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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

What Selling Knives Taught Me About SEO

Posted by Melanie Phung on Monday, July 21, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Long ago, when I was a freshman in college, I took a sales job for a company called Vector Marketing — a business you may know of second hand even if you’ve never heard their name. If you’ve ever heard jokes about college kids selling Cutco knives door-to-door you’ve heard of Vector.

(Just to be clear, we didn’t actually go door-to-door, that would just be crazy! It was a referral business.)

It was possibly the worst job I’ve ever had — it was hard, it was stressful, I worked 7 days a week… I had to go into the homes of people I didn’t know (and I was painfully shy) to SELL KNIVES … and if I didn’t succeed, I didn’t get paid.

But it was also one of the most valuable work experiences of my life. In addition to some terrific anecdotes, that short-term gig taught me some great skills and life lessons. Even better, I can apply these lessons to search engine optimization.

1. It Doesn’t Count If It Doesn’t Stick

You can sell several thousand dollars worth of product on a sales call, but if the client cancels their entire order after you leave, you get bupkis, nada, nothing.

If you pull all sorts of shenanigans and get yourself ranked #1 in Google, good on you, but it’s not worth anything if you get booted out of the index faster you can say “How do I file a reinclusion request?”

If I were to write this list in reverse order of importance, in the style of a count down, I’d save this one for last. But frankly, I can’t count on everyone making it all the way to the end of this post, so I’ll put it first: If the sale (ranking) don’t stick, it don’t count.

Luckily, with Google, you can beg for a second chance. You can undo everything you did wrong and beg for reinclusion, but that’s a tremendous waste of time and energy. In the door-to-door knife business, it was much harder to save a sale that’s falling through. I learned that closing the sale right was more important than closing the sale fast, but either way you had to close the sale and keep it closed.

2. You Can Have All the Talent in the World, But You Still Gotta Pick up the Phone

You could be a great salesperson, capable of selling ice to an Eskimo, but if you didn’t go on sales calls, you weren’t going to sell anything. Unlike the minimum wage retail job alternatives I could have taken, this was not a job where you got paid just for showing up. It being a pure commission gig, no one cared if you showed up at all, in fact. Being able to set your own hours, work when you wanted to or not work at all sounds great to most people, but it required a lot of discipline I didn’t necessarily have at that point in my life.

Unless you’re paid to blog or do nothing but speak at conferences, all the SEO knowledge in the world won’t actually improve your rankings and it won’t pay the bills.

Even if they’re not working on a pure pay-for-performance basis, most hardcore SEOs are going to want to be able to show real, significant results – not just talk about what it takes to get them. And a good SEO knows that in most cases real results require rolling up your sleeves and doing the work, not just knowing your stuff.

3. You Never Know Who Your Allies Will Be

Sometimes I’d show up at a customer’s house, take one look around and think “there’s no way this person can afford what I’m here to sell.” I might have brushed them off, done a half-assed pitch, rushed it, and not treated them like a valued customer — it’s trite, but trust me, the customer can always tell. In that case, the no-longer-prospective customer was just as happy to have me out of their house as I was eager to move on to my next appointment.

Other times I might have dedicated myself to building a rapport, listening to their needs and doing my best to get that sale. However, even if I wasn’t able to close the sale, these prospects became my allies. They liked me, they believed in what I was selling even if they didn’t buy it. The difference is that I’d leave these people’s houses with a long list of referrals. In most cases a list of referrals was of more value than any single sale anyway.

Don’t overlook folks you think aren’t influential enough — they might very well be the ones to recommend you to friends who will end up being your very best source of revenue/inbound links/conference speaker opps/customer referrals/etc.

4. Every Customer Is Different

Just like no single set of kitchen tools is right for every cook (you ever talk to serious cooks about their knives? They ain’t foolin’ around), there is no one size fits all solution to SEO.

As a Cutco salesman, if you simply memorized your sales spiel and recited it verbatim to every new customer, maybe you could sell something, but you could never communicate the full value of the big ticket items. When I was on a call, I never gave the same presentation twice.

When I’m optimizing a site, it would be crazy to follow the same plan I used for another site. There is no single site architecture, no copy style, no page title formula and certainly no link-building strategy that you simply reuse from client to client. It just won’t work.

5. Be Your Own Customer

The most effective salespeople were able to draw on their own experience with the product. Vector required you to own the products you showcased; all the best sales people actually used them too.

It’s possible, but awfully hard, to recommend strategies, speak intelligently about time lines or probabilities of effectiveness, or answer client questions about specific techniques if you’re not constantly perfecting and finetuning them. While it certainly makes sense to be doing that on current projects with other clients, the best SEOs perfect and finetune their ranking tactics on their own side projects (the ones they’re fired up about and perfect on their own time).

