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Monday, Aug. 27, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Hey, Web Guru, Your Advice is Toxic! (Avoid if Easily Offended)

By Jeffrey Eisenberg
August 27th, 2007

Don't drink the Kool-AidIf you’re responsible for planning, measuring or optimizing online marketing, you’re already too busy to breathe. Nevertheless, you have to keep up with all the latest and greatest developments.

That is why you look to the blogosphere and the collection of publications that publish advice from “experts”.

Like you, I keep current with a lot of what industry experts have to say. Some of it’s excellent, some is good, some of it’s neutral, but a dangerous yet substantial portion of it is toxic. I sometimes point to the excellent. I sometimes prod the good with a question or comment. I largely ignore the neutral or harmless even though it provides a source of endless chuckles for my team. However, my tongue is bloody and scarred from repeated biting in an effort to refrain from attacking the toxic misinformation being published.

STOP! Don’t drink that! The Kool-Aid is poisoned!

I can’t say that, can I? You might think I was mean-spirited, unprofessional, spiteful or disrespectful of someone’s opinion.

So, why do people drink the Kool-Aid? If you say anything with enough conviction, someone will believe you. If you put a thought in writing, on a blog, your credibility increases. If you sprinkle in a collection of conventional wisdom, paraphrased concepts and some pseudoscience, the cocktail is ready. Bottoms up!

I haven’t linked to any such toxic advice, even though I read two blog posts and an article this morning that I know will send some people off on expensive wild goose chases.

I hate being called an expert. I’d rather the results speak for themselves. I’d also rather have the right questions than the right answers in a truly accountable marketing system.

I’ve been involved in cleaning up experts’ messes for almost a decade. If you’re a client, you know I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you the truth.

Dear reader, how can I tell you the truth? Perhaps it’s impossible, but I’d like to know if there is some way I could save you the pain.

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Comments (16)

  1. Jeffery: No one believes anything that is said in a blog post. Go ahead an update your post with the links to the ones that upset you. Trust me, if there is merit to your point then people have a good enough filter to separate a rant from a good alternative perspective.

    My vote: Add the links (and your alternative perspective on what is toxic about them – you can’t just tease us can you! :) )

    -Avinash.

  2. Jeffrey
    I know what you are talking about, “buyer beware” certainly applies in the free world of advice on the internet. As any reputable search engine optimization firm (ie seomoz.org) will tell you, a lot of the advice you see out there is simplistic or downright wrong with tips on how to optimize a site, get it to rank, etc.

    In any field that is rapidly changing and technologically sophisticated, there will be people who make simplistic statements and say them forcefully enough that people believe them. Of course, that also opens the market for quality firms to differentiate and tell the real story about what matters, about the importance of testing and analytics, and why the simple answers are often deceptive.

    There are snake oil salesmen in every industry and they don’t even always know that what they are selling is bunk — but I believe over time the reputable firms will come to be known for that quality work and truthful selling.

  3. Avinash,

    The challenge isn’t to simply provide a “good alternative perspective”. I did that in my comment here http://www.webmetricsguru.com/2007/08/real_estate_mass_psychology_se.html and you did that in an an interview here http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2007/08/26/avinash-answers-my-hour-a-day-questions-part-3-of-4/.

    The challenge is when there is no alternative perspective and you suspect the expert is clueless.

  4. Thank God (or whoever), there are still different views about things. We learn from our own experience, good or bad. But we can also learn a heck of a lot from other’s opinions and experience without the pain of going trough it ourselves!

    A civilized debate on any topic can always be constructive :)

  5. Civilized debate is delightful.

    I’ve criticized Jakob Nielsen for his silly marketing advice. That is not his expertise. He is an expert in usability. We can debate, quibble & question with no harm done. We have taken issue with Avinash on some web analytics definitions of terms. The product was an excellent dialog that benefited everyone.

    How about where the advice given by the expert demonstrates that they are faking it? How civilized is it to pants the expert and show their ignorance when their livelihood depends on that credibility?

    Do I take on people who will actually gain credibility from having me debate them when all they deserve is to be ignored? The problem is people won’t know to ignore them. That is what I’m struggling with.

  6. Rand does a great job of deflating Robert Scoble here: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/i-used-to-respect-robert-scobles-opinion

    Long live civilized debate!

  7. Critical thinking is key to survival. If one blindly follows someone’s (expert or not) advice without doing a bit of research.. one gets what one deserves.

  8. I’m dying to know the blog entries you said would send people off on wild goose chases.

  9. Hey Jeffrey: I say – publish away. I admire your restraint, but at the same time, it doesn’t help if you know that there is toxic advice out there and you’re not telling anyone.

    My editors gave us the direction to “post negative reviews”. The idea being that it doesn’t help readers to only hear about the great stuff out there. If they happen upon something awful, I would be remiss if I knew about it and didn’t warn them.

    Besides, if you do indicate where something is toxic, you may discover that there is an alternate view where you could see none. But if all you do is stew at your desk, you’ll never know. (Although, I suspect you’re right that most of the time, these “experts” are really something completely different…)

  10. If you don’t want to name names, at least explain what advice you believe is toxic.

    What I really want to comment on is totally off-topic, but … have you guys ever considered toning down the use of bold text? I’d like to read what you have to say, but it’s difficult to concentrate when every third sentence is clamoring for my attention.

  11. Create a grumpy old man persona with his own blog – anonymous if you like ….. (sorry, this suggestion does not show great regard for your personal safety and well-being, because you will be found out, but at least you will be a hero)

  12. I’m all about negative reviews and toxic stuff – especially if two people are debating which toxic advice works best!

    (If you don’t want to name names, just send them my way and I’ll post it) ;)

  13. Yes, please at least tell us what advice you think is toxic. That would serve the purpose and would not offend anyone either.

    Btw, I noticed one thing- This post of yours has so many replies! People are much more curious to hear something negative. Would there be so many replies if you had posted something about a “great piece of advice” you read somewhere?:)

  14. [...] Read More: Jeffrey Eisenberg on toxic web “experts.” [...]

  15. [...] for the least amount of time, money, and effort?  I realize this approach does not square with conventional wisdom, but the Objective of the store was to replace 1 income (my wife’s) with the least amount of [...]

  16. Hello, I am not sur ehow to even repsond to a site like this however, i am curious how society allows people to write blogs about other people, their businesses or personal events. And some are so nasty. I hav been working my butt off for 29 years in Tucson Arizona. Always taking care of people and their problems. And people used to be so kind to you. Now I know the population is growing and there are more people and problem but why is it just because you can resolve their problm or do what they ask – they can start writing horrible false things about you! For example – just today I received a letter from a tenant who said I was neglecting her pet odor problem. She has lived in this home for one year with no complaints – I have taken care of anything she has asked for over the last year. Now she says she has lived with a urine problem for one year and it has made her sick! When asked why she did not tell me there was a problem, she said I have been trying to take care of it myself
    When she moved int here was no problem and it comes to find out she has unauthorized puppies in the home (however she commented and put in a email to me that they were potty trained. AND she also has a ferret running arond the house. Now her neglect for having thes epets has caused us urine damages and ITS OUR FAULT! She wants to sue us (which of will be impossible) because I terminated her lease and am making her move. NOW is this sick! But it is okay for this woman to place blogs etc and tell the world how awful our company is – It is toxic allowing these blogs So I would like to know why are they allowed!!!!!

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Jeffrey Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark. You can friend him on Facebook.

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