Are you a content marketer or a content carnie?

carnival worker

One sign that your blog is becoming successful is that it begins to attract attention from all sorts of spammers who want to buy back-links on your site, place promotional content through guest posts, or even pay you for favorable reviews.

That is certainly not my game and the spam has gotten so bad that I don’t even read the email “pitches” any more. But I recently responded to one particularly nagging spammer and asked him to take me off his mailing list.  He was an SEO gamester who was trying to get me to feature his lousy self-help infographic on my site.

After I asked him to take me off his list, this how he responded:

As a marketing professor and writer of Tao of Twitter I’m surprised that you aren’t impressed with real content marketers.

You could at least give me a tweet, maybe?

Content marketing? Really?

Here’s the reality. Deluging bloggers with desperate attempts at content placement is not content marketing. That is being a pain in the ass.

If you’re engaging in this practice, you’re having about the same impact as a carnival worker shouting on a crowded midway hoping that somebody will look your way and toss you a link.

I’m not against featuring new ideas and perspectives, and run at least one guest post per week on my blog. In fact, I LOVE to help people who are part of this community by giving them the exposure they deserve.  This is what the SEO spammers are missing. The new world of content marketing is not about building links, it’s about building relationships.

Real content marketing places helpful, useful, and entertaining content in the path of potential customers to help them make money, save money, or live a happier life.  Successful content marketing results from putting on the shoes of the customer and asking yourself — “What content from my company will help you, entertain you, or answer your questions?”

Over time, if you consistently produce content that is RITE — Relevant, Interesting, Timely, and Entertaining — it will result in the small interactions that eventually lead to trust, relationships, sales, and loyalty.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments on this topic. Are you trying to place content? What are you learning? Or, are you on the receiving end?

Illustration: Photo by Jack Delano: Sideshow barker at the state fair, Rutland, Vermont, 1941, no copyright restriction

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  • Oh, yippee skippee! I came over to grab a link and saw that i could score a TD being first at {grow}! See? Doesn’t take much to get me excited on a late Sunday night.

    I’d rather not comment on content marketing (you’ll get some grand chatter on that, I’m sure); I’d rather comment on the fact that you’re getting spammed so much due to your success. Just got done writing a bit about the attention that is aimed at top-dog bloggers. Good for you/bad for you.

    Is it time to get a community manager who can field/screen the spam? Of are you it?

  • These pitches are seriously annoying – for fun I’ve engaged with a few of them and they are so incredibly rude and full of themselves when you say NO.

    Luckily this practice is going to create a divide in those who value the content they produce (and/or their community produces) vs. those who are happy to make a quick buck and publish any old cr*p they are paid to publish.

    99% of the time I find the pitches I receive are from people who have NEVER read my content – most are usually about technology and plastic surgery. EH?

    I’m with you on protecting my site and community – trust cannot be bought.

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  • That is a real struggle. I tend to “delete” quickly but that has also led to some mistakes. These spammers are getting pretty clever!

  • Well said Ameena. They must be having SOME success, right? WHo would actually fall for this stuff? Here was a good one today: “I noticed that this link is broken on your site. Will you please replace it with ours?’ WOW.

  • The farther I get into content marketing
    and how social media is used to drive it, the more concerned I get about its
    eventual inability to deliver on your notion of being authentically helpful.
    For example, where exactly is the line between repeatedly tweeting
    the same link to potentially helpful content (arguably just clogging
    everyone’s feed), and the pitiful, annoying begging of the spammer you mention
    here? At one point does one become inauthentic in pursuit of exposure?

    As to the question of taking on a
    community manager, I hope you can resist that as long as possible, to keep
    yours a true conversation with Mark Schaefer, the human being who happens to be
    in marketing (the reason I, for one, follow you), and not a mediated curation
    of commentary on, and mutual leveraging of, Mark Schaefer, the brand.

  • Even though I have not been promoting my blog a lot, I still get these kind of pitches everyday. I used to have a guest post page up and due to people spamming me and taking a lot of my useful time away, I took it down. Still it’s cached on Google so spammers search for “Keyword + guest post” and land on my site only to keep pitching me again. Appreciate your willingness to promote your community.

  • This is a truly frightening anecdote Mark. It’s scary how mangled a concept can get through the Internet version of whisper-down-the-lane.

    As I see it the main problem is that people are conflating content marketing with promotion.

    Content marketing means that you produce compelling content that can be found by your target user at the right time. The first part is actually creating memorable content for your market, which could take many forms.

    Ensuring that this content is found does take a bit of work. You need to be connected with your industry community so you can market that content. Tust and authority within that niche must be earned by consistently producing memorable content.

    There is very little outreach done if you’ve got your content marketing machine up and running. You’re managing the conversations that it spins off and you’re adding your content as a link to other conversations (aka blog comments.)

