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Sick of SEO Scumbags (thehodge.co.uk)
167 points by thehodge on Mar 11, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 126 comments

There's only one search engine that anyone cares about.

Companies live or die by their inclusion in that index. SEO is a nasty little cottage industry that benefits from the algorithmic monoculture in search.

On a somewhat related note, there is only one display advertising program that anyone cares about.

If you get banned from Adsense because a competitor hammered an ad on your site, say - you're out. Forever. With no explanation from Google. Just an unhelpful "you've violated one of our policies but we can't tell you which one" stock email.

I've been there. I tried the (token) appeal system, and failed. It's hard to appeal when you don't know what you've done wrong. Google won't tell you what you've done wrong because it might reveal part of their algo and thus help the bad guys.

So I forlornly moved on. Amazon ads are perhaps the next most profitable display ads for me - they generate less than 10% of the revenue that Adsense did.

I love Google for their excellent free services. However, I've come to depend on them, and that's dangerous because they're so ubiquitous, yet owned by a single entity with a single culture.

As geeks I feel we need to re-examine our relationship with Google.

Android fanboys and "Google Openness believers" could sleepwalk us all into the next dark "Microsoft" chapter.

"It seems a lot of Android fanboys and "Google Openness believers" are sleepwalking us all into the next dark "Microsoft" chapter."

If anyone is "sleepwalking" anyone anywhere then I think it's the people making big money from companies like Google, not consumers or openness advocates. That is, people like you before you found yourself unceremoniously kicked out of the club.

My point is that Openness advocates seem to place Google on a pedestal. Whenever I see any criticism of Android, or Google, it's always immediately flamed down. Maybe because Google is the most "open" of the major vendors today. But don't ever imagine that Google is immune from the Microsoft scenario.

Microsoft competed with "closed" platforms of the day by releasing a platform that was (arguably) more open to developers, and could be installed on any hardware. Developers actually quite liked Windows back in those days. The PC clone wars ensured that Windows became ubiquitous, and it took years for people to realise just how sinister that was.

I'm not going to pretend that Windows was in any way open-source, but why aren't we drawing some parallels with Google's Android platform, and the any-hardware clone war it's waging with iOS and true open source mobile platforms.

> My point is that Openness advocates seem to place Google on a pedestal

That may be your perception, but I don't think it's universally true. Ask anyone who's tried to build a project on AOSP ...

"It seems a lot of Android fanboys and "Google Openness believers" are sleepwalking us all into the next dark "Microsoft" chapter."

Did you change what the OP wrote or did they after you copy/pasted it? They statements are pretty different (now). Here's what the OP says:

Android fanboys and "Google Openness believers" could sleepwalk us all into the next dark "Microsoft" chapter.

Could/are... very different.

That is, people like you before you found yourself unceremoniously kicked out of the club.

I think that's who he is talking about, btw.

The quote is a copy and paste.

I guess what I was trying to say is that Android users and openess advocates are not very relevant to the topic being discussed. Google's monopoly in search and advertising should be considered in relation to those who directly benefit and lose from it as these are the ones who will determine whether it continues or not.

The quote marks are confusing, maybe make the outer or inner ones single quotes. Or remove the outer quotes altogether.

They will wake up one day, like website owners did the minute Google decided to "compete" with them. It's not really a competition, Google controls all aspects of search and decides how much and what type of traffic to send to ads, to their advertisers, to it's own sections and to poor Jane's Delicious Pies that can't afford the $2.50 a click.

Judging by the increasing earnings Google is clearly winning, so to all the lurking Google engineers, a hearty congrats! You beat them fair and square, just as IE beat all other browsers when Microsoft decided that it was the best and made it the default one.

There's only one search engine that anyone cares about.

That's not my new experience. I have found that Bing (and Yahoo, partially) ranks sites differently than Google. Google is quite competitive and thus it's hard to rank.

I tried ranking in Google, but even the second page doesn't help. I optimized for Bing and now it brings much more than Google. Certainly, my SE traffic is quite low (few hundreds a month) but I found Bing traffic to be decent and convert well.

G is 90%

Only in Europe. The US has around 30% between Bing and Yahoo.

Companies live or die by their inclusion in that index

In a way that's true, but it's also true that some companies make a choice about how critical search engine traffic is to their core business. Other companies live or die based on things like word of mouth, repeat business, critical reviews, protected niches, the whims of fashion, cronyism, whatever.

Every time I see people spend time and money on "SEO", it makes me wonder about what could have been if that time and money were spent on making the core product more awesome or indispensable or beloved or well-known through other means.

Start a DBA and reapply for a new AdSense account.

Sorry, could you clarify DBA please? I thought that was "database administrator"?

In the tech context, yes. In a business context, it stands for "doing business as." My understanding is that it basically allows companies to be officially represented under different names.

It stands for "doing business as" which allows you to sign up under a different entity.

I got a secret for you. Google is not the only search engine capable of sending significant traffic to your site. They are also by far the most sophisticated and strict about preventing manipulation.

I'm sick of SEO people pointing the finger at "evil" SEO people. SEO is basically gaming search engines instead of contributing anything of value. It's not a respectable business, it's a self-perpetuating protection racket. If there weren't any SEO people we wouldn't need any SEO people.

You only hire an SEO for one of two reasons: 1) too cheat Google, and 2) to compete with all the other sites that hire SEO's... There isn't an ethical element in this whole equation.

I have to disagree with you at one level. Yes, a lot of SEO is pure crap. Agreed.

