February 14th, 2007

What Gives SEO A Bad Name

by

So here’s another example of what gives SEO a bad name — UPDATE: correction, it appears to be an example of Google’s bad results, which some (like me) might mistakenly blame on SEO. I was checking out search traffic for Publishing 2.0, and noticed that my Online Publishing category was a #9 result for “online publishing” on Yahoo Search. I often get more traffic from Yahoo and MSN search, surely a shortcoming in my SEO. So out of curiosity, I tried “online publishing” on Google, and here’s what I found:

google-online-publishing.jpg

So check out the second result, www.onlinepublishingnews.com:

online-publishing-news.jpg

Of course, I don’t rank high on Google for this keyword — who can compete with quality sites like these?

Thanks SEO!

UPDATE #2

All evidence, from the many smart minds who showed up in the comments below, suggests that this is a piece of garbage that Google has yet to purge, i.e. a former content site that is now defaulting to a domain parking page. See Aaron Wall’s intersting analysis. So while I’m not entirely convinced that this isn’t evidence of some shenanigans, there’s no clear evidence that it’s SEO shenanigans.

BUT, that said, the problem is that, when stumbling on something like this, it’s all too easy to blame it on SEO. And while people like me may not know how to correctly interpret such instances, people like me are also potential SEO clients. So perhaps this is better characterized as an example of why SEO has a such tough PR task with prospective clients.

THAT said, the SEO community has many execellent ambassadors (like Aaron), many of whom offered insights in the comments below. If you’re looking for a good SEO, there are a lot of things you should look for, but one of them is a good ATTITUDE in circumstances like this (i.e. NOT condescending). Fortnuately, there are many who fit that criteria very well.

UPDATE

SEOs have a choice to make.

They can either go about the hard work of educating people on the complexities of search and what good SEOs do and do not do, so that they are no longer the victims of unfair misperceptions:

Scott, if you ever have anymore of these questions about why one site is attaining a certain rank, I would be happy to answer them for free in oder to educate and help you understand SEO more.

Or they can write off everyone who doesn’t get it as idiots, and remain stuck in their pigeonhole:

Scott Karp, Get a Clue About SEO Before You Go Bad Mouthing it

So, thank you Scott for blaming poor search engine updating on SEO and proving how little you know about SEO.

Around here, I’ve seen much more of the former than the latter, and it’s certainly very much appreciated, but the latter is still an albatross around the SEO neck.

Comments (45 Responses so far)

  1. questions about SEO. On a personal level, I don’t think it is too cool to try and rank for someone’s name and wouldn’t maliciously do it myself, but most of these instances could have been avoided. I don’t feel bad at all for

  2. – 15th Feb 2007 Here we go again… yet another mis-informed person blaming SEO for Google’s bad results. Now I read Scott Karp’s Publishing 2.0 regularly because I am a fan. However his post today What Gives SEO A Bad Name just proves that he should stick to the topics that he knows well.

  3. That’s “Black Hat” tactics.

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  5. Gee, Scott. That’s where I get all my online publishing news.

  6. Haha… nice one. Scott, contact Neil Patel… he’ll take good care of you. ;)

  7. What does that bad result have to do with SEO? If you actually researched the result, you would see that the domain expired last year and that it was a site about Online Publishing news http://web.archive.org/web/20050119013342/http://www.onlinepublishingnews.com/

    Also, if you click the link on the bottom you will see that says, Why am I seeing this link, you will see that the site expired.

    The issue you are having is with Google not updating it’s index and not with SEO. I hope you will write a correction to that post.

  8. Natasha,

    Great detective work, but your archive example is from 2003 — where do you get that the site expired last year?

    The “Why am I seeing this site?” link on the domain parking page is a mailto link to Who-Is help — no information there that I can see about the site expiring.

    Perhaps I’m not seeing what you’re seeing, but I don’t see evidence that this isn’t SEO manipulation.

    If you want to explain further, I’m happy to look further.

