I recently read Is Most Of SEO Just A Boondoggle? and the subsequent comments and attacks on the author Jill Whalen, and it’s become my own tipping point. Enough is enough. Every word of that column was right on the money. It’s just rare (and welcomed) for a well known expert to state in a high profile venue like SEL what many of us privately know to be true.

Those of us who have been doing what we do the longest are faced with a choice every time we write about our own industry. Do we ignore the elephant(s) in the room, or bring attention to not only the elephants, but the huge dumps they leave on the carpet?

Through years of experience, success and failure, trial and error, some of us in the SEM industry know exactly when a tool, tactic, or piece of advice is total bullshit.  Yet after all these years, we still have companies making a nice living selling tools, tactics, or advice which is just that: total BS. Why? Mostly because those of us who know how to spot the BS have simply ignored it and quietly gone about our own business. No need to make waves. Jill made waves. And I congratulate her for it, and I’m going to try and do some wave making myself, here in my neck of the woods, the neck known as link building.

Link building has so many “boondoggle” services it’s ridiculous. I couldn’t cover them all in a single column here if I had to. I could mention a couple, like press release distribution for link building (pointless), or so-called top tier directories, (which I can count on one hand and none o them really matter either). Sorry Yahoo, you kinda sorta matter, but I’ve got client sites ranked 1st at Google that aren’t listed in Yahoo period.

Any readers who don’t believe me, put up $1,000, and I’ll pay you $5,000 if I can’t show you at least one site I helped build links for that now ranks #1 for its key phrase, and that same site is not listed in either Yahoo or DMOZ for that matter. Take the bet. I’m giving you five-to-one odds, and my kid will need braces soon.

Even these brief comments will have repercussions. I expect attacks. If you operate a directory not named Yahoo! and make money from it, of course it will piss you off if I tell the truth about it being useless. If you sell link building services based on press releases, same deal. You don’t want your clients reading this and asking you hard questions. That’s another reason most of us have kept quiet. Outing a useless service or tool (and believe me link building tools are a boondoggle bonanza) means the person who created the tool could lose their livelihood. Nobody should have that happen, right?

But times change. I have a different agenda now, and motivations that compel me. I wont take up space here every week or two just to go on an attack, but remember Link Moses? I am him, and he’s back for a limited engagement over at Link Building Best Practices. See LinkMoses Resurrected – Thirty Link Building Rants and Commandments.

Back to Is Most Of SEO Just A Boondoggle? Among the tactics questioned were PageRank sculpting, Meta tags, sitemaps, H1 tags, keyword rich URLs, and URL submission to engines.

On the link building side, boondoggles include anchor text, press releases, directories, articles, paid links, and link bait. And I’m just getting started…

Postscript from author: After reading comments below, I realize this is what I should have written to clarify my point.  It is my mistake that I didn’t do so in the first place.

When someone says SEO tactics are pointless, it is true.  When someone else says they are useful, that too is true. Every single SEO, SEM, link building, content publicity or other attention seeking tactic is either useless or useful.  It is not the tactic itself that makes it so, it is the site for which that tactic is employed.  Even something as seemingly pointless today as a meta keyword tag will have value in certain instances, like  a searchable company intranet. XML sitemaps could be useful for a fee based membership site that can’t be crawled the usual way.  So, the reality is I should have just wrote the above, rather than piling on.  Now, here’s the other reality.  Since every single tactic is useless or useful depending on the site, what I do (and what I wish more people would do) is help clients understand which tactics make sense for their particular site and scenario, and why.  I know I could sell bundles of silly services to my clients and make money because they trust me, and will buy them.  But I can’t do that, and I don’t think anyone else should either.

Thank you for letting me clarify.

Eric Ward

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column

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About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via EricWard.com.

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  • http://www.dazzlindonna.com dazzlindonna

    Eric, when you say you’ve “got client sites ranked 1st at Google that aren’t listed in Yahoo period” and you’ll pay “$5,000 if I can’t show you at least one site I helped build links for that now ranks #1 for its key phrase, and that same site is not listed in either Yahoo or DMOZ for that matter”, you make it sound as though all the SEOs out there are saying that it is impossible to rank #1 in Google without being in the Yahoo directory. In all my years as an SEO, I’m pretty sure I’ve never ever seen any SEO say that. I doubt you’d find any SEO who thinks that they can’t get a site to #1 without being in Yahoo. So? Of course we can. Being in Yahoo isn’t a prerequisite for ranking #1 in Google for anything! And I’m pretty sure no one has ever said that it was. So, while I get your point about directories and their value, in general, that particular statement was kind of bordering on the ridiculous.

