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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“Just Make Good Content” is Bullsh*t

The long running debate about White Hat vs. Black Hat search engine optimization (SEO) continues. It is getting harder and harder for the scammers to hide. The more they scam the world, the more money they make, but over time the impact of those scams starts to show. With exposure comes embarrassment, but embarrassment rarely bothers scammers.

Most scammers will ignore  criticism, continuing to grab the cash “while the vault door is open“. After all, they got where they are by exploit, so further exploit is easily attempted with little emotional effort. We heard today that the “big 3″ auto makers came to Washington DC to beg for bailout money, flying private luxury jets costing an estimated $20,000 per seat.  Do these executives need a bailout? Sure they do. Their companies are close to failure. Have they benefited from taxpayer benevolence in the past? Sure they have. Jobs are at stake. There are so many issues at play, that if these scammers just keep pushing with a straight face, they are likely to get at least some free money.

Just like AIG did… the guys who begged for a bailout and then, after receiving it, took a luxury vacation (also via private jets) at taxpayer expense. Scammers do very well these days.

So who are the real scammers in SEO? I’m going to list some of them:

  • Google
  • Yahoo!
  • White Hat SEOs

That’s right. I called Google and the White Hat SEOs the scammers. It is my belief that “just make good content” is bullshit put forth by scamming search engines cashing in on our collective productivity. “Just Make Good Content” has never been true. As publishers believed this claim, they put out creative content for free, while spending a fortune to create it. Photographers, editors, journalists…everyone continued to contribute productivity to the creation of that “good content”. But have they been paid? This vault door of the web has been open to search engines for years now, and the scam is slowly becoming obvious as Yahoo! and Google struggle with unusual economic conditions. Just as auto makers and banks have suffered, search engines will suffer because advertising spend tracks the economies stress, and search engines make their money from advertising. The creators, all along, continue to contribute content (work harder, actually), largely for “free”.

Just make good content, and you don’t need specialized SEO tactics” say the search engines. The mantra is repeated by The Followers, including self-proclaimed “White Hat SEO” practitioners. Unfortunately, those White Hat SEO people are part of the scam. They are usually working on the client’s dime, helping to publish the client’s content to help feed the Google beast. Often they repeat the “Good Content” mantra as a form of SEO strategy, encouraging the client to invest more productivity (or to pay for others to create it) as a means of gaining search traffic. And it works..to a degree. Of course it does. The scammers (the search engines) have to make sure it works. It’s part of the con. The Long Tail is part of the con. And they all need to propagate the con. More content trumps less content… for now, as long as you consider long tail traffic a success metric.

Did you know many self-professed “White Hat” search marketers outsource their actual SEO work to others who are not so White? No big surprise there, because we all know a successful business involves sales and marketing as well as operations. If “White Hat” SEos are hiring gray hat or other hat SEOs to do the actual work, well…who’s been fooled?

A few years ago Jason Ca1canis stood up at an SEO conference (where he was an invited speaker) and proclaimed “SEO is Bullshit“. He then created a low-quality, pure SEO play along the “just create good content” strategy. The scam was well done… a few years later we still see his low quality content earning profitable search traffic. Search engines got the message…Jason was joining the scam, would not rock the boat (although he clearly could have), and was willing to sacrifice whatever integrity he might have had at that time towards the Open Vault Door cause. Everybody wins, right? Search engines make money, Jason makes money…the scam continues to evolve. The web didn’t get an amazing new information resource, but nobody cares.

Today we have Yahoo! suffering much like the Big 3 automakers are suffering – under bad management. Yahoo! has Flickr and Zimbra and many other valuable properties. Yahoo! has advertisers, and Yahoo! has the #2 search engine. But that’s not enough… they think they need a bailout of sorts. Based on what I have seen, they need an attitude adjustment more than anything else.

