Jeff Keleher

Not even the niche world of content marketing podcasts is safe from the reach of “Red Dead Redemption 2.” This edition of “Above the Fold” opens with a lengthy discussion of the massively popular cowboy-themed video game. Francis is a tiny bit obsessed with it (OK, really obsessed it), while Jeff is more intrigued by the endless series of memes that have emerged in its wake.

Once the RDR2 diversions have been settled, the guys press on to discuss influencer marketing, data extortion and Google’s new and stupefying search comment feature. Pretty heavy stuff, but they keep things lively with a bevy of celebrity impersonations (Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwarzenegger, most notably) ranging from the passable to the truly, mindboggingly horrific.

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The dark side of influencer marketing

Influencer marketing may just be the most controversial subject in digital marketing today. Potential ethical questions aside (not to mention how effective it actually is), there’s a dark underbelly to this corner of the digital marketing world that would make even the most corrupt AAU basketball handlers blush.

A recent Wired story brings a lot of those unpleasant details to light, including the truly insane amount of money that’s changing hands, the unethical conflicts of interest that pervade the scene and the lack of certainty that people who are paid to be social influencers really have the juice to deliver on their brand awareness promises.

The article centers around the journey of entrepreneur Sahara Lotti who paid tens of thousands of dollars to different influencers to review and promote her company’s beauty products. In one memorable moment, a particularly popular influencer posted a scathing review of Lotti’s merchandise on his YouTube page, which had millions of viewers.

Turns out that the reviewer had established relationships with some of Lotti’s competitors, receiving a commission whenever users made a purchase using his unique affiliate code. That arrangement isn’t necessarily unique (podcasters do it all the time), but what made this situation disconcerting is the perhaps unspoken agreement to disparage competitors in addition to getting what essentially amounts to kickbacks.

To Jeff’s credit, he’s always been more than a little skeptical of the social influencer model, but even he was surprised by how deep this particular rabbit hole goes.

SEO firms hold data hostage

Caution: Salty language ahead. Jeff feels particularly strong about the next topic on the docket and isn’t afraid to let the expletives flow when talking about it. The issue at hand is who really owns your data when you work with SEO companies?

Trustworthy SEO firms work within their clients’ Google Analytics accounts and make it clear that while they have access to and can manage that data, ultimately it all belongs to the customer. As a recent Search Engine Journal piece highlights, though, that’s not always the case. It details a business that cut ties with its SEO company only to find that it no longer had access to its Google Analytics account – and all of the valuable site data and search metrics that went along with it.

Fran and Jeff note that these sketchy SEO firms are essentially holding customer data hostage, pressuring clients to continue working with them or risk losing all of the data and analysis they’ve paid for during their business relationship. And it’s not limited to SEO companies specifically: Web developers, for instance, could lock you out of your own site or construct it in such a way to make it virtually impossible for another vendor to comb through all the custom coding and make sense of it.

How can companies avoid this nightmare scenario? Well, it’s pretty simple, actually. Jeff recommends simply taking a hard look at your contract before signing with any SEO company to ensure that whatever happens, you’ll retain access to and control over your Google Analytics data and any other metrics.

Google search comments: The SEO revolution that never was

File this one under “bullet dodged.” The recent announcement that Google would begin letting users leave comments in Google searches set off a firestorm of speculation about the effect that move would have on digital marketing.

It turns out those concerns may have been a bit premature, because that feature will be limited to very specific circumstances, like commenting on a live sports game. Fran and Jeff let out a big sigh of relief after hearing that development, viewing the prospects of a Google search comment feature with more than a little bit of skepticism. Francis calls it “Twitter for people who do not understand Twitter,” while Jeff predicts it will be dead and buried within a month.

So, don’t look for Google’s search comment feature to take the content marketing world by storm anytime soon. As we learned from Google Plus and Google Glass, there are limits to what the tech giant can accomplish.

Context-free quote of the week

“No offense to any single parents out there, but this is basically giving them nine kids – six of them are orphans.”