Tom Howlett

The Internet Culture of Online Marketing – Does it Destroy Progress?

3rd Jun 2013 Brand 10 minutes to read

Internet Culture of Online MarketingThere is no question that since the birth of the Internet, particularly during the web 2.0 age, the number of available marketing channels has exploded. Following this growth, there has been a huge influx of available and sometimes conflicting information that is growing all the time.

It can be a confusing place for businesses and brands, large and small. Information and misinformation online can lead businesses down certain routes, to join certain platforms and essentially drive their online marketing strategy. There are a number of issues that can arise from doing this and on occasions it can seriously hinder online progress.

The Problems

So, what situations can arise if a brand or business chooses to follow the crowd? They can find themselves on irrelevant platforms, seeking the wrong audiences, unintentionally spamming, getting on the wrong side of Google and possibly alienating the audiences they find themselves in-front of.

Information overload and trust

A quick search on Google will give your thousands of results containing all manner of information related to the search topic. On-top of this there are informational websites, blogs, news websites, social posts and many other platforms for content discovery.

Instantly this creates an information overload, so how does an individual sift through this mountain of information to decipher what may be trustworthy or not? Google has gone some way to help increase trust with the implementation of Authorship which associates content with trusted authors; however it is not clear how much this affects the rankings at the moment.

There are of course ‘trustworthy’ resources such as Wikipedia, various other news and blogging websites and educational institutions. Certain communities will also have their own trusted resources. Having said that, is the information on these websites particularly trustworthy? (more on that below).

Unleash the spammers!

The culture of online discovery means that when a new platform or strategy emerges, it is followed by an influx of information and opinions during a surge of popularity. This popularity is generally followed with a few examples where individuals or businesses have seen some good results and success through implementation.

This is the online equivalent of the noise from a starting pistol resonating through the Internet that says “spammers…go!” Suddenly people will figure out ways to spam these platforms to death or the strategy in question will be used by everybody (slight exaggeration).

Generally these platforms will aim to cut down on the level of spam, but it can be overwhelming for a new platform especially.

Strategy-wise, it would be foolish to assume that a single strategy will work for everyone – or that improper implementation of the strategy will not be picked up by the likes of Google and cause ranking issues. This is one of the problems with information overload.

What Causes the Problems?

It is apparent that there is a problem, but what are some of the causes for these issues?

The rise of SEO

The rise of search engines has led to a mass adoption of SEO, and it is fair to say that it gets mixed reviews across the web. There is no doubt however that if you create a solid strategy and follow best practices with regards to optimising your website and managing your web presence (in particular, those that Google recommend), you are likely to improve your search engine presence.

The industry however has given birth to a number of tactics that go against the search engine recommendations in an attempt to manipulate the search results to come out on top (generally referred to as black hat techniques). Occasionally these tactics can create results and can be tempting for those frustrated with the battle to get to the top of the search engine result pages, plus everyone wants that quick fix.

Some tactics have grown in popularity and on occasions the search engines have come out to publically state that these tactics could harm your site. A lot of this information is still widely available on the web, easily discoverable by those who aren’t necessarily that experienced in SEO.

This constant changing landscape of SEO has created masses of information on the subject and an increasing level of information regarding new strategies/platforms that may offer some short term benefit but could cause problems at a later date.

The recent push for content

There has been a huge focus on content over the past year or two, “Content is king” as they say. I do agree with this, content can definitely help a site reach new audiences and all sites should aim to create valuable content for their audience.

However this push for content has created its own problems, some of which are listed below:

  • Quite often content is created for the sake of having content, with no real value behind it. This is when you start to get misinformation, intended controversy and information that is copied from other online sources, some of which may be false information to begin with.
  • It tips the balance of perceived authority. Each site looks to grow their online authority with content and in this content age it becomes more difficult to establish genuine authorities online.
  • When the same information is repeated online, across multiple sites and platforms – you’d be a fool to question the value, right? This can often lead to troubles.
  • Misrepresentation of information – This is often the case when the reason for creating content is not focused on value.

Contradictory information

Contradictory information can leave readers confused as to what they should do and how to properly plan and execute and online marketing strategy.

A recent example of this is related to Guest Blogging – following a number of posts highlighting the benefits, it started to become something that businesses needed to be doing in order to succeed online. A couple of success stories later and it seems like the whole world is talking about the benefits of guest blogging. This was until a few people start to doubt the benefit of this strategy and Google eventually released a video stating their opinion on the matter. Following that came a number of posts like ‘why guest blogging can harm your rankings’ or ‘be weary of guest blogging’.

