How SEO and IM Became Four Letter Words

I just saw Matt Cutts response to the Scamworld video via a post on SaltyDroid.

Matt's tweet in response didn't come as a shock. Internet Marketers and SEOs seem to go hand in hand and Matt has a strong relationship with the SEO community being he's the devine messenger sent down from the top of Mount View to help those of us looking to put things online stay in Google's good graces.
I have respect for what Matt Cutts has been doing to combat webspam at Google but I disagree with him here. While there may have been a time that SEO and IM had a more legitimate meaning (err maybe just SEO), the titles have generally been corrupted. Maybe a little history lesson will help.

Search Engine Manipulation Is The New SEO

There used to be a time when Search Engine Optimization meant on-page and on-site optimization.

Search engines use computer programs called spiders that would crawl around the web gathering information on the multitude of pages they found. So that when someone goes to a search engine and types in a query, the search engine can return a list of pages that will be relevant to the user.

While these programs were pretty sophisticated and the pages were very simple they still could use a little bit of help to make sense of what a page they were crawling said. The basics of on-site SEO, which are still applicable today, dealt with appropriate use of HTML elements and keywords to make it easy for the crawlers to interpret the content you put online.

Fifteen years ago you could hire an SEO specialist that would take a look at your pages and make suggestions regarding formatting, meta tags, keyword density, etc.

Then Google came on the scene a lot of things changed. The cute little cartoon spiders that would crawl around the web had been replaced by more powerful bots! While there was a mix of search engines before that the big traffic driver was Yahoo!'s directory. Search seemed to get more useful when googlebot came to town.

Backlinks -- It Seemed Like A Great Idea At The Time

In 1996 when Google hit the search engine space they crushed other established search engines and directories. They're success was based on their ability to deliver relative results to their users. They accomplished this by not only ranking pages according to keyword density, but also by giving weight to a page based on how many other pages linked to it. On top of on-page SEO, Google PageRank was now on everyone's mind.

Getting other sites to link to you used to be a way to get targeted traffic to your site from similar sites. Providing links to other sites was a way to help your readers find other relevant content. Now links had a greater value which turned them into commodoties.

Fifteen years ago, the internet was a different place. There were no blogs, tweets or booking of faces. No content mills or article sites. Methods that allowed individuals to have a web presence were not as plentiful as they are today. You had some sites like Homestead and maybe your dial up ISP gave you space for a page but in general webhosting was expensive, domain names were expensive and for the most part, you needed a certain bit of technical know-how just to build simple page.

A lot of the entities who were online were businesses that recognized the importance of having a web presence and a crap load of university students, professors and researches that had free webhosting through their school. In the mid 90's a lot of people didn't have home computers and broadband Internet was just getting off the ground. Today high school kids are walking around with the Internet in their pocket.

There was still some garbage online but the signal to noise ratio was much different than it is today and when you received a link from another web page it meant more.

It didn't take long for people to realize that Google's PageRank algorithm could be manipulated. 

SEO Today

These days, when you contact most people calling themselves SEOs. Who am I kidding? I mean when someone calling themselves an SEO contacts you, it's all about backlinks. Sure they may run your site through a program that analyzes title and header tags as well as keyword density, but if they tell you they're going to get you ranked better on search engines they mean they're going to get you backlinks.

In many cases they just buy them from other sites. Sometimes they'd create their own fake sites to add client links. Google started catching on and a plain link from an unrelated site didn't mean much. Now SEO firms that appeared to be legitimate were paying website owners and bloggers for among other things, to provide them with content for their site which includes some links. This way not only did the link contain relevant keywords but the whole page did as well.

And these SEOs were willing to pay for it! I routinely got these offers for one of my sites that had a Google PageRank of 5 at the time and if I remember correctly the lowest offer I received was $120 per page. They had big name clients and nowhere on their snazzy web site did they list this tactic as one of their services. On the surface they appeared clean as a whistle.

Even though the money was good I chose not to participate because I didn't want to jeopardize the integrity of my site. Not to my visitors and not in the eyes of Google who had started warning website owners about the dangers of paid links.

The Birth Of Article Sites And Article Spinners

While article sites were around for a while, it seemed a bit silly to write something and give it to someone else so they could make money off of it. As more people were getting online, making money online got harder. You could become really popular or you could have a lot of content. Making money off mediocre content wasn't profitable unless you got people to give you a ton of free content. You could even give them a little bit of it.

It started becoming easier for individuals to put stuff online and when AdSense and other programs came about making money online was available to everyone.

So what did these article sites have to offer that persuaded so many people to provide them with content? Some people just didn't know any better but for many others they were posting on these sites to get backlinks.

All of a sudden anyone could get on the first page of Google. Just write an article and post it to a couple hundred article sites, blogs and forums. Tools even were developed to do the posting for you.

Google eventually caught on to this practice and pages that didn't have original content were blacklisted or otherwise lowered in ranking. If you wanted to have 300 good backlinks you needed 300 original articles.

You would think that would put an end to the practice but oh no. Technology to the rescue! People developed software called article spinners. You don't need to write 300 articles anymore. Just right a half dozen or so and the software will go through your article and replace words with synonyms and spit out hundreds of versions of the same article that a search engine can't tell is a copy! There are companies calling themselves SEOs that will do all this for you!

