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SEO Website Audit

Who Keeps Spreading Silly SEO Stupidity, and Why?

June 15, 2011

Not a week goes by where a reader or a client doesn't ask me a question based on some bad SEO advice they heard or read somewhere. Most of the time they don't know it's bad advice. They assume that if they read it in a blog, went to a seminar, listened to a webinar or even discussed it with a company that provides SEO as a service, the advice must be solid. Sometimes (usually if they're a long-term HRA reader ;) they may think it sounds a bit fishy, and smartly ask for my opinion.Photo Credit: sinisterbluebox

While it's true that among SEO industry veterans there can be disagreement about what works and what doesn't, there are some SEO tactics that have been known by all who have even the slightest bit of intelligence to be useless. And yet they still crop up as SEO advice -- all the time!

Just last week I got an email from a longtime HRA subscriber who told me that his friend had attended a seminar where the speaker told them they should submit their website to search engines on a monthly basis, and proceeded to provide them with the name of a tool that would do so for only $99 per month!

And just yesterday, someone emailed me for my opinion when she read in another email newsletter that Google only indexed the first 100 words on a page!

When I hear this sort of irresponsible and incorrect information being spread to impressionable Internet marketers in the making, I get irate. In fact, here's what I said in response to the question about submitting sites to the search engines:
"I honestly can't believe that there could still be, in 2011, someone who would speak to an audience on any form of Internet marketing who would recommend submitting to search engines, let alone one that would recommend spending $99 (or even 10 cents) a month to do so. In fact, it enrages me. That person who spoke must be a sales rep for that [submission tool] company, and he or she should be thrown out of the business and not allowed to speak on the topic ever again."
While it is likely that the speaker was a paid sponsor there to peddle his putrid website submission tool to clueless newbies, I started to wonder about others who spread this sort of silly SEO stupidity, and why.

Here's what I came up with:

It's easy to implement. This is likely the main reason that SEO stupidity spreads like wildfire, and the reason that is the basis for all the other reasons. SEO -- that is, real SEO -- is hard. Stupid SEO is easy. (So what if it doesn't work? That's just a small inconvenience!)

Incompetent SEOs have a vested interest in perpetuating silly SEO. The more people who think that SEO is about submitting to search engines or about meta keywords, the more people will sign up for their boondoggle services and the more ill-gained money they'll have lining their pockets.

Old articles get recirculated. There are more than 15 years' worth of old, out-of-date SEO articles from a variety of sources that may look credible on the surface (and perhaps were at one time), but that provide advice that has nothing to do with SEO in the 21st century. Just do a Google search for "Should I submit to search engines?" and you'll see all sorts of fun stuff. Even Google's Webmaster Guidelines point to their Add-URL page, which is all but worthless.

Designers and developers know just enough SEO to be dangerous.
I'll just point you to my "85 Reasons Why Website Designers / Developers Keep SEOs in Business" article to explain this one.

Forum circle jerks. There are, surprisingly, still a lot of SEO forums in the online world, most of them full of newbies. While it's great that new people in our industry want to learn SEO, they need some professional and competent SEOs there to guide them. Yet on many forums it's a case of the blind leading the blind. A newbie thinks some silly SEO technique works and spreads it to the other newbies. Eventually one of the more enterprising young SEOs writes the "Newbie Bible to Stupid SEO" and at that point what is said must be true (cuz it's in the bible!).

Believing what you read or hear instead of figuring it out for yourself. This truly irks me to no end and is definitely one of the major causes for the spread of many a silly SEO idea. If something you read sounds credible, then by all means give it a try. But unless you see proof of it working with your own eyes, then don't believe it...even if the most credible person in the SEO world wrote or said it.

Mixing up cause and effect. Another one of my pet peeves that has been common since the beginning of SEO time. Just because you changed the positioning of a word in your title tag and the next day you ranked one place higher in Google doesn't mean that your change is what caused it. It may have, but it may not have. We used to joke on the High Rankings Forum that if you keep a cabbage on your monitor it will increase your rankings. Why not? It's as likely as some of the silly SEO theories that are based on poorly drawn conclusions that mix up cause and effect.