  • spirituality

    On this one I’m so with you. No issue. Doesn’t matter where quality links come from – as long as they’re quality. A dmoz link helps, but so do blog links, library links, squidoo links etc. When done right. It’s the quality of the page, the website, the niche the website you get the link from etc.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    dazzlindonna – based on the phone calls I have with clients, consultants, SEO firms, and public relations agencies, there are many people, smart people, who think exactly that. Nonetheless, I am happy to border on the ridiculous. Pretty much all SEO does.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    The larger point that I should have made more clearly is that if a site can rank #1 without links from the most credible directories of all, then what exactly are all those other directories for, anyway?

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    And please don’t tell me it’s click traffick.

  • http://www.dazzlindonna.com dazzlindonna

    I think maybe you need to get out more and hang with real SEOs.

    Your example would be like me saying that “I can prove that I can cut grass without using the Acme Lawnmower, so don’t believe all the nonsense that you hear from landscapers!” Yeah? So? Did all the landscapers REALLY say that it was impossible to cut grass without the Acme Lawnmower? Surely, it’s a given that grass can be cut in any number of ways, with or without any one particular lawnmower – even with plain old scissors – or teeth!. And surely, no one would want to make it sound like all – or even lots of – landscapers would believe or state that a particular method was necessary..

    Sorry, Eric, but this really sounds like just typical linkbait on your part. “Oh, I know, let’s capitalize on the same kind of attention that Jill’s post got! I’ll bait everyone by claiming that basically all SEOs are stupid enough to think that the only way to get a #1 ranking is to use the Yahoo directory, and I’ll even use some outrageous dollar amount as a bet to prove my point and rile everyone up!”

    I have no problem with discussing the merits of various link strategies in an intelligent manner, but this blatant SEO bashing just to get attention is way too obvious. It’s been done many times by many people. Ah yes, I remember now why I stopped participating in these things. /sigh…back to work I go.

  • jasonjm

    is it technically a ‘boondoggle’ (ugh, already hate that word) if you have seen it work?

    By the way, I think Donna is really onto something – just because you “prove” something isn’t necessary doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value…

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    jasonjm – Totally agree. The key is you have to know when something has value and when it doesn’t, and why. I cherry picked the Yahoo example on purpose, which dazzlin didn’t like, and fair enough. I can also say it’s true that for some types of clients, a Yahoo link will be one of the things I strongly reccomend they DO spend the money on. In fact, Yahoo is one of only a couple that are worth it, but again, for certain sites,but not all sites. Easy example. NBC launches a new site about summer olympics. They don’t need no Yahoo. But if I launch a site about the summer olympics, yes, Yahoo link is on my list of to-do’s.

  • jasonjm

    Eric – I can appreciate that. However, I don’t want to be argumentative, but wouldn’t the fact that a given tactic, such as Yahoo directory submissions, has some merit in specific situations disqualify it as a ‘boondoggle’.

    My impression of a boondoggle, based on yours and Jill’s posts, was that a boondoggle was a largely fruitless excercise performed a) because the SEO didn’t know better, b) because the client didn’t know better, or c) both. That wouldn’t seem to be the case here.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Man, you are right. That means the whole boondoggle meme has itself become a boondoggle. But some words are just so funny you have to use them evenif they aren’t a perfect fit. Yahoo is anything but a boondoggle. See, Jerry Yang and I go way back :)
    http://www.ericward.com/yahoo.html

  • http://engineindustries.com JasonKirk

    Eric, here’s a much more meaningful bet:

    Choose a site that ranks #1 WITH a Yahoo link. Remove that link — if its rank holds, you win.

