dirty little secrets of seo
Recently, I was forwarded by some friends an article from the New York times called “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search.”

It was truly disappointing.

Brand Name outweighs logic

Unfortunately, the NYTimes gets too much credibility for their brand name. Who the heck is David Segal? He’s a journalist who may have “some insight” into our field after digging around and learning a little bit of basic search industry concepts, but more likely is just taking advantage of google’s fame to basically satisfy his bosses (at the newspaper) and ultimately to help the NYTimes sell more newspapers. Frankly, he has ZERO clue to the realities of the SEO world. If he did, he wouldn’t have written the article.

So, the way he portrays the “Search Engine Optimization” world is that it’s dirty and possibly even peverted in the ways that SEO’s help websites rise to the top. So, should I reconsider my choice in career and business because of the article? Have I chosen the wrong field which helps immoral companies rise to the top?

SEO is not a sleezy industry

I’m one of the most critical people in the world when it comes to choosing a field to work for. Actually, I’m so critical I ended up switching out of the past fields I was involved with a number of times , but the main reason why I swtiched out of the positions after spending a minimum one year to as many as 3 or more years at each place was unfortunately not due to the job only, but it was due to:

1. unintelligent leaders at each company neglecting their businesses and ultimately their consumer
2. frankly, the need to create something on my own which I did twice and was truly happy including now because I feel like I’ve chosen the best possible industry to work for moving forward for the next fifty years or more

Nevertheless, I evaluate top to bottom a field and consider it only if it has merits that outweigh any negative repercusssions that may make it difficult to claim I’m a representative of that industry. I failed to be a lawyer because at the time, I felt it was a bit too sleezy; of course, I’ve since learned, it’s actually a very reputable field with many great people who do great things. There are still people who give it a bad name, but it’s just like real estate in that there are honest, hard working realtors. Sometimes I’m surprised that people don’t know what the honest ones do and complain more about why they don’t return phone calls. It’s because they are working so hard at all the steps it takes to truly get their clients the price they want (that’s another rant). At the same time, there’s a lot of unethical decision making in the field. It’s why I left. The point though is that I left these fields or didn’t even start working in some of them because I made sure each industry was right before I jumped in.

I’ve never been more proud in my life about any job or business that I’ve been a part of. Frankly, what I do is I get to empower companies – many small ma & pa shops to literally compete with the “big boys.”

    Never in history has there been a time where small business can compete with large business in a marketing space.

The small player doesn’t need HUGE budgets to compete out in the radio and tv markets to get their “brand” out there or get consumers to basically visit their business. We now have a way to do the proper things on their website (i.e., onsite optimization) to help google understand what the content is on a website and to gain reputation and respect on the Internet via link building.

The algorithm is NOT broken; society is

Obviously, we could do lots of great things offline to hopefully get people to “link to our websites.” However, but even when you do, people don’t go home and consciously build a link to your website with the proper anchor text so that you can rise in the ranks. Thus, we need to build these somewhat artificial (yes I admit that) links which help website rank, but it’s simply in the algorithm which frankly is a great one and possibly the best thing to show up on the Internet since it’s start in the 90’s. The algorithm is fine, but society is not. Google created a decent search engine and relatively savvy companies are doing everything to basically match their websites to follow the rules.

So, should we punish companies who appreciate online marketing and all the merits and are doing their best to make sure they are in front of eyeballs? Should we punish companies for trying to be efficient instead of paying for lots of paid advertising? No, we should help them organically by simply just doing the right things to make sure 1) they have the right content and 2) they have links that identify their content

Artificial = faster, but not unethical

Enter the SEO. Yes, as SEO’s, we can do things that are considered “black hat” like this article mentions, but MANY of us don’t. This article makes it sound as if we find dirty little tricks to help websites rank higher in the the google search results. As a peer in my business, CEO of SEOMoz preaches and I do as well, it’s best to be 100% transparent and educate clients and help people know how we work to get their websites to be ranked higher. Don’t label the entire industry or argue point out ONLY this “sleezy” way to get rankings. Most of us don’t used paid links and if we do, we should be punished.

Yes, some links are not as relevant. It’s like saying a person who’s not a journalist is saying David Segal is a good journalist, but they work as a medical professional. Should we disregard this “recommendation?” The algorithm is simply based on relevance of links, but it also uses “authority.” The links that do come from stupid little websites that do not have any relation to the website will NOT propel the website UP the rankings, but a weak search engine results page may rank a site higher though if there are many of them. It shows that MANY, MANY websites “o.k.” that a link from their website to the one that ranks higher. If 10,000,000 people said that David Segal was a great guy, but they’re all idiots, does that mean none of the recommendations should be considered? Does it mean that David Segal is an idiot? Well, that’s for you to decide. However, if the Martha Stewart said David Segal is a great journalist, do we give him credit? Obviously, we do because many people believe in Martha Stewart, but she may not understand anything about true journalism. Get the algorithm right and explain it more properly to the folks on the Internet before you bash the whole field without even knowing it.

