White Hat SEO...Cesspool? Dirty? Useless? Does it Work?

Jul 2nd

So a new thread over at SEW (which always has the best ethics / white / black / gray / green / orange hat SEO threads), is questioning whether or not white hat SEO techniques are still relevant.

Most successful sites do not need to practice SEO, but is it worth doing low risk SEO stuff? If you are not going to be agressive about it why even do SEO at all? How do you define the line between what is risky and what is not? What is SEO and what is not? In the thread Jill Whalen made it sound like marking up page structure is not SEO. What is? Research papers dating back at least to 1998 show code structure is used to help determine relevancy (Marcia added the link to the SEW thread).

The thread also mentions that some of the White Hat SEO practices sometimes get nuked by more aggressive marketers. Interesting that at SEW some people also recently asked to hire SEOs who did not have arbitrary ethical hangups. Even Doug is realizing the end is near.

I do think the whole white vs black thing is a bit silly. I like Tim Mayer's knife to a gun fight analogy much more.

Literal vs Useful Sales Copy - Keywords, Writing Densely, & Conversion

Jul 2nd

So a while ago I was really bad at making uber literal content. Being literal and easy to understand is a good thing as it makes it easy for people understand what you are doing, but if you are too literal you miss the fact that conversion is driven from emotion more than logic and your copy may convert like crap.

I just rewrote a bunch of page titles and meta tags for a client (I did not write the original ones, but the original titles looked like something I would have wrote a couple years ago). In the past I would do things like create a page about SEO Book FAQs. I would then title the page SEO Book FAQs. Much more commonly people would search for things like Best SEO Book or SEO Book Reviews.

When people are new to SEO with limited marketing experience it is easy to be too literal, focusing on arbitrary stuff like keyword density or keyword repition, and miss out on the end goal of the page. Because there is so much search volume, and maybe only a few billion pages in most of the major search indexes pages will come up frequently so long as you are writing about a popular subject and build a few links into your site.

A big problem with the web is that stuff spreads quickly and success is self reinforcing. A website can be uber sloppy and generally messed up and still make a living.

When you are new to the web it takes a bit of time and effort to figure stuff out, but after you gain a bit of experience it is not that hard to make boat loads of cash, since on the whole the marketplace is not that competitive and most websites are garbage.

As you read more marketing books, sales letters, and web pages learning how to write better sales copy just kinda comes naturally.

Search engines are still a bit stupid. You don't want to write for them and forget your visitors. It is easy to write a bit more naturally and conversion oriented, and then just build a few more links to boost your relevancy.

Some search algorithms may eventually look at conversion metrics to help determine relevancy (ie: Google Wallet, Google buying Urchin, Overure & Google offering free conversion tracking). Things that convert are also more likely to be things that are recommended or cited frequently. Even if more people try your stuff and hate it that means that there will still be more people talking about you, linking to you, and giving you feedback on how to improve your products or services.

I guess the point of this post is don't be too literal, as I think it is a problem I had for an extended period of time. I still probably do it to a bit, but nowhere near as bad as I once did.

Managing SEO Risk via Dumb Affiliate Marketing

Jun 30th

A while ago Christoph Cemper shot me an email about his post about ______.

Personal experience and a wide variety of friends have helped me conclude that most hosts are garbage, so a bad host in and of itself is not a big story. ________, on the other hand allegedly sent out an email offering affiliates a $100 bonus for knocking Cemper's site out of the top 10 rankings.

They could have contacted Christoph directly and tried to fix their problems, or they also could have reranked the search results a bit more discretely. What is even worse about how they sent out that email is that one of their affiliates posted it to the page which talks negatively about their service, which shows how they aim to slience it. Talk about not breeding trust in a service!

Christopher could also build a ton of links from almost anyone burned by a bad __________ hosting experiece by creating an image button and asking them to use it to link to his page about them.

Any time you use shady techiques to manipulate the search results (which most all SEOs - including me - are guilty of), and also use mass communication tools to do so (most smart SEOs do not do that unless they are creating crash and burn sites) you raise your risk profile and the chances that your technique will backfire.

