‘If you know where you come from, then you know where you are going’. Old Marketing techniques may be dated but it’s amazing how the theories behind them are still hugely relevant, shaping our digital age. Google is now an authority we trust, usually giving us faith that the first search result will give us the information we are looking for.
We no longer follow one source who has clear credentials and a long career. New media – YouTube and blogging with modern technology like cameras and GPS on every phone have changed the game. Information moves drastically quicker than ever before through the new media. Where in the past money equated to power now data is power and can be sold to the highest bidder.
Google did their research when they created their search algorithm. Pagerank (their back link based algorithm which made yahoo and other competitors basically obsolete) may have been revolutionary but it evolved out of the old practice of measuring how many citations a scientific paper has. People indexed papers by citation for decades before Google, or even the internet came along. All Google did was tweak this old marketing technique to make it work in the internet age.
Then there’s domain authority; getting somebody authoritative to endorse a product is older than celebrity culture. Going further we usually trust Google’s first result to be an authority on the subject we are searching for so might not fact check the result. We believe in Google as an authority, but Google is a robot and robots can be tricked.
The progress of technology in our lifetime masks the fact that the same old marketing techniques pushed on our grandparents are still being used – to great effect – on our new online platforms.
- The History and Future of Marketing
- How to Abuse Old Marketing Techniques
- Practical Examples
The History and Future of Marketing
There is a major hole in how search uses authority as a ranking metric. We are more likely to trust a specific newspaper over an online influencer, but as time goes on we are taking ourselves backwards to a much older model of marketing philosophy.
Social media leaves us biased to trust sources posted by our friends and influencers. We unfollow any sources that we object to, while endorsing where we approve with a like or a follow. In turn we influence each other – friend groups slowly homogenise and influencers gain leverage through popularity (and paid adverts).
‘Google has became intelligent’ – but has it? When you understand how they measure authority it become easy to abuse, gaining more authority in an ever increasing spiral. The fact we trust that Google is getting ‘smarter’ through RankBrain (their machine learning AI algorithm) – a trait which implies sentience – shows just how much faith we have in the cult of search. Wherever there’s blind faith there will always be people to make an easy buck.
The hypodermic theory of marketing
When the wireless (radio) first came out people had enough faith in the vetting process to get on the airways that they would generally believe anything that their radio said. When “War of the World’s” was first read on the radio people believed aliens were landing.
This is one of the best examples of the ‘hypodermic theory of marketing‘ – one of the earliest ideas labeled as a marketing philosophy. The radio was an authority, so anybody on the radio feeding you information was considered a reliable source.
People would believe what they were told – ideas could be injected into the brain using the radio as a hypodermic syringe. We think of propaganda as a thing of the past – people had more faith in their leaders and less resources to question what they were hearing. The hypodermic model was a landmark in the history of marketing. What is marketing if not the modern evolution of propaganda?
People did wise up to the hypodermic model pretty quickly, now we believe that we are less susceptible to this kind of propaganda. That’s not necessarily true. We believe what authoritative sources tell us, but we choose who we think is an authority on a subject and in the internet age we have a lot of choice. If you have ever met an “Influencer” you’ll know how dangerous trust can be.
Google’s history of propaganda
Think of the first result on Google like the early radio and it becomes apparent just how far we have regressed. Most of us trust Google is a reliable source, a hard system to cheat. Each time Google update their algorithm we get told how much more accurate search has become.
We are blinded to the fact that these updates exist to patch holes in the system. If you listen to Google there are no holes in their system. They are the apex of all human knowledge. Using positive language is such an old marketing technique it probably predates the word advertising.
Link building is a good example of a hole in Google’s algorithm. Last year we were told by Google employee John Mueller that link building does more harm than good and everybody should stop.
Link building is still one of the most reliable ways of getting a good ranking on Google. They use links as signs of authority because search is more accurate with links as a ranking factor than without. John Mueller’s statement was a poor attempt to hide the fact that Google still needs to use Backlinks because they haven’t yet invented a better system, but they want one.
This isn’t the only case of Google spreading bad information for personal gain. Nearly three years ago Matt Cutts (Google’s head of search quality) claimed that Guest Posting was a dangerous tactic. Mr Cutts’ gripe is easy to understand, PBN (private blog networks – explored later) are a huge spam problem which have the power to crack Google’s algorithm if used correctly.
Guest posting continues to be a very effective, if slightly old marketing technique. Artificial intelligence isn’t real human intelligence yet. All machines can be tricked if you are smart or persistent.
How to Abuse Old Marketing Techniques
The internet is a breeding ground for conspiracy because it gives anybody a platform to speak. If you are able to speak with conviction and build yourself an audience you become seen as an authority. You may be completely incorrect, but if what you say makes sense to your audience and goes viral, you can become an authority overnight.
Black hat methods of gaining exposure and building authority are often downright strange, but surprisingly effective (Real life examples in the next section).
- People now now edit images and video so skillfully that you genuinely can’t believe your eyes. Since pictures started to move propagandists have tried to manipulate us, animation can now be so realistic we can’t tell.
- You can become an authority just by trolling. If you spout enough controversy, now and then you will get something so right that people think you authoritative. Eventually if you persist you may go viral – the Donald Trump effect.
- Private blog networks – Pseudo science blogs regularly use other psuedo science blogs for their sources. Eventually they often go full circle – Blog A uses Blog B as a source, Blog B uses Blog C as a source, while Blog C uses Blog A as a source. You can own all three blogs (or three hundred) and unless the reader really fact checks the sources can seem very reliable. Each article is used by the other as it’s evidence (often as proof of the unbelievable). This can give a considerable ranking boost.