  9. If you check the full listing at Archive.org http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.onlinepublishingnews.com you will see that the site has been around since 2000 and the domain has not been renewed -http://www.dnsstuff.com/tools/whois.ch?ip=www.onlinepublishingnews.com (meaning that the owner can still repurchase the domain name… or you could, which I would suggest). In addition, the site still has hundreds of active links that point to it – see: https://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/search?p=http%3A%2F%2Fonlinepublishingnews.com and http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=linkdomain%3Aonlinepublishingnews.com. Also many of those links point to the page with anchcor text that is relevant to Online Publishing. These are just some of the things that an SEO would look when doing a competitive analysis (aka: detective work) of your Online Marketplace to figure out why a site is ranking well and how they can get their client site to rank better…

  10. Sorry, Natasha, I’m still not following you. According to the Who-Is record, the domain was renewed on Feb 7, 2007, good until March 9, 2008. A search on GoDaddy shows that the domain is not available. The last record of the old site in the Wayback Machine is January 2006. Google doesn’t show any links to the domain, nor does you MSN link search for that matter. The Yahoo link search turns up links, yet it’s not ranking high in Yahoo, and 177 links isn’t that much in any case.

    You still haven’t convinced me that there isn’t something very odd about this.

  11. Scott,

    There are so many thing that I can try to explain here about SEO and why this has nothing to do with SEO, but I have work to do :) If you were a client these would be some of the things that I would explain in more detail as we talk about the challenges faced in your online marketing space.

    So I’ll sum it up: The page is a holding page – As someone who used to work for a web hosting and domain name registration company I’ll explain why these pages show up: They only show up when a customer has not paid for their renewal with the Registrar, however domain names do not disappear if the the client has not paid for a renewal right away. This is a fail safe to give the person time to renew their domain name after their payment period has ended. The note: “Status: clientTransferProhibited” lets me know that this is most likely the case, since a client cannot transfer a domain name if they have not paid for the renewal. this is why the domain shows as “Not Availiable” in GoDaddy. In some cases the client does not choose to renew the domain name but the Registrar keeps the domain name hoping to sell it to someone else – hence the inquiry link at the bottom of the page. You can make a lot more money holding onto a good domain name than simply releasing it and letting someone else buy it for 5 bucks somewhere else.

    Second point that all SEOs know: Google link:command does not show to the public all the links to a domain name, for obvious reasons (a competitor could easily see backlinks from the same site as you). What you see when you use that command is a set of links from the total links that the site has pointing to it. This is the reason why Googlers would say to webmasters to use Yahoo Site Explorer tool (link above) to get a better guide as to how many links a site truly has to it. However, now Google has included (a much needed tool – whoo hoo!) to their Webmaster Central that will show the actual links to your site, but only if you are the site owner. I suggest that you use the link command @ Google on your site to see the number of links and then you log into the Webmaster central and you will see far more links to your site.

    Yes, Scott – there is alot more to SEO than simply add a Title here, get a link there. You have to do competitive analysis if you want to rank well and no, Black hat tactics aren’t necessary, but a strategy is!

    Any more questions?

  12. Scott the Google backlink command has been “broken” for years google decided it was in their best interests to show you an random sampling of backlinks instead of the full list

  13. Natasha, thanks for the education. As I pointed out in my last post on SEO, part of the image problem that SEO has is that there is so much that even a reasonably informed non-SEO doesn’t know, which leads to many, often negative misperceptions. But just think how perplexed the average Google user would be by that onlinepublishingnews.com result?

  14. Also: MSN shows 1400+ links – linkdomain:onlinepublishingnews.com there is a period in the link I addedSee: http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=linkdomain%3Aonlinepublishingnews.com&mkt=en-US&form=QBNO&go.x=0&go.y=0&go=Search

  15. I agree with you about the perplexing result. But the problem here is with Google not updating it’s results not with SEO. Regarding : “there is so much that even a reasonably informed non-SEO doesn’t know”: There’s so much I don’t know about fixing a my car, either – and that’s why I hire a mechanic instead of trying to teach myself how to fix my car. But simply because one mechanic may make a mistake or does a bad service, is not going to make me say that all Mechanics are cheats!

