SEO “Outing” Is Immoral

nullWhen I first started working in the SEO industry I couldn’t understand why “outing” was such a big deal. In fact (like others in the industry) I felt the inability to talk openly prohibited our industry from growing and handling our reputation. However, back then I was naive and inexperienced. I have now seen the damage that “outing” can leave. And because of that I can’t keep my opinion on this issue quiet while having a clear conscious at the same time.

Before we get dirty with the details, I want to add a disclaimer: I have absolutely no relationship to any of the entities mentioned in this post. I do not have any relationship to any blog/link network or organized spammer.

By now I am sure that most of you have read about the demise of Build My Rank. When I first read that article, I felt sick (that is not a hyperbole). As an entrepreneur I can’t imagine what it must feel like to realize that in a matter of days your company is finished. I don’t want to get into the specifics over this incident, but it appears that Google’s moves against them were a result of a blog post and ensuing public debate that outed them as a link spammer.

Link spamming is not a viable strategy for SEO. Yes, you can see short term results, but by and large, these services aren’t for long term growth. Even though I think these services are a waste of money, I could care less if others use them, as long as they know the full risk involved. Many rave about lobster, but I like crab more, and that won’t stop me from having dinner with them.

But the problem with SEO outing isn’t just a difference of opinion on strategy. The problem with SEO outing is that no one assumes the full consequences of their actions. Let’s take the BMR incident as an example. How much money did they lose as a result of being outed? Do their employees have families? How many of their clients are now seeing revenue lost? How many SEO agencies contracted with them? And how many of their clients are affected? How many innocent business owners that don’t know the risk involved with these networks are now suffering? How many people are now on unemployment?

I mentioned in the beginning that I use to not understand why outing was so wrong. What changed my mind, is meeting client after client that has suffered bad SEO advice and has seen a substantial loss. Outing, only exacerbates this process by raising the level of risk.

When people engage in questionable SEO practices they are taking a risk. Many of them know the risk they are taking, but many of them don’t. Either way, it’s no one’s place to make that risk even greater. If your paycheck doesn’t say “Google” on it, it’s not your job to police the web.

So then what is your job? Your job is to keep a high standard for yourself. Your job is to keep a high standard for those you do business with. Your job is to continue educating the public on what good SEO looks like. That is how we build a better industry. That is how we build a better community. That is how we build a better web. Outing does none of that. What outing does do is create dramatic blog post that allows for the author to take a moral high ground while potentially ruining innocent people’s livelihoods. It makes me sick.

[photo credit]

If you thought this post was half way interesting, you might want to follow @joehall on Twitter. Hes a total nut bag over there, but worth a few laughs.

125 Comments

Michael Streko on March 29, 2012 at 10:29 am.

Great post. When I first got into this industry and a few people took me “under their wing” so to speak, this was something that was instilled in me from the start. So I have always been against it.

On the flip side, I know a few companies and individuals in this industry that have made their careers and built up their companies on outing stuff to the public. I’ll just let you guess who I am talking about, because I don’t out people for outing ;-)

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Chris Campbell on March 29, 2012 at 10:31 am.

Dead on. The exact same thoughts have been on my mind this past week.

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Rand Fishkin on March 29, 2012 at 10:39 am.

What is the blog post that “outed” them?

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Joe Hall on March 29, 2012 at 10:47 am.

I really don’t want to get into the “he said, she said” dialog, that’s not what this post is about, I am not placing blame on anyone with this post. But I think it was this one: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/how-garbage-ranks-in-the-serps-a-case-study

Please correct me if I am wrong or missing something and I mean that in all sincerity.

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Sarah Carling on March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am.

Oh wow that’s sad, especially as that post failed to look at the garbage any of the other sites were using for links. I remember thinking that post was especially one sided and it’s quite disgusting that it’s had the effect that it did.

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Nick Eubanks on March 29, 2012 at 11:36 am.

I have to say, IMHO, that this is sort of BS. Those involved with BMR (and by association their families, clients, etc.) knew the risks of using a private blog network to beef up their link profiles and more so, if they didn’t, they should have. To claim that “innocent business owners don’t know the risks,” also seems like a pivot of accountability; if you are going to entrust someone (anyone) to handle your SEO than you are liable for the results… business owners need to do their homework, it comes with the job title.

Also to posit that a single blog post caused Google to sniff out and take down BMR is a bit ridiculous. If you know about BMR and the way they distributed posts, spun content, and passed links within their properties – you know they weren’t exactly ‘under the radar.’

Dissecting a site and the attributes that are causing it to rank should be public knowledge because it IS public knowledge. All of the data that Eppie gathered he did so without access to anything that you and I don’t have access to… all he did was dig for data in the right places, aggregate it and build a case. I think there is a lot that can be learned from case studies based on historical data like this, especially when Google continues to say one thing and do another.

Finally, where does the outing come into play anyway? The site wasn’t ranking anymore when the post was put out due to a manual correction from Google’s quality control team.

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Joe Hall on March 29, 2012 at 11:42 am.

Many SEO crap hat companies hire private link networks for their clients and never educate them on the risk. I am not making excuses for spammers, but rather for the people they lie to.

Jill Whalen on March 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm.

Right on! I agree with what Nick said 100%.

Jordan Godbey on March 29, 2012 at 3:49 pm.

Nick, the BMR network certainly knew they were manipulating Google but when a small business owner hires an SEO firm, it’s usually because they don’t have the time or knowledge (or both) to do it themselves. It’s like going to the doctor so you don’t have to learn medicine. You’re hoping that the medicine he’s giving you isn’t some experimental stuff that *might* kill you.

I believe it’s our jobs as SEOs to understand our field and be teachers to our clients, educating them on what we’re doing and why it’s benefiting them. I think the approach to “here’s some money, make me #1″ leads to deception, no accountability and ultimately snake oil.

rick on March 29, 2012 at 5:16 pm.

“You’re hoping that the medicine he’s giving you isn’t some experimental stuff that *might* kill you.”

And the ethical thing to do if I know someone is selling experimental stuff that might kill people is to *keep quiet?*. Think about that for a moment.

Eppie Vojt on March 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm.

“…that post failed to look at the garbage any of the other sites were using for links.”

Because the point wasn’t to “out” anyone. The point was that this one site had nothing about it that would merit natural link acquisition. They were able to rank for a Holy Grail term by acquiring all of the links on their own. How did they do it and what can we learn from it?

That specific site had already been dropped from the SERPs, so I wasn’t “outing” them in particular… just doing a case study. If you read it again without a jaded perspective, you’ll note that I didn’t take a moral position on ANYTHING they did except for the section where they dropped links in content that was just jumbled words, noting that it would be indefensible if reviewed.

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Gregory Ciotti on May 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm.

I have a question here that maybe someone can fill me in on…

Did any of the other blog networks in that post get hit? If not, why was BMR essentially obliterated and how do the others manage to stick around?

I’m a local SEO guy, so I’m not very familiar with the outing of blog networks.

James on March 29, 2012 at 11:16 am.

I don’t see how that post on SEOmoz outed BMR specifically except for a mention by the author in a comment further down the page.

