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  • 25 Brutal Truths About SEO, Google & Main Stream Media

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    Many people in the SEO industry write list posts about SEO myths. The authors always want to debunk myths but why repeat the myths over and over in the first place?

    Why not just speak out the brutal truth instead? Is it because people love myths? Is it because people love to believe in the myths they are taught?

    Several recent posts by Aaron Wall, David Harry and others have inspired me to write down the things that bug me. Thus I compiled this list of 25 brutal truths about SEO, Google & main stream media.

    You may not find out much about SEO techniques here but you will get a good overview at the actual issues you have to deal with as an SEO specialist.


    “SEO is bullshit” bullshit
    People who dismiss SEO do it to gain a competitive advantage. Visit the sites of the pundits who said SEO is bullshit, SEO is dead or whatever such people tell us. How many of them are in Google? How many of them use SEO friendly CMS software like WordPress? How many of them use the meta noindex tag to make sure they do not commit the SEO crime of getting indexed? People who dismiss SEO are either deceiving you or they have no clue. That’s “SEO is bullshit” bullshit.

    SEO needs time and/or money
    There is no magic in SEO. It’s hard work. Any 19$ SEO secret tool that submits your site to 100k directories (aka blog comment spam) is either a scam, black hat SEO or simply worthless. Sure, your site might even get a push for a while but unless you’re a black hat SEO expert who uses throwaway domains you have basically committed suicide on the Web.

    SEO is queen
    The content is king mantra gets repeated all over the place. Google engineers love it. Bloggers and journalists who dismiss SEO out of cluelessness tell you that good content is enough and it will spread by itself. That’s nonsense. You need SEO, social media, blogger friends or a major publication to make that work. In the best case you have all four of them. It’s like in chess. Your site won’t work without the king but you need the queen and a lot of others. SEO is your queen. It’s the most versatile and long term ally of your content.

    Everybody publishing on the Web does SEO
    You never have never heard of SEO? Do you have a website? Are you on social networks? In case yes you have done or taken part in SEO whether knowingly or unknowingly. Part of the SEO definition is making web sites and content readable by search engines. Unless you have made your website invisible for Google etc., like you can do in WordPress in case you want to keep your blog “private” at installation, your site is optimized for search to some extent. Remember next time when you say that you hate SEO that everybody publishing on the Web does SEO. It’s like saying you hate web design or web hosting.

    Global players dominate search results
    As a site owner you are most likely not able to compete in the most lucrative niches as the likes of AOL and Yahoo already own them. They can show up in the top 10 with ten different sites and you wouldn’t even know that one company owns all of them. Just search for Google on Google. How many non-Google properties do you see on the first page?

    Big Brands are Favored by Google
    Google favors brands in search results even if they have less relevant content. Google CEO Eric Schmidt himself has stated the Web is a cess pool and only brands are reliable.

    There are no real SEO secrets
    Google has secrets. It won’t tell you its exact ranking formula because otherwise Bing and Yahoo could quickly catch up. On the other hand SEO secrets are really rare. Most SEO knowledge is readily available. Google itself offers basic SEO advice and lots of free SEO tools that are enough for most average webmasters. You just have to research a little more to find out about advanced SEO techniques. There are no real SEO secrets. Even black hat SEOs share their insights on blogs and forums.

    SEO is not just SEO
    These days when you refer to SEO you most probably also include other things like conversion rate optimization, usability or information architecture. SEO is not SEO these days. Social media is a big part of SEO for instance and it’s not automatically social media marketing then.

    Good SEO is invisible
    Do you know why most people hate SEO if you ask them? Good SEO is invisible to the naked eye. Normal web users only recognize bad SEO that is crappy keyword stuffed websites. Good SEO just make people find websites, click the results and perform the action the website owners wants them to. The users are perfectly happy and don’t even notice there was SEO involved.

    Most People confuse paid search results with real ones
    Back in 2005 Wired cited a study asking how search users perceive the difference between paid ads in search and organic listings: They basically don’t. Ole 18% really did. This was even before Google introduced as top results. In 2005 Google only displayed ads in the rights sidebar. That’s why even news media today refer to buying ads as buying search results.


    Google does black hat SEO
    Google uses black hat SEO techniques itself. Years ago there was a story in main stream media about how porn spammers used porn consumers to overcome captchas. They displayed captchas from sites they wanted to spam in iframes to show them to people wanting to watch porn. To get free access you had to use the captchas from the hijacked site. Now Google does the same. Google uses you to recognize text they can’t read in books they digitalize.

    Also black hat SEOs use scrapers to show stolen content from other sites as theirs. Google does the same on Google Buzz now. It displays whole blog posts instead of just parts of them.

