Black Magic SEO

Yes, I titled this post “Black Magic SEO”, not “Black Hat SEO”.  Because even black hat SEO shouldn’t be sullied by the likes of “techniques” and “methods” that I for one hope to one day see be completely eradicated from the face of the SEO community.

I’m talking about ways people come up with that “appear” to be “amazing” and “OMG” “solutions” to the process search engines go through in order to deal with garbage content intentionally manipulated so egregiously that they pollute the SERPs, turning them into the SEO cesspool. Concepts that distract site owners from real value based optimization.  Concepts that in the end, sometimes also butcher user experience…

Caveat

I am not, nor do I see myself as an industry leader.  I’m not a journalist needing to write dispassionately either.  I’m just a guy in the trenches every day, called in to fix what others have mangled, on behalf of clients who have been disillusioned too many times.

Some of you will probably find my attitude and the words in this article distasteful.  Some of the things I say, and how I communicate them, are far from politically correct.  Heck, some of it crosses into the realm of rude. And maybe even crass.  I know this, and people who have seen some of the sneak peeks I posted have already reminded me, just to be sure I know this.

Yet when I see something taking place that needs to be brought to the light of day, I need to speak up.  In my own voice.  Not for popularity or to convince you that my belief is the right one.

When I do, I even suppose some people will choose to ignore the more important message underneath my crass words.  Perhaps in a perfect world, I’d be a regular Walt Whitman in the words I come up with.   However I live in the real world where my need to speak up overrides that ideal.

Yes, you may find it ironic that I call for professionalism given this reality.  Except I am who I am, and what needs to be communicated needs to be communicated.  Even in as far from ideal a way as my inelegant self would do.  Fortunately, I don’t make my income from my writing. If I did, I’d be one of the lowest paid people in the industry.

Black Magic SEO Lingers Like Vomit After Expulsion

Just yesterday, in my “Renegade SEO Consultant” article, I mentioned how a recent client, during our discussion of the action plan I wrote after auditing her site, asked me “What about nofollow used to improve our Google Juice?”.

Yes, fully two years after PageRank Sculpting was announced to have been long since useless, and real professionals understood this, here, in 2011, a client was asking about it, as if it were an important, relevant consideration for her professional web site.

Black Magic SEO is Not A Victimless Crime

This client is not herself an SEO professional.  She’s an innocent site owner, struggling to just make the best choices for her site, when faced with an otherwise seemingly insurmountable competitive landscape.

Some hack polluted her mind with those buzzwords, pulled right out of their black magic bag of tricks.  And she tossed those words around as if she really understood the concept, yet clearly her voice was tentative, just struggling to put the “right words” to it, believing that this was some high level advanced method she should be concerned about and that I had not, oddly enough, mentioned once in my audit.

The Latest Black Magic Potion

This week a new article appeared over at SEOmoz in the YOUmoz section, entitled ” Ways to Avoid the First Link Counts Rule”.

Can I pause for a moment, while I stab my eyes out with a sharp pencil please?

I’m not linking to the article.  Feel free to search for it if you want to join the magic carpet ride into worthless time-suck. Personally, I’m just going to speak up and take a stand.  Because, like others in our industry, I’m tired of all the nonsense out there interfering with providing site owners best practices solutions.

Black Magic SEO Boils My Blood

It’s exactly the kind of pseudo-valuable “insight”, presented in a “scientific testing package”, that boils my blood.  When I commented in that article’s comments that I felt it was an article that should not be allowed to work its way through the maze of our industry, Rand disagreed, even going so far as to say he thought it should be promoted out of YOUmoz to the main site.

I totally disagree.  That kind of article pollutes the web to the point where people who don’t know better, chew that information up.  Then like cows and their cud, they re-quote, re-write and re-purpose all that digestive muck.

Eventually somebody in the optimization food chain tells a business site owner it’s a valid optimization method. Or that site owner reads it on SEOmoz and automatically thinks it’s important because they read it on the moz.

Even though it’s such an insignificant “factor”, IF it carries ANY validity at all.  That distracts semi-educated industry people.  And clients who don’t know better.  It’s value, if any, is probably short-lived as Google continually has to refine their algorithm.  And more important an issue, it’s bad for quality user experience.

Why Google Might Only Count One Link

Let’s consider WHY Google would want to only count the first link to a page.

The only reason more than one link should ever appear within the same page pointing to the same other page is for usability.  Either it’s the right thing to do from a user experience, or it’s bogus.  It’s a hack for “SEO” purposes.

And if it’s there as a hack for SEO purposes, it’s NOT the right thing to do for users.

So how else would Google combat the unnatural additional link factor?  Eliminating any or all value from additional links on a single page is the intelligent way to combat the spam.

Eliminating ranking value of additional links doesn’t harm the other page’s ranking if the other page has high quality content, is within a properly focused topical grouping, and itself has enough of the other, dare I say “respectable” SEO indicators and signals it should have, IF it’s truly a page relevant to it’s topical focus.

