December 13, 2011, 9:24 AM

Why good conversation matters for online retailing

Google search updates make fresh content more important.

As a mediocre ex-music writer, one of my favorite activities is to drink beer with minor-league rock musicians and listen to them talk about their favorite albums, the best instruments, what a van smells like midway through a tour and how they managed not to murder a bandmate after he took that day’s McDonald’s money and put it toward something a bit more mood-enhancing.  No, I’ve never played anything more complicated than a recorder, and I couldn’t tell you why one amp is better than another. But I do have a decent idea about what makes good conversation, and how that can translate into better online retailing.

Various search optimization experts, whether consultants or retail employees, have proclaimed 2012 as the Year of Content. What that means is that with the changes over the last few months to Google’s oh-so-guarded algorithms that determine search rankings—perhaps the closest thing that digital marketing has to the hand of God—most of these experts are figuring out how to not only populate their e-commerce sites with fresh, original and link-encouraging content, but also to make those how-to articles, blog postings and news updates a vital, organic feature of e-retailing efforts. Good, honest content to which other sites link impresses the hell out of Google, and can change a lukewarm natural search ranking into something hotter than a Brian May guitar lick (if you don’t know, he’s the guitarist from the U.K. band Queen, a group that lately has been the recipient of well-deserved adulation among the younger set.)

One retailer that is trying very hard to impress Google—and do so in a way that could also strengthen its e-commerce site in other areas—is Sam Ash. The musical gear retailer wants to not only rank higher in search results but give musicians another reason to visit and hang out on the site. That’s why this year began offering $50 to consumers who submit publishable articles related to gear. It’s about more than product reviews, but text about the things musicians talk about among themselves, all the tour stories and gear knowledge, perhaps even the kind of advice that might be handed down to the kids learning to play “Iron Man” or “Smoke on the Water” for the first time (that is, the songs from Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, respectively, that rookie headbangers typically learn early in their playing days). “We want to make it more like a forum and turn it into a music Wiki,” director of marketing Steven Prisco told me when I interviewed him for the retailer’s Hot 100 profile;  you can order the entire Hot 100 here.

 That’s sound advice (sorry, couldn’t resist).  I look forward to learning how Sam Ash does.

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