Social Recognition and the Google Paradox

Social Media CartoonAt some point in everyone’s blogging career, it happens. They realize that no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to generate comments on their blog. They’ve heard that comments are an important element of a successful blog and when the comments fail to come, panic starts to set in.

Whenever I hear this concern, I always ask, “Why do you want to get comments?”

It’s not that I don’t believe an active community can play a huge role in your content marketing efforts. It’s that I want to hear their response. This often leads to a bit of confusion as they struggle with what seems to be a dumb question. I usually follow with, “Why are you blogging?” If the purpose of the blog is to bring in clients and convert leads, are blog comments and the number of social shares really a measurement of these goals?

A recent article by Marcus “The Sales Lion” Sheridan addressed this very point stating the blog comments and social shares are “incredibly overrated.” In the article Sheridan uses the example of a pool company and the success of an article titled “How Much Does a Pool Cost?” The article is an actual page on the company’s website so it has never received a comment or social share. Yet even without these two metrics, Sheriden states that the article has generated $1.7 million in sales.

How does he determine the ROI of this one article? Because he is using advanced analytics that go beyond the number of comments and social shares. (If you want to learn more about measuring ROI and advanced analytics, download my free ebook, or contact me for a demonstration).

So why does it work without comments or sharing?
The fiberglass pool article works because it directly answers a specific question asked by the target audience, people considering purchasing a fiberglass pool. I’m sure that it also hits on a high volume key phrase which probably wasn’t too competitive (note: key word research!).

The person wondering how much it would cost to install a pool is looking for an answer to their question which is provided by the article. There is no motivation to discuss the details of the pricing or to share their findings on Facebook. They are considering buying a pool for themselves, not their online community.

It is also a piece of knowledge with a short cycle of need, not an ongoing learning process. The potential buyer learns how much a pool will cost and makes a decision to either continue in the buying process or not. The key for the pool company is to capture those potential buyers and move them through the sales funnel from that point. Not to gather comments and social sharing about the cost of a pool.

It all depends on Objectives
For the blogger who is blogging out of a passion for a hobby or is selling ads based on impressions, comments and an active community are much more important. Their business model depends on bringing visitors to their site, keeping them there and driving page views in order to increase advertising revenue. Content marketing is about providing content the user needs, using that content to bring the target audience to your website and guiding potential clients through the sales funnel. The goal isn’t to spend time discussing the price of a pool. The goal is to convert them into pool customers.

SEO Social Recognition Google

Boo hoo?

The Google Paradox
From everything we can ascertain about the Google algorithms, social recognition (social sharing, blog comments) is becoming a bigger and bigger factor in the search engine returns. (Google’s Matt Cutt’s even told us it is). Social recognition becomes an even bigger issue as Facebook moves into search. Their newly introduced Facebook graph search results are based entirely on the social recognition of others within the users social circles.

The problem becomes, if social recognition is so important in the search engine rankings, how can a web page move to the top of the rankings without it? In order to understand the answer, you must think like Google.

The goal of the Google search engine is to provide the best possible answer to the users question. In the case of a person asking about the price of a fiberglass pool, Google succeeds if they provide an answer to that question. If they don’t, Google has failed and the users will go elsewhere to find their answer.

However, there are other elements to the search algorythms than social recognition (time on page, bounce rate, incoming links), that help Google determine the best search for their results for their users. Even the context in which the text on the page is used plays a factor in the search engine returns.

So Should We Care About Social Recognition?
The short answer, yes. But social recognition is only one part of the formula. If it can be determined through your analytics that obtaining comments on a blog post helps you meet your main objective (ie., closing sales), then yes. We should care about social recognition. However, I would suggest that social media networks such as Facebook or Google+ might be a better platform for conversation which in turn drives your target audience to your blog post or web site.

Social sharing is also important but a blog post that doesn’t receive Facebook likes or Twitter links can still be successful. Face it, some things just aren’t going to be shared. If I find an article that helps me determine if I can afford that new swimming pool, chances are I’m not going to jump on Facebook to tell my friends about it. It’s highly unlikely that any of my Facebook friends are also trying to determine the price of a swimming pool.

Granted, I may ask my friends if they know how much a swimming pool might cost. This is where Facebook’s new graph search will come in as Facebook combs it’s data to find personal connections that have indicated in some way (ie. a Facebook update, a click through to a swimming pool maintenance website) that they own a swimming pool. But this opens another can of worms altogether doesn’t it?

The Irony of it All
Naturally, I discovered Sheridan’s post through a discussion on Google+ where I joined the discussion with a few comments of my own. This article started out as a comment on Sheriden’s original post but as it got longer and longer, I abandoned the comment and turned it into this blog post. At the time of this writing, Sheridan’s post discussing how comments and social sharing is overrated has received 23 comments, 50 Tweets, 51 Google+ and 17 Facebook “likes.” Not bad and for all we know, the post may be receiving massive amounts of traffic.

However, do those comments lead to Sheriden’s ultimate objective? Although I’m sure they do on many levels, if we simplify the objective to just bringing in new clients, they may not. Sheriden’s comment platform uses a plugin that shows the commentors last blog post on their own website. A quick scan of the post titles shows us that the comments are almost all from fellow content marketing types. Probably not the businesses that would be buying his services (although it appears he does do a good business as an expert speaker discussing issues of this sort).

