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“Big Brother” Google Steps on SEOs

I like Google, I really do.  As a “white hat” Organic SEO company, Level343 has supported Google again and again.  When Google pushed for SEO guidelines, we backed them.  When they made it possible for people to see others’ houses on Google Maps, I thought, “Well, why not?  Just make sure your yard’s clean.”

A while back Google said it’s best to put “nofollow” on paid links and anyplace else you don’t want the crawlers going to.  Then, two days ago, Matt Cutts (part of Google’s Search Quality team) says don’t use the nofollow tag on anything but the paid links.

On his blog he points out that they’re changing the way things work at Big Brother Google again, because people are using the nofollow tag as “Page Rank Sculptors”.  Basically, people are trying to manipulate how PageRank flows through their site.

Now, this isn’t a big deal in and of itself.  In my mind, it’s just another instance of Google doing what Google does, as always.  A week or two ago, however, I came across a little tidbit of news that was plain shocking.  Although I’ve held my tongue up until this point, I just get more incensed the more I think about it.  In fact, it rubs me the wrong way so much that it moved me to post on Gabriella’s blog for the first time.

At the You & A conference with Matt Cutts, Cutts admitted that Google profiles SEOs!  Of course, this was a few weeks ago, so you can read about it all over the net:

Google Profiles SEO As Criminals – Outspoken Media

Google Profiles SEOs – Wolf Howl

To sum up the (justifiable, in my mind) outrage pouring through the Internet highways and byways, many SEOs, if not all, are as disgusted as I am.  Michael Gray, a well-known SEO consultant, stated in sarcastic frustration:

“My advice to you don’t involve anyone with SEO experience in any of your link building tactics, have it run entirely by a public relations person, and you should be fine, Google lets them get away with murder … or at least giving away free cars, cell phones, and all expense paid trips in exchange for links.”

Long and short, Cutts says that SEOs are “high risk” and “people who do things deliberately for links”.  Huh?  What?  He goes on the say that whether a link is above board or not is “a matter of intent”.  In other words, Google can now read your mind to find out whether a link is all about relevance or all about getting a “deliberate link”.  I think Lisa Barone said it the best in “Google Profiles SEO as Criminals” on Outspoken Media (link above):

“Google, 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.”

*Applause* Way to go Lisa!  Like I said at the beginning, Level343 is a white hat SEO company; we have done our best to make sure everything we do is above board so our clients don’t get penalized.  We push the need for strong, relevant content to our clients, our readers and anyone else who’s interested in optimizing their website.  Like Google, our main concern is the quality of your website; we want your visitors to come back for more – to come back for strong, informative content.

We don’t deal in link farms, paid links (except for advertising purposes) or any other kind of linking that could be considered black hat.  The fact that this doesn’t matter, that SEOs are considered “high risk” simply because we’re SEOs is a little too much for me to swallow quietly.

Michael Gray, Lisa Barone and several others are banding together to let people know about Google’s bad behavior.  Now, we’re chiming in, as well.  Pass the blogs and articles about this topic around.  Let other’s know that Google’s going above and beyond what’s right, accepted and legal.

Shame on you, Google.

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23 Responses

    1. When an SEO strategy is built around a strong online marketing campaign it has it’s own rules. Google has nothing to do with those. Whereas, relevance, community, and great copywriting is what organic SEO is all about, again nothing to do with Google. They are merely a search engine. 🙂

  1. I believe ethics in business is so important. I pride myself on being a white hat SEO firm. With so many black hat firms giving SEO’s a bad reputation, my work ethic and practice remains organic and I have done zero marketing or PR and remain successful. My clients are best referrals for new business.

    1. It’s always nice to have a fellow white-hatter give their two-cents, Matthew 🙂 I try to remember that, without black hat work to show the difference, we wouldn’t stand out from the crowd, but – well, lol let’s just say I’m glad to be be on this side of the line. I’d probably hate me if I wasn’t. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      1. Yea, it helps us and it hurts us. Some Black Hat offers, the easy growth, even temporary growth, is too tempting to pass up for some folks.

        We just have to keep on keepin on lol.

