.

Respond to criticisms patiently. Help the customer achieve resolution. Don't be afraid to issue a refund to the customer if the complaint can't be resolved.

Some people are a total pain. So what happens if you're patient, refund the customer, and the complaints continue?

Don't be surprised if other people who have been watching the discussion jump in and tell the idiot to shut up. People are smart, and will recognize a flame job when they see one. By engaging with the audience, you earn their support.

Reputation management is a key aspect of search. Those forums and blogs you've been frequenting? They're likely to show up in the search results for your company name.

The dialogue will take place with or without you. If you get involved, you can influence it.

User Generated Content

Is there a way to encourage users to generate content related to your products or services? People love to have the opportunity to contribute and be heard. Product reviews on Amazon are a great example.

Be prepared for some weird stuff along the way if you do this. The famous Tuscan Milk reviews on Amazon featured people talking about Tuscan milk as if it were a fine wine. Others told dramatic fictional stories about Tuscan milk.

The Tuscan UGC led to 276 external links to the Tuscan page linked to above. Amazon ranks first for the keyword listing "Tuscan milk" on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Live Search.

Of course, you may get permission to incorporate those high quality comments into your site. That's great spider food and should draw relevant long tail search traffic.

Be Willing To Be Radical

Reach out to your customers in ways that fit your target audience. If you're targeting a younger audience, for example, do the kinds of things that will appeal to them.

One great example of this is the campaigns launched by Coke. Coke is actively reaching out into multiple social media sites, such as Second Life, MySpace, del.icio.us, Flickr, and YouTube.

Coke has made a conscious decision to go wherever the young can be found. In Second Life, for example, they are offering half a million Linden Dollars (Second Life's form of currency) to the person who provides the best design for a Second Life vending machine.

Summary

These are just a few ideas about ways to engage with your customers. The trick is to find the right ways to engage with them that fits your business. There's a lot at stake, and there's also a lot to be gained.

Of course, don't force it. If a marketing concept doesn't fit your business, try the next idea. Relationships with customers are changing, and you need to find a way to embrace those changes.

A great book that influenced my columns, and one you should read if you're looking for further discussion of changing customer relationships, is Seth Godin's "Meatball Sundae."

Join us for SES London February 19-21 and for training classes on February 22.


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