Pay Per Post Already Dominates Many Business Models
Search engines toe the company line fighting against spam, but are paid posts any worse than sponsored research? The day before Matt posted about some lowbrow PPP ads used to equate paid post with bogus information on brain tumors, I posted about how some scientific research is polluted by commercial interests, and an SEO Book contributor by the nickname of RFK left this great comment:
I was just going to comment on this issue on Matt's blog, since he went on a rant about paid posts being bad for personal brain surgery research. Really.
The irony is that most/all of the articles that he would prefer to see on the Google SERPS are researched, assembled and ghost written by pharma companies. Having worked with a number of clients in the medical field it's become more and more apparent that the "studies" published by well-known academics are most often based on research by the drug companies, scripted by a hired copywriter and given to the academic to sign off and publish under their byline.
This begs the question: what's more harmful, the illiterate drivel of a $10 Pay Per Poster or a biased supposed medical study published by a respected researcher? Obviously Google can't control what papers are published, but they shouldn't be pretending that restricting competing paid advertising practises is about returning better content.
The Copy & Paste Culture
As a joke, years ago I created a rather offensive seedy website (with low quality information on porn, drugs, and gambling), and a professor diametrically opposed to my worldviews sourced that site as a credible source. If he was that intellectually lazy with his own professor profile page, how much intellectual laziness goes into the average web page?
As media empires crumble the recycling effect of online information is only going to get worse. While I may not agree with all of the research, the Report on dangers and opportunities posed by large search engines, particularly Google highlighted how journalists start research using Google, and even have a way to warp Google for other writers:
More and more, initiatives to maintain journalistic quality standards complain that also journalistic stories are increasingly the result of a mere "googlisation of reality". One drastic example is described by the German journalist Jochen Wegner [Wegner 2005]: A colleague of him did a longer report on a small village in the north of Germany. He reported about a good restaurant with traditional cooking, a region-typical choir doing a rehearsal in the village church and about a friendly farmer selling fresh agricultural products. If you type the name of the small village into Google, the first three hits are the web sites of the restaurant, the farmer and the choir. And if you compare the complete story of the journalist with the texts on the web sites found by Google, you will see: As a journalist of the 21st century, you don't have to be at a place to write a "personal" story about it. Google can do this for you.
When you think of that publishing trend, think of how well Wikipedia ranks, and how Wikipedia often reflects the public relations campaign of the largest market participant it gets a bit concerning. It gets even uglier if you think about the erosion of publishing based business models, and their increasing reliance on public relations firms to give them stories as they drastically cut staffing levels.
The Race Toward The Edges of Reality
The types of publishing that will dominate the web are
- those selling content as service: the value add of service will allow them to develop relationships with readers which help them market their content while still being able to provide honest value and compete in competitive marketplaces
- those giving away content to push commercial services: if you can gain enough attention, respect, and credibility you can charge well for your work. You can even sell what others give away, see the above category.
- those creating content from passion: they don't need to be profitable if they are doing it for fun or because they are passionate
- those with extreme bias: a biased article is remarkable and more citation-worthy than a vanilla article
- public relations spin: essentially Pay Per Post, also without disclosure
- those creating thin content: consumer generated content, repackaged ideas as link list linkbaits, and/or copy and paste of one of the above groups
- profitable advertisements: with automated integration or editorial selection causing these to have exposure in the above content types even if they are not well ranked in the organic parts of the web. The ease of tracking these ad results will effectively warp many of the above categories of information.
Biased content is easier to reference, syndicate, and subscribe to than more balanced content because we are more aligned to communications messages that match our worldview. And much of the passion driven content is tied to a strong bias (like hate sites). Which means that search engines can try to display a diverse set of search results, but as time passes they will reflect more biased groups of opinions and far fewer balanced articles.
Your Feedback Needed
Maybe it has always been this way though? Do any reporters read this blog? I would love your comments on concepts similar to result diversity in offline publishing, especially contrasting it before and after the web.
I wonder if my roll as an SEO makes me interested in such issues? Do other SEOs (perhaps you) find macroeconomic and publishing trends interesting? What other topics do you find yourself losing hours to every week?
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