  2. I’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks and this is the first I have read about this. Nuts! I too think it was very irresponsible on their behalf to say the things they did. JR – I totally dig your comment about the snake oil salesmen… If a site is not of value, I do not promote it. I only promote sites and products that are great things and use my knowledge to improve my customers to finding me. I can guarantee once they have found the sites, they are very pleased with what they find.

    Let’s just hope in your case that this does not leak into the client world. I do SEO for myself so I know I’m a legit lady. 🙂 Nice post.

    1. lol, Jodi – isn’t amazing what you find out when you come up for air? As it is, this passed me by a few days before I found out about it. And that’s WITH all the feeds I have coming into my inbox. You can’t keep up with everything all the time, but it’s always a surprise when something like this comes up. My first thought was “who do they think they are?” Of course, the thought that came quickly after was, “duh – Google”. As for leaking out into the client world – I’m kind of up in the air about that. Would it be better or worse? Would clients then be looking for “legit” SEOs? Level343 is doing well, but not so well that I enjoy turning clients away who insist the use of tactics that aren’t above board. Maybe a little eyeopener would help them understand why we’re so adamant about it. Then again, maybe not. Thanks for the comment, Jodie!

      Karl – The idea of Google being another Microsoft (as mentioned in the original report by the post), isn’t a new one. They’ve become as much of a conglomerate as many large corporations. It doesn’t bother me, the thought of Google hand-in-hand with Yahoo. What bothers me is that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Businesses get big and all of a sudden others don’t count. Most of us commenting here and on other blogs dealing with the same subject may be just a bunch of “little guys”, but we have a big voice if we only decide to use it. Here, at least on this subject, we’re exercising that voice.

  3. To be the devil’s advocate, I can totally understand why Google has some ill feelings towards SEO professionals. Twitter is saturated with “jobbers” who constantly try to add me as their 20,000th follower when they’ve only tweeted 58 times (hmph?).

    Still, the overall utility of SEO is a real value to businesses and individuals. People use search engines to find information that they need. There should be a solid way to get your information to a selected market without being sobotaged by the technology you’re using. Rendering SEO tactics useless doesn’t benefit anyone except Google, which will further monopolize their hold on search engine markets.

  4. I’m all for Google paying some people to go to the sites on the top 20 of the SERP and if their unrelated sites to their key terms, giving them a penalty. I would even pay to have them research my site. Lol

    I never personally use black hat tactics. I do see how some sites get ranked close to mine by copying my keywords and code and then adding black hat move close to my site on the organic searches. These are the things Google should be looking at with their algorithums.

    It seems Google keeps fighting spammers with their releases and therefore create their own double standards. You can’t always have the answers but you can’t always set your responses in stone either. It does make you look like a bully when you present it as “your index” and not that it grows from its users.

    1. SEO Web – I couldn’t agree more. It shouldn’t be “all hail Google”, and they shouldn’t use their rating as an intimidation factor. “You can do what you want with your website, but it’s our index.”

      I am beginning to wonder, though – how many white hats actively talk about the “side affects” of black hat? For that matter, are there more of them than there are of us? Maybe we should start making neighborhood black hat watch programs… hmmmm….

      JRMoreau – lol, JR. I just need one more follower to reach 20,001! Come on!
      I think part of the problem is that we ARE the bad guys of the Internet, ruining the online experience for everyone – at least, that’s the party line for a lot of people. SEO tactics as a whole have value; it’s the stuff people put out thinking it will get them where they want to be in the shortest amount of time, however…that’s what we’re fighting. Those aren’t SEO tactics; those are “stomping” tactics. Saturating the net with 1,000 occurrences of the same article, building up a doorway site, etc. All of that is attributed to SEO. Somehow we have to figure out how to show what SEO really does, what it’s for and how it works. Maybe the SEO profession et total needs PR management?

      Thanks for the comments!

  5. We can get mad, yell and scream, and write post about how much we don’t like what Google does but what will really happen. They control the lion’s share of the search market and they are way too big to ignore for your own efforts and certainly for your clients.
    Google has always maintained that the only thing that will make you rank well is good content. SEO’s have tried analyzing keyword density, how Googlw determines PageRank, and other tactics to game the system and Google has to respond by changing its tactics. If people focused on good content with a few basic tactics thrown in for good measure it would benefit everybody as a whole.

