Tactical negative SEO strategies

tumblr_mzwww6jdhC1sfie3io1_1280

Since links each harm you as much as they can help you nowadays, I’ve been thinking almost as much about negative SEO as I have been thinking about positive SEO. Link building is not only a tactic to grow a business online, you can also harm businesses using links.

I’ve never targeted another site with negative SEO because I’ve been too busy working on growing and improving the marketing presence for clients, but I wouldn’t be surprised if negative SEO was offered as a service by a lot of industry providers in a few years. There have been reports of negative SEO not working very well, but when you hear about sites getting taken down for a single bad link it definitely proves the theory of negative SEO to be true.

Google is not only analyzing links in 2014, they are trying to decipher the intent of links. Intent is a hard thing to figure out algorithmically. Heck, intent is hard to figure out period. Google is trying, though, and that means that lots of people are going to get caught in the crossfire.

I find the idea of negative SEO fascinating and have been jotting down a few tactical strategies that you could employ right now to get another site penalized. Please note that I don’t recommend doing any of these and haven’t actually tried them…this is more of a brainstorming exercise on SEO theory. I wouldn’t be surprised if some SEOs have already experimented with a lot of these. Continue reading

Revisiting Rap Genius: Why link spam is more effective than ever

One of the most effective marketing tactics right now is to get your website penalized by Google. Land in the penalty box and write a blog post about it. Pitch it to the tech and marketing blogs. You might never have to worry about link building again if you are sensational enough.

I can think of a few examples of this off of the top of my head but there’s no greater instance of link penalties leading to a stronger business than RapGenius. RapGenius went from a niche, VC-backed lyrics site to being one of the most talked about sites on the entire web for a solid week.

It only took a few emails and a couple of days for their penalty to go away and for search traffic to bounce back.

I just checked rankings for the exact keywords they were caught building links for and rankings have never been better:

Justin Bieber Heartbreaker Lyrics – 3
Justin Bieber All That Matters Lyrics -2
Justin Bieber Hold Tight Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber Recovery Lyrics – 3
Justin Bieber Bad Day Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber All Bad Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber PYD Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber Roller Coaster Lyrics – 3
Justin Bieber Change Me Lyrics – 3
Justin Bieber Confident Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber Memphis Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber One Life Lyrics – 3

Yep…they are either in position 2 or 3 for every last keyword. The rest of their rankings? Better than ever (via SEMRush):

rg-semrush

You could say that Google penalizing RapGenius was probably the best bit of marketing that has ever happened to them. They got free links and press from:

TechCrunch
Search Engine Land
Forbes
NY Times
The Motley Fool
Wall Street Journal

Their brand got an insane amount of free exposure:

I could go on and on but what’s the point. They are now a DA of 76 and have gotten more brand awareness than any traditional PR or marketing campaign could have ever earned.

Rap Genius wasn’t able to manipulate the search results the exact way they planned with their poorly planned Bieber outreach campaign, but the SEO impact they got from sending those emails has been far greater than that of classic link building tactic.

I’m wondering when some enterprising website will intentionally get their site penalized and then go public with it (Ask Inbound: OMG! we got penalized plz help). I’m not sure if anybody has tried it, but it should work if you execute it properly. It’s easy enough to get penalized when it only takes one borderline outbound link on your site.

Everybody keeps saying SEO is going to turn into PR, but they don’t mention you will be pitching your penalized site to major news publications. Obvious, outdated link schemes still work like a charm, just in a different way than they used to.

Want more readers? Start asking why

tumblr_mx1olyYcw11sfie3io1_1280

Content is now a commodity. You can buy well-written blog posts, articles and copy for pennies from people on Craigslist, oDesk, etc. Like any commodity, it’s much harder to differentiate yourself using content than it was a few years ago.

Think about Netflix for a second. When they first launched their streaming service, it was mind-blowing. Virtually any television show or movie was available at your fingertips. It was impressive.

Now? With technology making it easier than ever to be 2nd to market, there is only a short period of distinct advantage for early movers. On-demand television and movie programming is now commonplace. Amazon, Comcast, Verizon, NBC and others offer similar services. They all basically do the same thing. On-demand video streaming for the masses used to be unique. Now it’s a mass-produced standard service that is uniform no matter where you get it from.

Online content has followed a similar path. 10 years ago, a company could stand out from the pack because they had unique and informative content on their website. Now 95% of websites are identical when it comes to the amount and type of content they are producing.

Writing content for your website is a nice first step, but if you really want to succeed you have to ask yourself why over and over again.

