There are many moving pieces to an online business, some that you may not have even considered. Jonathan Hochman, founder of Hochman Consultants, is an expert on many of these moving pieces including website safety, dealing with unhappy customers and lawsuits, and managing online reputations. While there are many landmines to avoid in the business world, you can be prepared by keeping your brand transparent and honest, so that your company will thrive. John shares the benefits of having a Wikipedia page, finding the right type of insurance for your business, the best programs to keep your website safe and much more!
Hello, and welcome to Marketing Speak. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, and today we have Jonathan Hochman here with us. He’s the founder of Hochman Consultants. He has two computer science degrees from Yale University and 25 years of experience as a consultant. He’s been involved in the SEO industry for a long time. He’s chairman of SEMNE, which is the association of search engine marketers in New England. He’s the founder ofCodeGuard, the website security company. Jonathan has AdWords Individual Qualification with specialization in search advertising. He has spoken in a lot of conferences including Web 2.0 Summit, Search Marketing Expo (SMX), and SES or Search Engine Strategies. He’s been a contributor to Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, and Search Marketing Standard. He’s also served as a judge for the Landy Awards, which is the awards for the search marketing industry. He’s definitely heavily-involved in search and online marketing. He also does expert witness testimony, and is a programming geek who’s programmed in multiple languages and frameworks. He is also active civically. He’s president of the Rotary Club in his town of Bloomfield, Connecticut and has been since 2015. Oh, and this is also something we’re to be talking about in the episode-he volunteers as a Wikipedia admin, and he knows a lot about Wikipedia-the ins and out, what can get you in trouble, how to get stuff into Wikipedia and not get deleted, but do it in a way that is above board, sustainable, and so forth. Welcome, Jonathan! It’s great to have you on!
Thank you, Stephan. It’s great to be here!
I just talked about Wikipedia so we might as well jump into that because why not, right? A lot of people don’t understand Wikipedia and kind of the ins and outs of what the different landmines are to avoid like the conflict of interest guideline and notability that you need to achieve in order to be enlisted in Wikipedia. So, let’s talk a bit about what are some of these landmines with regards to Wikipedia.
Sure. When Wikipedia started, it was a bit of a free-for-all, and people didn’t even really understand what the problems and challenges would be. One of the things that’s happened is, every band that’s ever been formed-three guys in a garage, they’ll go online, and start creating a long page about their band, and then someone comes along and deletes it and says, “That’s not notable. You’re a garage band. You can’t have a Wikipedia page.” In order to have a page, the subject-these are the group, the person, or the company-has to be notable. Notability is not temporary. Notability is permanent so, Elvis Presley is notable. Janis Joplin is notable. Somebody who you will find written about in books one hundred years from now is notable. Most of us are not notable. Most of us won’t be there. A good borderline case that they use as a test is the college professor test. The typical college professor is not notable so, even though that professor is famous on campus, they’ve had thousands or tens of thousands of students go through their class, and they’re extremely well-known, they’ve written a bunch of books, they’re not notable. Somebody who’s elected to a political office such as governor of a state is probably notable-is notable. A sports player who is in the top major league is probably notable, whatever the top league of their sport is. A military person who has won their nation’s highest honor is notable so, anyone who’s won a medal of honor is notable. These are some of the contours of what is notable and what isn’t.
Right. So, somebody who’s multi-time author, well-known in their industry, speaks at a lot of conferences, and has been on TV-notable or not notable?
Probably not notable. George R.R Martin is notable as an author, but you’d have to have won some awards. Typically, winning awards is a good sign of notability. Someone who has won the top awards in their field is probably notable. I can jump back to professor example. Somebody who wins a Nobel Prize is notable. Someone in computer science who wins the Turing prize is notable. Somebody who’s just published a bunch of books, has been interviewed on TV five times, has a company that has $10-million dollars a year in revenue, they’re probably not notable.
Hmm. Interesting. That’s a really high bar.
It’s a high bar for most people, and it’s not beneficial for someone who, let’s say, close to notable but not really to go and get a Wikipedia page because not that many people are interested in them, there won’t be a lot of engagement on the page. There won’t be a lot of contributions so, it’s really only going to be what they put there and what their enemies put there. It will end up being kind of a messy tug-of-war and probably more of a headache than an asset. Now, where this becomes important is, someone who is-if you’re working with a publicly traded company, that company will have a Wikipedia page because by definition, if it’s publicly traded, it’s of interest to a wide audience. It’s notable. It’s going to be written about in the press many times. There will be enough information out there that you can write a nice meaty article. Someone who’s a CEO of a publicly traded company might also have a Wikipedia page because they’re getting written about a lot-and their doings are of a public interest because their connection to that company. So, where a public relations firm is going to get into Wikipedia is when they’re working with someone who is already notable and that page is already there and they need to deal with problems on the page. It’s outdated, it’s inaccurate, there are haters in there spinning it, and they need to clean up this headache so that’s really where marketers are getting involved with Wikipedia. If you’re getting involved in Wikipedia to promote something or make it widely known, that’s not going to work, that’s not what it’s for, and it’s going to lead to all kinds of problems.
