Stepping Off the Drug-Fueled Animal Ledge


If the search industry was allowed just one blogger, I’d vote that blogger be Aaron Wall. No one covers this industry quite like Aaron Wall does and his post yesterday on how Google creates black hats was another testament to that. If you haven’t read Aaron’s post, please go do it now. Because it’s important. But then come back. I’ll be waiting.

Aaron’s post breaks down the post-Panda world we live in and what it’s done vs. what it was supposed to do. Specifically, Aaron talks about the small business owner who had his content and domain smacked down even after he thought he was doing everything right. He talks about how Google has the audacity to not only smack down the SMB, but to throw salt in the wound by ranking content syndicators and content scrapers of that same content higher than the original source.

Because it’s not that Google doesn’t like your outfit, it just likes it better when someone else is wearing it.

Aaron summarizes it like this:

So Google whacks your site, tells you to clean up your act (& increase your operating costs while decreasing your margins), lumps you in the bad actors group, offers no information about when the pain will (or even could) end, pays someone to steal your content, then ranks that stolen copy of your content above you in the search results.

What Aaron describes is often what I’m thinking about while pounding a 110lb at six in the morning. As a content owner, I get the frustration. I get that it’s frustrating to bend over backwards trying to play by Google’s rules only to get the shaft anyway. It’s frustrating to invest in content, only to see other people rank for your content or, in some cases, to rank for content that seems LESSER THAN what you’ve written. It’s disheartening, it’s crappy, and in the end, you just want to beat someone or something.

But you can’t. So where do you turn?

According to Aaron, it’s likely that you’ll turn to black hat search engine optimization and start “experimenting” with things Google doesn’t approve of. Things like:

  • Buying links.
  • Creating scraper Web sites.
  • Scaling and exploiting loopholes.

If that’s the ledge you’re on right now, take my hand and let me pull you off it.

We can do it together.

Before my career in search, I was a small-time athlete. And when you compete, you’re no stranger to the allure of shortcuts. You have members on your team who will skimp on the workout today, only to suffer for it come competition day. You also have members who will try and, er, enhance their performance, essentially damaging themselves and risking it long-term. And every day you have to make a decision: Become that “bad actor” that you promised you weren’t OR recommit to be better and to fight harder.

As a business owner, you don’t have the option to skip corners. You MUST fight harder because your business depends on it.

Fighting harder is what Outspoken Media was founded on.

We’re privileged to do SEO consulting for a lot of competitive clients rocking competitive keywords. And it’s a struggle sometimes. It’s a struggle to keep coming up with game plans that work and to keep ourselves a step ahead. It can also be a struggle to reinforce to some clients why it is we’re not going to buy links or become “bad actors”. Because you can’t blame them. When you see a competitor buying and scraping his way to the top, it’s tempting to go that route. I’d even say it’s natural to want to go that way…at least for a moment. But when that moment passes you need to remember why you’re investing in search engine optimization in the first place.

You’re investing in SEO to grow your business and your brand over the long-term. That is not done through shortcuts, through buying links, or through acting out because you’re PO’d at Google. It’s done through putting in the work.

  • It’s done through SEOing a Web site with Google’s intent in mind and thinking about where you’d go if YOU were Google. What would YOU value? What would YOU be looking for?
  • It’s about building a brand that users will come to trust. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re ranking if no one would touch your site without a rubber glove of protection. The search engines may rank your site, but it’s up to customers to buy from it.

When it looks like getting through the front door will take time, don’t immediately start eyeing the sledgehammer. Instead, trust your path but also start looking around for side doors. The side doors of social media, of video, of digital asset optimization, of building a defensible brand, etc. No one said the playing field was level, but there are other ways to help even it.

Aaron’s right that when you back an animal into a corner it will often react in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways. Looking for immediate fixes, immediate hits, and immediate pleasure is exactly what an animal would do. But are you an animal reacting on raw emotion or are you a business owner?

Do not risk your business and your future by becoming the animal Aaron hints at, the one looking for a quick fix and a way to juice up. Even more important than ranking in Google today is building a brand that people will want to associate themselves with tomorrow, one that will not only sustain, but will grow, in the long-term.

Investing in white hat search engine optimization over the long-term isn’t always sexy, but there’s value there. It’s about knowing that when the New York Times comes knocking on your door for a story it will be to write about your success, not to out you. It’s about knowing that you’re laying the groundwork to be the kind of brand that both users and the search engines will want to do business with.

It’s your choice: Act like a drug-fueled animal or act like a business. What are you going to do?

Your Comments

  • Daniel Redman


    Just playing devil’s advocate, but a lot of SEO’s will say that some of today’s best practice in SEO was yesterday’s black-hat. Do you not believe that pushing the edges of neutral hat color helps everyone get a little better?


  • Rufus Dogg

    LOL I think we’ve found our new logo :-)

  • trafficsmack

    As an SEO and an athlete myself, I have used the athlete analogy before. It is very accurate. The only thing businesses can do is to work harder and smarter.

  • Jeff

    Act like a business or a drug-fueled animal? Hmmmmm…

    I’d have to go with business, although you’re right, it’s tempting to join the black-hats because it works…in the short term at least.

    And, I think there is something sexy about creating a business that will be around for a long, long time.

    Well said.

  • Hugo

    Well done, Lisa. Well done.

