The Ugly Side of The SEO Industry

When people are angry they are anything but rational, so the amount of brand damage they can do for you is near limitless. Imagine if a person or small group has reach to a group of people entering your space, and tells them that you are unethical, a liar, worthless, etc.

If such a statement is contained then no big deal, but if it starts spreading as common knowledge people will just assume it is true. For every person creating media there are 100 people quietly consuming it, and if you are successful and have mindshare people will try to tear you down every month.

When Unprovoked Try to Be Empathetic, if That Does Not Work, Then Consider Highlighting the Issue

If they are already creating unprovoked brand damage then they are probably angering other people too. If you can't clear it up directly it might be a legitimate strategy to call them out on it such that other people they offend down the road will discover your brand. Another popular strategy is to ask friends to clear it up if you want to keep yourself removed from the conflict.

Do Not Make The Google Engineers Editors Angry

We are all flawed, and the goalposts are always moving. One day we are at the top and the next day people are surprised at the fact that we are a spammer.

One of the things that is most likely to kill a successful SEO job is boasting about the ROI and/or how easy it was. Ever since Google started aggressively editing the search results the difference between a successful strategy and an ineffective one is often one blog post. Brent Csutoras gave a lot of great examples of strategy gone awry in his STFU post.

People Inadvertently Screw You

Back around 2004-2005 Google was having issues with 302 redirect hijacking, so I made the SEO Book affiliate program use 301 redirects. I mentioned that those links passed weight in our online SEO training program. 301 redirecting affiliate links is a popular way to build link equity, but after Rand used my site as an example in the following video those 301s no longer pass PageRank.

People Trash Your Site as Spam to Justify Their Spam

Remember when Jason Calacanis was launching Mahalo, and how he started railing on about Squidoo being spam before he launched his site? A year later the truth washed out that Jason intended to create a site with content that would be categorized as spam by Google's internal documents.

Consider Future Effects

Many years back Jill Whalen and I had a falling out because I was bidding on people's names via AdWords, and she did not like it. She thought it was scummy for me to bid on other brand names, but she had no desire to police her affiliates when they did the same. To this day she still slings mud at me, calling me a black hat, etc.

Public Online Communities Eat Their Young

Dan Thies, who wrote an ebook a couple years before me, had to battle through some nastiness as well, so I am not sure what percent of what I dealt with was natural feeding off the young or if the people complaining about me were actually mad at me. Given that they didn't mind when they profited from what they did not like, I would guess that it was mostly the former.

The big issue with eating your young is that you never know when it will come back to haunt you.

Someone Might Become a Star

Some people who get established allow their egos to grow beyond any rational limit, and are nasty to many new people entering their field. But the thing is you don't know who is going to become a star down the road, and who will have the influence to crush or embarrass you.

Consider how Shel Israel angered Loren Feldman years ago. Shel had long forgot doing so, but then Loren registered and put up a sock puppet show that lasted for months!

That conflict just ended, but the associated brand damage will last for years. Here is Loren's take on why he did what he did:

When I first started my career, you made it a point to bury me online, and more importantly back channel as well. This is a fact. You and your crew went out of your way to take food off my plate. I never forgot that, and now you have something you’ll never forget.

Communities Are Full of Cliques

One of the things I struggle with in the SEO field is that so many of us end up doing so well that sometimes we let our egos get ahead of what made us do well and we forget where we came from. And so I hear negative stuff about interactions between many friends. Its hard to be empathetic when it seems everyone has wronged others at some point in time. I know I have screwed up more times than I can count, and much of the conflict ends up being drama for the sake of marketing.

PageRank was, is, and will always be a flawed concept. In some cases the best person wins, but in many cases the best person loses because they were not good at public relations and marketing - or because they made somebody angry, and they decided to blackball them.

Some of the top communities in the search marketing field do not get along well. Incisive Media employees and Third Door Media employees are banned from attending each other's conferences. Ever since Danny stopped doing the Search Engine Strategies conferences I have been asked to speak a grand total of 0 times. Guys like Graywolf and I were replaced by sponsored panels.

Published: June 30, 2008 by Aaron Wall in internet


July 1, 2008 - 12:04am

Last March I went to one of Jill's classes. I mentioned your name in some context or other regarding your blog. I wish I could remember the specifics. In any case, she commented that she felt that you made many good points, and she felt you two were starting to think much more alike on what constituted good SEO.

