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Rose Colored Glasses and Rose Colored Kool-Aide

Someone emailed me today and called me curmudgeon-y. So I looked it up. Grumpy old man. Hah. I am not that old, and I am not grumpy. And I dislike that SearchEngineLand has labeled it’s hard-core SEO blog roll as “Old Fart SEOs”. I like appearing there, but I don’t like the label. Yeah yeah, all in fun. I also go this email today after my last post:

Looks like you’re doing everything possible not to get invited to the “select” PubCon parties

I suppose my blog is not as “SEOMozy” as many search industry blogs. I read this comment on SEOMoz today :

Showering love on a community is one of the best ways to generate a reaction – it’s a win-win proposition for the author and the readers!

followed by this:

linking out and praising the community is a great way to generate buzz! Some quality links there too – everyone should check out the whole list.

and this:

As to this being one of the best communities – I’m totally in agreement. Particularly as far as the signal to noise ratio goes – this community has the highest signal and the least noise in the industry. Both in the blogposts and commentaries.

Really? Let’s all just praise each other and everything will be win-win for all of us, eh?

Well I come from a background in real research and hard core Engineering (Big E, not little “e” like all those Google “engineers” and “software engineers”). Accountability is built-in, not optional. And when everyone just says “everything’s positive”, it sets that stage for complacency, laziness, and other tools of deception. If in fact SEOMoz is the highest signal to noise ratio search industry community alive today (a claim I do not make), it is surely not because of a stellar signal to noise ratio. It might be because the politics of the search industry prevent a truly high signal to noise ratio community from thriving. Is that win-win?

What happens when everyone is rosy and everything is great and we all pat each other on the back and say “good job!” and nobody is curmudgeon-y? Well, in the news this week we see :

Last week, the UK government announced the biggest loss of personal information in the UK’s history. Two unencrypted computer disks containing the personal records of all families in the UK with a child under the age of 16 went missing en route from the Revenue and Customs department to the National Audit Office. UK’s Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, stated that, “[t]his is an extremely serious and disturbing security breach.”

The disks comprised Revenue and Customs’ entire collection child benefit payment data. The disks were being sent to the National Audit Office using an internal courier system, but documentation of the transmission was not recorded or registered. The child benefit data listed on the disks includes name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number and, where relevant, bank details of 25 million people. Revenue and Customs chairman Paul Gray resigned after the announcement of the breach.

That’s financial and personal data on every family in the UK with a child under 16, lost to accountability. Over 25 million people were legally required to hand over personal information and bank account information to their government, and that government shipped the data around unencrypted, unscheduled, untracked, and lost it. Based on the comments made by the government officials, including the one that resigned immediately, that same government assumes it is the hands of criminals. And the follow up is they plan to limit what they collect next time, but include your biometrics. Let me ask you this — can you revoke your biometric? Is it physically possible for you to get a re-issue of your biometric if it is stolen? And this will be better?

What’s going on? We can assume that if criminals wanted that data, it is valuable. The system keeps going, and you lose.

Complacency. Things are ok. It’s win-win. Everything’s good. That curmudgeon-y guy who was complaining  last year about having to hand over personal data for central archiving, with no legal assurances for protection? Just an old fart, probably.

A few years ago every complaint about Google was labeled a conspiracy theory. Posters who cautioned of trusting Google were labeled “contrarians” and said to wear “tin foil hats”. AdSense was buying webmaster loyalty for pennies on the dollar. Now, in 2007, things have changed. I won’t point to some of the available information sources I have now, because they are ridiculously irresponsible. Want to know every domain ever registered by PUT-YOUR-FAVORITE-SEO-HERE? It comes cheap today. Want to find out the affiliate tiering of PUT-YOUR-FAVORITE-AFF-MARKETER-HERE, with her upline and downline? It can be had for pennies on the dollar compared to its value. The public tools for competitive intelligence are a joke compared to what can be had through “channels”, and what Google has because you all give it to Google for pennies on the dollar.

But this is the competitive SEO/Search marketing industry. What about us?

