Misinformation and Disinformation

I wish I had a dollar for every hour we've spent trying to disabuse clients of wrong-headed notions they've picked up from conference speakers, blog posts, consultants, and sometimes the engine reps themselves. We don't blame our clients for this. The sheer volume of misinformation and downright disinformation spewed about paid search and online marketing makes it incredibly difficult for folks who don't live and breath the channel to separate fact from fiction. In the days of yore, getting published involved having some level of expertise, and what was written had to stand-up to some level of editorial fact checking. Not so these days. Anyone with a blog can say anything they want, and publishing a "white paper" takes nothing more than someone skilled in design. It is particularly distressing that some conferences allow charlatans to present as "experts" giving their imprimatur to the ensuing misinformation. Here is a short list of myths that keep being repeated no matter how often they've been debunked:
  1. Bid management is all about finding the right position on the page. I heard one "expert" at a search conference say he was having great success with position 7! Salespeople on Google's vertical teams have told our clients that conversion rates in position 1 are better than elsewhere on the page, despite the research that we've done, that Hal Varian, chief economist of Google has done, and that other's in the industry have done proving that conversion rates are largely invariant with respect to position. One "expert" got so mad at me it was hilarious. She argued that doing such a study would require way too much data across hundreds of accounts and that the truth was different for every client...to which I responded "So, you acknowledge that determining the truth requires mountains of data across hundreds of accounts, but you think you can figure it out for each client looking just at their data?!?" She got kinda quiet after that :-)
  2. Account structure is key to Quality Score. False. Account structure has virtually no bearing on QS. The relationship between the Keyword and the copy matters. Once that history is established shuffling the account structure around has ZERO impact on QS. The folks on the Google agency team acknowledge this, the folks at Marin presented a good study at SMX Advanced proving this, but consultants and the Google vertical teams haven't seemed to catch on to that fact. It's such an easy thing to criticize that folks who don't know how to actually assess a paid search program immediately gravitate towards structure.
  3. Last touch attribution steals credit from general terms and gives too much credit to more targeted terms. We have debunked this buying cycle argument so many times its resiliency is surprising. Others have joined our chorus including EF and Marin, and frankly anybody who has the data and knows anything about statistics can see it for themselves. It's a great story, it just doesn't happen enough to talk about. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Google knows the truth, their vertical sales teams still give presentations and tout the importance of assists, failing to mention that the vast majority of those assists are clicks on the same ad!I've heard other people who know better say at conferences that they've seen "a 300% difference" between first touch and last touch conversions..."uh, by any chance was that a change from 1 order to 3 on a single keyword?"--(it was, I saw the data. Oh, and 1 => 3 is a 200% lift, not 300%)--" And, is your bidding system really so flighty that that kind of statistical noise impacts bidding greatly?"
  4. I could write a book on other malarkey spread by people who really ought to know better, like:
    • Multi-channel buyers have much greater lifetime value than single-channel buyers. It may be true, but I've yet to see anyone do the study correctly. The problem is they don't control for the fact that by definition you're studying people who've bought from you more than once. The way to do the study is to compare the lifetime value of folks after their second single channel purchase to folks who've ordered once on line and once in store. Anybody interested in the real number, or do we just want to keep spreading misinformation?
    • Opinion surveys pretending to be studies. Anybody see the hilarious "study" presented in multiple venues claiming that 33% of people who see a display ad respond by buying the product??? A 33% conversion rate off a display impression! Wow. How do these people sleep at night?
    • For every online order 7, 8, do I hear 10? orders are placed offline by people who did their research online. What did they research? A store-locator? How did they research? Did they navigate by brand name or domain? Did they research and buy from the same company? Did online marketing play any role in getting the person to the website?Why isn't anyone asking these questions? Aren't folks like Forrester interested in gathering meaningful, actionable information?
Granted, we're in a complex space, and a certain amount of misinformation is inevitable when we're dealing with "black boxes." In some situations there may be legitimate differences of opinion about the right approach, and that's cool to. Consultants who built their reputations in one field and now find themselves forced to opine on channels they know little about, have no alternative but to read the blog-o-sphere...which is ripe with misinformation. I also understand that in competitive marketplaces, those competing for clients and those competing for advertising dollars are likely to spin the truth to get the business. However, it's annoying that there isn't a fact-checking service on the marketing blog-o-sphere that stamps the misinformation with a big red x. It's annoying that there isn't a "rebuttal" given for every lousy conference talk, so the impostors can be called on the carpet at the moment. Most annoying of all though is when people knowingly spread misinformation to our clients. We don't appreciate the waste of time, and we aren't afraid to call out the lies in plain language.
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