But today let’s talk about a different kind of trust – that of your audience.
For publishers, content is your product and your brand. You establish a relationship with your audience through the content you publish.
So what happens when things inevitably go wrong and you post something that proves to be dead wrong? I’m not talking about a spelling error or a poorly constructed sentence. I’m talking worthy of an apology and retraction.
Will that mistake be forgotten by the following day? Does it follow other mistakes, or will other follow soon? Will it make your audience start to question whether your site can be trusted?
Losing the trust of your audience will ultimately doom your SEO.
Who is Your Audience?
Do you have a clear idea of your target audience? Who do you want visiting your site on a regular basis?
Forget about optimizing for keywords. We’re talking optimizing for an audience.
- What demographic do you want to reach?
- What are their psychographics?
- Why are you writing it? Does your content solve/discuss a problem for your audience?
Your audience demands you to be accurate. When you get it wrong, you’ll hear about it – in your comments section, on social media, and (should things spiral too far out of control) on other websites.
Or, even worse, you won’t hear anything at all. Traffic will just slowly erode.
Have you ever tried out a new restaurant and experienced terrible service or received the wrong order? Or both? Did you go to a review site like Yelp or TripAdvisor to give the restaurant a scathing 1-star review – or did you simply just never return to that restaurant?
After you’ve done all the hard work of optimizing your content to get someone to visit your site, don’t greet that user a terrible content experience. Don’t let one of your worst moments be their first experience with your brand. They likely won’t be back.
If you’re building positive word-of-mouth, whether it’s online or offline, this will help grow your audience. As reported by American Press Institute:
The most popular way that Americans report finding their news is directly from a news organization, such as a newspaper, TV newscast, website, or newswire (88 percent). People continue to discover news through traditional word-of- mouth (65 percent) either in person or over the phone, and do so at higher rates than more modern methods of sharing like email, text message, or other ways online (46 percent), or social media (44 percent). And roughly half of Americans said they got news in the last week from search engines and online news aggregators (51 percent for each).
Building up a loyal, engaged audience or community has big benefits. Direct visitors spend far more time on your site and consume far more pages per month, according to Pew Research.
Readers who find your content valuable (because it is useful, solves a relevant problem, provides insight, shares a new discovery, or is just entertaining in some way) are also more likely to share that content, which leads to more people discovering your great work, subscribing, sharing future content pieces, further expanding your reach.
McKinsey & Company offers a solid explanation on the power of word of mouth:
Word of mouth can prompt a consumer to consider a brand or product in a way that incremental advertising spending simply cannot. It’s also not a one-hit wonder. The right messages resonate and expand within interested networks, affecting brand perceptions, purchase rates, and market share. The rise of online communities and communication has dramatically increased the potential for significant and far-reaching momentum effects.
The surest way to fail to halt any momentum or see your audience abandon you is to publish subpar content. As the old saying goes, bad news travels fast.
If a site declines in quality, for whatever reason, people will notice. If you screw up, people will talk about it.
While it has become the norm (see: cable news) to report on rumors or anonymous claims first and worry about facts (and apologies) later, your brand should hold itself to a higher standard. Ultimately, people can love you or hate you for what your content says, but if your loyal audience loses trust in you, they simply won’t be there anymore.
Just last week, Search Engine Watch published an article with the headline “‘Not Provided’ Keywords Expand to Google Webmaster Tools”. That post has since slipped down the memory hole.
In short, the author appeared to have an exclusive scoop (or one of the worst April Fool’s posts ever, not like this one). The problem? Where was the evidence? No screenshot was published. Google hadn’t put out an official announcement.
Cue the latest SEO outrage. The comment section filled up with negative reactions. Here’s a sampling, in no particular order:
- Posting an April Fool’s joke four days early is poor taste. Four days early, it’s a purposefully misleading lie – especially to those who aren’t used to the April Fool’s BS all the search pubs pull every year. Extremely poor taste. It reflects badly on the SEW editorial staff. It also reflects poorly on you.
