[*NOTE: There’s a lengthy comment thread on this post in which Leonard Brody, CEO of NowPublic weighs in and he’s agreed to add the correct links to the article which goes a long way towards fixing the problem. Will update when they are live. UPDATE: Links are corrected, thanks everyone!]
Earlier this year NowPublic implemented a marketing strategy (read: link baiting) of picking a city and listing who they think are the most influential people in some subset of some industry there. They did it in New York City and Silicon Valley, and now they are doing it in Los Angeles. There’s a few things that make this very clearly link baiting, first of is the lists themselves – clearly designed to get the most possible link backs and traffic from, secondly is the fact that there’s no external links in the articles – clearly a plan to keep you on their site as long as possible, and finally, assuming LA is following the same model as the previous cities, a marketing firm tipped off the people on the list ahead of time sending them all the info they need to make a post linking to it. Like I’m doing right now, although this probably wasn’t the post they had in mind.
I’ll explain all of those reasons a bit more in a moment, but first off I thought you’d like to see the list that a representative from themorris+kingcompany just e-mailed me, with the announcement that they’ll be making a full press release about this tomorrow. According to NowPublic, the web’s 20 most influential people are: 1. Jason Calacanis 2. Perez Hilton 3. Wil Wheaton 4. Micki Krimmel 5. Zadi Diaz 6. Dave Bullock 7. Erin Kotecki Vest 8. Zach Behrens (editor of LAist) 9. Felicia Day 10. Kent Nichols 11. Mark Frauenfelder 12. Alex Albrecht 13. Xeni Jardin 14. Neil Patel 15. Sean Bonner 16. Colleen Wainwright 17. Trent Vanegas 18. Christine Lu 19. Tara Settembre 20. Efren Toscano
OK so first of all look at those lists. I’ll talk about LA specifically but the NYC and Silicon Valley ones are pretty much the same. This is supposed to be the most influential people online in LA? Are you kidding me? There’s no question that a good number of people on that list have notable online presence but that’s very different than being influential. Having a few thousand people follow you on twitter because occasionally you say something amusing, or having a bunch of people listing you as a contact on flickr because you post interesting photos does not make you influential. These folks all do things online a lot, but does that mean they know what they are talking about? I’m on that list and that’s a total sham. Anyone who reads what I have to say knows I’m full of shit most of the time, so I’m certainly not influential. I’m not knocking anyone else on the list, they all have their own audience for sure, but if you look there’s not a lot of overlap in which audiences those are which might suggest NowPublic was trying to cast a wide net as it’s pretty safe to assume most of these folks might mention this “award” and link back to NowPublic, which again is obviously the point in the first place.
OK, so lets assume step one was successful and a handful of the people on the list above make a post on their own site saying “OMG check it out!” and link to NowPublic. I’ll use myself as an example – lets say you know who I am and you are impressed with this title that I’ve been handed and follow the link to see who the other 19 candidates are. Take a look at the pages they have linked to each of their names. (if the LA list isn’t online yet, check out one of the lists from the other cities) You’ll notice that rather than linking to that persons actual site (or any useful info about them) they are linking to a NowPublic profile of that person. One that in most cases has no info about them. In the list I made above I tried to find an accurate link for each person, this took me about 10 minutes, is that too much to ask? In the e-mail I got about this, I was given a login and password so I could update my profile on NowPublic. Why? Why not just link to my own site? Well, clearly NowPublic wants the page views and once you are on their site they want you to stay there. Actually giving you useful information is not the goal, getting you to click through a bunch of their pages is. Additionally, they want a bunch of search results pointing to those pages so that eventually when someone is trying to fine me, rather than finding me, they will find them. [UPDATE: See the comments for further discussion on this, additionally NowPublic has agreed to edit the articles and add links to the peoples individual sites. That’s a very good move and I applaud them stepping in and correcting this issue so quickly.]
This isn’t a new trick, Mediabistro does the same thing. Check out this post the other day, notice how every link from a person’s name points back to them rather than out to somewhere else? Couple that with a snarky post and bingo: link bait. It’s a crappy tactic no matter who is doing it, and a blatant SEO trick trying to get more search traffic.
And as if that isn’t enough, everyone on that LA list today got an e-mail congratulating them for making the list. This e-mail didn’t come from NowPublic, it came from a marketing firm who “focus on delivering measurable business results through a full range of consulting and communications disciplines. Our integrated approach generates ongoing media coverage and helps clients build awareness and reach their target audiences.” Along with the e-mail was the full press release patting themselves on the back for having such an awesome list. If they just wanted to let the people on the list know it, someone from NowPublic could have sent it. The fact that it came from a marketing firm with the press release attached clearly shows they are trying to get the people they listed to write about it. To make this even worse, I’m going to assume all those folks just got added to a another list at the marketing firm and will be spammed with whatever the next thing they want to hype is. I’d love to be wrong about that of course, but I’ve got very little faith in the scruples of PR flacks.
That said, congrats NowPublic, hope you enjoy the traffic and the inbounds and page views you get off this. I hope cluttering up the web with stupid SEO bullshit is worth the extra cash you make from the traffic spike to your
ad servers. Personally I’m not impressed and really don’t want to play your reindeer games.