Traffic Power CEO in jail

Here’s something I missed while I was offline last week. It looks like Matt Marlon, who served as CEO of Traffic Power, has landed himself in jail. I have mixed feelings about this, but the mixed feelings are mostly satisfaction, curiosity, and just a smidge of glee. :) In my opinion, the stuff that TrafficPower was doing was just bad news.

I think the search engine optimization industry has made a lot of progress in the last few years. It’s a little less common to get cold calls from SEOs that guarantee #1 rankings but won’t tell you how they try to do it. And if a large SEO company wants to try something high-risk with a client, they’re more likely to explain the potential risks to that client first. There are still issues, of course, but I was looking over a list of 20+ blackhat SEO companies that I compiled back in 2002. The majority either went out of business or have transformed into white-hat SEO companies.

For a while now, I’ve had a slight hunch that clients that embrace blackhat SEO on their site are willing to cut corners in other areas of business as well. Earlier today I was reviewing an email from 2001 (!) where Google removed a very large company’s website from our index for hidden GIF links, machine-generated doorway pages, and cloaking. It’s interesting to look back with the benefit of hindsight now. Later on, the company:

- had 10+ employees convicted for inflating revenue
- the CEO was sentenced to 10+ years in jail
- another executive was sentenced to 2+ years in jail

Can I definitively claim that there’s a connection between a willingness to embrace blackhat SEO and a willingness to cut corners in other areas of business? No, of course not. But I have seen several examples like the one I mention above. That’s why I’m glad that as more site owners learn about SEO, the long-term odds of blatent SEO scams going undetected go down.

Hat tip to Aaron Wall for mentioning Matt Marlon’s new location (jail) to me. Aaron and I have had differences, but I give him major points for fighting Traffic Power when they sued him. That led to one of the first times that Google confirmed a webspam penalty in public in order to dispute one of the lawsuit’s claims:

I can confirm that Google has removed traffic-power.com and domains promoted by Traffic Power from our index because of search engine optimization techniques that violated our webmaster guidelines at http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html. If you are a client or former client of Traffic Power and your site is not in Google, please see my previous advice on requesting reinclusion into Google’s index to learn what steps to take if you would like to be reincluded in Google’s index.

Ah, good times. :)

133 Responses to Traffic Power CEO in jail (Leave a comment)

  1. An arrest doe NOT mean some is guilty!!!!

    What Traffic Power was doing was not wrong. It was a symptom of the widespread frustrations and the inequities that exist in search engine results pages.

    Using controversial tactics are only wrong if the keywords being pushed are irrelevant. It does not really matter what design tactics someone uses if they are pushes a quality site and relevant keywords for the site to come up on search engines.

    Would the satisfied consumer care what tactics a valid website used to get their listing to the attention of those users who were satisfied by the information they found? :-P :-p

    What Google fails to realize is that – a small commercial site is competing with MULTI MILLION & BILLION DOLLAR companies with enormous sites and enormous SEO and SEM budgets with a large dedicated promotion staff, consultants and outsourced services.

    A small company on a limited budget with a limited staff with a good product will either just give up and accept their fate or get more innovative to compete. There are only two alternatives – Give up or Fight!

    You (Google) can not empathize with the anger and frustrations that turn people into SEO vigilantes.

    You (Google) live in a self absorbed, protected world or black and white theories of absolute right and wrong. With the exception of SearchEnginesWeb, you ostracize anyone who does not advocate your stance. They do not get the opportunity to network in your clique. They do not get the opportunity to voice their concerns to high power decision makers. So they are stereotyped as BAD PEOPLE.

    Look at the reaction over the past two years to the posts by SearchEnginesWeb attempting to add perspective to the debate.

    Would any Google employee even think of debating the other side of the issue???!!!.

    What Traffic Power did is in a fundamental sense, no different than Google has done by having 3 Sponsor links ABOVE the organic SERPS and having the whole area clickable – knowing that accidental clicks were more likely.

    Again, these tenacious, passionate posts are NOT meant to offend; they are meant to guide and enlighten Google.

    Let SearchEnginesWeb guide you and enlighten you!!

  2. Harith

    Matt,

    “That’s why I’m glad that as more site owners learn about SEO, the long-term odds of blatent SEO scams going undetected go down.”

    You know very well, Matt, that only what you call “White-hat SEOes” spend time and efforts in educating site owners in ethical SEO.

    Maybe its time to ask you, Matt. WHat have Google done during 2007 in supporting White-hat SEO’es?

  3. Sometimes it is easy to forget that the net is also controlled by the laws of various countries. I live in Ireland and know that I don’t do anything illegal in Irish law – but while I was living in the Czech Republic I found out that sending an email to someone about business was illegal when approval was not given first. (not spamming).

    But really when it comes right down to it most SEO’ers are working on small company websites that just need a little work and some tiding up, if they are getting into black hat for that they need to just pay the piper.

  4. What is he in jail for?
    What is the connection?

  5. aw

    Spammers are punished.

  6. Dave (original)

    Like most blackhats, these people are doing unethical self-serving practices every minute of everyday. They even use each other. E.g Traffic Power when they sued Aaron Wall. Darth Vader V.S Darth Vader IMO and they could never be a good result.

    I LOVE IT WHEN THEY ARE CAUGHT :)

  7. black hats become white hm maybe :-)

    I went to a London agency to interview a while back and when I turn up I see an acknowledged black hat seo. who I used to work with a a tiny star up company that i worked for a short while (and got ripped of by) – needless to say the interview didn’t go any further.

    Just before xmass I had to blow out another “White hat ” agency interview as at 2 days they flat out asked for detailed client information from my current employer – it is not normal practice to be asked to commit gross misconduct at an interview.

    And I felt that if this is how they behave do I really want to work for them and it speaks volumes about the company and the agencies “ethics” that they didn’t even see the problem – or it could be simple incompetence.

  8. Shahid

    Hey Matt,

    Here in the UK, back in 2002 (from what I remember), I don’t feel the SEO proposition was as key or strong as it is now, in the sense of really understanding SEO. Back in 2002 many sites were probably not being penalised for black-hat as they should have been (I could be wrong here Matt), so from their point of view, why would they stop…….

    I ensure up-front with all clients, any SEO service we provide will abide by search engine guidelines. To support this, all of our documentation is transparent, in the sense of we advise and educate our clients on white-hat techniques to ensure they feel comfortable with the service and overall delivery…..

    It is good to see anyone adopting black-hat techniques being penalised and or being put in Prison as long as they are guilty of the crime (maybe a bit extreme but hey) :-), makes my white-hat job alot easier :-)

    Shahid

  9. Wise words, Maurice. More on your theme: at a session at a recent SEO conference in London. Speakers from ‘respectable’ London SEO agencies wow the crowd with their clearly-black-hat top tips and the chair didn’t even flinch.

  10. android

    White hat is what Google calls white hat at the moment. Abiding by the guidelines is not necessarily good.

    Supposed you put 300 links on a single page, because you want to list 300 sites about cancer treatment that in your opinion are the best sites.

    Supposed you use hidden text on your pages, because you want the user to see it only when they what to see it.

    “If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value” – pretty vague and who is there to judge it? Google?

    Link schemes – http://www.google.pl/search?hl=pl&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&q=t%C5%82umaczenia&spell=1 Every site on the first 3 result pages uses a link building system. That’s against Google guidelines. Did Google do anything about it. It has been like that for years. This may only encourage people to follow the suit if they want to rank high on a given keyword.

    “Don’t create pages that install viruses, trojans, or other badware.” – What is wrong with that if/when/as long as you have some pages with malware in folders that normal users have no access to. These special “presents” are for a specific purpose, for instance, to find hackers.

    Although Google currently says that you are allowed to install the so-called paid links in Java script, but is there any guarantee on the part of Google that these types of links will always be compliant with Google guidelines?

    You may change your guidelines any way you want at any time you want without consulting anyone.

    BTW,. if you want to fight spam, then you’d better start with Adsense garbage and not some black hatter who wanted to promote your aunt’s home-made noodle site in an “illegitimate way”.

  11. Anonymous

    I think you’re comment that people willing to engage in blackhat tactics are incredibly true, having worked at a company that was more then willing to try just about anything to push a client’s rankings up.

    The attitude that anything went seemed pervasive, with them also quite willing to inflate invoices, take shortcuts in development, and flat out lie to their clients.

    They weren’t much better with their staff either – I was doing overtime for almost the entire time I was working their, and when I left in frustration got screwed over on my final paycheck.

  12. ZebraBas

    Hi Matt

    Any chance of adding an ignore plugin or similar so I can hide the insame ramblings of SeArchEngineSweB. This nutjob is on here and TechCrunch and am sure many others would like to see him/her disappear ;)

  13. Search Engines Web: “An arrest doe NOT mean some is guilty!!!!”…
    If you step on ketchup once it spills on the floor, you get it on your shoe.

  14. There are still issues, of course, but I was looking over a list of 20+ blackhat SEO companies that I compiled back in 2002. The majority either went out of business or have transformed into white-hat SEO companies.

    Does this mean their executives are less likely to end up in jail?

  15. Dear Matt,

    You know what I’d like? I’d like you to do 2 blogs, one as Matt the guy we all like and admire, the regular bloke in the next cubicle, the guy one likes to hang out with at the pub.

