Want to know why SEO and “content marketing” pros on the whole get a bad rep, even though it is oftentimes not deserved?
1. Spam. The preponderance of it. Email spam, comment spam, tweetspam, linkbait, and #2 below.
2. Crap keyword-optimized content and content automation. Yep, that’s spam too.
3. Daily breaches of trust. With readers. With clients. With potential customers. With everyone.
4. A complete absence of respect for the audience.
5. The inveterate shadiness of about 80% of the profession, and the laissez-faire attitude of a good 15% out of the remaining 20.
It wouldn’t be so bad if spam still only came from shady companies trying to sell you fake luxury watches or Mexican Viagra, but major brands now do it too now. Even legitimate news sites. With the race to attract traffic to blogs, news stories, Facebook pages, even Pinterest boards; driven by the fragmentation of digital channels and the increasing velocity of information and messaging; and lastly, helped along by the unfortunate rise of incompetent digital marketing managers (thanks, social media and “personal branding”), the problem has become epidemic.
Quick question: what’s the point of pulling all that traffic (or trying to) if you have no chance of converting first time visitors into regular visitors (loyalty)? How about converting visitors into customers? And recommendations? Remember them?
How do you think people feel when your first handshake with them is both an insult to their intelligence and an obvious ploy to trick them into accessing your so-called “content?” How do you think it makes them feel about you? What do you think the impact is on their trust? On their intent to ever do business with you?
Quick note to brand managers and/or digital agencies outsourcing their SEO: don’t just write a check and wait for a daily, weekly or monthly report. Ask to see everything your SEO “agent” is doing for you. Find out if they are using black hat (unethical) techniques or just plain annoying ones. Why? Because both will stain your brand and drag down your good name, and no amount of crap linkbait traffic is worth that.
Want to see an example of what I am talking about? Here you go. Here is the kind of automated comment I get pretty much daily on this blog. Someone paid for that. More to the point, someone selling SEO and content marketing is passing this off as a legitimate traffic-building tactic to unsuspecting clients.
Yes, this whole block of nonsense. All 4,808 words of it:
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Allow me to interject a slight #WTF. Why? Why do this? Why?!
You know what will make spam stop? Simple: clients refusing to pay for shit like this.
“But Olivier… we didn’t know that we were paying for that! We had no visibility…”
I know. I believe you. But here’s the thing: even if you didn’t produce it yourself, even if you didn’t know that’s what you were buying, you paid for it. And if you paid for it, it’s yours. Demand visibility. And if that isn’t enough, do a little digging. It isn’t that hard.
Here’s the catch: companies who don’t know that this is the sort of thing that goes on, that this is what they are really paying for can’t put an end to it. It’s a problem.
A few questions:
Does your company have a digital & marketing code of ethics?
Does it have a section devoted to SEO, content marketing and spam?
Is it being applied?
Is there an ethics review body anywhere in your organization responsible for looking into campaign tactics, particularly when it comes to (avoiding) spam?
No? Well that might be your first problem right there.
Your second problem might also be this: any jackass with a director or manager title can write a check to a digital agency or SEO shop, then browse through Google Analytics reports every couple of weeks to see if the numbers look good. I can literally train a monkey to do that. But actually managing the out-of-the-way potato fields hidden way behind the digital farm takes a little more diligence; a little more sense of responsibility too. And here, boys and girls, many of us are failing when it comes to hiring, promoting and developing the right kinds of people.
Tip: bad marketing doesn’t just happen. Someone is responsible for it. Always. And it isn’t enough to point an accusing finger at that particular person. You also have to take responsibility for having put them there in the first place.
Good management in instances of breakdowns isn’t about blame. It’s about responsibility. All the way up to the very top.
So please be aware. Be vigilant. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you should be, and show some initiative. Take some responsibility. Police your own channels. Fix what needs fixing and move on. Eventually, when the money dries up, crap like this will stop. But as long as it flows freely, my inbox and yours will be crawling with these turds.
And nobody likes turds. Especially not from you. (Or me, for that matter.)
* * *
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This might be a dumb question, but how can you tell the content is paid for? I get a lot of spam (most of it gets caught by Akismet for me) but I don’t know how to tell what might have been paid for and what’s unpaid crap.
Incidentally, I think my favorite part of the spam comment is “I don’t know how I got here.” That’s downright existential.
I don’t think that someone wrote, copied and pasted 4,808 words on this and a bunch of blogs for free. Even I don’t do that. (Well… sometimes.)
And Akismet failed me in this instance. It wasn’t flagged as spam.
What really warmed my heart was this: “You actually surpassed our expected results. I appreciate you for distributing the necessary, trusted, educational as well as easy tips on that topic to Evelyn.” Good old Evelyn. What a lovely story.
But what really fans the flames of hope in my heart of hearts is this part: “I am not sure if this is really the best place to ask but do you guys have any thoughts on where to get some professional writers? Thanks in advance.” Why… how wonderful of you to ask, Mr. Google Translate-using family member spammer! How wonderful indeed!
Yeah, I mean, really there’s a lot of positive feedback. I agree with the person who was a little unsure of your sources, but honestly I’d just love to get this kind of positive feedback.
Lately I’ve been getting comments that repeat verbatim a sentence I wrote. I find that very flattering but I’m never quite sure how to respond. I mean, I could say, “Brilliant retort,” but I’m just too humble.
In regards to your first point, I’d wager it’s not written, it’s just crap copied & pasted out of a massive word bank. Still, I see your point. I just hope spammers value themselves enough to charge correctly. They’re hungry, you know.
You should do what Tom Webster does – read your favorite spam on a regular basis. Or, compile it all into a book and call it the lost work of James Joyce. That’s a winner right there.