    Scott, if you ever have anymore of these questions about why one site is attaining a certain rank, I would be happy to answer them for free in oder to educate and help you understand SEO more.

  16. Hi Scott,
    As they would say on the Six Million Dollar Man … “We have the technology…”.

    Just report it as “other” to Google and make your case:
    http://www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html

    Low quality place holder pages like this are probably not what Google wants to see in their own results. Although opinions will differ… I think that folks should be protective about their rankings and do at least a little policing of their most important terms.

    If you see yourself in rank 5 (let alone say, on the second page) and ranks 1, 3, and 4 are low quality, off-topic, etc. pages like this, the chance that your site will be clicked on, has been greatly reduced. But… if searchers find that pages ranked 1-4 are OK but not meeting their needs, your 5th ranked site is more likely to be explored. Not a lot more, but more than the person that gets frustrated with bad results, as in your example and then just keeping searching under new phrases.

    While you can’t do this for all terms, and any report you send in may seem like it goes into a black hole, the hope is that after some point, they may be able to improve their algo. I’ve seen many results like this and in some cases these types of results seem to be removed after a report.

  17. That isn’t SEO … it’s squating on an expired name..

    You could call them domain squaters.. something like that… but I wouldn’t associate them with SEO.

    You know the value of a link from one site is not equal to the value of a link from another..

    You pointed out there are 177 links in Yahoo… but is one of them coming from the main page of CNN.com and Digg.Com or are all of them geocities accounts?

    The point I am trying to make is comparing link counts is not a valid determination of what those links are… plus how are they linking? is the anchor text non existant (IE: just a link) or are they linking to the site with the keyword you are trying to rank for?

    I would hang out on some SEO forums before making posts like this. You sort of insulted a group of people that had nothing to do with what you claimed they did, and they tend to get abit angry at it.

    http://www.threadwatch.org/node/11507

  18. Hi Scott,
    Your comment form ate my earlier comment…

    You may want to file this as an “other” spam report at:
    http://www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html

    I’d bet that Google doesn’t want this in the index. They may or may not remove it, but it may ultimately help them to fix some aspect of their algo as one more example of something that they can improve…

  19. Natasha,

    I’m afraid your mechanic analogy doesn’t hold up, because one bad SEO can affect how everyone’s car runs, i.e. bad search results.

    And thanks your offer to answer my questions for free, but after reading your Threadwatch post, I think I’ll pass.

  20. you realize that with everyone linking to these clowns from your article, Google et al will only increase their SEO juice. Maybe they go to #1

  21. Scott,

    My you are sensitive – lol – I kid.. No Problem. But did you think that anyone who does SEO would respond any differently when you write “of course, I don’t rank high on Google for this keyword — who can compete with quality sites like these?” Ya get, what ya give. You wrote off all of SEO based on an incorrect conclusion! I didn’t write you off as an Idiot – I said you were “mis-informed”. And, had you written the post from the perspective of wanting an education on SEO as opposed to blaming SEO, I would not have been so offended by the post… and felt the need to vent at Threadwatch. I think I actually took the high road by showing the error of your ways… my sarcasm is par for the course – lol.

    As I said at Threadwatch, “The First Drinks on Me!” and I’ll still answer any questions that you have that will help you not write any more posts like this blaming SEOs for poor search engine results.

    And DR – I consider linking part of how the web works.

  22. Google is the one trusting old domains even after they expired and are picked up by a domainer. That is their fault. NOT the fault of an SEO.

    If Google ALREADY ranks a real site, then it expires, then it is picked up by a domainer, then it is turned into a PPC landing page, then Google STILL ranks it (even after it is easy to detect as a PPC page) I am not sure you could fault the field of SEO for that. It is more of an issue of having a bad algorithmic hole, and then paying domainers to exploit it.