Update: ServerPronto has been harrassing me with phone calls, likely about this post. After weeks of waking me up on the phone they still call and call. For doing that I think they are _________. I took their name out of this post, so hopefully that will be enough for them to leave me alone.

Picturing Oneself as the Perfect SEO...

Jun 26th

Jill recently posted about Google's new patent:

Basically, if you have a brand new domain/website, it will automatically land in the sandbox regardless of anything that you do with it. Your new website will be stuck there for an unspecified period of time (averaging around 9 months these days) and it will not rank highly in Google for any keyword phrases that might bring it any decent traffic. ... But new domains will not show up in Google’s natural results for even slightly competitive keyword phrases until they are removed from the sandbox.

A friend recently had a 3 month old site ranking number 29 for a $15 per click single word keyword that got great search volume. Jill continues:

If you have a real company that is looking to establish a real brand and a long-term customer base, then you’ll want to stick with the basic SEO techniques which have been proven to work time and again.

In other words, the stuff I’ve been teaching and doing for years.

Things do change quickly. I know from personal experience some of the stuff I was doing a few years ago might not be good stuff today. She then makes any SEO shortfall sound as though it is the engines fault:

It is true that even for those who do practice what I preach, there have been occasions when some search engines mistakenly throw the baby out with the bathwater. That is, you may do everything by the book, but something somewhere trips a spam filter and your site may mistakenly get sandboxed, penalized or banned.

Kinda funny to view all of one's own SEO shortfalls as the search engines making a mistake and throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The SEO space is constantly changing. When a person is new to SEO and dirt poor (me 2 years ago) they may be willing to work on sketchy sites and rank them from scratch. They will make errors (as I did), accepting bad clients and wasting time using ineffective techniques, but they will not be as quick to discount some techniques.

As you become more popular, people follow what you say and push you along to where you can do well even if you are dead wrong. So long as enough people think you are right then you are.

After you are established large companies want to hire you. The SEO techniques that work for large established brands which might be whitelisted are not the same techniques that work for Joe-average-webmaster.

I think it is important to frequently start new sites in a variety of industries to set up various flags to see how the algorithms change. Even if your results have proven effective on your own site it does not mean that everyone should practice what you preach.

This post is not a post stating how right I may be (as I frequently learn new stuff I should have known), but a post to reference the fact that each of us has a limited data set, and:

  • there is no one right way to do SEO

  • when bad things happen sometimes it is the fault of the algorithms, but sometimes it is a fault of our own

White Hat VS Black Hat: What Color is Your SEO?

Jun 20th

Gray Hat News - Monty Pythonish SEO blog.

Black Hat vs. White Hat Search Spam Debate - Rand debates white hat vs black hat with a successful search spammer. To me the most interesting parts of the interview are that the spammer says what he does, and he also shows the visitor log of a recently launched spam site which made a couple thousand dollars in it's first few weeks.

I do not agree with the example of a New York legal healthcare business as an example of the type of site that would be worth doing aggressive spam for. Heavy spam sites are usually affiliate marketing or generic travel type sites. They also did not mention that if your site has a strong enough brand you can get away with just about anything.

With all the talk of [insert color here] hat seo there is starting to be some decent search volume and type in traffic for the related terms. Black hat is beating white hat by a large margin.

Almost tempting to redesign black hat seo, linking through affiliate links to many decent black hat tools ;)

I think a good name idea for a small SEO company might be something like Orange Hat SEO. Some tagline ideas:

  • While others debate SEO... we are getting your site ranked. (and as you built a brand you could just shorten it to "Busy getting your site ranked", which of course implies that other people don't do that)

  • We're different. We actually rank your site.
  • No hype. Just results.
  • And in the page copy I would also use "If people are SEO experts then why are they wasting so much time debating ethics?"

If your inbound links are completely unrelated, but who links to you is completely outside of your control because you made a contest where people are paid to try to [insert random idea which includes linking to your site] is that a legit SEO technique?

