The Death Star Strategy: Buying Hundreds of Domains and Paying for Facebook Fans….Worse, Paying for or Faking Google Reviews!
Over the years, we have had clients approach us with these three questions:
- I have purchased several hundred domains on GoDaddy. Will this increase my search engine ranking?
- I don’t have enough FANS on Facebook. A service is offering me 10,000 likes for $300. Should I sign up?
- Help! My rivals have hundreds of customer reviews on their site and I have heard this helps with SEO or SEM campaigns associated with Google Local Ads (Also known as “Google Guaranteed”). Should I purchase reviews or post fake ones to boost branding, search results and quality scores in ad campaigns?
The answer to these questions is an emphatic NO. These routes above can be categorized under a strategy we call “SPAM”. It generally indicates the website owner is obsessed with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and knows just enough about the topic to be “dangerous” to the future health of his website and overall online marketing strategy. Additionally, he is too focused on what rivals are doing and not enough on his customers.
We have seen this happen many, many times: A business owner with a website (or about to launch a new website) spends an hour or so in GoDaddy or Network Solutions excitedly buying up keyword-centric domains. It’s easy, quick and pretty painless. He can’t believe his competition has not got there first!
The domains may look like something like this: mymedicalpracticeUSA.com, 123medicalpracticeUSA, topmedicalpracticeUSA, and so on and so fourth.
Sitting back in his chair, he then has what he thinks are two brilliant marketing strategies that will catapult him past his competition on Google search engine rankings…
Idea 1: Redirection
In this scenario, the domain owner sets about redirecting all several hundred newly purchased domains to his current website. Viola! He now believes that Google will magically give him a higher ranking because all these domains have awesome keywords inside their name. Plus, they all direct back to the main business website, meaning more traffic and more leads.
What he actually has done is become a domain spammer. He has added absolutely no value to the World Wide Web except to offer signals to Google that he is using underhanded SEO strategies to “game” a higher result.
Further, the presence of so many cockamamie keywords in the domain indicates the business is less interested in quality branding and more interested in pleasing a search engine.
Can we call this “pandering” to machines?
Instead of rewarding the site owner with a top three search engine result, Google simply lowers the ranking or worse, blacklists the website as a potential spamming outfit.
Alas, many business owners have come to believe that the presence of a “keyword” in a domain name is more important than a business name itself. They also do not consider the Psychological effect it will have on an average customer as he types these weird words into the address bar.
This strategy is doomed for failure and will require months of effort to rectify, especially with recent Google SEO updates (including Panda) intent on identifying and penalizing any type of spamming related to domains, links or email marketing.
Idea 2: Build an army of satellite websites
Oh boy. In this “death star” strategy, the site owner has a better idea: Let’s quickly cobble together some content stuffed with keywords (either through his own efforts or written by some Indian copywriter with questionable grammatical skills) and quickly dump it inside several hundred new “one-page” websites.
Further, lets sprinkle each of these one-page websites with several links that go back to the main business site. Perfect! Now, not only do we get new traffic from all several hundred sites but each individual online landing page will magically get indexed by Google and rise up the rankings. It’s a win-win, a true double marketing whammy, right?
If overnight several hundred websites suddenly link to your primary business site we have a marketing or backlinking strategy known as “link spamming”. What on earth has a website done to deserve several hundred new links in the space of 24 hours, 48 hours or even a month? Did the business get featured on CNBC? Did the business owner win an entrepreneurship award from the President? Did the website produce a viral video that was viewed 10 million times on YouTube?
No. The site owner decided to spam the World Wide Web with content that had little value except to flagrantly advertise another website. Who would want to read that? And, for that matter, what search engine would wish to index it? Definitely not Google, which will repeat its strategy discussed in Idea 1: A lower ranking for the main business site, low or zero rankings for the satellite sites, and a possible blacklisting for ALL websites. Is this really a road you wish to travel down?
It’s hard not to have an ego in the social media world. Now everybody knows how many people like your page, how many users follow you on Twitter and how well connected you are in LinkedIn. And it sure hurts when you see the competition with all those FANS. How did they do that?? One morning an email arrives in your inbox from an unknown sender promising you 10,000 fans on Facebook in a week or less for $300. Wow! Now that’s what I call marketing!!
Excitedly you sign up for the service and within hours hundreds of new fans like your business page on Facebook. By the next morning, the number has climbed to 8,356, and still going up. This is it! You now have social media oomph! Right?
Popularity has its price. 99% of these profiles are fake, not real people, who will post zero contributions to your page and will never, ever buy your product or use your service. Wired Magazine reports that 97% of these fake profiles will identify themselves as woman while just 40% of real users do.
And now you have a bigger problem: Facebook, like Google, decides to update its auto-detection algorithm to sniff out fraudsters and your site shows up on their radar. Guess what? Your site may get blacklisted.
Further, you may lose ranking juice in Facebook’s new “Graph” search app that is the forerunner to a true social media search engine that will compete directly with Google one day.
To make matters worse, Google also uses social media signals from Google Plus and Facebook to now determine rankings for a business. The sudden inexplicable appearance of 10,000 new fans in the space of 24 hours is bound to raise some eyebrows in the world of machines.
