The Polarization of SEO

36 comments

Rand Fishkin was recently profiled in Newsweek. Most mainstream articles covering the topic of SEO describe it directly or indirectly as seedy, shady, or underhanded. I suppose it helps sell more news ads though, so why not?

Matt Cutts said he liked how fair the article sounded, which smells a bit funny to me, considering the article subheading included Inside the shadowy world of 'SEOs.'

Do you think Matt Cutts would have made his anchor text pointing at the article search engine optimization (SEO) if it was a fair portrayal of SEO? I don't.

In the article Earl Gray gave this less-than-brilliant quote

"I'm not very professional," he says. "I do what I need to do to get where I need to be."

Of course that quote comes with humor and a touch of irony, since Matt Cutts also recently profiled Earl Gray:

Brad decided to profile Earl Grey, one of the co-creators of a forum where blackhat SEOs sometimes chat. Why is this ironic? Well, I was doing some training on Friday, and one of the things I talked about was how to trace from one spam domain to find more spam domains. Guess what one of the examples was: Earl Grey’s sites! Small world, huh? A page on one of Earl’s sites says that he’s based in East Buffalo in New York, but we saw how that wasn’t true; it looks like he lives in Yorkshire in the UK.

Comments

Guess Matt Cutts needed an

Guess Matt Cutts needed an impersonation of the evil black hats and found one in the person of Earl Gray...

Yes Indeed

I believe Rand has fallen into a very profitable niche as "white hat" poster boy. Good for him, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Now what do the rest of us do who are not being seen as relevant? Easy, offer something fresh.

Do you think Matt Cutts

Do you think Matt Cutts would have made his anchor text pointing at the article search engine optimization (SEO) if it was a fair portrayal of SEO? I don't.

I'm wondering if there is an anchor text lesson in there somewhere

I believe Rand has fallen into a very profitable niche as "white hat" poster boy.

Although Matt did point out some text link buying Rand did in the article.

Congrats to Rand!

Nice profile of Rand and his company. That ought to bring him a nice chunk of new business. And he does look awfully handsome with that beard thing he has going in the pics there! :)

Although Matt did point out

Quote:
Although Matt did point out some text link buying Rand did in the article.

Which even Newsweek refers to as "gray" and that Rand's strategy involved "betting that major search engines misinterpret these ad links as legitimate measures of popularity."

I can see why Matt wouldn't be crazy about that.

But I'll say one thing for old Randfish -- no matter how respectable he gets, he won't give up those yellow shoes.

Oh look...

Oh look it's Jill the "white hat" poster girl! ;)

I will have you those questions later in the day Jill...

It's actually Fishkin - with

It's actually Fishkin - with an "i". Thanks for the nod, Aaron.

I, too, thought Matt's blog entry on the subject was particularly interesting. I think Google's taking a very, very careful look at the links pointing to Avatar and Shoe-Store, which should be fine. I think everything they could have discounted was discounted several months ago, during Jagger. That's actually the same time Brad (the reporter) spoke to Matt, so there could be a cause-and-effect there, though I'm in no position to speculate.

As for those yellow shoes.... I bought a second pair in case there's an acid spill at an SES show :)

Earl Gray

Maybe Google search is not so hot these days.
The Earl de Gray is a pub of some repute in Hull, Yorkshire.
Doubt that Earl Gray would be quite so easy to find.

newsweek doesn't really love rand

Geez Louise, you want Newsweek to link to your site if they are going to cover it - fair play! no link to randfish, no link to SEW? ... scummy bastards.

I like

I like the shoes. Very stylish.

even-handed

I didn't call it fair, I called it even-handed, mainly because they tried to profile both a blackhat and a whitehat. They got a few things wrong (e.g. implying the blackhat site wasn't ranking in Google because it takes a while, when in fact the site had been caught both with algos and manually), but I was surprised that the reporter got so many of the nuances of SEO right, e.g. that SEOs and search engines don't have to have a hostile relationship. The last mainstream article that would kinda make sense to average people (that sticks in my mind) was Paul Boutin's stuff he wrote up on HotWired/Lycos.

