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SEO Website Audit

Dear Google...Stop Making Me Look Like a Fool!

September 22, 2010

Dear Google,

I'm tired of you making me look like a fool.

I've spent a good portion of the last 10 years patiently explaining to business owners and budding SEO enthusiasts that the key to being found in Google is to have one, great, Photo Credit: Eschipulall-encompassing website. That throwing up multiple keyword-rich domain doorway sites is a fool's errand. That writing crappy articles and submitting them to networks full of other crappy articles is a waste of time and bandwidth. That keyword-stuffed gibberish on your website just makes it look stupid. That link farms are spammy.

And I really thought that by 2010 all of the above would be 100% true. And yet they're not. I'm not sure if they're even 50% true.

Now don't go telling me that you'll eventually catch all that stuff – because that's what you've been saying for years and yet you don't. Even when it's repeatedly pointed out to you. I just don't believe you anymore. I see the same search engine spam showing up today that I saw and pointed out 5 years ago. I see keyword domains and URLs that have nothing of value, yet they show up highly in the search results only because the URL matches exactly. I see fake links trumping natural links everywhere I turn. I see how one company with 10 similar but different websites can dominate the top 20 results.

The worst part is how you've single-handedly created the entire link-building and link-buying industries. Link building is the most distasteful, horrible act to have to perform for a website. It's unnatural and something that should not even exist. Which is why I've always told people to have a link-worthy site and get the word out about it to the right people (through marketing) and they'd receive great links.

But you've made a liar out of me. While that naïve suggestion can definitely bring links to a website, they rarely have the best anchor text that you require. You put way too much stock in anchor text, which one rarely receives through natural links. This in turn forces people to beg for or buy the "unnatural" links that you claim to dislike, but are secretly in love with.

Google, I'm sure you're aware of the companies that charge as much as $50,000 a month to write useless articles and spin them through spam-generating word-mixer-upper software (which turns a few articles into hundreds). Then they pop some keyword-rich anchor text links into their client's website and upload them to their network of thousands of blogs and fake review sites where the nonsensical (but appropriately linked) articles get posted.

And it works! Yes, Google, those keyword-rich links on crap sites hugely boost the rankings for the targeted website in YOUR search results – and for highly competitive phrases, no less. It's true that those links won't last or count for very long (cuz you're not that stupid), but because they continually repeat the process, it does indeed keep working. As long as the client is willing to pay for polluting the Internet (and your search results), it works.

It's sad, Google. It really is.

If the fake link building didn't work so well, or the keyword-rich multiple domains never got ranked, maybe the companies looking for better placement in your search results would invest their money in the creation of amazing websites. But why should they? It's a lot easier for them to generate the spam that you love, Google, and point it to their small lead-generation website(s). Sigh.

Anyway, Google, I'm not telling you anything that you don't already know. Just let me know when you find an algorithm that really does reward the good stuff and not the bad. In the meantime, I'll keep telling people to make their websites be the best that they can be for their users so that there might be a few less horrible websites showing up at the top of your search results.

But when they ask me whether my way works better than spamming you, I'll have to tell them the truth.

Your friend,


P.S. I just got an email from someone asking if it was okay with you if they bought 10 keyword-rich domains and created "satellite sites" out them that point to their main site. I told them yes/no/I don't know. Sigh.

P.S.S. You're still way better than the other search engines!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Services Company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
Post Comment

 Angela Wills said:
Great post Jill and so true!!

It's too bad that people are so unconcerned about the crap that they put out on the internet. It's like they think they're invisible so ethics and honesty really don't matter - not the finest trait of the human species!

I'm glad you're fighting for the good of the net by giving people the truth! ;)
 Adele Tiblier said:
Dear Jill,

Great letter, but my gut (and my last blog post) summizes why they say one thing and do's all about the money.

"We may think the idea of ping pong playing coders, and all of those fabulous free tools are gifts bequeathed unto us by this wonderful behemoth of a business, but in the end, they are a business. They are trying to make money."

So they may be making a portion of money by being the single biggest sales engine for the link building industry, but they are bankrolling all of our free tools with Adwords. Therefore, while valuable search results are their MO, the bigger one is valuable PAID search results.

I wish it weren't true, I wish they were as giving as I'd like to believe, but Google just keeps proving to us that it's not personal, it's just business - over and over again.

Yours in SEO sadness,
 katy hahn said:
Great letter. I am totally with you on this one. Stay true to your way of thinking. I love Google! But, I get frustrated as well.
 Dan Broughton said:
Tis too true - Google partly ruined the internet with Adsense - ever since we have seen more and more low quality built-for-Adsense websites. "Do no evil" - yeah right!
I wish Yahoo had dominated with its paid inclusion directory where a human can review the site.
 Simon said:
Thank you Jill - for venting your spleen in the general direction of Google. I couldn't agree more with your comments. I do hope that your post eventually has some effect on the direction of their once brilliant game plan.
 Justin Woodcock said:
I think it's P.P.S. or maybe it's different in the states than England - other than that, can't argue with a single word. In my companys' "niche" there is a company that has the same site in 3 different languages. Very clever tools I don't understand that give me link reports on sites tell me that most of their links come from the French, German, and Spanish versions of the same site, which has a different URL. And for these links from themselves, they seem to get a page 1 position on the most competitive keywords for the niche.

Google probably has the money to employ the labour to create an index based upon the things you want to see, the things that algorithms aren't very good at distinguishing. But googles' shares would be a lot lower if they relied upon (probably very bored) people to press the "this site is crap" button, as their wage bill would be astronomically higher.
 Martin J Sutcliffe said:
Thank you..

I agree 100% with what you say, and have been suffering from the owner of my company asking the same questions for years - "Why are these rubbish sites appearing above ours in the rankings, surely our company site is a much better resource for [the topic]?"

I have been assuring him for far too long that the 'clean tactics' I am employing will come good in the end, but now I am fearing that the dark side is calling and I have to play the game as the rules are at the moment... [sigh] ... but I can't even bring myself to add the URL as the link of my name on this comment!

Dirty tricks are winning, and it shouldn't be so...

Keep the faith and preach the good word and we can hope that one day all will be right with the results we see!

 Michael said:
It is interesting that if someone does a search and they don't find what they were looking for due to crap links they will likely be more inclined to click on one of the sponsored ads that may appear to be more related to what they were looking for.

And guess who's cash register goes "ka-ching"!
 bob johnson said:
Very nice article Jill and also very compassionate in your "vent". In the "hill of beans" worth of comment there is one thing you've forgotten, or actually fail to mention as I know you know it, but "so what"?

Amen to your "best practices" ,but when all is said and done do those practices really result in accomplishing goals such as montizing for the client? Are they worth the time and effort because rather than rewarding with high rankings, are the goals of the business accomplished. I doubt it.

Keep the faith, do the right thing, and over time ( albeit 10 years is a long time!! :) ) I'm sure the tried and true, fair and honest does prevail and the business is rewarded by accomplishing meaningful goals, not search engine rankings.
 Ian said:
I agree 100% with Jill. It is darn frustrating. We have seen competitors engage in exactly what Jill describes and in some cases they are still sitting at the top of the rankings years later.

We at one point hired a company to do link building through articles and site links and emphasized multiple times that everything had to be "by the book". After getting reports back of how great their work had been at boosting our rankings for some very competitive keywords I investigated where the links were coming from and ALL of them were from gibberish articles on fake blogs that had popped up in the past few weeks.

We quickly fired the company and have been trying to get the links removed to avoid future penalties (which may never come as we have seen with competitors). But this is proof positive that gaming the system with fake link building works, works fast and isn't really a concern for Google.
 Fiona Dudley said:
Dear Jill,
Your letter to Google is right on. I've been doing SEO (and extensions of SEO) for over ten years, and in the past year have noticed a distinct drop in the quality of highly-ranked sites and I can see that the results are influenced by all the stuff we've been telling our clients not to do. I've been feeling that yes/no/I don't know angst more than usual lately. Should I just give in and use the sleazy tactics that apparently actually do work?

No. Because when they stop working, someday, it will be my reputation that goes down the drain. Good SEO still does work, but in highly competitive fields with deep-pocketed competitors, I sometimes feel like a doctor who has to give bad news to a patient.

