Google Openly Profiles SEOs As Criminals

by on 06/09/2009 • 167 Comments | SEO

If we can stop talking about nofollow and PageRank sculpting for a second, maybe we can openly talk about the bigger story of last week’s SMX Advanced. The one that has to do with Matt Cutts taking the stage during the You&A and openly stating that Google profiles SEOs like common criminals.

I was naïve in my youth. I’d read blog posts that accused Google of “having it out” for SEOs and laugh. There’d be rants about how Google was stricter on sites that were clearly touched by an SEO and how SEOs were dumb for “self-identifying” with attributes like nofollow. At the time, I thought these people were insane. Now I know they were right.

Google does profile SEOs. They’re identified as “high risk” and so are all of their associated projects.

One of the hot issues during last week’s You&A session was the paid link drama that resulted when Google oprah’d 500 free Android phones during the Google I/O conference. As the story goes, for their attendance, developers received brand new Google Androids, many of which were later pawned on eBay for prices as high as $760. For their Oprah generosity, Google received tens of thousands of free links to help the Android in a competitive telecom market. But calm those raised eyebrows. Because if it looks like a Google paid link, and walks like a Google paid link…then Google’s going to start talking about intent.

And that’s exactly what Matt did. He used the “intent” card to misdirect the audience. He explained that a line was not crossed because Google was not after the thousands and thousands of links they received. Google wanted to encourage these developers to create applications for Google’s Android…so they gave them phones.

Okay. Let’s pretend that’s true.

Michael Gray was seated next to me during the You&A session and mentioned Viral Conversations, his product review site that hooks bloggers up with free products. When Viral Conversations was first launched, he received an email from Matt Cutts with recommendations for things he’d like changed. [Clearing this up after some further discussion with Michael.] During a lunch conversation and follow up email conversation with Matt, Michael received some advice on things to change on Viral Conversation to help them “match” what Google suggests. One “recommendation” obviously being hinted at was to make sure bloggers used a nofollow on all links to rid any sense of paid link impropriety. In session, Michael asked why he had to place a nofollow when he gets free links but Google does not.

thumbprintThat’s when Matt started talking about SEOs as being “high risk” and “people who do things deliberately for links”.

Fact: Viral Conversations faced more scrutiny because Michael is an SEO. Michael and his sites are profiled the same way a black kid is when he’s out too late and the convenience store on the corner gets robbed. Make no mistake, the way Google handles your site is both site-specific and SEO-specific. And they do hold grudges.

And Michael’s not an isolated case. It’s happening every day on the Web. If you’re an SEO, you’re presumed guilty. If you’re not, you’re given a bye.

As Michael Gray points out today in his own post on Google profiling:

  • Those suspicious links on TechCrunch? Not paid links.
  • The all expense paid trip Robert Scoble and Sarah Lacey received to Israel and then wrote about? Not paid links.
  • Guy Kawasaki’s growing collection of “loaned” cars? Not paid links.

Why? They’re not SEOs. Let’s post two hypotheticals:

  1. Rae Hoffman, marketer and owner of BBGeeks.com, decides to loan 50 BlackBerries to some of her site’s most engaged users to build content and get unique customer reviews. And the handout works.  She gets tons of reviews and free content for her site. And because BB users are tech savvy, they also have blogs and write about the experience, linking to BBGeek.com in droves.  Rae doesn’t ask users to nofollow their links.
  2. A new bakery in town ships out 500 cupcakes to residents of a small suburb encouraging them to come into the store and try them out. There’s even a coupon for a few bucks off when they come in. The promotion spreads like wildfire when a few of the lucky cupcake recipients use their Twitter accounts to tell others about the bakery, it gets picked up by blogs and suddenly, they’re on TechCrunch. It doesn’t even have to be cupcakes. It could have been, I don’t know, pizza.

Are these paid links? For BBGeeks.com, yes. For the bakery, no.

Why? Because Rae Hoffman, by profession, knows the power of a link. Her site will either get dinged or receive a handwritten love letter from Matt. The TechCrunch-featured mom and pop, however, will be applauded for their ingenuity. Not a double standard. Simply evidence of Google’s astonishing mind-reading ability when it comes to intent.

mommybloggerGoogle, you need to stop with the intent card. You have NO WAY of determining someone else’s thoughts. You don’t know the face of evil. You never did. And these days, that face of evil that you’re looking so hard for is YOU as you continue to push your way through the Web intimidating webmasters, applying double standards, and playing the game of misdirection.

And in case there’s some confusion, your standard, back-up-against-the-wall response of, “you can do whatever you want with your site, but it’s our index” isn’t ACTUALLY an answer. It’s you being a bully. It’s an abuse of power. And more importantly, it’s WRONG.

Profiling a site associated with an SEO as being “high risk” is no more egregious and an abuse of power than a cop questioning that black kid who just happens to be walking down the wrong street. You can’t tell someone’s intent by looking at the color of their skin, their gender or their business card. Not every SEO is a link broker or thinking up ways to manipulate the system you created. In fact, most aren’t. Most want to create great content and to help their sites do interesting things so they earn their rankings. When you assume otherwise and bucket SEOs into a “high risk” group, holding  sites hostage, it’s malicious. And I’m no longer wet behind the ears. I’ve seen sites unfairly punished and left for dead simply because of the SEO association.

It’s wrong, you’re a bully and if anyone’s intent needs to be questioned, it’s yours.

I’m not naive enough to think Google will change. But as Michael Gray states, I think it’s up to us to continue to point out and educate  people to Google’s inconsistent and egregeous behavior. Consider the spotlight on.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

167 thoughts on “Google Openly Profiles SEOs As Criminals

  1. It’s possible that comparing your perceived mistreatment by a corporate behemoth to the evils of institutionalized racism is a little over the top.

    From your picture, it’s clear that you are neither African American nor “a kid” so I worry that your comparison may be founded in nothing more than bloggers’ hyperbole.

  2. Daniel: I’m also not an SEO so this post isn’t about me or any mistreatment I’ve faced. :)

    The post is about Matt admitting that Google profiles known SEOs and their Web sites as being high risk, regardless of the tactics used. It’s about how people like Michael Gray need to make it over a higher bar than someone like TechCrunch or Guy Kawasaki simply because Michael and they are not. It’s about small businesses being applauded for the same tactics that will get SEOs slapped. It’s not hyperbole. It’s been proven in action for way too long now.

  3. This was some hot drama coming out of the conference last week but was quickly overtaken by the nofollow sculpting ordeal.

    MAN, why do all the good conferences happen on the coasts?! When is SMX Minneapolis? SES St. Paul? /sniffle

  4. Huzzah, Lisa! We’re a victim of the same bullying (intentional or otherwise), as Goog merged our small business site with a business association we also manage (for a group of businesses), leaving the ass’n in the local listings, but removing our business (and with it, our source of customers). When we tried to “do the right thing” by requesting reconsideration and removing the so-called “duplicate content”, our listing was pushed waaaay down the SERP’s and is not among the local results.

    Google built their business to be dominant – good for them, but with that power comes responsibility. Or to borrow a quote, power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  5. I think Google or any other company is actually able to stop the exchange of value for links. It’s my belief that the very act of generating content and displaying it on a public website is an exchange of value to the visitor. It took time, and work to create the text, creative energy for the design(hopefully) and money for the domain, and hosting. The very act of obtaining ANY link then could be considered a “paid” link, for the exchange of the basic value of the page!

    I first thought that the post was about Google Profiles, not Google profiling…but really the future is pretty clear that online identity is becoming more and more of a concern. If Google is using our identities against us, then it certainly makes me leary of making myself known in Google profiles… (puts on tin-foil hat)

  6. It Google’s failure to determine intent a surprise? They have been failing at even telling what a web page is about for years ;)

    As an SEO – I listen to what Matt has to say, when I think it can help me. If it’s something like this, I basically ignore it and keep doing my thing…because, well, I still have good rankings :)

    Also, Google hasn’t figured out how to kill UBER SPAM sites yet, so I’m not worried about them penalizing my beautifully white-hat SEO’ed clients’ pages….

  7. Scott:

    Also, Google hasn’t figured out how to kill UBER SPAM sites yet, so I’m not worried about them penalizing my beautifully white-hat SEO’ed clients’ pages….

    That was always the stance I took, too. “I’m not doing anything wrong, so I don’t have to worry!” But that’s not really the case.

    Viral Conversations wasn’t doing anything wrong, but that site still got a hard extra look from Matt with extra recommendations made. Rae’s hypothetical giving away BBs for content wouldn’t be textbook wrong, but Google would still have a say. Regardless of whether you’re doing anything “wrong” with your site, if you’re a known SEO your sites will be labeled “high risk” out of the gate and you’ll have to prove innocence instead of guilt. That’s profiling SEOs and its egregious. And the more we identify as being SEOs, the more Google has to use against us when they’re looking for someone to make an example of.

    Going too far? No. It’s looking at Google’s history of dealing with sites known to belong to SEOs.

  8. Yeah, well I’ve been saying this for a while now. I think Google know way too much about me, my activities or anyone else for that matter.

