Expressing Love & Hate: Smart, or Sooooooooooo F*kcing Stupid?

I recently got asked if I wanted to make a post flaming a bunch of people for buying links for SEO from sites that obviously do not pass any link juice. I decided not to because there would be no value add to doing so and I would just be making many people angry.

If you are trying to build a profitable and sustainable brand it is much easier to talk about how smart people are rather than how dumb we are. When you are negative it cuts directly into your sales. Not only does it lower your immediate sales (you can see it in the conversion rate numbers), but it also sacrifices a portion of your authority and credibility (future distribution and sales), while drawing a cynical following that is unlikely to buy much of anything (beyond a good conspiracy theory, at least). As an added bonus, if you get too many cynical people in your community they will also prevent others from wanting to join it. Perceived success or failure becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

When I posted about some of the hand editing Google does, even though that is good information for SEOs to be aware of, it caused my sales to drop because some people thought the goal was a personal vendetta:

I have been reading your blog for about 6 months now, and there has been a major step change in your post's tone. They have gone from useful idea driven content to rants about Google. Be careful the blog isn't twisted in to your personal vendetta as I'm sure you will see a big change in your audience as a result.

The reason there was a step change in what I posted about was because my experience had a step change. Knowing Google wiped away 10,000+ organic backlinks to one of your sites would probably change your perspective as well, especially if you literally had built 10,000+ clean links.

I kept pounding away at the important and non-consistent issues I felt about Google as I thought it through (manual editing coupled with a lack of respect for copyright, and how that game hurts many sites by holding back their true potential by helping them become addicted to Google). I believe in principals enough to kill my income in the process. Naive or smart? Depends on the goal I guess.

It is pretty hard to improve Google's SEO policies from a single SEO blog, or think that posting a personal vendetta will do much other than hurt your sales, but if you think something is unjust and mention it then maybe people with more authority start talking about it, and eventually what you do not like has a chance to change.

At the SES organic listing forum Danny Sullivan said

Your pain is well understood and shared by many people. It's frustrating. We've waited many years for this but they're focused on video copyright theft right now. All those issues on YouTube now are applicable to webpages. Aaron Wall had a good rant where he poked at Google and said they don't care about copyright. The good news is that a lot more people are being vocal about duplicate content, so maybe we'll get better tools in the future to verify the original source of the information.

So that is a start, but perhaps my formatting could have been a bit better to have a stronger impact.

There are many ways to deliver a message. Take John Andrews's Understanding the Google... the post is great. It offers a significant amount of well structured great advice, but due to the negative tone of it, it probably isn't going to spread too far:

Is Google 'right' in it's approach to the web? Is Google 'just' in it's delivery of the carrot and the stick? Is Google 'fair' in the way it operates? None of that matters to the search marketer/SEO. If these attacks are funded as diversions to keep Google busy or otherwise threaten it's dominance, I understand. But if you're interested in ranking well in Google, this is all nonsense. You need to get to know Google, and listen to what Google says. You don't need to agree, and please, stop whining.

Who wants to spread the message Google owns the web, and if you don't like the way they do it you can go f*ck yourself? Not many, I am guessing. And even if that was not the intent of his post, some people will view it that way because of the structure.

For as many people as there are that hate Digg and social media crap, why does this manifesto video only show links from a couple dozen real sites?

Does spreading a hate message sell? Not likely. All it does is give people more fuel to spread hate messages about you when you slip up, especially as you get more popular, and when your philosophies ever change, which they will as you get more exposure.

It is too easy to get lost in a fight of fighting for the sake of fighting. Even if you are right, it really doesn't matter if you express it in a way that cuts your income in half and has you focused on flames instead of product features.

Even companies like Apple can't keep secrets or prevent their latest gadgets from getting hacked. If your market is competitive (and if it is worth being in, it probably is) there is (or will soon be) someone who talks about every day as though the sun is a bit brighter than the last. It is hard to compete with that unless you can format messages in a similar packaging.

When everyone recycles each other's content it all comes down to who has the best analogies and biggest hopes. Who believes in an idea enough to get others to believe in them enough to spread their view of the world (or at least their view of their market)? Build people up and they will be proud to syndicate your message.

Look at Frank Schilling in the domain market, or Seth Godin on marketing. Compare those to the tone of Threadwatch. Threadwatch could build buzz, but could it ever sell anything?

If a message has positive hooks it is much more likely to spread quickly. In 3 years Tal Ben-Shahar's Harvard course on positive psychology went from 8 students to over 900 students, largely due to word of mouth marketing.

It is much easier to spread stories, build a brand, and sell stuff if you are talking up positive things. It is much harder to do so if you are too crass and/or too cynical. Ultimately you still have to be comfortable with what you are doing, but there is a noticeable tax on honesty unless it is well structured or generally positive in nature.

I hope this post didn't sound too stupid, and please send in love or hate using the form below. ;)

Published: August 25, 2007 by Aaron Wall in marketing publishing & media


August 26, 2007 - 2:42am

I enjoyed The Daily Show where they introduced Tal Ben-Shahar's Harvard course on positive psychology, as well as his book, especially because Tal pointed out that being happy is rather difficult.

I know you well enough to know you'll be able to increase sales on SEObook, particularly given that most of the webmaster/SEO/online business world hasn't yet seen the dark side of Google. When they do have a negative experience, your posts will be among the first they find, hopefully rewarding your content with a purchase of the ebook. There's so many whitehats out there that need to eventually learn how to make money.