  • http://www.redmudmedia.com Red_Mud_Rookie

    Can anyone tell me why it seems everyone (and I’m including well known and “respected” SEOs) seem to be buying links in some form or another and getting results?
    It really annoys me because I don’t want to do it, but when a client wants quick results and their competitors are doing it, how can you stay in business without jumping on the bandwagon?
    Don’t get me wrong… I believe in great content and digital PR to get your links NATURALLY.
    However, working in mainly the travel and finance sectors my the evidence is everywhere for big brands. There is tremendous pressure from clients to compete, but it seems Google and the others haven’t figured out how to sort the good from the bad which leaves the good guys choking in dodgy link fumes.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    @JasonKirk – can it be my own site? I know, not fair. it’s is an extreme case. It’s ancient, has thousands of links that can’t be replicated/copied, is really vertical, and the only phrase I care about is a long tail three worder. But…I’d bet that huge brand sites like ESPN keep on ranking 1st for sports news without a yahoo link, or TVGuide.com keeps on ranking 1st for tv listings as well. I like your idea. We need to find a good test case.

    @ Red_Mud_Rookie – Man are you right about that. It’s hard to stay clean when dirty keeps winning.

  • bgruen

    Does SEO=SAM?
    (Smoke and Mirrors)

  • andy88

    Sorry to make this fake account..cause id otn want my account filled with SEL offers about SMX.. Moreover I am reading those stupid articles of yours and cant help myself today to say something nice ..finally.

    SEOZ87
    _________________________-

    one thing for sure Erick …this is indeed BS, yeah i am talking bout your article.
    First of all lets decide why do you build links? For visitors or for search engines. When talking bout building links at the sources from where you can have direct traffic, there are only two options – Offer them money(buy it) or make some tool or write a blog entry for them(earn it) But then its always better to post these things on your blog. Although you can take advantage of someones pre built position but in thr logn run its more good to have those links directly point to your website.

    When talking bout building links for search engines…it all comes to one single damn thing..rankings.

    You think that link building tactics like press release wont work any more. I say that they do. Even the lamest techniques still working.

    You can show me a site on top 1 ranking, which isn’t listed in yahoo directory. I can show you several sites which are on 1st position and they are using all the CRAP method of linking as per you.

    The problem with you guys is, when you got some name and fame you try to write your own code of ethics. Despite of what you did in the beginning, you are wanting people to stop doing that and follow YOUR way of working which led them to finally buy your god damn service.

    Ask any person running a single affiliate products site and he will tell you that he is ranking by submitting into those useless directories and pres release sites and article submission(IN FACT LOOK AT YOURSELF..YOU TOO ARE DOING THE SAME GOD DAMN THING ERIC..DONT TELL ME IT WAS JUST A PUBLIC SERVICE MESSAGE YOU WANT TO POST ON SEL)

    So i humbly request you guys that kindly shut your mouth as not everybody, like you EXPERT guys, can buy links and use your friends network and rant in public about the golden ethical ways of ranking.

    not a single SO CALLED EXPERT like you ever show a PLACE to get links. Anyone can come up with an article telling me how to find those links via Google, I want exact places, that nobody is telling. If I can find it myself, I dont come to your websites on first place searching for how to get links.

    And if you think, you cant rank with those stupid-word link building tactics, take a look at the results of generic viagra, honey!!!

    Conclusively shut the f*k up about what is good and what is bad…TO YOU.

  • Toronto SEO

    What has often puzzled me as I read Link Bait rants about how all SEOs are scum, how SEO is a boondoggle and how clients don’t really need to hire an SEO “since all the information is out there for free”, is why the same principles don’t apply to web designers, lawyers, auto mechanics, etc.

    If you look hard enough and spend enough time at it, you too can design and implement your own website, file your own divorce papers & custody motions (since your spouse got tired of all the time you didn’t spend with him/her while you learned enough to do so) and repair your junker no matter what ails it.

    If you do the same for SEO… Congratulations! You’ve now learned enough to get your money pages onto page 1 of Google; unfortunately some minor items in your business like customers, sales and profits seem to have disappeared while you spent those wonderful years with your head up the search engines’ butts trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t!

    Most of my clients care not a wit for the mechanics of the process, they are paying me to improve their pages’ rankings and conversions, so they can focus on converting leads into happy customers.

    Like any other knowledge worker, my value is determined by what I know, how well I can synthesize that into a process that achieves an objective and how well I execute the process.