And if writing a handful of articles seems like too much work don't worry! You don't even need to write your own articles. Just copy and paste a few RSS feeds related to your topic and the software will paraphrase the content to make it your own!

So when people posted stuff online and wanted Google to know it's important, they just create dozens or hundreds of other less meaningful pages and sprinkle them around the web. And don't worry your pretty little head Googlebot. All the links have been neatly arranged so that you know exactly which page is the real important one.

Google's success lies on helping users find the needle in the haystack they're looking for. Unfortunately Google made their own job orders of magnitude harder by allowing people to get away with this crap for so long. 

They did more than just allow it. They implicitly gave these companies their stamps of approval when they rewarded them with AdSense revenues and even promoted some to the higher echelon in their AdSense program even though their sites contained copied content, sometimes copies of Google's own search pages, and provided little to no value to users.

Hmm... It may have been a little more than just implicit consent in some cases. The video seems to have been removed but Aaron Walls does have part of the transcript where Matt Cutts was defending when it was obviously a worthless spam site with scraped content.

The term SEO is now associated with these unsavory practices and the stink can't be washed off.

Google You Broke The Internet You Fix It!

By 2009 Google search wasn't what it used to be. You'd type in almost any search terms and you'd see the same few sites over and over. It didn't matter what you were searching for. Some sites like Wikipedia I could understand but others were just beyond useless.

I, a long time Google search user (after I realized I wasn't going to win anything on IWon), had begun using other search engines more. It actually made me quite sad because there are a lot of things I admire and respect about Google in general. On top of that I use a lot of open source software, my favorite programming language is Java, I was making money from AdSense... It just felt so wrong to be giving my search business, as insignificant as it is, to Microsoft.

The Google that used to show how much it cared about it's users by delivering them to the pages that would help them the most was now presenting us with a giant list of crap. You can only treat your users poorly for so long before they realize what's going on and eventually move on to the next big thing. And there's always a next big thing around the corner.

How can I, a spec of dust compared to Google, let them know what I thought about how they're hurting their users and in the long run hurting themselves? Then a couple of things happened. I found myself in a position where I was able to communicate my opinions to some people at AdSense and Matt Cutts asked for input regarding webspam on his blog. And I was more than happy to give it leaving comments herehere, here and here. And probably some other places I'm too lazy to look for.

For a long time it seemed that nothing was changing and the dialog didn't even continue much. I felt very discouraged. No matter how stupid it sounded, I was now Binging my way around the web.

Then this past year things started happening. AdSense had started enforcing some of their policies more uniformly or maybe even more broadly and they even implemented at least one thing I suggested. On top of that Google Search had begun delivering much better results.

I know these changes must have been painful and I'm not just talking about from a technical perspective. They're real game changers.

Even though some people aren't happy with the changes they are ultimately the right thing for Google and the billions of people who use Google search. They should also be good for people that deliver useful content and services online. 

A lot of the suggestions I left in the thread on Matt Cutts' blog were actually being implemented. Even down to getting a This Old House page to come up first when you're searching for how to replace a toilet. (Your Welcome Steve, Tommy, Richard and Roger!) Crappy sites where loosing traffic, better sites were gaining it. Most sites were staying about the same. Others gave suggestions in that thread too, but this is my blog so I get to talk about me :) 

I was happy to be using Google search more. A lot of the garbage was gone. None of the suggestions I made were intended to benefit me or my sites in any way and they didn't. I tried my best to stick to my views as a search user.

While I'm happy about the changes at the same time I feel a little let down. A lot of work went into making these changes and I don't mean to take credit for that but I was hoping that if my voice was heard I wouldn't be forgotten.

Heck, if I even was given some inkling that you were actually working on these things I wouldn't have given up on you so soon!

Maybe when you announced the change regarding page algorithm improvements you might have included a link to my post Put Your Content Above The Fold among the 6 links on that page. You know considering I linked to it along with my other suggestions way back when. :) That page used to be on the first page of Google for "put your content above the fold" (no quotes) because nobody was expressing that sentiment at the time. Now it's not even in the first 10 pages. :(

You seemed to like my suggestions maybe you want to subscribe to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter or give me a high five if we ever cross paths? :)

It looks like you took the time to give some of the biggest offenders a chance to shape up. How about taking a little bit of time to thank the little guys that were trying to do the right thing all along and took the time to share their opinions and knowledge to help Google get off the fast track to Turdville?

Matt, thank you for making the web better but hello!?!?!?!? :)

Internet Marketer Is Not A Job Title

Seriously it's not. I don't think it ever was. I've rambled enough this one's going to be short and sweet.

Internet Marketing is a real thing but Internet Marketer is just what people say when they don't want to explain that they spam email and search engines to help them make affiliate sales for products they don't believe in and usually just try and teach others how to become spammers too.

Its like when people say "I'm in Retail" because they don't want to say they fold jeans at the GAP. (Hey it's a legitimate job be proud of it).  Or when they call themselves "Suburban Relaxation Coach" when they're just a meth dealer.

Think about it. If you own a legitimate business you're happy to tell people what you do. Ask the guy that runs your local hardware store what work he does he won't tell you "I"m in the home improvement business" He'll say "I own a hardware store." If you run an online bookstore you say "hey I sell books online". "I'm a fashion blogger". "I have an online comic book". Even people who sell Amway admit it. You get the picture.

When you're not proud of what you do you try and disguise it. Enough said.
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