It's Getting Harder to be Fake

Every day bloggers and members of the media are looking for stories to talk about. If you are afraid to be associated with and talk about your own projects how can you expect others to talk about it? How can you get people to talk about you as much as they talk about competing channels if you are anonymous? For a long time it was easy to be fake. You could find a few non-competitive markets, buy a decent domain name, buy a custom site design, do good research, get a few good links here or there, etc...but it is getting much harder to do that today.

Savvy webmasters are rarely interested in link exchanges with new anonymous sites (especially because they have been getting bombarded with link trade requests for years), webmasters who own sites that have AdSense on them tell you that they won't sell links, and if you buy too many link based advertisements or do other things that fall outside the norm you risk your site getting nuked for being too aggressive.

As more people get online you have to connect with or influence more people to achieve the same goals. Each connection takes both time and money. Buying a half dozen trusted on topic links could be a couple day project, whereas a smartly launched content as marketing idea could garner hundreds of natural organic links faster, cheaper, and with less risk.

People manipulate search engines because they are trying to get around creating what the engines want. The goal of search engines is not to make manipulation impossible, but to make the cost and complexity of manipulation prohibitive to where it is cheaper to rank by winning the hearts and minds of other webmasters.

Search engines show you some data points (like PageRank) but they don't show you which votes don't count, if they are using phrased based semantic relationships, how old sites or links are, how fast things have grown, etc. etc. etc. As relevancy criteria moves to things you can't see it is going to be hard to be fake and amass enough trust to rank without tripping over some filter or penalty.

If you have to hide your identity or be something fake your number of profitable days online are numbered, and you will be missing out on publicity that your competitors use to eat your market position. And there is an even worse factor that plays into the demise of anonymous sites. Those who are getting publicity can be more aggressive with their link buys and other forms of marketing without needing to worry too much about how the engines will perceive it. Google is more concerned with your ratio of legitimate marketing to shady stuff, and it is getting hard to have enough power to get to the top of the results while staying above board if you do it anonymously.

Published: April 3, 2007 by Aaron Wall in marketing


April 4, 2007 - 4:07am

To quote from Seinfeld, "They're real and they're fantastic".

At the end of the day I feel like something genuine, that is pure and true is always going to have an intangible quality that cannot be duplicated by something fake. There may be sites out there that are operated fakely, or profiles on social sites that are not related to real people, but that just leaves the space open for something genuine. In my opinion, it's not necessary to disclose your name, address or phone number, but at least behave in a real manner. If you have a site about a topic that actually has genuine content on it, and are passionate enough about the subject so that the site is kept current, and sincerely offers a product that would apply to those that search it out, I would hope that it would be found high in results. It certainly deserves to.

April 4, 2007 - 4:47pm

Surely there will be some who create the fake personas, but just like with trying to fool the search engines, it will work for some time, and then they will be exposed.

For me, the upside of being genuine on the web outweighs the drawbacks. Aaron is obviously a good example. He is often quite transparent though sometimes his efforts "fail" (at least in his eyes or tthe eyes of others). However, that is part of the brand. If people want 100% accuracy in grammar and emotionally-scrubbed posts they go to another blog. As you can see from the search results, links, and traffic, his approach works.

People do respect human frailties, and they like to see people succeed - especially after they screw something up or are made to look like a fool. Just look at all the Disney sports movies or Mayor Marion Berry ;)

So I guess personalizing the site is the way to go, and to go at it all-the-way. If you have nothing, add a picture. If a picture, add an audio clip. If an audio clip, add video. If video, have a real-life meet-and-greet somewhere (conferences, meet for a cold one, etc.). You get my point.

April 3, 2007 - 5:02am

I hope you are right. The more anonymity there is in the social marketplace, the more anti-social behavior you will find.

One of the most exciting things about the search engines beginning to take social factors into greater consideration is that this will encourage more visible social participation as a facet of marketing.