The “It Has Value” Argument

When I railed against the YOUmoz article, people came up with half a dozen reasons they said it’s a valid tactic. Like “a designer might butcher your well crafted anchor text”…  And that itself is a serious problem in our industry.  People get hung up on factors that are already being hammered by Google due to spam abuse.  If you are so concerned about your need to obsess on anchor text perfection, you’re already a dying breed.

Every site I’ve ever had the pleasure to audit where someone thought they had Google’s number, I have been able to uncover a plethora of more important, more valuable, and more stable factors they’ve overlooked while they were busy digging into the nitty gritty hack methods someone claimed was a great way to get around Google.

Face it people – spending time “getting around Google” is the most horrific waste of optimization resources imaginable.

The Writing Is On The Wall

Let’s pause a moment. One claim is that this latest technique “scheme” is based on the notion that you can manipulate additional value in links to the point of getting extra credit for variations of your keywords right?  Great.  Once again that just shows how so many people are still asleep at the wheel of the anchor text car, which is on the way to the scrap pile of “get around Google” techniques.

How many people need to discuss, communicate or otherwise raise the flag to get your attention?  Do you not know already that Google is surgically striking out against over-use of keywords as anchors?  And has been doing so since at least sometime last year?

Well even if you were NOT aware of that, you are now.  I’ve just informed you.  Sure- that’s mostly about inbound links from 3rd party sites.  Yet do you think they are not now or will not shortly apply that same concept within a site?

Which means if you use this hack method, you’re just shooting yourself or your client in the foot.  Again.

The Nonsense Has To Stop

Black magic methods have only two true purposes.  Ego or reckless disregard for due diligence in learning best practices.

Neither of which should be acceptable to an industry desiring recognition as a legitimate profession. Especially when such methods encourage harming user experience.

Obligation To Speak Up

Even if someone comes out with such articles, we, as seasoned professionals, people who have the real experience in the trenches dealing with what now amounts to thousands of factors, have a responsibility to speak up and slap the magic right out of those eight-balls.

Not Asking For A Gag Order

When I spoke up about the YOUmoz article, some people suggested I was calling for the suppression of valid and important dialogue regarding factors involved in SEO.  Even Rand said he felt that’s what I was communicating.  I’m not though.  What I’m calling for is a much higher level of responsibility in our community.

A level of professionalism is called for that dictates the need for informing people who otherwise don’t know better that such discussion needs to be held in the light of its misuse.  That attempts to apply such techniques should never be considered unless it’s a minor, third tier approach to squeeze out every last bit of value in the SEO process.

And only when done in a way that does not cause User Experience problems.

Case In Point – People Need Major Disclaimers

Ben Pfeifer wrote this week about how Jill Whalen discovered recently that it’s possible Google is using content from within the Meta Keywords field.  NOT for SEO ranking, and not even for the page those keywords are on.  But instead, purely as words to artificially use within a site’s own search form.  For the SOLE purpose of discovering other pages on the site that come up in those results.

Note how the article clearly states what the behavior appeared to be.  Nothing in the article stated that this was an indication of being able to rank a page for its Meta Keywords.  Nothing was there to indicate that we should be using the Meta Keywords field again.

Yet nevertheless, just read the comments.  Some people failed to read the entire article, or if they did, they ignored reality and made false assumptions.

And that’s on an article that was NOT written the way black magic SEO articles are.

The Mantle Of Responsibility

When these things are written about, especially on sites like SEOmoz, someone needs to ensure the bigger picture is considered, and disclaimers need to be stated up front.  In no uncertain terms. And by the example of how some reacted to Jills findings, even articles that simply point out interesting findings, without suggesting someone should change how they do SEO, we need to go the extra mile.

How many “oh look how I can trick Google” articles hack “solutions” are we, as an industry going to allow to proliferate when doing so harms our industry, and essentially perpetrates theft of site owner marketing budgets?  How many professionals in our industry are going to tolerate this nonsense any more?

Knowing that pursuing such endeavors is a complete waste of time when so many sites are lacking the refined, proven, high value SEO necessary for long term success is unhealthy if left unchecked.  Pretending that speaking up is wrong, or “ratting people out” is inappropriate is pure elementary school, and from adults, it’s inexcusable.

Encouraging it under the guise of helping the community or because its about the free exchange of information is tragic when that encouragement comes from industry leaders who don’t also ensure clarity is brought to the table.

Bad SEO Still Exists & Shouldn’t Be A Surprise

Just yesterday, @Lindzie asked on twitter:

Rand responded:

What’s surprising to me is that someone of Rand’s experience, talent and overall knowledge is surprised by bad SEO still existing.

As much as I appreciate SEOmoz’s policy for encouraging dialogue, why do articles based on fishing expedition methods without warnings get such praise from industry veterans? And why is something that clearly spells future trouble for people learning SEO and for site owners who don’t know better, considered positive in its unchecked form?

While I realize we can’t prevent people who are hungry for rankings yet lack the true ability to see bigger issues from misreading or failing to read otherwise innocent content in its entirety, the very least we can do is focus on those articles that are clearly meant to encourage bad behavior. And leaving that to an entry in the comments is never going to be sufficient in this case either.

