Anti Vote Baiting (Beta)

Nov 15th

Matt Cutts recently offered a public voting for my lynching, but we just talked things over, and there will be no lynching - at least not yet. I think Matt is a great guy, but his job is tough as a public face of THE company dominating the web.

It is easy to take a series of events as being personal, but sometimes they are just a series of events and no personal damage is meant, and/or the person doing the damage is an anonymous third party. Also, priorities and goals and reasoning inside a large company can seem vastly different than how they appear outside of the same company, especially when the company has 13,000 employees and keeps doubling in size about every other year.

I still believe that many of my Google criticisms and concerns are valid, but there is only so much Matt can do, and he is doing the best he feels he can, and probably far better than I could do if I had his job. The keyboard is mightier than the pen.

Published: November 15, 2007

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Comments

November 15, 2007 - 9:14am

Hey Aaron,

I'm glad this didn't flare up into a silly flame war between fanboys of both blogs, I could see it becoming very immature, very fast.

While I also agree with many of your criticisms about Google I think it's worth noting a good portion of these are applicable to the SE market in general.

While Matt does a good job I wish Google would put a more official team together to reason with the SEO community, I don't want someone on the other end of the phone giving me algo details, I know this is impossible but SEO and Spam are big concerns for Google and for us so why don't they take advantage of the people willing to co-operate?

November 15, 2007 - 9:32am

I think the hard part from the search engineers perspective is that their guidelines on what is spam have to change with the web, and keep stamping out whatever is effective.

Keyword stuffing, cloaking, reciprocal link trading, direct link buying, indirect link buying, etc.

A few decades ago effective marketing techniques might have took years to be replicated throughout the marketplace. Now that timeline is down to weeks or months, and everyone is tracking results.

And because of that constant evolution, when they review sites they keep running into spam. If you went into the consumer finance vertical and looked at the SERPs you would find that over 90% of the top ranking sites in all search engines rank in part due to bought links or some other sort of "spam". I see some sites ranking that have rented over a half million links. If you looked at long tail queries the spam percentage would probably be closer to 96% to 98%.

Which begs the question... If everyone is a spammer then should the definition of spam change?

If everyone was considered a criminal then surely society would change some laws. The disconnect online only exists because the legal system has not caught up with the web, power and influence are so concentrated, and so few people understand it all beyond the surface level.

Most people who get labeled as spammers do not have a loud soap box to stand on and voice what they see as wrong or hypocritical with the process. And if they do they are typically too emotionally tied to the event to write rationally.

As the weak and poor are kicked and beaten down they have no voice or energy left to speak. And those left standing are afraid to speak up. To put it in historical context:

Mike
November 15, 2007 - 11:54am

I'm glad that you and Matt were able to sort this out behind closed doors, so to speak. However I'm still concerned that it came to this. I really don't understand why Matt took the route he did.

There should be a more united front, as Diablos says, when it comes to the information coming out of the Plex.

November 15, 2007 - 12:36pm

Aaron, great to see your courage in confronting Google on SE and SEO matters.

Some of us have been doing the same in similar matters for a long time as well.

When we comfront Google or a Googler in an open it does ruffle some feathers. And you right about saying that Google is a big company and even for Matt it is hard to implement a change.

But Changes are needed that is why we as Webmasters, SEOs and Google users speak out against different problems conserning Google.

Sometimes the changes are made quickly sometimes it takes a very long time, but if we just keep quiet and say nothing that will just show that Google is no longer needed or wanted.

We love Google that is why we speak!

Many of us are behind your actions, keep up the good work of speaking the truth.

Igor The Troll

November 15, 2007 - 2:33pm

Sometimes I think people forget Google is a business and a capitalist company. And honestly, I think it is more acceptable to make money with good and "free" services (as Google) than make money with black SEO, tricky marketing, spam, search results manipulation, etc (as some SEOs or "marketers").

November 15, 2007 - 8:48pm

Be careful what you allow yourself to view as free though. Free with ads is not really free. Sure it is accessible and better than nothing (at least in most cases) but they do have patents for targeting ads based on your psychological weaknesses. If that technology gets deployed free might start getting quite expensive for many people.

