6 Reasons We All Need To Stop Complaining

Ian Lurie

All internet marketers do it.

Google’s being mean.

Facebook is being dishonest.

Twitter is down.

I’ve done it too. So, I’m not making fun, or calling out individuals, when I write this:

We need to stop. We’re tilting at windmills so large they don’t even notice us, or when they do, can easily brush us off. Plus, it’s not helpful. Here’s why:

1: We’re Not Investors (aka, We Are Not In Charge)

Facebook and Google respond to the market, and their investors, and their own whims. Twitter really wants to. Unless we own a sizable chunk of voting shares, we can’t influence these humungous site/channels via the marketplace.

Shareholder revolts can work, but the marketing community won’t start one. Revolts start because stock owners are angry that they’re not earning enough money. Seems pretty unlikely anyone with GOOG or FB are going to be all that angry:

Pretty good stock performance, yes?
Pretty good stock performance, yes?

Pretty good stock performance, yes?

So, the odds we’re going to change anything via the investor route are slightly lower than the Mets winning the World Series.

2: We’re a Tiny Audience

According to LinkedIn, there are 51,838 people who refer to themselves as ‘internet marketers,’ 1.4 million who refer to themselves as ‘SEOs’ and 212,000 who say they’re ‘marketers.’ That’s, what, 1.6 million? Let’s say, for fun, that LinkedIn is off by a factor of 10.

So there are 16 million marketers furious at Google for their policies, and frustrated with Facebook because their marketing platform seems designed to make us look like idiots.

Here’s some fun math:

Total Audiences of Facebook and Google, versus the Marketing world
Total Audiences of Facebook and Google, versus the Marketing world

Us vs. GOOG and FB's users. Data, ironically, via Google search

According to http://searchengineland.com/google-worlds-most-popular-search-engine–148089 Search Engine Land, Google had 1.1 billion unique searchers in 2012. According to http://www.statisticbrain.com/facebook-statistics/ Facebook had 1.6 billion active users. 16 million versus 1.6 billion. If this were a slap fight, it’s 1000:1 odds. Even the 300 Spartans couldn’t handle that.

(Actually, there were about 1,000 Greek soldiers at the final Battle of Thermopylae. There were 150,000 Persians. That’s 150:1 odds. We might want to recruit these guys to head for Mountain View.)

And yes, most of the humungous consumer audience doesn’t care one way or another. But that inertia is exactly why our caterwauling can’t affect the outcome.

3: Withdrawing Ad Money Screws Our Clients

We can huff and puff that we’re going to pull our AdWords buys, or shut down our AdSense ads, or skip Facebook advertising. But if we have clients, then that’s completely irresponsible. We’re in business to help clients grow, not to carry out a holy war against the injustices of fifty kajillion dollar mega-corporations.

You think ad agencies of old weren’t furious at the way TV and print handled their ads? They were. But they bought time anyway.

If I’m going to continue to do my job, and be good at it, I have to keep using Google and Facebook.

4: We Are Utterly Unsympathetic Heroes

Most of the literate world ranks internet marketers slightly below Blobfish for charisma, aesthetic appeal and as a date you’d bring home to meet the family:

Ugly. Yet oddly trustworthy.

Ugly. Yet oddly trustworthy. Photo from Zuma Press

SEOs in particular don’t come out of the wash all that well. There are always a few saying “Yeah, sure we cheat!” Not a lot. Just a few. And that’s all it takes.

E-mail marketers (spam), paid search pros (arbitrage), social media (spam) all suffer the same problem: It only takes a few jerks to make everyone look bad.

I’m not saying we are all like this. I’m saying this is how the public perceives us. Before we take on other problems, we need to handle our image problem.

Don’t compete with the blobfish. To the consumer, you’re not as attractive.

5: We Aren’t the Government

There is one entity that can affect huge, money-stuffed companies that own entire industries or channels: The government. If there’s any organization that can out-bureaucrat a major US corporation, it’s the US government.

I think that’s probably coming, at least for Google. They’re approaching the same web + operating system + software issue that Microsoft did. They’ve learned from Microsoft’s experience, and they’re being careful, but still, it’s almost inevitable that some influential Congressman not in California will realize that slapping Google around is his ticket to another term. Then, watch out.

But we can’t really impact that. We can call our politicians. If you really feel Google, Facebook et al are screwing us all out of our livelihood, do it.

Just remember that the only being the public regards with greater disgust than lawyers are SEOs and internet marketers. So find another reason to complain.