I was buying from BMR for some time on affiliate sites that are no longer live until a little over 1 year ago. I started recognizing Google issues with BMR and other networks. My official cancellation & deletion date of that content was sometime in May 2011. In my opinion, I wasn’t feeding garbage into the network…paid a writer (not the highest quality, but not entirely garbage) $5/300 word article – never used spinners on those articles and all articles cleared copyscape and were actually readable. I was likely giving too much credit to the quality of the network being “membership” based and all…contributing such superior quality content (albeit still very low quality overall) to that space.

Privately, via IM conversations, I have been telling good friends for at least 6 months now that Google is on to those networks and penalizing sites that use them. Anything public facing is easy and very low cost to infiltrate. It’s a no-brainer to have a few engineers set up pseudo sites for ranking, then buy in with spun content or $5 articles and watch the inbound links come in…then find a unique pattern and wipe that network out. No outing required.

Public facing link-building blog/website networks (membership or invite-only or otherwise) are dead and have been heading that way for quite some time. I believe the BMR guys aren’t stupid and have other plans or other sources of revenue. I’d have a hard time believing a public network owner runs it full-time and solely relies on it for financial support. Anything gray or black hat is normally destined for churn & burn…whether that model only stands a few days or a few years, it always fades away.

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Eppie Vojt on March 29, 2012 at 11:55 am.

In a 2,000+ word article, I mentioned Build My Rank a total of 1 time — not even indicating that it had been used by the site profiled, just noting that it was a paid private blog network… and that’s OUTING?

That post was a case study of how a site was able to rank. It was about analyzing competitive link profiles to identify opportunities to build links that don’t require fabulous content or world-class user experience. In the alternative, it was about weeding out those easy to duplicate links so link builders could more easily manage the subset of links that were contextual and required editorial discretion. There’s no moral judgment going on throughout.

It was in no way about trying to get Google to take action against blog networks. It wasn’t even complaining about their inability (or lack of effort) in removing low quality sites from their SERPs. It merely used a low quality site as an example to highlight the ways in which anyone can acquire links.

To say I’m astounded at the leaps in logic some of you have made to draw the conclusions you have is an understatement. Correlation != Causation.

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Joe Hall on March 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm.

Eppie,

Your post is not the root of my inspiration. You will notice that I didn’t link to it until Rand asked about it. Also, I liked your post when it was published. I actualy tweeted about it and your tool, which I also think is stellar. However, its possible to out someone or a whole network with the very best intentions at heart if you aren’t conscious of the ramifications. SEOmoz has a giant readership, the engines are going to be paying attention to anything that is published there. To call out any site by name for any reason (good or bad) will inadvertently make them the subject of closer inspection.

Thanks for your comment.

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Anthony Mangia on March 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm.

There have been many, many cases of “SEO outing” in the past, and I agree that these have no place in our community. That said, I wouldn’t consider Eppie’s post to be one of them. He deconstructed the (publicly available) link profile of a website that had already been deindexed from the SERPs. He did so with the intent of demonstrating the kind of garbage link building tactics that are still somehow effective, and introduced an awesome tool to allow you to check out your backlink profile and that of your competitors. I think his post added a tremendous amount of value to the SEO community and created an awesome, intelligent discussion. If his post, however unintentionally, played a role in the BMR deindexing debacle, then that was an awesome side effect.

SEOs are so quick to get upset over Google taking action to devalue whatever crappy linkbuilding tactic they’ve been using to rank. What we should be doing is applauding Google for improving their search results, and if his post was a factor, applauding Eppie too. We should be way more incensed over the fact that these sort of low quality tactics are still very effective, as demonstrated in the “outing” post.

When I wrote my god-awful “The Last Link Building Tactic Your Company Will Ever Need” YouMoz post, one of the things that stuck with me out of the ensuing conversation was something that @JoelK said to me on Twitter – “Don’t get mad, get better.” And I think that should be our main takeaway from this. SEOmoz has for years been evangelizing white hat SEO and warning anybody who will listen that low quality link building tactics like private blog networks should be avoided at all costs. Why is everybody so shocked that they were right?

Sha Menz on March 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm.

…but apparently it is OK to “out” an author and their post based on nothing more than an assumption?
“sensational link bait”

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Joe Hall on March 30, 2012 at 12:43 am.

I am sorry Sha, I am not following you, can you clarify?

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Sha Menz on March 30, 2012 at 9:39 am.

Sorry Joe, perhaps I should not have opted for brevity.
“But I think it was this one:…
…Please correct me if I am wrong or missing something”
The language you used when offering the link to Eppie’s post on SEOmoz suggests that you were not actually sure that it was the post you believe responsible for “Google’s moves against” BMR.
The fact that people who are very switched on in the industry had to ask what you were talking about or opened their comment with language that indicated the news came as a surprise to them might well be an indicator that there was no figurative “smoke” emanating from this fire.
Still, you chose to drop the link, effectively “outing” the author and holding him up to criticism from others for writing the post that “outed them as a link spammer” :(

Ben Cook on March 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm.

Rand, you’re missing the point (although I can see why you’d be nervous given your site’s “body” count in the outing department).

This could just as easily have been written about the New York Times’ outing pieces etc.

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Sarah Carling on March 29, 2012 at 10:45 am.

I couldn’t agree more Joe, in fact though I would go further and say that as SEO’s we should be ethic-less, that is, it is not our responsibility to determine or influence the ethics of another company, whether it’s a client or a competitor. If my client wants to do something unethical with their business, or take a completely spammy route, my only responsibility is to inform them of the risksm after that I can choose to take the job or not and that is the sum total of my action. We are not the internet police, or the marketing police, we are implementers of a technique and technology and should accept that and move on.

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Dave Lawlor on March 29, 2012 at 10:47 am.

I think if someone dug deep enough into these “outings” you would see some kind of financial motivation for one of their internal clients, that they cloak in a “good for the industry” argument.

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Alan Bleiweiss on March 29, 2012 at 7:45 pm.

I think you’d be assuming incorrectly for some of those

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Joe Hall on March 30, 2012 at 12:43 am.

I agree Alan, I think many of the outings are done for other reasons.

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Joel on March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am.

This is such a gray issue. Know why? Because I firmly believe MOST SEO’s have a dirty little secret they keep in their back pocket in case of emergencies for ranking purposes. Everyone pushes the envelope because, and let’s be serious here, natural anchor-text links are a myth. They’re hugely overvalued and near impossible to get naturally.

So yeah, the BMR people got burned. And yeah, it sort of sucks that they were outed. But at the same time, that axe was going to fall hard eventually, so this sort of only expedited the process.

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Andrew Girdwood on March 29, 2012 at 10:59 am.

I do see your point – but I’m conflicted on this.

Do you want the industry to close ranks and protect the spammers? How does that help the industry as a whole?

In other professions great effort is taken to out dirty practise; whether it’s in medical, legal or “something less serious”. The building trade, for example, works hard against cowboy builders.

I accept your point about protecting jobs. Perhaps a big difference is in those spammers who simply use their own sites and those spammers who are appointed as SEO for someone else’s site. Who’s job is at risk in the latter scenario? It’s the spammer risking someone else’s job. Shouldn’t the industry take a firm stand against that?

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Sarah Carling on March 29, 2012 at 11:07 am.

Who gets to define spammers? Who does the due diligence on all areas of the SEO? Are we all going to be investigated equally? Unless there is an answer to those questions, outing is not a just process

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John Hughes on March 29, 2012 at 11:22 am.