What JCPenney did is wrong, but it’s not the whole industry

The story is simply about JCPenney violating a rule and getting punished for it. Most of us in the field realize you do NOT use paid links because that’s what Matt Cutts and the Google team do not like. They will punish you for it. But as Matt Cutts says, he can’t find every single violation on the Internet. At the same time, Google is still great in finding almost anything you want. Matt and his team have done a wonderful job in creating a search engine that despite all the flack it’s been getting lately, it’s not a big cesspool of results. It’s definitely what my friends at Microsoft and Bing would love to hear, but let’s admit all you guys at Microsoft still use Google. Come on…

Irony is that the SEM who supports the journalist paid for links themselves (or at least traded for them): is the guy in the picture sleezy?

I’m really disappointed also in the company that supported the article. Blue Fountain Media gets captured in the picture in the article as if he’s some “God of SEO” and knows when to put the hammer down at his unethical competition. The irony is that he created more suspicion to his own services despite thinking he’s getting lots of link juice for his site (from the New York Times; which he is): http://www.bluefountainmedia.com/ Ironically, he’s “paid for his links” as well: http://www.hotvsnot.com/addurl/Submission_Options/ from the backlinks research I did. The site said he has to either pay $40 or give a reciprocal link. Is reciprocal then evil? Is it a dirty little secret? Well, you’d better take down a million websites who are doing it right now. Here’s a presentation from the company where they approached the library in New York most likely and got a great link from them http://www.nypl.org/audiovideo/how-build-online-business Is this “dirty” if they had the intention of knowing it would help their website and possibly increase business? No, it’s savvy and it helps their website rank.

Yes, I agree JCPenny did a big no, no in terms of the search world, but don’t paint the picture for the rest of the people out in the world who don’t understand search and all the tactics (like you Mr. Segal) and act as if it’s something sleezy. There are sleezy practices, but write your article making sure you don’t label the whole industry which unfortunately, that’s how it came off to everyone who forward it to me. Fortunately, they know I’m not sleezy and that I very principled and wanted to just protect my back: thus the forward. However, you’ve truly used media to the degree it shouldn’t be used: manipulating the public in your careless little ways.

I wish I was a journalist & had more time to write

You’re lucky I don’t have the time to write an article or post about “The Dirty Little Secrets of Media/Journalism/New York Times” because I am 100% sure that there’s other sleezy ways you get interviews, manipulate people to say what you want and caputure the “right sexy quote” to hopefully help your newspaper survive in this digital world. You’ve made an enemy out of me and unfortunately, I’m not a supporter of your own ironic sleezy article.

Frankly, I didn’t have enough time to truly articulate what I wanted to say. Disclosure: I didn’t want to write this because I don’t think this is that logical honestly, but it’s just my blog. It’s not like it’s going to be picked up by the whole country or anything. I welcome the opportunity to talk about journalism and it’s potential danger is truly damaging public perception about many industries. Responsible journalism should be a higher priority than selling newspapers. If Segals’ article helps taint a field that helps small businesses compete with big business, he’s basically killed an opportunity for our democracy to truly be equal.

4 thoughts on “Dirty little secrets about (SEO) journalism

  1. I didn’t take from the article that people in the SEO industry are unethical. And as far as I’m concerned, this is a google problem. Some people have found a way to subvert their model, ergo they need a better, more sophisticated way of figuring out which listings should come first instead of basing their engine on page links. I thought that the article was well-written and well-researched.

  2. Frankly, I hesitated in even writing this post because unfortunately, many people don’t understand SEO – especially this writer and I’m sorry, but there’s something you’re missing.

    Here’s what bothers me. This section:

    “Some of the 2,015 pages are on sites related, at least nominally, to clothing. But most are not. The phrase “black dresses” and a Penney link were tacked to the bottom of a site called nuclear.engineeringaddict.com. “Evening dresses” appeared on a site called casino-focus.com. “Cocktail dresses” showed up on bulgariapropertyportal.com. ”Casual dresses” was on a site called elistofbanks.com. “Semi-formal dresses” was pasted, rather incongruously, on usclettermen.org.”

    This was added to the JCPenney allegation (which frankly, this is not proven in court), but regardless, the general point is missed. I said that JCPenney’s actually did violate something Google doesn’t even like. That’s granted, but the author loops in argument like the above to try and prove a point.

    Please reread my post under the section about “artificial = faster, but not unethical” While it’s not necessarily 100% natural, link building is a method in which sites improve their rankings. However, the way that Segal tries to explain it, he makes it sound like it’s sleezy. It’s not.

    Again, even someone as intelligent as you believes what he says. He actually is convincing people like you that frankly that Google’s a problem. No, Google is not the problem. They are the solution. They are the best dang solution and unfortunately, there is a little bit of exploitation, but they’re doing their best to reign in on it.

    And yes, they are trying to build that better, more sophisticated way, but frankly, JCPenney’s buying links shows it’s abused, but remember what the title says? “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search”

    Fortunately, I’m sure you can differentiate between people who are trying to do a good job with SEO, but at the same time, Segal has made my life much more challenging. It’s like when I entered Real Estate a number of years. People had the presumption I was slime. Now, Segal creates the impression that SEO’s are out there pulling sneaky tricks to rank in Google.

    Like I said in the post, even the SEO they used to show that JCPenney’s is screwing with the algorithm is basically screwing with the algorithm in a similar, if not identical manner.

    I honestly didn’t want to even post this, but I’m already seeing a batch of more comments coming and I frankly need to spend more time to focus on the client needs. It’s what’s more important than my opinion about how an article is misleading.

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