It is Time to Regulate Ignorant Anonymous Guest Posts on TechCrunch

TechCrunch published an anonymous attack piece on search engines...both the organic and paid side. Lets deconstruct some of it, shall we?

"It’s now conventional wisdom that search engine optimization, representing the organic result sets on any search query, is more voodoo than science."

And it was conventional wisdom that you needed to own tech stocks because "this time it is different". And it was conventional wisdom that housing goes up forever. We didn't care when fraud was looting trillions of dollars, but now you need to be compensated for your own intellectual sloth & laziness? Please.

Most of the market is willfully ignorant and mislead. Just like in most big money markets. Nothing new there.

What about public relations and branding and other forms of marketing? Most people are ignorant of the influence, so should we just ban marketing? Without marketing do consumers get more or less choice in the marketplace?

If strong search rankings are an unfair advantage then are good domain names and memorable 800 phone numbers also worth regulating out of the marketplace?

To most people rocket science and evolutionary biology and even basic economic literacy are more voodoo than science...does that mean we should shut them down? Shall we run society based on the will of the handicapper general?

"In addition, consumer behavior dictates the top three results on any search page are all that matter. "

They may be most important, but you can still build a real business by ranking a bit lower on the search results. Also people search for billions of unique search queries each month, so its not hard to rank in the top 3 for something.

Keep a lean business if you want to use search as your primary distribution channel. Invest in slow sustainable growth as opportunities present themselves.

The line "all of your eggs in 1 basket" also comes to mind. If search bounces around then try to offset that risk by building other distribution channels including offline, word of mouth marketing, repeat customer sales, affiliate marketing, building a strong brand, etc.

"And at any one time, the controller of these borders (that is, the search engine itself) can change and manipulate those rules – and that can substantially decrease or destroy all organic traffic coming to your website, without notice and without your knowledge."

Use analytics to track your search traffic. If your site has its rankings destroyed and you do not notice then you either didn't have much of a business, or are not investing properly in knowing your market. Either way you would deserve failure if you were reliant on a traffic stream and were not actively measuring it.

"Because the rules of organic and paid search change frequently – and remain undefined — agencies and other traffic brokers can win big; through their experience, they’re capable of reverse-engineering these rules. This means that, as this market matures, individual businesses have a diminishing chance to actually compete and gain search market share. That, in turn, puts them in a position of not only needing to hire an agency in order to find any traffic, but also making it more expensive overall to build businesses on the web."

The same analogy could be stated for businesses buying up key real estate locations and building efficiencies into their supply chain model - like a Wal Mart or a McDonalds. The same analogy can be made for huge online networks that cross promote new sites. The same can be said for banks that are too big to fail while smaller ones are slaughtered off and sold to the big ones.

If business owners are too lazy or cheap or ignorant to invest in one of the highest ROI business functions of the last 100 years then how can anyone have sympathy for them? There are millions of dollars worth of tips on this site shared freely. And people can get direct help with their site for as low as $100. If they can't afford that, then they should not be on the COMMERCIAL web.

"The only real solution is disclosure. Transparency. Those traffic generators that use rule-based algorithms to determine result sets must publicly disclose their methodologies. That is the means by which all businesses can compete freely in the organic and paid search marketplaces."

Except this is not true. For numerous reasons

  • as the algorithms grow more complex, the transparency of them would still only benefit a few key players while setting a high barrier to entry for small businesses. all this would actually do is drive small businesses out of the marketplace faster. we outrank corporations worth $10s of billions of dollars for keywords that are important enough that they target them on their homepage titles. make the algorithm transparent and there is no way we could compete at that level.
  • if algorithms were transparent automation and testing would be abused by larger established trusted websites. some news companies already use robots to write content. give them a high PageRank, offline distribution, algorithmic immunity, and the source code to the algorithm and I can't imagine how I would be able to compete against them.
  • media and marketing are rarely if ever transparent. and when they are it often backfires because people feel they were influenced and/or used. manipulation in the traditional media world goes on all the time. I suppose it is time to write another post about media transparency
Published: July 13, 2009 by Aaron Wall in blogs


July 13, 2009 - 9:50pm

Wow! TechCrunch is now letting their trolls write for them?

Good work Aaron!

July 13, 2009 - 10:29pm

It is about time for Michael Arrington to spare some time and money, and subscribe to your site, Aaron :).