Surely it’s Google (or Bing, etc) who defines spammers? Outing doesn’t work if Google doesn’t agree that it’s spam.

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Sarah Carling on March 29, 2012 at 11:34 am.

My point is that unless there is an impartial body with defined criteria and the rights and resources to investigate the practices of all SEO’s equally, there is no justice to outing. It is played by people who have a single knife to dig, and I know (and I do mean know) of many practices that could be outed being done by many SEO agencies who will never be outed because they are liked in the community.

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John Hughes on March 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm.

I agree, except that Google/Bing et al are that impartial body.

Outing an individual, assuming Google agrees and takes action, will negatively impact everyone using more or less the same spammy technique, not just the firm ‘outed’ as Google tends to look for algorithmic solutions to tackle recognised spam issues. The various Panda updates are pretty extreme examples of this, but several minor algo changes happen each day often to filter the effect of certain patterns of activity.

One would not even have to ‘out’ a spam technique publicly. There are ways to report what you think are spam activities directly and anonymously directly to Google.

In the sense that spam is tackled algorithmically, I think the playing field is level. It’s all down to a) how much risk you are happy taking with long term strategy, and b) how comfortable you are making enemies of your competitors.

Andrew Girdwood on March 30, 2012 at 4:21 am.

I did say I was conflicted. I was once pro-outing but having seen the mess the “false” outing of Unruly and impact the self-righteous had; I was put off.

That said, I do understand Google’s published guidelines and it is certainly possible to tell when someone is ignoring those. When an SEO agency emails one of my blogs, asking for a link and offering money then I don’t think it needs an independent adjudication panel in place to determine that they’re buying links.

Who lets Google publish the guidelines? I see comments about “Google-approved SEO”. I think that’s over-thinking it. Google can try and enforce whatever they want in order to maintain their index. People can push ahead with Yandex-safe SEO if they want. :)

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Rick Thomas on May 21, 2012 at 9:43 am.

Saying ‘if your paycheck doesn’t say Google on it…’ is like saying “If your paycheck doesn’t say ‘Police Department’ on it, it’s not your job to report a crime.” The police can’t be everywhere, and imagine what society would be like without 911. The same holds true with Google and the internet.

And in terms of putting peoples’ families at risk, doesn’t the “outing is immoral” position equate with putting honest businesspeople (and their families) at risk by sitting on our hands while spammers knock them out of the top 10? Either way you’re putting livelihoods at risk, might as well be the people making the internet more mediocre.

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Barry Adams on March 29, 2012 at 11:04 am.

“If your paycheck doesn’t say “Google” on it, it’s not your job to police the web.”
QFT.

Makes you wonder who stands to gain from these outing posts. I suppose if you sell something that benefits from a purely Google-approved approach to SEO….

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Kieran Flanagan on March 29, 2012 at 11:05 am.

Although that post you pointed out on SEOMoz wasn’t one of my favorites, for a host of different reasons, not least because some of the information in it wasn’t accurate at all and it just seemed to be a plug for this tool, those networks were in trouble before that post. Also, do those networks add any value to the SERPs? If you are dependent on those networks for your job, then perhaps you are in the wrong profession, if you are an SEO agency using those for your clients, then you deserve to go out of business, if your SEO agency has gotten you penalized for using those networks, that’s Google’s fault for allowing s**t like that to work and then to penalize businesses who jump on the gravy train because they are told too.

I don’t agree with outing either, but if the SEO world want to distinguish themselves from spam, then perhaps trying to highlight Google’s flaws in a public forum shows not every SEO has bad intentions. The fact of the matter is, outside of our SEO world, more and more companies are equating SEO with Spam. The fact Google is bringing out a new penalty against “Overly SEO”, doesn’t help to distinguish the two in the average joe soaps mind.

And there are a couple of big IM’ers who own a number of those big networks and they deserve to be outed, as they are pimping out a pile of s**t to newbies, taking their cash and then getting their sites spanked. Instead of admitting they have been caught with their pants down by Google, they spin up another network, under a different name and start the process all over again. I don’t think the online world is going to miss these services unless they are making no effort to actually create value.

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Eppie Vojt on March 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm.

Kieran,

Obviously you’re not a huge fan of mine. That’s okay. It’s worth noting that I did answer the questions you posed in the comments regarding perceived inaccuracies of my SEOmoz post. If you want to hash it out more in private, you’re welcome to email me or DM me on Twitter (I already follow you).

As for your claim that the post was too promotional of the tool I built, read through the comments. You’ll see that the post was originally written without a publicly accessible tool. At the prompting of some people I respect in the search industry, I put together a front end and made the required database changes to accommodate other users. I don’t charge for the tool and actually lose money (admittedly not a ton) making it available to other people.

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John Hughes on March 29, 2012 at 11:18 am.

I’m never comfortable with ‘outing’ as it’s quite a negative way to go about your business.

That said there are a number of counter arguments to the “people losing their jobs” line of reasoning.

Firstly, those jobs exist for company A who have succeed by darker in the greyhatsphere than company B, but those jobs may well have existed for company B if company A hadn’t leant so far to the dark-side in the first place. What Google has done has worked to apply what it thinks is it’s best guess at what it’s users should see when they search. Whether that favours company A or company B is up to Google to judge. They should offer best value to their users and their customers (advertisers).

Secondly, Google owes no website a living, and any website that relies on Google for it’s business model has too many eggs in too small a basket. Yes good ranking in Google can sky-rocket your revenue, but it could all turn sour tomorrow for all sorts of reasons. Diversify or die!

Businesses need to stop treating Google a gifthorse, and make sure they have good mitigation plans. Build My Rank seem to be offering full refunds, which suggest they stockpiled cash reserves for this eventuality. If so, that’s great.

Realistically though, if my business makes unfair advertising claims and your competing business suffers as a result, would you complain to the authorities (ASA in the UK, not sure in the US?). I view this as more or less equivalent. If you suffer unfairly at my hand, I need to be prepared for you to complain, and vice versa.

That said, as I stated, I’m not comfortable with the negativity around ‘outing’ but I can understand why it happens. Ultimately though, those that made money on the back of a grey-or-blackhat technique should appreciate that they had a good run while they did, not complain that Google have acted to apply their ToS better. Those grey-or-blackhat sites are taking someone else’s job in the first place. It’s the circle of life.

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Matt Davies on March 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm.

I’ve been thinking for a while now… What is actually wrong with (consensual) webspam? I mean, ignoring Google’s obvious objections. How and why does it make *your* life worse?

Maybe I’m not doing the right searches but I’ve never had a splog served up to me in the natural results, I only ever see them as part of backlink research. But Google still seems to reward links from them (in spite of what they’d like us to believe), so why the hell NOT take advantage of that fact? All this talk about “clogging up the internet” is crap, it’s not like there’s a finite amount of space to go round.

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Alan Bleiweiss on March 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm.

really? You apparently don’t do as much searching as some of us do. I find so much crap in SERPs it makes my eyes water as they end up glazing over entry after entry of worthless muck. If even a small fraction of the billions of searches result in that, the end result waste of human time, business resource time, personal time is epic.

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Matt Davies on March 30, 2012 at 4:25 am.

“You apparently don’t do as much searching as some of us do.”

Apparently not. What are you spending so long searching for? How far down the SERPs are you having to look to find the crap?