Where SEO is of value is in helping those who do not understand how the internet works optimize their sites to have them be more relevant. Perhaps a new term ought to be coined. Something like SRO (Site Relevance Optimization)?

Anyone with even a basic understand of what search engines are looking for (or trying to do) has come across sites that just make you want to cry due to the lost opportunities. A lot of these are smaller local shops that just don't have the tech and marketing horsepower to deal with it.

Being in the business of advising business owners on such things as posting content-relevant articles, carefully choosing titles and related tags, etc. is not evil at all. This is actually a good wholesome service.

SRO (or whatever) is what most sites should be doing. Ranking higher would come as a side-effect of SRO.

At its root, legitimate SEO means making your site easy for a search engine to understand. It's easy, if you're tech savvy, to forget that even the simple techniques that legitimate SEO comprises are beyond most business owners, and simply aren't performed by most web designers and developers. So there is a niche for decent people to do SEO. Unfortunately, competitive pressure drives a lot of unethical practices in the field.

SEO is like wanting to win in sports, everybody wants to be first. You do SEO becaus you want to become number one in google search results. Nothing wrong with that.

SEO people are like sports coaches. You have good coaches and bad coaches. Good coaches will help you with an effective training programs, and analyze the competition. Bad coaches will tell you to use drugs.

Good SEO people will help you win by improving your site and inbound links, bad SEO people will help you to win by cheating.

Nothing wrong with wanting to win, though...

SEO defenders argue that despite GoogleBing's claims of trying to rank based on user experience, in practice there are ranking signals that have nothing to do with user experience, and therefore "bad" SEO is justified to optimize those extraneous signals. They don't help improve the site; they improve search rankings, though, and until GoogleBing do away with those extraneous signals, you have to play the SEO game or you'll get beaten by equivalent-quality sites who do.

I too prefer improving a site rather than gaming search engines, and I've argued against SEO consultants who want to do things like keyword-stuff urls, but now I sympathize with the pro-"bad"-SEO argument even though I prefer not to get involved in that kind of SEO.

The problem is that search engines are still stupid.

Even with Google there are biases towards keywords in the title, url, or domain, even when it isn't relevant.

People needed SEO even when no one was selling it.

so you're saying the best website should win without "cheating" right? its not that simple.

you could make the same argument about all advertising/marketing.

the best product should win on its own standards, without advertising, right? for example, wouldn't we all have better insurance rates if geico, progressive and esurance didn't have to spend their money on advertising?

But the truth is these insurance companies are disrupting old school insurance models that are less efficient and bringing value to more consumers faster with their advertising.

companies adapt, consumers adapt, markets adapt, search engines adapt. companies and people are going to work toward their self interest, and SEO is one way to do this. its called capitalism.

As always, there is a thin line between cheating and being ethical.

You know... marketing by itself is not unethical, though when you use tricks to induce people to buy something even though you know it's not good for them, the line is crossed. Like when a large fast food restaurant starts giving toys away if you buy their food... inducing children to annoy their parents so they buy unhealthy food just to get the toys. Or when you show sports people smoking a cigarrete, linking the image of smoking with a healthy life.

Of course, if all that matters is making money, then cheating the search engines (or peoples perception, in the case of marketing) is fine.

Whenever I hear "SEO", I instantly feel a presence of something shady and unpleasant with a desire to wash my hands afterwards :) For me, it became synonymous to con artists and fortune tellers.

It's as honorable as "pulling strings" to get your start-up reviewed by shady sites like Techcrunch. Both serve the same purpose

Damn, this is some bad writing. I know we live in an age of post-editorial content, but can we please avoid sharing stuff with gratuitous comma splices and "your" vs. "you're" confusion? If I wanted to read shit like that, I'd open up the comments on Reddit.

I am so tired of this senseless Reddit bashing.

Subscribe to some smaller programming, math and technology reddits and tell me who has the better comments.

I'm sorry that you found the post hard to read, I do have a tendency to get there and their and the others mixed up and my writing style is a bit, strange but a lot of people don't seem to mind and get used to it, I am trying to improve with each post.

This might be my failing, but the your/you're confusion is something that always makes me question the worth of what I'm reading. Which is a shame, because it was a good post otherwise.

I'm glad you're trying to improve with each post. The way to get better at writing is to write.

People who describe themselves as SEO's usually give me the shivers at first, but it's definitely worth mentioning that there are good top quality SEO people out there. They do exist and they approach the problem in an analytical, evidence based and sustainable way. Bad people exist in all industries, but bad SEOers are particularly nauseating in my opinion because of the types of people they target and hurt, and damage they do at often extraordinary cost to these people.

Good SEO's are few and far between though, and generally wont reach 'mom and pops flower shop'. The SEO's these small businesses will probably be most exposed to are the cold calling scammers. The problem with a lot of these scammers is some of them don't realise they are scammers, they are just awful at their job and disguise it by charging a lot of money.

Bad SEO like the OP mentions can seriously damage your business (look up negative SEO for good example of how bad SEO's can shoot themselves in the foot). Before you buy anything expensive in life, it's worth doing your own research otherwise when you pick an SEO you're gambling.

A good resource to start is SEO Moz's beginners guide to SEO: http://www.seomoz.org/beginners-guide-to-seo

If you get to grips with the basics you'll find that you're likely able to do most of it yourself if it's something that starts to interest you. And it doesn't need to be a big time soak either.

What exactly is "link building"? That itself sounds pretty scumbaggy to me...

