I must confess, I have failed you. I have failed our family.
Emblazoned on our family crest, above a finely-etched image of a brand new iMac and Moz’s Roger, lies the family motto, which I have so disgracefully shamed; “The Links Will Come Naturally.”
I have not lived up to that motto, father. The links have not come naturally. I’ve had to build them myself. I have even built links without building relationships. This is not how you raised me.
When I was 12, you shot a man. It is a vivid memory for me. I can still picture the rage on your face, when that wretched man interrupted your afternoon pint and dared to call you a “link builder”. You challenged him to a duel. At dawn, you both plucked a pistol from a silver platter, turned your backs, took thirty steps and turned. You were the victor, and no man has dared to call you those unsavory names since then. His family’s tears fueled your personal content marketing brand better than even the most retweeted Tweet ever could.
Your blog post describing the duel was a huge inbound marketing success. “This is what a real man looks like,” you said, pointing at the deluge of comments and social media shares. “A real man never asks for a link in exchange for content. A real man attracts links like a magnet.”
I have not attracted links like a magnet and I have ruined the family name. I run around in some bad circles, father – I associate with people who still call themselves “SEOs”…and even “link builders”. They have not rebranded themselves into inbound marketers. I have fallen in with the blue collar ditch diggers, building links with my own sweat and blood. Such things are beneath our family and I feel nothing but shame.
“You never place a link with the intention of increasing search rankings,” you told me one morning before your weekly fox hunt. “That is spam. Never forget this, my son.”
I loathe what I have become. I must confess, father, I am an SEO. A link builder. I am not an inbound marketer or a relationship builder. My link building strategies may be formidable, but I cannot deny I am just like all the other riffraff.
Rest assured, though, father – we hate ourselves just as much as you hate us. Some of us have evolved, abandoning Search Engine Optimization for advanced “link earning” techniques. This new breed of “inbound marketers” have become the elite, and would make better sons to you than I have.
I have written articles that have earned minimal social shares and not a single comment. I have provided content that does not include graphs or charts. Sometimes I have stooped so low that I have merely provided entertainment in exchange for a link – and I did it all in the name of higher search rankings.
What I do is effective, but my work is as lowbrow as the work of the blacksmith who shoes your horses. I know you disapprove and I understand why you disowned me. I ask only this – when Wadsworth, our beloved family butler, serves your after-dinner whisky tonight, please remember me as the bright-eyed boy who clung to your every word. I regret that I had not the strength to follow your example. We walk different paths now, father, and I must continue down mine – it is a dark path, but it is my own.
You sit down in the audience for an evening of stand up comedy. You are excited, you have a pint in hand, bag of crisps sneaked in your jacket pocket, and it’s the weekend. The comedian comes on stage to rapturous applause… and then starts to pick on the crowd. You’ve got balls, you tell yourself, you can handle being picked on. You think, just maybe, you’ve got a witty riposte up your sleeve that will humiliate the comedian and elevate you to the star of the show. You’ll get him, you think.
He swoops through the front row and turns on you. Without warning he jumps straight into “What do you do for a living?” Hang on, where was “what is your name?”, you think, as you stutter to answer his question, “I am an SEO”. The audience go silent. “What did he say?” you hear someone ask. You start to go red. You should have lied, that’s what you’re thinking. Should have gone with doctor or accountant, something that everybody knows already.
The comedian, pleased you have fallen into his trap, looks up to the audience with a confused look, then back down at you. He seems to have increased in size three-fold, as he looms over you like a demon headmaster. “A what now?”
You pause. How else to describe it? “Erm”, you begin, “I work with websites, helping them rank in Google.” Uh-oh, now you’ve blown it. Everyone has heard of those people. SEOs: Cowboys. Charlatans. Rip-off merchants. Somehow, you can’t stop yourself from making it worse, “Some people call it inbound marketing”.
As £££ signs flash in the comedian’s eyes, he pauses for effect, then asks you directly, “What the fuck is inbound marketing?”
