Want a sure-fire way to get terrible advice? Ask the right question... to the wrong person.

Not too long ago, I attended a presentation given by a couple of pay per click (PPC) advertising professionals. For some reason, during the Q&A session after their presentation, an audience member asked them a question about organic search.

From what he asked, it was apparent to me this guy's knowledge was a bit out of date. Further, based on the way he worded the question, it also seemed to me what he really wanted wasn't updated information, but rather reassurance the outdated tactics he was advocating to his clients were still effective.

And this was where the problem really got rolling.

The thing is, most of us are conditioned to be helpful. And when someone's been touted publicly as an expert, it's difficult for them to stand up there in front of a crowd of eager listeners and admit they don't know the answer.

So the PPC experts did their best to respond to his query to the extent they understood what he was asking. But because they were used to working in PPC, not organic search, I believe they didn't fully grasp the implications of the question. So instead of correcting his misconceptions, their answer inadvertently reinforced his outdated ideas.

Now, mind you, their answer wasn't totally wrong. It's just that it wasn't exactly right, either. But he'd heard what he wanted to hear, so he sat back down, obviously pleased with the answer he'd received.

Unfortunately, the ones who'll pay the price are his clients. Instead of leaving the presentation with a new understanding of current search optimization techniques, I suspect he's going to continue to waste some portion of his time (and his client's money) on outdated, ineffective tactics — pointing to this “expert advice” he received as justification.

He had asked experts. He'd simply asked the wrong experts.

Asking a PPC expert about organic search makes about as little sense as asking an auto mechanic about problems with your home plumbing. I mean, you might get lucky and stumble across somebody who can give you a good answer, but wouldn't it make more sense to just ask a professional plumber in the first place?

I see this sort of thing happen all the time in business. A business owner hires an expert web developer to create her website. The developer mentions he also “does SEO,” and is the site owner interested? The site owner jumps at the chance to have a “web expert” optimize her site, imagining her site perched at the top of the Google results... and is disappointed when results don't meet her lofty expectations.

Unfortunately, all too often the site owner blames the wrong culprit: SEO is “useless” and a “waste of money,” and SEOs themselves are “hucksters” and “con artists.”

The problem, though, isn't with SEO. The problem is the site owner relied on the wrong expert.

Just because someone's an excellent graphic designer, or a great PPC expert, or a superstar developer, this doesn't make them an expert at SEO. And vice versa.

Moral of the story: Ask an auto mechanic to do a plumber's job, and you're likely to end up with leaky pipes. Just because somebody's an expert in one field, this doesn't make them an expert in all disciplines. Choose your experts wisely.

July 30, 2008

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This is a common problem. I believe that in this industry; which changes so often, it is important that when you don't know an answer a client asks your best response is "I'll get back to you on that".
Nothing like spending their money on something you "thought" was correct only to find out later you were wrong. Remember even as experts we cant' know everything. And even if we do it changes all the time.

Good article, but the expert web developer analogy could use a little work. There are web design and development firms that are large enough to have SEO experts on staff. Clients then get the best of both worlds with an SEO expert working on the site starting at the concept level.

@Mark, I agree totally! Unfortunately, that's one of the hardest things for some people to do. I think the more expert a person *really* is, the more likely they are to acknowledge those areas where they *aren't* experts. "The more I know, the more I know how little I know."

@Karen, absolutely, there are firms that employ a multitude of experts.And there are solo practitioners who are smart enough to outsource to others when the job is beyond the scope of their expertise. Those aren't the kind of companies or people I'm talking about, though. :-)

What I've seen far too often is an assumption on the part of small business owners that the graphic artist they contracted with to design their website is also qualified to analyze their traffic, program web-based applications, run their PPC campaign, optimize their pages for search, conduct usability reviews -- in short, do *anything* related to the web at all -- an assumption that some (but thankfully not all) web professionals are willing to encourage in the interest of racking up more billable hours for themselves.

The point is, whether you hire a separate individual for each task, or you hire a firm that employs a number of experts, or you work with one expert "general contractor" who subs out to specialists when needed, you need to make sure the person actually on the ground doing the job for you has the right skills and experience for the job. On that point, I suspect you and I are in total agreement. :-)

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

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Search Engine Guide > Diane Aull > Bad Advice and Leaky Pipes