    But lets face it, they can do what they want with their product. Unfortunately it is a monopoly these days, heck I bought a new PC just the other day that had Google set as a default search engine and my entire desktop was set to Google Desktop. The average knuckle dragging end user isn’t go to change or disable any of that – this is where Google rule.

    Like water, you have to have it… but you certainly need it to survive – in one form or another.

  9. Sorry, that last line should read:

    “Like water, you don’t have to have it… but you certainly need it to survive – in one form or another.”

    hehehe…

  10. So the take away for me is: 1) Don’t leave a trail or obvious relationship between your SEO business and the sites you work on; 2) Always make it look like your clients are initiating a promotion and not your SEO-related company. I have number two covered, but need to do better with number one.

  11. AirWeb is in place to deal with web spam and this includes “adversarial information retrieval” also called SEO. No SEO’s are never going to be a search engines’s best friends. This is because they tamper with the data as it were and this means that they create loads more work for the IR people because they have to deal with all those sites that are unnaturally boosted. It’s good for IR I think because it has pushed the barriers for web spam and the nepotistic link research is fascinating.

    Ah yes…I’m an seo and also a researcher. They have been calling me the NME amongst my research peers. All in good humour but still there is some truth in that. I do improve sites and I do play legitimately all the time. A lot of SEO’s don’t though. There is a problem. SEO’s are not search engineers they are marketing professionals and at the end of the day we all have a job to do.

    User intent is not a new thing and it’s been researched since at least 1996. That would suggest to me that they would have been looking into it at some point maybe prior to 2009. The techniques are sophisticated and some of the top brains in the business are/have been working on that and not just at Google.

    Matt Cutts is a wonderful diplomat and Google handle the situation as best they can. It’s their search engine at the end of the day and they have the right to drop PageRank altogether and move to a completely different model if they so fancy it. They can drop sites from their index if they like and they are indeed a business. They don’t have any dues to any of us. Information retrieval is very very very difficult, so you know, not everything is going to be ship shape right now.

    Imagine you’re running a telephone business and that people are tampering with their lines to pay less. They are not going to be your friends. It’s a bit like that really, the relationship between seo and search engines.

  12. Google’s hypocrisy runs deep. (i.e. the algorithmic changes to allow big brands to flourish) and wiping out years of dedicated SEO to small/mid-sized companies (white, gray, or black hat). I have no problem being labeled “high risk” or “threatening”. I rather cherish the label.

    Of course they “know” who we are. As Lisa pointed out, you can tell sites that have been “touched by an SEO”. From rel = attributes, hell, even down to KW choice and the density of the KWs on the page. Even if you aren’t a superstar like Micheal.

    I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist. I think all the tools (webmaster/analytics/maps/etc.) that GOOG provides is just another way for them to keep eyes on individuals and sites. The question becomes is there really any way to stop it? Inevitably the answer is no. It will always be a “LOVE–>HATE”, the snake biting its own tail.

    Like with any corporation, those focused on profit, the rules don’t apply for them. It sucks, but it’s the facts. SEOs must grin and bear it, and fight when they can. It’s a bit guerilla-ish, but it’s the way it goes.

  13. The double standard would be funny if websites weren’t being left by the wayside. It’s impossible to accurately gauge intent and unless you can get it 100% right people are being unfairly punished and google doesn’t seem to mind.

  14. Thanks for the great post. I’ve thought this was happening for a long time and it’s good to see it finally confirmed.

    What’s funny is I’ve always been open about my sites because I never thought I was doing anything wrong but now I’m going to stop doing so and start being sneaky. What Google doesn’t seem to understand is that being a little sneaky puts you on a slippery slope and that these kind of actions will most likely push people to be sneakier and end up with a net result of having more spam on the web.

  15. Wow… so we read everything we can read, attend conferences where Google represents themselves, even by proxy, and provides “helpful” information, we test, we learn and we grow – we learn how to do things right and use our creativity. Then we’re looked at under a more powerful microscope. And then Google gets to do what they want, citing holier-than-thou intent, because they hold the cards. What makes me the most upset is that it could harm associations – clients whom we make our living from. Please keep writing about this – all we have is our voices… Google is still Google.

  16. Am I understanding this correctly? Google says if you review products, you’re supposed to nofollow the links. But if you know enough to nofollow the links, you’re using an advanced (?) SEO tactic and Google will penalize you for doing what they told you to do? But if you have a small site, you can fly under the radar while larger, better known sites are scrutinized? Is that an oversimplification, or am I missing something? Really trying to understand and learn, so please forgive my inexperience. :-)

  17. I have a working knowledge of SEO and apply it to the websites I manage. I think about SEO when I post but I don’t let it dictate my writing style. I consider SEO when I think about creating interesting content for websites. Does that in fact make me an SEO professional and then make Google want to penalize the sites I work on or for? I am with you Lisa when you question Google’s ESP. I actually think Google does a tremendous job developing apps and giving them away for free like GMail and Analytics. And they have the lion’s share of the search business not because they do things wrong, but because they did something right. The fact that they are now penalizing specific websites because they know for a fact that they have been “touched” or innovated by professional SEO measures is incredulous. How do they not know that the cupcake baker didn’t consult an SEO professional or perhaps pick up one of the many SEO For Dummies type books and apply those strategies? And what if they did? Would Google still want to penalize them? There are clear lines not to be crossed in SEO that make sense ethically to the profession but Google profiling willy-nilly who has and who has not applied SEO to their websites is farcical.

  18. Rock on Lisa!
    I think that Google is the ONLY company in the world that doesn’t care about links or rankings…perhaps it’s because they can just grab the top sponsored spot if they’d like to show up for any phrase.

  19. Michelle,

    It’s actually the larger, better known sites that get to fly under the radar. As Lisa mentioned, TechCrunch is pretty well-known, and they get away with a lot that Google deems wrong for sites like Rae’s BBGeeks. But aside from that, yes, if you nofollow the links in a product review, you’re doing what Google told you to do. But you’re also identifying yourself as someone who knows what a nofollow link is, and you could find your site being examined under the Google microscope.

    I’m wondering if this means I’ve harmed the bloggers I’ve been trying to help when I told them about using nofollow for their product reviews. I hope now. :-(

  20. This stupid double standard is enough to make me go batty. I understand where Google is coming from, I guess, but you are completely right. Who can say what someone’s intent is? Hello mom and dad, how about showing us by example instead of just telling us what we should be doing? And btw I don’t think your analogy was unfounded about the injustice that occurs in our society when assumptions and judgments are made (in reference to the black kid being assumed to have robbed the corner store).

  21. I’m sorry, you have an interesting point, but because you’re speaking out against Google, all record of this page has been wiped from Google search results and your name, as well as your blog have been put on Google’s top ten most watched SEOs list.

  22. I agree that this is going on, but I think the example is a little flawed. I don’t think the robbery and race profile example is a good comparison. If someone is raped, police might profile and look at previous sex offenders in the area. Or if someone is murdered by a skilled shooter, they might look at registered gun owners or people with training. Evaluating a person’s risk based off their knowledge, training, or previous actions is different than profiling based on race.

    I had a site in a niche where I purposely pushed things too far and was promptly deindexed. Since the niche had value, I started fresh with a new domain and kept things clean (and planned to keep it clean). After one month, Google deindexed that one as well, for no obvious reason other than them associating it with the previous domain. So I agree they profile.

    Google is annoyingly too powerful and I’m looking forward to the day where they have a serious competitor.

  23. @justin if we’re going to look at previous offenses that doesnt help google’s android phone giveaway look any better considering they got busted for selling links earlier this year in japan.

  24. Thanks Christina! Ok, that makes sense…kind of. So Google IS saying, “We want you to do this, but when you do it, we’re going to penalize you for it.” Wow, Google sounds an awful lot like my ex-husband.

  25. It’s wrong, you’re a bully and if anyone’s intent needs to be questioned, it’s yours
    Lisa I think you do some of if not the best writing about online marketing right now, but this just seems wrong headed and slightly hysterical to me.

    Why is it surprising (or, indeed, unfair) that Google would pay special attention to high profile SEOs like Michael? Conflating that (sound business) practise with bullying & ethnic profiling just seems silly. It’s nothing like a cop rounding up a black kid on the way to the store, and a lot like one paying special attention when he sees a known offender on the street.

    Let’s not forget Micahel didn’t get taken to an alley/cell and got beaten up. He got a mash note from Matt to the effect of “change this or I’ll take action”, as I understand it. How many “ordinary” non SEO webmasters get that treatment?

    Personally I’m getting a little tired of conference circuit SEOs bitching about Google treating them unfairly…if anything I think being on Matt’s radar will do more harm than good, assuming you’re not doing anything totally spammy/scummy.

  26. @Lisa – Some good Google bashing there… but it won’t do much to what they intend to do in the present or in the future.

    As far as Matt Cutts is concerned, I think he is Google’s KGB (the propaganda machine). Google wants us to think what THEY want us to… and they use Matt to do it. He comes out in the open and starts explaining how Google is changing… and SEO’s start responding by tweaking their strategies.

