A while ago I made a bunch of posts about search (and the web as a whole) being about communication, but I think the posts were so verbose that nobody cared. :)
Since then I have been playing with social web stuff a good bit more and it is hard to grasp the full potential of it until after you see some of your marketing ideas spread like a weed. I have done well spreading ideas related to SEO, but I really was blown away by the potential when I had ideas not related to SEO that spread fast and far. In A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History Manuel De Landa highlighted that smaller businesses tend to act as research labs for larger ones. Nick Carr highlighted the erosion of blogs from the Technorati top 35 media sites over the past couple years, based on David Sifry's most recent state of the blogosphere post. The problem is not that blogs are less important than they were, it is just that big media is integrating blogging into what they are doing, and are leveraging their other assets to boost the blogs.
As more and more people write online the value of any singular algorithmic exploit is reduced, and the value of creating what people want or being able to influence decision makers and authorities directly goes up. If you are featured in TechCrunch the odds are good that thousands of people will see your product and hundreds of people will link at your site.
How much is a static link in a lower quality directory worth? It is hard to quantify, but as the static portions of the web represent a smaller and smaller portion of the whole, the value of being mentioned there goes down. If you create something that people are actively talking about which quickly spreads the marketing value of that exposure can be far greater than any marketing you could buy, especially if you value your time.
There are many ways to participate in the active web. If you build a finite amount of attention in the marketplace before you need to leverage it then you can use that asset over and over again.
Blogs & Forums: You can leave comments on blogs and forums, or if you are motivated you can create your own blog or community. If you have limited funds to invest you can invest by spending significant time learning your industry and freely linking out to other sites.
Feedback: Before launching an idea ask important members in your community what they think about your idea. Sometimes their feedback can make it far easier for your idea to spread. If they owe you a favor or feel emotionally attached to your idea they may even help you market it for free.
Social News & Social Bookmarking: You can learn a lot by seeing what stories are spreading on various social bookmarking and news sites. Pay attention to article titles, community bias, bias of the marketed content, format of the marketed content, how frequently certain topics appear, and how you can relate your site to topics these communities enjoy.
The Past: It used to be cheaper and easier to directly manipulate the engines by doing things like
- focus on a highly profitable commercial niche
- focus your anchor text
- buy high PageRank links and build many low quality links
- focus your link equity, pointing links at the page you want to market
But Google filters many obvious bought links, has added cost to low quality links (by making it harder to get in their index and not crawling some sites that have too many low quality links), has a -30 ranking penalty for sites with artificial profiles, and even MSN is getting more aggressive at filtering link spam.
The Present: In many markets it is getting cheaper and easier to manipulate the engines indirectly by participating in the active web, by dong things like
- creating ideas and content people like and want (even if those ideas do not have a direct monetization model)
- being willing to go exceptionally niche or exceptionally broad with some content to create an idea which people would be likely to vote for
- not caring about anchor text
- not caring about what page they link at (realizing that authoritative links to any page on your site will boost your site's authority and the rankings for all pages on your site, and thus will allow you to monetize your commercial pages from the authority of the linkworthy pages)
The Future: Imagine a day when
- hardware, software, and bandwidth are free
- Google and other engines have access to most web usage data
- most people who use the web run websites
- the web is a reflection of what most people think
If that happened would you still be able to compete in your vertical? No matter how good any of us are at manipulating engines, invariable for longterm brands and websites it is going to be cheaper to influence people.
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