November 15, 2007 - 2:48pm

Thank you both for the great example of what can happen when you take the time to communicate. You both provide a great service to the community. It's good to see a counter-example of maturity sometimes from prominent people in the internet community.

November 15, 2007 - 4:02pm

Your comments regarding the SEO soap box are interesting, I think the biggest problem with SEO at the moment is that their is no clear line drawn by Google between SEO's and Spammers [edit: as I think you have said yourself thinking about it] and the fact that the Internet and blogs are one giant (but largely ignored) soap box is one of the reasons for this.

I feel strongly about the fact their are so many poor SEO's out there just to make a quick buck and create a boat load of spam to give us all a bad name, it would not be accepted in many other professions (I have never attended a fancy restaurant and been served a dish that looks like food but made of Lego) and it should be Google if anyone, helping the honest side of the community to become more widely respected. this would solve the problem of the "everyones a criminal who tries to improve a site"

November 15, 2007 - 8:42pm

I don't think you can get rid of all parties with ill intent, for a wide array of reasons

  • What is honest in one market is dishonest in others. Offline the optimization process often leads to fraud. To give you examples of offline business practices, some...
    • student loan companies give kickbacks to financial aid
    • mortgage brokers lie
    • mortgage companies keep shopping the mortgages until a credit rating firm gives them the ratings they want
    • drug companies offer doctors rebates for prescribing their drugs
    • insurance companies take your money for years, and then the day you need to use the insurance they claim you had a prior issue that made the insurance null and void YET they don't even give you your money back for rendering no service and no value...they literally steal your money
  • The distinction between spam is often one of perception.
  • Anything that is useful or effective gets cloned and abused.
  • I have sites people love and sites the same people would consider spam. Some sites that are loved by some are considered spam by others.
November 15, 2007 - 4:57pm

Instead of making nice, you should be asking everyone to vote for his option one, "I love to see search people rumble! Turn the snark dial up to 11 and make the post zing!"

You will get so much traffic and links and attention!

November 15, 2007 - 8:44pm

If we went that route it would be a very ugly exchange. Both Google's relevancy and my brand could suffer as an outcome. It was easier to just to talk things through and explain where each of us were coming from. I think Matt tried being decently fair.

At this point brand equity is probably worth more than raw links and attention.

November 15, 2007 - 8:01pm

Hi Guy's,

For me the real question is, were does Google really want to go?
I understood Aarons post not as a attack on Matt Cutt or Google more as critic. I personally think that is great since Aaron ask some questions what I would like to ask but since I don't have the public voice to do so I was happy that one popular person ask what is going on.

I don't know if it is only me but lately I have often pretty weird search results at Google. In the Industry I'm working, I have for some of the most competitive keyword phrase now some sites in the top 3 what are pretty new Website with almost no links to them and you know all the other SEO stuff :). And I ask myself, WTF how is that possible.
On the other hand you get more and more results from pages what are related to Google. I know they need to make money but US TO.
Correct me if I'm wrong but Google pretty much created the need of buying links to get your new Business Website ranked, if you come later on the market? Without buying some links to get some traffic and there link worthy Content out?
At the end you pay for a spot on a Directory too, even more. Does Google see that as Selling Links? I don't thinks so.

I personally think Companies who actually care about getting traffic to there site with investing in SEO and most likely into SEM, what makes Google tons of money, should be rewarded and not getting penalties for trying to service the right content for the right keyword. Plus Google should not have a advantage of getting content Ranked higher.

That's my 50 cent about that. No personal attacks against anybody just me thoughts.
Thanks for reading, sorry for using a bad word :)
Falko

November 15, 2007 - 8:47pm

I think that is the issue...their value system is a bit warped compared to how the real world works. They influence the markets they measure, and there are some puritan views about making that measurement as best it can possibly be, which is hard to do when the other side of the business is a money printing press.

November 15, 2007 - 8:22pm

Hey Aaron:

I'm sure it's best for everyone that you guys worked things out over the phone. However, I must be honest - I'm dissapointed because I won't have the opportunity to see Matt truly address some of those critical points you mentioned.

