Fear Mongering & How to Protect Yourself from It

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

– Nelson Mandela

Some of our more longstanding customers will recall an article I wrote back in September ’16 regarding Website Graders. Last November, I touched specifically on Google’s Grader as well. In fact, I’ve noticed that there’s a common underlying theme that provokes people to take action, and that theme is “fear”. Our culture today has even come up with a catchy little acronym for the specific type of fear that I find motivates many contractors – FOMO (Fear of missing out).

We frequently have concerned contractors send us snippets of emails sent to them by PPC marketers using this tactic. (Example: Gary, I don’t know if you’ve seen this but you’re not showing up on the 1st page of search for ‘Heating and Cooling Contractor Gary IN’. Call me when you’re ready to rank on page 1 again!) I’d even say that ‘fear’ is the primary motivator in purchasing in general today, with “I deserve ___” being a close second.

I should acknowledge that fear is a natural part of life and can sometimes be a good thing depending on the situation and kind of stress produced (distress vs. eustress). Science says that we’re only born with two natural fears: The fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. We learn to fear other things as a way of maintaining our safety and security. Fear can help us focus and address our concerns but be careful because, for many, it can hijack your mind by turning your emotions against you and cause you to do things you wouldn’t do otherwise.

Now that I’ve gotten you fearful of being fearful, let me direct you to my main point: Don’t let your emotions dictate your decisions.

Most fears we have center around fear of the unknown. Take our previous example, for instance: The marketer is leveraging Gary’s natural concern about his rankings and that he’ll be provoked to call him based on fear upon learning about his “poor” rankings. Here’s the funny part about these phishing attempts. The marketer may, in fact, not be lying (even though we often find that they are). Gary might not be showing up for that specific term on page 1 in any city. Gary feels like he should care because Mr. Marketer infers that he should be deeply concerned.

Okay – let’s stop for a second and ask ourselves this question, is it even a legitimate concern? In general, rankings are obviously important, but what about “Heating and Cooling Contractor Gary IN”? Guess what – it’s going to be a once-in-a-blue-moon rarity someone would use that term. The reason why is easily explained by putting yourself in the shoes of your customer. Which sounds like a more likely search term? “Furnace Repair” or “Heating and Cooling Contractor”? You may have guessed it, “Furnace Repair” wins by a long shot. Why? Because people overwhelmingly tend to search directly for what’s broken versus using a duplicitous “Heating and Cooling” phrase. It’s not a realistic search term used by your prospective customer, so we’re not going to focus on it as a barometer for your realistic website ranking health. We focus our efforts on tactics that will deliver results. While others may appeal to your ego simply because they could get you to rank #1 for a search term no one realistically uses, we will not. That’s not ethical and that’s not us.

Fear Isn’t Helpful

… At least in this capacity, it’s not. When your fear takes control, reason and logic take a back seat or get stashed in the trunk. Fear leads to panicked decisions, which produce poor outcomes. For example, I’ve been an ice hockey goalie for over 20 years. It’s no place for a nervous person or someone who makes rash decisions. Just like it was for me, mastering your emotions will make your path to success that much easier.

Here’s an example of the kind of inquiries we get. Note that we’ve altered any identifiable information in order to maintain the customer’s privacy.

The Initial ‘Stir-up’ Email (forwarded from the customer):

Hi,

ABC Contracting recently had their website audited and we have some changes we’d like to make.

I’ve attached the one audit that includes the following:

There are 355 URLs with a permanent redirect. I’m thinking this must be from updating our website. It says every time you redirect a page, it decreases the chances of search engines crawling it. It says to change permanent redirects to a target page URL where possible. Is that possible?

Blocked from Crawling: there are 41 pages blocked from search engine crawling. It says this happens either from a robots.txt file or a no-index meta tag. The pages include FAQs and informative pages (for example: https://www.abccontracting.com/webapp/p/105/new-furnace-can-reduce-heating-costs)

Please let me know if this is something you can fix. Any questions, let me know.

Thank you,

Mr. Customer

Our Reply:

Mr. Customer,

I saw your questions tonight while going over my email at home, and thought I’d respond. My first suggestion would be that you might want to write back to SEMrush [the audit tool they were using] asking why they are propagating outdated standards and information. What they are saying about the redirects hasn’t been true since 2016. 301 redirects are encouraged by Google in order to associate past pages. They do absolutely no harm to your page ranking, where removing them potentially could risking that Google might see the new pages as duplicate content of previously cached pages. Here’s a quick article explaining Google’s stance, if you want to verify this: https://moz.com/blog/301-redirection-rules-for-seo

As far as your other concern regarding the do-not-index instructions we give Google, SEMrush is giving blanket instructions to people who are not familiar with the purpose of “no-index no-follow” instructions or how to use them. In most cases, the pages in your site that are no-index and no-follow are under the Information section of the website, and we are telling Google not to index them because a majority of these pages are 3rd party articles for the consumer to give you credibility from recognized sources. These pages are there for your customer – not for your SEO.

Because the pages are content from sources like the DOE or EPA, if we remove the no-index no-follow tags like the audit is telling you to, your site will probably take a penalty since you would be claiming copy that is not yours or ours. Even though these pages are in your site legally under the government copyright rules, Google has previously indexed them on the government sites that authored the content. You always have the ability to totally rewrite the pages, however you will lose the inherent authority and credibility that recognized sources give you.

Also, in a few cases (like the link you mentioned in your email) pages may be set up to be no-index-no-follow because it is simply good sales information from our library that we allow all our clients to use that doesn’t have enough customization points where we could be sure that Google would not see it as duplicate content since the exact same content appears in other sites. Again, this content is for your customers – not your SEO. Even though we wrote and own the copyright to the page, we would rather err on the side of caution so Google doesn’t penalize our clients for choosing to use it.

I hope that helps your concerns. Please feel free to give us a call if you have any questions regarding this.

Here are a few things webmasters often use to try to scare people that have no basis in reality:

  • Our URL Structure (having numbers inside the URL)
    • There’s no negative consequence to using a simple amount of formatting in a URL. Many name-brand companies use this approach as well (e.g. TripAdvisor)
  • Our Resource/’Information’ Content
    • People incorrectly label it “negative, duplicate content” when it is not. An example of this can be found in the example we just read.
  • We don’t believe in Blogs for contractors
    • If you weren’t interested in HVAC/Plumbing website SEO, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Likewise, people aren’t generally fascinated with the services you provide. We’ve never seen an example in our industry where blogs have delivered a strong increase exclusively in market area traffic (i.e., people that’ll actually ‘buy’ from you).

At the end of the day, I want you to feel confident that you have a working knowledge of SEO and that you are firmly rooted in reality. That way, when a wave of “fear” comes your way, you will not be moved. Do not be easily swayed by those who would seek to sell you snake-oil by stirring up and trying to capitalize on your emotional state. If you do feel as though something may be wrong, call us. I can’t tell you how much it hurts to see someone who, realistically, is doing very well get conned into thinking the grass is greener. Often times, these charlatans advise you don’t contact your current SEO company, suggesting (more fear) they’ll sabotage your SEO just to spite you or, should you decide to hire them, in order to blame them for the decline in SEO performance after switching. That notion is so ridiculously petty, it astounds me but I have to assume they mention it because it’s probably what they’d do if the roles were reversed.

In the last three years, we’ve had over three dozen companies return to us after being swayed to leave. Often, these companies have taken a massive SEO hit between leaving us and coming back. The path to recovery is not always quick. We don’t want you to forsake long-term success by making a knee-jerk decision.

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