Why We Are Stronger Together Than Apart In A Content Network World
“We are stronger together than apart,” I’d said in an email. Ever say something that includes a complete three-act play in your head? I’d just done something close to that. The idea of networked strength is something I’ve thought about constantly starting in 2009.
I created Content Marketing Networks, a short slideshare PowerPoint that has been riding on top of the term in Google since 2009 thanks to Slideshare’s SEO strength and possibly being first on an idea about to explode. Those 2009 content marketing network slides tried to explain how Internet marketing is an interdependent world of links, connections and virtual cycles (positive or negative).
My content marketing network thoughts became richer and deeper thanks to a friend and a book. The book my friend recommended was Linked: Why Everything Is Connected To Everything Else by Notre Dame network researcher Albert-laszlo Barabasi. Linked explains the organic life of networks, what happens naturally behind the the wizard’s curtain.
As a Director of Ecommerce I’d observed how hubs formed bending the fabric of networked space and time sometimes in my site’s favor sometimes against. Hubs bend the fabric of network/time in their favor because they become self sustainably bigger displacing more Google winning more traffic faster and faster.
My Internet marketing team and I could watch a hub form on the horizon (in our web analytics) almost like a thunderstorm. Dark clouds formed in the distance. Traffic moved there in ever increasing numbers. If the “traffic storm” was on keywords we cared about suddenly our site was less competitive, received less traffic and, for no fault of our own OTHER than not being as well linked or ready, the storm built moving traffic, conversions and money away.
Sometimes traffic storms built and quickly blew out. Storms from ephemera didn’t last long. Ephemera such as a single great email offer or a mention on a hot site creates quick traffic showers. Other storms, such as the use of free shipping on all orders for a full year, gathered into permanent traffic and share loss for the ecommerce site I managed because we weren’t willing to match the offer. The key content marketing network idea is not about a particular offer, but the capacity for a competitor to become more of a “hub” based on a bold and uncovered Internet marketing actions (the unmatched free shipping offer). When the smoke cleared a competitor way back in the rankings ranked higher than the good guys (my site :)).
“Scale Free” networks (such as the Internet) have certain natural innate characteristics. Hub formation is a “natural” content network marketing characteristic. I think about content network hubs like Einstein thought of planets and gravity. Hubs bend the Internet’s “fabric” creating a gravitational force where links, traffic and commerce flow downhill (toward the hub) in at ever-increasing rate.
“An ever increasing rate,” is another way of saying a positive virtual cycle. Positive “virtual cycles” are when good things happen faster and faster with less and less effort (push). Barabasi defines this self-reinforcing positive cycle as, “The Rich Get Richer.”
Traffic is Internet marketing’s compound interest. When, through great Internet marketing or sheer luck, you bend the web’s fabric in your favor and so create a self-reinforcing hub life is good. Faster and faster with less and less effort means profit margins go up and costs go down. Profit going up as costs go down mean your site (or business or company) is in the middle of a network effect – perhaps the most magical Internet marketing storm.
Google’s role is crucial. Google is a leading and trailing indicator. Google doesn’t create the web’s weather, but it can amplify or significantly change Internet marketing storms. If a traffic storm seems “spammy” or illegitimate Google’s magic math cuts credit and reduces storm force, power and longevity. If magic math is in favor of the storm, meaning traffic is sticking, high value links are increasing (link love in from high PageRank sites) and bounce rates are low Google shifts more traffic to the storm blowing it up. Google plays leading indicator with spam and trailing indicator when blowing a medium storm into a larger one.
Time’s role in Internet marketing is easy to forget. Time is the great equalizer and why sudden unexplained storms appear spammy. Trends do brew up suddenly usually in response to some unanticipated news event such as Michael Jackson’s unanticipated demise, a great sports victory or a new cool thing, but most traffic storms appear, build into a bell curve and then fade.
As News Jacking author David Meerman Scott points out, traffic storms are increasing even as their longevity is decreasing in our ADD “always on” culture. Scott’s sense of immediacy changes artist Andy Warhol’s infamous “15 minutes of fame” quote. Meerman Scott’s Internet marketing as arbitrage changes Warhol’s quote to, “Everyone will be famous fifteen times for one minute at a time”. Can the need for your business, brand or product to recognize, feed and “jack” such precious moments be overstated?
Experiencing a positive traffic storm makes you want it to happen again, and again, and again. When Oprah’s O magazine included hand made place settings (dishes for the men reading this) created by an upstate New York potter represented by FoundObjects.com, the specialty gift site I co-founded in 1999, we were off to the races selling $10,000 in a matter of hours (and melting down a server). At that time, almost twelve years ago now, we didn’t think or know how to feed Oprah’s traffic storm with blog posts, widgets and social network support. Social networks twelve years ago weren’t what they are now.