    The other blog would be from Matt the Google guy, the guy who gives the otherwise faceless Google MegaCorp a human face, the guy who tells us what is white hat and what is not, and why. Google HAS a ‘my way or highway’ approach which is perfectly fine with me and anyone else who wants to make money by climbing on the Google MegaCart.but this might have been hugely bad if you were not around to sugarcoat the different pills that Doc Google keeps dispensing. You are our ‘inside man’.

    As a semi sidenote: This logo designer in UK who got his domain highjacked and a deluge of support, somebody actually suggested that he drop YOU a line and see what you could do for him.

    I think I’ll subscribe to both blogs but the 2nd one FOR SURE? That’s what we come here for.

    Hope you do understand where I’m coming from?

    If you ever happen to be in New Delhi, I’d love to buy you a drink.

  16. Dear Matt,

    First I want to thanks you for clearing this up and then also bringing this to the publics attention.

    My name is Moe Bedard and I operate a website called http://www.LoanSafe.org and I am not trying to plug my website on a SEO blog because this forum is to assist people for free that are facing foreclosure.

    I am also a proud, Whit Hat, card carrying, ethical and honest webmaster that spends 16 hours a day building my website via Google’s TOS.

    To me this is not about violating Google Matt, it’s about viloating the American people that come to Google and trust Google to bring to them in their homes, the most trusted websites on the information for that they are searching.

    Often, these predators rule the serps with their black hat techniques but they are wearing their hats backwards and the back is white, fooling Google and then scammimg people everywhere. In this case, out of their homes.

    Whichg brings me to this SEO, Matt Wharlon who is being accused of stealing peoples homes and how did these people find him, Google.

    It’s like me driivng a guy to the bank and he then robs it while I wait in the car. Is a court goind to find me an accesory to bank robbery? Well, yes.

    Am I saying Google should be considered and accessory in Marlosn case? Yes and no. Yesm he uised Google to scam, but as soon as you were aware of this, Google took action and I commend Google for doing so.

    You see, you type in Google, stop foreclosure and many sites come up in the serps. Yet, none of the first 16 websites are useful to a homeowners facinmg forclosure. They are just business websites and BH sites designed to capture peoples information and many are there just to scam.

    There are 2-3 million American’s that will face forecloure Matt and it would be nice if Google takes the time to maybe consider going outside the normal computer algo’s and does some human editing of the the search terns which are affecting our country and weed out these predators.

    WE have a national mortaghge and housing crisis and we do not need more predators making it worse and that’s what they are doing.

    You see, these same predators preyed on consumers when they operated all their mortgage lead generation websites and sold these leads to unsrupulous brokers and loan officers who in turn scammed homeowners everywhere. Now, they have reincarnated into loss mitigation specialists and forelcosure prevention websites.

    It’s hard for an honest and ethical white hat to compete with deep pocketed BH’s who just use link powere from their Bh tricks to push WH sites.

    Making things worse on our economy and on the American people.

    Let’s face it Matt, there are a lot more Matt Marlon’s on Google and I feel that Google has a fiduciary duty to the American people to make sure that there are no other Matt Marlons preying on consumers via Google and that the most helpful and revelant websites are in the serps to assist people with their mortgages and to help them stop foreclosure.

    I own about 30 websites and most are so, so and do not deserve to be on the frost page of Gogle. But Matt, see what you all can do to make http://www.LoanSafe.org and authority site on stopping foreclosure, because in all honesty, it should. I promise I iwll not dissapoint you or Google and it wil help many Americand from gettimng scammed and save many homes.

    Thanks for your time and I hoep this does not fall on deaf ears or comments ;)

    Keep up the great, honest and ethical work!

    Sincerley and Respectfully,

    Moe Bedard
    http://www.LoanSafe.org
    Stop Foreclosure Forum

  17. I agree in regards to ethics. Companies that use blatant black hat techniques are the ones we see taking other shortcuts in business and with customers. Marlon crossed the ethics line a long time ago and his jailing had nothing to do with the web, but with his charecter.

    The discussion about what is white or black hat is like arguing about drug legality or speeding. The SEO community can argue all day about what is “fair”, but the engines spell out the “rules” and when we break em’, we pay. Just like the law, there are certain “loopholes” we may take advantage of from time to time, but if you are a professional, you know the rules, benefits and the risks in the SEO game and can advise your clients.

  18. Kyle

    This is the most awkward post I have read since visiting your blog almost every day since it started. I have never disagreed so strongly about your method of presenting information before. What’s gross about your opinion “satisfaction, curiosity, and just a smidge of glee”, is your feelings are centered around your opinion of his blackhat tactics…and obviously not with regards to his real estate scam.

    Also, your usage of “TEE HEE humor” as I like to call it (little bits of text formatting and smilies that lead to subtle har har jokes that are pretty damn lame to begin with) makes the post even more disturbing. Although it is now widespread, Google is definitely one of the pioneers of TEE HEE humor.

  19. Rex White

    The company I work for is a francise organization where each franchise owner has their own directory on our corporate website. Back in 2003 one franchise owner bought services from Traffic Power and then advised a handful of other franchise owners to do the same. We landed flat on our face and fell completely out of Google by early 2004. Took a while to dig our way back (and we’re still working on it.)

    While I wouldn’t wish jail on most people, and I obviously don’t know why he’s there, just goes to show!!!

  20. Matt wrote this:

    And if a large SEO company wants to try something high-risk with a client, they’re more likely to explain the potential risks to that client first.

    How exactly does anyone know that? To what lengths do blackhats go to make sure a client totally understands the risks? Do these clients truly understand what happens if/when a blackhat gets their site penalized and/or banned? Do they really know and understand the consequences? Do these blackhats truly inform and educate and teach and clearly point out exactly what might happen if they are caught search engine spamming?

    You see; I don’t buy into the idea that it’s ok if a blackhat spams as long as the client is informed ahead of time. How many different people and groups and sites are hurt by a blackhat who is spamming on behalf of their client? Does it really matter what the heck that client is informed of? Doesn’t it hurt a few different groups of sites/people when a blackhat spams?

    Further; I highly doubt there is much going on as to fully disclosing the risks to any client who hires a blackhat. That’s what all blackhats want Google to think, and every one of them I know about are great spinMeister machines.

    The excuses to make things right because of blackhats and what they do is astounding. Sorry.

    Harith makes a good point.

  21. Robert

    >> [..] but I was looking over a list of 20+ blackhat SEO companies that I compiled back in 2002. The majority either went out of business or have transformed into white-hat SEO companies.

    They let you think, that they transformed into white-hat SEO companies, but they don’t. They just use other technics.

    greetz
    Robert

  22. “An arrest doe NOT mean some is guilty!!!!”

    Of course not, S.E.W., which is why I didn’t say that Matt Marlon was guilty, only that he was in jail.

    Niyaz PK, read the first two links I did so see what Marlon is accused of.

    “Does this mean their executives are less likely to end up in jail?”

    I think so, Alan Perkins. There are a few SEO companies that people think of as respectable & white hat that didn’t start out that way. :)

  23. Doug, my experience from talking to sites/companies that get penalized is that in 2007/2008 they’re much more likely to say “We knew there were risks doing this, but we thought we could get away with it” whereas in 2001/2002 the site owners were more likely to say “What are you talking about? I hired some SEO, but I have no idea what they did.”

    That doesn’t hold 100%, of course (remember Susie from Christmas Day 2006?), but the numbers have definitely shifted towards more informed site owners from what I see.

  24. An arrest does NOT mean some is guilty!!!!

    It also does not mean the person is a saint… or not guilty ;)

  25. I look at this with GLEE – anyone who could try and sue the ever insightful Aaron or mess with Google then ends up in the big house is reason for me to chuckle.

  26. Rakesh, I’ve thought about doing a different blog where I would be slightly snarkier. Then I decided that one blog is more than enough work already. :)

    Kyle, I don’t think Google invented the TEE HEE humor. I remember seeing Scoble and Zawodny doing lots of “Heh heh”-type posts long before I or Google was doing a blog. I don’t usually do snarky posts much at all, but you’ve got to allow me a little bit of leeway every so often. Getting that first “Google penalized a site” post approved was a huge pain, as you can probably imagine. I’m not happy for the real estate folks who are feeling pain as a result of Marlon’s alleged actions, but I am happy to see the end result, given my perspective. Given Rex White’s comment above, I think quite a few people feel that way. But I take your point.

  27. Kyle

    Matt, thanks, well said.
    I am in no way defending this clown. I guess my reaction is based on the very high pedestal I have placed you on.

    This post is still a weird read for me, and touched on some things causing me to express a little more emotion/disgust than I usually would.

    Thanks for your follow up comment, I appreciate your words and the added clarification. I don’t mind tee hee humor, it just really bothered me in this post. But again, your personal issues with the situation warrant it entirely! :)

  28. That is good news indeed, I would get calls from them about once a month wanting to optimize my sites, it was fun getting in arguments with them about whether they knew what they were doing or not.

    “We’ll get you to the top of the search engines..”

    (I’m already there, but I’ll humor him.)

    “Okay, how will you do that?”

    “Well, we set you up with some really good optimized meta tags, the most important factor for ranking well!”

    “O rly? You think meta tags are important for ranking well do you, hmm, what is your source on that?”

