There are some aspects of online marketing that play a huge role in the bigger picture, but aren't as easy to see. Things like emotion, motivation, awareness, and relationships can be hard to gauge with our usual metrics.
But sometimes the effects of an action aren't evident right away. There are times when we can't associate cause and effect directly. But everything we do in SEO fits into a much bigger chain reaction and we might not able to see every piece.
When something doesn't fit our typical measurements it may be easy to write it off entirely. There's actually a word for that: floccinaucinihilipilification.
The exact definition of floccinaucinihilipilification from Dictionary.com is "The estimation of something as valueless." It's actually the longest non-technical word in the English language. Sorry, antidisestablishmentarianism.
Aside from being a semi-useful piece of party trivia, floccinaucinihilipilification is actually a great description of one of the most frustrating aspects of modern SEO. There are just so many things that are easy to dismiss because they are outside of our usual expectations for results.
Search is evolving to a point where we get much less instant gratification. Things take a much less linear path than they did in the past; you can't just walk across the room and turn on the light anymore. You have to use a Rube Goldberg machine to do it.
The Social Part of Social Media
In social media you can measure friends, followers, retweets, circles, referral visits, and sales through unique promotions. There are all sorts of fantastic metrics for judging how well a social campaign is performing. Of course not every one of those translates to visits, or dollars.
If a comment on your wall doesn't result in a sale or if a retweet doesn't improve rankings, then does it matter? Yes.
With social media it's also about the prospect of exposure. It may not be as clearly measurable when someone shares something on Facebook and one of their friends sees it and later searches the brand name. It's not always obvious when retweeting someone's post and getting a "thank you" leads to that person clicking on the Tweeter's site in the SERPs because they recognize the name.
If social media efforts aren't directly impacting your rankings, or the traffic numbers aren't approaching search engine referral proportions, that doesn't mean the campaign isn't working.
A comment on a wall may not mean much on its own. But a comment may lead to a new fan that may lead to a new sharer, who could grow to be an evangelist if the relationship is cultivated.
While direct leads are a possibility from social media, there's more to it than that. It's access to a huge and active audience if you're willing to play to the crowd.
Simple, Single Links
Links are probably one of the hardest places to deal with all of the changes in the last year. Links have been both the salvation and devastation of too many websites.
Bought links, links with keyword anchor text, easy, cheap, unlimited links weren't supposed to work, according to the rules. But they did. So forget the rules, people made money. Except now, best case scenario they don't work as well and worst case, they can tank a site.
So now links mean a totally different thing. They aren't as easy to get any more. They don't necessarily go to the pages where products live and links that go to different kinds of content don't always work the same way.
Links with your URL as anchor text probably won't move a site up for its head terms as quickly as a hand full of links brandishing keywords used to. So now maybe it's a about getting a link from a small community organization instead of 150 directories. But those little links are a much bigger deal now.
It's never going to be the same, but this is where we live now. A link from a person's enthusiast site for a how-to guide may not seem as effective as syndicating an article across 300 sites, but it's real. Things that are authentic may take longer to feel.
Trust and the Human Factor
Google has shown a continued effort to become scary close to emotional intimacy with the preferences of its users.
Authorship is one indicator of Google's improving efforts to identify individuals as entities. Public signs point toward their increased attempts to incorporate that information into how they evaluate websites. This interest in using real people's association with websites to determine trust, should be more than enough to pique our in getting onboard early.
On the other side, Google also seems to be trying to figure out which sites people trust through their own choices and patterns. That means visitor loyalty isn't just important for repeat sales, the signals it sends can be beneficial for SEO.
Some loyalty is measureable. Getting people to want to return to a site is measurable. We can see when the percentage of repeat users goes up.
We can measure how many people come to a site through subscription based newsletters or email marketing. We can measure when people become regular commenters or forum posters.
But it's hard to measure where those relationships start. Was the first time they came to your site searching for what you sell? Or is it possible it's because they knew you before they needed what you sell?
It isn't always as clear cut as which search word brought you the most visitors, or what was the last click before the sale. Sometimes that sale was months in the making based on a chain reaction that couldn't be tracked.
A More Convoluted Path
Each action that creates a positive connection has value even if it falls outside of our traditional data tracking.
We absolutely have to evaluate numbers, show correlation and prove ROI. That's the job of anyone working in SEO. But trying to optimize within the new system, we've had to get more creative.
It may take time for an initial action to produce a desired end result and there may be 10 steps in between instead of 3. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth it.
So don't immediately floccinaucinihilipilificate an effort in which direct results are a little ambiguous. There may be more at play than is immediately evident.
There's a time to give up on something that isn't working, sure. But make sure you're not comparing more slow-burning efforts to the precedents of the past.
At this point, shortcuts are getting shut down more and more every day, and the long way is about the only option left. So yes, an action might not lead to more rankings, traffic, or sales directly, but that doesn't necessarily mean it didn't work; it may simply be the first domino to fall.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!