The battle between contextual editorial traffic and blatant sponsored or promotional content is a struggle of polarities between businesses and search engines. The question is, do you buy, earn or sell traffic? (meaning buy or sell links, content or advertisements) and why?
It depends on your monetization model; is your website business to consumer? (B2C), business to business? (B2B), is it dependent on affiliates for sending traffic?, heavily vested in email marketing or PPC? or perhaps search engines provide your site with the most profitable lot of traffic.
Regardless of the medium, the pendulum swaying from one method to the next is all based on competitive thresholds and having to fight for the attention of your audience. Marketing simplified means appealing to the right audience with the right message. This alone can make or break an online business. Also, keep in mind that like a third party referral, the source of referrer traffic can say a lot about your brand as well.
It’s not always how much money you have or resources to spend, its how worthy your article is or how useful it is to a broader audience that makes an editor want to pass it on and share it with their network or publication.
Alternatively, advertising with images, banners or PPC in search engines or authority sites makes perfect sense, since you can benefit from their unique visitors or spikes in monthly traffic. This is one reason why advertising on Facebook is an ideal solution for some businesses, instead of site relying on organic search engine traffic to encourage conversion.
Not everyone uses search engines the same way. However, with only 10 spots available for natural search, competition is inherent by design for popular keywords and trendy searches as those 10 positions are a commodity for conversion.
In essence it boils down to 1) Do you buy traffic from sponsored ads or PPC? 2) Do you earn traffic from creating link worthy content? 3) Do you use organic SEO to drive revenues? 4) Do you sell traffic from selling links and or / advertising on your website? or is it 5) all of the above?
Rae Hoffman CEO of Outspoken Media summarized a point about why people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones when she touched on companies outing their competitors to Google for paid link purchases.
There was one statement that stuck with me and sparked the notion to write this post. The statement was “Google is not your friend. They are a multi-billion dollar company that makes their money monetizing the content of others.”
Not to quote the post out of context, but admittedly, this is not intended to bash Google or their business model. Hell, we wouldn’t even be in business (at least not in this capacity of providing SEO services) if they had not revolutionized the search engine model to the level that it is today.
Yes, they did pioneer search engine technology. But the point is that they don’t own the content or the traffic; they are content brokers of immense proportions that due to market share have the ability to expand or collapse virtual online commerce for millions of websites with a mere shift in an organic ranking algorithm.
While Google may not own the web, they do own the technology, the brand and their own index, which is responsible for driving their pay per click revenue model. Just consider organic traffic a side effect, a way of saying thanks by sending traffic to websites if the content is relevant and makes the grade.
Google is essentially a middleman of immense proportions that has the ability to create millionaires out of those individuals who are smart enough to (monetize their monetization model) by figuring out how to harness a fraction of their organic ranking algorithms. This is the premise of SEO, creating relevance and funneling as much motivated traffic as possible through search engine / post-click marketing endeavors.
Similarly, those who fail to grasp the value of natural search have the option of embracing a secondary near-instant solution to generate new business, sponsored advertising a.k.a PPC (pay per click) marketing.
After hearing all of this pandering over white hat, black hat or grey hat nonsense for the last few years, it should merely be seen for what it is – perspective. Just as Google profits from the content of others, we profit from the traffic their search engine sends to our websites; it is a mutual agreement of unspoken terms that defines the structure of the relationship based on reciprocity.
I have been doing SEO longer than Google has been around. Yes, other search engines did exist, and still do. And the bottom line for most businesses is (a) does it work (b) how much does it cost (c) how long will it take and (d) what is the ROI?
The entire notion of morality and ethics are a moot point for most businesses and the only ones who seem put-off by more aggressive promotional tactics are the ones losing the battle and having their ass handed to them in the SERPs (search engine results pages) by more cunning or more skilled competitor.
For the record, I do not advocate black hat SEO, but I can see how and why someone would want to apply it (to save time) and gain a competitive advantage, even though the risk / reward ratio could collapse in a moment’s notice.
Does is matter if your competitors links are editorial or sponsored? Ask yourself, is it really ethics at stake or is it business? Instead of whining about it, you could take a proactive approach and start building a web presence in a less competitive (keyword) niche until you outgrow that and can step up to be a serious contender for “THE BIG KEYWORDS” and deal with the rules of engagement in a more competitive market.
The debate over reaching the most relevant visitors can take on many forms. In the old days, it was just traditional marketing and promotion. If you had a great product or service and needed sales, you would get the word out as much as possible to generate a buzz, and more importantly, dollars to fuel future growth.
Nowadays, with Internet marketing making its debut, there are suggested tactics known as white, black or shades of gray. Given the parallel to traditional marketing, if your competitor could afford to buy more print ads, more media time for television commercials or had a broader array of distribution, would you spend your time filtering their ads, ripping out pages (so no one else could read them) or smashing every radio in sight?
I would hardly think so. The point you have to realize is that something they are doing is allowing them to profit and exceed your budget when it comes to promotion.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s all about market share and attention. Those with it prosper and those without it often struggle to justify their online existence. It’s not the contention of paid links vs. editorial links I am referring to, although that argument is tired.
It really gets down to two things 1) are you receiving enough traffic and 2) are you receiving enough conversion from the traffic you get? The simplicity of monetization eludes many to observe the minutia and mistake the ends for the means and take everything entirely out of context.
Specifically, if your own Web site lacks authority, there is nothing wrong with borrowing some from others (by getting an editorial mention). The only difference is intent. Although intent is subjective and subject to monetary sway, the intent of website A linking to website B is not an objectable argument on paid, sponsored, bartered or merely “because they felt like it” as the reason sponsoring the action.
Linking, while being one of the purest forms of acknowledgment, can also be one of the best business decisions ever made if money or services change hands a landslide of traffic follows thereafter. I am not advocating paid links, just providing perspective on the notion that supports the intent.
Search engines treat links as votes, which is no fault of the masses. Search engines were simply designed that way and use links as a primary metric to assess reputability and relevance.
In addition, links have the ability to do more than just increase a websites search engine position; they have the ability to drive traffic from point to point. Without trying to police intent, it is merely simple transactional analysis that suggests there is MORE TO IT, or less to gain from those who horde links and do not link out to other websites.
However, if they elect to link out to others, should they be penalized if the implied rule of thumb is ignored? Business is and always has been competitive, search engines are no different.
Ultimately, to each his own, it is not about regulating intent, it is about having your website appear higher than your competitors or having a bigger funnel than your competitors when it’s time to crunch numbers and evaluate sales performance in the board room each quarter.
Looking beyond the shades of intent, business is and always has been competitive. It is merely a matter of what the threshold is, and how you intend to stay buoyant amidst the diversity of businesses that could care less about morals, only stopping your website from gaining a foothold in their vital demographic.
The point is, stop pointing fingers and focus more on improving the user experience for your own website, before turning the wrath of judgment on others. The only real competition online is yourself, although it is always easier to divert our attention by polarizing an enemy.
The only enemy is lacking relevance, popularity or trust. All of which are attainable, you just have to look past the so called competition and think of what you can do today to create a better, more robust user experience for each and every visitor that finds your pages as a destination of curiosity, commerce or intent.