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When Is It Ethical To Criticise Other Companies For Linkbait?

The attack hook is one of the most effective but risky ways to attract links. If you’ve got something to complain about and the target is high profile there’s a good chance you’ll gain some attention and often links.

Nobody wants to be a mona lisa – i’m here all week, enjoy your steak – via flickr

For a professional company blog or established industry figure it’s important to understand when it is an isn’t ethical to criticise other business and individuals.

In the last week or so there has been some furore within the small world on search engine marketing.

I’ll try and summarise the story as briefly.

Danny Sullivan’s influential Search Engine Land printed a story highlighting some lax spam protection on Wired using a savvy but controversial title.

Wired were inundated with spam.

Danny & co. received a large amount of criticism from some corners of the SEO community.

They said sorry.

Some people accused the critics of using the same cynical attack tactic.

I don’t want to fan anymore flames (personally I think everyone got a bit carried away) but the situation highlighted very real decisions professionals using social media have consider.

If you have a problem with another company when is it acceptable to voice that concern publicly with the aim of attracting links?

You think they wouldn’t respond without the fuss – some companies have a reputation for not responding to customer feedback. If the company you intend to condemn is guilty of this charge it might make sense to air the dirty laundry in public to encourage them to react or respond.

They called people out in the past – if they’ve used the tactic themselves against other companies I personally see them as fair game themselves.

Let’s take Graywolf & Shoemoney as examples, in the past both have shared their strong opinions on companies and individuals and have benefited with links.

They understand how the system works so would largely have no problem with being called out in the same way.

The public needs to know – there may be circumstances where you serve the greater good by criticising people in public, it might be a safety concern with their product or to help people avoid losing money.

However an old cliché here applies. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. If you record isn’t spotless I’d think twice about shouting too loud about other organisations faults.

Exhausted other options – maybe you’ve been on their customer service line ten times in the last fortnight for an hour at a time if you’ve run out of more subtle and private ways to complain it is time to fire up the virtual megaphone.

Every situation is different, and many decisions will come down to judgement and personal standards. Hopefully when just you won’t be scared to talk and equally you might avoid putting your foot in your mouth.

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11 Comments
  • Glen Allsopp on January 14, 2008

    Thanks for the link, good to see you guys back in action

  • Kelvin on January 14, 2008

    Glad to back glen, seems December & January have been very busy at SV towers.

    Good news for the company, less so for the blog!

    But we should be resuming normal service next few days!

  • Stephan Miller on January 14, 2008

    I don’t have too much trouble with inspiration. My block is typing speed. Any suggestion for an automated typist.

  • Kelvin on January 15, 2008

    Ahhh I’m no help on that one stephen i only type with two fingers have got pretty fast though!

  • Steve Baker on January 15, 2008

    Ironically, I came on here looking for inspiration for a new blog!

    I find that looking on Sphinn is quite a good start point if you’re blogging about PPC or SEO…

  • Chris Kilvington on January 15, 2008

    Hmm, not altogether sure about posting criticisms just for links. Seems like a risky business to me. A bit like selling your soul to the SEO Devil. I think he exists.

    That said, if you’ve got a beef… why not? Get your criticism out there and you might get some backing from some fellow consumers. There’s nothing worse than ringing a call centre to complain, just to spend £9 in phone charges listening to Michael Bolton on repeat.

    I think opinions matter when it comes to business too. So, perhaps it’s more about what you say than the link itself?

  • john andrews on January 15, 2008

    It’s easy to label something an “attack hook” in hindsight and build a case of circumstantial evidence to support the label — like “look, he got links!”. Typical conspiracy theory stuff. Often that’s all these “attack hook” claims are – weak attempts to distract from the core (often valid) criticism. And that often works. I’m sure some of the slicker marketing folks actually practice something they call “The Attack Hook”, as your link suggests, but I doubt it is as common as some imaginations would like to believe.

    Without valid critical thinking, many “authorities” would successfully bend issues in their favor far beyond reasonable. And correcting things at that point would be very costly to society. So some “checks and balances” are required.

    This is a perfect example – left unchecked, that Search Engine Land post could have led to the destruction of the wired wiki, which in turn would dampen innovation (as others realize it is a waste of time to try something new because the spammers will kill it). Once checked by criticism (including mine), the article was adjusted, issues were debated and clarified, and apologies were delivered.

    You are completely right to suggest there are avenues to pursue concerns, often more appropriate than posting in public.

  • Kelvin on January 15, 2008

    Chris, I def wouldn’t rec anyone beef-ing for beef’s sake, but if your problem is genuine and heartfelt it can be worth venting the spleen, but you’ve got to be aware of the consequences

    John, I didn’t mean to imply you were being critical purely to attract links, I think your motivations are honourable.

    But a search marketing professional like yourself is likely to understand how an individual can benefit from being the one to keep authorities in check.

    The point of the blog post was really to point how and when it’s okay to create a critical item (like both dannys original post and yours)

  • Steve on January 15, 2008

    I always find inspiration by going to social sites.

  • Kelvin on January 16, 2008

    What’s with this post and stephens/steves? three of you all with the same first name

    spooky

  • Danny Sullivan on January 22, 2008

    It is a perfect example, but also on how you don’t necessarily have to do a post to get action at all.

    Wired called me after our article was posted (and I’m pretty sure before John did his post). They were concerned about the issues we’d raised, but as I explained in my subsequent apology, I became concerned about the trouble we’d caused in talking with them. That’s what prompted the change to the article and the initial apology within it.

    Wired could have come out with an attack on us. They didn’t. Any anyone who thought our article was wrong could have commented within it to bring it to our attention (a few did) or dropped us a private email saying “What’s up with that” (no one did).

    The point is this, I guess. It’s fair to publicly criticize any company if you feel you need to spread the word to correct a problem you perceive. You can even do that without actually contacting the company, though you will be on more solid ground if you’ve actually done that.

    But if you’re trying to correct a problem, you don’t always have to take the public route.

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