An open letter to webmasters, "SEO gurus" and, of course, "professional" SEO companies
My name is Robert Gombos, founder and CEO of JasmineDirectory.com. I myself have been a webmaster since 2002. During these 12 years I've learned more than I thought I would ever want to about what the Internet really means, but more importantly, about how the Internet is getting shaped year by year (or even month by month if you don't behave and get in Google's radar) by money.
Is the Internet shaped by... money!?
In my opinion, yes, it is. Let's not be hypocrites for a second and think about the entire picture. Besides a few non-commercial resources, almost everything out there is connected to money in some way or other, whether we're talking about a local pizza delivery website or a web templates provider.
The truth is, you can really earn a decent income if you have a great idea and you have the right budget to market it. Basically, you can wrap shiny tinfoil around a piece of cake and you can sell it with proper marketing.
As we all know, Google plays a major role in this picture because its search engine is widely used. If you have no visitors, you have no sales – it's simple as that. Yes, it's true, you can get visitors by a lot of other ways, but none can compete with organic traffic. Basically, Google, over all these years, has had to fight spam since it's human nature to get to something using the shorter way. All major updates have been related to the way websites link to each other since one of the major criteria in their algorithms are the number and quality of backlinks.
During these years we've witnessed almost everything:
- - The sinking of article directories
- - Spam web directory penalty
- - Panda update
- - Penguin update
- - Page Layout update
- - Hummingbird update
- - Guest blogging penalty
Plus much more.
People have abused more and more platforms and industries to gain power, better rankings and so on.
They've done that by writing hundreds of promotional articles and sending them just for the sake of a backlink to hundreds of article directories; by falling into the trap of obscure SEO companies providing mass web directory submissions ("we'll submit your website to 2500 free web directories!!!" – sound familiar?); by using various software to spam WordPress-based blogs with thousands of spam comments (yeah, “keep up the good work, I will follow you!”) using spam keywords instead of their real name, by hiring others to do guest posting for them (which lately, yes, it was paid), spinning the hell out of an article, etc.
Don't choose the shortcut to Mecca, because you won't get there.
I really do understand that if I look from a certain perspective. But I understand why Google is fighting back as well.
Google plays just the right cards
Google, as the world's largest online advertiser through its dominant search engine and the second-most valuable U.S. firm, wants to develop more and more, to expand and to offer through their search engine "better user experience." So all these updates were meant to help the inexperienced end user, the one that types in a keyword in that well-known input field.
Now, of course, a simple guy who has an idea and wants to earn some cash using the power of the Internet doesn't have a realistic overview of how much work and dedication is involved in this process in order to be successful.
Basically, what Google has kept telling us all these years still stands: deliver quality, not quantity.
You know the drill. In theory, we, as webmasters should buy a whatever domain, deploy an extremely fast website on an extremely fast hosting environment, write extremely informative and unique content, insert relevant images, charts, tables and tools, etc.
Than we have to wait for someone to discover us and link to us (essentially vouching for us). Often, we don't have enough money to team up with others and do stuff as a team. So we need to know what to do when our server crashes, we need to know how to optimize a page to load faster, we need to know how social media is working, what's ROI, test this and that, learn from others and so forth. It's just... exhausting, believe me.
We're not Mashable with hundreds of authors and many members in our technical development department; we're not Elance, PayPal or you name whatever well-known online business with a team behind it.
The idea is that by yourself you won't be able to do much. You just... can't. You won't have enough time to keep up with those huge online businesses with hundreds of contributors and authors.
You, on the Internet, are like a grain of sand in the dessert. Nothing significant, but you're part of it.
Anyway, let's get back to the point. Even before thinking to "sell" something on the Internet, ask someone who really knows how things work on the Internet. Or, at least read Google's TOS and stick to it. Play by the rules and have patience. Try to contact other webmasters, enter those webmaster forums (like DigitalPoint) and read others' stories.
Try to shape your own vision about what's good and what's bad.