It seems Google would do itself a favor if it were to do three things:

* Treat all websites and blogs the same way - regardless of brand strength, etc.

* Define the webmaster "terms of use" in a more black and white manner - rather than leaving it wide open for gray area stuff and potential "what if" violations.

* Give up the "cloak and dagger" approach and become more transparent with regard to SEO.

Hell, at this point, I don't know if I'm a spammer, someone trying to follow the rules or just some sucker building something of value - only to have it destroyed later for no apparent reason?

November 15, 2007 - 8:34pm

Less fear and more pushing creativity. That is one of the things I tried to emphasize too. I said I would love to see guidelines about how linking out to the stuff you enjoy and find useful creates a better user experience for everyone. With the software no doubt they push creativity, but with marketing they tend to be more skeptical.

stevel
November 15, 2007 - 10:09pm

Paying for listings in Google is practically a minimum requirement. You can't buy a top position, but you definitely have to spend money to have a chance to show up. The time and effort it takes to get a top position for useful terms isn't worth it to a non-commercial entity.
The only thing that is somewhat shocking about your posts are the titles - because they're bad for google's public relations.

stevel
November 15, 2007 - 10:38pm

just to add the obvious - Google does get paid by organic listings. plenty of sites realize the value of top positions by displaying adsense ads. How google shows bias to these sites is not direct by any means, but their algorithm seems to support them plenty enough that adsense sites sprout up a lot. it's a "natural" occurrence.

If I was google, I'd probably be kind of upset that wikipedia doesn't show adsense ads - definitely shows a missed opportunity (hello Universal Search).

November 15, 2007 - 11:07pm

Ahh...it is what it is. As a distant reader, I really sensed animosity on both sides & I suspect a few regrets exist on the handling of the spat. Sounds like you guys have shaken hands and made up.

Aaron...you and Matt may as well milk this a bit further and have a bit of fun with it. How about a few beers with Matt and an arm wrestle? Winner pays for a lap dance?

A few photos and a post would be a lot of fun.

November 16, 2007 - 3:29am

Perhaps while Matt Cutts & co is reading here and vice versa, he or someone can explain why buying links is so darn effective if Google doesn't like it? Why can a brand-new site in a competitive niche buy their way to the front page with one cheesy PPP campaign in a matter of weeks? How hard is it to triangulate PPP ads if Google engineers don't like this? Couldn't their dogs do it?

Why is it that another site can crack the top ten by shovelling bucketfuls of (literally) robot-written dreck into a certain prominent "article bank"? Doesn't the fact that said article bank has actually turned into a spam cesspool figure somehow in Google's stated search for quality and relevance?

November 16, 2007 - 8:37am

First of all kudos to both you and Matt for stopping this before it turned into a ridiculous war of words. That said thank you for sticking your neck out and raising some serious issues that need to be addressed.

Google has every right to make as much money as they can. However so does every other web site out there. Whether or not that should be the goal is a matter of debate but the option should exist. As a PPC advertiser I am willing to test Adsense ads knowing full well most of those campaigns will add far more to Google's pocketbook than mine or a client's. If/when it becomes obvious it isn't profitable I stop the campaign but I'm still glad for the opportunity to try to expand my potential audience. I don't begrudge Google for making money off the trial, it's a risk and I understand that going in.

When a client comes to me about SEO I try to explain to them that there is a risk involved. Although I'm happy to say I've never had a client ask for a refund it doesn't mean that some markets have not proven more successful than others. Competitive markets for companies with limited budgets are frankly becoming more and more difficult to produce breakout successes. Google callously saying those results should be guaranteed is ignoring market realities, those realities largely being controlled by Google's policies.

When it comes to PPC it is a money game. If my client or my own budget is less than the top competitors I accept unconditionally that I have to try harder, think outside the box, pick your cliche..., in order to be successful.

