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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 Sphinn.com, 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

26 Comments

Comment by DazzlinDonna

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 10:42 am

Great article, but unfortunately, jerks rarely see themselves even when the mirror is right in front of their face. So some of us reading this might be nodding and agreeing and not even realizing we are one of “them”. LOL. Hey, all I see is the gray hair in the mirror…surely that’s not a sign. :D

Comment by Chris Hooley

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 10:42 am

Glad you didn’t add “Drink so much you look like a fool every time you attend a conference” cuz that wouldn’t be good for my rep ;-)

Your first way to be a jerk reminded me of Brent’s post on ShoeMoney’s blog – http://www.shoemoney.com/2008/06/03/i-know-its-social-but-stfu-already/

Sometimes people really DO need to STFU!

Comment by Robert

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 10:50 am

Funny you should mention the SEO jerk bit after this recent post on SEOmoz: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/seo-company-search-results-an-embarrassment-to-google-yahoo-live

I guess I’m gonna add Rands name to that list today. And for nominating him I guess I should add my name too ;)

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 10:53 am

Donna – don’t worry, I wasn’t thinking about you with any of these! :) (In fact, I think I was quite specific about the behaviors – shouldn’t be THAT hard to self-identify if you engage in these.)

Thanks Chris – I couldn’t remember who started the “STFU Already” meme. Added the link to give props where due.

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 11:01 am

Robert – shhhh.

Comment by Tim Staines

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 11:08 am

To me it’s the White Hat Absolutist . . . I think we’ve all read a number of comments by the same person(s) and decided to stop reading comments from them all together. It’s like they have nothing better to do than prop themselves up as whiter than white in a business that requires understanding (if not implementing some level of) gray and black techniques to get the most benefit. I hope these people never turn without using a blinker, never sneeze without covering their mouths, and never leave the bathroom without washing their hands (even when the line for a sink is three people deep).

Comment by G. Wayne Clayton

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 11:08 am

I had an associate test out on our site a WordPress plugin that went out and got RSS feeds. It would then post them on our site as articles. As normal opertaing procedure BEFORE posting we would get the writers permission to repost their stuff on our site.

This same associate was playing around with one of the settings in the plugin, saved it and went home for the night. That evening the WordPress plugin kicked in— took content from a well known SEO person and posted it…all 10 or so articles from this SEO “guru” on our site.

The next morning I find an email from said SEO person stating we have plagarized his content (well actually not) and then proceeded to threaten us. He demanded we take it down from our site immediately. I was shocked to find what had happened in a few short hours –and gladly complied. I sent them and email in addition to calling them and apologized. I offered a detailed explainatoion as to what had occured and how we were correcting it.

During the time we were doing the corrective work (15 minutes), this SEO person started posting to other site that “I” had plagarized his work. I was totally disappointed in this guy for capitalizing on this unfortunate event! First his name still remained in tact as the author of the posts. Second, the posts were up on our website only about 7 hours (from 1AM to 8AM) and was taken down.

As a journalist (and very knowledgable about what truly is plagarism) and overall honest and nice guy I thought his kneejerk reaction was waaaaay over the top.

His overall reaction? He sent me back an email saying it was OK. He understood..but he unfortunately NEVER took back his kneejerk posts about plagarism from the microblogging sites. I was a previous customer of his and really expected more out of this person…not such an over-reaction. It made me look at him very differently (professionally) after that.

But I can tell you I know have it set up that only I can make changes to plugins.

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 11:37 am

Wayne – while I sympathize that your situation, as you explained it, sucks… the fact is, copying someone else’s work even if you attribute it to the original author is technically still a copyright violation. Unless a work is licensed under Creative Commons, you do not have the right to republish it, regardless of attribution.

Especially in an environment where content producers are sensitive to duplicate content issues (but just in general), it’s hardly a surprise that people get very worked up about intellectual property infringement.

If it was an honest mistake and you apologized, I hope you’ve been able to weather the negative fallout without too much consequence.

But if what he did made him an “SEO Jerk”, then I think I’m one as well. I’m pretty sensitive about the integrity of my IPR.

Comment by Tom Pick

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 12:06 pm

I concur with 99% of this, but just a couple of comments / clarifications:

1. “Publicly Outing Other SEOā€™s Projects” CAN be a bad thing, but isn’t ALWAYS. If the goal is vengeance or pure self-promotion, that’s bad. But if it is to warn potential SEO buyers about ahady practices and practitioners to avoid, then it’s a public service, e.g., avoid and SEO who “guarantees” top results. They are either black hat or fraudulent.

2. Plagiarism – no question, doing this intentionally with no attribution is jerk-ish. However, given the sheer volume of blog posts written about SEO, coincidentally restating someone else’s ideas on occasion is inevitable.

Thanks!

Comment by Patricia Skinner

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 12:56 pm

Thank you Melanie. Thank God someone finally wrote this post. I don’t have much hope that it’ll make the situation any better, but boy do we all feel better that our pet hates are all out in the open now. This is a big day for the SEO world imo. :)

I do feel that Tom is right though, a certain amount of overlap between our ideas is inevitable, isn’t it?