If Google is actually serving up that crap in its results (not that I’m seeing it – could the fact that I primarily use Google UK have something to do with that, maybe?) then it is failing in its most basic of functions… hard to blame the spammers for that, really.

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Alan Bleiweiss on March 30, 2012 at 10:56 am.

I’m talking first page results, above the fold. Answers to life questions, and general business (not SEO specific) related questions, on a range of topics.

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Ben Cook on March 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm.

The specific example of outing that was provided isn’t the point. The same point could be made about any number of outing posts.

Most people know using tactics that Google doesn’t approve of is a risky move. But that doesn’t mean outing them (thus increasing the risk level exponentially) is an acceptable action.

To borrow an example from a previous conversation Joe and I had on this topic, walking along the edge of a cliff is a risky thing to do. You know it and I know it. If I walk up and push you over the edge, is it ok because you were knowingly engaging in risky behavior? Of course not!

The other major issue I have with outing sites is that there’s absolutely no proof of guilt required. I could easily throw 1,000 links at Joe’s site and then out him by highlighting his link portfolio. If I were able to get my ‘outing’ post on a widely popular website or in a high profile newspaper, Joe’s site would likely suffer serious consequences, even though Joe did absolutely nothing wrong.

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john andrews on March 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm.

Hi Joe.

I think the biggest issue with outing is the righteousness. Who can say what is “ok” and what is not? Who as the authority to draw a line that says “this is ok” and “this is not”? Only Google. So if someone tests the limits, why do some self-righteous jerks feel it is okay to make public statements that the work is “wrong”?

In the case of Rand, clearly he does it for money. He runs a community site and sells instructional info and tools to people who are learning SEO. Controversy, including “hey look what they’re doing” pays off for Rand’s company, especially when it builds buzz. Polarization also pays off, as does a public image of “transparency” (true or not) as well as a public image of “caring about the industry” true or not.

As for blog writers on SEO topics, everyone is young and naive at some point. Hopefully everyone is on a path to more wisdom. Now, at what point to they become “enlightened”? I mean, at what point is THEIR OPINION actually correct? Does anyone actually ever know?

No. So until then, keep your judgments to yourself, and stop hurting the people who stress the limits in order to better themselves and acquire wisdom.

I have no doubt the outing was that blog post. It specifically mentioned the company and a quick Goolging of the author at that time produced a ranking article (probably an affiliate link thing) promoting the service as good and reporting that it was working well for him.

I love that you didn’t mention the seomoz site until Rand stopped by and pressed you to mention it. I probably would have still not mentioned it, since it’s plain as day to me Rand is monetizing the community through polarization and controversy.

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Rob Woods on March 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm.

This is a little off the topic of outing but do people participating in membership-only link networks truly believe that Google can’t have someone join that network for the purposes of uncovering what sites are in the network? If I were Matt Cutts, that’s what I’d have people doing to weed these things out. It’s not like they don’t have the budget to buy the links themselves and uncover where they come from. I’d expect that all link networks are on Google’s radar this year and that you are going to see a lot more BMR’s in the near future.

I don’t out sites, but let’s be a little realistic. The SEOmoz post mentioned a site that had already been burned, not one that was still generating income. Expect sites like this to get burned by Google quicker in the future. I’ve been saying for a while that if you want to use link networks like this for short term gain and can make an ROI, go for it, but if you think that this is a viable or sustainable strategy going forward, you are kidding yourself. Those days are rapidly going away. I know a lot of SEOs, affiliates, and lead gen folks will bemoan that fact as it’s been relatively easy to make money using that tactic for the last 10 years or so. Wishing for it to keep working in the future won’t make it so. If you use link networks, or work for a link network, you’d better see the writing on the wall and figure out what’s going to work going forward, because this ain’t it. These things are like print media, you can work there, read them, love them, etc. but if you think they aren’t going away, you’re operating with blinders on.

We can talk about outing until we are blue in the face, but let’s be realistic, it isn’t going away as there is too much money at stake. The site mentioned in the post ranked #2 for “car insurance” and did it in a way that made the site totally vulnerable. Do you actually think that the sites in position3 and 4, whose traffic has been hit by the thin site ranking, aren’t going to out it? As SEOs we’d better figure out how to get sites to rank without making them vulnerable to spam reports because I absolutely guarantee you that as more site owners learn how to do basic competitive research (something that top SEOs train them to do at every single search conference, BTW) you’re going to see more and more spam reports…so make a site that isn’t vulnerable to a spam report. If that’s too hard, don’t complain when it gets burned, just move on.

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Joe Hall on March 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm.

I think they are already doing that Rob. In fact I think thats how they collect their best data to clean a network out.

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Rob Woods on March 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm.

That would be my assumption. If their mission is to clean up spam, I can’t imagine them NOT doing it.

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Rob Woods on March 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm.

Also, assume that they are members of every forum, membership driven or not.

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James on March 29, 2012 at 5:40 pm.

i concur with this thread. with 10k+ engineers and 30k+ employees…it has undoubtedly been happening for quite some time. Google are infiltrating everything they can (forums, networks, paid or free) and the only reason they appear slower to react in some cases than others, in my opinion, is because there is a fine line between algorithmically solving the problem and going overboard. For instance, most (if not all) of these networks are wordpress based. being wordpress based as a network helps blur the footprint lines between the millions of genuinely crappy wordpress blogs out there and the not so genuine crappy network-run wordpress blogs.

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James on March 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm.

oops, forgot to add my conclusion to my comment above: if Google went overboard, they may inadvertently wipe out all the good/genuine wordpress sites & blogs on account of that footprint – and that’s something they don’t want to do. with any algorithmic change, there will undoubtedly be some genuine sites burned…but if they can mitigate that to a manageable subset vs shutting down the entire platform because of the “bad guys”, that takes time but it’s worthwhile in the end for them and for searchers.

David Cohen on March 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm.

Although I have a developed knowledge-base in SEO, I am not an SEO, I’m a Marketing Director who also deals with issues like PR, branding, and marketing against competitive products.

So from this perspective, my take on the idea of ‘outing’ in the SEO world is the equivalent of speaking negatively or spreading negative information about a competing brand. In marketing, talking bad about your competition is just something you don’t do or even need to do.

I think the same would be true in SEO, you really don’t need to ‘out’ to do what you do or provide value to your clients and the SEO community as a whole.

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Rob Woods on March 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm.

David, that’s the main reason I don’t “out” and to be fair, the original article didn’t really out the specific site, as Google had quite rightly already penalized it. What I think most people are objecting to is outing in general, and the fact that drawing attention to the site that had been penalized also drew more attention to the link network that it was using to rank.

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David Cohen on March 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm.

Agreed, Rob. I read the SEOMoz article in question when it was published, and while I don’t think it was intended to ‘out’ the site or the link network, I believe there are better ways to communicate a point or introduce a tool.

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Jami Broom on March 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm.

You actually trust Google to police the web? HA! That’s where all the problems with SEO lie. You know they reinforce this whole system, right? — it makes them a LOT of money.

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Nick LeRoy on March 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm.

The only people that waste their time “outing” sites and techniques are the ones that are losing in the SERPS. Crybabies.

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Rob Woods on March 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm.