    And guess who is displaying ads on these garbage domain lander pages? Typically Yahoo! or Google.

    The engines not only rank the garbage, but they are also the ones paying for the business model. The control AND PROMOTE the entire ecosystem.

    ———————————

    As a tip for improving your rankings in Google for “online publishing”, you may want to pull the flat navigational structure off your site (or at least not put it on every page of your site). Right now your sitewide category links are causing search engines to believe that Uncertainty, XML, or VNU should be weighted nearly as much as “Onine Publishing”.

  23. Natasha wrote: “But simply because one mechanic may make a mistake or does a bad service, is not going to make me say that all Mechanics are cheats!”

    Natasha, I’m very glad that we’re talking about auto mechanics here, not self-styled rocket scientists or (Heaven forbid), “SEO rock stars.”

    The question is: how do you know whether your mechanic is a crook or a competent journeyman/woman? Well, you do need to know something about the way automobiles work, and also, about the common scams practiced by mechanics.

    Otherwise, you just have to trust your mechanic, and pay him whatever he/she asks, which is a risky proposition, as we all agree.

    Regards,
    Dave Pasternack
    Did-it Search Marketing

  24. Natasha,

    If I was really that sensitive, do you think I’d still be blogging, much less writing posts like this? :)

    I made an issue out of your tone because SEO has a relationship management problem, and in that context tone matters.

    I think it was a fortunate coincidence that the instance I highlighted is of ambigous origin, rather than a clear cut example of SEO manipulation — the discussion here has been much more informative and constructive for SEO as a result.

    The key question is this — if SEO gets falsely blamed for a crappy Google search result, whose fault is it? Figure that out, and you’ll have insight into how to fix SEO’s reputation problem. (Hint: See Aaron’s comment about the real source of this bad SEO karma.)

    Drew, I never linked to the offending site.

    Dave, thanks, you deconstructed the mechanic analogy much better than I did.

    Aaron, interesting that using WordPress’ default category set up could drag down your search engine ranking. But what’s really interesting is that I have this category list on every page to help human users with site navigation, but what you’re telling me is that it confuses Google, so I basically have to choose between optimizing for people and optimizing for machines. What a great system!

  25. [...] Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 started the war by stating ‘What Gives SEO A Bad Name’ and Natasha Robinson responded in kind on Threadwatch.org, perhaps what could be defined as ‘the hangout’ for SEO’s.  Natasha sort of was a double agent on this,  helping Scott on his blog, then slamming him on Threadwatch.   Perhaps one of the best played link baits I have seen in a while.   In essance Scott then linked to the Threadwatch article from his blog.   Great Stuff. [...]

  26. Hi Scott,

    I think you have a point.. funny I published this at the same time you did.. we said the same thing.

    http://www.tribbleagency.com/?p=139

  27. Hi Scott,

    There are a lot of us in the SEO industry who would be happy to answer a quick question when you see something odd like the result you’re pointing out. I’m seeing more than a couple of SEOs who would, in the responses to this post, and showing up in your MyBlogLog widget right now.

  28. Bill,

    I appreciate that. The goodwill goes a long way.

  29. I just don’t think that listing all categories is probably the best way of optimizing for humans…like if I am looking for a specific catgory I am not sure that makes me relevant to see all of them…especially when you have so many categories with one post or only a few posts.

    The more common mode of navigation is search, IMHO.

    Instead of showing all categories on every page, you could list a top x categories and have a link to more categories…that would probably distribute your link equity more toward your most popular categories (like online publishing). Or you could just have a link to a categories page and save all that room for other stuff.

    The only benefit of having that many categories on the sidebar of every page is that it keeps most of your link equity flowing internal to your site, but it distributes it in a bottom heavy way that places far more weight on posts where the parent category has few posts.

