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Social Media Infographic Hype Doesn't Help

This morning, a contact of mine recommended an infographic to me.

Go ahead and click on the infographic (uploaded April 2012) if you’d like to read it in detail on its original website, whitefireseo.com; I can’t find the space to post the graphic at its full size and write about it at the same time. Infographics are fun to look at because they’ve got splashy pictures and shiny colors, but most of them are just plain incompatible with accompanying words because they’re so gosh-darned big. This one is 2,227 pixels tall in the original. That height is unnecessary; did you notice that most of the infographic is consumed by empty space or uninformative graphics? If we reduced that infographic down to its text, it would take up one paragraph’s space. That’s my first frustration with infographics like this.

My second frustration with infographics like this is that often they don’t link back to primary sources, which is how you can check their facts. This infographic doesn’t back up any of its claims with a source, so you either must accept the graphic’s authority (based on what? the quality of color choices?) or do your own fact-checking. Even the original page on which the infographic was hosted fails to indicate where the graphic’s claims come from.

In this particular infographic, I was drawn to the claim that “Tweeting cuts indexation time by 50% and reduces the time it takes Googlebot to find your content from Hours (2:00) to Seconds (0:02).” Is that really true?

A little searching of the WhitefireSEO.com website turns up an undated post by Mitch Monsen on the Whitefire blog, which in turn refers to a study carried out for the website SEOmoz by Casey Henry. The study is three years old, which for rapidly-changing tech firms like Google and Twitter terms is long out of date and no longer a reliable indicator. A more recent data dive by Rand Fishkin, also on SEOmoz, found that Twitter linking correlated fairly weakly with search ranking. Heading back to Henry’s 2010 study, a close read reveals that Tweeting a link alone was a relatively rotten strategy for getting a web page indexed on Google — with the process taking anywhere from 9 to 26 hours that way. Henry found that it was the particular combination of an “internal link” on the website and a Twitter post that most effectively cut the time for Google to index a web page. That time was cut by 50% only if the Twitter post received 3 or more retweets.

What about the claim that Tweeting cuts the time for “Googlebot to find your content” from 2 hours to 2 seconds? The claim seems ridiculous on its face given a paper published in 2012 by Twitter employees indicating that “usually, tweets are searchable within 10 seconds after creation.” Google’s bot would have to be magic to work more quickly to index the Twitter website than Twitter does itself. And indeed, Henry’s study found that the time for a Googlebot to index a web page wasn’t cut down to 2 seconds when the link to a web page was tweeted; the time was cut down to 1 minute 18 seconds on average.

Who cares about the difference between 2 seconds and 1 minute 18 seconds? Who cares how old a study is? Why be so picky? There’s something to be said to these objections; one of the problems with the SEO [search engine optimization] industry is that it sells a quick fix when the real solution is to keep at the task of original “content creation” (also known as writing) across a long period, writing something new and interesting over and over again. And perhaps that problem is the point; if SEO and social media firms build their reputation on the ability to shave off seconds like this, they at least ought to substantiate their claims with sourced accuracy. White Fire SEO’s inaccurate claim is now being repeated as if it were original gospel on other SEO websites, and that’s not how it should be. An unsourced infographic might capture eyes, but it shouldn’t capture an attentive head.

2 comments to Social Media Infographic Hype Doesn't Help

  • In my book, SEO is an anagram for Scam Engineers Only. It’s a sign of an organization that’s trying to sell confused people on the hope that coherent ideas don’t matter, so long as you can game an algorithm. The minute I hear someone say “SEO”, my assessment of their credibility plummets.

  • Jim Cook

    Update: It appears that WhitefireSEO has gone under. The company’s profile at https://www.linkedin.com/company/whitefireseo declared that “our goal is to help you build a successful and durable online presence.” Didn’t work for them. Maybe they should have worked on their SEO.

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