Right. Let’s say that there is an article on Wikipedia about your company already, but it is incomplete, it doesn’t have up-to-date information, maybe it has kind of a negative slant that maybe a competitor helped contribute to or whatever-what’s the appropriate process in order to get changes made because there’s a conflict of interest guideline that you have to abide by, right? Going in and editing your own article is not okay. In fact, there is a tool called Wiki Scanner that helps identify when people are making anonymous edits to Wikipedia articles that they have a conflict of interest with. Like, it’s their employer and the IP address of that anonymous editor is associated with the company that’s the subject of the articles so, what are some of the land mines to avoid in this area?
The conflict of interest guideline can be a challenge just because it’s not entirely black-and-white and it’s not entirely clear. What is says is that, if you have a close connections to the subject, you should kind of stay hands-off. Really, the gist of it is, don’t get involved fighting other editors on an article that you are really wrapped up in or when you’re part of the subject. Whether it’s because you work there or you’re a contractor, you really should sort of stay off. You shouldn’t do anything that’s going to be controversial. At the same time, if the article had a blatant factual error, and you were to step in there to correct it, or it had some blatant slander that you took out, Wikipedia has a strong policy to protect the biographies of living people so if there’s any slanderous information about a living person, generally, that policy is going to trump everything, even conflict of interest. There are situations where you can kind of charge in there and in fix things, but I would say, only do that if it’s something very egregious or clearly incorrect and even then, the best practice is to go to the Talk page and say who you are and say, “Look, this is my biography and they said that I have four children, but I don’t. I only have two children so I’ve just fixed that because it was, obviously, factually wrong, and I’m the authority on this. I know about this.” I wouldn’t get into a fight or an edit war with other editors over something like that, but I think it in that situation, you probably would be justified to go in there and do a direct correction. If it’s something like the slant-you’re not happy with the slant of the article about your company, that’s something that you really shouldn’t edit because that’s just too much of a judgment call. What you would want to do in that case is, go to the Talk page and make a case there. On the Talk page, explain who you are, “This is the problem. These are the things that I see are wrong. Here are some other sources that could be used with somebody who’s not involved. Please review this and take care of it.” That, unfortunately, if you’re notable, somebody will be there and take care of it for you. If you’re borderline or not really notable, your request could sit there for a very long time and hence, the problem of why you don’t really want to be in Wikipedia if you’re only marginally notable because you just won’t have enough traffic on the page of editors to maintain the thing properly. There’s one more thing to worry about-Wikipedia has amended their terms of service, which say that there may not be any undisclosed paid editing, so if you’re a PR agency or an employee, you really cannot edit for pay unless you fully disclose it so you say, “Look, I’m coming to this page. I’m being paid to do this. I’m a PR professional,” and then, that is fine. You can do what you need to do, but it has to be disclosed, and if it’s not disclosed, Wikipedia can turn around and take legal action for violating their terms of service. When you edit, you agree to their terms of service. It’s their house, it’s their rules, and you have to abide by those terms of service.
Mm-hmm. Right, so there are a lot of articles in Wikipedia where it doesn’t seem like the bar was met for notability or that it’s just not a quality article. It’s just not a quality article. How does all that garbage get into Wikipedia and stay there?
Well, there is no deadline and what that means is that, people start articles and they may abandon them, and it may sit there for years and years and years before someone else comes along and picks up that article and starts improving it again. It really is best not to initiate a Wikipedia article about a topic that doesn’t have broad interest because if there aren’t people in there willing to edit it and willing to maintain it at reasonable quality, it’s going to just become a hassle and at that point, what you may want to do is you may even want to suggest that it be deleted. You can nominate it for deletion and say, “Look, I’m with the company. I’m a person. I don’t want to have an article.” I can tell you someone who did this. Rand Fishkin from SEO Mozrequested that his bio be deleted from Wikipedia because he didn’t want to have to maintain it or deal with it. And, generally, Wikipedia will give pretty good discretion to someone who requests the page be deleted-a page about them as long as they’re not, obviously, if you were a notorious criminal and you asked your page to be deleted, they probably wouldn’t. They would say, “Sorry, you’re notable. That’s too bad,” but for the average business person who’s borderline, at best, notable? They are very likely to act on a request to remove a page that is just more of a headache than a benefit.
Right. What would you recommend for somebody who has a boss who really wants to be in Wikipedia, and that boss needs some schooling on, “This is not an easy task, and it’s probably going to run afoul of some Wikipedia guidelines.” What you tell that boss?
There are really two issues. One is, usually where this comes up is that, a competitor has a page there and the subject company doesn’t. In fact, the subject company might even be a little bit larger than the competitor, and this can be very painful. You can go in to request an article be created, and you will probably wait years for anything to happen, if at all, so generally, what people do is, they go out and they help themselves. They hire someone who does undisclosed paid editing and who gets that article in there. It’s a little bit naughty, and they just do it. I don’t really think that’s a good idea. I still think it’s probably better to go in and do it openly if you have to. I mean, if you were to create an article and say, “Look, I work at the company. I see that there are articles here about our competitor. We are actually larger than they are or at least as large as them, here’s a source to prove it.” We put this here in order that it will be fair. People may react negatively to it, but as long as the activity is disclosed openly, there isn’t really a huge problem that can occur. And if it’s disclosed, if the article is, at least, factual, it’s not puffery, and it’s not creating a mess that some other volunteer has to come along and clean up. That’s really what the issue is-not to create a mess. Not to do something that’s making trouble for somebody else. That’s a reasonable way to proceed if you really have to create an article. Just go in there, do it yourself openly, and explain why you’re doing it. You can always show the results to your boss and say, “Look, this is what happened.” If the boss doesn’t like it and runs off and hires an undisclosed paid editor and gets it done, it’s not your fault because you didn’t do it. At least you did the right thing.