  29. I think what you have here is a one way correlation, that is easily perceived as one that goes both ways.

    In its most simplistic form – You are a person, doesn’t mean all people are you.
    Criminals are going to do unethical things, people that do unethical things aren’t necessarily criminals, or even bad people. Who hasn’t done something at one time or another that may have even seemed fine at the moment but looking back you philosophically regret.it (ie. being a little too mean in a breakup, calling out sick because the weather’s too nice)

    Just seems like a dangerous leap. About 6 years ago I had a site dropped from Yahoo for breaking some rule before SEO was a phrase I knew and I never found at why. Right now, I’m getting some kind of penalty from Google on a site, I don’t see any rules breaches so I’m redesigning the whole site hoping I’ll accidentally fix the problem.

    My point is people do things wrong all the time, sometimes they mean to, sometimes they don’t. Bad people do bad things, put people who do bad things aren’t necessarily bad people.

    Obviously a passionate topic, sorry if I was a bit stream of consciousness in my comment.

  30. I do believe this guy once recieved a gift from me.

  31. Jimmy Crack Corn

    Hey Matt, on the subject of blackhat work how about you checkout “SEO” work done by Sleeping Giant Studios.

    All they seem to do is hide a bunch of header tags with css and google rockets those sites to the top. It doesn’t really make it fair for the rest of us trying to play within the “rules”. It’s a really simple thing I would think google could weed out pretty easily. (I.E. If text isn’t shown, don’t “count” it) Although I’m sure there’s a reason you aren’t doing this, their work has to qualify as keyword stuffing and hidden text, right? This can’t be kosher, correct? :)

    http://www.bodygenie.com/ is a good example of their “work”.

    One of my clients is complaining because their website lost its place to another one of their sites, and my client is actually considering going to them due to my insistence that I won’t do what they do and despite my warnings that, in my opinion, what Sleeping Giant does is spam, is a blackhat, and will eventually get them banned from google altogether.

    It’s hard to explain the risks of shady SEO to someone when one of their competitors took their top ranking a month after starting up and have remained there for months and months.

  32. As far as staying whitehat on the SEO with google, I have a question on which method would be the best for a situation I am currently in. I am looking to set up a lot of sites, around 40, that all have the same basic content. I need to have the multiple sites because they are going to be for
    different locations which would each have their own unique stock of items. I was wondering what would be the best method of setting up this hierarchy of sites from an SEO stand point. Should I have the main site setup as a real site and then just domain mask all of the other sites to go to this main
    site? Or would it be better to setup the main site, then have the other 40 sites setup as subdomains of that main site? Or possibly, should I just have 41 different sites, even though they will all have the same basic content? I am not sure which would have worse penalties, the domain masking, or the
    duplicate content. Any advice on this?

  33. I think Matt’s approach in this post was well-balanced and to try to inject Google policy debates or “presumption of innocence” criminal law issues here goes miles beyond Matt’s topical reach.

  34. Actually i don’t feel sad about it.Same happened to John Chow.But they talked it through.I wonder there is a chance for him in jail!!!

  35. Matt -

    Until last week I thought all the anti-SEO work by Google and others was a good thing. Then I was removed from Google’s index because of the actions of others – things I had no hand in.

    It seems to me, Google has become so obsessed with eliminating the blackhats that they’re willing to accept the equivalent of ‘false positives’.

    After I found a problem on my site and came to the Google webmaster forum looking for help, I disappeared within a few hours! No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose.

    I don’t want to hurt my chances of being indexed again, but I think it is a little hypocritical to talk about Google’s work against people who cut corners, when Google seems to cut corners… and innocent people like me are injured.

    I hope that as a corporation Google realizes its size and accrued power make it very easy to do evil when Google is willing to cut corners.

    Geoff Fox

  36. Chris

    I have to side with Matt for the most part on this one. While I agree it’s not always so black and white, this case seams pretty clear to me. While some of their clients undoubtedly knew what it was they were getting in to, there were also many that had no clue (whatever the number, one is too many). Legitimate small businesses that knew no better were taken advantage of and as a result a portion (however large or small) of their livelihood was diminished. If that is not a crime, I do not know what it.

    To be certain, there are risks in business and anytime you entrust your company’s success to someone else you are taking a risk. The other side of the coin however is that anytime someone promises one thing (in this case, to help) and delivers another (in this case, hurting) it is a swindle, unethical, and in many cases illegal. I believe this was one of the cases where there was enough malice, forethought, and destruction to constitute a criminal act.

    Will the courts agree? Time will tell. I for one though share at least a portion of Matt’s glee seeing someone who used a predatory business tactic at the expense of small business owners taken to task.

  37. Kyle, I didn’t think it was an enormously controversial post but clearly a few people took notice. Paul at NetworkWorld wrote a blog post: http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/23621?t51hb (please read the comments to see Jon Henshaw’s point), which then made it to Slashdot: http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/01/08/1522239 . I guess it’s sort of a slow news day. :)

    I’m definitely not saying that “people that do SEO are bad” (at all), or even that sites that embrace blackhat SEO are likely to cut corners in business. Just that sites that embrace really really bad blackhat SEO are perhaps a tiny fractional bit more likely to cut other corners than regular businesses. That opinion comes from seeing some examples over the years like the one that I mentioned in my post.

  38. Wow, this post got people awake… :)

    I guess it’s pretty logical to assume that if people are willing to cheat in one area, they´re likely to do the same in other areas. That’s nothing controversial.

    The arguement in the first comment:

    “A small company on a limited budget with a limited staff with a good product will either just give up and accept their fate or get more innovative to compete. There are only two alternatives – Give up or Fight!”

    I never understood this reasoning. Small companies competing with large companies? So there are small companies that develop, build and sell their own cd-players? There are small companies that develop, build and sell their own cell phones? etc. etc. etc.

    Small companies may have a product similar to big companies. But why would you want to sell something of which the market is already saturated with? If you are a small company in that situation, you either try to differentiate or you focus on some other product. But fighting is just stupid and will put you in the situation you need to use ilegal tactics.

    And ilegal tactics generally cost as much, if not more, than just doing the right thing. People don’t use ilegal tactics (fight) because they have to, but because they want to.

  39. Jimmy Crack Corn

    I think what Matt is saying makes sense. If there’s a police of the internet who controls traffic it’s google. People who are likely to break Google’s laws, despite knowledge of the consequences, *might* be more willing to break real laws with real consequences because they might be a person with the all around “what is easier for me right now” mentality.

    The only place this analogy, if you can even call it that, breaks down is that while some people certainly slip through the cracks for the most part you can’t break the law forever without getting punished.

    In the interweb world however people sit around watching their competitors getting away with grand larceny, and like in my above post, really not even trying to hide it. That kind of world can only exist for so long before people who would be willing to live within the laws say “screw it” because the only way to not starve to death is stealing.

    In other words, at this point in the game some blackhattery is just to try to pull even with other blackhatters. Not that Google, in the end, shouldn’t come down just as hard on them as the “originators,” but it those follow up people might not be the same ilk as the first .

  40. Omar Yesid Mariño

    All this is very controversial… But I want to see how Google will fight with the new wave in search engines controlled by a lot of people and not by a large and concentrated company:

    http://search.wikia.com/wiki/Search_Wikia

  41. “I’m definitely not saying that “people that do SEO are bad” (at all), or even that sites that embrace blackhat SEO are likely to cut corners in business. Just that sites that embrace really really bad blackhat SEO are perhaps a tiny fractional bit more likely to cut other corners than regular businesses.”

    I can certainly accept that and a bit more, and was really waxing philosophical more than anything else.

  42. “Omar Yesid Mariño Said,
    January 8, 2008 @ 11:39 am

    All this is very controversial… But I want to see how Google will fight with the new wave in search engines controlled by a lot of people and not by a large and concentrated company: ”

    Actually, Google results are controlled by a lot of people and not by the Engine it self. All they really try to do is to use the opinions of others the best they can. That’s, in its simplest form, done through links. But of course there’s more to it than that.

  43. Today is the first time I have read your blog. I was directed to it by a link in a post on WebProNews.
    Your article brought MUCH satisfaction to my eyes, Thanks!
    Back in 2006 we were approached by Traffic Power. We were told that they would in fact take us to the top of a Google search and that their tactics were all approved by Google. We agreed, and in about 4 weeks our sites were completely removed from Google, not what we had in mind.
    Two things worked in our favor, Google agreed to reinstate us once our sites were cleaned up, which took a lot of work and we had paid Traffic Power via credit card so after a long battle we had our money back.
    If I used the smiley faces in my text, I would have a large one to display my gladness that the liars at Traffic Power are being served justice!

  44. Kyle

    Matt, lol… It definitely is a slow news day!

    Just to close this up, the parts that picked at me were the feeling of generalizing blackhat seo’ers… instead of the really really bad ones. You have clarified this better, even if it wasn’t necessary for all but just for me. So again I thank you for that. Funny thing is, I am not a blackhat seo’er, but would definitely consider a grayer area if I wasn’t satisfied with my 7+ year old established sites.

    There are just too many variables out there to generalize. Like I said, I try and stay pretty well centered, rational, and leave emotions out. But for some reason this post felt differently to me (at first).

