Links & Relationships vs the 'Social' Media Monster

Mar 17th

John Andrews highlighted how the narcissistic "social" media platforms are in many ways replacing links

The players producing platforms are manipulating the currency that they see those platforms aggregate — which is mostly links. As you type type type your content into Twitter or Wordpress.com or Wikipedia you are fueling the coffers of an elite group of benefactors, and if they continue to manipulate the open web, we lose the “free” benefits of our world wide web. They used to encourage you to sign onto their systems, but now they need you. We’re not linking because our tools don’t make it easy enough to express our linking selves. Those who make the flexible tools today do so for personal gains, not the betterment of the web, and so they manage the linking. Greed is the new black.

If enough such platforms keep growing then Google will have to evolve their algorithms to look beyond links, placing significant weight on other factors and/or some nofollowed links.

A while ago I mentioned how Twitter was pulling blog links away from bloggers (lowering the ROI of blogging from super explosive to only explosive). This trend is not only spoke about in the SEO industry, but is starting to receive coverage in broader channels. Brian Solis recently mentioned this trend, noting that many of the top blogs are seeing lower link counts in Technorati. People would rather write about their status than spend the effort needed to digest and compile something deeper.

Since more links are occurring on networks like Twitter that will lead to a rise of tools like BackTweets. Until the search relevancy algorithms evolve more, we need to look for ways to encourage as much conversation as possible to happen on independent websites. How do we do that? I have a few ideas, but would love to read some of yours first. :)

Published: March 17, 2009

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Comments

March 17, 2009 - 6:49pm

I wrote about this same thing a few weeks ago. I think for me I have to focus less on funny stuff to get links and move towards widgetbait.

March 17, 2009 - 7:18pm

Aaron,

I sat here thinking for a while to try to post something earth shattering about how to deal with the threat posed to blogs by tools like Twitter and nothing came to me.

We probably need to learn to live with the beast and evolve.

I think that Social networks are having their day at the moment and a lot of what I see are just "me too" type traffic. Very little originality or thought.

I actually don't have any answers myself at the moment except to say that I'm devoting sometime to these new tools but only "some" time.

Possibly a waiting game to see where things lead?

Cheers
Mike

PS - I still prefer reading blogs to Twitter but I'm not sure if I am in the minority...

March 18, 2009 - 5:07am

Mike, "reading" Twitter and "reading" blogs are galaxies apart. I'd rather read content than 140 characters about crap, and click on a link to more crap.

I guess most would say I don't "get" Twitter but I do get it and I don't want it. It's counter productive and stuff doesn' go that viral because people don't retweet that much because no-one is reading the stream and just spamming links to their own sites. It's ridiculous.

March 18, 2009 - 5:01am

When everyone realises that the hype around Twitter is just hype and by hyping it themselves they are biting the hand that feeds them people will desert Twitter.

People just need to come to the realisation, "What the hell am I doing? I could have just written 3 articles and built 100 links but instead I spent 5 hours retweeting nonsense and spamming a link to a blog post I wrote last week and got 5 visits".

March 18, 2009 - 8:33am

People need to start using Twitter and its likes for more direct advertising. I'm from the travel industry and you see lots of use of Twitter for posting travel deals to thousands of people at once. It's basically a free advertising platform. That is our (the internet users and bloggers) payback for what we have given to Twitter.

Another thing to realize is that there is a lot of hype associated with Twitter at the moment. I just got back from a travel conference and you can see that people are desperately trying to find real business uses for Twitter, but until they can find it they are mostly not using it.

Hopefully someone will come up with a real ROI solution to piggyback on Twitter and the game will even out.

March 18, 2009 - 3:30pm

(On Twitter) - I can only agree with Nexdog. I don't really "get" Twitter too from a business point of view:-

1. The 140 char limit means everyone uses URL shortening services. I (and many people I know) never click on short links because I like to get more clues as to where I'm clicking to. Shortened links have been proven to be very bad for CTR. I know there are Firefox plugins to reveal these links, but Average User isn't going to know that, and they're also less compelled to click on these links since they're so non-descriptive. Sure you'll click on someone you trust's link but not in Twitter search.

2. People use Twitter for up-to-the-second news on particular things - and it's great for that, to check what the people they are following are doing, or to just update their own status. They do NOT use it to find products and services. They use Google to find products/services since they can get straight to the lengthy reviews/product pages in a single click from Google.

Twitter is great for news updates and keeping up-to-date with friends and people you admire/etc - no question. But I really don't see any bottom line business value for your average SME. Ready to be proved wrong.

March 18, 2009 - 4:58pm

Aaron,

This is a difficult one. I'm not an overly active user there, partly because I cannot check Twitter on my phone. But thanks to Twitter etc. I was prompted to write a post for my company blog because of the things we all talk about constantly is "content" and "providing value", but by the same token we're just multiplying some really vague definitions instead of doing the job.

And after all, I'm a blogger who's regularly receiving emails with thanks for the good content, so I'm not forsaking that for any 140-chars accolade :-)

I get Twitter, and I can see from the data stats on my personal sites, as well as Flickr, that some people do click on those links. Surely, the traffic is proportionate to the following.

