Day one of the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference has been both eye-opening and, well, comforting. The latter because, as we’re sure you can imagine, we do so like to be right, and we’re feeling very right at the moment. The former because we’re seeing a strong desire to make fundamental changes in how the publishing business works, without that little something extra that leads to actual jumping off of cliffs.
Making yourself findable is just the first step…
Not that we believe one should jump off a cliff. First off, very messy. Second, you don’t need to splatter yourself on the rocks (or wash away downstream) to make a huge improvement in your online efforts. There seems to be a sense that major investment — time and money — is required for online and/or digital ventures. That is not the case, dear publishing friends.
We’ll be rolling out our thoughts on this topic over the next few days — the conference fun is just beginning, but one theme has meshed nicely with one of our favorite topics: search.
There is this sense that publishers need — must — control the user experience. After all, when you’re trading in what is essentially a linear product, you become accustomed to the thrill of power. You assume that every consumer reads your books in the proscribed front to back method. You know this doesn’t really happen, but you like to believe.
Publishers, knowing they must work with Google, MSN, Yahoo!, and whomever comes down the pike (collectively, hereafter known as “Google”), realize that some content must be fed to the search engines. The problem comes when the publisher takes it upon him- or herself to decide what content will be “searchable”. This despite being very much human and knowing that our species very rarely behaves how we are expected to.
Call it the old tomayto/tomahto quandary.
In providing abstracts and snippets and key words to the search engines for ingestion, the publishers are necessarily limiting their findability. We are busily refining a new BS mantra — trying to make it pithy, catchy, t-shirtesque. Right now, we’ve narrowed it down to:
If they can’t find you, they can’t find you.
Our goal is to achieve the lasting resonance of:
Wherever you go, there you are. (Buckaroo Banzai, 1984, best movie ever)
You can see our challenge.
Regardless, if you can’t be found, you can’t be found. Simple as that. If your potential customer is searching for “blue dogs in swamps”, you must provide sufficient clues that tell said potential customer that your book has loads and loads of useful information on just that topic. If your “searchable” information keys on “animals in swamps”, chances are that your work will be overlooked. Remember: you are not just competing with a handful of content producers. You are now competing with the collective wisdom of the web, and there is always going to be a blogger out there who just happens to write daily on the topic of blue dogs in swamps.
Who would you rather hold the title of ultimate authority on that topic? Unless you’ve recently signed a publishing deal with the blue dog blogger, we’re guessing you want your publishing house to wear the crown.
It is right and proper that publishing houses want to control what aspects of their content gets released to search engines. But with control comes great limitations. Do not fear, dear publisher, that you are alone in your “do we or don’t we” decision-making process. Even O’Reilly Media, probably the publisher with the most going on online, has not fully come to terms with how to get their content into the search engines.
They are working diligently toward resolution. As one member of our BS team noted, if he’s searching for content that he already knows O’Reilly has, he’s heading for the O’Reilly website. The difference between the BS tech department and the average user is the in-depth knowledge of this particular publisher’s catalog. Though one of the better branded publishers in the world, O’Reilly still does not have ubiquitous market recognition; there are still a few people out there who don’t know the publisher’s name and product.
It’s a balancing act. However, we would like to suggest that there is a strong difference between search and consumption. Giving it all up to the search engines does not mean that you will lose the customer. It feels that way, doesn’t it? Once Google serves up the content, they lose the eyeballs.
Ick. Let’s try that again. Once Google returns the search results to the potential customer, the Google role in the process is done. If your search results seem to meet the customer’s needs, then, voila!, you get to take the next step in making a sale that will impress your friends and contribute to the corporate bonus pool.
Oh yes, did we mention that? Making yourself findable is just the first step…