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 1:20 pm

Tom and Patricia – thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

Of course it’s nearly inevitable that we end up talking about the same things. Anyone who follows industry news (and if you aren’t, why would you blog about it?) will end up writing about similar topics at some point. But there is a line between writing about a similar topic and just rewriting someone else’s post — if you can’t avoid doing a post that overlaps someone else’s to the point that it looks like you’ve simply reworded it, then consider why you need to publish your post at all.

As for warning consumers of SEO services about potentially shady companies – you can do that by pointing out obvious bad practices. You don’t have to name names.

Comment by Jill

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 4:55 pm

Heh…well the SEO Plagiarism part…kinda taken from my article of the same topic…oh the irony! :D

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Wednesday, 29 of October , 2008 at 5:10 pm

Jill – yes, shame on me! There are a limited number of ways to define what plagiarism is, but your specific angle on plagiarism in the SEO industry obviously did inspire me to the point that I completely internalized it. Apologies!

Jill’s least favorite SEO Jerk? The Hypocrite.

Comment by kim krause berg

Made Thursday, 30 of October , 2008 at 8:49 pm

BRAVO! I’ve come to understand that if stranded on an island with just a bunch of SEO’s, the leadership would eventually crack under the pressure and kill the fat kid. Or however that story went…

Comment by David Pye

Made Thursday, 30 of October , 2008 at 9:55 pm

Loved the high school analogies. The web is littered with the bones of crummy “SEO blogs” that do little more than regurgitate what the esteemed author first read in 14 other places. We all know this.

Then there are, as you point out, eager-beavers who spout off about a “trick” in an attempt to be cool and ruin it for the rest of us who knew well enough to keep it on the DL. His effort backfires and he’s lower down on the food chain than he was before he posted. The dweeb tries to be cool by inviting all the football players to his party… only to have them trash his house.

I find that the best SEM blogs walk the line like Mr. Cash… providing original thoughts and insight that is helpful without giving away trinkets best left for conversations in dark bars at conferences.

I guess my point is – Walk the line, and don’t be a beaver. Or something like that.

Comment by John Lacey

Made Saturday, 1 of November , 2008 at 5:27 pm

I genuinely can’t think of anything more boring than SEO, except, perhaps, a self-styled “SEO Expert.”

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Monday, 3 of November , 2008 at 11:51 am

I genuinely canā€™t think of anything more boring than SEO, except, perhaps, a self-styled ā€?SEO Expert.ā€¯

Really, you can’t think of anything more boring than SEO? My life is filled with things that are exponentially more boring. You must live a very exciting life :) Makes me wonder why in the world you’d bother to read this blog if you find SEO (and its practitioners) so dreadfully dull.

John, your comment makes me wonder if people reading this post think I’m hating on SEOs, that I think all SEOs are jerks. That’s certainly not what I think, and not what I was attempting to do in this post. Like any industry, the search engine optimization industry is filled with some awesome people and others who are jerks. I was merely pointing out SEO-specific jerky things to do.

Comment by Mark

Made Monday, 3 of November , 2008 at 5:49 pm

I tire of the acronym SEO. Enjoy ranking for the term “SEO Jerk”. Well done.

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Monday, 3 of November , 2008 at 6:28 pm

I also rank pretty well for “SEO Porn”… unfortunately, people who get to my site from that phrase are inevitably disappointed. More so than usual, I mean.

(I feel like I’m starting to channel SEO Hack.)

Comment by Jordan

Made Saturday, 8 of November , 2008 at 3:48 am

“Acting Like an Arrogant Know-It-All”

lol. by far my fav one.

Comment by MLRebecca

Made Monday, 10 of November , 2008 at 6:36 pm

I guess I hadn’t really observed some of these behaviors before, but I can see how they would be frustrating. Thanks for the tips. Hopefully we will find more pleasant SEO experts out there from now on!

Comment by SEO GTA

Made Monday, 17 of November , 2008 at 11:38 pm

I think what SEO community needs is less talk and more work, everybody wants to set himself as an authority in that space to satisfy his ego or to attract big clients losing the focus on improving his/her service.

You included some good advice but SEO can not be as clean as you want it to be, not all website has enough good content to attract links without some artificial link building that might make you look like a spammer sometimes (if you are not smart enough)

The worse that could happen to any SEO is reading more and more trying to find out the best system that works for him, go and act make some mistakes that what will get you to learn 10 times than reading blog posts that been written most the time by the book guys, you need some times to be the street boy.

Comment by Cesar Moves

Made Tuesday, 18 of November , 2008 at 7:31 pm

This Blog reminds me the reason I like bloging so much, the interaction is very important with readers and you guys have it right. Looks great too, will be back for more posts, David the mover.

Comment by malcolm coles

Made Friday, 12 of December , 2008 at 10:50 am

Dunno if you’ve seen this account of when arguments between SEOs goes really bad …

Comment by George McCumiskey

Made Friday, 12 of December , 2008 at 4:44 pm

Spammers and SEO Specialists are not one in the same!

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Friday, 12 of December , 2008 at 6:54 pm

Yeah, George, “that’s what she said” ;)

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