Why should somebody turn to your content over your competitors?
Why should you read my SEO blog instead of one of the 250,000,000 others that exist?
Why is your time better spent reading my blog than doing anything else?

Having a blog used to place you on a stage in front of a packed auditorium. It still gets you on the stage, but now you have 1,000 other people next to you, screaming at the top of their lungs. If you want readers, you better be prepared to tell them why they should care about what you have to say.

There’s no perfect answer to why but here are some that are on the right track:

- We are willing to take more risks. Be bold and take a stance with your content. Most blog posts are so bland and vanilla nowadays…if you write something with passion that might ruffle a few feathers, you are probably doing something right. I’ve always thought that the perfect blog post is one that 50% of people love and 50% of people hate. Make content that gets people talking.

- We are more transparent. Personal stories and experiences blow hearsay out of the water. Put yourself out there and let others learn from your mistakes. Let people peek behind the curtain. Tell people how you do something instead of telling them how they should do something.

- We look at things from a different perspective. FiveThirtyEight is a good example of this. They are writing about the same topics as every other publication (gender wage gap, for instance) but they are doing it from an analytical perspective.

- We are skeptical. After years of reading SEO blogs that publish recycled thoughts on a daily basis, this is one answer that hits close to home. Don’t rely on others truths. Go out and explore everything for yourself, then talk about it. If somebody says social signals push rankings like crazy, go out and see for yourself. Break away from the echo chamber.

To build something truly great you must ask yourself why over and over again.

Linking Policy: Please do not link to my website

Linking Policy – Updated 3/25/2014

Dear website visitor,

In order to maintain good status in all search engines, I kindly request that you follow the following procedures when linking to this site. Any inbound link to TrevinShirey.com that violates these guidelines gets you added to ye olde disavow.txt (don’t worry, Google doesn’t really use that data).

I. Do not link to this site from a guest post
All guest posts are bad and this website does not condone guest posting. Clearly, no guest post should ever include a link because that would be spam.

II. Do not link to this site using unnatural anchor text
Please only use one of the following when selecting anchor text for a link to TrevinShirey.com:

- “website”
- “web page”
- “homepage”
- “Trevin Shirey”

Any other anchor text, especially descriptive anchor text like marketing, SEO, blog, etc. is a clear act of spam and will not be tolerated. Users appreciate vague, non-descriptive anchor text and anybody who users anything else is a spammer.

III. Do not link to this site from a a comments section, sidebar or in a forum
Remember when everybody used to find cool blogs through blogrolls? Now they are only used for spam. Remember when people used to interact in comments sections? Google+ is a much better option. And forums are overrun with spammers (expect for Google Webmaster Support Forum!)

IV. Please use rel=”nofollow” for all links pointing to this site
Google prohibits people exchanging money, posts, goods, services, free products, ideas, favors, brainwaves, oxygen, etc for links that pass PageRank. Just to be safe, let’s use a little common sense and avoid any problems by adding this simple tag.

V. Do not link to this site unless you are blogging about Trevin Shirey
Links from unrelated websites are always spam. For instance, if you write about social networking and post this content on a marketing blog, that is a violation. Please only link to my site if you entire website is devoted to….me (Trevin Shirey).

VI. Do not link to me using any of the following methods, regardless of what I create/share/post (via)

Paid links? Spam.
Reciprocal links? Spam.
Blog comments? Spam.
Forum profile links? Spam.
Integrated newspaper ads? Spam.
Article databases? Spam.
Designed by credit links? Spam.
Press releases? Spam.
Web 2.0 profile & social links? Spam.
Web directories? Spam.
Widgets? Spam.
Infographics? Spam.

VII. Do not link to this site unless the linking page is over 1,500 words
Quality content is not possible unless you reach a certain word count….let’s say 1,500 words. That should be enough.

If you have trouble with this policy, here is a handy phrase to remember: P.A.N.D.A – Please Always Numerically Describe All

VIII. Actually, it’s probably best that you do not link to me at all
It’s hard to find a type of link that I can’t prove isn’t some form of link spam. Today’s white hat is tomorrow’s black hat. Please do not link to my website at all.

And don’t worry…just in case your site is part of a guest blogging community, I won’t be linking to you either.

 

 

Just kidding.

MyBlogGuest was white hat before it was black hat

The SEO world that Google has created is a funny place.

Today’s black hat tactics were yesterday’s white hat tactics. Today’s SEO was yesterday’s traditional marketing. Funny world.