Meanwhile,”Just Make Good Content” takes on a new form at Yahoo!. Take a look at the “good content” apparently created by Bills.com, republished (I assume sans permission) on “Yahoo! Answers” where it ranks highly in search engines and earns money for Yahoo! and its partners. The Bills.com article is here http://www.bills.com/blog/cash-call-loan-default/ and Yahoo! answers republishes it in context here http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071108171314AADHSue. Oh sure that’s “user generated content” and we can’t possibly expect Yahoo! to police everything posted by users, can we? (see my list of ways scammers handle criticism, above).

It looks as if Bills.com created and publishes many articles of “good content”, probably on the advice of a White Hat SEO. That is a ton of content for an otherwise small web site with little editorial input into the consumer information space. I’d guess it was expensive to produce. Can you imagine a company’s marketing department recommending a 300 page printed brochure? This web content will be even more expensive to defend, as search engines like Yahoo! and Google enable copyright infringers to profit (while sharing in those profits). Is Bills.com really expected to file DMCA actions for every article illegally copied into Yahoo! answers? It’s all part of the scam. Just one small example, of which there are many.

Last month Google settled with book publishers, and will be publishing scanned out-of-print books pretty soon. That original scam didn’t go so well, but still holds promise. First, Google apparently paid libraries for access to scanning books, but didn’t get away with publishing them because they were sued. Now they’ve settled. I have to ask though, is a $125 million dollar settlement really enough to fund future generations of writers seeking publishers? Or are the book publishers cashing out? We don’t know the complete terms Google got when it agreed to pay to play with copyrighted but out-of-print books, but there is a back story. And once again, Google shafts the creators (artists) in order to pay the business people (Google and publishers). Those books are out of print not because there is no demand for them, but because publishers choose not to reprint them. Authors may want their works reprinted, and readers may want to buy copies, but publishers choose not to reprint unless they will sell huge numbers of books. So even though it is “out of print”, it is not worthless.

This is another case of Google stifling creativity. What we really need is a print on demand industry that can accommodate the long tail demand for short run prints of copyrighted works. Print on demand, for example. Just because the publishers aren’t willing to invest in their own futures, should they be given the right to sell that future to Google for $125 million? Maybe Google will figure out a way to micro-distribute… but that will be a first for Google in the “charge for access to content” department. So far they have wanted everything to be “free”. This really sounds more like one of those methods by which scammers respond to criticisms – step up, acknowledge the problem, make a deal that can be exploited later, and move on to scam anew in the now “authorized” environment.

Some might think this post is harsh…calling Google and White Hat SEOs “scammers”. Those same people will probably cite this post as “BlackHat” or supportive of Black Hat SEO. Whatever. They miss the point. I fully expect that one day, after Google has executed enough of these “contracts” that try and bind whole classes of rights holders, she will promote some seemingly grass roots effort to revise copyright laws, using something like that stupid “you have no privacy – get over it” argument. Everything else is part of the setup. The Black Hat SEOs I know understand fully that they are exploiting time-limited opportunities, just like Google does. They are far more realistic than the White Hat SEOs, who seem to think the search engines are paving a golden road to a bright new media world. They are (paving a new road), but it’s not (bright).

But there is hope. As I have admonished my blog readers before, before you support copy-left or some other “information wants to be free” endeavor, think through the consequences. Before you proclaim yourself a “White Hat SEO” and preach the “More content! More content!” mantra, think about how things really work in our world.

The photo here shows a 16 year old Whatcom Warrior youth ice hockey player crashing through a West Vancouver Midget opponent, breaking his stick in half on the way through. I captured that action in a dimly lit, low-budget ice rink. I needed an expensive glass lens, an expensive high-speed camera, and plenty of time dedicated to learning to shoot amateur ice hockey. When a news outfit places a photographer onto the scene, that photographer is backed by purchased equipment (self insured) a processing lab, and a fraction of an editorial team. Hopefully a few photos like this one tell the story of the game. But who pays for the equipment and time? If you copy this photo and spread it on the web, Google makes money from that. But Google doesn’t fund the photographer’s equipment, and Google doesn’t buy that 16 year old kid a replacement stick ($175). (So if you’re flush and feeling generous, consider buying an ad placement or making a donation to the WCAHA so the kids can keep playing! http://www.WhatcomHockey.com).

