Why Most SEOs are Habitual Liars …

Posted by on 6 Dec 2013 | 3 comments

Why Most SEOs are Habitual Liars …

Maybe “Why Most People Who Call Themselves SEOs are Habitual Liars” would be strictly accurate, as I subscribe to the Michael Martinez school of thought. Whatever you do in the name of SEO for the primary purpose of improving PageRank isn’t optimization, it’s manipulation.

Not many people like to think of themselves as specialists in search-engine manipulation, so most take the easy route and choose to believe that they employ only untainted, white-hat ideology, with the sole intent of enhancing the user experience. It’s a short step from there to justifying anything from link-buying to article-spinning as a valid optimization technique, and a similarly natural logic to assuming the title “SEO.”

... and what is the truth?

Before the entire paid-up membership of the SEO community jumps down my throat, I suggest each of you takes a look in the mirror. Can you tell yourself you’ve never published copy that was woven around one or more targeted keyword terms, that had carefully chosen anchor text for any contextual links, or that was created for the sole purpose of gaining backlinks to a client’s site? If you can, you’re either not one of the SEOs this article is about, or you’re in the habit of lying to yourself – and most of you will be in the second group.

Nothing Changes Much in SEO

“I used to do those things”, I hear you say. “But today I’m white-hat, pure and simple. Nothing unethical about my SEO.”

I disagree, and with justification – in my humble opinion, at least. I’m not an SEO, I’m a freelance writer, but I write regularly for clients in the SEO business. For research material, I subscribe to a good selection of influential blogs and newsletters, and I spend too many hours each week following the exploits of Google’s monochrome menagerie and the community’s subsequent thinking on link building, content marketing, guest posting and anything else remotely connected with SEO. I’ve read more articles about “outliving Panda” or “surviving post-Penguin” than I care to remember, and one thing is clear – no two SEOs have the same view on just about anything.

Since I started writing professionally – after spending many years running bricks-and-mortar businesses – I’ve seen the SEO landscape undergo serious change. Two things have remained true throughout: firstly, there’s rarely any agreement about the “right” way to react to a particular change; and secondly, people typically respond by looking for a way to continue pushing the envelope, but not so much they get penalized.

Adding Value – Not Content Without a Sense of Purpose

Content marketing has been in the spotlight since February 2011, when Panda ripped the guts out of sites that observed no editorial guidelines, had no content strategy and imposed no consistent writing standards. Two-and-a-half years on, posts offering advice about content strategy and journalistic standards are two-a-penny, and it’s nigh-on impossible to find an original piece on the subject.

Content Without a Sense of Purpose

Experts from all sides of the table wax lyrical about resource articles, audio and video, infographics, white papers, product reviews and user-generated content as though all these were something new. I did read one article recently that dared to talk about providing the reader with information, but it was an exception to the rule. Why do so many “authorities” continue to pay lip-service to providing something useful for visitors, and focus almost exclusively on not infringing Google’s (or Bing’s or whoever’s) Webmaster Guidelines? Is writing something original and informative really that hard?

Breaking Links with the Past – Old Habits Die Hard

Build-My-Rank-type blog networks are dead. Paid-for link building is no longer worth the risk. Comment spam is worthless. The only good link is a natural link, and you should be earning those by publishing top-quality, link-worthy content. That’s the way it works nowadays, right?

Wrong … are you really surprised? SEOs, would-be or genuine, know as well as I do that spammy link building is alive and well, months after Penguin supposedly stamped on it for the final time.

I recently acquired a home-improvement blog, which in truth qualifies as a fully fledged BINO, or blog-in-name-only. I inherited more than a hundred guest posts, most of which were clearly written solely for links. Each week, I receive requests to publish articles that have nothing to do with informing the reader – most are from SEO companies, on behalf of clients, and a good number are quite up-front, offering to pay for links. How many of them tell the client about the risks they run? Are you among them?

Guest Posting is the New Article Marketing

This, from no less an authority than Google itself which includes among specific examples of manipulative link schemes:
“Large-scale article-marketing or guest-posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor-text links.”

Yes folks, although article marketing has been officially dead for most of the current decade, guest posting to improve page rank is alive, kicking and now finding itself in the harsh glare of Google’s anti-spam spotlight. It’s no coincidence that my much-abused blog is now receiving requests from those self-same SEOs to remove links that they were so keen to insert only months earlier.

Not only that, but there’s an almost holier-than-thou attitude buried (none too deeply) in some of these messages. How about this for a not-very-thinly veiled threat:

Link Removal Request

I generally remove links promptly when requested (without charging for the privilege – another example of what is often nakedly opportunistic behavior) but I didn’t rush to get rid of this one. If you’re wondering where this is going – I’m not accepting guest posts right now, as I need to clean up the site (read: delete most of the original posts) before even thinking about adding new content.

Are Rankings Really More Important than Traffic?

If you still believe that a first-page search listing for one or other putative keyword-of-note outweighs attracting real visitors, then you really do need help.