In an ideal world (white hat) SEO should include things that make the site better for their users and search engines, and hopefully improve search rankings organically.

"Building" links in order to increase PageRank sounds like it's manipulating the system.

Legitimate link building is basically press and blogs relations (to maybe get links from journalists and bloggers, give them free stuff) and content marketing (invite a blogger to write for your blog, or write content on other blogs, and make links in both directions). It's not really manipulating the system, more like playing with a full understanding of the rules.

Spamming every website out there with useless comments containing your URL is more shady business and can result in a ban.

From what I understand, link building, in the semi-legitimate form at least, is contacting bloggers and journalists and saying "Hey, you might really like product X, here's a 30 day trial", sending out press releases, making sure you're in the legitimate directories like yell.com in the UK, etc.

The illegitimate end of is is using hacked forums, wordpress blogs, etc, to post links with exactly the keywords you want to rank for.

And from experience, I can tell you that most "link building" is the spammy type. On a good day, it'll merely be sending out a ton of "link exchange" request emails (a practice which Google also frowns upon, btw).

I know HN is typically anti-seo and I understand the reasons why, it's an unregulated industry that gives an impression of witchcraft rather than stable practices..

But worst than that, there are many people in it just in it to make as much money out of people in the shortest amount of time without thinking of the long term relationship or the consequences for that business.

I wrote this so that the next time someone says, I'm thinking of taking on an SEO company, I can point them to that and they can at least think a bit more about what they expect and look closer at what the company is doing

I'm not anti SEO because it's unregulated or unstable. I'm anti-SEO because it seeks to subvert the search engine's mission (return the most useful results for the searcher* ) to something more akin to advertising (return the results that the person paying for SEO wants).

It pollutes and subverts the web experience for everyone.

It's not the practices that are the problem, it's the whole idea.

[*]OK so I acknowledge that that's a simplistic/altruistic outlook on what the likes of google and bing do

But once that happens and someone searches 'flower shop leeds' and all that comes up is a bunch of SEO crap. The only way to combat that is for all the flower shops in Leeds to do a little SEO.

And we're only talking about some pretty URLs, better content and some light backlinks from interesting sites.

I used to work in SEO and a lot of what we did was just common sense stuff that non-programmers/designers/html monkies don't know. Just like I don't know how to make a pretty bunch of flowers, they don't know how to make a more simantic website for google to parse

"But once that happens and someone searches 'flower shop leeds' and all that comes up is a bunch of SEO crap. The only way to combat that is for all the flower shops in Leeds to do a little SEO."

The best way would be to let the likes of google update their algorithm to avoid the crappy SEO sites. I appreciate that the best way for the flower shop to maintain its business is to go SEO, however they are then becoming part of the problem.

"And we're only talking about some pretty URLs, better content and some light backlinks from interesting sites."

I'm not sure what you mean about 'light backlinks', but for the rest, changing your own website to be more easily parseable by Google? Cool. That's your domain, knock yourself out. Filling the web with crap and linkspam? Not so much.

Many SEO techniques are in line with the user's best interest. Sitemaps, Keywords, accessibility (clean source code) etc. help Google to understand the content of your page better.

That's the reason why people like Matt Cutts exist. Of course, much of SEO IS dirty, and I am not sure if there is serious movement of "ethical SEO".

If there is some group of N companies competing for some keyword, starting from the same 'lower quality' web sites, and they all do the same 'good' SEO stuff, then they'll all be right where they started again in terms of rankings, very likely. It's an arms race.

Competing for a ranking is pretty much a zero-sum game because no matter how much money you sink into it, only one can come out on top.

Compare and contrast with actually building stuff that makes people's lives better: there's still some competition, and winners and losers, but it's usually not a zero-sum game at all.

Unless no one ever hears about your life changing stuff. Telling Google what you think your service or product is about via SEO ultimately tells the users who find the search result. THEN you win the game.

But if everyone else tells Google the same information equally well, then you're all back where you started. Except you spent a lot of money on some consultant who cannot realistically make any guarantees about what they deliver.

'SEO' as it is sold to clients by SEO companies is packaged as another form of advertising, nothing more. It's an industry that thrives on subverting the discourse on search keywords to sell stuff.

That's great, but isn't what I think of when I think SEO. It sounds a lot like getting good search results by making a good site, which I'm all for!

This is what a lot of modern SEO is, actually. I think we'll see increasing amounts of information made available by private companies over this next year in an effort to rank higher for their key phrases. Also genuinely useful tools/web apps/calculators.

The rest is site structure.

I know people can and do still game the system, but that's not a good long-term plan and it's a flat return. Creating a good site with good information and a good product will keep giving you links and shares for a fair few years.

EDIT: In other words, I predict that the people who are practising bad SEO (and they do exist) will fall away like rotted wood over the next year, and the people who are genuinely trying to make interesting things which people like will come out on top.

It sounds like a strange motivator to make good content for the wrong reasons...

Yes, I agree, it's a strange industry, and many of the people involved in creating good content for it end up deeply conflicted.

At a more abstract level, the reason is "money," which is also the reason for a lot of other good content.

Why do you say over the next year? You can see all the changes Google has made over the last ~8 years and say the same thing each time an update came out. Black hatters seem to find the constant adapting part of thrill of the chase. The chase of money from Google rankings really. If they can make money, why would they stop? I see Cutt's job as making it just difficult enough to catch the black hatters, but easy enough to celebrate and promote the best knowledge and content. It's an ever changing game.