6: Google and Facebook Don’t Even Make the List…

…of things that are evil and bad. Allow me to go all idealistic and liberal for a moment. If I compare the misbehavior of internet giants to:

  • Starvation
  • Homelessness in the US and elsewhere
  • Lack of education
  • Treatment of women worldwide
  • Treatment of LBGT folks worldwide
  • Violent crime
  • The fact that I live in a country where yahoos of all kinds can own firearms (I’m not anti-gun – I’m anti crazy people w/ guns)
  • …. the list goes on forever

Really, Google and Facebook just don’t make my protest list. You may think these other problems aren’t problems, or are Too Big To Change. But I’m sure you have your own list.

I’m exaggerating a bit. But you get the point.

If You’re Really Pissed, Get to Work

If you’re really angry and still think you need to do something, don’t complain. Do something. Something small:

  • A letter-writing campaign to a legislator. If you can point out impact on their constituents, who knows?
  • Get other industries in on it. Expand beyond the internet marketing world. That might strengthen our arguments.

Or, something big:

  • Make a better mousetrap. A search engine, a social network, whatever. Yes, the odds are 1000:1. About the same as swaying the consumer audience. And this way you’ll learn stuff.
  • Run for office. OK, I kid.
  • Organize activist shareholders. Just make sure you buy voting shares.

OK, start flaming me via the comments, below:

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Sorry for this: great post.
    5 & 6 especially. 5 would be our best bet, but for that money in politics thing (See Republic Lost, it’s worse than most folks care to know).
    We can all benefit from the perspective provided by 6.
    Mini-rant: I can’t believe how well “lay-up spam” works. Google is great at PR. I feel sorry for the handful of folks of whom Google is making an example.

  2. When you’re right, you’re right, Ian. We couldn’t make enough noise to get Google’s attention, if we all shouted in unison… and since we can’t seem to agree on simple things like what our jobs entail or what best practices are….
    Still, I’m not one to just swallow and smile when I see things I don’t like… even if they don’t affect me or my clients. I realize that bitching has less chance of success than an online petition, but the beach is built from a lot of individual grains of sand. I plan on being one of them.
    Great post, though, and great perspective that chart provides. Ouch!

    1. Doc, I’m very much with you. The grain of sand thing is the crucial part. Notice I said there are ways to take action? I think folks like you and Danny Sullivan handle it right: You’re pissed off (as I can be, too) but your arguments make sense. Someone reading them from the outside doesn’t hear “We should boycott!!!!” or “Google’s out to get us!!!” They hear “This makes no sense. It’s hypocritical. It’s a monopoly.”
      That’s the discussion that needs to go on.

  3. 6 great reasons Ian!
    When the complain train starts in any 1 of my social streams I make a clear suggestion. I hope it rubs folks the wrong way lol;) Start your own company. Build your Facebook, or twitter, or whatever company which sees you calling the shots, then you no longer need complain.
    This ties into point #1. If you are a shareholder, fine. Offer feedback, then be done with it. If you are not a shareholder you can also offer feedback to improve the experience but complaining does nobody any good.
    Wasted energy. Focus instead of being uplifting, supportive, and grateful for these social streams.
    I mean, 5 years ago I was busting my hump in a shipping terminal as a pier guard. Now I’m tweeting from paradise in Pak Nam Pran Thailand, using Facebook to prosper through gifting, blogging, and other online channels. No complaints here; just positive suggestions if I feel the network may need a little nudge in a different direction.
    If you can drill down enough, and really see the benefits of each network, and realize how each site has blessed you, you’d never complain again.
    I’m done complaining about social….until I have a human moment again 😉
    Awesome post.
    I found this post and left this comment on Kingged.com, the content curation site.

  4. Thanks Ian –
    Doing some work on entities – companies and causes of woe in the world. It comes down to two things, greed and money. The want of it.
    This is the central connector. Draw another graph with every entity you mention – company and cause. Each column would be at 100% – representing the driven pursuit of the ‘pile’.
    This is really the root problem.
    BTW, I am a Brit, therefore not entitled to any positive outlook like our cousins over there. I apologise.

  5. Hello Ian,
    Complaining never did anyone any good! I sincerly wonder why otherwise reasonable online entrepreneurs do it. A better option is simply to offer something that would make an impact – like starting a whole new social network!
    Generally, complaints produce nothing – and your reminder of that fact is apt.

  6. This is quite a reality check. And I suspect that Google and Facebook respect complainers about as much as they do mosquitoes – annoying insignificant pests that do not belong near a serious conversation. Good point about Congress perhaps being a voice that they will listen to, if the points being made are valid.
    You’ve served up some humble pie, Ian; something to chew on while we get a grip on reality.