SEO should be the more level playing field since in theory Google should only be concerned with returning the best results for the searcher and not the player with the most money. As we all know the off page ranking factors are very dependent upon budget even if you aren't paying for links directly, e.g. can you afford to hire a firm to run an SMM campaign, film a cool video as link bait, etc. What gets frustrating is when you see a major brand flagrantly breaking Google's webmaster guidelines and getting a slap on the wrist while a smaller site gets penalized indefinitely with little if any indication of what caused the penalty.

Google has grown marginally better reporting web site issues but the fact remains that major brands are dominating organic results more and more despite some ridiculously bad web sites. Bottom line thank Aaron for never turning a blind eye and risking the wrath of Matt Cutts. And Matt thank you for not turning this into a personal flame war and your willingness to become the defacto face of Google for the SEO community. That said please take note of the legitimate frustrations expressed by Aaron and the SEO community as a whole.

November 16, 2007 - 3:25pm

Can you share any specifics of the feedback you got from Matt?

November 16, 2007 - 10:23pm

There is not a lot I can say other than both of us had different perspectives on some issues, and both were a bit more receptive to the other after explaining our own perspective.

November 16, 2007 - 4:51pm

Hi Aaron,
I posted a comment on Matt's blog last night and haven't seen it added even though I've posted there many times before (so I should've bypassed his first-time commenter filter).

I didn't say anything that had the tone of negative discourse, but simply that I felt many of your posts about Google from the past do have merit. One or two that I constantly dwell on are the ones related to FUD or those pages on Google where any web site can buy a direct link (permanent link for $2k - http://www.google.com/enterprise/mini/success_stories.html). Where is the fairness in this and why does no one at Google give a valid reason why they can do this but I can't. If I sold you an "SEO Position Friend Award" and sent you and everyone else who wanted to be my friend this award for $200 in exchange for a permanent and direct link on my site, where does that leave me? I'd be very weary of doing this although I'm only following Google's own example.

You have the right to call out problems or experiences with your own sites, client sites, or third-party sites. That's your right to do so - this is America last time I checked.

I left the note on Matt's blog that I felt this comment was a bit passive-aggressive:

"Suffice it to say that in my opinion there is another side to Aaron’s story. I’m on the fence about whether to talk about the specifics of what’s going on with Aaron. What do people think?"

It really does seem like a public lynching by letting the readers decide what happens to you and why be passive-aggressive by saying that he'll say "X" amount of details depending on what people vote on.

Seriously, I just don't get it. I think that as a VERY high profile Google 'front man' that Matt's post leaves me a bit concerned about many things. Coming from a PR background, I definitely do not think it was a good move to dangle a steak over a cage of lions (the steak being you and the lions being all the readers of his blog that just want to know all the gory details).

Very strange indeed.

I'm sure Matt has his reasons and maybe I'm just not seeing them in his post. In no way am I trying to offend Matt, I'm just trying to understand the reasoning behind this seemingly bizarre post.

Last, I really would like to see your questions you posted on his site answered but I won't hold my breath.

November 16, 2007 - 10:00pm

Like every other company that becomes too big and powerful for their own good, Google started being entrepreneurial and responsive to its users and ended up corporate, complacent and arrogant. 30 years ago, who would have thought that American car makers like GM and Ford could lose the domestic market to Toyota? This year, 2007, it finally happened.

SEO's will always try to find loopholes and the likes of Google will always try to close them. That's the name of the game, and Google has the right to take action. What bothers, though, is that Google's actions are not consistent, and not applied equally to everybody. It's Google's holier-than-thou attitude that pisses people off.

If Matt choses to discuss search engine issues on a "personal" blog, knowing that the interests of his employer are at odds with most of his readers', he needs to learn how to deal with people who call his company's ass out without getting pissed.

I think you did the right thing. Time is too valuable to engage in a protracted battle of words, and protecting your brand is more important. Debating about Google is like discussing about religion or politics: biggest time waster in the face of earth...

November 27, 2007 - 5:01am

Aaron, you are lucky to get such attention from Google regarding issues like this. Think about all the Webmasters that get hit, penalized, filtered, or blacklisted and have no idea or some half-assed explanation why.

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