I'd like to add two more complaints to the list:

1. Filing spam reports with Google get you nowhere.

2. Keyword-stuffing of page aliases (such as are used in Joomla, Drupal sites) apparently works too.

I took over such a site - and after a fruitless hunt for info or advice about it, caved and left them alone. It is a real "yes/no/I don't know" situation. My guts say no, the Google results say yes. Argh!

Fiona Dudley
 Anna said:
Jill, I loved this article and completely agree with you. I too will keep trying to get clients to build wonderful websites that their customers will actually get some value out of, and keep crying when the spammy sites outrank them.
 William Vicary said:
You forgot the forum profile spam that is also rife :( And the fact that the anchor is still as important as ever, I agree 100% though its difficult to stay "white" when your competitors competition is simply bulk link building/spamming their way to the top.

I know of one person that has bulk spammed his way to the top for two incredibly competitive single word keywords and has sat there for months - I haven't reported him, but I'm sure his competition has in that cut-throat industry.

Exact match domains - seriously whats the point, any site worth their salt will rank highly regardless - and if it really is that necessary for smaller companies/SERPs then give the exact match for those smaller search terms not head terms like finance.... sigh

What is more frustrating is article directories/paid directories got a direct hit before things such as forum spam, comment spam and profile spam - why cut corners and remove the easy stuff first!

Great letter Jill - lets see if anything comes of it :)
 Halvorsen said:

I couldn't agree with you more! While working at an agency I saw some of it first hand. Article distribution? Lets eat up a clients budget by submitting a good, well written article to some crappy site that no one will ever read, much less visit. I can't stand how many crappy sites there are out there that rank well for highly competitive phrases.

On the other hand, I have been on the fence for a long time. I have a lot of domains that I am sitting on with the thought that someday I will work to build the sites out and monetize them. I'm holding myself back because I don't want to be another one of "those people" who help contribute the garbage on the Internet in return for an easy buck. It would be really nice to have that money, but I just can't get past contributing to the pollution on the Internet.

Google's PageRank definitely changed the industry. I just think Google needs to get better at finding out who all these spammers are and blocking them from the SERPs. Another thing that REALLY needs to happen... webmasters everywhere need to start reporting these types of shady sites. I can preach this all I want, but I too am guilty of not filing reports when they are warranted simply because I don't have the time.

I know it's always going to be an uphill battle with spam on the Internet, but I truly believe that if Google keeps getting these type of reports, they will in turn use the data to help combat the spam.

So do your part. Every time you come across a shady site or paid links, etc, report them:

On a side note (one that I really don't even want to begin debating on), Google is, after all a business and the majority of the spammy sites have Google AdSense on them. It's a win win situation in most cases for Google. If Google has been good at one thing, it has been balancing the user experience with making money.
 Robert Enriquez said:
Dear Jill,

Welcome to reality. It is obvious you have now taken the redpill and you are no longer connected to Google (the Matrix).

Soon you will discover that they don't care about you even though you have defended them throughout the years.

Enjoy your voyage, and I hope you find refuge at Zion before Google send Agent Cutts to now scrutinize your sites and your client sites.

I'm sure you have done nothing wrong, but they can change the algorithm to have it affect you.

Good luck,
 Paul Nattress said:
Jill, I'm with you 100% on this one. I'll share a little of my SEO history to help back up your point. I've ran a small, one-man-band writing website for over 10 years. I've focused 100% on content for it and haven't consciously done any SEO to it. By that I mean I haven't gone out to do any keyword research, I haven't thought of my title tags as anything other than an accurate description on my page, I've not gone out looking for links but have naturally gained them via people finding my site and seeing my site in the referring URL when I've linked to them and had them link back. Etc. etc.

So when my career moved from web design/devlopement/content editing into SEO my experience was exactly what you tell people: build great websites. Sure, you can do keyword research to get your language and terminology matching that of your target audience, you can work out your target keywords for each page so that you're being consistent with your language throughout the site and so on.

But sadly, I see what you're seeing. Clients (internal and external) are hearing about keyword targeting and are fully buying into keyword stuffing because it works! The quality of websites is diminishing and sites like my little writing website can not compete with the bigger websites (which it could back in the day) simply because money is being poured into gateway pages, link building and all of the methods we'd describe as black hat. And because Google lets it work, it's no longer a case of the best content appearing at the top of the results but rather it's the content with the biggest budget that's winning.

It's a sad day for quality web content.

(p.s. I've deliberatly not included the link to my website in the comments. That's a bad SEO technique; why? Well, my website isn't relevant to your website's content. Yes, it's about writing, but it's about creative writing, writing stories, fiction yada yada. You wouldn't link to me naturally and I can't bring myself to take advantage of Google's acceptance of comment spamming techniques to give my site an undeserved boost. I'm sure you have nofollow on your links but I would hate to think that anyone thought I wrote all of this just for the link. It would severly diminish the authenticity of what I'm saying in this comment.)

Finally: Go Jill! It's about time someone wrote a letter such as this. :)
 Jesse L Young said:
Wow, great post! I've also encountered the same situation of looking like an idiot when I blather on to my clients about what's acceptable...only to have them prove me wrong. It's very frustrating and makes me apprehensive to state anything authoritatively.
 Paul Nattress said:
Oops, I missed a point out of there! In reference to me not doing any SEO to my website, I have enjoyed very good rankings on the major search engines which are now falling down due to sites using the spammy techniques you mentioned in your letter.
 Bob Poliachik said:
Does this mean that Google is forcing *us* to do evil to be ranked higher?

Is there any hope for an ethical, moral business?

I guess the love of money is the root of evil.
 Pete Kever said:
Has this ever actually been effective?

This link reminds me of that Office episode where Toby, the HR guy, assures Dwight, the sales guy, that all of his written complaints against Jim (a co-worker) are being "filed at corporate" for retribution some day. In fact, Dwight's complaints end up in a large box under Toby's desk.

Which is exactly where all of our paid link reports end up, I believe. If anyone can tell me otherwise I would love to hear it!
 Lauren Sorensen said:
Sing it, Sister!!! I couldn't agree more! I have long since abandoned link-building practices, focusing rather on the content, calls to action, navigation, architecture, etc.

Now, the question is: have you submitted this article to all the crappy article distribution sites and built lots of useless inbound links to it so that Google will actually FIND your letter?
 Phoenix said:
Perhaps we should encourage our clients to buy spammy keyword-centric url's and create crappy websites on them so that the internet is flooded with these kind of websites until someone finds a better way to rank real websites properly; then we can all go to the new search engine that listens to its customers (especially its most loyal customers, seo's). Thanks for the article!
 Tim Higgins (oDesk) said:
What is even worse (I am a freelance writer) is that the money paid for all this spammy work is below poverty line standards so Google are actually enabling the perpetuation of poverty....50c an hour is a very low wage anywhere in the world and the only people who can work at those rates cannot speak English properly compounding the "junk unreadable" proliferation we see today.
Get a grip Google - you are going to force your own demise if this continues as searches become less and less appropriate.
 Tim Higgins said:
oops forgot to mention - nice article!
 webmama said:
Dearest Jill - of course you are right. And I too am extremely frustrated by, at times, the inability to bring higher search visibility to clearly the most relevant domain. I have expanded, over time, into asking clients to play outside their own sandbox - in blog comments, news articles, communities, youtube, ratings/review sites, local places, etc - but not for link power. I suggest it and work with them on this content building so that universal search will smile upon them and their thought leaders. Still, with this approach, the link buyers and article spammers rise above. I bet this frustrates many Google people as well.

 Penelope Else said:
Perhaps it's time for a new search engine that has some element of public rating, along the lines of wikipedia?
 Louis Durocher said:
As a SEO I have to agree 110%. I get increasingly upset and discouraged when I look at the results. I feel the same frustration you have when I see spammy sites getting those good rankings, over and over again, year after year. One has to say to himself: what's the use? Let's get spamming, get the cash, and run.

I also agree when you say Google created the problem, this insane chase for links, the nofollows, the linkbuying, the spam comments, the proliferation of "article" sites, pligg and digg likes, etc.

What should we recommend: buy Adwords? Hum, maybe that's just what Google wants?
 Henrik GLensbo said:
Hi - I run some sites in Denmark - have followed you and your advice for years - recently I ran a search for "web-design" giving me more than 45 million hits. And surprisingly I did not show up.

