Misinformation / Information Pollution Adds Value to Paid Content Business Models

The SEO market is flush with free information, but many times the free information is factually incorrect, which can cost a lot of money to anyone building a business based on such information. The cost is not immediately readily transparent, but eventually it appears. By the time it does many people who lost money from it may not be aware of what happened, as their attention is already elsewhere.

There are a variety of reasons for misinformation to spread

  • stale search relevancy algorithms that rank old information because it was published on a leading site in 2001
  • intellectual laziness, reductionism, and lack of openness to the experience of others
  • affiliate programs and business models rendered useless by marketplace changes, but still profitable because they can be sold at a low price point and have no real costs associated with them
  • search engines trying to hide their secret sauce

I thought I would give a few examples of commonly spread misinformation.

There Was No Ranking #6 Penalty / Filter

If you read the comments here you will see how bad I was roasted for suggesting that there was a #6 ranking issue on Google. Matt Cutts stated that he was unaware of such a penalty, and that was the official word until Matt came said they found and fixed the issue.

Where is the harm in that? Well, if you took Google's official word as being accurate, you never had a chance to survey this glitch. Glitches often reveal engineer intent and give you an early warning to make the changes necessary to keep your sites ranking before the new relevancy algorithms launch.

Google Does Not Care About Domain Names or TLDs

Some people believe that domain names and domain extensions do not matter. After seeing Google temporarily drop .info domain names that was a pretty clear indication to me that they did not think as highly about .info names as they do about some other extensions.

For years current and past Google employees have denied that domain names mattered much in the relevancy algorithms, going so far as calling the domain name "a relatively minimal factor" (in 2008 no less).

Matt Cutts eventually confirmed that domain names have value at a domainer conference

Generic domains that users are likely to remember, will indeed carry more weight than others. There is a real value to those FuneralHomes.com for example. Google does give keywords in the URL a certain amount of weight, but you don’t need it in order to rank.

But people still blog discounting it because they have not tested it.

.edu Links do Not Matter Much

Here is a lovely SitePoint forum thread where the moderator claimed I was full of crap and I responded with more background context on his claim. He deleted my post and banned me for life. About 5 months later Matt Cutts confirmed my hypothisis:

But, certainly, all of the things that have good qualities of a link from a .edu or a .gov site, as well as the fact that we hard-code and say: .edu or .gov links are good - and when there are good links, .edu links tend to be a little better on average; they tend to have a little higher PageRank, and they do have this sort of characteristic that we would trust a little more. There is nothing in the algorithm itself, though, that says: oh, .edu - give that link more weight.

But I still have a lifetime ban from the SitePoint forums for being more open-minded and attentive than their SEO moderator is.

Free & Easy is Often Wrong!

The simple / easy answer is often the incorrect answer. Many algorithmic changes (-30, -950, the sandbox effect) are written off as anomalies by many people who do not experience or understand them. But, for the sandbox effect, a couple years ago if you knew that you could create a subdomain off an established site and then later 301 redirect it to a new domain you were able to rank quickly while competitors thought there was a 6 to 12 month wait needed in order to rank.

It is not that forums need to go away, but we need to do more experimenting on our own, and we need to learn who is trustworthy. The web is still a highly inefficient marketplace, but each day it moves a bit closer toward being efficient. Google believes in security through obscurity, so if you have to wait for an official comment by Google then much of the arbitrage opportunity of a technique is already gone!

The 200% to 1,000% year on year ROI you and I currently enjoy will not last forever. Getting correct information early in context helps ensure you have better information than the general public, which should help boost your ROI if you act on it.

Published: July 14, 2008 by Aaron Wall in


July 14, 2008 - 12:13pm

Again a good post Aaron but I think your being a little harsh on free information. I think that if you work at free information you can become extremely valued in a particular field.

There will always be an inaccurate majority attempting the same goal but but innovating and becoming better than them you can make a free information source popular and accurate.
There are plenty of examples of authority, free information sites, especially in the product reviews field, that succeed at this.

I know you often raise the point that if people don't value your time then they obviously don't deserve the free help (which I also agree with to a certain extent) but you do spend a lot of time blogging for for us all to read for free.

Is this blog information pollution that raises the value of your paid service? Or has your innovation with actually testing the things you mentioned abrove driven it to become more than that even if it is a free info source?

July 14, 2008 - 12:18pm

I am not trying to be harsh on all free information, but am trying to say that much of it is overpriced, even when it is free. ;)

July 14, 2008 - 1:16pm

Yeah the cost in time is significantly more than much information on the web is worth but many aspects of life are the same, you rarely buy a sofa from the first shop you visit, got to look around and prove to yourself the crap is out there before buying into something. That's why forums and blogs will always have a massive market until someone invents something that's even more efficient at streamlining this process.

