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Wednesday, November 12th, 2003

Much A-Google About Spamming

 

Recently we have received a great deal of mail on the subject of SEO Spam, especially as it relates to Google. It seems lots of folk are complaining about the quality of the SERPs (search engine returns pages) at Google and the fact that many (not all) of the Top10 found at Google seem to have gotten there by using Spam tactics. We are getting a number of inquiries asking what a webmaster should do when they find their site(s) pushed out of the Top20 by sites using Spam and if SEOs should start using Spammy techniques on their client’s websites. These questions have raised a number of important ethical and practical discussions amongst the staff here and has generated more than one debate at our quarterly staff/client parties. At the risk of generating even more email, here are some of my thoughts on the issue.

First of all let’s examine the current state of the environment.

- Google is the worlds most popular search engine and provides results for many other search tools from directories such as Yahoo to online media such as the New York Times. Google’s reach is so massive it can only be described as the largest repository of information ever created by humans. Larger than the Library of Congress, Google pushes more data in one day than many governments do in a month. If your business depends on being found on the web, a Top20 placement at Google can make the difference between abundance and bankruptcy.

- As Google continues to base its ranking algorithm on the number and quality of incoming links, it is remarkably easy to manipulate if one is willing to use Spam-techniques.

- The SEO sector is one of the fastest growing service sectors on the Internet and the concept of “ethical SEO” is being diluted by a growing number of new service providers.

- As new technologies and features are introduced by Google, designing Spam-filters that don’t create more problems than they solve is increasingly difficult.

The crux of the debate at StepForth revolves around the question of how to best serve our clients without falling into the Spam-trap. On one hand, we see Spam-based campaigns being rewarded by Google, but on the other hand, we are committed to following what we consider “ethical SEO techniques” that stay within the guidelines published by Google and other search engines. We continue to feel that if some SEO practitioners use Spam techniques on a regular basis, those SEOs may poison the well we all draw our sustenance from for short-term gain and are doing their clients a disservice in the long-run. Regardless of our commitment to remaining on the SEO high-road, we still have clients paying us their hard-earned money to get results in an environment that sometimes seems dominated by “under-ethical” practices. Fortunately, the vast majority of our clients are in the Top10 under their chosen keyword phrases but there are three who’s listings are being displaced by sites using spam-techniques. Here’s our plan for these sites…

1/ Perform an in depth analysis of the Top5 sites under the keyword phrases our clients are targeting.

2/ Reverse engineer several elements (aside from the Spam) of the Top 5 sites including (but not necessarily limited to): keyword densities, link-densities, site mapping, and the use of titles – tags and text on the site.

3/ Compare results from our analysis with our client’s site(s).

4/ Simplify our client’s site(s) in order to present page-specific information in the most concise manner possible. It is important here to be sure the page represents one topic or theme only. If new sites(s) are needed to present completely different themes, we’ll recommend that the client use a sub-domain as opposed to misleading searchers with a new site. For example, StepForth accomplished this by creating news.stepforth.com, stats.stepforth.com, www.stepforth.com.

5/ Suggest each client participate in positive link-building and cooperative competition with others in their sector who are not direct competitors or chasing the exact same market group.

6/ Revisit their campaigns and add fresh optimized content on a weekly basis until they get into the Top20.

I believe it is only a matter of time before a massive clamp-down happens in regards to Spam. Google and other search tools only exist because people use them. Too much spam in any one place threatens user loyalty. Google and the other search engines do monitor their SERPs and are concerned with the quality of results shown. They owe their existence to displaying the strongest and most relevant results possible. There are many who predict Google going the way of Alta Vista if they don’t get their house in order soon. There are others, including myself, who figure the end-user is the ultimate arbiters of what does and does not work. The users decide what is and is not relevant to them and make their opinions known through their usage. As long as the majority of search engine sessions are conducted at or through Google, the users are clearly stating their preferences. As for the SEO sector, we owe our clients the highest levels of diligence and honesty. Don’t spam, it will come back to haunt you or your clients later.

In the meantime, I strongly suggest that SEO practitioners read and re-read the guidelines posted by Google, especially new SEOs. We provide a necessary service for webmasters and, when working properly, for the search engines themselves. It is very human to cheat if you know you will be rewarded for cheating. On the other hand, it is said that there are only two species of animals on the planet dumb enough to defecate in their own drinking water. The first is the Irish Wolfhound, a large but somewhat slow beast. The second species is humans.


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