Don’t Listen To Dogma

When you’ve been online for any length of time running a business you will eventually start to come across a bunch of marketing dogma that people accept as “the truth” without ever challenging where it came from or why people believe it.

I hate dogma.  There’s something in my DNA that makes me question anything that people repeat blindly without thinking about.  I find myself asking the person repeating it to back up their statement and if they respond with something like, “But everybody knows…” then I know they’re full of crap and I stop listening to them altogether.

There are some things that are batted around online that many people have a particular religious fervour about and one example are prices ending in 9’s or 7’s.  I’ve seen people try and test this to prove it one or the other over the years and they always end up largely inconclusive.  Huge debates happen over which one converts better.

This is one of those dogmatic issues where the answer is… Who cares!  Pick one and go with it.  I’m guessing most people reading this, myself included, don’t get enough traffic to really notice any difference either way on conversion.  And think about it, if your sales page is so amazingly well optimised and your offer so outlandishly strong that the trailing number in your price will make a tangible difference… Well, I envy you.

I got an email today from Dori Friend who I’ve been a follower of for many years with respect to SEO.  I like Dori because she’s not into the dogma of SEO and doesn’t drink the Google kool-aid.  She’s made her money selling backlinks and teaching people “grey hat” SEO tactics for years.

In the email she sent today, she called out Moz (the well-known SEO authority site) as basically being Google’s lap dog espousing whatever rhetoric Google wants people to believe whether it is true or not.  She said that she’s recently seen a number of statements from Moz about “what works and what doesn’t in SEO” that were patently untrue and she had the facts to back it up.  Not only that, but she ran the experiments to prove that what Moz, a highly trusted source of SEO information for small business owners, was saying was not correct.

This whole thing was spawned by a very long blog post written by Glen Allsop of ViperChill about the dirty SEO tactics used by 16 companies that basically goes unpunished by Google and allows those companies to basically dominate many high value, big money keyword terms.  Glen is an interesting character for a whole bunch of reasons, and love him or hate him, the one thing you can give him is his research is impeccable.  When Glen tears into an issue, he does the work to break it down better than almost anyone.

Without going into the nitty-gritty details, let me summarise the whole situation for you.

Google often says that buying and manipulating backlinks will get your site severely punished in the search results through manual and algorithmic penalties.  There have been a few high-profile instances of this, JC Penney got smashed a few years ago and Google even slapped their Chrome team once for a few months for dirty backlinking tactics.

But there’s always been a feeling that Google has been pretty selective about how this plays out.  If you’re a nobody, your site is dead if they pick something up – that’s it, no coming back.  However, RetailMeNot, a company backed by Google Ventures were some of the worst offenders of dirty SEO and when they got hit, their recovery seemed substantially faster and easier than most other companies.  Did they have inside information?  Was it because they had Google VC money?  Who knows, but it didn’t seem like the playing field was very fair.

Anyway, plenty of people jumped on the bandwagon of saying that backlinking as a strategy for SEO was dead.  Moz has been in that crowd as well.  They routinely say that people shouldn’t be going out and buying backlinks because “it doesn’t work and it’s very risky”.

Except that’s entirely not true.  Anyone who does SEO for clients with substantial budgets and spends money to get results knows this isn’t the case.  Garbage links and stupid link networks don’t work anymore.  Silly Web 2.0 links are pointless.  But buying high quality contextually relevant backlinks on well developed and managed sites works like a champion.

I know this because I run an SEO business and we get results for clients.  Fully 100% of our clients come from referrals or personal introductions and it’s been that way for at least three years.  You don’t build a business based on referrals if you do poor work that doesn’t get results.

Dori pointed out and tested to prove that three or four other pieces of generally accepted SEO dogma espoused by Moz were not only false but that in fact, the complete opposite of what they were saying was true.

And that’s the problem with dogma – when it’s wrong, it’s not wrong by a little bit, it’s usually the complete antithesis of the right answer.

Take for example the idea that people thought the world was flat before Columbus.  Many adults to believe that people 500 years ago thought the world was flat and that they believed if you sailed over the horizon you’d fall off the edge.  That commonly held belief is so ludicrous it’s laughable – nobody thought that.  There were 15th-century astronomers that not only knew the earth was a sphere but calculated its circumference with surprising accuracy and even the Ancient Greeks knew the earth was a relative sphere.

In your business, buying into bad ideas and dogma that are outright wrong can have devastating effects.  You could end up investing in things either financially or with respect to time that has little value or even has a negative effect because some mistaken commonly held belief.

The key is to challenge everything.  If something doesn’t sound right to you, ask questions and do your research.  I’m suggesting you put on a tinfoil hat and cover your laptop’s camera with black tape, but healthy scepticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Don’t be obtuse, there’s no point in challenging whether the rain is wet, but when someone says something like “the money is in the list”, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to probe that a little bit more.

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