Google Propaganda, SEO and Why Marketers Need to Wake Up

As the entire search world knows, Matt Cutts released a post last week – I’m paraphrasing – warning us that Google now considers “low quality guest posting” to be spam under their guidelines and will begin to take action in accordance with those beliefs.

I don’t plan to revolve this post entirely around that announcement. If you didn’t see Matt’s post coming at least a year ago, you were either oblivious or in denial.

THE ABILITY TO SCALE = THE EVENTUAL BLACKLISTING OF A TACTIC

Any link building tactic that can be scaled – and cannot be “controlled” by Google in regards to their algorithm not being manipulated by it – will eventually become part of Google’s “link scheme” list, complete with a FUD campaign within the search community centered around it to scare “in the know” webmasters into compliance.

Next up, we’ll see a larger brand “nailed” with a penalty for guest posting – complete with the accompanying mainstream media coverage of that nailing so that Google can get their FUD campaign out into the mainstream media. The larger brand will then claim ignorance at breaking any guidelines (or blame their SEO company), do a bunch of articles sharing Google’s “this tactic was bad” message, and then have their penalty revoked – all within a 1 to 2 week window. (The latest one of these “nailings” was Rap Genius.)

THE INDUSTRY RESPONSE ROLLS IN

As would be expected, comments began to flood in to Matt’s post (at the time I’m writing this post, there are 420+ comments) while social media streams were just slightly short of all out panic and blogs within the industry published in force with cheers, jeers and the occasional “I told you so” posts.

As one would expect, one of the most shared comments on that post was from search marketing journalist Danny Sullivan (one of the few members of the search community “famous” enough to be listed in Wikipedia under Wikipedia’s arbitrary “people worthy of an entry” guidelines – and rightfully so).

I’d post Danny’s comment here but it’s long, so, ya know…

Angry Panda

So you’ll have to go read it if you want to see it in its entirety here. The part of his comment that spurred me to respond was this:

Danny Sullivan 
“I wish you’d just not count the links you don’t think deserve credit.”

 
To which I responded with this:

Rae Hoffman“The problem there Danny is they can’t successfully find and discredit all of them. They can find and discredit the obvious, but most on their “spam list” done “well” are ones they can’t detect.

So, it’s easier to have webmasters provide you a list (disavows), scare the ones that aren’t crap sites providing the links into submission and damn those building the links as “examples” – dragging them into town square for a public hanging to serve as a warning to anyone who dare disobey the dictatorship.

Don’t like it? Then move to a different country – despite the fact that on the proverbial internet earth, Google makes up 5 of the 7 continents.”

This morning, after Aaron Wall retweeted the link to my comment, I hit Matt’s post up again and saw him make the following statement in one of his comments:

Matt Cutts
“We are taking action against low-quality or spammy sites in order to protect the relevance of our users’ search experience.”

Normally I would agree with Matt here, believe it or not.

If you actively spam, you’re taking a risk, and you have to be prepared to accept the potential negative (just like you do the positive) consequences of that risk. Back in the day when I participated in “below the board” activities, that was simply how it was. And we accepted that.

THE PROBLEM WITH PENGUIN

The problem with Penguin overall is that Matt’s comment above is false. In Penguin, Google isn’t taking action on “low-quality or spammy sites”. Google is taking action against sites being LINKED TO by “low-quality or spammy sites”.

Angry Penguin

There are definite instances where a webmaster did not actively obtain these links (and thus, did not “sign up” for the risk in having them, even if they did indeed benefit from the reward).

They won’t tell webmasters what the low quality or spammy links are, yet they “know” what they are enough to punish a site. I used the quotes for a reason.

The reason being because if Google truly knew all of the unworthy links inflating your rankings, they’d simply discredit them as they’ve done with multiple link types in the past.

Matt long ago stated that press release sites had diminished value in regards to getting “links for SEO purposes” and were discrediting them. Then in 2013, Google officially added those same press release links to their link scheme list – implying webmasters using highly optimized anchors within them risk getting hit for them.

Why would they hit you for them if they’ve been devaluing them without penalty since 2005? Because, IMHO, they can’t successfully identify all the sites – many of which are deemed “high authority” – scraping the press release sites and republishing the releases giving you “natural” and highly anchor optimized links.

By scaring – or potentially penalizing you – into adding the nofollow within the release itself, it helps them solve that problem because the scrapers that leave the links in then also include the nofollow as a result.

Back to Penguin. They know some of the crappy links, for sure – but they’re relying on those of you with enough of the “knowns” to be hit to fill them in on even more via the disavow tool.

Then there’s a question of a potential “fall out” effect. If enough disavows of a domain occur, does that domain get hit? How many webmasters does it take not going through the effort to ask for a link to be removed and merely disavowing it before innocent sites are hit by the actions of scared webmasters on the proverbial witch hunt?

Salem Witch Trials

But, they’re shitty sites, right? Otherwise people wouldn’t be disavowing them. So who cares?

But here’s the problem – Google’s lack of transparency coupled with financially devastating punishment is causing desperate webmasters to disavow links from sites where they merely have heavy anchors, gave away a review product to the webmaster and legitimate links that they want killed off, you know, just in case.

And now, we’ve added sites who allow guest posts to the chopping block. And if you think webmasters aren’t running around – right as you’re reading this post – disavowing legitimate sites where they have legitimate, useful guest posts (I’m not talking “made for guest posts” sites here people) then your head is buried in the sand.

THE PROBLEM WITH PANDA

In Panda, Google hits false positives because they are not able to always accurately deduce who is the original source of content.

They go by some measure of authority as if the big guys would never steal from the little guys (and they have an even harder time accurately deciding “authority” when it comes to determining an original source when it comes to non big brands).

Manufacturers who don’t know any better provide merchants and affiliates with the same product feeds they use on their own sites. If the merchant or affiliate using that feed has been around longer than the manufacturer, or has better links than the manufacturer, or is Amazon, then the manufacturer gets Pandaized.

Sites like Yahoo Answers and Amazon’s Askville have users who plagiarize small content sites on a regular basis – often posting a full article from an outside website without crediting the source.

Sites like Business Insider republish blog RSS feeds and you either have to forgo the publicity or hope to God you have a decent enough link profile to compete.

Gwen Stefani Wax Figure Unveiled At Madame Tussauds Las Vegas

High quality and high traffic websites like Huffington Post will republish amazing blog posts they find on the web (with permission). Do you see the source site (Daddy Doin’ Work) ranking for that article? Sure, that may not speak to an entire site getting hit by Panda, but it does speak to Google’s often inability to correctly identify (and not rank the original).

THE PROBLEM WITH BLIND PUNISHMENT

Google acts like they themselves are some kind of protector – and decider – of what is good and what is evil on the web.

In Penguin, they act like a parent telling a teen that they’re grounded for four specific things their friends did in the last three years of their life – and that they’ll let them off grounding as soon as they apologize for all four specific things done by their friends and identify which friends specifically did them to boot.

But, they have to figure out what it is other people did with no help. When the 16 year old complains this is unfair, they tell them if they don’t like their rules, they’re free not to live in their house.

When in reality, they know that’s not a viable option for them.

In Panda, Google is like a teacher giving you a failing grade because someone else copied off your test – whether or not you knew they were copying from you or that you indeed were the one copied from is irrelevant.

Child in dunce cap

They simply see two identical tests – one from an A student, one from a B student and without question or recourse, they assume the B student is who cheated. You receive the punishment of failing the class and if you don’t like it, you’re free to attend a different school.

DO AS GOOGLE SAYS, NOT AS THEY DO

The best part in all of this is that Google does not lead by example.

Google Local is one of the biggest scrapers on the web. While Google tells review sites not to make pages with nothing but manufacturer information without original consumer reviews available to be indexed by Google, Google Local scrapes address databases, other review sites and then makes the pages available with no original reviews of their own on publication.

And let’s not even “go there” with the Knowledge Graph.

Do as Daddy says, not as Daddy does. Reminds me of the old 80′s say no to drugs commercial – “I learned it by watching you dad!”.

“We” are not allowed to give away products to bloggers to review unless we demand a nofollow on the post. But, Google can give away thousands of Android phones in 2009 resulting in thousands of links without any issue or slap from Google’s search division.

In fact, they’ve done it over and over again – with no recourse.

But, it’s all about “intent” right? Too bad you can’t scale determining intent.

Google says it can’t be “responsible” for moderating the content of every comment published on YouTube, but it requires AdSense publishers with UGC content be able to do so to stay in compliance with their policies.

Google says embedding links within widgets without a nofollow is not only bad, but cause for penalization within their search results. However, as Dave Naylor noted, it appears Google Maps is exempt from feeling any wrath.

Google says you’re not supposed to add any anchor rich links to your press releases without a nofollow or risk a negative impact on your search results. Yet, when they announced Calico, they put two links within the press release to their own properties using anchor text – without using a nofollow. This of course resulted in straight links from folks who scraped the release. This doesn’t appear to have had any effect on that rank of the page they linked to in the release in regards to ranking on the anchor used.

To be clear, I’m not picking on Matt personally here, even though his post was partially responsible for spurring this post. Google is a huge company and Matt doesn’t run it. I’m sure when Matt is met with examples of the above, he’s sometimes like…

Matt Cutts Facepalm

And I’m hoping that after reading this post he’s not feeling like…

Matt Slaps Rae

But the bottom line is “we’re” given one set of rules (dispersed to us via Matt and the webspam team) while Google and other large brands get to operate under another.

“DON’T MANIPULATE THE LINK ECOSYSTEM FOR YOUR OWN GAIN”

Google says that anything that manipulates the natural link ecosystem of the web is bad. But the largest manipulator of the linking ecosystem today (and has been for a long time) is Google themselves. They created a currency around links, then failed to control it, then issued mandates to alter it to compensate for their failings for their own benefit.

We’re told to “create good content” and our Google rankings will be fine.

The content unicorn

I’m sorry, but I live in reality. In reality, creating good content guarantees you nothing.

There’s no guarantee good content will magically be shared.

If it does get shared, and gets shared so much that a larger site republishes it, it could screw me.

If people like it, and link to it with too much anchor, it could screw me.

If not enough quality sites link to it in proportion to the overall inbound links, it could screw me.

If multiple bloggers with a good audience who can give me good exposure, but that also blatantly sell links or publish a lot of guest posts links to it, it could screw me.

If I include a nifty graphic in it and enough people repost that graphic and give me a link credit for being the source, it could screw me.

Over the last two years, the number of don’ts is increasing as quickly as Miley Cyrus’s sluttiness while the number of “dos” continues to dwindle.

Even Danny Sullivan is confused about what the hell he’s exactly expected to do and “allowed” to do to develop links without angering the Google gods in this day and age – as evidenced in his epic rant from SMX West in 2012.

In short, I’m supposed to publish awesome content, not actively promote it and hope that the right ratios of the right type of people (sites) like it and link to it. Oh, and then I’m supposed to cross my fingers and hope that my competitors don’t actively try to fuck with my “create good content” stars aligning.

“YOU CAN ALWAYS TAKE YOUR BALL AND GO HOME”

Of course, Google (and their fanboys) will tell you that you’re free to do whatever you want, and simply accept that you might not appear (well) in Google as a result.

But let’s face it…

Search share August 2013

That’s some financially devastating bullshit – even to the largest of brands. Just like a tyrannical leader can tell his citizens if they don’t like it, they can move – he knows that the large majority of those citizens have no realistic, viable choice but to endure – and obey – the tyranny.

ZOMG! GOOGLE KILLED SEO!

Hardly. As anyone with an SEO agency will likely tell you, demand for good SEO services has merely increased. Before all the Penguin / Panda craziness, we (SEOs) had one core offering. We helped you get your on site technical shit straight, and helped with building branding and links with the end goal being to get you more exposure in the search engines.

Nowadays, good SEO companies are still offering that, but there’s now a demand (and thus, services) to help Penguinized sites (both deserved and underserved) recover and Pandaized sites (both deserved and undeserved) recover. Because this shit is way too complicated at this point for anyone who doesn’t live and breathe SEO to navigate – especially where false positives are concerned.

