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Attached to each other and to the Net

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I got married on Sept. 1. Like many couples these days, my wife and I selected nearly all of our services and vendors on the Internet. The reception site was chosen from an online registry, the caterer for, and the bagpipe player from a random Google search. In some cases, we hired people without ever speaking to them.

That's not unusual these days. What was a little different was Dana's decision to blog about the whole process. She started blogging in February and, over a period of months, documented prolifically our experiences working with the many businesses that would make the wedding a reality. Traffic grew. In six months, the blog attracted nearly 5,000 unique visitors. More important, it began to climb the search engine rankings.

By August, our blog reviews had climbed into the top two or three screens of Google search results for some small vendors. Meanwhile, dozens of inquiries poured in from other brides-to-be, asking about every aspect of our experiences. Dana answered each of these inquiries directly and honestly. The good and the bad of our planning process was thus documented outside of the view of the affected vendors.

There's a lesson here for b-to-b marketers. Very often, small companies skimp on search engine optimization and online conversation monitoring in the belief that their companies fly under the radar. But these companies are the ones that have the most to gain—and to lose—from discussions happening on the Internet. Businesses that don't get much attention from search engines are the ones that are most likely to be influenced by a stray customer comment. Google helps this along with a search algorithm that favors this kind of content. Small companies should be optimizing like crazy for search engine results.

This story also underscores the importance of unseen conversations. While my bride wrote candidly about her vendor experiences, many of the most pointed discussions took place by e-mail. It's impossible for marketers to tap in to these private conversations, of course, but marketers need to be aware that the impressions portrayed on individual Web sites may be only the tip of the iceberg. That's why it's important not only to monitor blogs and social networks but to engage actively with the most active writers. Tapping in to their experiences and responding to their feedback reinforces your image as a company that listens and helps head off negative but invisible discussions.

When I depart on my honeymoon, the inns and restaurants that I patronize will be those that were recommended on TripAdvisor.com, Travelblogs.org and other community sites. And you can be sure I'll blog about what I find.

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