Organic Search Engine Viral Marketing

When we talked about open virality back in our section covering the 12 types of viral marketing, most of our minds went to the “marketplace” model and not, say, organic search optimization. For example:
  • If you want to sell a physical product, most people eventually put it on Amazon.
  • If you want to find a new app, you usually search for it on the App Store or Google Play.
However, just as relevant:
  • If you want to find information of some kind, you will search for it on Google.

Organic Search Optimization: The Ultimate Open Virality Example

  When it boils down to it, Google is essentially a marketplace for information. Most people call it a search engine. And they’re right. But its mechanics are similar to the search function in any other marketplace. It’s a singular source where you search for – and find – something specific. In other words, by telling somebody to “Google” something, you’re feeding traffic into Google’s own open virality loop. Which means using that term instantly activates two separate viral engines – offline viral word of mouth marketing and the aforementioned open viral model. We don’t often think of Google as a viral sensation, but in fact they’re the ultimate viral sensation. They’re so prolific that we don’t even think about how awesome they are. We just assume Google IS the Internet. Kind of crazy when you zoom out like that, isn’t it?

Fighting For That Top Spot

  The interesting thing about marketplaces is that they can become SO BIG that strategically crafting your product to appear higher in their organic search results becomes of significant value. The kind of value that has companies battling one another in a heated game of King of the Digital Hill. This in turn sparks thousands of agencies to spring up and offer their help in getting you to the top.
  • For organic search on Google, this is called search engine optimization, or SEO.
  • As the App Store and Google Play grew in size, they introduced similar organic search algorithms – which birthed app store optimization, or ASO.
These aren’t the only examples of optimization for search, just the most well-known. For my last startup, we gamed the search function of the WordPress plugin marketplace, using the same organic search optimization tactics as one would for search engines. Similarly, I’d be incredibly surprised if there aren’t businesses already doing very well optimizing physical products for search on Amazon as well. The best part? If you educate yourself and do the legwork required to optimize your product for organic discovery, this traffic source can be TREMENDOUSLY cost-effective. While it isn’t completely free (you have to factor in the costs to produce content as well as the blood, sweat and tears that go into wowing search relevancy algorithms), it can be a hell of a lot cheaper than paid marketing channels.

Organic Search and Virality

  Organic search is a dynamically different source of traffic than others. To make search traffic a viable on-ramp into your viral loop, you must examine the context through which users are discovering your product. Specifically in contrast to how other users from other sources are becoming exposed to you. For example, let’s say Dropbox decided early on to make SEO a primary method to feed their viral loop. As such they optimized content and pages around two terms (aka keyword phrases):
  • Better file storage
  • Easier document sharing
These can both be considered massive forms of core value that Dropbox offers to its users. However, the user who searches for only one of those terms is clearly showing where their interests lie. So the right move would be to highlight the core value provided by that specific term throughout the entire viral loop. How would they achieve this? Say a user reaches Dropbox’s site by searching for “better file storage.” Their subsequent journey through Dropbox’s viral loop should then speak to the fact that by inviting friends, the user will unlock even more file storage space. (A tactic known as your viral hook.) By making this clear, the user realizes that inviting friends delivers even MORE of the core value they want – as demonstrated by their original search. In essence, you’re using organic search to tap into viral incentive marketing. Dropbox Get Extra Space - Viral Incentive Marketing However, if a different user reaches the site by searching for “easier document sharing,” their journey through the viral loop should be different. Instead of highlighting better file storage, this loop should show how easy sharing files with friends can be. By entering their friend’s email address into a field the user can easily share a folder with them. That friend, who has now become a potential new Dropbox user, can then see and collaborate on every document within that folder. In other words, you’re using organic search to tap into viral collaboration marketing. Dropbox Viral Collaboration Marketing Two different organic searches, two amazing opportunities for virality.

Scaling Your Viral Growth with Organic Search

  In summary, organic search optimization is a very powerful, scalable marketing channel. However, SEO is increasingly competitive, and typically NOT a low-hanging fruit for new companies. Unlike 4-5 years ago when my fitness startup was the champion of all fitness-related search, today you need considerable time, research, effort, and resources to rank well for a major keyword. What’s more, you should NOT be subversive or “game the system” in any way. Even if you do rank for a brief period of time, it won’t last. Google, Apple, Amazon, and the other major marketplaces you’re trying to optimize for are smarter than you. They will build systems to combat any black or gray hat tactics you try to use. Your best bet is to invest your time BECOMING what people really want to see when conducting a search for a specific keyword or phrase. If you do that, your rankings will have nowhere to go but up!

What’s Next

  We’re fast on our way to filling up our viral engine with the best of the best non-viral marketing tactics. But going after traffic with PR, publicity stunts, advertising, SEO, and the like can be draining. So why not kick back and let the people come to you? Put on your fancy pants, it’s time to get creative.  

Do You Know What Blogs, Videos and Podcasts Have in Common?

Marketing can be broken down into two channels – outbound and inbound. So far we’ve seen several effective outbound methods to draw traffic to your viral engine. But enough of going after users, it’s time they start coming to you.

Travis Steffen
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