Dear Fox News: SEO Is Not Search Engine Scamming (Unless You’re Scamming Yourself)
In the same month that Rupert Murdoch has said he’ll charge for all his news sites because “quality journalism is not cheap,” I find it ironic to read the rubbish about search engine optimization that Murdoch-owned Fox News “reported” this week.
SEO equals scamming, we’re told. If I have to pay for this type of article from Fox News in the future, I sure hope there’s a refund policy. Below, an open letter to Fox News encouraging them to correct their error, lest they want to be considered scammers themselves, since they practice SEO.
Search Engine Optimizer
Ever wonder why “nonsense” Web sites sometimes turn up in your search results on Google or Yahoo? That’s because search engine optimizing scammers work full-time to create thousands of other Web sites that link to the spam site. For example, the creator of spamlaw.com is hoping to dupe would-be visitors to spamlaws.com, a legitimate site that bills itself as an online security resource.
See, “search engine optimizer” is considered the same as “scamming” search engines. Fox, of course, actually means spamming search engines. But that’s one of the many things they get wrong
First, the example given isn’t SEO at all. It’s called typo-domaining. Someone owns a domain name that’s a typo or similar to a more commonly known domain name. They put up a page stuffed with paid links, in hopes that people who accidently type in the domain name into their browsers reach the site. Search engines aren’t involved — this is trying to catch people directly from their browsers. It is also NOT the same as domaining in general, where people may try to earn money off catchy domain names that are not typos of other brands.
Next, on to SEO itself. Search engine optimization is NOT spamming search engines with junk. It is the process of ensuring that a web site can be found on search engines. It’s legitimate job, which many people undertake within all types of companies. It is something that Google endorses and recommends, either that people do it themselves or work with good companies.
If Fox News had done any type of reporting, they’d have quickly learned this. I know they’ve talked to at least one search expert I’m familiar with in the past. But given the source for these “facts” is simply “Fox News,” no reporting at all was apparently done. Someone at Fox seems to have written up whatever they believed or heard, no reporting required.
Fox News apparently didn’t even bother to talk to their own person in charge of SEO. Perhaps because the story is true, and the Fox News SEO like all SEOs, according to Fox, is friendless.
I know someone at Fox News is doing SEO because if I look at articles, I see the use of the meta description tag. In fact, on the page slamming SEO as scamming, I see this:
<meta name=”description” content=”Job-hunting? Think about becoming an e-mail spammer … or a Web site spammer … or a search engine optimizer. Here’s a great opportunity to become part of a team of Web-savvy professionals who clog the Internet with unwanted ads and sell users’ personal information to the highest bidder. Not only are these jobs legal, they can be downright lucrative. Here are some of the top online marketing jobs that will make you money . . . and leave you alone and friendless.”/>
The meta description tag is a long-standing SEO tool designed to help site owners control how they are described in search engines. It is classic SEO. Google offers advice about it. For it to be on Fox News pages means they practice SEO. So according to their own article, they’re either scammers or they’re reporting things inaccurately.
Over at the robots.txt file for Fox News, I find this:
User-agent: * Disallow: /printer_friendly_story Disallow: /projects/livestream# User-agent: gsa-crawler Allow: /printer_friendly_story Allow: /google_search_index.xml Allow: /google_news_index.xml Allow: /*.xml.gz# Sitemap: http://www.foxnews.com/google_search_index.xml Sitemap: http://www.foxnews.com/google_news_index.xml
The robots.txt file is a long-standing SEO tool for deciding what search engines can index from a web site. For Fox to have one means someone is practicing SEO. Moreover, the last two lines indicate that Fox News is explicitly generating sitemap files to feed to Google, something that is done to increase the chances of showing up in Google’s search results.
It’s SEO — being done by Fox News, and so again either Fox is scamming search engines (with nonsense like this article on SEO) or has made an error in reporting that needs to be corrected.
I’d mentioned that Fox really meant spamming, not scamming. Spamming is when someone goes beyond the accepted guidelines of a search engine to try and gain a ranking. A very, very long time ago, terms like “spamdexing” where used to describe this. But in another slide, we get treated to this:
That Google search may seem reliable, but spam can be hidden within those top ten results. A common technique by a “spamdexer” is to include keywords like “health care” at the bottom of their Web page to boost search results. But instead of getting the legitimate site you hoped for, unsuspecting users will see sites masquerading as the real thing.
I don’t know anyone who runs around calling themselves a spamdexer. And I’d look up the reference more, but despite the source being the AP, Fox doesn’t link to the original content.
Spamming has many forms and activities, and hidden text is indeed one of them that should be avoided. It is also largely an outdated tactic. Search engines rely far more heavily on analyzing links to determine rankings, which brings up another irony.
Scroll to the bottom of the Fox News home page. See those ads for CarsDirect, BankRate, and People magazine among others? They each have links in them. For example, the People link says “Celebrity News.”
Since these are ads, those are paid links. Google has a strict policy that sites that sell paid links should block them from passing credit (Fox doesn’t — you can see how they show up at the bottom of this cached page). Otherwise, a site like Fox News is effectively selling some of its reputation to help other sites like People rank well for the words in the links (and surprise, People ranks number two on Google for “celebrity news”).
A good SEO would be able to advise Fox to start blocking links like that, lest Fox be deemed to be scamming and spamming Google, which in turn might cause the home page to drop from a highly regarded PageRank score of 8 to something lower. That change potentially could cause Fox News content not to do as well in Google, as a penalty for spamming.
Fox, block your links. And more important, correct the article and issue an apology.
Postscript: Via SEO Book’s write-up of the Fox News article, I came across this long interview about Fox’s SEO efforts — multiple people, each assigned to a different division. Wonder how they feel about Fox News calling them friendless scammers? Though, this is about Fox Interactive’s efforts, and they don’t oversee Fox News, Natasha Robinson points out. Still, it also makes me think that the Fox News editor and writer involved with this story lacked SEO training — bad news for a site that hopes to bring in some traffic. Perhaps they should see my Quick Tips For Newspapers & SEO post.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
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