They're set in their ways. We all know that people hate change. Many SEOs are no different. But just because a 1990s search engine could only index a certain number of kilobytes of information on a page (likely due to bandwidth constraints) doesn't mean that today's Google works that way. The search engines themselves have made huge strides over the years, and while the basics of making a great site will always remain the same, the mechanics of how to do that change often. So to the person who recently asked me if hand-coded HTML pages will rank better than dynamically generated ones, the answer is a definitive NO, even if it may have been true in 1996!

Coincidentally, just as I finished writing all of the above, I received an email from my friend and colleague Karon Thackston, who has a new client who was previously told by one of those silly SEOs, "You need a THOUSAND words of copy on your eCommerce Home Page, and cram it full of keywords"! She was also told by another silly SEO, "You need to rewrite ALL the copy on your entire site because it's no longer 'fresh.'" Apparently, he qualified "fresh" as anything over 60 days old. Sigh.

With SEO stupidity such as that being spouted to unsuspecting website owners each and every day, as well as for the reasons stated above, I fear it's going to be many more years before most people can sort out the facts from the SEO fiction.


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

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Post Comment

 Bill Weiss said:
Excellent article Jill!
 Karon Thackston said:
I agree! Can't believe the "submit to engines" thing.
 William said:
Jill, great read on the silliness that is still in existence.
 Lowell Nickens said:
Love your article Jill! It's nice to see some outrage over these issues from within the SEO community. Right up there at the top of my list of bad SEO practices is the SEO practice of charging a client for the time it takes to run a back linking report which is always at least 3-4 hours @$200 per hour, then another $200 to discuss it with you! That's very common with SEO companies; especially the SEO company that ranks #1 under the search term "SEO Company."
 Yvette Bordley said:
Hi from the UK! Thank you for posting this. It made me think about the many Q&A sites where SEO questions are answered and how difficult it can be to filter the good from good, bad & the ugly. I came across this post which i found useful. I also read SEOmoz avidly (and your blog of course :-). What top sources would you recommend out of interest?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Lowell, I don't see a problem with them charging for back link reports and consulting. Companies are free to charge whatever the market will bear. That's the beauty of capitalism!

@Yvette, I wouldn't even believe what you read on those sites (or any) unless you check it out yourself.
 Mary Sandor said:
That was a very nice and polite rant! Thanks, as always for the information, it helps when we need to coach the newbies.
 Ann Wortman said:
Very timely and appreciated article! Was just talking with a friend yesterday about the preponderance of bad advice that is being hawked in a number of fields and it is hard to know who to trust. Thanks for reminding us to know and verify your information sources.
 Alex said:
Jill I think you better get a big bag of Chamomile tea coz there's enough stupid "SEO" to outlast all of us.

Maybe you should award a prize once a year for the stupidest so called SEO advice of the year!

 John said:
I have been following your newsletter for some time now, and have been wondering about an on-page SEO technique that seems to get positive results, but to my understanding fall in the black hat tactics of SEO. I often see sites listing their core keywords directly at the top of their website, in a smaller font, often slightly translucent. Are these sites following the webmaster guidelines? I would do the same if I knew for sure this would not be considered a form of keyword stuffing. Any insights? [Site removed]
 Anonymous said:
using "circle jerks" is offensive enough to make me question the professionalism and validity of this content.
 Don Janke said:
I admit, I browse your newsletter, but never felt motivated to write a comment; until now! ;)

I ran the comment from the query through a translator; and came out with what I "think" your HRA subscriber was saying his seminar attendee friend was say.

"Sitemap" Now recommended by the Big Three (Google, Yahoo, Bing) of Search. In a sitemap you provide the list of your URLs. Does it help? Who knows; but it is recommended by all three. Regarding the monthly "submission" of your URLs the speaker was probably talking about the date and refresh reference you can put into a valid sitemap. For pretty static article pages you can set "Never" or "Monthly" or less (even hourly for perhaps the homepage).

So do submitting URLs to search make sense. As long as "sitemaps" are an opportunity it can't hurt, and might even help.

I'm feeling old now. Been online/Internet for 24 years; and if you count data over cable in the early eighties tack on another six years. Yikes!
 Jill Whalen said:
@anonymous that's good. You should always question anything you read online, even from me.

