Content is Cash - Wendy Montes de Oca

In Contest is Cash, author Wendy Montes de Oca presents the idea that a person can write a single article, replicate it billions of times, and reap in the rewards. As I run several content sites, I was very interested in this book and its message. Unfortunately, I found I disagreed with numerous items that Wendy put forth in her tome.

First, the reader has to wade through pages and pages of promotional material before they get to the actual content. I find this very off-putting. If the author wants to do some promotion at the end of the book, that's fine. To force us to watch 30 minutes of commercials before we get to the main feature is something I actively avoid doing.

I disagree strongly with one of the core messages - the idea of simply regurgitating the exact same content all over the web. She wants you to "simply modify the intro". I have found Google is far smarter than that. They notice very quickly if all you do is tweak the intro - and for good cause! They want to reward UNIQUE content, not regurgitated slightly-changed content. And as well they should. If I'm searching on a topic, I don't want to get 10 search results that are all the exact same information. I want to see 10 different items so I can compare and contrast the information. If I'm looking for solutions to my poison ivy rash I don't want to see Wendy's one article repeated over and over again. I want to have options.

So let's say you follow Wendy's advice and now want to plaster your single message all over the web. She tells you "simply call or email [destination websites]." That's her advice? This is one of the most critical parts of the process and all she tells you is to "go do it". I'm sorry, but when people send inane messages to my websites wanting me to run their content, I delete the messages because they're so poorly written. If Wendy was going to offer meaningful advice to her readers, HOW to phrase those messages would be key.

She doesn't even care if you write the content, apparently. She recommends that you outsource your work for $5/article to Pakistan. Again as someone who values high quality content on the web, the mere idea of this makes me unhappy. If I'm getting advice on dealing with Parkinson's, I want it from an actual doctor who specializes in that situation. Not some $5/copy Pakistan web copyist.

She has factually incorrect information. On alt tags, she says that you simply move your mouse over the image to see it. That's not true! An alt tag has nothing to do with mice. It has to do with visually impaired readers. Yes SOME browsers also happen to use it for a pop-up image - but not all do.

She wants you to emphasize key words with UNDERLINES which is one of the worst bits of advice I've seen in a web book in years. Underlines should never be used on the web except for links. That is a web standard. If someone sees an underline, they expect to be able to click on it. A word that is underlined and non-clickable makes a page seem broken.

Wendy directs authors to appeal to "greed, fear, or vanity." I can't begin to express how much this goes against everything I believe in.

She tells readers that they should write press releases. Does she then help with this critical task? No, she in essence says "OK go learn how somewhere else." So one of the key issues she purports to be presenting information on, she lets drop.

Then we get a slew of random pages where she crows, "I helped company X increase their traffic by 1,000%!!" - You might think that my usage of "company X" is to make a generic point. Nope, she refuses to name any company for "privacy reasons". So really, what is the point of page after page of statistics that are not in any way associated with any company? Heck, any person could make that list of claims. I could take a company that has 1 page hit a month and increase them to 1,000 page hits a month with no work at all. Voila!

I read hundreds of business books because of the websites I run and the onslaught of books that are sent to me to review. Usually I can find at least some redeeming information in a book, some section that is worth reading. I am just flabbergasted here. With the slew of positive reviews on Amazon I am curious how much the readers actually know about some of these issues that are being mentioned. Are there that many readers who crave having a Pakistani $5/article person write articles about greed and fear so they can cut-and-paste them all over the web - and they already knew about how to write press releases and how to properly contact websites? If so, what did they need this book for? To provide support to them for their fear-and-greed mongering?

I realize that by posting this review that I'm inviting her loyal fans to down-vote me simply because I disagree with their glowing reviews. However, I think it's important for other readers out there to have an unbiased look at exactly what is being presented here.

I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program.

UPDATE: Out of curiosity, I began looking more closely at the glowing 5-star reviews posted. Even a cursory glance revealed that three of those reviewers - Bob Bly, Michael Masterson, and Jason Holland - are featured contributors of content to this book. So those authors are offering five-star-glowing-reviews of their own content. I find that to be highly unethical.




11/26/11
I received a long post on Amazon from Wendy Montes de Oca, indicating she felt my review was inaccurate. She posted it within hours of my review, and at the exact same time a negative vote appeared on my review. It would be highly unethical for the author herself to vote on a review of her own book, and no vote either positive or negative has appeared since then, so it does not appear her page gets high traffic of voters typically.

Amongst the things she said in her rebuttal were that 1) "if you take your computer mouse and scroll over a picture or image on a website, the text that shows up next to that image is reflecting the image description. That is accurate." and 2) that she reiterates that underlines are good to use in making content stand out (i.e. non-link text).

Here is my response to the author.

Dear Wendy -

I find it interesting that immediately after I post this review, you both respond and instantly I get a negative vote.

Since it's late, I'll respond quickly to two issues. In both cases a quick Google search will demonstrate the flaws in your statements.

Do a Google search on "alt tag not working". Then do a Google on "alt tag vs title tag". You will find MANY references to the fact that while IE will *incorrectly* show the alt tag as a highlight for an image, many if not most other browsers will NOT do this, and not even all versions of IE will do this. It sounds like you've only ever used IE and don't test webpages in other browsers. If that is the case, it would make me even more concerned on relying on your information in terms of web site content creation.