    It’s NOT about doing the same type of drive-by artificial link spam you did before but saying it’s different because now you’ve got ‘content’. Having a bit of content does not provide you the excuse to run around demanding that others Tweet you and put your stuff in front of your audience.

    That is just being a self-promoting jerkwad.

    Of course content has to be marketed, but you should be doing your marketing in a way that ensures that every successive piece of content needs less marketing by you because others (fans, evangelizers etc.) have begun to market for you.

  • Wow, that’s really “special”!

  • Gerry Michaels

    You know for only $29.95 I could get you 10,000 followers a day…LOL You are “rite” (see what I did there) on the mark. There is a great movement in the social space going on to “take back” the space from spammers, fauxperts. I am part of this collection of social media professionals and authors, who are on a mission to put out some quality info, check out our site Hope you are well….

  • Still here Chuck. Don’t plan to go anywhere. In fact … this is the best part of my job! : ) Thanks for the great insights.

  • Truly superb comment AJ. Nothing I can really add to that brilliance other than “thank you!”

  • When I get the pitches, my follow-up is always the same: “Thanks for your interest. Why is this right for my audience, my blog, how will it help me, help them?” The reply is usually crickets – which is a shame b/c if something were good, an interesting post from a smart blogger, I might just run it.

    Now for someone to presume that you’re elitist, over ‘real content marketers’ clearly says they don’t really read or know the first thing about you. Having the nerve to then ask for a tweet?! Egads. FWIW.

  • Egads indeed. Or even something stronger : )

  • I really dislike the term “content marketing” because it sounds like meaningless marketing gibberish.

    When I talk to clients about what we want to do it is always about crafting creative and compelling content that creates conversation.

    Even that sounds somewhat “silly” to me so I flip back to talking about how we work to tell a story that resonates with people. Company XYZ makes widgets that makes life easier for parents.

    So our story should be simple to understand and about how those widgets solve problems.

    If some of the spammers were smarter they’d put together their pitches in a similar fashion. The stuff I get talks about how my site isn’t optimized for SEO and how they can put me on the front page of Google.

    It is just like the “carnie” you mentioned who spends more time broadcasting than they do engaging.

  • I always wondered about the N. Young lyrics, “Ode to live on Sugar Mtn, with the barkers and the colored balloons….” I don’t think I would like Sugar Mtn if there really are that many barkers. But I guess I may end up there for all those pretty balloons.

    Yikes, that came out way too profound, but you get the point.

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  • We’ve been receiving an increased number of pitches like the one you mentioned, so maybe that means we’re gaining more traction than I thought! That’s the bright side, I suppose.

    RITE is what everyone should aim for on their blogs. Even though our company blog doesn’t generate hundreds of social shares per post like bigger sites, it gets a lot of engagement from our customers. The content is easy for our sales team to share, too. Regarding blogs, I’ve learned that it’s more productive to watch your site analytics than it is to watch the always-fluctuating share counters! You can go nuts worrying about social media shares.

  • Theresa Letman

    Thanks for encouraging your tribe, Mark. I appreciate the thought-provoking content you share and reading the comments below. Not sure I can add anything beyond the great comments/thoughts I’ve read above and below — I’d merely like to thank you.

  • Thanks Josh. Great comment.

  • As ling as the Cinnamon Girl is there it would probably be Ok : )

  • I like how you have integrated with sales. That seems natural to me but a lot of companies miss out on that point. Thanks Jill!

  • That is ALWAYS appreciated Theresa! : )

  • Jasper

    Hey mark, this guy is clearly to desperate. No reply to your pitch, you have been overlooked, cut your losses.
    I have had a fair bit of success with spreading content for SEO benefit. My colleague and i got a featured post on techcrunch by sending in a basic tip. I had no previous connection with the journo. We received a lot of attention after that we leveraged for seo. We have since maintained the relationships and were able to spread our story, generating a lot of links. That being said, people seem to be genuinely interested in what we have to say. What advice do you give to a “content marketer” who has not developed any influential connections/relationships? Where would you start?

  • Sounds like the marketer makes two mistakes here:

    1) The infographic is “lousy.” Anyone that is worth getting a mention from (as you are) won’t expose their audience to weak content.

    2) The marketer doesn’t make it a win/win/win. In the scenario you described, only the marketer wins – and you could argue that he doesn’t win either. You aren’t presented with any gain (increased exposure, more revenue, less work, etc) and the audience doesn’t win because the content is lousy.

    Gaining access to another’s audience only occurs if everyone (the blogger, the marketer and the audience) wins.

    My question is whether fulfilling the above two requirements is enough. In other words, if the blogger would have done his homework on your blog and audience, created a brilliant infographic that would add to the conversation and promised to email his list of 1000 subscribers about the post, would you have seen it?

