BMI Marketing Chat: Identifying Bad SEO Advice

sean.francis (Sean D. Francis – Director of SEO, Blue Magnet Interactive): Welcome to Blue Magnet’s first Digital Marketing Slack Chat. Today we are doing a round table on the topic of “What SEO/digital marketing myths/bad advice are dangerous for hoteliers?” This topic stems from a recent article on (collective groan acknowledged) about “Why Misinformation on SEO is so Rampant.” The article is pretty thin and really just points to how fast the SEO industry changes combined with how cloaked in secrecy Google is regarding its algorithm.

As an agency, we spend a lot of time educating clients and potential clients about what is possible and impossible in terms of SEO and digital marketing. Today we can run through some of the issues we’ve run into or have seen in our time doing digital marketing.
One of the many problems in trying to sort out truth from the Bull Pucky is trying to understand who is doing valuable real research and who is just trying to make themselves look like experts.

Who to Trust for SEO Information?

So I’ll start the discussion off with the question for the panel – How do you know what information to trust regarding SEO, content marketing, and digital marketing?
jesse.gaver (Jesse Gaver – Senior SEO Manager, Blue Magnet Interactive): We know what information to trust because whatever the topic or issue at hand usually has a lot of evidence to back it up, there can be trends that pop up quickly that fade just as fast and its important to not jump on them without the evidence to support it
don.angelo (Don Angelo – SEO Manager, Blue Magnet Interactive): I typically greet articles with a sense of skepticism when they promise too much. SEO takes time, content marketing, takes resources, and digital marketing doesn’t happen over night. When an article provides Five Ways to Double Your Traffic TODAY, I don’t find that trustworthy. On the flipside, data-driven articles from experienced experts, based on detailed research, resonates more strongly.
kmalloy (Kevin Malloy – SEO Manager, Blue Magnet Interactive): One of the biggest factors for me when it comes to SEO & digital marketing information is the number of trustworthy sources that are spreading that information. If Moz, for example, makes a claim with a lengthy case study that can be verified to back it up I’m much more likely to consider that news than if a similar claim is made by a single, low authority blog. The most reputable sources have a history of being correct and oftentimes back up their claims
sean.francis: I’m glad you mentioned Moz. Why do we trust them as a source? What makes them reliable vs. AAA SEO Services – We get you to #1 $49/month?
don.angelo: Additionally, when articles don’t present research, evidence, and nuanced analysis, they feel like they’re being spun up just to drive traffic, shares, etc (and not to educate SEOs or better the industry or internet at large).
jesse.gaver: For one, Moz does the research
brian_s (Brian Surdel – Senior Project Manager and Web Designer): Was about to say that. They publish research backed with data to support their claims, to me that is a good step one (edited)
don.angelo: Additionally, while Moz is a business, they deeply believe in education, goodwill, and making the internet a better place. They preach creativity and data-driven decision, not overnight success.
jesse.gaver: Moz has built a trusted community by doing the research, proving their claims, and publishing data to provide helpful information to SEOers like us
don.angelo: Plus, SEO is an industry like every other industry. Are you really going to trust a lawyer that charges $10/hour to get you out of a jam?
sean.francis: I agree, I believe Moz does a great job in presenting their research, presenting their methodology and allowing others to attempt to replicate their methodology to see if they get the same results. That is the scientific method.
jesse.gaver: Good point Don…. my expectations of that lawyer would be pretty low
don.angelo: Agreed with Brian & Jesse. They have a history of research and attention to detail.
brian_s: Going off Don’s point, they also have a lot of trusted partners and players in the industry.
kmalloy: Agreed, Moz is heavily involved in research and providing data to back up what they claim. And Brian makes a good point that they are a major industry player that has a track record of success
brian_s: They also have branded themselves that way….which helps.
sean.francis: Ok, I don’t want to kiss up to Moz too much, but just trying to find a way a client can determine if advice is good advice or just spammy advice. Don raised a good point about articles designed just for the clicks.
In a way I think that Forbes article is one of them, but it spurred the question in my head about what advice is out there hurting hoteliers.
jesse.gaver: One thing that comes to mind on advice that could be hurting hoteliers is fast trends
sean.francis: Do you have an example, Jesse?
jesse.gaver: Maybe not necessarily hurtful in this example but something like Google Authorship, remember when that was the big trend?
sean.francis: So jumping on a trend before it has proven results?
don.angelo: While we were able to talk a number of clients off the ledge, about two years ago a handful of Hilton and Marriott clients were curious about apps for their hotels. Clearly a branded hotel does not need this, but APPS! APPS! APPS! was the trend.
jesse.gaver: Which didn’t go much of anywhere. Buying links would be a negative, but I think that lasted a big longer that google would have liked.
Yes exactly, jumping on a trend with little evidence or date to prove it’s claim
kmalloy: I don’t have an example on hand, but we are in an industry where news is picked up and spread out quickly. Mostly without a careful vetting process
That can be very dangerous for clients
It seems like every Google update comes with a hundred articles explaining how it will help or hurt your site
sean.francis: Apps are definitely a pain in the butt for me right now. The amount of money spent in developing it is a huge gamble. Meanwhile the content on the sites are lackluster. Why can’t we get hotels to invest in quality photography? Personal gripe….