    Google earns money by spam
    Google makes 500 million dollars a year just by advertising on typo-squatting domains. Sites that have very similar web adresses to other, in many cases well known sites.

    Live by the Google die by the Google
    Google can destroy your business over night. Many nameless website owners have been put out of business over the years when Google tweaked its ranking factors. Yesterday they were on top today their rankings dropped and their traffic as well. Famous business blogger John Chow has been banned from Google a few years back and has proven that you can survive without Google relying on multiple traffic and revenue sources.

    You work for Google
    Whatever you do or publish the Web, you work for Google. Google finances its free services by your work. You provide the free content Google can place its ads on. You provide the data Google sells to advertisers and you provide the attention for its ads, whether it’s in partly or fully sponsored search results like the “shopping” search. It’s not just the captchas. You work for Google.

    Google works with your government
    Google China has been hacked by a backdoor built in by Google itself for the US government. This is no conspiracy theory. They are required to do so by law. Obama has not only extended the Patriot Act without adding any privacy provisions to it. So whatever you search on Google, write in GMail or Google Docs etc. can and will be used against you in court or outside of it. Remember, the US had locked up innocent people for years in Guantanamo without trial. It takes one day for the police to find you based on your Google usage. Google works with your government. Think twice before using Google.

    What’s free today may be expensive tomorrow
    Google enters new markets by offering services for free others have charged for. The people love it. The other companies go out of business. Now guess what, when that happens, Google can dictate prices in the future. Google can’t grow forever. One day Google will start charging for services like Ning just did. By then you won’t have that many choices other than to pay.

    Google favors Google services in search results
    Ever since Google Universal search appeared and Google started adding videos, products and maps to its results it favored its own properties. There is a word for it, monopoly. Google favors Google services in search results like Microsoft favors Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office. When it comes to video Youtube already has also already almost a monopoly of more than 80% market share. The second biggest site, Vimeo, has only 10%.

    Google says privacy advocates are conspiracy theorists
    Google engineer Matt Cutts, responsible for search quality but acting as the main public relations person when it comes to webmasters refers to privacy advocates as “conspiracy theorists“. I don’t think Matt Cutts says what he thinks. Everything what the says is basically approved by Google lawyers. Google employees have very strict guidelines as to what they are allowed to say about and concerning Google. So it’s rather what Google says. Also Google CEO Eric Schmidt says on privacy: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Of course he himself is exempt from this as the case of his mistress blog shows.

    Only 21% of Google’s results are organic
    As of late 2009 Google’s results were showing so many ads, Universal search results (such as paid “shopping” results) and other distractions that only 21% of first page results were actually organic search results.

    You can get Google free in one day
    You need just one day to stop using Google services if you want to. I’m not referring to living in cages again. It takes that long to switch to alternatives.

    Main Stream Media

    Journalists copy
    Journalists will steal your story and won’t credit you as the source. Most journalists just copy stories from elsewhere like Reuters or or DPA. So it’s not a big difference. They have to credit Reuters or DPA because they have good lawyers but they will even steal from high profile bloggers like Danny Sullivan who can’t afford to sue dozens of news organizations.

    News outlets hoard PageRank and trap users
    Commercial and other main stream news outlets like the BBC are known for not linking out to sources. There are two reasons for this beyond stealing: Hoarding PageRank and forcing visitors to stay onsite to generate more pageviews.

    All major news media practice big time SEO
    Many people on the Web still assume that SEO is some kind of spam. They are convinced that good content gets popular by itself and that old media prevail online because they excel at content creation. What they don’t know or prefer to ignore is that every major news outlet has a whole inhouse SEO department. The New York Times does SEO, the Chicago Tribune, the BBC (see above). All major news outlets practice big time SEO. In case you hate SEO just stop reading these websites, just go offline.

    Wikipedia articles are biased
    In German Wikipedia an article about the LHC security or rather lack of it has been deleted because of pressure by CERN supporters. Looking at Wikipedia entries for countries like Kazakhstan you won’t really know that there is a dictatorship down there unless you read between the lines. Full disclosure: I have been approached by a PR agency working for Kazakhstan to do their SEO but declined for ethical reasons. While Wikipedia ranks on top for most search queries it is the most unreliable source. Dig deeper to discover the truth.

    Other media are only biased toward the views of the journalists or the owners/advertisers at worst. Wikipedia reflects the opinions of the people and organizations described. Just try to add something critical to a politician’s page. Wikipedia editors are a small elite group you can easily control. When a NYT journalist has been abducted Wikipedia held back the information along with all of the press. Only 13% of Wikipedia editors are women, most editors are young, male, white, middle class and thus reflect views of the American main stream as this study on “feminism” articles on Wikipedia shows.