    Regarding variables and generalizing blackhats… What is the solution when competing on terms like web hosting, poker, or big titties? When it comes to certain markets, the only real way to get links is by begging, buying, or doing things that are fundamentally blackhat or gray, but are 100% undetectable (like buying links through smart practices that cannot be detectable through obvious logical strategies that don’t deserve explanation).

    The field of blackhat/grayhat seo is too complicated, and becomes more complicated as Google becomes a better company by interacting with webmasters. And yes, in this case, Mr. Traffic Power is a total waste of space to the business world and did really really bad blackhat seo. I’m sure he approached his poker clients in the same way he approached mom&pop organic foods of minnesota (instead of being ethical).

  45. Paul J

    I’m really not surprised that Matt Marlon’s brother runs Nevada’s biggest HMO. That is the blackhat world of Insurance in a nutshell….

  46. Kyle

    By the way… just to put some specific examples to my statement regarding the complications of blackhat/grayhat seo…

    In the adult entertainment world (which includes sites similar to ebaumsworld to porn), massive interlinking was always accepted. I’m talking before blogs where people setup global link exchanges with 50 other sites. You wouldn’t see websites on every day topics having 50 link partners, ranging on all sorts of crazy topics. For example, a site like… kontraband can link to all sorts of varying adult topics, they don’t have to be pornographic… they can be, but don’t have to be!

    An ecommerce site selling shoes. Can they engage in a 50 multi-site link partnering system similar to these humor sites? Who are they going to link to that is on topic? Other shoe sites, competitors, no way! Other random apparel/accessory sites, maybe… This can be frowned upon, it would have to be executed very smartly… and even then, the benefit here is specifying anchor text with a secondary benefit being traffic.

    Lets look at web directories. DMOZ has been grandfathered in to the inner circle. Pure garbage now. The “ethical idea” behind DMOZ is no longer a good enough excuse to support them. Just as the “idea” behind wikia search is only cool for a limited time…if they don’t become a quality site who actually completes their Terms of Use page, eventually they’ll be smoked.

    Lets look at answers.com…
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_tall_is_the_Sears_Tower
    At the bottom of a given question page, they list multiple MULTIPLE variations of this question. The only reasoning they could give is it helps with their own search system, so when people search on varying forms of “how tall is the sears tower”, their internal system picks it up. However this truly is keyword stuffing. Their PRIMARY benefit and reasoning here is to get these varying queries from search engines. THIS data could be a NON-PUBLIC record in their database. It doesn’t have to be ‘written’ to the page to be searchable.

    The Hardin Meta Directory. Been around forever. Again, grandfathered in to the Google club. They rank very well on TONS of health related topics. Lets look at their strep throat page. http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/hardin/md/strepthroat.html. Scroll to the bottom. Nothing more to say. Their own justification of this keyword stuffing is… “Our old old OLD technology needs this type of system for searching our pages”. Again, primary benefit is ranking on varying search engine queries.

    What does this all mean and how does it relate?

    I have already expressed my absolute appreciation for Matt Cutts. No need to say any more there. However, I do feel you do not properly discuss or touch on these issues. I do respect and realize you can’t, so I don’t expect you too. They are far too difficult to address and would tell too much to the community (in my opinion).

    This is why me, personally, am passionate about the blackhat/grayhat debate… and why I was partial to generalized statements towards the industry. 11 years doing search engine marketing, and finally a respectable honest company (Google) is trying to lay objective rational groundwork for this industry. Groundwork that is truly awesome (any ethical seo’er who believes its wrong for Google to push this rel=nofollow system doesnt have a clue, sorry if youre one of them but open your mind and think a little harder). This area I’m addressing though is a very serious area, and hasn’t received proper attention.

  47. Hey Now Matt,
    Very interesting post. I really like your blog too.
    Thx 4 all the info,
    Catto

  48. What about the flip side: does collecting information on people tend make one more suspicious?

    This article leads me to believe it does.

    I wonder if religiously deleting my Google cookies and ad-blocking Google Analytics makes me appear suspect as well.

  49. Wow

    It is amazing how many people will jump out of the wood work to defend a con man. Convicted or not, his last scam was much more sleazy and immoral than promising a site top rank in Google or suing Aaron Wall (and giving him an opportunity to demonstrate the courage to fight back. In the end, the law suit helped him quite a bit). I imagine some of the techniques Traffic Power used worked for a while, where as he clearly had no intention of saving people from foreclosure.

    Meanwhile, to all the Flamers and Google Bashers, whatever you think of Google, Matt has done more for the webmaster community and webmaster/search engine relations than anyone else in our industry with the exception of Danny Sullivan. He deserves to be treated with respect. Spend a few minutes to separate your vendetta from his post…

  50. Matt,

    My question is regarding the guilty by association. You mentioned sites that Google removed that were clients of TrafficPower may have or have been removed from Google as well.

    I would not begin to question any companies right to clean house as Google does when they find sites in violation of the rules.

    It just happened to me. My main site was hosted my a company that has been experiencing malware problems. Poof inside of a week I lost all keyword rank and have the malware warning under my name.

    Fair enough. I had no control over what my hosting company does but those are the breaks. After I finally wake up from passing out, I switch servers immediately and request reinclusion.

    I know it took a bit to get here, but here is my question. When Google discovers that I have changed hosts and when Google has received my explanation as to what happened, why can’t I be restored to my previous positions? Why does it appear I have to start completely from scratch to regain my lost positions?

    Thanks in advance for any insight.

  51. Greg, once your site is reconsidered after the malware is gone, your site should return pretty much to where it was. In general you shouldn’t expect to start from scratch in that case.

  52. ken

    Matt, whilst you may enjoy the feeling, Im sure the many people who have comments left unanswered on your blog are not feeling that happy.

    Instead of posting new stuff, why not make this blog useful, and go back through your older posts, and actually answer the questions people ask?

    Or is this just a google PR stunt, that ignores real questions.

    Ps, Im not talking about any comments from me, Im talking about all the comments I have read, on many posts, that have gone unanswered.

    If that many people are asking questions, then its obvious your posts are not clearly understood.

    Why not clarify them, by answering the questions?
    Its either within your power to do so, or its not – and if its not, just tell each person that its not by replying its not in your power to answer that question.

    Or is that to much to ask? To not open a multitude of hornets nests, then walk away…

  53. Hi Matt and Hi to all the Readers

    Thanks for the input. Let me ask you a question that bothers me a long time now. Why not limmiting outgoing links of ALL websites who want to get listed, to a certain number? I’m thinking of something between 30 and 50 links per url. That would be an act of QA.

    Webmasters and SEO’s would have to think a bit harder who they are going to link to. Link farms would disapear from the face of the earth and search results would be very much easier handle.

    I know that my comment is most probably going to heat up some heads and i can imagine some color-changes on some faces and most of you will call me extreme, but think about it. Wouldn’t it be great to go on a search engine type in a pahrase and get the 50 most relevant sites on the first 50 spots, no regards of the size of their company and the amount of millions they have paid to their SEO staff?

    If users get aware of this, it might even change the search behavior and they will search up to page 5 instead of leaving after page 3, knowing that they still find relevant information further up.

    For site owners it wouldn’t even make a big difference since anything above page 5 is doomed to be never looked at anyway.

  54. Matt-

    Interesting topic on black-hatters! You think they’ll need reputation management?

    Recently, one of my reputation management clients referred me to site (not to be named) asking me if we’ve done everything possible to bring the positive information into the search results. I did my research and found myself talking to the CEO of this organization. He spoke really fast and then raddled off 5 sites and gave me some hints on how to prevent Google from caching my sites. He was a black-hatter! These guys are still out there doing shady stuff and making money!

    I did a Google search and replied to my client “Your site is #1 now and the negative press is within the second page.” I’m a white-hatter and while it may take longer to gain strength within Google, it’s worth the wait!

    Thanks for the post!

  55. 10+ years in jail, whoa!

  56. Dave (original)

    Does this mean their executives are less likely to end up in jail?

    Not IMO, they have simply shifted their self-serving practice some other method of cheating.

    Matt, I with Doug all the way on his statements. Let’s say I started a site on 100 way to cheat on education exams and on the homepage I put the risks invloved. Should that absolve me of any wrong doing?

    IMO, until Google takes a top-down approach on SE spam and makes vivid examples of ALL the big players, there will always be blackhat professionals.

  57. Dave (original)

    , Matt has done more for the webmaster community and webmaster/search engine relations than anyone else in our industry with the exception of Danny Sullivan.Couldn’t let that comment go. Danny Sullivan has a heavy vested interest in SE spam of many kinds. IMO, Danny Sullivan is biggest stumbling block the white hat SEO industry has.

  58. Dave (original)

    I hardly know how to answer the assertion about Danny being a stumbling block to white hat SEO or the idea that he has a vested interest in SE spam without some explanation on your part, but Matt’s blog is not the place for this discussion.

    If you would care to take this outside:-)

  59. Dave (original)

    jonah stein, it was not me who raised Danny Sullivan, I was only adding my opinion.

    Please read posts in context :)

  60. Brave post Matt, and excellent linkbait ;)

    So many fascinating issues brought up in the article.

    For any of you who have been penalized in google, just clean the crud up, and politely ask to be re-included by Google. I can honestly say it worked for me!

