The story repeats itself over and over, SEOs blindly abide by all kind of demands from their clients and unexpected results arise… It usually goes like this: Someone wants to be the wise guy on the road and engages in deceptive techniques for achieving higher rankings; they get caught by Google or reported in a newspaper article and the case becomes a hot topic in the SEO industry for a while where some will be praising Google, some blaming Google and some complaining about the dodgy techniques that still work nowadays; then a few months pass and it will be forgotten, until another case is discovered and another “public execution” takes place… Rinse and repeat.
While you keep on playing merry-go-round with the SEO industry, you are being blind to what’s going on on the outside, and this is both sad and ridiculous, because in most cases SEOs don’t understand that by doing blindly what clients want without educating and guiding them, they’re “lowering their pants” and basically “spitting in the plate they eat”. As an SEO and supposedly
expert (I hate this term) professional in the field you operate, your job is to educate your clients and show them that you know how to guide them towards their expectations while at the same time steering them away from bad practices that can lead them to being penalised and gaining bad reputation.
The bad news is that this is not a job fit for the Computer Technician anymore, SEO grew out of the technical crib long ago and became a much more demanding baby, it now requires more complete and elaborated strategies, a wider range of knowledge where only very good ideas will make a difference and work positively in a long term vision.
Having someone that knows how to make pretty URLs, goes out with directory/article submissions and planting links is no longer enough for a rewarding and solid long-term business strategy. Long gone are the days of blind linking with keyword rich anchors in any place you could pay for.
It’s not IF Google will catch you
It’s when! If you’re engaging in deceptive techniques and risky strategies for SEO, it’s just a matter of time until you become the next hot topic for not so good reasons. For how long more do you believe that your “under the radar” behaviour is going to survive? No matter how careful you are, you can be just as much careful as the people you do business with, and every time you engage in yet another manipulative business technique you’re multiplying your chances of getting caught.
The “Google ruined SEO” cry-out
Let’s give it straight to the bone, Google didn’t ruin SEO (nor any other search engine so to speak), SEOs took care of this long time ago. It’s not only the problem that SEOs do whatever their clients want, it’s also the problem that everyone wants the easy way to success… It started with the insane algorithm chasing race, and the blind thirst for links, everyone wanted link-building, links, links, LIIIINKS! Is seems that since 1994 until today the behaviour didn’t change much. We still have SEOs praising after tools that supposedly perform algorithm analysis and correlation studies, without even trying to be a bit skeptical and thinking about the data they are looking at. Everyone wants the “cake recipe” the “just add water” approach to a magical climb to the top positions in Google SERPs. People want to make recipes out of everything, some didn’t even figure out what is quality content and what it means. SEO will never improve and leave behind its “snake oil salesman” image as long as:
- You are giving inaccurate info to your clients;
- You keep presenting results of inaccurate tests and don’t disclose that to your clients and audience;
- You make statements that are poorly documented and/or based on inaccurate tests;
- You keep trying tricks or “cake recipes” for ranking;
- You keep making assumptions based on your tricks;
- You’re giving your clients a “heart attack” every time Google pushes an update.
- You are blindly focused in search engines without considering usability and understanding people.
It’s OK to test, it’s fun to test, and it’s a great way to learn how search engines behave. What is not OK is to make blind statements and put out something as factual without even considering the intricacies and possible variations that are almost impossible to isolate. For instance, here are just a few factors you have to deal with everytime you want to carry out any kind of algorithm testing:
- Type of query used: Navigational, Transactional, Informational, Local, or did you try to use a neutral query? Was it really neutral?;
- Changes pushed by the Search Quality team: think about not only permanent changes, but experiments that last one day or one week and then go away;
- Trends in search on that day on a hourly basis (at least): Rising search terms on that day, is something happening?;
- Your Geolocation: Your location affects not only the datacenter you hit, there are also language specific signals;
- The datacenter you hit: sometimes the same algos work in different ways according to the datacenter you are hitting;
- Personalization: Are you exposed to personalization in search?;
- Social signals: Are you exposed to social influence in search?;
- Search bias: Because you are an SEO, sometimes it’s hard to think or even mimic the search behaviour of a “normal person”, how biased are your ideas?
And these are just a little few, there are more than 200 of them, and each of those little factors change behaviour according to the signals and data they get from their neighbour factors. Yeah, it’s almost like a mess… Just it isn’t. So please, every time you make a test, or build a tool that correlates weather in Africa with snow in Iceland, put it up in big letters that it’s just for fun, and it shouldn’t be turned into factual data which you can use to back-up decisions.
Is this the SEO industry you want?
An industry where many adopt bad habit of covering or not reporting dodgy techniques that others are using, either because of the misconception that “it’s immoral” or “it’s against the brotherhood rules”? Well sorry but last time I checked the morality of brotherhood doesn’t entitle someone to soil the reputation of an entire industry in the name of their economic interests. If I worked hard to build and live in a calm and nice neighbourhood, you bet I will do everything in my power to keep out the wise guys that come breaking windows and vandalising walls in the name of their selfish ideals. By abiding by the “let’s cover it” principles you’re deliberately contributing and fostering the growth of bad habits of what otherwise could be a healthy and well respected industry. So, yes spam reporting and “keeping the streets clean” is part of your duties as a good web citizen — you don’t need to do it in public though, you can do it privately via spam reports.
Yeah, Google has a long way to go to even the playing-field, but it will just be longer and painful if everybody refuses to help, I also don’t buy the morality claims of people that once didn’t care about morality to push up their interests. Regardless of any search engine rules, deceptive and manipulative behavior is not OK, and if (or when) anything else replaces Google, this behaviour will still not be OK, claiming moral principles doesn’t make it go away, it just sweeps it under the rug and keeps the house dirty.
As an ex-Googler, SEO, and co-founder of an SEO company that I hope to grow I know that this is the image I’ve been trying to help to clean up. Every time I go to a client meeting, I always get stories of previous bad experiences and fear. Of course you have to know the intricacies of performing an SEO audit and evaluate both sides, what were the client demands and what was the SEO guidance given. But from my experience, in most cases what I see are written reports full of nonsense. And this is sad…
If you as an SEO agree on doing tactics that get you or your clients penalised, it will be reflected not only in you, but in the SEO industry as a whole. You’re ruining the image of the SEO industry for everyone, either because you can’t come out with better ideas to promote your business or because you wanted to please a client that will flee from you when the “going gets tough”… So man up, and stop doing a crappy work.
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