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Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, they say, is the best way to understand them. Last week, I donned a foil hat and took to Twitter. I wasn’t out to understand conspiracy theorists – I was sarcastically mocking them. But now I do better understand how the fringes are drawn to conspiracy theories.
In a foil hat, I Tweeted a video explaining that Bill Gates is using 5G to spread coronavirus. It’s crazy, yet it’s a real theory currently circulating, and while I hope every message was dripping with enough scorn to highlight the lunacy, it was fun.
I could hijack any thread about anything turning it into a chance to espouse my new wackadoo ideology. As I Tweeted, the old improv golden rule, “yes and” let me twist nearly anything anyone said into my theory. If sarcasm were used to attack my new belief, I’d give a scolding correction – “5G impacts the hippocampus, not the prefrontal cortex”. If someone made an unstoppably valid point, I could halt the discussion by claiming the person’s brain was “rotted by 5G”.
In one video, hat on my head, and juggling five balls, I recited my version of the John Galt’s Speech from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”.
From the constraints of my foil hat, I had full creative freedom, and in a sense, I had anonymity, even Tweeting under my real, uncommon name. Within reason, no one would hold what the manic idiot in a foil hat said against me later.
My beliefs were unchanged; clearly, Covid19 is not caused by 5G. But my brain was in debate mode, and I found myself enjoying the fact no one could ever prove me wrong. I could have done this forever.
Someone I know, a Ph.D. and full-time academic, used to write papers, articles, and post to forums anonymously explaining the earth was flat. He took a degree of delight in seeing YouTube videos quote his various nom-de-plume’s.
He, I, and I’m sure thousands of others, enjoy the fights that come with fueling conspiracy theories. Even better when you know the battles are free of direct consequence to yourself.
But consequence exists when you further conspiracy theories, as Some people sincerely believe them. We’ve even seen people burn 5G towers, thinking they were saving themselves. Well-written pseudo-science, with academic citations more appropriate to The Lancet than 4Chan, must make it easier to feel their crackpot notions are valid.
Those who believe conspiracy theories created an industry of snake oil cures. My friend didn’t turn his flat earth hobby into a money-making venture, but some people do. Creating a problem and selling a treatment, to the foolish.
People fall for these things. At least one scumbag seemingly made a career writing and selling books under the names of nonexistent medical researchers offering cures to all manner of ailments. And recently, a U.S. federal court issued a temporary injunction stopping a group from selling bleach to treat Covid19.
The world of conspiracy theories may well be performance art for some, but participation is far from harmless. Trust me I just walked a mile is someone else’s foil hat.
Happy New Year, and new decade!
I started last year with many ambitious goals, and I failed most of them. I intended to read at least 36 books in 2019 and only completed 14, oh well. For those interested these are the books I read over 2019:
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
by Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman
I didn’t write a full review of this book, but I mention it frequently. I highly recommend taking the time to read Manufacturing Consent, even if you expect to dislike it. You don’t have to start with an open mind or end up changed by the author’s views for this to be well worth your time.
by Joshua Foer
I loved this book and wrote a full glowing review. Moonwalking with Einstein is one of the best nonfiction books I have read. Foer has a sort of effortless writing style, and the topic is fascinating.
by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, Kevin Maney
Play Bigger is the only book I read to completion this year that I hated. I wrote a review of this absolute dumpster fire of a cash grab marketing book to sell consulting. I called Play Bigger an archetype of a bad marketing book, and I still maintain that sentiment. I read this book, so you don’t have to waste your time.
by Scott Galloway
The Four is a marketing book I consider to be worth reading. I reviewed this book, glowingly. Not everyone will be a fan of Galloway’s writing style, and if you aren’t interested in marketing and entrepreneurship, this may not be your cup of tea.
The Design of Everyday Things
by Donald A. Norman
I didn’t review the book, but The Design of Everyday Things is one of the books I recommend most. If you are interested in design or work in UX, this is a must-read.
Stephen Fry Presents A Selection of Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories
by Anton Chekhov, Stephen Fry (Narrator), Constance Garnett (translator)
I listened to an excellent audiobook of a collection of Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories read by Stephen Fry. I didn’t write a review, but it was an enjoyable listen, and Chekhov is a fantastic writer.