You start to see a large number of posts that are contradictory to each other, in the push for new content it would then seem that there is no clear cut way to benefit from these strategies. Any website owner following this information can be led to following a strategy that may at some point harm their web presence.

It stops people from testing

Website owners should evaluate and test different marketing platforms and strategies for themselves. It is through this type of testing that they discover what works and what doesn’t (obviously avoiding any black hat tactics) and can help them find new audiences.

However in our content driven world, much of this testing is done for us, or so we think. It is easy to copy another strategy and hope for results especially if this saves time, but this can easily lead a site to trouble.

There are gems out there – articles that contain priceless information that has been tested and proven to work, the issue lies in being able to verify that this information is correct, trustworthy and reliable.

Platform love and popularity – good for business?

Referring back to the mention of content and that mentions of certain strategies and platforms can be spread around the web like wildfire. We will often see the release of a new social platform and following that, a string of posts talking about the platform.

You will then start to see a few businesses using these platforms and sooner or later the platform will be full of different businesses attempting to reach new audiences.

The most recent notable examples of this are the platforms Pinterest, Instagram and Vine.

Pinterest is an interesting example because some businesses have seen huge success from using this platform. Any success is likely to result in more businesses trying out the platform; however it isn’t something appropriate for many businesses as it is a visual platform.

A popular profile does not necessarily mean that it is good for business. Sure it can be great for some; it is just a question of whether you feel that your audience are using the platform and whether you have something to offer.

Have some platforms been ruined?

There have been some cases where exploitation of the platform has led to its eventual decline or has forced them to take action to realign the site with their values. Some include:

  • Squidoo – A popular information hub where users can submit articles on various topics. This became popular with marketers who could throw together an article and post it to the site, along with a link. It soon became apparent to Squidoo that the increasing level of low quality content is harming their website; they then had to re-evaluate how they are going to manage submissions and reward good quality content that the site relies on.
  • Article sites – Generally speaking, article sites are not a bad idea. Hubs of informational resources on a variety of topics can be useful to those seeking information online. These also became exploited and began to contain a greater number of low quality posts. New article sites began emerging to capitalise in this popularity – Google were aware of this growing trend and started to assign less relevance to these sites, some ended up receiving penalties.
  • Bookmarking websites – These sites are useful to save, share and discover websites and resources. Due to the ease of posting on these sites, the amount of spam has rocketed to the point where you can spend 5 minutes browsing the sites and not find anything useful. This has also been another area where there has been a sudden influx of low quality bookmarking sites that offer no value.

It is changing the shape of the web; however popular platforms continue to contain an increasing level of spam. As Google and other search engines try to filter out this type of content, from a business perspective it is even more important that content created is not evaluated as spam.

A guide to selecting an appropriate strategy or platform

If you are a website owner, you are probably asking yourself, ‘what should I do then?’, especially if there is a risk element when following advice on the web.

As previously mentioned, there are still a number of high quality and trustworthy resources online. Generally they are quite easy to spot; if they are related to a specific industry there is a high chance that you might already be aware of them. Google has also published search guidelines that are publically available and also frequently create videos to help web owners improve their websites. Ensuring that you operate within these guidelines will help your site stay out of trouble.

To help you evaluate potential strategies or platforms, bear the following in mind:

  • On discovery of a new piece of advice, make sure you evaluate whether it may benefit you or does it sound too good to be true? It could be worth consulting Google’s guidelines on the matter – if they are unlikely to want sites from benefiting with this strategy, it is probably worth avoiding.
  • Before jumping on a new social platform, take a step back and evaluate whether you think the platform will be beneficial to you. Will it help you find a new audience? Are you able to use the platform to grow your online presence without spamming the platform or using it in a way that is unintended?
  • New advice or strategies are largely untested. Do more research around the topic and if necessary, wait for more information on the topic. Setup a Google Alert to track mentions of the strategy in question, a good way of staying informed.
  • Look at competitor strategies. Are they doing anything that seems to be benefiting them? Please bear in mind that they are not necessarily more clued in and may be heading for problems further down the line.
  • Look at the big brands. They are often quite quick at responding to new strategies and generally have a good presence across the social media landscape. How are they using the platforms in question? Do they appear to be successful in what they are doing? Remember that big brands aren’t immune from trouble, with many well known cases in recent past – it is still worth evaluating the strategy to see how you personally can benefit from implementation.
  • Test and experiment – Not to say that you should still not consider the potential for failure or whether the strategy is right for you, but there should still be an element of testing – as long as it seems legit. Some out of the box thinking may well lead to success.

Image Credit

Vector seamless pattern from Big Stock

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