The days of unchecked/unbalanced articles on major industry sites has got to stop, people.  Seriously. Please.

Before my head explodes.

About Alan Bleiweiss

Just another guy. Who happens to have a lot of experience living, breathing and sleeping organic SEO. So that's my primary focus - high end SEO audits and consulting for sites ranging from thousands to tens of millions of pages. In my spare time I blog, rant, write eBooks, and speak at industry conferences.

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69 Comments

  1. SERPD says:

    Black Magic SEO…

    Well, can I say? Beat me to the punch with this one. I have a long running ‘SEO Magic Bullet’ series and it’s fun to see Alan also giving a little sh*t out there. Woo hoo!…

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by theGypsy, Level-343 Team, Bradley Hunt, Tim Eschenauer, Anthony Verre and others. Anthony Verre said: So good, I read it twice. Seriously. | RT @AlanBleiweiss: New Article: Black Magic SEO http://seoaud.it/blackmagicseo [...]

  3. Wow, wow and even more wow, Alan. You can write a rant for us any day. Seriously.

    Excellent article with a point well made. I’ve seen a lot of articles out there touting dead/dying or never been born SEO “practices”… they used to tick me off; we’re the ones who have to go to our clients and explain why the SEO campaign they’ve diligently worked on based off of things they’ve read is mostly crap.

    Thank you for such a well spoken (all be it, inelegant) article. You’ve done a great job pinpointing the crux of the issue. Bad information being touted as excellent must-read stuff by industry professionals.

    As a final mention… how is it that this awesome post has been up for three hours and I get the first comment? What’s with that?
    Jahnelle Pittman´s last blog ..Your Brand- Your Business- Your Beautiful ProductMy ComLuv Profile

  4. Ryan Jones says:

    Great rant Alan. Much of what you say is true. I think there’s a lot of SEOs who just can’t see the forest through the trees.

    I think it’s awesome that people are testing and experimenting with this stuff (our industry definitely needs more science) but at the same time It’s dangerous to newcomers/novices.

    Many SEOs want to believe that there’s a simple solution to “trick” Google and they buy into stuff like this way more than they should.

    Pagerank sculpting is one of my favorite examples where people continued to sell it and praise it even though it never worked. My only guess is that they sold it and couldn’t backtrack/admit to the client that it was useless. You run into all kinds of problems like that with SEOs who are also salesmen. We, as an industry, do have a tendency to do a little more cheerleading than science.

    Thinking as a programmer, I can see how this works from Google’s point of view. If I were writing a crawler, I’d want to minimize re-crawling pages so as I discovered links I’d make sure to de-dup the list. It makes sense. What it doesn’t add is much SEO value.

    Looking from Google’s point of view again: what would carry more weight? Anchor text that only I use to describe my page, or anchor text that several others use to describe my page?

    In this particular (first link) case, I think the benefits achieved by just including the words on your target page may be greater than the benefits achieved by adding a # sign to the 2nd link.

    • Ryan,

      that’s a critical consideration – is the time invested worth it? Even if you know or assume there’s got to be some optimization value. And I just don’t believe it’s worth it given all these other considerations.

    • Warren Huska says:

      To paraphrase Ryan: I think there’s a lot of SEOs who just can’t see the forest through the fees.

      It may be excess politeness in this thread, but clearly bad SEO will always exist, just like all other snake-oil and pseudoscience. It’s human nature.

  5. Tim Biden says:

    Alan,

    I agree with you that attempting to trick Google isn’t in the best interest of the SEO community. If nothing else, Google will discover it, change the algo and they’ll all have to start back at square one.

    I believe that people do it for the same reasons that they believe all the get rich quick schemes, they just don’t want to put in the work of doing their job the hard/right way. This problem isn’t going away any time soon either. People just keep getting lazier and more resistant to work.

    It’s sad.
    Tim Biden´s last blog ..Error “Page Contains Too Many Server Redirects” Solved!My ComLuv Profile

  6. Kathryn says:

    Nice article! I think too many people treat open forums as an authority rather than just an opinion. It’s important to remind people. Yes, I agree that too many folks read the cliff notes and assume they know what the article is about rather than reading the whole thing.

    P.S. I didn’t really find anything offense in your article. I’m a little disappointed because your intro got me all geared up. ;)

  7. Good stuff, Alan. I don’t agree 100% with all of your assertions (ex: don’t see anchor text going away as a fundamental ranking factor anytime soon. You’ll know when that’s happened when all of a sudden paid links are ok again) but your overall conclusions are spot on.

    Like drinking, all SEO-related efforts must be taken in moderation (including approach to introducing anchor text either within internal site architecture or from external sources).

    And like drinking, everyone involved must learn the right approach through experience (and through the occasional vomit session that helps hammer home the point).

    As for me, the things that make SEO hardest (it’s a moving target, there’s no manual to follow for the exact process that works best, and there’s a lot of misinformation floating around) is also what keeps me interested and motivated.

    Cheers!