One thing that I think is fairly important about Twitter is its real-time search facility. This is...just...great. I'm thinking of Skype suddenly going open and letting you search all the random conversations people have had.

The main thing Twitter currently lacks (seriously) is the opportunity to analyse the activity on the stream. You can get the idea of how many people retweeted your message or replied to it, but you have to use your own analytical tool to find Twitter among referrals to the site. However, for some of the services you use to post links (e.g. Twitpic, Blip.fm, and possibly a few others) you're likely to never know if anyone has actually clicked on the link.

What this means is that while we're all up and shouting about Twinfluence, the T's business potential, etc, the question about the Return-on-Spent-Time remains open.

I have been thinking recently, though, that Twitter-hype is a good check on one's ability to walk their own line, be they businesses or individual users. They say that with regards to Social Media we're talking about Return on Engagement, so I suppose the above thought was the return on my engagement with Twitter. :-)

March 18, 2009 - 10:40pm

I understand what you're saying (at least I think so), but I'm not sure I care. I have worked in print most of my life. Most of my colleagues lament how all of this ephemeral online stuff (i.e. blogs and large information sites too) is destroying libraries, bookstores, encouraging watered down conversation without depth. Most academic books published by university presses should never come out and only do come out in order to feed the tenure mill. The net is eroding that and people in academia moan and say publishing online isn't really publishing. So the world somehow owes it to me as someone who really needs tenure and raises to let me kill a tree, dump bleach into the waste stream and get a press to publish my book, on which they will never turn a profit and which 200 people will read. Academia is fundamentally conservative, so we can't blame them for seeing how bad that model is (though some academics did 20 years ago).

I see your comments here as being of the same sort, updated for the internet marketer and blogger, who being less conservative, should see that communication landscapes evolve and what had currency in the past may not in the future. Much of what goes on blogs is a waste of electrons and cutting it down to 140 characters only serves to reduce waste.

So there's the problem of links, just like the problem of tenure. The web at large doesn't owe me links. Ten years ago there were essentially no inbound links from blogs and ten years from now there will likely be little happening on Twitter if it doesn't get bought out and integrated into some larger service (read: Google chat or some such).

I'm not making a value judgment on whether these things are good or bad. In fact, I agree with you that massive consolidation (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook) tends to be bad for small independents.

So online sources are killing local newspapers. Should I run out and subscribe to my crappy local paper to keep it alive even if it provides little value?

Amazon is killing local bookstores, but frankly, the local bookstore sucked. Should I go there, pay more and wait longer and make them order a book for me (that I found on Amazon anyway) just to keep multiple voices alive?

Expedia and Travelocity killed the local travel agent. If you're not a travel agent, is that bad?

So Twitter is killing blogs and diminishing your ability to get backlinks. The "stock" of quality inbound links is decreasing and there is arguably less depth to the discussion (I actually don't think so, but more on that in a second). If you're not the person seeking inbound links, i.e. the "travel agent", do you care?

I had to prune all but one SEO blog from my RSS feeds (congratulations, you won) because there were so many "me too" blog posts and so little original content. I don't mean people who had the same idea and both wrote about it, I mean a deluge of posts that started with "Over at SEOBook Aaron Wall is saying today that blah blah blah blah". Frankly, from my perspective as a reader, all I can say is "God spare me and please just Twitter about what Aaron said instead of polluting the blogosphere with your little-value-add post". Hey this comment is getting so long, maybe I should put it on my blog! Or maybe not. I'll just Tweet it.

I have found recently that there are fewer of those "me too" posts in general? Why? It could be because I've pruned those blogs, but I'm always trying new ones and I just see less of it. Could it be because people don't need to write a blog post every day? For those that need to hear from them frequently, they tell them to follow on Twitter?

So from that perspective, I think that all the inanity on Twitter and Facebook is actually cleaning up the blogosphere and increasing the signal to noise ratio. If it's noise, it tends to go on Twitter. I'm all for that.

And then there is the stuff that has some value that Twitter is actually good for. What I see as a new user on Twitter, is that I get way more interesting links and things to check out from my tiny circle of people I follow than I do from the large number of blogs for which I have the RSS feed. I think of Twitter as not competing with blog writing and reading so much as with RSS. It's like an RSS filtered by friends.

As for my own writing on Twitter, it allows me a place to share stuff that I would never make a blog post about because 140 characters is about right - the one-off quips that my wife always badgers me to write down because she thinks they're funny, but my question has always been "What do you do with a one-line observation?" Now I have a way to share it with a few friends (I can't help if someday people I don't know decide to follow me on Twitter). Someone finds a killer new thing that he likes. Mention it on Twitter. Sure it's ephemeral, but I think of Twitter as more like verbal conversation. It's just ephemeral. Get over it. You don't get backlinks from my phone calls either.

