Five Dreaded SEO Topics We Hope We Never See Again

1. Search Engine Spamming Should Be Outlawed

Out in the wild west, moral confusion abounds.

There have been SEOs who have argued - with a straight face - that whilst it's ok for them to game search engine algorithms, it's not ok for others to do so. This is usually because the other guy isn't following "the rules".

What are the rules?

The rules are decided - and vaguely defined - by the search engines, and then interpreted to mean whatever an SEO decides they mean. Far be it for a search engine to create rules that serve their own business interests, which may not align with the interests of the webmaster.

SEO is built on shifting sands. What do you do when what you were doing was "within the guidelines" and no longer is because the rules change? Do you willfully decide to rank lower?

Conclusion: Spam is what the other guy does. Also an acronym for "Sites Positioned Above Mine".

2. How To Create Meta Tags

Hard to believe now, but forum wars were fought over how many times a webmaster could repeat a keyword in a meta keyword tag. Twice was often deemed ok, but any more than that and you were almost certainly an "evil spammer" (see #1).

Meta tag manipulation doesn't count for anything these days. The tags are mainly used to describe the content of pages, that the search engines may display as snippet text.

Conclusion: Deader than AltaVista

3. Is SEO Ethical?

A curious framing of SEO in terms of ethics and morality.

Is it good and proper to try to get a higher rank than the search engine would bestow otherwise? The point of SEO is, of course, to get a higher rank than the search engines would bestow otherwise.

These people were usually in the wrong game. Many went on to join Seminaries.

Conclusion: Welcome to the jungle

4. Should I Buy Links?




Paranoia runs rampant in SEO, especially when search engines make a example of someone. Like SearchKing.

Almost all SEOs once advocated buying links in, say, Yahoo, as a listing in Yahoo would lead to better rankings in Google. However, Matt Cutts put the cat amongst the pigeons back in 2005 when he declared that "Google does consider buying text links for PageRank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines".

The argument quickly descended into a semantic war i.e. define "paid". Money changing hands? Favors? Nepotism? Erm...Yahoo Directory? One of the more interesting conclusions often got buried: "Hey, perhaps if Google dislike them so much, paid links really do work!"

Conclusion: Yeah, they work

5. Should There Be SEO Standards?

A natural progression of the ethical debate. It was proposed that SEOs should all conform to a common code of practice, as other professions often do.

The problem was that the relationship between search engines and SEOs has always been grey. Only the search engine can really define what the search engine wants, and what the search engine wants might not align with what the SEO, or their client, wants. In any case, the search engine isn't going to publicly define exactly what they want, as they are worried that people, like SEOs, will game their systems.

So, you got a few self-appointed search police officers, who would suggest that everyone followed their particular code of practice, based on their interpretation of the search engines guidelines. The self-appointed cops usually out-numbered those who followed them, and invariably disagreed amongst themselves anyway.

Conclusion: Impossible to get buy-in

Published: January 26, 2009 by A Reader in seo tips


January 26, 2009 - 4:14am

Nice post Peter, great quick data on those subjects and it's comical too.

"Deader than AltaVista", lol!

- Sean

Ronald Jones
January 26, 2009 - 6:27am

They won't go away. I wonder if there's some attempt to throw up barriers to entry hidden in all that talk about ethics?

It's #1 that really just grates on my nerves the most. Yes, I have on many occasions landed on a page near the top of the SERPs that is useless, machine-generated/scraped junk. But this is something of which I'm seeing less and less.

I think the idea of web spam is a semantic construct of little real value to anyone but google. As webmasters, we have no idea what goes on inside the "black box" that is the google algorithm, and if Mr. Cutts is to be believed, even that changes on a daily basis.

None of us can manipulate the SERPs, we can only manipulate our site. Google (et al) cannot identify "quality content;" All that Google can do is predict what is poor content based on parameters that are always being changed & refined.