    • Well Hugo, anchor text as a factor is not going away any time soon, I agree. Anchor text as the be-all end-all must figure out and focus on as a primary factor without considering the way it looks unnatural? Yeah that’s dying fast.

      • No doubt. Although, as you’ve mentioned, the key is education. As with most things in life, anchor text usage is not a black & white “all or nothing” SEO element.

        It can be abused/overused, but it can also be neglected/underutilized. It’s all about analyzing the site(s) in question and then striking the right balance.

  8. Jill Whalen says:

    Hit the nail straight on the head, Alan!

    SEOmoz as well as Bruce Clay are the biggest perpetrators of perpetuating unproven and unfounded SEO info. While there are thousands of others who spout that sort of thing, those two companies have such a large following that it is easily spread.

    I too, am sick of having to dispel some of the crazy theories those companies come up with so that they sound like they’re on the cutting edge.

    On another note, however, you mention that some “spammyish” techniques no longer work or are dying out, which I have to disagree with. While they were starting to die out, and may in fact die out one day if Google gets its act together, right now they work just fine thank you very much. (Spammy anchor text, comment drops and the like.)

    You may like my latest article on the reason why Google sucks so bad these days…it will be out in about a half hour!
    Jill Whalen´s last blog ..3 SEO Traps to Avoid During Your RedesignMy ComLuv Profile

  9. Halvorsen says:

    Alan Bleiweiss, from this day forth you are to be known as the guardian of the SEO community. I am never disappointed when I read one of your articles because you call things out as they are. That article on SEOmoz was a total cluster and a total mind f**k. And it scares me to think of how many subscribers the moz has and how many of them are just learning SEO. Imagine how much time a SMB owner could spend on such methods when they could be doing more valuable things.

    Thanks again, Alan. I tip my hat to you.
    Halvorsen´s last blog ..Web Metrics Analyst Job Opening in Columbus- OHMy ComLuv Profile

    • Mike,

      Please – I’m no guardian of anything. I’m human. Subject to the same fallibility, mis-guided intent, misunderstanding and ego based writing as every other human in and out of our industry. While I appreciate the sentiment, let’s remember above all else that nobody is better than anyone else, or worse, at their core. We’re all just doing our best to participate.

  10. Shane says:

    Dang, man. Great article. Wow. Definitely going to be going through reading the rest of your stuff now :)
    Shane´s last blog ..SEO is OverratedMy ComLuv Profile

  11. Don Rhoades says:

    Thank you Alan. This article is the reason I subscribe to SMW and not to the Moz. I have to combat C-level execs that read those SEO tabloids you and Jill mention, and the defense they use is “…but the publisher wouldn’t mislead us”, or “you don’t have the half experience that X publisher has in the space, I’m sure he knows better than you”. So, now instead launching my microformats project, I’m stuck explaining to them that crap articles are published to create controversy and generate traffic. I can appreciate the motive, but after getting burned by pseudo-intellect a couple of times and then wised up and searched for knowledge elsewhere. Thanks for calling them out Alan.
    Don Rhoades´s last blog ..Gonzo Inhouse Linkbuilding SurveyMy ComLuv Profile

    • Don, I’m honored that you feel that way. Thank you!

    • Don,

      Now that I’ve had enough down-time to more thoroughly read comments, I would like to suggest that you consider there’s value to subscribing to SEOmoz, and participating in the dialogue there.

      My experience has taught me that shutting oneself off from such communities prevents me from being able to learn and grow both professionally and as a human. And the moz in particular is ultimately one of the best peer communities in our industry.

      Just do so knowing that as with anything you read, you need to be vigilant in reading other peoples content.

  12. Alan,

    Kudos to you for a no-holds-barred, tell-it-like-it-is article.

    Any “practice” perpetrated on a client that ultimately wastes their time and money should be knocked over the head with a mallet. And if it gets back up, hit it again. Whether it’s within SEO, social media, or internet marketing circles in general, “consultants” out to make a quick buck off of unsuspecting clients make it difficult for the rest of us to gain and maintain a client’s trust, not to mention how much time we have to spend fixing the mess others made.

    As far as I’m concerned, kick political correctness in the head and tell it like it is. We are all adults here, we can take it.

    • thanks for commenting Michelle. Something I reawakened to today as a result of all the feedback on both sides of this heated topic is that it’s too easy for me or anyone to label all the people who write articles we disagree with as being out to rip people off.

      Sometimes that’s the case, sometimes it’s subconscious, and sometimes its the farthest from the truth.

      At the same time though, the consequences of such content need to be considered and when needed, disclaimers need to be applied rather than leaving the burden of understanding on the shoulders of newcomers or non industry readers. So that’s something I stand firm in believing and advocating.

  13. Andy says:

    The first link Google counts to the home page from this page is “Home”

    #justsayin

    Understanding how Google works is important

    Also what is better for accessibility

    1. using a fragment #
    2. Using some kind of negative offset, display hidden or overflow hidden CSS trick to hide a text link which Google (unofficialy through Maile) have warned about.

