I‘ve been spending the last week digging through data from our social media scans at SocialRep, paying a lot more attention to what content shows up when someone searches on the web, and why. And I have to say, as a marketer, I’m pretty dismayed. For the 15 years I’ve been involved in marketing, one of the most persistent refrains we hear in business is the need to improve Customer Intimacy. And in the span of that 15 years, I’ve seen technology leveraged in countless ways to improve customer pipeline metrics, visibility, and efficiency, but rarely to build meaningful relationships with customers. My newest case-in-point is search marketing and SEO.
One of the things we do at SocialRep is collect all the user generated content about a customer’s particular industry–collecting and analyzing every conversation on blogs, forums, social networks, wikis, video boards. It doesn’t take long to develop a clear picture of how content is generated to influence consumer traffic, especially the persistent problem of splogs–content posted for no other purpose than to game search traffic.
In the SocialRep system, I’ve discovered that about 70% of the splogs we’re filtering out are posted at Blogspot, a free blog service owned by Google. That’s right. Google. The company whose mission it is to help you cut through the noise and clutter on the Internet also happens to be one the biggest enablers of noise and clutter on the Internet–at least the clutter we’re finding in industries such as automotive, consumer electronics, pharma and consumer and enterprise software.
When you first come across a splog, it looks like a regular blog. But the more splogs you see, the more you start noticing something a little bit “off”. Sometimes you’ll be reading a post and it will suddenly veer into gibberish. Sometimes you’ll notice that every post on the blog is an article written by a different author, with little continuity of topic. Sometimes you’ll notice that the content is blatantly ripped off from BusinessWeek or Wired with no attribution.
If you look at this garbage as much as you must if you’re really trying to understand the media landscape influencing your market, you start to realize how much time, money and ingenuity marketers are pouring down a dark hole trying to game search algorithms instead of building customer intimacy:
- There are article syndication services that will take one article you write, and subtly rewrite it dozens of times to post on countless splogs in order to look like original content pointing back to your web site.
- There are content automation tools that will search the web for content according to keywords you designate, and scrape bits and pieces together from all over the web to generate new “content” for posting on splogs to drive search traffic. Some of these tools are sophisticated enough to preserve certain rules of grammar so that search bots recognize the content as valid.
- There are systems that automate not only splog posting, but splog generation–creating new splogs on the fly to maximize keywords and link juice.
- And of course, there are dozens of search marketing gurus who will sell you their secrets to search traffic success using these and countless other technologies and techniques.
I don’t want to sound like some naive idealist, and I don’t want to impugn the entire search marketing industry. I understand how search drives traffic, and I understand the challenges of cutting through the clutter to reach consumers on the internet. In this day and age, it’s imperative that companies understand how to develop effective content for SEO, and that means writing content that’s optimized for search algorithms
But when we reach the point where we’re writing massive amounts of content that’s designed only for computers to read, we’ve reached a tipping point where marketing becomes a parody of itself. In the name of cutting through the clutter, we create more clutter. In the name of building customer relationships, we develop content that customers would never want to read. Instead of putting our resources and creativity into actually connecting with customers, we focus instead on trying to engineer some immaculately efficient engine to boil the ocean and spit out customers ready to buy our product with the least amount of input or effort.
It’s a brilliant pursuit. One that marketers have been striving toward for decades. We’ve done it with advertising. We’ve done it with DM. We’ve done with email marketing, and viral, and search. We’re on a quest for clinical efficiency, but all the while we keep talking about customer intimacy. And then we wonder why consumers themselves are so drawn to social media, drawn inexplicably to connect with other consumers to share experiences that belie all the marketing bullshit their lives are flooded with every moment.