A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
Dickens is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read Great Expectations at least seven times. I enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities, but I don’t honestly know if I would reread it. It’s a great work of historical fiction, and while I am glad I read it, I don’t know if I will ever recommend the book to anyone else.
by Charles Dickens
Dickens is as always a fantastic writer. My review of A Christmas Carol is, however, a bit contrarian. I feel Dickens indebted to his publisher, wrote this book in six weeks solely to pander to the impoverished masses who would buy books. I also think this book is propaganda o the sort the keeps the poor feeling content in their poverty.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea is still my favorite Hemingway novel. However, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a phenomenal story. I generally enjoy historical fiction, and I think the story falls into a category of lie that is truer than truth. Hemingway’s time as a reporter for the Spanish Civil War gave the book a flavor that, like Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, feels like a fictional work processing an emotional truth.
The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy
by Thomas J. Stanley, William D. Danko
I don’t plan on reviewing this book, but I recommend it often. It’s well written full of data and spurs a lot of discussions.
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works
by Dan Harris
I loved this book; I enjoyed reviewing this book. From my review:
“I want to call this book ‘life-changing,’ but I’m not going to because reading it didn’t change my life. What I’m trying to say is, the book has the capacity to be life-changing. If someone handed me this book five years ago, for example, I think it would have changed my life.”
Beowulf & The Epic of Gilgamesh
I recognize the importance of these stories… That is all I will say.
Becoming Mrs. Lewis
by Patti Callahan
The story shows a fictionalized depiction of the lives of Joy and Jack (C.S.) Lewis. I’m a big C.S. Lewis fan, and that, along with my mother’s recommendation, is why I read this book. I didn’t write a review but I give the book a solid 4-star rating.
The story of a man whose last name is synonymous with miserly and his dealings with three Christmas specters is iconic. The best-known work of Charles Dickens must be A Christmas Carol — immortalized in Felt by the Muppets, with homages in seemingly every sitcom ever on TV. All who know the story, see the moral, Ebenezer Scrooge is a bad guy, who lost any shred of decency and goodness. And we should all try to behave like Tiny Tim or Bob Cratchit; living lives full of joy despite prosperity far from that of Scrooge.
A Christmas Carol offers a moral, so clear no child could misunderstand. Another less obvious lesson, flowing as an undercurrent, surely and subliminally; The poor should stay merry in their poverty. The propaganda message is so integral to the novel that no variation in the plays, movies, and TV retellings, spanning nearly 180 years can depart from the core message. Keep the poor content and working, buying books as distractions.
A young Scrooge apprenticed under Mr. Fezziwig, a lovable kind man who treated his employees well. Fezziwig was not without monetary success. Mr. Fezziwig ran his businesses as privately-held enterprises, during an age when much larger public corporations eclipsed businessmen like him. In a modern adaptation, Mr. Fezziwig could be a shopkeeper in a small town standing in the shadow of a Walmart.
During the original Dickens story, Mr. Fezziwig quickly passes from memory. More thought extends to Scrooge’s lost fiancée, who ended their engagement due to Scrooge’s true love shifting to money. She says to him, “Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor, and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.”
Poverty is often overcome by “patient industry” and not by Cardi B type “money moves.” The book The Millionaire Next Door, details a large scale study of American millionaire households. Of those examined, around 80% were first-generation affluent; many came from poverty to wealth. Chiefly among the traits common to these self-made millionaires: frugality. The millionaires surveyed in the book seldom owned luxury cars or showed any grand displays of wealth. Most had 30% of their money in the stock market, and cash saved in a ‘go to hell fund’. Scrooge, while changed as a person, was displaying the traits that take people from rags to riches.
Some adaptations of A Christmas Carol bring the undertones that poverty is virtuous, and the wealthy are predators to the forefront of the story. In the Noel Langley screenplay, Mr. Fezziwig refuses to sell his business. In that version, Fezziwig, when advised to sell his company, says, “It’s not just for money alone that one spends a lifetime building up a business… It’s to preserve a way of life that one knew and loved. No, I can’t see my way to selling out to the new vested interests, Mr. Jorkin. I’ll have to be loyal to the old ways and die out with them if needs must.”
In the Langley version, Scrooge and Marley ultimately force Fezziwig into closure and buy his business. An incredible shame, as in Dickens’ telling, Mr. Fezziwig stands alone as a sort of ethical capitalist. Fezziwig values his workers, treating them well, and gaining financial success, for a time.
In a Jungian sense, art is a window into the mind of the artist, and adaptations of art reflect ideas from both the original and new artists. When Dickens wrote the novel, he was undergoing a financial struggle, owing money to his publisher.