6. You Have to Have Executive Buy-In

As much as I liked thinking that stay-at-home moms had completely autonomy over their household budgets, it happened more than once that I totally sold the mistress of the house on the value of my product, only to have a message waiting for me when I got back to the office that the husband came home and blew his top when he saw the bill.

It’s not enough to get buy-in from your contact. You need to arm her with the right information so she can be just as persuasive relaying the value of what she bought when the (other) executive starts asking questions. If she can’t get him to buy in to the value you’re offering, you’re facing an almost impossible battle.

Whether you’re an in-house SEO or an outside consultant, you need buy-in from the right people, not just your direct contact, or your projects aren’t going to get resourced or prioritized to the level required to move the needle.

7. Sell People on What They Need, Not What They Think They Want

One of the best ways to find a new customer was to have them find you. I loved having friends of previous customers call me up to tell me they heard great things about the product and that they wanted to buy a knife. The easy thing would be to write up the order right there over the phone, but I always took the extra step to come to their house and do the full demo. I’d ask them what it is they liked about their friend’s set and why they wanted the particular piece they mentioned, and wouldn’t you know it, I’d always be able to upsell at least one or two more pieces (and sometimes their final order didn’t even include the piece they originally called about). Why? Because every customer is different (see #4).

The friend would tell my new customer the ways that she used her knives, not the way that her friend would likely use them. After being educated on how “a tool for ever job; a job for every tool” applied to her kitchen, the referred customer got what she actually needed, not what she thought she wanted — which always led to a more satisfied customer (and more often than not, a bigger sale). Even better, I could be assured that they didn’t injure themselves using their knives incorrectly.

A lot of potential customers think they know what SEO is. They’ve heard it has something to do with link building, or meta data, or cloaking, or whatever, and they go to an SEO firm to execute on their idea. More often than not, there are better ways to accomplish their specific goals, but you’ve got to figure out what the clients need, not just what they’re asking you to do. If you execute SEO tactics based on the latter rather than the former, you might actually be doing them a disservice.

8. Don’t Apologize for Your Price: Focus on Value

If you’re top notch, don’t compete on price. My prospective customers knew I wasn’t peddling $5 Ginsu knives because I knew it; I never apologized for the price, because I was selling the value.

There were always a handful of customers who didn’t get it, didn’t want to get it, weren’t ever going to get it, and it was best not to waste your time on them. Even a relatively short sales presentation came at an opportunity cost — if I cut down my 90-minute presentation in half, that gave me time to make phone calls and set up a few more appointments with clients who might actually generate commission.

If you’re selling SEO services and it’s clear that your clients don’t value your services, they’re going to end up being a pain to work with in the long run, and you need to decide if you want to sink time and effort into a project that you’re not being adequately compensated for. A client who doesn’t value you at $150 an hour, isn’t going to value you any more if you drop your fee down to $85 an hour. Know what your services are worth, and don’t apologize for it.

9. Some People Are Crazy – Don’t Let Them Near the Knives

In the real world, like the Internet, you’ll come across some people who are a little off. Trust your instinct, and don’t hand them anything that may end up causing you harm just because you’re desperate to make a sale (or gain a StumbleUpon friend, or get some Digg votes, or get entree into the cool kids club on Sphinn).

Used correctly, a knife could be a wonderful tool. In the wrong hands…

photo by darkpatator

Whether your “knife” in this metaphor is a particular SEO secret, an industry relationship, your client list, personal info or whatever… be careful not to hand it to people who are going to go totally psycho on you.

10. A Good Investment Lasts a Lifetime…and Other Conclusions

I was pretty good at my knife selling gig, but it involved blood (literally), sweat (my car didn’t have A/C) and tears (yes, sometimes it was that bad). Although the metaphorical blood, sweat and tears are never completely out of the picture, the SEO industry has been better to me and I’ve lasted a lot longer as an SEO (and made a lot more money) than I did as a knife salesman. The experience as a Vector direct salesperson, however, was invaluable.

For what it’s worth, I still own my Cutco knives and they’re great. I’ve taken advantage of the almost-sounds-too-good-to-be-true guarantee to have my well-used and even damaged pieces repaired or replaced completely free. It was an investment that paid for itself many times over.

The initial investment in the Cutco demo kit was a barrier to entry that kept a lot of half-hearted sales wanna-be’s out of the Vector marketing program. The world of self-proclaimed SEO “gurus” seems to have no such barrier to entry — any wanna-be SEO can start a blog and claim to know their stuff. In the end, however, the ones who’ve got what it takes will keep getting clients and those who don’t have the skills, talent and/or drive will fall by the way side.

