A Chat With David Amerland: Opening Up SEO In The Age Of Semantic Search

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Cover of "Google Semantic Search" by David AmerlandMarketers, SEO experts and businesses not yet on-board with retooling their approaches to the new world of semantic technology and semantic search need to seriously rethink their positions.

Why? Check out the Q&A below with writer, speaker and analyst David Amerland, author of the new book Google™ Semantic SearchSearch Engine Optimization (SEO) Techniques That Get Your Company More Traffic, Increase Brand Impact, and Amplify Your Online Presence. Amerland also will be participating in this session, The Semantic Web Has Killed SEO; Long Live SEO, at the Semantic Technology & Business conference in New York City in October.

Semantic Web Blog: What was your motivation for writing Google Semantic Search?

Amerland: After working as a chemical engineer who wrote pieces for newspapers, and in cultural and business journalism, I became a communications director for a U.K. blue chip company, and part of my role was overseeing the changes of taking a massive company from the 19th century, where it was stuck, to the 21st century. Part of that was to create a web presence. And in different capacities I’ve guided other web companies. So I have seen the things I talk about around marketing in action.

I want to demystify SEO. I hate things to be cloaked in mystique. When there’s a mystique around things you do away with everything from comparison metrics to the opportunity to have best practices. That’s really bad for business. So that’s my motivation. Just as I used to demystify science in my early days as a journalist. I’m trying to open up SEO as it is today as much as possible.

I always think at the end of the day, if you are active in an industry that provides a service, you have two choices. You can create transparency and make it easy for people to understand why and what you do – or you don’t. If you don’t, you can put a premium value on your service, but at some point you will be tempted to take shortcuts and nobody can check that. Or you will say that you do more than you can, and this all harms you eventually.

The communications angle is very important, because it helps customers and end users understand what you do, it puts real value on your skills and knowledge. It helps foster a dialogue that leads to evolution. It’s harder, but it’s a win-win scenario.

Semantic Web Blog: What do you see among the community of marketers and SEO experts today, about their acceptance of moving beyond traditional ways of using the web for marketing?

Amerland: Any kind of change creates resistance.

This change has been so soft-marked. Google didn’t overnight say that we are into the semantic search age. It’s been a soft introduction and soft launch. So we are beginning to see the differences in what works, and what doesn’t work, in search results – some directly attributable to semantic search. And some people actually are beginning to get it.

But it’s split. …A sizable portion of the SEO industry is stuck in the past. There is a core section refusing to budge because they say link-building still works. Yes, it does, but it does not deliver the results it did and it will continue to deprecate. At some point it won’t work the way you expect it to.

But the forward-thinking ones who get semantic search are excited. It lets them evolve quickly and initiate new relationships with their customer base.

It’s a very imperfect halfway world now.

Semantic Web Blog: Any thoughts on when “gaming” Google, which already has gotten harder, will become too hard?

Amerland: Gaming comes in when the amount of effort that goes into achieving results is less than the amount of effort that should have. So it’s a shortcut. What the semantic web and search does is that it becomes so fragmented that there is no shortcut anymore. So if you decide to game it by falsely raising a web site to rank where it shouldn’t be, and that takes the same amount of effort it takes to do it legitimately, that instantly negates the gaming concept. If it takes the same amount of effort, time and cost, you may as well do it properly.

That’s where Google essentially is forcing us to become more honest, more transparent. And that works for us all, businesses, marketers, SEOs and consumers. All the razzamatazz of the past which we used to use as shortcuts are gone. And if you legitimately raise a web site it will stay there – and not only that, but it will grow from there. Semantic search is computable. Every gain you make, provided you continue to be active, stays there. It’s cached on the web and you build from it.

Semantic Web Blog: You note in the book that semantic search is all about creating connections in a world where point A is actively looking for point B and vice versa. Yet the fragmentation in search makes businesses feel those connections are harder than ever to bring under their control. How is that not the case?

Amerland: You can’t control as you used to in the past, where you were the sole broadcaster of any kind of message or marketing, and it was all passive consumption – no interaction.  Today you have to send your message out there, let your brand loose and set your marketing values free on the web. You can have control but the controlling mechanism has changed, through interaction, honesty, and shared values with those you interact with.

It’s a more collaborative web, which is essentially how all these semantics arise from it – through constant interaction which ascribes fresh value to data, that lets us draw more inferences and so on. …We’ve had 200 years now of the Industrial Revolution, of facelessness, PR and spin management and all the other mechanisms we thought we needed. Now it’s a case of unlearning, of getting rid of these and putting more genuine value-oriented processes in place.

Semantic Web Blog: That’s what you describe as moving from a web of websites to a web of people, correct? And so we have to move strategies to fit that new model?

Amerland: Yes, in the past SEO success was driven by a website itself. Now that’s no longer the case. Now it’s driven by this kind of social interaction.

How a web of people and semantics [relate]: Semantic search at its core is a Big Data problem that’s driven by volume, velocity, variety, and veracity. Semantic search is challenged by these four things, and the critical one is veracity – the truth of data in question.

If websites and data are exploding across the web and social networks, how to chose the best things that are really truthful? That’s where the social web comes in. Our social interactions act as a filter, which is where sentiment is mined and becomes a signal for the verification process. You can put up a new website and throw a couple of million dollars at it in marketing, have it appear all across the web, get coverage from news outlets – but in social media networks and social signals it still can be a zero because you have no or few customers, or a few that are not happy.

That would negate all your massive marketing efforts, because you fail on the veracity front. You need social interactions to create veracity. And you can’t fix that by getting a thousand people you own to say good things, because who they are in context with you is transparent [on the semantic web]. You need thousands of real people to interact with it and in a real way.

Semantic Web Blog: So what we’ll see going forward is a big change in who you have to be as a business?

Amerland: It’s a change in mindset. They have to have not just a human face but a human feel.

We talk of social business that is being forced upon us by changes in the semantic web, changes in semantic search, how that is changing marketing. The way a company deals with this on the outside is that it stops being faceless. But it has to become personal and human on the inside, too. ….A huge challenge of companies is restructuring internally. That’s difficult now as they can’t stop what they are doing and start from scratch. They have to take baby steps, to change things by degrees to get to their desired outcome.

But the main thing is the world as we knew it, in terms of what we considered to be professionalism, which was a very slick, cold, very considered approach to connecting with customers, has changed. If you can’t be personal or real, you are going to lose out, and that has to start with a new mindset. Businesses that don’t get it now, five years from now, they won’t be around.

To hear more from Amerland and a host of other semantic experts at SemTechBiz NYC, register here. You can view the program here.  




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