  30. Aaron, great advice, thanks!

  31. Scott,

    Whew long day! :) I think if more people responded to SEOs as you have in your comments as opposed to the post, you would see just how happy SEOs are to help people with their sites. This goodwill of SEOs should be obvious by all the free advices that SEOs give by writing blog posts, articles and forum posts. I actually don’t think that “SEO has a relationship management problem”. I think a few vocal people in the blog believe and write about the SEO relationship management problem… however the classified ads, overbooked SEM firms, and Major Corps that can’t seem to get SEOs in the door fast enough all say different – :)

    Have a good one!

  32. There you go, it’s nice to see people educating about SEO rather than calling people idiots and acting like chimps. :)

  33. Scott,

    You no-follow your commenters contributions. You suggest that by being sub-optimal, WordPress is actually “dragging down” your rankings. You show little deference to several experienced people who are benevolently offering you free SEO advice, despite your obvious negative bias. You highlight how Natasha posts from a different perspective in different communities, as if it were distasteful (it is actually quite tasteful, and respectful to you). And in the ThreadWatch post you cite as “writing off everyone who doesn’t get it as idiots”, what Natasha actually stated was “[this] just proves that he should stick to the topics that he knows well.”

    As noted elsewhere, your post remains published, mis-leading, and anti-SEO. And what about the statement: “They can either go about the hard work of educating people on the complexities of search and what good SEOs do and do not do, so that they are no longer the victims of unfair misperceptions:” but your expressed opinion that, because you don’t get it and write misleading, uninformed posts about SEO, we SEOs should work hard for free to educate you?

    Most would pass at that “opportunity”.

  34. I would also add that due to the magnetic component or link baityness of Natasha’s title on threadwatch, you actually got quite a few SEO’s visiting here, picked up some conversation, and some good tips, so I’d say as end result her efforts worked to your advantage.

  35. Graywolf, if we use the principle that all traffic is good traffic, then sure, SEOs stopping by to check out my cluelessness is still good traffic. I do, however, believe that all conversation is good conversation, so for that — and for all the good tips — I am thankful for Natasha’s efforts.

  36. I’m very glad that we’re talking about auto mechanics here, not self-styled rocket scientists or (Heaven forbid), “SEO rock stars.”

    ‘SEM wallet grabbers’ is another term that we could use, you know the guys that charge monthly fees for PPC when there is an easy web based interface or feed that the client themselves could use?

    Hence why I am saying that the age old rule applies… “Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house”

  37. John,

    You show little deference to several experienced people who are benevolently offering you free SEO advice, despite your obvious negative bias.

    Huh?

    Aaron, great advice, thanks!

    Bill,

    I appreciate that. The goodwill goes a long way.

    I do, however, believe that all conversation is good conversation, so for that — and for all the good tips — I am thankful for Natasha’s efforts.

    Where exactly do you see the lack of deference? And in any case, the word “deference” is pretty darn condescending — am I supposed to bow down and kiss everybody’s ring? It’s that sort of “we know everything” and “you know nothing” attitude that gets SEO in so much trouble.

    You highlight how Natasha posts from a different perspective in different communities, as if it were distasteful (it is actually quite tasteful, and respectful to you).

    “Different persepctive”? Nice spin.

    but your expressed opinion that, because you don’t get it and write misleading, uninformed posts about SEO, we SEOs should work hard for free to educate you?

    The point I’ve been trying to make, which some such as yourself seem to miss entirely, is that SEO’s has an imagine problem because there is much that APPEARS to reflect poorly on SEOs — such as my example above — which in fact is not SEO’s fault at all. But appearances have a big impact.

    You seem to suggest that I wrote this post as PURPOSELY misleading. I didn’t. It was an honest mistake. And MANY other people in the online world make the same honest mistakes about SEO — and that is SEO’s problem, not ours. It’s people like you, who take “misunderstanding” and smear it as “misleading,” that make people suspicious of SEOs. You can write me off as “uninformed,” but there are many thousands more like me, and we are all YOUR potential clients.

