Less Bullshit, More Master Baiting
This is my New Year's Resolution. Here's why:
When blogger and former AOL/Weblogs exec Jason Calacanis reportedly pronounced "SEO is bullshit" at SES Chicago last year, it fanned the flames of the SEO scene, enough so that he had to post a follow-up explanation shortly afterward.
While it wasn't a particularly informed or informative post as much as it was a defensive one, he did admit in it that he's no SEO expert. He did make some valid points on the value of content, and valid layman's points on other items. What's especially noteworthy though was that it got him Dugg well, and other movement that gave him some infamy link love for a bit. While he got served backlash for his words, others in the industry came to his defense however (I'm tempted to say "it's all links, it's all good." If only it all were so simple!)...
Q: SEO is... what?
A: Calacanis was talking about and also indirectly referring to:
- how content is king, but to rule wisely means to have uniqueness, depth, breadth, relevancy, character and change frequency.
- core on-site best practices (crawler-friendliness) including fundamental on-page tasks like proper anchor text, linking structure, Titles and META description tags. I won't go as far as to totally agree with with Andy Hagans on his "all SEOs know META tags are dead," (META keywords tags are but META descriptions are anything but). I also won't totally concur with what sounded a little to me like light prodding of Aaron Wall's on-site SEO consulting when Shoemoney, fresh out of speaking with The New York Times himself, interviewed the man with the shadow plan, Quadzilla himself on Webmaster Radio. In spite of being sold through a stereotypically uglier-than-sin sales letter page, Aaron's book is one of the best on the market. I find that everything there is to know about on-page / on-site SEO is a lot to try to swallow in just one afternoon, especially for SEO n00bs. That's why I offer hefty, 30+ point site-side Best Practices audits that can take a day or two to turn around, so I also pass around condensed CliffsNotes-like versions of the most important items. I'm not sure SEOs selling basic on-page work as a service "really is trash" all the time, even if it's the kind of work I often advise clients learn to do for themselves as much as possible. However, I do agree on the point that charging people no more than $5K tops for some primer empowerment is a great call. So a) SEOs are routinely baiting for buzz and b) we need to keep our sights trained on getting to where we're selling more than just strategy guidance, best practices, keywords research/analysis and titles/METAs work etc. ...Much of it is SEO 101 i.e. common sense work, largely about pragmatically demystifying and simplifying what might look on the surface to be complex, and we should avoid spending most of our SEO time dicking around with the production parts of it. It's not a question of resources. It's a matter of our being capable of bigger, better, more creative, advanced and innovative things with the craft... and at experienced SEOs' rates it's the honorable thing to do. So as a vegetarian SEO I say "Teach a man to fish, but don't eat so much fish."
All client types should be at least considering organic search, hard. In worst cases, companies who don't follow it but still want considerable traffic from engines will have to simply buy it outright (SEM). PPC and/or PI will be their only options.
This is why for example, clients who plant roots in being all about pushing their brand through dazzling sensory experiences (heavy on rich media eye / ear candy but low on hypertext and hyperlinks) are never great SEO prospects, if even prospects at all. When the information worthiness of what a company is online is eclipsed by what their presence "feels" like, and/or when the level of articulation required by what they have to say is eclipsed by the requirements of how they say it, chances are good that the company isn't all that qualified a lead yet. SEOs' respective challenges include helping clients understand and navigate disciplinary trade-offs and make smart investment allocations early on. Not just for their sake, but also for ours: We must protect ourselves by preventing dangerous assumptions ahead of time ("What do you mean my site can't be optimized because it's all Flash?!?" etc.), and online marketers certainly shouldn't let them creep in by not hitting all possible Discovery angles on new accounts in particular ("You built it that way, so why didn't you tell me about that limitation before we started the project?!?"). When priests surprise parishioners with offers of baptism by fire, parishioners start thinking about leaving the church. SEO really isn't for every client / project. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as we SEOs try to never let it bite anyone below the Bible belt.