I'm not sure if this will translate into authenticity though as I think we'll soon see a different type of fake -- agencies hiring people to act as personas that appear to be vested participants in strategic markets and that can be "rented out" to lend support to client ventures. These will be interesting times.

April 3, 2007 - 7:31am

Maybe blogging has entered us into the utopia that the internet was supposed to be about. Everyone is try to further their own status and they can do so by calling out those in high places.

We are starting to police ourselves.

April 3, 2007 - 10:31am

In some way it is almost like the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer isn't it? Poor people continue to be poor or become even more poor because of making poor decisions (fooling the search engines etc.)

But the rich (content rich!) get richer because their approach and thought process works to give the internet world what it desires most, relevant content.

Did I explain my thoughts OK?

April 3, 2007 - 10:41am

Many of the currently successful businesses were built off the back of shady aggressive spam. The key difference between the businesses that grow logarithmic value and those that do not is an eventual shift away from pure gaming to moving into a market position that understands the market and provides value to the market (or those that are in a monopoly position and defying most of the basic rules of business because you can).

April 3, 2007 - 12:08pm

I understand what you are saying, but it seems like it is also true that more web sites are becoming fake as paid inclusion and pay-per-post is becoming the normal way of amassing traffic. These don't have to be legitimate sites - they only have to pay someone else to write a review or even, in Yahoo's case, be paid to be included in the organic results.

April 3, 2007 - 2:34pm

Interesting comment. I can definitely see a open truthful site with an image and a name being considered more trust worthy. Especially to newcomers.

It will be interesting to see what the con artist can do with this one. Fake photos, names, addresses. Seems they will always find a way, even if it means working harder at it the wrong way.

I really believe the content is king argument, just not sure that it always works without some SEO. Maybe that will change in the future.

April 3, 2007 - 3:32pm

Isnt this what you have been waiting for. The realism about this blog is the only reason I keep coming back.

I think the only people that will have a chance to survive are the real people or the really fake ones so fake that they fool the masses in between real n fake.

It is sad to think about it but the masses in this world are not the real genuine bloggers or the fake spammers its the people in the middle working 9 to 5 and shopping the internet at work with out there bosses knowing. Those people who cheat on there spouses. Those people that wear those clothes that represent a certain sport but never play that sport.

I beleive there will always be a place for both whether google likes it are not. Just like there will always be love and there will always be broken hearts.

Great post! Thanks for the energy boost.

April 3, 2007 - 3:43pm

not only blogging but internet content in general is becoming an example of how utopic anarchy can work. We police ourselves in such a way that social valuable content is the one that gets interest. Should this type of governance be transfered out of digital boundaries? Bakunin would smile in his tomb...

April 3, 2007 - 6:12pm

There are other, legitimate reasons for wanting anonymity on the internet, especially when dealing with content sites like blogs. It can be hard sometimes to produce much usefull and novel information without some controversy. And where there's controversy, there will always be some whacko that has nothing better to do than turn your life into a living hell. The bigger you get, the greater your odds of being a target, though it can happen to even the smallest of us.

I'm getting ready to launch a blog and I would really like to have my real name associated with it, but I'm seriously considering adopting a pen name. I don't want to put my self, and especially my family, at risk for the sake of online success.

April 3, 2007 - 6:57pm

There is always going to be ways to game the SE, it's a constant change, people are always going to find out ways to be anonymous, they just find new ways to do it.

April 3, 2007 - 11:53pm

Jacob on, you are absolutely right. Once I asked a blogger to place a link to my site in his blog. My letter was written in a friendly manner and I was polite. Moreove, the blog had a page where he encouraged webmasters to send him sites for review. Otherwise I'd never send him anything (I don't like begging).

What he did is making fun of me showing the entire letter in his blog and adding very unpleasant comments.

So I think that being fake on the Internet is not that useless. Anyway, you can always create a "real" person with the foto, name and address as well as hire a real one :) As for me, I don't like to be jeered at.

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