So we’re agreed that it’s traffic that we’re after? Why then, do so many SEOs continue to kowtow to clients who want to see their site “at the top of Google”, refusing to tackle the issue head-on? And then bemoaning the client’s lack of SEO-savvy …

Let’s put it to the test. I don’t expect this piece will ever see the top of Google (except maybe from below) but I’m hoping that real people read it – and mention it to their friends. Who knows, I might even snag a few comments. That, for me, is the objective – using my skills to stir your emotions and stimulate debate.

What’s your take? What sort of SEO are you? Or is SEO now just another S-word to be avoided at all costs?

Mike Bailey is a Business Advisor and Creative Writer. He works with small businesses and start-ups to improve their business performance and presentation. Connect with Mike on LinkedIn or

3 Comments

  1. Hi Mike,

    Calling a whole industry ‘habitual liars’ is bound to stir emotion ;). I work in SEO and I think you have hit on some very important points and facts about the industry.

    – The sales process
    Quite often IMO with SEO companies/digital marketing agencies they will have to attend pitches where they will have to showcase what they will provide to a business. Unfortunately businesses want ‘numbers’ and ‘quantities’ to show ‘value’. These numbers will involve rankings and sometimes an estimated number of links particularly from the offpage SEO component of the proposal.

    This is wrong and should be explained better at the sales process within some companies.

    Links

    With every link there should be a story as to how you got it and not just any old spun content that is repeated throughout the web. The link should also drive traffic and relevant visitors to the website (these are good links) IMO.

    You can obtain good links simply by getting under the business you work with’s skin and publicising their thoughts and basically digital market the shit out of them and improve their online presence.

    As much time should be put into creating content as it is promoting or outreaching with it.

    Then at a 3 month point in SEO you may not have built any links but you have some really great content that people who you feel are interested are well up for posting. But when you report back to the business it’s like ‘where are my links you promised?’ –this also needs to be explained better

    There is also opportunity to maximise links with real company relationships (which i think is fair enough)

    I take your point about the guest post spamming completely but it is a two way thing. Should the people who are webmasters of the websites be much stricter in terms of the content they produce and allow on their blog? I think so. Then in turn it would be much harder to get links for these guest post spammers.

    I also think if these ‘guest posts’ are so great that why don’t you house them on your own site? Well because you don’t get a link that’s why.

    -Working with a business

    They will often see a keyword usually a head term and want to rank for that head term without taking into account what they really need for their business.

    An example might be ‘driving lessons’ now I don’t know whether it’s because I am Google savvy but I would not type term in if I were indeed looking for a ‘driving lesson in Chester’ – I would go with the aforementioned term or a variation of it. This is what we should be optimising for but not by building a shitty landing page based around Chester with key terms, granted include the term Chester and optimise metas but bloody make it readable and informational include maps etc!

    Sometimes I have explained this premise to businesses and all they want to report back to their board is where the head term is – which can be extremely frustrating.
    *The issue
    These SEO companies are constantly fighting tooth and nail for business slagging off each other’s work at agency level to get a foot in the door. I think the industry can real clean up its act. I have seen some agencies preaching about their approach but when I have found one of their clients the work has been nothing short of shoddy to hit these numerical targets they promised. (Or out of their own unprofessionalism)
    If I were a business employing an agency I would judge success on very different targets than the ‘old school’ SEO ones.
    Every project/business/website is bespoke and how you can market them online should also be. I personally hate the term ‘SEO’ because of the press it gains from posts such as this one. I even got it removed from my e-mail signature to say ‘digital marketer’

    One extra note is that a good SEO will also look at the onpage of a website and suggest technical amends to help search engines crawl it better…which I don’t think is a bad thing at all.

    Good post and sorry your website got hit.

    • Hi Saul

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I think you hit the nail on the head – the underlying problems with the industry are at least twofold:

      Firstly, there is no “right” way to promote any given website. While there may be plenty of wrong ways, you can pretty much guarantee that no two SEOs will agree 100 per cent on the subject.

      Secondly, a whole bunch of SEO companies either can’t or won’t educate clients – who often have some (wildly inaccurate) preconceived ideas on the subject.

      Although as I said, I’m not an SEO, I find that the best clients are those who want content that you can’t find on the average website in their industry (I stick with B2B). That’s what I really enjoy producing.

      I identify wholeheartedly with your “getting under their skin” analogy. It almost always leads to a long-term, mutually profitable relationship – but stick to what you know. I wouldn’t try and write for a client in (say) fashion because I can’t contribute to their business. Show me a manufacturer or a B2B trade supplier and I’m away …

      I have one or two more rant pieces in progress – I see you devote a category to the genre on your site. I’ll try and stay just on the prickly side of contentious so look out for them!

      Mike

  2. Thanks Mike, well if you want to write a rant for my site (not too against SEOs) feel free. My site hasn’t long been set up but always looking to get some opinions. I could do a ‘rant of the week’ or something.

    I’m not a terrific writer but I feel I am much better when I am riled about something!

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