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Spam Website Assessments

In MetaMed’s six years of business, we’ve seen a marked rise in the use of an onerous sales tactic from less scrupulous Web vendors. It costs clients time, money and confidence in their marketing strategy while simultaneously eroding goodwill with existing vendors, and it yields zero value. But because the tactic requires nothing of self-serving vendors to trigger a flurry of aimless activity, there are no consequences to alter behavior. Clients’ most supportive existing vendors are especially affected. They’re distracted away from actual meaningful work for the client while they chase their reputation. In the end, despite all good players’ best intentions, offending Web vendors will receive sales inquiries for almost no effort, so the tactic continues. It’s the equivalent of spam where a few bad players shamelessly profit from the innocence, lost time, and good intentions of many.

The tactic is simple: After practices work with a vendor to address serious site concerns like poor SEO, conversion, design, etc., but before sites have opportunity to earn demonstrable traction in search rankings, visitation, or inquiries, site owners will receive an unsolicited and official-looking site assessment out of the blue. These assessments routinely include a scary-looking list of technical issues cleverly designed to elicit fear and discourage logical fact-based reasoning; but in almost every instance, it will have no basis in reality to justify the ensuing panic. At best, addressing these so-called short comings might deliver a nearly undetectable positive impact.

Perhaps most frustrating, site assessments like these are usually no more than automated sales campaigns, lacking any factual analysis or interpretation to call out actual critical areas that require real attention for measurable ROI. Instead, the reports are templated emails generated without eyes on the site or real regard for the practice’s well being. MetaMed Marketing has witnessed the exact same templated email from the same offending Web vendor gin up fear and needless email cycles in half a dozen different practices.

When practices react by immediately forwarding unsolicited assessments to vendors, asking for a technical accounting of the concerns, both parties get caught up in costly admin cycles to eventually conclude that there’s no there there. Even with the most efficient vendor response, time and money are lost. Trust is eroded, just slightly.

Digging deeper into why this sneaky tactic lands, practice professionals may appreciate being privy to a dirty little secret in the world of website development: At any given time, any website in the world is broken. That’s correct. Every site contains short comings, and it will continue that way, even as issues are supposedly addressed. How can this be? The answer lies in matters both subjective and objective.

Consider that search algorithms are private industry trade secrets by design to inhibit “gaming the system.” Search engine companies cloak their algorithms in mystery to discourage content providers from enjoying unwarranted high rankings due to nothing more than figuring out the formula. While criticisms of design, conversion tactics, interactivity, and the like are transparently subjective, judgments around SEO tactics are also subjective by definition, since no Web development company can know with total certainty what it is that moves search engines.

In addition to subjective factors, every website—even those created by vendors of the highest ethical and experiential standards—are an array of ever-changing patches. Sites must be continuously updated to perform to the latest iteration of standards set by Web browsers, Web servers, operating systems, website platforms, and even computer hardware. It’s like a game of Whack-a-Mole, with a new issue arising for each one successfully knocked down. As any Web developer resolves a known concern, more will pop up.

Perhaps a better analogy for describing productive Web development is piloting an aircraft. Effective pilots are never entirely on course, as many deviations must be made due to changing conditions and unforeseen circumstances. But with experience, continuing education, careful navigation, effective feedback mechanisms, and a focus on larger-picture objectives (safety checks, piloting skills, other planes in the air, etc.), almost every flight can be safely piloted to the correct destination.

Consider, too, that there’s a psychological factor. Most business owners (especially doctors) are over achievers who adapt and constantly adjust to conditions on the ground, but their expertise is in a particular area of focus, not on the bits and bytes of Website development and digital marketing. Not having control of such a vital, life blood factor for their business as their website (digital marketing) makes them especially sensitive and reactive in the face of performance critiques, especially from parties conveying expertise with overly technical terms.

Know also that any seasoned Web vendor can make almost any website seem either fantastic or terrible. Ethical Web vendors accept this super power responsibility, using it only for their clients’ benefit—not for self-serving purposes. This is why vendor reputation is so vital, and reputation is best gauged through talking with objective third parties. In general, the most ethical and experienced website vendors will call out both positives and negatives in assessing websites, and they’ll prioritize short comings to focus first on matters of highest priority, dissuading action taken for trivial issues. They encourage positive forward motion for the practice, even if it’s with a different current vendor, always avoiding the use of fear to close deals.

To better protect against the cost and distraction of Spam Assessments, consider the following:

  1. Expect to receive Spam Assessments, and spend a few minutes qualifying the source of unsolicited correspondence before involving current Web vendors. Web vendors that are unknown or site assessments that appear automated are best filed and ignored.
  2. Keep a record with the text of unsolicited assessments to identify distinct patterns, duplicated messages and to search against with text from the latest email.
  3. For legitimate-seeming site assessments, ask the originator for a custom report in writing to review with your current vendor. Ethical and engaged vendors will genuinely root for and support practice success, even when ideas come from competitors.
  4. Consider working with your current vendor to address legitimate issues raised in authentic site assessments—or at least give them an opportunity to explain why they have focused in other areas.
  5. Compare the forecasted value of fixing issues from authentic site assessments against the value of following through with other initiatives already in the vendor’s queue.

With awareness and planning, practices can avoid the combined panic, lost time,and unworthy loss of trust that ensues when Spam Assessments inevitably land in their inbox, avoiding a distraction that would take them off their flight plan for maximum return on investment.

Written by Brent Cavender

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