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.

The article from August 17 is called “Top Online Marketing Jobs To Leave You Friendless” and consists of a series of “slides” that cover different jobs. One covers SEO, where we’re told:

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.

Source: FOXNews.com

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:

Spamdexer

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.

Source: AP

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.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: General | SEM Industry: Community | SEM Industry: General | SEO: General | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.brickmarketing.com nickstamoulis

    Wow, I am surprised that a professional news reporter with a major media outlet does not truly spend the time doing their research on the SEO industry, before they accuse all “optimizers” to be scammers or spammers….this is a crazy thought!

    Yes, there are non reputable people in our industry (and most industries!) but that does not mean that every SEO company, consultant and expert is a search engine scammer…it is like make an un-true statement that every lawyer is sleezy or an ambulance chaser…

    Fox News, go learn your facts before you report the so called news.

  • calgreg

    One of the biggest and most laughable myths about Fox News is that they are a news station.

    I doubt any good journalist would be caught dead as a Fox News “journalist” or any other position at that trashy network.

  • http://www.terryhoward.net Terry Howard

    How close to libel of a profession is this that a class action suit could be brought? Not saying that should be a consideration, and I think Oprah v The Beef Industry is evidence of how far that would go. But, I have to wonder how an editor could not consider the whole theme of that story to be a potential legal problem. Without research or investigation to defame industries pointlessly, that’s what passes for journalism now?

  • Shari Thurow

    Hi Danny and everyone,

    Outstanding article, as usual. But you know what caught my attention in the headline? Not the Fox News part. It was the “SEO is Not Search Engine Scamming” part.

    Of course, I do not agree that all SEO professionals are scammers or “worthless, shady criminals” as you teased, tongue-in-cheek, awhile back. But many of them are, and they give our industry a bad name. They have been giving our industry a bad name for many, many years.

    I agree that Fox News seems hypocritical for publishing this sort of story. And kudos to you for calling them on it. But it still bothers me that our industry is still viewed as one of “scammers”.

  • http://arthurofsun arthurofsun

    Danny

    A bit of a tempest in a teapot, don’t you think? There are always going to be ignorant people. As I recall, Danny, at SMX Advanced, you didn”t feel comfortable (or thought it not worth your time) reporting folks who engaged in grey hat tactics. So if intentional bad actors don”t get you energized, why waste your energy and page space on foolish writers and those who are silly enough to publish them? Unless it’s to clear misconceptions – but the folks who read Fox probably don’t read SEL.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Arthur, this isn’t a “reporting” article on Fox’s tactics. It’s dissecting their bad reporting on SEO. And yes, I said for the most part, it’s tiresome and not worth the time any longer in many of these cases to keep correcting the mainstream media, when they get it wrong. In this case, I decided it was worth the time. I also emailed Fox directly. But I’m not really expecting they’ll correct the article.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I wanted to add that Ben Cook (“skitzzo”) has been pretty upset (it seems) that this is somehow an “outing” article on Fox News and paid links. It’s not. I’ve had an email exchange with him, and here’s some of that discussion:

    In my first email to Ben, I said:

    “You’re harping that it’s a public spam report. That wasn’t the purpose, and I think anyone who looks at it fairly would understand that.

    You’ve got a major news organization putting it out there that SEO is scamming. It’s not. You know that.

    Since they’re making that allegation, it’s fair game to look at whether they’re doing SEO themselves. And they are, as the article explained.

    Then it turns out that they’re selling paid links. Now remember this is the same article, same organization, saying that SEO is nothing more than putting nonsense out in the search engines. Paid links are public enemy number one to Google, right? You know that. Not saying I agree with that. In fact, I’m on record as saying I want Google to give up the war on paid link. Judge a link on its merits, not solely if it is paid.

    But that’s how things are now – worse thing you can do to Google is buy or sell links, as far as Google’s concerned. And here’s a news organization doing it while at the same time suggesting all of SEO is worse.

    That’s fair game. I didn’t go out of my way to somehow spot them. I got drawn in by the article they wrote.”

    Ben then pointing out me tweeting about the paid link aspect, to which I responded:

    “That was one of three tweets about the story, and I thought it was worth highlighting. Matt should look at it. More important, if Google’s supposed to be as hot on catching paid links in the way they talk about, why the heck is that home page sitting with a big PR8? You know why – because they’re not that good, part of the double standard. Here’s an excellent example of a big publisher getting away with stuff that Google says don’t do but doesn’t really seem to enforce against people who are big enough, as you well know.

