For those of you that haven't already read it, the weekend tech news brings us a piece from the NY Times about a major retailer who apparently simply hired the wrong SEO firm.
Nobody really knows why thousands of links (as evidenced by this article by Vanessa Fox) landed around the web, making for a classic case of what is known in the industry as 'Black Hat SEO'. It could have been anyone, inside or outside the company, a subcontractor, or even an employee trying to look good to his (or her) boss.
Some of the comments on this morning's take by TechCrunch are (very) disturbing as well.
Anyone that has corresponded with Matt Cutts or Vanessa Fox over the years knows they're simply trying to do the right thing.
So here's a story for those doubters out there.
It's one of the primary reasons I left the industry a while back, and yes it is a serious problem for Google that is going to get harder to tackle as the Internet continues to grow and coders (and spammers) get even smarter.
It was about 5 years ago that I dropped in on a 'major' SEO company. At the time, I was debating going to work for them rather than staying independent. The company was well known in the industry and the CEO highly respected for a number of ventures he was then successful at.
As I entered the 'SEO area', I was introduced to ONE person who seemed to have a very general knowledge of White Hat SEO. Then I was introduced to the staff. There was a row of college students that were, yes, planting links. They had a program and were hitting all kinds of discussion boards, comment areas, and just about anywhere else they could land a subtle link without bing noticed.
I brought it up with the manager and the response was "Hey ... it works".
It didn't work for me. I left having found exactly what I expected and that's really sad.
Keep in mind this was about 5 years ago. Webmaster Central was alive and well and they had to know exactly what they were doing.
Then there are the 'rocket scientists'. The coders that sell themselves to companies with that 'super script' that'll make them rank in Google in two weeks under 500 or a thousand search terms. I watched one of these scenerios years ago. The company DID get caught by Google's spam team and over 45 sites (that I had worked years on) plummeted to position 60 or lower. Google caught it almost immediately. The company suffered big time.
We have an industry where there are now thousands (not hundreds as the Times piece says) of well-intentioned SEO companies and individuals working hard to do the right thing. They work day and night hoping to wake up the next morning and see that their efforts have worked.
In many cases, the fruits are short-lived and replaced by a Black Hat effort.
Should they all start using the reporting tool? Probably not.
Even this blog which has been mostly dormant the past month gets spammed every day. Seriously, you may not be seeing comments and that's because Blogger and Disqus are catching them. 99% spam ?!
Everyone loses in the end. Inevitably, Google finds these 'invasions' and weeds them out but, in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars have been paid to the wrong people prior to the discovery.
The SEO industry doesn't need to be regulated as has been mentioned by some over the years .... but SEO's do need to start self-policing. If your 'friend' is gaming the system, it's time that you tell him. If that doesn't work, the reporting tool isn't a bad idea.
Google (and Bing) NEED SEO's to help the algorithm. Nobody ever writes that but it's a fact.
With a HUGE Internet out there with no end in sight, bringing solid content to the attention of the two major search engines is important. Very Important.
So all of this is really nothing new. It's not Google's fault. It's probably not even the company's fault that got caught.
Social Media won't do it all. If you haven't notice, it's a bit saturated.
If you hire an SEO firm, put it in the contract. Tell them you want 'White Hat' techniques within the guidelines of the search engines.
It's a start.
You may be surprised that it may take a tad longer ... but it will work just as well.