Now add in the need to understand on site factors, indexing issues, Schema markup, understanding backlink profiles, how to get keyword data when Google’s holding it hostage (except in regards to paid advertisers), the infusion of Google places, personalization, information architecture, Hummingbird and even the potential social impacts on SEO… and, well… it’s a lot to be “in the know” on.

THE DEATH OF THE “ONE TRICK PONY”

A lot of people who think “SEO is dead” in my opinion, do so because they were “one trick ponies” so to speak. How you “did” SEO or maybe more accurately, what you perceived SEO to be, is partially dependent upon when you entered the industry, IMHO.

One Trick Pony

Before you get your panties in a wad, I’m not saying there are no good SEOs that entered the industry in its later years (or that more aren’t on their way). I’m simply saying that many people who entered the industry after 2006 had one ranking tactic in their arsenal that they confused with a strategy (and in fairness, for a long time, it could compensate failure to know or implement the multitude of other tactics) – build keyword based links.

And now that building keyword based links has been relegated back to being a tactic and not a strategy, a lot of link builders marketers are standing around with their dick in their hands proclaiming that SEO is dead because they only perceived SEO to be a tactic versus an all encompassing traffic growth and conversion strategy.

WHERE WE GO FROM HERE

If I were to list what I wanted you to take away from this post, it would be this:

  1. Google’s primary concern is not “the web” or “you” – it’s Google
  2. Penguin is not always fair – Google knows it but… see #1
  3. Panda is not always fair – Google knows it but… see #1
  4. Google talks the talk, but does not walk the walk and there’s nothing we can do about it
  5. “Creating good content” guarantees you JACK SHIT when it comes to ranking
  6. SEO is as alive now as it was a decade ago
  7. SEO has evolved to become the result of an actual marketing strategy versus marketing tactics
  8. Your pony is dead

So what now? It’s time for marketers to wake up.

Say content marketing one more time

From here on out, you need to stop with the tactics. You can’t replace “link building” with “content marketing” and call it a damn day.

From here on out, a marketing plan that consists of (and even more importantly, relies on) “rank well in Google” is a bullshit plan. Because Google doesn’t care about you, or your website or your business. They care about theirs.

From here on out, you work on generating traffic. From here on out, you work on generating branding. From here on out, you work on obtaining customers. From here on out, you work on making your product or service or “value provide” (for bloggers) fucking epic. Not just epic – FUCKING EPIC.

I’m not saying the new SEO is not to do SEO. I’m saying that you need to do things in the most search optimized way as possible, but never losing site of the fact that what you’re supposed to be doing is building a business and not merely building search engine rankings.

By doing so, you’re doing the most defensible thing you can for your business. And, you’ll end up doing the very thing that Google is looking to reward in their algorithm. Google doesn’t want to make websites popular, they want to rank popular websites. If you don’t understand the difference, you’re in for one hell of an uphill climb.

And if Google still screws you at the end of the day – despite you trying your best to “do things right” – doing so is your only chance to survive – and thrive.

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

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The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

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Comments

  1. I think the really big change that is coming, but hasn’t arrived yet because they have’t entirely sorted out their data options (getting it themselves vs. from data sources like Nielsen) is that Google will ignore links altogether. They will instead rely on real world signals and real world behaviors/interactions with brands that are less subject to manipulation. Local pizza joint? What’s a better signal – orders through the door or reviews on Yelp? Mobile tracking and technologies such s iBeacon are opening up the ability to get at just that kind of data. Add transaction data to that (Nielsen already has this) and now you’re dealing with information that tells you how consumers really feel about a brand. And this is data that cannot be manipulated at scale.

    I really do believe this is where the SERPs are headed – because they have to be. Valuing links – or social – or content even – these are all things that can be gamed. And they’re making the SERPs a mess. Google has a huge challenge on it’s hands – and you’re right – they can’t know intent behind a link. Or a like. Or an infographic, or a blog post. They need better data. They’ll eventually get it. So you’ve nailed it – focus on marketing, on branding, on sales. Those are the fundamentals and are the only way to ‘future proof’ against algo shifts.

    • This is exactly what we’re predicting over at WordStream: Quality Score for organic search. Links could still be a signal, but there’s more data in terms of user behavior than there is in the link graph. Way more searches than links.

    • Michelle – I totally agree that all of those factors would be less game-able than links – but, it would only help solve the problem for retailers / commercial sites, no? Individual bloggers, like say my own blog here, wouldn’t have a lot of the data you mentioned above. That said, I agree that something more reliable is on the “hasn’t been worked out yet, but we really need to get it done” schedule. In which case, defensible marketing wins. :)

      • The larger problem is that just compounds the challenge small businesses and bloggers have in ranking. Everything Google does is to favor big brands. Eventually, major search engines will only show big brands in the results.

        Aaron Wall quoted Google’s CEO years ago in that infamous “cesspool” comment that their intention is to favor big brands. Everything they’ve done since then does exactly that. Our time on major search engines is running out.

        After that, we will lose traffic from major social networks. Anyone with the wisdom to see where all this is going needs to be working on alternatives both online AND OFF.

        • I think there will always be a place for small businesses on the web – I just think the days of the playing field being even in search are over. You can’t rank #1 for [keyword term] and build a business off that anymore. I think social will be a bit easier in regards to keeping a level playing field – but, don’t get me wrong, folks with money will have the advantage – but truly active folks will also be able to build a following that helps them promote their business.

          Building an email list, as you mentioned, working actively on obtaining alternative traffic – those are what small businesses need to focus on. If a small business website survives with 90% Google traffic, they need to focus on getting it to 80%. Then they need to focus on 70%. The key is to build the alternative avenues before you actually need them, IMHO.

          • Chris Boggs says:

            Rae awesome article…I am still working through the comments but I think you really hit in on the head here: “I just think the days of the playing field being even in search are over.”

            Bottom line is the gravy train ran out of gravy and now you have to spend more money and/or time (which is money) convincing people that you are relevant to your industry, region, target audience, and all the rest. More brand marketing and communication will help to close the gap, and will likely translate to improved search performance in the long term.

          • Thanks Chris – and I wholeheartedly agree with your input. :)

          • I agree with Gail and you. “Eventually, major search engines will only show big brands in the results. ” But I think is a mistake for search engines. If the searcher is not able to find good results he /she is going to imagine new ways about how to find good results.

    • You are on the right track but there is far too much risk involved with moving their algo over without extensive testing.

      The last thing they want is to ruin something that has brought them so much revenue over the past 10 years.

      I can see them going “linkless” one day but without mass beta testing it would be extremely risky. What if consumers don’t like the product? Bing would be all over the change and use the opportunity to leverage their product.

      There are billions of dollars at stake here, this isn’t some small transition. It may take years…

      Side note: I run some of the largest blackhat services on various online forums. I can assure you what google preaches is 100% propaganda.

      My clients get penalized from time to time but the amount of money to be made versus going the whitehat way is tremendous. “Churn and burn” so to speak is becoming a reality. If you aren’t willing to do it sadly you are missing out.

      • Nate – churn and burn is definitely still alive and well. But, you can’t recommend that (at least I can’t) to a small retailer whose business / site pays their mortgage. They are essentially confined to “the rules” with those sites.

        And agreed on finding something more reliable than links – the first engine who does it and does it well wins.

        • The big problem with “churn and burn” is that you constantly have to be “churning and burning”. Not only that, quality site metrics are starting to play a bigger role in SERP’s – my clients who have tremendous bounce and short TOS are treading water compared to those that have focused on improving these metrics with engaging content and better/more video. I know I know, this sounds like Google mouth-piece stuff, but I’m seeing it in real-life results across a number of sizes and verticals. Churn-and-burn gives you zero referral traffic by the way. Not saying black-hat is a no-no…but more people than just the mom-and-pop with a mortgage on the line are avoiding it, and with good reason.

          • Good points Jason – and yes, IMHO, a portion of every company’s marketing budget – both large and small – should be on maximizing the conversions and engagement from the traffic you DO have. :)

        • “And agreed on finding something more reliable than links – the first engine who does it and does it well wins.”

          Seems to me like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon are fighting it out for that. Twitter has a long way to go to catch up with Facebook and Amazon, but it could happen. I also think Microsoft could make some strategic purchases to get back into the “marketing tools for small businesses” game. In any event, Google’s monopoly isn’t sustainable.

    • I think the problem with links is that Google is so heavily invested in them, it would currently be too big a step to move away from links as a significant ranking factor.
      Secondly, Matt Cutts’ job is on the line – hence the need for all this PR about “busting link networks” and “punishing guest bloggers” – as Head of Webspam, where would he be if webspam were ignored completely? Where would he be without links?
      He’s on borrowed time, though – as Michelle says, the biggie is coming and I reckon Cutts probably won’t be involved.

      • “where would he be if webspam were ignored completely”

        Rich. Maybe on a beach. Matt was an early employee who no doubt still works at Google because he still has the desire to and not because he “needs” to so to speak. :)

      • Gareth,
        Remember there is much more spam for Matt Cutts and Google to deal with than on websites. There’s also account hijacking email spam, blog comment spam and… lots of spam :o)

        Ms. Rae is correct too. Matt Cutts must love his job with Google, as he could’ve retired or gone elsewhere e.g. funded a start-up, a long time ago. Although less than in the past, Matt Cutts is the public face of Google, even more so than Larry, Sergei or Eric. Matt may truly be one of the happiest people in tech!

      • I had to reply.. :)

        I couldn’t believe that Matt was in danger of losing his job and if so I don’t think he would be in to much of a panic. His stock options and retirement package will definitely keep him comfortable for awhile.

        As to the post.. Great Read!

        The whole disavow crap is garbage. Essentially web masters are working to earn their keep and providing the job google can’t do. They are getting it at a fraction of what they would have to pay if they hired people to increase web spam detection. Also at what point would the average webmaster have the skill set to define a standard on web spam.

        Lastly at what point would you want to accept guilt for not only your tactics but others work as well? Why would you want to willing let Google know you are a spammer?

        Many people I know that have been lifted of their penalty still don’t see near the traffic as they once had and they are screwed for any efforts in link building!

        • “I couldn’t believe that Matt was in danger of losing his job”

          Probably good that you don’t believe that because I don’t believe that statement is true. And again, Matt doesn’t run Google. He runs one division within a division so to speak – meaning Matt doesn’t “run” search either. He runs webspam. :)

          “Also at what point would the average webmaster have the skill set to define a standard on web spam”

          They definitely don’t, IMHO. And the biggest issue that spurred this post is that I cannot stand that Google leads them to believe if they just create awesome content, everything will be fine. It’s like telling a politician they just need to run an honest, non negative race on the issues and that he still has a shot at being elected in today’s political arena. :)

          • Rae, your last sentence above says it all as far as I’m concerned.

            I am so tired of Google’s double standard and speaking out of both sides of its mouth! And there is no recourse…

            Please God let there be a day when Google isn’t the first and last thing I have to think about in my job.

          • Haha Karen – tons of other marketers feel your pain (and wish!). :)

    • I completely agree Michelle! A Big Change is coming… once they figure it out what that’s going to be. It’ll probably revolve less around general SERP-wide algorithmic ranking signals, and instead push localization and personalization to the forefront. The former of those two we already see to a degree, but the later is the more significant piece and is tied directly into G+.

      Great post Rae!

    • It is great to find someone to cut through the bullshit for me.I’m a disabled single father of 4 yrld trying my hand at affiliate and maybe my own blog and it’s been daunting trying to plan a strategy so as not to piss off the all mighty google.I don’t like my search queries being filtered for me or as of just about a month or so ago my email being filterd, deciding for me what is spam,promotions and what should go into my primary box.I guess what i’m trying to say is even when i run an above board strategy who’s to say to i’ll reach my target audience if search queries are already filtered according to demographics or one day google decides one of my links just became spam in thier eyes.

  2. Dean Cruddace says:

    Unbelievably well said.