    For a second, let us all just forget what our site should be to a search engine with or without any incoming links, with or without any title’s or meta tags or alt texts… The focus should be create something of value to the visitors (from search engines or anywhere else).

    If Google thinks PROFILING is the solution to their problem then they are wrong. They will have to start weighing SITE’s VALUE more than it’s DEGREE OF OPTIMIZATION. That is when they become immune to repugnant SEO’s.

    SEO’s are not criminals, they never were! They just take things off the road – the road that leads to creating value for visitors. Let’s resign as SEO’s and become Value Creators… soon the war will be over…

    - Abhishek

  27. @Abhishek

    Become value creators? Go right ahead. And while you’re at it, explain to your clients, the people who put a roof over your head and food on your family’s table, why their site all of a sudden disappeared from the first 20 pages of Google, bing and Yahoo.

    The fact is that we DO have to play in their yard. And by their rules. And THAT is the problem.

    Guy Kawasaki and Scoble and Tech Crunch and the major brands – you know – the ones who have the deep pockets, they don’t have to play by the same rules because they can afford not to. And Google mostly respects entities that are on the same cash flow level as they are.

    In the mean time, we get the shaft. And like I just said over at Sphinn in commenting on @Graywolf’s article, I for one am not going to just role over and grease up.

  28. [They’re identified as “high risk” and so are all of their associated projects.] So you’re saying that when they identify me as high risk it will pollute my entire webmaster tools account? Is it possible that they could classify me as a “good SEO” and then consider my webmaster tools sites a “known good community”?

  29. An interesting article – however, I must say that some of this is exaggerated.

    Google does not think SEOs are criminals. SEO is good as long as it is done naturally.

    And Matt Cutts is right – many SEOs play the black hat game – which is not good for the web users and google is all about quality for web users.

  30. I know people aren’t going to like this, but here’s how I see it.

    I think the situation is a catch 22 for Google.

    Here’s why. If Google hold everyone to the same standard, then every SEO agency and expert can basically run wild. If they hold everyone to the standard they are holding Michael Gray to, then the entire index is screwed.

    Google is holding us to higher standard because they cannot punish the other 98% of websites that we do not affect (real number btw). They can however say we know how SEO people run (we sculpt, we H tag, we use robots.txt, we use XML sitemaps etc.. we’re not that hard to find) and say to those that are applying SEO standards you need to work like this. That’s what Google means by intent. Everything we do, has intent behind it. So we need to be held accountable.

    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

  31. I think Google should start by addressing site wide link issues.
    It should be very easy to track… On the other hand, Google clearly favors big corporations with deep pockets, and only they can afford site wide links from quality sources…

  32. Nice reading! Thank you!
    2Jim Boykin: I think that Google is the ONLY company in the world that doesn’t care about links or rankings.
    I would add – and validity of code also. Check their site with W3C checker. Buh-ha-ha – 45 Errors for HTML 4.01 Transitional!

  33. Hmm. This is a good take on part of Google calling the SEO’s as criminals. There may be some instances where some false SEO guys adopt some black hat techniques. In general there are some good SEO’s who work completely on ethical standards. But its really a bizarre why Matt calling the SEO’s as criminals. I feel he might have intended his speech in the direction of wrong(Black hat workers) SEO’s who can be called as criminals.

  34. @Oliver Amar

    “They can however say we know how SEO people run (we sculpt, we H tag, we use robots.txt, we use XML sitemaps etc.. we’re not that hard to find)”

    I wouldn’t necessarily believe this, as Google actually encourages this with their webmaster guidelines.

  35. Hi Lisa; Daniel Mcskelly above has it exactly right. I’m actually surprised that you seem surprised by why Matt Cutts is saying or by what Google might be doing? Why is this news to you and everyone else it seems in the SEO industry? It’s old stuff to me. The industry is very sickening these days… sorry, but it is. It’s pathetic at best. A lost cause at worse. Something needs to save it from itself soon.

    I believe you have been listening and hanging with people who love conspiracies and controversy.

    I one thing I’ve stated many times I have a problem with Google is the fact they take money from spammers for adwords, and they seem to have no problem with scummy adsense sites and multiple sites for the same product/service by same owners. That’s it. Nothing else is relevant to me. All the BS that SEO’s come up with at conferences, etc, is just that….. BS. It’s no wonder why “most” sites on the internet have never hired a SEO per say…. I don’t blame them.

    Gosh, by golly; a major search engine profiles SEO’s?? My, oh my; go figure. lol Could it be that the majority of them build or help sites for Google? Maybe that’s a reason to ponder awhile. How about high profile people in this seo industry who talk out of both sides of their mouths? How about people taking money for very obvious firms who exploit Google with buying/selling links, but who then go to conferences and say “don’t spam?”

    Pathetic industry.

  36. You (and others) are telling your potential clients: “Don’t hire me, Google think I’m shady, if I left MY footprints on YOUR website, you’re screwed.”

    A smart move from marketing experts.

  37. Known this for a long time, if i put my Adsense, Analytics or register one of my sites with Webmaster Tools traffic will plunge 95% within a fortnight. It happens like clockwork, i’ve got more than enough data stacked up to prove it’s not coincidence.

    I’m just glad this is coming out in the open so people are aware what Google is all about.

    Mark, that’s why i will not under any circumstances disclose what sites i’ve worked on.

  38. Michael, for the record Google was BUYING links in Japan, not selling ;)

    The real problem here is not the issue of giving away Android phones for links because frankly Google can “rank” for anything they want via sponsored links or a hand job if they decide to do it. Michael invitation to have a discussion about paid versus editorial links is interesting because of the Guy Kawasaki example or what would happen if Palm gave away a bunch of phones at WordCamp, SMX or other places to get bloggers to talk about their product.

    The real issue from SMX is that Matt reversed his messaging about rel=nofollow and suddenly said something that was OK and would not hurt your site (although he said it would not work) to saying “page rank sculpting works and we are going to combat it if you sculpt with rel=nofollow”.

    The results of this disaster:
    1. We have to use trickier methods for sculpting (say hello to personalization, iframes, advanced JS and lots of other tricks that will REALLY cause problems if you don’t know what you are doing.

    2. We can no longer trust Matt when he says they won’t use analytic data or any other source against us, because he changed his mind.

    3. I owe John Andrews an apology for (privately) thinking he was paranoid for arguing against sculpting with nofollow because it made it too easy for Google to see traces of SEO.

    The fact is that I have nothing but respect for Matt and I think he has an incredibly difficult job. He genuinely tries to help webmasters and frankly many of his friends in the SEO world are former black hats….and they (we) can’t help pushing the envelope on occasion. Even the advice to Michael Gray is far preferable to dropping viralconversation.com into a quick-sand-box.

    I do not question Matt’s motives or his integrity, but I think the decision to announce the changes in rel=nofollow is a disaster because it makes it hard for “white hat SEOs” not to wear tin foil underneath and that goes a long way towards undermining the good will between webmasters and Google that he has tried for so long to establish.

  39. “Even the advice to Michael Gray is far preferable to dropping viralconversation.com into a quick-sand-box.”

    SEO’s are damn lucky; some of them, Matt even bothers to send an email personally to them with advice. How many JoeSiteOwners out there get the same treatment?

    Besides, If Michael’s site did not give a hoot about Google and links, etc, then he would gladly stick in a nofollow tag, right? Yep. After all; he is being “profiled” which ain’t nothin new at all. He should know better anyway.

  40. Well, how long will we continue this discussion without noticing the other significant issue raised at SMX? Profile SEOs? no-follow risky? Those were too obvious… there was more. So far I don’t see anyone talkng about it… here’s a hint: “idioms”

  41. Didn’t I read earlier this year, that they said, they would count those links with affiliate ids in the urls to amazon because they were “editorial”?

    I mean, I get G. Also, G is not a single instance. I don’t think you can blame Google US for the mistakes of Google Japan. Common, these were a group of ppl within Google Japan that were responsible for that incident. It was not not Google Headquarters telling the guys in Japan “Hey, go buy some links”.

    And then, finally, the big question: Would the search results be better without the work of countless SEOs? Or not?

    BTW: We should all be happy that it is Google and not MS that is dominating search :)

  42. While I love Michael Grays input and watchdog attitude, he does sometimes come close to hijacking sessions (if Danny or other moderators didn’t step in) beating a “dead horse” (dead from the other side). It’s perfect to bring it up and be strong about it, but don’t keep on and on in sessions. Do it later. Don’t eat up my expensive (to me) session time. I didn’t fly across the country to hear your personal debate, no matter how valid it might be. Lisa, on the other hand, is giving us a warning. I don’t think it’s for all of us, but I’d rather be warned than not.
    I am more than happy if they penalize the spammers and gray hats, I welcome it. The problem is they don’t care about the little guys, just the the people who have the power to make enough noise.
    It’s scary if they are profiling white hat, general, customer centric SEO, but if I didn’t feel there were undeserved, impossible to get addressed, SEO penalties, I probably would not be commenting.