I am 100% in favor of the new web economy disrupting systems that don’t work, but first we need to make sure we the people survive the transition. “Just Make Good Content” isn’t paying the real bills for many of the very real people formerly employed in the content generation businesses. It’s not improving society, and it’s not enriching lives beyond those of Google and White Hat SEOs. It’s exploitative of the majority, to the extent that the content does not strategically position a business to grow in a healthy fashion. More content creates noise, which begets more noise. Black Hat and non-White Hat SEOs execute in that environment, helping users find what they actually want amongst the noise. They are actually helping society. So of the SEO “flavors”, which is more exploitative? White Hat by far.

So what is the “take away”?

Personally I’d like you to Just Make Good Content… because as you invest your resources into making content you will suffer competitively, leaving the rest of us to eat your lunch. It’s clear that the current model is only sustainable for the market leader and it’s soldiers. So keep paying those “White Hat SEO” people, because the more of your marketing budget you spend with them, the less you have to compete with me and the Black Hats. I’ll hope Google is keep busy “managing”those Black Hats, leaving the rest of us to succeed. And I don’t mind the White Hat’s getting rich, karma being what it is an all that.

If we follow this “make good content” path eventually the search engines will fail to deliver meaningful search results, either because of the excessive noise or because they enjoy such a monopoly they find market exploitation irresistably more rewarding. At that point the White Hat SEOs won’t know what to do anymore, and the creators/artists will refuse to work for the nickels offered. The web will become the cesspool Google says it already is. Clearly, as good as it is, Yahoo! won’t be around much longer. And once search isn’t TheAnswer for everyone using the Internet, maybe we’ll finally be able to break up the staid XHTML web we’ve been stuck with for 10 years, with some true innovation.

But that’s just my wish for the future. You could alternatively refuse to hire any SEO that claims to be “White Hat”, remain diligent on the copyright front until someone steps into the middle with sensible ideas for helping creators benefit from their unique contributions to society, and lobby your local representatives to do the same. Insist that your content provider assume liability for copyright infringement, in writing. And hire an SEO who claims to work for YOUR goals, instead of the search engines’ goals. Learn to manage your business risk like everyone else, instead of hopping on transient opportunities the Google/Black Hat way. Perhaps, with that balanced approach and with legions of small businesses finally accepting that they are incompetition with Google, our artists can find their feet in the new economy and continue to contribute to society. Hell, given enough time, maybe they’ll all find ways to participate in the web after all. That’d be great. The White Hat ex-SEOs can assume the general web contractor roles like nature intended, and we competitive webmasters can quietly go back to work.

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27 Responses to ““Just Make Good Content” is Bullsh*t”

  1. Joshua Says:

    A really good post in my opinion, its always nice to see a “fresh” perspective on the current trends. I say fresh because these ideas are not often reflected in “SEO” blogs.

    We all know that Google claims they use “over 100″ different signals to determine how your web pages get ranked, if content is only one of these signals then what about the 99 others?

    Just writing “good content” or Content is King is not enough on its own and isn’t even needed if you focus on the other other signals that they use. Content might be good for humans but Google isn’t human.

  2. Bill Hartzer Says:

    It’s great to finally hear a fresh perspective on this, sure. Keep on creating good content on your site: you will, though, need some way to tell others that you have good content on your site, that’s where stuff like SEO and social media marketing and word of mouth marketing comes in.

  3. andy Says:

    does this mean you won’t mind me posting some viagra links in your comments?;)

  4. Godhammer Says:

    Ironically, this is best Good Content I have read today. Thanks. Also, I’m currently cropping or smudging your copyright notice on that photograph using a pirated edition of Photoshop, and will be distributing it for commercial purposes at my Avon candle party this evening. That’s okay, right? I’d donate, but… the Internet is totally free, duh. /end-sarcasm

  5. PPC.bz Says:

    I stole this article and made money from it. Cha-ching! Thanks Google!