As a consequence, some junk gets through, but it's not a viable, long-term business model. If you build a business around generating content that is of no value to your visitors, ultimately, it will require more work, more duplication of effort than simply doing it right the first time and creating something that is built to last.

Of course, with the progress being made in markov content generation..I could be full of crap. ;)

And ethics? Upon what moral foundation do we base these ethics?

Oh wait...I know this one...Google webmaster guidelines! (that would be funny if it weren't for the fact that I have read otherwise intelligent people who propose that to step outside the bounds of GWG is unethical)

January 26, 2009 - 6:43am

Great comment Ron. I also agree that much of the posturing is about self-promotion above all else. Back in 2004 I created a free guide to SEO that was aimed at consumers looking to hire an SEO. I published it anonymously with a proxy registration. Jeremy Goodrich described it as "a huge step forward for the industry"...but almost none of the "ethical" people pushing to put themselves front and center gave it a mention, in spite of it being covered on a couple of the most popular SEO blogs and by Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Watch. That was all the proof I needed that the ethics stuff was self-serving garbage.

Since the site went nowhere (about 100 backlinks including many nepotistic links, forum flames, forum mentions, bought links like the yahoo directory) I am fine linking it through to this site...but if it would have took off, I would have been fine with donating the site and/or remaining anonymous while updating it and keeping it independent from this site. People didn't want something like that to succeed though (unless it had their names on it).

January 26, 2009 - 2:35pm

Great post. I don't think spamming should be outlawed, but rather outsmarted. Let the engines get better (and I have seen that they are) at calling a spade a spade - if they can be gamed, so be it. I hate spam and it chaps my nethers to see something of no substance beating me...but that is the point - if something of no substance wins, I need better substance. It is a challenge, not an issue. Sites Positioned Above Mine, Indeed! And SEO standards are a laugh riot. The only way standards would make sense would be if the algorithms were revealed. As long as there is a secret to ranking well, you can't standardize the efforts to do so. I totally agree that anyone pushing this is self-serving at best...and at worst.
This post had me laughing too - great way to start the week!

January 26, 2009 - 5:22pm

Great post - Alta Vista and all my DJ bookings for "posh weddings" in San Francisco got me into SEO and now they're dead....

Basically I was top on Alta Vista years ago for - Wedding DJs Bay Area - and was bloody busy - I wondered how my one page website got there and have been at SEO ever since - even though I really didn't know how what "it" was at the time.

Love the spam part


January 26, 2009 - 11:23pm

You know, until I saw Peter D as the author credit, I was sure Aaron wrote this one. Many blogs when bringing in new authors have issues with the character/voice of the blog changing, but wow... nicely done.

As to ethics ... there are business ethics that count. My dad got an aggressive sales pitch for a firm guaranteeing him rankings ... in Yahoo's top 3 SPONSORED results. Scams like those continue to exist today and those need to be denounced. This company alluded to their 'strategic alliances' (cough "we have G connections couch*) and so on.

What would be an interesting post would be creating real barriers to entry to the SEO industry. I looked into it a while ago, but knowledge industries like ours are typically not susceptible to such stuff. The best I can think of are private tools, and those can still be duplicated/the ideas leaked by indiscrete employees.

Of course, that would also be hypocritical since the reason I got into SEO (as opposed to sticking with beat production) was that the music industry has heavy upfront technology costs that a kid can't afford. A pro keyboard costs 2K+, which I didn't have when I started in SEO.

January 26, 2009 - 11:52pm

Sadly, I wish that we would never see these again, but, it's unfortunate that to certain extents we will. Having been to SXSW and seen the way SEO is attacked and looked down upon in the larger Web/Tech Community, it is unfortunate. Or, thinking about how many times I get asked about Meta tags before anything else, etc.

I could go on and on about this, but, the truth is, like your post says, I hope to never see them again :)

January 28, 2009 - 11:07am

I can't stand the "moralising" of SEO. Most of what we people call "unethical" SEO is just managed risk. If you go against the Google TOS (spamming, buying links et al) to rank then you risk the chances of getting smacked down to page 7 or worse.

