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Summary:

Steve Rubel, a VP of digital strategy at Edelman, recently moved his blog to Tumblr and deleted all of his old posts. He says Google is paying more attention to social signals now, and so a social platform is more important than just having a blog.

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Plenty of people are adopting blog-publishing platforms like Tumblr, which has been growing rapidly over the past year or so, but few have made the leap in the way that Steve Rubel — EVP of digital strategy for the PR firm Edelman — did recently. He started a new Tumblr blog, then deleted the hundreds of posts he had created over the years on two other blogs. I wondered why he would take such a radical approach, so I called him and asked. Rubel said he was driven to do it by the fact that Google is paying more attention to social signals for search, and being on a social platform like Tumblr is more important than having old blog posts, whatever their Page Rank might be. But is he right?

In a blog post about the move, Rubel said he believes media is becoming an interlocking system of four elements he describes as a clover-leaf — with traditional sources, newer web-native digital entrants, corporate or branded content, and social media. People are increasingly looking across all four of these different sources or networks to find out what to believe, he said. With a news event like the death of Osama bin Laden, for example, reporting occurred on social networks like Twitter, but at the same time, “people were still going to media sources such as the New York Times  or the Huffington Post to validate what they were hearing.”

More and more of those media entities are using Tumblr as a way to redistribute some of their content, which is part of the reason Rubel said he wanted to move his online identity there. But the main reason for the switch was the need to have a more social platform, because of a sense that Google is increasingly focusing more on social cues and information as part of search rather than just traditional links. “I think with Google relying more and more on social signals, you’d better make your website social in a big way or you will be in trouble,” Rubel says. “Blogs that aren’t social are effectively islands.”

The extent to which Google is using social cues for search is unknown, but the launch of real-time results from Twitter and “social search” — which shows results that users in your social graph have posted or retweeted — as well as the new +1 ranking system are signs the web giant is definitely trying to add more social data. As we’ve written before, social is one of the areas where Facebook has the upper hand, given its knowledge of a user’s social graph and how it reflects their search interests, and this is potentially a serious threat to Google’s dominance.

“I think +1 is their play to get more authoritative signals, and to weed out lower-quality content and find better quality content,” Rubel said. “I think that and [your social activity] is what will control your presence in Google in the future.” Rubel says he chose Tumblr because “I wanted one domain, to centralize everything in the middle of that clover leaf,” and Tumblr was the closest to offering what he wanted. “I wanted to have all the content and the social signals — the plus ones and the likes and the retweets — in one place.” Tumblr is also inherently a much more social platform, he said.

There’s no question that Tumblr has more social elements, and seems to be closer to a social network than competing platforms such as WordPress. The reblogging function is much more like Twitter’s reweet feature than a traditional blog publishing tool, and the way that posts can “go viral” and be retransmitted across the entire network of blogs is fairly powerful — which likely helps explain Tumblr’s dramatic growth.

But why the “scorched earth” approach of deleting all his old content? Why not keep those posts available for the “long tail” of Google search — not to mention retaining all the old links to his posts that other bloggers have made, as some observers have pointed out? Rubel says he considered that, but decided not to because he didn’t want to have multiple sources of content, for fear of confusing Google. Tumblr also doesn’t have any easy way to import old blog posts from other publishing systems, so Rubel says he would have had to pay someone to manually recreate or duplicate them.

So would he recommend that clients of Edelman do the same? Rubel said that for most companies, that wouldn’t be the right approach, but for “thought leaders,” it makes sense to be where the action is, and for him, this was more important than having older content. It’s a dramatic gesture (and likely also a marketing exercise on Rubel’s part, since he is selling his services as a consultant on exactly these kinds of issues) but in the end Google will be the one to decide whether he was right or not.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user James Vaughan

Disclosure: WordPress is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

  1. Or he could have put a standard link at the top of all his old blog posts that he’d moved to a new posting post….plus–I guess as a thought leader he didn’t believe in the import of those “old” thoughts, strange…

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    1. “strange” – My thought exactly

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  2. I commented on Steve’s new blog about this move, and while I respect his opinion in many ways, I thought this was way overdone:

    “…There were actually comments of mine that were tied to your blog that I wouldn’t mind back out. There are also curation posts linked to some of your posts that now link to nowhere, and from there [redirect] to here. Poor form. Might have been good to consult an SEO professional before taking such a drastic step.”

    The thing is, this was just too knee-jerk based on the still completely new Google +1. And to think that Google +1 isn’t already being gamed by SEOs, e.g. by having paid minions hired through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk +1 stuff for them en masse, is naive.

    Tumblr itself has some real issues in Google’s eyes, as the reblog feature creates tons of duplicate content. If Steve weren’t running his Tumblr blog on his own domain, he might be immediately hit. As it stands, given that Tumblr offers a “reblog” button at the right top on any blog post for logged in users (regardless of Theme used I believe).

    So Steve just gave everyone on Tumblr a 2-click way to further duplicate his content…

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  3. I’m a big fan of Tumblr and it has certainly lowered the barrier to entry for casual blogging and social engagement. I’ve always been a WordPress user and have recommended the platform for many others as a great way to create a blog or even a small business site. But, after experimenting with a new WordPress site vs. Tumblr, I have to admit that Rubel has a point. Gaining subscribers and the resulting social engagement was much, much faster on the Tumblr site. So, quite useful as an extension of your brand and web presence.

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  4. yeah, this move was why I removed Rubel from my bookmarks.

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  5. This is the saddest thing I’ve read all day.

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  6. I suppose if he felt he could delete his blog with no consequences, then there was nothing of value there to begin with.

    Makes sense. Nothing of value was lost.

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  7. What is sad is that this person made all of his choices based on the behavior of one company and its search engine: Google. It’s horrendous that any one entity in the Internet space could have that much influence. (Of course, GigaOm also receives the majority of its revenue from Google, which may be why it published the article above. By touting Google’s dominant status, it sucks up to its advertiser.)

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  8. Sounds like Rubel believes he discovered a route to gain an edge to be more relevant for him and perhaps for his customer base, and he committed to it. Good for him.

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  9. I use Posterous. I could use WordPress. I could use Tumblr. I could….etc. I still think if you write great content, tell good stories, and help people, you’ll be found. And your content will be shared.

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  10. I think it says more about the persistent value of the musings of a flack than anything else. He’s practically telling his audience that the goal is simply gaming the system in any way you need to in order to rank highly in (current) Google results — content is merely the means to that end.

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  11. Seems knee-jerk to me as well.. “Google is paying more attention to social signals for search” – This is true, however, do we know if the Google algorithm definitely gives more weight to Tumblr? WordPress and other all have social sharing built in that allows for frictionless spreading of content… (and of course, they are very SEO friendly…)

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  12. This is stupid I say, throwing all your hard work, SEO and link juice all at once.

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