    Calling it snake oil, or a boondoggle or lawyering doesn’t change the fact that 99.9999999999% of the people in the world either aren’t interested in learning or don’t have access to the stuff SEOs know, which thankfully means that we get to sell a service that people need and want.

    Anyway ……

    PSYCH!!!!! I was just messing with ya, SEO IS a boondoggle. Please comment on my blog if you disagree,,, er WHERE is that URL ????

    Cheers,

    Jim

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    @andy88 – take two xanax and email me in the morning via my site :) Tell me the site you are seeking links for and I’ll gladly show you where to get links. As to your rant about the crap tactics working, I’ve been saying for two decades that there are many ways to rank a site. You can crap your way to the top and enjoy it for the short time it lasts, or you can quality your way to the top and enjoy it for years. And no, I’m not doing it myself. My site ranked long before SEL existed, and I have never once distributed a press release about my site. This is easy to verify, just look. And no I’m not going against anything I “did in the beginning”, because I’ve also never once submitted a client’s site to any generalist directory other than Yahoo, DMOZ, BOTW, JA, & GG, in 14 years. Any tactic can work briefly, but merit based tactics work and stick.

  • andy88

    @ Erick

    two will be too lite for me :P
    Well I can show you websites that are on top rankings, even got a brand name, and all they use is crap ways like directory submission, free websites like squidoo, geocities(when it was free), even classified.

    I guess you agree with me that either you have to buy links or offer some content (like you doin) to earn a link via author box for two keywords :P in current scenario or use some social media( even making profiles on social media and putting links to your site there (sounds same like directory) :)

    About Press Release….i am sure its not your site or you are not promoting your client sites via it
    http://www.urlwire.com/

    And once you are BUILDING LINKS you are going against Google TOS so basically its unethical from the very beginning regardless of good links or bad links.

    And in the end what matter is whats working. If I am getting results with crappy methods I will surely be stick to them. and yes teh results will remain there for a very very long time :P

    One more thing I am sure is no one can evaluate an exact value of link. Its just assumption and experiments. A link working too good for one site might not work for the other site.

  • andy88

    sorry I forget

    http://www.netpost.com/
    this is not a dupe site :P

    even this site cant be questioned about
    http://www.incominglinks.com/

    I am not saying that you are not the best on the market but whenever you publish some article put a tag line with THIS IS MY PERSONNEL OPINION in it… :)

  • http://www.adhocmarketing.com Scott Salwolke

    Excellent piece Jill, putting SEO in perspective. I still get clients asking me to reveal the secrets to SEO. I tell them there are no secrets and explain to them what I’m doing and why. That primarily its to increase the value of the site to customers. Even today I had someone wanting to change all their urls to incorporate keywords into them. I said it seemed like a lot of work for something that had little value.

  • http://twitter.com/dericloh Deric Loh

    Be it having 1 or tons of links to your particular website, believe the end goal / s of business, are having individuals landing onto your particular landing page section is:

    1. Did the intended link through page leads to the desired response of the individual ?
    2. Does the page offer what the individuals thought what they are looking for, prior to landing onto the particular page through the external link ?
    3. If Yes, does it leads to the desired conversion as expected by the business / entity ?
    4. If No, why ? What does the data from the web analytics says ?

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    @andy88 netpost.com is certainly identical to ericward.com
    However what you didn’t check was the site history, and more importantly intent. netpost.com was live five years before Google even existed. In 1993 there was no Google. There was no link analysis, or link driven rank. And Google has never said building links is a TOS Vio. NEVER. But, you are correct that from now on I will say that my writings are just my opinion. I just thought that was a given, y’know :)

  • http://www.VerticalMeasures.com Arnie K

    @dazzlindonna I totally support your comments. I have seen way too many people jump on the boondoggle [linkbait] piece to grab some of their own attention. Eric is a great writer, certainly knows how to write for attention & controversy, but this article seems to just be trying to exploit the boondoggle piece.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Here’s one final comment from me on this as to what I should have written. It was my mistake that I didn’t do so in the first place.