August 26, 2007 - 5:13am

I think your great. Thanks for this post.

John Wesley
August 26, 2007 - 11:13pm

It's a small internet -- I wasn't expecting my post on Shahar to get a mention on SEO book, but it really does exemplify your point.

Regarding the main premise of the article, I couldn't agree more with the benefits of positivity. Although a great rant might hit the spot and draw tons of links, the popularity it creates isn't nearly as sustainable. People are more inclined to return to sites that make them feel confident/happy than ones that make them angry -- even if it is righteous anger.

August 27, 2007 - 8:32am

Aaron one place where I think it's easy to see the affects of talking positively and negatively is in forums. There are often flame wars that start and I'm sure the people involved all think they are making great points and converting people to their point of view,

But to an outsider reading both sides end up looking bad.

When you talk negatively about people that negativity also reflects back on you. For some that might be ok, but most of us would prefer a positive association with our brand.

August 25, 2007 - 1:49pm

I think it's a good idea that you didn't post those things. Although it would have been interesting to see who was buying pointless links, I'm sure it would do more harm then good to you personally!


August 25, 2007 - 1:55pm

I love ya Aaron

August 25, 2007 - 2:01pm

I started thinking about Seth Godin after the first paragraph of this post and only the other day found the positivity that is Frank Schilling (thanks for posting that speach). It is absolutely their positivity that makes reading so addictive.

I like the way you put 'that noticable tax on honesty' too; I guess you pay your taxes you get a pension in the end. Sticking by your principles is far more important in the long run though.

Thanks Aaron. This is good food for though and I'm pretty stuffed!

August 25, 2007 - 2:58pm

Mothers have said it for generations -
"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"

August 25, 2007 - 2:59pm

I for one have found your recent posts to be refreshingly candid and highly articulate.

This article is one of my favorite's from your collection. It goes to the heart of balancing the need to be "honest" with the consequences of that honesty.

I am no conspiracy theorist, but it does seem to me that Google continues to accumulate power and is smart enough (as an organization) to only subtly exert that power so as to maintain it.

I wrote about this (nowhere near as well as you) in an article titled "Google As Dictator". [Searching on that term at least for now, the article is the first hit].

Keep up the great work. Your blog is one of my favorites (and I like to think I have pretty high standards).


August 25, 2007 - 5:01pm

Can't say I love ya but I do love your blog :-)

Since Google already killed your website, wouldn't it support your point if you would point us towards it and the site that copied it? Or is there any hope, still?

Kris from Florida
August 25, 2007 - 5:15pm


don`t you worry just keep bashing them as much as you want . The way they are treating the webmaster community, and trying to force everything the way they want on webmasters, the more people than not will slip on the road and end up like you .
So I am pretty sure there is a crowd growing that thinks just like you do, even if they don`t talk about it publicly .
As far as sales dropping because of it , hmm .., how about utilizing webmaster frustration and trying to push another search engine instead of Google , I know it does not sound to realistic right now, but perhaps in the future ...

Ed Welch
August 25, 2007 - 5:16pm

Hi Aaron:

Super good post man - I really needed to hear this one and you're right on the money - you make so much sense. Personally, I struggle with the postive vs negative approach to topics I feel very passionate about. Thanks for the good stuff and keep it coming!!!

August 25, 2007 - 5:36pm

I followed some of your links and read with interest the article on webpronews. However, at the bottom, there's this simple line:


just that, no link. The original is at

Maybe I didn't see the link (I looked for it, though) but unless it's syndicated with permission it's not very nice to reprint an article with a few changes without linking.

August 25, 2007 - 5:42pm

hey Aaron!

your post (once again) made me think a lot... I tend to bitch about stuff more than not, I mean I often push out some of my negative experiences on my blogs to a) vent some steam b) at least as excuse - warn others about scams or problems...

Your quotes about the tone effects, the word spreading factor for positive messages all make absolute sense and clearly show why my blogs are lacking in popularity - at least when taking out the factor that I rarerly post as much in a week as you stomp out in a day...

thanks for this post - need to chew on this


August 25, 2007 - 7:23pm

Very well articulated - as always. Sometimes it's really tough abstaining from ranting or a negative tone, but the points you make are excellent.

Keeping positive really matters - especially when it comes to how it affects branding and sales.

john andrews
August 25, 2007 - 9:42pm

Thanks for the link, Aaron.

Where your blog is a business with an agenda, my blog is a mere opinion piece. So yes, it has tone. I am much more intersted in prompting guys like you to think about (and write about) issues than appeal directly to a broad, less-savvy audience. I viewed ThreadWatch the same way... not as a support vehicle for selling ebooks on SEO.

I'm guessing that Google piece was not aimed at you as much as some others, but it wasn't really calculated that way. It's editorial.

I notice Seth Godin gets cited a lot by some SEO people, yet what was going on behind the scenes with Seth, eBay, and Google recently? It sure seems Seth missed that one big time, but all we hear is what a great marketer he is, how well he works his audience, etc. I suppose it depends on the audience, eh? Seth and the hopeful ambitious, vs. Seth and big business? Who talks about that? Who highlights how Jason's attack on Seth might have been orchestrated? It's really sad if noone wonders outloud about such things, but instead propagates the PR message in order to avoid being negative.

August 25, 2007 - 11:52pm

Personally I like your posts about Google's evil doings the most - Don't stop doing them. I'm also proud of ebay standing up to them, and hope more big companies do it too.

August 26, 2007 - 1:39am

Wow, thats pretty insane.

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