The price of bad advice

by [me]

I came across three pieces of mind-numbingly bad advice today, all from experts in their respective fields, all to prominent organizations. Each of them have caused me to question:
A) the quality of expert advice
B) the lack of digital knowledge in the business world
C) how organizations can determine which advice they can trust.

But let’s start with the bad advice. These are clangers.

The first company, a prominent industry leader, wants to get more search traffic for a new service they offer. Whilst weighing up an organic search engine optimisation strategy they’ve received advice from an Adwords specialist. The response: spend the budget on an Adwords campaign because the clicks from the traffic will increase your organic search results.

WRONG. There is no relationship between paid results and organic search results. Organic search results come from a combination of inbound links (indicator of popularity) and on-page optimisation for targeted terms.

The second company, a small independent team, are also looking to grow their meager website traffic. They spoke to a prominent social media expert about how to increase traffic, also mentioning that the site isn’t yet optimized for search. The expert told them not to worry about SEO because social media is affecting search results.


Google commands over 90% of the search market in Australia, so they’re the ones to worry about ranking with. Google was indexing Twitter for a while but that relationship ended mid-2011, about the time they launched Google Plus. Now Google is including Plus in their Search Plus Your World results but that is all. They’ll include LinkedIn profiles in name searches but that’s about it. At this stage the indexing of social sites by Google is not enough to build an SEO strategy around.

The fact remains that most good websites derive the largest part of their traffic from organic search, often more than 50%. Social is a good driver of traffic to a site and it’s important to address but not at the expense of search. I would always recommend a client gets their search under control first then moves onto social.

The third story just blows my mind. I spoke to a friend today who owns a white collar franchise business. He optimised his blog site for search last year and also got some blogger friends to add him to their Blogrolls, pointing to both his blog and his page on the national franchise website. As a result both sites rose rapidly from search obscurity to first and second on Google for his highly competitive industry search term. In fact, his properly optimised blog outranks the less well optimised company page.

Now, on the advice of an international SEO firm engaged by the parent company, he has been instructed to remove the inbound links to his site from the Blogrolls. The experts say that the company risks being punished by Google for having too many inbound links. If the franchise owner doesn’t comply the parent company will remove his page from the site.

HUH??? To me this is almost negligence. This guy receives a healthy stream of qualified enquiries due to his prominent search results. His sales become part of the parent company’s revenue. They are threatening to punish one of their own franchise owners for his success in search, for doing his job well.

The SEO experts are concerned that he has too many inbound links (compared to rest of group) and so have drawn the incorrect conclusion they come from link farms. Link farms are bad and Google is looking to eradicate them. That’s a good thing.

Problem is that in this case the links come from being listed on the Blogrolls of 3 reasonably popular blogs. It’s totally white hat, totally above board and totally within Google’s rules. The fact that this guy’s sites are ranking first and second demonstrate that, far from punishing him for these links, Google is rewarding him.

The craziest thing is that the company is willing to punish one of their franchises because other people like him enough to link to his sites. How can they dictate and control who can and cannot link to him? How can they punish him for web popularity when in modern marketing that is the aim of then game?

Three examples of poor advice by highly paid experts in one day. And that’s just the stuff I was told about.

What is clear in at least the first two cases is that if you ask a specialist for help they’ll tell you to do what they specialise in because that’s what they know and that’s how they make a living. An Adwords reseller will tell you not to worry about SEO because SEM will do the job. And a social media expert will tell you to grow traffic using social media. No surprises there.

The challenge for businesses is to first seek advice not from specialists but from generalists who can see the overall picture.

When we are sick we go to a doctor who assesses our overall health. The doctor will then refer us to a specialist if necessary or prescribe a less expensive solution if he or she is able to.

Given the amount of poor advice being given out by specialists in the digital world it would seem that businesses first need to find a “doctor” to assist them with their digital marketing.

Posted under Digital, marketing, Uncategorized

Written by Craig Wilson

10 Responses to “The price of bad advice”

Sadly I’ve also heard all of these things before. Your comments about being a generalist have always been our stance, but surprisingly, a lot of our clients aren’t interested in generalists – and always defer to the specialists, completely independently, without anyone looking at the overall picture.

