05 Jan 2009

Social Media Links On The Brink Of Extinction?

I think I’m missing something€¦

Right before the New Year, Michael Gray asked if social media links were on death row, citing Google’s SEO guide (pdf) which includes a line about not “involving your site in schemes where your content is artificially promoted to the top of these services.” He comments that Google was once all about social media sites like Digg and didn’t realize that people would sell their first born for votes. Now that they are, they’re tweaking their stance.  Is a “report social media spam” call-to-action about to be added to the Google Guidelines?

If there is, it’s your fault. You helped put it there.

When I first read Michael’s post, I rolled my eyes and moved on. Seriously. What the heck did you think was going to happen once social media manipulation became commonplace?

The circle of life here in SEO looks something like this:

  • New ranking factors are created.
  • SEOs manipulate them.
  • The weight given to those factors is reduced.
  • We find something else to manipulate.

If Google felt the need to add a disclaimer to its Guidelines about not “artificially” promoting your stories, we did that. We need a time out.  Not Google.

Have you been present the past two years? We have search marketers creating fake avatars. Speakers on panels giving the audience tips for how to “beat” social media and manipulate it for their own gain. We have incestuous, circle-jerk voting armies. We have marketers paying kids in electronics to Digg stories. People creating dummy accounts to push worthless content.

What did you think Google was going to do? What else can they do?

I don’t even understand why this got attention. It’s like paid links all over again. Google was in favor of social media because they thought it was a natural way for the good stuff to rise to the top and that the bad stuff would fall away. It was our new toy. Then Google realized we were popping the head off and choking on it. Damn straight they’re going to put a warning label on it.

And that’s all they’ve really done. Social media is still listed as a recommended tactic. They’re just asking you to not be a jerk about it.

Once upon a time, social media meant something. Getting a story to go hot meant that the community read the story and voted it to be there.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that today. Today social media is about profit. It’s gamed. It’s where marketers went when they realized they couldn’t buy links anymore.

Google’s watching it. However, if you can get your story promoted without using these means €“ Google’s watching that, too. And if you can, you’re going to be rewarded for it.

You want to do yourself a favor?

Stay away from the quick fixes. The paid links, the gaming social media attempts, and anything else that you know in your gut isn’t smart to be doing for a client or yourself.  If you don’t manipulate the system and you use techniques they way they were designed to be used €“ you should be okay.

And if Google does create a €˜report social media spam’ section in its Guidelines. Do everyone a favor and don’t use it. It’s not cool to rat out your own. Even if they maybe deserve it.

Comments

  1. Jon Henshaw January 5, 2009 at 11:37 AM

    I’m thinking that their algo and related patents are going to be sophisticated enough (or lenient enough) to consider the social reach and usage of the user/persona. So even if someone does try to rat out a social media user (which will most likely be anal retentive social media users who adhere to an unwritten law of netiquette, instead of competing IMs) it won’t be penalized by a hand check if the account is actually well networked and participating in the conversation.

  2. Joe Hall January 5, 2009 at 11:49 AM

    I really don’t see this as that big of a threat in the future. Its only natural for Google to protect the image and over all quality of big networking sites. Not because they think it will influence their SERPs, but because they want to continue to have a good working relationship with big networks that they both have vested interest in.

  3. Mark V. McDonnell January 5, 2009 at 2:05 PM

    Thanks *yet again*, Lisa, for deftly injecting ethics into the heart of the conversation.

  4. Yu Yu January 6, 2009 at 8:35 AM

    Where there’s the Internet, there will be spam. And people will always abuse the system to get ahead of everyone else. They don’t realize that they’re shooting themselves in the foot. That’s the difference between people who work hard and people who wants to get there fast and be over and done with. The problem is it won’t stop with social media. Whatever the buzz word is tomorrow, they’ll be there too, just like the phishing people invaded Twitter. We’ll just have to learn to live with it and adjust, adapt to the changes. It wouldn’t be the Internet otherwise.

  5. John Lessnau January 6, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    Recently, I spent more time than ever investigating digg. I discovered my 2 year habit of digging interesting stories was all wrong and those stories were never found.

    The game is to build your profile, buddy up (via IM if possible) with the top diggers, digg all their stories (it doesn’t matter if you like the story or even read it, just digg it), then when you helped and befriended the power diggers enough and built up some good friends/fans then it is time for you to submit a story. Maybe a real story at first, then start slipping in your personal stuff the more “trust” you gain among your fans.

    Today Digg is a mess taken over by spammers (as are all the digg clones). It would make sense if Google quietly devalued links from these sites and moved on.