Take MyBlogGuest, for instance. Before it was a “link network” full of evil black hat gangstas and mean link builders, it was a safe haven full of quality content and white hat link building content marketing.

Fair or unfair, you are still accountable for the links you built five years ago. Better think hard about what is “white hat” today because it probably won’t be in 2017 and Penguin 6 won’t be very kind or gentle.

Moz:

From founder Ann Smarty, MyBlogGuest provides a platform for those seeking to write and receive guest posts. The service is relatively simple, but potentially quite powerful….I’ll be surprised if some Silicon Valley style startups don’t pop up to copy this model.

Search Engine Land:

Well-known SEO consultant and search writer Ann Smarty recently launched a new project that many white hat SEOs have welcomed with open arms: My Blog Guest. The project helps SEOs find guest-blogging opportunities, and site owners to find bloggers to write for them.

Link Assistant

Whether you’re an active guest blogger or just starting out you should certainly stop by at MyBlogGuest, a guest blogging community run by Ann Smarty, one of the brightest folks in the SEO industry. The idea behind the site is pretty simple: to give guest bloggers and blog owners seeking quality content a platform where they can connect, trade posts, share their expertise and help each other promote their guest posts and blogs…

Me, in 2011

Guest blogging rules…MyBlogGuest is going to work forever.

A requiem for MyBlogGuest

So the mysterious link network that Matt Cutts has been referencing turned out to not be a link network at all.

Blogging platform/community MyBlogGuest received the death notice from Google this morning and the site is no longer appearing for any branded or non-branded searches in Google’s first few pages.

On one hand, it’s a surprising move by Google. MyBlogGuest is much different from BuildMyRank or the handful of foreign link networks that were nuked in the past few weeks. It’s a step in a more aggressive, investigative direction from the types of penalties Google has handed out before for obvious link networks.

Going after MyBlogGuest is like punishing Twitter because people arrange drug deals via direct message.

MyBlogGuest was a place where independently owned and operated websites exchanged content and ideas. No post ever published via MyBlogGuest was done so without full editorial approval.

On the other hand, MyBlogGuest had become more heavy-handed recently in taking control over the websites that participating in the community. Google probably doesn’t care about providing a forum or platform for people to link up but when you start bullying people into removing rel=nofollow you have probably crossed a line. That is the type of thing that will get the Google Police to your doorstep.

Still, this is a big departure from previous actions that Google has taken. For the most part, all posts distributed via MyBlogGuest were:

  • Unique
  • Editorially reviewed and approved by site owners
  • Void of objectionable anchor text
  • Watched closely by community moderators

MyBlogGuest was world’s better than the BMR model where spun content and anchor text were greeted with open arms and chaos reigned. Real, well-known SEO minds were running the site.

Moreover, the site was so well-regarded just a couple of years ago and recommended by everybody as the best, safest and most white-hat way to build links.

Rand Fishkin via Moz:

From founder Ann Smarty, MyBlogGuest provides a platform for those seeking to write and receive guest posts. The service is relatively simple, but potentially quite powerful….I’ll be surprised if some Silicon Valley style startups don’t pop up to copy this model.

 

Google is starting to make a habit of telling and encouraging users to do one thing and then banishing them from search results a couple of years later. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of that is self-inflicted by SEOs but what does Google think is going to happen?

There’s an endless cycle with SEO. Smart marketers identify a nice, scalable way to gain backlinks without making too many people mad. Eventually, other people catch on and scale the process to death until it annoys people and Google has to make an adjustment.

You can banish MyBlogGuest but it doesn’t really fix the problem of an algorithm with a handful of inefficiencies that can make you rich if you figure out how to exploit them. Guest blogging or MyBlogGuest is a symptom of much bigger issues in the world of search.

A year or two from now, we’ll probably be having similar discussions about the merits of infographics or visual assets or video blogs or social buttons or who knows what.

SEO is an endless cycle of cat and mouse and Google will change the rules whenever they want. One of the scariest things about SEO is that you not only have to worry about links you build last week or last year…but also those from several years ago and where they fit with Google’s ever-changing rules.

More than FUD

While Google’s approach with MyBlogGuest seems to have become more aggressive with this move, I’ve still seen a lot of people claiming FUD and nothing more.

I disagree.

I first used MyBlogGuest back in 2012 for a few side projects. I hadn’t touched them much since this and the sites backlink profiles were fairly reliant on posts from the earlier days of MyBlogGuest. Good, unique content and no crazy anchor text, but MyBlogGuest helped find homes for the posts.