    Apple isn’t as popular on the Web as it seems
    Before Twitter was mainstream, there was Digg. It blocked the topic “SEO” altogether. You just needed to say SEO in your headline and you wouldn’t end up on the frontpage. On the other hand Apple marketing stories always went wildly popular on Digg. So I took a closer look at who submitted those Apple stories featuring “Apple ads. Many of the submitters had some more or less direct connection to Apple. Either they sold Apple products directly or they had Apple ads on their sites. These days all media follow this example.

    The iPad hype showed how efficient viral marketing works. All parties involved earn money via Apple. The newspapers that like blogs tried to rank at one for iPad in search engines are directly involved. The likes of the NYT hope to save its business model using the iPad. Technically the iPad sucks, it’s not even a real computer. Some Indian students have developed a far better tablet but Apple promises more revenue for those hyping it. Apple isn’t as popular on the Web as it seems. It’s not just Apple though. Always ask yourself who profits by a given article.

    How do these brutal truths affect your business decisions? They do in manifold ways. Not only do they affect business decisions but also your private usage of the Web. Some readers tend to allege that “I hate Google” whenever I write something not just flattering the search giant. As a SEO you compete with all of the above: Google itself, mainstream media like news outlets, Wikipedia, huge conglomerates like AOL and Yahoo and the idiots who dismiss SEO to gain attention because there are enough other idiots who hate SEO out of cluelessness (just search for SEO FAQ to see what I mean). Thus you have to adapt. You can’t fight all of these directly. You have to develop your own ways to get found on the Web.

    So I don’t hate Google. I use Google all day. Heck, I even use Google Docs to write my blog posts. So get off me and focus on what I’ve written. It’s all true.

    Want more of this type of truths? I’d recommend reading both the SEO Book and SEO Bullshit blogs. Full disclosure: I’m a SEO Book affiliate.

    I help people with blogs, social media & search. I help you succeed on the Web. I've been online publishing for 15 years. I started back in 1997.

    29 Responses to “25 Brutal Truths About SEO, Google & Main Stream Media”

    1. Andrew says:

      I hate people who say SEO is bullshit, but they do SEO themselves. It just shows that they’re selfish, inconsiderate and just after what they can gain for themselves.

    2. Tad Chef says:

      Yeah Andrew, that’s a certain type of neurotic personality who wants to cry louder than the wolves to get an advantage. In dictatorships these kind of people are the ones that spy on their neighbours to prove their own innocence.

    3. Jan says:

      Real good post! Nice to see more people thinking so!

    4. Dave says:

      Hey Tad, are we feeling better now? hehe. It can be somewhat cathartic to have a good ol rant about that which drives us nuts in the industry. Obviously my personal fav is the ‘SEO is Bullshit’ since I even started a blog about it. Or at least the various flavours of crap there is out there (always welcome to drop a rant over there btw). I also liked, “There is no magic in SEO. It’s hard work.” – tru dat! Well, off to get my day started and see what crap I run into today… hee hee. Good stuff Taf… keep it up brother!

    5. Nick says:

      I love this article. Most people I talk to think of SEO as some type of magic trick, when reality it is just a lot of work. Fantastic post.

    6. I disagree with your reasoning on the “Google does blackhat SEO” point. Using techniques used by blackhats in a comletely different way does not make it a blackhat technique. I think it would be similar to saying “Blackhats use optimised title tags. X uses optimised title tags. Therefore X is a blackhat”. I can’t remember the name of this fallacy.

    7. The “SEO is bullshit” argument is really tiresome. I haven’t really run into that coming from clients though. Usually it’s more like “how come nobody is coming to my site?” Well…

      I really like what you had to say about Google. I’ve been concerned for quite some time about how big Google is and how much we rely on it, as SEOs and web users in general. What services do I use? Gmail, Calendar, Analytics, Adwords, etc.

      I think Google would have a tough time trying to justify charging for any of its services, considering the rich data mine users create for it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

      I’ve been looking around trying to find good alternatives to all the Google services I use and it’s not easy. Anyone here tried Yahoo Analytics yet? I’ve been meaning to.

    8. in my experience clients do recognise the importance of seo to their business but my frustration is that the monetary amount they place on it is demeaning, typically £50-£100 per month, yet they’re quite happy to pay £1000 for a crappy ad i9n an even crappier trade magazine!

    9. Sam says:

      Yes, i agree quality post. We all work for Google, SEO-ers, our clients and the consumers. We do work hard with good results and hopefully in the next couple of years search will change beyond all recognition for the better – and the monopoly will be questioned.

