In his popular announcement on the decay and fall of guest blogging, Matt Cutts used a metaphor many SEOs remembered: "So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it's just gotten too spammy."
Indeed, when a tactic becomes scaled beyond reason, it eventually gets devalued by Google. In the light of this, could there be anything you should stop doing now before it gets harmful to your website?
We approached 31 experts with the following question:
What web marketing technique we'll stick a fork into next?
Their replies are presented below, but before you browse for details, here's a summary of most popular points:
Dan Petrovic: anything link-driven, content with no future in particular
The answer is simple. Google will be sticking their little fork into anything link driven as they are a link based search engine. People will keep polishing up their methods and work out clever new methods to gain popularity and Google will always go against the top 5% offending methods. Instead of going into details about link schemes which I wrote about in enough detail already, I'd like to focus on content marketing. Our favourite new buzzword.
Content Marketing Saturation
Google and everyone else has been preaching "quality content" for a while now and the idea is catching on. This means we're going to start seeing more and more of decent content, but we won't be able to digest it all. I predict at this point we'll start seeing content fatigue among users. At the same time some clever cookie will find a way to automate "high quality content generation" and make some decent cash on it while their customers won't realise they're shooting at the wrong target.
What is content?
Content is not just text, links and images. It's any asset which communicates a message or engages with your audience. This could be a tool, spreadsheet, video, audio, slideshow or an app.
The Future of Content
Content that will survive in the long term will have the following characteristics:
Original research, news, tools, platforms and discoveries.
Interactive, integrated, smart, customisable content that will work with variety of users on a variety of platforms.
Entertainment, instruction/education, function.
Essentially it's about producing something new, useful and meaningful.
Content With No Future
Common news, news regurgitation, collections, opinions (such as this one), curation, digests and summaries. This job belongs to machines which will continue advance until such point where human capability will be inferior.
Joel Klettke: the market will get fatigued with the high volume of garbage content
What Google cracks down on is incredibly predictable, so long as you're paying attention. Any tactic that starts becoming popular (read: abused) will be cracked down on. That said, after guest posts, what's even left?
I'd like to think that maybe it's not an algorithm that will crack down on a popular marketing method, but the market itself. Maybe I'm an idealist, but I feel like over time the market is going to get fatigued with the high volume of garbage content most companies are putting out to try and hit a deadline on an editorial calendar.
Rather than search penalties, the next negative outcome of bad content might be lost market share or a jaded customer base. I can only hope that brands who treat content like a commodity will see their bottom lines suffer. But who knows where the limit on content consumption will be? Not me. So I'll just keep trying to write things that don't suck, and pray that smart businesses start rewarding that behaviour.
Ross Hudgens: upworthy title is unlikely to sustain
The next marketing technique I think we'll shelve is the UpWorthy title. This model doesn't seem like it can sustain.
People are okay with "digestible" titles like list posts and I think those will last for a long time, but it doesn't seem like people will take kindly to the UpWorthy title in the long term, as it's a much more aggressive form of manipulation. It will probably always work in some industries, but for any industry knowing what's going on (people with a lot of tech exposure), I doubt it will last for long. Those who use it will end up losing the respect of their readers, and therefore also their long term traffic.
Brian Dean: mediocre blogging is next
This may sound crazy, but blogging is the next to go. Well, not just any blogging: mediocre blogging just for the sake of getting traffic and search engine rankings. There will (obviously) always be a place for blogs that provide insane amounts of value.
The issue is: there are WAY too many blogs right now. The supply and demand is out of whack. In fact, I get emails almost every day from people that follow the same blogging approach from 2007 and don't see any results from their toil: posting 500-word posts, optimizing for long tail keywords and publishing twice per week. That simply doesn't work in 2014.
The writing is on the wall: if your approach to blogging is banging out long tail 500-word blog posts once or twice a week, you're going to struggle moving forward.
Steve Webb: low-quality infographics and rich-snippet spam
Two web marketing techniques are already climbing to the top of Google's hit list: low-quality infographics and rich snippet spam.
