I spent the last few days among webmasters at the PubCon conference, where most conversations were focused on marketing yourself online to humans and search engines. The 2000 attendees focused on ranking themselves as high as possible in search engine result pages and driving site traffic. Methods of achieving these goals cover a full spectrum of white hat to black. Social networking and crowdsourcing sites are new focuses of the search engine marketing sector, taking advantage of loose editing and account creation restrictions to boost a site’s visibility.
Social networking and e-commerce
Should every item in your product catalog have a MySpace profile? A few retailers think so, and mentioned creating automated processes to create new accounts on sites such as MySpace and Vox. If a user wants to add Tickle Me Elmo Extreme to his or her friend list it might just be a profile created by a shopping comparison site, toy merchant, or an affiliate. Toymakers such as Mattel are likely not policing their brand on sites such as MySpace, leaving some opportunity for others to produce the content and gather links, affiliate fees, and more.
Most web publishers aren’t making a cent and would happy to take a few dollars in exchange for a link. That’s the opinion of a few new companies and webmasters specializing in buying links on weblogs and hobby sites on the web. A few dollars might buy a link on a recipe site making sure every mention of “sharp knife” points to a specific product. Marketers who pay a little more might buy a link in a blog plugin or theme. One consultant mentioned local trade associations are really easy to “buy off.”
The links are distributed across the web, look almost natural, and are a tougher for a search engine to spot as purchased. Sometimes a sponsorship such as Bizrate’s placement on CPAN pages is one example, but the success of blog placement in search engine results creates cheaper and more distributed points of purchase.
Digg was a popular topic of discussion in the hallways, with lots of stories about how sites can tap into the Digg’s huge audience and secure a few choice links and good traffic. Some marketers create a story aimed at the Digg audience, such as the top 10 reasons Mac users love Daily Show, and with the appropriate submitters and human or bot-powered voting rise towards the top. A few search engine marketing consultants are promoting their account status and influence on Digg to clients. User-powered content is a popular target, and some of the techniques used are pretty clever and advanced.
There is a lot of activity in the social networking and user generated content space from marketers and spammers. New services need to pay attention to a variety of attack vectors and patch holes and vulnerabilities quickly to stay relevant, useful, performing well. I’ve summarized some of the already public and well-discussed vectors of exploitation, but there are a lot more advanced methods skewing search and discovery on today’s social web I won’t be blogging about.