SEO & the Static vs Active Web

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.

Published: November 21, 2006

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Comments

November 21, 2006 - 5:44am

You're preaching to the choir, brother! :)

Kirby
November 21, 2006 - 5:56am

Nice post Aaron. This is along the lines of what Guy Kawasaki said in his Pubcon keynote - just being 10-15% better wont cut it anymore.

The collateral damage of this trend will be the SEO industry. It will shake out the pretenders who hopped on the link bandwagon thinking that was all there was to it.

The upside will be the leveling of the playing field for old and new sites. A small tweak of the age factor will be a knock out blow for many who are not pro-active.

November 21, 2006 - 9:16am

Aaron,

Great post, I added my own thoughts of it, focusing on how SEO is turning in a general approach to doing PR/marketing online rather than the traditional view people have now.

I wanted to comment here on what you mentioned last: "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."

I'm not sure if it will be any cheaper to position a website. Right now, Social Media is cheap because there are not too many corporate players in this space, but cost will increase as others compete.

If anything, project management costs will greatly increase as SEO/PR/Marketing will be more about integrating services across the board, rather than focusing on creating vertical efficencies.

There there are two other factors as well:
1) Analytics and Market Research will become the norm of any campaign, which sounds great but can spread analysis by paralysis.

2) There will be the moment when online marketing and mobile marketing will become the one and the same.

I could go on, but essentially, it will become more expensive to position a website and establish a greater voice - be it on a search engine or through other organic channels like blogs - with positions possibly changing as the mood of the audience changes.

November 21, 2006 - 9:37am

Hi Daniel
I think that the costs of the social stuff will still be dirt cheap for a long time to come because I think most people are too lazy / non-creative to do it well and most corporations will screw it up. Just research what Wal-Mart has done with blogs recently...and keep in mind they did that working with a "forward looking" PR firm. hehehe

November 21, 2006 - 2:38pm

Interesting reading Aaron. The social web is something I'm getting more and more intrigued by as it evolves. Possibilities are endless.

I do hope that the big sluggish corporate giants do remain hindered by their ceaseless TPS reports and pre-meetings when it comes to social / blog marketing.

November 21, 2006 - 5:47pm

The best SEOs in the industry are no longer SEOs. They are now Marketing and PR firms who understand the viral web. The only reason they still call themselves SEOs is because that is what people understand.

Execs don't go into a meeting and say we need better SE rankings, who do we know that can create a viral video for us. They go into the meeting saying they need an SEO not realizing that the best SEO work they could ever receive would be from a Marketing firm that really does not optimization at all.

November 21, 2006 - 9:44pm

The best seo is rich and original content, i had an website with a great number of original programming articles. When i wrote that articles, i didn't know what search engine optimization means, i didn't write that articles for seo, but that website was ranking high for phrases within my articles, and other people linked to my website.

November 22, 2006 - 12:09am

Hi This is jana a.k.a "spa lady" as I am better known at the last pub con.....I'm new at this so I dont know which blog system is best to use. please could anyone give me some advise... I would like to install one on my site. I already have the domain name set up for a blog but dont have the system installed. I would appreciate your help...

November 22, 2006 - 1:02pm

Hi Jana. "Spa Lady"... that's a good one. I hope things are going well for you since Pubcon.

Wordpress is the market leader for blogging by far. Get it at Wordpress.org. It's free,open source, and there are many people available to set up /customize/extend it.

By the way your ranking has improved! You are now #2 for that Google search.

November 22, 2006 - 3:07pm

Certainly I also think most people who use the web will run websites will be true in next few years to come. Sounds interesting! The article is a very good comparison between the past, present and the future.

November 22, 2006 - 11:30pm

Hi Spa Lady,

I was sittting a couple rows behind you at PubCon. I'm glad to see that you are taking matters into your own hands and learning the business. Sorry that you had such bad experiences in the past with unethical developers. I hope you got some good contacts to help you out at PubCon.

I agree that using WordPress software is a great way to go for creating a blog. Just don't make the mistake of creating your blog on their website. The best way to get high rankings on Google is having original and updated content. If you create a blog on WordPress.org then you are putting all your content on someone else's website and it's not helping you out at all. As Matt said at the forum, create a single website focused on your niche and keep building it.

If you any questions, feel free to drop me an email. I'm not going to sell you anything (I'm too busy for that), but am happy to pass on my thoughts if it helps.

Good luck.

November 24, 2006 - 4:32pm

Your previous posts were good, too. Most people will certainly establish their web presence in the coming years.

November 26, 2006 - 9:18pm

If linking power drops, and it is no longer a factor what will be the determining factor in rankings

December 12, 2006 - 10:41pm

Not sure that "everyone who uses the web will have a website." I talk to web consumers all the time who don't know what PDF is. These are educated people (ie Teachers) in the developing world. Without even mentioning India, Thailand, Indonesia, Eastern Europe or Africa who cannot download anything, or really understand Ebooks, PDF, or any of that. Nevertheless, they are very much online, and aren't shy about firing off email to complain.

It is hard to imagine they will have websites in the near future, or ever. Or indeed, what they would look like.

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