Those sites all got hammered with sitewide penalties last night. I’ve read a few other reports of similar penalties. Matt Cutts had a tweet that seemed to confirm this.

So this is definitely more than FUD. Nuking the MyBlogGuest.com domain would have been FUD, but dishing out sitewide penalties to the publishers and writers on the community is more than that and a sign of things to come.

Sure, you can still rank with a well thought out private blog network or through some super high quality guest posting but for all the critizing of Google I’ve done in the past, I am taking them seriously on this one.

A few other thoughts:

- Classic Google move to launch this during Pubcon. There is a huge FUD element to the timing of the whole thing and it feels like a shock and awe move by Google.

- There are two big groups in SEO right now and they seem to be on opposite sides when it comes to MyBlogGuest. Both groups of SEOs know that you need links to rank. One group is open about this, prefers the term SEO and will still talk about scalable and actionable link building in 2014. The other group believes in links but focuses on non-SEO related strategies to earn them.

It’s a subtle difference but the group that still highly values link building sees MyBlogGuest and can empathize with those who used it to build links.

The later group celebrates every new “link network” that is taken down in hopes that it will validate their content/inbound focus.

The right place to be right now is probably a mixture of both of those schools of thought, but if people are going to take sides (and they are from what I’ve read) these appear to be the two camps when it comes to MyBlogGuest.

- With every penalty, link network bust and site takedown, my fear of Google’s power only grows. Remember – a penalty doesn’t just hurt a bunch of websites on a “link network.” It hurts real businesses, real employees and people who know nothing about SEO, anchor text or Penguin. Google’s influence extends far beyond the SERPs and super aggressive moves like this should serve as a reminder of how far down they’ve planted roots into our world.

 

Why I believe in SEO

SEO is not going away any time soon.

Maybe Hubspot goes public and inbound marketing becomes all the rage and the term du jour for Internet marketing/SEO/SEM/online marketing/etc.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of your marketing actions online have the end goal of increasing search engine presence. You can call yourself a content marketer or inbound marketer but you are likely aiming for the same thing at the end of the day as the guy down the street calling himself an SEO.

Why is search still the most important end goal for marketers by any name?

Because search is a freaking awesome marketing channel. Search embarrasses most other marketing channels and here’s why:

1. It’s cost effective. SEO can get expensive at times, but you aren’t paying a dime to anybody when a qualified customers discovers your business through organic search.
2. It scales. Once you learn SEO or hire somebody who knows what they are doing, there is nothing stopping you from rapidly growing your search traffic and online revenue. Compare scaling a local outdoor advertising campaign to a national level vs. scaling an SEO campaign to a national level.
3. It’s targeted. There are very few wasted impressions with search. Qualified people are finding you and your time isn’t spent blasting out a message to people who don’t care.
4. It’s democratic. You could debate this one, but the search medium makes it just as easy to click on a result for Walmart as it does a local general store. It may be harder for a local store to rank highly, but there is no infrastructure to battle if you are a small business. The platform is the same for everybody (in theory).
5. It’s learnable. Not only is SEO a powerful marketing platform for all of the above reasons, but it’s one that can be self-taught fairly easily. It’s much easier to learn SEO best practices than to learn how to produce a nationwide television commercial, write an editorial or plan and execute a viral campaign.

No matter what you call your online marketing efforts, chances are you are hoping to boost your presence in search engines. Even if you “abandon” SEO and focus on content creation, usability and social media, a marketer worth his salt is still hoping that those efforts will result in an increased search presence.

What we refer to our occupation will certainly change as time passes but as long as people are searching for information on the web there is a place for search engine optimization.

If Google owned the YellowPages

tumblr_mx1okjY0xV1sfie3io1_1280

Imagine if Google had owned the YellowPages.

It’s 1989 and I need to make it easy for people to find my company. I don’t have a big budget, but the YellowPages is one of my top priorities because it drives local customers to my store. You can’t just submit your business to be listed in Google’s YellowPages. Well, you can but nobody would ever see it buried next to the thousands of other listings that look just like it.

To really succeed you have to optimize your listing as an advertisement and make it noticeable. It’s the only real way aside from word of mouth for people to hear about your business.

Google’s YellowPages has a lot of guidelines for these advertisements. They need to be ‘natural.’ When you submit your advertisements, they can’t have fonts that exceed a certain size. They can’t contain certain language deemed to be low quality. They can’t be too similar to another ad. There’s a huge list of rules.

