Looks can be deceiving in consumer advocacy. Here’s the truth about what you see.

From the window of my room, I can see Colorado’s snow-covered Elk Mountains against a perfectly blue sky this morning. I’m lucky to be here for a few days with my kids before we head back to the city.

I’d like nothing more than to drive over to the Nordic center in Crested Butte, pick up a pair of snowshoes, and hike through the Rockies today. But looks can be deceiving.

It’s six degrees outside right now. Later in the day, the wind will pick probably up, dropping us into an arctic deep freeze. In those conditions, your face goes completely numb and the words come out of your mouth, “Bla bla bla bla,” because you can’t feel you own tongue.

The consumer advocacy you see on Elliott.org can seem the same way sometimes. It looks good, all those people we’re helping every day. We’ve broken all kinds of records since the start of 2018, with cases up 53 percent from a year ago and traffic up 15 percent.

But today, as we start week three of our winter fundraiser, I want to tell you the truth.

All is not well.

They gamed Google

We audited our search engine rankings last week and made several stunning discoveries. The first one is that the keywords for which this site should perform well are not coming up on popular search engines like Google.

So who is? It’s part big companies who are trying to bury our helpful content, and part loyalty program bloggers who, in addition to gaming the system also unethically manipulate the search engines. They do it by loading popular search terms into the headlines and first paragraphs of their stories in an attempt to fool Google — and you.

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Fortunately, you’re not so easily deceived. Your favorite consumer advocacy site is still receiving record traffic. But many, many readers who we could help are being duped by expensive search engine specialists and by morally bankrupt bloggers.

This has to end. Now.

We’re retooling our advocacy, especially on the editorial side, to ensure that if someone has a consumer problem, they’ll find us instead of a blog that will help you churn a credit card or an e-commerce site that just wants to sell you something. I’m retraining everyone in my organization so that they can write more effective stories.

In short, we’re taking our keywords back.

But we can’t do it without your help. Please consider becoming a financial supporter today.

Our IT is a mess

Just like the mountain range that looks like it’s inviting you on a pleasant afternoon hike, this site is also something of a digital facade. Behind the scenes, we’re dealing with an IT nightmare. Our site is built on WordPress but also uses a program called Xenforo in the forums. The Xenforo posts don’t play well with the search engines and are currently kicking up a lot of “page not found” errors.

The solution: A new, SEO-optimized theme and a better forum — either an upgrade to Xenforo 2.0 or a switch to a WordPress-native forum that’s more cooperative with Google, Yahoo and Bing. It turns out that the forums have been hurting the entire site’s ability to be seen by the search engines, so we are pretty desperate to fix this now.

That kind of development work takes time and money. And moving to a new theme is also risky. Choose the wrong one and your readers will leave. Choose one that is sloppily coded, and the site slows down so much that the search engines ignore it. And worst of all, you don’t know if it’ll work until you push the button on the redesign.

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Developers are expensive. That’s why we need your help now to turn this facade into the real deal. We need you to save the advocates.

What’s in it for you?

This week, we’re giving away a lot of fun stuff, including Boingo Wireless accounts, Samsonite luggage and a new product that I can’t wait to tell you about. As always, these premiums are given to random new underwriters, so in order to qualify for them, your name has to be on this list.

I hope you’ll consider becoming a financial supporter now. This is the most ambitious week of our fundraiser. We’re more than a third of the way to our goal with just two more weeks until we wrap this up.

Please consider becoming an underwriter today. Don’t let this advocacy get frozen out.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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