Linked defines our jobs as Internet marketers differently. We are in the business of bending the web’s space/time fabric to create self-reinforcing hubs. Creating self-reinforcing hubs can start in a few ways, but almost all include:
• Related Archived Evergreen Content
• Related Relevant NOW Content
• Related Link Love
• An Ever Increasingly Fast Content Creation Cycle
• An Ever Increasingly Fast And Growing Amount of Link Love
Related Archived Evergreen Content
One day Oprah discussed a topic out of the blue. The site I manged at the time had content on Oprah’s doctor, the one who appeared as the expert. We had content on the products discussed. We didn’t have content on doctor and products together. We scrambled to create content to match Oprah’s lead.
There is a problem. No matter how fast NEW content is created it is too late for maximum impact. Evergreen content has to cook inside Google for weeks, months or years. Evergreen content must live in the archive for some time before being deployed in response to an event for maximum return. It was a good idea to create new content pages combining doctor and products, but we wouldn’t reach Amazon-like penetration on related keywords. Amazon is powerful because, as it moves toward being the first site with a billion pages indexed in Google, it is already cooking pages on just about any topic.
Some of Amazon’s evergreen content lives out in Anderson’s long tail for years. Suddenly a traffic storm gathers and Amazon has everything it needs to deploy new content and content fully baked in Google for years. Evergreen content’s value, when so deployed, is immense. Your site’s “trusted authority” status deepens when current storm matches NOW content (the mix of doctor and product pages we rushed to create) AND evergreen’s fully cooked content. Google’s coveted “authority” status is awarded to sites capable of creating content on the fly in response to an event combined with fully baked related evergreen content because relevance increases while traffic bounces decrease (what Google cares about).
Amazon creates content “at an ever increasing rate”. “Ever increasing rate” is another way of saying Amazon is constantly creating a network effect. Amazon is the most powerful hub outside of Google. Facebook is discussed as a Google competitor. Few understand how Amazon is Google’s Siamese twin – connected at the hip and impossible to remove.
Facebook arbitrages content and traffic trying to figure out the money. Amazon has Internet marketing money figured out. Despite Jeff Bezos’ seeming “B” status, the massive Internet marketing arbitrage implied by Google and fully executed by Amazon may be the most revolutionary change to commerce and our lives. I love my Macbooks, iPhone and iPad, but the world’s traffic arbitrage market is more Google and Bezos than Jobs. Amazon is Google’s cash register a role both are happy the other plays.
Related NOW Content
Our combination of content in response to Oprah’s show is a form of “News Jacking”. News Jacking defined by author David Meerman Scott sees and surfs traffic storms (or PR “waves”). Like Bezos, Meerman Scott’s Wall Street career prepared him for the traffic arbitrage Internet marketing is becoming. Creating unique content, content capable of several updates over the course of a storm, is a good idea. See the wave, surf the wave makes sense even if such a reaction is only half as good as NOW + evergreen.
Related Link Love (Or Facebook Shares, Likes and Links)
Back in the day (two years ago) your web site needed link love from high PageRank sites with proper anchor text. It isn’t surprising Facebook shares; likes and links are replacing such hard to achieve and rare “link love”. Getting links wasn’t “rare”. Getting links with proper anchor text with related keywords was almost impossible. Those with the knowledge to build proper links did so for MONEY not LOVE. Amazon may have ecommerce down, but Facebook has reputation economics down to an evolving new science. Facebook’s sharable LIKE widget is pure Internet marketing genius.
When there are a billion people inside your network you create weather. Figuring out how to PROJECT your vast community’s influence across the flexible fabric of the web’s space/time makes Facebook the wizard behind the curtain. Inside the Facebook firewall you are half as powerful as what can be projected beyond the wall. The Like, Share and Comment widgets project search engine optimization (SEO) power across the Internet. If you work at PowerReviews or Bazaar Voice you must be smacking your head thinking, “why didn’t we think of that”.
An Ever Increasingly Fast Content Creation Cycle
No matter how much content you are creating it isn’t enough by half AND creation is too slow. Being competitive NOW means understanding how the Internet marketing game is changing. Change is the only true constant. Noticed how noisy the web is becoming?
The web is noisy because its value is clear and beyond ROI question. Debate continues about social network marketing ROI, mobile marketing and other things we will look back on in five years and wonder what we were debating, but there is no question all companies must swim in an increasingly crowded red ocean (an ocean made red with the blood from fierce competition).
Some like Etsy.com and Amazon understand the importance of an ever increasingly fast content creation cycle. Some understand platforms beat websites. You can’t go it alone is the most important realization. You and your team, no matter how large, can’t create content fast enough to be competitive. User generated content (UGC) is a must. You must tap mob power to become a hub, to thrive and become the rich getting richer.
