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December 16, 2008

Exploring Social Media: Promoting Your Link Backs to You

Exploring Social Media article series badgeYesterday in Exploring Social Media: The Power of the Link Needs Content, I introduced the most powerful social media tool in the world, the link, and explained that unless you have make the link direct people to valuable and useful content, you are shooting blanks. The link makes a lot of noise with nothing to show for it.

The impact of linking to yourself is magnified in value. When you email or publish a link to something you wrote, recommending it, you are telling the world:

  • I know that which I write about.
  • I am an expert in the subject.
  • I have the experience to back up what I’m writing.
  • This is the best I can do.

Do your links qualify?

When you contact a blogger or anyone to encourage them to link to you, do you keep these things in mind? Are you offering your best work? Does your blog or social media tool show the world you are an expert in this?

If you have the proof behind your link, then maybe your failure is in the presentation of that link, especially when directed towards bloggers, the most capable of spreading the word far and wide about you and your blog. read more

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December 15, 2008

Exploring Social Media: The Power of the Link Needs Content

Exploring Social Media article series badgeIn The Power of the Link and Don’t Guest Blog Until You Have Content, I talk about two very important subjects that apply to our ongoing discussion and Exploring Social Media Series.

First, a link is a door people open to your world, be it a world within your blog, social media tools and services, or a recommendation to visit another world, one you hope your fans will enjoy so much, they will return to your world with joy, eager for more and telling the world about what you have to offer.

Second, if you link without anything worth linking to, without anything positive to offer people, without anything worth recommending, without anything worth returning to, you have lost the power in social influence within the modern online world.

If you link to yourself, then these two characteristics are magnified. You are offering people a gateway into your world, one they expect is worth linking to, deserving of attention, exciting, and worth telling others about.

The link is the most powerful social media tool of all. read more

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April 21, 2008

Trackback Declared Dead… Again!

Filed as Features with 3 comments

Trackback is one of the major blog features that has been declared dead over and over again. This recently led Kyle Eslick from Hack WordPress to ask his readers “Does WordPress Need Trackbacks Any More?” Eslick’s own answer is straightforward: “In my opinion, blogging has outgrown the trackback and the pingback has made it irrelevant.”

The question is not so much if spam or the Pingback killed the Trackback but rather if the medium has rendered it obsolete. The medium and practice of blogging are entangled in the blog software and with the introduction of Pingback the inter-blog notification system became automatic instead of manual. When I described the difference between the manual Trackback and the automatic Pingback in On Using Manual and/or Automatic Link Notification Systems I also described how I mainly relied on Pingbacks.

Gathered from the discussion in the comments (and the slowly disappearing Trackback URI on blogs) it seems that especially the newer generation of bloggers, including myself, is not aware of the Trackback feature let alone use it. Does that mean that WordPress, or any other blog software for that matter, should remove the feature? If Trackback is only being used by spammers should we keep that little Trackback box that hardly anyone uses?

I am sure users would raise hell if WordPress would remove the Trackback feature because as Martin Emmerich comments: “Trackbacks and pingbacks are the threads of the blog web and part of the blogging culture.” Trackbacks play(ed) an important part in our blogging culture and they have helped to shape the blogosphere as we now know it.

So what should we do with the Trackback? Should we do anything at all? Anil Dash from Movable Type, who developed the trackback, replied to a first wave of “trackback is dead” declarations in 2005 that we should fix its problems:

Finally, the familiarity and utility of TrackBack, especially now that current-generation tools reduce the likelihood and reward value of spamming, means that there can be a base for a new generation of TrackBack, featuring necessities like authentication and richer content payloads. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater in regards to TrackBack would be as silly as throwing out email because it’s been abused.

Mend it, don’t end it! :)

Did Pingback fix TrackBack sufficiently to render it obsolete? Should we remove obsolete features from the already abundant options in the blog software interface? Troy Duncan shares my wish of further developing conversational techniques: “Instead of removing choices, I would like blogging platforms to develop more ways to extend the conversation.”

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March 17, 2008

How Spam-Friendly is Your Niche?

No one wants to attract spammers to their site. They scrape content, post junk comments and turn search engines off to your site.

Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that all blogs, regardless of age, topic and readership, will attract at least some attention from the purveyors of junk. That is a simple byproduct of having a blog and publishing an RSS feed.

However, to spammers, all blogs are not created equal and some sites are going to attract far more attention from spammers than others. But while many of the elements that will attract spammers may be unpredictable and outside of our control, others are not.

One of the biggest indicators of how much trouble a blog will have with spam is the niche that it is operating in. This is because, by in large, the niche a blog is in will determine the keywords most commonly associated with it and those keywords, in turn, determine which sites the spammers latch on to.

The question then becomes, which niches suffer the most at the hands of spammers.

The Usual Suspects

If you want to know whether your niche is a popular target for spammers, you need to look no farther than the spam folder in your email box.

Whether or not Web spammers and email spammers are often the same, it is clear that they share many of the same targets. Keywords and topics that are popular targets for email spammers will, often times, be targets for Web ones as well.

As such, blogs in known spam niches such as gambling, prescription drugs, contests, travel, adult content and financing, are going to be frequent targets for spam blogs.