  3. Great post. Michelle hit it on the head though, sooner or later Google will replace links as their data source but I don’t see it happening for a while so until then we have to play along

    • I think we’ll see them using them for the near (and still a ways out) future, but they’ve made no secret at the end goal being to find something more reliable to at minimum cross check a link’s validity with and potentially, replace the link related part of the algo with. :)

  4. +1
    Just hope this blog comment won’t get my site penalized ;)

    • Haha Bob – I half thought about adding a paragraph at the bottom of the post saying folks could only link to it if they used “here” as the anchor text. ;-)

  5. Nice. One thing I didn’t expect: Matt would allow himself to lose the respect of so many serious players. He has money, fame, etc but you cant buy respect and I was sure he knew the value of real world stuff like that.

    Oh well.

    • John – thanks re the post. One thing I want to be clear of tho, my post wasn’t meant to bash Matt. He’s a nice person and I think his personal intentions are good. I don’t confuse him as a human being with “Google” as an entity so to speak. And his job has to get harder the more decisions are made by other departments outside of search that directly conflict the message search sends out to webmasters. It’s a sucky position. And one I’m glad I’m not in.

      But, at the same time – Matt being a nice person aside… Penguin, Panda, the big brand double standard… the “do as we say, not as we do” angle / sentiment from Google can’t be ignored either.

      To quote Ned Flanders when he lost his shit: “My family can’t live in good intentions, Marge.”

  6. Stephen Kenwright says:

    Well said Rae. You get the idea from Matt’s statement of “this is why SEOs can’t have nice things” that Google sees all these things as their toys and they’re just allowing us to play with them (for the time being, at least)?

    • Oh, to be clear, “we” (as a collective industry) ruin shit. :) A lot. It’s why (almost) no one blogs about new tactics until they’ve gotten some mileage about them. Sure, when the post goes up, it might “seem” new if no ones been talking about it, but you can almost guarantee it’s been being used super quietly for 6-18 months before. Because, well, some of those in our industry truly can’t have nice things. :)

      No matter how legit a tactic may be, there’s usually no doubt about “it will get beat to death” once it starts getting a lot of publicity, because some marketers are always looking for the silver bullet tactic vs. seeing a silver bullet to use in their big giant gun with lots of other (different kinds of) silver bullets… which then leads to Google coming up with a value to kill it (either by devaluing or the new “in” way of penalizing).

  7. Love your post. I agree with pretty much every point. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I’ve been saying for a long time it gets frustrating to see the “do as I say” not as I do. But not much we can do about that.

    Simply not counting links that they feel are inappropriate seems much more simple, but sure it will never happen.

  8. Frank Watson says:

    Google, like successful online marketers, has realized if they did not make changes they would be left behind – in their case relegated to being the library of the internet. To continue their success they need to keep selling – whether it is keeping our noses in the Adwords trough or now buying their new hyped trendy products like Google Glasses.

    They scrape info and create ways to get their piece a la flight bookings. They duplicate others’ successes like Google Plus, Google Places, Google Offers, Google Play etc. – especially when they can’t buy them.

    And how do they learn what to do to succeed? We give them the info through Analytics and using their browser. The constant recent changes show them exploring ways to sell more.

    Their recent patent for adding rides to advertisers brick and mortar establishments will provide them with all the info they need when their driverless car becomes fully functional. Forget competing with Yelp which is having their own problems, they will swamp one of the fastest growing local marketing companies Seamless if they can do the deliveries as well. (No doubt the Amazon robots delivery scared them)

    Google has long laughed at those who thought SEO meant Search Engine Optimization – to them it has always been Service Everything Online. And sadly, yet realistically, we have funded them. There needs to be no rhyme or reason to the changes they make all they have to do is keep our noses in the paid traffic trough.

  9. Alan Bleiweiss says:

    Rae,

    This is a strong article on the overall reality and I love how you refer to the notion of shift from “tactic” to “strategy” and building a business.

    • Thanks Alan – I’m not the first (nor will I be the last) person in the last few years to try to make that differentiation clear… it’s just a distinction worth repeating as many times as neccessary until people actually “get it” – especially those declaring SEO dead. :)

  10. We’ll said. The search engine that can give you everything can also take everything away.

  11. I don’t have anything valuable to add to this post (hence no link) but just wanted to thank you for writing it.

    Loved your part on writing good content and having no chance of that actually doing anything. Great writing, Rae :)

  12. As always, awesomely well said Rae :)

  13. Rae,

    Thank you so much for writing this post. The fact the websites now have to also worry inbound links that competitors pay for on spammy sites in disconcerting. I believe that businesses will shift their focus to Facebook ads just because they can leverage more data on their target audience vs search on Google with obscure intent. This crackdown by Google will eventually backfire on them. Many sites are experiencing tremendous success with Facebook ads and other than on page/site optimization largely ignoring SEO. Now let’s hope Facebook doesn’t mess it up with spamming newsfeeds and auto video player.

    • I think it’s good if site owners begin to try and target traffic outside of Google. In the end, if the algo works how it’s “supposed to” then sites doing well outside of Google should do well within it. In 2014, the goal of many marketers should be to have more than one gigantic pie slice showing in their analytics pie. :)

      • Completely agree. Any websites whose primary goal is reliance of free organic traffic is in serious trouble. This is not a sustainable or reliable business model. I still don’t understand why they just can’t follow Danny’s advise ignoring the links from spam sites.

        Google created the spam problems with Adsense and now they are making it worse by penalizing sites that don’t have full control of their inbound links.

        The last bit about “Google doesn’t make sites popular, but show sites that are popular” is dead on. As it should be. Thanks again for writing this post, it needed to be said.

  14. Rae, you really have to stop holding back and speak your mind! ;)
    I was encouraged by the 2nd paragraph, when I saw this wasn’t going to be yet another post on Matt’s “stick a fork in it”… but by the time I was halfway through, I was ready to jump up and down with joy! You have a knack for cutting to the heart of things in a way that really wakes people up.
    Abso-fuckin-lutely awesome post!

  15. Great article I loved it so much I made 10 Google sites with the scraped content :)

    No seriously, ever since Matts post “on his personal website and not Google” I have been laughing.

    Google knows guest posting is a powerful link building tactic but they haven’t figured out a way to slow it down so having Matt scare the newcomers a bit maybe will slow it down.

    Build your brand, build your raving fans community and all will be well.

  16. You really outdid yourself with your summation of the SEO industry right now in the last several paragraphs Rae.

    “Google doesn’t want to make websites popular, they want to rank popular websites.”

    If I’d like to help them do that for all the right reasons I still feel almost totally without a map through the minefield, knowing also that I’m at real risk of inadvertently violating obscure Google guidelines as well as sabotage by my competition.

    But ironically, *because* of the confusion and as high as the stakes are, your conclusion that demand for legit SEO expertise is now higher than ever is also spot on. Along with everything else you address, it’s a strong argument for SEO being anything but dead.

    • Thanks Tom – I’m glad you enjoyed the article. And for sure on services. We’ve seen no slow down – just a shift in the kind of services people are looking for. Do a Google trend search and compare “link building” to “content marketing” – the basic concepts stay the same while the packaging changes. :)

    • Casey Stern says:

      @Tom may be correct: “sabotage[d] by my competition”. @Rae, will this be the next black-hat, using black-hat tactics, e.g. link-building on shady sites, to sabotage competitors website rankings in effort to boost their own rankings? If so, how will Google remedy this?

      I am new to the industry, so I hope my questions are pertinent to your discussion.

      THANKS for the article @Rae, you have broadened my perspective…I like your blunt style!!!!

      • Hey Casey – thanks!! re

        “to sabotage competitors website rankings”

        It’s already happening and has been for quite a while. Do a search for “negative SEO” to find more information on it. :)

  17. Rae, you almost convinced me that I’m reading Aaron Wall on SEO Book with this post. But hey, great post, solid SEO advices! And LOL on the meme you made Matt slapping yourself :)

  18. Fabulous post. Says so much, covers so many angles – I’ll be sharing this with colleagues. IN fact the next time they do my head in I’ll say “Did you even read that frickin post!?”

    Brava.

  19. I purchased a very old, authoritative website with over of 3000 pages well written, extremely detail content on a specific niche. It has links from Wikipedia, Time, NaturalNews, Wikihow, Mahalo, Examiner and so on. I lost 97% of Google traffic few months ago. Even with few visitors it still gets a lot of shares on social media, but that’s not a ranking factor as they said…

    Why it has been penalized? In 8 years I’m third owner. The author was an old man (passed away) who wanted to share his (and his friends) knowledge. The second owner kept the website as it was, just to grow email list. None of them were trying to game google.

    Unfortunately tons of fans who also know nothing about SEO place links into their sidebar area, because they consider this website as a great authority. As it’s usual, most of them abandon the blog, and therefore it’s considered as spam.

    The content is copied all over the web, again because it’s considered as a great resource. Another few more negative points for me. Yea, it pisses me off….

    • I have a site I’ve owned for like 8 years now. It’s aimed at people involved in the non profit industry. They love the site so much, that they often – well meaning – copy the content and post it on their own blogs. Because they’re .orgs with super strong link profiles, you can probably guess who Google considers the original. Every ounce of content on that site is original – didn’t save it from being pandaized in early 2012. I feel your pain.

  20. Great rant Sugarrae, people are often far too quick to be distracted by the fluffy bullshit coming out of Google to remember that everything Google does is against organic listings to promote further Adspend. Good starting point for anyone entering the industry too.

    Not that i’m jaded or anything. ;)

    • Haha – thanks Ewan. I find myself Jaded a lot too. I don’t know that I believe that everything G does is aimed at increasing ad spend – from what I’ve seen over the years, all the divisions in Google are pretty independent. i.e. Google search comes out with a “penalty” so to speak aimed at sites with too many ads above the fold – while what they’re targeting as “spam” in that case are sites following the AdSense heatmap / suggested placement map. It’s crazy all the contradictions we’ve seen over the years within their own company.

  21. okay so I am posting this comment and at the same time I am trying to get a nofollow link back to my website [sometimes in the hope that people will click on the link], so what The He Who Cannot be Named say about this? :P

    • I don’t expect Matt to have much to say on this. I think he’s become as thick skinned about what people say about Google as much as a lot of SEOs have become careful not to take everything Google says as gospel truth. :)

  22. Barry Adams says:

    This is the type of post that ‘rapturous applause’ GIFs are invented for.

    Too many SEOs still uncritically accept anything Google says and hurriedly redefine their business model the moment Cutts redraws the lines and what was once ‘white hat’ suddenly becomes ‘black hat’.

    We would all do well to filter the FUD and focus on stuff that actually works. The overlap between that and stuff that Google says make for good SEO is far from complete.

  23. Epic post Rae…

    It’s only January and think it will be the post of the year.

    Would love a comment from Matt him self on this *heads over to Twitter*

  24. No doubt Google is just into the business of “making money”; appreciate your effort for summarizing these topics and thinking out of the box…

    have seen enormous videos and content guiding webmasters to-just-follow and execute instructions suggested by Google… but your outlook and especially the way you presented it is awesome.

  25. Sooner or later (I hope), Google will make it possible to activate an “Automatic disavow of all incomming new links” to site in WM tools. Then by notification – you shall avow them manually yourself. I hope so, because mid December 13 (6 weeks ago), my Company had an algo-penalty – due to a SEO-attack. Actually the first I’ve seen – pointed to myself.
    We got 1000 links from 100 different websites in 30 days – Spam links ONLY – and from penalized sites. We have lost ALL rankings – and spend more than 3 weeks cleaning and disavowing links.

    In relation to the above well-written article, I think disavow Tool is an evil necessity.

    Best regards.

  26. Bravo!
    One true thought-inspiring post – I’m gonna share it over and over again. I’ve been talking about all the topics outlined here, but really, as you said, great content doesn’t always win. It usually gets buried under a ton of inbound.org shit like “top 10 things to do when matt cutts says to do x” (not that inbound is bad, I’ve found this article there, but it can be gamed and there are people that game it).

    Thanks again

  27. “Google is taking action against sites being LINKED TO by “low-quality or spammy sites”

    Very, very well put.

