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Google Lies: The Myth of Good Content

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I blog for myself, mostly. I'd like something for the great-great grandkids to read about me, and I enjoy putting my thoughts on paper. If you like any of this, I'm happy.

My latest reading mission has been on web marketing. I want to find out why and how some people start with Google and end up buying something. We all do it, yet I really don't have a clue as to how it happens!

After years of creating some pretty good programs, the light finally dawned on me that promotion and marketing is as much, or actually much more of an important skill than just slinging code. Being a code monkey is fine, but it's more fun to build a code zoo. I'm finding something similar in web marketing.

Not that everybody else knows. Some folks seem determined to ignore reality.

Many, many times somebody at Google says something like, "Well, the best way to get people to visit your site is just to have good content."

That's total horse-hockey, and Google knows it. Let's get real.

It's easy enough to prove. Take singing. Do you really believe that the best singers in the world are the ones that are the most popular? If so, I have a bridge to sell you. Or sites where people post content, like Digg or HN. Do you really think the best content goes to the top? The best? Really? Because that's not what I'm seeing.

The web is not about good content. It's a popularity game. Popularity games are played by knowing the right people, doing each other favors, getting out and meeting people, and by being, well, popular.

Google is not about search. It's a citation engine -- it provides an ordered listing of how people cite your work. The theory being that if a lot of people cite you, you must be on to something.

As a general rule, it's workable. Heck -- workable to make tens of billions of dollars for Google. But people can cite you for all kinds of reasons, and once huge money gets involved, the game is afoot. I read this post last week where some lady had written an obnoxious article and ticked off an entire online community. So, predictable as rain in the monsoon season, everybody from that community went back to their boards and blogs and started linking to her. Now her traffic is ten times what it was before. Last month I complained about getting traffic for this obscure athlete (I will NOT mention her name again!) and now I'm getting hammered by people googling her, much to my chagrin. Was there some kind of high quality in either of these stories? Not at all. They were popular, or anti-popular. Quality has nothing to do with it.

I read a really good story a few weeks ago about how to promote your content on the web. What's the secret? The guy made a sales sheet and started cold-calling and emailing other website owners to see if he could get a link back to his site. That just seems kind of weird, doesn't it? Calling up strangers so they will mention your site/company on the net? But it works.

What this means in reality is that it's all just smoke and mirrors at the search engines. The king has no clothes. Yes, they try to put the most relevant content in front of the user. But anytime you're dealing with a algorithm people are going to game the system, whether on purpose or by accident. And once some people start gaming the system, everybody has to game the system. It's the prisoner's dilemma.

We'd like to believe that search is about quality, just like we'd like to believe that people who make the coolest technology solutions go on to make tons of money. And the best-sounding bands make the most records. And the best doctors have the happiest lives. And the best ideas get the most attention. But that's so far from the truth it's laughable. Still, the myth persists.

By all means, write the best content you can. If you're doing startups, make the best solutions for your customers as you can. But don't buy into the notion that quality sells itself, or that the best way to get readers is good content. It's just a lie. A fairy-tale to tell small children. There's a whole nother skill (as opposed to a half nother skill?) of marketing. But people don't want to think about having to cold call, mail, network, and all of that other stuff, so we don't talk about those things. Better to say that you're product wasn't good enough or your content wasn't good enough than to admit that you're just lazy, right?



In the short run, promotion is great; in the long run, quality is the only way to get sustained attention. Quality scales really well -- if you get a link because someone likes your stuff, people who read that link are likely to re-link it. A link you got through self-promotion is less likely to be passed on.

That said, there's a strong element of social proof. Once people start linking you, they don't stop.

Good content and good promotion have great economies of scale. But if you have to pick one, and you're thinking long-term, it's all about the content.

It would be cool for some online marketers to test this. They register two new blogs. Marketer A writes content for both, creating good content for one and awful content for another. Marketer B does promotion for both, promoting the bad content well and the good content poorly. Whichever blog has more inbound links after a year, wins.

Very interesting idea, Byrne.

Here's another idea: put up a website. Offer 20 bucks to anybody who emails you.

Do not promote the site at all.

Now obviously the website has value to anybody -- assuming you really mean to give out the dough. Heck, it should be all over the net! But without any promotion, I don't think anything will happen.

In fact, I bet that even _with_ promotion nothing will happen. It's simply not about the value of the content to the reader. There are lots of other social and financial things going on.

I think long-term you can't sacrifice quality. But there's probably also a balance involved: concentrate on "good enough" quality and spend the rest of your efforts promoting and selling.

I think this is becoming more true every day as the Internet comes into its own as a market force. However, as in all things, the truth is a bit more subtle. People don't want the highest quality, but they don't want crap either. Being popular is about networking and cultivating connections, but if you try to optimize it too much then you are labeled a social climber and people hate that. One of the remarkable traits of human sentience is the way all systems feed back on themselves. If something gets too popular too fast than it will probably be rejected sooner than later for exactly that reason.

As such, I think Byrne is totally right. If all you see is the game and you start to believe that quality doesn't matter then you might make a quick buck, but you probably won't be able to sustain it. I also believe integrity has its own rewards.

absolutely right, there was a spanish blogger (javi moya), who suddenly got to have 100,000 visits a day on his blog, he then knew that ads could get him about 10,000 usd a month and even then took out the ads, and he was very committed to his blog and audience....until the day he took a vacation...and the visits keep coming, he had such good seo that i guess he realize that his audience was mostly due to seo than his writing, which by the way was not bad, after that i do not know what happened he stop writing and after a while even took down the blog

i guess he always felt guilty that he had some sexy pics and themes and he got a lot of traffic for that, that may have been the reason

Okay, Daniel. Does this count as promotion? :-)

really very thought provoking post and I completely agree with you on this but I also believe that good content will surely find attention if not much.

In my experience, it's focused content that grabs hits more than good content. The best sites & blogs do one thing or deal with one subject in an effective, knowledgeable or unique way.

Results from my experiment: Okay, it's been about three days now, and it was hardly a conclusive study, but yep, Daniel was right. It didn't market itself, and I only got 8 people emailing me (in the first day, none afterwards). So I get to keep my $20. :-)

""good enough" quality and spend the rest of your efforts promoting and selling" - that summarizes it best.
The search for the unusual is the other criterion that makes a post popular, but that again does not make it good quality.

So now I have to try and get famous by finding a blogger who likes me... where's the phone?

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This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on June 18, 2009 6:46 PM.

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Recent Comments

  • Colin Perini: So now I have to try and get famous by read more
  • trendoffice: ""good enough" quality and spend the rest of your efforts read more
  • Ben Hoyt: Results from my experiment: Okay, it's been about three days read more
  • SubAstute: In my experience, it's focused content that grabs hits more read more
  • Sachin: really very thought provoking post and I completely agree read more
  • Ben Hoyt: Okay, Daniel. Does this count as promotion? :-) read more
  • Kiubbo: absolutely right, there was a spanish blogger (javi moya), who read more
  • Gabe da Silveira: I think this is becoming more true every day as read more
  • DanielBMarkham: Very interesting idea, Byrne. Here's another idea: put up a read more
  • Byrne: In the short run, promotion is great; in the long read more

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