Q: What is "Master Baiting?"
A: Link Baiting done right, every time.
"Master Baiting" is a running joke in the SEO community. Whomever thought it up, just like who the Master Baiters are, depends on who you ask. As far as I know it was Quads.
Q: How delightfully juvenile. Fine, so what then is Link Baiting, already?
For a long time much of SEO - aside from on-site matters and keyword research to inform content - was all about link building: getting links to one's site(s) from out on the greater Web, with both quality and quantity in mind. For example, a link from a popular page on a popular site is great, but normally hard or very hard to get (unless you rent or buy it from the site owner which IMHO somewhat misses the point of SEO, almost like cheating). On the other end of the spectrum, dropping a comment into someone's blog or signing their guestbook might let you place a link back to yourself, but by itself it might not help much. Perhaps it's being force-set to NOFOLLOW by the site owner to try to discourage spammers, and/or their site simply may not carry much relevancy and/or trust with the engines (there are many blogs and guestbooks out there that have been and are continually spammed to death, so engines are constantly working to improve their detection capabilities). With low quality links, many are needed to make impact on rankings: from thousands to millions of them depending on the competitiveness of a given subject.
Often using their own software made specifically for it, freelancers can always be found on ScriptLance and similar sites selling different kinds of link building. Like many of them, firms like iProspect do too. With or without good tools though, effective manual link building can become a bit of a PITA: time consuming, tedious, and at toughening failure ratios making it harder than ever. I've noticed SEOs in the West increasingly sending this work to contractors in India and Eastern Europe. In scaling and optimizing for profitability, SEOs are getting more fetishistic about the potential of automations and outsourcing and link building is a prime example of it.
Recent years have raised the sister concept of link baiting: The development and deployment of content made specifically to make people feel compelled to link to it, of their own volition and publicly. Think of it as the most famous form of viral SEO.
Link baiting can be done in many different ways, on just about any topic, and it's exceptionally hot right now. Blogging about link baiting is in itself link bait at the moment. Everyone and their unborn grandchildren is putting out how-to information on it, touting their "Top 20 Types of Linkbait" etc. lists (lists are the most common tactic), each with their own sets of suggested angles i.e. "hooks" (humor, contrary, attack, tools, news, etc.).
Building is to baiting as pushing is to pulling. Balanced natural trafficking demands both.
Q: Why must we all start Master Baiting now?
- As SEM continues on the up and up, steadily up will go average CPCs and levels of competition. The more entry barriers develop SEM, the more clients will turn their attention toward SEO as a potential alternative, despite its comparatively greater complexity and often slower, harder-to-measure returns. The more they do, the more prepared we'll need to be with a bag of great ideas to bring to the table.
- The notion that SEO is a squarely technical concern without very creative needs is a Web 1.0 myth. Dated = death; when it comes to being able stay in any kind of business even Black Hat is better than being Old Hat here. Embracing link baiting is an effective and fun way to keep up with where things are headed.
- Web 2.0 poses a new level of technical challenge for SEO per all its user-generated content, rich media proliferation, and increasing adoption of AJAX which poses URL complications. As the Web gets more technical SEO gets more technical, granted... but it also gets more trained on social engineering, also sometimes more stealth. Great bait will be needed filling between areas of sites that can only be optimized so much, and it will also be needed to snag audiences numbed by and/or adverse to more traditional marketing (Note I didn't say "advertising").
Q: Next Steps?
A: Get Organized, and Get Out There.
Aggregate, evaluate and add to all the link baiting ideas feeding the space now. Core methodology, with best practices breakout for blogging and perhaps other vitals, are in progress. Be part of the process.
Great bait can be anything from widgets to video parodies to list types. The production crux is there must always some kind of element where there's some attractive machine readable content, serving as the bait itself otherwise at a minimum, the bait hook and descriptor. Title methods BTW are especially important to build out (Ex: "10 Things I Love About [SUBJECT]", "Why [SUBJECT-VERB] is a Waste of Time", etc.).