Posted by randfish

I’ve been a big fan of Chris Dixon’s excellent blog for a while now, so you can imagine that I was really excited to see him writing about SEO in a post last week. Chris kindly called out SEOmoz, which humbled me, but he also espoused some thinking in the comments that made me a bit concerned and was the catalyst for this post. Here’s how it went:

RAND: Chris – I think the biggest thing you’ve forgotten to mention is that 70%+ of the weighting/ranking used by all of the engines depends on links. If you’re not thinking about how your content and pages will incent users/bloggers/writers/media/other sites to link to your work, you’ll lose out to someone who does.

A while back I got riled up about the lack of SEO in startup marketing and wrote about it – http://j.mp/4q9zkh – might be relevant/useful, though I did write with a bit more anger than was likely deserved.

CHRIS: Rand – totally agree re links. But isn’t getting links primarily about creating great content?

Read the article you link to btw and am in complete agreement.

RAND: Tragically, at least in my experience, the answer is a resounding no. Great content is easily missed by the web’s link-heavy audience, while some pretty crummy content that’s been marketed well (or made the right connections or comes from the right sources) will tend to overperform.

The web’s link graph isn’t a meritocracy – like everything else in life, it’s a popularity contest. Those who find the best ways to distribute, promote and market their works to the audience most likely to link to it are going to succeed much more so than just the "great content" producers.

Just think of it like politics. The best, most rational, reasoned, intelligent arguments are the exception, not the rule. Instead, the conversation and media attention (and thus, public awareness) is focused on concepts that are easy to grasp, virally distributable (which often puts rumor and innuendo above fact) and fit a compelling narrative (rather than add complexity).

A post on this topic – http://j.mp/4tYThK

I would love to tell Chris that he’s right, that the better the content, the better, higher quality and greater quantity of links that content earns. But, perhaps sadly, that’s not the case. What those in the content world would call "better" does not always (nor even mostly) garner the links and rankings. Instead, those who have "better optimized" for attracting links tend to far outshine their peers with rankings and traffic.

This may seem like a tragedy, or even a travesty of the democratic structure the web is supposed to represent, but in fact, it’s the way all marketing has worked for generations. The "best" restaurants are often family-owned, hole-in-the-wall, never-marketed-themselves joints whose fabulous epicurean creations are a secret to all but the most diligent culinary Clouseaus. Meanwhile, the affront to humanity and cooking that is Olive Garden advertises relentlessly, conducts impeccable market research and appeals to the lowest common denominator in town after town to achieve geographic and market-penetration ubiquity (BTW – my wife is Italian and thus recoils at the very mention of this establishment and the tarnish it’s brought to her beloved countrymen’s kitchens).

Like many parts of life – it’s not about the quality, diligence or aptitude you bring to your field, but your ability to market it successfully. As SEOs, our responsibility is to help the best of the best become the most noticed, most beloved and most linked-to in their field. It’s a strange, almost paradoxical leap of logic, but one you internalize this principle, it gets easier to accept and to spread to your clients and managers.

p.s. I’m also a fan of Chris Dixon’s startup, Hunch – I’d urge you to check it out and try answering a few dozen questions. The results are quite fascinating.

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