CHASING GOOGLE REVIEWS, FACEBOOK REVIEWS, & YELP REVIEWS
No doubt about it: Reviews help establish trust and credibility for your brand, help you acquire more clients and do indeed influence search engine rankings. This is especially true for local businesses who operate in tight geographical radiuses such as home improvement, HVAC, plumbing, roofing and electrical. Getting a one-star review from clients is painful; seeing competitors rack up hundreds of reviews makes business owners feel helpless. Sometimes it seems so hard to get customers to leave a review, never-mind a positive one! Then trying to repeat this process across multiple platforms is daunting and time consuming.
Yet looking for short-cuts like posting fake reviews or hiring a firm to generate ‘paid’ reviews is a recipe for disaster as we enter the era of machine learning and artificial intelligence. While you may temporarily win some “points” by using these “review spamming” approaches, new algorithmic “hunters” built by Google and others will eventually pinpoint fake or questionable reviews. Even hiding your IP address while you post these reviews will eventually backfire. These AI algorithms are SMART and RELENTLESS. They will find and punish the culprits. When this happens your position in Google Maps search results will drop and may never recover. These penalties will also be aimed at advertisers on the Google Guaranteed program who attempt to boost their ad quality scores with hundreds of questionable reviews.
A better approach would be to deploy a customized review platform that helps you identify happy customers or persons who have done business with you who may be ‘enticed’ to leave a review. And, when a negative review is posted you should take this opportunity to listen to their concerns and post a sincere, guided reply which gives your point of view. Over time, this approach will produce a bevy of positive reviews that outweigh the few bad ones that come along. This dedication to your customers will eventually be rewarded by Google who ultimately favors companies with a customer-centric approach; not a fanatical SEO mindset. Most customers do not expect to see a perfect -5-start score. Aiming for a 4.5 to 4.7 is arguably acceptable and makes you look like a company who has won the hard yards with both happy and disgruntled customers. Contact Wildcard Digital to explore ways to protect and nurture your brand online with a carefully crafted review management platform that ultimately help you acquire more customers.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE
There are instances where purchasing multiple domains does make sense.
- These include preventing your competition from using them to launch their own websites that could siphon off your customer base. They therefore act as competition “buffer”. You may never take them live, but you know your rivals definitely cannot!
- Or, you may acquire a new domain that is better suited to your current business. In this case, redirecting that new domain to your current website is perfectly acceptable.
- You may launch a new product and decide to dedicate an entirely new website and domain to marketing it online. This is referred to as a microsite strategy and many big companies like Nike and Coca Cola regularly adopt this approach. Bare in mind, these companies have huge teams of designers, programmers and marketing staff to handle the content marketing overhead. It’s doubtful whether small businesses can do the same.
- You may decide to use a domain for a niche Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign in Google Ads or Facebook Ads. In this case, the content on the domain can be customized towards a particular product or service whose sole purpose is to generate leads or phone calls. This approach requires no alteration of existing content on your main branded site while allowing you to explore new customer acquisition strategies. It’s also worth point out that in this instance keyword-centric domains do have some value in tightly aligning with the keyword bidding strategies including exact match, phrase match, broad match and broad match modifier. The PPC algorithm does aggressively match keywords in the domain and landing page to influence quality scores which overall affects CTR, CPC and lead generation. However, since SEO is more focused on content (and quality inbound links) Google is less concerned these days with domains that keywords stuffed in the domain.
While paying somebody to fan or like your page has no place in marketing, there are more ethical ways to pick up followers.
- Offer a 10% discount if the user likes you on Facebook first.
- Hold a contest. In order to enter, the user has to fan your page first.
- Give away something for free, for instance, a free trial, if the user fans your page first.
- Your other option is to run a ‘like’ campaign in Facebook around your local geographic radius which can be useful in generating followers. However, bear in mind this approach does not always produce ‘engaged’ fans who like you on ‘impulse’.
It’s never a good idea to pay for a review or fake a new one. Rather contact the customer IMMEDIATELY after a sale or positive interaction. Automate this approach (through chat, text messaging and email) as much as possible and always be ready to re-contact the client the minute he posts a negative review. When you turn an unhappy customer around this is a marketing win which can be highlighted in case studies and company press releases. Wildcard Digital has a platform in place for customers who wish to pursue harvesting more organic reviews that influence both SEO and long-term customer acquisition.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), there are not many short cuts left open to small businesses these days, if they wish to increase traffic and lead generation. Old, stale SEO tactics like backlinking (especially for sites with low domain authority) are losing their power while content marketing, or the regular publication of high-quality content in the forms of blogs white papers and video are becoming more prized by the Google algorithm.
In each algorithm update including Panda, Google is hell bent on detecting and penalizing any form of domain, link, review or social media spamming.
Facebook is following similar strategies to Google, which essentially means website owners need to adopt long-term approaches for increasing site traffic and leads. Buying hundreds of domains, reviews or paying for fans seems like the easy way out, but will will be detrimental to your website over time. The whole controversy around ‘fake news’ and Facebook’s recent steps to crack down on ‘gamed’ posts means that there is even more incentive these days to focus on sharing quality content with users.
With the rise of machines, comes an awesome array of artificial intelligence which will identify very quickly those companies or websites that attempt to game their way to the top.
Focus on quality and a perfect customer experience and the results will follow including great reviews, more social followers and eventually higher search engine rankings and sales. While it make take bit longer, the results are powerful and long-lasting.
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