A few weeks back, the New York Times ran an important story on the manipulation of Google search results by JC Penney, a major retail company. The manipulation wasn’t overt or even obvious; it would have been caught much sooner, and the company admonished more severely, if it had been.
Rather, this manipulation took place slowly, over a period of many months, most likely with the help of freelance consultants who slowly built up SEO value for the client’s products by inserting the desired search terms (mostly, product names and attributes) into hundreds and thousands of blogs, comments and other sites.
The value of this kind of activity can’t be overestimated. The retailer in this case estimates that sales attributable to “native” Google searches are “not significant,” but admitted the figure was in the neighborhood of seven percent, which for an operation of its size can be a very large and important number. Even for smaller companies, sales in that range can make the difference between a profit and a loss.
Conversely, getting knocked off the Google search rankings for manipulating native searches can cost the company many millions of dollars, not to mention the damage to the corporate brand.
Aside from being an interesting story about corporate greed and the manipulation of Google searches, the article highlights another important concept: That is, blogs are increasingly being seen as important commercial engines in their own right, capable of driving traffic to a wide variety of commercial enterprises, from retail to music to sports teams and even games, through their ability to drive SEO value.
Of course, there are many bloggers who have known this for a very long time. Bloggers who concentrate their efforts on entertainment or sports blogs, for example, continually derive astronomical SEO value by dropping the names of major entertainment and sports figures, movie and television productions, team activities, and related brands.
The value proposition of focusing in these areas isn’t new. Major newspapers and magazines have been doing this for a very long time. For example, almost every popular magazine features a cover photo of a popular celebrity – like this one of Jennifer Lopez, and many publications both on and offline focus entirely on celebrities and elites.
In addition, there’s a strong trend among major blog publishers to create “federated” content sites, where blogs with similar content or about similar subjects are linked together into massive categories. The value for federated sites – such as this one on pop culture – isn’t so much to the individual blogger, who now finds him or herself suddenly competing with hundreds or even thousands of others for attention. Rather, the creator of the federated blog gets a tremendous amount of additional SEO coverage.
What does this mean for bloggers who aren’t really interested in monetary gain so much as creating and driving conversation?
Perhaps most importantly, it creates an opportunity or avenue for gaining readers.
For instance, if you like to blog about poetry or hiking, why not mention a famous person you could envision reading your poem or walking with you on your next hike? If you like to travel, adding a photo tagged with not just your companion’s names, but the location as well, creates yet another opportunity for SEO value, since people often search for unusual or hard to find photos of famous places. Similarly, if you mention a brand or a restaurant in your writing, be sure to tag it or create a link to that brand or site as well.
Another effective tack is to invite guest bloggers to contribute a piece or even a comment for you. Famous bloggers can create a lot of buzz around your blog, especially if you tag and link them.
Even if you have no commercial interest whatsoever, thinking about SEO can help you to grow your audience. For instance, if you like to blog about education, you would do your audience a great service by linking and tagging the names and websites of schools, educators and politicians that you discuss in your blog.
There are probably as many different ways to make search work for you as there are things that you can write about. Can you think of some?
You don’t have to be greedy or even trying to sell anything. Using search thoughtfully can help you broaden your audience and increase others’ awareness about your blog.
[Image Credit: Google]