  6. Content & Motion Says:

    you’re right, of course, about who profits most from content, content, content. but this isn’t due to some evil plan, it’s because the price of publishing disappeared and noise, noice, noise resulted. its a cause and effect that google exploits by providing a service – but they ain’t the ones responsible for the erosion of copyright… you can probably blame the web for that.

  7. Tim Says:

    I make around $4-6,000 per month through search engines.

    My Sites peak, then sustain at a certain level WITHOUT creating new content.

    It’s a business model and its been working for years.

  8. Marty Says:

    Yup, I think you’ve got this dead eye spot-on. We’ve got CLIENTS pinging us critiquing content SEO by Google’s beginners’ advice doc. We explain that we’re in it for our CLIENTS and not for Google.

    It grosses me out. @ PubCon Mr. M/C used words in the search engine smackdown like “felony” and “jail.” Last time I checked, even when Google legislates the American government needs to pass the bill with the President’s signature.

  9. Hugo Guzman Says:

    At the very least, your post does a great job of provoking though, and for that I applaud you.

    Still, I can’t help but think that this and similar opinions are somehow swayed/warped by that fact that you/we operate in the natural search space. It’s hard for me to reconcile the assertions about search quality (now or in the future) with the reality of how useful Google is for the average (non SEO) user. My wife knows little to nothing about SEO, black hat, white hat, “good content”, etc…She just knows that Google helps her get directions and find interesting facts about her favorite writers, singers, etc…

    What I’m really curious to see, however, is what will rank better for the term “make good content”; your original post or Aaron’s post over at seobook.com, which rehashes the topic ; )

  10. Singapore SEO Says:

    Just make a Bullsh*t content and you will be getting a lot of responses. :)

  11. martha Says:

    Bullshiiiiiiiiitttttttttttt………

  12. Mike @ WannaDevelop.com Says:

    Interesting views… Maybe some 1% truth to it but applaud you as well for a well written and thought provoking piece.

    Look, if a webmaster is so paranoid about this stuff… You can use .robots or meta tags to block ALL engines and stay off the search indexes in the first place… and if you want to dig deeper and actually find whoever is stealing and re-publishing your works if you have a feeling that somebody is you can do so thanks to google.coome by inputting “search phrase within quotes”

    ;)

    Mike

  13. Shark SEO Says:

    I really enjoyed your post – to be honest I think it’s spot on. Might have been a bit harsh saying that White Hat SEOs are scammers, not that I’m disagreeing with you – it’s just that I don’t think many of them realise they’re scamming. They seem to spend most of their time being told that “content is king” (a phrase which makes me physically vomit in my mouth a bit every time I hear it) and they’re told it often enough to believe it’s true. Check out the comments at any random SEOMoz post to see what I mean.

  14. Dave Says:

    White hat is the new black hat…they just follow the rules a bit more closely. They are still scammers, manipulators, gamers of the system. Before any SEO’er takes on a new client they should ask them some simple questions – Do you deserve to be on the first page of Google? Is your product or service amongst the top ten in your geo-location for that service or product? If they geniunely are then by all means take on the client and get them ranking.

    It seems Google has encouraged Seo’ers to get the best content ranked but having the best content doesn’t make you the best service or product providers for that search term.

    The SEO’ers need to do some research on a client first and if the client does not stack up then find a competitor and help them.

    Ultimately, the searcher wants the best service or product, not the best designed and well Seo’d site.

    If you are an SEO’er who does not believe this then you are a scammer.

  15. Jack from eyeflare travel advice Says:

    Brilliant and thoughtful. And very provocative for many.

    Everything comes down to content and then promotion – the reason so many say ‘content is king’ is that promoting good content is so much easier. Of course, then there’s spamming, but long-term SEO and spamming have very different objectives and methods.

  16. Stuart Foster Says:

    Wow…what a great read. I definitely took a lot away from this funny, accurate and insightful piece. In a sense we are all gaming the system…some of us are just more honest about it then others. Also…good content is kind of bs. Promotion, promotion, promotion. That’s all it is about in this new social media world :).