  6. Arnie K January 6, 2009 at 9:09 AM

    “New ranking factors are created.
    SEOs manipulate them.
    The weight given to those factors is reduced.
    We find something else to manipulate.”

    I’ve been saying for years that eventually us SEOs ruin almost every good idea on the web (directories, articles, blogs, social…), it’s a game and a shame all at the same time.

  7. Article Marketing Man January 6, 2009 at 10:38 AM

    Feeling a little self righteous Lisa? Never asked a friend to thumb up a post? Or are you just annoyed that everyone else is doing it now, so it’s no longer effective?

    “Today social media is about profit. It’s gamed. It’s where marketers went when they realized they couldn’t buy links anymore.”

    No, it’s just another avenue. And just like paid linking, when done properly, it works (long term, too), and will help a site to easily outrank “white-hat” competition.

    “However, if you can get your story promoted without using these means – Google’s watching that, too. And if you can, you’re going to be rewarded for it.”

    Please elaborate. Google is watching what? I’ll be rewarded how?

    “The paid links, the gaming social media attempts, and anything else that you know in your gut isn’t smart to be doing for a client or yourself. If you don’t manipulate the system and you use techniques they way they were designed to be used – you should be okay.”

    My gut tells me that a strategy that works to keep my client competing is what is smart to be doing. If that means “manipulating the system” (because ALL of the competition are doing the same thing and are getting away with it) then so be it! Using techniques “the way they were designed to be used” (by which I assume you mean waiting for natural links and social media votes) will put you at a massive disadvantage in all but the least competitive niches.

    It almost sounds like you’d like us all to adopt the same disadvantages we build pages have taken on board with the new whiter than white approach.

  8. Lisa Barone January 6, 2009 at 1:16 PM

    AMM: Okay, that’s a lot to respond to. I’ll try my best.

    I’m not against promoting articles by throwing out a link on Twitter and asking my followers to give it a read and a Sphinn if they like it. That’s marketing. That’s what we all do every day. However, that’s *very* different than what I’ve described in the post (ie voting army’s, paying kids for Diggs, etc). I can say with complete honesty that I don’t participate in that (nor does We Build Pages) and I’ve never endorsed it. In fact, I’ve probably written more than a couple blog posts talking about my disgust for it.

    As for the “you’ll be rewarded for it” comment. If Google is going so far as to say NOT to do something, it’s likely it’s because they’re paying a close eye on the opposite end. They don’t want you being “aggressive” in your social media attempts, because it’s now a ranking signal. Maybe, I’m wrong, but that’s what my instincts tell me.

    You’ve taken a couple of digs at We Build Pages in your last few blog comments here. Not sure why. If your clients are okay with the risk level you’re talking about in terms of manipulating social media…then game on. If the “everybody’s doing it” mantra wasn’t strong enough to get me to start drinking and smoking in high school, it’s definitely not going to get me to start spamming social media in my adulthood. ;)

    We don’t think we’re “whiter than white” and we don’t strive to be associated that way. We’re just trying to do right by our clients. Which, I imagine, is what we’re all trying to do.

  9. Article Marketing Man January 6, 2009 at 5:04 PM

    Thanks for the response Lisa. I don’t mean to dig at We Build Pages, you guys are a very well respected group and I’ve read Jim’s blog for a while now. Which is why I was so suprised when I spotted the post about quitting link buying a while back. I was surprised by the apparent U-turn in Jim’s attitude, and intrigued as to what you’ll do instead now that you’ve abandoned a strategy which has been described on this blog as very successful. I’m sure you do have loads of other strings to your collective bows, and I’m really interested to hear more about what you are doing as well as what you’re not.

    I use social media very similarly to the way you described yourself using it, but I guess I still see it as gaming the system, as the votes are somewhat encouraged, unless you honestly believe the people you twitter links to will only sphinn, digg or stumble them based purely on their own merits, and not the fact that you sent it to them. I know it’s not the same as the extreme examples you sited, but I still think we’re all contributing to the same effect of watering down the legitimacy of links in social media, and it’s not really for any of us to be pointing the finger. And for that reason I DO like your final comment, nobody likes a snitch!

  10. Bloggeries January 7, 2009 at 7:35 AM

    About time something got done. As long as there is a reason to game anything sadly it will. The irony is if people put that “effort” into building a quality site they wouldn’t need all these sketchy practices because their content would speak for themselves.

    It’s good they are devaluating them as it’s taking away the original intention of social media which was promoting good content. I see all over the place options to buy diggs this or that.

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  14. John Lessnau January 17, 2009 at 9:09 AM

    For a price, we both know people that can get this post or just about any story on the front page of Digg and Reddit. As long as there is money in gaming, people will do it.

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