  43. The more I catch wind of comments like Matt’s from SMX, the more I regret ever associating my Google account with anything even remotely related to SEO. Where do they draw the line? If I subscribe to SEO blogs in G Reader, am I marked? How many? One? Five? If I get email newsletters that are related to SEO, am I marked? Or do I have to be a high profile, outspoken SEO like Michael Gray, Rae Hoffman or Aaron Wall?

    It’s difficult enough to be successful online without having to worry if I’ve done anything to set off a red flag and get myself profiled.

  44. >>And these days, that face of evil that you’re looking so hard for is YOU as you continue to push your way through the Web intimidating webmasters, applying double standards, and playing the game of misdirection.

    And in case there’s some confusion, your standard, back-up-against-the-wall response of, “you can do whatever you want with your site, but it’s our index” isn’t ACTUALLY an answer. It’s you being a bully. It’s an abuse of power. And more importantly, it’s WRONG.>>

    AMEN SISTER!!!

  45. Google’s dominance/monopoly is pushing it ever closer to a public utility. If it has become indispensable to our online lives it is because Google built a useful tool, and we wanted to use it. As a business, they can pretty much do what they want with their products (monopoly issues not withstanding). You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to use their products. That said, are we approaching a point where we DO have to use their products? What do we do when a business is too big to fail, or too embedded to stop using it? How much competition is needed to keep things fair? Google/Microsoft (~80%), Yahoo/Apple (~10%), MSN-Bing/Linux (~5%), and the other 5%. Does Google know too much about us? What about the credit industry? Everyone but Ted Kaczynski needs credit. Miss a payment and you can’t get a mortgage. You can still rent, or build a shanty in the mountains of Montana. Spam the Google and get blacklisted. There’s still Yahoo, MSN, and the rest. If you want to fix Google, stop talking about Google and start using Bing.

  46. Internet is a business.
    When we have a site, we promote it on the web exactly the same way we would in real life: by paid means and free means.
    Paid means: adwords & other PPC etc..
    Free means: site reviews, comments, trackbacks etc..

    So why would it be more dangerous if all this is done by an SEO ?
    They promote their sites too, the same way as brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs, and Google seems to be happy to get like 75% on the price of a click made on a website owned by an SEO displaying adsense ads…

    Google need SEOs, that’s all about balance.
    Google would not have been so popular without SEOs admiring/challenging them.
    Google need SEOs to perfect their algorithm too… Leave SEOs alone as long as they don’t do evil ;)

  47. It’s Google’s own loss when people leave the Adsense scene. Having seen earnings per click down to single cents is no fun to watch – indeed in part based upon the fact that target=”_BLANK” being impossible…

    I don’t know about others, but I feel my visitors are worth more to me than a couple of cents. When you can monetize your site outside Google Adsense, Google is the loser. They won’t admit anything because they are the big boys right now, but watch what happens when enough people ditch them….

    THAT could cause a real revolution, and make them somewhat more willing to listen. :-D

  48. I think profiling those pesky SEO cheaters is the right thing to do. These SEO bastards litter the Google index with e-commerce shit, ruining it for everyone and making money in process.
    Google, please be even tougher at these slippery vermins.

  49. maiko – Awesome, you can read! So if you continue to read the site, you’ll see Lisa has two partners – both of which are SEOs. Lisa /= SEO. Her partners = SEOs.

  50. This became readily apparent when Google became a Registrar but chose to use GoDaddy to handle their domain service. Why would you pay to be a Registrar if you did not intend to use service? Perhaps it was so you could readily whois a fresh registration database to find patterns of website owners?

  51. “Michael and his sites are profiled the same way a black kid is when he’s out too late and the convenience store on the corner gets robbed.”

    You should leave that comparison out of the article. If you must make an example, use a different one.

  52. >>>If you must make an example, use a different one.

    I don’t see why – that example is one we know is ludicrous yet still occurs. I’d guess Lisa was TRYING to give an example folks would realize is plain wrong, but happens… and for a long time, happened without anyone calling attention or objecting to it.

  53. To paraphrase Stephen King: “I have seen the future, and her name is Lisa Barone.”

    Lisa, you are a diamond in the rough, a true thought leader. I enjoy your stuff because it’s brave, passionate and insightful.

    Another great article Lisa!

  54. For the last time, SEO is not a noun. SEO = Search Engine Optimized.

    “So i was walking down the street the other day, and this Search Engine Optimized asked me if i had any change.” == fail

  55. As if google cares about anything, why should they? They’re destroying jobs by abandoning sites from their index. It just plain sucks. We’re doing white hat seo only and still the blackhatters/spammers are way ahead in serps. They often is no option but to jump on the so called black hat wagon.

    • Praise the Lord…of the Rings!
      I’m totally reading this like, who tf calls themselves Search Engine Optimizations?
      Clearly a) I’m a tard and b) they’re douche bags.
      I’ve had to work with a few “SEO Gurus”…..all I’m saying is if you mandate “click here” as your anchor text and won’t allow text-image replacement “because it is blackhat”….then you should have retired when Netscape did.

  56. I’m going to have to agree with Inventor of Teh Internetz on this one. SEO’s make things worse for users, and need to find a real job other than being a scumbag.

  57. Kyle, who is talking about gaming google? Who is talking about racism? We’re talking about profiling. Google isn’t looking at whether or not the person is gaming the system. If you have money, power (big brands) or don’t “look like trouble” (mom and pops with zero idea of the web), you can game all you like. That is the issue. Maybe you need to stick around a few years, learn and then see the big picture and understand the conversation before hopping in. I’m all for opposing viewpoints, but you don’t have a viewpoint. You have a one line assumption that reeks of inexperience.

    • I wish that when you see inappropriate comments like that, that you would just use your admin powers to remove the comment. When I am reading blogs like yours, I like to read through the comments. I often find the best nuggets of information there. When you can tell that someone obviously didn’t read the post, like this guy, you are doing your readers a huge favor by just removing his comment. You don’t have to flag him for spamming. Just delete the damn thing so we don’t have to waste more time reading it. Plus we would not have a great line of thought interrupted by some meat-head who is trolling for attention.

      I love the material on your blog. Please keep it clean. Please?

      • Hi Kathy,

        I completely understand your concern. I try to only remove comments that I feel really cross a line. Making too many “judgment” calls can often hurt the conversation in a different way. I’ll keep a closer eye on things. I do appreciate your passion for the community. :)

        Lisa

        • Lisa I’m in total agreement with Kathy. I enjoy your articles, follow you on Twitter, and really enjoy reading the comments to your articles, but some people just have to ruin the flow, please delete this kind of comment in the future.

          Sticking with the subject at hand, I’m not a professional SEO, but I read a lot and I help local businesses to increase their rankings by getting backlinks, using Squidoo or article submission, and we interlink with each other. I am in fact a journalist and tourism advocate.

          The trouble is that my efforts would be all too easy for Google to track since all of my websites are added to my Analytics and WebMasterTools accounts, and I frequently login into my friends accounts from the same browser. I can’t afford multiple computers or IP addresses to cover my tracks. Reading your article I am then going to be considered a high-risk SEO by Google.

          The reason my business contacts and I are working together is that in our area a random Google search is unlikely to bring up our websites, nope, instead multiple large hotel booking sites, or huge content farms outrank my wordpress news site and my friends little 4 or 5 page websites. We fight back by following Google’s guidelines and the advise of SEO people we read. Consequently, we create link wheels, we build Squidoo and Hubpages, we add our links in forums and blog posts. And in all of this, we use rel=”nofollow” on our contact pages or links to affiliate products because we believe Google has our best interests at heart. Sadly our rankings never seem to improve beyond the top of page 2, and when we try the same things that we see other sites doing we get our pagerank slapped.

          You say that anyone who engages in SEO is going to be profiled by Google, now I’m worried that I’ve let me friends down by doing exactly what I’ve been told to do by Google and those same SEO experts who regularly attend conferences where Matt Cutts speaks.

          “Do no evil” is starting to sound like a bad joke.

  58. Hi Rae,
    “You have a one line assumption that reeks of inexperience.”

    How can you tell Kyle is inexperienced from his one sentence? I don’t know that at all. He’s just fed up with the industry as many of us are. That doesn’t mean he’s experienced or inexperienced.

    ” If you have money, power (big brands) or don’t “look like trouble” (mom and pops with zero idea of the web), you can game all you like.”

    You see; this is the prob with the industry in general. Your statement is too over-reaching. Do you really believe a mom and pop cannot get penalized by Google? Do you really believe a large brand who blatantly is trying to game Google would not penalized as well? Come on Rae. The fact is that Google is an imperfect business like ALL businesses on the planet including mine, your’s and their’s. They make mistakes. They don’t catch ALL the spam. It’s like people really think that just because spam is in the index, Google somehow allows it… false. They do some head-scratching things like taking money for advertising from firms who are well-known blackhats….. not any different from high profile people in this industry who also take money from the same blackhats, but then preach to not spam. Go figure. But making statements over the top is not the answer either…. just saying.

  59. Doug, Kyle chose to focus on the one example that didn’t matter and make a stupid comment as if it was the point of the post. To me, clearly defining that he didn’t understand the issue.

