Slides and Video Cover What You Need to Know About Search

A client asked me to prepare a one-hour seminar on the basics of search engine optimization (SEO), and I thought it was worth sharing. I live in Birmingham and was having a hard time find the best SEO in Birmingham, until I came across This is more than your standard chalk talk. I pulled together slides from several presentations I’ve used over the last few years, updated them and wrote a complete script, which is included as slide notes in the in the PowerPoint. You can download the presentation and read the notes or watch the video.

I’m not an SEO expert by any stretch, but I’ve learned a lot by osmosis. For those who are mystified by Google magic, this deck will get you up to speed. If you’re already a guru, skip it and head to more advanced sites like Search Engine Land, SEOmoz, TopRank or Biznology.

Thanks to Mike Moran, HubSpot and McDougall Interactive for permitting me to steal from them.

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Web 2.0 Carrots

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

Back in the dark ages of the early Internet, some colleagues and I got hooked on instant messaging. We loved its immediacy, and IM quickly replaced e-mail as the preferred way to communicate among our far-flung staff. This frustrated our IT organization, which didn’t even know about our activities for over a year. IT briefly tried to restrict IM use but ultimately gave up and just shrugged its shoulders.

The group didn’t have time to wrestle with the problem. It was too busy trying to shove a corporate mandated group collaboration package down our throats. This expensive and over-engineered solution had been selected by someone at the corporate level without any input from the people who would have to use it. For two years, our IT organization tried to teach users how to tap the software’s powerful but Byzantine capabilities with little success. By the time I left the company, the collaboration suite was basically a bloated e-mail client. Meanwhile, IM flourished.

Mandates From Above
Top-down implementation comes naturally to IT organizations. Much of what they’ve been tasked to do over the years has involved driving technology into their organizations to achieve executive mandates for efficiency. But the new breed of Web 2.0 tools presents a new challenge.

New research by McKinsey reveals that Web 2.0 tools are turning in decidedly mixed results in organizations that are experimenting with them. Half of the 50 respondents to a detailed set of interviews indicated that they are dissatisfied with the performance of these collaborative tools so far.

Successful innovators are learning that a “high degree of participation” is required to make the tools pay off. This involves not only grassroots activity but also a different leadership approach: senior executives often become role models and lead through informal channels.”

That’s a cultural disconnect for the traditional command-and-control approach to IT management. Big hairy systems projects like enterprise resource planning, supply chain management and customer relationship management have always been mandated from the top in the name of efficiency and cost reduction. The technology didn’t work unless everyone used it, so employees had no choice.

But knowledge capture tools like wikis and social networks don’t succeed unless users embrace them, researchers found. “Efforts go awry when organizations try to dictate their preferred uses of the technologies…rather than observing what works and then scaling it up.”

In fact, Web 2.0 initiatives often yield results where least expected. McKinsey researchers cite the example of one company that put software in place to quickly train new hires. The package failed in that context, but the company’s human resources people discovered that the same application was effective in sharing information about job candidates. They turned out to be the ultimate end users.

Culture of Sharing

Web 2.0 technologies excel at helping people capture and share information, but that process works best when the motivation comes from within. The “give to get” culture of the new interactive web has tapped this human compulsion in a powerful way. It turns out that the desire to help one’s peers is more powerful than the motivation to fulfill a management mandate.

Not surprisingly, McKinsey found that incentives work better than commands in making organization successful with Web 2.0. Steel producer ArcelorMittal, for example, “found that when prizes for contributions were handed out at prominent company meetings, employees submitted many more ideas for business improvements than they did when the awards were given in less-public forums,” the report says. Celebrating the generosity of individual employees was also effective in stimulating activity by their peers.

Which means that when it comes to Web 2.0 technology adoption, the carrot proves far more effective than the stick.

Democratized Insight

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

One of the few segments of the IT industry that has stubbornly resisted the efficiencies of Moore’s Law is research. The services provided by big analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester Research are a $3 billion industry that still conducts business pretty much the same way it did 20 years ago. High-priced analysts using the phone and the speaking circuit to tap into what’s on the minds of their IT management customers. Clients pay five- and six-figure annual fees to tap into their insight. A few prominent opinion-leaders affect the path of billions of dollars in IT investment.

Now David Vellante is disrupting that model. His is the kind of Web 2.0 project that just might cause the big players to re-evaluate their value propositions. That could be very good for customers.