    Hard as it is to believe, you can build a successful brand (and profitable business) without having a dominant share of natural search.

    It ain’t easy, but it can be done (and 9 times out of 10, it will lead to a significant share of organic search results).

  • Michelle Robbins

    Loved the post Lisa – just really, really, really wish we could all agree to stop talking in terms of “black hat” and “white hat” – no other industry does this, though every industry has both above board and shady tactics at their disposal for business promotion. I think it contributes to mass media and others not playing insider baseball with us painting SEO as an industry as not legit. I’d love to see the phrasing of these tactics in terms of risk, instead of hats :)

    • Lisa Barone

      I 100 percent agree with you on that. It’s divisive. Can I argue that Aaron started it? ;)

    • Scott Polk

      Michelle – completely agree .. this Black hat vs White Hat crap is old … really old. Risk Management, Risk Mitigation, and informed Clients/Websites are what it is all about. You take the risk and weigh it against the gains, then make a decision and go for it.

      Google is Google and that’s how it will be honestly. If you want to swim in the pool you really need to understand the rules and know where the life guard is.

  • Jerry McCarthy

    Time either promotes you or exposes you. It’s no secret that investing time and money into your business on Monday to reap the rewards on Wednesday will always lead to an eventual downfall. Though some people are incapable of seeing past the short term gain, it really goes back to revisiting why you started your business in the first place. It wasn’t about the money; was it? It was about the love of the game. It was about building something of value, leaving your mark, and (if you’re lucky) helping others a long the way. Don’t lose sight.
    We (white hat s.e.o. houses) will have the last laugh. Google may be able to make up the rules now because they’re so far ahead of the competition but history proves-consumers still dictate the value, not the other way around. If Black Hat continues to gain momentum, it will inevitably effect the quality of effective search. This will force them to adjust and when they do we will be on top. Thanks Lisa! Great point!

  • Kris Roadruck

    I hate to say this but… following the guidelines is risking your business just the same as not following them. Google has proved this time and time again.. panda being a perfect example. In sports they don’t keep moving the finish line or changing the rules. The comparison is flawed because google moves the finish line and changes the rules whenever it wants with little or no warning, with no explanation and without actually TELLING you what the new rules are that you are expected to compete by. If panda has proven anything its that listening to google could potentially destroy your business or at the very least make your margins so small that you might decide to close your doors yourself.

    What REALLY chaps my hide is the fact that google doesn’t even apply their arbitrary rules across the board. No they pick and choose who they are going to apply it to. I would absolutely love if google serps reflected some sort of meritorcracy. I’d swap my “hat” out in a heart beat if that were the case but its simply not. Anyone with an hour of time and a print screen button can show example after example of ways google is rewarding the wrong folks. It’s saddening.

  • Paul L'Acosta

    All good points Lisa. Risking to be categorized as a “smarty Alec”, your post boils down to one simple thing we should all strive to find in life: balance. See you soon! ~Paul

  • Anna

    Hi Lisa,

    The problem with is that it cannot determine the original source and flags sites (which are the original) are duplicates and scrapers.

    One could argue that this will encourage MORE black hat seo rather than less, which is very unfortunate.


  • Jim Rudnick

    @Lisa….yup, I’d have to agree that Aaron is a great blogger on all things SEO…but would also note that you ain’t too dang bad yourownself, eh!

    great post here. I love the rationale and the notes that in reality, only dang hard work works….all else is futile…and I’d add that for our own Canuck clients, the same is true, eh!



  • Dave Hood

    Lisa nice analogy with the athlete and the SEO marathon we are all running. I’m a big Aaron Walls fan, he does it right, but that being said within every SEO strategy there is going to be White Hat and Gray Hat stuff going on.

    I agree with Kris, I think you have to take it to the edge now. The rules are changes without any notice from Google. In the end for the business owner it’s not about PR it’s about ROI.

    On Aaron there is a video showing how a backlink placed on a high PR site can drive traffic and provide link juice. At the end of the video Aaron discloses the he actually paid he buddy to write that article and it was well worth the money he spent. Is this White Hat? Is this Black Hat? What it is to me is a great ROI on investment, Aaron got what he wanted traffic and link juice.

  • Fazal Mayar

    Good points Lisa. I get mad easily to seo consultants but seo work isnt easy at all…. especially for competitive keywords!

  • searchengineman

    Aaron Wall seems to be upset and rightfully so (I bet you he see’s first hand how many people are hurting). Once Facebook finally comes out with a decent Search Engine, in the walled garden maybe Webmasters will have a choice to move content and ADS over the Wall, with an alternative to Adsense and relevant eyeballs. Right now what choice do you have, Google can do what it wants. They own the ball.


  • Christina

    Is it the high street all over again? The small shop owner can’t keep up with the supermarkets and dissappears.

  • Ana | Traffic Generation Cafe

    I agree….

    Just read your comment policy, Lisa. :)

    I actually do agree that when it comes down to summing up SEO, Aaron Wall is it.

    As far as panda update… Some sites deserved it, some not so much, many that did deserve it, didn’t make the “list” – unfortunately.

    I am still getting just as many scraping trackbacks (at least I am getting the links, I suppose :), but still…


  • Joshua

    I saw a few of my sites go hay wire in the rankings. It made no sense why we moved up or down for certain keywords.

    Panda’s are so cute, the update should be Dragon!