@don no the presenter definitely did not mean that. They were talking traditional spammy submitting.
 Mary Walilko said:
One of your best articles ever! There are so many SEO myths, lies and outdated SEO notions that I spend at least half of my time trying to educate my customer on What Does Not Work. What is the solution to this mess???
 eo Symmetry said:
I only have some question's for you Jill. Do you believe that submitting a website to search engines is a unrelavent task? Our is it good to submit about every 45 day's? My experience show's me that when not submitting your website gradually declines in ranking. Now, of course I understand that if your website is changing content on a regular basis the website gets indexed more often because the bots return on a more frequent basis. So, it seems that your thought about not submitting is correct as long as the web page has changes on a regular basis. All feedback appreciated.

Thank you in advance.
 RobV said:
Another accurate and informative article Jill.

I tried the cabbage trick by the way, and it didn't work - mainly due to the fact that the cabbage would not stay on top of the monitor.

So I tried a number of other vegetables, and you know what worked the best? Lettuce. But not the normal iceberg type - I mean good, organically grown lettuce.

I saw a jump in search results within two days, and I now recommend more (organic) lettuce to clients.

Thanks for that tip.
 Jill Whalen said:
@eo symetry submitting to search engines is NEVER necessessary. Not once not every month not every 75 days. Never. Period.
 Steve said:
This is a real issue. I hope to see the industry get regulated more so the bad people in SEO can just go away.

Even though I am not a straight SEO anymore (I work in SEO software) this stuff still makes me mad!

I was trying to give people advice recently and they kept asking why it wasn't a good idea to focus on article directories. They had clearly heard bad advice and had it engrained in them. No matter what I said they still thought it was a killer SEO strategy!

Pointed them in the direction of awesome books, which I bet anything they don't read!

 SEO Bedford said:
I say that I was very lucky to be introduced to the world of SEO by a legit Internet Marketing Agency where luckily I learned the right way to do SEO. Most of the things I've learned 6 years ago still apply today, off course things have evolved and so did I. But it irritates me the amount of so called SEOs who go around spreading all this crap (sorry) about revolutionary seo prodecures. The vast majority of my clients are based in the UK where people have a better understanding of SEO.
The past year I've returned to my home country (Brazil) to finish my degree in International Business Relationships and I've tried to offer my services to some website owners here and you will be amazed with the kind of things you here about SEO here. They are so so stupid that it is not even worth mentioning them and if I did I'd need a whole article to do so.
 Terbaik Murah said:
Yeah, those newbies are just like free money machine for some silly people, just like the software programmer who create silly technique in the name of SEO..

Thanks for the great article, Jill..
 Janette Marshall said:
Refreshing to read Jill, I will re-tweet this. Keep the blinkers on to block the "silly" speakers and write good relevant unique articles every time. I follow an Action Guide written by a master, it helps me with those blinkers! I would love to know how and why the search engines keep these so called SEO tips/articles listed. Maybe time for a "cabbage" after "panda"
 anthonydnelson said:
Always love to see a blog post beating down the newbies who believe everything they read. Everyone is a newbie at one time. There is nothing wrong with that. However, you should learn SEO from a variety of sources to get the fundamental concepts and withhold from sharing your own advice until you have successfully applied techniques on numerous sites with success.
 Karl Ribas said:
love it!
 LocalSearchMaryland said:
I've been online since the days of the bbs (mid 1980s). In all that time, SEO is the one business that seems to have the largest capacity for helping the business owner with their marketing efforts, if done by a professional. It also seems to be a business that is rife with incompetent folks. This was a great article. Having to explain why what the client has heard about from other "experts" is untrue, is a troublesome and common experience. Thanks for the article.
 Henri said:
Man, the SEO world is full of crap. and shit attracts more of its kind. This article explains clearly why submitting to Google is worthless yet eo Symmetry comes forward to ask the same question. And guess what? He links back to an SEO company. If that is a genuine link, is that really the sort of service you will pay for?

At the end of the day, where there is money to be made, soem people will be unscrupulous. It is up to those with the money to be careful so if they want to part with only $99 for a site submission tool, then good for them (sarcasm here, in case you are not bright enough to notice).