    Disclaimer: I am going to school majoring in Internet Marketing so I can learn good SEO. I’m not a hypocrite, I just want to know the basic tactics so I know what to add to good content.

    1. Chris – I can’t say that I disagree. I really can’t. For a long time we have pushed good content, with a set of “best practices” mixed in. Optimized website code? Absolutely – it’s just plain good practice, and it makes it easier for blind people to visit as well. Linking throughout the site? Again, a no brainer. Even link building has its uses as long as it isn’t overdone. One of the things I say to our clients, however, is this: what good is a lot of traffic if your content stinks? It’s what keeps people coming – not the links, not the ranking, not the PR. My opinion of what should be done matches SEOWebHelp’s comment almost exactly. Instead of stomping on SEOs in general, go hit the top 20. If you find black hat tactics, fine them and leave the others alone. Now, we may not be able to do anything in the long run other than let Google know we’re unhappy – but that’s the point. SEOs may not be able to afford ignoring Google all together with client websites, but – you know how Google is always watching the sites? Well, Google needs to know that we’re watching THEM… and not always just to find out what hoops we should jump through.

      Thanks for the comment, Chris, and good luck on getting the major!

  6. You know, I’m tempted to think that this is just a way for Google to show who exactly wears the pants in the relationship. Not to mention all of these messages about SEO profiling are occurring right after the launch of Bing. Google could be sweating over it and is now looking for a way to motivate/excite/agitate SEO practitioners to focusing on them, not on the potential of Bing. It’s true, Google does own the largest piece of the search pie. But like most things on the internet, we could see change happen.

    I really enjoyed having a conversation with Gabriella about this via Twitter and I think that clarity needs to be the first mode of action for Google. It’s not wise nor profitable for them to start profiling the internet marketers that help their business flourish. Nor is it acceptable for SEOs to walk away. I think we have to ask for Google to set the parameters, make their intentions clear, and be transparent. It may seem like too much to ask for but it’s the only way this conflict could be dissolved.

    …or we could just make up some sort of imaginary system where Google is the only thing with a perfect score. Oh, wait, that’s Page Rank 🙂

    1. lol, Mandy – I love the Page Rank comment!

      Jon, there are a lot of things in your comment I agree with. I know we’re the “Internet Outcasts” – I know it, I know it and I know it. Knowing it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. I love what I do and I get a kick out of doing it. I like hearing clients get all excited the day they hit the front page; it’s like having my cake and eating it too. I don’t even mind Google changing the algorithms. It’s a challenge. I understand, as a user and as an optimizer, the urge to “clean up the Net” from all the crap that came along when, as you said “SEO was just keyword stuffing and bad link building”.

      And that’s just the point, I think. Maybe I’m taking it personally… okay, hell, yes, I’m taking it personally. Why? Maybe it’s because I don’t have the 7 years or more of experience and still think I can change the world. lol I’m a little bit shy of the 7 year mark. Maybe it’s because I’m frustrated with the Internet the way it is myself, and spend more time explaining to potential clients why they probably wouldn’t want to populate the net with 1 article across 500 sites than I do actually doing my job. Or – it could be that I’m miffed because, no matter how much I hate to say it… no matter how much I agree with what Lisa said in her article, it does boil down to “if you want to play with the Big Dogs, you’ll have to play with Google, too”.

      Oh, and Mandy – I wouldn’t put it past ’em. lol They could definitely be looking for a way to make sure practitioners don’t focus on Bing. But really… Bing, Yahoo!, Google… I’m not focusing all my efforts on Google any more than I would on Bing. Like Michael said (thanks Michael!), “don’t rely on Google for traffic”. OH! Maybe that’s it… they don’t want to share the search percentage? Maybe they’re jealous of the little guys? Watch… Bing will blow up and Google will buy them out.

      Thanks to everyone for commenting and passing the news along!

