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Seth Godin, Neil Patel and the fallacy of appeals to marketing authority

Last week, I focused on the idea that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that therefore, it’s important to keep an open mind in order to avoid stagnation in your marketing strategy.

This week, a blog post from one of the most well-respected marketers in the world seems to have lent credence to my assertion.

Here’s what happened:

I decide to check my Twitter stream and come across retweet that reads “Doing it wrong, relentlessly” and links to a blog post on Seth Godin’s blog.

Now for those that don’t know, Mr. Godin is one of the most accomplished marketers in modern history, having published a variety of fantastic books on the subject of marketing as well as having launched a variety of successful start-ups. In fact, you can make the case that  he’s the greatest marketer (or at least the greatest marketing author) alive today.

Anyhow, back to said blog post.

In it, Godin references Neil Patel’s post over on seomoz.org, which lists 12 things that will kill a blog post every time. He then goes on reveal that he’s doing 7 out of the 12 things that Neil advises against. Moreover, he explains that he’s doing these things on purpose and finishes the post by stating that the main lesson or takeaway for him is that “One way to work the system is to work the system. The other way is to refuse to work it.”

My gut reaction was to think that Mr. Godin was suffering from a similar type of hubris that afflicted Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Gene Weingarten, in that he mistakes his lack of understanding about marketing tactics like SEO for an affirmation of his personal core principles that guide his craft. This sentiment was strengthened when I attempted to @ reply Godin on Twitter only to find out that Mr. Godin does not actually interact with anyone on Twitter (thanks for the heads up Ross). Instead, he uses Twitter as a one-way, non-interactive, broadcast channel, which is more or less the opposite of what most successful social media practitioners suggest as well as the opposite of what I’ve personally found to be a path to social media success for both myself and the clients and employers I’ve worked for over the years.

I then spent some time reflecting on Godin’s main takeaway, trying to open my mind to his point of view. After all, he is one of the most successful marketers around, and he helped chip away at traditional interruption marketing before the internet became mainstream and facilitated a new way of doing things. Moreover, the fact that he linked to Neil’s post and recognized that he was “doing it wrong” implies some level of affirmation for the assertions being made by Neil in the first place.

Still, it was hard for me to identify with any of his core assertion for a variety of reasons. First off, as a blogger and friend of bloggers (many of which are wildly successful) I tend to agree with most if not all of the 12 assertions that Neil Patel made in his aforementioned post. Secondly, Neil is one of the most well-respected voices in the online marketing community and is a very successful interactive marketer and entrepreneur in his own right. Thirdly, Godin rose to fame at a time when channels like SEO were little more than an afterthought and the term social media didn’t even exist, and so despite his overall marketing acumen he’s not necessarily an expert in either of these specific marketing facets.

Even as I write this, I’m still questioning myself, wondering if perhaps I’ve missed the point of Godin’s post, because it’s so hard for me to accept that one of my marketing heroes could be so flat out wrong. But he very well could be, and perhaps that’s the main takeaway.

Don’t take Seth Godin at his word just because he’s Seth Godin

Don’t take Neil Patel at his word just because he’s Neil Patel (or because his post went viral on SEOmoz).

Don’t take Gene Weingarten at his word just because he won a Pulitzer prize.

And definitely, whatever you do, don’t take my word for it!

All appeals to authority are a fallacy and they can, at times, lead the unsuspecting marketer astray. In fact, they can and do lead folks astray all the time in many facets of life, but that’s a story for another day on another blog…

So instead of relying on appeals to authorities, realize that you don’t know what you don’t know and spent the requisite time testing and measuring to see what works for you and your marketing program. That’s the only reliable way to figure whether you side with Seth Godin or Neil Patel, and it’s also the only reliable to pave a way towards long-term marketing success.

