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SEOs are not Criminals

Written by David Harry   
Tuesday, 09 June 2009 12:48

They are the enemy

Hi there… my name is Dave, and I am an algoholic…

The other day someone asked me via instant messenger about some patents for an area one particular SEO was doing some research in. After suggesting a few patents and research papers and chatting, they asked, “don’t you get nasty emails from the search engines because you pick things apart?”

That’s a pretty interesting question because much of the time search optimizers tend to see themselves as facilitators. They don’t seem to understand the true nature of our relationship with search engines. We are not partners my friends, but we aren’t viewed as criminals either… we are in truth, the enemy. The oddity continued when 'Lisa the Outspoken' had her bubble burst to find SEOs weren't held in high regard (jeez Lis' ya coulda come to me...woulda' set ya straight). To say that we help change the search engines (in a positive way) is like saying weapons of mass destruction have evolved in a constructive manner due to the arms race.

If you believe we’re peas in a pod, it’s time for a little reality check methinks my friends….

Search Adversaries

Adversarial Information Retrieval

Maybe I’m jaded, but it’s always been my understanding that most in the IR world aren’t happy when people mess with their best intentions. Hell, I can even understand the lament. This is the whole point of AIR ( adversarial information retrieval ) - which is an entire school of thought for dealing with those that would manipulate the index. It’s seems more than a little obvious that search engine ‘optimizers’ wouldn’t be having too many nights at the pub with these folks.

It does make me wonder why the hell ‘ol Matt even bothers with us at all (keep your friends close and your enemies closer?). My dear SEO geeks and phreaks, don’t get deluded and start to believe you are driving some type of positive change and that the search engines welcome you into the fraternity of search evolution.

Breath of fresh AIR


Laying down with dogs

Now that we have that out of the way; why not some honesty? Have your SEEN some of the activities going on out there with some of those in our little SEO family? There is a TON of really crappy strategies that are polluting the net with reams of web garbage. During the course of our activities we can certainly try to do our best to minimize direct manipulation. You can work on the technical aspects (KW research, structural/technological elements) and create content/resources to give the best possible chance of truly organic success…sadly it seems the exception, not the rule.

Does Google actively devalue web sites/pages that have the footprint of an SEO behind the scenes? I highly doubt that. Does Google understand the footprint of active manipulation? Sure… and when a crappy SEO comes along and makes a fckn mess of things, that site/page most certainly is at risk. But it’s just like a bear chasing us through the forest; I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.


The fine line

Along the way I’ve been privy to a wide variety of situations where sites have run afoul of the mighty G. Not sites that I have directly worked on, but have been asked to look at problems once they arise. One thing that can be said, Google will work with website owners and do not take glee in tanking sites, never mind targeting them. To those that have fashioned lovely tin foil accessories, you can be sure there is more to the story.

There really is a point where facilitating and manipulating meets and walking that tightrope is a HUGE part of being a SEO. Or at least one that doesn’t get on the wrong side of the line and then complain about the search engines self-defense tactics. The last time I checked, search engines are public corporations with their own interests and free (within legal frameworks) to run their companies as they see fit (as am I).

I’ve said it before… things aren’t always fair.


SEO = Search Engine Opportunist

And so my friends, search engines do not regard us as one would a criminal, we are adversaries. As such, you should keep your head down and seek to out run the others while not making an obvious spectacle of yourself. That is my ‘Zen of SEO’ – think organic and be organic – never poke a sleeping dragon.

They understand that most major brands/sites are utilizing optimization techniques to some extent and aren’t arbitrarily targeting you. But they sure are aware of you… (cause we can’t stop writing about it – hee hee). There was really never any doubt that SEOs weren’t in the search engine’s good books or on the Xmas card mailing list (that’s the PPC guys). So please… stop grumbling about neither Google nor any other search engine; tis a pointless endeavour IMHO.




P.S. - Lisa ( and Michael ) was upset about some odd linking practices and it is important to note what Matt said recently;

"If you’re running a contest, don’t make it your goal to get links. Never require that people link to you in order to possibly win the contest.  Social media is about buzz, not getting links.  The links are the after effect."


"The closer you get to money for links, the higher risk we consider it."

There really is an important distinction to be made here as we were reporting last week about the Greenpeace contest (which they have since changed). It is about the intent and what each search engine makes of said intent. Sure, the lines aren't always a clear as we'd like, but what in life is? ( as for the 'after effect' read; social media and link building )


P.S.S; it is worth saying that in my experiences with the search engine folks, they have been reasonable and accommodating. If the roles were reversed, I’m unsure I’d be so giving. The fine peeps in the information retrieval world (and AIR) are by and large some groovy geeks and my obsession gives me high regard for their efforts. Thus I may be biased for not wearing as much tin-foil as others in the game…..

