One of the nice things about the search world over the last few years was that we were starting to see less focus on "get rankings quick" style methods and more focus on what some have dubbed "holistic" search marketing. The idea was to stop focusing on finding the holes in the algorithm that would help push your site to the top of the rankings quickly and to focus on building sites that will rank well in the long term and that will attract qualified visitors that will convert to buyers. Unfortunately, the introduction of link baiting and social media seems to be taking us a few steps backwards in this regard.

I was reading an article over at SEOmoz today from one of their new contributors. It outlined a link bait campaign that attracted about 3500 new back links and a quarter million visitors in a matter of about a week. Shortly after this link and traffic spike, rankings improved dramatically and the company found itself on the first page of Google for most of its targeted keywords. Sounds like a pretty successful campaign, right?

Well, sort of. There's no doubting that this writer's efforts were successful at getting his client improved search results. The question I'd ask is whether or not effective SEO is really GOOD SEO. After all, hidden text, link farms, cross-linking and quite a few other techniques worked to get higher rankings at one time, but none of them were solid marketing techniques. As such, the search engines eventually adjusted the algorithms in a way that would ensure that these tactics didn't work. There's also the obvious issue of whether rankings matter more than attracting new business and new conversions. After all, anyone that's been in the online arena for long knows that increased rankings and traffic mean nothing if conversions don't go up.

So let's examine a few of the points made in the article.

Recently, our SEO company Voltier Inc took on a local used car dealer in West Palm Beach, Florida, as a client. We were hired to bring customers to the dealership through referrals from the website. This is mainly done through leads generated on the website and interest in various vehicles that are displayed on the website.

Great...the used car arena can be a tough one online, but when you're targeting regional areas there are some great promotion options. Good link building to spread awareness and easy to use web sites are the key to success for this type of business. So what was the plan that the company came up with?

What I came up with was an article entitled "8 Diseases That Give You Superhuman Powers." Essentially, it was just a compilation of 8 different Discovery Health specials, with YouTube videos and Wikipedia references. It took about about 10 minutes to write, and it was online about a half hour after the conception of the idea.

Wait, what?

8 diseases...8 doesn't sound like a new crossover vehicle...maybe we're missing something? read that right. The great SEO plan that was developed for this used car web site was to put together an article on diseases that give you superhuman powers. Why? Well because it will generate links and we all know that the ONLY thing you need in search marketing is links, right?

The article, which was hosted on the company's domain but was neither linked from nor linked to the car dealership site, shot up to the front page of Digg in a matter of hours. Server stretching loads of traffic and links followed. This is where the analysis gets a little interesting to me.

Our analytics showed 100,199 page views, but AdSense told us that we'd had 102,029 ad impressions. Over the four days we used AdSense, we made a total of 71.87 cents. Our average click through rate was a dismal 0.24%, although the ads on our site seemed to be fairly highly targeted.

A dismal quarter of a percentage click thru rate? From tech savvy Digg users that know what AdSense ads are? From a demographic that generally avoids advertising like the plague? Ohh...knock me over with a feather, I'm shocked.

Now here's where the good news comes in:

Google's latest crawl (7 days after the Digg) resulted in a huge increase in our rankings for our targeted keywords. We jumped up anywhere from 20-300 places, with most of our most important keywords ranking in the top ten (many in the top 5). Furthermore, Google has increased its rate of indexing, has increased the number of our pages that appear in the index, and have released over a dozen important pages from the supplemental results.

Yay! Their rankings increased! So why am I ranting about this tactic? After all, the whole point of search engine marketing is to increase rankings right?


Until this industry learns to look beyond rankings as a measure of search marketing success we will continue to live on the outskirts of the marketing realm. (Yes, I know it's hard to fathom that an industry that pulls $9 billion in spending a year is on the outskirts, but keep in mind that that $9 billion is 90% paid search search optimization is still a small industry.)

You see, the type of thinking that pushes marketers to aim for links and rankings for the sake of links and rankings misses the bigger picture. It misses the fact that search marketing provides an amazing opportunity to put your product or services in front of the very people that are looking for them. It misses the fact that good marketing is targeted marketing. It misses the fact that while social media has created a loop hole that can be exploited for the sake of quick rankings, it's a loop hole that WILL get closed.

Why? Because it's not logical, nor useful for a web site to increase the rankings of a site simply because a completely unrelated article appeared on the same domain. Is it logical for a search engine to promote a web site about used cars into better rankings because there happens to be a popular article talking about diseases and super powers on the same domain? No, it's not. That means that due to the Pinocchio effect, the search engines will eventually find a way to close this loop hole.

When Google, Yahoo! and other engines realize that all those incoming links are to that article, and that that article has nothing to do with the used car dealership housed at that address, do you really think they aren't going to devalue those links? Of course they are! When they do, the benefits of those links will vanish for the site in question making the entire marketing scheme just that...a scheme.

If online businesses would put half as much effort into improving the usability of their web sites and toward creating good content as they do figuring out ways to make the front page of Digg, we'd see far more success in the online arena than we do now.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

February 23, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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