Second Life Optimization

When you want a new pair of shoes, you might head to your favorite shoe store, mall, or online retailer. Maybe you're not sure which store you'll visit or how to get there, so you'll turn to a search engine. Yet what happens when your avatar needs a new pair of virtual shoes?

This probably isn't a problem for you. Yet there is a minority out there, numbering one million users and growing by hundreds of thousands of users each month, that may well care about that virtual fashion crisis. They're members of the virtual world Second Life, and when you consider all the places you need to reach consumers, this is by far one of the strangest.

As an example of how this works, let's meet DavidBen Daniel, the avatar I created. He doesn't have too many inherent needs. He has some basic clothing that he can customize as often as he likes, and he's free to wander around most parts of the Second Life universe. He can talk to others and join their networks. He can also engage in some salacious activities, the likes of which we won't get into here, but let's just say you don't need to leave too much to the imagination when visiting a virtual strip club. (DavidBen doesn't frequent those clubs; he's more likely to be found perusing the landscapes created by Intel, Reuters, Sony BMG, American Apparel, Wired, and other real-world brands.)



Last week, DavidBen decided he needed a new pair of sneakers, so I helped him search for the Reebok store. Reebok pays a monthly fee to own real estate. It can recoup some of its costs by selling shoes there. New shoes go for around 50 Linden dollars, which amounts to around $0.20 in real dollars. You can enter a credit card when you sign up for Second Life and replenish your virtual bank account whenever you want so you can buy clothing and real estate, or spend it on slot machines and lap dances. The exchange rate, currently around 275 Linden dollars to the US dollar, can be tracked at the homepage of the Reuters Second Life Bureau.

What happens when you're looking for shoes or sneakers in Second Life and don't know where you want to buy them? Right now, searching for such terms won't bring up the Reebok store, which is only optimized for its brand term. This is why marketers will need to engage in Second Life Optimization, or, on a broader scale, virtual world optimization.

The discipline can mirror search engine optimization in many ways. Here's an incomplete list of Second Life optimization tactics:

Title Tags: The title of the virtual location should include a few important keywords, just like title tags for Web sites. Reebok, for instance, could choose the name "Reebok custom sneakers."

Descriptions: Adding keywords to the description can help virtual stores come up for relevant searches, similar to how descriptions and meta tags work for Web sites. American Apparel's virtual store, for instance, says, "Clothing for men and women, male and female fashion, socks, underwear, t-shirts, dresses, hoodie, track jacket." Thanks to this description, a search in Second Life for "hoodie" brings up American Apparel.

Link Optimization: Link development strategies are trickier in Second Life than they are for Web sites, yet I expect this tactic will become more important in the virtual setting. One of the first link building strategies marketers learn for SEO is to have their affiliates and partners link to them. In Second Life, if marketers own multiple properties, they can include billboards for visitors to teleport around to each one. Sony BMG and Reuters both allow easy ways for visitors to teleport within each of their worlds. As marketers expand their presence and enlist partners to join, offering teleportation will help the virtual world visibility.

Advertising: Search marketing firms recommend that marketers conduct their paid and natural search campaigns together, either with the same company, or by opening up the communication channels among the different parties. Similarly, marketers should consider how advertising can tie into virtual world optimization. An advertising network for Second Life, MetaAdverse, allows property owners to post billboards, and marketers can advertise on them and track the visitors. As with link optimization, this won't help the Second Life search visibility right now, but this will help the marketer's general visibility there.

Multiple Engines: In Second Life, there is one dominant search engine, accessible for every user from a search box that resides at the bottom of the screen. There are also outside efforts to improve the Second Life search experience. For instance, Second411 allows Second Life store owners to list all their items for sale, and then invites consumers to access its search application. When DavidBen added it, he typed "/411 shoes" to see all the relevant products, rather than just the stores and locations that showed up with the main search tool.

All of this sounds pretty strange, with teleporting, customizing avatars' sneakers, virtual lap dances, and all the rest. Yet as with so much of emerging media, I've learned to stop questioning why people use it and to start embracing what can be done with it. It might not make any sense, but it's a new frontier of search. If the critical mass keeps building and it's where your target audience is searching, the universal principle of search engine marketing applies: You want to be there when they're looking for you.

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