Red Herrings, The Social Google, and a Directionless Algorithm
David Harry (a.k.a. The Gypsy), a fellow search geek and publisher of the Fire Horse Trail and the SEO Dojo, wrote a truly stunning piece yesterday on Google’s social search efforts. On top of it being invasive and creepy, it also got me thinking about how the algorithm is taking all this into account. A few things happened in the last week that have changed what we thought we knew about Google. Let’s Start with the red herrings and/or misinformation campaign.
Using the Truth as a Red Herring
It seems odd when you say it out loud. But, since SMX Advanced, when Mr. Cutts announced the “nofollow” attribute was not being adhered to, it appears that someone within the Plex has been given sodium pentathol. All sorts of things, we knew for the most part, are starting to leak from the mouthes of babes. Two examples:
They’ve been worthless to the Google Algorithm for some time (years), but they’ve just finally confirmed this publicly. (Excluding the court case of 2008. Read the SEL post on it: Here) Why should this change anything, if most of us weren’t counting on them anyway?
Well, outside the legal implications of protecting themselves, they were hoping, in my opinion, to catch and bundle a whole bunch of websites wiping out meta-keywords. As with the “nofollow” incident, where swoons of webmasters suddenly began following again, perhaps they’re looking for evidence of “touched” sites.
Remember that Google isn’t the only search engine in town. Yahoo (formerly a search engine) and Bing (more of a decision engine by their own admission) are still looking at them. And, again, the point isn’t that it is an SEO advantage, but you should still have them there. If only 1 or 2.
H1 and H2
Adam Lasnik (via Andrew Goodman) unleashed one yesterday: H1 and H2 tags are not taken into account by the algorithm. Again, not really a surprise. Using these tags is a great practice for semantics and users, so I’m not sure why SEOs would rely on these to push SERP position.
What’s the point in mentioning these? I feel like it’s a misinformation campaign, just as with the nofollow attribute. I get the sense of entrapment on Google’s part; simply waiting in the bush waiting to pounce on the less-confident, less-knowledgeable, and yes, pure bullshit artists franticly racing to “fix’ client sites upon them divulging this information.
Ultimately, there’s something behind this information being told. Whether it’s to monitor site activity and pinpoint “touched” sites or monitor ripples through the net, I can’t be sure. One thing is for sure: information like this isn’t let loose for no benefit on some level.
The Social Google
Within the last few months, GOOG has had an explosion of social augmentation. It’s latest advent, Sidewiki, is really something that can be a) abused easily and b) could really play havoc with the SERPs should they be credited and taken into account on any level.
I’ve got the feeling that not even “man behind the curtain” knows what it should be looking at in order to provide the most relevant results. They want to be as “real-time” as possible (now including Trends as a one-box in SERPs, as reported by Danny), yet still maintaining the good content and resources the made it the number 1 search engine. It’s a hard line to balance, especially with outside influences (read big brand and news lobbyists) pushing the play book around.
Google is all over the place now. They were always a hydra, to be sure, but now their tentacles are extending over more dangerous ground. So much so, that it’s going difficult to know where to place value and trust.
They are playing so much catch up on the “real-time” search, really trying to be “relevant” for it, that it will be hard to know which properties to trust. Of course, the simple answer is that Google will trust their own properties before other properties.
And, once you factor in the previous algorithm changes (i.e. Caffeine and Vince) with this surge of social media inclusion, who can really say what’s going to happen. Even with concurrent testing there’s no definite answer: what is true today, will most likely not be true three months from now.
And, afterall, perhaps this was the point. Another misdirection play by Google. Unleash all these interesting social tools, get the SEO/SEM crowd moving and gravitating toward it. and while everyone is trying to figure it out, keep everything business as usual.
Personally, I think if you keep doing the core elements: building solid site structures, using onsite SEO intelligently and judiciously, building your offsite SEO quietly effectively, and getting in where you fit in on the social media side, nothing much will happen to you or your site.
If the object is quality, if really is to bring quality results, then everything mentioned above ensures that. If Google is going to leverage their power unfairly, for example pushing larger corporate entities, then there’s nothing you can do about it. At some level this game (SEO) is always “reactionary” and not “proactive”. Adapt and overcome.
Can Just Anyone Jump Into Social Media and Make An Impact?
Social Media Theory
In theory, yes. In theory, anyone could create an account on any one of the social media platforms out there (take your pick: Digg, Reddit, Mixx, Sphinn, Newsvine, Twitter, etc) and if your content was intriguing and unique enough, the social community would “vote” you to front page exposure.