I agree. I just think that you’d better build your site expecting that those people will out you or file a spam report. Don’t turn into one of those crybabies if your site gets hit and deserves it. Make it immune to spam reports and outing, or move on to the next partial match domain that you are going to push with spammy links and make sure you get a positive ROI before that one gets hit, and so on…

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Nick LeRoy on March 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm.

I meant the crybabies that don’t know anything about SEO so look for any reason to tear apart a single site so they can gain ONE spot in the rankings. Outing is NOT an SEO technique.

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Sebastian on March 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm.

>> Outing is NOT an SEO technique.

Nope. It’s part of the negative SEO toolset. Like throwing a shitload of low-life links onto your best selling pages and then alerting the almighty Google of your unnatural link profile.

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Sascha Funk on March 29, 2012 at 2:32 pm.

Nice to read. Comments, of course, even better. However one question still remains: How the heck do you ‘respected’ seo folks can spend such a huge amount of time with whining?

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Joe Hall on March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm.

I wish I could favorite this comment! You are today’s winner!

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rob on March 29, 2012 at 2:58 pm.

I’m going to state the obvious very briefly. Apologies to those who’ve heard it a gazillion times.

Outing contributes to SEO FUD

SEO FUD helps create more dollars for Google.

If spend on SEO tactics generally can be reduced through the smearing of the concept, then for Google it’s a good thing.

The over optimisation things is a good example of this in action – panicky marketing managers might decide to dial down SEO efforts and spend more on adwords to retain visibility. Buying links with Google is the best and safest form of link buying.

Who pays? The consumer.

Products cost more to market, costs are passed on to consumers.
Every now and then we see a little SERP whackamole and someone wins as someone else dies. Google always wins though.

If a company has a defined budget pot for online spend and less of that pot is spent on SEO then the money left might be funnelled towards more adwords spend especially if Google visibility is a priority.

Google love all this. The SEO community is it’s own worst enemy time and time again, it raises the tired old concept of bought links, blog links, paid posts etc yadda yadda. Google is the winner every single time.

Damn, I seem to be repeating myself.

They could just quietly nullify the impacts of such purchases but they seldom do.

Panic and terror work best.

Outing helps no one but Google

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netmeg on March 29, 2012 at 3:22 pm.

Meh. When I was a kid and I complained to my mother about something that one of my siblings had or did, I was pretty much told to suck it up. (Not in those exact words – at least, not till I was eight or nine. My mom is take-no-prisoners). I got the strong impression that success depends on focusing inward (what can *I* do) vs outward (what are *they* doing).

I don’t care for outing, not because of its morality, but because it’s not worth my notice or my time, other than for curiosity’s sake. For one thing, nobody ever promised fair, and it’s a fool who expects it. For another thing, there are no laws (despite Google’s notions to the contrary). For a third thing, there are much better uses for one’s time: learn from the (perceived) miscreants, either to copy their success or defend against it, work on your skills and properties to surpass it.

As we were saying on twitter, I’ve never seen one single ‘out’ that wasn’t either financially motivated, or some kind of ego thing, or just plain whining. Let’s not fool ourselves. Nobody’s doing it for altruism.

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Dustin on March 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm.

Thanks for the post. Here’s my take on it: yes, it’s terrible that BMR (and other companies) get put out of business, and loss of jobs, etc. But they are fully aware of the way they position themselves in the market, and if your business is founded on tactics that go against Google’s TOS, then you have to know that this is a likely scenario. Still, I agree that outing bad SEO is just something that should be avoided, but I think that the companies that spend time/money on these types of business models need to understand and acknowledge the risks.

Excuse the imperfect analogy but it’s like when someone commits crimes to make a living. Once they get caught, they leave their job, leave their family behind, etc., but all along, they knew that was an inherent risk.

That said, there are plenty of competitors who will out you if they get the chance. If Google has shown us anything, it’s that there’s no thing as a “level playing field” when it comes to SEO, so too many people are willing to out sites because it’s every person for himself or herself.

Thanks for getting the discussion started, it’s definitely going to stay a hot topic in the near future.

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Sal Surra on March 29, 2012 at 5:09 pm.

Great post and thanks for being so frank and honest. The fact that you nofollow and noindex this post is a real boost to the credibility. Thanks for keeping the conversation alive and yes there needs to be more good press about the positives of SEO and the industry because there are many great people doing great things for their companies and clients, and yet, we mostly hear about the bad things because they get more traffic, and not the good things that are being done each day.

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Alan Bleiweiss on March 29, 2012 at 7:20 pm.

A company knowingly, intentionally, and passionately provides a service that is known to be in direct opposition to providing long term best practices solutions. It’s not just ONE of the services they offer, giving their clients a choice, based on risk. It’s their ENTIRE business model. They either know full well the risk they took on in creating the business model, or they failed to perform even the most rudimentary of proper business due diligence from day one.
Regardless of how their business became a target of Google, the fact is they got shut down. To point fingers at one particular potential cause, without truly knowing the facts behind THAT is itself no better than the very target of your article Joe. And in fact, it’s worse, because no innocents were harmed in this situation. Except the families of the very people who knowingly set up a doomed to fail business.

To cry foul regarding “outing” is an old and worn out tactic that has mostly been used by companies that don’t want their own business targeted. Or people who think polluting the web with crap is perfectly acceptable. If you honestly don’t care about the web in general, Joe, then I’d say you are also keeping a blind eye to both the reality that it’s always going to be a target of search engines and more and more asshats will fall regardless of whether they’re “outed” or not.

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Joe Hall on March 30, 2012 at 1:00 am.

“no innocents were harmed in this situation”

Are you serious???

Do you know how many crap hat SEO agencies resell these types of services everyday to honest business owners? LOTS OF THEM….and each one of those businesses just lost probably all of their links. This is the point I am trying to make here, EVERYTHING is connected, and when someone burns a spammer, they are also burning countless other honest people that have no idea who or what is going on.

Alan I take a little offense when people assume that because I am trying to protect innocent bystanders I must be a spammer myself. If you could show me a clear way that you can out a spammer with out innocent people getting burned in the process then I would say have at it all day! But thats nearly impossible. ESPECIALLY for link networks like BMR.

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Jonathan Allen on March 30, 2012 at 10:28 am.

Buying linkspam is a house of cards and everyone knows it – which is not the same as saying that buying linkspam doesn’t work, or that it’s not a good thing that it often does work.

Personally, I don’t think to spam or not to spam is a moral question that the industry can realistically discuss anyway. It’s already a case of the ends justifying the means (so arguably the moral battle is lost) and the end is endemic to the product everyone is trading – namely to be top of Google. How far people will go to be top of Google is their own personal question.

Isn’t the fact that so many businesses are relying on webspam mean that the companies who are selling it are putting everyone at risk in the first place? Plus, those companies that are buying the spam on behalf of clients without notifying them are also playing fast and loose with other people’s businesses. Clearly everyone in the chain apart form the client who suffers knows the risk that is being taken.

They’re taking pretty much the same type of risk as lenders took before the bottom fell out of the property market.

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Alan Bleiweiss on March 30, 2012 at 10:59 am.

“I am trying to protect innocent bystanders” by allowing asshats to hide behind the “whiner/tattle-tale” track. Really Joe. Think about that for a minute.
“I’m here to protect innocent site owners by condoning the asshats that put their sites in jeapordy.”
That’s about the most illogical upside down notion imaginable.

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Joe Hall on March 30, 2012 at 11:44 am.