    Sorry Alan but I think you are on the wrong track here.
    Andy´s last blog ..SimpleCDN – Being Killed By CDN Competitors VPSNETMy ComLuv Profile

    • Andy,

      Thanks for your input and perspective. “Home” is the first link on this site because it’s a logical link from a usability perspective. No magic, no anchor text manipulation. Not sure why that stood out to you.

      As for accessibility, that falls within the usability concept. What’s best is the best words to help someone understand what the link points to, of course. So if you’re attempting to maximize usability for those people who need the assistance, awesome – go for it.

      If you’re doing it to manipulate SEO on multiple links leading to the same page where you either use the same phrase over and over specifically for SEO, or as was suggested at the moz in the comments, to get bonus points for multiple variations of keywords, that’s hack. And in the latter case, it insults people who need the hint from an accessibility perspective.

      Or am I not understanding usability as the top priority?

      • Andy says:

        I said “The first link that counts”

        You have an image link with keywords first, well the name of your blog, but Google will take the home link in preference because it is the first text link.

        But people only know that from testing, and maybe reporting on it.

        And that knowledge too can be used to your advantage.

        So many sites use a text link with image replacement of some kind to get their keyword text first, when it is actually not needed if you are using fragments or parameters.

        Also don’t forget that 2 links to the same page make a lot of sense… otherwise Google wouldn’t do it at the top of their search results with named anchor sitelinks.

        And if you have 2 (or more links) to a long document, pointing to named anchors (using a fragemnt in the URL) at the beginning of defined sections, surely it helps Google and users?

        It also makes a huge amount of sense in many kinds of content used for syndication. Why just have the keyword count when you can also have the author name hyperlinked and count as well.

        I should really challenge you on the pagerank sculpting part of this as well, as whilst many can speculate including me as to what happens to the “reset vector”… the juice evaporating supposedly from nofollowed links, I don’t know of any conclusive testing.

        If you have a page with a significant amount of juice, but hundreds of nofollowed links, one thing is certain… it will affect your mozrank for the domain as a whole.
        I am not so sure it affects pagerank and related factors in the same way.
        My testing isn’t conclusive in any way, but it is better than just speculating.

        • Ah, but see Andy, I didn’t do the link work in my header for SEO purposes. I did it for basic user experience. I only implement fundamental SEO on this site, I do not implement full on, pull-out-all-the-stops SEO here. It’s a casual thing.

          And even if it were not a casual thing, I would not care about the “First link counts” concept. Because, in my opinion, there are a dozen other things that I can do that are assured to provide me much greater return on my time investment.

          No disrespect to how you see things. Just my take.

        • Halvorsen says:

          I still have NO idea what you’re blabbing about. An SEO test on a TINY blog with terms that have NO results? Jibberish? You didn’t test this on a large site, and I’d imagine you have no experience working with a large site.

          I work for a site that has millions of pages indexed (40m using site colon) and we changed the link to the home page to read “online poker” – we’re not going to rank for it.

          The write-up you did for SEOmoz is toxic. To have this kind of story in front of so many SMB’s with no real understanding of SEO is absolutely wrong.
          Halvorsen´s last blog ..Web Metrics Analyst Job Opening in Columbus- OHMy ComLuv Profile

  14. Hehe Great post Alan,
    Sad thing is that many people are wasting a lot time on the nitty gritty stuff that does very little or nothing at all, while completely missing big things, like broken navigation.

    I guess the 80/20 rule is working in this industry too.

    But hey you’re not running out of content. To me that’s a big factor in this getting attention.
    Thomas Fjordside´s last blog ..Frequency separation technique in photoshopMy ComLuv Profile

  15. John andrews says:

    Thanks for caring Alan. Beware however the modern day seo troll. So many knowledgeable people have stopped openly sharing (especially with republishers who charge for access to their private seo communities) that some “leaders” are finding success trolling for responses like this one. Perhaps you just educated Rand on these issues (for free).

    To some, it means nothing to lose the respect of a relatively small number of experts, and is worth the price to gain info needed to preach to the less experienced (paying) audience, and to maintain some authority going forward knowing more from your consult.

    • Stuart says:

      I’m with John on this one. When sites charge a fee for access to information … or rely on membership dues for part of their cash flow … it’s in their interests to offer hope and quick-fix ideas to the people who pay.

      Hey so if what they suggest doesn’t work who is going to notice … that was last month’s idea and now we’ve got a new one that you all should try. This time they’ve picked it up from someone who has a clue so it will work and keep their fee-paying suckers coming back for more.

      Sadly Alan you’re right on the money but you’ve just given “gurus” something genuine to feed their followers.

  16. Great post Alan! One in which I think should be read by everyone in Search, including those who pay for our services. So much nonsense that we all have to deal with on a daily basis… it’s rather refreshing to read a post like this.

  17. Dave says:

    I understand your point from a the user experience standpoint, and I agree that much needs to be done to clean up the SERPs.

    However, you also need to understand that SEOs work for money, their clients want to make more money, and that´s why somewhat grey hat tactics need to be used.

    Take the example of exact match domains. Legitimate companies who have worked so hard to build great sites are now being taken over by using the power of EMD.

