I Do Not Like Green Eggs with Spam

in Local Search,Spam

Lately, I’ve been helping some local businesses with their search marketing efforts. In the course of my work, I’ve discovered a local design company that is doing some pretty shady SEO stuff with their client sites. I’ve been wrestling with whether or not to post about it, mostly because there are real people with real businesses involved. I don’t want to feel responsible for undermining the stability of dozens of local businesses in an already troubling economic climate, but sometimes the best cure is a little bit of tough love. Right?

Before I lead in with some examples, I want to state that it is my firm belief that the businesses involved have no idea about any of this. So if you are a local business and your website has recently disappeared from Google, let this be a lesson to you; do not contract out your SEO work to an unscrupulous design firm with little-to-no knowledge of search engine marketing. It will do more harm than good!

I’ll start with an example from the local real estate industry. While Guelph, Ontario is a relatively small market in the grand scheme of things, the following serves as an example of the way certain companies play off of the ignorance of their clients. Check out the search results for the query “guelph real estate agent”, and pay particular attention to results #1, #2, and #9. Let’s do another search for “guelph mortgages”, and again take note of the search results for position #1 and #2. At first glance, nothing seems out of place, right? Let’s dig a little deeper, and see what we find.

A site: query on the site ranking #1 for “guelph real estate agent” turns up something rather interesting. You’ll have to drill down to page 3 to find it, but the following page pops up: www.otimultimedia.com/seo.html . So we have a completely useless page with no meaningful content to speak of, but a lot of spammy links with juicy anchor text. Clicking on the last link in the list takes us to this page: http://www.otimultimedia.com/seolinks.htm, which again is nothing more than a collection of spammy links. As if that wasn’t bad enough, these same spammy link pages are hosted on dozens of their client sites: http://guelphrealestatecentre.com/seolinks.htm, http://www.guelph-real-estate-services.com/seolinks.htm, http://www.debolender.com/seolinks.htm, http://www.gillmullis.com/seolinks.htm, http://www.teamreidy.com/seolinks.htm, http://www.bildwellfinancial.com/seolinks.htm, etc.

So why is this bad, you might ask? Well, the truth is that this type of activity is wrong on a number of levels. First off, these practices are in direct violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines. In very plain English, Google advises publishers not to engage in “tricks intended to improve search engine rankings” or to get involved with “link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking”. A quick glance at any of the pages noted above shows that these sites are all involved in “link schemes” designed to increase their search engine rankings. But that’s not what bothers me…

What bothers me is that this company would take such a foolish gamble with the livelihood of their clients. These are real people with real businesses trying to make an honest living, and I can’t imagine why anybody would decide to put them in the line of fire by engaging in such an obvious attempt to game the search engines. Even worse, is that the company in question is probably charging their clients an exorbitant fee for these so-called “SEO services”. So if any of the businesses noted above happen to be reading this, I would advise you to stop doing business with these clowns immediately. They are sabotaging your business, and you are paying them to do it! Dump them now, and then contact me. Ciao for now, folks.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Dawn 03.04.09 at 11:52

I’ve noticed this lately as well as we have a client in the local real estate space. My favourite part of this is the line “If you see this message please proceed to the index page of this site. ” If something is so obviously not meant for human eyes, it is clearly something the big G won’t be happy with.

njk 03.04.09 at 12:50

Nice work.

Stuart Robertson 03.05.09 at 06:05

That’s a bad strategy for them to take, both for themselves and their clients. As soon as someone reports the site to google they’ll find their sites no longer rank as well as they would have if they hadn’t tried to game the system in the first place.

Some people may be willing to take those kinds of risks, but I’ll bet they didn’t let their clients know the full story. When I’m helping people with their websites, doing SEO or just helping them with strategy – I’m very up-front about the importance of using legit SEO if you’re a legit business.

krishna 03.05.09 at 06:18

Well i have come across many of these kind of people who just don’t know anything about right SEO skills and just do all the Black Hat SEO to their clients. This will inturn effect clients earnings. Now what i feel is this is going to have some effect on the people who are handed over the work next time. As the client will be in a state of mind of expecting some quick results which breaks our heads. After all SEO results can’t be achieved in a week or month and client keeps on shooting mails to us expecting faster results which we can’t deliver so quick(As we r White Hat seo followers).

I am glad you found out suck a fraud company and took the risk in writing about it. Kudos to you jeff

Amanda Scott 03.05.09 at 06:58

I found your post very interesting.
I get very frustrated some days when I look at local photography sites, some more than others. Trying to design and optimize my site for accessibility and search engines, and competing with companies that knowingly or not practice shady SEO techniques is hard, and frustrating. Specially when the local advertising costs for radio, print and TV are astronomical, the web is the only cost efficient way to promote business (starting up small business) for us. So, when other websites in your business field spam, or utilize shady SEO techniques and they rank higher, it really isn’t fair that they aren’t being penalized.
I got so frustrated a while back, I tried what they were doing, and have learned my lesson since as I believe I’m being penalized now. I’ve been able to bring my ranking up from a -1 to 3, which isn’t too bad. I feel it was only because I was using Google’s Webmaster Tools that I was found easier…because there are sites like this one that still rank high (guelph wedding photographers): http://www.straightcapture.com/
Now, I just try to make sure I keep my content clean, precise and accessible.
Thanks for your article and it was really great to find it!