I never said I condone anything that spammers do. Your problem is that you aren’t reading what I am saying.

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Alan Bleiweiss on March 30, 2012 at 12:45 pm.

By taking the stance that this article takes (allow the asshats to do what they do, it’s none of our affair, we should focus only on our own work, let them continue because to do otherwise is unethical…) yeah, Joe, I are reading what you’re saying.

To state that you don’t condone it, and simultaneously say that it’s not our responsibility to want to do something about it in a direct actionable manner that can help resolve it sooner rather than later is in fact a conflict of position, and the end result is condoning such action.

Ben Cook on April 4, 2012 at 8:26 pm.

Alan, not condoning it and not actively outing it to embarass Google into taking action isn’t the same thing.

I don’t condone someone cheating on their spouse but I also don’t go around sticking my nose into other people’s lives.

Jake belfry on March 29, 2012 at 7:20 pm.

Google should never manuly remove websites it should be an algorithm that removes it. This makes it fair. They should take those outings only to change their algorithm. Afterall isnt that what they are all about, or at least they ought to be. If Google cant do it with their algorithm they are simply playing favorites and not doing their job. Thus Google is the unethical one.

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Alan Bleiweiss on March 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm.

Jake

That’s a big part of this whole mess of a topic. Google is clearly not a disinterested neutral party, and therefore cannot by definition, be considered a true arbiter. Unfortunately, they are the arbiter, with their own financial motives, and for now, at least, we’re stuck with that reality.

At the same time, it’s also just as flawed a notion to think it okay for Google to allow a known bad site to remain polluting the index until the algorithm can be changed, which could literally be months in the making. Manual action, while not always perfect in execution, is often needed in any clean-up process that involves so many moving parts.

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Alan Bleiweiss on March 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm.

The bullshit parents use about children being tattle-tales is based on a deeper flaw in parenting – the unwillingness for parents to insist a fair process for their children to take responsibility for their actions. It’s that very societal norm that fosters a “turn the blind eye”, “stop whining” mentality that itself is really a cop-out for communities of professionals who are unwilling to take responsibility for self regulation.

I’ve said it before and it still applies. If we as a community don’t find ways to deal with at least some aspects of this, politicians who have no grasp of reality at all, will.

Personally I’ve only gone after a very few select companies I’ve felt have egregiously used truly deceptive business tactic to fool their prospective clients. If others wish to actually do some serious legwork to show their case, and Google then looks closer at that, so be it. I can’t honestly recall a situation where a company was outed, they then claimed innocence, and then eventually their site wasn’t restored. Not at least any that actually were innocent.

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Ben Cook on April 4, 2012 at 8:30 pm.

Alan,
Anyone outing another site isn’t “self regulating” they’re trying to embarrass Google into regulating that specific site.

If the only repercussions of being outed were a dinged reputation in the SEO community (the only place we can self regulate) that would be a whole different story. Instead people outing others are complaining loud enough to get Google to take an action their algo doesn’t already handle.

You mention fairness, but why should one site who has been outed be treated differently than another site that hasn’t? If the algo doesn’t handle it, it’s not our place to force other sites to adhere to even higher standards.

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Donna Fontenot on March 29, 2012 at 8:06 pm.

I’ve been on the no-outing bandwagon for soooo very long. Not even sure it’s worth repeating what others have said very well above, such as Ben Cook’s analogy “walking along the edge of a cliff is a risky thing to do. You know it and I know it. If I walk up and push you over the edge, is it ok because you were knowingly engaging in risky behavior? Of course not!”

But for me, it boils down to 4 words.

Karma. Stones. Glass houses.

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Chris Topher on March 29, 2012 at 8:27 pm.

“If your paycheck doesn’t say “Google” on it, it’s not your job to police the web.”

How about if I…
1) Like _using_ Google and getting content that earned its place?
2) Am competing for rankings legitimately?

Why is it exactly that Google owes you a free lunch?

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Annie Cushing on March 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm.

Way to get the SEO community tied up in knots, Joe! :)

My $0.02 …

I just don’t think that SEOmoz post took down BMR. By the time it was published, Google had been sending out notices to webmasters for several weeks via Google Webmaster Tools saying that they detected unnatural linking. (The earliest account I read of one was 2/24.) Even though many sites hadn’t even been penalized, let alone de-indexed, site owners were instructed to submit a reconsideration request. I know of one site that had organic traffic from Google moving up and to the right when they received the notice. I was mystified about these instructions until Barry Schwartz broke the story a couple days later about the notices, which he thought were Panda notifications at first (http://bit.ly/zE7zz8).

But in that reconsideration request are these instructions: http://bit.ly/H0Afnj. I think Google flushed out blog networks like BMR and Linkvana from the frenzied confessions of scared webmasters, wanting to demonstrate good faith, not by reading a blog post. The whole sting op played out like an Episode of Law & Order.

That said, I’ve seen sites lose rankings b/c of participation in link networks long before BMR went belly up. Not b/c Google knew they were all coming from BMR but b/c if you churn out 150 articles in a month that have three variations of anchor text (if that), you suffer from an algorithmic death wish. And that’s what a lot of the content on these blog networks is – low-quality, highly spun, easily detected Panda light snacks.

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andrea "gareth jax" scarpetta on March 30, 2012 at 10:32 am.

“By the time it was published, Google had been sending out notices to webmasters for several weeks via Google Webmaster Tools saying that they detected unnatural linking.”

yep! it’s a service also called : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism

Considering how un-informative are the messages sent from google, if i should sent a threatening letter to somebody, i’d probably get arrested.

A friend of mine received on of those “friendly warnings” because he own a web directory: somebody submitted a website and then built some links over the listing.

The message was very un-informative so he had to spend some time to understand what happened: it took weeks to get an answer from our benevolent goo(d)gle and even more time to analyze the nature of the links.

I expect google to protect its indexes, but this kind of situation is, in my opinion, not a good example of ethical behaviour.

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Eren Mckay on March 30, 2012 at 12:32 am.

Excellent post Joe. You hit the nail on the head!
All the best,
Eren

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Bob Jones on March 30, 2012 at 1:42 am.

People that get into the sort of risky business like BMR are aware of the consequences that getting found out by Google can have. I think it is a calculated risk they’ve taken on, and there’s no reason to feel sorry for them.
For unaware customers who get caught in the crossfire because some shitty “seo” firm convinced them to sign up with them, and are using methods like BMR to rank their clients, that’s a different story.
I do feel sorry for them, and I think that the more online exposure and information is available regarding these issues, the more people will “be saved” in the end. (I see your point about noindex, but I think everyone should be able to find posts like this for educational reasons most of all).

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Wandspiegel on March 30, 2012 at 3:00 am.

Some good thoughts in the comments here…

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DJDJ on March 30, 2012 at 3:08 am.

Small Business owners are the first ones to check what they are spending their money on. It’s just a simple search query which can avoid them making this mistake. The information is out there, Google lays down the law for their search engine results and there’s really no way anyone can say: I didn’t know, I’m the victim here.

Just take 5 minutes on searching what you are about to do and what you’re about to spend your money on is all you need to say: NO, we will not do this. This is too risky.

And I agree with what Chris Topher says. By the way, SEO is a sport and doping is not allowed :-)

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Kasi on March 30, 2012 at 10:26 am.

