It is unbelievable to think that 2.5+ years after the first penguin update, any company worth their salt would even consider doing any link building which did not stand up to the tightest scrutiny. It is even more unbelievable for huge brands to be spamming given the finance and expertise they have open to them. Also taking into account the fact that the repercussions of a penalty can be particularly painful for any site with significant brand strength (not ranking organically for your own brand for example, think Interflora in 2013).
Yet anybody in the industry who works on the front line knows it is incredibly common, just visit the mummy bloggers and you will probably see a whole host of big brand sponsored posts within minutes of looking!
What interests me is the question of why is this happening? Who is sitting in front of marketing mirectors and pitching the idea of buying sponsored posts or paying for entry on a directory network?
In this post, we have tried to explain what could be happening here.
Time Poor Marketing Directors
This industry moves fast and it can be difficult to keep up with the latest news even if you work full time within organic search, time poor marketing directors are simply unable to keep up with things themselves. They therefore rely on whatever their internal team or agency tells them. However, you would think that after 2.5+ years, somebody within or outside the organization might have pointed out the errors of their ways.
Lack of Talent
There remains a serious lack of talent in the industry. If you have an individual “stuck in their ways” running the SEO campaign for a major brand then you can fully expect to see spammy link building. There are a lot of people managing the SEO campaigns for big brands who are from an “process” based agency background, possibly explaining the “stuck in their ways” theory as they have simply known nothing else.
Also playing a part here is sheer naivety. It is more likely that whoever is responsible for the SEO campaign believes that they are simply one step ahead in the game of cat and mouse (the mindset of most SEOs historically). Perhaps they have never experienced penalties first hand or perhaps they have weighed up the pro’s and con’s in their heads and have come to the conclusion that it is a risk worth taking.
Slow Adapting Agencies
To an extent, digital marketing agencies have had to completely overhaul their entire business models and operations in order to adapt to stricter guidelines and Penguin. Doing this is not easy, not even if you have good leaders within the organization. Retraining the team, rethinking approaches and strategies, recruiting the appropriate skill set, adapting commercial agreements, re-educating clients. All of this takes a serious resource investment and is particularly difficult to achieve when sites are being penalized left, right and centre. Some agencies were way ahead of the curve and had these processes in place 3+ years ago, however it is fair to say that the vast majority did not.
Inherent Big Brand Difficulties
Now I am reluctant to offer this as a possible excuse for big brands but it is a factor which is at the very least worth a mention even if it carries very little weight in comparison to the other points mentioned. Creating engaging and link worthy content for a big brand inherently restricts the scope of what is possible. If we tried to run some of our most successful content marketing pieces past the brand police at John Lewis for example, we’d be laughed out of the room. However, the flip side of this is that the brands have a huge advantage in pretty much every other areas of content marketing (finance, outreach, audience etc.), hence my reluctance to include it as a factor.