Probably the biggest issue the internet is wrangling with at the moment is the scourge of fake news. But this got me wondering if there is some benefit of fake news to SEO and content marketing.
Every man and his dog appears to have an opinion about fake news, and some of the biggest players on the internet are scrambling to get filters and new algorithms in place to deal with the situation, facing pressures from their users and the political establishment alike.
But the thing that I find fascinating about fake new is that it happened at all. And that these relatively small players were able to create the kind of news content that would be compelling enough to be read by millions. That they would be able to subvert the news we read in this way should offer a lesson to anyone carrying out SEO and content marketing in 2017.
I hold my hands up and admit it: I would love to have been the one to have come up with the idea to spread my content with the use of fake news. I’ve often talked about the benefits of newsjacking (taking an existing news story then putting your comments and spin on it) but I’d never advocated making up the news. I still think that’s unethical and problematic. However, there must be something in the success of the fake news sites that marketers carrying out SEO and content marketing can learn.
The first thing we should say is there is a (subtle) difference between false news and fake news. If you regularly read a certain newspaper, radio, TV show or website, you get a very one sided opinion about something. This subjective portrayal of news, as though it is the whole truth, is the kind of false news that the news industry has been creating for hundreds of years – but it’s not fake news.
Fake news is different from that which went before. From the relative anonymity of the internet, we’ve seen the proliferation of fake / hoax news covering information and propaganda published to be perceived as authentic news. The sole task of this news is to generate as much traffic back to a website – often for the benefits of maximising the advertising revenues of a site.
As those of us interested in SEO and content marketing, we should be looking to hold ourselves to higher standards when we’re creating content for distribution. Fake content could seriously damage the reputation of a business with its customers and if that happens to your brand, it could take you a long time to repair the damage
However those websites which are creating and disseminating fake news need to be considered because they are successfully using the marketing mix to benefit their seo, drawing in organic traffic whilst using targeted promotion on social media to get things moving there too.
The creators of fake news do have advantages over search and content marketers though. One of the biggest advantage lies in the funnel. No matter how much content they create and how many rankings they hold, most marketers have to eventually sell something. Fake news outlets have a shorter funnel. All they want is high volumes of traffic to visit the pages of their website. They don’t need to worry about the psychology of how to convert someone into an action when they land on a page.
The huge difference is in the type of content we’re creating. Fake news is all about simple emotion. It doesn’t require an audience to change their outlook or find new information. They are quickly engaged and their existing opinion is validated.
So what can we learn from fake news even if we are to stay within the ethical limits of search marketing and content marketing?
- Target a simple emotion as these are the core way in which people first engage with content.
- Have a single goal for each piece of content and ensure this is implicitly understandable to the visitor
- Where possible reduce the size of your funnel and make potential customers convert quicker.
- Incentivise your customers and potential customers to share your content so you can capitalise on their network.
I’m fairly long in the tooth when it comes to SEO and I’ve been carrying out content marketing activities before the strategy was even given that name. I think fake news is the culmination of the content marketing bubble. I’ve seen a number of such content strategies come and go. I’m thinking of online PR and blog networks. They were both borne out of legitimate activities but were abused. In the same way, we are now in an era where every business worth its salt is carryout content marketing activities and it’s getting increasingly difficult to get cut through.
When I started carrying out SEO for companies in the commercial vehicle industry, online PR was my main tactic. But it wasn’t long before Google shut down the benefits of online PR websites.
Following this we started seeing the value of article websites and blog networks and even private blog networks became part of what seo was all about. All very black hat. But eventually Google was able to shut that down too.
If what happened to online PR and blog networks are anything to go by, it’s going to take Google quite some time to catch up – but they will catch up, especially as this is a much more public issue. This could have a huge impact on the role of content marketing as an SEO strategy.
Let’s remember that Google has already prioritised trust indicators such as Authorship tagging to help them work out how to treat a piece of content. So what’s to come?
As well as authorship, expect brands and verifiable brandable elements within copy to gain more weight. If you refer to your employees a certain way, or have a special name for your office and can relate it to your brand with a location or phone number, you should be adding those references to your content. These will create additional signals that you are prepared to associate your brand with the content which will likely be seen as beneficial to Google.
Trust will become more important and some websites will be blacklisted
In a world where content creation has become the norm for businesses, it’s becoming increasingly important for search engines and social media to work out which websites are more trustworthy and authoritative. By using this measure it’s likely that Google will be able to remove fake news websites from the SERPs. One way they may consider doing this is through corroboration. That is they may look to understand the content of a piece and determine if it’s backed up by other pieces of content on the net. If you are trying to use news in your search marketing and content marketing strategies then you may want to think about how you link back to other articles that feature similar news content.
Ultimately it’s likely that those websites that consistently create fake news will be blacklisted from Google and fake news for SEO will be consigned to history. So be careful if you want to capitalise on the trends around fake news now if you don’t do damage to your website long term.
Newsjacking for SEO in the world of fake news
I’ve long been a proponent of newsjacking for search engine optimisation purposes and I believe a healthy proportion of your content marketing strategy should be given over to newsjacking. It’s easy to create and to distribute and often gets your brand out to people that would never have ordinarily found it – it’s great for awareness.
Newsjacking centres around you finding news content relevant to your industry or business and recreating it, putting your spin on it. It’s been a mainstay of the PR industry for years and it’s why you see the same kinds of stories appearing week after week in the media from different businesses – because they’re all jumping on the back of it.
Online we have the advantage that we can sometimes get to a story before the majority of the traditional news outlets have (although I’d suggest you have to get up early in the morning to really benefit from newsjacking).
Just be careful when newsjacking that the content you’re creating isn’t based on fake news itself – because this could have serious implications to your site in the future. Also be-careful that you are able to add objectivity to the content so you don’t seem to be peddling a version of false news.
But ultimately, remember that whatever you do with news in your content and seo strategy, you’ve got to remember that content marketing for businesses is all about trying to get people onto your site at certain points within the funnel, and then trying to convet them. So probably the best advice is don’t spend all your time worrying about how you can use news and fake news for seo and get on with creating the kind of content your audience really wants to consume.