While I agree that small biz owners are the first ones to check where they are spending their money, if they believe that a firm is going to help them with SEO they probably won’t take the time to go through all the dos and don’ts. They usually don’t have the time and if they really aren’t versed in how search engines work at all, they won’t understand it.

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James Carson on March 30, 2012 at 3:55 am.

I don’t really think it’s ‘immoral’… businesses that rely too heavily on one source of income (which effectively is Google in this case) are playing a high risk game. If you don’t work on spreading your investment, market shifts can always come to bite you.

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Mark Cody on March 30, 2012 at 4:12 am.

Oh Great! We have been building up our portfolio over the last few years and have kept away from actively involved with the employement of SEO consultants and companies, simply because we dont know what backlinks they would give us for our money and quite simply I fear the thought of them applying any ‘Black Hat’ practises. So here we are now with a simple strategy of building up our own backlinks and actively involved with Blogs and article writing.
Does this now mean that we are likely to be penalised for our actions? Some companies out there have well in excess of 250,000 backlinks and we are merely the ‘worker ants’ with only a few hundred.
If the likes of Google decide to ‘oust’ the practice who will that leave on the first page of Google??

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Lewis on March 30, 2012 at 4:43 am.

With BMR’s tactics well known it may have been just a matter of time until Google caught up with them. If they weren’t “outed” now and continued to grow then more honest business owners may have been unwittingly caught up in this. As such the outing may have actually saved many who wouldn’t have known what they were getting involved with from being burned in the future.

When worrying about the impact on the “innocents” the OP isn’t taking into account the fact that many honest business owners who weren’t using BMR may have been struggling against rivals who were. The outing will negatively impact some sites but positively impact others therefore the net result to society may be neutral.

Should we be feeling bad for those honest business owners that have been caught up in this now or should we be feeling bad for those that struggled or didn’t survive in the past because their site was ranking behind a competitors site with an advantage provided by BMR?

Some would suggest that not outing SEO is immoral. Should those that know better sit idly by and let innocents get dragged into something they are not aware of or should they speak out and try and clean up the tarnished image of this industry?

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SteveG on March 30, 2012 at 7:41 am.

I am constantly fascinated by the mentality of people that feel the need to police the internet based on the guidelines set out by a for profit company. Would these same people turn in a company that posted pink fliers on telephone poles if Walmart said only red ones were acceptable? Do these same people also stand up and rage against the arbitrary guideline changes Google hands down from on high? Using rel canonical vs rel=next/prev changes for example.

Or is this simply a case of those guys are beating me and I don’t think it’s fair that they can?

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bjorn on March 30, 2012 at 8:35 am.

Sigh, outers…. While I agree that no blog network met their doom by being in the post discussed here, the actual site that was outed is much more of an issue to me (anytime a site is outed I take issue with it).

All you people shrugging it off stating that Google had already “dealt” with it (at least one person in this thread used the word de-indexed)….WTF are you talking about???

1. The site is still indexed in Google (and Bing).
2. It’s still ranking, not like it used to but still ranking top 20 for several queries.

Give me one good reason to out someones business when you’re armed only with an interpretation of a violation against a guideline produced by a company you have nothing to do with?

Why is ok to expose and endanger (yes, endanger since the site in this case still ranks, and have you never heard of sites recovering from link devaluation or a penalty?) an unknown person’s income, just on your own subjective interpretation of a measly GUIDELINE (NOT LAW!!!) violation? Do you people out others in the real world for not following un-written rules of society….do you print flyers and post all over your neighborhood with someones picture on it saying “This person chews with their mouth open!!!”?

You want to protect users against manipulated results? Well, in this case that argument doesn’t work either since the sites replacing the outed site is offering the exact same service, which is what users want for most queries it ranked for. Also, those who claim to want to expose sites for the greater good of the world, why don’t you get off your high horse right now OR start outing sites day in and day out 24/7 if you want a somewhat scalable solution so you can indeed save the world for the rest of us.

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A. Chris Turner on March 30, 2012 at 11:03 am.

I agree that outing others is wrong, but the SEO industry needs validity. Discussion is necessary to uncover methods and tactics that work because SEO is more marketing now than it was in the past. If I read the posts by Eppie and this one, Rand had nothing to do with the article’s composition only the fact that he published it on the Moz. It’s a stretch to blame Rand or the Moz for the fact that Eppie mentioned BMR one time in his article as an example of a blog network. It wasn’t exposing business practices but techniques used. Secondly, he made mention of several other networks that have the same business model. No one outside of BMR and Google knows why their sites were “de-indexed” (more of a de-valuing), but I have faith (cause I have to) that Google did so out of concerns for content/link value. The new discussion has begun, and it’s about outing bad SEOs and whether we are allowed to discuss tactics used in the industry. In the end we are all working to rank within the business model of the search engines.

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Andrew Marshall on March 30, 2012 at 8:36 am.

The difference between ‘outing an SEO’ and ‘outing’ in other industries? Other industries don’t sit on the internet bitching all day, they don’t write about each other and they don’t often see the work of their peers.

Whatever is said in this blog post, and the hundreds of others, won’t make any difference to whether people out, spam or anything else.

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Drew Allen on March 30, 2012 at 9:32 am.

I don’t remember who made the analogy above about medical malpractice, but I agree with Rick that it’s a horrible offense to *know* a doctor is screwing up patients, but then decide to stay quiet about it. How does that help ANYONE except for the shady doctors.

I’m all for outing. Yes, in the short term, innocent (and not innocent) businesses will be hurt, but you can rebuild, and hopefully on a more level playing field, with less dirty methods used for trying to rank.

Joe, I don’t think you’re uncaring about the web or anything, but Alan is definitely right in an overall sense about it:

“To cry foul regarding “outing” is an old and worn out tactic that has mostly been used by companies that don’t want their own business targeted. Or people who think polluting the web with crap is perfectly acceptable.”

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Ben Cook on April 4, 2012 at 8:37 pm.

Except no one is being hurt by using SEO techniques that Google doesn’t like. The algo is treating all sites the same.

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Mike on March 30, 2012 at 10:06 am.

I’m not sure I see how “outing” spammers is immoral? You seem to argue that it’s immoral b/c some people lost their jobs. Yeah, sure maybe.. but they were breaching the Google Terms of Service and funneling traffic away from other companies who were trying to do things the right way. Think of how many people those companies could have hired with that traffic instead. Spam really is a zero sum game. When one company gets the high ranking and the sales.. someone else isn’t. If the spammers stop getting the clicks and the subsequent sales.. someone else will. And now I hope it’s someone who’s trying to do things the right way.

Plus, with your logic.. If I knew a local politician was funneling money into his “pet projects” I shouldn’t say anything. I wouldn’t want those people to lose their jobs. Right?

Just my 2 cents. Glad to be a part of this discussion among such a great community of people :)

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iliketurtles on March 30, 2012 at 10:39 am.

SEO is dead.

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Jon on March 30, 2012 at 11:23 am.

I am not so sure. Firstly, for every website that has lost rankings due to relying on link networks (whether knowingly or not) another website will be there in the index. There are still 10 organic results on the first page of Google (give or take). So yes, some people may lose their jobs, just as with the Panda updates, but others will get jobs as a result, and some small struggling businesses may start to do better as a result.

