Are SEOs the ‘Bad Guys’?

    June 16, 2009

There have been a couple of pretty interesting articles written this week that ask a legitimate (if not somewhat sensationalized) question:  Does Google consider SEOs to be criminals?

SEOs being SEOs are, by definition, people who make a living trying to manipulate the results of search engines.  Now, before you eat me alive here… I don’t necessarily mean manipulate in a negative sense.  But in many aspects ‘optimization’ and ‘manipulation’ are somewhat interchangeable terms. An SEO ‘optimizes’ a site in an attempt to enhance that site’s search engine rank or placement.  By moving a site in the results, you are, by definition, manipulating the results.

There is nothing wrong with that.  There are lots of sites that aren’t ‘search engine friendly’ and lots of sites that just do things ‘wrong’ that, when fixed, will notice an enhancement in their positioning for search queries relevant to their site.  Search engines don’t mind this.  The existence of resources like Webmaster Central are a testament to this. 

Michael Gray So the search engines have rules for SEOs and the SEOs can either choose to follow the rules, or they can not follow the rules and face the consequences.  The ‘foul’ being called by Michael Gray and Lisa Barone however is maybe SEOs are being subjected to something of a double standard.

Google is pretty hard line on paid links.  That’s common knowledge. All SEOs know this and several of them have been taken to task in the past for paid or ‘incentivized’ linking campaigns.  Everybody in the business knows paying for links  – whether the payment be cash or some other ‘benefit’ – is considered a big time no-no by Google.

Michael and Lisa suggest however that there are lots of people getting by with just that – paying/rewarding inbound links – without suffering repercussions from Google.  Just recently, as Michael points out, Google themselves decided to give away the new and unreleased version of their new Google phone to attendees.  The giveaway sparks lots of articles, lots of blog posts and yes… lots of links and attention for the new Google phone.  Is that incentivizing inbound links? Is it a promotional stunt?  Is there a difference?  Michael says that android picked up 50,000 new links within 24 hours of the giveaway.

Sure, lots of sites picked up the news about the Google Ion (the proper name of the phone) …  but I don’t think they posted a specific link for people to point to, nor did they make the awarding of a phone contingent upon some sort of review or plug for the product.  So, in that sense, I would have to call this one a little ‘iffy’ – 50,000 links is an AWFUL lot of links though, isn’t it? But does Google care about links?  Why on Earth would they?  They may have had an agenda with the giveaway, sure… but I would think it would be to generate buzz for Android… not accrue inbound links.  But isn’t one just as good as the other?  I dunno… 

Now as to whether or not an SEO would suffer some penalty if their client gave away some product to generate some buzz, I don’t know.  I’d like to think they wouldn’t.  I guess the devil would be in the details on that one.  It certainly is an interesting thing to think about though.  Does this constitute a double standard?  Would an SEO or their client catch Google’s fury if they tried a similar promotional stunt?

Guy Kawasaki Here’s another example.  Guy Kawasaki, super high profile blogger, Twitterer and all around social media mogul A lister was given a CAR for a while.  Audi sent him an Audi R8 in exchange for him blogging about the car.  I don’t know if you know what an Audi R8 is, but it’s really really cool and expensive and Iron Man drove one in the movie… and I guess Audi knew exactly what they were doing because we are still linking to them months later over the Kawasaki post. 

The Audi example is a little tougher to rationalize.  it was clear that Audi loaned Kawasaki a super hot rod sports car on the condition that he blog about driving it and how great and awesome and fun it was.  Audi knew that Kawasaki has a huge following, he’s extremely plugged into the industry and such a post would doubtlessly spawn tons and tons of talk (and links) in for the R8.  I don’t know for sure, but I doubt he lost any clout in terms of his Google standing.

Now if Ferrari were to send a high profile SEO type fellow a new Ferrari for a month in exchange for him blogging about it, would Google drop the hammer?  I don’t know.  Maybe?  On one hand, I guess if I’m Audi and I loan a car to somebody with the name recognition of a Guy Kawasaki, then I’m just considering that like a compensated endorsement.  We see and hear those on TV and radio every day.  Nothing wrong with that, right?

Lisa Barone I’m not too sure I am ready to fully come down on either side of this one 100%.  I hate to come across as a Google apologist, but at the same time I can’t say that Gray and Barone don’t raise some fairly compelling arguments.  Do I think Google ‘has it in’ for SEOs?  I would have to say no. 

If you asked me if I thought Google was maybe a little more… ‘leery’ of big promotional stunts that came directly from SEOs?  Maybe, but as any SEO can tell you, there are no shortage of shady SEOs.  Sometimes the good guys get lumped in with the bad guys a little bit in the name of the greater good don’t they…. (cough cough) Patriot Act ring any bells?

Anyway, it’s an interesting concept to consider. My buddy Barry has a poll up collecting some responses which should be interesting.  I am extremely interested to see where WebProNews readers fall on this concept too, so make sure you sound off in the comments section.