July 14, 2009 - 12:51am

Aaron, I don't think you get it! It's my God given right (sorry if the word 'God' offends you) and, I believe, a Constitutional right to have this transparency--and regulated search. :) It's people like you who make it hard for people like me to compete because YOU actually put forth the effort. I don't have the time, the patience, the desire, nor the commitment to actually work hard at something. Give me my transparency--and regulated search. :)

Seriously, excellent post!

Take care, dude!

July 14, 2009 - 2:28am

The funny thing is that the anonymous idiot that wrote that TechCrunch post would probably advocate secrecy after he achieved a top ranking (IF he could, anyhow)!

July 14, 2009 - 12:57am

Another stunningly brilliant example of the idiocy that that seems to follow our field around. Good work shooting em down with common sense Aaron - hopefully your approach catches on one day.

July 14, 2009 - 4:46am

Why did they publish this crap?

I have no respect for them anymore.

Search is perhaps the only "business environment" where little guy can still beat the big guy. All you have to do is work hard, innovate a little bit, build some relationships, study continuously and every once in a while apply the scientific method. Is that too much to ask for?

There is no voodoo in algorithms. Only math...

This guest author is a coward first and an ignoramus second.


July 14, 2009 - 7:06am

When I read that I laughed out loud, because it was so poorly done and then posted anonymously. At least a year too late to have any credibility at all. Bing has published some decent SEO/SEM 101 posts that provide a basis for education, and Google's Webmaster channel on Youtube is another obvious advance. You properly used the "ignorant" word to decribe the techcrunch article.

Whatever "executive" wrote that was smart enough to fear the embarrassment that would come his way after it was published. And if there was no such anonymous poster, that is.

July 14, 2009 - 1:06pm

Regulation of search (as in regulating Google, Bing, etc...) is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. For example, regulators could force Google to permanently pull those spammy Government adwords listings that you often mention in your posts.

However, this anonymous individual's conclusion is definitely flawed, because full disclosure of a search algorithm would essentially set a fatal precedent (killing the right to proprietary trade secrets). It would be like asking Kentucky Fried Chicken to disclose their mix of 11 herbs and spices.

Ironically, based on my experience working with large organizations, even if you did fully disclose the Google algorithm to them (and god knows we try to the best of our ability) they would still fail to gain a competitive advantage in the natural search space.

Why? Because for many Fortune 500 companies, their layers and layers of bureaucracy and labrynth-like marketing and legal approval processes prevent them from being agile enough to create link-friendly content and engage in the outreach and engagement necessary to build links on an ongoing basis. These layers of inertia also often prevent them from making the infrastructure changes that would allow their sites to be truly search friendly.

So imagine a time when search algorithms are fully disclosed, and yet some of these behemoths continued to languish behind small/medium businesses in the SERPs? What would they bitch and complain about then?

July 14, 2009 - 10:02pm

What would they bitch and complain about then?

How about the small players reading the algorithms and the fact that the algorithms is open creating an unfair advantage :)

Shaun Connell
July 14, 2009 - 9:37pm It's like a bad dream. What the hell happened to a right to trade secrets? And it's moronic. We know more than enough about how Google ranks pages to do just fine. It's not complicated, and it sure as hell doesn't require that the government basically take over search engines.

And besides, forcing Google to explain how they rank pages in detail will result in the obliterment of untold thousands of "content" marketers, encouraging people to focus on gaming Google rather than "value oriented" SEO...

... and this guy makes a fascist-like jump from "Google should" to "we ought to force Google to..."

... and I hate this guy for making me defend Google. ;-)

Haha, it seems like the only times I comment here are when I'm ticked at something. ;-)

July 15, 2009 - 12:44am

Well said, Aaron.

It's complete nonsense for someone, who's creating websites for the search engines, not humans, and not focusing on traffic *from related websites* to suggest that SEO should be regulated.

Unbelievable (especially so, since such drivel is published on TechCrunch).

Is it a "bullshit SEO" day today? CNET/CNN have published some junk to suggest link exchanges for SEO in 2009. Seriously.

James Dunn
July 16, 2009 - 6:33am

Everyone knows now that SEO is totally bogus and all SEO companies are selling snake oil. Now as long as big media sites keep spreading the word I should have a nice time cleaning up the SERPs with the lack of competition. :)

July 17, 2009 - 11:24am

That is wrong James, that is wrong!!!!

But I agree with you 100%..:)

Good job on clearing that up Aaron.

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