If so, why aren't more companies doing it?

Search Engines Deweighting the Effects of Bad Links

Jun 17th

So I got a call today from a person who wanted to automate a large link network system. They wanted to find a way we could work together, but I think the bulk automated links are not the way to go forward for most websites.

It is fairly hard to automate a scalable solution that:

  • search algorithms won't detect and

  • search editors won't detect and
  • people would want to link at

Sure you do not need people to want to link at it to have some value, but if you can't create something that people would be willing to link at it is going to be a constant battle trying to look authentic.

  • More and more of the cheap links get bought up by sites trying to be hollow middlemen. After they are bought up, buying additional links gets logarithmically more expensive. You can't grow with the web, at least you can't if you value your time. Thus the value of links from some link networks would diminish logarithmically over time.

  • Search algorithms get smarter and devalue more and more of the cheap & easy links.
  • Other webmasters hunt out the cheap and easy links, lowering their value and making them easier for other webmasters to find.
  • People are going to start mass pirating large quantities of RSS content to create semi authentic looking keyword net sites and link farms which will require algorithms to get much smarter at determining which links are legitimate.

A while ago I wrote that I thought if you had enough junk links that it could place a penalty on your site, but I am not sure how well that idea scales.

In some industries you can't help but get tons of scrapper links by just creating a site. Instead of trying to asign much of a negative weighting search engines may try to just discount the junk links as best they can.

Also, if people scrape the search results and link to all the top 20 listed sites it will not have much of an effect on the relevancy of those top ranked sites since they are all gaining the same links.

When you think about how the web scales, most every well ranked legit site in a competitive market will have many junk inbound links. Need proof? Look at the co-occuring links pointing at the top ranked sites for generic terms in your field.

The biggest way where I think junk links will hurt sites is if they do not have enough legitimate links to offset the effects of the junk links. It is especially easy for that type of effect to occur if you have few links or have not been mixing your anchor text.

The key to futureproof link building is to get links that are hard to get from well trusted sites. Sure that sounds blatently obvious, but sometimes it is cheaper to:

than it is buy ads, and that is a huge idea most websites seem to be missing out on. Instead of spending so much time figuring out what the latest spam techniques research is about many webmasters would be better off creating something people would want to link at.

Then again, some people who are uber proficient search spammers will always stay one step ahead of the algorithms. It is all about playing off of your strenghts and finding what you love to do.

The Mathematics of Search & the Need for Creativity

Jun 14th

Danny Sullivan writes Search Marketing Isn't Just Math & Machines, which is in reaction to some chatter that the only way to work in search is to work it mathematically.

When I was younger I was good at math, but have not practiced it much in years and still do fine. From what I have see creativity is a much larger part of the battle.

Some people say you need to work at Google if you are in search. Like Danny, I totally disagree with that statement. All you really need to know, is what Google wants.

An example:

Google wanted to push their Google Sitemaps program. Recently a few people posted code about how to create one in various languages, or with various content management systems. Google quickly created a page linking to those resources.

If one acted quick enough they could have got a link from Google. For those who did not act quick enough, they can try to buy ads on the pages Google linked at, or create Google SiteMap pages that interface with other CMS's or languages. Even if you did not know the language I am guessing that a programmer could be hired for a few hundred dollars. A low one time fee for a link from Google.

An even better example:

Google recently updated their page about SEO and linked out to this news article about fraudulent SEO companies.

Currently there are Toyota ads on that content. I am betting that I could call them and see if it was possible to run an ad on that page, paying a premium much greater than what Toyota pays because there is much greater value for me than Toyota for an ad on that page.

What better place for me to run an ad like:

Don't get ripped off by a shady SEO firm. Buy the best selling SEO Book and learn how to market your site in Google ethically. Increase your site rankings and traffic today.

I perhaps would feel a bit guilty / sleezy for running the ethics line (as most people using the term ethics in the SEO field do not use it in an honest manner), but Google sets up that ad and that marketing copy for me.

