• http://www.morepro.com/ MorePro SEO Tips

    While I don’t agree with publicly outing competitors either, I think the biggest benefit, if the industry goes that direction, is the cleansing of a decade’s worth of manipulated links & PageRank. It wouldn’t happen overnight or solve every problem, but “resetting” some of the most egregious sites’ authority/rankings wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing IMHO.

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    The quality of the outing will determine whether it’s an effective strategy. So far, I haven’t seen anything but low-quality outing. This technique has a long way to go before it matures into anything like a valid marketing practice.

  • http://www.beacontechnologies.com Eric Westerman

    I agree with most of that. Contrary to what they may say about their algorithm’s ability to detect spam – I still believe that the vast vast vast majority of Google’s penalties come from user reports. [I believe JC Penney and Overstock would still be trumping along if not for a NYT article and a Webmaster World thread.]

    As such, because Google can rely on users outing each other, I think that discourages them to focus on improving the algorithm to successfully filter spam content (as impossible a task as that may seem to be).

    I have no problem with Google ‘policing’ the web – so long as they are doing the policing. Creating a system where it becomes beneficial for select parties to report on others is a short term way of thinking.

  • http://www.DrMAS.co.uk Dr M Ambler-Shattock

    Excellent Article. In the end the short term ‘gamers’ and cheats all suffer the same fate at the hands of improved filtration. White Hat is the only way to gain and maintain ongoing presence with Meritus and similar ethical and organic techniques, being the only sustainable methods. Anything else is using driven by laziness or lack of talent.

  • http://www.rickbucich.com/ Rick Bucich

    I’ll admit I’ve filled out a spam report. Very infrequently mind you, and it was touched off by a site’s use of bots to link spam forums and comments in the tens of thousands. I don’t even think of this as SEO although it certainly was done for the benefit of organic search rankings.

    When one’s efforts at SEO literally destroys the value of another site through this type of spamming, I get mad enough that the gloves come off and I’m not afraid to say so.

    Would I turn someone in for e-mail spamming? Yes, for the same reasoning. I have no kinship with such individuals.

  • http://intermobimarketing.com Chris

    I have to agree with Adam and his ethical standards guideline. I have come across a ton of ‘SEO’ firms using very questionable tactics. I have never filled out a spam report BUT I have used articles relating to black-hat techniques, which show how they can damage a websites SER, when reviewing a website with a client. It can help close the deal.

  • http://www.languagearmy.com Chris Mortimer

    Excellent article Adam and I think your stance on not reporting is also correct.

    One key reason shady SEO and marketing is bad is that almost per definition it’s short-term with a definite long-term downside – someday you’ll get caught. And then both you – but especially your clients – will get caught, lose business and maybe even go out of business. Along with a good dollop of reputation.

    Long-term solid strategies which are honest and of benefit are always the correct and ethical route to wander and will build a client’s business and reputation. And as you say, the wave is coming. Because over time the bad tactics get caught from both a business and technical perspective, and good practices will be more and more rewarded by a squeaky clean link profile.

  • Ian Howells

    There’s various levels of “outing:”. We’ve got…

    (1) “Outing” to a new/potential client. This happens when you’re just starting with a new client, or trying to win their business. There’s likely education needed in these stages, and if they were being put at risk by their previous agency/in-house person they need to know about it. It helps establish trust, and lays out the ground rules for what you will and won’t do – and more importantly, what they are and are not comfortable risking.

    (2) “Outing” to Google. You worked your white-hat fingers to the bone and are still stuck below sites blatantly spamming their way to the top. After doing everything right wand watching others take shortcuts, you decide to do Google’s work for them and out the site using shady tactics. Maybe Google takes action, maybe they ignore it.

    And, lastly – (3) “Outing” to major media outlets like the New York Times.

    Number 1 is, in my opinion, pretty defensible. In the past, I’ve had sites hit with penalties immediately after they fired their old agency and came on with us. And by immediate, I mean within two weeks, before our full tech and content audits were even done and no “work” was done to the site. If stuff like that is a possibility, you need to get it out up front.

    Number 2, while bad in the sense that it makes Google lazy and perpetuates an environment that allows their algorithm to be completely open to manipulation, does not harm the industry as a whole in the public-facing sense.

    Number 3, however, is horrible for everyone. Outing to the major media, in my opinion, is a big mistake. We know how the media works – everything turns into buzz words. The more this happens, the more it gets drilled home that SEO = Spam. Period.

    While Digital Due Diligence wrote a pretty lengthy article defending themselves and stating why they’re good for the industry, *none* of their points necessitate outing to Tech Crunch or NYT.

    Yes, by all means, keep your clients from investing in unstable businesses. But – that doesn’t mean you need to put it in front of the world.

    If you catch your neighbor’s kid doing something wrong, you tell his parents – you don’t go the the middle of the town square and scream about him being a degenerate.

  • http://www.ecreativeim.com BrianW

    I’m concerned that an increased focus on outing sketchy SEO practices will end up driving even worse practices — outrank your competition by buying thousands of the cheapest, crummiest links to them and then report them, or even to “out” them publicly in the press.