Social Media Reality
The fact is, the social media theoretical model, like the American Dream, only works out less than 1% of the time. Essentially, all the stars align, and with a stroke of great timing and luck, an “average joe” hits it big. Lotto.
Right. So, the reality of social media, is not all that much different from actual social life. There are power-users and tight cliques that dominate each individual sphere, and on occasion, “cross-penetrate” into other spheres with more influence than other users.
There’s a quote from one of my favorite poems by the late Bill Matthews, “The Penalty for Bigamy is Two Wives” that aptly puts the situation in perspective for me:
I have a friend who writes poems who says he really wants to be a rock star- the high-heeled boots, the hand-held mike, the glare of underpants in the front row, the whole package.
You can’t serve two masters. There’s the reality of what you are and where your talents already lie and the image, the vision, of what you want to be. In social media’s case, the majority of us are simply “poets” with the aspiration to be power-users, or to be included in an influencing tight clique. We all want a taste of that social media stardom so badly, because being mundane is just that. Mundane.
Social Media Penetration Diagram:
The Deck is Already Stacked Against You:
Unfortunately, that’s the truth. I know, it’s hard to believe. It’s a tough pill to swallow. If you are just venturing into the world of social media for your brand, you need to set your expectations. If your brand already has a large following outside of the social media world, then the chances are high that this will translate over to social media platforms and you’ll be granted access to “Power-User” status immediately.
And we’re talking about brands here: Starbucks, Coke, Dell, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Google, etc. You were an authority before you arrived, and you’re an authority upon entry. Mid-size brands are a coin-flip: it could either way. Revernce or Forgotten. Small brands and individual users always start at the bottom.
Need proof? The Top Users on Two More Popular Social Media Platforms*
*Latest Data taken from each source
If you look at the data, analyze it, you’ll see that just across two of the more popular platforms (Sphinn being niche to the search marketing community) you’ll see two things:
- Multiple instances of the same user “Going Hot” on Sphinn, with multiple instances of the same source.
- The twitter list is dominated by celebrity status and accounts already with incredible brand recognition outside the social media platforms
Those with the most touch points within social media platforms already have a tremendous amount of touch points outside of it. While there is the possibility of passage into “tight cliques” and “power-users”, the passage is rare.
Knowing all this, why would new users even bother to enter the social media arena? They enter because they know their brand needs to be involved. They enter because it’s where the next brand recognition revenue streams are being generated.
What they need to understand are the expectations for themselves. Small business brands (and those with local notoriety) as well as up-and-coming individuals managing their own “name” as the brand, should set reasonable expectations for themselves.
An interesting study on Mashable indicates that 40% of new users continue to use Twitter after the first month. 60% bail. Mashable asks the question of why? Simply put, the power-users and tight cliques dominate on Twitter, and the new users (small businesses/those new users without previous clout) don’t set the right expectations.
*Expect that you will be mostly ignored as a new user/small business.
Of course you can accumulate a small group of folks, those mostly familiar with you already, and disseminate your info. But, understand, it’s going to be that way for some time.
*Find a Tight Clique or a Power-User
Sorry. You have to be social. It’s sort of implied, but, nonetheless, you have to put forth effort to “make nice”. The perfect analogy is the “new kid” in school. You don’t know anyone and they don’t know you. Pencil in some face time with those you should get to know.
*Expect to be active with the community
Some platforms allow for you to create and account, populate with some extra ad materials lying around the office, and the sit back and wait. (*cough* MySpace and Facebook).
However, with most of the social media platforms that can generate brand recognition, trust, authority, and revenue, they require you be an active part in the community. You’ve got be willing to extend yourself in ways you might not be comfortable with: giving opinions, asking for opinions, and offering more than just short quips about products with a link. Children and monkeys can do that for God’s Sake.
If you’ve made it this far, then I applaud you. The gist is to understand that social media isn’t a magical place where you can be something your not. There are no alter egos here. People see through that shit a mile away. Remember that you can’t serve two masters (and there’s a penalty for bigamy).
Make sure your expectations are in check, are based in reality. And that social media is no different from real networking. There are power-players who say “jump” and a whole empty-headed throng of people ask, “how high”. Yeah, it’s gross, but that’s the breaks. There are tight cliques, micro-gods of their chosen profession, in niche markets that hold major influence over a large majority. And that sucks too, but, again, that’s the breaks.
Be active, stay active, and you’ll find your place.
Moving From Sight-Byte to Sight-Byte: Are We Losing The Ability to Critically Think?
All the rage last week about Twitter and the “contest” for 1 million followers got me thinking (critically) about micro-blogging and “sight-bytes”. 140 characters. Like a 20-30 second sound byte, but read instead of heard. Is that really enough space to peel back meaning from, is it enough space to connect dots over a broader spectrum?
