Blog Post

Rand and Aaron Comment on the decline of SEO


If you follow the SEO industry at all, even a little bit, then you are undoubtedly familiar with both Rand and Aaron. They both have websites on page 1 for the term "SEO." In the last few months, both of them have written about recent trends in web spam. Interesting reads to say the least. Chad and I have spent time trying to digest their posts and I'll try to summarize them here for you.

Rand takes more of an "observatory" tone. He states, with some certainty, that he believes the level of link manipulation has grown over the last year. More specifically, as Rand looks at SEO, he believes that we have seen the least amount of anti-spam effort from Google in the last year than we've seen ever. He hypothesizes about why this might be with reasons such as 1) competing priorities, 2) "something" big in the works or 3) they decided it has become too hard to do.

While I know number 1 to be true (due to Google Nexus and Google TV), I think number 3 is the most interesting to think about. Let's dive deeper. We've talked about SEO spam here at HubShout for over 2 years as we have stuggled to actually define white hat SEO and seen amazing contridictions in the ethics of SEO promotion vs other mediums such as radio. And the problem I've had with it from day 1 was that the word has poor definition. The best I could tell was that when people say "spam" they really mean "overly commercial material" or in other contexts, "very, very low-quality content." The word is over-used and under-defined in my opinion. But more importantly, the lines have always been fuzzy. We've worried that widgets were spam. We've paid careful attention when Matt Cutts told us not to buy links. We have studied link theory and trust rank in-depth to make sure we understand all the risk (see picture to the left). But as competition has heated up, the economy has gone south, and more and more "real companies" have engaged in what many people believe is gray hat SEO, the rules of the game have gotten even fuzzier. Rand makes a great point when he says "Too Much Baby Thrown Out with the Bathwater." This means that Google has essentially lost control here and can't make any more radical changes to their anti-web spam algorithm without hurting the corporate sponsors that pay them on the PPC side...

And that leads me to Aaron's post. He is much more bombastic. Whereas Rand is merely an observer, in a professorial tone, Aaron is not afraid to tell the emperor he is naked. Aaron outright states that Google has created this problem. But that it ultimately means nothing in the end. He dives deep into the "content mill" industry and wonders out loud how it is that Google can simultaneously criticize and acquire such entities. Furthermore, he clearly sees the conflict of interest Google has as they make money on the very content they label as spam. All of this leads Aaron to conclude that Google's relaxing of the anti-web-spam campaign was and is an inevitability. As you know, I happen to agree with that. Check out this quote from Aaron:

"A Google engineer highlighted this piece by submitting it to Hacker News, using this as the title "sufficiently advanced spam is indistinguishable from content." We tend to over-estimate end users."

Sit back and think about this for a second. It is fascinating. As you know, HubShout has landed on the side of transparency. After watching this debate morph for years, we realized that we would be out of business before the official truth was discovered on the topic of SEO spam. As such, we decided the only ethical position we could take was to put full control in the hands of our customers. It is their website and their business in the end. We make all efforts to provide them with as much SEO data as possible so that they can decide where on the spectrum they want to put themselves...