Search Bullying – Mean Girl Stuff or Just Clever Marketing?

Yes, I’m making up words and there may be a real word for this but I’m putting it in a specific context so it’s my call:

Search Bullying – Where another blogger uses Google to  intentionally reduce traffic to your blog.

Search Bullying

What is search bullying?

In an ecommerce situation, it’s best practice, in fact, it’s essential.  It’s where you pursue top placement for keywords that make sales.  Every industry has a selection of keywords that drive traffic and conversions and your goal is to beat out your competitors for the lot.  But blogging and community building is a whole different kettle of fish as far as SEO and content marketing strategies go. It’s about building an audience, building engagement and creating a 100% unique brand.  SEO comes second to audience relationship every time.

What happened to the blogger in question?

Here’s the deal.  A few months ago, a blogger complained that every time she wrote a great blog that got good engagement, another (more popular) blogger would show up suddenly in search results for that topic.  There’s nothing new under the sun and everyone gets a bit annoyed at their industry sharing similar content – no big deal, probably all in her head.  The next month it happened again – she wrote on a very niche topic and that the competitor had never written about.  But within a few days of publishing, the competitor knocked her off page one for the keywords associated with the content.  When it happened a third month, I decided to check it out.

The blog entry was about going to a movie with her toilet trained child – and failing to take a nappy bag.  Awkward parenting hilarity ensued when the child became so engrossed in the movie the he “regressed” on the toilet training front and a comedy of errors happened.  It was a very honest, funny and personal story.  She’d chosen a couple of low competition longtail keywords to loosely target.  Being a unique story with nothing to sell, she managed to make page one slot eight without even trying for her niche keyword.  Sure enough, the competing blogger appeared in slot 6 for the same keyword within a few days despite having no new content on the topic.

How the blogger did it

The blogger has an in-house “reputation manager” – someone who acts on behalf of the blogger to get her content shared by other brands and to source PR opportunities.  It’s sometimes also the job of the reputation manager to keep any negative mentions off page one and to actively ” show up”  the competition.  These “sharks”  are usually employed by politicians or big firms with big budgets and plenty of clout.  A ” mummy blogger”  doesn’t need one, seriously.

Without being SO OBVIOUS as to create copy-cat content, the blogger and her team simply edited an old blog entry to target (awkwardly) the same keyword phrase and then created a variety of external and internal links to the archive page.  This isn’t a big keyword, these things aren’t impossible to do….   The relevance of the original blog (about a date night without the kids) to the keyword phrase was very low and made her content hard to read.   It reduced the quality of her own blog.

So what, this is what SEO is all about right?

Is the reputation manager (under her instruction, she’s an SEO obsessed human being) doing anything wrong? Isn’t this what good SEO folk do?  Try to ” win all the keywords”? Nah, this is just being mean.

The act brought her no real benefit

The traffic gain would have been negligible on a blog of her size, there was no real benefit besides keeping my friend down.  Not all websites have the same goal. eCommerce sites want you to just hand over your money.  Service sites want you to fill in a form.  Blogging communities want to grow readership and time on site – usually by social means rather than SEO.  If they do make SEO the priority for the site, it’s about going after high traffic keywords.  This was not a biggy.  It was so niche that less than 40 people a month searched for it.  If they were searching this phrase, it was because they had read my friend’s HILARIOUS blog and were trying to find it again.  Other results on the list were simply the big movie cinemas caught in the SEO crossfire.  The bully had no real reason to be there.

 

 The bully’s original content followed sound SEO strategies

What she wrote for her own blog achieved good results.  She knew what she was doing. She didn’t need to go after this tiny little phrase, she had plenty to be going on with.

It wasn’t a one-off thing

I went looking.  I was curious enough to check on the historical keyword ranking data of both my friend’s and the bully’s blog.  My friend had enjoyed some success on a crafting article that had made it all the way to slot 3 for a medium sized keyword.  Her bully was in slot one for a blog written three days AFTER my friend’s and then buried on the site instead of being featured as new content.  Over six months, more than 75% of my friend’s keywords had been ‘ attacked’ by the bully and her team – usually via edits to old blogs for keyword targeting purposes.  The randomly inserted phrases and weird linking made for an awful read.  I noticed that there were other random keywords on her list.  I started checking around and found that my friend was not alone.  Four other bloggers in this particular parenting niche were being forced out of their rightful rankings by the bully and her team.

 

So, is search bullying a real thing or just savvy SEO?

The definitions of bullying are around wearing victims down, desire to dominate, acting out of anger or jealousy and playing ” political gamesmanship” – in this case a little like a cyber pissing contest, I guess.  The other definitions of bullying don’t apply here so the jury is still out on the question.  The question is though, is it savvy SEO?  The bully is downgrading the quality of her own product for little gain so she’s actually harming her overarching marketing goals – to build a loyal community through quality content.  Is destroying her product for little to no gain savvy?

A lot of platitudes get thrown around about competitors copying, flattery whatever…  but the blogger described it this way “if she keeps looking back while she charges forward, she’ll eventually fall in a hole’  - which made me smile.  Blogging as a business has opened up a broad range of ethical dilemmas form cyber mean girls to domain robbing to redefining what business is all about. I can’t tell if this is search bullying or just the rules of business as Sun Tzu would have painted them…  but either way, it’s not right.

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