In 1995, when American Online (AOL) was my ticket to the whole world, I wanted to believe nobody was lying to me. In the groups I had joined to meet others with the same interests, I read every word and assumed every web site I visited was genuine. I was so dumb.
Before long, every possible gizmo and gadget could make you rich, or so it was screamed from every web site owner who swore up and down they were overnight millionaires. As an SEO, I went merrily along optimizing these sites for their owners, knowing darned well they were desperate fools looking for Internet gold. There would be no “black hat” methodology if it were not for the demands of greedy web sites. Site owner desperation makes for a good income for an SEO. Figuring out the next best route out of the competition puzzle can be challenging and not without risk, however. Even the underground SEO knows when to pack up the suitcase of magic juice and move on to the next town.
The same type of site owner who suffers from delusions of grandeur arrive on my usability audit doorstep. This is the one who believes that “pretty equals credible”. This site owner will not back up claims with any proof. They will hire writers trained to bend the story to sound credible, when in fact, the product is not tested.
In my experience, the most push back from my site reviews comes from the credibility section. These sites want sales leads but make no effort to gain trust first. They don’t share who they are or if they do, they’re vague. Some site owners claim to be caring, helpful, supportive and in your corner, but you can’t find their contact information anywhere on their web site. In cases where there are a staff that has customer contact, they refuse to show anyone who those people are.
It’s amazing what site owners try to get away with, especially on health sites. They try to make themselves legitimate by pretending to be from the United States. There are so many ways to appear like you are physically somewhere on the Internet. Claims that go unvalidated, tested and documented with case studies are another area for dishonesty. This is evident everywhere and the theory is if people are stupid enough to buy something untested, it’s their fault. These site owners want the site to be handsome and user friendly, even if illegal.
A few things need to be said here. Firstly, SEO’s bear the brunt of blame for any form of cheating on the Internet. It’s true that some folks come to the industry ready to outwit any search bot that comes their way. It’s like hackers, who thrive on the ability to meddle. The intent is to see how one can flex technology to make something happen a new way, rather than being mean. Even though the result is most often frustrating and destructive down the line, it’s the game that’s the goal.
Secondly, many site owners with money to blow are more than happy to pay the people most willing to lie and cheat on their behalf. The site owner is never blamed. Rather, it is their staff and marketing folks who may take the fall.
As an SEO, web site designer or someone hired to make a web site property a success, we are indeed lied to by those who hire us. It’s never wise to underestimate the Internet industry. When one of them is cheated by a site owner, that site owner is blacklisted. If an SEO is cheating in an ugly way, the peer response can be equally as severe.
Consumers have grown to be very smart. They know what questions to ask and they look for their answers on the web sites they visit. A site that avoids these questions is asking for site abandonment. There’s nothing any SEO or usability consultant can do when a web site owner insists on being dishonest. We do, however, have the right to refuse to work on the site.
And in an odd twist, it turns out that some of the very best sources for honest businesses are the user experience consultants and search marketers themselves. Some of them research site owners and companies before taking them on as a client.
It’s well worth considering top tier companies in the search engine marketing and usability testing industries and invest in hiring them because those companies expect site owners to do what it takes to be successful, or they won’t bother to help at all.