    It is fascinating how the issues of what is moral, legal, and googles T.O.S. interrelate. Obviously Google is not the law, and no one can be thrown in jail or have criminal prosecution for violating their T.O.S. I have now met very nice, moral kids who look at beating Google as a game and a way to make extra money.

    If you are serious about your business, or the thing you are trying to communicate to the world it just makes much more long term sense to follow Google’s T.O.S. as closely as you can. There is nothing less fun than watching your site drop from high in the rankings to low.

    Can Matt have his opinion? Damn right he can, as we all do. Can Google decide to rank you high if you wear a bandaid on your forehead? Of course they can, they are a private company in a free nation and can do whatever they want as long as they don’t break the law.

    Do you have the right to ignore them, run your site as you please, and get traffic other ways? Of course you can.

    I personally am gratefully appreciative of Google and all of the excellent people they bring to my site, so I play by their rules as closely as I can understand them.

    (and original Dave, be extra polite to Jonah, he’s a big guy so watch out! ;)

  61. By the way Matt, if you are looking for ideas for a future post, do you want to tell us how the Linux machine is running, and what software you are using on it?

  62. Instead of posting new stuff, why not make this blog useful, and go back through your older posts, and actually answer the questions people ask?

    Or is this just a google PR stunt, that ignores real questions.

    ken, over all the posts on my blog, I average 60+ comments per post, and those are the ones that I approve. It would literally be impossible for me to answer every comment or question that is posed. That’s why I point people to Google’s webmaster discussion group above my comment box in case I don’t have the chance to reply personally.

  63. Harith

    Honestly, Matt,

    Take it as a friendly remark.

    The quality of your posts have been declining for sometime, and so the quality of your replies.

    In the good old days, you use to “give of yourself”..not anymore, unfortunately.

    Tell us for example:

    - What Google consider as a Best SEO Practice for webmasters, web developers and web designers?

    - Tell us more about the current structure of Google Data centers.

    - Start a GrabBag thread.

    - Tell something about current Data Pushes.
    etc…

    Post something that benefit your visitors, instead of all those hat tipping to a spammer like Aaron Wall. Which message are you sending to un-savvy webmasters by that, Matt?

    C´mon..give us the good generous serious Matt Cutts again :(

  64. Black hat optimization has been in this search business for years, it is not easy to penalize every one of them within a short time frame. I personally feels that a website should be designed with the interests of the visitor in your mind and results in SERPs should be highly relevant to the searchers who are searching for something in mind.

    Still, i often see irrelevant results displayed in SERPs because the site was highly optimized with thousands of links in with the search phrases contained in anchor text. When click on, it just displays paid advertisements or paid reviews with the relevant content at the bottom of the page. It does irritates me with the role as a searcher.

    End of the day it is the sites that was served by Black Hat Companies such as Traffic Power that suffers. Why black hat when it aren’t permanent forever?

  65. PhilC

    [blockquote][b]Search Engines Web said:[/b]
    What Traffic Power was doing was not wrong.[/blockquote]

    What Traffic Power did was NOT inform clients that their methods were against the search engine guidelines. In fact, they told them that they were within the guidelines, and the clients were cheated in that way. It was most definitely wrong.

  66. android

    Jimmy Crack Corn Said,

    “I think what Matt is saying makes sense. If there’s a police of the internet who controls traffic it’s google. People who are likely to break Google’s laws, despite knowledge of the consequences, *might* be more willing to break real laws with real consequences because they might be a person with the all around “what is easier for me right now” mentality.”

    You must be kidding. Google is setting their own rules that are not necessarily that great. To draw a parallel like you did is a bit ludicrous. Google is becoming a monopolist and as such the company is more likely to stretch real laws than millions of sites put together. Matt probably wishes Google had power to put all of the so-called “black hats” in jail, but fortunately this will never happen. Remember the company’s “do no evil” motto? How is it that you can disappear from serps, because you wanted to monetize on your website. If the site has a good content, then pushing it down the serps and therefore hiding it from users is evil canival. :)

  67. The consequence has been well defined those practicing black hat, It’s hard to believe a person in such high position will go for such unfair practice.
    -Bob

  68. Toncen

    When do the congressional hearings begin?

  69. Ix

    Fairly interesting post, and I have to agree that people who are willing to cut corners/break rules in one place are much more likely to cut corners/break rules in other places. It has certainly held true in my own life with the people I’ve met. The biggest example I have is that one student I went to school with was well known for doing just about everything he could to cheat on tests, next thing I hear about him he’s due in court for stealing a lot from his workplace while in plain view of the security cameras.

    I actually didn’t get to here (this blog) without going through a few other blogs and it stuck me as a little odd that almost all the anti-google posts I’ve seen involve something along the lines of “An arrest does not mean some is guilty!” with varying levels of misspelling, incorrect grammar, and many exclamation marks. It seems they missed out on some part of their education where they learn the difference between being arrested and being convicted to jail time, that or they’re being willfully ignorant in exchange for something (chance to complain about google or receiving money I’d guess).

    Anyways, I’m personally glad to see that people who do bad stuff to others are still getting caught and punished for it.

  70. Neal

    Stick to your guns Matts. EVERYONE reading this knows that “blackhat seo” refers to those who knowning and deliberately go out of their way to trick, defeat, sidestep a search engines algorithms to gain a placement they should not have. EVERYONE reading this knows that Google and ONLY Google decides what is right and wrong on their search engine. Furthermore, EVERYONE reading this knows that no-one is so selective, so black and white, in their morality that a willingness to act less than honorably in one area doesn’t equate to a similar willingness to act less than honorably in some other. It’s all “matters of degree” and the further a person is willing to step outside the accepted norm, especially into unfair, illicit, or illegal activity, in one area the more they are willing to repeat that in others.

    You don’t like playing by Google’s rules then get your web sites on other search engines or build your own.

  71. Jimmy Crack Corn

    android Said, “You must be kidding. Google is setting their own rules that are not necessarily that great. To draw a parallel like you did is a bit ludicrous.”

    Google being good or bad or making up the rules is irrelevant. 80+% of most of my sites’ traffic comes from google. They are the traffic cops of the internet and if you want that traffic you have to play by their rules, regardless of how ‘arbitrary’ they are. (Not that I agree with your general sentiments anyway)

  72. JLH

    Matt, I’d like to invite you back over to the Google Webmaster Help Group. You’re likely to receive a lot less flak and lot more grateful responses for your hard work and posting efforts.

  73. Hi Matt,

    Off topic, sorry. Question….

    What is you point of view on bulk removing nofollow tags from wordpress blogs, given that you moderate them well?

    Thanks,

    Allan

  74. android

    Jimmy Crack Corn Said,January 9, 2008 @ 7:57 am

    Listen, I don’t approve of any black hat practices, but I see how people get away with a lot of things that Google doesn’t approve of. The problem is that Google is rather selective. It can punish one site while turning a blind eye to another. As you yourself stated, people may turn into black hat tactics out of frustration. I simply wish Google started to communicate with webmasters. I want Google to tell me if I break their rules and be specific. I understand that it requires a lot of resources, but that would certainly make the Web a better place. The infrastructure is in place. For instance, I don’t use any black hat! Period! I don’t break any rules whatsoever, but my site ended up in Google garbage. Why? Because Google suddenly changed its policy on link sales. What guarantee do you have that Google won’t come down on you with all their wrath, because you link to a site that Google stopped loving?
    What is wrong with the best site on cancer treatment (that’s Matt’s favorite example) linking to casinos, directories, or Viagra pills? A search engine should evaluate the content of the site on its merits and disregard links that are irrelevant. The user may not benefit from these links but they will benefit from the information on that website. How often, after all, do you follow links that you find irrelevant? To bury such a site in serps for a few irrelevant links is much worse than what Mr. Marlon did to his customers. Is that black hat? Nonsense!

  75. Kyle

    Ken,

    That isnt fair man…how can you call the definitive answers given by Matt on certain Google penalty/banning issues unhelpful? Have you been reading the same blog as the rest of us? The questions I asked in my long comment above for example, I know can’t be answered. But what these questions do is get people’s brains to itch. The examples are valid concerns and deserve attention. Matt can’t reply to all these specifics, but he can read them, think about them, and advise his team. Other people can read these as well, to see that blackhat/grayhat seo is not always about the assholes like Matt Marlon.

    I’m sure there are questions that Matt totally avoids, where the webmaster community may deserve an answer. But I think the MAJORITY of questions he avoids are due to the questions not being fairly answerable (like mine), result in giving too much information, or are just truly unanswerable. And in the end if you look at the improvements to Google’s sharing of information to webmasters just over the past 2 years… we have absolutely no right to complain.

  76. I’m actually of two minds on this one, and I think both Matt and Doug make very good points.

    Matt’s right in that a lot of the former blackhat SEOs are moving on to other areas to screw people over, such as “Social Media Optimization” (what genius thought that one up, anyway?) and filling sites such as Facebook and Myspace and LinkedIn with a bunch of crap on the grounds that it’s “optimization” and that it “gets our brand in the face of targeted customers” (most of whom aren’t ever going to buy anything because they’re all marketing to each other like two scalpers trying to sell tickets to each other.) There’s the next great spam haven.

    I’ll at least give Matt Marlon some credit in that his scam was original. He didn’t bother doing what everyone else does; he came up with a relatively new way to rip people off.