    Is this fair? How much can regular SEO, guest blog posting, incredible articles etc.. help to get them ranking where they should be?

    Have a look around, there are crap sites that are ranking ahead of legitimate SMEs who are stuggling with small budgets. Something needs to be done, and Google can’t police everything.

    I’m thankful for people like you who genuinely try to be honest and help keep the SERPs clean, but I do feel that if an SEO with good intentions has to walk on the dark side – so be it.

    SEOmoz is probably one of the best sources of information and tools out there, I’m very doubtful that those who have insulted them in one way or another on this blog don’t regularly use their tools or have learned an important trick or two from them.

    • Dave,

      I work for money. I don’t do my audits for free. Up to $200 an hour and more. That’s not anything to sneeze at. Yet some tactics yield such miniscule return on time invested, and quite often those tactics are, from day one, doomed to be hammered by Google. And other tactics don’t do diddly squat at all depending on circumstances NOT previously tested by those perpetrating the nonsense onto paying clients.

      All in the name of voodoo money making.

      I don’t buy it. I only recommend tasks that I know for a fact will have real value. And as much as reasonably possible, recommend tasks that will stand the test of time.

      Sure, Exact Match domains is an example of crap that works. Another part of my responsibility however, is to look into the future – where Google is going, and when possible, identify any tactics that I anticipate are next up for hammering. Like exact match domains. I figure we’ve got maybe a year before Google steps up the slap on that, maybe a bit more. But it’s coming.

      I also agree that SEOmoz is one of the best resources in our industry for countless reasons. I advocate to anyone and everyone the use of OpenSiteExplorer.org, and to become a pro member of the moz. Because the occasional asshat article does not outweigh the good.

      I also happen, believe it or not, to hold Rand Fishkin in the highest regard in countless ways as well. Just not on this particular issue.

      That however, can not, will not and should not deter me from speaking up about what I believe to be extremely serious issues within the narrow context I have outlined in this article.

      So before you go judging me or anyone else for “bashing the moz” again, please – check the theory.

  18. JadedTLC says:

    I often get frustrated because as an “in-house” SEO, I have to rely on learning from industry professionals. And since I work in a vague industry (no standards, educational requirements, etc.), I have to read through a lot of these articles to find what I should know in order to enforce and what I should know in order to refute.

    Discussion makes sense if it’s labeled as a discussion point. Like #seoChat which is a group of SEOs duking it out, learning, etc. Some of my ideas may not be “truths” but we all generally accept things as opinion in there – from those of us in the trenches.

    If someone trusts these professionals at their word and implements one of these tactics, which may not work, then they lose credibility. I think that’s terribly irresponsible for a “mentor” to let their community fail without warning. Perhaps, this is why the SEO Community has such a bad reputation – where we are misleading our own members and then expect clients/employers to respect us.

    Something has to change. If you speak at conferences, you have a responsibility to the community. What you say isn’t individualized anymore – you represent the industry. And if you didn’t want it, then you shouldn’t have branded yourself so.

    Thank you Alan for this article. More people need to speak out whether we agree with the original YOUmoz article or not, there should be a disclaimer when it’s “featured” just as a political site wouldn’t feature a racist user’s content. It’s just bad for business.

  19. Doc Sheldon says:

    Great post, Alan! Seems we both awoke after a similar nightmare.

    I think it’s important to recognize the many faces of this problem:

    First, SEO is still a burgeoning field, and as such, it has attracted a LOT of wannabes from all the dark corners, like frenzied cockroaches scurrying to get their crumb. Most of those wannabes are largely ignorant of the technical side of the business, at the very least, but are unwilling to let that ignorance show. So they parrot whatever they can find that may impress. In the Navy, we had a saying… “if you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance, then baffle ‘em with bullshit.”

    Second, we have the practitioners that are more informed, possibly just as disgusted with the first group as you and I, but too busy trying to do the right thing for their clients and their business, to allow themselves to worry about educating anyone outside their cashflow stream.

    Next, we have the “celebrities” that have managed to achieve some level of notoriety, and as a result, the unwashed masses hang on their every word. Every word they utter is taken to be gospel, by those that know no better.

    Finally, we have the unwashed masses. Some of them are clients… some of them are wannabes that realize they can’t take every forum comment at face value. For them, even the very conscientious ones, sifting through all the garbage to find one worthwhile morsel is a daunting task. If they’re VERY cautious, they won’t get infected by too much of the snake oil. If not, however, they’ll become more dangerous than if they had remained simply ignorant.

    So which one is worse? Which one does the most damage to the customer base, the industry and themselves? Personally, I can forgive ignorance and I can forgive error. I have to – I was once ignorant, and I’ve certainly had my errors in the past (and I’m not ruling out the future, either).

    As a consultant of many years, though, I can’t forgive someone that will take payment and then knowingly deliver service that may do their client harm. That is reprehensible, in my opinion.

    And I have very little tolerance for those that fail to recognize that what they say or do may have a great impact on many others, simply by virtue of their celebrity status. I’m not singling out any one person, mostly because to name only one would be unfair. I can think of MANY well-known SEO personalities that are guilty of making pat statements that are nothing more than opinion. Worse yet, those opinions (which may have been true once upon a time) are sometimes totally incorrect, TODAY! Those are the folks that are in a position to do much greater harm than the others.