    Or, have the spammers spoiled it for all of us?

  • Matt Beswick

    “The new world of content marketing is not about building links, it’s about building relationships.” <- Exactly!

    As someone who works in SEO, I've spent the last year or so building relationships with all kinds of different sites (I've been lucky enough to write for the likes of Search Engine Journal, Mashable and ProBlogger). Yes, that's been done with a view to gain some exposure (both personal 'branding' and a link) but there's far more to it. If you're not able to add real, true value to a site then you shouldn't be asking the owner to promote you… simple as that. Websites don't give links, people do.

    Sadly though, it's like anything – if it works and you can scale it then those who are looking for a shortcut will almost certainly jump on the bandwagon and ruin things for those of us who are doing things properly.


  • “The best part of my job” seems to be what we often work ourselves out of, in the pursuit of “advancement.” Stick with it!

  • I have had to make some drastic changes to policy and how I deal with guests lately because of all the paper thin, poorly written, fraudulent author, crap that those SEO spammers have been trying to sneak through.

    I don’t think they realize that 1 piece of superb content does as much as 10 pieces f mediocre content, and begging only works against you. Great piece Mark!

  • Thanks Gerry. But that $29.95 seems kind of expensive : )

  • The way I handle it if it seems like a legitimate person is I have come up with a list of guidelines for guest posts … this seems to knock a lot of people out! : ) Thanks Adarsh!

  • Speaking only for myself, I help people who I know … who i recognize from the blog community, Facebook or Twitter. If you are part of the community, then the way i look at it is, we’re all in this together. let’s help each other out any way we can. It’s really the only thing that works for me. The content portion of my blog is too sacred to trust to people i don;t know and respect.

  • As I answered below, I do not trust people who i don;t know to carry the content on my blog. The last time i did this, the author ended up being a fake persona from an SEO company. A bunch of liars. Sorry, but I am not going to be in that game.

  • Agree. It’s a cesspool. I don’t know how these people live with themselves. Thanks Adam!

  • I’m starting to get more and more of these emails. They go straight to the trash can. It’s sad how little effort goes into most of these pitches. The ones that kill me are the clearly promotional product posts (often completely irrelevant) and they give you a list to pick from. Really?! Not gonna happen.

    Anyone worth their salt should have NO problem getting their guest pitched noticed and accepted if they steer clear of these spammy practices. I would jump up and down if I got more REAL pitches as opposed the junk that I get every day.

    It makes me wonder if anyone bites on these pitches. Maybe there are some folks that are so desperate for content that they’ll take anything. Who knows.

  • Mike Morgan

    Unfortunately, I think everyone is getting an avalanche of SEO spam – we certainly are and we are an SEO consultancy (no, wait!). But please don’t label everyone who works in this space a spammer.

    Google spoilt the game for all the black hat, lazy, spam based operators and you can see the effects in the forums – screaming, blaming, threatening. The Penguin and Panda updates have really dealt to the old methods… thankfully!

    So what happens? They read a few posts saying that Infographics, guest blogging and content marketing are the only way to get top Google positions and what do they do?

    Approach this new “loophole” with the same relentlessness and the same lack of integrity as they do everything else. Send 60,000 emails and 2 will convert? To these guys that is a reasonable return. Never mind the nuisance factor!

    Internet spam has always been there but Google has inadvertently shifted the target and put good quality blogs in the firing line… damn!

  • Sounds like a smart business approach … and enlightened! Thanks Mat!

  • A sign of your success! : )

    I have the same thoughts. Somebody must be biting right … or this would just go away. Really desperate marketing approach and annoying!

  • Excellent perspective Mike and I so appreciate you adding your expert perspective to the discussion.

    I agree that not all SEO is black hat, just the ones that contact me every single day. So my perspective is skewed!

  • Probably so. If it weren’t somewhat successful, we wouldn’t see this, right?

    The other thing it makes me realize is that I should never have been intimidated by guest posting…because anyone who does a little bit of homework and can write worth a darn should have no problem getting published.

  • I love the term content carnie. I think it’s the perfect description of these folks who are trying old school spam techniques in this new school environment. Your experience with the infographic pusher is all too familiar. Similarly, there are “consultants” out there who publish posts for clients and then get their friends and contacts to vote them up on social media – then turn around and show the client “Look! This content is popular!” It’s a shame because the clients feel they are making progress, but the social signals aren’t real. The content isn’t Relevant, Interesting, Timely or Entertaining!

  • So that annoying SEO spammer just asked you to “Share, Maybe”…and yes, I hope you do not get to the point of taking on a community manager because your tribe definitely enjoys the personal interaction. Of course, I’ve really enjoyed several of your guests posts, too…so keep finding that talent that positively contributes to your community!

    Sleep is over-rated…

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