I’m currently working on an Advanced SEO Book. It will open with a number of principles that distinguish the thinking of advanced SEOs, and continue with a large variety of advanced tactics and ideas that illustrate this understanding. The following extract addresses the key question of people’s motivations. This applies equally to each side in a debate.
“What does the person comparison-reviewing these products want? To help, or to leverage their site into higher affiliate commissions?”
These questions illustrate the normal human instinct to use the argument that we think will be most appealing to the other side, or the argument that will make us look the noblest. We might tell a roommate that we did their laundry because we had some extra space [e.g. implying we’re nice guys] and not mention the fact that we’re hoping to have them OK a friend sleeping over on the couch next week.
Ask yourself why a person is arguing the way they are and not in some other way. Some useful questions in this regard are:
– Would it be respectable if they had some other motivation than what they’re presenting?
– Is this argument aimed at appealing to a wider variety of people than some other claims that advance a narrower interest?
– Who benefits from this? What are the consequences of accepting their argument, and how can people benefit from it?
For example, Google may claim that one of their goals is providing better user experience.
It’s well-known that humans rely on brands as a short-cut to decision-making. What’s less well-known is that one measure Google uses for the effectiveness of their search results is the speed with which people click through. So by placing brands in the organic results, Google encourages brand-based decision shortcuts.
[Ed: I wrote this before Google made the brand shortcuts idea explicit, so it’s funny re-reading this now in light of how things have developed.]
What effect does that have when brands are showing up in ad slots? It’s plausible that the net effect is a greater CTR for brand advertisers, who end up depending more on AdWords traffic and a lot bigger budgets to PPC as a result.
Of course, this is just theorizing about Google’s motivations. I’m not saying I have some inside memo as proof for this. Rather, I’m just demonstrating the application of these questions and the kinds of insights you might derive from such critical thinking.
The Paid Links Example
Perhaps a more obvious and well-known example in the realm of search marketing is the battle between Google and paid links. Google has repeatedly put out statements to the effect that they catch paid links and penalize one or both of the parties to the transaction.
To which many SEOs retorted that Google was just trying to fight a competing business model to their own, which is also selling links. For a long time, I didn’t find that a convincing argument because the phrasing was awkward.
Then one day Jordan Glogau explained it to me in these terms. Google sells traffic from the sponsored listings, and text link sellers really sell traffic from the organic listings. That clarified Google’s motives in the war on paid links where I’m concerned.
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