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Weblog Entry

SEO Excuses

August 28, 2006

While I tend to write off the Search Engine Optimization field as an ethical quagmire where the bad are out to pollute the common waters for their own gain, and the good are little more than technically-savvy marketers, there’s clearly an amount of science and depth to it that I don’t understand.

Case in point, a recent demonstration of its effectiveness by hijacking the top 5 search results in Google for the term “five seo excuses” to form a top 5 list. And because the order is so precise, the URLs spell out an extra little message. The buzz it’s generating means you’re too late to observe the effects first-hand, but I can vouch for the accuracy of the screen shot in the prior-linked post.

Impressive demo to be sure. It shows that SEO techniques have evolved into a formidable tool that’s of obvious value to many businesses. (I’m still glad that’s not what I do to put food on the table, though.)


Craig C. says:
August 28, 11h

Such stunts, as geekily impressive as they may be, simply prove the point that Google is vulnerable and can be hacked to present irrelevant content. If someone was *really* trying to find information about the top five SEO excuses, four of those top five results are irrelevant duplicates which do not help solve the searcher’s problem.

And the near-instant destruction of the top five list as soon as it was reported on and linked by other sources proves that Google still works.

Craig C. says:
August 28, 11h

Self-correction. I hadn’t yet actually visited any of the articles when I made the first comment, and I incorrectly assumed them to be five instances of a single article outlining all five excuses. As it turns out, each article briefly states a single ‘excuse’ in somewhat poorly-written marketspeak plus a dose of fallacious reasoning. Hence, NONE of the five original articles is a useful result when searching for information about “five seo excuses”.

August 28, 12h

I think google is going to face more and more challanges. If they make their algo so complex that only huge sites make it to the top - then the smaller local sites become almost unfindable.

The result is less relevent results on smaller items. Eventually even though “google” has become a verb, people will begin to use the other search engines.

I have already seen with my home town, searching for most city keyphrases (for example “Ann Arbor hair salon” simply returns nothing but lists of Hair Salon’s and it is nearly impossible to find a webpage of an actual salon. I end up having to sort and click through 4-5 pages just to find one.

That is not relevant results in my opinion.

Google needs to accept that pages can be optimized, and find better ways to combat spam that doesn’t make anything but “information hubs” rank poorly.

August 28, 13h

I love the website headline for the company that he was promoting:

“Virante Helps Businesses Leverage Technology & EBusiness Solutions To Promote Products & Services In A Global Market”

I don’t think the Web Economy Bullshit Generator could have done a better job.

http://www.dack.com/web/bullshit.html

August 28, 17h

SEO should never have become an “industry” in the first place. Trying to manipulate your ranking irrespective of the quality of your content just makes search more useless.

At best, SEO should consist of html best-practices and _legitimate_ partnerships with like-minded sites. Unfortunately, shameless profiteers like Virante are all too happy to navigate the ethical quagmire to make a buck.

It’s good to see Google has removed these spam listings (although who searches for such a bullshit query as “five seo excuses”?).

August 28, 17h

“Trying to manipulate your ranking irrespective of the quality of your content just makes search more useless.”

I see it at a different light. At this point in time search engines display results that DON’T represent which sites have the most quality content.

Again - large information hubs tend to get to the top fairly easily due to google’s algo. Smaller - yet still extremely relevent sites often are not visible at all simply because there are not a whole lot of reasons for other sites to link to them.

For example, a site I work for now is a small self storage company. They don’t have great search engine rankings because there simply isn’t a good reason for 100’s of sites to be linking to them.

The large chains show up higher because they have nation wide links - even though they are no more relevent for the local search than my clients.

August 28, 18h

It’s nothing but a cheap parlour trick.

1. They picked a phrase for which there were very few results. (That’s how they got to the top)
2. set up the pages to link to each other in a way so that each had one more link pointing to it than the next. (That explains the order)
3. Got some advertising zeromillion.com to each page with the same link phrase: “Five SEO Excuses”. (That’s why the pages show up for that query)

The reason for it seems to be just a marketing gimmick, albeit a successful one, to get people talking about it and linking to them, thus increasing their own page rank, and making people think they’re not evil and that SEO really works.

August 28, 19h

Ross:

Google’s search algorithm can find local search results for self storage just fine. I typed in “self storage & Chapel Hill” and Google gave me a whole list of local self storage joints.

Now, if one of these local Chapel Hill self-storage places wanted to “SEO” for the term “self-storage” even though they aren’t as far reaching as other national chains, that would be polluting search results IMO.

The large nation chains are #1 on the Google results because they’re the largest and most likely to be found nationwide. If you SEO’d a local self-storage joint to #1 on the term “self-storage”, what use would that be to me if I lived elseware?

Now, if Google did more auto-detection of location and offered local results above national results, that would be fine. But that’s Google’s concern, not yours. By promoting locally-relevant sites over nationally-relevant sites you’re polluting the results for the bulk of Google’s audience.

9
Vex says:
August 28, 19h

The top 5 SEO excuse was broken:

http://www.thegooglecache.com/?p=41

I hope someone can post the link for the unbroken version…

10
Vex says:
August 28, 20h

It is me again, I found a post that include the unbroken effect image,

http://www.fatinfo.com/blog/2006/five-seo-excuses-does-google-approve/

bloggers make a google bomb that pull the trick down.

11
(imposter) says:
August 29, 00h

(fake comment from IP 218.186.9.4 deleted, see following for explanation: http://mezzoblue.com/archives/2006/08/28/seo_excuses/#c029115 )

Roger says:
August 29, 04h

Smart marketing stunt. However it would be much more impressive if his “5 SEO excuses” remained top 5 at Google even after the bloggers picked up the topic.

