Is SEO Content Just an Echo Chamber?
The more I use Twitter, the less I’ve found I’ve been getting out of it. I follow a lot of people in SEO, Social Media and Content Strategy, but I’d say the most prolific content creators out of these are probably those in SEO. Perhaps I’m in my own filter bubble, but largely I find myself clicking SEO content through Twitter.
However, over possibly the last twelve months (but with some exceptions), I’ve usually got a sense of deja-vu when clicking through. I read a little, and then think it’s something I’ve pretty much read before, so I usually bounce. Perhaps there is too much content around and it’s getting recycled, I thought to myself, but then I was led to another idea in a meeting: SEO content is an echo chamber. It’s introspective, and I believe that most of the content produced is to please industry peers, rather than potential clients. In my view, that’s often a wasted effort.
The Conference Schedule
Last year I was fortunate to speak at eight events. This isn’t the most hectic of schedules by any means, but it was enough to at least get my name out there to some degree. What I’m happiest about is the diversity of events that I spoke at, and that I didn’t solely focus on SEO.
However, I became really aware of a growing pain with SEO conferencing towards the end of last year, during one particular panel which felt too familiar. This wasn’t the fault of the panel, it was a problem that I’d simply gone to too many SEO events and was hearing the same stuff:
- How Google thinks – normally played as an evil empire vs. the good crusade of SEO, a sentiment I find a little churlish and very paradoxical.
- How to build yet more links – this is surely the most over produced content subject in the history of Internet marketing.
- How SEO needs to adapt / how SEO is like something else – it would be better just to insert someone from a completely different industry into the conference to give an alternative perspective.
- Rel=”author” – I’ve spoken on this (when it was kinda new), but I don’t think there’s much more to say beyond a six minute presentation. It’s really not that big a deal!
Fortunately, most conference delegates go to a maximum of one or two events a year – and certainly not eight. But problematically, if you do go to more, you’ll see the same speakers, and very similar content. The diversity on the speaker circuit is really quite limited. Take Distilled’s Search Love, for instance: it was probably my favourite conference – great talks, great networking, and great atmosphere. But the speaker list never really changes. Will Critchlow, Rand Fishkin and Will Reynolds are always on it (as they are for Linklove), most of the other speakers you can probably catch elsewhere (or you’ve been reading their content on SeoMoz). I went twice, and both conferences were excellent. But would I go again with such a similar lineup? Nope – I need a fresh perspective.
This featured in my 2011 Search Love review, One Takeaway per Speaker. Respect to all those who speak, it is often inspirational, and I’ve learnt a lot from them. But if I saw Rand speak again this year, would I hear similar things?
Agencies at Conferences
What I find most surprising about SEO conferences is the large amount of agency staff who go to listen to other agencies talk. At quite a few I would assume that SEO agency staff actually outweighs inhouse staff by a considerable margin, because I meet so few inhouse staff in the bar. So one of the strange things about this is you’re preaching to the choir. It’s nice to give back to a community who’s given you an opportunity, sure, but it’s not good for business. As a business owner, I don’t want to speak at SEO events nearly as much.
Of course, conferences are a networking joy, and I don’t think I like anything more than the boozing post conference. I’ve gained business contacts afterwards of course – indeed I would probably say this part is the most valuable!
SEO Blogging and Infographics
The amount of blog content that comes out of small agencies (under 50 staff) is quite astounding really. It certainly outweighs content that comes out of larger agencies, which is published at quite a low rate. But unfortunately, what I normally see is very similar me-too stuff which is pretty much SeoMoz material and usually (again) preaching to the choir.
I really don’t understand introspective SEO infographics such as SEO Top Trumps. There’s no new information in this at all – it’s basically going on Twitter and following those who would be recommended by Twitter anyway. Credit to the designer, but I don’t get it – it’s the same old people. Granted, it’s created to get shared and linked to – but so what? What if the people sharing are just SEO Managers having a good old chuckle?
What’s more, with fairly regular aplomb, we’ll get an expert panel to give their views on a blog. Problem is they’re the same experts every time. It’s like there’s just a little book of people who blog and do the conference circuit who you should ask every time, when actually there are quite a lot of people who aren’t even on Twitter that hold very high authority. Wouldn’t it be good to gauge their opinion?
Aren’t the Big Guys Missing?
What I find fascinating is that it’s the smaller agencies that are practicing what they preach, and then doing inbound marketing to the converted. But where are the bigger agencies? Where are:
With LBI and iCrossing, it’s actually pretty difficult to find their blogs – Greenlight’s isn’t immediately obvious, and it’s only updated once a month. This isn’t the inbound that we’re looking for!
It’s also not that easy to find all of their staff on Twitter. Director of SEO at Greenlight? Not on Twitter – he’s called Adam Bunn. It doesn’t really matter if you haven’t heard of him – he’s great at his job and knows an incredible amount about the space. He also taught me everything I know about Excel.
Big SEO companies don’t blog regularly about SEO because they don’t believe in giving their business practices away. And they don’t speak that much at conferences because they’re busy elsewhere – talking in the verticals that really drive commerce – travel, finance and fashion – to name a few. Here, they’re not preaching to a choir; they’re focused on getting leads.
They also focus much more energy on specific vertical e-books. iCrossing’s Fashion Bloggers is one excellent example of this.
Is this Blog An Echo Chamber?
Of course, as I wrote this post I thought that really it’s a kind of echo chamber. For most of the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve been preaching to the choir. I’m not sure of any inhouse staff reading my work – I seldom meet them and I know who tweets my work the most. However, on the flip side, because I’m a one man band, I could be employed by agencies, so it could get me leads; but there’s another reason why I blog.
I blog because I find it cathartic. It helps me formulate ideas and structure argument. It helps me test out concepts and work on different content types. For instance, I’m able to test theories around fence sitting and controversy while assessing which format works best. It’s great for a deeper understanding of what I do. Which was the more effective post?
- Thought Leaders and Failures of Digital Integration: Why I’m Rejecting Inbound Marketing
- Mo Books, Mo Products: An Alternative View on Inbound Marketing
(Share counts are at 0 since they’ve been redirected from jamescarson.co.uk).
I’m not going to be blogging any practical stuff on here anymore, largely because the share rates and readership is so low that it’s pretty pointless, but also because I feel concerned about the level of white noise and what really gets picked up. I spent hours on this – it got nowhere; time to change tack. I guest blog for a couple of large sites – they can have the practical stuff. For the most part, this will continue to be my opinion base, and I’ll aim to do at least two posts a week. I understand that this might mean I get perceived as a moaning, ranting (but sometimes humorous) commentator, but it seems this is what people like best. I hope it gives digital marketers (particularly in SEO) a much needed alternative perspective.