Yeah. Another approach is to, if you’re working at the company, it would be a conflict of interest according to Wikipedia guidelines, you could post something to the Talk page, wait for nothing to happen because people don’t just randomly go into the Talk page of different articles and say, “Gee, I wonder if there’s something in there that I could be responding to,” right? If no action happens like, “Hey, these revenues numbers are off, and this is missing all this information. Here’s an updated information. I don’t want to run afoul of the conflict of interest guidelines so, I’m posting it here to the Talk page, hoping somebody-some Wikipedia editor-will go in and fix these things,” and then, nobody does so after a period of time, you can jump on to the conflict of interest notice board, the community inside of Wikipedia, and say, “Hey, I posted to The talk page like I was supposed to. Nobody has made these corrections or additions and I’m really hoping that this gets done. Could somebody help me out?”
Yeah, that’s one way to proceed although again, waiting for other people isn’t always a great policy because it doesn’t always work. You can try. I think if you wait a while, and nobody responds to you, you can also just kind of plow forward and just disclose what you’re doing. Say who you are and what you’re doing. Conflict of interest isn’t a complete bar to editing. What you really have to do is you just have to disclose so that people know what the conflict is and they can evaluate it. You’re not doing anything sneaky. That’s really where bigger problems will come up. It’s when there’s some sort of sneakiness.
Mm-hmm. Yup. Well, let’s move into other legal topics of sneakiness and doing sketchy stuff. Let’s talk about Astroturfing. Could you describe that? First, define it for our listeners, and describe some scenarios where astroturfing happens and what that can result in?
Sure. Astroturf is fake grass, and what he really means is, a fake grassroots movement. A company goes out and gets a bunch of shills to leave reviews for the company, for example. There are services that will offer to fix up your Yelp profile, and they’ll get you a bunch of five-star reviews and often, what they’re doing is, subcontracting out to people in Bangladesh or Philippines or some other place where people are willing to work for very low wages, and they’re using VPN’s to try to appear as if they’re in major US cities, and they’re leaving reviews that often are kind of not all that grammatically correct. With this sort of activity, Yelp is working hard to detect it and to kick these out. Astroturfing will show up on Yelp profile. If you look at the number of views someone has had on their business, sometimes you’ll see a business that has all five-star reviews, and it’s really weird because nobody gets all five-star reviews. Most people get some five’s, four’s, three’s. They get a smattering. It’s normal. When it’s too good to be true, it looks fake. Also, what will happen is, you get large numbers or reviews more than is plausible for a business of that size so, it’s clear that something is going on besides users or customers spontaneously leaving reviews. Another thing you’ll see is that, Yelp has not recommended reviews so they have recommended reviews that count towards the score, and then there are those reviews that are not recommended either because the users are inexperienced or because they feel like there’s some maybe something fishy going on so, they don’t recommend those reviews and they don’t count them. Yelp recommends 75% of reviews they receive. About 25% are tossed out. When you look at a profile and you see that that profile has, let’s say, 50 recommended reviews and 80 not recommended reviews, that’s a really skewed quantity. That’s a lot of not recommended reviews. That’s a sign of astroturfing. You may also even see at the bottom, reviews that have been removed for violating Yelp’s terms of service so that’s really a black mark. I think a business can hurt itself by creating these astroturf reviews because savvy users can smell this stuff. They can see this, it’s really not helpful, and it’s a waste of money. It’s actually, in a way, hurting the business’ own reputation. That’s astroturfing. It happens on Yelp, but it also can happen on other sites too.
Right. Would you say that on average it’s just 25% of the time on Yelp reviews end up being not recommended or is there some sort of algorithm do you think that just picks the 25% of the most sketchy-looking reviews across each business?
They have an algorithm that identifies reviews that they think are not reliable, and those reviews that are not reliable may eventually become reliable if that user goes and leaves a bunch more reviews and convinces Yelp that that user is actually a legit user. Yelp could move reviews back and forth between these categories. I don’t know 100% that they ever have, but in theory they could. It’s really based on experience. If you’ve been in Yelp and left a bunch of reviews and they’re well-written reviews, and they see you’re using the Yelp mobile app, and they see your geo-coordinates are actually near where the business is so they get a sense that you’ve actually visited there, things like that will convince Yelp that you’re legit and that your views are legit. We’ve seen these Yelp reviews and with astroturfing in general, you have to be careful because the Federal Trade Commission has come out with guidelines not too long ago, a few years ago, that say with any sort of endorsement-any product endorsement, and that includes a testimonial or review-if someone has a connection to the business, it has to be disclosed so, if you’re on Yelp, and you have your daughter leave a review for your business, she’s got to disclose, “’I’m the daughter of the business owner,” okay? Otherwise, it’s a violation of the FTC guidelines, and that could lead to some fairly serious enforcement action against a brand if they allow that kind of stuff to go on-on Yelp or on any other social media or user-generated content site.