As for outing, if you see a website slide down the SERPs and the reason is because professional spammers are using all manner of tools to spam their way to the top (link networks being just one of the methods used) then why not “out” them? If you were running a restaurant and found out a direct competitor was up to no good, would you ignore it and let them continue steal your customers? Probably not.

For many people the internet provides their business with a valuable source of income. They do their best to rank well through real, natural SEO and the deserve to be ranked higher.

Any form of link manipulation to get better search positions is on the Google radar at the moment. Social and page quality are the future. Links are losing value, at least, the cheap and sleazy ones are.

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Byrne on March 30, 2012 at 11:26 am.

If outing is immoral because it deprives the top-one ranker of their income, jobs, etc.—then aren’t they equally culpable for depriving a legitimate top ranker of exactly the same?

It seems that the only difference is that white-hat SEO has a more positive impact on the web: it works if you have good content, and promote it to people who care. Gray-hat SEO doesn’t have the same dynamic; there is no way the web is a better place because someone’s buying sidebar links or spinning articles.

Obviously, nobody has an obligation to make the web nicer. And Google has done a masterful propaganda job of making black-hat SEO look immoral to outsiders. But the argument against outing seems to work equally well as an argument against spamming in the first place.

Other industries do not work this way. Would a plumber get mad that someone disclosed his competitor’s shoddy work? Have you ever heard a good chef flip out about the local Denny’s getting shut down by the health inspector? It’s fine to think Google is abusing a monopolistic position, but that doesn’t mean that everything bad for Google is good for everyone else, or even good at all.

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Joe Ward on March 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm.

Drug dealers support their families from their trade. Many have staff. Their clients may not be aware of the full risk of doing business with them. Let’s not “out” them – that’s immoral. That’s the job of the DEA.

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Mike on March 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm.

There’s an old saying in marketing that states, “visibilty = credibility”.

SEO’s build links to create visibility. Rand supports outing to generate visibility. Google takes down link networks to protect and enhance their visibilty. Coke advertises on American Idol for the exact same reason.

Visibility isn’t a crime… some folks just do it with more class and less carnage.

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Daniel S. on March 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm.

In bullet points because it’s Friday, and I can’t think:
1) I’m going to have to go ahead and suggest that comparing private blog networks to doctors selling experimental medicine and/or drug cartels isn’t exactly fair. Unethical ≠ illegal.
2) This is capitalism. As consumers, your dollars are your votes of confidence. You don’t have to “out” someone. Markets take care of that on their own; especially, when a business isn’t providing a good or service of value. If you don’t support a company’s practices, just don’t buy their products.
3) You’re right about doing the best you can by holding yourself to the highest standard. When everything else is changing around you, that won’t.

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mike on March 30, 2012 at 3:48 pm.

well written and on point. some big name internet marketers were touting BMR, so many small timers blindly followed without asking any questions. i’m sure lots of people big and small got hurt because of this.

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Dean Cruddace on March 30, 2012 at 9:22 pm.

“Put stones in their pockets, see if they float”
It’s a shitty path.
Let us concentrate on client education, before throwing cack at each other.
Techniques will come and go. Stay educated.

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Adam Melson on April 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm.

Love these posts, so first thing – thanks for putting it together.

When a company like BMR goes under & rankings for potentially hundreds of sites go down, doesn’t that in turn build businesses & create more jobs for those benefiting from the fall? New sites are now getting visibility & sales from their new position. That’s good right?

In the end, if I don’t earn great results, a client goes away. Jobs are lost. My job could be lost. To just “try harder & stop whining” is the easy way to say “shut up, I know I could be caught & it would hurt”. When it comes down to my job or someone else, I’m picking my job. My results, even if it’s stomping on someone else’s non-Google friendly work, are my income. Karma (in the form of a really angry competitor) can bite back to bite for sure, but in the end they were ones risking it by violating guidelines by which they make a living. Yes. Google’s guidelines by which they make a living.

Thanks again for stirring up the pot on this.

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Frans Sijtsma on April 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm.

As promised in a tweet a few hours ago I’ll try to write down my opinion in English in an understandable way.
First of all, I’m not active as SEO-er, I’m a forummoderator of a dutch entrepreneursforum.
That said, I notice two things in your blog post I’d like mention first:
You do not limit outing to a certain group of people, active in the same field, so I must assume you’re also writing this for me as accidental reader.
Second you do not specify different forms of black-hat, which means you’re saying that outing any form of Black-hat SEO is immoral for everybody.
Let me give you two cases of commentspam we had on our forum the last month which we outed and resulted in big media-attention (which we dit not aim for b.t.w.).
My question to you is to give me a valid reason not to out.
Case 1: 3 weeks ago somebody was commentspamming for Groupon on our forum. We tried to prove it was a Groupon-Employee acting anonymous by searching mailadres,ip-adres, avatars etc.
Finally we could prove it was an employee of this company, and also found many many other nicknames, and commentspam on other forums, including one specific post on a forum for patients with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) where he was saying (in brief) MS was diagnosed, he could barely walk, was very ill, but had the best help of a personal trainer in Amsterdam. As you understand the last 3 words of the line linked to a Groupon-deal for a personal trainer in Amsterdam…
Case 2: two weeks ago we found out a commentspammer on our forum was working for a SEO company. Search resulted in over 600 forumprofiles on 200 of the biggest dutch forums by just some employees of this company commentspamming for the biggest Telecomcompany, Carcompany, Coffeecompany and Workforceagency in the Netherlands in the last two years.
In both cases we decided to out it for several reasons:
-1- Case one was to rude to let it go, and case two was so big it was/is impossible to mail all forums involved asking them to remove the commentspam
-2- To create some awareness that although forums are moderated it’s almost impossible to prevent people being misled by some Black-Hat-SEO-guys and girls
-3- To warn companies using these techniques that sooner or later a clever guy wil see the patterns and will out.
Commentspam has two advantages: It’s a valuable link on mostly highrated forums, and anonymous posts influence the reader, building a brand, building a reputation.
The last part of this is 100% misleading, and to provide a reliable forum for our members, we will always out structural spam on our forum. Our members, and all visitors on our website are more important to us than the jobs of any company trying to win customers by black-hat-techniques.
If that means I’m a policeman on the internet? So be it.
(Our forum is non-commercial by the way)
Frans

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sandra on December 31, 2013 at 2:34 pm.

I understand where you’re coming from, and I do feel for the those hit by the loss of income.

However, as a CONSUMER (i.e. someone using google to find the products and services I need, i.e. your client), I do expect to be treated with more respect and I do expect legitimate websites to serve my needs.

This is business, and in business in general, you must serve the needs of the client, NOT the devious employee or devious business owner. Imagine if there was a restaurant where the chef consistently spat into the soup and encourage the rest of his/her to do the same. Or he/she served all-natural beef, but instead served hormone-addled beef from a factory at risk for asbestos poisoning. Would you also insist that the other employees, and other business owners who had become privy to this, not out this chef because it would shut the entire restaurant down?

I remember years ago, spammy websites were the only thing that could be found on first two or so pages of google. It came to the point where I would immediately jump to the 3rd page of google. I am happy that google has cleaned up its algorithm so that it is easier to find relevant and legitimate information to what I am looking for.

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Party Look on January 29, 2014 at 3:59 am.

Thanks for sharing that article. But I think in 2-3 years google will be one big paid ad…
Best Regards
Michael

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