I've been predicting the downfall of low-quality infographics for a few years now, and Google's PR machine has already attacked these "crapgraphics" on a few different occasions. It should only be a matter of time before an algorithmic solution is deployed to devalue (or even penalize) this low-quality content.
Rich snippet spam is another example of a legitimate SEO tactic that is being abused by various sites. When implemented correctly, rich snippets are an effective way to differentiate your site's content in the search results (and improve your click-through rates).
However, as with many SEO techniques, rich snippets can be abused (e.g., authorship on pages without substantive textual content, structured data markup on hidden information, etc.), and search engines have a vested interest in identifying this abuse.
Google has already promised a reduction in rich snippet displays, and sites have already received manual penalties for rich snippet spam. Moving forward, I expect these manual penalties to increase, and eventually, I predict Google will release an algorithmic update that explicitly targets rich snippet spam.
With that said, it's important to note that nothing is inherently wrong with infographics, rich snippets, or even guest blogging. These are all legitimate SEO practices when they are implemented correctly (and for the right reasons). However, due to widespread abuse, all three of these techniques are now toxic if they are used incorrectly.
Tadeusz Szewczyk: spammy second-tier link building
At first I wanted to say "group posts like this one here" after talking about this possibility with Brian Dean of Backlinko. After further inspection I'd rather say it's not yet the case as group posts are very valuable in most cases and haven't been abused much until now. They are so successful that this might change in the future though.
To make sure I don't overlook other tactics because of only thinking about myself, I checked every single of the techniques compiled by Jon Cooper here.
Most of them are still valid, already devalued or timeless. I've found one though that I think will get tackled next: second tier link building that is building links to sites that link to you (read more here).
This is a perfectly logical and innocent tactic. Sadly it has been abused a lot in the recent years and months. I even exposed an agency advertising a link scheme using this technique last year: they will use spammy second tier links to link to legit first tier sites which then link the client site.
Black hat SEO blogs are full of advice on how to create networks of low quality links using this technique. Until now Google only tackled these low quality second and third tiered sites but they will probably crack down on the whole scheme. It should not be difficult to identify those algorithmically either.
Doug Kessler: native advertising
It's a whole set of ways to disguise marketing as editorial to fool readers into lowering their marketing defense barriers. But it's based on deception. The practitioners claim transparency but the whole premise is based on making marketing look as much like native content as possible. There's only one reason for that: to trick readers.
Any marketing technique based on fooling your target audience is doomed. But this may take a while to die - and may destroy consumer trust as it goes down.
I did a post on this called Native Advertising: Trust for Sale
Kristi Hines: unnatural social media activities will be devaluated as signals
Google has stuck a fork in just about everything in the last couple of years: over-optimized websites, exact keyword anchor text, exact match domains, link buying, blog networks, link exchanges, guest blogging, infographics, etc. I'd guess that once they start valuing social sharing as a signal, they'll start cracking down on fake followers, paid shares (i.e., the "buy 5,000 tweets for $5 on Fiverr" gigs), and similar manipulation of social media networks.
Pages and profiles with fake fans and followers are generally easy to spot - they have large audiences, but minimal engagement. If Google can create algorithms to find unnatural links, overuse of keywords, and similar offenses, they'll likely be able to find unnatural social media activity in the long run.
Gregory Ciotti: curiosity gap headlines
The next big marketing gimmick up for abuse (in fact, it's starting to happen now) will be curiosity gap headlines, as seen on sites like ViralNova and Upworthy. If you're unfamiliar, these headlines look something like this: At First This House Looked Beautiful, But Wait Until You See the 2nd Floor... OMG!
The problem with this new fad is that it was made for casual, consumer facing Facebook content. And yet, I've seen B2B companies abusing trust with similarly ridiculous headlines thinking that they can get away with the same thing. There is a way to incorporate this strategy with class: focus on adding that "one little thing" into your headline, like Pat Flynn did in an article called 5 "Five-Minute or Less" Blogging Tips (I'm Using #1 in This Title).
Tom Ewer: popular ways of gaming search engines
I think gaming search engines, in the way it has popularly been done, is on its way out. Consider for example that keyword stuffing is no longer relevant. I think Google has done a lot in terms of making such strategies worthless and will continue to do so.