    Richard

    • Thanks Richard. To me, that’s the huge difference in the recent updates. Negative SEO has been alive a long time – but in the last year or so, it’s gotten much more effective with much less effort.

  28. Great post Rae both from an informational and entertainment perspective. Your writing style ROCKS!

    What is difficult about SEO vs say paid Search or CPC display is that SEO can feel like pre-paying for traffic that you hope to get.

    I get pushback from SMBs who don’t want to try PPC because they want the “free” ongoing stream of visitors they think [hope] Google/SEO can provide. With the current FUD environment and negative SEO tactics used by some, it seems that though SEO is not dead, but is becoming a riskier business with ROI ever less certain.

  29. I just have 1 thing to say “All Google wants is you should start spending more on PPC Adwords” so they can earn more. Currently top ranking sites are not paying them anything and google does not like it as their server space decreases each day maintaining zetabytes of data is becoming hard they desperately need money and are pressing on webmasters.

    And yes I liked this line the most “Over the last two years, the number of don’ts is increasing as quickly as Miley Cyrus’s sluttiness while the number of “dos” continues to dwindle. ”
    I hope you are not penalized because I quoted your text this is content duplicacy. .
    -Regards

  30. *slow clap*

    …no words…

  31. Just awesome. You nailed it.

  32. What utter drivel.

    You’re claiming that demand for SEO companies is up because of the mess SEO companies have made in the past. I couldn’t get over that line.

    That’s like claiming demand for snake oil is up because the last lot of snake oil made everyone sick.

    From my POV, it just sounds like you’re whiny little brat thats had their toys taken off them.

    Got to love the fact you go on about “providing good quality content” and how unfair it is that it may not be recognized, when this is most likely due to spammers like yourself in the past

    (something you alluded to, but could never quite be honest about it, as though it left even a dirty taste in your own mouth)

    Never fails to make me laugh seeing the SEO industry attempt to justify it’s manipulation of the search engines and then blame the search engines if they change their methods.

    Oh, it’s sooo unfair.

    • 1. If you’re going to insult me, please at least have the balls to leave a real name.
      2. I have never, ever advised a client to do anything outside of Google’s guidelines, so I made no mess for clients. Absolutely other “SEO companies” have though. Never sold snake oil. I didn’t do “SEO for hire” until 2009 – over a decade after I entered the SEO game. And I’ve always advised clients (and affiliates) to actually market vs. game the alogirthm since the day I launched this blog in 2006.
      3. You’re entitled to your point of view.

      Next up, you said “something you alluded to, but could never quite be honest about it”…

      Nope, never “alluded” to anything. I’ve never hidden the fact that from somewhere after the Florida update until somewhere in late 2005 / early 2006, I spammed the shit out of the search engines (as an affiliate, by the by, nothing to do with clients – because I didn’t work with any back then).

      Anyone who has followed me for a long time knows it. “Google” in regards to their reps that have been involved in the industry a long time knows it. I’ve got no qualms about admitting it and have mentioned it on stage several times. Moz put out a playing card deck for some Werewolf game at one point and my card labeled me a blackhat for Christ’s sake (even though I’d left blackhat behind by the time that card deck was released). I’m more than honest about it.

      I’ve been in this industry a long time. I was however one of the blackhats that shifted to using non BH tactics early. And, I started out as a “pristine” whitehat my first few years of doing SEO. I did it a decade ago, I own it, so there’s no “alluding” going on. It is what it is.

      I’m not whining about anything the engines are doing. What I take issue with is the do as I say not as I do, create good content and you’ll be ok, penalities only target “spammers” mantra that Google preaches.

      • Anyone that comments anonymously has zero credit. Anyone that insults you anonymously is a coward.

        • I typically don’t feed the anonymous. My general rule of thumb is if you can’t attach your identity to a comment, then it’s not a comment that deserves publishing.

          But just in case anyone else was thinking what he was, I published it and responded. :)

      • That was clearly Matt Cutts, posting before he’d had his morning coffee. Never a good idea. That and buying domains late at night while drunk. Nothing good ever comes from either.

        Excellent truth-bomb post. Thank you. The irony of all these Google penalties is that it’s polarizing people and pushing them to black hat churn and burn just as much as it’s pushing others to content marketing and brand building. And, it’s seems to have become easier. That’s my impression, anyway.

        Matt does seem like a nice fella, but the propaganda and sanctimony he’s paid to deliver is tiresome at best. It’d be a much nicer web if there were at least three or four viable search engines duking it out. Be much much more interesting as well.

        But, on the spectrum of “shit to worry about,” that is way down the list.

        Rock on, Ms. Hoffman.

  33. Amazing .. I’ll go along with Robs *slow clap* but have to say you have summed up in one post things that have been festering in my mind for a long time.

  34. My neck hurts.

    My nodding my head so hard because of how much I was agreeing.

    Seriously good article that nails what I’ve been too stupid to put into plain words. Thank you.

  35. Grant Simmons says:

    “To game or not to game, that was the question?” ~ and therein lies the rant-worthy core of your post.

    In the heyday of SEO we were *all* trying to game Google, to the point of extreme.

    Its setup a situation where search engines have an almost impossible task of sorting out the good from the great, and the great from the great pretenders!

    Agree that Google doesn’t do the best job to solve a (currently) unsolvable situation, but no one should fault them for trying in a naive attempt to ‘clean up the web’ – sometimes it fails miserably, and most times it works well enough.

    I am often ranting over Google updates, mistakes, bias & ‘big brother’ attitude – “Grant’s Rants” :-) – yet I still find their search (and other) products to be a valuable part of my work & pleasure necessities – they are my necessary evil, that does no evil :-)

    Are they right? Just? Fair? A bastion of good in an unethical SEO world?

    Not always. Sometimes. Not necessarily. Don’t make me laugh.

    Google is out to provide the best search results they can, to engage users and drive revenue to their search products.

    We… As SEO practitioners, have similar goals… Highlight our clients’ websites to engage users to drive profitable traffic to their sites.

    Challenge is vast for all entities involved, while the system is gameable black / gray hats will leverage shady tactics, Google with try to mitigate, some will win, some will lose… And worthy SEO practitioners will be caught in the middle, winning most and losing some.

    Good read Rae… Hopefully woke SEO folk up to a marketing world. :-)

    • Thanks Grant – and thanks for taking the time to post such a great comment!

    • Yes, but the results in Google the last year are not good enough . Often, in the first page appear 4 or 5 results from the same site, and the content in the pages of the site is very thin. I am speaking of searches with millions of results.

      Bing sometimes offer very bad results because attribute a bad synonym.

  36. Can I get a hell yeah?

    So much win in this post, Rae. But my favorite line may have been:
    “Google talks the talk, but does not walk the walk and there’s nothing we can do about it”.

    So true it hurts (but in a good way).

    I think too many SEOs get wrapped up in Google’s every move. As you pointed out with several examples, Google is one of the LAST places to look for SEO guidance.

    As you said back in 2009 “You Don’t Need SEO to Rank in Google”. That statement is more true today than it’s ever been.

    In many ways, the best SEO today is no SEO at all: time spent worrying about changes to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is time you could invest in creating (and promoting) an AMAZING site.

    • Thanks Brian – and yep, that 2009 post is still valid today. I’m actually working on a site behind the scenes to publish a new case study on the “market outside of Google and win in Google” aspect. :)

  37. Good gosh….you rant well there Canuck girl!!! I too have a sore neck from all the same head nodding and desk thumping and yes….I agree wholeheartedly. Thing is…the use of the dis-avow tool is the one thing that I didn’t “get”….but your explanation with reagards to Panda/Penguin made me see that in a whole different light – refer to #1 indeed!

    Will follow this closely…but kudos Sugar!

  38. Miloš Milosavljević says:

    As it should have been all along :)

    “From here on out, you work on generating traffic. From here on out, you work on generating branding. From here on out, you work on obtaining customers. From here on out, you work on making your product or service or “value provide” (for bloggers) fucking epic. Not just epic – FUCKING EPIC.”

  39. And all this long messy walk that Google convinced marketers to follow just to end up telling them what they (the good ones) knew from the very beginning: take care of your brand, practice good marketing and run your website on a decent technical basis is the key for success.

    SEO is to apply the logic to that online/offline marketing strategy. As simple as it sounds, it is the most difficult part I see every single working day dealing with sites in trouble.

    A toast to your damned true post, Rae.

  40. “Google doesn’t want to make websites popular, they want to rank popular websites” is the best way to summarize where this is all going.

    Great post Rae, although what frustrates me the most is that Google say’s one thing and rewards a site for doing exactly what they hate the most – mass link acquisition.

    A great read anyway, will be visiting your blog often – I am a fan now

  41. 3 lines that make you go “Hmmmmm”..

    “..dragging them into town square for a public hanging”
    “Why would they hit you for them if they’ve been devaluing them”
    “Your pony is dead.”

    ..And thanks for voicing the opinions of so many of us.

  42. <3

  43. Tasha Roachford says:

    Great post :) Google hasn’t gotten it right as yet and it will take a while before this is realized. I really feel the pain of all those who have worked hard to established themselves/brand only to be bi*ch slapped in the end while Google try to correct their mistakes. The point is what the hell do you do when you are being bullied? I enjoyed this post because Rae chooses not to go along with the crowd and be silent and gullible, she voiced her opinion.

    Online Marketing has become complex, the rules of the game is changing as we speak, what works or doesn’t work is difficult to decipher (other than paying Google for traffic of course, lol). SEO is like marshal art you might be able to defend yourself but it does not mean that you will win the fight against the bully who is holding the playbook. At the end of the day your focus should not be on Google but on your visitors/customers, their needs and wants and what your competitors are doing better than you and vice versa so that you can improve on your product and/or services. Knowing that if Google penalizes your website you still have a loyal customer base that will follow you will still ensure that you receive business, even if your domain changes. It’s all about strategic planning both online and in most cases offline as well.

  44. Fucking epic post, Rae.

  45. Loved every bit of what I could understand… Just when I think I have a good idea of what I need to be doing, I realize there is so much more I just don’t “get”.

    • It’s a LOT to take in – especially if you’re busy trying to run a blog or business that is not directly SEO themed. Just keep building your audience in the way that brings in the most, actual, huma people versus links, IMHO. :)

  46. Michael Alan says:

    Here’s the deal, Google finally figured out what big advertisers did decades ago, THE BIG MONEY IS AT THE BIG CORPORATIONS. So going forward, any tactic that levels the field for the small guy will be eliminated so that the internet is a BIG guy platform only, just as TV commercials are.

  47. When I started my little wine blog in 2008, I didn’t care about SEO. I type and post, and if people read it, I’m happy. If not, then I hope next time is better. I really have little focus on links, guest posts, nofollows, or the like. For all I know, Google crapped all over my site, and it’s only ranked higher than the websites run by the Amish.

    I liked your post, and appreciate what I learned … I Just doubt I’ll do anything better because of it. Or maybe, I will. You tell me!

  48. Rae, a partner of mine shared this with the entire company and I promise you this….after 18 years in this business, I have NEVER read a truer post. I called Matt out and I’ve accepted the blame when I’ve openly violated “terms of service”, but frankly, if you’re an idiot and trust Google’s “terms” when even Google doesn’t follow them, what do you do in that case? For all who are NOT engaging in link building (or baiting), please step aside. I’ve got some exact match anchors to drop around the web.

    TGOS

  49. This article nailed it on many levels. I wanted to also point out that many of these updates used (penguin/panda) to punish spammers did not really work. I still see many sites ranking that do nothing but build spam links. I see sites that have terrible OnPage, no blog, and BS links ranking them well in SERPs and for many terms. IMO, Currently it’s all based on Brand to Keyword ratio… Build 10 blogs on separate IPs, write 3 posts relevant to your niche, add a few links to credible sources on each, and when you link to your own site anchor it with a 80-20 ratio brand links to keyword anchor links and viola.

    I agree with sullivan and recall mentioning it in forums a while back prior to Penguin. Counting negative links as an attempt to manipulate SERPs only opens the gates of hell from a competitors end.

