Danny Sullivan writes on the effects of Google’s Penguin update in “Link Building Means Earning “Hard Links” Not “Easy Links”” he makes the point that yesterday’s tactics of link building were never sustainable, citing such examples of writing articles on article farms solely in order to get a link back to a company’s website.
While those tactics worked for a time, in the long term it was far better for marketers to spend their time on building “hard,” links that is those links that are tough to get. But also to spend time on getting links from websites that actually have an audience for the website’s target audience.
Optimization Vs. Organic
Marketers will do what provides the best ROI, they think short term, or at least the CEO does, and he or she will want rankings today, and marketers will give them what they want, even when that action is against the marketer’s better judgment.
SEO’s, as Danny Sullivan tirades, had been using some easy tactics that worked for link building and content creation but now do not. With the search wars heating up between Google and Bing, Google’s algorithm is getting better, that means tactics that were easy to achieve rankings are no longer possible, just the opposite, those same tactics will push down your rankings.
Even Danny is arguing for optimization over organic, for example he states, “What you want is to be linked from places where there’s an actual audience that might see your link and click on it directly to visit.”
Don’t get me wrong I think Danny is right, as marketers we have to optimize, but I also understand why SEOs and marketers were using those easy tactics. Everyone else is doing it (never a good argument I know), and that industry activity works, and if you were running a business, as long as you didn’t do something that was actually illegal, finding easy links and easy content worked. This meant those people who did follow the hard path had a tougher time in competing, but also because most people were teaching newbies on how to conduct online marketing how to succeed were using the easy tactics, that’s what everyone believed they had to do.
Really even Danny’s advice is in favor of optimization over organic. Danny suggests a strategy that will help with optimizing a company’s website; citing the example of asking John Battelle for a link to his website, that process of outreach is optimization, and not an organically derived link.
And while I and Danny Sullivan might rail against bad behavior, the reality is that the industry and I’d argue the search engine algorithm has not supported good engagement strategies for link building in a few years.
The reason I state this is because as a blogger who started blogging in 2003 I was familiar with how the process of conversation worked, one blogger wrote an article, others found the post because they followed the article, or searched for a related keyword, and therefore commented. As bloggers we commented on other people's blogs because we wanted to contribute to the conversation. When I wrote my 2007 book, “Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging,” I thought engagement practices were the future of online marketing.
Yet in subsequent years as content marketing grew I wondered if engagement was really necessary because I saw that companies were not practicing engagement and succeeding anyway.
In 2009, I wrote, “Does Content Marketing & Inbound Marketing Represent The Limits Of Social Media?,” in the post I wondered if social engagement was now limited to engagement around your own content, rather than outreach to others in a community.
And in my post, “2010 Engagement Marketing Predictions,” I suggested “content marketing and inbound marketing are merely stepping stones to engagement marketing. You might develop really good content, but without relationships in the wider community you will not succeed in getting your ideas and content into the multitude of personal media available on the web.”
Mack Collier wrote a post in 2009 discussing the issue of fame and social communities in, “Social media needs fewer rock stars, and more rock star ideas,” where he wrote that he found more ideas from non-rock stars. and in response I wrote, “Why Content Marketing Favors Rock Stars, And Engagement Marketing Favors Rock Star Ideas,” where I suggested ideas and concepts that catch the moment online, are the stuff of engagement on the web.
You may have seen my work on the concept of content gardens. The idea that companies build websites and content strategies that work for how the eco-system of the web works across social and search. Sourcing content for the lowest cost, but also the highest ROI in terms of web results; you hire freelance writers to blog because they know how to write good keyword copy, you encourage columnists to write free articles on your website, because of their thought leadership, personal social sharing, and low cost of content creation.
Yet, even the biggest and best content gardens are following tactics that a few years ago I would not have recommended. As part of my continuing research into content gardens, I’m currently researching Mashable, and according to my team of researchers, while Mashable is active in many social media channels, the media company is using those channels to share content… nothing unremarkable about that, but Mashable a leader in social media, isn’t using the channels for social engagement outreach and discussion. Mashable is basically now a traditional media site, yes they have good coverage of social media, and wipe the competition off the map when it comes to content production, and real time stories.