Right. The FTC guidelines-have you seen a lot of enforcement happening? I mean, you’re kind of in that world of being called in as an expert witness and getting involved in lawsuits in that way. Is there are a lot of action going on there or is it just like the FTC is kind of showing their teeth for now?
I’m not sure how much enforcement they have done. I think it’s just something that is, if a company is involved in a lawsuit against an adversary, it’s a kind of thing an adversary will enjoy bringing up. If they see evidence of astroturfing or bad action, that, of course, can become an issue. I think the FTC has taken action against some businesses, probably larger businesses. I don’t think they’re going after the mom-and-pop local business that much, but if you’re a larger brand and you’re engaged in some sort of fakery like this, I think there’s a fairly good chance that something could happen, and it’s probably not worth the risk. I think it’s really important to do this the right way. I also think that you can destroy the consumer’s trust in your brand if you don’t behave in a way that’s transparent and honest. It’s really good business in the long run to follow the rules.
Yeah, absolutely! Now, speaking of following the rules and doing it in a totally above board way-how would you encourage your customers or clients to leave Yelp reviews or Google reviews or whatever the service is without running afoul of the guidelines of the FTC?
What Yelp says-they have a page about how to how to get reviews. Yelp says don’t solicit reviews. They say you shouldn’t go to just your happy customers and ask them for reviews. If they’re not regular Yelpers, it’s unlikely to work because if they see a bunch of people showing up who’ve never left a Yelp review before who are all leaving five-star reviews and they’re clustered in time, that’s certainly going to cause those to probably not be recommended. What you really need to do is, on your website, if you’re in the kind of business that gets Yelp reviews, you can put a link on your website and say, “Hey, we’re on Yelp. Review us there!” so that it’s a message to everybody-to anyone who’s come to your site. Whether they’re happy or whether they’re unhappy, it’s neutral. You’re not just sort of picking only the happy customers, but you can say, “Look, we’re on Yelp,” and I even seen businesses leave a sort of a how-to when they say, “We’re on Yelp, and here’s how you can leave a review for us on Yelp.” You know, you click here, you go here, or you do this just to sort of introduce people to Yelp who may not be familiar with it. Yelp, I think, is okay with that. I mean, they have a recommendation, which is you’re welcome to publicize your Yelp page, you’re welcome to tell people to come and leave reviews for you, but just don’t solicit individual customers to do it. Let it be a message to the whole market, and let whoever wants to comment leave the review. That way, those reviews are representative of all your customers. Of course, the way to fix your Yelp reputation is to provide good customer service. The days of where business could have a loud voice in media and the customer had no voice, those days are over. The customer has a loud voice now so you really have to provide good service to each and every customer because if you don’t, they can get online and do things. Of course, this problem of astroturfing can reverse. There have been cases where an angry customer will go out and create four or five Yelp accounts and leave four or five one-star reviews. Often, these reviews are unfair and they’re wrong. Businesses need to understand what to do when that happens so, that’s really the flip side of this.
Does that happen a lot or is that pretty rare?
I’ve seen it happen more than once so, I know that it does happen. Fortunately, Yelp is pretty strict in that, if you report something or if you flag something and you say, “Look, this is not a review from an authentic customer. It’s a review from a competitor,” or you say, “This is a multiple reviews posted by the same person,” for things like that, they’re actually ready to take action, help you out, and suppress those reviews. If you say this review isn’t true-that, they’re not going to help you with because they’re not the truth police. Of course, it’s also useful for business owners just to respond. If you get a negative review, it’s good to respond in a sympathetic and friendly manner to say, “I’m sorry. We let you down. We will make this right. Please call us and we will we’ll fix this for you.” If you leave something that’s sort of a positive-forward looking, that can really take some of the venom out of these negative reviews. Also, I tell businesses that you need to read the negative reviews, and you have to ask yourself, “Is there something that we did wrong? Is there some way we can improve our game?” and you have to take that feedback and use it to make your company better.
Mm-hmm. Yup. It’s all feedback. What other kind of marketing lawsuits and actions do you see out there that we haven’t already discussed?
I’ve seen a lot of trademark cases. It seems that there are only so many names, and if you are having a brand, I think it’s a good idea early on to go see a lawyer and register your trademark, make sure that you understand what rights you’ve got, and how well you’re going to be able to protect those rights. I’ve seen cases where businesses get started without thinking too much about their brand name and then down the road, after they’ve invested a lot of money in building it up, they may learn, “Wow, we’re not going to be able to protect this brand because it’s too generic or it’s very close to somebody else’s brand, and as they start to become better known, suddenly this other party sees them, notices them, and starts to get angry, and maybe a lawsuit develops so, it’s a good idea to involve a lawyer, I think. I think another thing that is very good for any business to do is to have a good errors-and-omissions and also general business liability insurance. I think that it’s worth it to talk to any agent who specializes in business insurance to make sure you have coverage because what I’ve seen is, when people get into these lawsuits, the ones who have good insurance, they really don’t get too stressed about it because their insurance will pay the cost of dealing and defending a lawsuit. When people don’t have insurance, it can become extremely stressful and ruin their lives.
