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A Visit To Stonehenge
Today we welcome Mark Traphagen of Stone Temple Consulting, whose company logo is shaped after Stonehenge and whose marketing knowledge is rock solid.
Mark explains his job as “failing so you don’t have to” – which means trying, testing and collecting data about content and SEO so they can expertly advise clients on what to do and what works. Mark, along with his partner Eric Enge, publish some amazing research that proves just how dedicated they are to the art and science of marketing.
We Ask Mark To Define His Idea Of Transparency
We’ve been fascinated with this topic for a long time and have asked many guests for their take on both authenticity and transparency.
Mark says that the most successful companies have a stated value of transparency but that they still have to struggle individually with what that means. How much do you disclose, whether practically (about things like financials) or emotionally (about things like failure)?
There’s a balance between being personal and being professional. But if you can be more relatable and real, then people will like you and want to be associated with you.
Mark says, wisely, that figuring that out takes wisdom.
Your Résumé Starts Now
Mark says that people who are most successful start building their reputations while they are still in school. And now that your résumé is to a large extent everything you put online, it’s important to be mindful of what you put online.
Nothing is private. And everything you do is part of your potential career. Every blog, every photo, every status update. So make it count when it comes to representing who you are.
Are We Sending Mixed Messages?
On the one hand, we tell people to be authentic online and on the other we tell them to be careful of what they say. Where’s the line? Do you risk your reputation and your career by being your true self, even if what you say and think is controversial, or do you stick to being “vanilla?”
It may seem pretty easy to draw a line between authentic and inappropriate – no, you should probably not publish that naked, drunk photo of you online, no matter how “real” it is.
But there are plenty of things that you can say and do that will be considered controversial in some circles.
Mark says that as a company it’s important to articulate the values that you stand by and that will attract the right kind of customers and the right kind of employees.
Google Aliens Are Conspiring To Destroy Search Results
We could talk about transparency for hours but there are a few things we want to talk about related to SEO so we throw down a challenge to Mark: explain why big brands dominate search and small businesses get squeezed out.
I think it’s because of a Google conspiracy but Mark begs to differ.
First of all, he says, conspiracies are pretty hard to keep under wraps. If something were fishy, it would come out.
Secondly, Google’s business depends on making searchers happy. If they messed with results, people would not be happy and would not use Google.
Finally, the biggest reason for big brand dominance is their inherent popularity. We recognize brand names. We want brand names we know and trust. So competing with brands like Cabellas or Walmart for a search term like “camping gear”, for example, is a pretty futile effort, because ultimately people want to do business with the brands they recognize and trust.
The Good News For Small Brands
Working on your brand and getting people to talk about and share your content is one of the most valuable things you can do in pursuit of SEO.
Mark calls those popular, short terms “head terms” and says you shouldn’t be trying to compete on those. But you can certainly compete locally and overall you should be focusing your content on building your brand and being recognizable.
What About That Other Search Engine… What’s-It-Called?
Carol Lynn admits to using Bing (mostly for the rewards points and free coffee) and wants to know how close Google and Bing are in terms of search results.
Mark says that Google being Google, anything you do there will pretty much work everywhere else. So you don’t have to worry about doing anything special for Bing.
But he does say that you should not discount advertising on Bing. You can get great exposure for less cost with pay per click ads.
Content Isn’t About The Links
Google and Bing both say that backlinks (meaning how many sites link to yours) are an important ranking factor. For a long time SEO companies have beaten the backlink drum and much content has been created for the purpose of getting links.
But Google got smart and started devaluing content that doesn’t serve any greater purpose.
Mark says that links are important but you shouldn’t be creating content with links in mind. You should be building your authority, reputation and trust around your brand. The side effect of authoritative content is links – and business.
The best kind of links, says Mark, are the ones you have truly earned.
The Speed Round
We ask Mark about the importance of building a personal brand and he says that it should not be your biggest priority. If you’re building your company brand and reputation then your personal brand will take care of itself.
We also ask Mark about Google Authorship, which was alleged “dead”. But even though it’s not something we’re implementing specifically anymore (via code and various setup steps designated by Google), Mark says it’s still relevant.
And it has to do with your overall recognition and reputation. Seems like we’ve got a theme going on here.
In summary, don’t get fixated on an idea or a tactic or a technicality.
Take care of your brand. Choose and stand by your values. Build your reputation through your content. Be the authority that you expect Google to think you are and the rest will fall into place.
Your Marketing Action Item
From Mark: Every month choose 3 people who you are going to make your heroes for the month. Don’t choose them randomly. Perhaps look for people who are not well known or well connected but are doing great work and who should be known better. Encourage your audience to follow them, talk about them and what they’re doing. Make a concerted effort to make them important. They could be customers, followers on social media, whoever you choose. Help people get to know them better.
Links & Resources
- Mark says “Google me” and you’ll find him on any social network. You can go to those search results here.
- Just for fun, here’s Mark on Bing
- Visit Stone Temple Consulting
- Read the articles we referenced in this episode
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