Last fall (if not earlier), American Express recognized the importance of search equity, the status of its brand among the organic results from search engines. These results — the free ones, not the paid listings — are a proxy for the relevance and trust your brand has earned among its business ecosystem: customers, partners, the press and the peanut gallery. In other words, your brand’s position in search results reflects how active and successful you are in the conversation.
I say last fall because that’s when I first noticed American Express paying careful attention to the small-business authors and bloggers that rank highly on search results for SMB terms and phrases (including American Express trademarks), and making sure its ad messages surfaced on those high-influence sites.
Now American Express is making an even greater investment in its search equity, a greater commitment to having a voice within the small business conversation. It has partnered with top independent content creators covering small business — especially those authors who don’t merely create content but also use content to inspire a conversation — to produce the OPEN Forum Insight from Business Experts site.
Authors such as Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends, Scott Belsky of Behance.net and John Battelle of Searchblog are contributing exclusive content to the site. No plugs for Amex OPEN Forum Events or Travel Services from these contributors, mind you, just insightful editorial features on the topics Anita, Scott and John cover at their own sites. Content that appeals, quite obviously, to their existing audiences, which opens the door to efficient marketing in two ways. One, American Express is running ads on each site that invite readers to read more from the authors they came to read in the first place. Ads for original content by top business authors, targeted to those authors’ loyal readers? Needless to say, click-through performance on these ads is vastly better than average.
Two, authors don’t want to publish content and then hide it from their core audiences, so American Express is benefiting from some unpaid (and un-asked-for) promotions, like this call-out by Anita Campbell to her own content at the OPEN Forum site.
When audiences follow their favorite authors to the OPEN Forum site, they arrive ready for a conversation. A week in and visitors have clicked on the “I find this post useful” button more than 100 times, and the commenters are out-pacing the contributors based on word counts. Engaged visitors tend to carry the conversation with them, too, even as they leave the site that started it. According to Technorati, 17 blogs are linking to this section of the OPEN Forum site, and there have been news pick-ups by aggregators such as I Want Media (on 2/22/08). As more sites “endorse” the conversation by linking to it, Digging it and Twittering it, Google will take notice, and American Express’s search equity will feel the juice. And the 1% rule of social media suggests that for every comment post and every trackback link published, there are 99 others who quietly found the content useful. Search equity is the tip of the social-media iceberg — a partial indicator of a much larger phenomenon.
Congratulations to the team that put this together: Steve Clark, Jason Ewell, Naama Ashkenazi Bloom, Amy Fitzgibbons and Lou Paskalis at American Express; Rachel Bogan, Lee Baler and Scott Cappuzzo at Digitas; and James Gross, Marcia Simmons, Matt Jessell and Teresa Nielsen Hayden at FM.
Disclosure: When Battelle isn’t writing Searchblog, he is FM’s CEO and my boss.