    When someone says SEO tactics are pointless, it is true. When someone else says they are useful, that too is true. Every single SEO, SEM, link building, content publicity or other attention seeking tactic is either useless or useful. It is not the tactic itself that makes it so, it is the site for which that tactic is employed. Even something as seemingly pointless today as a meta keyword tag will have value in certain instances, like a searchable company intranet. XML sitemaps could be useful for a fee based membership site that can’t be crawled the usual way. So, the reality is I should have just wrote the above, rather than going off. Now, here’s the other reality. Since every single tactic is useless or useful depending on the site, what I do (and what I wish more people would do) is help clients understand which tactics make sense for their particular site and scenario, and why. I know I could sell bundles of silly services to my clients and make money because they trust me, and will buy them. But I can’t do that, and I don’t think anyone else should either.

    Thank you for letting me clarify.

    Eric Ward

  • http://www.searchkingdom.co.uk RobAndrews

    Eric,

    I only just got around to reading this and it looks like you have uttered your last word on this one, so I will make it brief.

    I really hope you are right here. I don’t agree with everything you say, but I understand that you need (and want) to provoke a reaction from what you write; so the Yahoo thing has somewhat obscured some of the point here. However, as said, I hope you are (but know you are not) totally on the money with the ‘crap SEO’ doesn’t work mantra.

    My only point to you is ‘why can I find some many occurrences all over the web where crap SEO seems to work?’.

    Check the results for the SEO industry itself (Internet marketing, web marketing, et al). You will find a few (but not all fortunately) choice examples of ‘crap SEO’ed’ sites that rank well. Check the link profile for some of those sites and you will find a ‘anchor text’ and ‘run of unrelated site-wide-links sites’ bonanza.

    My thought is that Google isn’t perfect and until it is we should tell it like it totally is, in that, ‘sites rank and rank well with bad SEO job’. Some of them on a long term basis.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Rob – perfect timing. See LinkMoses Resurrected #3 – Peewater for Links – http://bit.ly/3eXBMS

  • http://www.evisionsem.com/ eVision

    Eric, I’ve been an SEO for almost 11 years now and I agree with most of what you and Jill say are boondoggles in SEO and Linking, but I have to take exception when you say using press releases as a link building tool is a boondoggle.

    We’ve been using press releases for years as both a tool to increase awareness (the primarily purpose should be to get the word out about newsworthy topics) and as a linking tool.

    The links we are hoping for are not the ones from the press release service itself or the links on the hundreds or thousands of sites that run the press release temporality. Rather, the links that we see making the most meaningful difference are the sites that pick up the story, either by duplicating the press release or rewriting it some manner, and then leave these mentions up for some time, often for a year or more.

    Quick example: We worked with a company that made replica hot rod bodies. We did a press release for a new hot rod body and this press release got added to many other web sites on a fairly permanent basis such as in New Product showcases on industry magazines, sometimes in whole, sometimes the press release was summarized or rewritten (along with the pictures we included).

    While there’s no doubt that the effectiveness of online press releases has diminished in recent years because of the growth of submissions (it’s much harder to get noticed than it use to be), we still see link building benefits.

    We always tell our clients that the focus of our linking building efforts is to get mentions on other web sites that bring targeted traffic to their site that is engaged and ideally converts, while pointing out some of these links MAY help improve rankings.

    And this is the case with the links that we develop with press releases. We see meaningful traffic (traffic that is performing the actions we are tracking in analytics) from many of the links that resulted from our press releases.

    I think you can imagine how helpful the links on some of the hot rod industry’s online magazines were for that client of ours.

    In addition to the targeted traffic, we see a number of these links in the tools we use that indicate they may be helping with rankings

    I could and probably should stop here, but I’d also like to point out that we do see some benefits from a small percentage of those short term links on the hundreds or thousands of sites that run press releases temporality. We run an analytics referrers report comparing traffic for a week or two before and after a press release goes out and look for referring sties bringing traffic since the release, but not before the release. When we check a sampling of these sites we find that most of them were indeed sites that ran our press release. Some of this traffic does result in engaged traffic that performs some of the “goals” we are tracking in the analytics.

    Finally, we look at press releases as a linking tool in another way. We look at which of the sites carry our clients’ press releases (both the temporary mentions that brought engaged traffic to the site and the sites that include a more permanent mention) and look for more opportunities for our client. We often suggest our clients contact some of these sites to start building a stronger relationship,

 

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