ADDED; ...and since we're throwing it to Lisa and Michael, might as well add a late entry to Susan at BC with her take on it all...



0 # Abhishek Bhardwaj 2009-06-09 15:33
Hi Dave... You've got a point there when you say SEO's are adversaries to Search Engines but may be not all of them.

If an SEO does the job with a holy mind (the idealistic organic way) then it is better for both the searcher and the search engine because then the most relevant information gets to the top.

But if SEO's try to get greedy (you know - quick results, paid links, keyword spams etc etc) then yes, in a way Search Engines are going to get wary of them and they'll never get an Xmas Card from Google.

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0 # Dave 2009-06-09 16:02
Oh make no mistake that, by and large, those that manipulate the search engines are not held in high regard by search engineers. And I didn't make up the term 'adversarial information retrieval' - that is what it is... I've never seen a research paper that speaks of such manipulations in a good light - and that is more of what I am speaking about.

And to be honest, outside of some folks at Google, most of the engines don't exactly have much of an webmaster/SEO outreach program.

If we are simply nailing down the onsite elements (within known guidelines) and looking to create an organic link profile, we are certainly engaging in manipulation of the engines... I'd venture that it is a love hate relationship that they tolerate at best...

Kinda funny too when we know that Microsoft has SEO services...and Yahoo has a patent on automated SEO programs (likely for Yahoo stores).

What I was trying to highlight, at the end of the day, is that traditionally search engineers come out of uni not being big fans of the SEO peeps and there is an inherit crevasse between us....
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0 # Lucas Ng 2009-06-09 19:42
Haha, yes! I'm flattered to be asked, why don't you go work for Google? Or Yahoo?

Even if I were qualified to work for Google, they wouldn't want to employ me because I am the enemy!

Search engineers tend to be people with comp sci or IR degrees - people who treat search engines as a science. SEOs are typically entrepreneurial marketers or webdev folk who see it as an 'art'.

We use search engines to maximize revenue for ourselves or for clients.

Search engineers minimize search engines costs by maximizing efficiency. Faster load time, faster processes, reduced spam, more efficient algorithms...etc

The different objectives between SEOs and search engineers create two different types of people.
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0 # Dave 2009-06-09 20:19
Fer sure... we are certainly working from a difference sense of purpose and generally cut from different cloth.

Personally, not sure I'd be as good at IR... this side of the fence tends to keep the competitive juices flowing.. :woohoo:
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0 # Jeffrey Smith 2009-06-09 20:49

Glad to see that you nailed this one down for all those still thinking that reverse engineering all of Big G's prized algorithms like Morpheus in the Matrix is not a happy subject from their standpoint.

I love the sarcasm and that was more of telling it how it is rather than a rant. Preach brother, your one of the heaviest cats I know.

Particularly the equation of SEO = Search Engine Opportunist. With all of the lack of transparency I am sure many will consider pulling an Anakin Skywalker and going underground for a brief recess if the nofollow conundrum and other double speak keeps convoluting the SEO space.

Good to see you ahead of the charge as usual. All the best brother.
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0 # cj 2009-06-09 21:23
I will say this, I agree with Dave. It doesn't matter if you are practising "holy" seo, you are still tampering with the raw data and that helps nobody. It's not personal, it's just because if you doctor data then the algorithms can't work convincingly to put it basically.

Lucas, what about me? I've been doing both for about 7 years now. I'm accepted among my IR and research peers as a professional researcher in my own right. I'm also accepted by the seo community as a professional in my own right. I pulled it off because I've shown that it has put me in a unique position.

I can also confirm that 90% of people coming out of a degree in comp sci have no knowledge of the existence of seo's. There are a lot of other things to worry about.

Search engineers tend to come from research backgrounds so post-grad. That's because it's all about research and it's not something you learn at Uni, it's something you experience and learn from.

You can treat seo as a science, just like we treat we IR as a science. Anyway why does everyone forget that IR is just one piece of the puzzle. Google runs on far more than just IR methods alone.

You tamper with data you are the enemy - or not...thanks to SEO efforts Airweb has a whole new bit of work cut out and that's awesome.
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0 # Lucas Ng 2009-06-10 21:04
Lucas, what about me? I've been doing both for about 7 years now. I'm accepted among my IR and research peers as a professional researcher in my own right. I'm also accepted by the seo community as a professional in my own right. I pulled it off because I've shown that it has put me in a unique position.

Which is why people like yourself are extremely valuable to both communities for the perspective that they bring.
You can treat seo as a science, just like we treat we IR as a science.
Yes, but most SEOs do not! Sites like huomah & scienceforseo help educate our industry on the 'science' of SEO, but a lot of SEO is still built on instant gratification tactics that fall into the realm of webspam.
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0 # Dave 2009-06-09 21:35
@Jeffery, what's shakin my brother from another mother!!