Even SEOmoz can fall for the money:
 Vegar said:
Great advice! I feel that a lot of people hear something and take is at fact.

I might fall into that category myself at some times. I think we all do.
 Jim Rudnick said:
thanks take on this whole issue!

just hope it climbs the ranks for "SEO boondoggle" so that the world learns about same via a google search, eh!


 Mike Glover said: said already in many ways in previous comments, you hit the nail on the head!

Good job with this article! Everyone involved in SEO (whether performing it or hiring someone to perform it) should know some basics and take the time to educate themselves. It makes the whole process a lot easier for everyone when that happens...although rare!
 Tony Dimmock said:
Another superb "say it like it is" article Jill.

"Designers and developers know just enough SEO to be dangerous" - the understatement of the century. Boy, do I get into fisty-cuffs with them! Problem is, many clients (woefully) admit that their "designer" provides "SEO" for free as part of the deal and they feel really chuffed - goodness me.

Keep up the good work Jill!

From one "in the trenches" to another..
 Doc Sheldon said:
Agreed, Jill! There's enough garbage being peddled (and gobbled up) to make a person's blood boil!
 Finn Skovgaard said:
Most of the French civil service operate with a level of ignorance similar to what you described in that article. Living here is a perpetual fight against the administration to make them abide by the law and procedures.

Back to SEO. Often, when I get requests to buy advertising on one of my sites, the customer makes it very clear that they will only consider pages having at least PR3. Sigh. So they choose the page for the ad according to public PR instead of placing the ads next to content related to the ad. I've given up discussing with them about the irrelevance of the public PR that even Google Chrome can't display without a plugin.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Finn, don't give up educating people! That's part of what keeps us in this mess. Point them to appropriate articles that discuss why toolbar PR is a useless measurement (I'm sure I have one somewhere).

I know it's frustrating, but you have the power to educate them, so don't back down!
 Finn Skovgaard said:
Jill, do you have a good link? The trouble is, I'm not an SEO company and many of these people simply don't believe what I tell them but come up with a lot of nonsense to 'educate' me how important the public PR is. Someone who considers him- or herself important in their company have told them this, so they just march along with it without questioning it. If I don't have any solid information to give them, it's useless.
 Jill (Click Here to Get to the PageRank Discussion Forum) said:
Finn, you can start with the PageRank Discussion Forum which has lots of threads from many years past that describe the basic uselessness of toolbar PR.
 Ellie Kesselman said:
This was an excellent column. I submitted it to Digg a few moments ago, as I was very surprised it wasn't there already!

and also to multiple web-related groups on Newsvine site.

My favorite part of your post was this:
If something you read sounds credible, then by all means give it a try. But unless you see proof of it working with your own eyes, then don't believe it...even if the most credible person in the SEO world wrote or said it.

I don't question the need for some guidance regarding search engine optimization for those active in e-commerce. Yet it is totally ridiculous how Matt Cutts has an almost cult-like following, hanging on his every word (I'm not saying that is his fault though). It reminds me of how the financial markets will scrutinize announcements from the Bureau of Labor or Fed for possible future directions in monetary policy that will affect bond markets!

Keep up the good work. This is not the first time I've stopped by your website and appreciated your honest assessments. One last thing: I laughed at the photo you embedded, and the attribution to sinisterbluebox. You cover every detail, and have a nice sense of humor too.
 Jill Whalen said:
Thank you Ellie, please keep stopping by!
 Oliver Feakins said:
We see this all the time! Especially form Web design firm looking to cash in on the latest SEO buzzword. Nice article Jill!
 Brent said:
I love it! It is just amazing how many people out there just hear one thing and turn around and sell it.
 Bill said:
Good article. I'm not an SEO whizz by any means, but I've found that themed original content, sensible internal and external links, an up to date site map and frequent updates can put fresh pages on result page 1 or 2 of Google pretty consistently. It's not magic ... in fact it's a lot of stinking work ... but it seems to get results. I had that magic happen with a half-dozen pages in a row ... but, after talking with the Yellow Pages sales rep, the client decided he didn't need me any more. ;-)

It was my first time out "for the money" and it was fun. Now I'm on to more relaxed pursuits.

