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SEO, Social Marketing & Scientology

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My last post, about how YouTube's new features will affect internet marketers, garnered a lot of attention—but not from SEO and PPC professionals. It was my first paragraph, about YouTube's response to the Anonymous-vs-Scientology online battle, that got attention.

Shortly after I posted that YouTube had not Anonymous on YouTuberemoved Anonymous' initial YouTube threat/message to Scientology, SEW was flooded with replies that YouTube had just removed it, citing a Terms of Use violation (which in theory was valid, although rarely, if ever, enforced on YouTube). Today, perhaps owing to the protests of members and the mainstream coverage this conflict is beginning to get, the video was back up (although honors for it are not being tracked correctly).

My interest piqued, I began to look even more into Anonymous' plan of attack against Scientology. DDoS attacks aside, this secretive collection of hackers is behaving, well, much like we would when we market a client in the search engines and social platforms. They are using SEO techniques to get their sites to outrank official Scientology sites; they are banding together to influence Digg and social bookmarking results. And as with any internet marketing campaign, there is a lot we can learn from their actions.

Let's start with their Googlebombing campaign. In the past few days, Anonymous members have joined together in two linking efforts; Scientology.org now ranks #1 for the phrase “brainwashing cult” and anti-Scientology site Xenu.net now ranks #3 for the keyword “Scientology.” What's amazing about the Googlebomb is not just the speed in which it was accomplished, but that it was accomplished at all. Google changed their algorithm last year to prevent Googlebombs, by requiring the phrase to appear at least partially on the site in question. That's why a search for “miserable failure” doesn't return George W. Bush's bio—except for one week when a new story about Bush on WhiteHouse.gov unfortunately featured the word “failure.” But the phrase “brainwashing cult,” not surprisingly, does not appear anywhere on Scientology.org, and yet the Googlebomb worked. Maybe Google's love for fresh, new links is more powerful than their new algorithm. Or maybe Anonymous got to Google too. Only time will tell.

Anonymous also announced a plan to flood Digg and other social bookmarking sites about their war with Scientology. And a few days later, eight out of 10 stories on Digg's home page were about Anonymous vs. Scientology. But Digg's new algorithm should have prevented that, by restricting the value of groups of friends voting on stories, and limiting the power of new users. Except that Anonymous had built up enough excitement via its many submissions to Digg, Reddit, YouTube and more sites that they had many non-members voting for them too.

Lesson learned: Google can protect the president of the U.S. and Digg can take down the “Ron Paul Cabal,” but both seem kinda powerless in the face of Anonymous—and really well-executed internet marketing.


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