We’ve explained the problems associated with doing this many times, but in future I reckon I’ll just refer them to this post :)

Comment by Wayde Christie on April 12th, 2012

Yes while business is wailing about internet sales they are making decisions like this that have far more impact on their bottom line and not doing their homework. Why is that? I don’t know. I suspect it is all part of the “too hard” issue. They don’t understand the fundamentals of how the internet relates to their business and there is no shortage of people peddling “solutions” that are solutions for them and not for the clients who need the results. As you say it is worth considering what’s in it for this person? Does what they say stack up? I liken this to when you have a pain in your knee. If you want to know what is wrong with it, go to someone who has a full and general expertise across the breadth of physiology as a start point. Don’t go to a surgeon and be surprised that their solution is to cut you open. That’s what they get paid for.

Comment by Lindy Asimus on April 12th, 2012

I agree with you: the amount of ignorance being peddled out there is as stupefying as it is disheartening. However, one thing I’d disagree with is that social media are a good source of traffic. We look after 30 high-profile sites that all rank well in Google and that all use FB (and many Twitter as well). The amount of traffic they get from social is – on average – barely 2% of the traffic they get from search.

Comment by Dafyd on April 12th, 2012

Really well said mate. It’s ridiculous to have this going on and I like your generalist approach – same deal over here. Keep fighting the good fight.

Comment by Andy Howard on April 12th, 2012

Great post and 100% agree. There is so much misinformation in our industry and unfortunately it’s the business owners who end up suffering when their trusted “expert” has recommended their single channel strategy over a more rounded web presence strategy.

It’s frustrating when you hear these types of stories.

I work in SEM for an AdWords SMB Partner and I see this alot from other people within my field who don’t understand the broader picture. Many SEM reps will warn their clients off doing SEO because “page 1 rankings are never guaranteed with SEO” or “Google changes their algorithm all the time so you wont stay on top for long” or “You’ll never gain top rankings for all the keywords you need to rank for” etc etc… all of which are ridiculous reasons not to work on your SEO.

I also hear alot of bad SEO advice coming from SOME web designers who can build great looking websites, but are still trying to get their client’s websites ranking with thousands of META tag keywords stuffed into the background in transparent fonts, or no keywords in the page titles!

As a digital media consultant of any denomination, if you’re not teaching your clients about the full picture & at least referring them to other specialists where necessary (search, social, mobile, conversion optimisation, effective web design, content marketing & tracking strategies etc) I believe you’re doing them a complete disservice.

Love the doctor analogy!

I see many digital media folks as tradesmen – you wouldn’t trust a plumber to fix your switchboard… :-P

Comment by David Eddy on April 12th, 2012

I am hearing you about generalist. My daily battle is with coordinating specialist to put being together the big picture, and can all speak about the same issue at cross purposes to each other trying to convince you they area right. All we really want is good collaboration, they all have their place, just not in every situation.

Comment by David Kidston on April 12th, 2012

As someone in the search industry, I am completely appalled by all three stories. My jaw literally hit the ground at reading each of them.

The last one, with the blog vs the corporate site, sounds to me like a case of jealousy. “Since your blog outranks our corporate site, you have to remove all your nice juicy links”.

If they were smart they would move (and redirect of course) the blog to their corporate site. he keeps his blog, they reap the reward of his links and rankings. And clearly that SEO guy needs a lesson in link building – “too many inbound links”? Please. Sounds like they’re perfectly natural links, and you can do no better. He should be asking the question “how can I get more of those natural links”.

Nice article.

Comment by Mike Hagley on April 13th, 2012

Dafyd, many of the sites we manage receive around 25% of their traffic from social networks. If the strategy is sound the traffic tends to follow. However I agree that search is easily the number one traffic generator.

Comment by Media Hunter on April 14th, 2012

Thanks Craig
Totally concur with your thoughts on a web GP – something Ive been banging on about for some time. I wrote about this very topic recently for Smart Company:

Good to hear we share the sentiment!

Cheers, Craig

Comment by Craig Reardon on April 18th, 2012

I love it when folks come together and share ideas. Great website, keep it up!

Comment by new england patriots on December 1st, 2012

Leave a Comment