    But Doug’s got a much better point as far as what people do/don’t disclose to their clients. There are a lot of blackhats and scammers who don’t even know that they’re scammers and blackhats simply because the lead BHs create an environment of noise and spin doctoring such that it confuses the great unwashed. Take Digital Pointless, for example. I’ll bet you that if you took a sample size of say 1000 posters in there who are blackhat, 750 would say they’re not blackhat. And a lot of them would say it because they don’t know what they’re doing is wrong or why it’s wrong.

    They “know” that link exchange is a valid SEO technique.
    They “know” that buying 5000 del.icio.us submissions is a great way to get traffic and SEO benefit to a website.
    They “know” that B->C->A linking, where they own Sites A and B and some other loser owns site C, is a great way to gain a one-way link.

    And the mountain of crap just keeps piling higher and higher and higher and higher and higher, because almost no one is explaining why these things are wrong and what they do to the user experience.

    In fact, they often go to great lengths not to tell others what they’re doing. Here’s a classic example from a few months ago. I’ll rank you #1 in Google, but don’t question me or ask me what I did. That’s clearly non-disclosure.

    We’re not past the point of “guaranteed #1 ranking” telespam and/or snail mails, either.

    I think the long-term odds of blatant SEO scams will go down if and only if real education about these sorts of things, and why they screw the end user (never mind the site owner) goes up. And I just don’t see that happening right now. Google’s fired a few warning shots in the air, but they’re just that…warning shots. Unless a few heavy rounds get pumped into some BHs, such as the Text-Link-Ads, the PayPerPosts, the ReviewMes, the so-called SEO news sites, then this is just going to continue and get worse.

    You guys really need to start throwing the hammer down in the most brutal manner possible. Get the lynch rope out and start hangin’ the scum high in the street. There is enough info that people can search for now that you guys can comfortably afford to do that. The longer you leave it, the worse it’s going to get.

    Sorry for venting, Matt. Respek to you as always. I just had to say that.

  77. Matt,

    Regardless of your personal opinion, it is an interesting topic that you raise. I do believe the people who are ‘slippery’ with rules are ‘slippery’ with the law and there is definitely a correlation.

    Some people are straight up, bureaucratic, and obey rules even though they don’t make sense … like waiting at a stop-light on an empty street at 3am for 5 minutes even though there is not another sole on the road. But, for every one of those, you have half a dozen people who blatantly run red lights.

    But, I have to also agree with some of the other writers that suggest that if so much business were not at stake and if the whole ‘secret’ algorithm weren’t so secret then we wouldn’t be tempted to take proactive steps to get found online though Google searches.

    Off the subject, but I find it crazy that a Barry Bonds could go to jail while an OJ Simpson plays golf.

  78. Whoever has fakemattcutts.com registered, now is the perfect chance to go live.

  79. About FREAKIN time…

  80. Can I definitively claim that there’s a connection between a willingness to embrace blackhat SEO and a willingness to cut corners in other areas of business?

    Maybe not so much looking at the SEO tactics, but the overall business ethics. Misleading clients for example and cutting corners elsewhere definitely have connections between them.

    Mike

  81. Matt, the problem with your post is you used too many words that left things open to interpretation. Just come right out and simply state that businesses willing to do unethical things are probably unethical in general so where there’s smoke, there’s probably fire, and stop beating around the bush. ;)

  82. michelle

    On not answering posts, I’ve seen some questions asked many times here, that only you can answer Matt.

    There is no point in going to Google’s webmaster discussion group, as the questions are only known to Google.

    eg.

    Define what a cookie cutter site is. I’ve asked this on several occasions, and I’ve seen it asked by others on at least as many occasions. You’ve never answered it.

    a. Same design? Same Content? Same structure but different content entirely?
    b. If I run 100 subdomains all of the same topic, but covering different geographic regions. Is this cookie cuttering? Gawd… is my hat turning black without me even knowing?

    There are many instances where google says “don’t do this” then does not define what it is.

    Matt, you are the only point of contact for us with Google on such matters, and no, you can’t asnwer all, but it appears to me you more answer to defend your position, than you ever do to clarify a Google Policy.. Must something to do with it being your personal blog, rather than Googles, but you surely realise we are all here not just because you are an interesting writer… its the head of google webspam thing that brings us to you. To Us. You are Google.

    Google groups, is not google, its just other webmasters.

  83. Hi Matt

    I have enjoyed reading your blogs over the last year but gloating over a non violent criminal sitting in jail kinda puts me off in a big way. Americas jails are busting full as it is due to your countries EXTREME jail sentences.

    Gloating over someone who committed a Non Violent Crime, sitting in a jail cell, surrounded by VIOLENT Criminals just does not do it for me..

    : – /

  84. Am I the only person who thinks S.E.W. is getting nuttier? Talking about yourself in the third person when not doing an ad is just as distracting as typing in all caps or not using puctuation…

    “Gloating over someone who committed a Non Violent Crime, sitting in a jail cell, surrounded by VIOLENT Criminals just does not do it for me..

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather be punched in the nose than lose my life savings, business, etc. A lack of spilled blood does not mean a lack of wrongdoing. He’s also in there with a bunch of thieves (also usually not violent, but very much related to con men, etc).

    I’m happy to see people like our friend at TP put away (even if it’s currently only while awaiting trial), though it would have been more funny if it had been for his TP actions.

    An observation: Black Hat tactics are a “short-term gain” type of tactic, and any competent BH knows this. Why is anyone surprised that people focused on short term gains don’t have long term business viability? Whatever happened to being happy with the churn ‘n burn lifestyle? ;)

    Having said all of that, I don’t believe in following rules blindly – if Google one day created a guideline that I felt was morally repugnant ( ie a racist or sexist one) I’d break it in a second and not feel in the slightest bit upset by my “blackhat” behaviour, in exactly the same way I’d object to my government passing a law to round up allthe people of a particular religion, etc. The existence of a rule or law does not convey moral rightness. That’s why laws are repealed all the time.

    Ian

  85. Am I the only person who thinks S.E.W. is getting nuttier? Talking about yourself in the third person when not doing an ad is just as distracting as typing in all caps or not using puctuation…

    S.E.W.’s house wasn’t exactly on a solid foundation to begin with. How do you tell when he descends into madness when he doesn’t have all that far to fall?

  86. Dave (original)

    Am I the only person who thinks S.E.W. is getting nuttier?

    “getting nuttier?” ? :) S.E.W IS nuts and always has been :)

    Matt, despite what a vocal minority (harith & ken) want (your personal service & advice), I say, keep blogging as you always have done. Don’t let the squeakiest wheels get all the oil.

  87. michelle, a cookie cutter site is typically one that is machine-generated or generated with very little hand-done work. It often is based off of a template, so that many cookie cutter sites look similar to each other. Alternatively, a cookie cutter site can be taking premade content like an affiliate feed and throwing it up on the web with very little additional work or value add. Typically a cookie cutter site is not lovingly crafted by hand.

    Ian, S.E.W. has mastered the fine art of finding my annoyance threshold and then staying one notch below that threshold. :)

  88. He damn well should have by now. Look at how much practice he’s had at it!

  89. Dave (original)

    cookie cutter = knife used by the “Cookie Monster” :)

  90. Matt,
    You know I usually play “devil’s advocate” regarding Google corporate ethics although I do admit it is the absolute best search engine…

    This time I do agree with you about Matt Marlon. Although he was jailed for running a housing scam, nothing to do with SEO, what he did was very scummy and indicative of somebody who would go to any length to make a buck.

  91. Harith

    Good morning, Dave (original)

    “Matt, despite what a vocal minority (harith & ken) want (your personal service & advice),”

    Its not about what a vocal minority want. Its about moral responsibilities and ethics.

    Matt is the head of Google WebSpam Team. Matt has been preaching “Dont Spam Googel” for years. As such he has a moral responsibility not to send mixed signals about how Google look at spammers.

    Aaron Wall has been preaching spam for years. He was identified as spammer by Google, and he was penalized as such. When Matt Cutts, the Head of Google WebSpam Team chose to “Hat Tip” Aaron Wall on Google “Half-Official” blog, there would be hundreds or tghousands of un-savvy webmasters which might think that Matt Cutts is endorsing what Aaron Wall is doing, spam wise.

    As to the quality of Matt’s recent posts, I’m leaving it to the judgement of other “regular” commenters to judge the degree of ts decline.

    Which remineds me of a great post from 2006 of

    Jeremy Zawodny where he quoted a wise man:

    A wise man once said “an unexamined life is not worth living.

  92. Harith; I couldn’t agree with you more. It almost seems like the most prominent people in the SEO industry praise blackhats in many, many different ways than they do others who actually try to clean up the industry.

    In spite of the large following people like danny sullivan DO have, the truth is that he and others who are high profile DO in fact sell advertising to blackhats on a daily basis, and DO in fact allow blackhats to tout their wares in MANY different ways. Facts are facts are facts. Those facts cannot be disputed by anyone who knows just a little about anything. Can anyone dispute what I just wrote?

    Multi-Worded Adam; that’s got to be the “post of the thread”. I hope everyone in here reads your post again….. then again and again. :)

  93. There are still issues, of course, but I was looking over a list of 20+ blackhat SEO companies that I compiled back in 2002. The majority either went out of business or have transformed into white-hat SEO companies.

