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What Facebook and Email Stole from Google’s Playbook

A long time ago, you could get Web pages ranked in search engines solely based on how many times a keyword was present on the page. This of course resulted in the laughably loathsome practice of keyword stuffing, where Web pages were purposefully written with “discount Easter baskets for sale” 30 times in a row.

This era was mercifully short-lived, as Google (followed by other engines) added a relevancy layer to search results, centered primarily around the number and strength (“authority”) of other Web pages linking to the page in question.

This forced Web site owners to create better content that would earn links from other sites based on the merits of that content.

That algorithmic determination of relevancy has now washed up on the shores of Facebook and email marketing, and it will massively change the success formula for both.

Content Isn’t King. Relevant Content is King

Facebook and email are more similar than they are different. Both intend to develop a relevant dialog between company and consumer, nudging incremental action and advocacy via interesting, contextually appropriate messages.

Historically, the quantity and quality of your Facebook and email messaging had very little negative consequences, unless you really stepped over the line and your fans/subscribers decided to sever the relationship with your brand.

facebook email google 300x157 What Facebook and Email Stole from Googles PlaybookBut now, the quality and context of every Facebook and email communication will directly impact your success. Are you ready?

Facebook Emphasizes Content Interactions

On Sunday, Facebook unveiled a revamped News feed, whereby consumers see pieces of content based on a Facebook algorithm that is based on presumed relevancy.

If other Facebook members (especially your friends) have interacted with a piece of content, you are much more likely to have that communication served up to your news feed. Thus, banal flotsam and jetsam that does not draw interactions and engagement will be seen by significantly fewer people on Facebook. In fact, application developers are reporting that their Facebook views are down by as much as 75% in some cases, presumably because few people “like” or comment on the breaking news that you’ve reached level 7 of Mafia Wars.

To date, frequency of updates was a Facebook best practice, as keeping your brand top-of-mind with fans and prospective fans was paramount. The revised news feed, however, values relevancy and engagement over frequency, making interesting, contextual content the key commodity.

Pay attention to your content engagement scores in your Facebook Insights metrics, and start honing (and testing) your editorial approach to deliver content that will draw likes and comments and sharing.

Spam In The Eye of the Beholder

The same principle is now unfolding in email marketing. Historically, email delivery has been rooted in the percentage of your subscribers that mark your email as spam. If you are a good email citizen, and send what people have asked for, using a reputable email service provider, chances are good that your emails will be delivered to recipients’ inbox, rather than the spam folder.

Not anymore.

All of the major Internet service providers are moving swiftly toward subscriber-level deliverability based on individual engagement. This means that whether or not you have opened or clicked on an email from a company in the past will directly impact whether you will receive that email in your inbox or spam folder in the future.

The argument for personalization, testing, and other relevancy-boosting email considerations has always been that the post-delivery metrics like click-through and conversion rate would improve (and they do). But now, if your emails aren’t interesting and engaging to members of your audience, the subscribers you worked so hard to get will just stop receiving your messages. Poof! You’re off the radar and forgotten faster than the freak voted off Project Runway in week one.

This should scare you. And it should free up some budget and willpower for rigorous testing (especially subject line and time of day), and hard core dynamic content. Maybe even the use of analytics to create emails derived from your subscribers’ Web site behavior.

Getting past batch and blast email – where everyone on your list receives the same info at the same time – has officially moved from important, to required.

(Note: my friends at Pivotal Veracity recently rolled out some mind-blowing tracking tools called Mailbox IQ to help you determine email engagement at the subscriber level. Very useful.)

You Might Want to Take That Excel Class

Our online behavior is tracked in infinite ways that not so long ago would have been unfathomable and disturbing. Yet, the future of all digital marketing is based on personalization. You’ll see different Google results, Facebook news feed, ratings and reviews, and email content than I will, based on your friends, preferences, and prior behavior.

As a consumer, this universal drive toward relevancy is a welcome relief, as the algorithm separates on our behalf the digital worthy from the less worthy like a robotic USDA meat inspector.

As marketers, however, we must now accept the fact that routine and ongoing testing and optimization of all facets of our digital communication is needed to maximize reach and effectiveness.

The Mad Men of the very near future will be masters of math, not martinis.

(photo by Bruce Turner)