Is Sphinn Bad For The Industry?

Over at TrulyBored, they’re asking if Sphinn was the worst thing to happen to Search Engine Land due to the fact that it takes eyeballs away from the daily SearchCap.
Ooo, fight!

Seriously though, it’s a perfectly valid question from a bunch of angles. I’m sure there have been all types of side effects from the launch of Sphinn, both for Search Engine Land and the search engine optimization community as a whole. Without a doubt some eyeballs have been taken away from the SearchCap. I’m sure SEO bloggers have found that comments are down for sphunn entries. I’m sure less people are visiting blogs directly. I’m sure Sphinn is even stealing some links away from certain blogs. But is all of this "bad"?

Not even a little bit.

The author of the post comes to the same conclusion I have though he views it from a perspective that is quite different. He calls Sphinn is a testament to the importance of owning the social media site in your niche. I find that logic completely backwards, respectfully of course. ;)

Did Search Engine Land launch Sphinn to become the hub social networking site for the SEO community? Yes, I’m sure they did. But is that why it’s been good for the site and for the community? No. It has nothing to do with ownership; in fact, it’s actually about giving up ownership and allowing your audience to consume information via the medium that is most accepted by them. It’s about you giving up control of your brand and fishing where the fish are.

Sphinn and sites like it aren’t a detriment to their parent companies or the industries they reside in. They’re a sign that companies are maturing and realizing that sometimes it doesn’t matter how your customers found you, as long as they did find you. As long as they continue to seek you out. And as long as they took away a positive enough experience that they’ll want to associate themselves with you later. We’re leaving behind the false idea of "the all powerful Web site" and realizing that what’s really important is building engagement and, in time, conversions.

This is why you have big brand companies like Sony diving into Facebook and launching applications comprised of blood-sucking vampires. It’s why companies are uploading videos onto YouTube. It’s why social media sites are springing up. It’s why bloggers create a Twitter-based RSS feeds. It’s why email newsletters are still around and why some blogs offer email RSS feeds. It gives users options.

And quite honestly, these are the companies that I’m typically drawn to. And when you give me options as to how I can interact with you, I’ll often use every option available to me. I’m the person who subscribes to the SearchCap and subscribes to two Sphinn feeds. I read ResourceShelf via email and RSS feed. I’m insane.

The folks out there crying about a decrease in page views or a lack of comments on their blog are showing a clear sign of Just Don’t Get It. In 2008, it’s not about how many visitors you can corral to your site. It’s about making your brand relevant by becoming part of your audience’s every day life. Page views aren’t a good indicator of anything. Just because traffic has dipped doesn’t mean there aren’t more eyeballs looking at you and that customers aren’t more engaged than ever. Site traffic related metrics don’t take into account all the branding accomplished through RSS feeds, social networking sites, user generated content, etc. As long as people are interacting with you and continuing to value your brand, who cares what approach they take to do it? Your message is still getting out there.

Increase the reach of your message by inserting yourself into all facets of your customers’ lives and offering your content in a variety of ways. So, you have a blog. Do you offer both a partial and an ad-supported RSS feed for people like Michael? Have you allowed your readers to subscribe to email updates? Are there video versions of your content that your audience can view via YouTube? Are there podcasts? Is your content being submitted to sites like Sphinn, Delicious or StumbleUpon?

We’ve passed the point where companies can force visitors down a certain consumption path. If users want full feeds and you only offer partial, they’ll either leave you for someone else or they’ll develop some sort of hack to do it themselves. Remember what happened when Apple tried to lock iPhone users into AT&T? They took a hell of a lot of heat for something a college kid was able to "fix" over his summer vacation.

Sphinn hasn’t taken anything away from Search Engine Land or the search engine optimization community. If anything, it’s a sign that Danny was confident enough in his team’s content to allow it to be "unlocked". You should be just as confident about your own. It’s not your job to tell your customers how they should interact with you. Lay out their options and let them pick the one they like the best.

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (5)
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5 Replies to “Is Sphinn Bad For The Industry?”

Good points, Lisa. I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about the separate comments section on Sphinn and having to track two conversations for every blog entry. On the other hand, if people are actually having two conversations about me, all the better :)

Personally, I make an effort to use sites like Sphinn to discover new blogs and then subscribe to and follow those blogs based on their own merits. My only long-term concern about centralized industry sites (not to just pick on Sphinn) is that if everyone in the SEM industry uses one or two sites to get their information, our sources and viewpoints start to get homogenized. We’ve all got to make an effort not to be lazy and to keep seeking original sources. In the short term, though, Sphinn is probably helping me discover more (and more diverse) sites.

I would have to agree with everyone here, SearchCap is still one of the most reputable and well-written sources of information, while platforms like Sphinn just become a social media tool in the end.
New needs are arriving every day and we’re just developing tools to fit. One thing we can all agree on is the constantly expanding community and the need for multiple sources of information.
Overall it’s only going to help our community become more established and “necessary”.

Matt: I say that because I feel like I’m clicking through to less blogs as a result of Sphinn. I subscribe to both the Hot Topics and New Topics RSS feed so typically I’m encountering stories first that way. I use the dialogue (or lack of it) that’s happening there to help me decide whether the post is valuable and I want to click through or not. Often, I don’t. And if I happen to read the post first via my feed reader and then find there’s a dialogue happening over at Sphinn, I’ll leave my comments there, not on the actual blog post.

Also, there are plenty of blogs that I don’t subscribe to but I read from time-to-time, Search Marketing Gurus would be a good example. I know that if I’ve read a story or two from them via Sphinn then there’s probably no need for me to check the site manually. I’ve already gotten the good stuff.

That last one is probably the biggest cause for my change in reading habits. I’m less likely to check blogs manually when I feel like I just heard from them.

Danny: I certainly didn’t mean subscriptions are down or that the SearchCap is in danger of falling away, heh! I simply meant there’s probably a certain number of people, like Susan, who spend less time reading the SearchCap because they feel they’re already up-to-date thanks to Sphinn.

As I mentioned in the post, I still read the SearchCap every day, and based on all the emails I receive from Bruce, I’m pretty sure he does too. The SearchCap remains my favorite daily search roundup, mostly because I think the quality is much higher than you’ll find anywhere else.

SearchCap hasn’t lost readers at all since we launched Sphinn. It continues to grow just fine. I think SearchCap is designed for the busy person who wants a daily recap of search news, while Sphinn appeals to the person who may want a regular feed of things about internet marketing in general. There’s certainly some overlap, but I don’t see one pulling away from the other.

Matt McGee

I’m curious why you’re sure less people are visiting blogs directly.


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