Don't get me wrong - there will still be a lot of potential for people to game the search engines; such opportunities are not going to disappear overnight. However, such strategies will be far more "honest" and will tend to benefit end users in some way. Broken link building is an example - it's a way of getting a link, but it also helps web masters to fix links and offers quality content to readers.
Harris Schachter: mindless inorganic social strategies
Unfortunately in internet marketing, anything that works will eventually be abused. Social media is definitely one of these. A small number of brands have had immense success with it, mostly in the areas of community building and real time content strategy.
As a result, brands large and small feel obligated to follow suit. Even worse is when whispers of social media's effects on organic search become misinterpreted, and pretty soon social media becomes a means to succeed in something else.
Unfortunately, the mindless "inorganic" social strategies have the potential to do more harm than good, both for consumer perception and credibility in search engines.
Social media is meant to engage and inform, not dictate and shamelessly promote. Companies who rely on their same 10 employees to tweet and retweet everything they publish is not a social media strategy. As search engines seek to integrate this human layer as a source of content quality signals, it will become more important to do it in an honest manner. Why?
Because the technology can spot manipulation like a vegan in a butcher shop. In this regard, I see the possibility for social media to have the same fate as links, where citations might be deemed authoritative or spammy, good or bad. Negative social citations can easily be detected in a linked network over time.
This is especially true with Google+ as the central hub which ties contributor sites and social networks into a single reputation engine for Google to draw upon. So, while some brands will continue to use social media in innovative ways to connect with their audiences and extend their core values, others purely seeking follower and share counts will shoot themselves in the foot.
John-Henry Scherck: poor content created for the sake of links only
Cheap, poorly thought out content created for the sake of only building links will (hopefully) be the next thing to die. I talk to a lot of businesses that want big pieces of high visibility content - but sometimes the only value they see in content are the links it can generate.
It's a short sited way of valuing content and leads to very small budgets for content creation. Content can change public perception of a brand, it can solve real business problems - like trust issues, or communicating your USP more effectively.
The perspective that content should be used to build links needs to die - links are just the spoils of war from good marketing.
Anthony Pensabene: allowing outgoing links from your site and manipulative SEO
Good question, what will the sheep tell the other sheep to do next....
Let's go with allowing outgoing links from your page/site, as if you're only allowed to link to pages with a specific authority, even if it means not linking to your own pages often or not at all, which would lessen the UX value, but SEOs will say anything Google says. Maybe that will be next.
Clients/readers, you have to understand the multi levels of bull poop at hand: Google is out for themselves yet contingent on the popularity of the masses. SEO services are basically outdated and now need to be marketers; they'll shovel anything that makes it seem like they know something about Google the masses dont. The irony is, the less you think (and you think you know) about Google, the more likely it is you're getting marketing right. But who am I?
Julie Joyce: using local tactics with no local presence
I think that they'll start going after people who use local tactics to rank well when they have no local presence in a location. For example, you can find sites that have one physical location in Maine but they will have created a page for every state, or sometimes every big city in the US, leading the engines to believe that they are everywhere. Sometimes it's done cleverly but usually it's something like "Are you living in Chicago and want to find a Chicago dog acupuncturist in Chicago? You might be out of luck unless you're not in Chicago!
Adam Connell: over-optimized UX
Anything Sticky – It’s Time To Start Thinking About User Experience
Using sticky nav’s, sidebars, footer opt-ins, header call to actions, widgets and floating share bars are all well and good.
The merits are there, I get that. Each one on its own isn’t an issue but imagine how annoying it is for users to see all of the following on a single page:
- Footer opt-in
- Call to action in the sidebar
- Floating share bar that fills most of the screen
- A popover when you try to exit.
I’ve experienced this on a number of websites and I find myself so distracted from the content that I end up closing the website.
Chances are that we may lose some conversions but those that don’t convert may be more likely to come back.