    1. I think they actually listen, but to consumers and users of their paid products. Until organic results get so bad that they impact Google’s bottom line, they have very little incentive to deal with issues there.

  7. I agree with you 100% Ian.
    And this is reminding me of a great sentence I heard from James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem and other cool stuff):
    Best way to complain is to make things.

  8. Typically splendid stuff, Ian – thanks!
    I’m especially enthusiastic about this post because … who doesn’t like confirmation bias? 🙂 That is, your thinking mirrors mine very closely in this realm.
    In fact, I planned to tackle the very issue of industry complaints against Google as part of my presentation at Portland’s SearchFest this year, as so many SEOs had taken to complaining about “that scraper” Google in response to the increasing number of queries producing a direct answer in the SERPs – rather than addressing this change constructively by changing strategies and tactics.
    I composed a section on this topic but it never make its way into my talk (as it was a pretty big digression from the presentation’s core point), but I kept the excised section on hand with vague plans to blog about it at some point.
    That seems somewhat superfluous now as you touched on so many of my main points – so instead it seems more appropriate if I simply paste those thoughts here as a supporting comment. 🙂
    What You (An SEO) Can Do in Response to Google Changes With Which You Disagree
    1. Change your approach to search engine optimization so you continue to provide the best possible value to your clients
    Of course you can still do this and grumble, but I think if you approach something with a sense of nostalgic yearning for the way things were, that bitterness will to certain degree have you in its grip and retard your ability to recognize and exploit opportunities in the current ecosystem.
    2. Become an activist
    The approach you take to search marketing won’t have an impact on how Google does things.
    Google cares about its users – not because it’s a benign corporation, but because they understand that satisfying its users is the way it makes money – and so, of course, about making money.
    It cares about publishers – anyone who has a website – to the degree that they’re part of Google’s being able to satisfy users (providing data for Google to organize and provide to users) and to being able to satisfy Google’s corporate mission (by providing Google with money for advertising and products).
    It does not care about organic search engine marketers except insofar as they need to mitigate the impact of their efforts to game search results – that is, SEO is useful for the development of search engine spam countermeasures, and sometimes in aiding Google by identifying problems with their products or search algorithms. No search engine executive is ever going to say, “egad, Aaron Wall really has a good point there about the unfair amount of real estate we take up with advertising – let’s dial that back, shall we?”
    So if you want to change how Google or Bing or Yandex or Baidu or operate you won’t do so by dint of your SEO activities, but by activism.
    And this almost certainly means political activism, as corporations only change activities that are favorable to their shareholders’ bottom lines when compelled to do so by law – as we can see, for example, with upcoming changes to Google SERPs in the EU.
    I genuinely applaud you if you take this route. That’s a route of principle. But of course, trying to change the way in which search engine companies operate by becoming a political activist because reigning in the search engines is a just cause in which you believe, and trying to achieve the best possible performance for your clients in the search arena because the pay you to do that with the expectation their benefit will be larger than the amount of money they pay you are two entirely unrelated things.
    Oh, and to be crystal clear, if you think bitching to other SEOs about how awful and evil Google is going to make Google less awful or evil, then you’re seriously deluded. Unless you coordinate the outrage of those that agree with you in order to take collective political action, all you’re doing is blowing off steam. It won’t change how Google does things.
    3. Change professions
    If how Google has changed rankles you, but you don’t care enough about the injustice of those changes to mount campaigns against Google, then maybe SEO isn’t the job for you. At least I don’t find it particularly enjoyable when I’m simmering with resentment against the very thing that looms largest in my daily professional life.
    If you’re seriously pissed off at Google, but otherwise not keen about using government to regulate corporations, the activist route is probably not for you.
    Most of these choices aren’t mutually exclusive.
    Can you quit SEO and still be an activist against Google? You bet – though if the torch you were burning against Google was fueled because of the engine was impacting your livelihood or your job satisfaction on a day-to-day basis the activism is unlikely to be a going concern.
    Can you continue to be an SEO and still be an activist against Google? Of course – though if the bulk of your energies are spent identifying the sins of Google without this process resulting in any demonstrable change, then you’re actually something of an activist. Which is fine if you can reconcile yourself to the fact that your activism is ineffectual, and if you can continue to focus on extracting maximum value for your clients by optimizing for Google in hand, and continuing to change your approach as it changes too.

    1. Aaron, great points all. I particularly like #1. Our job is to be consultants and provide good advice. Sometimes that sucks, but we should still do it.

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