In the last few years, there’s been a lot of attention on misinformation in the news, in politics, and in relation to the pandemic.
People are fact-checking the fact-checkers. Who are you to believe?
But this is a subject far from unique to politics or public health.
Let me talk about a couple of ways false and misleading information affects the world of websites and online marketing. I hope you find it useful.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION DISINFO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the subject of increasing your online visibility, largely by getting Google to reward your website with high rankings on searches.
There are a gazillion people and companies in the business of selling SEO services. Pay us so much per month and we’ll get you at the top of the rankings, their advertising says.
You probably would guess that not all of them are honest or competent. But by my estimate, maybe 97% of everyone in this line of work is either incompetent or just a plain con artists.
I’ve talked to others who agree with my estimate. So that makes them less trustworthy than used car salesmen.
The net result is an enormous amount of disinformation on the subject.
It isn’t all because someone is criminally minded, of course. A lot of people don’t approach it as a professional study and are operating off of old information that might have been true 5 years ago. Or twenty. Google is always evolving.
How do you tell what’s real and what’s not? The first line of defense is common sense. A lot of the claims you see can be dismissed simply by noting that if their claims were true, everyone would be rich. Many of the rest surrender to this test: If it’s so good, why is it so cheap?
You also can look for reliable sources of information. Google themselves publishes lots of useful information, as do reputable online journals such as Search Engine Land.
Of course, that puts you into the position of having to do a bunch of homework to sort out the wheat from the chaff. At the very least, if you are looking to hire a company to provide these services, check them out thoroughly and take anything they say with a grain of salt.
The fact that a company is large does not, by the way, guarantee competence or results. Some of the worst work I’ve seen has been from the largest companies. But if someone is claiming to be a top SEO professional and is using a Gmail address, yeah, probably something is wrong.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the proof that SEO data or claims are reliable is in the results. If they know what they are doing, they’ll produce visible results in a reasonable amount of time.
Oh, and speaking of Google as a reliable source? You can easily look this up. Google states that if a company guarantees specific results in a certain amount of time, they are con artists.
You can save a lot of grief following the old rule. So old it is in Latin: “Caveat Emptor” – Let the Buyer Beware.
BLACK PR (PROPAGANDA)
Here’s a totally different angle on misinformation. Black PR (Public Relations) refers to the deliberate spreading of lies about someone in order to damage their reputation and, in the case of companies, hurt their business.
In the world of online marketing, you run into this most commonly in the case of false, negative Google Reviews.
As Google Reviews are trusted by a large percentage of people to tell them if a company is good or bad, this can be a serious problem.
Google tries to fight this themselves in several ways. For one, their software can detect at least some blatant examples. If, for example, your Google My Business page is hit with 20 negative reviews in 24 hours – and they are all coming from the same computer – that is pretty fishy and likely they will be stopped by Google.
Google also has a mechanism to request and get phony reviews removed. However, it only works some of the time. If Google can’t see evidence a review is phony, their default is to leave it up.
You should always respond to phony reviews (though not with an attack, that just makes it look like you have something to hide).
The ultimate solution to bad phony reviews is to overwhelm them with good reviews. Every company should have a system in place to get happy clients to submit great reviews on Google (and Yelp and Facebook other places as well).
Having a 4.8 rating and a pile of great reviews, no one is going to care about one bad review. Sane people will just write it off as they know there’s always someone like that out there.