Is it possible to knock someone’s web site down in the SERPs without their involvement? No, of course not, right? Everything’s good, everything’s ok. Good job all around. And when a business is knocked out and loses 65% of the traffic it had, what then? That loser should have diversified, right? Big mistake keeping all the eggs in one basket, right? And of course no accountability for why Google dropped the site. If your search marketing contract is worth $100k per year, and generates $1million in client revenue, is it worth $25k to knock you out?  That’s $100k in Chinese money, and much more in other currencies in locations where very talented people operate computers attached to the Internet. Services can be procured.

The majority of my professional work involves working with corporations that hired advertising and marketing and SEO agencies but soon found themselves stuck with unexpected dependencies, large bills, ill-defined contracts, and Internet performance below expectations. My work is very positive — identify the fluff, trim the fat, help the corporation find the loopholes and hold the providers accountable for the initial goals and objectives. It is interesting and challenging work, to say the least. If you are a search marketer or SEO chances are good that I am on the other side of one of your contracts, helping your client to help you do your best work, while they adapt to help provide you with what you need to do your best work. The goal is success, as it was supposed to be when you were hired.

So keep doing good work and working hard. In the mean time keep asking the hard questions, and reconsider how quickly you might be “rewarding” those in our community who “showering love on the community”. Word on the street is, there’s an agenda being played. Did you know?


  1. Todd Mintz wrote:

    Old farts tend not to listen to Underground Mix music…

    Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 6:47 am | Permalink
  2. Stuart wrote:

    The problem is that after a while old farts get tired – we tend to get worn down by the diaper-wearing newbies who think they know which way is up because they work for one of those companies that the rose-colored glass wearing crowd love so much.

    And when we get tired we go away to do our own thing and let the industry hurry on its way to perdition.

    Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  3. Alex Tsatkin wrote:

    Witness!! I went and attended one of those web 2.0 company promotion events last night in San Francisco. What a joke, every booth I asked “what is your business model, how will this make money?” and every answer “don’t know yet, but advertising.” How the hell has Google brainwashed everyone into thinking that content should be free and slapping AdSense on your site will solve all your problems. Now they have SEOs brainwashed into thinking that it’s their fault when Search Engines F**K up.

    Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  4. IncrediBILL wrote:

    John, there’s nothing wrong with being branded an Old Fart as I like to wear it like a badge. I’ll be the first one to point out while the young stuff scurries around trying to make customers happy all day that that this old fart does SEO just for himself and lives a very relaxed, quiet and fairly stress-free life.

    You claim to park your carcass in coffee houses all day and I park mine on a bar stool several days a week and we’re both amazingly making money doing it while the youngsters are scrambling about in offices with bosses breathing down their necks.

    Come on, don’t deny it, give into it, it’s because Old Farts work smarter and not harder.

    Besides, you are a wee bit of a curmudgeon which is why I like you as we curmudgeons have to stick together!

    Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  5. randfish wrote:

    So John, any chance you’d be willing to come down to the mozplex sometime and take off our rosy glasses? We’ll buy you lunch!

    Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  6. Damn it, John! I just got through reading some happy-go-lucky SEO/SEM posts in my RSS reader and you had to go and ruin it all, didn’t you? :-)

    Please take up Rand on his offer. Such a meeting could produce some very interesting work and hopefully you’d both be willing to share the output.

    Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 6:51 pm | Permalink
  7. HA… and I was just thinking today, “God, I miss Threadwatch!” and here comes your post to remind me of the good ‘ole days! Last week a co-worker and I were talking about how annoying backslapping comments on SEO blogs can be – Every post can’t be a great post, can it? And then he brought up how he liked your blog because it wasn’t like that. And if you define curmudgeon-y, long live it. And I wouldn’t call you curmudgeon-y I’d call you TellItLikeItIsy, which is why the people who like what you have to say, like what you have to say. OMG: I think I just wrote a backslapping comment!