At the time I had no idea that there had been friction between you two. Just thought you would like to know that in a setting of just a few people, her comments regarding your work were positive overall.

July 1, 2008 - 12:48am

Honestly I thought her being mad at me was over too...but I was sorta shocked about being called a black hat off handedly recently.

July 1, 2008 - 12:05am

Online, people in control of a site or network have always made others pay dearly for any kind of backchat or disrespectful comment (think of being banned from a forum cause you made fun of a moderator). Why would people with more accessible control suddenly stop doing it?

Also, were you aware that your site would be the topic of one of rand's whiteboard sessions?

July 1, 2008 - 12:49am

I was shocked when I saw my affiliate program outed like that. But then Rand often says nice things about me too, so maybe he probably didn't mean any harm.

July 1, 2008 - 12:44am

Well, at the least I'm now aware of 1 community to stay away from, not that I went there much anyway. Wow, I never really followed Jill much in my learning SEO in the past 7 months and I had no idea... From what I heave learned from various places, I don't see you as promoting any kind of Blackhat techniques.

July 1, 2008 - 2:09am

Aaron, this was an excellent read. I completely understand where you're coming from; as a rock star you get a lot of folks trying to knock you off your well-deserved pedestal.

BUT I think this is by-and-large a very friendly industry and the vast majority of relationships are positive.

Most of the people in SEO (and even the Google search engineers/editors :D) seem to be quite friendly, willing to help others, and above some of the petty arguments you describe here. Perhaps that is because I am a relative newb and haven't been around long enough to see the bad blood?

July 1, 2008 - 2:18am

I think until you experience some of the issues it is hard to appreciate them.

July 1, 2008 - 1:36pm

Aaron, I too am relatively new to the industry and have not experienced first hand the "ugly side" you refer too. But at what what point do david put it..."rock stars" take responsibility for the stigma attached to the industry. You guys are the one's with the big voices!! I and rand combine for over 1mm eyeballs a month!!

We are all here trying to build an industry that provides tremendous value and is taken seriously...and you write a post titled "The ugly side of the SEO Industry". Now, i am a big fan of yours, read every post you write (and even pay $100 bucks a month for the Professional training) i only pose this as a philosophical debate.

i liken this type of banter to that of the east coast - west coast rap wars we saw in the mid-late 90's. And we all know how that story ended. Both sides lose and the industry gets overrun with corporate crap!


July 1, 2008 - 8:11pm

If you don't discuss things then they never really change. I have fought hard for the SEO industry in many ways, including things like paying to fight off a bogus lawsuit to drive one of the biggest scammers out of the industry. While it built brand awareness and links, economically that lawsuit set me back at least a year.

July 1, 2008 - 10:40pm

Aaron - I really did not have any intention to "out" anything that was going on. In the video, you can see that I clearly don't know how SEOBook's affiliate program works, I'm just theorizing and I should have picked a different example. Your site is just always forefront in my mind because you do such a good job here and I read it a lot.

I do have tons of good things to say about what you do here. In fact, whenever people ask about SEOmoz's membership, I always mention SEOBook as another potential option to consider. We link to a lot of the posts here, and I personally get a ton of value. All that, and I consider you a good friend. Please believe that it wasn't intentional, and was merely being used as a potential example (off the top of my head and without thinking - which often happens during live video).

Hopefully I can make it up to you!

July 1, 2008 - 10:49pm

Thanks Rand.
Not a big deal anyhow. I read your blog everyday too. :)

Jill Whalen
July 2, 2008 - 12:48am

Aaron, honestly I wasn't mudslinging. I had no idea you didn't like to be associated with being a blackhat.

No offense to you was intended. It's always good to see more people on the good side of SEO.

July 2, 2008 - 3:37am

Thanks Jill :)

I just get frustrated when other people box in my brand in directions I don't want to be associated with.

July 7, 2008 - 1:54am

Although I've never met Aaron, he not only seems like the kind of guy you'd want to do business with, but also someone you'd enjoy having a beer with.

It's brave to put out a post like this. Moreover, it was very, very well done. Stay humble and keep up the great work!

July 7, 2008 - 6:46am

Thanks for the kind words wafook168 :)

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