Well the problem is as I see it there are just too many out there. End of the day - somebody are at the top of Google - but I keep searching till I get what I want. And crappy domains are visited once and then never again.
Whereas those following your idea of a reasonable web will win. Your advice will give results and you should keep on the good work - not waste your time with pointing at the competitors they dont deserve it. High ranks with no value when visited? = badwill

Regards Henrik
 SEO_MadHatter said:
Once upon a time, I distinctly read that hidden links is a bad thing. It is an immoral practice, made famous by how others abused Alta Vista, among others. Fast forward to 2009/10, and to dismay, actually to sheer and utter dismay, I came across a site (actually huge and very well respected site) that knowingly has hidden links embedded on each page. They have done this to boost their rankings, and have been successful in doing so. Curious to know who I am talking about?'s none other than (the Canadian version of Monster). They are a bonfide practitioner of black hat SEO. The funny thing is that they are unknowingly being transparent about this. In their source code, there is a section named: , which in fact houses their hidden links.

Maybe someone should inform the head of search at Monster that a member of his network is breaking the rules. Or maybe it is he is just doing this all on purpose - AND SUCCEEDING!

Find him here:
 Tina DuBosque said:
Is the big G is going the way of corporate-think? (Say one thing, do another).
Great article, Jill, and I hope that they pay attention.
There is still a fairly large herd of us out there trying to do things the right way, the reasonable, natural way, that you pointed us to some years ago.
Bravo for your persistence and cheering us on as well!
 Jill Whalen said:

Wow, thanks for the great replies everyone! I love the irony of a few of you trying to get some keywords into your links back here (even though they're nofollow). You failed as I always edit or remove them all together. I may be made a fool of by Google, but I'm certainly not going to perpetuate their ridiculous anchor text requirements within comments here!

@Angela Wills I do agree that the human species is a sad lot more times than not. :(

@Adele Tiblier I'm sure a lot of what Google does is all about money, but I contend that they would still make as much if not more by having better search results.

@Dan Broughton I disagree. Yahoo's paid inclusion was the worst thing to ever hit search engines, imo. Paying to be listed is NOT the answer.

@Justin Woodcock I'm sure you're correct about the P.P.S. thing...oops. Neither my proofreader nor I caught that one :)

@Michael yes, it's not lost on me that "somewhat icky" natural results makes it more likely for people to click on the ads. And it does seem like Google is doing a good job in that respect on making sure those are highly relevant...hmmm

@bob johnson my 10 years has only been for the writing about it part. I've actually been doing SEO for 15 so it's definitely a long wait! (But it wasn't Google I was complaining about in the early years since they hadn't even existed yet!)

@Fiona Dudley ‘tis true. Spam reports to Google are all but useless, which only makes things all the more frustrating.

@William Vicary agree. Forum profiles and other social media profiles are getting out of hand. If I had a social media site that allowed profiles with links, I might think about disabling them because of the spammers. Our forum member profiles are not visible to search engines so we avoid the spamming.

@Halvorsen thanks for the link to Matt Cutt’s article on how to report spam. I’ve made it a live link, although I don’t hold out much hope that the reporting will do much, as mentioned above.

@Robert Enriquez lol…the red pill…nooooooo!

@Bob Poliachik sometimes it does indeed feel like Google is forcing us to do evil to be ranked higher. I won’t do it though. I will often tell my clients that it’s their choice, but if they choose to go that way I want nothing to do with it and don’t want my name involved!

@Lauren Sorensen I haven’t submitted this article (nor do I plan to) to crappy article distribution sites, although I probably will be testing this shortly with one client. The articles will be decent ones though, not crap!

@Penelope Else I’m not ready to give up on Google for a new engine. As my P.S.S stated, they still are the best around. And they’ve come an awful long way. I just feel that there are some obvious things that even I could spot through automated means that they seem to miss.

@Louis Durocher yes, buying Adwords is exactly what Google wants us to recommend. And honestly, I’m doing that more and more now as well. It is easier and cleaner most of the time. But I hate to think that Google wins when we make that recommendation!

@SEO_MadHatter not surprised by Monster. They are also email spammers and phone spammers of the worst kind. 


Everyone else...I don't want to turn this thread into a reporting spam thread as I still don't believe in public outings. But I do detest Monster's email and phone spam, so I'm making an exception for them! :)

Thanks again, everyone for your contributions. Keep 'em coming! - Jill

 SEO_MadHatter said:
Re: 1st Paragraph

In their source code, there is a section named SEO CONTEXT LINKS which in fact houses their hidden links.
 Elisabeth said:
Hi Jill,
Normally I agree with much of what you have to say, but I must say I do not agree with all that you have included in your newsletter today.
For starters, in the highly competitive online market, having a domain name that is targeted or closely targeted to the subject matter, is a wise choice. Not only does it help the search engines find relevant content (as many of these sites are worthy), the domain indicates to the person searching... exactly what the site is all about.
It is without a doubt, better than some "made up" name that takes a great deal of money and time to brand.
Second, as far as choosing keyword rich domain names, it is apparent you chose to implement a similar method some years ago when you decided to launch" High Rankings." The word "rankings" is (for the most part) searched on to locate information about search rankings, and as you may know, the term "Rankings" receives 18,400 exact searches per month.
 BlackHatSEO Man said:
Stop bitchin about this Jill. Google is in bed with us black hat folks. If it wasn't for us folks you white hat know-it-alls would be without jobs, so kiss my black hat you know what. We make Google money...lots of it....ever heard of made-for-adsense...gorgeous scrapped and non-scrapped content sites filled with lots of Google ads darlin...oh yeah....they are growing leaps and bounds these type of sites.....easy money ya keep advertising on Google's Display (MFA) Network ;)

Listen...and listen well....Google LOVES MFA sites, paid links, duplicate/scrapped content, link spam, link love, web spam, article spinners, parked domains - GET OVER IT!

Betcha will delete this Jilly....know why?.....coz you and all your white hat sissy's can't handle the TRUTH!
 Jill Whalen said:
@Elisabeth when I bought the High Rankings domain over 10 years ago, there were no searches for that phrase, so you're incorrect that it was bought for keyword purposes. Even now, when people type it into the search engines, it's typically because they're looking for me or this website specifically.

@BlackHatSEO Man, why would I delete your comment? (Other than for your condescending tone of course). You're not saying anything different than I was saying in my letter to Google as well as in the comments here. And that is exactly what my beef is with them...everything you've said!
 Seo-Montreal said:
I completely agree with link-building.

About Monster that's a risky strategy. One day Google will notice or with a change in the Google Algorithm their rank could drop.
 Jill said:
@SEO-Montreal, what exactly about link-building do you agree with?
 SEO_MadHatter said:
@BlackHatSEO Man: Are you from the early 90s or something?
 Elisabeth said:
The fact is that you are reaping the rewards of having chosen a domain name that is near and dear to the heart of search engines and its users: "Rankings." That name was an excellent choice then, and now.
Furthermore, the internet has evolved immensely over the past 5 or 10 years and will continue to do so going forward. Who knows what the future will hold. Having strong, relative domain names is a smart choice for advertising on and offline.
How will the internet change going forward - website owners should not count on search engines alone....
 Jill Whalen said:
I agree Elisabeth. The name High Rankings also made perfect sense as a business name for one who was in the business of getting high rankings for clients. But it was and is a brandable name which is why I named my company that. (The fact that we don't check rankings anymore is another story!)

It doesn't make sense for a company who already has a company name to have to create a keyword rich domain to go with it. Their domain should be their company name, don't you think?
 Brian said:
The issue not addressed here is whether one great link can beat one hundred spam links.

Eric Ward, in a recent webinar, pointed to the website of a professor who teaches history, with a specialty in the US Civil War. He said that for a site selling antique Civil War books, just one link from this professor's site would be invaluable. He also said the spam links would only get you on page six for a somewhat competitive search phrase.

My question for you is: Suppose you are working for a website that has competitors, but none are large companies. You notice that for the relevant search phrases, the top ten results in Google all are supported by the spam links you describe. Would you advise the client to go for some quality links, on the theory that just a few of these will give your client good results?

It's what you don't say here that speaks loudest. Apparently quality websites with a small amount of quality links are getting creamed by sites that have hundreds of spam links. You never come right out and say that, so I'm wondering, is this what you often see?