    A mom and pop “who doesn’t know what they’re doing” was my example. Of course a mom and pop can be penalized. And big brands outed and therefore slapping Google in the face can too. The issue is, big brands are rarely, if ever, penalized quietly because they deserve it but rather after an issue is put within the public realm and Google’s hand is forced. I can show you three household brands buying links. Not a few, but in the tens of thousands. Their links are obvious, from networks like TLA and newspapers and radio station footers. They rank across the board for competitive terms. And have for years. And I fail to believe that not a single one of their competitors hasn’t reported them for it. But until they are reported in a search engine land article or on a high profile SEOs blog, Google does nothing – because they don’t have too.

    Lastly Doug, your goal in blog comments is always to start shit and push buttons and attempt to get off on being a troll and without true interest to really debate the topic at hand. It is why you only show up on controversial posts where high emotion is at play. I have already banned you from my blog. Lisa for whatever reason, has decided to give you a chance here. Cross the line from productive commenting to troll land, and I’ll gladly push that issue.

  60. Keep up the tremendous work!

    I think the racial comments were well chosen and perfect examples of what google is doing to these innocent people that specialize in SEO. It’s not like these people/companies are doing anything wrong. They’re certainly not flooding the internet with nonsense to get page views, nor are making it more difficult for search engines. This travesty is worse that what happened in Birmingham in the 60s!

  61. Wow. I made a post being very nice to you and come back with that? You can’t take any constructive criticism? I’ve taken a bunch from just about one year ago and never said a single word about it. If I can’t voice my opinion in here either because of “you”, then I’ll gladly voice my opinion in my place only if you like. You are calling me a troll? Be careful.

  62. Can we debate and discuss like adults now, people?

    To his credit, I don’t think Doug is being a “troll” here. I think he has a very well-documented stance on certain issues and he’s passionate about that. I can certainly respect that, even if we do disagree at times, as I think we do with this issue. Outspoken will NOT be one of those blogs where we can’t disagree with one another peacefully.

  63. The comparison in this article of Google’s actions to racial profiling on the part of police really *is* inappropriate, and I’m not someone who is quick to offend. Anyone who thinks this is a rational comparison really actually does not understand racism. I encourage you to think a little harder about all the implications you are making by carrying this comparison out. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but this post was really upsetting, and I agree wholeheartedly with the first commenter in that the most obvious thing about it is that it is written from the perspective of someone who has never had a negative experience with racial profiling on the part of figures of authority, on the street or elsewhere. Someone who responds to this by saying “I’m not an SEO either,” failing to see the ridiculousness of the comparison they are continuing to make.

  64. Sergio: I thought the comparison was apt in its ludicrousness. It’s absurd to me that law enforcement can profile a certain segment of the population assuming they know their “intent” and that Google feels it’s okay to do the exact same thing. And in both cases, as Rae noted earlier, most people sit back and say nothing.

    You’re right. I’ve never been profiled by race in the same way an African American person is. Howver, I have been profiled by gender and disability, so I understand people may have certain sensitivities. Honestly, I don’t think the comparison to be offensive, but if it did offend, that certainly wasn’t my “intent”.

    As for the first commenter, he assumed I was whining about my personal mistreatment as an SEO, to which I stated that I’m not an SEO.

  65. “Profiling a site associated with an SEO as being “high risk” is no more egregious and an abuse of power than a cop questioning that black kid who just happens to be walking down the wrong street.”

    That is just a ridiculous statement. What planet are you from when you really think the two are comparable?

  66. Lisa, you are not an SEO?

    “Together, the Outspoken Media team is able to offer clients a comprehensive mix of SEO consulting, social media services, content creation, online reputation management, affiliate marketing and SEO training services. They have also created the Outspoken blog to help teach other SEOs and business owners how to benefit from the world of SEO and Internet marketing.”

    http://outspokenmedia.com/services/search-engine-optimization/

    At a minimum, you should have included a disclosure of these services your company provides.

  67. I think this is an excellent article.

    I’d have to disagree with you on some things though:
    - It is Google’s index – they have NO moral imperative – they are a business.
    - If they openly let people manipulate their index, they lose reputation for trustworthy results.

    However, Google have profiled, or followed SEOs for years. They’re also avid blog readers and suggestions we put other there for anyone to use they’re only too happy to implement, whether they assign credit or not the discussion is free.

    This also works against SEOs – if we post our strategies online then they’ll put a stop to it. People have been posting about pagerank sculpting for a long time – why would they allow it to continue? This is why the vast proportion of posts about SEO don’t deal in the specifics of data in any way but are full of vague suggestions.

    My suggestion is, have an SEO blog, but don’t really talk about SEO. It will only damage your strategy for clients if you discuss what isn’t public knowledge. As an open source and freedom of information advocate this does upset me – but that’s how it is.

  68. Anon: I see nothing about that statement which would require a disclaimer. Outspoken Media does all of those things for clients on a daily basis. I have never pretended to be an SEO. My partners are SEOs. I am not. I do not do SEO for our clients. I help them with Content Creation, branding and community development. Outspoken Media is three people and we all have different backgrounds.

  69. Wow… Google really has it out for SEO. If they don’t like SEO, why did they set up a cloak and dagger ranking system that we have to pay people to understand for us?

    For the record I agree with the racial bias analogy.

  70. “My background – I used to play with monkey poo.”

    Now that was truly funny stuff. :-) My stomach is hurting now.

  71. You really killed that one. helluva post. From time to time (& not infrequently) you write something that reminds me how much I love our community. Well done.

  72. Wow, good post Lisa! I love it when people are ready to stand up and speak out when they see abuse, it’s uncommon but you, Michael and Aaron are pretty “outspoken” people in regards to Google.

    Ok, so we know there’s a problem. People can sit here and cry about it or we can collaborate and get something going what’s the deal? I’m in!

    (Where’s your subscribe to comments?)

  73. *sigh* perhaps google wants to level the playing field back to where it was in the beginning, which means SEO is going to be an underground black magic type of affair where a site turns out to be a beautifully crafted and marketed piece of art. With no one claiming responsiblity because if it was determined it was a SEO, then the site would be slapped with a penalty tag.

    I do really basic SEO for my web clients only out of a sense of giving them at least a bit of help getting listed and actually seeing their site in the listings. Does that make me an SEO or a dabbler? Will it make me a criminal or just one of the 98% of everyone else? Where is the line drawn?

    Content is king yes, but don’t get caught with your SEO hat on. ;-)

    I worry more about traffic than most due to my freelacning work being keyed to it, but getting my site moved down due to being tagged as an SEO practitioner would really harm my income/earnings.

    Oh, and the monkey poo. Classic. Nice to see some humor injected into this.

  74. I really thought aaron was joking about SEO’s not being liked by Google. Seriously did not think it to be a problem. What the heck now? Remove all references of SEO from all your public profiles, and call it ‘webmastering’?

    And where’s my free iPhone, or Android, or whatever.

  75. What are your thoughts on this for SEO agencies who list their clients on their site? A lot of agencies like to show off a new client (particularly well known brands) on their site by linking through, some even put out press releases. Do you think that are those clients are considered “high risk” because their agency advertised the fact that they someone is specifically trying to improve their rankings? Or are we talking about individuals in SEO? Or just those with high profiles, or those that Google have met IRL?

    It’s just that there must be tens of thousands of people out there now who identify themselves as “SEO”s and I can’t believe Google is keeping tabs on each one, especially with SEO being such a fuzzy term to define. Perhaps they do “profile” a select group of people that they’ve identified as well known influencers such as yourselves and Michael? Bear in mind that VERY few of us have the luxury of emails from Matt or anyone else at Google regarding “changes they’d like to see” – if G takes umbrage the work we do, we just wake up one morning with a penalised site and an unhappy client. By policing Michael (in your real example) or Rae (in your hypothetical example) more closely (but arguably more fairly) than the rest of us, knowing that it’d then be blogged about, the FUD gets spread without Google actually needing go ahead with the task of trying to profile each and every one of us. It’s just like we do in marketing – get the conversation started and let it go from there!

  76. Matt: I think if you’re a big brand, your SEO could tattoo your name on their forehead and it wouldn’t matter. You could also buy links on the 10 o’clock news and get a Made For TV penalty that’s quickly resolved in a week. The rules are different for big brands. [Only a little kidding about that paid links thing :p]

    I don’t think Google is keeping tabs on each and every SEO but there is definitely a Watch List out there where if you’ve angered Google in the past, whether purposely or not, your projects are watched harder, they’re held to more scrutiny and you may have to jump through higher hoops. And sometimes Google’s just a little bit vindictive because they wanted to be. And can.

    [Am I still asleep or did you edit out the words from your comment. I don't sees them. :) ]

  77. ” I think if you’re a big brand, your SEO could tattoo your name on their forehead and it wouldn’t matter.”

    Lisa; that’s the same thing people have said about spam since the beginning of time. Spam is in the index so Google must allow it, right? Google is a machine for the most part. She can’t catch every link buying scheme out there and never will. Just like she can’t catch every spam site out there each and every day. It works until it won’t work anymore. This isn’t hard to understand.