I’m a search marketer. I’m an SEO. I use Twitter and a variety of other micro-blogging sites as a necessity of the trade. However, my roots lie in literature, actual books, where deconstruction and critical thinking is at the forefront of the art. Where words combine together to make sentences. And those sentences meld together to form paragraphs. Then thoughts. And, eventually, arguments of logic or whole stories? Right. Those.
The Search Marketing Value: Yeah, I Get It
As a search marketer, I see the value, and inherent genius, in micro-blogging. Sharp brevity is the key to any great marketing campaign. Why say something in 30 words when you can melt it down to 140 characters and still make it timely, relevant, and enticing? More importantly, the medium allows for instant communication with thousands and tens of thousands, with an added bonus of reaching new audiences virally. As a marketing tool, if used originally and uniquely, it can be tremendously powerful. But as Michael Gray points out, there are a lot of Web 2.0 Weenies out there. (Maybe I’m even one of them? But at some level EVERYONE is.)
Twitter and other micro-blogging sites out there (Plurk and Facebook to name a couple) allow you to spread your ideas quick and wide without much effort. You’re in the mix before you know you’re in the mix. And for SEO/SEM it’s a great way to propel traffic, new visitors, and get links to the site; in fact, it’s a key strategy to any solid SEM campaign. Hell, with the right people at the helm, it can be fantastic brand recognition and management tool to create revenue streams that might not have materialized otherwise.
Corporations and entrepreneurs alike should be using them to promote and pull in business. For one, it adds to accountability and responsibility for actions in the marketplace, just look up AmazonFail. And then tell me that social media doesn’t have a place. Good God, they are still being roasted over the coals for their massive faux pa. Second, you’ve got your fingers on the pulse of consumers; you’re going know real quick whether folks think your business is total cluster-fuck or walking the line.
Either way, you know about it and can a) promote that goodwill around or b) get your shit together and fly right. That’s the tip of the iceberg, SMM/SMO is just in it’s infancy, the next year or two we’ll see some major things happen that will all make this a requirement for every business. It won’t be a “luxury” tactic, or “risky” tactic for much longer. And yet, with all the great things social media brings to the table, there is an inevitable downside.
The Micro-Blogging Backlash: Where’s My Mind?
It’s no big secret that people are getting dumber. Sure, everything is faster. More information is received and processed in a overwhelming variety of ways; we’re all multi-tasking our asses off, but we’re dumber. We’ve got the attention span of a ferret on a triple espresso working on its fourth Red Bull of the day.
We need our instant-gratification of information now. We’ve become a nation, possibly even a world, of headlines, sound-bytes, and sight-bytes. No one reads for meaning anymore: we want the gist cause’ we’re all way too busy to be bothered with details.
My theory is this: the more prevalent micro-blogging and social networking become, the more we just want information “fed” to us. The more malleable we become, the more we accept things as “truth” without so much as a considering pause, the more we lose our ability to critically think. It’s dissolving our critical thinking skills.
Just as the 30 second sound byte trumped the notion of “out-of-context” and becomes binding Gospel, so too will the “sight-byte”. It’s how we make or break presidential candidates, it’s how laws are passed and accepted by a general populous, and, sadly, it’s what passes for knowledge. What a person can sum up in 140 characters is, these days, a testament to what you know and can pass on (i.e. the retweet (RT)).
I’m guilty too. There is no “throwing stones at glass houses” here. I find myself wanting to fit more in the day with less time. And, rather than indulging in a few selected topics, deriving meaning and making larger connections, I read headlines and absorb sight-bytes. I like “mental candy” on occasion because, in all seriousness, it’s impossible to critically evaluate everything at all times. Micro-blogging sites take advantage of this human weakness and exploit it.
Are the majority of micro-bloggers looking for 140 characters of news updates, knowledge, and information? Absolutely.
The Knife Edge: Working The Balance
The problem and paradox is that more and more information (not just marketing information, but life-affecting news) comes in these short bursts. It’s rather Orwellian when you consider it. You’ll get all you need to know in crisp, 140 character shots. No one has to explain. No one has to deliver details or justification. Think 1984 on a global scale: a singular voice and message flashed across to millions.
Even if business does go into full-on micro-blogging, there will have to be a balance struck. Lest we all consign ourselves to Twitter automatons. And, maybe that’s the plan, after all. If you don’t need to consider information and derive meaning, then (and this is a pretty big leap) all things become automatic and consumerism keeps chugging along at it’s current unsustainable level. Find the balance.