The Internet is a vast storehouse of knowledge – and bullshit. Fortunately, it is a simple matter to know one from the other. Just remember to NOT judge a piece of content by the supposed authority it displays in terms of authorship or brand.
The simple first step: Check Source
You will frequently find people stating so-called facts and statistics and citing source with a hyperlink using the anchor text “Source”.
Most of us are happy to see that the author has cited their source. We don’t always bother to check if the source checks out. But we should.
This was a learning experience for me. I was looking around for 2016 statistics on Inbound Marketing, Blogging and Content Marketing to create an infographic post. Unfortunately, everything that I found related to an old Hubspot study or similar outdated material. Agreed, until a new study comes along, that’s all we got, but near the end of 2016, I did not consider it appropriate to use the old stats.
Case Study 1
When I found this site I am going to refer to, I was a little groggy with searching for more than an hour, and extremely sleep deprived. The site represented a known brand (Alexa global rank 51,929, I just checked ). The author looked authoritative enough.
The title read: 21 Little-Known Blogging Statistics to Help Shape Your Strategy in 2016. The intro specifically promised data from the end of 2015 to ‘get a better picture’ of the current state of B2B blogging.
That made sense, alright. I bookmarked the site and turned in.
The next day, my infographic was ready and I clicked on one of the sources that the author had cited (to reference it as the original source). It led to an article that listed impressive statistics with no source cited at all!
There was no date mentioned, so I didn’t know when the article had been written. Looking through the comments section helped – they dated as far back as 2013. Then I happened to look at the URL and it said ‘…2012/05/28/…’ !
There was an infographic with a few websites mentioned near the bottom but no exact URLs cited as source. But this was 2012, and I guess it was alright back then to be a little vague about things.
I thought this must have been a slip on the author’s part – the same author that I was giving credit for supplying me with the stats for my infographic. I went back to her site and pointed out in a comment that her source was outdated. My intention was to point out a problem so that she could get it fixed. I still considered her article authoritative.
At that point, I was still searching for reliable stats, and fortunately, within minutes of making this comment, stumbled upon the latest Hubspot State of Inbound report for 2016. They had just published it. I went back to my comment and added one more to let the author know that I had found the latest stats, and typed in the URL in case she needed it.
I gave it no more thought until after my own write-up on latest Inbound trends and the need for SEO Content was published (based on the Hubspot stats). Since I had originally drawn inspiration from her write-up, I thought I’d invite her to check out my page and went back to her site.
And what do I see? My second comment was published but she had deleted the first one that pointed out the error in her source.
I was fine with that – she must have edited the article, at least, I thought, and went on to check what she had cited now.
I guess it shouldn’t have come as a shock. Real authorities do not delete comments that point out their errors. Because they are confident in their abilities and know that to err is human. A real authority would have promptly edited the material and thanked me for the heads-up. But then, a real authority wouldn’t have cited a lame ass source in the first place.
It is doubly interesting that the comment before mine thanks her particularly for the very statistic that linked to the outdated source. And she actually thanks the author of the comment for making the comment about finding her post useful. She doesn’t respond to my comment at all.
I went on to check some of the other sources and it turned out she had drawn from a mixed pool of data – some reliable, others as silly as an infographic with old statistics.
And then there was the rabbit hole that led to nothing at all.
No. 3 led to http://www.techclient.com/blogging-statistics/ and this infographic with data from between 2011 and 2013, mostly.
No. 6, I have already mentioned above.
No. 7 led to a page not found error but the cached page looked authoritative enough, at least.
And with no. 8, the rabbit hole began.
Clicking the “(source)” anchor text takes me to a page that uses almost the exact same words and cites another source.
If we get to source (O) from source (M), protocols dictate we credit both sources. We should mention something like ‘Source (O) via Source (M)’. Our author had done no such thing, and I doubt that she had bothered to check the original source linked through the anchor text “67% more leads”.
I did, and it led me to http://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/the-why-12-distinct-goals_b_5651566
If you can find the stats that say B2B marketers that blog receive 67% more leads than those that do not, please leave a comment and let me know. I could find no such info on the page (which was pretty authoritative, by the way).
After this, I gave up. This was taking up too much of my time and really didn’t care if the rest of her points were properly sourced.
Yes, I have been bad-mouthing a fellow writer. Only, she isn’t any fellow of mine. Nor should she be one of yours. Giving readers misleading and outdated information (knowingly) doesn’t make anyone a writer leave alone an authority.
Case Study 2
I was trying to understand, while writing another post, if it should be “in-house” or “inhouse”. Trust Google to throw up all sorts of irrelevant results notwithstanding its constant updates: I found myself looking at some very authoritative person’s article with a clever title. He ended the article with the statement that he has to make all the tough calls and he makes them right. “In-house” was his conclusion.
“In-house” is correct. There is no problem with the conclusion. However, there was something very wrong about the way he went about getting to the conclusion. He based it on how many searches there were in Google for each version.
Don’t trust the ‘voice of authority’
It was amusing, really. Having spent more than 16 years in academia, I’ve met my share of people who are the first (among almost none) to firmly believe they are the wisest. I decided to leave the following comment.
Searches / numbers indicate trends and not necessarily correctness of usage.
Whether or not smoking is good for the smoker’s health is not determined by how many people smoke.
If you look at a style guide, let’s take the Economist (it was the nearest at hand, virtually, that’s all – http://www.economist.com/style-guide/hyphens), you get something definitive, to begin with:
‘There is no firm rule to help you decide which words are run together, hyphenated or left separate. In general, try to avoid putting hyphens into words formed of one word and a short prefix’.
That seems to favor ‘inhouse’. But wait, it also says,
‘If in doubt, consult a dictionary’.
Cambridge, Collins, Merriam-Webster, and Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries all suggest In-house (both in adverb and adjective form).
That pretty much covers both British and American usage.
And we are done.
Don’t bother making tough calls when simple measures will do 😉
Just out of curiosity, I went back later to check if my comment had been approved. Nope. Don’t know if the author deleted it or if WordPress malfunctioned, somehow, but the comment wasn’t visible.
Who do you trust?
Yourself, of course. Trust yourself to seek out the truth in everything you read. Thankfully, the process is simple enough and merely one we tend to overlook most of the time.
I have to say something else regarding my comment above. While the number of search queries cannot possibly be an authority, it is certainly advisable to keep usage as a deciding factor when choosing between two or more prevalent forms of a word / expression.
There are people that would object to “Who” being used in the subhead above. And they would be correct. You should determine grammatically correct usage of “Who” and “Whom” by asking yourself whether you’d use “he/she/they” or “him/her/them” when answering the question (or, when replacing “Who/Whom”). In this case, we would not say, “We trust he” or, “Can/Do you trust she”.
Yet, I chose to write, “Who do you trust?”
And that is because this is a conversational style of writing. I would use the grammatically correct form only when writing an academic paper.
Only people too pedantic, or insecure about grammar would be a stickler for formality in an informal conversation. For a more detailed analysis, check this long-ish but very useful (and pleasant) read.
Have you had similar experiences with ‘authority content’?
If you know of any such ‘authority content writer’, please share your experience with the rest of us without getting personal – leave us a comment 🙂
Feature image courtesy: Quickmeme