I guess it became termed a rant as it was a spur of the moment post as the SEO Blogosphere had some things that moved me to write. I was unsure at what point peeps thought there was some type of working relationship here.

I think of it as a necessary evil for them... ultimately they'd rather we weren't around (messing with their best intentions).

@CJ - yes, you're def an odd ball... guess that's why we're mates huh?

It is kinda fun reading all the AIR stuff and SEOs (whateva' colour hats) are the inspiration for much of that.

And you echo much of what I was getting at - that out of the box, SEOs/manipulators aren't really thought of as a pleasant part of the average search engineers world... Kudos to those that do reach out now and again and tolerate us... hee hee... :side:
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0 # paisley 2009-06-10 12:08
If an SEO does the job with a holy mind (the idealistic organic way) then it is better for both the searcher and the search engine because then the most relevant information gets to the top.
- i am a google ally, not an enemy.. i'm also a stockholder.
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0 # Dave 2009-06-10 12:37
Hey Steve... that would be the route of enabler and with the advent of social media getting (somewhat) organic links is far easier than it once was. To me this makes balancing on that fine line a little easier.

If one is using best practices and giving their content (cough cough linkbait) the best possible chance of attaining viral link love, then you're not the real problem that engineers should have the angst for. But we can't say that ALL the SEOs out there are being as such.... once more, I see a TON of garbage... ever been called into a project where another SEO has been? Seen some of the CRAP that is called 'link building'? yikes....

... at the end of it all, I am sure there are few SEOs that aren't actively manipulating the index in some manner tho...
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0 # cj 2009-06-10 20:20
Hey Paisley! The issue is not that you are being naughty with your seo, it's that there are millions of sites that are not shined up and improved. Those may be far more relevant to a query than your nice site. An seo'd site is not necessarily a highly relevant site.

This is why it's an issue. If seo's are prepared to go pro bono and white hat optimise all the other sites in the interwebs, then it might look a bit better. It would all have to be done in exactly the same way, and you'd be competing sites as well.

Guidelines are there to "convince" or "push" seo's to do it that particular way, because then at least there is a common format. They can't stop you doing it, but no, it's not good for their system.
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0 # cj 2009-06-10 20:34
If you are a telephone company and that you find that there are people who are paying others to tamper with their lines to make them more efficient, you're not going to send them xmas cards. Making those lines more efficient means that the other lines suffer, there's only so much to go round, like in everything.

As seo's we are not criminals, not friends, enemies if anything, and Dave if bang on there.

You go to jail for tampering with telecom company phone lines btw.
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0 # paisley 2009-06-10 22:40

i'm only one person.. i do seo my way, not anyone elses.. i'm sure everyone at some point does something the way i do.. there is no secret, it's just mathematical computations using my brain because it's a puzzle and that's what i do, all day, every day. it's the matrix, yo!

(Dave, Red Pill or Blue pill?)

it's not my job to increase the relevance of ALL the Google results, just the ones for my client that lead to communication with my client, and email list sign up, a contact form filled out, and phone call made, etc. From a customer that will eventually make a purchase. i'm not looking for traffic.. i ONLY want SUPER QUALIFIED traffic.

I ONLY want to provide a result that is psychologically relevant and is used at the point of decision to purchase or get bids or information for services. i do alot of b2b where purchases are lots of money and they don't occur online and without a lot of information from my client. So i better send them qualified prospects not tire kickers.

RE: your completely irrelevant and actually criminalized example..

Google wants people to find what they want quickly so they will use google. Google got most of it's searchers during a time period when most had modems and msn and yahoo went after the high bandwidth peeps..

the page loaded fast and ALL you did was type what u wanted to find and there it was.. you were googling..

they kept the searchers by doing good spam control and providing relevant results..

as an seo i WANT to provide their searchers with uber - relevant results.. i want ZERO bounce rate!

as a stock holder i want them to fight spam and provide the most relevant results..

Google has a spam reporting system.. i used to use it frequently... if more SEOs helped out.. then maybe they might look on us better for helping them provide the most relevant results for their users...

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0 # Nick Stamoulis 2009-06-12 10:42
Yeah I think we are right up there with Mortgage Brokers and Wall Street.

People don't realize that what we do is actually help organize the worlds information (well at least some of us). All we do is help website owners communicate what they are actually selling. We help people find synonym's to what they offer.
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0 # Pozycjonowanie 2009-06-16 03:13
Well I'm sure google doesn't like SEO folks but I wouldn't say they're hated. They're just a natural occurence - someone trying to outsmart the system. Happens in every field.
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0 # Ben Stan 2009-06-30 17:42
I agree SEO are adversaries to SE in their war to keep fresh relevant content in their searches, this is why they are continuously changing algorithms and making it harder to rank well even to sites that are or were relevant results for keywords
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