His words paint a grim portrait of a wealthy boogeyman, who is despised by all but the kindest hearted. Scrooge would rather have the poor die than to donate his wealth, and wanted workers always near the brink of that impoverished demise, forcing them to continue working for him.
Scrooge stands a villain with the power to solve the problems of every living person in the novel, but with no desire to help anyone. A sharp contrast to the weak and powerless Tiny Tim, whose childish innocence wants to see only the good in people. As a percentage of income, the poor give far more money to charity than the wealthy, and seemingly always have. In The Millionaire Next Door, only 18% of those surveyed disagreed with the statement, “Charity begins at home.” – Also, most millionaires donated far less to charities than others in the same income bracket.
A charity begins at home, invest in your future drumbeat is part of why so many millionaires, who often start very poor become millionaires. While most of the high accumulators of wealth aren’t making huge (as a percentage of net worth) donations to charity, many have tangible positive impacts on the lives of others. To use the words of Dickens speaking as Scrooge, “He [Fezziwig] has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. […] The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
Possibly Mr. Fezziwig was the embodiment of a perfect boss because he was the embodiment of an ideal man. But few people hold Henry Ford up as a person who’s guiding printable was kindness. Yet it was Ford who doubled the pay of his workers and instituted the 5-day, 40-hour workweek. It seems to treat people well was good for Ford’s bottom line.
In the film The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin shows his thoughts in a Jungian moment. Chaplin explains death as a force protecting humanity. “The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.”
Death is inevitable and not just for the living. Currently, the business world seems full of more Scrooges than Fezziwigs or Fords. But subprime loan grouping and leveraged buyouts proceeding bankruptcy, cannot continue forever.
Aversion of this article ran on Splice Today
Header Image: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Everything you believe is correct, and everyone who disagrees is a moron. This is the new reality, and I will affirm your beliefs without knowing them because this is not an individual affirmation; it’s a mantra used by all points of view.
Did the biologist hurt your feelings? Well, they’re an idiot, and if you ever search for academic publications, it’s best to ignore anything they’ve ever said. If you’re offended by some dude saying, “love is love” and kissing his boyfriend, just write them off as prats, who know not the path of god.
It is no longer enough to dismiss a belief; you must dismiss anything and everything any individual says immediately following any hot take you disagree with coming to light. As a matter of fact, anyone who even follows a person you dub unsavory should be ignored because to read a book or follow someone on Twitter is always a wholesale acceptance and endorsement of anything they have ever said.
Biology isn’t real, but it’s well known that some aspects of our human corporeal form cannot accept someone like Sam Harris as an expert on meditation, without also holding as gospel every word the man has uttered. Likewise, any comedian who’s ever told an offensive joke must be forever viewed as unfunny. Sarah Silverman must not be acknowledged as funny; in 2007, she did an offensive sketch.
Oh, and if you’re friends with PewDiePie, you are a white supremacist. It doesn’t matter, if like Ethan Klein, you’re Jewish, and met your wife at Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center) while you were in Israel on birthright. Simple association with someone The Wall Street Journal said was Anti-Semitic should forever taint you.
Broken clocks must no longer be correct twice a day; they must be viewed as wrong, 100% of the time. We have no room for understanding or nuance, the world is black and white, and we don’t see color. The world is now gray, and we only see shades of gray. Issues like genocide I hope are universally viewed as tragedies, but genocides are trivialized when everyone is “Hitler” or “Stalin”.
I hate to red pill you; almost nothing is as black and white as death camps, the world is gray, and very few things are so cut and dry that anyone following someone you disagree with should be ignored. Let’s look at drug policy, an issue many try to frame as black and white.
During a debate between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, Cruz once said,
“Legalizing marijuana is a question that I think reasonable minds can differ. I have had a libertarian bent myself. I think Colorado can decide one way. I think Texas can decide another. Congressman O’rourke did not stop with marijuana. He introduced and advocated for a resolution in the El Paso city council, calling for a national debate on legalizing all narcotics. That includes heroin, Fentanyl, cocaine. That is not a reasonable issue on which people can disagree.”
Well, reasonable minds, who did a modicum of research, are aware, Cannabis currently is less legal than Fentanyl and cocaine. Fentanyl and cocaine are classified as Schedule II drugs by the DEA, while marijuana is a Schedule I drug. Fentanyl patches are prescribed for chronic pain in patients who are tolerant to opioid therapy, for example, someone with cancer. Cocaine is still sometimes used as a local anesthetic.