What are good, I don’t know, thresholds and numbers to get insured for with errors and omissions and liability insurance? What sort of coverage amounts would you recommend or what kinds of policy or kind of the nuances of the policies are you-?
What you want to do is, go to a good agent because that’s what the agent does. The agent understands the products and knows which product is appropriate for you. He will sell you an appropriate limit of insurance, and will also make sure that you’re informed about your coverage being in effect or not in effect. You don’t want to have any gaps. You want to be very careful not to have gaps in coverage because, usually, if a gap develops, anything that originated from before that gap is no longer covered. Even if you have a policy now, if something happened from before you have the policy, you’re not covered. It’s important to have a good agent, and the agent themselves are responsible. They are insured. If they don’t do a good job for you, you, potentially, can get their insurance to defend you if you get in trouble. The key is, have a good lawyer, have the right insurance, and then think-no matter how careful you are in business, it’s possible to mess up. There are just things that happen no matter how careful you are and you want to protect yourself. You want to plan ahead so in your budget, you have to have a few percent of your budget set aside for legal fees and you have to have a little bit set aside for insurance. This is financial planning. If you do that, then when the day comes that things go wrong, it’s just business-like. You have to deal with it, but it’s not going to break you, and that’s the important thing.
Mm-hmm, yeah. Speaking of other types of risks you run as a business owner, you might get hacked. You might end up with malware on your site that could infect other users or customers visiting your website. What would you recommend in that certain scenario?
Malware is an increasing problem, and it’s not a question of if you’re going to get hacked-it’s a matter of when. Your website is going to get hacked someday. It’s just a matter of time. If you have WordPress, it has a lot of moving pieces and you really have to patch it daily. If you don’t, you’re going to get hacked. Even if you patch it daily, sometimes, the patches you put on anytime, and you still get hacked so, you need to be prepared. In addition to constantly patching your software and keeping it at the latest version, you need to take a complete backup of all your code in your database and keep backups indefinitely. Don’t erase them after a week or a month because you never know when something insidious happens and you have to go back. Really, you never know how far back you might have to go to get a clean copy, but if you have good backups, then all security issues become very minor annoyances because you can always erase everything and just restore the backup. On my desktop computer, I use Carbonite, and I’m very happy with that. It’s a great thing. If my computer, heaven forbid, gets infected with ransomware and a message pops up and says, “Pay us $500 or we erase your hard disk,” my answer is, “Go ahead, and erase it. I don’t care.” That’s the position you want to always put yourself in. You’ve got to have backups of all your data on a separate system because your data is your goal. That’s your valuables. You’ve got to protect your valuable data.
Yeah. Your intellectual property or IP. What sort of IP protections-besides, just having your backups and having those offsite and so forth-what other IP protections do you have? Do you, for example, have any trademarks registered for your business? Have you registered copyrights with the US copyright office or have you tried to protect your brand internationally with international trademark registrations? Have you file patents or anything like that?
I do have a patent for a company where I was a founder, but in general, these things are, while they’re good for a larger businesses, especially if you’re investing-it depends on how much you’re investing in it. I have not trademarked my company, Hochman Consultants. I think you develop some common law rights, anyway, if you’re just using the name, but if I were to go out and actually spend serious money on marketing and advertising and become larger, I think I would go get a trademark. I don’t know that every small business needs to do this. I think it’s really something that you do if you’re going to be investing substantial money in that brand.
Mm-hmm. Got it. One last question on all the legal stuff, and then we’ll move into a more fun area-not that legal isn’t fun, but it’s kind of like that running joke that the legal department is also known as the business prevention department so, it’s not usually the most fun thing to be dealing with oftentimes. One last legal question-you’re an expert witness and have been for a number of times, what are the main things that make a person a really good expert witness?
There are really three factors that come into play. I think the credentials-so, having some education is very helpful. The right education in internet marketing and SEO, computer science is a good education. I think journalism is a good education or business and marketing so any degrees in those areas are useful. Experience is useful. There are people who, if they do a job professionally for 10, 15, or 20 years, they can be experts even without having an education or a degree. Also, having certifications can help so, if you take some of these exams that Google offers, I think they have about 12 different exams now between AdWords and Analytics, those certifications mean something. It means that you sat there for an hour or two-hour long test and were able to pass it so, you probably are better off than someone who didn’t. Another area, I think, that’s important for being an expert witnesses is to be both persuasive and also to be able to explain things simply so that they can be understood by a jury or by a judge. The ability to teach and to convince-and as an expert witness, your job is not to advocate for your client, but your job is to advocate for your version of the facts that you have discovered. You need to be prepared to convince people that you’re right. You have to be convincing. Finally, you just have to know what you’re talking about. You really have to understand your subject, and you have to understand it well because you’re going to get cross-examined. Being cross-examined by the partner in a major law firm can really be a harrowing experience. If you haven’t done it, before you go in, take an expert witness engagement, and decide to go in and testify, try to go and see someone else testify and realize that it’s much harder to perform under fire than it is to perform in practice.
It seems like it might be kind of a stressful role to play.