    Does this mean their executives are less likely to end up in jail?
    I think so, Alan Perkins. There are a few SEO companies that people think of as respectable & white hat that didn’t start out that way.

    So, you think that a change from blackhat to whitehat methods also indicates a general change in somebody’s moral/ethical/legal standing – i.e. indicates a leopard changing its spots?

    You are so nice and forgiving, Matt. ;)

    Surely it could simply mean that some scammers have found that it’s easier to rip people off if they promote themselves as whitehats rather than blackhats? :D

  94. Alan, I don’t dismiss that as a possibility. But for most of the ones from my 2002 list, I’m pretty confident.

    Harith, I’ve given some thought to who I link to, and I don’t think people turn off their critical thinking skills when they come to my blog. If I never linked to dissenting voices, then I probably wouldn’t have done my MEGO post at http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/mego/ , for example.

  95. Dave (original)

    Its not about what a vocal minority want. Its about moral responsibilities and ethics.

    Agree, but that’s not what you requested :)

    On the specific subject of Aaron Wall, he is a cheat & most likely a liar and will always be. I couldn’t agree more about Matt sending mixed signals on black hat methods and have bought this up a few times in the past. BUT! This is Matt’s *personal* blog and he just happens to work at Google. Hence the : http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/disclaimer

    This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

    As Doug Heil posted above, the single BIGGEST problem with the SEO industry is the likes of Danny Sullivan and others having a vested interest in black hat methods and allowing black hats to affiliate/post/advertise their spammy ways, thus condoning it. No mixed signals there.

  96. Harith

    Matt,

    “Harith, I’ve given some thought to who I link to, and I don’t think people turn off their critical thinking skills when they come to my blog.”

    But you don’t practice what you preach: Dont link to a bad neighbourhood?

    You linked with “dofollow” to Aaron Wall’s site; THE MECCA OF TEACHING SPAM and as such is a bad neighbourhood! Was that a necessity?

    And that Aaron Wall thing is not the first time you praise and link to a spammer. Last September you praised and dofollow linked to Jill Whalen, at the same time while she was preaching paid links. Another case of linking to
    bad neighbourhood, I must say.

    Those youngsters at Google WebSpam Team must find it frustrating: They work hard to detect and penalize spammers like Aaron Wall. Just to see the head of their team praising the same spammers on his own blog :(

    Btw, how about for a change to praise and dofollow link to a whitehat SEO?

  97. Harith

    Dave (original)

    “This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.”

    Correct, as long as the views expressed by Matt on his own blog not in contradiction to Google Quality Guideline!

    In 1969-1971, I worked as a teacher (Chemistry and Math) in a high school at a little town. Parents had their rights to expect me to behave properly and be a good example for their kids, also during my free time.

    Matt Cutts is the head og Google WebSpam Team and the protector of Google Webmaster Guidlines. As such he should be held to high moral and SEO ethical standards than the rest of us, also on his own blog. It belongs to the territory, you know ;)

  98. Dave (original)

    Harith, please don’t bring children/kids into this, there is absolutely no parallel and whole children/kids thing aways draws more emotion than rational logical thinking.

    Say what you like, but IMO, Matt has no obligation what-so-ever to always agree and never contradict with his Companies Webmaster Guidelines on his personal blog. If he did, it wouldn’t Matt’s Blog, it would be Google’s. One thing I feel sure in saying is, Google wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Like I say, I would love to see Matt *personally* condone spam and all those that support/promote it, but I pretty sure I know his reasons for not doing so. Ever heard the saying; “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”?

  99. Harith

    My friend, Dave

    “Say what you like, but IMO, Matt has no obligation what-so-ever to always agree and never contradict with his Companies Webmaster Guidelines on his personal blog. If he did, it wouldn’t Matt’s Blog, it would be Google’s. One thing I feel sure in saying is, Google wouldn’t want it any other way.”

    To my best knowledge, Matt is a co-editor of Google Webmaster Guidelines, including the famous: “In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.

    As such he has obligation to follow what he himself has co-edited :)

    “Ever heard the saying; “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”?”

    Keeping your enemies closer doesn’t require you to praise and dofollow link to their spam sites as Matt has done. Dont you agree?

    Please don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of Matt. I admire him much for the valuable efforts he has spent to improve communications with the webmaster/publisher communities.

    Having said that, I just wish to remind him that he is wrong in not practicing what he has been preaching :(

    As to the decline of the quality of Matt’s post. Maybe Matt needs to take a month break of blogging. Recharge and return back to us as the great blogger he was!!

  100. Dave (original)

    As such he has obligation to follow what he himself has co-edited

    Be specific, exactly what guideline is he breaching?

    Keeping your enemies closer doesn’t require you to praise and dofollow link to their spam sites as Matt has done. Dont you agree?

    I do (and keep saying so) but obviously Matt doesn’t and his opinion is the only one which counts on his personal blog.

    As to the decline of the quality of Matt’s post. Maybe Matt needs to take a month break of blogging. Recharge and return back to us as the great blogger he was!!

    Very debatable and only a minority subscribe to your “opinion” :)

  101. Harith

    Good morning Dave (original)

    You never give up, do ya :)

    Maybe we should take this discussion on one of the open forums, because its getting more interesting indeed. Let me think about a place ;)

    “Be specific, exactly what guideline is he breaching?”

    Google Webmaster Guidelines

    “In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.”

    In general, a webmaster/publisher is free to Dofollow link to all the spammers on this planet on his site/blog. However, Google reserves the rights to protect the quality of its index and act accordingly!

    I expect above to apply to ALL webmasters/publishers including Google’s employees.

    Otherwise we are going to end with two sets of Google Webmaster Guidelines. One for Google’s employees. And a second one for the rest of us webmasters/publishers;)

  102. Dave (original)

    Matt is NOT voting for them (or is he?) and the whole reason behind nofollow is so Webmasters CAN link to bad neighborhoods without fear of penalty.

    Also, the whole reason behind the statement you quoted is to protect the linker, not the linkee (my made up word :)). Google uses the wording “Reserves the right” as apposed to “We will” for good reason. That is, it’s determined by a human, not an algorithm.

  103. Alan, I don’t dismiss that as a possibility. But for most of the ones from my 2002 list, I’m pretty confident.

    Interesting. Since leopards don’t generally change their spots, the implication is that those on your 2002 list should never having been blackhats in the first place. So … in your role as Head of Google’s Web Spam team, have you ever done any research into what makes basically good people get into blackhat SEO?

  104. Harith

    Dave (original)

    Thank you for your spirit in our discussion. Much appreciated.

    However, I believe I have covered my point of views in that particular matter very well. Therefor:

    “I Rest My Case” ;)

  105. Hi Matt

    I’ve always been impressed by your willingness to help the average person to not have their site penalised by Google, you’ve been a great representative for the company.

    I feel I must add my voice to the protests that companies who have used black hat techniques on their site are possibly more likely to be dishonest in other areas of business.

    Why? Well few years ago, my wife and I set up a large retail business
    (one of the largest wedding dress stores in the UK). At the time we set up our website we did not know a lot about optimisation so we paid other companies to do it for us.

    Without our knowledge one or two of these companies were using highly dubious techniques of cloaking and goodness knows what else.

    As I studied SEO techniques personally I gradually realised what was going on and quickly severed ties with these companies. My wife and I are hard working people who do believe in an honest approach to business.

    It has taken several years of hard work to repair the damage done by the black hats. Why should we be branded by their deceit?

    As one of the largest firms, we have struggled to make it to top ten results, and yet we are certainly one of the major players in the UK.

    I would really hate to think that somewhere in some dark room within Google, a website’s history will be taken in to account, perhaps even being branded as a dodgy brand when in reality the company directors have always had an honest approach to business and have not had idea that the SEO companies working for them used dangerous techniques.

    Please don’t become too cynical Matt. It must be hard not to in your role at Google, with so many trying to cheat the system.

    All the Best

  106. Dave (original)

    Matt, please tell me you aren’t voting for spammers?

    basically good people get into blackhat SEO?

    Greed and they really were NEVER “good people” to begin with. Good people don’t cheat.

  107. Dave (original), you appear to have missed the thread of my conversation.

    Matt has stated that, from a list of blackhat SEOs formed in 2002, many have now become whitehats; I asked whether they were less likely to end up in jail as a result; Matt answered that he thought they were less likely; I replied that this would suggest that they had actually changed their character, rather than simply their approach to SEO; Matt replied (slightly at odds with his first reply) that he did not think that was the case … suggesting that their character was always basically “whitehat”; so I then asked Matt if he had done any research as to what made them get into blackhat in the first place, if they were really whitehats at heart?

    The results of such research would be very interesting in a number ways, not least in slowing the takeup of blackhat SEO in future.

  108. Dave (original)

    Alan, I cannot answer for Matt, so I gave you my 2 cents worth.

    IMO, most blackhats have likely been cheats most of their lives, the WWW just opened more cheating avenues for them.

    It has taken several years of hard work to repair the damage done by the black hats. Why should we be branded by their deceit?

    I fullu agree. I keep asking Matt (never got a reply let alone an answer) why Google doesn’t take a top-down approach to SE spam. Treat the disease, not the symptons. That is, ban ALL the BIG SE spammers in one-go and make an example of them.