But without account for the current legal, medical uses of drugs Cruz named, Fentanyl and Cocaine are far less restrictive for research, than marijuana due to the scheduling of the drug. Researchers in the US, face profound challenges researching Cannabis even with a growing body of evidence that the “devils lettuce” is an effective treatment for Epilepsy.
To inject more nuance into this drug debate, let’s take all medical applications out of consideration. The Lancet published a study called Drug harms in the UK: A multi-criterion decision analysis, reviewing a range of drugs, scored by factors broadly categorized as harm to user and damage to society, without considering medical uses. According to this study conducted by David Nutt (at the time the UK government’s chief drug adviser), the harms of cocaine and heroin are lower than those of alcohol.
Perhaps reasonable minds can differ about far more than the legalization of drugs? Reasonable people, it seems, can disagree about most things. Affording someone the graciousness to find out why they oppose you needs far more time spent than social media and cable news are willing to provide.
My feeling is of the most dangerous myths, the idea of everyone with differing views being stupid or crazy is at the top. Even when it comes to genocidal maniacs, being evil is very different from being daft. A belief that something could never happen here and now, because people are different than bygone eras, is a thought often held by those in bygone eras before the body count rose. Many people dismissed Hitler as someone who couldn’t possibly be taken seriously; that was before the Holocaust.
Now we are over correcting, invoking Hitler comparisons to early and too often as a sort of “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” strategy to avoid examining uncomfortable arguments. Collectively we have become the boy who cried wolf, with a combination of “this is self evident ,” “reasonable minds cannot dispute,” and by comparing everyone to evil dictators who must be ignored.A version of this article ran on Splice Today
Snake oil sales dominate social media to the extent that burns my eyes. Instagram booty models want me to buy a useless detox tea, and if you call out a guru selling the word salad to success, they will flag your YouTube video for copyright infringement. All while the MD’s of Twitter, are either cringing or causing the cringing of credible medical professionals. And everything is rewarded by the AI’s that control search engines and social media.
Instagram is a place where fitness and health go to die, and people leverage their 15 minutes of fame to extract as much milk from the social media cash cow as possible. If you don’t have an impressive deadlift, you could use fake weights, but that comes with a risk of discovery, better to do back squats perched atop an exercise ball. Physical pain will never hurt as much as the scorn of followers catching, you, their beloved emperor naked. As long as they don’t find out you’re nude, you can sell them branch chain amino acids!
If only these moronic, fitness “experts” documenting their awkward gym moments didn’t appeal to an audience of decidedly not fit people. The dangerous exercises performed for likes on the gram and sales of mostly useless supplements have grown prevalent enough that commenting on the stupidity is now a subgenre on YouTube.
For some unknown reason, perhaps just the design of the simulation we live in, most fake fitness experts are named “Vence”, while those providing reasoned criticism are mostly angry and bald. Alan Roberts is sort of an archetype of an angry bald man who doesn’t want dudes named Vince to kill people. It’s reflected in the hours of videos trying to dissuade people from dangerous stunts justified by pseudoscience. Did an Instagram model offer you the miracle quiz to discover your body type so you can begin working out more effectively? A slightly less angry equally bald Youtuber named Shredded Sports Science can help dispel the somatotype myths.
So far, YouTube sounds like a haven of decent content, but alas no. YouTube is full of health-related trash. Intermittent fasting had a couple of interesting studies, and the floodgates of YouTubers either not understanding or misrepresenting those studies flew open, releasing the Kraken of misinformation. Half a dozen people started running ads to brand themselves as intermittent fasting experts. Actual experts on fasting exist, many are at Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Texas Tech, and USC. Basically, expert equals person conducting studies, not idiot telling you to skip breakfast.
Just as pervasive on YouTube as ads for “super foods” and bigtime-jumbo-word-detox-salad to rejuvenate your third eye are ads selling the magic bullet to business success. These keys for success don’t come cheap, mostly they seem to start at around $2,495, but don’t worry if you buy now before the end of the pre-recorded-live webinar, you can lock in the low rate of $1,997. Since the course offers at least $76,995 of value, you can’t afford not to mortgage your pet hedgehog to claim your slice of the good life now.
