How the “Football Picks Scam” Is Used to Build Content Authority

Big game coming up? Get out a list of 80 names. Send 40 of them a “tip” that the game will go one way; tell the other 40 the opposite. Now it’s just wash, rinse, repeat. Next game, take the last 40 winners, and do it all over again with groups of 20. Eventually, you’ll find yourself with 5 people who think that you can predict any game.

At each stage of this process, you can charge the winners a little bit more, because they trust you more. And the losers? Well, it was just a bad tip. This is known as the “Football Picks Scam,” and the most clever aspect of it is that it requires very little actual effort. All the Football Picks Scam needs to succeed is sheer numbers. And when all a digital marketer has is traffic

dog-665159_1280Throwing Everything Against the Wall

Tim’s a newbie digital marketer. His first client is a pool servicing, maintenance and repairs company. Tim knows that he needs to put out valuable, informative content on a regular basis, or his client’s marketing strategy will fail. Unfortunately, what Tim doesn’t know a lot about is pools. So Tim can create content, but he’s just not very sure about that content. And eventually, he really finds himself struggling to come up with information. In the last week, Tim has posted:

  • Ridding Your Pool of Murky, Dirty Water With Natural Remedies
  • Fun and Safe Pool Games for Children and Teens
  • 6 Eco-Friendly Ways to Keep Your Pool Warm and Comfortable
  • The Benefits of Saltwater Pools Over Conventional Pools
  • Could Your Poorly Maintained Pool Kill Your Child When You’re Asleep?

Martha, reading these articles, rapidly loses interest. “Ridding Your Pool of Murky, Dirty Water With Natural Remedies” claims that arsenic is a natural remedy, which she’s pretty sure isn’t right. “6 Eco-Friendly Ways to Keep Your Pool Warm and Comfortable” suggests that you set the pool on fire, which she’s almost positive is neither a good idea nor actually possible. By the time she gets to “Could Your Poorly Maintained Pool Kill Your Child When You’re Asleep,” Martha’s been lost. She has absolutely no faith in the writer.

But Mike, on the other hand, only read “Fun and Safe Pool Games for Children and Teens” — which, he thought, had some great tips — and “The Benefits of Saltwater Pools Over Conventional Pools,” which he thoroughly agreed with, as the owner of a saltwater pool himself. By the time he gets to “Could Your Poorly Maintained Pool Kill Your Child When You’re Asleep,” he’s already primed and ready to go: he trusts Tim.

Though, really, he probably shouldn’t. Tim has managed to build authority by doing something that, let’s face it, most of us do at one time or another: creating articles that are nevertheless based on facts that were never properly researched. He knows that he isn’t going to convince everyone, but he’s going to convince enough people for the strategy to work.

cube-442544_1280And It Does Work: Why Rolling the Dice Can Be Effective

Two major principles drive this type of strategy: the tendency to quietly disregard items that you disagree with and the tendency to focus on and promote the things that you do. In content marketing, we actually have a benefit that “The Football Pick Scam” never did — our “winning guesses” get pushed to the top, and our “losing guesses” can be eradicated entirely. Even the “losers” in our scenario will likely just shrug and move on.

As Tim’s marketing strategy grows, people like Mike will link to and promote “Fun and Safe Pool Games for Children and Teens” and “The Benefits of Saltwater Pools Over Conventional Pools,” while people like Martha will generally just leave. The good articles will show up with higher prominence on Tim’s client’s site, if Tim has properly configured his “popular” and “related” categories. Fewer and fewer people will ever see the articles that are incorrect, as they will be pushed to the bottom. Ultimately, Tim can even cull these articles entirely, as though they never happened at all. No more Marthas.

Tim has managed to build his content authority simply by crowdsourcing his quality control. He had no idea which of his five articles were actually accurate or not: the crowd told him. It’s a principle that almost all of the big entertainment sites today are using: they publish and post anything and let the audience vote on its merit. They end up with a front page that has only the best content, but only because there was a lot of trash to comb through. And even better, they barely had to do anything at all.

waiting-410328_1280…But It’s Not Necessarily the Best Use of Your Time

It’s undeniably true that you can build content authority and a brand by just throwing everything at a wall and seeing what sticks. But really, this strategy is almost an act of desperation. Tim could have just written five great articles about pools, if he knew anything about pools. And those five great articles would likely have performed better than the two articles that he ended up getting right. Tim also might just want to find clients with services that he actually understands.