Well, yeah, it is stressful. I mean, your client can be sitting there, someone is suing them for millions and millions of dollars, and you feel that the claim is unjust or your client is the one who’s doing the suing because you feel that they’ve been cheated. You want to see justice done, but at the same time, my experience has been that the juries are usually pretty good and I think the judges are pretty good too. They sit there and they listen to everything. Often, I have only seen one piece of the case so I know my piece of the case, but they see the whole thin and they decide. I have a lot of respect for the judges and juries and the legal system in general. We, as a society, try to have rule of law because it’s a lot better than having rule of mob or rule of the person with the biggest gun. I like to say that we should have a society that’s run by the rule of law and science. Simply going to court and having lawyers argue about something isn’t as good as having lawyers plus experts who know the subject matter to provide context and to provide facts that help resolve the dispute, and this is expensive. I mean, going to court is very expensive, but sometimes, it’s necessary. It’s how we get justice. It’s not cheap, but that’s the price of having justice and having a civil society.
Yeah, and unfortunately though, in some cases, it’s just whoever has the biggest gun, metaphorically, right? Who has the most expensive lawyers are the victors. You don’t show up at a gun fight with a sword. You get sued by somebody who has deep pockets and you’re going to have to spend a lot of money on your legal defense.
Well, that’s why you need to have insurance. If you have the right insurance, your insurance company will buy you a pricey lawyer and do a good job. I get paid, and I get a lot of my paychecks come from insurance companies if I’m working with a defendant. There are a lot of people who do have insurance, and it’s really a lifesaver if you get into one of these disputes. It’s probably going to happen to everybody once every few decades. You’re going to bumble into a lawsuit. No matter how careful you are, something’s going to go wrong. If you have that insurance, they’re going to take care of you. They’re going to get you a good lawyer. A good lawyer is worth a lot more than a mediocre lawyer. Even though the good lawyer might charge a little bit more, they’re five times more valuable. You want to be prepared, and you have to be prepared way ahead of time when you don’t think you need it.
Yeah, and even if the lawsuit is frivolous, you still have to defend yourself and that’s still going to cost money. I was filed suit against back-I don’t know when was it-like, it was eight or nine years ago? Something like that. I had founded a website called Writers.net, which is a community of published authors, literary agents, and so forth. There is this one literary agent who did not have a good reputation, had a lot of negative sentiment posts, and just community discussion. My site was also an online community. It was not just a directory. On the discussion forms, there was a lot of negative talk about this person, and she didn’t like that so she filed a suit against me, against Wikimedia Foundation because she didn’t like her Wikimedia article, and against the Science Fiction Writers of America because there is a community online discussion forum on that site that had some disparaging or some negative remarks and so forth. It was a frivolous lawsuit. It was eventually thrown out, but it took three years. It happens to the best of us. Just because you’re keeping squeaky clean doesn’t mean that somebody couldn’t just come after you.
No, and they make a mistake and think you’re responsible when you’re not. The only way you’re going to convince them that you’re not is you actually have to meet them in court with a lawyer and explain everything formally. It’s expensive, but it’s a known risk that can be predicted actuarially. The insurance company prices the risk, they sell you the policy, and you’re paying them a premium. That money is effectively going into a savings account and being invested in growing. Eventually, when the day comes, when you need the defense, whether that day comes soon or late, they’re there to cover you. With the user-generated content, if you’re running a forum, you’re protected by I believe it’s called Section 230 of The Communications Decency Act. What that says is that, if you’re running a forum, you can’t be sued for something posted by one of your users. There’s an immunity, in fact, that you can’t be sued. It doesn’t mean that people don’t try.
Yup. She tried, but of course, she didn’t have a case, and that’s why it was eventually thrown out. Like I said, people can file lawsuits for any number of frivolous reasons, and they might not have a chance of a snowball and hack that they would win it, but you still have to pay a lawyer to get it dismissed.
Right. That’s where the “Be Prepared,” is so important.
If you’re running a user-generated content site, you allow comments and you allow reviews, sooner or later, somebody will get mad and sue for defamation. It’s almost inevitable because there are a lot of people in the world and some of them are outlierswhile some of them have a strange point of view and they may come after you so you have to be ready for that. Section 230 is actually an interesting thing. There’s a way to turn this around. A lot of businesses have been plagued by comments posted online. For example, a site like Ripoff Report or Complaints Board or some other site where people post complaints, they turn around and they try to sue these sites, and they learn that they can’t because you have this Section 230 immunity, but it turns out that you can actually make a claim against the individual who’s posted the comment and sometimes, if you do that and you get a judgment against the individual who’s posted slander about you on one of these sites, potentially, you may have recourse to get that taken down or get it knocked out of Google, but in order to do this, you need to contact an attorney right away. You can’t let it sit in faster. You have to go in and talk to someone within, often, a year or less. You have to do it right away.
Which means that it’s worthwhile to monitor your presence online-what are people saying about you? If someone does make slanderous comments, you can actually track them down. I’ve been hired a number of times by publicly traded companies to track down people who posted comments about a stock in order to try to move the stock one way or the other. If you act fast, you can generally figure out who’s posted it. You can get that data, you can get the IP address from the website, you can get the subscriber’s name from the Internet Service Provider, you can identify them, and you can then say, “Okay, sir. You posted this. You’re responsible for it,” and that can be one way to resolve an unpleasant situation, but you have to act fast. You have to get a lawyer, and you have to act fast.