Vellante knows the research business. For years he ran the largest division of International Data Corp., a market intelligence firm whose opinions can  make or break companies. Vellante left IDC a few years ago to start Barometrix, an advisory firm focused on IT investment optimization. That team started Wikibon as an experiment nearly two years ago.

Wikibon uses Web 2.0 technology to turn the IT research model on its head. Its collaborative wiki engine makes it easy for a vast community of practitioners to share expertise and experience. It turns out that when you roll up all that information, you have a resource that helps people make the kinds of decisions that used to involve expensive analysts. And it’s all free.

Research Goes Open Source

Call it open source advice.  The first Wikibon community is centered on data storage, and more than 3,000 people have joined.  A core group of 30 to 40 independent consultants and experts use the site to share their advice with the broader community. Before Wikibon, they had no way to reach that audience of storage specialists. Now they give away advice in hopes of winning consulting business. Members get the benefit of their years of experience for free.

The bottoms-up model is incredibly cost-efficient. Wikibon has just three employees. Quality control is outsourced to the members, who have contributed some 20,000 articles and edits to the archive. This democratized approach “hasn’t been as much of a limitation as I expected,” Vellante told me.

And the value of the information is evidenced by the time members spend on the site. “It’s Facebook-like,” Vellante says.  “We’re getting 20 to 30 page views per visitor.”

Wikibon has now grown to the point that the team is beginning to carve the library into subsections; one new area focuses on data protection and another on storage networks.  The small company hopes to monetize its business through value-added programs, such as a new service that helps vendors qualify for energy rebate programs.

Wikibon epitomizes the innovative power of Web 2.0. In the traditional model, insight was communicated from the top down because that was the only affordable way to do it.  With thousands of experts now able to assemble an advisory resource of their own, the opportunity exists to flip that model.  “It feels disruptive,” Vellante says.

Communities like Wikibon won’t put Gartner out of business, but they provide an affordable alternative that will pressure the market leaders to innovate.  That’s the kind of disruption that we can all feel good about.

Coaxing Web 2.0 Into the Enterprise

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

McKinsey has a new report on enterprise adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, and the findings should give pause to IT organizations planning to roll these tools out to their internal customers.

Overall, these technologies — which include wikis, blogs and social networks — are making steady progress into the organizations represented by the nearly 2,000 respondents to the survey.  What’s striking is the disparity between those companies that have made a commitment and those that are still skeptical. The companies that have drunk the Web 2.0 Kool-Aid report that it’s changing the very nature of their businesses and that they plan to expand their commitment this year.

Among early adopters, tools are being used to develop new products collaboratively, reinvent internal communications and transform the process of communicating with customers.  Only 8% of the executives who describe themselves as satisfied Web 2.0 users say the tools haven’t changed their organizations, compared to 46% of the self-described dissatisfied users.

However, the survey has a disquieting finding for IT organizations. Those companies that showed the least satisfaction with Web 2.0 tended to be the ones in which IT drove the initiative.  Companies that report the overall highest satisfaction with the tools and technologies are those in which IT plays NO role in selection and deployment. Conversely, those with the highest dissatisfaction levels are also the most likely to let IT lead the charge (see chart).

Why does this sad state of affairs exist?  I suspect it has much to do with internal culture and the ways in which the technology’s value proposition is defined for the ultimate users.

Taken at face value, the data suggests that IT is best left out of the Web 2.0 equation, but in my experience, technology groups play a vital role. One of the beauties of these new technologies is that they’re so simple and adaptable. Social networks, for example, can be used for anything from technical support to corporate knowledge management while wikis can perform at the project level or across an entire company. I’ve worked with several companies to implement Web 2.0 technologies, and the successful ones always go about it the same way.  A small number of enthusiastic users are given tools and the means to use them and then their creativity is allowed to filter through the organization.  IT plants the seed and then gives its customers the means to make the garden grow.

This process is invariably supported by managers who trust their people to do the right thing and who support experimentation and risk.  Conversely, I’ve never seen Web 2.0 succeed in companies that mandated it from the top or pushed it through the IT group.  Web 2.0 technology only works when people want to use it. Technology that enhances collaboration must necessarily be driven from the bottom up.

I cringe when I hear questions like this: “We want to start a corporate blog. What should we do with it?” If the technology doesn’t match a perceived need, no one is going to use it.

The best way to manage Web 2.0 adoption is to find those business side sponsors who have the curiosity to experiment and give them the means for discovery. The McKinsey report demonstrates that they quickly figure out their own uses for the tools, and their enthusiasm becomes contagious. It’s fulfilling enough to plant the seed and nurture the flower as it takes root and grows.