Also, if you have a terrible experience or even slightly criticize these thin-skinned guardians of the halls of prosperity, they will try to flag, copyright claim, and otherwise cast you from the platform. This happened to a YouTuber who goes by CoffeeZilla after publishing a video calling out the plagiarism of a man who is “teaching thousands of like-minded individuals to leave their 9-5 Jobs Behind and Free them from Corporate Slavery!” – If only Coffee had known that Kevin David both owns the copyright to his name (although you cannot copyright a name), and that despite having hundreds of thousands of online followers that mentioning Mr. David would be a gross violation of privacy.
If only the algorithms and business model controlling the workings of social media were different, lying douchebags wouldn’t end up spending money on ads to garner large followings. I mean, for shame, if not for the algorithms and ads platform, Mr. David could enjoy his private life. You can’t have pre-roll ads and not expect a vigorous young man to produce and elaborate video in this Lambo and make sure people see it; that is unreasonable. Like leaving an alcoholic in a liquor store during the apocalypse. If the bombs dropping, any sane person would consider an intoxicant, and with social media around a young privacy-minded man can’t help but run ads to his plagiarized video content. It’s the natural order.
Since collectively, we have decided that Snapchat and Tik Tok are irrelevant to anyone old enough to pay for internet access. And everyone seems to be writing off Facebook for not doing more to censor speech, that leaves me only one social cesspool, and that is Twitter. You know you cannot trust health advice from Instagram, but maybe the MD’s of the Twitterverse can offer some sage wisdom. The answer is they can, but some of them are too focused on demonizing potatoes to offer reasonable discourse.
Like most of what the good MD says, it’s so dogmatic, that looking up the nutritional value of potatoes cannot dissuade the wrong opinion. Notice also that I said, “the good MD” and not “the good doctor,” as is the result of a decision by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, who obviously sells books about the ketogenic diet. Keto is great by the way, and if you want to learn more about keto from an expert, checkout Dom D’Agostino, he is doing some cutting edge research at USF, and this interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast should give you some insight into his work.
There are medical professionals worth following on Twitter, qualified fitness coaches on Instagram and YouTube, and all over the internet people are sharing heartfelt and conscientious advice for business, health, and relationships. Still, the most sensational hot takes either fighting with or diametrically opposed to most people’s preconceptions of the world are what gets those views.
The algorithms and business models that govern social platforms reward behaving like either a psychopath or an idiot, and borrowing from Happy Gilmore, we are all awarded no points and are collectively dumber as a result. I’d argue if the AI ever became super intelligent, it would end humanity the same way “dumb AI” is currently.
Aversion of this article ran on Splice Today
I used to make videos mocking the folks you see in ads on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. selling you some form of info product. I had to stop, because, while standing in front of a U-Haul place and talking about the haters who will claim I the great, “Dutch Ovens” don’t own all these trucks, the real guru’s ads now surpass parody. John Crestani makes liberal use of a money gun in his videos and a picture of Sam Ovens holding a power drill to a statue is a real ad that I’ve seen on Facebook; I cannot top that.
The ads tactics of the people, I will call fake gurus, are intended to be so sensational that they draw attention and get amplified by a certain amount of ridicule. Tai Lopez, the OG of the course selling gurus– leveraging over the top ads to move people into the sales funnel of a “live webinar,” earned media attention from the likes of H3h3 Productions and Funny or Die. The mocking coverage gave the guy meme status, and almost definitely sent more saps into his sales funnel. Now everyone in the game is trying the same thing, doubling down on what worked.
We’ve seen gravitation to the effective extremes happen in many areas, The Soup Nazi was a gag on Seinfeld, but now everyone in every argument draws a Hitler comparison. Godwin’s law is the idea that “If an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler or his deeds.”
I want to introduce you to a concept I hope will be known as Mason’s law, the idea that if anything can make money ever in any context, someone will build a course teaching you how to do so. I also firmly believe, the more courses on a topic, the less likely anyone is to make money using the tactics within. I’m now shown ads from gurus, who’s courses teach how to make money selling courses.
The reality of these courses seems very clear to me; they have jumped the shark. People selling courses teaching a tangible skill, such as selling on amazon, only started after most of the juice drained from whatever method they are teaching. The battery life is now low, and some of these folks are trying to get the last bit of cash before it runs out.
Not every fake guru is selling tactics or tangible skills. Some I consider to be the most predatory are selling bunk supplements and bad health advice or teaching always useful, skills like starting a consulting business or “high-ticket sales”. This creates a terrible grey area, because not all health advice is dangerous, and not all sales training is useless. Many people will freely give and even charge for such information. The problem is those I view as fake gurus do not teach anything of value.