It is ever-changing, but until recently Google has been cutting out the really obvious, flagrant abuses of the system.

Last year, Google annihilated directories, blog comments and article directories, as well as punishing unnatural-looking link profiles (lots of links from low PR sites, for instance).

They're continuing to refine and expand on this, including certain forms of blog posts in their devaluation net, but more importantly the industry is still catching up.

There are still people out there writing and selling long-form articles, there are still people charging companies to place their links on directories. There is a lag as companies and "SEOs" who are out of the loop fail to realise that their activities are no longer resulting in increased traffic - and then after that lag the SEO's business will collapse.

Many voices in the SEO community are looking at a new paradigm - "no hat" and "true black hat" for want of a better term. The "no hat" spirit is, crudely and generally, "If this wouldn't be useful if SEO wasn't a thing, I shouldn't do it." In other words, good SEO comes as a side effect of good implementation, site design, CRO, social media, content, etc. The "true black hat" meanwhile engages in criminal activities, fraud, hijacks websites and generally takes things on that are inCREDibly risky in an effort to turn a quick buck and disappear.

The old grey and black hats, and to an extent even the white hats, aren't squeaky clean enough for Google any more. At the same time, the loopholes they're trying to exploit are already known and closed (or closing rapidly). So this year, I think this type of SEO will fade away, possibly completely.

I believe that it's possible I'm completely wrong, of course.

It's still a problem that those help. If there's a text file or a Flash movie or a badly-encoded PDF file on an unmaintained FTP server somewhere that answers my question correctly, and a sitemapped keyworded HTML5 app on a site with high PageRank that doesn't have the answer (or has a wrong answer), I want the unmaintained FTP server to be the #1 hit for my search, not the white-hat-SEOed page.

Of course, making those problems go away is an AI-complete problem.

What i dislike so much about SEO is exactly what you said. The main thing about the whole business is assuming how google works and then trying to trick it to make as much money as possible ignoring the fact that they are polluting the web and degrading the experience for millions of users.

Ever looked at a SEO forum ? The amount of smattering and assumptions by self-educated "experts" is astonishing. Of course there are guys really worth their salt that can also code, but they are a minority.

Since people started criticizing Google :) I'd like to point out something really quite annoying (and also a little Evil) that Google is doing: They are hiding the search terms in your Google Analytics report.

Google pretended that it's going to affect a single digit of your search terms (check the blog post), but for me, it's from 70% to 90% on my sites (around 8 sites, same issue).

This is really the worst move that I have seen so far from the Search giant.

Here is a good blog post explaining the issue: http://www.infront.com/blogs/the-infront-blog/2012/12/14/key...

This isn't "Evil". Google is doing what they can to provide "a more secure and private search experience" [1]. Sure, it may be unfortunate for web sites relying on organic keywords, but this is hardly a malicious act.

[1] http://support.google.com/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&...

But adwords users get that data - this is hipocrasy on teh part of Google.

Yup, its pretty hypocritical. It also annoys me as it doesn't give me enough insight into what search terms convert well for the company I work for, which means that I am unable to convince my bosses to buy search terms on Google. So its a net loss for them too.

ironically I got voted down for that comment obviously the Google Krypteia are out in force on HN

The sad truth is that while SEO might just be the most uncreative and sleaziest web industry for the authentic creator, it'd be pretty naive to think that just putting a great product out there that people rave about will take care of ranking your app #1 for photo filters.

Can we blame Google a bit here too? They have set-up a system that people can game, and it causes tremendous collateral damage. Our site is under a constant barrage of fake accounts and content trying to generate links to other sites. Meanwhile, a competitor passed us in Google search results after getting 500,000 links over a week from a single domain in China. I hope slow, steady and honest wins, but it doesn't feel that way.

I don't think it's fair to blame google in these situations -- they dev. their algorithms to expect that sort of stuff, but I imagine a lot of it is tweaked daily. Keep in mind Google hires very intelligent people to deal with these problems: we have to expect that they're giving it their all to resolve them day by day.

Every scenario is going to be different. As for slow, steady & honest winning the race? I certainly hope so, but it's up to you to define where the finish line is. Being honorable & operating a business that doesn't do nefarious stuff for short-term gain is one of my end-goals.. and it might hurt in the interim :)

This post is full of sloppy writing and sloppy thinking. The author doesn't even define SEO, or "scumbag SEOs." Are all SEOs scumbags? What should they be doing instead?

We can do a lot better than lazy, vague, completely meaningless rambling.

Whilst I agree the writing is a little sloppy (as I've agreed above) I think I clearly define what I believe is an SEO Scumbag, defining SEO and practices will just cause debate about that rather than the actual subject

To me SEO is like tax evasion... it's just a way of screwing the system. How funny that the seo scum are toying with google the tax evasion kings.

The web wild west isn't just limited to SEO, most of the web has no standards or bodies associated with it. Sometimes that works out well, other times unsuspecting customers end up spending tens of thousands for a template WordPress site. In the absence of regulation, the only answer is education.

Mom and pop shouldn't completely escape blame here.

If their business was that vested in their google ranking they should have learned a little more about it, and kept closer watch, asked more questions.

If someone offered to remodel your shop floor you'd be crazy to just let them do anything.

For good reason, Google (ditto other search engines) makes SEO as impenetrable as possible. Unfortunately, that makes it difficult to disprove anything a self-appointed SEO says. Honest error and charlatanry both follow apace.