    The same people who use a simple rinse and repeat tactic (causing Google to police links) are the ones that are more likely to use the tactics that got them punished in the first place on their competitor sites. If these links simply had no value it would eliminate the use for them and or desire to build them.

    Guest blogging is pointless to begin with, it is only useful if the site has relevant traffic that will become your fans. Adding content to your own site and building a fan base is the way to go. However, like you mention in this post over and over… It’s no where near perfect, there are no guarantees and Google cares about Google.

    Personally, I like to feed Google what they want their users to see, since we know that Google needs users to be happy in order for them to stay profitable. We need to give the users the best possible results. However, again “It’s no where near perfect, there are no guarantees and Google cares about Google.”

    • Hey Donnie – glad you liked the post. :) To me, every promotional method is useless – once you take links in regards to search engine “value” out of the mix – unless it’s going to drive traffic. Don’t get me wrong – I try to feed Google what it wants, I aim to get links – but at the end of the day, I want “building the business” or “building the audience” in a blogger’s case to be what’s driving the ship – even if SEO decides some of the pit stops. :)

  50. Damnit. Thanks for eating up 30 mins of my day. :-) Great post. One thing you could also throw in there is that there are about a bazillion blogger accounts set up with scraped content linking to sites with no contact record (whois) or any other imaginable way to get links gone. Pair that with a disavow file that seems to have psychotic effectiveness and you have the equation for great fun for marketers trying to turn things around through real brand building.

  51. “Quote.” “All.” “The.” “Things.”

  52. This is the best post I’ve read in a very long time. Writing it must have taken forever but thank you for taking the time to do it.

    I’m guilty of falling in to the 2006-present group of SEM’s but the writing has been on the wall for a while now. As much as we hate a lot (or all) of what Google does, they could care less and they hold all the cards. If we don’t adapt and start doing “real business shit” our “businesses” are going to die a quick painful death.

    • Thanks Jeff – I’m glad you liked it. :) It took me about five hours to write up, but it was just one of those times I absolutely HAD to brain dump into a blog post – even if to only get it out of my head. :)

      Get your “real business shit” on :)

  53. Yatin Mulay says:

    Kudos for this hard hitting post Rae!

    As far as i see it, Google is increasing the risk premium on every channel/strategy/tactic which doesn’t contain the magic word “adwords”.

    “Create compelling content” is just good positioning for Google since they know most SMBs lack the resources & the reach to win the content game.

    Everything that runs counter to the revenue model of Google Inc will be eventually put on the death bed or on diminishing returns path to the point everyone gets eventually pushed down the adwords funnel resulting in shareholder value.

    2014 Webmaster Guidelines:
    “Adapt or Die…err..we really mean; ADWORDS OR DIE!” ~ Google

  54. Rae, I agree with your points that we should focus on business marketing not website marketing. But the problem is, we normally hire an SEO to make our website popular not our business. Thanks for your post.

  55. I think the problem is that any single tactic when slammed clearly won’t work. A little bit of a lot of different tactics won’t harm anyone, regardless of what Mr Cutts says.

  56. Thanks for a great post, Rae.

    Working alone at home I sometimes find myself ranting at the dogs. They seem to find it fascinating but it is never as coherent and put together as yours was right here.

    What gets me is that the whole link building free-for-all was started by Google in the first place. If they had done a better job of keeping that as a relevance and quality criterion to themselves, links today would still be golden because they would be natural. But no. Remember the green PR bar? They could not have made a bigger deal out of building links if they had tried.

    And then there was the assurance that scummy competitors could never get your site tanked via linking to your site from a bad neighborhood. Huh, right.

    I agree with Danny Sullivan’s ‘devalue don’t punish’ statement. That would remove any value from spammy link building and remove any competitive back-stabbing edge from negative seo.

    It would allow web managers to continue to create connections and recommend relevant sites, cross post and co-operate without fear of some random penalty for doing what used to make the internet so great – back when it was called the world wide web. It was all those natural links that made it a web – back before Google tainted the value of a natural link by calling it a ‘vote’.

    • Fionn Downhill says:

      Amen

    • Hey Julie – I agree with you on most points, but as I said in the article, I think there is an alternative (Google benefiting) motive behind them not simply devaluing the links. Re negative SEO, I think that’s why so many veteran SEOs often nearly shout to take everything Google says with a grain of salt. Negative SEO existed before Penguin – and it existed long before Google was willing to admit it did. And even in the wake of admitting it, that admission is always followed up with how “rare” it is – which if you do SEO day in and day out, you know isn’t true. And Penguin made negative SEO easier, while making positive SEO harder.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  57. Rae, that is a great post, couldn’t stop smiling while reading it, actually I still do:)

    Love the BLIND PUNISHMENT bit and it’s a shame bout the unicorns, really. I believe that the majority of people share your thoughts, though few could so proudly state those out in the open without listing a whole bunch of apologies after that. Nicely done, thanks for investing those 5 hours into a post that have just made my day!

  58. Awesome, awesome, awesome job Rae!

    I’m so glad someone else thinks that Google, in its self-aggrandizing approach to everything in the world, is pretty much full of shit in many regards.

    2 years ago I wrote a rant (your opinion would be great if you have the time) in which I questioned the decisions and approaches Google takes to a variety of issues from the perspective of the small business owner (since that’s my area of knowledge as opposed to SEO). The way I see it, things that occur in the real world don’t fly n the “Google world” (ie: strategic partnerships aka real blog networks and advertising aka buying links) and things that it penalizes the masses for, it exempts itself from (ie: advertising above the fold aka ads taking up the entire screen on a search).

    To me, it seems kind of off that the company supposedly “saving everyone” from the online trash is actually just forcing people/companies to conform to it’s own views of how things should be done. Reminds me of the athletes who claim all they want is to win, yet seem to always end up signing with whoever offers them the most–the selfish actions always overrule the bullshit PR (not page rank by the way) speak.

    • Hey Eric – “forcing people/companies to conform to it’s own views of how things should be done” YEP. Oh, and after I hit publish, I almost went back in to edit and add the above the fold hypocrisy, but decided against editing it after folks were heavily sharing it. But, yes, another shining example.

      The if you don’t like it, then you just won’t appear in Google angle really bugs me too. Aside from not being realistic, they buy companies like the rest of us buy candy bars. Anytime a non Google company becomes a formidable source of traffic on the web, Google is usually first in line to buy it. Then they decide they don’t want to play with their new toy, ruin the site / product / service and move on.

      I’m honestly shocked that Polyvore and Pinterest haven’t had Google beating down their doors yet (especially polyvore since one of its co founders is a Google alum).

  59. The running loop in my head, reading this post: holyfuckingshitholyfuckingshitholyfuckingshit.

    I’d shake my “old man fist” at Google, but I don’t want to be penalized in any way.

  60. This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time about the man (Google). If they must game their own system (by violating their own rules) it tells you that we must as well. Hypocrisy is the order of the day, which is not to say that this is all about money grubbing (although some of it clearly is). In the end, Google has this monopoly because in the eyes of the search consumer it does a better job of search than the others. If google only offers users paid ads or, as suggested by some sites that have lots of sales or show popularity, then Amazon would take the top ten in every search. In that event Google’s product becomes useless.to the consumer (just go to Amazon directly) and something else will take its place.

    Google is neither fair nor consistent. It is mostly a computer algorthm that can’t decipher things of a subjective nature (like quality) and the “fixes” it makes just causes new problems. That said, it rules the roost in the IM world so we must learn to live with it. I’ve been in the business world a long time and I am unaware of any business that doesn’t require some gaming of the system to be successful.

    • Fionn Downhill says:

      Right Kermit and they cannot penalize the links coming in they need to penalize the sites innocent or not. They are now asking for links to be disavowed even if you have no penalty. They can take down the site which have been linked to not the sites doing the linking. I suspect they can but they are much more careful with the collateral damage they might do to their own algo than they are about the sites which are the destination of the links which they wipe out indiscriminately.

      • Fionn “they are much more careful with the collateral damage they might do to their own algo than they are about the sites which are the destination of the links” – agreed.

        And to be honest, I’m not even saying their algo shouldn’t be their first priority. They’re a business. BUT, own it. Tell people the truth. And for the love of God, don’t just tell them that if they build great content, “everything will be ok”. LOL.

    • “It is mostly a computer algorthm that can’t decipher things of a subjective nature” and that’s one of the biggest problems for webmasters the more they make legitimate tactics “hurt” when the “ideal ratio” is “off” according to a computer incapable of determining intent, instead of just “not help”.

  61. Fionn Downhill says:

    Oh the irony of it Rae we could talk all day about how successful Google has been with FUD and how abysmal they have been at stopping black hat linking. Today forum comments and bookmarks work quite well, some nice offshore domains containing sometimes readable content as the spinners have improved the quality of the spinning due to Panda and you can do very well in a competitive space quite quickly. The one thing they have not succeeded in doing is finding the links and detecting them. I have never done black hat and link bombing so I am not sure how much harder it is now or is it easier?, with all the hard working sites out of the way thanks to the disavow refined until you do not even have to think about it by Cemper they have succeeded in penalizing the real sites. Webmasters have spoon fed them exactly what they need the sites which are “being linked to” if they were able to kill off the link sellers wouldn’t you just have to send them a file with the sites in the networks to get rid of them but no they want it all so they can hurt the small sites and terrify legitimate hard working businesses into doing not doing any linking at all.

    The black hats have re-grouped fixed their Panda and Penguin problems and they have moved on to the next phase. Do you think they cared when their Viagra, loans and insurance quote sites went down? Not at all that is the business they are in they love the risk, they love beating google and they are beating google now more than ever. No small sites in their way working their asses off and the odd big guy dinged for 24 hours to curtail the big guys. I cannot take any of Google’s assertion that they are dealing with linking serious anymore, find the link networks and the sellers and take them out not Mom and Pop insurance agency trying to feed their kids. But they can’t because they don’t know how to find them, and if they do so what the black hats will just fix the problems and move on that’s the business they are in. My hat (I am claiming white) is off to them because Google has not and cannot catch them. Any future calls from small companies to explain that they have been kicked off Google because their SEO Company did something they were not aware of and I will refer them directly to Google. No point in me taking their now much smaller budget to help them fix the problem, unless they are Expedia or Rap Genius it’s not fixable. Google just wants the data they could care less about the incomes they have wiped out or they people they have hurt. And on and on it goes.

    • A few things…

      1. Blackhat is merely taking what works “white hat” and figuring out a way to automate producing those same “signals” to Google. Because it’s automated – if site A, B, C, D, and E get hit, they don’t care. They’ll simply throw up site F, G, H, I and J. And they know, accept and are willing to take the risks. Churn and burn. I’ve long been saying that almost every blackhat I know could “whitehat” their asses off if they wanted to. They’re extremely smart when it comes to deciphering the algorithm.

      2. Blackhat and “hacker” are not interchangeable even thought Google would like you to believe they are. To me, there are three core types of people who game the system. Hacking types (the types willing to do illegal things to rank like hacking a website to inject links), churners and burners (the types that won’t do anything illegal, but have zero issue with breaking every Google GUIDELINE in existence to rank a site and if they get caught, oh well, onto the next one) and then you have the “aggressive types” who are actually wanting to rank a site that matters at the end of the day, wouldn’t consider themselves blackhats – gray at most – and beat tactics to death with zero strategies – these are usually – not always – the types you see upset about being hit by the latest update).

      3. The true blackhats have almost always been one step ahead of Google. And anytime Google closes a door, they find a window. The big change in the last few years is Google locks those doors and doesn’t care if innocent folks are locked in the room as a result.

      My two cents. :)

      • Fucking epicly epic post! Sharing on G+

        Of course churn and burn works, it never stopped – not that I know personally but the evidence is pretty easy to spot FFS.

        Well done and thank you for the raw honesty – it helps stem the cold dark fury in the pit of the stomach for the seeming callousness of it all. But then the old fable about the Scorpion and the Frog comes to mind…

        YP management were convinced (certainly in Canada) that everyone had to come back. They neglected how much they had pissed off everyone over years of fleecing. Perhaps the lidless eye suffers from the same hubris? What goes around comes around… this is always true… just sometimes it takes much longer than we’d like.