Thanks for sharing the benefit of your experience on this question.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Brian it's not that the high quality links don't work. They definitely do. But as I said in my letter, they often don't come with the appropriate anchor text. So while you receive PageRank (the real kind not toolbar) the way Google works right now is that it will mostly only help for your company name or website name, or whatever they use to link to you.

And that, my friend, is one of my main frustrations!

There was an article put out by someone recently who seemed to be saying that Google was moving more towards counting branded links for more these days. I think that would be a huge step in the right direction, but I'm not sure that they are in fact doing so. It's going to be necessary to trump all the fake anchor text link building though.
 Brian Cox said:
just because people engage in link building or buying does not mean there site isnt amazing...

means they realize what works and are doing so in order to reap the rewards...
 Elisabeht said:
Yes, I do agree with having a brand name for your company.
Why do companies establish several physical locations? Why are they located in multiple towns, cities, states? Because that's where the business is, of course. Being there, brings in revenue. They establish numerous locations all adding to the bottom line.

With that said, more and more often people are choosing to type-in the item they are looking for directly into the address bar and add (.com) to the end. If a company sells "electric scooters" then they should own the domain name "Electric, and build out a site to garner that business. This gives the company a dominant, leadership position in that market.
And on their company site (their brand name site) - they should have the entire array of products they sell.
 Jill said:
@Brian Cox 100% agree!
 kynduvme said:
This is what I have been saying for five years. You can pretend all you want that Google cares about "best practices" but what works WORKS.
 Jill said:
Elisabeth, the problem with that approach is that many companies sell much more than just one product. It doesn't really make sense to have a keyword rich domain for them.

Look at Amazon. If they were they'd never have been able to expand the way they did.

Of course, your way is why the multiple keyword rich doorway domains have proliferated through the years.
 Halvorsen said:
I would *REALLY* like to think submissions from that form go somewhere. Maybe it's something we need to ask Matt Cutts? I do try my best to report spammy sites and paid links as much as possible, but in all honesty, I don't think there are many people utilizing that form. Just because you submitted a few and didn't see the site you mention disappear or drop rankings in comparison to your client doesn't mean that Google is ignoring your submission.

Use that form ( ) and use it often. I'd be interested to see what Matt Cutts has to say about the submissions and where they go.
 Andrea Harris said:
Jill, I admire your balls in putting it all out there like that. I would love to see someone at Google have the balls to respond.
 Marcus Miller said:
It's a sorry state of affairs, when from the comments above, even the good, and the righteous amongst us are losing faith with doing things the right way.

I contributed to the #tqw on twitter and I have one client where there is a competitor who may as well be an A-Z of what not to do, but the sad thing is, all of his doorway pages rank and rank above my client.

It's annoying, and I am convinced our conversion rate must destroy his (would love to be a fly on the wall of his google analytics account or at the very least to know his bounce rate across the sites but...).

It's tough, there will always be those that have the budget to play games, but this business is more about helping people to create truly great sites that do the business when people get there and whilst there will seemingly always be some tricksters who manage to outpace us in the race to the top of the page - we, will ultimately be the winners.

Keep fighting the good fight people!

 robwatts said:
Love it Jill, the sad thing is (well, not exactly sad but a reality) is that those who know how to are simply that little bit more elegant w/ there SEO methods

I say SEO and not spam, because the distinction is that in most cases those doing the manipulation are more clued up than those trying to prevent it. Ideal worlds where people DON'T seek to be 1st don't exist. As you say, playing by the rules in the strictest sense of the word would leave some people flagging in competitive SERPs.

A look at car insurance or Poker or any other competitive serp shows blatant link buying across the board. Everyone does it. Take those sites out though and what's left? The answer? Not what people expect to see, so it's allowed to stand and so the ( blatant llnk buying) industry continues.

ps love the spam captcha ;)
 Marcus Miller said:
P.S. Hey Brian

Do you honestly believe that there are any worthwhile number of people who take what they want and type it into the address bar and add a .com or

Sincerely, in my years testing with people, it is my understanding that most will search by name, brand, product or whatever and that in a lot of cases, people think that google is the internet and they simply search for what they want in the search box (be it a domain, website or otherwise).

I mean really, I am out of beer, but am I really going to type into the address bar. Sorry man, not buying that one at all.

It's true that whilst you have a good site, you can also do some of the *sigh* things that garner quick, easy results (articles etc) but these things have quickly diminishing returns and this strategy has no longevity. So, if you are going to take this approach, fine, do it, but also, it must be backed up by a more sincere content and promotion strategy or... your clients days are numbered and as such, if your client dies, so does a bit more of your income.

It is hard being a small SEO company. If your client has £300 as a one off job, what else can you do for them and it's not always easy to win clients with hard truths when so many are selling snake oil (interesting thing about the snake oil analagy is that as it turns out, snake oil contains loads of omega 3 and transport agents to get it under the skin so as it was sold to reduce joint pain - it now has been proven to do so (see udo erasmus).

So, SEO remains an ever interesting, and fast moving but fraught with problems industry and I can't see that changing in the next few months or even years.

Keeps it fun though hey folks!
 Elisabeth said:
Amazon works because they saw the future of the internet. They were the early adopters and didn't rest for a moment. They pumped an endless stream of money into their business, while showing tremendous losses year and year. And many millions of dollars later, people eventually came to know them.

As a person living in Seattle, I can say I have watched their progression over the years. Their timing into the market was ideal and their plans grew with time. Like you, they did not have the luxury of "exact search phrase" data, either.

Their road to success may have been much less bumpy and turbulent, if they had.
 Ben Cook said:
"Link building is the most distasteful, horrible act to have to perform for a website. It's unnatural and something that should not even exist."

I'd humbly submit you're doing it wrong.

Links were around before Google and they should be sought for reasons beyond Google. Why?

Because the web works on links and links build traffic. Whether it's on a social site, or my mom emailing me a funny story she thinks I'll like, it's all about the links.

You lamented that people should instead invest in creating amazing sites, and largely I'd agree. Creating an amazing site with amazing content will make your site much more sustainable.

Yes link buying or link networks that you mention work and can sometimes offer short cuts and work quite well, but they rarely bring in traffic of their own.

I'm sure none of what I've said is nothing new to you, but then again, neither is complaining about SPAM (sites positioned above mine).
 Terry Van Horne said:
Hey Jill... you are exactly right. But I don't know that the blame is all one sided as the only way to control the problems is to wratchet down the value of links. That said as long as it works peeps will use it. Just because the craphat techniques work doesn't mean you have to use them... sadly I think peeps like you and i who belive quality content drives links are becoming out of date.

I have been doing new client work and can not begin to tell you how disgusted I was with the work i found. These were very prominent companies with owners i highly respected as SEO professionals. They are sadly crappy spammers making no EFFORT to use quality content and methods to generate links. These peeps if I said their names... well everyone would know them and they are big shots on the conference circuit. IMO, a little less time drumming up new business and fixing their own offices is in order.
 Greg said:
I wish you all knew what you were talking about
 Feydakin said:
If nothing else, I'm happy to see that you finally see the light that so many of us have been saying for years.. Good content is important, lots and lots of links is more important.. Maybe that will change, but it hasn't even though it has been claimed for almost as long..

It always sucks to see your beliefs in someone, or some company, finally crumble.. But look at it this way, you can finally stop worrying about it and get on with the job of ranking your clients and driving traffic to them with a new perspective..
 Joe Hall said:

Just for clarification, when you write: "Link building is the most distasteful, horrible act to have to perform for a website." Do you actually mean Link BUYING? Is this a typo? If it isn't a typo and you do in fact mean building, can you tell us how you define "link building".

I don't want to jump to conclusions and I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. But first I need more clarification.
 WilliamC said:
I have to agree with Feydakin, having to finally admit that what you believed just is not happening, does suck, but now it is time to see things as they are and move ahead.
 Ogletree said:
You said link building was evil and good in the same sentence. I know what you meant to say. Building a good website and bringing that to the attention of people is still link building. What you should say is that black hat link building is bad and white hat is good. If you make any effort to get a link it is link building.
 Tim Dineen said:
Thank you for posting and saying this Jill. Many of us fighting the good white-hat fight out here are feeling as frustrated as you are... and we may start losing the battle to stay on the straight and narrow path. Why should our clients or employers take our advice? Especially when there is clear proof that the shady tactics do in fact work and beat the good, clean, useful site the majority of the time.

