This short manifesto covers what I hold to be self-evident about modern marketing practices, particularly related to online activity.
This piece about how people's attention flows on the web highlights the fundamental misunderstanding that causes almost all online marketing to be ineffective.
The blog that follows consists of a series of short posts that support my arguments.
I’m quoted in The Guardian. The piece is about reaction to unguarded comments that become a matter of permanent record through the use of social platforms such as Twitter, et al.
That is the significant difference: a throwaway remark is now time-stamped and keyword searchable in a database somewhere.
There are countless examples of this, but here is one a couple of friends highlighted earlier today:
Luxury sports cars in costly Japan highway pile-up (via the BBC) Ferraris destroyed in costly Japan motorway pile-up (via The Guardian)
The Guardian article cites NTV as a source but neither major news hub provides any links to source material where the interested rubbernecker can follow things up.
Compare this to Jalopnik’s post: Massive Japanese crash claims eight Ferraris, three Benzes, and a Lamborghini. The post contains an embedded YouTube video from Asahi News as well as links to additional coverage.
The web allows us to do more than simply regurgitate other people’s posts as our own yet the idea of linking out, a fundamental principle of being a good web citizen, sticks in the craw of traditional media outlets. This is why I refer to such hubs as ‘black holes’; you can only detect them by the links going in and there’s a complete absence of anything coming out.
This is an inevitable function of the commercial pattern these sites follow. Their audience is the product they have to monetise, i.e. by selling this data to advertisers in some shape or form. They believe that links out become leaks where attention can seep away and thus money evaporate.
Compare all of the above to the post on Metafilter: Eight Ferraris and one Lamborghini … in a $4 million pileup. Obviously this site follows a different pattern but the aggregated benefit of having a carefully selected link and 46 comments, which also supply supporting information for the person wanting to find out more is clear.
Does ‘monetisation’ become less of a concern when you are so lightweight? Does that free you to focus on the service? Which in turn attracts ever greater numbers of users. Who by simply using the service act as advocates on whichever social networks they are already a part.
Seth Godin notes that Quantcast will show you the top one million websites in the US ordered by volume of traffic received. He also reminds us that because attention on the web follows a power law distribution “the top 100 sites account for a huge amount of overall web traffic; probably more than the next 900 sites combined.”
This is significant because it is easy to see how the majority of available attention is concentrated in relatively few places.
I first witnessed the consequences of this first-hand on a project from about five years ago. We built a site and people didn’t come. In the immortal words of a past client: “This ain’t no field of dreams.”
What I’ve seen in agency-land is an evolution of the ‘landing pages for SEO’ approach into something called content strategy. Elements of this are fine; the thinking about what you want to say should come before deciding how you are going to say it. The reason for saying it on your own website bears closer analysis however, especially if “the purpose of content strategy has also been described as achieving business goals by maximizing the impact of content.”
We went through a period where the notion that ‘freshness’ counts for search rankings resulted in a lot of pages being generated that were at worst designed only to be read by spiders and at best only got read by spiders, no matter how ‘useful’ or ‘relevant’ to its intended audience they were.
Unbranded search term rankings, the type of visibility for which this tactic was devised, only takes you so far. In these days where engines can take social signals into account your website had better be good enough to win attention from people; in fact if it’s doing well socially the search benefits become a bonus rather than the goal as people will find and share your stuff and the links will start to accrue.
Unfortunately, as the long tail demonstrates, the likelihood is that no one is looking at your web pages, especially those generated by businesses for out-and-out marketing purposes that are only hosted on a corporate site.
The golden rule is that the energy returned by a marketing activity must be greater than the energy invested. What this means for a website designed to attract attention rather than of the FAQ variety is a topic of great interest to me and requires a complete rethink.
The article is from October 2010 with the study referred to covering apps installed by the entire Facebook userbase during July / August 2007.
One implication is that popularity is not like an infectious disease and does not spread as such.