By Michael Bhaskar
SEO (search engine optimization) has often been viewed as a dark art, and with good reason. A kind of contemporary alchemy, it sometimes uses shady methods, casual ethics and arcane jargon to go about the business of conjuring money from nothing. By and large, publishers have viewed it as technical, obtuse and far removed from the rarefied concerns of the book world.
Ignoring SEO is a mistake. People hear those three letters and think about consultants, tech and practices that exist beyond the purview of marketing as such, but actually SEO is about something publishers have become much more familiar with: metadata. SEO is really about metadata, not search optimization. It is about how you present information in networks and systems so that it is easily discoverable, and this is exactly how people are finding books. If publishers are getting on the case of metadata then in an oblique way they are getting on the case of SEO, so understanding both is already critical.
When it comes to SEO, one player stands above all others: what George W. Bush would call “The Google.” More than any other company, Google shapes what we find, how we find it, and the criteria by which things are found, they dictate the ebb and flow of traffic and by extension, the direction of the world’s consciousness, its leisure time and spare cash. If, as an industry, we can crack what metadata means to Google, understand its rhythms, tricks, moods and demands, then we can crack anything –- we can, in a small way perhaps, get some control back and start to make the Internet work for us, and not the other way round.
Recently Google, and the SEO industry it has spawned, has undergone a profound transition. I want to look at the nature of this transition, its history in the path breaking steps of Google’s founding, what it means for e-commerce, and how it impacts many of our practices. The Internet and search technology are constantly evolving and we have suddenly arrived at the next level. We now live in a world of Big Data, the semantic web, high level machine learning and revolution in the centrality of user experience design, yet many publishers are still living in a world of metadata spreadsheets and off the cuff product records.
It’s time for some optimization.
Michael Bhaskar is the Digital Publishing Director of Profile Books in the UK. He will be presenting “Google and the Top Three Metadata Mistakes You Can Make” at the Metadata Perspectives conference taking place October 13 at the Frankfurt Book Fair. During the event he’ll talk about the recent, profound changes Google has made to its discovery algorithms, from the advent of PageRank to the new Panda/Farmer process. He’ll discuss how to craft proper book descriptions, how this impacts discovery, and the three most common errors you can make.
Space for the conference increasingly limited. Readers of Publishing Perspectives can take advantage of special code MD2011PP for a discounted rate. Sign up at www.book-fair.com/metadata.