    Let’s say Todd Friesen is buying links for Honda. Let’s say he buys 10 quality links for them in one month.

    First; how does he or anyone know if those links are counting to begin with?

    Second; if counted, how much? Just because you see the link back doesn’t mean it’s being counted as helping the site, right?

    Third; How many great backlinks might Honda have anyway without buying a single link? Probably a bunch. If Honda thinks they can do better buying some links having already many great links, that’s just silly. They are risking a penalty for link buying when they just don’t have to.

    But anyway; oh yeah, spam exists and it’s in the indexes of all search engines. So what? It’s always existed. If Honda or any large brand wants to risk the link buying, let them. Period. They are taking that risk which is a risk that’s silly to take at best. Can Google catch ALL link buying activities? Heck no. NO search engine EVER has caught ALL spam, or schemes meant to exploit algos. Will the link buying be caught? Well sure, maybe eventually, but again; so what? Should mom and pop buy those same links? I wouldn’t without many other great links to begin with and then I’d make sure to put the nofollow on them. Why? Because I don’t like that risk.

    I used Todd as an example as he told me he still will buy links occasionally, but for BIG brands. To me; that just doesn’t matter at all because either those links aren’t helping any or the brand has soooo many other great links that it just doesn’t matter.

    These arguments are the same arguments for years and years now. If we want to rant about something, why not about Google Adwords selling ad space to blackhats known to try their best to trick them at every turn? How about well known SEO folk out there selling to the same damn blackhats, but those same folks preach about being whitehat and do not spam. That’s something I would get behind. But this other stuff?…. just hyperbole BS in my opinion.

  78. Doug: I don’t think its fair to take one thing I said out of context and then turn this into a debate about the morality of paid links. I don’t care how many paid links small, medium or large sites are buying. That’s an entirely different issue, IMO.

    Personally, I don’t think the post was hyperbolic, though a few people have tried to sling that at me. I think the post is sad. I think it’s sad that good sites sometimes suffer because Google has marked the SEO they’re affiliated with as a Person of Internet. And fine, maybe its the SEOs fault in some cases, but Google isn’t punishing the SEO. They’re punishing the site.

    I guess I come from a place where I think sites should be judged on their merit and if they’re deserving of the ranking. Not whether or not Google thinks they know the “intent” of the person behind it. If an SEO and Joe Bob conduct the same PR campaign, the benefits should be equal, not less for the SEO because they “know the value of a link”. This isn’t a white hat/black hat debate. There’s no good vs evil. It’s about creating good sites, doing smart things and not being accused of being a cheat just because you’re an SEO.

    • I agree with Lisa wholeheartedly, in particular on her last statement.

      “If an SEO and Joe Bob conduct the same PR campaign, the benefits should be equal, not less for the SEO because they “know the value of a link”. This isn’t a white hat/black hat debate. There’s no good vs evil. It’s about creating good sites, doing smart things and not being accused of being a cheat just because you’re an SEO.”

      A level playing field is in order.

      Simple as that.

  79. I’m not an SEO but I wanted to learn more about the nofollow controversies so I began to read your article. Just amazing, Lisa. After making an overt attempt to associate your opponents behaviour with racism, do you really expect intelligent people to take anything you say seriously? If I look for more articles you’ve written, will I find that you like to argue reductio ad Hitlerum as well? Seriously, Lisa, all you achieve with ad hominem attacks is destroy your own credibility. I have no vested interest one way or another in the nofollow/SEO debate, don’t really have much knowledge of it, and never heard of Matt Cutts before. Unfortunately, if there was any useful or even partially accurate information in your article, you’ve camouflaged it well when you “used the [racism] card to misdirect the audience”.

  80. Jacques Ellul wrote a wonderful book entitled “Propaganda” (Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (New York: Vintage, 1973). Lisa, you brought up actual facts that “Google oprah’d 500 free Android phones” and that “Google received tens of thousands of free links to help the Android in a competitive telecom market.”

    First, propaganda relies on accurate facts, and Google certainly can’t deny them, but second and most important, propaganda deals with “intent” to create the motivation behind the facts – and Google has clearly done that here. They spun the intent to misdirect our attentions from the fact that an Android phone bringing recipients up to several hundreds of dollars bought or bribed thousands of links.

    The misdirection you speak about is known in magic as “patter” that preoccupies the minds of those being misdirected from discovering the true actions of the magician. “And I hold this Android phone here for you all to see…” all the while spinning intent, knowing that the Google profile of SEOs pegs SEOs as criminally minded “stupid, but extremely cunning and sly, and bear considerable watching” (as an old US Army Officers Manual described soldiers) …betting that this is exactly what a large percentage of SEOs would do with them – sell them, and then set up backlinks.

    That’s like a car dealership in a College Town giving some High School star athlete a new convertible – it’s not to influence him to choose to go to college in that town. No – it’s so he can, ah, you know, it’s just because we’re nice guys.

  81. Hi Lisa, I didn’t mean to say “your” article was hyerbole, but the overall industry seems to read all the stuff out there from prominent SEO’s and bloggers without seeing the bigger picture of things, and knowing the history/relationship of SEO’s and search engines.

    My point really is the fact that search engines have kept watch on known SEO’s since the beginning. This isn’t nothing new. If you use to be a blackhat, you were watched close than a whitehat. If you changed from black to white, the search engines knew it and many times would praise that fact in public. None of this is new at all. It’s mostly common sense stuff.

    The main point you and others are raising is that big brands get special treatment over mom and pop’s. That’s just not the case and never has been. In my example with Todd; the fact is large brands will hire a consultant to help them. Todd fixed things up directly with the site, etc, but he also helps the big brand “public relations” department to target the best publishers or sites where visitors hang around the big brand thinks have the most potential to become buyers. The PR dept will someone like Todd to target those sites and come up with how to spend their advertising dollars the right way. They might link ads or image ads or banner ads, or whatever. This PR dept does not give a hoot about Google and only wants targeted visitors.

    I use to consult for Sony on a web property years ago. I consulted first on the actual site and got things fixed. They also asked me to help their public relations dept about targeted ad buys. I declined as that’s not my thing. They didn’t care about Google as the PR dept doesn’t know what nofollow is anyway.

    It’s a matter of scale. Honda has lots of authority and trust. Just because someone can do research to discover that Honda or Audi or ANY other big brand has paid links/ads that are using nofollow virtually doesn’t mean a darn thing. If the same thing is done by that mom and pop, the risk is extreme as they don’t have that authority and trust. It’s really not a matter of Google profiling any SEO at all, but a matter of looking at the history and relationship between SE’s and SEO’s, and you can clearly see the common sense of it all.

    Michael gave me an example of Audi loaning a car to that Guy Kawasomething, and him blogging about his experience that put in a link to the audi car. So what? Does anyone really believe that Audi set out to buy blog links for the purpose of getting link juice? Not. Audi’s authority and trust is so high that a few blog links just doesn’t matter. Besides that, Audi’s public relations department could care less about link juice anyway and they certainly don’t know what a nofollow attribute is. lol Having thousands of natural incoming links sprinkled in with some blog links without a nofollow tag just doesn’t matter at all.

  82. Lisa, I put it to you that content creation is one of the most important aspects of Search Engine Optimization, so you are in fact an SEO – no matter what you want to call yourself or how you want to dance around the fact.

  83. Okay, let’s get one thing straight. Google is in this for the money, not some early forged idea that the Internet was going to emancipate excluded sections of society or provide a gender balancing solution for the World.

    Google cares about it’s brand and it’s algo… and protecting both at whatever cost. I see “High Risk” as defined as potentially high spending customers (PPC) getting free organic results. But frankly with the Local Verification, they’ll try and take those customers off you too.

    Every single thing that positively impacts on the brand either, perceived by the user, or perceived by Google of itself, is about brand recognition. And Boy, do they have a brand. A recent study showed that of the top 100 sites of Quantcast 81% had Google tracking code or web-bugs on them (www.knowprivacy.org).

    So, when there seems to be a contradiction in what is coming out of Matt’s mouth and what’s going on in practice, don’t be surprised. They really couldn’t give too hoots about you.

    Google is very VERY anxious about search at the moment. They are currently demonizing the SEO’ as they have done historically in order that they can make in-roads into trying to put people in the current Local Business Data Scramble Mamble. Frankly Google’s algo has changed a bit over the years, but it’s not really that great, and that goes against the grain of what many people say.

    If you wanna work with the search engines, go ahead. But you’ll get undone, because at the end of the day Google would far rather all SEO type stuff went through their paid ads than through some SEO able to circumvent an algo, and put you on the first page with no monthly PPC spend.

    SEO’s have always been watched, but thankfully without us Google or the other search engines would not have evolved either.

    I’m not bashing here, but I really can’t ben dealing with all that formality stuff via words..gotta go and get the results.

    So it’s love/hate.