Alessio Madeyski: death of useless meetings and one-fits-all strategies
Next thing to me will be "the death of useless meeting". Why are we spending hours in a perfectly isolated meeting room talking about what we should do next to reach our customers? Go out where your customers actually are and spend time with them and you are gonna have the perfect answers to your doubts. Online marketing is going to incorporate more offline techniques. I'm always thinking: if you have a business online who have offline presence as well (let's say a fashion ecommerce with physical shops around the country), what the hell are you doing in the office? Go in the shops, observe, ask, be there for your customers. The customers can give you so many insights to reproduce in the online website.
Another thing will be "the death of one-strategy-fits-all". It's no more just SEO, just PR, just PPC, just affiliate. If you want to succeed, you need to have a global digital strategy where all kind of different strategies work together to reach the business goal. I'm sick tired to see fights over "SEO is more important than PR" or "you know what? I don't care about SEO because a PR company is following me". Let's not reinvent a name for everything every day: SEO is SEO, content strategy is content strategy and so on, and let's work together to incorporate the best solution for the website. We need to become website curators, taking care of the website like an art curator is taking care of her art gallery.
Last thing that is going to die is not a technique, but I wanna share it anyway: the ocean that divides (sometimes) a digital agency and the internal marketing team of a company. Let's tear down the barrier between external and internal teams. If an agency is needed, make it part of the internal team. And viceversa. A good communication is the best way to achieve awesome results. And having someone from the outside is vital for many many businesses out there.
James Norquay: lack of diversity in link building
Google will target any strategy which has been abused and mainly scaled to a large degree in the past. Any strategy which gains quick popularity in the SEO community and is then "over used" will usually suffer. The thing about guest blogging is I do not think many people who did "high quality" guest blogging and actually built a strong relationship with the site were actually hit or will be hit. It is the sites were engage in low quality tactics and scale the process using silly tactics to over use commercial anchor text and use low quality sites and tactics.
The same goes with current tactics which I am seeing people overuse, it could be any thing from going out to the top 50 social media sites and placing 20 links to one landing page on your website, it may trigger a non-natural signal with Google which may be a future target, who knows in 1 year or more Google may target this strategy?
The thing about link building in 2014 you need to think about strategies which are more "natural" for the search engines, still I see consultants who target 90% of the link profile to the home page or use crazy anchor text targeting ratios for their link profile. You really have to be smart with the way you engage with SEO in 2014 and beyond.
Per Pettersson: gaming with social
I think some of us will slowly start abusing tweet-to-download functions and aspects of gamification with social. Force people to act as if they're engaging with brands in social channels. Making people tweet our messages or liking our Facebook Pages to get that latest industry report or contest entry, trying to create a fake presence in social channels.
And gamification? Giving website users points just for visiting your website and, after a decade or two, collect a branded coffee cup as a token of your loyalty. I think this could next, and that is sad. There will always be people trying to cut corners instead of making something good that will grow on people.
Piers Moore-ede: unsolicited email marketing
There is a common marketing strategy, used widely, which represents the very worst side of black hat: that is unsolicited email marketing. Each day I get at least 30 pieces of spam into my inbox from SEO companies, well known restaurants, telecommunications providers and generally one each morning from someone I'm almost becoming fond of: thank you 'Ricks Photo Retouching services' in China: you may be the world’s most aggressive spammer. Now although email marketing falls outside of the Google algorithm, this method is already drawing serious attention from governments due to the sheer scale of the problem.
The risks here are far greater than getting penalised by Matt Cutts, they are massive fines or jail time. Last December, the UK introduced its anti-spam laws, joining the EU, US, Canada and Australia. The last survey analysing the potential cost of this activity, suggested that lost productivity costs Internet users in the United States $21.58 billion annually: ten years later that number will be far higher. I predict the sheer scale of this problem is going to provoke far tougher measures across the board. Right now Canada's look like the most impressive: every CEM must identify the sender, show a valid mailing and email address, and include an opt out function at no cost to the consumer or risk a $10 million fine.
Chris Dyson: widgetbaits
From an SEO and more predominantly link building perspective Google have really started to clamp down hard on tactics that were easy to scale. Paid Links, Guest Posts, blog networks, article marketing you name it there has been an update to the Google Link Schemes page about it.