Rand, those paid links weren't helping long before I talked to Brad. So no cause-and-effect, just effect. :)

Ah Oh!

press releases - check
articles - ?
paid links - check

the buzzbox is still waiting for the article question to be answered.

good stuff, thanks Matt.

Polarization

Uhm... am I wrong if I say that spamming is as easy as ever, but it's getting a bit harder to spam in a way that works? However, if inexperienced, you only find out which is which long time after the fact (if at all).

At the same time, common whitehat stuff just don't yield results like it used to because of delays, probation time, and whatever.

So, I can see why some people might go the spamming route, regardless if it's efficient or not. Feeling that that way they at least do something, and then they don't put all their eggs in one basket. It's still as easy as ever to pick up some odd script on the interweb, and generating a site a day that sucks is still, well, it's still a site a day. So, it gives one some sense of accomplishment that writing an article might have a hard time competing with.

Quite possibly the SE's are trying to provoke or grow a set of conditions in which you have to be really smart to spam efficiently, so that it's no longer for the masses.

But, they seem to forget the carrot for the whitehats. And mind you, whitehat work takes time. It has always been long term, only now it's increasingly turning into a desert walk with no water.

All I'm saying is that that strategy might have sideeffects (perhaps more, less efficient spam)...

Dang, I didn't even notice those...

...yellow shoes. Nice.

SB

claus, what do you think

claus, what do you think would be a good way to provide that positive feedback to whitehats?

what do you think would be

what do you think would be a good way to provide that positive feedback to whitehats?

If "made for Adsense" sites are driving spam content, then warning publishers if they fail quality standards could be a wise move.

I'm sure it would be helpful to Google's advertiser relations, and I figure most publishers would be happy to comply in order to preserve AdSense on sites which are profitably compliant.

It does seem counter-intuitive that Google's own services in one department promote spam generation, but then are algorthmically tackled by another.

The Google updates intended to fight spam are negatively impacting plenty of other quality sites - the current ranking factors based on trust and authority are making the SERPs less relevant and less useful.

2c.

But, they seem to forget the

Quote:
But, they seem to forget the carrot for the whitehats. And mind you, whitehat work takes time. It has always been long term, only now it's increasingly turning into a desert walk with no water.

I agree on that claus.

I know this isn't the most receptive audience for this but it seems worth saying once again. I think both the SEO's and the SE's in their competiton of measure/countermeasure are leaving most webmasters in the content web behind. Frankly that is the part of the web I enjoy most. The exception might be blogs, which rely more on networking for traffic and less on SE's.

Matt said;

...what do you think would be a good way to provide that positive feedback to whitehats?

Im not claus, but here goes my 2cents worth anyway;

Improve your SERP - Decrease crappy adsence networks, sites and pages.

You (Google) wants everyone to play by your(google's) rules. But web site owners can't make any real money playing by google's rules. It's almost like google wants to pay site owners minium wage (in China) to produce content for google's adsense...

Site owners can't make real money following google's rules, because among other reasons, the rules are not enforced evenly accross the board. Not to mention that Googles rules are not for the benefit of the site owners or even the users, google's rules are for the benefit of google.

BTW - The hat thing is kind of passe, IMO.

Matt....

One way might be consistancy.
If a w/h site ranks well for years and is then consigned to the bottom due to the latest algo changes it does make everyone wonder why it was OK and then suddenly its not OK. If anything encourages b/h strategies that must come high on the list as the owner of the sunk site will thereafter consider other methods of recovering his income. This latest algo change seems to have nailed a load of otherwise fine sites. Babies and bathwater springs to mind.

Sad

I am sadly starting to agree...

If a w/h site ranks well for

If a w/h site ranks well for years and is then consigned to the bottom due to the latest algo changes it does make everyone wonder why it was OK and then suddenly its not OK. If anything encourages b/h strategies that must come high on the list

That is exactly what caused me to start to practice some dark-off-white tactics.

A carrot from the SE?

First, I'm with lots0 as regards the hat thing. I hate hats. But if anyone's going to pigeonhole me, I'm going to be called w/h.

I don't think we need a carrot, not from the search engines, at any rate. If you want us to feel like there's a level playing field, catch the spam faster and get rid of it. Make it impossible to make a decent living with scrapers and splogs. Of course, that's going to cut down on G's profits too.

I don't expect to make money off AdSense. I have ads on one site. I make money from my clients, so that's a non-issue to me.

not easy

Hehe... Matt, that's a hard question, and you know it *lol*

As I see it, the main problem is one of asymmetrical information. While any self-respecting blackhat will actively seek out information about Google or the industry in general, a large fraction of whitehats are just webmasters. Doing their thing, taking care of their pages, and that's that. Some of them don't even care about search engines.

So, I'll modify my statement above and say that a strong focus on annoying the hell out of blackhats might provide more bang for the buck. Make it just as hard to succeed using blackhat techniques as it is using whitehat techniques, and you will see the blackhats turn whitehat. It's just economics, really. You're already moving in that direction as I see it.

(I wrote several paragraphs more on incentives, perceptions, economics, and stuff, but it's late at night here and these are complicated matters so I'm not sure they made any sense.)

polarization

Hmm.. the title of the thread is "the Polarization of SEO"... isn't that exactly the white hat/black hat talk does?

The only ones benefitting from such disinformation are the uneducated consumers and the search engines.

Make it just as hard to

Make it just as hard to succeed using blackhat techniques as it is using whitehat techniques, and you will see the blackhats turn whitehat. It's just economics, really. You're already moving in that direction as I see it.

the economic concept is valid, no doubt about it. but, IMHO, the problem that i think could grow and eventually seriously hurt google is that we're seeing the following:

1. it's becoming increasingly unclear whether a tactic is black or white (aka, acceptable or unacceptable)
2. it's becoming increasingly likely that it is the *context* that google is attempting to assess to determine whether a tactic is white or black
3. the context that google interprets is becoming increasingly different than the context that the publisher is attempting to convey

what we have here is a failure to communicate.

if you lose communication, you lose people's attention, and that's the dangerous thing for google, IMHO.

"the Polarization of SEO"...

"the Polarization of SEO"... isn't that exactly the white hat/black hat talk does?

that was the point of the post...that most mainstream stories covering the field of SEO always talk about shady this or shady that, etc.

asymmetrical...

yes perhaps, but the bottom line, in the simplest of terms, is that when an increasing number of white hat baby sites (read, innocents) get thrown out with the bathwater, because the innocents don't know *enough* about SEO, then the game has taken over and the end has become lost in the fray.

It's not about fighting the B/H's, it's about showing the good sites.

Sheriff of Nottingham

Can't remember what it's called, but the rule about how many posts a thread runs before there's a mention of N*zi's - is there a similar one for NFFC ....?

The first thing that popped into my caffeine-free head upon reading this was a quote from the interview that Aaron did with NFFC:

If you worked at a search engine what are the biggest things you would change with how they evaluate link authority and overall search relevancy scores?

I would look to give good things a boost and stop focusing on finding bad things to penalise.

Impact Analysis

...what do you think would be a good way to provide that positive feedback to whitehats?

Matt - before putting algo changes live, spend more time analysing how they are really going to affect sites across the board.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction...

Quote:
claus, what do you think would be a good way to provide that positive feedback to whitehats?

It's all in Newton's 3rd law Matt.

:)

Clearly the way to provide that feedback is to action spam reports. Google says "blah blah good seo's report all spam". So - as a result - many webmasters/ seo's diligently action a spam report. Thats the action.

Google does nothing - it performs no action on the diligently submitted spam report - thats the reaction.

And that's the perception and the reality.

How do you provide positive feedback to whitehats?

Easy - reward them with action.

Show you listen to them. You don't even need to tell them you've followed up - just follow up the spam reports.

Personally? I think that there are many webmasters and w/h seo's are pretty jaded with Google due to their own sites getting hurt - while others who blatantly spam get away with it - even though they have been 'reported'.....

