The Contrarian Guide To Online Marketing
A so-called "best practice" might not be right for your business. Columnist Jordan Kasteler rebuts some of the most commonly used phrases in marketing.
You will find “best practices” galore in marketing articles. Most are great counsel. However, sometimes bad advice gets regurgitated or isn’t applicable for the person reading it.
I want to point out a contrarian point of view gained from being in the trenches for over a decade. As with anything or anyone else, take this view with a grain of salt. Separated by topic, here are my rebuttals to commonly used phrases/ideas:
- “Check analytics daily.”
I’ve worked at an agency and a large e-commerce site (in-house position) before where this was the rule of thumb. For the large e-commerce website — for an in-house position — this was very helpful and important. When there was a marginal shift in numbers overnight, it often indicated something to research and be reactive to.
However, for managing an armful of small websites, time is better spent elsewhere. Weekly serves best for small- to medium-sized sites, but some can get away with monthly research for reporting and strategy.
- “Beware of bad bounce/exit rates.”
Bounces or exits don’t necessarily indicate a problem. In fact, they can indicate that pages are highly beneficial for the user, as they find what they’re looking for and leave.
The key is not having a user pogo-stick back to the search results again to find an answer your site couldn’t provide. This is the difference between short versus long clicks in search results.
- “Because X, then Y.”
Causation !=correlation (that means “does not” in programming terms). As marketers, we need to divert applause as much as we divert blame if we determine the cause of something is not fully correlated to a project or campaign.
A good example of this is how the President of the United States is always blamed or applauded for the current state of affairs. If the economy is great, the president gets praised, but oftentimes, it’s the rolling effect of those who held the office before that caused the post-effect in the current term.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- “We have rel=canonical tags, so we don’t need redirects.”
False. A canonical tag is merely a Band-Aid, as it mainly addresses Google (versus other search engines) and doesn’t address bookmarks, social shares, link destinations and so on.
- “If we’re buying links, we’re doing ‘black hat’ SEO.”
A true “black hat” is manipulating algorithms for his or her own benefit. Often, there are victims (users) in the cross-path. However, going against Google’s guidelines is merely an act of breaking the “law of Google” versus overstepping ethical boundaries.
- “In order to be great at SEO, we must understand natural language algorithms.”
Every SEO should be able to understand the basics of how search engines interpret entities and return documents. However, mastering PAIR, LSI, LSA, Rankbrain, Hummingbird and so on is largely irrelevant.
The important thing to focus on is making sure that your content is written for a person, not a search engine.
- “Every page should have one keyword assigned to it so that we can rank.”
Every page should have a topical theme, yes. A topical theme is how a search engine determines relevancy for your page and ranks it for a variety of keywords, many of which are keywords that you aren’t even able to research because Google hasn’t even seen them before.
However, assigning keywords (especially just a single one) to a page is highly short-sighted. Instead, content should be fulfilling the needs and intent of audience personas.
- Rankings are how we measure effectiveness.”
Rankings used to be how SEOs measured success. It’s still a factor, but ROI and conversions trump watching a handful of keyword rankings.
Just focusing on keywords that you know of leaves out ranking on those that you don’t know of (e.g., long-tail keywords). Furthermore, high ranking doesn’t necessarily mean qualified or converting users.
- “Put Alt tags on images.”
It’s “ALT attributes.” Thanks.
- “Have more Calls to Action.”
Even though we generally see the term “Calls To Action,” in my opinion, the correct usage is “Call to Actions.” Thanks.
- “InfluenceRank!? Where did you get that from?”
Ignore the two bullets above this one, because terminology means nothing. Whatever the jargon-based name of a marketing trend, the importance is the idea behind it.
When I discussed “InfluenceRank” in 2009, it later turned into a similar concept being called “Authorship.” That doesn’t mean the ideas behind InfluenceRank were flawed, only that the terminology became outdated.
- “Link build through X type of posts.”
Link attraction (through content creation) isn’t link building, which is more of a manual tactic. This is arguably semantics, but it’s a matter of push versus pull marketing, in most people’s sense of the word.
You can, indeed, link build to your link attraction assets.
- “Google is smart enough to tell the difference between underscores and dashes in file names.”
Yes, they’re smart enough to recognize the file name difference, but no, they don’t. Hyphens/dashes are word separators, versus underscores, which run file names together.