    BTW Alex: I almost went to Techform last night! And quietly, I’ve actually been thinking of my own personal drinking game for Bay Area events – it’s called: Web 2 Point Uh Oh. To play, you take a shot every time you think to yourself “Good luck making money on that” after chatting up someone about their Web 2.0 company. :)

    Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  8. john andrews wrote:

    @Bill: Um…I think you missed the part where I said I’m not that old. But I will miss you in Vegas this year. As for the “we’re both amazingly making money doing it while the youngsters are scrambling about in offices with bosses breathing down their necks” part, you definitely got a point there. I guess I take it for granted.

    @Marios: You say “Please take up Rand on his offer. Such a meeting could produce some very interesting work and hopefully you’d both be willing to share the output.” I just don’t have that perspective. Thanks for raising it.

    @Natasha: You’re making me think I might have subconsciously exercised a little hook humility with my post. No harm done, right? Thanks for the compliment; see you in Vegas.

    @rand: Thanks for the offer.. but I’m not one to take off any one else’s glasses! I commented on the comments on seomoz, not seomoz itself. Do you really wear rose colored glasses over there? I thought you were all about transparency ;-)

    Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 9:15 pm | Permalink
  9. Jamie wrote:

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to keep blogging. Our entire industry ecosystem is about 2 nasty press releases away from a serious attitude adjustment and you are one of the few voices that consistently point this out..

    Friday, November 30, 2007 at 1:32 am | Permalink
  10. Kevin wrote:

    A lot of Internet companies are like Jennifer Love Hewitt: they have a ton of fanboys and girls for a while and then they drift out of the public eye. They continue to be hot in some respects, mainly in the upper torso region, but the following eventually moves on to the next big thing.

    Take a look at 37Signals as an example. They were the hottest thing online for a while. They did the coolest things, had their frameworks and faces all over Newsweek, and had more fanboys than they knew what to do with. Their blog exploded and eventually so did their heads. A lot of their readers came and went, I’m guessing mostly because their style of explain and justify turned into preach and swallow.

    seoMoz is heading down a similar path. Every once in a while there are some really good bits of advice and analysis on their blog. The comments are filled with fanboys expressing their love and dishing out virtual high fives but there really isn’t much else going on. Like 37Signals, they are selling memberships and a little bit of custom work and the idea is to keep people coming back and by dangling that ‘how we do SEO carrot’ out there it seems to be working. For now.

    Friday, November 30, 2007 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  11. IncrediBILL wrote:

    John john john…

    “I think you missed the part where I said I’m not that old”

    Over 30 with kids in denial about being an Old Fart, tsk tsk. If you don’t think you’re old just ask any group of hot 18 year old girls, assuming they’ll even stand still long enough for you to approach and pose the question as they tend to move away from creepy old men, and the resulting shrill hysterical laughter will confirm your current status.

    I am sorely going to miss PubCon…

    Friday, November 30, 2007 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  12. cRANKy wrote:

    My ex has just dubbed me cRANKy and for good reason. I am pre 30, hate newbies – but more importantly I hate the seo xxxxx circles. It’s like following your tail into someone elses ass. I like following my own ass thank you, I don’t care about anything but ranking, money and domains.

    I think that being labeled as old fart is actually nothing but a massive compliment. Who would understand right? Like Bill says, work smarter not harder. I cringe watching the newbies and their techniques.

    Not much commentry publically available about these matters, thanks for sharing and caring enough to actually post about it.

    Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 8:01 pm | Permalink
  13. Bob wrote:

    Damn, I miss TW. I lurk here now for my daily cup of strong black coffee.

    Funny how so many equate brand awareness with success. VC money isn’t profit; it’s a bet that maybe there is some potential to be lived up to.

    Thursday, December 13, 2007 at 10:03 am | Permalink
  14. I like the reference to little “e” engineers. It seems these days anyone who can flash up Excel regards himself as an Engineer.

    Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 1:47 am | Permalink
  15. keep bloging man, you are the best…thank

    Editor’s Note: I would have bet this was a spam comment, but I searched and it appears relatively unique. Go figure. 

    Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 11:45 am | Permalink