Some get away with it for a while, some are so proficient at managing their "risk" that they seem telfon coated. Although that type of way of working is not for me I do admire those that are good at it.

January 30, 2009 - 3:10pm

Peter, if META Tags are deader than AltaVista, why the hell is using them? If what you say is true, why not have Aaron remove all the metadata from this site to prove your point?

Why does Yahoo! still recommend the use of the META Keywords Tag in its Small Business documentation?

Why does the WAI Validation fail when I don't have a META Description and META Keywords Tag?

If you are so certain that META Tags are deader than AltaVista, I say that ya'll strip them all from the website and prove it to us?

Just ping me when you are done and we'll watch the fallout together. ;)

January 30, 2009 - 9:42pm

We mostly use meta tags here for a couple reasons outside of the traditional role

  • what goes into our meta description tag is the same content that goes into the partial RSS feed for people who are not subscribing to full feed
  • on the homepage we even have a meta keywords is not to make it "optimized" but to make it appear "optimized" to people new to SEO who dare to look at our source code out of curiosity

I think meta descriptions can cause issues if they are all duplicate or are poorly auto-generated. I also think hand crafted descriptions can increase CTR. I don't see what we would gain by removing them...though some SEOs have even went so far as recommending not having them and controlling the DaveN mentioned here.

January 31, 2009 - 5:43pm

Meta tag manipulation doesn't count for anything these days. The tags are mainly used to describe the content of pages, that the search engines may display as snippet text.

There are two sentences there that contradict each other. The first, then the second. ;)

There's a simple litmus test for this whole META Description Tag thing. When you perform a search, what do you see for snippets? In Aaron's case, we have those "very short" meta descriptions showing which isn't optimal from my perspective. People have differing views on this.

I've done site: searches only to see hundreds of pages of the same snippet generation. No META Descriptions like someone probably recommended to them (Bad DaveN, Bad) and the pages were not doing very well. You can guess what happened after adding the META Description Tags along with a few other simple adjustments.

Oh, and using the NoArchive META Robots Tag along with a well written META Description Tag (using IPW) almost guarantees a nice clean snippet. :)

January 31, 2009 - 10:57pm

There are two sentences there that contradict each other. The first, then the second. ;)

I'm referring to the manipulation of meta tags in order to improve rank. These days, no amount of meta tag manipulation will improve rank.

February 1, 2009 - 11:55am

These days, no amount of meta tag manipulation will improve rank.

Heh! Yahoo! seems to think otherwise...

Though the keywords tag isn't as important as it once was, effective keywords can still influence your search engine rankings. Your visitors won't see your keyword meta tags (which will be hidden in your site code), but search engines may use them to help index your site.

What are meta tags?

I really wish they would stop putting out misinformation like that, I really would. And, we're talking about a top three search engine too. Why would they state something like that in writing? They have various references to META Tags influencing ranking throughout their site. Here's one of them...

Most search engines examine a page's meta tags, which usually include a page title, description, and keywords, to index the page and help determine its ranking in relevant search results. Although not the only way to elevate your site's search engine rankings, adding meta tags to your pages can help.

Peter, why does Google put so much emphasis on META Descriptions in its Content Analysis in Webmaster Tools?

Though the keywords tag isn't as important as it once was.

I think that sums up the entire metadata set that may be used, they may not be "as important" as they once were but they may still be part of the overall equation. And the whole argument of certain elements being abused over the years really doesn't apply. The abuse is throughout the entire page, not just one particular element.

February 1, 2009 - 1:51pm

Thanks for the documentation on the Yahoo! stuff P1R.

Also agree that excessive duplication of page titles and/or meta tags can cause indexing and/or ranking issues in Google...that is why we created our Website Health Check tool. :)

February 2, 2009 - 1:00am

why does Google put so much emphasis on META Descriptions in its Content Analysis in Webmaster Tools

What Google says and what Google does aren't necessarily the same thing ;)

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