You can see my point though. Certain audiences and types of content are more prone to commenting and social sharing than others. Just be sure your analytics provide a true measurement of your ultimate objectives.

Comments

  1. says

    Jim, loved this man. Not because you mentioned my article, but because you’ve got a healthy perspective and I can see your clients are in good hands.

    Continue success to you sir and thanks for allowing me to leave this “comment.” ;-)

    Marcus

  2. says

    Thanks Marcus. I really appreciate that. I just discovered your website through that article. Great stuff. You really hit a nerve. I couldn’t sleep the other night and at 3 in the morning started leaving a comment on your article. At some point I realized that a five paragraph comment was probably a little much. Bagged it till morning and turned it into the blog post.

    Your pool example is spot on. I’ve had a sports blog for years and I have posts with thousands of page views yet very few if any comments or sharing.

    I wonder though, the pool post has been around for a while as has my sports blog. Will this still be possible as Google takes a closer and closer look at social recognition?

  3. says

    You do make some very good points here I must admit, even though some certainly contradict my own thoughts on social engagement on my own blog which you were kind enough to comment on (many thanks).

    From a blogging perspective, being an aspiring writer myself here in the UK, surely you must think that Google+, Facebook like and Linkedin sharing buttons are important as far as engagement is concerned.

    How many people would simply turn away from a blog purely based on the low amount of ‘likes’ or comments, even before reading it, surely we’re all guilty of that. Sadly even my own blog is an example of that.

    Don’t comments encourage the viewer to read on, purely based on first impressions?

    Thanks again for the feedback, I’ve added you on Google+, You’d be doing me a huge favour by adding me in return.

    Cheers.

    • says

      Hi Richard. Thanks for stopping by.

      I believe that social sharing buttons are important but more because of reach than engagement. I think they play an important roll in helping you place your content in front of more eyes and moving up the search engine rankings.

      I rarely notice the number of “likes” or comments on an article before reading it and I can’t see a lack of social recognition turning me away from a headline or topic that looks interesting or important. Sometimes it’s even the opposite in that if it’s good I sometimes feel that I’ve discovered something that others haven’t.

      I get my first impression from the headline, images on the page and the first paragraph (if it’s a written article). The encouragement to read on comes from the content on the page, not the approval of others. I’m also more apt to make a comment if it is early in the discussion than when it will be lost in a long thread of comments.

      You’re not the first person I’ve heard say that a lack of “likes” or sharing would turn them away from an article so apparently it is an issue. What if you’re one of the first people to see a newly published article? Does that make it any less valuable?

      Ultimately, I think we are on the same page as it’s about the objectives of the content.

      • says

        I think it’s admirable that you would consider the article based on the headline and the introduction, which you certainly did with my own blog. I’m not sure others would consider the content based on these merits, sadly in my experience a stranger would be far more likely to skip the article if it had a low level of social authority, which isn’t the way it should be.

        It’s a shame that other don’t share the same attitude to new content as you do, and that someone may not read an entire article if it hasn’t been reaffirmed by other users, but that is how some people would feel.

        In many ways these social buttons and comments can act as indicators on the strength of the content but as you’ve said they should be there to give your content some exposure.

        Anyway, thanks for the add. I’ve subscribed to your feed so i’ll definitely take a look around the site.

        • says

          I wouldn’t say that it’s admirable. Probably more self serving. I’m going to spend my time on what is important to me, information I find useful and interesting, not what the group says I should be reading. I can’t believe that the headline doesn’t grab a readers attention before the number of “lilkes” or social recognition. I do most of my online reading on the iPad using Zite or Flipboard where I can’t even see the social recognition until I’ve clicked through to the page. At that point I’ve made a commitment on some level.

          Granted of course that it is the social recognition that moves an item into the Zite or Flipboard feed. Oh the contradiction.

          I would love to see some data on this. You say that in your experience, people are more likely to skip the article. Anything to back this up?

          • says

            Well this is purely what I’ve found through my own writing, I’m an aspiring blogger as you may have guessed and I’m writing for what is essentially a developing online marketing company here in the UK.

            We have relatively low authority as far as Social Media and Links are concerned.

            My Blog generate a significant portion of our traffic each month, through Google Analytics I’ve been analyzing where our visitors are coming from and where/when they’re leaving the page.

            The blogs that have generated a decent amount of social media links/shares etc attract viewers for a longer period of time according to bounce rate and average visit duration.

            This is of course what I’ve found as a startup writer personally, it may not be the case with a more established site such as yours.

            What I’m basically saying is that people seem to be spending more time on pages that have say 10+ Google +s rather than barely any, going back to what I said about comments, Google+ buttons and Facebook likes being an indicator of an article that’s worth reading, like a sort of snow ball effect.

            Have you found that visitors stay longer on your posts that are getting some discussion? (Apologies for the long winded comment.)

  4. says

    But are they staying longer on the site because the content is better and because the content is better, people are more likely to share it or are they staying on the site longer because the number of likes, +1s is giving them a signal that they should read the content on the page?

    Sort of a chicken and egg type thing isn’t it.

    My first inclination would be the quality of the content. I’ve put the question out on some other forums and will let you know what I hear.

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