Why Are We Committed to Bad Behavior?

If you have been around online marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) for as long as I have you begin to take things for granted. I know that I am an experienced, well-educated search engine marketer and I assume that my peers would also see the online marketing landscape in the same way that I do.  I am constantly reminded that I am wrong. Completely dead wrong!

Michael Martinez, from SEO Theory, has written a thoughtful and informative article called “Why You Run with Spammers” and it helps remind me why less experienced marketers and their clients make poor decisions.  Michael’s article focuses on Google’s policy as it relates both to decision making and linking.  The crux of the article is that as experienced marketers we have failed the younger generation.

The implication is that back in the day, think the 90s, links were used to guide people to content before search engines became the primary solution for web content discovery.  At some point web users recommended search engines to one another enough that search engines established themselves as the de facto way to locate content on the web.  These days Google is “the” search engine and most search marketers think in terms of Google when making any decision, yours truly included.

When it comes time to attempt to understand Google, understanding linking is critical.  Google uses the way websites link to one another to help learn about that website and classify it amongst its peers.  When search marketers realized the perceived value of links, they began formulating strategies to acquire links because the impact of those links was substantial.  This was what Michael believes was our point of failure.

“Web marketers have dipped into their extensive pool of linking behaviors and devised some interesting ways to use those linking behaviors to influence search results. But if you look at those transformations objectively you’ll see that the majority of marketers ignored the small minority of “old-timers” who kept saying, “This isn’t what you’re supposed to be doing with these kinds of links!”

In other words, the pool of elders whose wisdom should have guided the Web marketing community’s link building efforts was too small to be effective at restraining the majority of younger, more naive Web marketers. Of course many of the elders simply jumped ship and started grabbing whatever links they could, having an advantage in knowledge and experience over newer, more naive marketers. Those turncoat marketers simply taught new generations of marketer’s bad habits, and gradually the reach of the turncoats surpassed the reach of the traditionalists.

This is how ecosystems evolve. It’s also why so many of you suddenly found yourselves running with the spammers even though you had been convinced what you were doing was acceptable to the search engines all along. You looked around and saw that your neighbors were not dead and they were still eating. Everything looked fine because groups cannot look into the future.”

Sadly enough, I have to agree with Michael.  Many online marketers and the agencies they were associated with did exactly what Michael describes and have created a generation of online marketers that are willing to do what works, even if it contains an unacceptable amount of risk, because they don’t seem to know any better or just don’t care.

Link building, content development and on page optimization are never going to go away, however there is a right way and a wrong way to go about taking on each of these challenges. Clients need to educate themselves and evaluate the risks v. reward of their decisions, regardless of what their consultant or agency says, and if they make risky choices then they need not be surprised if they get burned.

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