John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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Modern SEO as Competitive Webmastering

I started this blog by calling online marketing a form of competitive webmastering. While what we do changes over time, the reason we do it is to compete with other web publishers for the attention of the audience. If they do something to help themselves out rank you, you will have to address that problem and vice versa.

Not everyone likes competition, which is fine, just as not everyone likes rain and not everyone likes growing pains, yet those things (like competition) are essential ingredients of life. Just because you don’t like them, you can’t safely ignore them. I wrote “Think Like A Dirty Bastard” to remind people that they need to assume a perspective of a competitor to “see” their weaknesses. Now that SEO has matured in this age of one search engine, we don’t need to imagine the Dirty Bastards anymore. They are hard at work attacking us, and we can see they are proud of it if we read Internet Marketing web sites comments like this one:

There are two kinds of link work: offensive and defensive. Offensive involves getting high quality links pointing to your target website. Defensive involves getting good links pointing to your competitors’ sites removed. Defensive work as I practive it involves emails or snail mail letters to webmasters suggesting removal of links or pointing out that the site they are linking to might not be what they think. Also, letters to executives at search engines. Not only defensive links work good and effective practice; it is obligatory for an SEO consultant who has his or her client’s welfare in mind. The point is not to have more or better links; it is to have more and better links than the competitors.

Apparently “Crimson Girl” speaks from the heart (i’ve added the bolding here.. to emphasize the key bits). She says she has the interests of her client in mind when she does whatever it takes to either advance her client’s site or damage her competitor’s ranking. I wonder if she chose the moniker “Crimson Girl” because crimson is the color of blood? Anyway, don’t you wonder if Crimson Girl is working for your competitors?

Once Google started encouraging webmasters to report other webmasters to Google if they appeared to violate the not-very-specific Google Guidelines, I made this parody SEO SECRET postcard showing a turtle SEO taking care of a competitor turtle SEO. That was summer of 2006. It’s much worse now. Even Crimson Girl loves the way Google has partnered up with the Dirty Bastards, providing ever more avenues for “outing” fellow comrades:

Now Google gives us an opportunity to report paid links. OF COURSE we will take advantage of this. It would be irresponisble not to. Incredibly, talk among Sphinn participants brands this activity under the prejorative term “ratting” like it is immoral. It is not only moral; it is required if you are keeping your client’s best interests in mind….If you don’t report competitors who use paid links you might as well turn in your SEO card and go do something else. Rand Fishkin points out sites using paid links on his blog (that’s fair game for blogging), and astonishingly, he is criticized for doing so!

Note again Crimson Girl’s conviction, and her moral basis for that conviction. Wow. You have to admire that, right?

I found it oddly ironic that Sphinn, the marketing community where this conversation took place, had “voted down” Crimson Girl’s comment so it is hidden from view in the comment thread. In my view, it is by far the most interesting (and informative) comment in that lengthy thread. Do online marketers wish it werent true? Do they attempt to vote it out of existence, voting being some manifestation of denial?

After one of my comments was “voted off the page” at Sphinn the other day, I got curious and started opening up every down-voted comment I encountered, including this one from Crimson Girl. I am convinced I can learn a whole helluva lot from the comments that Sphinn marketers don’t want me to see. I know… that’s not really news, but it deserves mention at least. I will vote her back up one of these days, when I am confident my voting her up won’t be considered encouragement of her Dirty Bastard behavior. Communities can be fickle and one does need to be a little mindful at times…

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6 Responses to “Modern SEO as Competitive Webmastering”

  1. Stuart Says:

    Perhaps it’s just that the people who like to play on Sphinn don’t want people to see the dirty underbelly that’s out there. If they deny that it exists then everyone will go on living in fairyland where no one does anything dirty like making false reports to damage competitors.

    It’s a bit the same way in those who are evangelists for consumer reviews on places like Google Maps etc.. They seen unable to accept that fact that totally unfounded negative reviews can be posted and the target of those reviews has absolutely no defence against the harm that they do.

    If they don’t admit that it can happen then they don’t have to deal with the problems that are inherent in the very thing they think is so bloody wonderful. They should come around one of my blogs at full moon and see the unfounded comments that one local demented troll wants to post about me and several of our clients. But of course that would challenge the evangelists out of their comfort zones so it’s far better to deny that anything like that could ever happen. (Here endeth the rant)

  2. Danny Sullivan Says:

    “Do online marketers wish it werent true? Do they attempt to vote it out of existence, voting being some manifestation of denial?”

    Well, five people did 109 days ago. Not sure that this says anything about an entire community of internet marketers one way or the other.

    But it’s a good point that perhaps vote downs shouldn’t hide comments. I don’t recall offhand what the threshold is, but we could take it up. I think that’s more down to the defaults of Pligg software, where you’ve got the programmers figuring there will be link spam in comments, so hide a lot of down votes like they do at Digg.

    At Sphinn, if a comment is spam, the mods will axe it. We don’t need to have automatic hiding. I’ll look into it.

  3. Alex Says:

    Danny I am not sure how many “clients” read Sphinn, but I would say if it is a good chunk of the audience maybe putting best foot forward in comments is not so bad. To this day I have a hard time speaking with prospective clients who think all I can do is create spam for them. If there was a place I can point to them to show SEO is a legitimate marketing tool this may not be as big of a problem.

  4. Natasha Robinson Says:

    Well the reasoning for voting that down may be that they actually disagree with her tactics… as I did. You know my motto “stop whining and do something about it” or as the sticker on my desk says, “stop b!tching and start a revolution”. I mean, come ‘on? The time spent “telling” on competition could be better spent making your site more competitive. For every paid link you find for a competitor there are probably 10 more they are buying in the time it took you to report the link; so to me it doesn’t seem like the best use of time. Then again, I think reporting paid links shows a fear competition…. or lack of confidence in competitive webmastering skills.

  5. john andrews Says:

    @Natasha: Not every industry is high tech, and links are very delicate things in some industries. Some execs have enough trouble finding the courage to link to anything at all. One hint of a potential issue with a link and sadly that link is removed (plus the associated chilling effect on all linking).

    I think you are right - do something about it. Rather than vote it down and ignore it (the comment), if you disagree why not say so in a comment? That way the readers will see the whole discussion and not just the covered up bits or the ignored bits or whatever.

  6. Bob Says:

    John, I agree with you that discussion is good. The problem is that it’s easier to just bury than engage, and it is may seem safer to some to bury than to appear to defend something Google doesn’t like.

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