by Rita Dapkus-Sproston for BarGlobeWorld.com
You’d think an online retail store would be easier to run than a brick and mortar one. Dozens of e-commerce marketing and business courses advertise that for just a few thousand of your hard earned dollars they’ll teach you how to set up an online business that will make you lots of money and eventually run itself. Run itself? Utter nonsense.
It’s No Longer about the Products
The problem is that what I think I should be focusing on in my online business, like the products I sell, their quality and prices, customer service, etc. have become minor factors. In actual fact, we online retailers spend most of our time trying to satisfy the demands of Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines in order to get better placement in their search results. These days that no longer means having the right meta keywords on your website, it means gaining popularity through backlinks – other people, websites and social media accounts that link to you, share you, bookmark you, Like you, Tweet you, etc.
I sell bar globes online. But instead of spending my work day finding suppliers to enhance my selection, planning promotions, or taking other courses of action that would seem the logical thing to do to attract customers, I’m forced to spend my day playing a game that makes me feel like a fifteen-year-old (and it’s been a long time since I was fifteen).
Playing the Social Media Marketing Game
Here’s an example of what I might do on a typical day after taking care of order processing and other routine business. I write an article like I’m doing now and submit it to a few free article websites, hoping that the couple of links in the About the Author section at the bottom will create backlinks to my website. Then I publish a condensed version of the article on my blog, which automatically tweets about it on Twitter and posts it on the wall of my Facebook page. Then I click the Like button next to the post on my Facebook page so that it gets published to my personal profile page.
I do all of this, as do all online retailers, to get backlinks and in hopes that someone will find the post interesting and hit the Like or Google+ button, or tweet it, or share it, or bookmark it on Delicious or one of the other social bookmarking sites to develop even more backlinks and slowly climb the page rank ladder on search engines. All the while I’m doing this I’m also hoping that I won’t lose any of my friends on these social networks who don’t want to be getting these posts. I’ll be honest, I dislike getting them from others. But as online retailers we’re forced to do it – that’s the name of the game.
After I’m done with that I may go to a site like StumbleUpon and save one of my web pages or articles to my favorites, then stumble others’ bookmarked sites that are relevant to mine in hopes that those stumblers may have a look at what I’ve got bookmarked and bookmark it as well so that I get, of course, a backlink. I may then create a lens on Squidoo and bookmark it on Delicious or other sites, and depending on how much time I have left I may find some users to follow on Twitter in hopes that they follow me too.
How Can Search Engines Determine Popularity If the Competition Is Cheating?
The initial motives for placing so much importance on backlinks through social media, blogs, articles and other means set out by search engines may seem logical – if people like what you sell and what you say they’ll probably link to you, right? Maybe, but the results don’t bring in a true picture unless the process happens naturally, and it often doesn’t. No matter how many times Google says it penalizes websites for breaking the rules, it happens all the time. And, as usual, it’s the small business owners who suffer because they don’t have the money to manipulate the system even if they wanted to.
I write articles and submit them to free article websites to get backlinks. I’d be very surprised if there were more than a handful doing it for any other reason. That in itself isn’t bad as long as the content is informative and true. But is automating the process fair business practice? I say no.
Those of us who play the game by the rules know that submitting articles to multiple websites is time consuming, especially if you take the time to fill out the account and profile information. But many others cut corners, especially the big companies that can afford it, by subscribing to one of many article marketing services that will submit an article for you to thousands of websites automatically and get you tons of backlinks. But that’s just the beginning.
Search engines give less weight to backlinks that are generated by the same article that’s simply published on a lot of different websites. They want you to work for those links by writing a lot of different articles, not by making lots of copies, and that’s perfectly logical. But logical and fair isn’t good enough for those who can buy their way to the top of the search engine rankings. There’s always someone who will offer a way to cheat and beat the system. Here are a few excerpts from countless spam emails I get: “Produces 100’s of unique articles in a matter of minutes.” “Spins words AND entire sentences (unlike other sub-standard spinners) so it produces truly unique articles every time.” “Special built in function to vary your word, sentence and paragraph count to ensure articles are truly unique so search engines don’t think they’re duplicates.”
And if this isn’t cheating then I don’t know what is: you can buy 1,000 Facebook fans and Likes for about $50, Twitter followers, YouTube views and any other backlinks you can think of.
I have to play the backlinks game as an online retailer if I hope to sell my bar globes because the search engines are forcing me to do it. What’s the point of having a great online shop if customers can’t find your website when they search for the products you carry? But I refuse to buy my way to the top. I’ll always write and submit every article myself, get Likes, followers, bookmarks and each and every backlink myself and on the merits of my business.
Online marketing is a whole new ballgame, but it should still be played fairly. And as for an online business being able to run itself… don’t make me laugh.