  62. Andrew D. says:

    Wow! This is spot on, God I feel so better now after reading your blog. Pretty much sums up everything I want to say about Google and their “updates”.

  63. “From here on out, you work on obtaining customers.” Exactly. Get your basic SEO right on the page and then focus on getting your offer in front of customers. If that means Facebook ads, do it. If it means being active on Pinterest, do it. If it means guest blogging on sites where people who are likely to benefit from your product hang out, do it. If Google sends you traffic, great! But don’t count on it. Go out and find customers however and wherever you can. And do whatever it takes to get them to give your their e-mail addresses so you can keep in touch, regardless of what Google does.

  64. Great post and very thorough. For Matt Cutts note was not a revelation, but rather an inevitability. The only way to compete in search moving forward is to build a brand that would survive and thrive without Google. If you can do that, you will actually be well rewarded by Google anyway. That’s how I approach my own personal sites, but I have found it’s not exactly easy to do that for clients/larger sites in a scalable way. Your comments on scale of fighting spam with disavow links was a revelation.

  65. I definitely entered the game among people you described as “one-trick ponies.” For the years I worked with them when P&P were released I watched as everyone freaked out, not knowing how to tell their clients that they didn’t know what else to do but to keep on doing what they had been doing that got them punished in the first place. To this day, I think there are tons of firms out there still providing large linking lists to their clients as proof of their value, and it blows my mind.

    This was a great post, and I’m going to be sure to share this with some of my pals who’re trying to break out of pony stable.

  66. Great article!

    I very recently covered the Google acquisition of Deep Mind on my site and in a way came up with similar assumptions to yourself. Especially in relation to the Matt Cutts on the value of guest posting.

    Google do want to punish SEOs because they want everyone to be advertising, it’s very obvious and perhaps eventually they’ll even find a way to push out SEOs completely. All the while, they’re reliant on the types of algorithms they use and we’ll always be able to find ways to optimize. With Deep Mind though eventually it could be so complex that we just can’t do that anymore.

    Frightening but thoughtful.

  67. As a born cynic and realist, it’s hard to argue with anything in this article. Well done. Certainly the decision tree to get more traffic is still very complex these days and changing by the month.

    But wait, there’s a solution to all this despair. Rankings in an instant. Pay as you go too. A wondrous thing called AdWords. Works best when NOT configured by the helpful Google staff.

    You have to admit it’s all a very cunning business, income and marketing strategy, at least for Google. Still, it could be worse. Better the devil you know…

    • “Works best when NOT configured by the helpful Google staff. ”

      LOL… the sad part is, those folks are usually not Google staff – instead, many times they’re Google contractors. And their biggest concern is upsell. If you haven’t read this article, you might want to give it a read. :)

  68. They invented the cancer and now they are selling us the cure, and every time their cure doesn’t work we pay for another experimental cure. End game, were broke and there are no other doctors in town. Aaron Walls rant 2 days back goes hand in hand with this beauty.

    I’m going to quote and link this this post if you promise not to disavow it and sign a contract that swears you never sold a link.

  69. Minor detail – you mentioned Amazon Askville users who plagiarize content, and you are certainly correct. However, Amazon Askville has been shuttered as dead wood since October 25, 2013.

    The earlier comment about the Deep Insight acquisition and AI was of interest. I don’t know if the intent is to use AI for Google search, or for that robot-and-drone company that Google bought last year, Cambridge Scientific.

    Yes, it is infuriating but true that scraper sites (and bigger ones who should behave better e.g. Business Insider) republish blog RSS feeds. The other sites then get credit for my own entirely original writing and images, and there isn’t any recourse.

    I read the article you mentioned, about AdWords contractors. That is deeply disappointing. I shouldn’t be surprised, as Google product forums, which I used to visit a lot, rarely have Google staff present now. Instead, they shut down many of them and refer users to StackOverflow, to ask their questions there. That is ridiculous. I like StackOverflow a lot. I am active there, but I don’t want to be providing unpaid Google product support! I (somewhat gratuitously) complained about that in a Microsoft Developer Network MSDN thread. I’ll leave the URL if you would like (I haven’t had anyone to share it with, no one who might enjoy it). I have a Google hobby blog, but have been so disillusioned with Google that I haven’t posted anything since last April.

    You wrote a good post, Miz Rae. You’re also an excellent web hostess. I aspire to being as gracious and attentive to visitors. I’m not being sarcastic, nor intend to demean you as a woman. I am a woman too! Being gracious and attentive online isn’t easy.

    • Hey Ellie – they may not be taking anything new, but they still have 8 million pages in the Google index.

      And gracious – that would definitely be a new word I’ve heard used for me. :) Thanks for taking the time to both read and comment!

  70. Hey Rae! Wow you got a lot of comments on this one!

    This is Bryan Knowlton over at the Daily Blogcast for Internet Marketing.

    I just wanted to let you know we discussed your blog post on our show and would love if you could help get the word out to your readers!

    Episode 057 – Email copywriting, how to a change in tone increased lead inquiry by 349%, Google Propaganda, Angrybirds Leaking Data, Google+ for Interactions, Growth, Exposure and more!

    http://dailyblogcast.net/2014/01/28/057-set-fire-to-your-adwords-campaigns-angrybirds-leaking-private-user-data-google-for-interactions-growth-exposure-and-more/

    We found the article to be well written and decided to feature it in this episode. If you would like to provide any additional comments, you can do that directly at the bottom of the page listed above.

    Since this is a Daily Podcast, we will definitely be visiting your blog from time to time to find more great articles to discuss. If you would like to leave us a comment, question or a voicemail, you can do that on the right side of the page.

    Again, thank you for the blog post! Without it we might have not had much to talk about! :)

    You can subscribe (or let your readers they can) at http://dailyblogcast.net/itunes

    Thanks again!

    Bryan & Mark
    Daily Blogcast for Internet Marketing – Because reading is hard…

  71. Best seo/marketing article I have read online for a very long time. That is all.

  72. Damm it! and I just bought the latest copy of SE Nuke!

    Great post Rae, I think you managed to cover most of what were all feeling at the moment.

  73. Hi Rae Hoffman,

    Great post, really you are 100% right google doesn’t want to make websites popular, they want to rank popular websites.

  74. Surajit Sen Sharma says:

    Bravo.

    Reading your post, I could see in my mind a lone citizen, with everything to lose, charging single-handedly a town run by a crooked council and a trigger-happy sheriff.

    And you wouldn’t give up, because you know you are in the right.

    Bravo, again.

    Things will change, but they won’t without resistance put up by those who desire to be free and remain free of Google’s tyranny. Not all of us have voices, but among those who do – you have shined.

    Google clearly has different rules for different groups of players and is running the show like a henchman of the super-rich, making sure the downtrodden do not dare to change their state of life.

    Throughout civilization, there have been powers who tried to impose their will and on freethinkers with violence. And what Google is doing is no less than violence to many small businesses.

    But humans have always found solutions.

    Ultimately, Google is nothing more than a passing phase. They are trying desperately to bring back the faith they lost when people left in droves to seek information on social media rather than through their search box.

    The next phase would be greater social bonding through private forums, custom communities and direct connections.

    People would pay lip service to Google’s policies, but would design their online marketing strategy around tools with less transient investment, and somethings that Google won’t be allowed to touch.

    Whew. Wrote a lot, and not on SEO.

    But what you have written, touched me much beyond what you wrote the post on.

  75. This was an amazing read and echoes a lot of what I’ve been telling my clients as we sort out the changes and look ahead. My new product’s model is based on creating simple location based sites. Fast, simple, basic, mobile ready and we use every white hat method we can tweak in the hopes that playing along will help all our clients achieve the most they could hope to. Of course, in tandem with offsite and real world marketing which I think is a huge piece of the puzzle that most fly by night marketers don’t get. Big nod to the “I learned it by watching you.” PSA. I quote that regularly.

    • Thanks Mackenzie… it’s funny, I reference that commercial all the time. My husband is seven years younger than me. One day he was like “where’d you learn [insert random thing I was doing here] from?” and I answered “I learned it by watching you dad!”. He had ZERO idea what I was talking about. I explained and he told me that was such an “odd reference almost no one would get”. So, citing it was his age and not the reference itself being “out there” so to speak, I texted a buddy my same age out of the blue with “I learned it by watching you dad!” and nothing else. He responded “parents who do drugs have children who do drugs”. LOL. Point, set, match. ;-)

      • Amazing. I’m so glad your article led me to your site. It’s hard (really fucking hard) to find information online from people who know what they’re talking about beyond what they’ve read from others. It becomes this cyclical bullshit that has no bearing on real world applications. Just theories and short term cut and run techniques.
        I’ve been doing this long enough to know you want to keep your customers happy in perpetuity. Not just to resell or cite, but solid references can’t be bought.
        I’m going to use some advice from your HOW I CREATE A STRATEGY FOR A NEW BLOG OR AFFILIATE SITE – PART 1 article for a client. Great stuff. Thank you!

  76. I would like to just congratulate you on the courage to call BS on the false pretense of all the made up rules Google operates under. I have decided to call it “Google’s Kangaroo Court” because they are judge, jury and executioner and the rules are not only hidden but enforced in conflicting fashion. It’s very frustrating to look at sites where the punishment hardly fits the crime yet watch big companies like Expedia flaunt the rules and only get hit after they get outed.

  77. Hearts outlined and candy canes to you Rae. Some of you few, carry a banner all of us silent dweebs latch onto and wrap under. Don’t discount us, though we will never chime in, ever.
    http://www.articulayers.com/2014/01/lions-and-tigers-and-bears-and-guest-posts-oh-my/
    I only want to share the image- which made me laugh, making it. But the point of the thing just comes back here, because you said it better than I wanted to. Again, still, always.
    I look forward to one day settling things, and buying you so many coffees, drinks and doughnuts you simply keel over. Everyone lives a dream, right?
    Cheers, m

  78. Great post Rae. What we have all WANTED to say for a long time. Google are a law unto themselves. They have the nerves to talk ethics!!!

  79. I loved the read, very detailed indeed, especially the where we go from here. And I totally agree SEO is as alive as it was always, in fact ranking keywords is much easier now than it was couple of years ago (perhaps true for some niches).

    But at least, those who hear the term “SEO” do not all of a sudden say “Ohh, ohh I know what SEO is, I have a website, you get links for your website and Google ranks you”

    Which previously every person who I talked about SEO was saying that “I know SEO” to which I wanted to reply “Wow, I must be f#^@!(g idiot spending years learning about it” anyhow, I loved your post, (even more so the pictures) you have a new reader.

    • Yeah, that’s always been a pet peeve of mine – there’s so much more to SEO (always has been). SEO has now morphed into a segment of the bigger whole of marketing. And most SEOs I know have morphed into people who see that bigger whole of marketing – and have included that in their “SEO strategies” for a long time now. The industry has involved to be more all encompassing – and the folks doing it have too (the real ones). :)

  80. Enjoyed the post and awesome conversation as well ;)

    Thanks Rae for sharing your views

  81. Thank you for writing this, I think I needed a slap in the face! I’ve been getting bent out of shape about the current landscape of SEO, and with every new hurdle I’ve become more and more discouraged. I’ve been focused on “one trick ” for too long now, and it’s time to diversify and branch out into other areas. I hate being dependent on rankings and all the factors that come with it that I can’t control.

    Thanks again for the motivational and inspirational post! Time to put on my big girl pants and move forward.

  82. Hey Rae, great post. I really enjoyed reading it! It’s a little bit onesided because it’s an SEO perspective, but from this perspective you’re absolutely right. In the end Google is doing what Google wants. As long as the user likes Googles search results and the convenience in using Googles services, as long Google will be successful. The user doesn’t care how Google computes the rankings. The only thing he cares is finding the answer to his question. And the user will never judge Google if Google is the biggest unnatural link builder in the world. As you said, the Pony is dead. Now we should care more about the user and not Google.