You fidget uncontrollably, looking first left and then right, trying to find some way out of this hell hole. You are penned in, trapped from all sides by the staring masses, just waiting to laugh in your face. With your back against the wall, you decide to stand up against this bully and defend your mighty industry. “Well”, you begin, “it’s the opposite of outbound marketing – y’know, phone calls, direct mail, spam, all the interruptive forms that everyone hates.”
The comedian seems intrigued, as you sigh inwardly and thank fuck you’ve been reading the Hubspot blog lately. He wants more though. “So what is it exactly that you do?”
“I…erm…figure out what stuff people are looking for, then help them find what I… want them to find.”
“And then what happens?”
“Well, they end up on my client’s website and we try to convert them – so they buy a product, or download an ebook, or fill out a quote form.”
The comedian steps away, seemingly content with his torture. That wasn’t so bad. No one really laughed. Pretty much got away with it. You take a sip of lager – ahhhh. You carefully place your pint back on the floor, and as you look back up, the comedian is right there waiting for you. Waiting, staring, with an evil glint in his eye. He knows something you don’t.
In a panic, you feel your cheeks go red as you start to question yourself – ‘I am right, aren’t I? Inbound marketing is good, right? It’s what people WANT!’
He senses your disarray. “Ok, so they fill a form in or do a download or whatever, but then what has that actually achieved?”
HA! He doesn’t even get it. What an idiot! “Well once you have collected their details like their phone number or email address, you can ring them or email them, to try and sell them something.”
“Oh, those INTERRUPTIVE forms that everybody hates. Well isn’t that noble.”
That’s what we need to do, right? Content Marketing is the new black, and we need to be bloody good at it if we want our sites to rank.
Sean recently proposed that some SEO folk are waiting with baited breath and crossed fingers that Google’s next update will reward quality content that deserves to rank. I sincerely hope that people don’t actually believe such garbage, and would like to dig into why it could never actually happen.
For the purpose of this discussion we’ll consider only the content medium of copy, since that is the most basic form of content, and most easily digestible by our spidery friends.
It could run through various checks and comparisons:
Hmmm, so Google knows how to tell if content is duplicate, poorly structured or incoherent. Of course, we know this – it’s exactly what Panda has been hammering sites for over the last couple of years. Google attempts to surface better quality sites simply by removing the lower quality ones.
But can Google look at two unique blog posts written on the same subject and determine which is of the higher quality? I sincerely doubt it.
A more pertinent question might be: ‘can humans do it?’
The best selling books of all time, according to Wikipedia, contain amongst their top 10 writers such as Tolkien, Dickens and Lewis. A fair shout, many would argue. Yet nestling in at the number 9 spot is none other than The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. Those familiar with Mr Brown’s work will know that his use of language is…clumsy, at best. His writing is painful to read, and he is not without criticism, evidenced by this collection of his ‘worst sentences‘.
Other works that have achieved massive commercial success yet are notoriously badly written include 50 Shades of Grey and the Harry Potter series. I must admit to enjoying the travails of Master Potter, although the prose can’t half make you wince at times.
The thing is, having discussed my distaste for such poorly written works with quite a few people over the years, some people simply don’t notice that the writing is bad. Others don’t give a shit. Well educated, highly intelligent people no less. I know this makes me sound pompous and arrogant, but hopefully is getting my point across – everybody has a different definition of quality.
Content is made to communicate meanings, and communication is an exchange of information. Content is only effective if it is successful in communicating its meanings to its audience. But the audience is not a robot.
Since every person has fundamentally different experiences, opinions and ideologies, it follows that they should disagree on ‘what is good.’
The notion that content can, in itself, deserve to rank is flawed.
If people can’t agree on content quality, then Google certainly can’t make that call algorithmically. And we’ve only considered text! Imagine Google trying to grade images qualitatively, never mind animation, music or videos. This is art not science.
Google must rely on good old external factors, such as links, social shares and author associations. And at the end of the day, Google doesn’t give a shit that a Dan Brown book reads like a soap opera on steroids – if their users want it then Google will give it to them.