For every sales training widely hailed as excellent, like the pure intentioned Zig Ziglar or perhaps less noble, but highly skilled Jordan Belfort is someone pushing nonsense; Often obscured by fake reviews and buzzwords. The tactics used by many of these business gurus frequently mirror cult leaders, Dan Lok reportedly has students listen to 45 minutes of his recorded mantras daily.
The flashy over the top ads are a marketing gimmick; they turn off people who aren’t willing to buy the cult-like business training, and manifesting as a character of a wealthy person appeals to those ready to invite a new guru into their lives. What’s more, the scorning commentary and parodies help enforce a brand image. The kind of distribution that comes from the YouTube commentary community is media that would cost millions to buy.
We’ve also seen the more self-aware gurus; KT Nine used to run ads (selling their garbage course) mocking the ostentatious displays of wealth others in the space were using. The ads for Nine University used to start something like “I’m in my super sick car, parked next to my super sweet mansion… Oh no, I’m not. I’m in an alley in Pittsburgh.” I assume these ads didn’t work, because the new ad recording in what seems to be the same alley now features a Tesla, not a Honda Civic.
Others are on a sort of minimalism kick; Alex Becker, for example, made a video a couple weeks ago titled “Why (As A Millionaire) I Own NOTHING”. Becker is now selling courses teaching how to sell courses. If I had to guess, this minimalism is a way to set himself apart in a market saturated by displays of extravagance. I’d also make a bet that if follow up coverage doesn’t happen, Becker, just like KT Nine, will switch back to the more traditional sports car route.
The community of business and health gurus are pushing the extremes, and therefore now parody themselves. But not only has the lunacy surpassed parody, attempts to poke fun for a laugh feed the sales funnel. In the last U.S. Presidential election, Trump got more media attention than any other political candidate, even ridiculing brings eyeballs. Any criticism or commentary of fake gurus that isn’t attached to damning evidence is to act as a free billboard.
Header Image: via YouTube
“Link building is a waste of time for SEO” – At least, that is the claim made by an “SEO expert” on Linkedin. But is link building a waste of time for better search ranking in 2020? Absolutely not.
When Google started, they set themselves apart from other search engines by using off-site factors to improve results. Beginning with the use of inbound links as a primary factor in determining search result placement. Over time Google added many more factors growing in complexity – Probably to the point where an AI now runs the show using thousands of data points, including some so personalized, they likely cannot be accounted for in an SEO strategy.
The saying for weight loss is “you cannot outrun a bad diet,” and with SEO, I’d say you cannot out link build a lousy site. If a web page doesn’t provide a good user experience and content that meets Google Bot’s expectation, no amount of links will rank it.
Fixing on-page problems are the first step Push ROI takes for any SEO project. But I’ve seen many websites climb up the search results pages after receiving links from a few quality websites, even with several subpar onsite factors. Like most things related to Google (maybe even life), success is the result of an overall score from a combination of factors.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you have to be in a caloric deficit. If you stop eating, you will eventually lose weight, up to the point you die. You shouldn’t just stop eating to shed a few pounds, and you don’t have to.
Most people understand the math of calories eaten versus calories burned from exercise. Although concepts like the energy used to turn a given food into fuel (thermic effect) and how many calories are burned during non-exercise activity (neat rate) tend to be ignored. Why, because it’s easy to focus on the two most significant factors.
It’s the same with Google; people find success using only the top few factors and ignore everything else. If an SEO only builds links, they can see results, and the same is true if they only optimize onsite. I’m seeing people who only want to focus on ranking Google My Business pages for local search.
All of these are parts of an overall SEO strategy. But most likely, no single factor will be enough long term. If a website reaches the top result for a keyword, based only on onsite changes, it can be knocked back to the second result if a competitor gets linked to from a large site. And, at some point, there are no more on-page changes left to make.
The chief argument of this self proclaimed “expert” was that “SEO’s spend too much time link building without optimizing onpage.” – This is sadly often correct. Not making onsite changes is foolish, perhaps as foolish as calling “link building” a waste of time. Just because, an SEO “expert” is bad at building links, doesn’t make the process a waste of time.
Link building done well is PR, not PBN’s. While using a private blog network, if done correctly, can still rank a website, it may not work forever. Even if private blog networks perpetually fool Google, we know getting a link from a website without traffic has no direct value outside of SEO. But I think everyone agrees a link from The New York Times will have value well outside of Google’s search results page. In fact, I’d take a mention in The New York Times print only, where it offers no SEO value.