Obviously, there are some areas in which this strategy works and some areas in which it doesn’t, mostly down to how educated the consumer is in that particular market. Science popularization sites can get science wrong — peer-reviewed journals largely cannot. A B2B marketing campaign will often employ this strategy much less successfully than a B2C marketing campaign, simply because of familiarity within the industry. And it’s also important to remember that this strategy works based on sheer volume. Smaller sites and niche sites need to make the most out of every visitor, every Mike and every Martha, that they can.

We often use the “throw it at the wall” strategy even without thinking about it. We may have an idea kicking around in our head that we aren’t quite certain is right, and we may simply think — “Well, I’ll float it and see what happens.” But usually we can benefit from a more thoughtful approach. It’s not that the Football Picks Scam doesn’t work — it clearly does — but, at its core, it’s a lazy attempt, and often a waste of time. There are other strategies that can work better if we give ourselves the time to think it through.

The Truth Behind Google’s PageRank: Unraveling the Question of Authority

Google’s PageRank is an all-important metric, based on both authority and popularity, which controls where a website falls on a search engine results page — relevancy notwithstanding. The catch: No one knows what “authority” actually is. While we can gauge the popularity of a website through traffic, we really have no way of directly measuring or controlling authority. This is a well-known fact within the industry itself, but may not be very intuitive to those new to digital marketing.

strategyThe Importance of Authority and PageRank

Authority — and PageRank — are both important to marketers because it pushes all the results of a domain to the top, even if the content itself is new. There is a reason why you are more likely to find a new article from CNN.com on the front page of your search engine results rather than SuperCoolNewsSite.biz. Building authority thus helps promote all of the website’s content more than search engine optimization of any single page could.

The Fallacy of Knowing: Theories Repeated as Facts

It isn’t malicious. It’s easy to discuss your theories and techniques as though they are definitely true, especially when you’ve been using them for a while. But there’s one thing that you must know: we don’t know anything. We can make educated guesses and reasonable observations. That is all. Many marketers tell you that they can boost authority. That may be true. But they can’t tell you what, specifically, does it. They only know that they can achieve it. The “special sauce” of Google PageRank is a closely guarded secret and, moreover, it changes so often and is likely so complex that even leaked information probably wouldn’t be useful to anyone.

googleWhat “Authority” Actually Means to Google

What is “authority”? Some people assume that authority is just a generalized metric concerning reputation and trust. Many online marketers suggest that being linked to by a variety of other sites within your industry or space will build your authority. What has actually been said about the topic is as follows:

We are doing a better job of detecting when someone is sort of an authority in a specific space. It could be medical, it could be travel… if you are some sort of authority or a site that according to the algorithms we think might be a little more appropriate for users.

Of important note is his reference to a specific space. This makes it clear that authority is intended to be niche. Arbitrarily gaining links, even from other high authority sites might not help. A website about digital cameras likely needs to build its authority among photography sites, rather than entrepreneurial magazines. It’s this focus that has been lost to many people in pursuit of authority.

codeGoogle’s Algorithm Changes: An Ever-Shifting Canvas

Google is not messing around when it comes to their algorithms. They have a vested interest in remaining relevant. To that end, they constantly fine tune their algorithms. Every six to eight months we see an upheaval in search engine results; some websites absolutely tank while others are promoted to the top. But what we do see is that these algorithm changes consistently tend to promote websites that have a better quality of content, sometimes regardless of popularity. We saw this when Panda 4.0 wiped out eBay mid last year. eBay is an established, popular site — but that doesn’t mean their content didn’t suck.

Put simply: Google’s goals must become your goals. If you want to establish authority, you need to offer what Google is looking for — because Google is going to be changing the way in which it looks for that content on a regular basis. eBay experienced a catastrophic loss in ranking because it had based its strategy around thin content and gateways. Google never wanted this type of content, it just wasn’t looking for it previously. Now it is. Every new way of “tricking” Google will simply cause problems later on.

We know when a website is performing well. We also know what we’ve done to achieve this goal. But we really don’t know how much any one strategy worked or which strategies were totally pointless. These layers of obfuscation are fully intentional and prevent us from gaming the system. It’s easy to buy into voodoo marketing tactics: increase your website’s authority based on these 2,948 simple tricks! In reality, though, the best strategy may just be the most straightforward one: just make it good.