    • Hey Marcus – yep, don’t deny the entire post is from an SEO perspective – but, it’s also from a small business perspective as well, because they’re the types of companies most likely to be the babies thrown out with the bathwater so to speak.

      Re the pony being dead – for us real marketers, it makes things harder but not impossible. Grabbing links with anchors took no “creativity” or marketing chops. Moving forward, I think we’ll definitely see the wheat separated from the chaff in that regard – much like we did when the Google “sandbox”/trustrank came about.

  83. Hi Rae,

    Found this post through a post on ViperChill blog. Very well put together thought. I have met a lot of people in local meetups and conferences that preach what Google preaches and no one talks about whats happening in reality. Thank you for writing up the reality of what Google is doing and how SEOs need to adapt. The problem that I see too common with people new to industry is that they are now sort of scared to do anything because they fear one or the other penalty. This post should give them some hope.

    Thank you for sharing.

  84. This is sooooo true. Take a look at the backlink profile of something like [site redacted] and then see where they are in the SERPS and tell me if Google is actually practicing what it preaches. Good on you for calling BS

    • Hey Sasha – glad you enjoyed the article. :) I had to edit out the URL because I’m not a big fan of “outing” so to speak – in world where Google is what they are, I don’t want my blog being the source of us (marketers) throwing knives at each other. :)

  85. Akash Agarwal says:

    Nice and informative article. I am really very happy to see this article. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  86. Rae, a truly excellent article. Well done. Although, it’s both terrifying and sad how far Google has sunk. I remember their “do no evil” when they were new and shiny – how long ago that seems now. I’ve been a victim of manual action and basically had to disavow things that at the time were recommendations – sites like ezinearticles that were “high quality” now abandoned and on the bad list. I struggle to see the way forward to be honest. And in the meantime, people without any qualms continue to use spammy techniques to increase their rankings.

    • Yep James – it’s super frustrating at times. Especially when Google seems to refuse to admit there’s a problem for legitimate business owners in regards to their current algorithms. The problems aren’t even what fires me up so much as their denial that the problem is not “isolated” so to speak.

  87. Thank you very much for sharing this awsome article.
    Very informative and a real eye-opener: ‘don’t be naive when ist comes to Google’s intentions’!
    Maybe in reality it’s simple as that: it’s not about freeing the information or helping smaller companies to reach their customers or even providing an optimal search experience. It’s about money and maximizing profits (as if we SEOs weren’t always aware of that paradigm ;-) … for Google.

    Keep up your great work! Thanks!

  88. Mike Calloway says:

    This is a phenomenal post! It’s rare that I post comments but those last two paragraphs summed up the mentality we should have.

    Once your focus is on brand building then everything should work out in your favor. It shifts your thinking. This shift cause good rankings to be a side effect and not a motive.

    Thanks Rae!

  89. Hi Rae! Good post! I’ve always thought of the SEO industry as 1 big MMORPG where Google is the game developer / game master and the SEO’s with the sites they’re working on are the players. Google can change the rules of the game in an instant and even penalized or ban players.

  90. Excellent article – Google’s obsession with links is making them disappear up their own backside – “to rank well in Google you require links; Google considers nearly all links to be spam”

  91. Rae,
    I agree fully with every word you spoke and believe like so many others commenters here that it is time for a revolution. We need change that truly represents what delivers the best result for the searcher, not what google has found algorithmically works best. Not sure how to get there either yet but with so much data out there, I have no doubt that the tech geniuses among us can orchestrate an overhaul that is more just in its treatment of content and marketing – for large business and smaller scale blogs like yours and mine. Godspeed to us all until that course correction comes to light.

    • Hey Michelle – I hate doing a post identifying a problem without offering a solution. But, we can’t find a solution for a problem when we don’t know what the current answer is, so to speak. Google is free to do what they choose – but I hate that they act so righteous / like the algo doesn’t have serious issues. Just come out and say it, ya know? :)

  92. Hey Rae. You have just earned yourself a new subscriber as we have never come across such a humorous rant on modern day SEO since starting our brand or rather since beginning SEO in 2008. One thing is clear and easy to agree upon, Google couldn’t care less about your brand or your search reputation, but many marketers think Google really does. All efforts should go into branding, whether that comes from throwing expensive events, mailing every webmaster in the world or simply just using social media daily. While SEO isn’t dead, the best way to leverage search is to have your brand mentioned consistently and everywhere, by your consumers, by your competitors, by your industry, by other industries, because regardless of whether Google lives or dies, your brand should leave on. We try to live by the concept. Grade A Rant, definitely looking to share it somewhere relevant.

    • Thanks – I’m glad you enjoyed it. And I agree re branding being the most important thing you can do for your business moving forward if one hasn’t been holding it as the primary focus already. :)

  93. @Rae Hoffman,

    You couldn’t say it better….

    I just want to add that this people dont make money from our SEO industry besides not making more cash since we are helping the people who are willing to pay for ranking on the top spot without using Adwords and if they dont stop us in some way the competition on adwords will decrease and so the CPC will decrease and they will make less money from Adwords which is a big main stream of income.

  94. Great post. Found you via Moz Top 10 and will be subscribing.

    Here’s hoping this doesn’t get linked to by too many “low-quality” sites!

  95. Rae,

    Thanks for this. I’m a new marketer/copywriter/content marketer/social media manager/circus monkey trying to get our company some SEO traction in a brave new world of marketing – and it’s tiring.

    I normally don’t like posts that bemoan the death of some tactic only to end with the ever helpful “make something good” comment that does absolutely nothing for me. It’s like a lego manual showing you what not to build in excruciating detail and then displaying the finished product. Screw that.

    This was different.

    You walked me through the eco-system of SEO. Thank you. I feel a lot better knowing how people use one technique as a crutch to rank well. I’ve got more than just one trick – I’ve got a great product, solid writing, and tons of freaking hard work.

    I feel inspired to make great copy and to distribute it to people that it will help.

    I’m building my own lego structure now, and I’m excited to show people the step by step process of how it comes together. Thanks for reminding me that we’re here to make something valuable.

    Because people like good crap. We’re quirky like that.

    • “It’s like a lego manual showing you what not to build in excruciating detail and then displaying the finished product. Screw that.”

      Awesome analogy Shawn. Like, really awesome. Thanks re the ending.

      I started in online marketing in the late nineties. In the first five years I was in the industry, SEOs shared freely via forums, email and instant messenger. We all kind of worked together to “figure that shit out”. But, back then, there was no blogging and Google was doing their thing and not paying much attention to us doing ours. The problem for the SEO community now is, we can’t share “what works” in detail anymore.

      If we share something that works in obtaining links, we have to worry that Google will add that “style” to the spam list. If we share something that works that Google has no current issue with, then the one trick ponies will take that method we use as a PART of a bigger whole and beat it to death until they turn the tactic into something that gets added to the spam list (ala guest blogging). And then SEOs/business owners who DIDN’T abuse the tactic pay for the sins of those who did.

      We never know what Google is listening to. And because of that, those doing “good shit” or with “good ideas” have to keep them closer and closer to the vest. Not because they don’t want to help their colleagues. But because they fear the borg. Google’s current “play” is to rule and conform using fear and punishment.

      If you’re going to be a tyrant of the online “world” then at least be willing to admit it.

  96. I think ‘Time to Long Click’ has all but replaced the backlink profile as the quality metric of choice for Google.

    • I don’t know that I agree there. It’s too easily gamed. I think their big problem right now is that they have no “healthy” alternative at the moment to links. I think they have “additions” and “validators” and “additional signals” – but I believe most of those are to compensate and help them with the fact that their algo is hugely centered around links. :)

  97. Yeah, this post is absolutely epic…and dead on. Will definitely be sharing it around.

    I’m pretty sure that a lot of what Google says (i.e. Matt Cutts says) is either just inaccurate or is actually flat out lies. They do have skin in the game and want people to act a certain way. So maybe they other either trying to influence those actions or are just speaking from a place where they wished the algorithm worked a certain way.

    I can’t imagine that guest blogging will no longer be effective for SEO (as long as you do it intelligently). And people will always find a way to link unnaturally while making it look natural.

    Then there’s the whole spam discussion…what constitutes spam? How do you define it?

    It’s obviously clear sometimes (god knows I deleted hundreds of spam comments per day). But if I used anchor text instead of my real name, would that be spam or make this comment any less valid? In that case maybe. Ok…then what if I linked to an internal page rather than my homepage to try to get that ranking up?

    I think the answer often lies in the intentions. And a search algorithm can’t decide intentions as much as they would like to. That’s why they’re in this mess.

    • Hey Eugene – glad you enjoyed the post. :)

      “But if I used anchor text instead of my real name, would that be spam or make this comment any less valid?”

      Actually, Google has already answered your question with a “yes“.

      And totally agree re intentions. It always reminds me of the Hurricane Neddy episode of the Simpsons where Ned’s house is the only house destroyed by the hurricane and the community attempts to rebuild it – but does a really shitty job of it. Ned eventually loses his mind – and Marge tries to remind him that the community had good intentions and Ned yells “Well, my family can’t live in good intentions Marge!”.

  98. You’ve nailed it on the head with everything mentioned, Google is a fat cat and were mere pawns in the game trying to get things right but being given no option but to do them wrong in a world where multi million pound organisations with huge marketing budgets can easily achieve social signals and links whilst the rest of us get the scraps unless we artificially boost our Google appeal or pay ppc costs.

    Thanks for sticking it to the man!

  99. Definitely the best article I’ve read on SEO in YEARS. I have nothing to add except Thank You!!

  100. The real interest for Google is more and more money from AdWords. To be honest SERPs were much better 2-3 years ago, but SEO was taking too much $ from it and Google just want to dominate and gain as much $ as possible. They do not care about spam, they care about money!
    As long as the site is related to the user search term everything is ok. Average user does not care about the reason this site is high on serps, they look for the answer and if they find it they are satisfied.

  101. That. Was. Awesome.

  102. Bob Saget agrees

  103. I agree to most parts of your post but in the “SEO is dead” part. The abbreviation SEO has meant and means one thing: Search Engine Optimization -> in the last years that meant optimizing your website for Google.
    Now lots of sites are getting more traffic and conversion from Facebook so frankly who gives a shit about links or rel=nofollow any longer? I don’t.
    I don’t care about links as linkbuilding is dead and you don’t need to optimize for Search Engines any longer. You get your content right and publish it to your audience which will hopefully share it.
    What’s not in your your timeline does not exist – that’s the new mantra for millions of people and Google has missed this train still caring about links.
    I see a future where you don’t search – you get served. So there is no need for SEO as long as you have your content in place and your Social Media channels well in place.
    I hope you see my point – other than that I agree with your article but would have never gone so far talking about those things as for me they are history as well as SEO before the rise of Facebook as main traffic source.

    • I’ll have to respectfully disagree on SEO being dead. I’ll agree on Facebook being a great additional medium. But, I’d also caution against building your business around it – because just like with Google, you don’t control it. I don’t want my business to be primarily dependent on any single source of traffic. Be it Facebook or Google or Pinterest or Bing or me having a column syndicated in a major publication – I want lots of pieces in my pie. :)

      Any marketing model where a business will die should one traffic source be lost is not a model I aspire to implement. :)

    • Social media are good for bored people who do not know what to do with their spare time. I really have no idea what is so interesting in fb, pinterest and all those social sh.t!

      • LOL… I’m a total social addict. I think social media is like TV – we all prefer different channels, some are preferred by the masses, some are indie in nature and some people don’t like to watch it at all. ;-)

        • go out, spend more time on fresh air, go on the walk, see some lake, sea, ocean, mountains, feel the rain on your skin, listen to birds, feel the snow, meet your friends FACE to FACE, etc., etc.
          You will feel much better, it will help your health. I would never lose my free time in front of the screen clicking stupid images or checking how many “likes” I have…its nonsense

  104. Yup. Don’t be an oyster, be a road runner.

  105. In your opinion, does the existence of the SEO industry make Google’s job easier or harder.

    • Both. Back when Google got confused by parameters, it was SEOs who spread the message of mod rewrite, etc. There’s multiple instances where SEOs have contributed “good” to Google. Over the years we’ve helped them. Over the years, we’ve also manipulated them. Overall though, I’d lean towards “harder” – IMHO. :)

  106. I loved your post and agree wholeheartedly with what you say. Google have become a law onto themselves, scraping content and providing their own “special” results – displacing both organic and paid listings with a new myriad of unasked for and often incorrect data that would have just better to allow the user to go to the source.
    Google became popular because it was the first search engine that worked and provided relevant results. It was pure and simple. Yes we gamed it and yes we got punished sometimes – like a naughty schoolboys. This will always happen.