Google is still the best, but there has to be a better way. Google created this problem by valuing links so highly and yet they apparently can't fix it.

The problem is exacerbated now with Google Instant since those lower-ranking clean sites have less space to compete in above-the-fold.

Three cheers for taking this stand Jill.
 M. Christoff Escher III said:
It also helps to understand that Google, and Bing, and ETC, are all built for global intelligence in part, and are funded by such intelligence "agency" blood funds that exist only in the mind of Mel Gibson, in Conspiracy Theory. Once you understand that you have to go back to 1990 and start the Internet over in a new web dimension, and quit kissing ash to the fantastic lie. Google, Facebook, Twitter ETC are all built to never fail because they are hedged in by trillions of dollars, and as a key gateway into millions and millions of secure networks, hence they pay for themselves in valuable supra-mation. And I'm not even going to cover cell phones and all the gadgets, devices, appliances and securities which employ remotely accessible wireless capabilities. Geeks and other dorks are the strangest combine of naivete AND sycophancy, so the best you can expect is Bill Gates abandoning a ship that is a swiss cheese Titanic, floating on a red sea of arrogance AND fear, all touted as bravery and freedom, and leave it to the nut techs to point it out LOL! WAKE YE UUUUUUP! Google sucks, because they are greed and the foundation of anti-freedom, profiling you for purposes of their pimp's greed, tee hee hee, YET better than a library! I love 'em!
 Corey McNeil said:
Jill, loved the post, but if you think about it this problem was around before Google or even the advent of the internet, in fact it has always existed and will always exist. Greed combined with a desire to shortcut a system that rewards such action will always be abused. It does however lead to innovations also.

It comes down to this.
1.Take pride and LOVE what you do.
2. Believe that good triumphs evil.
3. Know where your competitor is, but never-mind them.
4. Never rest & stop improving.

I will not lower my standards and play it on their level. I was blessed with a mind and I intend to use it against those who so freely refuse to better their learning and try to figure a creative solution to a problem and actually contribute. Their reward might be quick, but their longevity is also.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Ben and @Joe I think you need to re-read the letter. Yes I was talking about link building not just link buying, but as you'll read, my biggest beef in that respect is anchor text We can do all the right stuff and get lots of high quality links but not keyworded anchor text. This site is a perfect example of that. I don't ask for links and because of that most of my anchor text says high rankings or Jill whalen. Neither of which are helpful to SEO.

Old fashioned PageRank in and of itself which doesn't put stock in anchor text needs to be given more weight by Google.

As to William and others it's not links that are the problem or something I'm just now figuring out. Using links and real PR to determine the best pages is brilliant and it works. Unnatural anchor text is a big place where Google has allowed the spammers to proliferate though.

(from my iPhone so excuse any errors or ommissuons!)
 Rob Woods said:
I hate to say it but it's about time! I agree with you that in a perfect world simply building a fantastic site with great content "should" be enough to get a site links and to rank but in reality it's never been that way and will never be that way. I have a ton of respect for you and in fact when I started learning SEO back in the day you were one of the first sources I learned from. Having said that, frankly I've always found the idea that just building a great site and getting the word out would lead to high rankings, a touch naive. That can happen with a tiny majority of the very very best sites with huge resources and occasionally through luck but for the bulk of sites if you aren't out actively doing everything you can to build links and generate content of all levels of quality, you may as well pick up your ball and go home. GM doesn't build the best cars, Coke doesn't make the best beverage, and sites with less than the best content rank #1. That's the way of the world. Having the best product doesn't mean you'll be #1. I believe that telling a customer that just building a great site will get it to rank is frankly irresponsible and sets unrealistic expectations. Google has a vested interest in getting the sites that generate the most profit for Google, while not turning off the average user, to rank well. Clearly the also have a vested interest in telling people to just build it (a "great" site) and they (the searchers) will come.
 Jill Whalen said:
@rob woods for the record I have never said or thought that just building a great site is enough. A great site is nothing (and won't rank) if it's not marketed.
 Jeanee Andrewartha said:
Hi all. Great article Jill. White hat SEO makes us all feel good, because we don't feel like we are also destroying the internet that we live off and enjoy, by providing SEO services. What could feel better than helping deserving businesses succeed. But who is deserving? Does a new business deserve to be on top or an established business? Does a business deserve to be on top because they are the cheapest or because they are the most professional? Generally we don't ask ourselves when we get a new client, 'does this business deserve to rank well?' Any business can hire copywriters to write interesting and effective sales copy and articles, hire marketers to hunt down "ethical" links, hire programmers and designers to craft a wonderful, robot friendly, XHTML compliant and user friendly site, hire SEO consultants/project managers to bring all the elements together but does that business actually deserve to be on top? Even seemingly legitimate businesses can sell overpriced products, or scam people into shoddy contracts, or take out money from a person's credit card without their consent. But who can judge what businesses deserve to rank well in natural search results? And how many businesses are ethical anyway? So many businesses are not ethical, to try and convince them to do ethical SEO, and play fair rather than SPAM the internet with crappy content and links is talking to the wrong audience. Black hat SEO may kill the golden goose but in the end, if unethical businesses use ethical white hat SEO, does it really make any difference ? We end up with SPAMMY, SCAMMY sites that look ethical and fool us into buying crap products, and dodgy services. It's more of a perception and certainly for those of us who use the internet a lot, finding what you are looking for is harder than it used to be and if people can't find what they are looking for using a search engine, then the internet has lost its usefulness. Today, you can still find what you are looking for, but it just takes a lot more looking (and while you are looking, you might click on a few adsense ads on the way - which is good for Google). Perhaps too, our need to have immediate results in seconds or less, based on a keyword term and no advanced ability to refine results locks Google into a one prong approach to search that is easy to circumvent and create a whole black hat SEO industry.
So in the end, the internet is becoming more like the real world - more unethical. Whereas in the beginning the internet had a higher proportion of people who were more educated, more ethical, and more community minded. Now, it's getting a bit more crowded with more undesirables, and the internet is changing because it is now for the masses. Black and white is not so easily defined.
Black hat SEO is bad because it leaves a trail of waste of junk sites and crap content. For this reason Google needs to do something about it. Perhaps they could ban high profile businesses for using black hat techniques, and like speeding fines, that will bring people back in line faster than trying to tweak an already strained algorithm. However, it doesn't solve the problem of white hat SEO ranking unethical businesses well but fortunately, not too many unethical businesses use white hat SEO. Only one that I know of, that I just happened to get stung by last month. Certainly I will do more research next time round.
Maybe like oil and water - white hat SEO generally does not mix with unethical businesses. We can only hope.
 Beverley Moore said:
Thanks for this letter. I can't add anything to what's already been said, beyond the fact that at least now I know it's not just me!

I'm a copy writer. When I'm working with clients I explain what's supposed to work; that it's worth spending time to produce content and articles that will lead to quality links; that they can't expect overnight success. Several times I've found that they talk to an SEO 'expert' who sellls them the idea of junk articles etc, takes their money - and it works.

Does it matter? Yes, because the more rubbish that's out there, the harder it is to find the useful stuff.
 Craig McLaughlan said:
You probably know how much I dislike agreeing with you, so this is going to hurt (me).

My thoughts exactly. I'm tired of looking foolish...
 Jill Whalen said:
@Craig, I'm not sure I even know you, and therefore have no clue as to whether you dislike agreeing with me or not.

At any rate, glad we're on common ground with this one!
 Hans Riemer said:
Kudos for having the courage to speak out about something that has frustrated us and our clients for years. Google isn't all-powerful but this problem isn't so hard to fix, especially since they've created a way to crowdsource the police work. In fact, we recently posted a poll on our blog asking "Did Google penalize an SEO spam site after you reported them, and guess what, the dominant result by far is "No." Google should be ashamed of being a major enabler behind the rise of crappy content on the web. I hope your article prompts them to finally devote some resources to this. Good job!
 Jeff "Webwork" Libert said:
Atomization is a word, applied to the WWW, that I first recall hearing from the mouth of Justin Sanger at PubCon LV.