We looked at the @mashable twitter account, and we saw a lot of Mashable article shares, and one or two retweets of AAA+ list people on twitter, (500,000+ followers) and at @mashableHQ, I did see some social engagement, but only around Mashable’s content.
Is that a bad thing? No, just the reality of business online today, you don’t have to conduct engagement outreach to be successful, you merely have to write content and share it with your audience. Yes, you have to engage a little, but really only with the top influencers, or around your own content.
And for those people who cry foul at this suggestion… Shel, you know who you are!
Yes, you can and will succeed because of engagement outreach strategies, but if you are in the big leagues with enough content production, you may not need engagement to sustain and grow your online business. You do need social sharing by your readers, but you might not need to engage the audience beyond your own content on your own website.
The Parakeet Update
In my 2010 article, “Is Content Taking Marketers Down The Wrong Rabbit Hole?,” I made the point that content production has to be balanced with engagement strategy in a world of social media, and search engines that monitor linking strategies.
“I'm starting to think the obsession with content, content, content, means that many people are going down the wrong rabbit hole. Yes, content is important… but as the term social media suggests, there has to be a social element in social media for business. …there may become a point where some content marketers discover their content is not succeeding in terms of getting the ROI that they once found…. the competitor who is also writing great content, but talking with customers, listening to them, and engaging them will be ahead” of the rest.
The changes with Google because of the Panda and Penguin updates aim to build a better search result, and in the process throw out some of the tactics businesses were using in optimizing webpages. Instead of developing marketing tactics that would have organically grown the importance of a website;
- Developing the best quality content on a topic,
- Connecting with a community to read that content, building a website with good architecture and user experience.
Companies were taking short cuts,
- Posting on article farms,
- Duplicating content,
- Increasing the volume of content on their sites without engagement with their community.
Until the Google algorithm really supports engagement, marketers will not really support the concept of engagement marketing. Yes, smaller, lighter companies and individuals will engage, because as an organic, thought leadership approach it works. But the mainstream will not support the activity because other less costly tactics still work, especially for larger sites like Mashable.
Danny Sullivan made the point that the folks at Google don’t really understand how the web works for smaller companies, when he stated in his article,
“Make no mistake, earning quality links is hard. That’s one reason why I challenged Matt Cutts for him and others at Google to spend 30 days actually building links for small, non-profit web sites. I think for all their advice that sites just need to get links, they need some real world wake-up calls of their own of what’s its like to do it. I sincerely hope they accept that challenge (stay tuned).”
I wonder if you are someone like Matt Cutts and other Google bloggers, where you live in a bubble, and every post is read rigorously, and commented on, it’s tough to understand how the process of engagement works. You get an algorithm that favors the existing most popular websites, instead of finding the most important, relevant ideas around a keyword phrase.
Here, I’m not suggesting Matt & co don’t know how to blog, or comment. But that I see that engagement doesn’t appear to be a practice that’s rewarded over and above content production (even quality content) in Google. Even though I’m sure every business person who understands social media would recommend you follow engagement practices. i.e. follow and read your audience, comment on their work, either on your own site, or their site, not just when they write about you.
This is why I’d like to see a Parakeet update. Parakeets are small social birds from Australia; they get very sad if they don’t have company, and its one reason why they make excellent pets, they like to be social.
If Panda was about quality content and Penguin was about quality links. Google’s Parakeet update would be about quality social engagement.
Parakeet would adjust search engine rankings for keywords based on thought leadership and social engagement. You’d get points for engagement that produced the best, quality content through engagement, for example:
- How many times does a site owner post content in comments on another site that gets social pluses and likes?
- How many times does a site owner post an article about someone else? And that response gets mentioned by the other site’s owner or social pluses and likes from the community.
Parakeet would be the algorithm for good social interaction design, both in site architecture, and content strategies. The Parakeet update would set the clock back to the early years of social media, and incent marketers to follow outreach practices because otherwize their CEO will be breathing down their neck wondering why they don't have a top ranking on Google.