Comments (9)

Category: search marketing

Good SEO Consulting Starts with Good Clients

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, July 15, 2008 at 12:28 pm

What do you need to be a good SEO consultant? Besides a modicum of skills, that is. Answer: Good clients.

Aaron Wall perfectly outlines why providing quality SEO consulting is much harder than simply being good at SEO:

“Most prospective SEO customers are not ranked well because their businesses are unremarkable and have little to no competitive advantage. Worse yet, some of them have arbitrary constraints that hold back growth potential. … Those [customers] who have not fully bought off on the power of SEO often end up underpaying the first time they buy services, which precludes honest consultants from working with them. After they got burned once, they want to minimize future risks, which sets off a market for lemons effect.”

Poorly run companies who start off with a handicap generally aren’t willing to invest what it’ll take to overcome that handicap. They hand you a bunch of rotting lemons, don’t allow you to add sugar or water, and are then disappointed when you don’t give them back top-shelf lemonade. See, they say, SEO is ineffective.

If you care about the quality of your work product, that’s bound to make you, as the SEO, pretty crappy. Avoid feeling crappy by not taking clients who are setting you up to fail.

What most good SEO clients bring to the table:

  • A solid business model
  • An understanding that SEO is a process whose success is measured in months, not days
  • Strong marketing knowledge of their own space
  • A willingness to work with you, to integrate SEO into their broader marketing strategy
  • The ability to make changes to their site

That last bullet seems laughably simple, but a lot of bad SEO clients don’t seem to get that this is critical and don’t bother to mention that they are unable or unwilling to execute on your recommendations until after you’ve started working with them.

Building a rewarding career as an SEO consultant isn’t as easy as simply being good at SEO — don’t put your success in the hands of clients who aren’t willing to invest in their own.

Oh, and a final consideration for when you’re taking on new SEO clients:

  • They have a track record of actually paying their vendors

Comments (4)

Category: search marketing

eBay Affiliates No Longer Allowed to Compete in PPC

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, May 29, 2007 at 10:05 pm

According to AuctionBytes (an online publication for online merchants): As of June 1st, eBay will no longer compensate affiliates for “paid search traffic purchased from,,, nor from any of their content networks, such as Google AdSense, Yahoo! Publisher Network, and MSN ContentAds, if it is linked directly to the, eBay Express, or eBay Store domains.”

As strange as it might seem for someone who spends as much time on the Web as I do, I’ve never purchased anything off eBay, much less set up an eBay affiliate account, so I can’t speak from personal experience the way I do some of the other affiliate programs; however, this move could have a big impact.

Based on discussions I’ve had with folks who run the corporate LinkShare Referral Program for a certain large electronics retailer, nearly all of the company’s active LinkShare affiliates send traffic via PPC ads, not from the links that are provided for inclusion on web sites.

Furthermore, I just learned that Google is starting to bar affiliates from bidding on PPC ads also — this isn’t restricted to just eBay affiliates. I can only assume that they mean affiliates are not allowed to bid on keywords for which the parent company is also bidding. Surely they’d be allowed to pick up non-competitive phrases. Otherwise that would be even more ridiculous “punishment” for affiliate marketers who ought to have every right to advertise.

Ironically, while cutting affiliates out of the PPC game might somehow arguably improve the paid results (even though affiliates often have distinctive pricing from the parent, so I don’t buy that argument!), this move might actually lower the cost of keywords for those players who get to remain in the game — it’s economics: less competition equals lower prices. That and seeing as a lot of business comes from affiliates and resellers, it seems Google may be cutting off a finger of the hand that feeds its money-making AdWords machine.

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Category: Contextual Ads,Monetizing,search marketing

Crazy Expectations: SEO Isn’t Magic, People

Posted by Melanie Phung on Wednesday, May 2, 2007 at 9:50 pm

Little story from a week and a half ago: On Friday we launched a new flow for one of our subcatalogs; the first time an entire section of the e-commerce flow was designed with SEO specifically in mind. (This included things such as page titles, breadcrumb structure, markup, etc.)

On Monday I’m asked what we did wrong that prevented us from being on the first page for searches on those product names.

Good Gawd! Those hundreds of new pages got indexed over the weekend. In many cases we’re even ranked in the top 100 results for searches on those products. That’s all you should be hoping for at this point.

We even found one example (of a four-word term) where we ranked on the first page for the name of a product.

And I’m asked what we did wrong?!

Apparently “expectation management” is what I’m doing wrong.

Comments (2)

Category: search marketing