    Fortunately, you are the exception, not the rule. The comment section here is filled with goodwill and good information, and that’s a very GOOD thing for SEO.

  38. I can easily understand John’s perspective. There was an update IN THE POST to say how some SEOs are inconsistent with their messages, but there was no update to say “this is totally Google’s fault” or “my bad” or “I shouldn’t have blamed all of Google’s faults on SEOs”.

    And since that update did not appear, and most people who come here will probably not read most of the comments, you are further spreading that perception that “SEO = shit” to the average reader who subscribes to the RSS feed or lands on this page from a search result.

    In essence, all the agreements down in the comments, but a lack of them in the content is the equivalent of using small type on the disclaimers or the guy who talks really fast on the parts of the commercial he doesn’t want you to hear.

    Given that, it is certainly easy to read mixed messages when trying to determine the intent of this post.

    I regularly read your blog and have emailed back and forth with you in the past, but if I did not do those things I would likely have been offended by the post.

  39. Aaron,

    I added an update as you suggested because I very much respect your view — and how you approach things — and because you are absolutely right that this requires a correction.

  40. Thanks a bunch Scott :)

  41. [...] 2.0 Scott Karp on the Convergence of Media and Technology « What Gives SEO A Bad Name | Home [...]

  42. [...] attention from the search engine optimization (SEO) community this past week for a post on “What Gives SEO A Bad Name” — the example I used, a parked domain appearing as a #2 Google search results, turns [...]

  43. Hi, don’t mind me, I’m just popping in to tell Scott that I saw his post and will ask someone to check out that site. I think we can get this case handled pretty quickly (I’m traveling or else I would have mentioned it to someone even sooner), and I’ll ask someone to check out why our algorithms to spot sites like this didn’t flag this site. We may be able to improve the underlying algorithm in addition to solving this case, so thanks for mentioning this issue.

  44. Well if anything you’ve learnt the art of link baiting Scott :)

    Personally, I believe SEO like any other industry has individuals who react in different ways, I personally work with a number of individuals in the Advertising sector, and I can tell you that there are just as many if not more “attitudes” than there are in the SEO arena. To simply write the majority of the industry seems a little unfair.

    SEO does have to educate people, more in my opinion to advise those of its potential benefits and how it fits into the marketing mix as a whole.

  45. Since I have studied the Search Marketing Industry since about 1996/7, I have consistently noticed a pattern. In most/all discussions and debates I hear people defend and promote the sellers (SEO’s, SEM’s, Traditional Ad Agencies, etc.), the buyers (the clients of those sellers such as Marketer Vendors or anybody selling to an end-user/consumer), but I rarely hear people speaking up for the consumer end-users who are the online searchers, and should be the most important people of all.

    The major SE’s say the online searchers are their #1 priority, but in many real world examples, that is obviously not the case. Scott, your “SEO misunderstanding”, as an online searcher (and publisher) looking for “relevant to your intent” quality content, was caused by Google’s algorithim, in this case, and I’m hoping Matt (who I have the greatest respect for, has much power in these matters, but doesn’t own Google) can initiate a fix of the “bad algorithmic hole”. If all the SE’s truly put the end-user, online searcher/consumer first in all online search scenarios, it would solve a myriad of problems for all parties, IMO.

    My first blog post says: “In order to get a long term “win-win-win” scenario, the end user-consumer has to come first, and be happy with the overall value. Then the client-buyer will be happy. Last, but not least, the ethical seller has won, since he has a happy, long term customer.” Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, “salesmanship” is at the core of every aspect of this discussion. Isn’t it ironic that sales people got a bad reputation long before SEO’s or SEM’s did, yet eveyone is a salesperson at some point in their lives, even if it is only to “sell themselves”.

    It also says: The perfect online search sale is one in which the user is educated to the most valuable, personalized, relevant opportunity, and then has it made easy for that user to buy, or take the next action.”

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