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Avoid Being THAT SEO Jerk

Posted by Melanie Phung on Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 10:31 am

There are as many ways to be a jerk as there are jerks in the world, but there are just enough ways to be an SEO jerk to fill a blog post. In case you needed a clarification on behaviors that make others in the SEO industry think you’re a toolbag, here are examples (inspired by real-life recent events) of why your peers might get pissed at you:

Not Knowing When and Why to STFU

SEO bloggers desperate for material particularly like to reveal “tricks” such as, for example, a trusted domain that lets you add URLs that pass link juice. So they blog about it, promote their post all over the place, then newbies who don’t know any better thank them for showing them a new way to spam the crap out of their Cialis sites, it draws the attention of the spam cops who close that hole, and the trick immediately loses all value.

In all likelihood, if you were the one who blogged this no-longer-secret trick, your intent was never to make the technique/site/links/whatever worthless. You just thought you were sharing something cool, and maybe hoping to draw some attention to your mad SEO skillz.

Other SEOs who have been using that piece of intel for months (and knew enough just to keep their mouths shut), however, tend to get pissed off when you do that though. Since they’ve known about that particular resource long before you got around to blogging it, they don’t think you’re clever for discovering “a brand new trick”; they just think you’re a jerk who ruined it for other people.

[As it was said so succinctly on Shoemoney’s blog: STFU Already]

If you’re genuinely trying to help people and provide interesting and new SEO info, then at least post about it in a way that adds value to the SEO discussion at a higher level. Rather than outing that one great authority domain that doesn’t use nofollow, try instead to set it up as a test demonstrating (or debunking) that trusted domains do indeed pass more link juice than other domains, all things held equal, for example.

Publicly Outing Other SEO’s Projects

Outting SEOs with evidence of black hat tactics is similar to revealing a particular SEO secret but focuses on naming names. Doing this is pretty much only ever a vanity project (or competitive sabotage?). This type of outing doesn’t even serve to help readers of your blog, other than to provide them an opportunity to revel in Schadenfreude.

But the industry is a lot like high school. While the cool kids might laugh along and enjoy the fact that you gave the school nerd a wedgie, they still don’t consider you their friend. They’ll forget about you as soon as the next thing comes along and you’re no closer to being part of the in-crowd, except now no one else wants to be friends with you either.

Outting other SEOs doesn’t add value to the discussion and doesn’t make you look like a better SEO. If your goal is to narc on someone else for competitive purposes, just go email Matt Cutts directly or something instead of stirring up a lot of public controversy. (But wouldn’t it make more sense to use your competitor’s techniques to your own advantage quietly?)

Acting Like an Arrogant Know-It-All

Face it, you don’t know it all. And whether you’re hanging out a SES or on, odds are pretty good that you don’t even know more than the two guys on either side of you. The SEO industry is filled with smart, crafty and ambitious people — you’d be wise to gauge the competition before you barge in and declare yourself an SEO Rockstar and tell everyone how inferior they are to you.

This is especially true if you actually really, really suck at SEO (and basic social skills).

All things being equal, people tend to prefer the smart SEO who is also genuinely nice and appropriately humble. If being liked and participating as a constructive and respected member of the SEO community isn’t your goal, and you’re more interested in actual results and attracting clients instead, that’s cool too, but then think “ninja” instead of “loud, drunken frat boy” — go into stealth mode and get your satisfaction from outranking everyone … quietly.

Spamming SEO Forums

Seriously? Does this need further explanation?

All I want to add is that if you get called out for spamming on an SEO forum, don’t keep digging a bigger and bigger hole for yourself by arguing with everyone endlessly about how you’re not a spammer. And for God’s sake don’t stalk individuals and try to rescue your reputation by engaging in obvious and juvenile smear campaigns against those who disagree with you.

