Image by rene_ehrhardt via FlickrHow many times have you sat through an SEO
presentation and heard ‘it’s all about links, and one link from the BBC
is worth more than 1,000 low level directories.’ 

Google relies on media links to calculate PageRank, a gauge of website
authority. These links bring order to search results, which is why
everyone uses Google, which is why they make so much money. Brands
therefore need media links to achieve SEO success in Google, which is fair
enough.

But what do media owners get for providing the authority map
behind Google’s meteoric rise? Plummeting advertising revenues as Google hoovers up the lot. This
seems a bit of a kick in the teeth, but what can they do about it?

Fundamentally, all businesses operate by creating value for their customers then capturing a proportion of that value in fees, and media owners are no different.  So how do they create value for brand advertisers?

Here are three ways:

1.  An article or advertisement raises brand awareness amongst the target audience.

2.  A link in the article or advertisement drives visitors to the brand’s website.

3.  The link also drives an increase in Google exposure, which in turn drives even more visits to the brand’s website.

From our experience the value of three (increased Google visitors/sales) outweighs two (direct referral visitors/sales). This has significant implications for the dynamics between brands, Google and media owners.

Media owners (including leading daily newspapers) have responded with sound business logic by selling advertorial links. Right on cue, specialist advertorial network companies have sprung up overnight to broker the sudden rise in supply and demand. 

But here’s the real choker for media owners. “Google works hard to ensure that it fully discounts links intended to manipulate search engine results, such as excessive link exchanges and purchased links that pass PageRank.” Er, sorry media owners you’re not supposed to do that, Google wants all that lovely ad revenue.

So media owners will probably take their ‘forbidden’ advertorial link sales underground and into clandestine meetings with shady link pushers and brands desperate for more Google exposure.

As this trend gains momentum, the editorial integrity of media owners will of course become compromised, along with Google results, which will be determined by who can afford to buy the best links. Google will have to respond by downgrading the value of media links, which will lead to a drop in brand advertisers buying links from media owners. It’s a catch 22 situation for media owners, and could spell their end, unless they start charging for content.

And if media owners no longer provide a reliable authority map for Google, then who will? Will we see a return to unreliable search results or a new search engine to topple the giant? 

This is possible, but unlikely in my opinion. I would imagine that Google will have thought long and hard about this and will be looking to social media and consumer data (think Toolbar, Chrome and Analytics) as the reputation influencers of the future, and will order search results based on consumer voice and consumer click behaviour. For Google search filters, the behaviour of the masses will replace the opinions of the few journalists. At least that sounds like a healthy philosophy.

And what about the brands out there chasing Google exposure, who look on in bewilderment as this drama unfolds? The only sound advice to avoid becoming embroiled in this short term game of cat and mouse, is to focus on understanding your customers, and creating positive online experiences that will get them talking and coming back for more.

Let Google build tomorrow’s algorithms around your success today, don’t reverse engineer your business into yesterday’s spam.

Image by rene_ehrhardt via Flickr, various rights reserved.