Last year, I made a mistake.

My ad designer used a big, bold 24 point font to make sure I stood out. It worked for a while but Google’s algorithm quickly ruled that it was in violation of one of their guidelines and when the newest edition of the YellowPages showed up on my doorstep I wasn’t listed at all.

Attached to my YellowPages book was a vague note saying that I violated Google’s YellowPages guidelines and that I wouldn’t be getting any more phone calls because my business was receiving a penalty.

No phone calls from my latest YellowPages ad was one thing, but Google went several steps further. I had a manual penalty which meant I wouldn’t be getting any phone calls from any listing. Ever.

I tried and tried to explain my error in judgement and asked Google why they didn’t just remove my listing or tell me to change the style of my ad. They told me to stop by their helpful support department and other business owners would be happy to help me figure out my problem. They told me I had no clue what I was doing and made fun of me.

Competitors of local business had even started buying ads that violated their YellowPages guidelines to sabotage one another.

The fate of my entire business rested in Google’s vague, algorithmic hands.

It’s scary when a company has an iron grip on a marketing channel but when a company has an iron grip on the way an entire world finds and interprets information it is downright terrifying.

Smarter social sharing buttons

Social sharing buttons are pretty much ubiquitous at this point. Nearly ever site uses them, which is mostly a good thing but, like most things, blindly adding every social sharing button you can to every page isn’t always a good idea.

For one, social sharing buttons often destroy page loading time. For WordPress, a lot of people are installing bulky social sharing plugins that add precious seconds to every page load on the site.  This isn’t great for SEO purposes, but it’s even worse for users. Social sharing buttons are designed to help users but if people aren’t able to access your site in a timely manner then it probably doesn’t even matter.

Another problem with traditional social sharing buttons is that they are ugly. You spend hours on customizing the look of your site until it’s perfect…and then you use stock social buttons from 3rd party sites? Most of the time, stock social sharing buttons only add clutter to a well-designed website.

The Solution?

People are starting to put together some smarter solutions for social sharing. I really like what New Internet Order has done with their new offering — Social Share Starter.

It’s minimal, doesn’t shove negative social numbers into users faces and only focuses on essential networks.

This might not be the perfect social sharing solution, but it’s a great step in the right direction for most websites and I’m happy to see people thinking outside of the ‘row of social buttons’ or the fixed position bars that are a pain in the butt when you try to actually read somebody’s content.

It might be easy to copy and paste sharing buttons from social media sites, but you can get a much better solution by thinking critically about how these buttons impact your site and your usability.

What they don’t know about SEO

7431422344_469ddd95a9_z

I spend around 10 hours a day thinking about, talking about and reading about Internet marketing. I cannot get enough of it. I enjoy waking up on a Sunday morning and reading the all the good articles going around Twitter about SEO or link building. I love what I do.

But every now and then I’ll get knocked out of my little SEO bubble by the real world and I must say….it’s refreshing. When you spend your afternoons studying the percentage of queries displaying authorship markup and spend your nights building new keyword research tools you lose something very valuable: perspective.

Because I’m in the trenches with SEO every day, I tend to look at everything in our industry at a microscopic level. The same is probably true for most industry professionals.

That sort of in-depth analysis is important for us to better understand how search works, but our time is better served trying to solve bigger issues with SEO and Internet marketing.

While we’re debating about how quickly SEO figureheads respond to tweets, the masses still have no clue about SEO. That is an actual problem worth debating.

We talk about granular topics like disavowing links with exact match anchor text when 99% of web users and website owners have no idea about:

- Structured markup. Go outside of the tech/media/marketing industries and it’s rare to see sites implementing any of the advanced markup that we think is common sense.

- Link building. For all of the talking and research we’ve done, nobody really has any clue what link building is, how it impacts SEO or why its important.

- Google paranoia. I’ve been beating the “Google is now evil” drum for a while. So are a lot of others who study Google. The general public, however, is very apathetic.

- Social media ROI. There are small businesses wasting time/money publishing hourly social media updates that nobody is reading. Social media might be one of the most misunderstood marketing channels ever.

- Negative perception of SEO. Most everybody thinks SEOs are full of it. I did before I started working in the industry. This is the biggest problem of all.

The SEO bubble is a nice little place to hang out in but it’s a lot different than the real world. Talking to people outside of the industry is extraordinarily valuable. Talk to your parents. Talk to your barber. Talk to your nephew. Talk to your neighbor.

If you are really passionate about SEO, learn what people don’t know and then do something about it.