    The more responsive search engines are to these kinds of reports, the more effective blacklinking your competition will become.

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    @BrianW: “I’m concerned that an increased focus on outing sketchy SEO practices will end up driving even worse practices — outrank your competition by buying thousands of the cheapest, crummiest links to them and then report them, or even to “out” them publicly in the press.”

    That fear has been expressed many times through the years. Google seems to handle such attempts to discredit Websites through bad links pretty well, in my experience.

    People should stop raising this straw man argument from the dead.

  • Ian Howells

    @Michael Martinez Would you mind elaborating on your experiences with Google being able to identify spammy links as having come from a competitor trying to Google Bowl someone else out of the SERPs?

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    I’m a card carrying Link Narc, but only under a very specific scenario where I feel the offender has done something that impacts search quality and I can be sure it was done purposely.

    Subjective? Maybe, and sorry, but hey, what the hell would you expect from LinkMoses?

    When I receive a spam email that tells me the sender has a database of thousands of sites/blogs which he sells links for, and provides me with a spreadsheet of those sites with their Pagerank and the pricing, then I

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Sorry, hit send by accident. To complete that comment, when someone sends me a spreadsheet with thousands of urls with links for sale, I have mixed emotions. What if it’s fake? Attempted sabotage? Do I send it to my contacts at the engines? Do I delete it like it never happened? Usually I just delete them, because I don’t think random massive lists of urls with links for sale are sneaking by engine radar anyway.

  • Ian Howells

    @Eric Interested to get your take on “whitehat” pages/sites that provide great content and good user experience but use “blackhat” link building methods to rank. In those cases, search quality isn’t at risk.

    …also, totally agree on the last point. Any link seller that sends you his entire network list won’t be in business for long anyway. If they’re that sloppy, they definitely didn’t create their network in a way that would prevent them all being tied together by Google in the first place.

  • http://searchmarketingwisdom.com alanbleiweiss


    I respect you for so many things. This article is not among them.

    It just blows my mind how everyone who uses kindergarten language to describe the public reporting of known questionable SEO tactics is completely lacking in the vision department, at least when it comes to this topic.

    Just because something can be used as a “weapon”, does not mean that is the reason the reporting is conducted. It’s a bullshit justification of sensationalized fear mongering. Warnings of doom and apocalyptic mayhem.

    There is every reason under the sun to publicly report on these issues that have NOTHING to do with competitive sabotage. And have everything to do with a desire to clean up the SEO cesspool.

    All these articles are no better than this past week’s claims of Rapture.

  • Ian Howells


    “Just because something can be used as a “weapon”, does not mean that is the reason the reporting is conducted.”

    No. But it can be. And making the “Digital Due Dilligence finds bad links, reports to NYT, insta-90-day-ban” a regular event is a dangerous precedent to set.

    “And have everything to do with a desire to clean up the SEO cesspool.”

    How? There’s no way of proving who’s doing the spamming, and if outing picks up more steam the incentive to try and “frame” your competition increases tenfold – that’s the opposite of cleaning things up/

    I can just as easily Xrumer spam your client’s pages, and there is *no* way for you to prove that you weren’t the one that did it. Is that what we want? Because that’s where outing publicly will lead.

    Now, as I mentioned, outing to the impacted website or outing to Google are completely different. However, outing on your blog is an attempt at getting attention for being a white knight, and outing to the major media is (a) another grasp for attention and (b) bad for the industry as a whole. It doesn’t clean anything up – it just drives home the point that we’re dirty to people who know essentially nothing about the industry as a whole.

    When outing is used as the way to clean things up, it runs the huge risk of only making things worse. I’m very interested in hearing how outing publicly to major media outlets who will ignore all nuance and paint the SEO industry with broad strokes is going to help clean anything up. If there’s something I’m missing here, or some way this won’t turn into a frame-game, I’m absolutely all ears.

  • http://www.audettemedia.com Adam Audette

    I have to agree with Ian’s response, Alan. How does outing clean up SEO? Who needs to clean up SEO, and why? It’s all about business, and all about self-interest. Paid links WORK if you’re willing to accept risk. My agency chooses not to use them. But that doesn’t mean we’re so naive we think companies engaging in paid links should be outed, reported, and that will make SEO a better, happier place.

    Keep your clients interests at heart, first, and get them results. Leave the outing for the birds. It offers zero competitive advantage, anyway. Filing spam reports is a waste of time when you’re dealing with real competitors in competitive markets.

  • http://newmediaservices.com.au Gloria Katrina Bea

    The idea of not resting on other websites to optimize page ranking might be a great idea–or rather utopian. Adam’s comment might be quite harsh though that’s the reality for most businesses who do SEO.

  • http://www.dcfinder.com/ Thomas Rosenstand

    I love your 5 “rules” of ethical standards. We couls all learn from them. Thumbs up!

  • http://www.netbuilders.org willspencer

    If you don’t like this practice, the only real way to defeat it is with huge numbers of fake spam reports — complete with self-generated spam.

    Buy your competitors some links and then report them. It’s the most effective way to spend $20 on SEO.