On the underlines, you yourself just confirmed that you recommend readers use underlines. Do a Google search on "never underline". It is the strong message I have read in every web design book I've ever read. The fact that you are defending underlines as being recommended again makes me more sure of my review.




11/27/11
Ms. Montes de Oca now responded to say her response was not "instant" I must have "skimmed" and that I was "taking them out of context or misinterpreting it." I'll note that I posted my review at 4:11pm EST, and her response went live at 8:03 EST. In Amazon terms, that is nearly simultaneous. But that hadn't even been my point.

My response:

I think you missed my point about the timing of your comment and the negative vote. My comment was not about when you posted your response. It was clear from the way you responded to another review that you would jump on mine as soon as you got your email alert. What I was commenting about was the fact that your review just happened to coincide with a negative vote on my review. It would be incredibly unethical for the author of a book to then make votes on reviews of her own book. I was wondering what the rare likelihood would be that some other random person just happened to make that negative vote at the exact same time that you posted your review, which was within hours of my review - which is "instant" in terms of the average timeline of how frequently comments are made on books on Amazon.

I read your book quite thoroughly and had several pages of notes in my notebook when I finished. I most certainly did not skim.

Yes, absolutely the word "underline" is one word - and it is a critical word! This is an important design element that design books dedicate entire sections to, and it is typically accompanied with the words "never" and "avoid at all costs". You on the other hand are actively exhorting readers to use underlines - and now you say I am being nit-picky for disagreeing on this critical topic. To me this indicates a lack of understanding of the foundation of how web design should be done properly. How am I misconstruing this? Clearly this is stated in the book, and you yourself reiterated above that you DID state this. Is it "out of context" that you recommended that people underline? Again this is an indication that an entire layer of foundation knowledge of web design is lacking, along the lines of an astronomer not realizing Mercury is a planet. It is not "nit picking" to point out a flaw that demonstrates a lack of critical baseline knowledge of proper web design.

The same is true for the alt tag. You stated both in the book and in your comment above that if I hold my mouse over an image that "text that shows up next to that image is reflecting the image description. That is accurate". These are your words. How am I misconstruing them or taking them out of context? You stated in no uncertain terms that *this is accurate*. When you realized that this is NOT accurate, you wouldn't even admit your mistake. You now say I took your words out of context. Your context was very clear and plain. You were stating something that is simply untrue, and the fact that you had no idea that alt tags worked differently on different browsers indicates you do not routinely test websites using different browsers, which is one of the most fundamental rules of web design. This isn't a nit-picky thing. This is absolutely a critical part of any web site design test run for any changes that are made to it. I cannot imagine any web designer I've ever worked with not testing my site on multiple browsers - and multiple versions of multiple browsers.




11/27/11
I now began to follow up on the other issues I was too sleepy to deal with the night before. For example, the vanity and greed issue. My post.

I would now like to address your statement that "The books [sic] doesn't direct anyone to appeal to "greed, fear, or vanity." " In response, I would like to examine the text on page 63. I will note that your words on this page are using the largest font I can find anywhere in the book (besides chapter headings). In these largest-font letters, you state "If you want to give your content life, tapping into one of these hot buttons is essential ..." - I am posting an image so that it is absolutely clear this phrase, the font size, and the words that accompany it are in no way taken out of context or misconstrued. When an author uses the word "ESSENTIAL" and puts that in gigantic type, how is this not directing the reader to read and perform this action? To be fully accurate, you also exhort your readers to include anger, guilt, exclusivity, and salvation in their message. To me that only makes it worse. With all the issues our world has with prejudice and hatred, to see this list of "essential" topics in a content book was quite upsetting.

Content is Cash - Wendy Montes de Oca

I'll note tangentally that the above image DOES have an ALT tag - and that many browsers will NOT display a pop-up of that ALT tag when hovering the mouse over it, because that is browser-specific behavior. You can test this out for yourself, by trying different browsers.




11/28/11
Another person chimed in, saying she was also reading the book and also had serious concerns about the ethics and lack of full information presented. She expressed surprise that the author was engaging in such negative dialogue with me.

My response:

Dear Kerri -

Thank you very much for replying. I agree that it can be disheartening to get grief over a negative review. We all have items we like and dislike, that should be an OK thing. I am all for down-voting a review if one thinks the review was poorly written. However, if one simply disagrees with a point of view, that seems an invalid reason to down-vote a review. That then gets into a popularity contest, voting up all reviews that agree with you, voting down all reviews that disagree with you.

To her credit, at least this author began responding with her own name. There was another book I reviewed that had serious ethical issues, and I mentioned my concerns in my review. The author started posting comments with a pseudonym account, pretending to be an unbiased other reader. Then at some point in the thread he wanted to rebut something as the author, giving background to a situation. He accidentally posted his rebuttal under his pseudonym account, then deleted it, then reposted it under his real name account :) The cat was out of the bag then.

In any case, there are books I love, books I have issues with, and books that are somewhere in the middle. All I can do is to give the book a thorough, fair reading, take in-depth notes, and then write up my honest feelings as clearly as I can so others can understand what my take is. They don't have to agree with me - we are all different with different personalities and aims in life. They simply have to understand where I am coming from, and take my review as one point of view on the topic.

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