    It appears Matt ONLY answer blackhats, not whitehats :(

  109. Alan; I think at the heart of your question is the fact that so many places out there embrace blackhat, and even promote blackhat in many ways. They either allow it while turning their heads with a wink/nod, or they allow/condone it by accepting money for advertising for blackhats.

    It’s just an acceptable form of advertising to many. I don’t see it as stopping anytime soon. If Google really did start getting tough with blackhats, we might see a large decline. As Dave wrote; Google does not take the top down approach as they simply penalize the website for spam without penalizing the actual firm who helped them spam. They should do both. As Dave also stated; it would be simple to implement the take down; … follow threads and blog posts by blackhats and just de-list their sites from Google. Easy stuff.

    I do think at the core of all of this is the seemingly real acceptance of blackhat SEO as an acceptable form of marketing.

  110. Now if only we could get our money back from these guys. They took me for about $3000 and being green and naive in the early days, I fell for their ‘expertise’ and promises. After finding out what they were really doing was wrong with Google, I cancelled with them, but alas too late, as Google delisted my site and my only income source back then. It took about 2 months to get relisted and back in business. And when confronted, they not only took no blame, they hung up on me for demanding my money back. Good to hear there is justice on the internet.

  111. I do really understand the frustration of many site owners when it´s about positioning at google results but tricks should be prosecuted and pseudo SEO companies as well. We are just at the beginning of a new era of world wide information that google is leading… the strongest we make the web the best for everyone. Google has made possible for everyone to be heard, to communicate, to access information… I give all my support to Google Team. Antonio Bellido (Madrid . Spain)

  112. Dave (original)

    Good to hear there is justice on the internet.

    But there isn’t! You paid $3000 to be banned, while the same type of companies are still preying on the green and naive and Google are likely helping them to do so.

    As Doug states, so many “respected” SEO and SEO forums have a vested interest in black hat methods.

    Google, stop treating the symptoms and start treating the disease.

  113. Harith

    Tony Norella,

    Thats sad readings. I wouldn’t blame you if you file a spam report to Google mentioning the URL of that unethical “SEO” company.

  114. Hopefully there will be more jail sentences in the future. I received this threatening email this morning. Not sure what they are on about with regards to Yahoo.

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: kamilieri
    Date: 17 Jan 2008 05:42 (NZ time)
    Subject: don;t mess with Greece
    To: indigoguide

    oi mate
    You have been f****d in the past from Google, remember???
    now you put all your acts together in your bullshit indigo guide by paying Yahoo to list you in a million pages( that will go in pay links Matt’s beloved theme) , We will give you an advice, mainly because you are trying to get in to the Greek tourism market, and because the reason of been f*******d from google a few years back was a job of some Greeks, be aware and get out of the Greek tourism , or you go to G oblivion once again.
    We Greeks do not like Brits or other assholes to mess around with our tourism.
    got it mate?
    so piss off and do your job in Spain and France, but not in Greece, we expect to see a low profile in SEO regarding your Greek pages otherwise you will be f*******d like 3 years ago.

    Union of Greek SEO’s and hakkers.
    PS we know where you are and where to find you

  115. Now Traffic-power domain name is for sale… I feel kind of bad for person who will buy this domain :(

  116. Hey Steve; that appears to be quite a compliment from them to you. They sure are worried about you messing in “their” market. :)

  117. Dave (original)

    Send them a bottle of Ouzo, a DVD of Zorba and you’ll be sweet :)

  118. It’s good to see that. People need to be penalized when they play dirty. I see it all the time and it’s about time someone pays the price for not playing fair.

  119. Hi Matt

    Very Good post, looking at SEO tactics of the an individual, Google can definitely predict the behavioural and psychological pattern of the company/nidividuals in operation..
    :) May be a Google can tie up with Local police departments and help them with something..

    Another good way is Google starting a blog on banned domains & why they were banned, this can give idea to budding SEOs to tell them what not to do…

  120. Opinion - User SEO Portuguese

    When the Google will be able to give to relevancia to each URL idependente of backlinks or either without depending on third.

    When the instructions of its services could be translated 100% in other languages as this blog.

    When SEO will not be on intelligence and creativity and yes to the content of history of each URL.

    When SEO will not be controlled interaction human being but for a system.

    When a bad service will be less excellent of that a quality service. These

    Facts had had not to exist.

  121. Jeremy

    Obviously a hot topic for debate-always.
    I say screw the companies that do it the wrong way intentionally. It only hurts everyone else in the long run.I’ve been witness to how many of them operate, and to pretend that they are only trying to “compete” with the big organizations is laughable-they know EXACTLY what they’re doing. play with fire-get burned.

    I would however, like to see Google send out an initial warning to those who mistakingly post duplicate content, either out of ignorance or forgetting to delete or 301 the dup file, or for similar type, common mistakes. I believe there are MANY companies, myself included that make a silly mistake once in a while, and don’t feel our clients should be wiped off the search engine for a month when the situation could easily be corrected in a day.

    good post overall-

  122. They took me for $5k back in the day. That’s one of the three times I’ve been scammed, so now I guess I just have to wait on the other two to get theirs!

    Hahahahahahahaa!

  123. I guess the concept of Google “warning” sites when they are perceived as spamming (e.g. duplicate content) is a nice one. Maybe some kind of spam ‘score’ when you log into Google Webmaster Tools, with some automated warnings? That way Google could keep it all automated, and help clean up the web! Or is that too much like the tail wagging the dog…

  124. Hi Matt and everybody else. Just a note to share my opinion about this post and people in general, we all have pretty much the same mission in life we just end up doing it differently. Being unethical produces different results than being ethical, it’s as simple as that. Lets not forget that we all make mistakes and it’s much easier to be right about how great we are and how bad everybody else is. The moment we forget that, we become righteous about ourselves, what we’re doing and forget to look at ourselves. At the end we all produce the results we worked towards. Black hat / white hat. Purple hat. Everybody speaks in absolutes while there is no such a thing. I’ve been SEM / SEO ‘ing since 1997 and I’ve always only used ethical, so called white/hat. Some of the work I’ve done for apparently no reason where technically should not be ranked are ranked and some of them where they should be ranked are not. What’s my point? Take things as they are, do your best and move on :)

  125. Matt,

    I have a suggestion for a feature that would be useful for your blog. I just typed in a very lengthy post, taking perhaps 45 minutes to do it. Apparently I entered the spam protection number wrong and was told to return here and try again. Of course I knew that everything I typed would be lost, and it was.

    The other day I went to post on someone’s blog, and it had a feature that in addition to showing you the error, also showed you what you had typed so that you could copy it and and then paste it back in when you went back.

    I don’t know what type of blogging software they use, or you use, but if such a feature is available, I’m sure that I’m not the only person who would appreciate it.

    I don’t have the time right now to retype my original post, but I’ll try to return here in the next few days and type it in again.

  126. What a site! I love the opening comment, it voices my frustrations almost verbatim. In America today, the mom and pop stores are on the way out because of better financed larger corporations. Google supports the death of small business and the supremacy of mega-conglomerates with their policies – including a sites age, who links to you, how much money you spend on traffic, etc affecting your PR. I owned a company that spent $10,000 p/month on PPC and I had page 1 results everywhere in my first year. Now that I don’t have that kind of money, my pages are scattered few and far between. Google should focus on inviting small business into an open playing field. – Internet Marketing Contingency Consultant

  127. kev

    this is the stuff that makes me stay straight on SEO, no matter how high the tempation may be to cheat. Although, I will say this….Matt Marlon is out of jail and back in vegas.

  128. Hello Matt,

    I am glad for people like us who work on Google ranking but focus mainly on site content. I hope honesty and integrity can continue to be upheld.

    Best wishes,

    Evan

  129. A very old post maybe but still relevant and useful to be able to refer to when debating with people that advocate blatant disregard for the rules.

  130. I agree. I met a business person not too long ago, who told me he was doing black hat. He said, “I’m trying to make money”. While the particular method he mentioned was not earth shattering, it’s the principal of the method that makes it wrong.
    Manipulating cookies, search engines and customer purchases violates the invisible fabric that holds us together.
    We recently went through an extensive investigation by Google on all of our traffic building techniques. I’m happy to say we now have the approval of Google for all of our white hat processes. The moral of the story is, stay within the terms of service and outwork your competition.

  131. What amazes me about the internet is there are posts such as this one that is a reminder of what the SEO Industry is trying to stand for. Here we are in 2011 and some corners of the industry will still try and cut corners or do things that are not ethical to try and beat Google. I notice the guidelines offered by Google are mentioned again within this page. If more people would just adhere to those rules and work harder at their websites, it could be very rewarding for website owners. The problem is nobody wants to read the rule books or is prepared to learn how to properly drive their website and not bend the rules.

  132. Thanks for both of the posts matt! It is a tough world out here, and everyday I feel it is a constant evil vs. good struggle. When the wrong do really wrong, they should be penalized(if they are found guilty of course)

    But, come on- 99.99% of the country is a “little guy” trying their best to make it in a really tough world. Some get mad, some get even… other just try to do the right thing- possibly using a few shortcuts here and there…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

If you have a question about your site specifically or a general question about search, your best bet is to post in our Webmaster Help Forum linked from http://google.com/webmasters

If you comment, please use your personal name, not your business name. Business names can sound salesy or spammy, and I would like to try people leaving their actual name instead.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

css.php