I'm seeing the same thing in the world specifically of Amazon search rankings, as self-published authors strive -- perhaps not wrongly -- for high Amazon rankings without knowing either how to get them nor how to measure their effects.

Google do a pretty good job of saying what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable.

And some SEO types are clearly scumbags. Some stuff is clearly, unambiguously, bad.

So, how are naive users supposed to tell the difference between honest decent SEO types, and sub-optimal but not clearly evil SEO types?

"A business model that relies on trickery is doomed to fail" -- Charlie Munger

Completely agree with the article. I was an SEO for a top 250 site (~20 million UVS a month) years ago and there are two kinds of SEOs. 99.9% of them are this shitty, scammy, scummy personas we've defined. Absolutely worthless. However there are the 0.01% who are "real" SEOs. They get and meet the needs of the users and business, reverse engineer Google patents (they are often SEs with machine learning experience), and do none of these scummy things. They make your business better and improve the experience for users. We "SEO" for your Amazons, Mayo Clinics, and other truly useful businesses who want to do good for the users and who realize by doing so it gets you better rankings. Sure there is some SE specific stuff, but it never overrides the user experience. It complements it. /rant

I am sick of them to. Especially the abuse. Recently the keyword LCHF got so polluted with this shitty website that hijacked all the search and always popped up a banner when visiting them that pumped up my CPU to 100.

The company who made it is on my shitlist. They got loads of "SEO experts".

If I read it correctly, the mom and pop shop used "SEO service" to boost up their traffic, but the service used "black hat" ways which result in Google "ban". How do I prevent e.g. my competitor for doing the same to my website?

It is up to Google to prevent that. You can't do much about it (but laugh, as your competition is trying to frame you, when they could use that wasted time to focus on their own rankings). If it is really blatant, you could file a spam report [1], post on the webmaster forums [2] or disavow certain links [3].


  Is there a way that person A could hurt competitor B?
  We try really really hard to design algorithms that are 
  robust and resistant. Any algo that the search team has 
  done in the recent years, we do walk through those cases.

  Can competitors harm ranking?
  Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being 
  able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from
  our index.
Still, some webmasters do feel it is possible to do "negative SEO". For example the above quote used to read:

  There's almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your 
  ranking or have your site removed from our index.
I myself wouldn't worry about competitors trying this. There is not much you can do to stop others from behaving a certain way. I think it is much more likely that Google detects these attempts, than a competitor finding a way to damage rankings that don't belong to them.

[1] https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport?hl=en

[2] http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/webmasters

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=393nmCYFRtA

Honestly there's so many different scams online that people taking shortcuts in the SEO world is fairly minor. The problem is that Google searches are so crucial to so many people. Back before they were around, if you wanted to start a business you needed startup cash for marketing, ads, etc. You needed to become a well known brand. Now everyone and their dog are told they can start an online business, pay $100 for an SEO package and call it a day. But just like developers basing their code on Facebook, shops basing their traffic on Google rankings are always at risk.

From the article:

  If your telling the client your doing high quality link 
  building, then buying the cheapest package you can from a
  link seller, that’s fraud and in todays world, you can 
  cause serious damage.
The mom and pop store that got hit... It is a shame. But: This mom and pop store certainly has their own responsibility. Especially if they rely on Google to keep their business afloat. They are webmasters, and as such should take note of the webmaster guidelines [1]. If they want to outsource being a webmaster, the webmaster they hire should do the SEO hiring and guideline compliance. Having an online business is more than just putting up a website.

The webmaster guidelines are fairly clear on these matters:

  Any links intended to manipulate a site's ranking in 
  Google search results may be considered part of a link 

  Ultimately, you are responsible for the actions of any 
  companies you hire, so it's best to be sure you know
  exactly how they intend to "help" you.
Yes, to me, this means every "high quality" link building program is suspect from the very start. Getting a high quality backlink from CNN or from 100 low-quality blog sites doesn't change the manipulative nature of these (bought) links. This makes the difference between low-quality and high-quality link building moot.

(Google) search is not a black box most make it out to be. SEO is not magic. Make a site accessible and search bots have no problem crawling and indexing your site. Create quality content. Read the webmaster guidelines. Google wants your content to rank on its own merits. Align yourself: simply stop buying link schemes, start writing quality content, and EARN those links. Optimize websites for users (of which searchbots are just a subset). Try inbound marketing and website optimization.

[1] http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&...

P.S. I am sick of SEO scumbags too. I am also sick of the blind SEO hate on a start-up site (start-ups often need SEO, yet a lot lack it). Didn't patio11 used to give actionable, and much appreciated advice on these matters? Do we really want to eat the sour grapes from someone banned by Adwords or Google ("Because Google targetted them, because their competitor set them up, because they got hit by those bloody quality updates, because they are not social enough, because they don't buy Adwords, because they don't use blackhat SEO, $insert_other_excuse_for_why_Google_is_required_to_rank_them").

P.P.S: The good SEO's I know often have their own sites they work on, or join an agency to work on big traffic sites. They are not using a cold-call phone team to get their clients, or stay busy optimizing mom and pop stores. This may skew the experiences you have with SEO's in general.

<blockquote> Make a site accessible and search bots have no problem crawling and indexing your site. Create quality content. Read the webmaster guidelines. Google wants your content to rank on its own merits. </blockquote>

At risk of sounding bitter, this is really not the best advice to share with any group of startup entrepreneurs who might believe it and stake their business model on it. As with many of us here, I've struggled with this issue for years, and the reality is that Google is a saturated distribution channel that is horrible at identifying quality content that is not heavily branded or pushed in mainstream media.