August 29, 08h

I agree.. top 5 seo excuses is definitley not a well known phrase but it’s interesting how they manipulated Google to link them up in order… looking at the code, not surprisingly it looks like the pages are dictated in order by use of descending h1-h5 tags. We’ve all known using semantically correct markup helps in google but this is an interesting example. Obviously this ain’t going to fly when your competitors are all using h1 tags to title their content (as they should).

14
wheel says:
August 29, 15h

Hey Dave,

My apologies for the harsh words on my blog. I posted a rudimentary post (still in the ‘flame’ stages) for no other reason than I was heading to eat dinner and wanted to preserve the post. It wasn’t intended for public consumption (nobody actually reads my blog). Embarrassingly, I did not expect anyone to actually read the post before I could get back, soften it, flesh it out, and actually read over at least once what I’d typed in a flurry.
I meant no disrespect towards you.

I’m headed out for a bit again right now, I’ll revamp my post so it’s sane later this evening :).

g.

August 29, 18h

RE: comment #5

You are absolutely right. Unfortunately the term “optimization” is mis-used by many of these firms and they should really call it SEM, as in Search Engine Manipulation.

I have experienced time and time again that true ‘SEO’ is really centered around solid HTML, solid IA, and solid content that actually convinces others to link to your site without being asked to.

Jaco says:
August 29, 18h

“I’m still glad that’s not what I do to put food on the table, though.”

True words. And although being Google-aware is part of running a large website, I’m also glad that the firm I work for does not have a marketing strategy –- or worse, a business model! -– that relies mostly on top Google rankings.

An interesting article appeared on CNNMoney.com, about Google’s impact on business and especially on small entrepreneurs who rely on hitting the top-10: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fsb/fsb_archive/2006/09/01/8384907/index.htm

August 29, 19h

I searched for the “five seo excuses” term, and you showed up as the first result (.ca.)

It’s interesting also that the sites don’t directly link to each other (presumably for ranking reasons, they use a span with text-decoration and an onclick to link.)

It’s impressive how fast some sites can be indexed and picked up on the search engines these days; I recalled reading a Matt Cutts post which had shot up to #1 on a hot topic within hours of posting.

Maybe you just write really clean HTML - regardless, nicely done.

Sean says:
August 30, 09h

Your last sentence hits the nail on the head. Easily breakable parlour trick or no, it underscores how easy it is to mess with the system, not to mention how hard it is to keep promised rankings intact.

This is also why I only use Google to find general reference information, like how to fix (yet another) script I’ve broken.

September 02, 09h

I’m disturbed to see that post #11 above from “Andy Rutledge” is not me at all. I hope that you can ban the IP used for that entry to help prevent that idiot from posting here again.

Sorry for the posting here, but this is happening a lot lately.

Kind regards,
Andy Rutledge (the real one)

September 04, 01h

How sad that someone would use your ID to post messages! (unless he really is called Andy Rutledge)

It’s impressive alright and like others i’m glad that Google isn’t playing (yet) a significant part in our business. At times it seems like a black art to match Jedi.

Groningen says:
September 11, 01h

I fully agree with post #7
Don’t think there is any need to discuss this example because it isn’t impressive seen the number of results for this query

Ange Trip says:
September 13, 00h

What can be done for legitimate sites? Are we going to be forced to use those horrible tactics? I was in a forum the other day talking about how easy it is to spam. And as a demonstration, one member posted about 300 words relating to car rentals in Halifax. He then created a link from the forum to his site. Not only did that forum page become #1 for the term, but his site also moved up in the listings. I hate to admit it, but I may start using these tactics. (I hang my head in shame.)

September 23, 23h

It’s interesting to note that the company behind this, Virante ( http://www.virante.com/ ), has their site marked up in the beautiful tables of ‘98.

Now, why would anyone trust a company who’s trade is SEO - yet doesn’t use semantic markup on their own site? I can’t say I’m impressed by the SEO industry as a whole…

Vitalized says:
September 29, 09h

It’s really not very impressive, in fact it’s more worrying it think that all my (I would say) Ethical SEO work can still be stomped on by hacking a search engine. It’s 2006 surely Google should have sorted it out by now!

October 18, 06h

Thank you for all of your comments on this project, I did however want to respond to some of the comments…

1. Ethics…
I did want to point out some of the positives that come out of the search industry. For example, please take a moment to visit PoundPrivacy.org, to look at our campaign to create a privacy standard for all search engines. There truly are magnitudes of difference between professional SEOs and that guy down the street who claims to do SEO.

2. Cheap Parlour Trick, Not Impressive…
On the contrary, when we ran the project, you would have noticed that the order did not occur in Yahoo or MSN. The search engine algorithms vary substantially enough that nailing down the exact idiosyncracies to secure the correct order of 5 pages is far more difficult than you would imagine.

3. Virante.com is in Tables…
No excuses here, we have since relaunched the site.

4. SEO should not be an industry…
Let’s say that no SEO occurred at all. Instead, people wrote good HTML and likeminded sites linked to them. Who would win? Companies with multiple web sites, and big companies who are able to advertise outside the web, getting other individuals (inevitably a few of whom are likeminded webmasters) to visit the site and link to them. SEO is one of the few advertising methods left in the world that can be successfully executed by small businesses at a reasonable price.

October 21, 03h

@Russ Jones: with point 4 you´re right, if no black hat methods are used for promotion…