Update May 28, 2023: Since this article was written, Google has gone forward with a few changes that make this advice obsolete for their search as well as others who use their engine and “AI” (LMA) for discoverability and rankings.
Unless you are paying them, you will be invisible. So if you want visibility, pay them. Eventually though, other search engines like Yahoo! search and human curated search indexes like HumanShared and the upcoming Owdex will gain the market share of people who actually need to find things, that Google has sacrificed.
This article is still relevant for Yahoo! search and indexes that aren’t running through Google though.
In the first part, I gave the basic 3 steps to making platforms work for you before you get monetized:
1. Have a website.
2. Give each category/niche of things you offer its own brand.
3. Build community around each of your brands.
Now we’ll get into what each of these does for you, and why they are worth the bother when social media makes it so easy to post content.
The whole reason social media sites use an algorithm to decide what to show each user first is to prevent a “one size fits all” sorting of content based on what is most relevant or popular in general. Without individualized or “targeted” sorting, you would just see a chronological list of posts by people you’re following and/or posts based on the topics you’re interested in. If you want to see what that would look like in social media terms, join Tribel and look at your home feed there.
Search engines are specifically tailored to bring people the most relevant information possible, so where they do individualize selections to a degree, there’s a limit to how much they can individualize and still be useful. So they will keep track of what sort of links you normally select after a search, but they will still try to give you what it is you’re asking for.
When there are too many topics on the same domain, the posts within them lose relevance because the bot has to crawl through all sorts just to get to that one little nugget that may have the information or content someone is looking for. The domains with the highest concentration of relevant keywords or tagged content are almost always going to outshine a site that, proportionally, has less. Unless your site is specifically educational, the bots are not going to read each article as its own stand-alone source unless it contains a lot of information, links, and is linked back to by other sites as a source.
This is where we get into another advantage of having your own site: links. Aside of what you are saying or showing on the page, the way a search engine determines whether or not your content is worth listing and its rank, is by how many people link to it. Here we get to a problem with social media: the links are long, ugly, and often break.
If you sell, let’s say, Fulani earrings, a URL that looks like https://yourbrand.com/fulani-earrings is going to be easier to remember than socialmediaplatform.com/8795438/98084*%$jtpa7846/9372lfhah.
The page on your site will be easier for a human brain, and the bot doesn’t need to scan it every 10 minutes to be sure that Fulani earrings are going to be on that page. Even if you change it by adding more pairs of earrings, change the design of it, or whatever, it can rest in the search engine, and will always bring people to a page of Fulani earrings. If your site isn’t scanned for a year, as long as you keep that page, it will stay listed and stay relevant, and will grow in relevance as more people who’ve looked for Fulani earrings and found them at your site spread that easy to remember link around.
What about backlinks? Backlinks are when you link to someone and they link back to you. Because this has been abused by so many spammers, they don’t always mean much. They mean something if all of the sites are at moderate to high relevance for their topic or keywords, but they mean nothing at all and may cause penalties if the sites you’ve linked to and have backlinks from are low relevance. You would do better populating your site with 1000 links to quality content and having maybe one or two of those people linking back to you, than you would with 1000 reciprocal links from low quality or irrelevant sites.
The penalties associated with spammy sites are so bad that many people have asked search engines how they can disassociate themselves from sites that link to them without consent or steal their content.
This brings me to another advantage of having your own site: no question about where content came from, who owns it, and whether or not it is “collective property” or viewed as “public domain”.
Social media is a kind of free-for-all, and they make it very easy for people to not only share but to republish your content. In fact, this ease is part of why Africans.live can introduce you to so many interesting content creators. The problem is that some people not only share and republish, but pretend that they are the source of other people’s content. I’ve had some of my articles that are on the internet for free, republished as ebooks for sale. Some of the very popular articles have made people a lot of money that I never saw a penny of and have no way of tracking down who the people are. However, because they were posted first on my website with a copyright notice, the thieves were removed from the search engines with just a few clicks and a report. The search engine’s own records showed who wrote the articles.
This is where you communities can save you as well. If you have communities, even if there isn’t a lot of participation, people feel welcome and explore your site understanding that they are part of something positive. Then when they see someone stealing from you, they are more likely to report it. If they see someone trashing or slandering you, they know the truth of the matter. Though one of the main advantages of community is more people sharing your content, there is something to be said for having backup when people or big corporations try to mess with you.
Regardless of the hype, it’s the quality of your following, not the quantity that makes the biggest difference in whether or not you are getting paid for your labor.