The Role of Trends in SEO

don.angelo: All of the hotels need better photography
Which brings up another trend: flashy and cutesy design
kmalloy: YES! Photos are key, no one is going to book a room sight unseen.
sean.francis: The Google updates are definitely a problem, and it is why you can’t SEO a site once and call it done. Google makes 400+ updates to the algo every year and some of those changes can affect sites that aren’t trying to be bad, but just caught up in the side-effects.
I think we can spend hours talking design trends and the good/bad/ugly of that entire world.
brian_s: Sean, to your previous point. I think hotels and management can get caught up on the tldr blurbs on the articles they have been reading. Basically they see some buzz words and then go to make it happen, without thinking of an integrated strategy or the possible shortcomings.
jesse.gaver: Which sort of goes along with out of date website design as well, you may have an old site that works but google is evolving to want a better experience for users
brian_s: That is the birthplace of half baked apps and failed website experiments
sean.francis: That’s a good point, Brian. We (me) often forget that our clients aren’t spending hours learning about this stuff, they get an email, they read a blog post, that is all the time they have to educate themselves.
don.angelo: Obviously attractive, aesthetic design is huge factor in a great UX. But hoteliers increasingly want to brand their sites with clever navigation verbiage and incorporate design elements that “tell their story’. However, photography can accomplish so much of that without sacrificing SEO & conversion funnel strategy.
jesse.gaver: Great point
sean.francis: Since we are talking about design, I want to bring up another SEO Myth that plagues us – and that is SEO is something you do after the website is built. I am super happy to see BMI integrates SEO in the design process right from the start. I don’t want this to be a BMI commercial, but it makes SEO easier when the site is built with SEO in mind right from the start.
don.angelo: To the point of hoteliers having limited marketing time & getting caught up in buzzwords: not all trends work in every industry. Some trends work exceedingly well for some businesses, but hurt others. More detailed, researched articles could spell this out. But quick, 200-word click bait buzzword posts just don’t spell that out.
sean.francis: Where do we think AMP fits in the trends for hotels?
don.angelo: AMP is a tough one for hotels.
jesse.gaver: I personally think we’re still learning
kmalloy: There’s a lot of stuff out there about AMP, it’s good, it’s bad, and there’s very little hotel related info
don.angelo: A hotel that has a regularly updated and successful blog could potentially benefit from AMP.
jesse.gaver: Exactly, we’ve seen the data work for other industries like publishing but I think we’re still gathering data on how exactly the best utilize for hotels
blog is definitely a great idea
sean.francis: I agree with Jesse that we are still learning. I am hoping we have some more opportunities to experiment with it and see if there is a way to make it work.
kmalloy: AMP is great for blogs for sure, I’d love to see a case study about it for a hotel
sean.francis: We are approaching our 30 minute mark and I want to give you all a chance to chime in with any other pet peeves about digital marketing advice.
don.angelo: Daang. Fast 30 minutes.
kmalloy: Time flies when you’re having fun
sean.francis: Shhh this isn’t fun, this is work!
jesse.gaver: hahaha!

