I've had the following rant percolating in my mind for some time now. It is a familiar gripe that rings as true in me as any. It can be summarized as:
Pure white hat marketers need to shut the hell up and stop pretending their shit does not stink.
It has felt to me for a long time that Google, whether consciously or not, has been effective at turning the SEO community against itself. Hearing “thought leaders” side in favor of outing, and casually characterizing, large groups of marketers as “spammers” feels treasonous to me. Not just because I wholeheartedly disagree, but also because their focus seems completely misdirected.
To my thinking, there are only three sides in the SEO game. This is how I break it down.
#1. The Search Engines
Despite what has been said, search engines view ALL SEOs as the enemy. That is because the entire industry is a force aligned in direct opposition to their interests.
Not only does the persistent onslaught of SEO strategizing put immense strain on their algorithms, but SEO's compete directly for the exact same marketing dollars.
The gesture’s faux transparency and aura of servility are a ruse. It is merely an instance of keeping their enemies closer.
If Google could get every SEO in a room and use that flashy thing from Men In Black to erase our memories… they would. And trust me, once Rand and Danny had gotten everyone's attention and had them focus on the light, their minds too would be similarly disposed.
If you, in your capacity as an SEO, leverage your knowledge of Google's algorithm in order to guide your actions in pursuit of higher rankings within search results for targeted keywords…(breath)… Google is not your friend. You are a thorn in their side and are actively mucking with their painstaking semblance of order.
Oh and if you don't do this, you're not an SEO. Period.
Google does prefer some types of SEO over others, but their preference isn't cast along the black/white divide you imagine. It has nothing to do with spam or the integrity of their search results. Google simply prefers ineffective SEO over SEO that works. No question about it. They abhor any strategies that allow guys like you and me to walk into a business and offer a significantly better ROI than AdWords.
Google's actions last Spring had nothing to do with improving the search results, or cleaning up the polluted web. Their primary goal was to identify and demote sites that had actively employed successful SEO shortcuts.
From directories, to article galleries, to blog networks and anchor text, Google has moved with purpose – pouncing with precision on the most scalable and effective SEO strategies. Does it surprise you they’ve already added guest blogging and infographics to their hit list?
I was recently in a conversation with a heavyweight at a top tier SEO company. It wasn’t long before I felt lectured to about the purity of SEO. It was about the time I started feeling embarrassed by the corners I was willing to cut when the conversation took a turn. Without skipping a beat, this person began talking about a new project they were working on; it was going to help automate the guest blogging submission and approval process. I don't think they understood why I started laughing.
Believing that you’re safe because you've drawn some moral line and can point to tactics far more egregious than yours is magical thinking.
In fact, one of the methods that has yet to fall prey to Pandas or Penguins is blatant, high volume comment spam. I am aware of more than a few niches currently dominated by sites with link profiles consisting of nothing but the ugliest links. I think anyone with a blog can agree that comment spam is one of the darkest, most offensive methods of obtaining links. Yet this method is somehow even more effective.
#2. Search Engine Marketers
Whether you're consulting for BMW or cornering the market for boner pills, there is more binding us search geeks together than dividing us. We are all playing the same game, governed by the same impossible rules. We are all perplexed and consumed by a mystery that has no experts.
We are all just fanboys with an unrequited obsession.
There will always be an impervious wall between us and Google. No matter how much we obsess over their recent album or doodle their logo in the margins of our books, we remain just fans. Some of us watch from the cheap seats while others find spots in the front row. A few may even make their way back stage to tearfully choke on uncaringly delivered idol cock. But at the end of the day, we all see the same show. Our slightly different perspectives are infinitesimal distinctions compared to the divide between us and the band.
The need to divide this already esoteric clan into factions is preposterous. From even just a small step back, the gray/white hat chasm seems as trite as the delineations that must exist between wedding DJs.
If someone says they are a wedding DJ, I don't ask “Oh what type?” To me, no further segmentation is required. A similar thing is true for SEO's. If I run into an SEO in my regular life, I am overjoyed to meet them. I don't give a damn if they prefer the early albums or the new material. They are a fan like me.
It isn't until Google starts declaring super fans and handing out backstage passes that the finger pointing begins. For someone to say they have a better concept of SEO or a deeper understanding of this game purely because of the tactics they favor betrays a disconnect between the singular and unanimous goal that binds us – our desire to rank.
Sure I've seen abhorrent link profiles push a website onto the first page and discovered paper thin sites suspended on top by what seems to be PFM (pure fucking magic). I've dealt with the stress of dissatisfied clients and felt the sting of a SERP ass-kicking at the hands of black-hat ninjas. The truth is however, that when it comes to the top spots, there has to be winners and losers.
To me it's just a matter of character. Even the most expensive, most talented SEO is going to get out maneuvered here or there. The question is how he responds to defeat. Does he wipe the blood from his chin, shake hands, and congratulate his brother in arms? Or does he whine about cheating and demand a do-over.
#3. Search Engine Scammers
The final members of the Search Engine Triad are the SEO con men. These despicable urchins rob and steal in the name of SEO. They are parasites who use clever phrasing, client ignorance, and outright fraud to funnel millions of marketing dollars into placebo strategies that offer little or no benefit to business owners.
These spineless vermin come in all shapes and sizes. They range in stature from the well dressed sales-reps of fortune 500 telecommunication giants to the barely legible emails spammed from the third world. Regardless of their form, SEO con men deliver little in the way of results and deserve none of the aforementioned brotherly love.
It is the con men in our industry – not the gray hats – that give it a bad name. It's the con men in our industry that make business owners feel like SEO does not work. It is they who deserve our collective distain, for it is they who are our real enemy.
In the grand scheme of things, the con men outnumber the gray hats, black hats and white hats combined. They spend an enormous amount on marketing and have an almost ubiquitous presence in the life of the average SMB owner. They oversimplify and can undercut any legitimate search marketer in a head-to-head bid process.
They steal business from us and then ironically, after the con, deliver the business owners back to Google. Compared to SEO con men, AdWords seems like a safe and steady bet. In many cases, after being conned, a business owner will be shut off to the idea of SEO entirely.
I find it frustrating that some thought leaders have decided to coin phrases like “inbound marketers” or “growth hackers” as a way to sidestep the taint (he said taint) left on this industry by the con men. I find it frustrating not just because semantics never solved anything, but also because many of these people seem oblivious to the real root cause of the problem.
Understanding the Real Issues
This brings me back to my point. White hat SEOs need to shut the hell up. Or, if that isn't possible, at least train their guns on the real problem. They should stop throwing temper tantrums and realize that it isn't blog networks or thin content or paid links that are giving our industry a bad name. Those are just the things that piss them off.
The real problem is that by now, most business owners have been ripped off at least once. To them, you and I are no different than the dirtball who stole 5K off them last year without delivering a single lead.
I just wish we could all agree that possessing ability and the intent to deliver results – regardless of your methods – would make you one of the good guys. The real SEOs are already so woefully outnumbered; I feel like we need all the friends we can get.
I don't have a solution to the con men problem. However, I do think we need to shed more light on the issue. More articles about local Sprint and Verizon reps packaging AdWords at five times the cost is a good place to start. Exposing “Local SEO” firms who trick business owners into relinquishing control of their Google+ Local page in order to charge them rent wouldn’t hurt either. I'd like to at least see more of that then the drama surrounding iAcquire last year.