Is that eroding the linksphere? Yes, it is, but so what? I lived well for 35 years before a backlink counted and will continue to do so after they stop counting (and I believe they will, eventually, stop counting for much). Search engines will try to improve and they will, dramatically, as computing capacity increases and algos improve. The internet as a mass communication platform is roughly 15 years old. In another 15 years (or 30, but not 100), we will reach the "technological singularity" at which point the ability to improve search algorithms will explode. A computer will then find better answers in 30 seconds of auto searching than you can in days of going through Google SERPS.

So the era of backlinks from blogs being a key marker of relevance will be over one way or another then. But then, so will the entire idea of typing a few words into a slot on a web page until you find the right combination of words to get you to the list of possible resources, one of which has the information you need. If Google doesn't evolve, it will be dead. If content publishers don't evolve, they'll be dead. So what?

March 18, 2009 - 7:26pm

Ooops - I would never post that comment on my blog - it's far too long! Ha!

March 18, 2009 - 10:49pm

Great comment!!! :)

March 19, 2009 - 9:46pm

I am stealing this quote but "it is not the time of the html/text search engine anymore it is the real time search engine". While the newspapers might be dead, their online version talks about now. I still wonder why Google will not make the advanced search function of temporal search queries as a default. More people are looking for the "now" than the past. And links Aaron is all about the past. I think you are confusing the past with the now. Ironically, the twitters and facebooks and their other distant relatives that use the nofollows are all about the now. As Matt Cutts said, there is still 95+ percent of the web that uses links without the nofollow but those links are not about the now. Those are the links you should be going after not necessarily social media (which ironically gives access to those links) if you want to be permanent on search rather than the great now "poof" later.

The Bowtie theory of the year 2000 is just too simplified now. The time factor moves it from two dimensional to four dimensional.

March 18, 2009 - 10:44pm

I don't think I am confusing the now with the past. Many forms of marketing are about launches, and you continue to get credit for those launches today if they went well 3 years ago. BUT if you had a strong launch 2 months ago, and most of that coverage is on Twitter, you still don't rank as well in the search results as you would if you had launched before most SEO blog links were replaced by the Twitter borg.

Sure marketers are mostly on Twitter now, but if it spreads it can have a significant influence (in a negative way) on the ability of socially connected individuals to compete with larger companies.

This does not really hurt large brands with tons of products and tons of employees and tons of sponsorships and tons of advertising (all leading to tons of links), but for individuals and smaller companies it can be a big deal.

March 19, 2009 - 6:09pm

Aaron,

At the end of the day, the internet became the real world as people consume more of their lives on the internet. Just like the real world, the general 95% of the population is going under the brand spell and tend to talk about those brands because these people stopped talking in real life. We stopped conversing face to face. We stopped acting like natural human beings. We started using their brain more than our bodies. When that happens, Aaron. When the critical mass of people on the internet simply outweigh the tricks that the SEOs can pull out of their bags. The social media seems so little compared to that bigger picture. That is what I fear about the value of the SEO. We are simply outgunned more everyday by simply more online interaction online as traffic becomes a bigger factor.

March 19, 2009 - 7:33pm

I think mechanical SEO is becomming commoditized, but SEO as a part of holistic marketing keeps increasing in value because search keeps stealing marketshare from the crumbling offline media empires - which are financially collapsing at the same time due to losing marketshare, increased competition, and the ad downturn.

March 19, 2009 - 1:56pm

What really chaps my ass about Twitter is it's the only tool where all the owners want to tell you how to use it.

Imagine buying a screwdriver and instantly, at least 3 times an hour you've got someone coming by saying "hey, I have a screwdriver too, let's be friends". And you're like, hmm, ok, well, we do have that in common so ok.

Then you get 50 links an hour to instruction sheets on screwdrivers, screwdrivers in the news, celebrities found with screwdrivers, why using screwdrivers in "this way" are ruining screwdrivers for everyone, and on and on and on...

Twitter is barbarically primitive right now and unless that changes I predict we'll be seeing its life-cycle take a MySpace style nose-dive after the honeymoon is over. I liked Twitter much better 2 years ago when all you had to do was follow the one rule - answer "What are you doing?"

In the meantime, I'll continue to use my screwdriver for the purpose I intended.

March 20, 2009 - 3:54am

Twitter is giving an audience to anyone willing to type a few words. There's a market for that. Right now, due to hype, there's a big market. Remove the hype, which removes the easy followers, and twitter is a real-time quips and alert stream. In the long run, it doesn't replace blogs, although it may help facilitate a shakeout of the blogger population.

I asked Danny Sullivan to consider twitter's placement on the Gartner Hype curve as part of his SearchFest keynote. He addressed it, but I don't think he spent any time understanding how the hype curve worked, and so he missed the point of my question. I wanted to hear his educated opinion on the relative contribution of hype to twitter's current adoption/utilization.

I agree with commenters here... Twitter is on the rise of a hype peak.

March 20, 2009 - 4:35pm

Social networking really is a fad ju jour in my opinion. They are going to find there place as people start to gain awareness of the lack of substance with the majority of information shared through that kind of format. Access to real information of substance and how to access it will always be king.

March 20, 2009 - 9:37pm

Aaron,
to engage your audience for conversation, I think we need innovative feature for the commenting system, let the commentator show up in some way.

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