The real value of LinkedIn

Microsoft has just made one of the boldest moves in its history by spending more than $26 billion on LinkedIn. The acquisition means Microsoft can embed LinkedIn with Skype, its email system and other Microsoft enterprise products so that, in the words of one Silicon Valley expert, it will be able “to recreate the connective tissue for enterprises”.

But I think Microsoft has bought something far more precious than what some commentators patronisingly call a social network for people looking for a job. LinkedIn is a content company. Microsoft has bought one of the world’s most influential, specialised, highly read, constantly updated digital media companies around. And, unlike some, I don’t think it has wasted its money.

I like it for the content. In one morning I read a fascinating statistical analysis by one of Britain’s top economists, Mark Gregory, of why the top tier of British soccer is destined for a prolonged period of upsets as the also-rans catch up on the powerful clique that used to win everything. I learned from one of the most senior executives at pharmaceutical giant GSK, Eric Dube, how corporate leaders can transform their skills between America, Japan and the UK. And I was sent a piece from Henry Blodget, the CEO of Business Insider, about why the slump in wages means it’s time for a “better capitalism”.

Yes, I was also told that Lucinda has a new job, somebody I once met “likes” a goofy video and also that a mysterious, unnamed figure from the market research industry has been looking at my profile. But those bits are fluff. The real value of the site is two-fold.

First, as a publishing platform in which executives can expand their networks, their influence and their opportunities for a better-paid job by providing original content. And second, as a relationship management tool, the content of which Microsoft will be able to use for cross-marketing purposes.

Some don’t get it. A journalist on the Daily Telegraph opined that while LinkedIn is a “fact of life” it’s also the “dull cousin” of Facebook, “tolerated rather than loved and forgotten once we leave the office”. His assessment is woefully inaccurate. Like all the best digital media companies, LinkedIn has pivoted smartly to ensure that its original raison d’etre – a job-seeking social networking site – has morphed into something far more powerful.

After pornography, gambling and shopping, content is the most valuable service internet companies provide. What LinkedIn does is produce content that people actually want to read and, who knows, may actually want to pay for.

You can read a longer version of this post on Forbes’ blog.

A beginner’s guide to search engine optimization

The world of the internet is ruled by search engines. Your writing might be lovely, but it’s a shame if nobody reads it. How do you ensure that you appear high up in the search engines’ results list?

Well, to put it simply, you can’t. The big search companies, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing, offer advertisements that make your site appear on the results page, but savvy searchers have grown wise to this and tend to ignore it, or else they’re using ad-blocking browser plugins. The big three have grown wise to SEO tactics from the 90s – some of the more fun ones being huge lists of words in a font the same colour as the background and link exchange programs – remember those?

Nowadays, it’s generally agreed amongst SEO types that you need to do a few key things:

1. Make sure each page on your site has a title and meta description and that they are accurate. Meta keywords are useful too, but there’s a lot of evidence that they’re ignored.

2. Have an XML sitemap that tells search engines how your site works. How? Sort one out for free at www.xml-sitemaps.com/

3. Use simple URLs, so if your page is all about cats, try to use a URL like: yoursite.com/cats

4. Offer something unique and useful. The higher the quality of your content, the more likely people are to return to your site and tell their friends about it. The more visits you get, the better you’ll do in search engine rankings.

5. Include words and phrases people commonly search for. If you sell toys for cats, assume people will search using simple terms, such as ‘cat toys’.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg. You can find a more extensive introduction at Google’s Webmaster Central blog in their SEO starter guide.

Lucy Kellaway and the Customer Journey Re-engineering Manager

Forgive the Harry Potter-inspired title, but perennial Clarity heroine Lucy Kellaway is on the BBC’s website today, suggesting that one of the reasons Apple has been more successful than Microsoft recently is they use language better. You can read the full article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11811150

I have to agree with Kellaway. Reading through Microsoft’s IE9 Product Guide this morning, I was struck by how repetitive and unimaginative it was – definitely negative qualities for a product supposed to provide a brand new way to browse. I even found myself questioning the syntactic sense of some of their claims, such as:

“Internet Explorer 9 is site-centric and meets users where they are today.”

They use “site-centric” as the opposite of “browser-centric”, but I fail to see how a browser can be anything other than “browser-centric”. I think they’re trying to convey the idea that they display the site as the author intended, not as the browser parses the code actually written (which browsers have been doing for years), but the way they’ve phrased this is simply terrible.

I also quite like the idea of the browser somehow meeting you somewhere you aren’t today. I imagine the browser showing up late and out of breath and apologising for waiting around where you were yesterday. It’s a faintly ridiculous image.

The section of Apple’s website devoted to Safari is, in stark contrast, simpler and friendlier (although they lose points for using ‘leverage’ as a verb on this page). Let us hope that, for the reader’s sake, they continue their seemingly unstoppable march across the world of consumer technology.

All that remains is to criticise Kellaway for suggesting in her final paragraph that “words are finished”. They’ve been going strong for about 5000 years and I don’t think that portable video on the iPad is going to kill them off.