July 14, 2008 - 4:33pm

I totally understand what you are saying Aaron, although the information is free it ends up costing us $$$ in the long run from following the bad advise. I can't say that I have never given all true and useful advise but I do everything in my power to do so.

Thanks for the post and information, truly valuable!!!

Arnie Link Builder
July 14, 2008 - 4:50pm

I think it also reflect how difficult it can be to sort fact from fiction. In your examples, even Matt was caught off guard. And with dozens of algo changes being made every month, you someone might be spot-on today and wrong tomorrow.

July 14, 2008 - 6:45pm

"Here is a lovely SitePoint forum thread where the moderator claimed I was full of crap"

Don't take it personally. That mod has serious issues.

July 14, 2008 - 6:59pm

BTW, the recent debate about second anchor text passing juice was supported on both sides by experiments. One reason those experiments all failed IMO is because they only took one or two factors into consideration and the testers (except for Dan Thies) ran only one test.

For example, MV's test was based on the assumption that there was only one factor influencing the outcome: link order. Matt Cutts later pointed out another factor: anchor text similarity. If anchor text of both links are the same, the second link will "typically" be dropped. Matt also said the answer is complicated (in other words, there are more factors). While tests fail to address those X factors, results will continue to be inconclusive.

July 14, 2008 - 8:48pm

Thanks Aaron, I've been saying the same thing. There is a lot of information out there that is just plain wrong. Great to see someone pointing it out.
- Sean

Dave Keffen
July 15, 2008 - 3:23pm

"Here is a lovely SitePoint forum thread where the moderator claimed I was full of crap"

Haven't spent a lot of time over there at Sitepoint, but what a contrast to the professionalism displayed in your forum Aaron.

It was an interesting read...It struck me that most of those ready to flame SEO Book were probably those who had old knock-off copies that were out of date before they got to read them.

SEO skills will always be changing from month to month, it's just part of the game.

There was a lot of ignorance displayed in that series of posts. Many of those who are enjoying your forum and following your advice, as well as the advice of the other very experienced experts who are also there, are grateful to have increased their income over the last few months.

Keep up the good work.

July 15, 2008 - 3:28pm

I've been pretty turned-off by the general SEO discussion lately simply because of the low bar of entry. Every day I see generally crappy articles and blog posts "go hot" on Sphinn. Sure, there is some great writing / commentary, but any fool with a computer, internet access and some time can start calling him or herself an "SEO." 10 minutes of keyword research and suddenly you're a guru.

I wrote some true garbage in my first few months doing SEO. Search Engine Journal grabbed one of my articles from a syndication site, posted it and claimed that I "wrote in" to them claiming that W3C Standards had an effect on a site's SEO. I called Loren out in the comments about using the article without the "about the author" section, and he deleted my comment. Misinformation even comes from so-called "reputable" sources. Not to mention it was a crap article in the first place that I wrote with absolutely zero supporting research.

Lately the discussion around defining "Advanced SEO" I have found absurd. It's an empty term. These are arguments for the sake of argument - content that doesn't help anybody, but hey, we need content for our blog, let's write about it.

You're right on with this post, Aaron. What you've outlined here, the trend of misinformation in the SEO sphere, has me tuned out almost completely. I've gone back to reading fiction. At least I know what I'm getting.

April 17, 2009 - 4:41am

Mike I agree with you on this,

But I think its hilarious that SEJornal would claim you wrote into them..... what a sneaky tactic!

But as you said here, it usually a case of

content that doesn't help anybody, but hey, we need content for our blog, let's write about it.

It just proves i"you can trust no one!", when I read seo articles on the net I read them as data, I then process this data into information!

Nice comment, I thought it deserved some love, Phill

July 15, 2008 - 10:31pm

What you've outlined here, the trend of misinformation in the SEO sphere, has me tuned out almost completely.

What I wonder is if the trend is industry specific or is reflected across the web in general.

July 16, 2008 - 12:17am

Great and very clear post Aaron. This is why your blog stays is my main source of information regarding SEO and online marketing in general.

July 17, 2008 - 2:33pm

Talking about Misinformation / Information Pollution, I almost went bold for pulling my hair so hard when I was reading this post by the guy who banned Aaron from SitePoint.

Just make sure not to swear at me for all the atrocities you are about to read.

After all, the only thing that makes sense is the inverse correlation to Karl Popper's approach to Logic and the Scientific Method :)

July 18, 2008 - 7:17pm

You said "glitches often reveal engineer intent"...

This is like the cat that repeated in The Matrix. They called it a glitch and it meant something was about to change.

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