Calling Yourself an SEO When You’re Just a Spammer

If you submit everything you’ve ever published to Digg “to get it indexed faster” or you drop comment spam on blog posts about a death in the author’s family, for God’s sake don’t identify yourself as an “SEO” when you’re doing it. The industry has a hard enough time shaking the stereotype that search engine optimizationis nothing but spam; we don’t want to be associated with you.

Of course, if you’re actually comment spamming on blog posts about family deaths, you probably don’t give a crap how your behavior reflects on the SEO industry, so consider this instead: calling yourself an SEO while engaged in any sort of link building or social media marketing is ineffective. In fact, you can almost guarantee that it’ll backfire. So for your own sake, if not for the rest of us, leave “SEO” out of it.

Copying Someone Else’s Ideas (a.k.a. Plagiarism)

So when I told my buddy Streko that I was writing a blog post about different ways to be a jerk in SEO, and asked him what other kinds of things he found especially offensive, he said: dude, hasn’t that been done already?

Not being original is hardly an offense limited to our industry, but Streko’s comment underscores that SEO bloggers, probably more than other types of bloggers, value originality.

This brings me to a slight tangent of what constitutes plagiarism: plagiarism isn’t merely copying and pasting, word for word, someone else’s writing; it includes reworking someone else’s ideas, concepts or thoughts without attribution. So if you see a blog post, are inspired by the idea, and rewrite it, that’s plagiarism.

If you want to blog about SEO, don’t just rehash what someone else said, especially if you’re dealing with a technical subject; add new points to the discussion, come up with your own topics, and attribute ideas to their original authors.

If you are a blatant plagiarist and can’t be convinced to act otherwise, then please, at the very least, don’t pimp the hell out of your blog on a social voting site (where you most likely saw the post you copied in the first place) in order to raise your own profile.

As for whether this post too closely resembles to what’s been written previously … I’ll let you be the judge.

[Jill Whalen gently reminds me that she wrote a great article on SEO Plagiarism earlier this summer – one which I didn’t credit adequately. Yes, that qualifies as irony.]

Yes, It’s Your Prerogative to be a Jerk, But…

Being a jerk rarely is a competitive advantage, and when you do search engine optimization, your behavior reflects both on you as a professional and on the industry as a whole. Even worse, the SEO community (as much as it loves to eat itself) will also turn on its own members on a dime. If a bunch of SEOs call you a BS-spewing jackass, they’ll do it in a way that will live on in the SERPs for a long time. Next time prospective clients or employers Google you and decide not to hire you because of your online reputation, will you still think it was worth it?

Note: As much as I wanted to point to to lots of specific examples, identifying links have been removed to protect the not-so-innocent…. because, you see, I don’t want to be that guy.

So, how about you? Who’s the worst in your opinion? And who did I leave off? The always-contrarian, the Google haterz, the Google fanboy, the white-hat absolutist … who else rises to the level of SEO jerk for you?

Comments (26)

Category: Industry Buzz,search marketing

Quote of the Week: the Centripetal Web

Posted by Melanie Phung on Monday, October 20, 2008 at 8:04 pm

This week Nicholas Carr (author of Is Google Making Us Stupid, a piece from The Atlantic I pointed out previously) waxes philosophic about the centripetal forces of the Web, how Google offers the course of least resistance, and how the rich get richer when it comes to the attention economy on the Internet:

…the “long tail” remains an elegant and instructive theory, but it already feels dated, a description of the web as we once imagined it to be rather than as it is. The long tail is still there, of course, but far from wagging the web-dog, it’s taken on the look of a vestigial organ. Chop it off, and most people would hardly notice the difference. On the web as off it, things gravitate toward large objects. The center holds.

The whole paragraph about how Wikipedia “first sucks in content from other sites, then it sucks in links, then it sucks in search results, then it sucks in readers” is worth quoting extensively as well, but rather than cutting and pasting all that is quote-worthy from that article into this post, I’m going to encourage you to spin off in a different direction and read the piece in its entirety.