I think it's time to refocus. In the "approaching future" traffic sources will be greatly dispersed - ergo "atomized" - and you can see that already happening as Twitter, Facebook, review sites, ratings sites, RSS, apps, Email reborn as optin promotions (Groupon, etc) and other processes and platforms take hold.

Rethink -> Not search engine optimization but "discovery optimization" ~ being "found everywhere", sometimes "by link", sometimes just by mention, etc.

I don't see thinking this way, of an atomized traffic world, is in any way anti-Google. However, one could without great difficulty view G's policies or practices - the one's that have impaired natural link development - as anti-atomization of traffic sourcing, at least in the sense that the fewer movements about the WWW that are made via links outside the G SERPs millieu the better for G, right?

Atomization. Think about it. And thank Justin for inserting the word into the dialogue. I'm just spreading it around a bit. ;)
 Mark Thurston said:
I 'get 'your frustration. I also highly doubt there is any algorithm or way to prevent the 'gamers' short of 100% human review. In the meantime, I wonder about:
"...patiently explaining to business owners and budding SEO enthusiasts that the key to being found in Google is to have one, great, encompassing website.
And I really thought that by 2010 all of the above would be 100% true. And yet they're not.
But you've made a liar out of me.
And it works! Yes, Google, those keyword-rich links on crap sites hugely boost the rankings for the targeted website in YOUR search results...
I'll keep telling people to make their websites be the best that they can be for their users...
But when they ask me whether my way works better than spamming you, I'll have to tell them the truth."
It appears you KNOW what works, tell clients to do something that does not work as well, (though, my testing shows a completely un-SEO'd site with 'encompassing content', will eventually rise to the top... just takes longer), and will only explain the real deal if asked. Until asked, you seem comfortable with 'lying by omission'? Why not volunteer the information and dare them to do it right? If asked, and you 'tell the truth', and a client wants you to implement those 'black/gray hat' tactics into their campaign... you will...?

I am sure, you won't OK this comment, but I did want to apologize for the 'Dear Ann Launders' letter. It was a bit over the top, but still accurate, IMO.

To your success,

PS-Reprinting a letter in a forum filled with many that use the exact same tactics you rail against... bound to go south quickly.

PPS-Use Bing or just skip to page 5 of Google before wasting time looking at the crap on the 1st 1-3 pages. ;)
 Jill Whalen said:
@Mark Thurston you said:
"If asked, and you 'tell the truth', and a client wants you to implement those 'black/gray hat' tactics into their campaign... you will...? "

No, of course I wouldn't. I refuse to add clutter to the Internet just as I always have. I would tell the client that they're welcome to do it on their own and that it may or may not work for them. Or that it may work for awhile and stop working at some point.

If they want to do it, they would no longer be my client, however, and I would remove them from any list I might have that may have mentioned them as a client so that nobody would assume I had anything to do with compounding an already bad problem.
but I did want to apologize for the 'Dear Ann Launders' letter. It was a bit over the top, but still accurate, IMO.

Not sure what you mean.
PS-Reprinting a letter in a forum filled with many that use the exact same tactics you rail against... bound to go south quickly.

The only place I posted this letter was here on my website.
 Mark Thurston said:
OK ;)
 John said:
Just do a but of everything. Build a great site, get natural links, buy links, get some automated links, whatever. It's about balance and always has been IMO.
 Anonymous said:
Building a great site isnt enough anymore. A lot of really well built and well optimized sites had no choice as this is what seperates them from the crowd. When there's money to be made, you best believe people will break the rules.
 fathom said:
Anyone can build a Wikipedia and capture top ranks and millions in donates but not everyone will.

Anyone can build a YouTube and get bought out for $1.4 billion dollars but not everyone will.

Anyone can build a Twiiter and end up having a inherent market value of $3 billion dollars but not everyone will.

Anyone can be a facebook and have a $11.5 billion dollar price tag on their head but not everyone will.

Anyone can make a great website but not everyone will... and for everyone else that thinks they have a great website (including their SEOs)... there is Adwords!

That's the point! According to Google Adwords levels the playing field for everyone... and as long as Google gets their cut... it won't change.
 Rob said:
Jill I agree with everything you said.

100 page site with original quality content
Domain name is business name
Natural links and a some directory listings


20 page site with generic content
Domain name keyword rich
+ five crappy 5 page sites (keyword rich domain) with little or no orignal content linking to main site
Exchanging reciprocal links blocked by robots.txt

The quality site following Googles Guidelines will appear nowhere for the important keywords, whilst the others using above techniques will easily attain high rankings ?

Google is not giving Webmaster much choice but to ignore their guidelines and do what works.

What is even more frustrating, is the spam reporting, you can provide as much detailed information about a domain or link farm and even include registrant details, IPs, absolutely nothing is done about it.

I can only conclude that Google intentionally ignores these small scale domain farms / link schemes, so that legitimate businesses have no choice but to pay for Google's sponsored listings.

Oh and don't get me started on the article directory spam ;)
 Safari Man said:
Hello Jill, thanks for the letter to, but you have indirectly told us what works! SPAM!!! and its like google can't do so much about it. All they do is put on scarecrows. I think its up to us to choose between being good and shrewed!!
 Joe said:
I hate Google. For years, I competed and complained about sites that used hidden text, hidden links, and flat out in-your-face tactics that Google would say they would de-list you for. They eventually de-listed them a few years later... meanwhile, they accumulated MY business.

Then I fell for ppc through Google. What a scam. Travel industry keywords are expensive (I averaged $3+/click. My regular google rankings went through the roof, as Google ad-sellers promoted my site. It was pathetic.... "ABC cruises", a google keyword add directory ranked higher in Googles' directory then our site. Sorry Google.. I want you to be the directory, not a directory for directories.

So, #13.. 'lil old me. #3 - a site that featured nothing but paid advertising, with me near the top, paying for each click. My site propagated like wildfire. Unfortunately, when we quit doing adwords, all that dried up and down we went.

Google is as corrupt an organization as any, and I look forward to the day it goes down.
 Uri said:
Fact is a Fact, Google is not as beyond making money..

Can you blame them.. I mean we tell our customers that focus is the most important part of SEO..

Focus on the right keywords, focus on building content, links & tasks that MAKE YOU MONEY..

Why would expect Google to do anything less.

Look at Universal Search... the simple fact is that the best way for Google to combat ORGANIC spam is to put their properties IN FRONT OF IT... :-)

So now we optimize for all Google Properties not just organic rankings...

I have a love/hate relationship with Google just like many IM's..

At the end of the day.. Hats OFF to them..

Besides; as usual..

Yesterday's WHITEHAT techniques are today's BLACKHAT techniques...

Just deal with it.. :-)
 Michael said:
Jill - I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments.
The concept of awarding extra value to a site because others link to it is fair enough - whats wrong is all the SEO's seeing this as a mechanism to exploit by generating rubbish to link from. So we see the same old reconstituted rubbish proliferated everywhare for the sake of generating links. In the 10 years or so that I have been interested in SEO I have read hardly any new articles that have anything new to say on the subject.
Now we have all the marketeers telling clients that they must have a blog, join in conversations and get on twitter etc etc to create links whether it makes sense or not for their business.
This emphasis on links has turned something that was positive into a monster that is making a nonsense of the internet. To me this ranks up there with spam emails.
Of course, there are plenty of people benefiting from it that are happy to say we should just accept thats the way it is. Personally I don't think that makes it ok or acceptable. I would rather contribute to a better web than help make it worse.
 Matt Evans said:
@SEO_MadHatter - we are not hiding links. the links are all very visible to users. the treatment being used to display them is a user experience treatment and not an SEO one.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Matt Evans, in Google's text cache you have all these browsable links which are not on the page for users that I can tell. (The .ca version of your site.)

I don't know that Google would care about it or not, and I'm not sure whether it should be classified as search engine spam, but unless I'm missing something, you're showing different things to users than to SEs.
 Matt Evans said:
@Jill Whalen, yes we just noticed those within the past month and are working on fixing, but they are by no mean intentional. Mistake by a developer.
 Rob said:
@Matt Evans
 Max said:

This article sums up my feelings 100%. I feel as if Google has never been easier to game. Competitors of my clients are ranking above them using spun articles, profile links, and spammy dofollow comments. How am I supposed to compete under whitehat rules when blackhat techniques are owning Google. This makes me look incompetent to my clients. The only way to win right now seems to be blackhat techniques. Want to see a perfect example? Check out the backlink profile of this site: [removed]


[Jill: removed. As I said earlier, this isn't a place to out sites. ]

 D Layman said:
I just love people who tell the truth, the whole truth and... Good for you - and us!
 Jill Whalen said:
@Matt Evans, that sounds very silly since they are obviously done on purpose as they mention that they're for SEO. That's kinda like "But I didn't inhale."