I’d like to think that Mr. Godin would agree with me on that.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://twitter.com/madeale Alessio Madeyski

    For a moment I understood what Mr. Godin wanted to say – or I think I do. I mean, when you are not so into SEO as Mr. Patel is, you tend to somehow not understand how important are the points mentioned in the SEOmoz post. I think Godin speaks with his books and talks, and don’t really care to engage with his community in his blog or twitter, and so he doesn’t put so much effort in SEO-related stuff.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Alessio! I’ll have to think through your conclusion a bit, but in my mind, SEO and social are great channels for marketing books in this digital age, so I’m not sure that what you’re asserting completely applies. Still, I appreciate your perspective and will continue to think it through.

      • http://twitter.com/madeale Alessio Madeyski

        thanks for your reply. I agree 100% with you, communicating with fan and followers through social media are one of the best thing to do in my opinion. I’m not saying I personally agree with Mr. Godin, but for a while I understood him because I thought about the fact he’s speaking through his book and conferences, without caring too much about direct contact with his followers.

        Having said so, I am an SEO and love SEO! 🙂

    • http://www.seopros.org Terry Van Horne

      I am likely into SEO as deep as anyone and not sure I feel much differently than Mr. Godin… but then too I haven’t invested in blogging”I call the Blogosphere the WODS for a reaon it is what is 90% it is WOD Waste of disk space why I don’t do it much well that and I’m inherently lazy….. don’t like doing things I see as short term holders of value. Blogs are temporal in nature and therefore poor stores of long term value.

      • Anonymous

        Well if nothing else, you’ve proven that Godin’s message in that blog post speaks to some. Although, at the same time, he refutes your stance due to the simple fact that he is an avid blogger.

  • Ryan

    I take Neil’s word for what it is because time after time he’s put his money where his mouth is and it’s paid off. I also respect Seth Godin but Neil’s in the trenches every day of the week (Sat-Sun) and I think it shows.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Ryan! I can appreciate your respect for Neil, but I hope that he stops by to comment on this post, because I think that he would agree that you shouldn’t take his word for things unless they also line up with testing results and analytics data.

    • http://twitter.com/Stu_Draper Stuart Draper

      Ryan, You took the words out of my mouth! I made all of my employees read Neil’s blog post on SEOmoz because he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. He doesn’t say link to past posts and leave it at that. He does it, in that post, and in a way that is relevant and makes sense. He talks about good post titles, and his post has one.

      His post has one thing that our blog posts can’t have without years of travelling and speaking at the same conferences as Rand: a guest post on seomoz.org

      Would Hugo have written this post? Would any of us be here commenting if Neil hadn’t posted on seomoz’s blog and instead posted on his own? I followed neil’s blog for over a year and then quit. I got bored/found better stuff to read.

      Great post, Hugo. Fun to read what you learn and learn from it myself.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for chiming in, Stuart! Glad you enjoyed my post and I can appreciate were you stand in terms of why you find Neil to be credible in this regard.

  • http://AppleSlut.com Tony Stocco

    Thank you for writing this post. You hear about this everyday in SEO… “______ SEO blog posted this tactic that worked, so it must work for me too.” Don’t believe everything you read – especially in the SEO industry. Most of the blogs are regurgitated articles anyway. Be skeptical and always, always do your own tests before accepting anything as truth – no matter who said it.

    P.S. I like Seth’s books, but he completely fails when blogging & writing online. Why the hell would I click on a title “How’d it work out?” in my feed reader? It says nothing! so I skip his posts for more descriptive titles where I know the article will be worth my time.

  • Anonymous

    I really appreciate the long and detailed rebuttal, Jeff! Thanks for taking the time to share it. I actually agree with you for the most part. However, I still maintain that he could very easily integrate some of those activities you mentioned without having to do them himself. Delegating is a beautiful thing, and it’s one of if not the best ways to “work the system” while still being able to focus on your primary personal pursuits/desires. He doesn’t have to do all of these little things himself. He’s got the funds to delegate. And if he were to at least test this approach out, he may find that the data suggests that he can have his cake (e.g. do only what he wants to do on a personal level) and eat it too (maximize his marketing efforts for his own personal brand).

    Right now, he wouldn’t know, because he hasn’t even tried the other side (at least not with his personal blog or twitter feed).