- “Parasite pages” post content on a website with high authority and then build loads of spam links. High authority websites aren’t so likely to be damaged by a bit of spam so temporarily these pages piggyback off their parent website’s authority. Google trust the vetting process of these ‘authority pages’ so when something slips through the net we believe it.
- Anybody with 100,000 Facebook followers who genuinely engage with your posts is seen as more reliable than somebody with only 100. These followers could be bought, when done right we’re none the wiser. We only notice badly faked social accounts and social engagement breeds more engagement.
These are considered black hat techniques because the long term motivation behind them is usually advertising revenue. Their authority is paper thin to a rational person – but not to that search algorithm you trust. Peal away the layers and you will find the truth, but you have to know what you are looking for first. That’s complicated by the fact that Google is both a verb and a noun (name and action); to Google something means to find the truth.
The less extreme these websites are the less the general public will see their motivation. Anybody can abuse the above methods. If what somebody is saying is reasonable and fits with what you already know to be true, or believe why would you check their sources? This is how conspiracy theories can spread even if they were originally started by a troll.
All of the above methods are good ways of generating exposure which is an end in itself. Some people believe in their cause so much that they fabricate sources to make you and me see their extreme point of view, these are more examples of old marketing techniques being used in a new media – propaganda for the internet age. These black hat tactics are very hard to protect against if the webmaster isn’t spewing blatant rubbish.
Some of the methods I suggested sound far fetched or dated. They are dated, but in a way we have become so used to them that we don’t see them anymore. Persistence is why these old marketing techniques are so dangerous (or powerful). You will have probably been tricked by a fake authority at one time or another. The following examples should highlight this.
In the last decade trust in billboard advertising and physical directories like the Yellow Pages have plummeted – the internet took over that niche. Billboards can still be great for product awareness, but very few of us give credibility to a celebrity endorsement on a billboard ad. We can simply pull out our phone to get a review on the fly. We see an interesting product on a billboard so we Google it to find out more.
It’s quick, and easy and in this case we are back to an old advertising technique very similar to the Hypodermic Syringe Model. We trust in a stranger – often making money from affiliate links or paid product placement – to give a balanced review which will help us pick the best product because it ranks high on Google.
Often review blogs and vlogs don’t even actually test the products themselves, rather they read the tech specs and spin content from other reviews but if they rank highly we trust in Google’s authority. We are back to blind belief in the vetting process.
When you know this video is edited it becomes hard to miss – sections are repeated to stretch a forty second segment into over two minutes making UK politics look even more of a joke than it already is. They could have done this as a joke, they could do this to build a social following; they could even believe in their cause so much that they see nothing wrong with falsifying information to make others believe what they see as the truth.
These videos can be so outrageous that you share them without even thinking (or watching twice more closely). The page owner goes viral and generates more followers, shares and advertising revenue. You may be sharing the content to say ‘look at this rubbish’ but you are still giving the video’s creator exposure and they love you for it.
Next time they try the same trick it works even better. People build links because content is controversial, Google struggles to tell the difference between positive and negative exposure. The end result is giving authority and higher search rankings to frauds.
‘The Mind Unleashed(TMU)‘ is a popular pseudoscience blog. Articles vary from believable to bullshit. They profit from people believing the unbelievable and clicking on their ads. Lets look at an article on Japanese Masters Channeling Chi. They use (questionable) sources which gives a veneer of authority (videos and other blogs), but these secondary sources use more pseudo science blogs to prove their point.
People believe in Chi/Qi – unexplained eastern mysticism – because it has such a long history. Personally I think that this form of Chi is hypnosis. Lots of alternative therapies attribute their efficiency to ‘Chi’, however the quoted article is on about a different (albeit similar) entity with the same name. There are amazing demonstrations out there, but nothing that I have seen which convinces me this mystical energy truly exists.
Although most people don’t believe in this pseudo science, all the sources used are benefitting from TMU giving them a high authority backlink. As it is already seen as authoritative by Google, articles which spread falsehoods rank highly for many search terms. Some people strongly do believe in Chi so they would link to this article as evidence – it fits their world view. They see the mind unleashed as a reliable source so they share it, The Mind Unleashed gains authority and rankings and the circle grows exponentially.
People can fake it till they make it, some people can fake it so well they don’t have to make it – instead they can constantly make their content up because they have convinced their audience they know what they are talking about.
Controversy will always generate exposure, and Google still can’t tell good exposure from bad. “All publicity is good publicity” – how old is that marketing mantra? To Google it’s still true. We think in the last decade marketing has experienced a revolution, but the old marketing techniques keep their place. Effective old solutions for our new problems.
Often people start out ‘trolling’. The really dangerous ideas are the ones spread by people with an ulterior motive who believe in their cause so strongly that they will lie to make others believe. Eventually when people realise that they have enough following they can make money their cause becomes corrupted.
The bottom line is we trust sources which back up our world view, or seem to prove something we really want to believe. Google is the ultimate example of this – it is the most used search engine so we really do trust it as an authority and a source. We trust it’s vetting process – if a page ranks high it is reliable. Google can still be tricked, and people are becoming increasingly sneaky with their methods.
Should you try any of the advertising methods I have put forward? I really wouldn’t, they are manipulative and immoral. Search engines will eventually penalise you for using them and if your social following catch you lying your credibility is destroyed.
The purpose of this post is more designed to help you open your mind and question everything you see. New technology isn’t immune to old faults, and the newest technology isn’t always the best. Be careful sharing other people’s content.
The internet is like the wireless – we aren’t even aware that we still don’t know what to trust.
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