Yesterday I decided to be a good Samaritan, and almost got taken. Let me tell you the story.
Yesterday morning when I got to my desk I had a voicemail message. There was an upset person who claimed they had been taken by an SEO company. A representative from the company in question had put a link to our eye tracking research at the bottom of his email signature, so this “victim” was seeing if we were connected in some way. I returned the call and found out that this guy had paid $2000 for a doorway domain but wasn’t receiving any traffic. Like most people, I automatically assumed the SEO company was the culprit. Wanting to restore this guy’s faith in our industry, I offered to take a look at the site and maybe offer a little free advice. He sent me the link.
White Hats, Black Hats and Dunce Caps
And now, I must digress for a minute. When I first met Matt Cutts at a Webmaster World he did an impromptu site clinic and when somebody called up a particularly egregious example of spam he said, “That’s worse than spam, that’s stupid spam”. The site that this SEO firm put up definitely falls into the category of stupid spam.
In the SEO ecosystem, there is a place for black hats and white hats. I happen to be a white hat and we provide a service to our clients, who for various reasons have chosen not to employ black hat tactics. That’s cool. There are also clients in ultra competitive categories that can’t rely on white hat tactics alone. These are clients who are willing to risk domain banning in return for higher rankings, and black hat tactics are the only way they’re going to get them. These clients go in knowing what they’re looking for, and there are black hats willing to provide the service. While possibly not the same degree of cool (in that spam degrades the search user’s experience) at least everybody is going in with eyes wide open. But it’s stupid spam that really bugs me.
The site I saw had tons of crappy text, inelegantly jammed with irrelevant keywords, was embedded in a clumsy link farm, and the link through to the client’s site was an ugly and totally useless Flash banner. The best black hats are at least elegant in their spam. This was ugly, pointless and stupid. And that pisses me off.
Good Samaritan Gone Wrong
So, I thought I’d bring these guys to light (and I will, bear with me) and offer to go to bat for the guy. I fired off an email seeing if he was okay with letting his name stand. He jumped at the chance. But something was niggling at me. The text on the page was at least partially relevant to his business, and it was written in first person. Where did the text come from?
I got him on the phone and asked him the question. The text came from him. Hmmm…my innocent victim doth protest too much. He had picked the keywords, which were ultra competitive and either marginally relevant or not relevant at all. And in the conversation, he exhibited more than a passing knowledge of SEO. The minute the site went live, he knew it was spam. He only got mad when after 3 months, the spam wasn’t working for him.
Then, he started working me. If I was either going to blog or write a column about it, he wanted to make sure he got a link to his main site. He went on to tell me that he could generate some “real business” from this exposure and how guys he knew in the same biz were pulling in $800,000 to a mil from their websites. I pointed out that the reason I was doing this wasn’t to make him rich.
At this point, I’m thinking that I was really hoping I’d find an innocent victim, but instead I found an accomplice. He was looking for an angle when he retained these guys, and it wasn’t the fact that it was spam that he objected to, it was the fact that it was spam that didn’t work. He is now pursuing legal action as well as filing a complaint with the BBB. He’s spending a lot of time and energy tracking them down. Perhaps he should have shown this diligence before hiring them in the first place.
My point? We are all quick to point the finger at the SEO’s, but let’s remember that it’s clients like this that allows these companies to flourish. A quick investigation of the link farm showed hundreds, if not thousands, of clients that seem to think this is the way to use search. That too pisses me off.
Finally, a quick shout out to Matt and the Google spam squad. A few searches showed the bogus site had been already tossed from the Google index. It was the fact that the Google spider no longer came knocking that prompted our “victim” to start complaining. However, this site is actually ranking for some of the terms on MSN. Just one more example of how the gang at Redmond really has to get their act together if they want to compete head to head in the search space.
So, who is the SEO in question?
Want to see an example of their work? Check out http://www.my1sthomebizsite.com/ (and no, this isn’t the person who complained. This is another site in their network.)
And to 1p, or 1stinternetadvertising, or whatever your name is, please stop using a link to our research in your email signature!
Since the first post, I’ve discovered that 1p.com is actually Traffic Power. Of course they are! Thanks to Graywolf and MC for the info.