    If we really want SEO to be seen as a science, then we had best start treating it as a science. We had best start thinking our statements through before tossing them into the public arena. And we had better stop hesitating to call each other out on bullshit.

    You’ve made a good start. Let’s hope it’s contagious. ;)
    Doc Sheldon´s last blog ..Tweeting Above the CrowdMy ComLuv Profile

    • Doc,

      I think its as much an issue that individual articles can’t possibly convey everything that someone needs to consider before taking action on a concept conveyed in that article. So it then becomes a question as to how much responsibility site and community moderators and owners have to provide those disclaimers.

  20. gudipudi says:

    by the way what is this so called seo magic bullet? why do people toss such terms
    gudipudi´s last blog ..How to learn SEOMy ComLuv Profile

  21. SEO Mofo says:

    Alan,

    I think for someone with your level of ranting skills…you should be hunting much bigger game. Out of all the bullshit out there, you set your sights on a YOUmoz post–one that I found to be very interesting, actually.

    You also implied that PR sculpting is completely bullshit, when in reality, it was the nofollow attribute that lost its credibility–controlling PageRank flow is still a basic concept that all SEOs should be aware of.

    I’ve read enough of your posts, comments, and tweets to know that you’re not exactly the most technical of SEOs*…so in my opinion, you shouldn’t be questioning the validity, the ethical implications, or the value of any SEO techniques…unless you already have the technical knowledge to stand on. Otherwise, you’re not merely exposing the issue of SEO bullshit–you’re adding to it as well.

    <3 SEO Mofo

    *It sounds like I'm implying that you suck at SEO because you lack technical skills, but that's not what I'm trying to say. I'm saying: if you're gonna call bullshit on someone's SEO technique, then it helps to have a better argument than "Matt Cutts said it's bullshit."
    SEO Mofo´s last blog ..How to Spam Your Competitors’ Search ResultsMy ComLuv Profile

    • The reason I have to disagree with your belief that I don’t know what I’m talking about technically is because you’re stuck on the technical aspects of SEO that so many people get trapped in. I deal in real world solutions that absolutely, without question, need to balance technical capabilities with most efficient use of time, energy and financial resources.

      When held in that light, the techniques I rail against, without a single doubt in my body, are the lowest possible item on a long laundry list of tasking that clients of the type I serve should ever by distracted by. So I stand by my belief that they’re a red herring, even when they are something that might work to contribute to the overall SEO process.

      • SEO Mofo says:

        The reason I have to disagree with your belief that I don’t know what I’m talking about technically is because you’re stuck on the technical aspects of SEO that so many people get trapped in.

        That doesn’t logically follow. Not even close.

        I deal in real world solutions that absolutely, without question, need to balance technical capabilities with most efficient use of time, energy and financial resources.

        Technical capabilities and efficiency don’t counterbalance each other; they complement each other. A sacrifice doesn’t need to be made.

        When held in that light, the techniques I rail against, without a single doubt in my body, are the lowest possible item on a long laundry list of tasking that clients of the type I serve should ever be distracted by.

        This doesn’t address my previous comment. You’ve merely repeated the assertions I took issue with.

        YOU: “I’m against these techniques! These are bullshit solutions that work temporarily at best! Don’t waste your time!”

        ME: “There are bigger fish to fry. Plus, you’ve never tried these techniques and you have zero experience or data to back up your claims, so who are you to say whether or not they work?”

        YOU: “I know what I’m talking about technically, because you said otherwise…and you’re so technically-knowledgeable that your perception of reality is always wrong. I do real-world SEO, where technical knowledge wastes time and money. That’s why…

        I’m against these techniques! These are bullshit solutions that work temporarily at best! Don’t waste your time!”
        SEO Mofo´s last blog ..How to Spam Your Competitors’ Search ResultsMy ComLuv Profile

        • Darren,

          You have no idea what I have or have not tested, since I have not claimed that I have or have not.

          I perform an average of 100 audits a year, on sites ranging in size from a couple dozen pages through and including over 6 million pages. The vast majority of these sites are in extremely competitive landscapes.

          The vast majority of the Keyword phrases that I target my action plans on are also fairly high to significantly high commercially viable search volume.

          I follow these up with regular reporting as action plans are implemented, make additional recommendations according to the results of those reports, and perform subsequent additional report review.

          I focus on what I know works based on that experience.

          I then comment on other people’s writings based on the knowledge I have gained as well as my personal beliefs regarding where search engines are going.

          And finally, the writings I comment on in this way, and where I raise red flags about, discuss tests performed on tiny little web sites in insignificant competitive landscapes and with keywords that have no commercially useful search volume.

          Are you correct in suggesting I should not attempt to take on such articles and claims others make? Perhaps.

          I’d suggest however, that the more realistic reason I might refrain from these is due to the fact that I am not someone who writes in a purely technical light.