The next biggest link building technique I see Google coming after are Widgetbait, while they have mentioned nofollowing widgets in the past and even linking to commercial pages from Infographics there hasn't been any real outcry like there was with Guest Posts and before that link buying.
I'm already seeing more and more people attempting to use embeddable objects (images, videos etc.) as their main source of links. Often these embeddable widgets are not even on topic for the site.
That's not to say these tactics don't work or won't work in the future but if you get caught abusing them you might find a notification of a manual action for unnatural links in your inbox one day soon.
James Chartrand: aggregating social media
I think the next strategy to go belly-up will be aggregating your social media.
Social media strategies are already having to shift drastically to keep the attention of followers - social media is suffering from information overwhelm just like everywhere else on the web - and nothing will get you off a potential customer's list faster than seeing the same sentence appear on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ within the same fifteen minutes.
No one wants to feel like they're friends with a robot, and aggregates make real, people-driven content feel like it comes from a soulless entity. Sucking the humanity out of a human sentence is a neat trick, but aggregates pull it off - and your audience hates it.
Paul Rogers: any heavily-abused tactic
I think search engines will continue to de-value any tactic that SEOs or marketers abuse to an extent that it becomes unnatural and makes it harder for them to determine how relevant a result is. I think that this has been the case with guest posts, although I think they probably still hold some value, and I think it's at the same point with infographics now too.
I know that everyone keeps talking about social ranking signals, but I think that could ultimately go the same way to be honest - people will find a way to game social media, just like they did with blog commenting (previously a natural link, in the right context), directories (could be seen as natural, if it's the right site and context) and now guest posting (which would have been natural if it wasn't clearly abused).
For me, the only way that Google and the other search engines are going to be able to determine whether a website deserves to rank is for them to use a combination of lots of signals (with more and equal reliance on different ones, unlike the focus on links that there's been over the last few years), including trust signals, brand signals, user interaction signals, links, social media use, sentiment etc.
Simple stuff, but I'm sure we'll see a lot more change over the next few months.
Troels Kjems: inauthentic engagement with brands in social media
Many large companies, especially those founded decades ago in the pre-online era, still have a strong focus on encouraging visitors to like them on Facebook or circle them on Google+, regardless of the visitors’ likelihood to ever again engage with the company's social media profiles.
In the not so distant future I expect both Facebook and Google to put even more focus on the average level of engagement when you as company tries to push our your increasingly great content through to your target group via your social media channels.
Having a large share of inactive fans or followers acquired through a silly campaign or competition is likely going to hurt you quite badly in the future.
Personally I'm advising my clients to be much more picky about which visitors they suggest to follow their company's social media profiles.
They might miss out on a potential lead today, but I expect this to be the winning strategy in the long run.
Kelvin Newman: little guys attempting to play big level will end up disappointed
I think the biggest issue at the moment isn't a specific technique in itself, but the increase of people creating such ambitious promotion strategies that have little or no chance of success. With companies like Red Bull doing so much crazy stuff the little guys think they have to play on the same level and just end up disappointed. I personally think a small but achievable idea is far more valuable than a big idea which is too ambitious and I think people will start to realise this, perhaps the hard way.
Stoney deGeyter: crap content
That may be a crappy video, a crappy blog post, a crappy presentation, a crappy article, a crappy infographic, a crappy review, etc. etc. It's not about tactics and strategies, because those come and go, with Google penalizing (or devaluing) the worst of them. But why are they devaluing them? Not because those strategies shouldn't bring value but because so-called marketers are producing crap that doesn't add value. It's the value (or lack thereof) that makes a strategy or tactic obsolete.
I think anyone real marketer will tell you that guest blogging isn't really as "done" as Matt Cutts says it is. What is done is the crappy guest blog posts. Those posts that are created solely for link building purposes and drive no value to the site otherwise. Looking ahead, it's not about any one strategy that is going to be made obsolete, although I'm sure that one or more will. The most important thing to consider is if you are engaging in ANY strategy that isn't bringing value to the website. If it's not, then it's crap. And as soon as Google can figure out how to identify it, it'll be done too.