Ruth 03.05.09 at 06:58

I too am appauled that companies would pay such little respect to their clients – having done some rating of website for Google I have been able to get an “inside” view on the ratings procedure and hopefully practices like this will be weeded out, but unfortunately I expect it will be the clients who will suffer, not the “company” doing the SEO.

It does make me irritated when people try to take these shortcuts which can cause considerable damage to a business – not only their ranking but also, and perhaps more importantly, their reputation.

I would be persuaded to inform google of their antics, but also inform the clients what this company are doing. Wouldn’t suprise me if they were paying them rather large amounts of moolah for this “service”.

Chris Bisson 03.05.09 at 18:13

I was surprised to learn that putting a related business person’s web-site link on my site may actually be a bad thing for me…or perhaps I am missing the point of the article.

If someone can clarify for the non-technical guy it would be appreciated!

Chris

admin 03.05.09 at 18:45

Hi Chris, and thanks for stopping by. Linking out to your partners, suppliers and associates is not a bad thing, unless you do it in a way that is intended to deceive the search engines. The examples noted in my post are blatantly deceptive. I hope that helps to clarify the situation for you, mate.

Thanks to everyone for your comments and for sharing your experiences :)

Question 03.06.09 at 07:45

I am not up on this stuff either, but is what this site does questionable also;

http://www.rlproyalcity.com

On the footer there are two links “Guelph Ontario Real Estate” and “Guelph Homes for Sale”

If you drill down, there is a link called resources and when you click on that it goens to a ton of links. Does this fall into your cateorization of questionable SEO?

Mark Bailey 03.06.09 at 15:27

Hi there, thank you to everyone for pointing out the grey area associated with designing pages specifically for Google’s eyes only. Jeff, although you mention you had to do a search down to the 3rd page in Google to find the page in question, I had always linked to the Search Engine Optimization page in question directly off my index page (it was formerly called Client SEO and is now called Links). I never tried to hide or disguise these pages.

I’ve had a chance to visit Google’s guidelines pages (thanks for the link) and note that “Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”" I will use this as a rule of thumb from now on.

I do hope that those who know me, and the work I do in Guelph to promote alternative energy, neighbourhood groups, and public education will give me the benefit of the doubt on this one. I do a lot of work to maintain my client SEO positioning, much much more than a handful of links pages. Although I do admit that I experiment in an effort to learn more, I do keep content the king. I also admit that I will have to be more careful how I set up link structures from now.

Jeff, I wish only to finally point out that I never had the opportunity to work for a company like Geosign–I’ve learned everything on my own reading and experimenting online. Although I may deserve the criticism you’ve posted, I’m quite sure I am not the first to make mistakes in an area only a handful of Google employees truly understand.

That being said, I do appreciate you pointing this out to me so that I can provide my clients with the best and safest SEO services they expect of me.

Mark Bailey
Owner
OTI Multimedia

admin 03.07.09 at 09:47

@Question I wouldn’t go as far to call that questionable SEO; outdated perhaps, but certainly not deceptive. Reciprocal link exchanges were considered a standard SEO practice back in the day. Today, it’s pretty safe to say they do more harm than good. My advice would be to kill those link pages off, and work on acquiring quality, one-way inbound links. If you need some help, feel free to contact me via the contact form.

admin 03.07.09 at 09:49

@Mark Bailey My post wasn’t meant to be a personal attack against you, and I apologize if it came across that way. It was meant to highlight the dangers of contracting out SEO and internet marketing to inexperienced design companies. If you aren’t aware of Google’s quality guidelines, you should not be offering SEO as a service to your clients. It’s really that simple.

njk 03.07.09 at 10:05

Those links are now gone (as of 1pm Sat Mar 7) as is most of the other links, with the exception of http://guelphrealestatecentre.com/seolinks.htm

Only the guilty try to cover their tracks!

Mark Bailey 03.07.09 at 12:27

Thanks Jeff, I appreciate it. As mentioned I’ve rid the sites of the pages in question. Thanks for your clarifying remarks.

NJK I don’t know how fixing a mistake is ‘covering my tracks’, I’m taking the advice of an experienced SEO–and even went so far as to contact Google, relay the mistake, and let them know I was fixing it. The site that still has the page you linked to I no longer control (all of these pages in question were created years ago) but I have contacted the new webmaster to have it removed.

Jeff, I am working on a big project I my need your help with, I will contact you down the line when we are further ahead.

Cheers,

Mark

admin 03.07.09 at 12:34

@Mark Bailey Kudos to you for doing the right thing, and for being so transparent about it. Few people in this situation would have the courage to admit they made a mistake and even fewer would act so quickly to rectify it. Cheers Mark, and hopefully there’s no hard feelings :)

Gill Mullis 09.23.09 at 08:26

This has made very interesting reading. I thought when you hired a web master, they were more than someone who was good on a PC. They were the Masters at their craft. I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on my Google placemnet and my commitment to my web masters expertise. Wow! I wonder how I can continure to trust the eexpertise of a company that I held in such high esteem. It has cost me my web site, that I did not wish to loose, It has cost me my ranking of that site, and it has cost me my faith in business professionals that I need to trust for information that I do not fully understand.
Thank you for your posting.
Regards,
Gill Mullis

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