Comments Off on Quote of the Week: the Centripetal Web

Category: Quote of the Week

Local Search Is Hot… And a Hot Mess

Posted by Melanie Phung on Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 8:57 pm

In my last post I whined thoughtfully pointed out that Google Local makes it possible to get ranked in search results without even having a site. Those of you who read between the lines understood that I wasn’t just talking about how jacked up the Local Search results were but that I was actually revealing a little SEO trick. The implicit tip was to go register your website with Google Local so you too can rank well for location-specific searches.

After all, if a site with zero content, a site that doesn’t even exist for jeebus’ sake, can rank well, then no matter how ridiculously bad your site is, you know it’s been done with worse.

But besides ranking well, there’s another reason to go claim your listing in Google Local: if you don’t, an unscrupulous competitor can claim your listing, alter it (by replacing your URL with theirs, deleting your listing, etc.) and siphon off your customers. An oversight like that can lose you sales, or worse.

Edit Local Search Listing

Read up on some real life examples of this Google Local/Google Maps hijacking problem:

The hole that allows for these hijacks is not a new bug — it’s been happening for a while, so chances are your competitors already know about it. Go go claim your listing before some unethical and/or desperate jackass gets around to grabbing it out from under you.

Those are two pretty obvious loopholes in G’s Local Search and I hope that Google fixes them pretty fast.

But despite all the problems in local search (or maybe because of it), this vertical is hot and it’s only going to get hotter. For one thing, small businesses are starting to really pay attention to this whole “Google thing.” It’s low-cost, targeted exposure and during these tougher economic times businesses are starting to realize SEO is more accessible than they might have thought previously. And I’m seeing lots of larger companies starting to pursue the small-biz market, with SEO offerings specifically targeted to the small mom-and-pop sites, which helps raise awareness even more.

If last year was the time to roll out reputation management services, then this year is the time to get into local search. But as with the former, expectation management with these types of clients is key; plus, as the Google Maps hijacks make clear, there’s more to optimizing for local search than just stuffing city names into site copy.

So… who needs an SEO to help them optimize their Washington, DC, business listing?! 🙂

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Category: Local Search

Being Outranked by a Site That Doesn’t Even Exist

Posted by Melanie Phung on Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 4:05 pm

When I did a search on [DC SEO] this week, I was annoyed to find the site show up on the first page higher than my domain. Not because I have anything against the guy, but because I had written previously about this site in a post called Getting Ranked via Google Local… With No Content At All. Shortly after I posted that entry about the site being listed at the top of the page (despite the link only going to a directory folder), the local listing went away.

Apparently the site was now ranking for [Washington DC SEO] and [DC SEO] queries again… this time with no site at all.

When I clicked on the result, I got a 404 error.

Washington DC SEO Google Results

The Local Results Box was showing up alternating between the top of the page and below the #3 organic results, as in the above screenshot. I tried accessing the site all sorts of ways, but they all led to the same conclusion: the site doesn’t exist.

I guess it’s theoretically possible that the site is down temporarily, but a search using the site: command also brings up squat. In other words, Google says the site doesn’t exist in its index.

A search of the WayBack Machine shows that the only time any sort of site was ever on that domain was sometime between July 17, 2007 and August 14, 2007. The other WayBack entries show the same thing I screengrabbed in my previous post: a look at the directory folder w/ nothing in it. Now there’s not even that.


Clearly when Google is displaying Universal Search results, it’s pulling that info from other indexes; it just takes data from Local, Maps, Images, Shopping, etc and injects it into the regular organic results. Those indexes obviously have different rules and algos surrounding how your site (or product) gets listed. But can’t we agree that a universal rule for all of Google’s various search results should be that the URL being returned actually exists?

Finding a well-ranked “result” in the SERPs that 404s is bad enough, but having that result be a non-existent site, one that hasn’t existed in over a year, outranking me for Washington DC SEO … well, that’s just unacceptable. 😉

Comments (4)

Category: Local Search