  17. William Clements Says:

    Great article, John. Thanks!

    I recommended it for others to read in the
    recommended reading section on my Monopoly
    Insider site.

    -William Clements

  18. Bob Says:

    “…refuse to hire any SEO that claims to be “White Hat”…”

    Like WBP?  we build pages.com/blog/link-techniques/paid-links-arent-worth-it/

    Nice meeting you at the Zappos party, btw.

    @Bob: I edited the link so it was not live. Good to hang with you as well. As for WBP, you don’t buy that public display of G affection, do you?

  19. ninja Says:

    I’m cloaking your content, as well as Google Adsense. Thanks for the traffic.

  20. Bob Says:

    @John: No, but if I’m wrong, I don’t see the point of publishing that.

  21. jonah stein Says:

    Marty, the slide Matt Cutts showed at Pubcon contained 3 felony hack.

    It wasn’t Matt making up the law or Google FUD, it was an example of someone breaking multiple laws to steal another sites reputation/authority to rank for some slime ball affiliate program, bouncing it through another sites with some DNS magic and collecting money by destroying the value of a couple innocent sites.

    Unlikely the FBI will prosecute, but are you really defending cross site scripting, parasitic hosting and DNS highjacking??? Are you prepared to say that whatever it takes to win is OK? Really???

    John, I think you post is thought provoking, but Google is not the disruptive force, the internet itself is what disrupted copyright, publishing models, etc. Google is just the company that came out on top (so far) of the re-alignment. Likewise, while I agree that we need a Yahoo and even an MSN, you can’t blame much of Yahoo’s problems on Google. Indeed, MSN’s takeover offer probably did more to disrupt Yahoo than anything else except the current economic mess.

    Finally, as to the question of content is king, it may be that the Google algorithm rewards a site for producing more content than they need for marketing purposes and that sometimes we wind up with a 300 page content development spec, but you shouldn’t complain if it works. It does suck when a site can steal that content from a client and out rank them, but the answer is to strive for better quality signals, not to join the content thieves.

  22. SEO GTA Says:

    Oh man what a post, your post was 100% on the spot until 2006, that doesn’t mean it is not valid for 2008, but with Google killing many spam techniques, even penalizing for reckless link building not mention rolling out the user behavior in the algorithm you need some good content (at least you can not go away with crappy content like before).

    Have not said that I still see your post valid and on the spot even in 2008 but may be will give it lower percentage – are you fine with 80% ;) -

  23. Alex Says:

    Creating useful and original content provides value…however as you rightly pointed out, the cost or resources to benefit ratio can be quite high for publishers.There is no doubt about the fact that websites and content have to be search engine optimized for showing up in the serp’s.

  24. Will Says:

    Content is and always will be king, but you have to be more patient than most BHers are capable of being, and have shitloads of money in order to really have a site benefit from unique, useful and interesting content. We know this because of Wikipedia. Google will reward your site in the SERPS if it’s earned it, as wikipedia has. But it took years and years before Google decided to give it an unfairly high trustrank score. So if you keep building good content for years and years, Google will eventually reward your site with a high trustrank score, and you will benefit from the good content you created. But how patient are you?

  25. xentech Says:

    I agree, complete BS.

  26. web developers ireland Says:

    i guess its a case of striking a balance but mostly giving the user what they want

  27. Kylyssa Shay Says:

    SEO is a bunch of crap. It turns writers into mindless word mills. I’ve fallen to it and it makes me want to puke when I read my SEO infested articles. I used to write for the print world and I could be proud of what I wrote.

    I’m holding out hope that eventually the SEO concept will fall by the wayside and people can go back to writing quality rather than keywords.

    Editor’s Note: Sorry, angst lady, but no back link for you. I’m pretty tired of “angst because it’s hip” stuff and it really, truly shouldn’t be dropped just anywhere on the web, especially on this SEO blog. As for your SEO comment, you got it all wrong. The day you stopped writing for yourself and started writing the crap you complain about, you sold out. Why should anyone feel sympathy for how hat makes you feel?