SEO, OAO and How We Seem to Be Running In Circles

online audience optimisation

I admit, I am late writing about the online audience optimisation. Many of my colleagues have already made their comments about its significance or lack thereof but I personally tried to ignore talking about the subject. That’s until the acronym started appearing in my RSS feed again.

When recently reading about OAO I began to wonder if we marketers need acronyms and titles to define us. Do we need to associate ourselves with the next big thing, almost as if we had an urge to belong to an emerging cool subculture? Why else come up with a new names for something that’s been around for years?

After all, that’s what OAO seems to be – nothing new.

Before I go any further, a quick recap for those unfamiliar with the term online audience optimisation. I first came across it around September last year (although it might have been in use before that of course). OAO seems to come to prominence during the wave of “SEO is dead” posts and was proclaimed the SEO replacement. Erik Sherman wrote about it for and that’s where I think I heard the term first.

Linda Ruth described OAO as “allowing online publishers to leverage their greatest assets—their wealth of high-quality content—to create a consistent web-wide presence, and generate consistent new and repeat visitors.

Georgina Lopez rewrote this to: “OAO takes advantage of high-quality content to create a consistent web-wide presence and generate consistent new and repeat visitors to your site.

But in spite of further research, that’s as much essence as I managed to find about online audience optimisation.

And that’s the interesting thing about it. Even though OAO being proclaimed as SEO replacement, it’s almost impossible to find any definite advice on the subject. I can understand that there are years of research and practice behind SEO and probably less than 12 months behind OAO. But the fact remains that OAO proponents seem to offer no defined explanation what it really is apart from few key terms and vague advice (i.e. “cast a wide net” – what?).


Perhaps because there is nothing else to it. Perhaps because we are running in circles in search of a new identity not realising that it’s the same thing in new clothes. After all, OAO seems nothing else than basic marketing principles adopted to digital environment:

1. Focusing on a Brand, where brand is understood widely, covering more than just a logo. Prof. Stephen Brown in 1992 stated that “a brand name is nothing more or less than sum of all the mental connections people have around it”. It encompasses all various experiences we have with it, from the product or service to customer service and overall experience of dealing with a company.

2. Understanding of the Audience. Markets are people. Even though I often disagree with American Marketing Association definitions, their recent (July 2013) approved understanding of marketing as: “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large” is bang on the money. And it puts people in the centre of the equation.

Discovering and understanding why people need your product or service, what are their fears, needs, expectations, what they find funny (or scary) or how they think is the backbone of any marketing activity. In content marketing we develop content personas. But they are nothing else than a deeper understanding of an audience after all.

3. Conducting Research and Planning. It’s hard to imagine any marketing activity without any prior research (not to mention planning). Since I already accused OAO proponents of not defining their terms, let me not make that mistake myself. According to AMA “marketing research is the function that links the consumer, customer, and public to the marketer through information”.

4. Developing a Strategy. Another standard element of any marketing activity. Conducting marketing research leads to gaining intelligence. This in turn can be used to develop strategies to achieve clearly defined company’s objectives. It doesn’t matter what medium you use, principles are the same.

5. Measuring the Progress. Lastly, the measurement and analysis, two definite elements of any marketing activity that tell you whether you achieved your goals or not.

Am I an online audience optimisation opponent? 

No, at least I don’t think of myself in these terms. To me the terms is just a bogus, an artificial name for a set of activities marketers have been using for years, both online and offline.

What drives me insane are numerous people adopting the term as a the next big thing. It’s just yet another acronym. Nothing else.

Creative commons image: Matthew / Flickr

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