As a matter of fact, I just called that newspaper to see if I could buy an ad. First I got a disconnected number that offered me no assistance, then I tried another number and got another person who transfered me through to another person, who was not at their desk, so I got to leave a message.

Sloppy ad sales compared to AdWords.

The exact reason Google does well is that they make it easy and automated to buy targeted ads. Many of the newspaper companies would make significantly greater profits if they automated a portion of their ad sales, and allowed more people to compete for their ad inventory (the same way partnerships with AdSense do).

CNN has over 200,000 links from DMOZ. Imagine what links on some of those pages are worth to webmasters and think of how little they make from sloppy untargeted ad sales. That is why link brokers can partner with so many newspaper sites, because the newspapers are too sloppy at ad sales and behind on technology to get good value out of their ad space without a middleman doing their marketing for them.

Andrew Goodman recently stated:

I find it hard to fret much about Google dependency at this stage when General Motors is spending $3.3 billion a year on offline ads. That’s about the same as Google’s total revenues from all advertisers for 2004!

So if Google is making that big of a wave with that little income it makes sense that they are on to something with their ad targeting, and that there is much room for growth with Google.

At the end of the day good SEO and PPC marketing are just ad buys. When you think of how large the web is there are many more opportunities away from Google than in it. Most ad buyers and sellers are lazy, working with outdated technologies, or are not creative.

Thread about Gaining Good Links to Offset the Effects of Bad Links

Jun 14th

ephricon recently posted at SEW forums in a thread about scraper sites:

Its sorta funny, but I've not really needed to continue to build many links for this site, as its got enough high quality ones and ocassionally gets a few more natural links here and there. I think its hilarious and a bit annoying that I'm now considering a link campaign for a site that has alot of natural links, solely for the reason to offset these automated links! Sorta ironic there.

Google prefers you build a great site and not focus on building links. I do that. I get ranked well. I attract scraper links, and now I need to build links to combat that!

Have you ever had a strong ranking site filtered out of the results because automated links gave you an unnatural linkage profile? Sounds like something that wouldn't happen, but in Google's results just about anything can happen. Even canonical URLs can be a big problem.

As a bonus, The Kills have a great song called The Good Ones

Why Reciprocal Linking Sucks - Part XVII

Jun 12th

Not sure if the link removal agent position has been added to the association of search engine spammers (aosep.com) yet, but people are going to new lengths to hurt competitors.

A friend recently got this email:

Hi link exchange partner.
Someone is sending our reciprocal link partners a request to remove our link. The email appears as it is being sent from [our site]
Please be assured that we will not remove any links and we are not in process on redoing our link section as stated in the email.

If you have any questions, please email me direct at [my email].

Best regards
[name]
[site]

People would rather be lazy and work to hurt competitors instead of trying to build up their own sites. Short sighted. Sad really.

When people do shit like that it eventually comes back at them.

That sort of thing is all the more reason to get to know people in a real sense, and have a link exchange represent a business partnership - not just a link.

Hidden Links on Financial Times Website. WTF?

Jun 10th

When you can no longer trust media...

Ever get the sense that many business models are being challenged by the web? In spite of being subsidized, the Wall Street Journal has been seeing eroding profits. In the most recent issue of the Linking Matters Newsletter Ken McGaffin noted that Financial Times sells hidden advertising links.

That is prettymuch the two largest papers about making money and both of them are getting worse at it, and Financial Times is running a business model based on deception. Can you trust news sites that hide their content and their own business model?

It will be interesting to see how Google deals with the hidden links. Something tells me they are not going to delist FT, although I could be wrong. As this type of shady link activity spreads it will require search engines to place more weight on click stream data, editorial review data, and user data.

If you ever listen to people like Noam Chomsky talk about not trusting certain media he usually uses Financial Times as an example of one of the media sources you can trust since they are so heavily finance based and investors tend to expect more for their money since they need timely news to trade.

Friends have also showed me other similar sites that were doing the same, but I don't really want to out them.

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