  84. most of these google people who are shouting about this stuff are ex scammers, hackers and SEO’s. You can’t learn what they know without it.
    so they are just a bunch of hypocrites and snitches who have used there past as a way of getting in the corporate door and now want to crap on the rest of the SEO’s.

    They talk about scummy NOOBS entering the market and want to put them down. But truth is – these google gurus like Cutts are no better.

    Hypocrtical Black hats dressed in white.

  85. I think anytime you manipulate your site regardless of whether on-page Off-page, buying, selling, Press releases etc. you are playing in the SEO sandbox. After all it seems everything goes somewhere and Google goes everywhere. In my humble opinion looks like big brother sees it as “do as I say and not as I do.” Again thanks for another excellent post!

  86. Its funny that I posted an article no exactly along the lines of this one, but touching on the same area and just after posting came across two more all realted to this same subject. You can see my post here: http://www.justinparks.com/ranking-google-search-engine-optimisation/

    Im not sure about all this attitude and intent stuff thats being mentioned. I think “ethical” SEO or white hat as its referred to should be Googles greatest friend, after all this is ensuring that websites are designed in such as way as to make quality content EASIER to find. I realise they hate the black hat stuff, so they should, it messes up the results and leaves the user who performing the search unsatisfied.

    If SEOs where not about then Google would have one hell of a hard time finding the damn content in the first place as most sites would be in flash, not coded to standards, not updated or just so amateurish that no one would be interested in them anyway as they have blearing music and crash your browser. (Ok thats a pretty sweeping statement but Im sure you get my point).

    Oh well, makes life interesting I suppose.

  87. Seems I read in Google’s Adwords that you should optimize your landing pages to fit. All of this includes keywords, titles, use of header tags, etc..
    If that isn’t saying to SEO then I don’t know what is.
    I do know I am so very tired of all of the rules and regulations…
    I often feel as a kid in grade school that has to watch out what he does in fear of being reprimanded by the head master. Create and promote your site properly they say yet do not let us know that you are trying to promote your site?
    Thus the new dictionary term for Googled is: A state of confusion with a intense paranoia.

  88. Hi Ken; Nope. There is no confusion at all other than what the SEO industry drums up. It’s been as it’s always been. Don’t do anything that isn’t for your visitors and you should be just dandy. If what you do cannot be watched by a search engine employee looking over your shoulder, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. It’s actually kind of easy.

  89. “after all this is ensuring that websites are designed in such as way as to make quality content EASIER to find. I realise they hate the black hat stuff, so they should, it messes up the results and leaves the user who performing the search unsatisfied.”

    That’s good design and information architecture. SEO is about getting lots of traffic and not getting banned.

  90. Wow. What a crazy post and some even crazier comments! I reckon it highlights the fundamental problem with the SEO industry… “over[insert generic verb]“. Meaning over reacting, over thinking, over stating, over complicating etc… Come on guys! We all know that following the Google guidelines is the best way to deal with the beast. Keep it white hat and focus on user. Thats what gets results right?

    Google does profile SEOs. They’re identified as “high risk” and so are all of their associated projects.

    But what does this mean? All it means is that Google keeps an eye on what were up to, I’ve got SEO friends who observe Google looking through their blog posts. These are the same friends who have SEO footer links on clients sites… No problems occur tho!

    Sounds to me like the same illness that celebrities get… They market the hell out of themselves and then complain when they get the wrong sort of attention.

    And as for “Michael and his sites are profiled the same way a black kid is when he’s out too late and the convenience store on the corner gets robbed.” Maybe this isnt a scalable metaphor but come on guys you all know that the intent was not to cause offence.

  91. yawn webmaster wrote:
    “That’s good design and information architecture. SEO is about getting lots of traffic and not getting banned.”

    really? I guess I haven’t been doing SEO for 12 years then. Silly me.

    It’s been very clear to many why the industry is the way it is.

  92. I have personally been profiled by Google in the past. When I first started out 6 years ago I went the MFA spam route. I used the nick ogletree on webmasterworld and was very vocal about it. I was very naive and had no idea that being so outspoken would cost me so much. I was new and was just excited that it was so easy to make a lot of money. Within a month a site that was making $30k a month from adsense was completely hand banned in Google. I kept creating new sites and they kept banning them. It got to the point that any site with my adsense code on it got banned.

    I have since stopped doing that kind of thing. A few years ago I applied to a job at Google and ended up on the phone with somebody on Matt’s team. He had done his homework. He came at me with every thing I ever said on webmasterworld. I told him that was all in the past and I don’t do that any more. He spoke about Google like it was a religion. The comments I made on the forums about how to spam google offended him personally. Those guys are a little nuts over there. I think the only reason he got on the phone with me was to tell me what he thought of me.

  93. Lisa!!! Great blog post. How are you doing firstly. It has been a long time!

    Secondly – matt cutts is googles henchmen I really get upset when I read stuff like this. I have to just pass it over and honestly keep doing my own tactics.

    Just to list a few things matt says is SEO NO NO:

    Reciprocal linking – Yes I know its not the best way to harvest links. However if my intent is to get a small crappy directory get indexed, PR and some small rankings… well.. reciprocal links would work in this situation – NOTE: I would never use this for a serious campaign, its all about the “intent” of my campaign.

    Not linking to GOOGLE search urls like this matt cutts can suck it. Hmm I wonder why he is saying stuff like this??

    Paid links = BAD IDEA: Firstly why is he saying this? Because seo’s can manipulate googles algorithm and possibly make search results LESS relevant.

    Here is my point:

    I think overall he is just looking out for Googles best interest. Obviously the POWER of SEO getting into the wrong hands will inevitably make companies and individual SEO’s have power to disrupt Googles relavancy for monetary gain and having sites that are being SEO’d as high risk – just makes since for them. Google wants a high relavancy for its users because that is what makes them BETTER then MSN, Yahoo, Ask and all the others.

    However:

    What matt cutts forgets is that ethical SEO’s like ME ;-) and many of my friends in the industry HELP google be more relevant. So to out right call us criminals or HIGH risk is very debatable. Their own algorithm talks about link acquistion.

    Give me your opinion – What does this link from google mean to you?
    http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=34432

    Is it me or does that say that we can get highly relevant links to our website to increase our rankings?????

    Also look at this: http://www.google.com/corporate/tech.html

    There is a line that states: Traditional search engines rely heavily on how often a word appears on a web page. We use more than 200 signals, including our patented PageRank™ algorithm, to examine the entire link structure of the web and determine which pages are most important. We then conduct hypertext-matching analysis to determine which pages are relevant to the specific search being conducted. By combining overall importance and query-specific relevance, we’re able to put the most relevant and reliable results first.

    Hmm so to me that means as an SEO if I do these things for a site that obviously is relevant to queries we are optimizing for…. I am helping google..

    @Matt cutts:

    Where is my paycheck for helping you???? Google, where is my paycheck???

    Stop making us out to be criminals when you are in bed with Rand fishkin!

  94. I couldn’t agree more with your post. Candidly I’m surprised its taken so long for the seo and webmaster communities to start mobilizing around this issue. The idea that seo’s would be labeled as ‘high risk’ is an outrageous statement by Matt, and something contradictory to his post regarding Aaron Wall in 2007 http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/anti-google-claims-to-reply-or-not/. We spend a lot of time helping small businesses fix their onpage factors so that Google’s spider’s can understand the content – that makes me high risk? Hope this post doesn’t flag me as ‘contentious’!

  95. As for nuts your talking about a company that sees the owners review personally every CV at manager level and above. Take about lack of devolvement of responsibility.

  96. Simply a joke… anyone whose been around knows search engines have done profiling forever, Inktomi had “white knights” the community knew about it because someone got into a restraicted area. Yahoo! gave webmasters of the HTML writers guild a password to move us to the front of the que… What’s new?Oh yeah… someone selling advertising as citations for link authority? Let’s not assume all “profiling” is negative. Of course it’s negative when you think you should be held to the same standard as Google, you know… the guys payin’ the freight. links that mislead the public who damn well better know when a link is a link, not an asverstisement … there are laws you know? Micheal should know better… he’s just trying to do the same thing those of that ilk have done forever. The names have changed but the MO’s the same as cloakers and others who want to sell “screwin SE’s” as SEO. Sorry…. some of us recognize when you’re passin’ the blogger’s purple koolaid around!

  97. Lastly through all this nonsense No one has mentioned the fact Google penalized itself for buying links…. I believe it was China while competing with Baidu… So I guess they are at least holding themselves to the same standard as they are Micheal. If they profile their own staff should we expect any more? Matt when do I get my brownie points? What a joke….

  98. I agree with you 100% lisa. As you said, I am not that naive to believe that google will change but I really hope Google would try to come to some kind of comprimise. This is really going to far.

  99. A very good read and I liked your over the top. I am confused continuously on how advice is issued, generally contridicts itself and doesn’t actually help.
    By holding the “secret sauce” as a closely guarded secret and then penalising people for trying to make things work is just wrong. If it was a level playing field this kind of SEO wouldn’t need to take place. Its a shame that the advice given doesnt reflect what actually happens in the SERPs. If they did as they said, then maybe people would give it more respect. Keep shouting, someone will listen one day.

