Uncharacteristically let’s start off with a brag: The search term “Semantic Search Book” on Google.com returns nine out of ten links featuring my book: Google Semantic Search. In the days before semantic search list-crowding the SERPs page was a technique utilized to deprive potential competitors from a slot.
It no longer works or, at least, it no longer works quite the same way. Though, as my example proves it can still be done. How?
Well, straight off I will admit that I did not consciously set out to achieve quite this result so seeing that I had, got me to go back and analyze what I did differently when compared to other books of mine that had been published before this one.
The usual approach to publicity for a book goes a little like this:
• Announcement of the book to trade websites (by the publisher)
• Listing of the book in online bookshops (by the publisher)
• Press Releases are posted online (by the publisher but the author can do his own too)
• Set up of a couple of radio shows and a handful of interviews (organized by the publisher)
• Facebook announcement of the book (by the author)
• Twitter announcement of the book (by the author and maybe the publisher)
Every book I have had published has followed that pattern of publicity (more or less) and has not had that result in search. So what did I do differently this time? I did three things that became obvious to me only in retrospect as I carried out this analysis:
I decided to be accessible – usually I let the book speak for me. As the author, I rarely engage directly with readers. Or at least I did not. This has changed for me since Google+ came along. My writing now is part of my list of transparent activities. I answer questions, explain points and take part in online discussions as much as I can.
I changed the approach to my activities from seeking publicity to delivering value – Upon publication of a book every author receives from the publisher a detailed list of activities they may want to consider doing as part of the publicity drive for their book. This includes taking part in interviews to talk about the book, giving quotes about the book, writing letters to the local papers about the book and getting your friends and family to talk to their friends and family about …well, yes, the book at every opportunity. The publisher’s guidelines also suggest picking high-profile opportunities to engage in any publicity activity. All this I purposely ignored this time. I made G+ my primary activity platform focusing all my efforts here and deciding that rather than talk about the book I would talk about the subject of the book instead. This involved demystifying the subject of semantic search, explaining what it is and how it works, deconstructing its impact and demonstrating how it could benefit those who understood it. I also created content that was designed, in part, to almost do away with the need to even read the book at all.
This is counter-intuitive in some way but it works. Traditional marketing no longer gets the traction it used to and traditional PR is mistrusted. In the attention economy the most expensive thing to capture is other people’s attention. The only time they will freely give it to you is when they feel they’re getting something out of their investment. A typical sales message does not work in this situation. You really need to deliver value and deliver it honestly. So I removed the quantifiable equation of: Cost of My Time = Value of Sales X Exposure and replaced it with the unquantifiable one of delivering value everywhere, regardless.
I tried to make my book redundant – This was probably the hardest. It’s difficult enough to try and explain away a book. It’s even harder to think the content you use in your marketing is good enough for the book to be almost incidental.
Google Semantic Search went on the Amazon best-seller lists even before publication (and I analyzed some of the reasons for it in an article on the subject).
Because my content is reshared, blogged about and re-blogged my name dominates many areas of my subject in search. My brand equity, as a writer, has grown as a direct result of all this. Publishers are more aware of me as opposed to other writers. I get more requests for interviews, speaking engagements and appearances at events than ever before.
This is the marketing side. I admit it’s cool. But it also sounds a little too calculating. At the time it wasn’t and my ‘strategy’ became apparent only in hindsight. So how did I get to it? Well, I did one more thing which in the past I had never really tried before in quite the same way. I tried to be authentic.
To Get Trust You Need to Take Risks
Authenticity is the ‘secret sauce’ the one thing I actually consciously focused on which made all other things happen. I felt that G+ was the one environment in which I could experiment on myself. Authenticity can’t be faked but in order to achieve it I had to try and quantify it and understand it better. After all it’s not like I hadn’t been “me” in any of the previous book tour interviews and publicity shows.
Each of those events however had been micromanaged. Radio show hosts would get in touch with me and send me a list of questions. I would have time to prepare my answers. Rehearse them. Polish them. On each one of those I sounded glib. Distant. All-knowing. Perfect. Magazine interviews I gave always came with a “final copy” approval. My answers were witty, erudite, flawless. In short I was in control of my brand, my message. What I said and how I sounded. But it was manufactured.
I threw all that caution to the wind. I decided that I would never ask a Hangout host what questions they would cover (I always stress, if asked that anything goes). I would never set parameters on what questions could be asked. I would never again demand a final copy prerogative after an interview. The potential here was that there would always be something I did not know the answer to exactly, or could not cover on the spot, or worse, give a wrong answer to, under the pressure of spontaneity and fatigue and time constraints. The kind of thing, in other words that in the pre-semantic search days would lead to brand meltdown and loss of credibility.
This way each Hangout I entered became a fresh testing ground. But it was fresh. Though we sometimes covered the same subject, we never covered it in the exact same way. The insights released from each one were distinctively unique. I found the fact that there was negligible overlap fascinating. The interaction with an audience watching live, became addictive.
Freed of the constraints of a script I was also freed to be really me. Sometimes the questions I was being asked would set my mind down new paths. The answers I gave would be as fascinating in the insight they produced, to me, as they were to the audience. It’s a little scary because you can almost see yourself think. It is also liberating. It transforms the experience of host and audience from a ‘them’ and ‘me’ to a joined ‘us’. It makes you feel vulnerable. But is also makes you feel totally human in a way that’s hard to describe if you haven’t tried it.
I carried the exact same open, spontaneous philosophy to every online discussion I started or took part in and it has now come full circle into my writing where I can look at my ‘marketing’ with a critical eye and actually break it down and give the formula away.
So now you know my secret. You just need to try it yourself.