Do you ever pause in the middle of an article and think, “Why am I reading this?” or “What’s the point?”
Even for articles with hundreds of comments and thousand of shares, I can’t figure out what the article is trying to accomplish. Comment discussions prove to be just as ambiguous.
The majority of these articles are in the SEO and digital marketing space, which encompasses:
- content marketing
- inbound marketing
- search engine marketing
- online public relations
- traffic generation
- make money online
- social media marketing
- advertising / branding
As a social media marketer I’m supposed to consume these articles to stay updated and capitalize on trends and tactics. It’s a bit difficult when 95% of the articles I read are not actually helping me. What baffles me is seeing all this engagement from people in similar roles. What are they getting from this that I’m missing?
I started analyzing article engagement, topics, shares, sources, and discussions.
The following are my thoughts after peeling through layers of articles and social interactions:
(For reference, I analyzed 20 articles in lower tiers and 20 articles from higher tiers. 1 out of 20 articles in the lower tier were valuable to me, while 2 in 20 were valuable to me in higher tiers).
Layer 1: articles seem educational
We know these articles are educational. How can an article about ‘increasing conversion rate optimization’ not be educational?
They include case studies, findings, experiments, and ultimately leave us with something new we can implement. At least, that’s the ideal situation.
The reality is that 95% are simply regurgitating something a more authoritative site preached a few weeks ago, rehashing tactics with a little spin, or completely ignoring the context around why their experiment failed or succeeded.
However, even just one comment saying, “Thanks for the tips, can’t wait to try this out” is enough validation, I guess. I’m not trying to discredit articles of this nature, especially if people are actually finding value in it. Maybe I’ve ‘leveled up’ and simply need more authoritative, timely, and relevant content. It’s natural for us to devalue the ‘grass-hopper’ type of content and seek out more advanced material.
But let’s dig deeper.
Layer 2: articles are entertainment, often false promises
I switched my analysis to more authoritative content, which includes:
- industry ‘experts’
- ‘proven’ professionals
- the best SEO and digital marketing blogs (if you’re in this space, you know the names)
The quality of writing noticeably improved, more screenshots and actionable items included, and the level of discussion raised. However, that 95% mark only reduced to 90%. I even found an instance of one blog completely rehashing what another had written one week prior.
The feeling that something was missing returned. I know I’m no longer an ideal target for these blogs. With the exception of gem content (the 2 out of 20 articles that show me something I can use) I just kept thinking, “What’s the point? What’s the goal?” Did I have a head injury and lose my ability to appreciate?
And then Captain Obvious paid me a visit. He said, “They just want you to click around their site. They’re making articles just educational enough to hide the fact you’re being entertained. You’re being seduced. They’ll make false promises about increasing some attractive metric with pretty graphs and screenshots. Then they’ll say you can do it too. Just sign up for their newsletter. Fill out that form. Read another article while you’re at it. This one will make your blog rain money.”
And then Captain Obvious flew off, leaving me with a lot to think about it.
Layer 3: echo chambers
The reason these articles had such high engagement (as I’m realizing many have already figured out) is because they’re being fed into echo chambers.
The same people commenting, the same people receiving praise, even the same comments.
A hive-mind so impenetrable that discussion quality is limited to agreement.
A hive-mind so tight-nit, the only path to entry is to succumb to brainwashing.
The echo chambers have been bred to perfection. Discussions seem authentic and valuable, as if something really insightful just happened. It’s easy to get blinded in prestige or sensationalized numbers and stories. “Gather around as I tell you my rags to riches story, which is definitely not – I repeat, definitely not a trick to make you feel like you can do it too. In fact, I’ll give you this super secret PDF for free just to show you how serious I am. Come on, it’s free. It’s super-secret. I mean, like, did I mention it’s super-secret?”
Stepping up a bit for a broader view, the publisher-audience model looks like this:
- Publisher creates a masked educational posts (meaning, it provides elementary value, but the goal is not education).
- Echo chamber community engages with hive-mindset, making the article and social interactions seem special or worthy of everyone else’s time.
With the model unveiled, we can’t stop digging now.
Layer 4: headlines and drama, the hooks
The first three layers were a bit of common sense/common practice. This layer is focused on the hooks: headlines and drama.
In SEO and digital marketing, any headline that promises to increase a metric – especially trending metrics (i.e.; audience engagement, affinity targeting, or any KPI that a ‘celebrity’ preaches), naturally grabs our attention. It’s a mind-numbing yet effective tactic.
If I’m trying to track and measure a KPI like Facebook engagement per a specific content model, any headline that hits home with this strategy naturally earns a click. I’ll still bounce in a few seconds if it’s dry, but it still got me to click.
There’s a lot to be said about headlines, especially with viral publishers boasting about their magical headline creation tactic (brainstorming 30 headlines per post, mining through 100 videos for just one perfect match) *cough* Upworthy *end cough*.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, all of these higher tier blogs in our space are pretty good at crafting headlines. The discussion section is trapped in an echo chamber, but that still leaves their content naked. We can determine if an article is worth our time in a matter of seconds. So there needs to be more than just one hook.
The second hook is drama. Yes, can you believe it? Drama in SEO and digital marketing? Who would’ve thought…
Examples of Drama in SEO and Digital Marketing
In rare scenarios, the echo chamber cracks and drama seeps out. Someone decides to speak their mind for once – yes, they actually challenge the hive-mind. Havoc unleashes, die-hard fans rally against the outlier, but another challenging opinion breaks through, causing a disastrous ripple effect, collectively amounting to increased engagement and an exciting, heated debate; otherwise known as drama.
But let’s climb a few more steps and look down on this.
- The headline hook gets us to click, but the content is dry. Before leaving, we experience a second hook: drama in the comment section.
- The drama hook keeps us on the site and tries to evoke a response.
Nothing has actually changed. The drama hook is just another one of these moments:
Layer 5: dig and dash
We now arrive at the final layer. With every primary distraction system identified, we can get in and get out quickly with any preachy hive-mind site.
There are writers on these sites who actually care about providing substantial research and value. Make a note of their names or set up Google Alerts for your preferred writers.
Bypass comment sections, screen out all the fluff and flack, and extract vital points or action items. Then move on and get back to work.
I’ve found particular eCommerce sites to be exemplary in how they provide extraordinary value, even with their own blogs and experts. We would think an SEO education or digital marketing education would have a similar level of experience. Some do, such as Moz and Distilled, yet others do not. An example I recently used is the anatomy of the help and advice section on Havahart:
They’ve created a massive database of manuals, animal information, facts/statistics, video guides, and more. It reminds me of all those massive educational guides and videos in our space that always end up cannibalizing each other. Who has the right definition of SEO? When is the best time to post on Facebook? It’s all variable and inconclusive. There needs to be a standard, a one-off solution – not and overload resulting in congestion.
The goal of this post was to help people in similar situations (those who get caught up reading all these ‘authoritative’ sites, get robbed of their time, and leave without anything valuable).
A lot of the authoritative sites have earned their status, but may have poor communities or strict content guidelines limiting the value provided.
Don’t ever think authoritative sites deserve our time.
Don’t ever think we have to comment because of drama hooks.
These sites are a business at the core. They’re not your business or your client. Some may provide real help/value/insights, but a large percentage are simply distracting us with new ways of saying ‘marketing’, new tactics that are just a slight variation of something preached by a different site, ‘enlightening’ case studies that are more entertaining to see their success (not ours), or simply reciting popular opinion on breaking SEO news.
I’m not really sure how to this article though…
Here’s a funny kitten GIF: