Can we avoid creating an SEO monster?

Posted on 19. Apr, 2012 by in Digital Marketing



Yesterday was the first ionSearch conference. Google gifted the conference with big news and there was certainly a buzz. Imagine a conference in which SEOs spent a lot of time discussing how to remove links and whether they should.

Just at the end of last month Google successfully cracked down on link networks. These are networks of sites that simply link to each other and to those sites hungry for “cost effective” links. The technique was beloved of some SEO agencies. As a result of the crackdown some large names like BuildMyRank simply decided to stop trading.

That bit of SEO news, though, was a good few weeks ago. More recently Google has started to email thousands of webmasters that the search engine had found poor quality links to their site. These warnings went to big brands as well as SMEs and hobby sites.

One twist is that these poor quality links did not just seem to be restricted to paid links – although these were certainly hit. Google also included links from poor quality sites as reason for concern. Brands cannot always stop poor quality sites linking to them.

Is Google following up their warning with action? The answer, in many cases, seems to be: YES.

I talked to many SEOs at ionSearch who were on the ball. They had the situation in hand and they were dealing with it. Of course, a good number of SEO strategies are unaffected. Typically those strategies which not only concentrated on following Google’s guidelines but which also looked at a wider range of positive quality signals are fine. In fact, sites using these strategies may now be at an advantage while competitors pivot. I was urging SEOs to adopt a multi-signal approach to their work.

Some SEOs simply need to get these dodgy and unnatural links removed – and quickly. But how?

Already agencies and brands are offering payment to have links removed. In some cases this seems necessary – at least it seems unlikely a site owner will be uninspired to edit their content unless you make it worth their while.

Certainly, if an agency has a history for paying a site owner, like a blogger, to add links then it is no stretch of the imagination to assume the site owner will also demand payment for removing the links. It’s another editorial change. It’s time and work.

I am worried.

Educating people that they can create a set of poor quality sites, slap a bunch of links pointing to a target website and then sit back and wait for the emails offering them money to remove those links seems like a very foolish thing to do.

I say “foolish” but I’ve already conceded that it may also be necessary.

Are we about to create a monster?

Will the future of SEO now include “negative SEO” – where digital marketing dirty tricks include attempts to fool Google into thinking a competitor site is up to no good? Will we see specialist link removal agencies?

Am I right to be concerned? What do you think the future holds now?

Photo credit: Daniel Proulx. Post by Andrew Girdwood.

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  • http://www.andrewburnett.com/ andrewburnett

    Just another development in the evolution of search rankings. 

    The furore over paid links is all well and good, Google will have to backtrack on this latest though I reckon… If you look at Shaun’s post over at Hobo: http://www.hobo-web.co.uk/negative-seo/ that cannot be allowed to happen. It takes power away from Google in terms of how they rank. 

    Also, the whole ‘signals’ debate is tired. There are signals for sale on ebay these days.

    Nobody but nobody naturally stumbles, diggs, reddits or (to a lesser degree) even tweets half of the shit that SEOs want social signals on.

    People share, talk about, comment on, and generally socially interact with good stuff. It is as simple as that. Why does the Oatmeal get so many social signals? Answer that and you’ve hit the motherlode.

    • http://about.me/andrewgirdwood Andrew Girdwood

      “Nobody but nobody naturally stumbles, diggs, reddits or (to a lesser degree) even tweets half of the shit that SEOs want social signals on.”

      I think that was recognised at #ionsearch too. The trick is to be in the other half and it was good to see some discussion on tactics and techniques to archive that.  If content/news/insights/media is generated that *actually* interests people then it’ll do better. That was a common message from the event.

      However, we also went to talk on about the increasing importance of UX when it comes to this sort of thing – not only do we want to reduce bounces we actually want a user experience that encourages people to share.

      • http://about.me/andrewgirdwood Andrew Girdwood

        Even more succinctly: the trick is not to be shit.

        • http://www.seotunes.co.uk Matt Davies

          I’d say the trick to what you’re suggesting is to avoid the 99% of sites that don’t lend themselves easily to viral / link bait. I hear a lot
          about creating sharable content for SEO but so rarely see this backed
          up with successful real-world examples.

          The Daily Mail *actually* interests people – it’s the logical conclusion of the “create content that people will share” argument – but will an internet full of shrieking attention seekers really be any better than one with an underbelly of spam?

          • LordManley

             When the topic is celebrities then the Mail will do well – when the subject is effective mosquito repellent the buzz* is going to be around sites such as safariquip instead.*Hahahahaha! Hilarity!

          • http://www.andrewburnett.com/ andrewburnett

            Gimme a shout Matt, you know how ;)

      • http://twitter.com/mocwoods Martin Woods

        I also found it very reassuring to hear so many people talking about quality engaging content, we might have been saying it for years, but @ionSearch I defiantly heard a lot more people talking about content strategies than ever before, which is great.

        I also enjoyed the way the debates naturally progressed on to social sharing  and UX. I think the creative people in our industry will do very well over the coming years, whilst the more ‘old skool’ SEOers out there may struggle if they don’t get the bigger picture. 

  • http://twitter.com/RobBothan Robert Nicholson

    Interesting points Andrew – it worries me as inhouse we often deal with legacy SEO, such as agencies doing dodgy SEO that I’ve had to fire – do we then have to pay to clean this mess up? Do I know take legal action against the SEO agency? 

    Even when it comes to links – some sites are almost impossible to get removed from,  despite contact.. how do we get that fixed?

    A monster indeed…

  • http://twitter.com/supaswag Ingo Bousa

    I am tired.

    I am tired of lazy SEOs moaning about Google taking the rankings of their little affiliate sites away because they did nothing but comment spam and spun article marketing. Now they beg for stumbles and shares, desperate to create a couple of ‘social signals’. 
    I am tired of Google and their smirking smug geek poster boy Matt Cutts who finally got themselves into a right pile of shit with kicking off this new paranoia craze by instead of ignoring shit links, now asking webmasters to ‘get rid of them’, spawning a new industry of ‘site link cleaners’. Sometimes, as you already pointed out Andrew, the same people who built these pointless links in the first place. 

    I am tired that I now actually need to think about if for example the do-follow text link in the sidebar of my personal blog to my wife’s parent’s B&B in France is actually ‘against Google’s guidelines’. 

    I am tired of companies who think that offering me 12K to rank “top 5 for ‘home insurance’ in 3 month” is a viable business and marketing strategy. 

    I am tired of clients who ask and pay for an extensive SEO site audit but then take the 50 page document and do nothing except arguing with their developers about what can be done instead of working through the top action points and getting their site in a state that a user and a search engine can have some fun with it, creating better rankings, more traffic and, if the offer is right, more conversions.

    I am tired of seeing most SEO conferences being mainly a big piss-up, in some ridiculous instances nothing more than an expensive lap dance event with ‘industry rockstars’ regurgitating well known facts and some common knowledge to an audience that fancies themselves as SEO/EM Ninjas, fighting some honorable fantasy fight against Search Engines in the name of ‘The Free Market’. 

    I have huge respect for maybe three handful of intelligent SEOs who have vision, skill, integrity and some dignity ..but I am getting a bit tired with this overhyped industry as a whole.

    And you know what? Outside of the SEO Marketing bubble no-one actually gives a shit. People just want to use Google to find stuff. Porn, info, deals, cat pictures. They want to see the most relevant and informative result if they search for ‘best laptop under £1000′ and not a SERP with pages that are there because some clever SEO manipulated the perception of the search engine and filled the front page with shit laptops under £1000. 

    So, is there something wrong in some rooms of this house of SEO. Is this the right time for a big cathartic crash to give this industry including the search engines a chance to contemplate and re-group? 

    As long as Google operates in a capitalist market, their objectives will be the same as the objectives of the people who will exploit algorithm loopholes: Making as much profit as possible.

    The SEO Monster is standing in the middle of the room since a long time next to the Maximum Profit Monster and they won’t won’t go away.

    • http://about.me/andrewgirdwood Andrew Girdwood

      Not tired of leaving impressive blog comments, though! I think you’re right – Google and the SEO community have made this happen together. 

      You have to understand why Google acts to understand what Google is doing. Google is certainly interested in making money. The question is; does Google believe that by making its SERPs as good as possible that this is the best way to make money?

      • http://twitter.com/supaswag Ingo Bousa

        That is a very good question indeed Andrew.

        http://sebastians-pamphlets.com/links-are-ape-shit-in-googles-book/
        I think Sebastian asks some very interesting questions here…and someone else is a bit more eloquent [and angry] than me: http://www.seo-theory.com/2012/04/19/sub-optimal-topics-for-the-seo-community-to-be-discussing/Cheerio! : )

    • michael

      It seems you need to get out of the industry, quit moaning and do something about it, either educate or make change/change!!!

  • Byron_Martin

    Excellent post! Thanks for sharing the viable information. Dearly appreciated. 

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