    The paid links didn’t overshadow the point, I would say …. most people wouldn’t read that story and come away that I was on some campaign to get Fox banned much less see this as part of some general outing campaign.

    I can’t stress this enough. You’re making it out like I’m outing sites all the time. I’m not. Go to my author page, read through all my stories, go calculate the percentage of sites you think I’ve outed. That’s also why when you think I’m getting a free pass, I think you’re just being unreasonable. I think most of my readers know that I don’t make a habit of highlighting sites that are violating guidelines. I could. Heck, I could have an article every day. I don’t.”

    Ben then asked more about my “outing policy,” to which I responded

    “I don’t have an outing policy, Ben. If I did, there would be a steady stream of articles from me outing people for all types of things. I don’t do that. I don’t think it’s fair for you to suggest that. My view, of course.

    As for the sites that purchased the links, where do you see in the article that I suggest they be at fault? Nowhere. I said this is something that Fox News should look at. Didn’t say hey Google, go get People – go get Bankrate, etc.

    Google might, of course. But let’s also get realistic – they won’t. They’ll won’t ding Fox News or if they do, it’ll be like for a day or two. The sites that bought links, the big ones, they aren’t going to be penalized. You know that. And aside from that, wasted their value? Seriously – they buy links on a major site, you think Google doesn’t already know that – isn’t already perhaps penalizing them?

    And down the line, when Fox is just sitting there able to do whatever it wants, it further highlights the absurdities for Google’s “justice” for you or I or others to point out.”

    Ben then suggested anyone might use my arguments to out a site. I responded:

    “All I can say is that I think you’re focusing far too much on the mention of paid links and turning this into some type of outing exercise. That’s not what it was about. It was about a major news site suggesting that SEO=scam. Bad reporting. Actually, no reporting. My response was to demonstration what SEO means by examining their own site – that you do meta description tags, that you do sitemaps and that if you’re looking to avoid trouble with Google, you don’t sell links. You can disagree whether Google should have a policy against paid links, but I think you would agree any SEO worth their salt, regardless of the hat they wear, would understand that selling links is a risky business.

    As for justifications to “out” a site, some people out there don’t worry about that at all. They’ll mention stuff just to out people. I can only tell you that if I mention a site doing something that goes against search engine guidelines, I feel I have a really good reason for doing so. In this case, Fox was stupid enough to call into question all of SEO. In doing that, they put their own SEO activities into the spotlight. They’re a major media company – and as a major site that covers search, we’d almost look stupid by ignoring the paid links being there.”

  • kernul

    Hey Danny,

    Just to clarify, the in-house SEO team you mentioned was not affiliated with Fox News. My name is Bill and I ran that previous department. News Corp, is a very large corporation and they have many different divisions. Fox News was a part of the Fox Broadcasting Group.

    My team worked as part of the Fox Interactive Media division (which included MySpace, IGN, Askmen and a few others). We never touched Fox News. I know the “Fox” part of it gets confusing but this really was an entirely different division with it’s own P/L that we were not a part of.

    If you could please remove this from your postscript we would appreciate it (“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.”).

    My team feels a little weird being dragged into this as we never we even a part of Fox News. We have long respected SearchEngineLand and have attended your conferences for many years. I hate to have my past team members cast in this bad light as they weren’t a part of Fox News.

    Thanks,

    Bill

  • the-jack

    Link Bait tatics: Create controversy. HEY! Fox News just got a link from you, Danny! After all, they are the SEO geniuses, getting links from dozens of PR-rich upset SEOs :-)

  • http://alphonseha.com alphonseha

    I think a Google Bomb should be in effect.

  • esteeh

    I’m disappointed that you didn’t correct your blog, as per the new info provided by kernul on August 24th, 2009 at 7:47 pm ET (above)

    Particularly because it sounds like their team are fans of searchengineland.com, so it’s just kind of unfortunate.. unless I missed something.

    All in all, I think Fox news cast the generalization too widely, but I can’t tell you how many of my client’s emails are flooded with scamming “SEO” experts who promise #1 spots and more. They do a lot of damage to discredit many of the legitimate practitioners of SEO.

  • http://www.liveambitions.com liveambitions

    Danny,

    I agree with you completely. It’s unfortunate that so many authoritative media outlets don’t report the facts, but instead report garbage like this.

    Sure, there are scammers just like in any other industry, but to put all SEOs in the same basket is a slap in the face.

    I never liked Fox News because they are so damn biased.

    In response to “the-jack”: I don’t think Fox News is smart enough to purposely do link baits. But, I guess it’s working for them anyway.

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