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SEO’s Persona Problem: The White Lie of Link Building

The same as “grown-ups” know better about the tooth fairy, those of us in SEO, social media and other related industries consider ourselves to ‘know better’ about the lack of authenticity online. Learn right from wrong.

The Tooth Fairy. Santa. The Easter Bunny. Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend.

One word to describe all of the above? “Nonexistent.”

The same as “grown-ups” know better about the tooth fairy, those of us in SEO, social media and other related industries consider ourselves to ‘know better’ about the lack of authenticity online.

Online marketers and SEOs both contribute to and perpetuate inauthenticity – either directly or indirectly.

Michael Martinez touches upon the meaning of personas and relationships to online marketers, their perception by the public as well as the potential fallout from the Te’o scandal on his blog.

Martinez says it best:

“There is no such thing as a “fake persona” on the Internet … When an actor appears in a commercial or an advertisement, or in any production used to interact with consumers and audience members, on behalf of a company, organization, or individual, that entity (company, organization, or individual) is communicating through the persona created by the actor. If you hire a model to serve as the host or mascot for your Website, greeting visitors or highlighting calls to action, you’re using a persona.”

He goes on to highlight that “not all personas are deceptive or malicious.” It is not the persona itself that is the wrongdoer, it is the deceptive intent and actions of the person manipulating the persona which are in the wrong.

But: What’s right and what’s wrong?

The answer may seem simple, but as SEO relies more and more on deepening relationships with online connections and social outreach for link building has become a more widely used tactic, we must ask ourselves: What practices do we need to monitor in order to preserve industry and client reputation? Is there a place for aliases and personas in building?

Hook, Line and S(EO)inker

So, why does an industry based on delivering more relevant search results think they ‘know better’ than silly internet n00bs like Te’o? Because those in SEO take “catfishing” to a whole new level.

  • Marketing: We create “personas” of the audience we are trying to reach in order to better visualize and communicate. Although they represent a group of people and are generally just an internal tool, part of what they do is show us exactly how to speak to our actual target audiences, thus giving us a leg up on communication.
  • Link building: We stress the importance of creating genuine relationships with publishers. However, there are many who do not use their real name for outreach or are even more deceiving beyond names.
  • Blogging: There are bloggers who write under pseudonyms. Sometimes this is simply to protect their identity. Other times it’s so that they can hide behind a screen while outputting incorrect information or, even worse, attempting to damage the reputation of an individual or brand.
  • Social media: There are still those who consider buying Facebook likes, Twitter followers, et al is a great idea, despite the fact that this breaks the terms of service for many social networks, can be tracked in various ways and is in no way an effective tactic. Just think about it: people are creating and selling thousands of fake profiles every single day… and actually making a decent enough profit to continue to do so. Some brands even create fake profiles as another feckless attempt at improving marketing strategy.

Is There a Place for Personas or Aliases in Link Building?

Although most of these instances seem fairly innocent, it is naive to think that only black hat SEOs are engaging in inauthenticity – especially when it comes to link building.

And yes, maybe intentions are good – maybe that content really IS fresh, unique and relevant – but you’re still hiding behind the curtain of a persona or alias.

WARNING: Plot spoiler in the following video.

Publishers are wary of what looks like spammy social profiles offering content.Yet, if Client A’s target audience is 50 year old single dads who live in the northwest and like craft beer and video games and Client B’s target audience is 20 year old college girls who travel frequently and are into extreme sports – do you have to hire your outreach or social team per audience?

Yes and no. Yes, you want to hire a diverse outreach team- this will help you not only be able to potentially have experts on various subjects but also create discussion on innovating strategies.

However, rather than creating an entirely new person or encouraging lying about interests, have your outreach team find what they can relate to or least learn how to relate to that audience. Yes, putting together audience personas based upon market research is “stacking the deck” – but it is no way dissemblance.

If your team uses social networks for outreach, have them create new profiles or pages based upon these relatable topics – but still use their real first name and actual photo of themselves. Work within the terms of service of social networks, not against them.

Encourage your link building team to share segment-relevant posts from others and stick to content that falls within that vertical. These profiles may only focus on one aspect of their lives – but it also isn’t a completely fake person.

If possible, ask client to issue @brand.com e-mail addresses for outreach. This lends credibility and legitimacy to interactions. Also – if a brand is willing to ‘admit’ direct involvement, publishers may have more faith that content or partnerships offered come with a degree of accountability.

Not only will the relationship feel genuine to publishers or even other brands – it actually will be. It might be harder to detect when someone is lying to you on the internet than in person, but it is still possible. Publishers will start digging – and if they can’t find anything, they won’t be afraid to share their discovery with others. God forbid what Google will do when they find out.

Leaving a Trail

Yes, using a real segmented persona repeatedly will create a ‘trail’ of posts or content shared by that specific person – but it won’t be as easily replicable (if at all replicable) by Crappy SEO Agency tracing your backlinks and (still!) sending those spammy e-mail templates. First of all, the relationships you’ve built are stronger, and you’ve built them with resources and publishers who know better than to even respond to those types of requests.

