It’s happened again, the New York Times (no link as I refuse to support this sort of grade-school tattling) has blown the lid off another big, monstrous paid link scandal. This time, it was the Mother’s Day Flowers cabal. Yes, those virginal flower companies have been naughty, stacking up paid links to stack up SERP position for one of their biggest runs of the season. So, as long as they’ve been called out, here’s the line up per the NYT: Teleflora, FTD, 1800Flowers.com, and ProFlowers.
But here’s the news flash: no one cares. Not Joe, not Jane, and definitely not anyone interested in flowers for their loved ones. Sorry. Them’s the facts. When you piece together Aaron Wall’s latest rendition on SEO Book, The Google Brand Bias, in conjunction with how JCP and Overstock have “recovered” from their “slap”.
The New York Times is Not Your Mother
First, I’m going to come out an say it. Stop “tattling” to the NYT. Seriously. It’s school-yard crap that needs to stop. The only thing that accomplishes is to give the whole industry a black eye. It’s paints us as unscrupulous, unethical turds. Once is forgiven, twice is a pattern.
If you have issues with something, just take it to Google or Bing. You know they’ll read it, and if they do nothing, then move on. What you don’t do is go crying to Big Media in attempt to force somebody’s hand. Keep doing that, and the GOOG will be likely to crush you all the next time for showing their ass in public (again).
The Brand Bias is Real
In combination with the Vince Update and the Domain Update [a.k.a. implicit site search], where big brands are getting multiple results at the top of the SERPs, (effectively doing ORM for big brands) it’s impossible for big brands not to get a better than fair shake. It’s always about brands, suggesting otherwise is naive.
That’s Why Joe and Jane Person Could Care Less
Brands are brands for a reason; they have consumer clout, they offer price break deals (in relative terms), and they advertise their asses off in other mediums: television, radio, print, web, etc. They achieve a saturation level at astronomical speeds. And so stuffing a single channel isn’t that much damage to a big brand. Sure they may take a revenue hit in the short-term, but other efforts even this out. That’s the “dirty little secret” no one wants to talk about.
So while a handful of Joe’s and Jane’s likely care as Danny Sullivan pointed out, it’s hard to imagine that these revelations startle anyone but marketplace we aim to provide our skill set and services to.
Showing Google’s Ass in Public: How’s That Working Out for You?
That’s all the tattles, the New York Times, and the Wall St. Journal served to do, drop Google’s pants in a very public way. And, all it made Google do is break out a temporary pimp-hand to show justice has been served. And, if you ask JCP or Overstock how they’re feeling today, they’ll probably say, “just fine thanks”. The numbers don’t lie:
Here’s how the numbers breakdown for each of them:
- Year over Year Gains (March 2010 – March 2011): +17% gain in unique visitors
- 1 Month Post NYT Scandal Article (Feb 2011 – March 2011): +6% gain in unique visitors
- Year over Year Gains (March 2010 – March 2011): -7% gain in unique visitors
- 1 Month Post WSJ Scandal Article (Feb 2011 – March 2011): -7% gain in unique visitors
So, clearly, Overstock got the worst of it, but a 7% decrease is small price to pay. The more interesting of the two is JCP. Not only did they get 17% lift over the year, but EVEN AFTER the “supposed” penalization, they still got a 6% lift. It’s quite clear that the “scandal” did absolutely nothing to effect JCP site traffic, in fact, one could argue for the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad press”. And with the help of AdWords and distributors, there was hardly a tremor felt. Furthermore, it speaks to the power of brand in the eyes of Google and consumers.
What Can We Learn From This?
A couple of things to be certain. First, exploit as many media channels as you can. My gut says that if Overstock were engaging in some other media channels, they could have lessened the meager 7% decrease and probably broke even or had even a slight increase in traffic. Second, Google provides these penalizations as nothing more than dog and pony shows of justice. Even after a public Google ass-showing from the New York Times, JcPenney was doing better. It tells us these “penalties” are nothing more than facades masquerading as “fair and balanced” play. It also tells us, the more renown your brand is, the bigger the facade.