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Olivier, it’s been too long since your last post my friend =). I always thoroughly enjoy reading your posts and definitely respect your point of view.
Good ol’ spam seems to be getting worse and worse and I think you hit the nail on the head by saying that us, as marketing professionals, are the ones that are at fault. Many marketers don’t do their due diligence and just pay for what they think is “quality content” and then just look at their analytics without doing any real digging. They focus too much on the traffic numbers and don’t quite realize the overall impact poor SEO strategies are having on their brand as a whole. We need to figure out, in detail, what is being published out their on behalf of our companies/brands and be held accountable for it. If it’s shit, we need to rectify it. We need to be asking more “why” and “where” questions (Why did our traffic numbers spike? Why are we getting more mentions on twitter? Where exactly is this traffic coming from?) rather than saying “just show me the numbers.”
I think part of the reason people resort to this type of SEO is that people have trouble producing intriguing content on their own and struggle to be interesting! People are so caught up on selling their products/services that they skip over the part where you build that relationship with the customer and build loyalty.
I think as the web forces more companies to become transparent, and more interaction takes place online via social channels, the relationship building phase where you talk/interact with your customers will become ever more important. As a result, people will be able to spot spammy comments and that, in my opinion, will have a negative impact on the brand as a whole.
PS-quick question, but did you switch from using Gravatar to using a different social sign in?
Um… not recently. I think RG above might have used Gravatar to post his comment, actually.
And thanks for the insights. You make some good points, as always.
Long-time reader, first time commenting. This is much-needed article as exec-level marketers everywhere scream “I need content!” without realizing how complex the internal value chain of content is. Crap content out, low-value traffic in, and then you’ve just got this high traffic vanity metric. All of us can go out and buy tons of worthless traffic, but these are the routes taken by companies who don’t care about providing value to their market.
You teased this out already, but I think there’s a fundamental disconnect between what marketers see as the reason for content (SEO, mainly) and the understanding of how smart Google is. Google is great at identifying bad content and even better at identifying if you have low-quality of spammy inbound links.
If you take the time to create really high-value, high-quality content, the backlinks you earn through good digital PR are worth worlds more than dozens of spammy comments floating out on the web. Solid article.
As always, the comments are better than the post. 😀
“The internal value chain of content.” I might quote you on that, man. Cheers.
You have a really interesting perspective RG…I definitely agree with Oli that your statement regarding “the internal value chain of content” is spot on. Also, I never quite thought of it in your exact terms, but I wholeheartedly agree with this statement: “Crap content out, low-value traffic in, and then you’ve just got this high traffic vanity metric.” So many people are caught up on the wrong numbers; they are looking at traffic as opposed to conversions.
Thanks guys! I think a lot of what I’m putting forth is a lot of what Olivier champions in his writing in general. The minute people look at content and social media the same way that traditional media buyers look at purchasing TV ad spots, the whole chain breaks. I think that’s why posts like this are necessary to communicate to C-level folks that this is a different world. It’s not based on the regular funnel.
Anyone else notice the parallels to the dot-com bubble? Entire business models linked views/impressions…kinda sounds like a lot of companies and marketers are trying to build their own CPM economies. It didn’t work too well in the 90s. The companies that are doing it well will prosper. The rest will have programs that fizzle.
It makes me very sad when I get automated crap like that. Automised things can be great, if used properly. Never as good as the actual personal touch, but can be done to great effect.
Most are lazy and use it for evil. Damn SPAM. makes my skin crawl
Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)
That’s a lot of spam to ship over here from France! Hope you are having a great vacation!
Postage was cheap, for once.
I just thought you should know that Evelyn got a lot out of this post, too.
“you actually know what you are speaking approximately!”
That was my favorite of the whole lot.
I have just this year apparently wandered into the radar range of the auto-bot spammers on my blog. Maybe it’s a traffic issue. I’m getting a couple every day now, on random posts from the last four years.
They’re getting better at getting around filters.
This is pretty interesting for me. I’m a student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and I’m currently taking a class on social media marketing (it’s the first time it’s been offered here, shows you how behind schools are…), and to see this side of it is a refreshing look at all the glitz and glamor you hear about otherwise.
Obviously, if you use it responsibly and monitor well, social media can be a great tool for marketers. However, just like any other area, be it political, business or otherwise, there will be lazy people who do what they can to get by while still making a buck here or there.
To me, it’s a very delicate balance between your relationship with the customer and selling your product. At the end of the day, if you’re not making a conversion, producing a call to action, etc. you’re not making any money and all of your efforts are in vain. Content alone, without call to action, doesn’t really foster what the goal is, which is creating revenue for your company.
Exactly. In a Venn diagram, the magic sauce happens at the intersection of the marketing push and the customer needs/expectations bubbles. Most companies are still in a mode of 0% connection between those two bubbles. They think that because they push marketing “content” on facebook, it’s automatically social, and that if it’s social, it’s a conversation. That’s why they keep spending a shit-ton of money on “content” and social media campaigns, and all they have to show for it are likes. What they’re moving towards is basically spam-lite: Crap marketing content cheaply pushed out to social channels that complements the rest of their crap marketing, including email spam.
And the goal? The objective? Spending budgets and estimating impressions. *sigh*
Interesting perspective. I think it boils down to the whole quality vs. quantity argument. Unfortunately, hits are a lot easier to count than loyalty and many companies would still rather look at those hits to measure success.
You are my FAVOURITE ‘content man’ – just LOVE your stuff Olivier – keep it coming – from the heart as always
wonderful post, very informative. I ponder why the opposite specialists of this sector do not notice this.
You should continue your writing. I am confident, you have a great readers’ base already!
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