Hammer, Nails, Snake Oil, Olive Tree, Lexus, & The Yogi

    August 16, 2007

That’s the title of my upcoming… er,,,… this… post.

Mike, you may be right, but I’m guessing you’ll never stop it. By "it," I mean the tendency of SEO snake-oil salesmen (sorry, "snake-oil 2.0") from selling their seemingly plausible SEO formula long past its "gone stinky" date.

I think in any industry that is sufficiently mysterious, and also lucrative and growing, you’ll see this pattern. Even the most sincere practitioners will often be willing to give up aspects of this "let’s just tell the truth to the clientele" fervor they had when they started in (this contrarianism sometimes proves profitable in the early going), to gravitate for the easy sell (because the gullible customer is often practically begging you to sell this way) that their competitors are making so much easy money on. It’s called inertia, gravity, a plausible story, a myth you can’t bust no matter hard you try, etc.

I don’t believe in "if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em," personally. But many do.

Health clubs might be the perfect analogy. Localized small fitness club chains can remain relatively immune from the sales pressures of larger, publicly traded corporations. Local trainers are allowed to have their own personalities, they’re allowed to help clients without selling, they’re allowed to advise professionally without always tying it into a hook or a gimmick. Then one day, the fitness club gets bought up by a sales-oriented conglomerate, and some of the old staff are fired; others are asked to memorize sales pitches, even sleazy seduction tactics, in order to get the clients to buy more.

As you can guess, this recently happened at my health club. While I’ve always been somewhat amazed at the whoppers told by way of getting clients to sign up for personal training packages, it’s become ever more cringe-worthy. They’ll say anything, it seems. Especially to the newer customers. All in order to justify selling 16 sessions instead of 8, etc.


  • "Once you add muscle, you’ll burn more fat." A gross exaggeration the longer the point is made to the individual who has never exercised, and the more fictional a picture you can paint of a slightly more muscular individual shedding fat as they lay around watching TV and wolfing down corn chips.
  • "There is an electrostatic connection from your feet through to your head, so from-the-knees pushups are useless, whereas even 3-4 regular pushups have real benefit." Perhaps this is even true! But obviously the purpose is to create confusion and dependency as part of a regular, staged program of pseudoscience and quasiscience. Remember, even if something is somewhat true, or vaguely scientific, doesn’t mean it’s relevant or helpful. Often the purpose is directly related to sales. I mean really, the trainer is not all that taxed standing there watching you do four pushups. He has plenty of time to think up ways to get you to buy more from the health club.
  • Some unprintable type interpersonal stuff which is so consistently dished out I can only assume it works to boost revenues, either on or off the books.

Why does this stuff work? Because the methods are honed across many gullible clients, and as long as they’re getting some benefit, truth matters less to the business than doubling or tripling the revenues from the same rough relationship and same basic quotient of truthiness.

Many in the search marketing industry have turned their back on outdated claims and demagogic pandering to the client’s psychological propensity for wanting better metatags and higher PageRank. The best solutions evolve and work strategically with client needs, because unlike the physiology of the human body, the marketing landscape changes rapidly online, even if a few principles stay relatively consistent.

But Mike, don’t think anything we say is going to stop all of the shenanigans or selling of outmoded methodologies… any more than I’d be well-advised to spend valuable energy karate-chopping the trainer who gets the client to sign up for more lessons with elaborate rationales for complicated exercise and naughty banter about Kegel exercises. I don’t have time to learn karate, anyhoo. You know and I know there are always consultants out there willing to prey on ignorance, and firms that can even make that business model scale. Sadly.

But happily, in a way, because it reflects well on the health of our industry that there are many folks attuned to the benefits of a strong search presence.

Now give me ten pushups!

See, it was starting to work on you, wasn’t it?