I was shocked by the �perfect mini-storm� of blog posts I saw in the last few days advocating the following �search engine optimization� or �PR optimization� strategy.
In a nutshell, here’s how the “strategy” is described. When launching a new blog, website, business, whatever, simply contact a group of prominent bloggers and ask them to �announce� your news on their blogs. As the argument goes, you end up with great search engine placement, �buzz,� and visibility far beyond what you can expect by any other means and, best of all, it�s all free. You can use the audience and placement of the prominent bloggers to your own advantage, all for free. This �advice,� as best as I can tell, is offered without any sense of shame or conscience.
I saw examples of people advocating this strategy here, here, here, here and here.
One irony, by the way, is that I noticed these posts because I am a fan of these bloggers and might well have mentioned any of them on the strength of their posts alone. If that weren�t the case, I wouldn�t link to the posts in question and give another potential bump in their ratings. I agree with their assessment of the results of this strategy; I disagree with their approach of not considering all of the consequences of advocating this approach.
Kevin O�Keeffe, a legal web pioneer I admire greatly, also discusses this strategy in the legal blogspace in a nuanced fashion, but the casual reader of his post might easily take away a much less subtle notion of Kevin’s approach than he intends (note that Kevin’s post carefully (note that Kevin begins by saying that he was �politely asking fellow law bloggers by email if they would be nice enough to link to my blog from their law blog� � that little detail makes a world of difference).
I didn�t notice much mention in any of these posts about thanking, let alone compensating, the prominent bloggers. See the quote at the bottom of this post for one comment that was made that was especially memorable.
I don�t know that I�ve ever seen a clearer example of trying to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
This subject (seeking blog mentions and links as a calculated method of optimizing search engine results) has been a source of irritation to me for a while now. A few months ago, someone said something to me that led me to the conclusion that some search engine placement consultants might be charging their law firm clients for the advice that the law firms could enhance their Google rankings by trying to get me and other prominent legal bloggers, all of whom you would know, to post something about the a firm’s website on our blogs. I�ve commiserated with a number of these bloggers in the last few months about the number of requests they get. I�ll also mention that I’ve seen requests that feel like orders (with an astonishing sense of entitlement), are not followed up by thank yous, do not result in my blog being listed on the blogroll of the requesting party, etc. You understand my point.
It�s clear that the promotion of this �strategy� will increase the number of requests for mentions of new blogs that I and others get. Am I right Ernie, Tom, Denise and Jerry? Of course, if you read on, you�ll see that my requests will probably decline in number, but I�ll be much more attentive to the ones I do get.
By the way, there�s no question that this �strategy� works. I�m happy to tell you that either for free or for half the amount that you are paying someone to tell you the same thing, except that I�ll tell you to ask nicely, respectfully and personally, to thank the bloggers you ask when they do mention you, and to offer something, even small, in return. The bloggers you ask would probably faint in shock.
Here�s an example of how I can illustrate the success of the strategy:
I published a post on my blog about my law firm annual meeting. Within about a week, my post was the #1 result to a Google search on �law firm retreat.� To me, that shows more about Google than about my �clout,� but that�s the world of search engines we live now live in. I also have nine years of experience getting my pages into search engines at very high rankings on the terms that I want without paying any �optimizers.� For free, here’s the biggest �secret� in search engine placement � care about what you are doing on your site.
Unfortunately, we�ve now moved to a world where blog mentions and the accompanying links are treated as one-sided economic transactions � all take and no give. Read the enthusiastic comments about the results of this strategy here and come up with a number for the dollars of economic value obtained by the use of this strategy. Consider that the bloggers who �implemented� the strategy for the beneficiaries got nothing (other than, arguably, to be shown as the chumps in crowing articles about this smart strategy). While it�s true that many of the most prominent bloggers are true believers who routinely list new blogs just as part of their efforts to promote the blog world, no one likes to feel that they�ve been publicly taken advantage of.
I�ve pulled way back from simply announcing new legal blogs already. Perhaps it was one snippy request too many. Perhaps it was seeing other blogs prominently mentioned on a blog I “announced” for someone and mine not mentioned at all. Mainly, though, people who launch blogs using this strategy tend not to follow through. They don�t have the commitment and the blog fades away and I�m left with a link to a dead blog in one of my posts that talks about �the great promise� of that new blog – chumped out twice.
Here�s what I do now. For my friends and people I like and respect, I will announce their new blog. If you send me a note about your posts that I might truly find interesting and I see, over a period of time, that you post consistently good content, I probably will mention you. If you are doing cool things and have great content on your blog, I�ll probably mention you consistently, because that�s what I care about.
Now, in response to the apparent advocacy of this “take advantage of the prominent bloggers” strategy, I�m formally adopting a new policy on mentioning new blogs when people send me an unsolicited request to mention them on my blog.
In these cases, I’ll announce new blogs that I find acceptable to me in exchange for one of the following:
1. You provide me with five decision-maker level personal referrals to potential clients for my services;
2. You purchase a sponsorship or advertising option on my site which will include placement in a list of �highlighted blogs� on my site for a limited amount of time, which can be extended for further payment;
3. You provide a reasonably equivalent mutual benefit to me in exchange � I�m willing to be creative and there are audiences that I currently do not reach that I would like to be in front of;
4. If we can agree, you pay me an amount that fairly reflects the economic value you believe you will obtain from the mention.
Otherwise, I�ll mention blogs because I like the people, what they are doing or the quality and usefulness of their content, which is probably how it should be anyway.
It never had to be �just business,� but now it appears that that�s where we are headed. If you want to reduce interactions with bloggers to purely economic transactions, I suggest that one think twice before taking an approach that makes them totally one-sided in your favor. As for this goose, I ain�t laying no more golden eggs for free no more.
Here�s the quote to remember: �Let me repeat – 5,000 links, lots of discussion, 130,000 downloads, and 6m links/hits all generated for $0 – yes, no money!�
It�s a powerful testament to the power of blogs and feeds, but half of the equation is missing. Is this the blog world we want to create? Do principled stands like the voluntary moratorium against placing ads in feeds still make sense when others are encouraged to take advantage of the audience prominent bloggers have worked to build over the years? I don�t know the answers, but I do know that the playing field may be rapidly changing and tilting away from the “old school” philosophies of blogging.
[Note: Links now should work – an example of the dreaded “curly quote marks” problem. Thanks for the heads-up from the TechLawAdvisor.]