Elisa Gabbert: emotionally manipulative headlines
I'd like to stick a fork into the emotionally manipulative, share-baiting, Upworthy-style headline framing technique. These "you won't believe what happened next" teasers are like a drug: whatever is behind the curtain needs to be more and more surprising, shocking, tear-inducing, or whatever in order to have an effect, and eventually we'll all OD on emotions and there's going to be major backlash. I'd venture to say we're already at Peak Upworthy and this site and its copycats are going to crash as brands the way eHow and Groupon did.
David Leonhardt: infographic spam
Anything that becomes cheap and scalable gets penalized sooner or later. back in 2012 I wrote an article on Web Pro News entitled "Spinfographics: When Will Google Crack Down On Infographic Spam?"
Why have Infographics not yet been hit? Mostly because it is not cheap. You can get a crappy Infographic done on Fiverr for a few gigs, but that is not the link. You still have to set it up, including creating the embed code, and then promote it and hope somebody will pick it up. There are not 500 sites to automatically submit your Infographic the way there was with article marketing.
In the past couple weeks, I have seen a renewed effort to provide "cheap" and "quick" visual content. Perhaps Infographic spam will become more scalable in 2014...and then get hit by another back-and-shite animal from the Google Zoo.
Not to worry. Throw away the embed code and simply demand to be given full credit upon republishing. Some people will link back, some people won't. Those that do, will do so naturally rather than mass repetition of the same embed code.
Venchito Tampon: low-quality infographics
There are tons of infographics that can be seen on the web that are solely created for links. Low quality infographic creation that is not intended to provide value to the community may later be included in the list of link schemes. In my opinion, any online marketing tactics that are scalable using automated tools can repeat the fate of guest blogging. The more Google sees that the tactic is not valuable to searchers/visitors, the likelihood of sticking a fork into it is higher.
Nick LeRoy: 301 redirecting expired domains
The web marketing technique that I think has the best chance of being devalued is 301 redirecting expired domains. Right now, if you find an expired domain with quality inbound links and perform a 301 redirect to your money site it passes value. I think this technique is way too easy to increase a sites search rankings. I could see Google trying to come up with a way to devalue this strategy.
One issue with completely doing away with this strategy is that domains expire all the time by accident. Does Google want to potentially remove a good resource from it's SERPS simply because the domain expired?
Moosa Hemani: any heavily-abused tactic
We (webmasters) are the real culprits behind the death of directories, forums, blog comments, infographics and recently Guest Blogging.
Although Google slams down most of the tactics mentioned above but I really wanted to say that these tactics itself can’t be good or bad but instead it really depends upon how you are using it! If you know how to use any of these tactics positively, then directories and blog comments can still work for you.
What is next is a very tough question as there are quite a few tactics that are still being misused by many webmasters. But I really believe any link-building tactic that allows the link to be in control of webmaster then it will be the next target by Google Web SPAM team.
The misconception many webmasters have is that Google is looking for a natural looking link profile but the reality is that Google is actually looking for a NATURAL link profile so anyone trying to pose as good will not works in the longer run and you have to invest time to get links naturally instead of posing links as natural.
Jayson DeMers: sub-par quality content
Content publication that's anything less than stellar. These days, quality content is more important than ever. Furthermore, sub-par quality content is actually having negative effects on SEO visibility and rankings, due to Google's Panda algorithm. Yet, many marketers are still publishing content for the sake of publishing content. They think that "something is better than nothing." But that's no longer the case; not only does it hurt your SEO visibility and rankings, but it can damage your brand.
When I was reaching out to people with the question "What web marketing technique we'll stick a fork into next?", I was sure the most popular reply would be expert round-ups. To my surprise though, the feedback was way more diverse. In fact, there were only four points mentioned by more than one respondent:
- low-quality content marketing
- aggressive and deceptive social media tactics
- upworthy, emotionally manipulative headlines
- infographic spam
If you're relying on any of those heavily, chances are you should make some changes to the way you promote your brand online.
Which reply did you find most insightful? Or perhaps you feel some heavily-abused tactics are missing from this list? Share your ideas in the comments below!