- This was hot garbage. What exactly gave you the idea it was true in the first place?
- First time visitor here – wtf is this? is this whole article BS or not?
- You jerks! April Fools isn’t until next week!
- This was just a test to determine whether searchenginewatch would publish any content, whether true or false. Content for content’s sake.
- Is this an April Fools day post designed to enrage SEO’s that was set to auto post on the wrong day maybe?
- Deliberate misinformation – poor taste indeed.
- Bad. Misinformation on a trusted source such as SEW only erodes their credibility. *WHEW*
Brutal. And that’s just on Search Engine Watch’s site. There was also a lot of discussion on social, via email, and offline. In fact, I was alerted to the article because someone emailed me about it (which isn’t surprising, as I used to be Editor there).
Eventually, Google’s John Mueller on Twitter said there was no truth to the article. Which may have alerted yet even more people to the fact that there was some bad information out there, courtesy of SEW. When you’re covering an industry, and the information you’re providing to that industry is publicly called untruthful by one of the key figures in that industry, you’re going to have a trust issue.
Nobody wants a bad reputation. It’s in every brand’s best interest to ensure their writers look good so their brand looks good, just as it’s in every writer’s best interest to ensure they do their best to make themselves and the brand look good.
Sadly, bad information being published on a search publication or blog isn’t news in itself. That could be an entire post by itself.
4 Tips For Dealing With Reputation-Killing Mistakes
Whether it’s mainstream media or an industry/niche site, editors are the last line of defense. Be ready.
1. Have a Plan
We all know the importance of having a social media crisis management plan. Do you have a plan in place should your content create a crisis?
Just as you should have a fire escape plan if the worst happens at your home, it’s better to have a content “fire” plan and not need it than to never have one. Decide who will own it. Ideally it should be one of the top editors or the trusted “face” of the publication.
After the crisis has passed, review whether your plan worked or failed. Adjust for the future (though hopefully you won’t have a repeat, right?).
2. Act Quickly
Internally, make sure everyone who needs to know what is going on is apprised of the situation.
Externally, acknowledge the problem across your digital channels and platforms. Explain what you’re doing to address or fix the error. Apologize.
Update the post or be present in the comments and on social media around discussions about your content crisis.
Aside from being combative toward upset readers or customers, appearing unresponsive is one of the worst things you can do now.
3. What Should Happen To Your Post?
When things go so wrong the only option you have is to remove/retract the post, what should you do? Generally, it comes down to three options:
- Leave the post. Take your lumps publicly. Make sure an editor’s note or a correction appears at the top of the article. In theory, when you admit you screwed up, it will restore some level of trust. See Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” as an example of a publication that left a controversial article on its site.
- Leave the page. But only with a correction or apology, explaining what happened. Here’s an example from Upworthy, which had to retract a post on artificial sweeteners.
- Delete the content. Ideally, 301 redirect the page to a page on the same or a similar topic, or if that doesn’t work, to the homepage. If the information is inaccurate, you may decide to just get rid of it. You have to decide if it’s worth bringing people to a page that has zero value to you.
4. Reduce the Odds of Having a Disaster
A few quick tips to prevent some major and minor errors:
- When in doubt about the claims made in an article, ask for evidence (e.g., images/documents).
- If still in doubt, ask for more evidence (and consider legal advice, depending on the topic).
- Publish images as evidence (don’t just claim you “have images”), especially when there is no previously existing documentation.
- Check names (people, places, things).
- Check job titles.
- Attribute ideas/quotes to original source.
- Verify and link to useful sources.
You Are What You Publish
Ever heard the saying “you are what you eat”?
A bad diet will negatively impact your body’s health. Sure, you may only have the sniffles now, but keep it up and it could turn into something fatal.
As a publisher, your goal is to provide readers with a steady diet of content that is educational, informative, inspiring, or entertaining.
You are what you publish. All the SEO in the world won’t help if the content you publish compromises the health of your brand.
Have you ever lived through a content crisis? How did you handle it?
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