For example, big-company-logo.png is recognized as “big company logo,” whereas “big_company_logo” is recognized as “bigcompanylogo.” Matt Cutts, (ex?)-Google engineer, explains in this video.
- “But Matt Cutts says…”
Now that you’ve watched the Matt Cutts explainer video above, ignore it. Google has an agenda. It runs its agenda through talking heads like Cutts.
What any Googler says is right may very well not be, because they want to steer the direction of webmasters. To boot, if Google admits to something beneficial for SEO, you should have been already doing it five-plus years ago.
- “Code and design all emails.”
A well-designed email, like a web page, can control clicks and behavior well. But it also indicates whether it’s a commercial or a personal email.
Rich text can be more personal, and, contrary to popular belief, convert better. Test both.
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
- “Test button size and colors.”
While you can yield some decent results in testing button size and color, this should be low on the priority list. A/B tests should first focus on overall ideas (e.g., persona targeting/messaging), instead of small page tweaks.
- “A/B test all pages on the site.”
Testing pages, especially in priority order, is great, but don’t let pages overshadow the conversion path. A winning A/B test page may lead to a poor conversion funnel. Be sure to test conversion paths, as well as page conversions.
Paid Search (aka PPC)
- “We don’t need to bid on keywords we’re already organically ranking on.”
In theory, ranking for a keyword should be good enough to not have to advertise on it. However, in practice, an organic ranking + paid search ad increases organic click-through rates (CTRs) and brand impression.
You’re less likely to get paid clicks when you rank organically, so having a paid search ad provides organic click benefits.
- “Strategy comes first.”
No one (well, only one I can name) dare say a content marketing strategy isn’t the first thing you should do. It’s a great sense of direction, but I’ve seen companies get hung up on it so much that they hold back results for too long and then lose buy-in.
If you feel this might happen to you, start diving into content creation and promotion in tandem.
- “Duplicate content causes a search engine penalty.”
First, duplicate content penalties are extremely rare and mainly apply to high-abuse/spam sites. Secondly, syndicating your content on third-party sites will not penalize you.
The goal should be to get in front of new audiences by syndicating content to high-quality sites. If your goal is for links, and your syndication includes hundreds of sites, then re-evaluate what you’re doing and why.
- “Top-of-funnel content is wasteful, since it’s not driving conversion.”
Top-of-funnel content is likely going to be targeted to a wide audience. Your benefits are going to be links, shares and brand impressions versus conversions.
The more of this you have, the more ranking and clicks all of your site will receive. Bottom-of-funnel content is going to be highly targeted to your audience and drive conversions the most.
The point is that narrowly focusing on bottom-funnel content, because it’s what converts best, is missing out on one of the biggest benefits of content marketing.
- “The post’s infographic should click to its own image URL.”
Not a lot of people direct this, but it mostly happens by default. When someone can access an image’s URL (for full-view) then they’re likely to link to that image URL instead of the post-page URL.
Link value does NOT pass through .jpg/.gif/.png URLs. So the infographic should click to hover in full-view and ideally, have an embed code to boot. If you want to get really technical and keep image URLs, then you can put them in a unique file folder that auto-redirects traffic to a post-page URL.
- “Infographics/quizzes don’t work because we’ve tried them before.”
The medium is not the message! The most important item to focus on is the topic or theme (i.e., message) of content before deciding on the form (i.e., medium) it’ll take.
- “Facebook & Twitter”
The social web is much more than just Facebook and Twitter… and Instagram. Explore the deeper web by getting involved with sites like Reddit and StumbleUpon.
- “This is how to succeed in social media…”
More often than not, success case studies focus on big brands. What they do in social media is likely not a fit for a small- to medium-sized business’s time spent.
- “We can’t measure social, so we can’t invest in technology.”
“The revolution will not be televised; it’ll be socialized.” — Me.
Instead of fighting technology, companies must adapt accordingly. It’s a question of being left behind instead of scoring measurable ROI.
For example, ad blockers are changing the game of how marketers have been used to advertising since the advent of the internet, via (ahem) Al Gore.
Just because you link to or share this post doesn’t mean you endorse all or any of the items noted in here. It’s likely that there are only individual items you agree with.
From my perspective, I’ve had views flip-flop over time and am bound to reflect back on some of these points later with an opposing view. The point is that it’s healthy to adapt, change and challenge others’ views and experiences.
Also, since a contrarian post is going to be highly negative in tone, I want to iterate that this post in no way reflects the viewpoints of my employer.