Right, so acting fast means within the statute of limitations, and that varies by state. A year, I think, would be sufficient, but some states will even allow up to two years, and maybe a couple states will allow three years. I forget which ones, but take action immediately or as quickly as you can within the statute of limitations. Even if you don’t know who that disparaging remark is made by, you can file a lawsuit against John Doe or Jane Doe and then, I guess the website where the comment is posted to would have to respond to the subpoena and give the IP address and whatever other information they have about that anonymous poster, correct?
Right. So, the main thing is, you have to find an attorney who is experienced with the Section 230 and who knows their way around it. Generally, you’re not going after the host, you’re going after the person who’s posted the comment. First, obviously, probably just try to communicate with them and say, “He, this is slanderous. Would you please take it down?” By dealing with the person, if you’ve got a comment like this that’s really damaging your reputation, you may have a way to take care of it. In addition to the statute of limitations, you have to watch out for the data retention policies of the Internet Service Provider so, even though we might find out the IP address of someone who posted something, in order to understand which subscriber was using that IP address at a certain date and time, you may need to get to the Internet Service Provider within six months or maybe less, the avail of different data retention policy so, that data doesn’t hang around forever. You got to work pretty quickly to make sure you get and preserve the evidence and be able to know who did it. If you can’t get the info, you’re right-sometimes, things can proceed against an anonymous party. Again, you really need to talk to a lawyer though to figure out how to do that.
Yup. There have been some great talks at Pubcon about dealing with Ripoff Report in particular, but other sites as well like PissedConsumer.com and so forth. This will work with, you file against John Doe if you don’t know who the poster is, they get the subpoena with the IP address and so forth, and then with the lawsuit, you either win it or the perpetrator or commenter settles with you, then you can file with Google, and there’s a form to fill out with Google, you put in the case number that you won or that you got the favorable settlement on, and then they will remove that Ripoff Report listing from the search results.
Mm-hmm. Right, because there’s a problem of linking to defamation or linking to copyright infringement or whatever kind of problem you have. A problem content online-whether it’s copyright violation, slander, and any sort of malicious content like that, there are ways to deal with it. It’s through the proper legal channels, but you need to have a lawyer who knows what they’re doing so you don’t spend money going in circles or going about it the wrong way. There have been a lot of people who have tried suing Ripoff Report and PissedConsumer, and those don’t really seem to work out too well. It’s the wrong strategy.
Yeah. So, any other last tips you want to share for our listeners in terms of hardening their online business to make it more bulletproof?
Yeah. One of my favorite tips is to make your website run fast because when the website runs fast, you’re also increasing capacity. It means you can serve more people. When you get your 15 minutes of fame like your company gets written up in the Wall Street Journal, and suddenly everyone is trying to come and look at your website, you really don’t want your server to go down during your 15 minutes of fame. Another thing you can do is, you can use CloudFlare, which is a great service for both perimeter security around your website to keep bots off your website- unauthorized bots. Also, it tends to improve the efficiency of delivery. It has a CDN or a content delivery network built in so CloudFlare is a great way to help keep your site online. Even if you get crashes at traffic or if someone tries to do a denial of service attack against you, Cloud Flare is a great way to make your website harder to attack and more resilient.
And load faster as well!
Yes. With the load fast is something they did because they figured the security was going to slow the loading so they did a few optimizations to try to counterbalance that, but what they found is, after they put it all together, they were causing sites to load about twice as fast, even with all their security measures. It became a speed enhancer and also security.
Right. When you enhance the speed, you increase the conversion rate. It’s good for Google. Google engineers have said that page speed is a signal, especially with mobile users. You just don’t want to make them wait because that’s not going to be good for your mobile SEO and that’s not going to be good for your mobile conversion.
Well, think about it this way: If you have a site that you want someone to really interact with a lot like you want to run an online community, one of the limiting factors is that people on mobile are wearing down their battery so when you make your site load faster or if your site loads twice as fast, it’s probably also using half as much juice, and that means that user can sit there and interact with you more before they’re going to run low on power.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Any other conversion tips you want to share that would make for a more likely turns that they’re going to make purchase or submit an inquiry?
Yes. One thing that I’ve seen over and over again is that people love these sliders. They’re called “carousels” or “automatic carousels.” It’s a slideshow. Usually, what happens is, the designer can’t get everyone to agree on a single banner image for the home page so they just decide to use all three or four candidates and they put them in a rotation. This is very bad for the user because you have no way of predicting the speed at which each user will consume the content so the rotation will always happen too fast or too slow, especially if you have any text in there that they have to read. Additionally, any kind of motion, because humans were evolved as hunter gatherers, our brain is keyed in to look for motion, and the eye will immediately go towards motion. When you have that slider on the page, it’s a huge distraction from anything else on the page. Every time it moves, the eye leaves whatever it was looking at and looks up at the motion. A great conversion rate optimization tip, every test I’ve ever seen and done, and every research paper I’ve ever seen on this subject has shown that these automatic moving elements on websites don’t help conversion rates. They almost always hurt the conversion rate so the recommendation is to just go with static content-with banners. If you want to have interactive stuff or you want to have video, that’s fine, but it should play when the user activates it. If you want have a slideshow, that’s fine. You should have big forward and backward buttons and when the user clicks, the slideshow advances. That way, everybody can consume it at their own rate and it doesn’t become a distraction.
