Kimberley Jackson

Photo: Kimberley Jackson

Let me take a moment today to rant a little bit about a disturbing trend I’ve been noticing among people in online communities lately (writing, blogs, fandoms, etc.) .

I’ll call it the “Become an involuntary billboard” trend.

Some of you may already know what I’m hinting at here. That’s right, WEBSPAM.

I’ve worked in professional online marketing and SEO for over four years, so I know all the dirty tricks so-called blackhat (meaning not quite legal or legit) marketers like to use.

For quite some time now I’ve noticed that some of these blackhat practices have been adapted by everyday internet users and website owners. Maybe because those practices are what they have come in contact with (because they themselves were victim of those methods, or they’ve seem them used on the web). And for some reason those spammy practices seem to gain a foothold as something that’s acceptable.

Let me clarify once and for all: It’s absolutely not.

Whether you’re an online writer, a blogger, a community manager or forum owner, spamming other people’s websites, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, etc. is still spam, even if you don’t make money with your content. And it’s highly disliked by the respective website owners.

So let me give you a little (n)etiquette guide about how to get your info out there, and still abide by rules of respect.

How NOT to promote your content:

  • Do NOT just leave an unwanted spammy comment on another persons website. Spammy meaning, a comment whose sole purpose is self promotion and/or a backlink to your site.
  • Don’t just leave spammy posts on people’s Facebook pages, either in the form of a comment or as a “Post to Page”. I know it’s seductive to seek out the pages with high like counts and posting your link or your info under a post. Just don’t. It’s the equivalent of somebody putting a poster of their event up in your house without asking you.
  • Don’t start following random people on Twitter, only to remove them again once they followed you back. (Twitter actually notices this practice, and not only do you risk ruining your online reputation, you also risk your account being deleted by Twitter as spammy.)

There are tons of other practices regarding spamming the internet. I can’t name them all here.

Just use the following rule. Don’t do to others what you don’t like being one to yourself. It’s not that hard really.

Example 1:

You log onto your website, and you’re faced with 8 new comments… all of which contain phrases like “I really like this article. Hey, come over and check out my website where I offer[…]”. Or worse: “Did you know about this giveaway I’m running over on my website? http://…”
Mildly annoyed, you get to deleting the comments (which, luckily are all held for moderation). If you’re nice like me, you leave it at that if you know the person is part of your community/fandom/subscribers. If you aren’t, you blacklist their IP and prevent them from being able to comment on your page again.

Then you log onto your Facebook page, and the only comment notifications that you have are along the lines of “Did you know I’m running a giveaway over on my website?”  or, worse,just a link.
Quite moderately annoyed, you either leave the comment (if you’re a nice person like me), and just mark the person off as incredibly rude in your mind. Or, if you’re a little less into the ‘live and let live’ philosophy and more actively aggressive, you simply delete the comment.

Result: You had maybe a couple of hours of promotion if anybody even bothered to read or click your link. And you managed to get on the shitlist of a webadmin, who will most likely not have a favorable opinion of you. Yes, that’s right, unwarranted negative feelings are involved. ;) As I said before, this is the internet. We don’t know the persons on the other end. So whoever doesn’t follow the netiquette usually ends up convicted without even so much as a benefit of a doubt. It’s how it works, deal with it.

Now, you have this great content, and you want people to know about it. But how do you go about notifying the communities if you’re not allowed to self promote?

How to promote your content:

I don’t know if it’s the entire not-dealing-with-a-person-but-a-computer-screen or what’s going on, but people seem to have forgotten the art of communication.

Communication is key, folks! Among online content creators more than ever. So imagine the following two scenarios. The premise is, that you are a website admin who also runs several social media channels, facebook pages, etc.

Example 2:

You have this great content, promotion, giveaway, contest, whatever that you want to promote. You find a few websites and Facebook pages that would be suitable to post a link to your contest on. But instead of just going there and posting, you send the admin/page a message, telling them about your content and asking them if they’d allow you to either post the link, or maybe would post the link themselves.

Now, I log onto my website and read your message. You already get points for not spamming right away, but asking first–which to me is a sign of basic respect. If your idea is remotely connected to the content I produce, I will agree to write a post about it and promote it on my social media channels. I may even offer you to write the post yourself and ‘guest-post’ on my site. (Other bloggers handle it differently, but I’ve ever declined any requests.)

This is called a cooperation.

Result: By messaging page owners first, you show that you respect their property and won’t just ‘trespass’  and mess up their ‘house’ (website) with spam. You give them the choice. The reward is usually a much greater audience, and the support of the admins or pages you contact. Bonus reward: You connect with the community and get in contact with fellow creators. This will always benefit you.

Did you see my point? Think of another persons website or social media channels like their house or their home. Would you just march in and glue promotional posters to their wall? Or would you ring the doorbell and ask if they’d graciously allow you to hang that poster? (Hint: If your answer is the former, I really can’t help you. ;) )

Tipps and Tricks for promoting content:

I can’t give a full SEO course here, but let me give you a few tips how you can legally promote your content without incurring the wrath of angry users who feel like they’re drowning in spam. ;)

  1. The #1 SEO secret is still: Great content will market itself. If you produce high quality content, over half of your work is done.
  2. Find bloggers, authors or website admins who run sites similar to your own. Contact them and suggest promotions or a cooperation, maybe ask if they’d like to guest post on your blog—or will allow you to guest post on theirs.
  3. Facebook groups or forums are excellent platforms to spread the word, too—provided they’re on topic. Remember though: Always follow the rules of the respective platform. Some Facebook groups will allow you to promote external sites, other have rules that explicitly state no promotion or advertisements. You should abide by those rules. In critical cases, contact the group admin and ask for their permission to post a link to your content.
    Also, never underestimate the power of forum signatures as legit billboards for your content.
  4. Build a mailing list!
    That’s right, one of the easiest ways to build a permanent audience is a mailing list (also known also newsletter service) with which you update your community about new content. There are tons of free services. I recommend Mailchimp, which integrates flawlessly with WordPress and is free up to 2000 subscribers.
    Important: Don’t spam your subscribers with emails. Have you ever been subscribed to one of those companies who sent out gazillion advertisement emails a day? (For some time, Yankee Candle used to be really bad about this. ProFlowers still does it.) What happens? At some point you just hit delete right away without even reading the email anymore.
    There’s a saying: Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something. So my advice is: Don’t just send out emails randomly to remind your subscribers “Hello, I’m still here, please visit my website.” Only send email when you actually have something to say that’s of interest or value to them.

Whatever you do, remember: The internet is like a huge community. Even if you think you’re anonymous, people will notice you and talk about you. And once you’ve ruined your name (or brand or product) by gaining a reputation as a spammer, it’ll be very hard to clear your name and gain the respect of fellow bloggers again.

Even though it’s the internet, manners matter, and among serious bloggers, netiquette stands above all. So respect other people and their websites. If in doubt, send an email to the owners and ask them politely if they’d be okay with you posting your link or promoting your content.