Why is There Bad SEO Advice?

don.angelo: I’d like to belabor on the source of shoddy SEO advice. Mainly because I took notes before this discussion and want to put them to use.
DeMers states, “Misinformation also arises because the SEO industry naturally moves so quickly.”, which I believe to be true. While he further breaks down this idea, he does not explore why these causes of misinformation are so rampant.
The rate in which content is produced and published does not support a viable working environment for thoughtful, well-researched, fact checked blogging/writing. Not only are we products of the 24 news cycle, SEOs are SEOs, and SEO blog posts about SEO facts/myths/half-truths/correlations are published to drive traffic for websites. Writing about SEO, ultimately, is just a means to getting in Google’s almighty index and earning clicks. Sure, Blue Magnet, Moz, and other truly believe in the power of education, collaboration, and innovation. But if you can eliminate research, comprehensive data analysis, and fact checking from the SEO blogging process, you’ve greatly reduced the time cost of achieving your goal (traffic, shares, etc). Sure, that’s not how to get evergreen content but that’s just the internet.
And I’ll spare you guys (or not) from my thoughts on why SEO myths exist in the first place.
sean.francis: I’d love to hear your thoughts on that topic!
don.angelo: I’ll let others chime in before derailing this with that tangent.
kmalloy: I do want to say that there’s a lot of articles and misinformation saying SEO is mostly “tricks” like we do a few specific things , it’s done, and now you rank. When in reality we spend a great deal of time researching the keywords we’ll use, figuring out user behavior, writing killer copy, building out a page, incorporating it into the site, monitoring it’s progress and making adjustments so that individual pages and the whole site performs well. It’s a little insulting to see our jobs boiled down to “tricks” and “hacks”
jesse.gaver: I think SEO myths exist in the first place because SEO isn’t a tangible digital marketing effort like PPC or social media. You can’t just ‘turn on seo’ and see immediate results, it takes time and patience
don.angelo: Agreed with Kevin
kmalloy: To Jesse’s point, it seems very common in the industry for an agency to say that & keep the SEO work vague so they can get extra revenue for almost little to no work
sean.francis: Maybe a future chat will delve into the Day in the Life of a Digital Marketer.
jesse.gaver: That would be interesting
don.angelo: And to Jesse’s point, SEO is inherently hard to grasp. There’s a lot of speculation. Plus, Google’s algorithm is so cryptic, as are Google’s statements about it.
kmalloy: Yes! It’s very difficult to predict the results coming from such a complex algorithm
jesse.gaver: I think this chat was a great idea, these are fun…
sean.francis: I also point to the problem of people not understanding Causation and Correlation. Just because you put a picture of an alligator on your webpage and it suddenly performed better means alligators help webpages perform better.
A lot of articles and people I’ve worked with have fallen for this kind of thinking.
don.angelo: This all leads me me to my second (and final) set of notes:

Why Do Myths Exist?

Through machine learning, Google’s search algorithm updates over 500 times a year. As a collective we can’t keep up with the identification of and detailed research for each of these update. Similarly, it’s hard to truly comprehend the fact that a non-human “mind” dictates the information we encounter in our day to day lives; on the one hand, SEOs are playing catch-up to Google’s almighty controlling robot brain; but from a less sci-fi perspective, we, as a collective, just don’t have any true touch points or frames of references to help us comprehend that which we can’t comprehend.
When humans can’t understand concepts larger than ourselves, we transform our perceptions, intuitions, personal biases, and anecdotal ‘evidence’ into what we construct as truth. I believe this to be human nature. Throughout history, humankind has configured “truths” based on observed correlations to explain these big ideas; from tribal rain dances to Mount Olympus to global warming (I kid, I kid. Too soon?), myths simplify concepts that exceed the human existence.
SEO isn’t tangible. So we have myths. We simplify it with broad statements (INCREASE YOUR TRAFFIC OVER NIGHT BY DOING THIS ONE THING). Because it’s what we see.
And we can’t see into the monster robot brain that is Google.
kmalloy: Don came prepared today, I’m a little embarrassed…
don.angelo: I wrote all this on the blue line yesterday haha
sean.francis: Perfect. that is a great note to end on. Though I want to say that I bow to the Google Robot Overlords.
Thank you all for participating. This has been a good first chat. I sincerely hope we can put these together periodically. It is nice to take a step back from the day-to-day grind and see the forest instead of just the trees.
don.angelo: #SEOnerds
kmalloy: Totally, this was definitely a fun chat & a great first topic!
sean.francis: Enjoy your weekends. Today is looking great for some Utepils.
don.angelo: Fun chat – and sorry for my long, lame tangents. Have a great Friday, everyone!
jesse.gaver: Happy Friday everyone! Have a great weekend
kmalloy: Have a great weekend!

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