Be sure to read this “too hot to handle” guest post by Gabriella Sannino, Owner/Operator, partner, Marketing Consultant, Head of Business Development and senior SEO Copywriting strategist at Level343. Follow her on Twitter @SEOCopy and @Level343.
Google algorithms, paid links, shady SEO services – these things used to make the online pages of such places as Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable and, more recently Search News Central. In other words, not mainstream, national news for the most part. Why? Because nobody really cared except us SEO professionals and maybe some site owners.
Over the last year, however, SEO (or some forms of it) have hit the main stream in waves, thanks to the New York Times. Go, go, NYT…
November 2010, the New York Times released a long article by David Segal about Vitaly Borker, bad man of the Internet. Owner of Decormyeyes, Mr. Borker threatened a customer with sexual harassment, sent menacing emails and sent her a photograph of her apartment building.
I can see why this is worth reporting in a national newspaper as a warning to other individuals who might be buying online. I can see the reason why NYT published the story about Google altering its algorithms. Especially when they could correctly report that, “The change was prompted by an article in The New York Times on Sunday about Vitaly Borker, a Brooklyn-based online seller of eyeglasses.”
I can even see why they reported about his subsequent arrest. The man seems to be a maniac. However, he was smart enough to find a loophole in Google’s algorithm and exploit it through – of all things – customer complaints. Here, the NYT plays the hero, saves the damsel in distress and does away with the bad guy. It was good news; it faded from the front page and disappeared.
Now, I’m not sure if they just got a huge boost of traffic from the post or what, but somehow they seem to have decided they’re Google’s new SEO bulldog.
In February of this year, Segal came back with an expose about the “dirty little secrets” of search. It seems somebody just happened to notice that JCPenney was beating out other major players in search for a lot of terms. Segal writes, “But Google’s (emphasis is mine) stated goal is to sift through every corner of the Internet and find the most important, relevant Web sites.”
He talks about black hat optimization, calling it a “dark art”. He warns that “trafficking” in these dark arts “risks the wrath of Google”. He describes a black hat link builder who was interviewed for the story, making the link builder sound like someone out a spy movie. In all this crap disguised as investigative reporting, Segal asks, just once, if maybe Google might have willingly gamed their own system to help one of its largest advertisers.
The Wall Street Journal grabs on to someone outing Overstock in a Webmaster World Forum and reports it. The difference between the WSJ article and the NYT articles is the big “S” word: sensationalism. WSJ reporter, Amir Efrati, keeps to the facts. David Segal of NYT makes SEO, especially black hat SEO, sound like a threat to national security.
Now, for the most part, I’ve just growled, shrugged and gone on. I mean, we don’t deal in paid links, we’re considered a “white hat” SEO company, and this stuff doesn’t affect our clients. – And then the NYT pops up again with a search for Mother’s Day flowers.
Get Off the High Horse
Really? Again, the NYT shoves a bunch of links in Google’s face. Somebody, somehow, had enough time to get a list of 6,000 back links for sites like Teleflora, FTD, 1800Flowers and ProFlowers. Some unnamed Internet marketing experts said these companies are using strategies that violate Google’s guidelines.
Like a good little bulldog, the NYT brings a package of supposed goodies to Google. Google looks the package over and says, “Well, no – these links don’t have a significant impact.” In other words, this isn’t a package of goodies; it’s a package of crap.
That should have been enough to drop it, right? Google says there’s no story. However, Segal rewords the Google quote to say, well yeah, these companies are trying to game the system, but, since Google’s gotten better, the “Internet subterfuge” failed – and then proceeds to go further into all this great, helpful-to-the-world information. All in a national newspaper, mind you.
Failure to Report
What the NYT is failing to talk about, and failing to write about, is that people in every industry will exploit a given loop hole. What they aren’t sharing is the fact that Google’s algorithms have loopholes. They aren’t talking about the fact that the search engine algorithms are imperfect.
Is Google trying to up their search quality? Yes. Have they succeeded? Ummm… no. So when is the NYT going to start reporting about that? Hmmm?
Take, for instance, the fallout of the Panda update. I’m not talking about the sites that lost major traffic. I’m talking the actual search results. Take, for instance, a post written over at Web Pro News, which points out that “quality results” are relative. Read the article, and then tell me how eHow can be more authoritative than say, the National Cancer Institute on a search for “level 4 brain cancer”?
Or how about source attribution? What does it say about the search results when you can’t even rank number one for your own content? So, we’re supposed to be good little girls and boys, pushing out this hand crafted, original, interesting content? In the meantime, Google’s promoting content scrapper sites; you know, the ones that steal your fresh, interesting content and make it their own?
When did you, the New York Times, or you, the idiot who decided due diligence outings were the ‘in thing’, get officially designated as Google’s little dog? Not even a cool dog, like German Shepherds, but annoying, mangy little ankle biters.
All this outing and so-called in depth reporting does is give the search marketing industry a bad reputation. Of course, when you have a leash around your neck as pretty as the one Google gives you, who cares that you’re somebody’s little animal… right?