There are ways to tweak the signals, but it usually means having someone working fulltime on spreading word, and smaller teams building good sites often have better things to do than linkbait blogging (something I believe many of us would personally define as poor quality content). And even then this approach simply does not work in highly competitive fields where there is literally a decade of competition over search queries at this point, and competition from highly-funded startups and incumbents.

As always with SEO it is dangerous to make broad sweeping statements. What works for a small local website, doesn't have to work for a big casino/travel website and vice versa.

The advice I gave was sincere though. In practice I see many businesses aiming for links, when their content just isn't up to par. Quality content alone (without links) is enough to rank in many niches. If you get to the hyper-competative SERPS, sure, you can't escape link building or doing most of the work in-house. Droll: If you are about to enter a hyper-competative niche, you should already know what you are doing, else there is little chance you succeed.

For me, in practice, creating accessible content is still one of the best things start-ups can do. Blog about two times a week and you will rank for it, you don't necessarily need backlinks. If you got an inaccessible site with poor content, you need (probably to buy) backlinks to make a dent.

Disclaimer advice: Never stake your business model on uncustomized broad SEO advice. Especially when there are plenty of authoritative sources for sound start-up SEO advice like:





At risk of sounding acerbic.... :)

(1) Can you provide an example of a business with over 100k in revenues that has been founded in the last 2-3 years in a remotely competitive niche and is at or near the top of the search results for the most likely general search terms? How about a bootstrapped business?

(2) And can you honestly say that the mass of blogspam that regularly hits HN disguised as business advice is really high-quality content?

Vayable (YC12) - coney island tour (first page) HelloFax (YC11) - fax (first page), google fax #4, Lanyrd.com (YC11) - mobile conferences #1, ux conferences #2, + hundreds of other high value kws TutorSpree (YC11) - tutor (first page), private tutoring #1, ZeroCater (YC11) - catering in sf (first page) MailGun (YC12) - email api (first page)

With some time, I could easily find better examples.

What you'll notice with these is that they are succeeding not by trying to rank for a handful of keywords, but hundreds or thousands of keywords. Organize and curate a collection of useful content of interest to your customers, and you will get Google to rank it. Most large aggregations of fill-in-the-blank are not well SEO optimized.

If I were building something, I'd look at a niche outside of travel, real estate, and employment, and create an aggregation around that.

Look at dogvacay.com -- launched in March 2012 ranked #1 for "dog boarding" in many markets.

Thanks for putting this list together. I stand humbly corrected, and am grateful for it. I'll take a look at what these companies are doing and try and figure out how they are managing it.

> the reality is that Google is a saturated distribution channel that is horrible at identifying quality content that is not heavily branded or pushed in mainstream media.

I'm really not sure I agree. My sister in law is a french tutor in a small English town. She wanted a Web site and I suggested that she put something together using Weebly. I did some basics with her to ensure that reasonable keywords appeared in the page names, headlines and text etc.

A couple of weeks later and if you search on "French tuition in town-x" or "French lessons in county-name" she comes up as hit 3 in Google - I think that's pretty good service from Google.

In my opinion this really is the easiest way for quality content to rank and I highly recommend it. However, and not to downplay how nice this must be for your sister, but these are relatively obscure terms that don't get many hits. If you are trying to rank on some of the hottest money making keywords on the web, the type with a 6 to 7 figure payday, then you are on a totally different level of difficulty. Orders of magnitude different. Old domains with old content are heavily weighted. New guys have little to no chance. Only extreme viral content can achieve that and hope to be white hat. It looks effortless in the wild but in practice you have a lot of work to do to link-bait and that's still hit and miss. That's why a lot of "SEOs" turn to black hat, and churn and chew up the search engines to scrape whatever they can.

If I'm looking for a French tutor in x-town England I want to find his sister. It's a win-win.

Are any of the people you are pushing offering a win-win in these 6-7 figure payday, or are they just yet another asbestos law firm, that wants the same 1/3 as everyone else, and will fill out the settlement forms just the same as everyone else?

It's an interesting question, and I'm really just an arm-chair SEO when it comes to the world of extreme money keywords. What I do know from experience is that there are a lot of these extremely profitable keywords. With a little research you can figure out what the top 10-100 keywords are, by traffic, in the world or just in the USA.

Some are totally 100% owned by big corporations who get the majority of the hits for that term and expanded phrases. Some might say that's legitimate because that big corp is the best result for that word. But there are plenty of other keywords that are owned by (formerly) regular webmasters who are now on top and fighting to keep it that way, with a sizable incentive to do so. These keywords are highly competitive and those webmasters will do anything it takes to keep the payday rolling in.

I agree with you, but everything you say about SEO can be said of PR. The difference is that PR is a more mature field and people understand what it's about.

It probably also helps that few have the attitude that they are entitled to news coverage the same way they feel entitled to traffic. So we accept that it's capricious and that someone who knows what they're doing can get results. And that's OK.

Anyway, who cares about "blind SEO hate on a start-up site?" It ultimately gets punished by the market.

If you hate SEO, great. Make your site hard to crawl chock full of duplicate content and inscrutable urls; don't bother to get authority signals (links) deep and wide; don't make pages that satisfy search intent.

Your competitor who DOES will get traction, funding, a better team, and down the road you'll be yet another guy at a bar saying, "Yeah, I used to have a startup... tough racket."

