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.

Read more from