    1. lolol omg that is funny. Not sure if I am being paranoid but, since we have posted this article my Firefox, Yahoo messenger, and Safari kept freezing then crashing. lolol okay I know I am being paranoid but I have never felt this passionate about a story especially where my bread & butter is involved. Finally after restarting my computer and clearing all cookies & cache I stopped crashing… is someone watching?

  7. Google feels that PageRank and SERPs positioning should be awarded solely on the merits of the content. More specifically, not only the content on the page, but the treatment of that content by other people (links, bumping up or down in Search Wiki).

    Nofollowing links does not constitute content, nor is it a content strategy. Creating links in the first place, however, is. Google wants to be the only entity that can control PageRank, because they invented it for their own ends (and also the nofollow tag, which is NOT part of the HTML specification).

    The real lesson here is not to rely on Google for your traffic. Take steps to diversify your traffic sources and balance out your referrers. Spread the risk, and you don’t have to worry about what Google says out of either side of its mouth.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. My beef with Google is the profiling they do. You are well aware of the controversy that is one of the reasons I wanted to see your opinion on this topic. We follow their guidelines, always have and no we are not concerned… But in the long run it really upsets me to see this sort of treatment taking place when it’s our bread & butter. I have always told clients don’t worry about Google what we can do for you is give you traffic the smart way. The people that will read your blogs are there because the topic is of interest. Not because we did something shady, or bought links. With that speech comes the “tough” love. You want to get conversions then you have to be patient, you have to establish yourself and you have to be willing to commit to ethical, natural, organic results. Do they listen? lol I cannot tell you how many clients we have turned away that wanted fast and dirty. Michael thanks for your encouragement it means a lot!

  8. It could just be me but I have sort of accepted the idea that the job I do is both not understood and not appreciated. And that’s not just by Google but by the world as a whole. I have spent more time in the last 7 years I’ve been doing SEO defending the “art” of SEO then really performing that art. So to have Google come out and admit it in public doesn’t really shock me. There were way to many years where SEO was just keyword stuffing and bad link building that people don’t understand that a true SEO practitioner is a skilled artisan and not a simple PR person that know what a link is for. I am in no way condoning this mind set but to pull an analogy from your article I’m like that black kid walking down the wrong street, if the cop didn’t hassle me I would wonder what was wrong.

    This doesn’t mean that the perception can’t be changed and that others won’t start to see the true nature of what we do but it isn’t going to happen this week by Friday. Perception is reality so accept that no matter what you do today tomorrow you will still be a black hat SEO person and no matter what you do tomorrow you will still be a black hat SEO person the day after that, but like the black kid on the street with enough time of not being evil just for being, you will start to get the respect you deserve and on that day then you can dance in the sunlight and call it a good day. Until then do what you do the way you know it should be done and let them place the label they want on you, it will change so don’t show them the label is correct redefine the label.

    I for one will be happy with my grey hat and wear it proudly till they take it from my head by force.

    1. Bottom line is we don’t care about PR, what we do care about is conversions. We do that for our clients, actually we have been so busy working on our clients projects and we forget about us…lol Isn’t that the way things work. Jahnelle has been putting in extra time cleaning our site up and that is what pisses me off. The little time we do have to work on our site seems to go unnoticed. We are honest, smart, and reliable so all this profiling pisses me off especially when the attitude of Big Brother is “do as I say and not as I do.”

  9. Thanks for the comment, Sean. I’ve been kvetching to a friend of mine about it and that’s basically my complaint. I’m not a “snake-oil” salesman; I think that, to provide our clients with real value goes hand in hand with providing their clients/customers/visitors with real value. Lumping me and others like me in with “jobbers” (I love it!) just plain ticks me off.

    Makes me want to go link farming just because. I wouldn’t – but I want to. lol

  10. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! It’s so easy for Google and others to bash SEOs because the school of thought on SEOs differs. Some see real value and appreciate the services you provide. Others still have this “snake oil” view of the entire process.
    Like anything else that exists, there are ways to job the system. But using such a broad brush to paint all SEOs as “jobbers” is unfortunate and short-sighted on Google’s part.
    How does this work into the “do no evil” mantra that is constantly pitched by Larry and Sergey? The boys got some ‘splainin’ to do.


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