Fake News Marketing: The Bad Side of SEO

Many of the click-bait stories were carefully optimized to respond well for search. Add in the search engines’ bias toward displaying trending or popular stories, and you have an ecosystem that nurtured and supported click-baiting.

Gyre that fake news causes in search
A woman walks on a Hawaiian beach where plastic from the ocean washes onto the shore. Fake news SEO causes this in search results.

The recent news is ablaze with discussions and accusations that any dissenting opinion to our current administration is fake news. Even unfavorable polls are declared fakes. These accusations are often presented along with risible oxymoronic “alternative facts,” or lies by another name.

As I have watched this descent into journalistic maelstrom, I have wondered about whether click-baiting and SEO copywriting might have contributed to the growth of this toxic environment.

Many fake news stories started as a form of click-bait, providing tabloid sensationalism to mundane topics. These were often created to draw traffic to accompanying advertising or even to sell products or create advocates for various online organizations.

Unwitting Search Engine Complicity

The bad news is that many of these click-bait stories were carefully optimized to respond well for search. Add in the search engines’ bias toward displaying trending or popular stories, and you have an ecosystem that nurtured and supported click-baiting.

Efforts by Google, Bing and Facebook to sift out the garbage from the river of putrid information being cast into the Internet are ongoing.

Given how we depend on search to provide authoritative answers on almost any topic, it is incumbent on them to ensure the integrity and veracity of the information delivered in the search results.

SEOs, Use Your Power for Good (And Your Brands Will Benefit)

As a successful SEO, I am always amazed at the power of SEO content and copywriting.

Yes! Content is king, and solid SEO copywriting and optimization works, whether you are an e-commerce vendor (where my search practice focuses) or in some other business. Many e-commerce sites, coming late to the party, are just now discovering the power of content. They are adding volumes of content to their sites. It is often carefully written — using SEO principles and curated by content strategists.

But I find myself asking if it really adds anything of substance. Is it just irresistible cotton candy for the mind with no intellectual nutritional value? Does each piece give helpful information about the product that might be useful as it drives the consumer to purchase?

The lack of intellectual nutritional value in product content, coupled with a distrust of advertising, motivates the consumer to seek reviews or other sources of validation.

Out in the northern Pacific Ocean, there is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an enormous debris field the size of Texas, filled with of garbage, plastic and other non-degradable material. The Pacific Ocean is vast and fills one with awe at its majesty and beauty. So this huge depository of rubbish is a nasty blemish.

In the future, will the huge server farms that make up the “cloud” become cluttered with an equivalent garbage patch of information that adds little or nothing to man’s vast store of knowledge? The advertisement with the Geico gecko wandering in a Silicon Valley server farm touches this nerve.

Just as search engines must root out “fake news” and click-bait, any of us who create SEO content, whether as a copywriter, editor or strategist, should ask ourselves if each piece of content adds to man’s vault of information or is more debris for the digital garbage patch floating in the cloud.

Author: Amanda G. Watlington, Ph.D.

Amanda is the founder of Searching for Profit, a search marketing strategy consultancy; and CEO of City Square Consulting, a management consulting firm. Amanda is an internationally recognized author, speaker and search marketing pioneer. Her consultancy focuses on using organic search to drive traffic to customer sites. She is an expert on the use of language for search. Her clients have included well-known and emerging brands.
The purpose of this blog is to provide insights and tips for how to use search profitably. It will cut through the volumes of information that threaten to overwhelm the busy marketer and will focus on what is truly important for making search work.

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