  • http://leodimilo.com/internetmarketingblog Leo Dimilo

    Hey Hugo,

    I actually understand Seth Godin’s point. Hard, fast blanketed rules don’t necessarily necessarily mean anything to someone that isn’t looking for the same outcomes. Sometimes by ignoring the rules, you take yourself out of the darwinian race to the top (if everyone follows the same rules, all advantages disappear).

    If Seth is using his blog as more of a platform of thought and simply invites others to peer into it, then why would it matter if he optimized for SEO, or participated socially?

    Is he wrong? It works for him so I guess not. Would it work for others? Probably not for most.

  • http://leodimilo.com/internetmarketingblog Leo Dimilo

    Awesome….Awesome…..Awesome….response…..+1 x 100!

  • http://www.davidmcohen.com/ David Cohen

    Hugo, I share your respect for Godin. But after a few years of reading his stuff, I’m getting a little worn out. Godin often times makes it sound like you (we) should just be doing it the Godin way.

    It’s easy for Godin to break the rules at this stage in the game. But for the rest of us marketers and bloggers, getting found in Google and leveraging SEO tactics to do so shouldn’t be ignored or mocked.

    I think if Godin was in the early stage of his career, scratching and clawing for clients, the thought would never cross his mind to write a response like that. But that’s where most of his readers are — scratching and clawing to put food on the table.

    • Anonymous

      I kind of feel the same way, David! Thanks for sharing those thoughts.

  • Malachi Threadgill

    First, I wanted to let you know there is a typo.. right should be write. 😉 I really really enjoyed your analysis. It was spot on to what I was thinking when this all was unfolding. I also wanted to comment that Godin doesnt necessarily have to follow the same rules because he already has a substantial following. He can just toss anything he wants against the wall and it will stick. I wonder how Seth would have responded to that type of blog near the beginning of his astounding marketing career.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the heads up on the typo, Malachi! You make a good point when contrasting his point of view now as opposed to what it might have been had he started his career in the social and search era.

  • http://www.seopros.org Terry Van Horne

    “Instead, he uses Twitter as a one-way, non-interactive, broadcast channel, which is more or less the opposite of what most successful social media practitioners suggest”

    Cuz most practitioners are drinking others Koolaid… ummm engagement moves and is moving again. We see people want to know what is happening at the Dojo and there are only so manyminutes in a day so Dave and I spend it where it is most productive. I must admit only been paying attention to social a while but in that time seen engagement go from Blogs, to twitter now it’s likely G+/Facebook and linkedIn many are broadcasting on twitter because engagement on twitter is impossible due to the limitaions of char counts and those listening are declining they are elsewhere…

    • Anonymous

      Hey Terry! Thanks for stopping by to chime in. It’s hard for me to relate to what you’re saying because there’s a lot of empirical evidence that suggests that interaction (as opposed to broadcasting) is still alive and well on Twitter and other social channels. Moreover, there are simply too many examples of colleagues I know benefiting professionally from the interactions they have on Twitter. I don’t disagree that there are a lot of broadcasting going on within Twitter, though.

  • http://twitter.com/TimDineen Tim Dineen

    I once wrote to Seth Godin to tell him I felt he was wrong about something… I wrote him in email format since his blog didn’t (and still doesn’t) allow for commenting and social media as a communication channel didn’t really exist at the time. (This was around 2005 or so.)

    Basically, Godin had written a blog post describing SEO as a “passive” form of marketing and I felt strong enough in opposition to the statement that I wrote him a note saying so.

    He actually replied to my email, said I was “probably right” or something to that effect… so I do believe that even people who stand on mountain tops and always proclaim their aptitude about one subject or another can certainly be proven wrong by people much closer to the ground – and sometimes they’ll actually admit being wrong.

    • Anonymous

      Great to hear that Seth is such an open-minded and humble guy. I figured as much.

  • http://twitter.com/NicoleMunoz Nicole Munoz

    Seth’s comments should not be a surprise since he considers SEO to be a “black art”. http://bit.ly/sethblackhat

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing, Nicole!

  • http://www.ThePoised.com/ Thom Holland

    I’m not going to lie….I’d like to see Seth and Neil battle it out! haha

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