Action and Action Matt. Google actually actioning spam reports shows you listen. Action.

then the game has taken over

Quote:
then the game has taken over and the end has become lost in the fray.

caveman, has said it much better than I did.

I was just reviewing a bunch of genre content sites (ie. author sites, ezines, artist sites, fan sites, etc.) some had been around a long time but many were newer and what struck me about all of them if they were built for a web directory driven world and most definitely _not_ a search engine world. Even simple things like title tags saying "index.html" or using splash pages, or CMS with session ID's or Flash. These are the beautiful content rich sites people want to see, but they are probably not going to be found by people in Google. These are built by webmasters on weekends and after work, who have little time or desire to read for weeks at SEO forums and probably get frightened by our WH/BH debates.

Some SEO advice does trickle down but it is usually, 2 - 7 years old.

As SEO gets harder for many of us, imagine how much the barrier is getting raised for some person trying to build a website a half-hour here and an hour there?

Raises the Directory Flag for one last charge. :)

These people do understand directories (sort of) and directories do bring them some traffic. But here is the problem.

1. Most have never heard of ODP.
2. They have heard of "Google Directory" but Google has all but abandoned that so there is even less direct traffic love there that in the old days.
3. Scraper "directories", fed by Adsense have undermined the credibility of all legit directories.
4. Directory Proliferation, with fly by night pay for review directories confuses the issue further and the legit directories get obsured by noise.
5. Pay Directories are a barrier for a content site with no decent revenue stream.
6. Snooty Directories - that only allow domains and don't judge on quality of the content but how easy it is to administer.

So the content web becomes ghettoized because the only way up for them is to get inbound links (we havn't even touched on anchor text) and inbound links now cost money, or to try to understand an increasingly bewildering array of, what is to them, SEO Tower of Babel.

and inbound links now cost

and inbound links now cost money

To be fair, Matt Cutts hints on viral marketing every now and then, and active topical channels provide many free links.

Make it just as hard to

Quote:
Make it just as hard to succeed using blackhat techniques as it is using whitehat techniques, and you will see the blackhats turn whitehat. It's just economics, really. You're already moving in that direction as I see it.

Was chatting with some blackhats and most said they had plenty of white hat sites they would like to develop. While they can churn out several scraper sites a day for a few dollars there’s no way they are going to risk time and money on white hat projects when so many white hat sites get caught in the crossfire whenever there’s an update.

Brilliant!

"I would look to give good things a boost and stop focusing on finding bad things to penalise."

Did you get that Matt?
Maybe you should.

spam reports? You gotta be kidding.

Let's not forget what we say over and over again in related contexts: 90% of the webmasters are NOT up to speed on webmastering issues. Trust spam reports? My God, why don't you go interview a random sample of reporting webmasters and then comeback and tell Matt to trust their reports.

An unaware webmaster reports anything that is different from their own standards as SPAM (when it beat them in the SERPs), especially when someone says that is the right thing to do. IMHO it's the quiet ones that are the worst offenders. They sit in their fox holes, building their Dreamweaver sites the same way they have for years, and as they lose SERP positioning they file spam reports on those above them. Think it through... if they knew how the winners were beating them, if they understood how those winners were exploiting the "webmster guidelines", they could certainly file effective spam reports when those tactics were "illegal". But then they could also, in the majority of cases I witness, get ranked using that same knowledge. Or copy the cheats and compete -- which they should do, until the risks outweigh the rewards.

The risks and rewards need to align with Google's quality desires. End of story. Google as analytical beast understands that; Google as commercial enterprise may not.

Spam Reports

I think I've submitted two or three spam reports to G in my life. I sent in the last one because of something I read, maybe on Matt's blog, about stupid attempts at hiding stuff along with everything about ROS text link ads.

This was a network of sites, thousands of pages, all of which contain the same two hidden links, actually labeled with a commented "these are the hiden tags for the [site] links: DO NOT REMOVE!!!" (Yes, they even misspelled "hidden")

So I reported them. Nothing has changed since then. So why would anyone bother?

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.