An Ever Increasing And Growing Amount Of Link Love
The international fashion site Zara has 10,000,000 Facebook likes. Using Marketing Profs Facebook fan value of $136.38 (seeing the full article requires sharing your email, but it is worth it) means Zara’s Facebook community is worth over a billion dollars. I can hear the scoffs now. “That’s total nonsense,” some will say. “How do they know what a Facebook Fan is worth?”
I could defend Marketing Profs numbers. They may be low actually. The costs of trying to recreate such a community jacks the value sky high. How fast do your Facebook likes grow? Let’s not get lost in a stupid debate because it doesn’t matter what a Facebook fan is worth.
What matters is how much Google juice 10 million supporters displace. Answer: A Ton. If, like REI, you don’t have Facebook LIKES, shares and comments throughout your site it will be harder to become a hub. If your competitors understand the importance of Facebook first you may NEVER become a hub. When your competitor becomes a hub an ever-increasing amount of traffic, link love and money will move away from your site pulled by your competitor’s hub-like gravitational force. The real frustration is you will work three times as hard for less result (than your hubbed competitor). Hubs rule the web, so rule or be ruled.
Importance Of Togetherness
Atlantic Business Technologies grew from 30 to 54 employees last year. We could grow to more than 70 this year (2012). 54 people as connected as the technical crowd at Atlantic BT is the start of a powerful content marketing network. In six steps 54 people can reach 2.5 million:
In today’s Internet marketing we are as strong as the network links we create. We can’t JUST link to each other since doing so is spam. We can link to each other and the products we create as a natural part of our Internet marketing conversations. Every now and again we may all point to the same thing by chance OR we can be more purposeful and aware using network power to create a hub, a self-sustaining hub where we do less and less to achieve more and more.
I have no idea how planets formed out of the cosmic dust of the Big Bang, but hubs form when you create great content and share it with 2.5 million people. Atlantic BT’s employees is our first content network step. We will include our customers and former customers next (Phase II), then vendors (Phase III) and finally open up the network to public participation and use.
What about competition? I can hear some readers thinking. Competition provides important and welcomed participation. What if competition wins business via Atlantic BT’s content network? Then we will learn from the experience and do better next time. No business is lost or gained because we occupy the high ground created from a content network hub. Competition wins business because we didn’t communicate our value proposition or, and this can be hard to realize, there was a better fit with someone else.
Eckart Tolle taught a valuable Internet marketing lesson when he wrote, “whatever is happening is exactly what is supposed to be happening” in The Power of Now (I think). This helpful truth eliminates wasted energy. When SEO/SEM helps wins business Tolle’s statement helps. When SEO/SEM loses business it is what was supposed to happen so find out why and test something new. We Internet marketers build sand castles and Google’s tide is inevitable.
There will always be more business than we can comfortably handle in Internet marketing in our lifetime. Online commerce is less than 10% of total retail gaining rapidly but still less than 10%. There is much work to be done and plenty of work as long as insanely great is our mission, innovation our guide and togetherness our rule. We, and this is the royal we, are more powerful together than apart by an order of magnitude (100x).
Waking up this morning to finish this article I realized a missing point. If you ever wonder why it is important to hire real network support creating a content marketing network is why. If pieces of your empire are too easily self referential you will end up in Facebook, Twitter and Google jail. Getting out of jail isn’t easy, it takes time and costs money.
You need right brainers (marketing types) to figure out your blended curation plan, blended between promotion and curation. You need left brainers (network pros) to plumb your systems to appeal to Google (fast, non-spammy). Your left brain can eliminate all your right brain work and vice versa. You CAN buy a $500 web site hosted for $50 a month. I have one of those, built in half a day with a template (visit MartinMartySmith.com), but my MartinMarty site will NEVER win a keyword battle in Google. Winning Google battles isn’t always important (though I’m hard pressed to find an example in my life when I wouldn’t want to win traffic and conversions).
If winning keyword battles in Google IS important then you need pros on the right and left side of the brain. Even if you think you know how Google works trust me you don’t (only they do really). Google may be the most beautiful living art ever created so complex complete understanding is impossible. Do you “understand” or feel great art? A: Feel. Anyone tells you they will get you a page one listing on X keyword is lying and a snake oil salesman. Stick with Internet marketers who freely admit not knowing what they don’t know, are willing to share what they do know and can easily tell five stories of SEO loss and learnings (they may call it “testing” depending on how geeky they are).
No matter who you decide to receive Internet marketing help from YOU and your company, your company’s friends, vendors and even competitors are stronger together than apart.
Atlantic Business Technology