Yeah. Some of the sites that people can see-this is based on hard data. These conversion tests time and time again show that carousels are conversion killers like WhichTestWon and so forth.
Yeah, I like WhichTestWon. It’s a great site you can subscribe in. Every time you want to write an AB test, it takes time and it has cost. Fortunately, you don’t need to run every AB test, you can just look in their library. They’ve got hundreds and hundreds of AB tests that they’ve published the results of, and you can learn from what other people have done so that you are starting much further along the path, and when you start AB testing, you’re not testing all the sort of easy things that you already know what the results are going to be or someone already knows what the results are going to be. You can move ahead.
Yeah, and any kind of advice around WordPress plugins or widgets to either have or not have installed on your website?
I have a few that I really love. My favorite WordPress plugins are-one of them is called Advanced Automatic Updates, and that makes sure that all your seams and plugins get updated in addition to the core. I like W3 Total Cache for speeding up the site. I like the Yoast SEO plugin for SEO. I’m using aGoogle Tag Manager plugin with a funny name-I just don’t remember the name of it, but if you’re go in and just search for Google Tag Manager in the plugin library, you will find the one that has the most installs and good rating. Google Tag Manager, by the way, is a way to help speed up a site. It is a better way to deploy all your tracking pixels because it causes all those tracking pixels to load asynchronously, and it makes it a lot easier to manage and just ensure consistent accurate deployment of tracking pixels so I recommend Google Tag Manager.
That is it! That is the one that I use.
All right. And, as far as widgets are concerned-I know we had a discussion prior to the interview starting that people will tend to be widget-happy. What do you mean by that?
So, essentially, your competitors could be targeting people who have visited my own website and selling ads to those people on Facebook?
Yeah, they could in theory. I use Google Analytics, and I know that Google doesn’t offer a lot of remarketing and targeting based on interests. With Google Analytics, I almost make an exception because so many people using the Chrome browser, Google also can use Chrome to understand which websites people are visiting and identify them because people are encouraged to log in on Chrome. In some sense, I sort of tolerate Google Analytics because I feel that we’ve sort of already given up the farm because people are using Chrome, but it is something that people need to think about. Who else knows about your visitors? What do they know, and is that really in your interest or not? That’s an interesting question that I don’t think many people have discussed. I certainly know that probably Google and others are not really encouraging that discussion because it’s probably not in their interest to do so.
Yeah. Well, this has been really helpful I think for our listeners to clarify some of the legal risks, some of the potential land mines in various social communities, in Wikipedia, as far as sites such as Yelp, and protecting yourself by hardening your site and hardening your business against potential threats such as legal threats, hackers, and who knows what else so, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.
You’re welcome! Thank you for having me.
Actually, one last thing: How would people get in touch with you if they wanted to work with you, hire you to advise them on any of the topics we discussed, or perhaps use you as an expert witness?
Well, you can reach me through my website. It’s www.hochmanconsultants.com.
All right, perfect! Thank you, Jonathan, and thank you, listeners. This is Stephan Spencer signing off. Will catch you on the next episode!
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
☑ It’s not beneficial for someone who is not notable to get a Wikipedia page, as there won’t be a lot of engagement. Focus your efforts on becoming notable first.
☑ Have a good lawyer, and the right type of insurance for your business. No matter how careful you are, it’s possible to mess up.
☑ For more information on how to increase security and reduce risk, visit Jonathan’s website HochmanConsultants.com.
☑ If you are a company with competitors who have Wikipedia pages, and you are going to create one on your company’s behalf, link sources to show you are at least as large of a company as your competitor.
☑ To protect your website from malware, always keep your software at the latest version, do a complete backup of all your code in your database, and keep backups indefinitely
☑ Check out CloudFlare for perimeter security. Bonus: it tends to improve the efficiency of delivery while making your website harder to attack.
☑ Never hire a company to help you get great reviews! They will likely end up being fake reviews from overseas reps, and will have grammatical errors-not a good look.
☑ To get legitimate Yelp reviews, publicize your page, tell customers to leave reviews for you, and do the best you can to make your customers happy.
☑ If you’re not notable and have a Wikipedia page that is not factual, you can have it deleted. Changes are not likely to be made to your page in a timely manner to correct the issue.
☑ For A/B testing, WhichTestWon can help you to learn from the results of tests that have already been conducted, allowing you to determine which options will be worth your time.
About Jonathan Hochman
Jonathan Hochman is the founder of Hochman Consultants. He has two computer science degrees from Yale University and 25 years experience as a consultant. He has broad experience with technology, marketing, sales, business development, and operations. Hochman is chairman of SEMNE, the association of search marketers in New England, and a founder of CodeGuard, the website security company.
Hochman has an AdWords Individual Qualification with specialization in search advertising. He has spoken at national conferences, including Web 2.0 Summit, Search Marketing Expo (SMX) and Search Engine Strategies (SES). He has contributed articles to Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, and Search Marketing Standard. He has also served as a judge for the Landy Awards, the search marketing industry’s top honor.
His consulting practice consists of SEO and SEM audits, SEO training, and expert witness testimony. He is familiar with most programming languages and frameworks. In addition to consulting work, Hochman is active as president 2015-2017 of the Rotary Club of Bloomfield, Connecticut. He also volunteers as a Wikipedia administrator.