So by all means, keep feeding Big Media these tales of sordidness. Just know that your efforts, as Aaron rightly points out, feed “sleazy pageview journalism”, and serve to puncture holes in industry.
Clients lose that naive trust and faith fast, if it was ever there to begin with. However, as SEO becomes more widely adapted as a need-to-have in any online campaign strategy, there are those who will be dealing with SEO, and possibly online/search marketing for the first time. It won’t be long before they’re jaded; there are a lot of hucksters out there, and they’ll have perceived the experience as been taken for a ride in some way, shape, or form. This is the exact person we’re NOT dealing with in this post.
There is a difference between being a disillusioned client and a jaded client. In that the disillusioned client has seen successes with SEO; whereas, a jaded client is usually in a place too far gone, in a place where they’ll have to resolve some scar tissue and mental healing before they step back into the ring with SEO.
Disillusion is Good For Clients Too
Trust. It’s what every search and online marketer needs from clients. So, you might be puzzled why I’m suggesting a loss of trust is a good thing for clients to have, and why it would benefit the marketer? It’s blind trust we’re aiming to shed. It’s the client Texas Hold Em’ equivalent to “all in”. The big push to double-up and stay solvent in the game. It’s this blind faith that pins SEO as their first and last hope to a) build more revenue from online lead gen b) recover lost market share from competition that’s been kicking the snot out of them on the web, and c) create more brand-visibility/equity to usher in new streams of consumers.
It’s the client’s blind trust and faith in SEO that leads to train-wrecks, unreal expectations, and potentially being worse off when they started. Disillusion is good for clients and marketers. The trust you earn with a client that has been burned before is real trust. It’s a level of trust that’s broken through cynicism/BS/magic barrier, and, therefore, is a trust that’s been earned through quality work and repeated, measurable results. That is no small feat.
All-in Clients Don’t Want Honest Expectations
For an SEO, honesty is about setting the expectations. It’s something that I alluded to in Nick LeRoy’s excellent post last week. Expectations can only be set when real objectives are present and known. Otherwise, every client under the sun wants: “more leads”, “more online revenue generation”, “more qualified traffic”, etc, and that’s the only objective. MORE.
It’s true, SEO can do that, but an SEO has to help the client see what it is they really want. Not three months from now, but twelve months from now. If SEO can’t pull that information out of them, and the client can’t envision it and clarify it, then there isn’t an expectation on the planet that can cover that.
That fact of the matter is “all in” clients don’t want your honesty. Clients don’t want to think about systemic issues; they want 180 degree help now.They want the online and search marketing life preserver. Not long after this, a disillusioned client.
Why Disillusioned Clients Are More Mature Clients, Better Clients
Just like a once disillusioned SEO is a better marketer, so too is a disillusioned client a better client. It’s not that a client puts less pressure for results or is more apt to give trust from the onset; the pressure remains a constant and trust still has to be earned, and frankly harder to earn, but the expectations are adjusted.
Going from an all-in position as a client looking for miracle marketing, to a more mature online/search marketing client, not only helps naturally set more realistic expectations and, with a little sleuth work from the SEM, can surface the real objectives, but allows the SEO to be more honest about the what his/her skill set can help and what it can’t help. Disillusioned clients rarely go back to all-in positions once they’ve been there. Call it gun-shy, call it risk-averse, they’ll never again bundle everything in a single strategy again. When’s the last time you got torched and then made the exact same mistake?
When you’ve got a disillusioned client that’s looking to diversify online strategy, and you’ve got a disillusioned SEO with diverse knowledge of online and search marketing and the skill set to match, it’s a 1:1. Everyone comes to the table with their palms face-up and sleeves rolled (ideally) because no one’s got time mask their intentions. Questions and answers. More questions, more answers, and real objectives are discovered. Real, meaningful, multi-pronged strategies are built.