    My fear Google is that heading the way that that if I want to search for something, they’ll be the ones “owning” the content format I see. It will be made up of paid alongside Google Places, G+, Maps , etc. with a slot or two for wikipedia and the BBC. Any independent content will be a click away…if we are lucky.

  107. Hey Rae,
    As you can see from the volume of the comments, you wrote an outstanding post. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve included it in my monthly roundup of the best SEO, content marketing, and social media articles that I put together for my readers. Thanks again. http://www.aseohosting.com/blog/2014/02/seo-content-marketing-and-social-media-best-of-january-2014/

  108. if i understand correctly, the unanswered question is how to differ between good and bad links in content?
    you mention rel=”nofollow”…why not implement xfn rel attribute values to differentiate? foaf is valuable here too. or combined even.
    OpenID is officially dead (although I used it today and its still working), however IndieWeb is a much better implementation and/or replacement.

    seems pretty obvious to me…so that leaves me doubting it. i’m probably overlooking something massive.

    i do agree with the google is evil sentiment 100%. actually, when i clicked on the link here, i thought this would be about how g+ is going to be tied into everything, and even thought you aren’t required to use it…it coincidentally is required for certain key features in most of google’s services.

    typically when i point this out, neck beards abrasively dismiss it, and me, along with seo, html, css, and all those other things their superior minds can never be bothered with. comment i hear the most “what do you expect? you use their services for free…”

    that passive acceptance of being forced into silos is actually the anti-thesis of the internet and its quite alarming when i hear it. especially who i hear it from.

    and i’ll end this ramble. great points.

  109. Rae
    I just found your site/blog first time reader I think, and WOW you are a serious writer but most importantly your passion shows in your writing,and SEO is your thing you are killing it.

    Just as I finished reading this it makes me want to bear arms and start a revolt over throw the Google dictatorship (just kidding). You nailed it they are an advertising agency and they make money….search is there for them to sell advertising clicks, paid search whatever you want to call it. You are now on my list of people of interest. Glad I landed here and keep doing your thing here it is a breath of fresh air…or a blast of reality either way it is very cool.

    Thank you

  110. Probably one of the best articles I’ve read on this whole “SEO fud and nonsense” that is prevalent everywhere at the moment. Would you like to do a guest blog post for me ;-)

    • Ha thanks Alan. :) I think an article on “How to earn more money by recommending affiliate based products after the photography sale” might work nicely for your audience. :P Haha.

  111. Hi Sugarrae!

    I got to know you through Glen from Viperchill and all I can say is that I’m already your fan! :P

    When I see some Brazilian “experts” (I live in Brazil) saying that quality content is what you really need to rank a website or that backlinks are dead and what really matters are Facebook shares and comments, I realize how much BS is widespread in the SEO community.

    Let’s see if I can educate them the right way here in Brazil!

    Cheers!

  112. Monopoly is a bad thing always. The Russians are lucky, they have two big search engines: Google and Yandex, and can choose.
    Thank you for very interesting and emotional article.

  113. We all said this in 2008/09 if I recall. Links are still the main factor, Google has spent years sorting this algorithm…Why would they waste all their hard work and just focus on Social signals?

    Links have got a lot of life left in them yet people!

  114. Thank you for writing this –this post is pure poetry. Beautiful, gut-punching, brutally honest, expletive and sarcasm laced poetry. And I say that with the utmost respect and admiration. I love that you have a strong point-of-view and don’t attempt to sanitize your opinion for fear of offending someone, namely Google. This is the best article I’ve read about SEO, and the truth behind Google’s latest dance craze, the “content marketing” shuffle (everybody dosey doe), a term I can no longer say with a straight face, or without throwing up a little bit in my mouth.

    You need to clone yourself about a thousand times over. From one Jersey chick to another, rock on!

  115. See what happens when you write a post like this, Rae? Much more work than you bargained for (considering all the comments, etc)… lol

    I’d say I loved the post, but so many people above already said that.

    However, it did strike the chord – you so colorfully said what most of us only wish they did. So much so that I took your thoughts, mixed them with Eric Ward’s and came up with this: http://www.trafficgenerationcafe.com/seo-link-building-dead/ (hope you don’t mind the link).

  116. Ella Dowling says:

    Google deserves a lot of credit for their ability to scale their immense technical infrastructure to what might be millions of servers, but I think their expertise in this area and the relative incompetence of their competition masks how weak their algorithms truly are. Anybody who follows the industry knows that bad actors continuously get rewarded and people who try and follow 100% of their best practice recommendations often get thrown under the bus when a new algorithm update rolls around. The confusion and arbitrariness inherent in link-building makes me wish that Facebook (or some other big company) would try and really compete in search. Facebook in particular has big user base and brand name, a ton of social data that no other company has, big brands on board, as well as a pretty massive advertising ecosystem (see [site redacted] for example) and interest from small businesses. Anytime Google puts out Matt Cutts to say some new declaration, you know that there’s going to be a ton of upheaval in many industries, often for no good reason.

  117. Google is a big bully and nerds are scared, just look at the amount of Google+ shares for this article;) (unless you’re not showing all of your social buttons show counts)

    • Actually, Google has no native way for custom social button makers to show Google+ counts. There are ways to “hack it” but Jetpack and Sharaholic don’t use the hack, so it simply doesn’t display the Google+ count. In reality, the Google+ button count is currently at 843. :)

  118. Awesome article! Thank you Rae!

    The situation in the U.S. is still relatively comfortable. In Switzerland and Germany, Google has a market share of around 96% of the search market. However, there are legal and political initiatives, want to limit the dominance of Google in the EU.

  119. Absolutely amazing post Rae!

    Imagine a world where SEO’s didn’t pay attention to the FUD campaigns and SEO blogs proclaiming that this tactic or that tactic is dead. God forbid we will actually need to look at data to make our decisions.

    Then “SEO’s” might focus more on evaluating risk vs. reward, understanding what works, and creating a marketing plan that will (hopefully) be effective in generating targeted traffic and focusing on delighting your visitors and turning them into customers.

    Of course things like link building still play a part, but SEO should take a much bigger slice of the marketing pie and not be solely focused on building certain types of links while using certain anchor text ratios from sites with certain metrics while also avoiding certain types of sites. This alone is not sustainable, SEO is more than that.

    • I agree Tom… I think some marketers who don’t “truly get it” or are confused by the above concepts should spend 3-6 months looking at analytics with search traffic removed and then work on increasing what’s left. Because that’s how you move the search needle as well. :)

  120. Great post, glad I got to it today. I appreciate the honesty and totally agree. Tired of Google being the judge, jury, and executioner based on nothing more than “suspicion,” with no warning and limited recourse.

  121. Finally, someone with enough balls to tell it exactly the way it is. GOOGLE is f#cking all of us legitimate webmasters who practice ethical white hat SEO and have pushed our hard earned front page rankings from their prominent top 3 positions down to the bottom of the front page in order to favor PPC Customers and directories such as Craigslist, Yelp, Yahoo Local, Angies List etc.

    It’s almost like they are deliberately trying to kill the economy and bury small businesses or send them filing for bankruptcy.

    GOOGLE is the NEW WORLD ORDER and they are definitely EVIL and anyone that believes otherwise has the intellect of meat on a stick!

  122. Great post Rae ! Very enlightening.

    Makes you re-think the need for link building & where to focus your marketing efforts for small business websites.

    Looks like moving in the direction of generating traffic & brand awareness for websites without relying solely on your search ranking is the way forward.

    I wonder how it will eventually effect scale-able local SEO practices like citation building in directories & trying to solicit a magnitude customer reviews, for your Google places page.

  123. Awesome post Rae!!!
    +1

  124. Rae, It certainly is interesting seeing the complexity of SEO issues being raised up by the internet marketing community. The strategy I think has not changed,it has always been about Google and their profits. As you stated writing good content does not guarantee you get ranked and the demand for good SEO is going to increase. As you stated about the problem with penguin is that the sites being linked to by low quality sites are getting hit instead of the actual low quality sites. I think part of the issue comes up because marketers had it so good for so long and now there is more work involved. Your always going to have transactional marketers and relational marketers and unfortunately, Google gets to be judge and jury on who wins and who loses. I really enjoyed the points and the controversy you raised in this article. Interesting times lie ahead.

  125. Essentially what both sides are saying is the internet is further merging with the offline world. You’re proposing that SEO is now bigger than the literal term and encompasses marketing and branding in general, and others have proposed Google and other engines will now be using offline factors as a means to paint the online search picture. Google glasses, here we come.

  126. Sam Adodra says:

    Hi Rae, I discovered your blog through Ana.

    That was one ‘epic’ post. It must have taken you hours to put that all together. The way Google is going… I don’t think links will ever stop being counted. After all, it’s links that hold the web together and Matt Cutts has clearly stated this. Sure, some links may be devalued but Google has no real other means (outside of On Page SEO) to rank a site.

    Social links seem to be in but they only provide a temporary boost. Bit like today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s chip paper – soon discarded in the bin and forgotten about. Moving forward, I think it’s going to be important to develop a natural looking link profile. And authority is definitely the way to go. So you’re mostly right not to depend on Google but make yourself popular with list building and social media to get traffic and then have Google reward you as a result.

    Sam

    • Thanks. The good part (for me anyway) is that when I’m in “rant mode” it all flows out pretty painlessly. :) Re social links, I look at them as a way to find and transfer people into owned media, as well as putting myself in front of the linkerati. :)

  127. Hey Rae, I really like your writing style. I couldn’t agree more, Google’s tips for ranking well, on of them being great content I think works but you have to also promote that content, if no one knows where to find your great content, how can they digest it? And how does one promote it, via paid means or ranking the content high with backlinks, then we’re back to square one of building links to content or paying for it – so thats really a lame tip from them.. there are some old school SEO techniques that still work, the web is still too complex for Googles algorythm to detect everything.

    • Thanks Ron – glad you enjoyed the post. And yep, their tips are based on them not caring if YOU succeed, but merely for their own gain – they need great content to serve to users – whose great content that is (and what happens to the great content / site owners) who don’t make the first page cut, isn’t really their problem.

  128. Dimitrios Karvounaris says:

    If Google wouldn’t keep the best ads for their own search and be able to sell them there, they would turn off the search engine tomorrow. Why? Because search is not their product they make money with, it’s advertising.

    You are so right in your article and say everything I have been thinking for a very long time, long before many started getting scared and so confused by recent Google actions to what a webmaster is supposed to do. Well, if it was by Google, they might want to say “Book advertising with us” … but of course, they can’t tell this straight, instead they try to destroy a whole Industry (SEO), to get a piece of this cake from scared people that would drop the “not so safe and probably not anymore working” SEO and look for advertising as one “better than SEO working” alternative method to promote their site. Because Google actually hates SEO … they don’t earn anything in or from that industry. And love Advertising.

    Just have a closer look on all their products how they have been redefined in recent months (as example and especially Analytics) – they all have a deeper focus on advertising, remarketing etc. Other products in turn, like Feedburner either get no love anymore or are being closed down.

    That brings me to the thought, when Google is happy with the size Google+ reaches, advertising will be introduced in it too! One more platform that will face the same future towards ads, like every other Google platform previously.

    • Man, I hate when Google buys a service I like – the feedburner thing is a perfect example. They buy shit that works fine pre them buying it, then they ignore it, ruin it and leave it laying dead on the cyber highway. Sigh.

      • Dimitrios Karvounaris says:

        I haven’t tested them, but I have seen many alternatives that people say are really good.

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