Of course, the catch is that it is not necessarily a matter of your blog promoting the same products or services as spam blogs, it is a matter of it being within the same broad topic. Spam bots, much like search engines, can not inherently tell the difference between favorable and unfavorable posts. As such, a news report about a crackdown on online gambling is just as likely to be scraped as a blog offering tips for for winning at poker.

In short, if your site routinely has keywords that are familiar to email spam, odds are you’ve already seen more than your fair share of trouble from dark side of the Web. But even if you don’t meet those criteria, there is still a good chance you could, unwittingly, be attracting the attention of spammers.

Unexpected Surprises

Of course, not all Web spam deals with the same topics as email spam. Since Web spam is driven by many different factors, it is inevitable some categories will show up on the Web that don’t in our inboxes.

One such factor is the amount of money a spammer can hope to make off of a single click. When one takes a look at the most expensive Adsense keywords, they find that the list is top-heavy not with traditional spam topics, but legal searches.

Since many spam blogs only earn a few clicks before being shut down, having a keyword that generates a decent amount of revenue is critical. As such, spammers are drawn to topics such a Mesothelioma, dwi/dui, personal injury and insurance simply because they are terms they can hope to make approximately fifty dollars a click from. Though these terms are not as heavily targeted by spammers since they are less likely to be searched for than the traditional spam workhorses, cost definitely plays a factor.

On the flip side, search frequency also plays a role. Looking at the top search terms gives you an idea of what people are searching for and where the spammers are likely to follow. In that regard, celebrity news is a frequent topic of interest with technology and television shows also making an appearance.

Though these terms might not be as valuable per click, they can make up for that in sheer quantity. Simply put, spammers are guaranteed not just a constant stream of potential viewers, but a ready supply of sites to latch onto. This approach may be better for spam sites less focused on earning clicks on ads and more interested in using spam to pump the rankings of another site.

Still, of all the potential indicators, it appears that search volume is the least helpful. The amount of Britney Spears spam, for example, remains remarkably low for the term and seems likely to stay that way.

But like the other factors, it is worth being aware of as it can give you a clue as to the problems that may be coming down the road.

What It Is Bad

None of this is to say that you should change your niche simply because it is targeted by spammers, just that having a topic targeted by them can create additional problems for your site. All in all, there are at least three reasons you should take note if your site does happen to fall in a spam-friendly niche:

  1. 1. Increased Scraping: Perhaps the first repercussion of having a spam-friendly niche is that your content will be scraped much more heavily than it would otherwise. This can even be the result of just sending out one post on a targeted keyword and is only amplified the more often such posts are made.
  2. 2. Increased Comment Spam: Though comment spam is more random in nature than scraping, there is an element of it that is keyword based. Posts and sites with popular spam keywords are more frequent targets for comment spam and sites that routinely deal with such topics may want to take extra anti-spam measures. Also note, in conjunction with the increased scraping, there will also be a rise in the amount of trackback/pingback spam.
  3. 3. Increased Confusion: If your site is in a spammy niche and users are likely to have seen many spam blogs in that area, you are going to have to work harder to ensure that users realize your blog is genuine. Likewise, there is an increase in the likelihood that search engines will confuse your product with spam or that your site will be dealing with strong search engine competition from its spam counterparts. All in all, setting your site apart from the spammers will be a much greater challenge.

The good news is that, with work and awareness, most of the problems that come from being in a spam-friendly zone can be overcome. by using known anti-scraping tools, taking anti-comment spam measures and clearly distinguishing yourself from the spammers, it is possible to thrive in these niches, as many blogs do.

Conclusions

It is far more important to write what you know and what you love than it is to avoid being in a spam-friendly niche. Spam attacks can be overcome, but there is no overcoming a lack of ambition or love for one’s topic.

But it is still important to be aware if your selected niche is a likely target for spammers. Doing so gives you the chance to take counter-measures and prevent the spammers from latching in too deep. It also gives you the chance to proactively search for and protect your content, block comment spam and work to separate yourself from the junk.

In short, being aware of the spamminess of your niche is the first, and most important, step in overcoming the drawbacks it brings. Fortunately, that is easy information to obtain.

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January 7, 2008

On Using Manual and/or Automatic Link Notification Systems

When writing a blog post I place links to relevant sources and material. I choose my links carefully and they represent what I think fits the topic best.

Trackback is an intentional way of notifying other blogs because WordPress requires you to manually enter the blog’s trackback link. It also allows you to send a notification to another blog even if you don’t explicitly link to them in the post. This may be done in an attempt to include the other blog in the conversation. On top of that trackbacks may be considered “the real letters of recommendation on the web.” However, with the increasing disappearing of a visible trackback link is it still a popular feature?

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November 24, 2007

Have Trackbacks Become Too Spammy To Be Worthwhile?

You may have also discovered a surge in trackback spam recently as autoblogging software is being used by more and more spammers to reach out and cull RSS feeds.  This phenomenon has led to many disabling trackbacks, or raising the “blacklist” level so high that you might never see some trackbacks again.  Or, as some newer remotely-hosted commenting technologies like IntenseDebate and Disqus show, they simply do not show trackbacks because of the spam problem.

[As an aside, that’s not to say that they will never implement it; I have it on good account that Disqus will probably implement it as soon as they *can* find a way to clean up the spam-detecting components in the trackback issue.]

The problem is that in my own blogging success, I have found trackbacks to be instrumental.

Here’s how.

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