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!