(Yeah, I know about the "hyphen penalty" in the blog link I gave you. Moving a gardening blog to page one is like swimming upstream through concrete ... so I'm not even trying with this one. It gets the views it gets and is more of a tool to annoy one particular person than to make a living with. ISTR that Adsense now owes me about $63.00)
 Jill Whalen said:
Bill there's no such thing as a hyphen penalty.
 Ria Z said:
As a small business owner that is trying to build my own site, I feel very blessed to have happened across such honest and straightforward blogging! While I'm smart enough to not believe everything I read on the net (regardless of the source), as you so eloquently point out Jill, there are plenty of folks who seem to have forgotten that not everything on the web is in fact accurate. Sadly, it is often the small business owners who end up getting duped by unscrupulous SEO wannabes, wiping out whatever meager budget they had set aside for such things on tactics a 2 year old knows is rubbish.

[snipped out some of the comment for brevity-Jill]

Frustratingly, this same type of nonsense spreading can be found in many industries. For example, I manufacture mineral based cosmetics and sell at both retail & wholesale levels. Having started out with little knowledge, I spent years learning what I could from various reputable sources. As the mineral makeup craze hit, there were suddenly hundreds of so-called 'expert formulators' who were selling nothing more than repacked product they bought wholesale.

To make matters worse, they were proving consumers with erroneous and sometimes unsafe advice as to how and where products could be applied.
Bottom line I guess, is that this type of behavior is evident across just about any industry, so while it may be frustrating at times dealing with clients or customers who are convinced they know it all- only its all wrong- we must continue to do so! Otherwise there will be no voice of truth and reason! I apologize for my lengthy rant, but like most everyone who commented, this is a topic that hits close to home! Keep up the honest blogging! It is so refreshing!
 Gisele Glosser said:
Good article, Jill. I share your sentiments. I have had many friends and clients over the years (since 1995) who fall for these SEO scams. They get ripped off and lose faith in SEO altogether. I have been ranting this for a long time: "Anyone who tells you that they can get your site listed as #1 in Google is either lying, or pulling a bait and switch". (Anyone can get you listed as #1 in Google on a particlar search term for a whole hour if you pay them a huge fee.) Some people do not even know the difference between paid search and organic search. Sad.
 Ganbat Dashdeleg said:
Boy! I can just imagine how irritated those emails made you so, I have been there, too.
So many strange questions from SEO Clients, This clearly shows ,We need Global Accrediting Organization or some kind, otherwise good old Search Engine Optimization name is all dragged through the mud, here.
 Jill Whalen said:
@GD, I disagree that an SEO accrediting agency is needed. In fact, I think it would likely make things more confusing.
 Ganbat Dashdeleg said:
I agree in some point it could make the things more confusing. But that doesn't mean we could try?

I know it is extremely hard to have such Globally Organized Institution or such kind and all the hassles it will would take to become one.

But IMHO not having single recognized eligible institution for certification and lack of understanding : what the hell is SEO in somewhat causing all this BS SEOers to take advantage to sneak around, make some quick cash and make our lives miserable by misleading those innocent companies.

Thousand of dollars are spent nothing for just big lies and we end up cleaning their mess or educating the victims. Some even lost complete faith in SEO which is very sad and irritating.

Finally, I just wish organizations like MarketMotive and SEOMoz become more and more to clear the confusing.
 Jill Whalen said:
The only thing organizations like that will do is encourage all the bad SEOs to sign up with them to give themselves credibility. Which of course will only make things worse.

I wrote about this many years ago here:

We Don't Need SEO Standards

I feel the same way today.
 simone said:
Did you authorise this other blog to publish your piece?

Just wondering
 Jill Whalen said:
No, and I don't like that they took my name off the articles. But they did leave my links in :)
 Ben Reeder said:
It's great that I just read this article in 2013 and it still holds true. Great read...thanks for sharing.
 Limon said:
Excellent article Jill! For some silly SEO practitioners the white hat always suffers. I have found some clients who come to me after a big mess by the so called SEO specialists.

They nearly lost faith from SEO company and and we end up cleaning their mess or educating the victims.

I am agreed with Ganbat Dashdeleg- organizations like MarketMotive and SEOMoz become more and more to clear the confusing.