    10. SeanM says:

      There seems to be a pretty big anti-google upswelling,
      I wonder if we are going to see a big shift to Bing over the next year?
      Or are they (MS) any better?

    11. Jon says:

      If Google charged for it’s services, i would have to pay. I can’t imagine the hassel it would cause to transfer everything to another provider (maybe i should not have written this)

    12. Tad Chef says:

      Dave: Yes, indeed. It always feels better to get crap off your mind by writing it down and publishing it. Otherwise it pollutes your mind and soul for years to come.

      Richard: I’ve published an overview of black hat SEO techniques that can be used ethically just a short while ago. So I agree with you that it depends on the context whether it’s black hat or ethical. Still the way Google uses us as OCR bots and how it scrapes whole blog posts in Google Buzz is not ethical. I feel cheated and robbed.
      Your logic means that scrapers like Mahalo and Google Buzz are OK as long as the branding is done right? But John Doe SEO scraping is bad?

      Alain: Exactly. Many people think like that. Thus Zen Habits published the post about getting rid of Google. Yahoo Analytics is not the only alternative for GA. I’ve provided a big list of tools here:

      SeanM: Bing and Microsoft aren’t better when it comes to ethics. The Bing search results are sometimes almost as good as Google but the localization sucks. For instance I can’t use Bing in English correctly because I access it from Germany. There is no easy solution like switching to another engine. We have to keep our eyes open though.

      Jon: Google won’t charge us very soon but the y might in a few years. What’s more troubling is that Google just discontinues not profitable services you might depend on. I should have mentioned that.

    13. Thanks for the list. I’ll have to check them out.

      One of my big worries about Yahoo Analytics was the uncertainty surrounding the company (still). For most of my clients, any kind of paid analytics doesn’t make much sense, which is why GA has been my first choice. I’m reluctant to migrate, mainly because of the valuable data generated so far.

      Guess I’ll have to try a few with some of my own sites before making any recommendations to clients.

    14. @Tad: I was under the impression that Google using us as OCR bots was partly to prevent bots from spamming them and partly to assist with their scanning of library books. Tests that are used for the 2nd part ask the user to recognise two words; one of which is a control and one of which is a piece of scanned text that can’t be deciphered. I do not consider this unethical.

      I agree that the way they scrape content is not ethical.

    15. Stephen Tong says:

      Of course SEO is important and backlinks are definitely king when it comes to good SEO. Thanks for the article.

    16. SEOP says:

      “Everybody publishing on the Web does SEO”

      Totally agree. That is why I find it funny that some people writing on their blogs and website how they don’t like SEO and they don’t need it for promotion. Writing, just mere writing something on your website is you doing SEO.

    17. SEO definitely takes time to establish. Sometimes it is hard telling people that they can’t expect to meet all their goals immediately.

    18. Very good article.

      SEO is a hard job and its good to have some good advice.

      I agree online reputation management, SEO takes time.

      I help partners of adocom to perform better.

      Greeting from Berlin


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    22. dave says:

      “How many of them are in Google? How many of them use SEO friendly CMS software like WordPress? How many of them use the meta noindex tag to make sure they do not commit the SEO crime of getting indexed? People who dismiss SEO are either deceiving you or they have no clue. That’s “SEO is bullshit” bullshit.”

      Are these people not usually making the point that paying a lot of money for SEO is bullshit when white hat stuff is all laid out in Google’s guidelines and is simple to implement?

      To clarify – you are saying that SEO *is*

      *Building a decent website
      *Allowing yourself to be indexed
      *Being in Google

      - I’d say that is Web Development, and nothing to do with SEO myself.

    23. now if we could just get rid of the seo scammers who make big promises then cannot or will not deliver

    24. [...] I have to combine several tags into one trend. The brutal thruths about Google, SEO etc. have been such a list. It was clear to me that there was a trend in the industry to write [...]

    25. webTill says:

      The 25 points are essential o.k. However, no more secrets. Anyone who puts a little on the topic of SEO come by themselves. The phrase “Content is King, but SEO is Queen liked it so much that I need to print smooth and hang in the office.

    26. David Jenyns says:

      Doing SEO takes time and definitely costs money. Although some would say they can do these SEO tasks on their own and not spend anything, in the process it is better for them to check their options if they can let SEO professionals to do the work instead. That is so they can focus on some more important tasks in managing their website or online business.

    27. Burner says:

      In response to SeanM, I think Google is still the key player. I think we like to moan a lot about Google but at the same time need Google.

    28. Andy Kuiper says:

      These points are STILL relevant today… 3 years after they were written —> read them closely.

    29. Dan Carter says:

      These points are STILL relevant today… 3 years after they were written

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