For a long time the mantra of the SEO expert was ‘Content is King”, the theory being that such content would attract visitors, be linked to by other websites, and rise through the ranks to its natural position at the TOP of the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages).
One day the internet got nasty
One day the internet got nasty. Anyone with a little bit of knowledge could churn out a website (or websites). And the introduction of Google’s
CrapSense AdSense gave a financial incentive to churn those websites out. And the churners needed content, and it was YOUR content they stole, copying and pasting it verbatim. Especially if your content was ranking well. And pretty soon the magic of Google meant that that stolen content stood a good chance of outranking your original content because the man-made algorithms were created that way. The brains behind Google did’t care where the content came from if it was popular, so long as SOMEONE with that content was (is) near the top of the SERPS. And the Google people would like nothing more than cutting out those pesky websites and displaying YOUR content in their results, next to their revenue producing adverts (Trip Advisor objects to having its content scraped and the Knowledge Graph displaces organic results). Nowadays even a search for the local weather or for currency conversion produces a VAST Google box that pushes organic results down, getting users acclimatised to relying DIRECTLY on Google rather than going to a third-party website.
Then one day e-commerce took off
Then one day e-commerce took off and every Tom, Dick and Harry realised that there was money to be made. They were too cool to steal other people’s content – THEY weren’t spammers! - so they merely ‘borrowed’ it, rewrote it and repackaged it as their own. And then they too wrapped that content on their little e-commerce sites in CrapSense.
And then the Big Boys woke up, those sleeping Corporations and lo! – God said it was time for them to start coining serious money, and so they did.
But as their authority sites started gaining traction – helped by branding changes in the algorithm, offline-marketing traffic flow and lots and lots of investment in Adwords – lesser e-commerce sites found themselves pushed to the margins. No longer was it appropriate to have an e-commerce site with just pictures of products, ‘borrowed’ content or copy-and-paste descriptions from the manufacturer. Now they TOO needed living, breathing, high-quality websites, ‘cos Content Was Still King.
And so for a short while they started writing original, top-quality content. Only to find that anything worthwhile was promptly stolen, because amorality on the internet was the New Norm and it was easier to silently steal and to rank for someone else’s content on those keywords than it was to put in any effort yourself.
A changing reality
Meanwhile SEO experts had been wrestling with a changing reality. They could see what the masses didn’t, that Google rewarded popularity (which was briefly a proxy for quality) and traffic flow and that whoever stole content and put it on the biggest and most popular websites got all the rewards. And since Google wasn’t too bothered about spam, so long as it was wrapped in CrapSense, there was plenty of spam to go around, clogging up the rankings and making it fairly apparent that Crap was now King.
And since Google valued links, linking to other sites suddenly seemed stupid because it was like giving money away to people you didn’t know, and who does that? And so good-quality content wasn’t linked to anymore.
So SEO experts came up with ‘link-baiting’, which was crap content that attracted attention with lists and controversies and ego-stroking and breaking news and blah blah blah. And copywriters came up with magic headlines – the Seven Ways Your Blog Can Get More Links, The Ten Most Popular Link-Bait Strategies, The Top One Hundred Ways Your Blog Can Make Money Using CrapSense – until every headline became devalued, and every page of content became suspect.
And then SEO experts REWORKED their idea of content.
Content was now CONCEPT such as tools on your website to calculate your mortgage or free stuff such as games to play online.
But lo! – everyone started doing the same thing, including Google, which gave away so much free stuff that the world was blinded and imagined that ‘free’ stuff was a human right and that Google had their best interests at heart. But Google never had anyone else’s best interests at heart, because Google only cares about Google.
Now SEO ‘experts’ were in a REAL quandary. Free stuff was the new norm, but free stuff costs especially when free stuff is everywhere and you want to differentiate yourself. To get sites up the rankings was becoming far, far harder, especially with Google getting all clever and unpredictable and deliberately hiding its data, and they didn’t really know what to do.
Some of them dropped the link-bait and content ideas and got steady jobs behind the scenes, quietly disappearing off the radar.
Some of them continued rattling out the same old platitudes, working like dogs at ideas that were past their time, but just about getting away with it.
Lots of them became brilliant self-promoters, regularly appearing at conferences they could barely afford (‘cos they weren’t actually that good at the day job).
And some of them discovered Social Media – and yet again there was a mini gold rush.
Social Media arrived
For a while Social Media was the new ‘in-thing’, and all you needed apparently was to be personable and likeable and everywhere, a media whore with nothing to say but a lot of saying to do, and your New Popularity would make your website A Resounding Success.