Don't trust those mass spam e-mails from "SEO gurus" no one ever heard of claiming they'll "help" you (for a certain amount of money, of course) to rank well for specific keywords. No one on this earth can guarantee you that. The process is so complicated and time-consuming and involves so many things and knowledge, that some goals are only achievable with years of hard work, dedication and a lot of spending. There's no such thing as cheating when it comes to Google. Or, in the best-case scenario, you'll be able to archive some results, but for a short period of time.
Take it easy and build some backup plans just in case something fails. Having a backup helps you a lot, both in real life and on the Internet as well. Learn to jump before the actual jump. Learn from others' mistakes and from yours as well.
If you really have enough money, search for a reputable SEO company and ask for contact details of other webmasters they worked for. Don't buy anything just because you see a banner with "Dude, we're the best! Buy now! 10% off!"
What you really need to understand is this: Google wants you to grow naturally and people vouch for you or your services because you're good. Yes, it's called competition and it's natural to happen.
Beloved (best) SEO companies
You have your own industry and I think it's going well. No matter who your client is, you promise to help his business to climb the mountain. There are very few of you out there who have a trace of morality in what you're doing.
To start with, the Internet is full to the brim with "Best SEO Company" spam. Who says you're all "the best"? How confusing is for a novice webmaster to see hundreds of best SEO companies?! The best – it's a superlative, there's nothing beyond that, so it's just insane.
All your clients pay you on a monthly basis for your services. Often, some of you use techniques that are against Google's TOS to have a report to send to the payee. No report, no money – right? With every Google update, if some of your client's website gets penalized, you charge them again to repair what you or others did wrong. And the naive pay again, because he's desperate.
Have you ever watched a video, read an article about the official stand of Google regarding guest posting, web directories, article directories? Have you ever thought about the long-term results your actions will have on a website you're "optimizing"!?
Many of you hold the opinion that bloody backlinks are all that matter. I'm not saying it's not important to have backlinks that pass the time test, but don't trick your clientele with advice without knowing what you're talking about.
A guest post is as good as it was so far, but people abused this industry just to gain do-follow backlinks. People still gain brand awareness, exposure, etc. As you may know, naturally, a website should link with a do-follow link to a resource only if the writer consider that resource trustworthy and valuable. If we cross that line, yes, we do violate Google's TOS.
Some time ago, Matt Cutts clearly stated that Google has nothing against those web directories that exists for the purpose they were created for: to offer their visitors a consistent user experience, have a reasonable number of high-quality resources and, of course, serve their purpose.
Sadly, yeah, it's true that 99% of the web directories out there are nothing but trash, but there are still a few very good directories that have their own editors. The suggestion fee is not equivalent with "guarantee of acceptance," rather someone's time and effort is paid. But you, as the "reputable" SEO company you claim to be, don't see the whole picture and then you spam again with messages like:
My name is XXXX YYYYYYY and I work for ZZZZZZZ SEO Company. We are a digital agency that is currently responsible for the Internet marketing of domain.com. Whilst recently reviewing all the links pointing to the domain.com website, we have noticed that you currently have link/s on your website anotherdomain.com. While they greatly appreciate all your support, their marketing team has put through a request to see if it is possible to remove the link/s below, as they no longer appear to comply with the guidelines set out by the various search engines.
Really now? It sounds familiar?
I don't know, if I owned a SEO company, supposedly I should be very familiar with Google's official statements regarding various link-building techniques. You just need to seek the information because it's available for everyone, but you should be the first to know about it... if you really care.
Why I wrote this
Just because I hope someday a newbie webmaster like I was 10 years ago will stumble across this story and after reading it, will think a bit about what the Internet is really all about. About how money and resources can shape your online presence. About how misleading various companies are.
Don't accept, at face value, every tweet that you read from SEO gurus whom you never heard of, every blog post, of spam that you get in the mail warning you of what not to do in order to make Google happy. Many of these warnings are self-serving misrepresentations.
Web directories are not dead, and listing your site in a web directory can still be good search engine optimization, as long as it is a reputable directory. Although they are outnumbered by disreputable directories, there are many directories that are good quality resources, and nothing that Google has done is a threat to these directories. Do your own research. Don't believe everything you read, because much of it simply isn't true.
Think for yourself. Learn. Then act.