Why is properly conducted HitTailing is the least spammy form of online marketing? The foremost reason is the self-qualifying nature of the act of searching. You did not cold-call the individual. You did not attempt to insert a popup add between them and their content. You are not even competing for visual attention between editorial content and ad banners.
Your visitor is at your site because they WANT to be there. They asked to be there. They sought you out. And this is the best type of visitor.
The same can be said for pay-per-click advertising, and indeed this is true. It’s a major reason why such a small component of the screen (text-based ads) has constituted a 7-billion dollar industry last year. Now, imagine the fact that the iceberg principle is at work here: the actual search engine traffic being routed through natural search is likely to be many times greater than that being routed by PPC ads.
Think about it.
John Battelle opens his book, The Search, talking about Arbitrage. Wikipedia defines arbitrage as:
“In economics, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a state of imbalance between two or more markets: a combination of matching deals are struck that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices.”
For those not familiar with the concept, this is the same as the middleman or the broker: someone in the middle who has better access to supply-side, and demand-side than the supplier or customer. For the best middleman book I’ve ever read, check out Winning Through Intimidation, by Robert Ringer. They can leverage this position to make a deal happen that would have otherwise not taken place, and make some money in the process. It’s a true art form, and a constant battle against “disintermediation”.
Arbitrage is exactly what Google does with AdWords, because of the imbalance in natural search. What is the imbalance? Frankly, it’s the inability of the supply-side to come up in natural search without paying. And therefore, PPC has become the second least-spammy, and certainly the most financially successful form of online marketing.
But Google is STILL the arbitrator of business on the natural search side. They’re just not getting a cut (of course, Yahoo, MSN and Ask are also such arbitrators, but for the sake of writing flow, I tend to talk in terms of just Google and AdWords). So, think about the monetary value of the traffic being given away… perhaps to your competitors. Is there a value on that free arbitrage provided by G/Y/M?
No one knows the numbers except for the search engines themselves, and perhaps people in a position to peer in on traffic on some of the more major backbones of the Internet. And the data is often closely guarded, for it doesn’t serve the industry’s interests to reveal how much they’re giving away for free to get the $7 billion. I always talk about natural search as the editorial content and real attraction of search engines. But in a way, it can also be thought of as a loss leader product.
So, we’ve established that PPC is almost as un-spammy as HitTailing. But what about online ads? And what about online word of mouth outreach?
Well, ads are a mixed bag. Simple banner and tower ads simply compete for visual attention next to editorial content. That’s not so bad, but because a search was not involved, yes, they are a bit spammy. If they are context-sensitive ads, then they are a bit less-so. Pop-up are more so. The more context-sensitive the add, the less spammy, and the more translucent, the less spammy. Translucent? Yes, indeed. Ads can’t be transparent, or else they’ll never work. And they can’t be forever marginalized, or else media-savvy consumers will increasingly filter them out. For an excellent example of ads that are translucent, check out in-text advertising, such as Vibrant Media (full-disclosure: they’re a Connors client).
So then, how about proactive online outreach? HitTailing itself falls into this category, but by publishing your own blog, instead of posting on others. Social networking also falls into this category, and it can be very effective when your word-of-mouth message is closely aligned to the interests of the network, such as music on MySpace. But even here, the levels of spammyness vary from marginally OK to unacceptable. Fly-by posts on forums is sometimes known as Astroturfing. Same with attempts to “make news” on Digg and other democratic news sites. But almost every example of going out and putting information on sites controlled by other people will be categorized as a bit more spammy than publishing on your own sites.
See, publishing on your own sites is not spammy, because they are your sites, with the one qualifying condition that the content you’re putting there is of real value. If’ you’re just shoveling search engine fodder onto a blog, then it’s a splog, and is spammy.
This is the reason why encouraging good writing style, and furthering the craft of online writing is an important principle of HitTailing. It won’t work without quality writing, and quality thinking. So yes, it takes work and thought and is not the easiest path. But it is a healthy, sustainable path. And if practiced properly, HitTailing can be the lest-spammy of all online marketing.