          On the other hand, as I have previously stated, I don’t live in a purely technical world the way you do. And thus your arguments and my arguments would never meet in a common ground way, so we’re talking about apples and oranges for all intents and purposes.

    • And Darren,

      I’m absolutely honored that you chose to chime in on this debate. You, of all people, are at the top of my list, along with Branko Rihtman, when it comes to people I most enjoy engaging in these discussions from an opposite side of the coin perspective.

  22. The article is very good. In my opinion almost all of the advices are true because I personaly experienced them! Regards

  23. Wow interesting blog and comments!

    Overall I would have to agree that the point is that there is no quick fix solutions for SEO, and you cant just read a forum comment and assume it is true. YOu need to find back up for this information, and see what the search engines themselves are saying.

    Also, maybe controversially, I would say that SEO is not just a technical discipline. It needs to be addressed as part of an overall online marketing programme in partnership with social media and website usability, for example.

    It is not just about getting websites to the top of the search engines rankings but making sure that the visits become conversions, and that needs more than just SEO.

    Maybe time for a more holistic approach…..

    • Letitia,

      A holistic approach is something I encourage. Yet there will always be people who take a myopic approach, and rather than have a willingness to look within and see the flaw in that path, they’ll get all indignant and rationalize the behavior.

  24. imnotadoctor says:

    Couldn’t agree more with your post. People are Sheeps that simple. BAAAAA!

    On the flip side, I hope crap articles like this still get published and feed the sheep because I will always have job!

    Cheers!

  25. Your post title prompted me to look up the lyrics for Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” before I read the whole article and comments.

    Technically, I abandoned the page but I also returned. (An analytics’ delight!)

    You just never know what your readers will do when they land on a page. Maybe they’ll click on a call to action prompt. Maybe they’ll be inspired to follow a carefully crafted text link. Maybe they won’t do anything but “tweet” about it or Facebook “like” a page. Perhaps they emailed the url to someone or popped it into a “READ LATER” folder. Some low life’s will leave spam in the comments or scrape the content.

    Some user actions can be spied on by search engines and many of our actions are unknown, unseen and definitely not always understood. I opt for following the Usability/SEO combo approach. Studying search and user behavior creates a more robust approach to the challenges of online marketing and organic SEO practices.

    It’s no accident that Google has a Usability/Human Factors department.

    Rock on Alan. I know you understand what I’m sayin’ :)
    Kim Krause Berg´s last blog ..UX and SEO Blog and Web FindsMy ComLuv Profile

    • Kim

      I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m too busy over here focusing on all this technical stuff. who has time to thing about anything else? Users? yeah they’re just numbers. Statistical fodder.

      Which is ironic. Because all of you people who care about the user always find a way to get higher conversion rates. Wait. that means statistics show that users matter. Oh crap.

  26. Very cogent article and valuable comments, Alan. People in the SEO community really need to cultivate a heartier skepticism about every new idea and technique that is shared.

    We need to challenge each other rather than just roll over and say, “Hey! Great idea! Great post!”
    Michael Martinez´s last blog ..Why competitive link analysis wastes your timeMy ComLuv Profile

  27. Lance Curtis says:

    Alan,
    Thank you for this. I’ve just started reading your stuff and this was needed.
    As a SEO rookie it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to know the latest gimmick/trick/whatever to be the top dog.
    I’m back on the best practice train and moving ahead.
    Thank you again for keeping me focused.

    Lance
    Lance Curtis´s last blog ..Web Design ArticleMy ComLuv Profile

  28. Alan as ever a fantastic article with plenty food for thought.
    Dean Cruddace´s last blog ..10 SEO Questions with Nichola StottMy ComLuv Profile

  29. Chris says:

    Great article,

    I have to argue that you can fool Google however!

    Problem is that you have to do it convincingly, you need to get to know the subject you are going to write about and offer the public valid and useful info before you start your SEO targeting.

    As a newb coming into the IM arena the first lesson some of my mentors have taught me is to give value in what I write. That isn’t always an easy job to do but long term it’s the only way.

    Hmm, seems I’m not arguing after all, you are 100% correct. lol
    Chris´s last blog ..The Best Keyword Strategy ToolMy ComLuv Profile

  30. TihomirP says:

    I personally try to avoid them. But some colleges do this permanently. It doesnt work from a human perspective.
    TihomirP´s last blog ..Как влияе indoor рекламата на клиентите в молаMy ComLuv Profile

  31. Daniel says:

    I just wanna comment about the argument of the first link rule. I read the article from SEOMOZ and from my perspective, I think it is kind of overrated. SEOs are forgetting the true value of links which is leading visitors to other useful websites. Once I asked a guy in a forum what is the purpose of a link and he answered me: For getting higher rankings on Google. Obviously that webmaster is building his site for a machine and not for their readers. By common sense, the same link distributed within a page has a greater chance to get click so it gets a higher pagerank right?. Well the black magic SEO still works, on the other hand I hate finding the same annoying link every paragraph. Just my thoughts. Loved your blog subscribed!
    Daniel´s last blog ..Tube SocksMy ComLuv Profile

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