Whatever. I don't personally think it's that bad and in many ways believe it's a great idea. It's certainly not the sort of spam I was referring to in my letter to Google.
 Al Toman said:
I stated from the first time I heard of the term SEO that Google is a business and nothing more. If anyone considers Google a search engine they a're naive. It's a business-revenue machine for Google. The Goo Boys have over 20 billion dollars in their pockets as a result.

How many billions do you have in your pocket?
That's what I thought.

The income you're deriving off the business machine is residual. Goo boys count on it in order to grow their revenues. You are working for them.

Are you getting compensated?
I didn't think so.

If you seek an ethical "doing it the right way" search engine then consider the World's largest and most powerful search engine today, the public library.

Oh that's right. You don't make any money off of the library search engine. My bad. Hence, you have Google, a business machine.

You proved it yourself over and over again that this Google doesn't even come close to being a search engine.

Imagine if Sir Tim Berners-Lee charged you a transaction fee to use HIS invention, the World Wide Web.

I've been asking you SEO people from the beginning of time why crap is often ranked high on SERP 1 POS 1-3 and I have yet to get a response. For my business, the deals are ALWAYS found somewhere on SERP 27 through 59. MOST NEVER on SERP 1-3.

Maybe because you know that Google is a business machine and has nothing to do with search? But if you tell anyone that your SEO business tanks?

Oh that's it.

Does SEO work?

First, SEO doesn't exist because you do NOT own the search engine, therefore, you cannot optimize it. You may be doing something but it ain't SEO.

Second, anyone who studied the business machine can 'work' the machine, whether wearing a white, black, pink, or purple with yellow poka dots hat. And yes with the knowledge and tools of how to work the machine can produce SERP 1 results.

Who cares! I don't buy off SERP 1 anyway!

If a company has to pay $50,000 a year to get to position SERP 1, then SOMEONE has to pay for it. NOT ME, big fella. That's why I buy off of SERP XXX. Works everytime.

As well, you don't have to search through all the crap that lands on SERP 1.

Further, SEO always tout their services with companies like IBM, MICKEY MOUSE, Bank of America, ZAPPOS.

I have YET to see a SEO tout their services for "Joe's Small Engine Repair" or "Mary's Trouffets" .... oh that's right ..... they can't afford SEO!

That's about 24,000,000 small businesses here in the United States.

Once again we prove that Google is a business machine having NOTHING to do with (ethical) search.
 Seo-Montreal said:
@Matt Evans: " Mistake by a developer" you should thanks him = it`s very precious links.

By the way in the code the links are in the div :

A good Seo developer you have :)
 Seo-Montreal said:
div = panelseo2" class="seoLinksPanel
 Robin of LockSEOly said:
Wow, tons of comments, can't believe I made it all the way down here. Just wanted to say that I specialize in helping small business owners get onto page 1 of the Google SERPs.

I do it by slowly building links through blog posting, article directories and, yes, buying links. Why slowly? Simply because they don't have the budget to do it quickly.

As my latest client told me, (owns a two car limo business), the yellow pages doesn't work any more and if he is not on page one, the phones don't ring. Should I turn him away because he can't afford to pay me 1000's per month? No! Can I stay "pure" and get him ranked for what he can afford to pay? No!

So I use shortcuts that work, he's happy (right now ranking #2 for his main keywords) and I make a small profit. His customers are happy because they found someone quickly who has a nice site and more importantly, delivers good value and excellent service.

As far as the shortcuts go, I try to ensure that the blog posts and articles read well and add some value to the net, even though they are done purely for linking purposes and I'd be very surprised if human eyes ever see many of them.

I really do take issue with you SEO purists that don't track rankings and never build a link. Real world small businesses do not have that luxury, or even an inkling on how to achieve high rankings.

(not my real name, since you never know who might be reading this, right Matt? )
 John Crenshaw said:
My beef exactly with White-Hat SEO. Costs more, takes more time, and sometimes you end up (almost ;-) ) getting beat by shades of grey.
 David Pavlicko said:
Wow, great post Jill...

I think the big key takeaway here is - diversify your SEO/ SEM strategy.
 Hamiltonthisis said:
OMG. My parents think that a company from india is going to get them nationally ranked #1 after 3 months, and I am so against this type of behaviour.

great Post
 tudor mateescu said:
The post is good but I think you exaggerate a lot.
Google does a better job, but the search engine spammers also improved their skills.
And let's be serious.. the anchor text is important and is logical to be important.

Also the keyword domains. You have also have a keyword domain. We don't search just for brands. And to become a brand is not accessible to anyone. The poor student who stats with 50 buks in his pocket is having a chance against all the big brand, full of money and marketing teams.

If you don't like it, don't use it. Buy adwords, go on yahoo and so on...

This is SEO, is taugh.
 Hugh Hood said:

I agree wholeheartedly with your comments, and share your disgust and frustration.

Now, I have _no_ problem getting beaten by a superior website, but dadgummit, some days I shake my head and mutter to myself, "I can't believe I'm losing to this crap."

Have you ever had a superior or co-worker ask, "I thought you spent of _ton_ of time improving the site, but I notice our rankings are static."?


Are we going to _have_ to switch to the dark side and play the game?
 John Nagle said:
This anger at Google from the SEO community is striking. I've seen complaints like this before, but never so many in one place.

It's quite possible to stop web spam, but it takes a hard-line approach we're not likely to see from Google. In 2004 and 2005, Google sponsored the "Web Spam Squashing Summit". Then they had a down quarter. In 2006, they started sponsoring the Search Engine Strategies conference. Arguably, that's when Google turned to the dark side.
 Dark Warrior said:
Why you care for "ethnics" so much. If it works and you dont get caught - do it. Whitehat is BS for the most part. The "build great content and links will come doesnt work", as I've tried it, and know for a fact its BS...
 Jill Whalen said:
@Dark Warrior, some of us care about the Internet and the search engines because we use them all the time and aren't happy when we constantly find clutter and spam rather than real businesses.

It has nothing to do with whether you get caught or not, but everything to do with being a good "netizen."
 Beth Burgess said:
My websites follow your advice, Jill. I keep things aboveboard and try to keep everything the way I believe my customers will like seeing it. However, one of my competitors that spams everything they do consistently outranks me. While it's not ok to me, I accept it. And hope one day it will no longer be true.

Thanks for writing this.
 Derek Edmond said:
Great letter and true in many respects, but there are parts of link building that aren't completely "distasteful". But upon reflection, the more exciting parts of link building could really just be called a specialized form of marketing communication.

The issues you mention point to a reason ethical SEO consultants can never guarantee results for keywords. Once a keyword strategy is defined and you begin uncovering the ways the competition is doing "well" its an educated decision between the client and consultant as to whether they can reasonably expect to do better (or compete in general).

It's not just when faced with questionable tactics like spammy link building though, but the opportunity costs (short and long-term) of alternative investments as well.
 Someone who actually writes code said:
Dear Jill,

I understand your frustration. I really do! But I have a similar frustration with you and people in your industry: Why don't you try to write an algorithm that accurately separates purchased links from natural links, close to 100% of the time across billions of pages, while every shady business on the planet (literally) works 24-7 to finds ways to subvert you.

Yours truly,
-An actual programmer.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Programmer, I totally agree, but it's not ME you're talking to. I'm the one who's been telling other SEOs for years to not go that route. In fact, I have been recently speaking to various organizations for search marketers on being a responsible search marketer. Within that talk I mention and show examples of the shady things that search engine spammers (not SEOs) do to give our industry a bad name.

But by the same token I also discuss within that talk how Google is also at fault because there are some very low hanging fruit search engine spam that they allow through even when it's been pointed out to them. That's what makes it so frustrating for those of us trying to help, and trying to do the right thing.

