I hate SEO. There. I said it. Quite strong, I know, but I can’t help the mounting connotations the acronym invokes in my mind when it’s mentioned these days. I have no problem with the actual meaning of the phrase. Its more of what the term has morphed into in recent years. It's what comes to mind when the phrase is mentioned. Its now almost synonymous with SPAM, cold calling, junk email and hard sale.
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Historically, like the spread on an infectious disease, we (and let’s face it, we all had a hand in this, it’s just that some of us have grown up and evolved with the times) have taken everything that is pure and beautiful with the way the internet interconnects, communicates and lives and slowly but surely destroyed it for our own selfish greedy needs.
Ok, slightly overdramatic but it has taken a single email response for me to come to that conclusion. You see, we have been working extremely hard on a campaign for one of our clients. We collected and collated hundreds of facts about smoking, categorised them into 4 separate categories and then whittled them down to 4 or 6 for each category. We then got Andy, our extremely talented graphic designer to design an infographics around those facts. It was titled The True Cost of Smoking and it was, even if I do say so myself, superb.
The outreach stage went quite well. Many bloggers replied stating how much they liked the blog and infographics. However, amongst the positive emails we received we also received quite a few, obviously automated or cut/pasted jobs such as the one below:
So we spent hours collecting the information, processing it, further hours designing the graphics and without even asking for a link back (in the hope that common decency will prevail and credit will be given naturally) and we get a request for payment. Really?
The problem is that today, even the infographic’s future as a marketing tool is in doubt. Like everything else on this path, it has been abused to such an extent that what used to be an engaging, creative and informative way of bringing information to life, now conjures up a silent but growing “not another infographics” grunt as a response. You see its not poor Jemma’s fault really. It is ours. We, as an industry are responsible for bombarding her with thousands of requests for links to questionable blog posts that contain nothing but some tedious, poorly written text with some shoddy website generated, pointless infographics blunting her reaction to them in such a way that all she does now is robotically send out payment requests in return; probably without even bothering to click on the link, let alone actually reading the content or examining the infographics.
We are here once again. In the same spot we were when directories were first mass produced and used as a linking tool. The same spot we were when people realised that the influence of articles can be harvested and massive article submission offers were used as a genuine SEO tool. The same spot where we were when people realised that those innocent comments on blogs, originally designed to enable networking between bloggers, can now be automated causing billions of crud-infested links pointing to some of the worst corners of the internet.
The cycle is the same every time. Reputable Online Marketeers find a way to please the search engines ecosystem while SEOs find ways of degrading it to the point that it becomes dangerous.
Online marketers innovate -> Spammers copy, modify and abuse -> Google nukes the whole area as a response. The cycle continues. Real losers? The innovators.
The solution? In this game of cat and mouse between Google and spammers, the only solution is educating the milk bearer. The ones that keep the spammers going. The unaware client who is relentlessly assured that the £250/month SEO that he is investing in is producing natural, organic, white hat, evergreen, kosher links; The client that is being lied to but does not have the knowledge or tools to assess this for him/her self.
You would think that all of the above is starting to sink in. Dodgy link building is dead. After all, talk about online marketing, branding, content creation, content outreach and the famous mantra of content is king is everywhere these days. People are aware that the old ways open themselves up to penalties right? Well, you would be wrong.
Next time you get a call from a client flabbergasted by your SEO retainer pricing, don’t be surprised when he/she tells you that a competitor offering “natural SEO” has quoted them around a quarter of what you have. What they don’t mention is that their definition of “natural SEO” is vastly different from yours or in most cases, Google’s.
So we decided to do a test. We typed in the words “SEO services” into google search box and Vince Cuibus, our new SEO Exec compiled a list of the first 100 SEO agencies. He then visited each and every one of them and started searching for indicators on what they consider to be natural link building campaign. What He found was quite astonishing. Out of the 100 sites checked:
31% of companies still unashamedly offer: directory links, blog commenting, forum links - Some of these websites displayed their toxic link building techniques quite clearly and in plain view while others hide it quite well. Here are some examples:
This site blatently offering blog commenting service:
This site is offering Link Directory submissions "as standard"
This site buried its real link building techniques in it Terms Of Service where no client is likely to ever really look:
25% of companies, although not mentioning it directly, obviously carried out spammy link building. We came to that conclusion because one or more of the below was true.
- Asking them directly via online chat, phone or email received very evasive answers to the question on how they carry out their link building clearly suggesting they have something to hide. After all, if you carry out link building naturally, you would have no reason to not explain this.
- Pricing. If no link building tactics were detailed and prices were extremely low (<£250/month) or arranged in vague packages then it’s safe to assume that the methods are less than natural.
- Examining the website and reading between the lines. Mentions of “secret methods” or tell-tale signs such as guaranteeing that the links will stay live for a specific period of time.
44% of companies use natural link building methods such as research, content marketing / outreach
These are the guys that say the right thing. Obviously, we have not verified whether they actually practice what they preach and to be honest, in my ever increasing age/cynicism parallel vectors (both pointing in the wrong direction), I would not be surprised if a large chunk of those don’t actually do what they claim to.
If you are interested in the raw data file from the study, its here. We have removed the urls for obvious reasons.
You would think that online marketing experts are starting to realise that not all tactics used should be shared and written about for the sake of some links. We, as a company for example have some habits, procedures or tactics that work for us in the 3 main areas of any online marketing campaign (idea generation, Content creation and outreach) that are kept to ourselves. Not because we are greedy or don’t like to share, but just because I’m fully aware that as soon as I write my first “5 ways to improve outreach” blog, someone, somewhere will find a way of thoroughly deconstructing it and before you can say “Fiverr”…erm... It will be on Fiverr.