So, just for a laugh, crazy idea: say I have a site that I don't want to be on the search engines, but I still want people to be able to link to it etc, so no just putting it behind a login, I can do the above? Duplicate all sorts of crappy content, making sure in particular to mention the words "viagra" and "casino" a lot?

Ya you could easily do that and get blacklisted by Google and most USA search engines. Make the text the same color as the background, really tiny in the corner somewhere and spam it up. Though you could simply edit your robots.txt if you don't want to appear on the search engines. At least the ones who respect that. If a link to the site is found by a spider, the cat is out of the bag so to speak. Nothing can put it back in the box.

For many small business owners, they simply don't have time to be looking after a website in the same way you or I would. In many cases, web presence isn't make or break for the business, and a website is just one of many things they do that involve telling a company "we need X", handing over money, and getting X.

If you are the company whose job it is to do whatever they asked for - build a website, see if anything can be done to help improve traffic, install a gas oven - it is your job to not defraud them. Charging them to boost their ranking temporarily, knowing full well it will fall again soon, is fraud.

I like the point about smaller firms' vulnerability to this kind of thing. I think it speaks to the whole "code literacy" issue. An educated consumer solves cures many ills.

Another big issue is the lack of competition for search engines. Google simply has the power to close a lot of shops, just by blacklisting them...

> I’ve seen companies who have built a site for a client, no index it then charge for an SEO package to ‘sort out the rankings’, Domain change audits with no 301′s, I’ve seen agencies charge £10k for ‘keyword research’ which is copied and pasted straight from Google Adwords and more than a few times I’ve seen companies charge a thousands per month for an IBP report.

I think I am in the wrong industry...

Maybe the OP should write an 'SEO for Dummies' book that helps people avoid becoming victim to SEO scumbags.

All the information needed for good SEO is publicly available from Google.

My SEO 101 has always been "Build a technically sound website with good content and UX. Then talk about it."

Google will follow, you shouldn't be chasing them. They are in the business of providing the most relevant results, make it easy for them to crawl you and the rest will come over time with trust.

It actually is.

Anything else may help in the short term but it all ends up falling over when the "All Mighty Google" rollout a "Panda/Penguin" update, luckily sites sell you "Penguin Proof SEO!".

Can you point me to a detailed Google document on how to migrate a large say 5M page site from several platforms to another one.

I had to work with 10 RC's and almost 5 months from the third party developer to get FWI's new classified platform in a fit state to launch - and that snot counting the work to develop the redirect plan.

While 5 million pages is a very big number (that probably requires a lot more planning) this might be the Google document you are looking for:


  Moving your site
  If you're planning on moving your site to a new domain, 
  here are some tips that will help you retain your site's
  ranking in Google's search results.
Edit: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/moving-to-a-new-web-host/ (2005)

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.nl/2008/04/best-pract... (2008)

oh a single page how generous of them :-0

Also make sure you check out these videos:



and maybe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7M22teF3Ho depending on your circumstances.

As others have suggested, there is a vast amount of resources for basic search optimisation, I'm on my mobile at that are online, but I will write a pos linking to them at some point

please do :)

I don't believe in SEO. I've always felt that they're just one tiny step above spammers. When one contacts me, I just tell them to go f* themselves.

I've never hired an SEO in my life, but if I ever do, you can bet I'll hire someone I was ABLE TO FIND BY SEARCHING.

And yet, I get contacted via email by at least one a day. What a waste of time.

It doesn't take a SEO to 'game' Google. Case in point: "Santorum". No SEO was involved, just organic gaming of the system.

"SEO" is a scumbag activity to begin with.

Why are we using the expression SEO since there is only one search engine people are targetting/using ? do businesses really care if they are numero uno on Bing or duckduckgo ? I never understood that.

Let's cut the crap , SEO is Google rank optimization.

It means there is no SEO since the only player that decides how SEO works is google. If tomorrow Google decides using the word "FLOWER" in your header improves your rank on its search engine, what optimisation are we talking about ?this is not optimization , it is following google's rules. It means google is in charge, and they are abusing their dominant position pretty well, and the whole system is a scam anyway.

IF Google were to bias in favor of "FLOWER" while disregarding content relevance, it would be an abuse of their dominant market position. But from the outside looking in, it seems like Google strives for nothing but providing the most relevant search results for their users. Controversies tend to arise when Google tries too hard, it seems, localizing based on fragile heuristics and such.

If this is the scam, what's the alternative? An open search engine, perhaps, where development, ranking algorithms, etc. are completely out in the open. I'm not sure this is realistic any time soon though given the cost of hosting a search engine.

A search engine that ranks mainly on social-graph recommendation might be one solution, because the social graph is a simple data structure that transcends "ownership" by Facebook or Google+. The engine itself is a non-trivial system to implement, mind you.

The trouble with this idea is that Google can't magically see private links/recommendations on social networks any more than anyone else can.

For example, one site I help with has just a few inbound links from low PR sites as far as Google is concerned, and gets a page rank of zero accordingly. In reality, it probably gets more inbound links via social networking in a single day on most days, and unsurprisingly those personal recommendations often drive more inbound traffic than any search engine.

Google's basic premise of ranking the importance of a site based on how many links it gets and where from is wildly inaccurate in the era of social networking. Normal people mostly don't run their own public web sites or blogs any more, they share stuff on sites like Facebook and often only with their "friends".

Personally, I think this is a good thing, because both as a visitor and as someone running sites I would rather rely on legitimate personal recommendations from people who are genuinely interested in a site than on some arbitrary algorithm running in a data centre somewhere on another continent. I don't think it's healthy for any one intermediary to have a dominant effect on whether interested people can find interesting content on the Web, and sites like search engines and social networks are merely intermediaries.