  100. What about press releases? Are they not paid links? Most people use these as a source for traffic and links.. Most PR sites offer SEO packages, so I don’t see how that isn’t paid links as well…

  101. Nice article. I’ve sat on the fence about ‘trying to become a well known SEO’ in my area while at the same time not saying anything about what I do. Its a fine line and one that SEO’s need to tread lightly. The big G has been using their power in this regard for quite some time. I think Bing and Yahoo will help slightly, but they need to take more market share away first.

  102. Awesome article. Google are massive hypocrites and their unintelligent algos can no more evaluate the quality of a site than they can evaluate the quality of a glass of wine. They employed this whole shady, false business of using popularity to ascertain quality and then they criticize others for attempting to manipulate popularity in order to thrive. Hypocrisy! The Emperor wears no clothes!
    The reason the internet used to be cool is that information was predominantly non-hierarchical in an overly hierarchical world. It was refreshing to find new, different stuff.
    Now, the internet has become a hierarchy.

  103. Absolutely love this post Lisa. My only regret is I didn’t get to it sooner. I’ve said for a while now Google is a monopoly it will take a court to stop…ask Bill Gates :) . I hate how they rule the web like “a Hitler” of sorts. If they don’t like you, they can just put you into a “we think you’re bad and it doesn’t matter if you’re not camp” or kill you. Keep in mind, I say this and still Google stuff….such a hypocrite or a good little trained monkey? Which ever…I’m in good company with the rest of the world.

  104. Hello,

    Lisa is 100% correct and many of the best SEO experts including myself agree with what she is saying in this article.

    Most are afraid the stand up to the evil Bully Google has become.

    You want solid undeniable proof?

    Then read this article:

    http://gototom2.blogspot.com/2009/09/warning-google-continues-to-penalize.html

    And if it is not true why does Google not sue me for libel?

    Answer: Because they have no case against me because I have email proof of what I say from Google. You can not win a libel law suit against someone if they are telling the truth.

  105. SEOs are divided in the good and the bad fraction.
    Each and everyone of us has to decide, whether it is better to follow the Guidelines, be a wise White-Hat SEO or a “criminal” one. I made my decision from the beginning on. Build your business on highering the real value and relevancy of web sites. It is much cheaper then being punished and in the aftermath lose everything.

  106. Technically, SEOs are trying to cheat Google.
    Technically they are Google enemies because by design they want google SERPS manipulated and hurt Google’s pockets.
    Technically google has bigger fish to fry: counter are still working to get backlinks and mega corps have site-wide links to 20 sites and nothing happens to them.

  107. No Wonder Rand Fishkin goes around kissing up to Matt Cutts and misrepresenting himself as white hat what hat white hat. Can he make that claim enough times inone one day? He gets to sell links and manipulate the results with pages like this: http://www.seomoz.org/pages/seo-consulting#clients. Whereas any other SEO get’s their less manipulative client list banned http://www.searchrank.com/clients.html. I guess being a tattle tell and teachers pet really does have it’s benefits!

  108. How does this show that Google is profiling SEO’s and not the rest of the blogging world? How else can you explain high profile A-List bloggers like Robert Scoble and Sarah Lacy accepting free all expense paid trips to Isreal and not getting penalized? How can Guy Kawasaki get “loaned” one, two, three cars in three years and still be within Google’s guidelines . …

  109. How does this show that Google is profiling SEO’s and not the rest of the blogging world? How else can you explain high profile A-List bloggers like Robert Scoble and Sarah Lacy accepting free all expense paid trips to Isreal and not getting penalized? How can Guy Kawasaki get “loaned” one, two, three cars in three years and still be within Google’s guidelines . …

  110. Just imagine the world WITHOUT some form of SEO…… Now there’s an interesting thought.

    I would imagine that just about EVERY website owner (who has SOME sort of idea) does SEO in some shape or form – whether it be to make a blog comment or build a profile somewhere or do bookmarking or write articles on high PR sites and ping everything or whatever. Trying to keep up with all that would be impossible – I guess. Maybe not for the big G.

    Perhaps the black/greyhat guys (who do major linkbuilding blasts of tens of thousands of links at a time) have something to answer for but we’re all just trying to make a living after all.

  111. Strataman–I think you’re right. Just about every website owner with a shred of knowledge at all is doing some form of SEO. My question is, is there some kind of threshhold for over-optimization? Like, if Google somehow thinks your site is over-optimized, are they going to penalize you? Anyone have any experience with this?

    • >> is there some kind of threshhold for over-optimization?

      You down with OOP? / Yeah, you know me / Who’s down with OOP? / Every last homie

      … or something like that. Yep, there is definitely an over-optimisation penalty (or rather a series of filters and penalties that do that job). Typically you’d see a term specific penalty (+10, +100), unless you *really* upset them, and get a big, fat, no-docs-returned-for-your-domain-name ban.

      I’ve worked directly on a few sites with these kinds of issues, and just turning down the offending behaviour is usually enough to lift the penalties, and get the site to it’s orginal ranking, or even better sometimes. I’ve always found that to be pretty compelling evidence

      Arm me with harmony ;)

  112. Thanks TallTroll! That’s the information I was wanting to hear. What do you think the threshhold is? Is there a particular keyword density that is just too much? Do you know the number?

    • It’s not so much about a magic number, which gets you banned if you go 0.1% over it, it’s more to do with the ratios of things on your site. If you stuff your title tag and meta desc with widget keywords, and have a sitewide footer link bar that has internal links to your pages for blue widgets, red widgets, cheap widgets, new widgets etc, theres a fair chance you’ll pick up a term specific penalty for “widgets”, but keep your rankings for “blue widgets”, “red widgets” etc

      If you then rejigged your textual elments to mention the gromits you also sell, mix up your anchor text a bit, and generally stop trying so hard, you may well find things improve. If one pass doesn’t do it, you can always try again, keep turning it down until the penalties fade.

      Basically, if you as a user think text is a bit repetitive and stilted because it’s keyword stuffed, and it’s hard to tell which link is which, there’s a fair chance the SEs dn’t like it either

  113. I’m impressed at the spunk of your passionate writing. You tread where others don’t dare tread and as a consumer and writer, I say bravo!

  114. Okay as a webmaster for several websites there is plenty going on in the industry. If exchanging links with other websites is consider wrong by Google, then why do so many people continue to do it? Of course this is not the paid one-way links, but reciprocal linking. This has been stated by certain SEO companies: Buying / exchanging links with other websites isn’t perfectly legal from Google’s point of view. Google can penalize your website if it comes to know of the same. Now, does this concept apply to the huge amount of directories on the internet that you pay for and they list you in a specific category or would this purchase of directory submission be fine since you can be listed in a relevant category? Which by the way has gotten out of hand. The list of directories is growing at an alarming rate. When will it “Stop”. Is it worth while to pay for directory submissions especially if Google is being selective about who does the submissions?

    The reciprocal linking really came into play when small businesses could not afford to pay for one-way linking. I myself have created a page for exchanging links. I created my own directory service to establish two-way links. Since I could not afford to pay for linking and don’t have enough time to blog all day, should I be penalized by Google or any search engine’s for that matter?

    Also if Google is being selective about who is doing the SEO, wouldn’t that mean that they are being selective about the software vendors being used to do the SEO?

    All comments welcome: Neo Symmetry Blog

  115. SEOers being criminals? That is just ridiculous and your article provides a good rationalised argument against. The bottom line is Google’s algorithm relies on links as its core metrics in determining rankings and until that changes, there is very little they can do to deter SEOs seeking links OR doing things with the sole ‘intention’ of getting links.

  116. “you can do whatever you want with your site, but it’s our index”

    Mike Arrington at Techcrunch recounted something in his Why we sold to AOL post which is something similar. He’d once said that it is his blog or something like that and a commenter said “No Mike, its our blog you just work here”.

    Likewise – No Google its not your index. Its ours. You just manage it.

  117. Yeah this is kind of sickening. I thought Eric Schmidt was bad enough, I had no idea that Matt Cutts was just as bad. Or worse. Then again, Schmidt is out, and Cutts is not. Looks like a lose-lose to me.

    Thanks for bringing to my attention, I had no idea Google was profiling like this. I’m going to have to do more research about this. Thanks again.

  118. Lisa, Well I am now a reader, you got me. I loved the article but I won’t link my site in the comments just in case the Big G is watching…Lol.

  119. This intent issue is ridiculous! So just because one individual knows the value that a link can bring, they get penalized whereas someone who just owns a bakery shop isn’t because she is giving away cupcakes just to promote her business? For all I know, perhaps the bakery owner DOES know a thing or two about SEO. Most smart business owners do have a clue or two and it’s not that hard to figure out SEO when so much info and webmaster resources are available online.

    Google’s attempt to figure out someone’s “intent” is very patronizing in my opinion. I think other people should be outraged too that Google makes assumptions about our intentions; it doesn’t make sense that two people would be treated differently just because of their intent.

    Also, I don’t think Google has enough resources to determine the intention of each website… How would it figure that one out?

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