MobileCrunch has an interesting article about the dodgy tactics of a PR firm promoting iPhone apps. The thrust of it is that this company (Reverb) has, as part of the strategy they advertise to customers, been having interns post reviews of apps submitted to the store and also around the web.
These tactics have something familiar about them – they’re similar to the kind of things that are used by dodgy SEO companies. It’s like the proprietors that post glowing reviews of their own hotel, or restaurant. Like the person on Twitter that automatically follows and unfollows people to get the maximum follower count.
The web is a popularity contest. We want it to be a meritocracy – where the best content wins – but the sad fact of it is that sometimes, maybe often, the most popular content wins. The most popular content will hopefully be the best content, but when people are gaming the system – we can’t be sure.
For instance, I just searched “evolution vs creation” and top hit is from allaboutcreation.org. I’m not a biologist, but I am fairly confident that this isn’t the best resource available on the web. Extract below:
Evolution vs. Creation is indeed the Great Debate of our scientific times. In any scientific debate, the theories must be tested according to the evidence. We propose that the burden of evidence should be upon the Evolutionists, since Creation has been the historic and inherent default throughout virtually all cultures and religions until roughly the last 200 years.
There’s more here. I took this search from Google’s suggested searches after typing in evolution; sadly it’s possible to be confident that although the science in support of evolution is solid there are enough people who vocally disagree that I thought something like this would rank highly – number 1 was a surprise though! However it illustrates the point I’m trying to make – Wikipedia (number 3, I promoted it for my results though) is likely a better resource. And yet it’s not number 1 – probably because the other one is more popular.
SEO, and apparently PR firms make a living trying to game the system, artificially inflate the popularity of their clients. The example above is irritating, but is at least organically popular. And it’s a shame, because popularity is often a fantastic indication of what’s better. But when it’s not – how do we tell? If it’s something we know about, then maybe we can make a good guess. But say I’m trying to find the best place to buy ski boots in Ottawa, or the best sushi restaurant downtown – I’m relying on popularity to help me make that decision, and I want it to be real, not fake.
This is why Personal Recommendations will be so important, I guess. I’m reading the Social Network Business Plan at the moment, and whilst I don’t agree with everything he says, I guess on this – he has a point.
Related: Good to see – highly ranking when you search for “Search Engine Optimization” is advice from Google – listing aspects of SEO that are useful and suggesting you make sure you know what you SEO is doing, with some examples of dodgy practices. bMighty has an article on How to Hire An SEO Company. And, in support of Why (I think) SEO is a Load of Crap, a lawsuit for an SEO company that made infeasible promises from the Seattle Times.
Edit: article on engagement – 11 Things More Valuable Besides Clicks and Conversions.