So please don't lump search engine spammers in with professional SEOs. The two have nothing to do with each other.
 fathom said:
The problem with complicated math equations (aka algorithms) they have tons of unexpected side effects.

When you edit to tackle this problem over here... you induce a variety of nuances that weren't previously considered.

This is why you can invent nofollow one year to give website owners control of link spam and 3 years later sort of unnofollow the value of the control because you don't want website owners to have any real control (that's PhD75 thinking)

All that said, it's obvious that Google is better than anything else out there because of user experience... if search users really start getting nothing but spam they will vacate... that's a given and they aren't so as much as one wishes to complain about spam in all its forms the search user has the control not the search provider nor the site owner nor their SEOs.
 Alex Cortez said:
Awww, a Bostonian. Nice blog, by the way. I found you through McGee's blog. Anyway, I concur, the fact that link-building (and in many cases, link-buying) has such a weight on G's algorhythm is unnatural. Grrrr.
 a REAL REAL coder said:
@Someone who actually writes code said

I don't believe writing an anti-spam algo is that hard, most spam is very easily identifiable (e.g. the distribution and frequency of anchor text). However having the data centers and $$ to crawl petabytes of data and create a web index - now that's HARD!

Did you know Larry Page was originally VERY against a commercial entity monopolising the web index? If the index was open I'm pretty sure someone could come up with a better search algo. Building the index is the hard part.....
 Joseph Doughty said:

I couldn't agree with you more. But, unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world. Besides Google is way more interested in Ad sales, bought by many of the same people doing the illicit "black hat" tactics to begin with. Kind of reminds me of lobbyists getting paid to pay politicians to protect the interests of the companies the represent. Black hatters make plenty of money and pay (and pray) the system stays the same.
 Jackie Frandsen said:
Love your article!!

It's fantastic how much spam that are out there and even get the superb rankings out there, when all we do is claiming that value for the user are the one.

Keep up fighting!
 Earl Grey said:
I been telling you all for years but you never listened.
 Jon Wade said:
I have been looking at new ways to promote my sites recently and found myself toying with the idea of such methods. I personally think they are all really spammy and ruin the internet, but if the competition is doing it it is hard to ignore. Article spinning is just crazy, I have read about people who run thousands of sites at a time, spinning and scraping and interlinking, and raking in cash from adsense and other affiliate networks, all the while I labour away, getting mostly nowhere...
 Another Toad said:
This is all so true, when will google ever be honest and admit they cannot police the web like they maintain they can, half the first page results we find are no more relevant than the adwords ads :(
 Ilya Elbert said:

Jill I don't want to get into an SEO debate with you, but I don't agree that branded and non-anchor text related links are useless for SEO. If a domain has significant page rank and seomoz DA rank, simple on page SEO will frequently get it ranking WITHOUT any links for low-competition keywords. So domain authority DOES play a factor, and any links, even naturally gained non-anchor-text-optimized ones, will boost this authority. Its not going to be as fast as building a bunch of linkwheels with scrapebox links on the back end, but the page WILL rank as a result of on-page and domain authority.
 Harry Vi said:
This totally explains why I see non sense websites rank higher than very reputable websites. Frustrating indeed! First time visitor and will subscribe for sure!
 Optimator said:
This is, unfortunately, still a VERY relevant article with great comments. I've made an alert of this one :)
 BooBooBaba said:
FInally some people recognize that Google and other are not angels and providence !
all these companies (google, facebook, youtube etc...)
play free public service but in reality it's ultra private services to make money.
and the second game is, as you generate a lot of traffic, as the media use it and make a lot of articles on them because they have interest on them (stock options)
so they simply make a lot of money from LIES. And finally nothing has changed from the old to the new market....
 Justin Freid said:
Always good to hear people voice this type of opinion. I work in the financial sector and see tons of websites ranking high with paid links. It gets a little frustrating hearing so much about Google cracking down on spam and then seeing these sites rank on the first page with so many obviously purchased links.
 Barb said:
In response to an earlier comment, I do not understand taking issue with folks who don't do link building. I've never used it and never had to. Not even when building new sites for brand new domains, never begged, borrowed or bought links. Always thought it was a bunch of contrived BS perpetrated by the engines. Nope, never used link building. I don't have time for it and not into begging "PLEASE can I link with you so that I can get higher rankings?" I'm supposed to depend on a link from some other site so that MY site or theirs can rank higher? I don't think so. Doesn't make sense to me. I'm more into internal linking which makes a whole lot more sense to me.

Proper, natural and to-the-bone SEO using white hat techniques is all I use. I don't use SEO software either and still manage to get clients top placement on organic or maps serps for their keywords and primary markets. In addition, my clients always renew and send referrals. Their phones are ringing and they're getting lots of work. One client told me he gets more calls using my services than he ever got with yellow book.

So, what's this link building stuff about again?

To Jill, absolutely love how you have your foot up Google's arse. You think there's room for my foot too? Wait while I put on my spiked, knee length boots. I'm goin' in sideways, both feet and up to the knees. Everything you said is spot on and I love it.
 Pawel Reszka said:
Jill there something much bigger now on the horizon. The blackhatters got smart and are now purchasing legitimate sites with existing Page Rank from places like Then they change theme of these sites to match content of their main site for relevancy. Next, they spin articles and blast them out to their network of sites they just purchased. It's really getting ugly out there. It's becoming almost impossible to compete if you don't have a huge budget to keep up with link buillding. I am not sure how Google is going to combat this type of spam. The articles they post have no value at all. Mostly it's all duplicate content that was spun like a 1000 times. Now I am not against building networks of sites. It's actually very smart and I have a network of my own but most of my sites in my network don't link to each other. They are just entities on their own. The blackhatters on the other hand use their networks to rank spammy sites that don't provide any value whatsoever. What happened with "Content is king" ? But here is another problem. If Google takes action against these sites and start banning them what stops someone from blasting out some spam for their competitor to get them banned? lol
 Jill Whalen said:
@ Pawel I do think Google's Farmer/Panda update has addressed a lot of those issues, thankfully.
 Joel said:
Yes, all the high ranking sites I compete with have built their own little network of links. Completely un-natural but it works. Should we go with what is natural and "ethical" or what actually works. well when it comes to business, what works will win every time. Guess that's why business and ethics often do not mix well Sad but true.
 Ben Fisher said:
Couldn't agree more. If things were done weighed more naturally there would be a significant amount of higher quality sites showing up in the search engines.
 Mark said:
I too will keep trying to get clients to build wonderful websites that their customers will actually get some value out of, and keep crying when the spammy sites outrank them.
 Tom said:
That is the neatest most humerous letter I have ever read. And it really hits home, as I sometimes tend to want to do some of the blackhat stuff but then i back away and decide not to do it.... But I loved the letter and have not yet had enough time to read all the comments, but I have bookmarked the site and I intend to come back and read the rest of the comments. Some of them are hillarious. I will plunder around the rest of you site and see what I can find.
 jack said:
Hello Jill,
Truth of the matter is that Google is a spammer, and you won't realize that untill and unless you have broken through rank and file of google's ranking algorithm. Then only would you know that they cannot be more relevant, unless they open up their system, which they will never do.

However, a day will come when its ranking algorithm (which is no longer a secret), will be publicized to end all speculation and for a new and better open search engine takes its place, not from Google.
 Jonathan said:
Great post. With all the power that Google has, why don't they block sites from their index that advertise link building services? That would at least slow the process down a little....
 Paul said:
Interesting post Jill. I see good quality websites that used to be ranked high on Google are ranked lower now. And websites that do all the SEO things they're NOT suppose to do get ranked higher. Sometimes I wonder if Google even knows what they're doing.
 Paul said:
Yes, most of the high ranking sites I compete with have their own network of websites to use solely for back links. Of course it's totally un-natural but it obviously works for them. And yet their never gets penalized.

Does Google even care about this "unethical" practice? It makes me wonder...
 Rick said:
Could not agree more. The life of an SEO can be quite frustrating sometimes because we have to adapt to someone else rules. With so much of the market share of searches going Google's way, we pretty much have to abide by their rules. Thankfully, the social space is growing and it is providing another option for us to drive traffic from.
 Joesph Tettlemen said:
Even with all of the updates, spam is still relevant. You need look no further than the payday loan industry and realize that the backlink profiles for some of the top ranking websites are horrendous.