> Google's basic premise of ranking the importance of a site based on how many links it gets and where from is wildly inaccurate in the era of social networking. Normal people mostly don't run their own public web sites or blogs any more, they share stuff on sites like Facebook and often only with their "friends".

I'm not sure that I understand this point. I thought that Google wants to index Twitter (for example) but is prohibited by Twitter. So it's hard to see that their premise is wrong: personal recommendations on social networks are just inbound links from specific sites, just not sites that Google can index.

I'm sure Google would like to index all kinds of private content, but since they can't see it, they can't index it. Moreover, a lot of public forums based on user-generated content automatically annotate their links so they don't contribute to page rank either; this is done for sensible reasons to prevent blatant spamming, but does mean that a lot of legitimate positive links also don't count. This combination undermines the entire idea that a page rank based on the quality and quantity of incoming links that Google can see and will count is a good indicator of the value of a site.

In other news, searching for things on Google increasingly seems to turn up large, commercial sites first and only to reach smaller, more personal, and often more informative/less biased sites several pages down. Meanwhile, posting a question to my friends on any private forum we share will often get better results within a few minutes anyway.

In your example, I see it like this: Google sees those links and gives low page rank but quantity helps too. So if you're getting a bunch of links on social media, it follows that eventually people will blog about it (crawlable content) and link back to the site. Sure it may be a crappy blogger blog but it's legit and Google does count that. Over time a ton of non-spam PR0 backlinks can and will help rank for search terms. Of course, getting some big PageRank links will help a lot more and if you have any say in the matter, can help with what keyword you rank for.

I guess my point is that, talking generally now rather than about any one specific site, we just don't need to put as much weight as perhaps we used to on what Google think of our pages this week. More and more of our traffic comes from personal mentions, passed on by people who are actually interested in what we have to their friends with similar interests, and people who find us that way are far more likely to be genuinely interested themselves and to enjoy our material, increase our income, or otherwise match whatever we created the site for.

People use buzzwords like "going viral", but really this is just the same old exponential growth of word-of-mouth recommendations for good products, speeded up thanks to modern communication technologies and the social networks they support.

Obviously we still make our sites accessible to search engines. It's not like it's difficult to do that if you've got real content and a sensible information architecture, and after all, a bit of extra traffic never hurt anyone. Maybe, if an enthusiastic person finds us that way, it could even seed a new network of people finding us.

But I see this becoming less and less of a priority and dedicated search engines becoming less and less relevant for a lot of sites as people learn to use social networks to spread the word. In particular, I don't see cbeach's original idea of a "search engine that ranks mainly on social-graph recommendation" adding much value in that scenario, simply because the social networks will probably offer similar functionality without needing a third party anyway.

You're assuming that social-graph recommendations are somehow not gameable. If anything, they're even easier to game than Google search results on current social networks -- there are tons of sites out there that'll offer to "sell" you Likes on Facebook for a page of your choosing.

> Let's cut the crap , SEO is Google rank optimization.

That's not true in Russia, China, etc. And even in the West, dominating the rankings for your segment in the competing search engines could be extremely lucrative.

Sorry, this is way to broad of a generalization. Yes, "SEO" is a bit of muddied term. Yes, people target Google first. However, there are quite a bit of standard practices that aren't Google specific that need to be followed. Schema.org and Sitemaps.org are great examples.

Also, a serious business would be kidding themselves if they thought that targeting engines like Bing wasn't important. Reaching customers is important.

With that being said, Google is the biggest player in the game. This means they can make up whatever rules they see fit. However, one of the biggest SEO "secrets" has nothing to do with Google:

"Build for readability, good content that fits your targeted keywords."

Again, this is a general rule, and only a starting point.

No, people also do optimization for Bing (you can Google about it ;-)), and also in certain countries, local search engine can be a good source of traffic, so there is a SEO for that as well. But Google is usually most important, that's right.

Calling yourself a "Google optimization consultant" or whatever might run the risk of trademark issues.

You also might care if you get to #1 in bing. Sure it's nowhere near as well used as google in terms of % but it still adds up to several million eyeballs.

Being #1 on bing for some search term that is super competitive on google is likely to bring a huge amount of traffic.

That's probably true for most of us here, but definitely not for every demographic. My personal blog that focuses on software development gets almost all of its search traffic from Google, as you'd expect. However, you might be surprised that a consumer focused site I run only gets 55% of its search traffic from Google (and this site gets more total search traffic than my blog, which does pretty well itself).

eh? what about baidu?

you have a point , sorry i'm a bit western-centric. There is also yandex , yet it doesnt really make sense for non chinese or non russian centered businesses to invest in Yandex or Baidu ranking. I live in europe , few have heard of Bing for instance, so Yandex , or Baidu ... it is like Alpha Centauri to them ...

Unless you have a business that targets people all over the world. Like a software business.

The double-talk on HN never ceases to amaze me.

On one day Google is close to dying and there are lots of alternatives out there and on the next day the very same people are writing that "SEO = Google pagerank ownage" as if Google was the one and only search engine which mattered.

So which is it? Are Google's days numbered or not?

Can you point to any instances of the same person holding both positions?

People commenting here are allowed to disagree with each other, you know, and not everyone comments on every link.

It may be tempting to attach a single "HN voice" to this community, but this is a place of many people with different opinions.

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