So you Twittered and Facebooked, Stumbled and Sphunn -
- and the rest of the world DIDN’T GIVE A DAMN.
The rest of the world was too busy talking to people in the offline world they thought were genuinely interesting and meaningful.
They didn’t care that they were meant to give you links, they didn’t care that they were meant to be visiting your crappy website, they didn’t care that they were meant to be buying from your crappy internet store. They just didn’t care because they just didn’t care.
And anyway there were now plenty of big, ‘proper’ corporate sites around to satisfy their buying needs, proper big corporate brands that were paying Google a fortune, so everyone was – apparently – happy.
Then Google got bored
And then Google got bored.
It got tired of fighting the same old crappy spam – crappy spam financed by it’s own CrapSense – but it liked the income that CrapSense brought.
How to square the circle?
Bring on the Google bitches!
It would create Google Proxies. These would be similar to sites that Google ‘owned’, only technically Google wouldn’t own them, so there would be plausible deniability, one of Google’s pet loves. The Google Proxies would be Google bitches, but Google could look at itself in the mirror and say (almost with a straight face) that those sites were independent.
Where to begin?
Well, Wikipedia was a good place. Wackypedia Wikipedia had proved itself as a purveyor of mediocre, just-about-accurate, superficial content for many years. By promoting it to the top spot for all known queries Google had long ago ensured that a barely-good enough answer was only a click away. Wikipedia got no financial benefit from Google, but Google got a lot of benefit from Wikipedia. The top-result was always guaranteed to be at least mediocre and with Wikipedia in the top spot there was one less place in the organic SERPS, which scaled over billions and billions of search queries meant that there were vast numbers of businesses now desperate to get into AdWords in the sidebar.
The Google Bitches Proxies ‘PARTNERS’ would produce top-quality
mediocre-quality low-quality content, wrapped in CrapSense, naturally. And Google would give them a free ride, their new ‘authority’ status meaning that any low-grade junk on their sites would rank above anything of quality on anyone else’s site.
Google didn’t care.
Most users wouldn’t care.
All users really want is a ‘good enough’ answer most of the time.
(Do you know what happens to Google’s ‘partners’? Historically Google’s ‘partners’ don’t survive. Only Google survives. At first Google ‘partners’ think that Christmas has arrived when they’re given a shed-load of money and opportunities. Then a little later the ‘partners’ disappear and Google walks down the path that THEY should have been walking down, quietly picking its teeth.
‘Do no evil’ was dropped as Google’s motto a long, long, long time ago. It never meant much beyond public PR.)
So now the Bitches Proxies Partners Content Mills are churning out crap. But how do they decide on what crap to produce (hint – money?) and how do they find their crap, especially when they pay so little for it?
The bare-bones financial figures mean no expert is going to waste time producing high-quality content. Nor does anybody go to a library to do research when the pay-cheque is next to nothing. The only people writing the crud backfill content will be those that scan the internet, finding good-quality content from several sites, filleting it, binding it together with a bit of rewriting glue and presenting it as their own.
Don’t ask, don’t tell
Don’t ask, don’t tell. Turn a blind eye. If you’re one of the favoured corporations or one of the vested interests in this little game, who cares? Not the media, who’re too thick to know what’s going on (seriously – they’re stunningly and often deliberately thick), desperate for revenue and too often deeply enmeshed in it all.
Finding top-quality content on the internet isn’t too difficult nowadays.
It’s stolen, it’s diluted, it’s rewritten, it’s mixed and matched in with other content, it’s without attribution and it’s at the top of the rankings.
Figuring out who the authority is behind the content on the other hand is a time-consuming nightmare.
Yes, you can track down the original source, buried in an academic paper somewhere – and it’ll be last in a long line of pages that now rank for that content.
But you want to rank, don’t you?
You want to rank?
You think your top-quality content is going to help you?
No, your top-quality content is not going to help you. It won’t help you unless you already have a powerful, authoritative site, in which case it doesn’t really matter what you write.
What will help you is mediocre content, just the same as everyone else’s. Mediocre content that’s churned out on a regular basis, that tells Google that your site is alive, that gives you bare-bones visibility for long-tail key-phrases. Mediocre content that (like this article) doesn’t take TOO much effort or too much expertise, content that is effectively opinion content that will kickstart your business with Google being no more than an initial lead-generator.
And then one day when your company is big and strong and you have a ‘brand’ and a ‘web presence’ you can start writing top-quality stuff if you want (though low-quality will do if you’re a ‘brand’), safe in the knowledge that although everyone else will still steal your content you will at least have a sporting chance of ranking for it.
Updated Jan 2013