With the added search benefits of Google Authorship, creating a “trail” or portfolio can actually increase the SEO impact of these segmented personas. Establishing oneself as reputable or even an influencer in a certain area can lead to new opportunities for more powerful relationships.

There will always be people who lie on the internet. If people lie for dates, it’s no surprise it’s tempting to lie for links, especially since, at times, it works – but only for a (very) abbreviated amount of time.

The same as the Te’o hoax was eventually uncovered, it’s never long before reputable resources begin asking questions – so make sure you and your team can answer them both fully and honestly.

Where do you think the line should be drawn with personas and/or aliases for linkbuilding? What other SEO tactics do you believe to toe the line of morality? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

  • http://twitter.com/justinkofron justin

    Great post Megan. I appreciate your sports reference, but even more I appreciate the actionable material. All businesses have customers that they cater to, it doesn’t matter if you are b2b or b2c. Consumers like having a face to go along with the voice, that is one of the reasons people don’t like call centers. A blog by itself might not land you a client, but after time a potential client may get to know your blog and want to do business with the company and people they have come to know.

    • thatgirlmegan

      Thanks for reading, glad you liked it! I agree – putting a face on an organization or even an idea always helps people feel more comfortable with it and strengthens the relationship :)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Laddy-Pie/100003824989013 Laddy Pie

    thanks for sharing..big help for my website

  • http://www.facebook.com/sunil.mungekar.587 Sunil Mungekar

    hi i am new to seo basically i do it only for my website 15 days before on my website title bar there are 4 keywords, for first keyword my website rank 9 position on google and second keyword my website rank 13 position on google search but when i change first keyword to second and second to first both keyword ranks 300+ on google search why this happen i am confuse mangalashtak

  • http://www.bigpictureweb.com jlbraaten

    “If your team uses social networks for outreach, have them create new profiles or pages based upon these relatable topics – but still use their real first name and actual photo of themselves.”

    I agree with most of what you’re saying, but ultimately it sounds like you’re saying be as close to authentic as you can, but your staffing model likely won’t support it, so you’ll still have to fudge the truth a little and create multiple profiles.

    Ultimately creating fake personas or creating multiple profiles for a person won’t work in the long run (anyone want to be there will be a conversation about personal profile cleanup and canonicalization?).

    Anything less than 1:1 communication/outreach won’t perform to the same level as the real deal.

    • thatgirlmegan

      I disagree. I think that there is always something that someone on your team can relate to in almost any vertical – whether it’s their own life experience, their family’s etc. People are inherently different, and it’s important to hire a team with a diverse set of skills in general – to fill in for one another to make the team stronger, etc.

      I’m not advocating inauthenticity in ANY way. I’m just saying that you don’t have to hire people based on whether or not they meet the EXACT persona that matches the audience, and you shouldn’t freak out if your team doesn’t. Nothing is perfect.

      In fact, in this series, I cite several times NOT to do anything fake at all – sorry if that seemed unclear :) I completely agree with you on preserving how genuine relationship creation can and should be.

      Thanks for reading & sharing your insights! Hope you enjoy the rest of the series :)

      • http://www.bigpictureweb.com jlbraaten

        Sounds like we’re saying the same thing then. To clarify, do you support individuals having only one profile per social network?

        • thatgirlmegan

          Depends on terms of service and user intent. For example: I have more than one profile on Twitter… I also do some work in sports, so I wanted a feed of only sports news & a stream for only people interested in that – my followers on my @thatgirlmegan acct probably don’t want to see games live-tweeted. But, since Facebook’s TOS is against individuals having more than one profile, I only have one FB profile.

          Then again, social networks aren’t one size fits all anyway, so that wouldn’t make sense for Facebook because its purpose is different than Twitter’s.

          • http://www.bigpictureweb.com jlbraaten

            I’m now picking up what you’re putting down.

          • thatgirlmegan

            I’m ok with a single person having more than one profile on a social network if:
            1. their intent is pure
            2. it doesn’t violate the terms of service for that network
            3. it makes sense for what they are doing

            Does that make more sense? Also keep in mind that the statements in these posts and “rules” offered when creating personas are ONLY for personas created for linkbuilding, not for any other purpose.

            Post 2 in this series is a great insight into EXACTLY how I suggest step by step these are created for Twitter for social outreach for linkbuilding.

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    Thank you for sharing this very insightful article. I agree with you that having more than one profile is not a bad idea. The only time I would have an issue with that is when the other profile is intended for the wrong purpose. But if I may ask is having your team have different profiles from their personal ones to promote the services or products of your organization wrong? Because at times not many would like to do the social media campaigns on their personal profiles.

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    This is awesome but this caught my eye”Online marketers and SEOs both contribute to and perpetuate inauthenticity – either directly or indirectly.”

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